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Page 80

“Glad you’re going to stay. By the way… are you going to see Joe anytime soon?”

“I expect so.”

“He’s been as ornery as a two-headed bull while you were gone. Jack says the next time you go anywhere, you have to take Joe with you. None of the rest of us can stand him like this.”

I laughed, while nerves fluttered in my stomach. “I’m not sure how things are between Joe and me right now,” I confessed. “Our last call didn’t end too well.”

“I wouldn’t worry.” Ryan smiled. “But don’t put off talking to him. For all our sakes.”

I nodded. “I’ll get my team started on unplanning the wedding, and then I’ll call him.” We parted company and headed to our separate cars. “Ryan,” I said. He stopped to look back at me. “Someday you’re going to hire me to plan another wedding. And the next time, it’ll be for the right reasons.”

“Avery,” he replied sincerely, “I’m going to hire someone to shoot me if I ever get engaged again.”

Twenty-two

As soon as I came through the front door, I heard Coco begin to yip frantically. She hurried to me from the main seating area, almost beside herself with excitement. “Coco!” I exclaimed, dropping my bag and scooping her up.

She licked me and tried to cuddle closer while yapping as if to nag me for having been away so long.

I heard a chorus of welcomes from various places around the studio.

It was good to be home.

“Dogs have no sense of time,” Sofia said, reaching me in a few strides. “She thinks you were gone for two weeks instead of two days.”

“It felt like two weeks,” I said.

She kissed me on both cheeks, while Coco wriggled excitedly between us. “Oh, it’s good to have you back! I got some of your texts, but you were so quiet yesterday, and nothing at all last night.”

“The events of the past two days would surpass even the most overwrought telenovela,” I said. “Prepare to be shocked.”

Steven laughed and came to me for a hug. After enfolding me in a hearty embrace, he drew back and looked down at me with twinkling blue eyes. “I’m shockproof now,” he said. “I’ve watched enough of those idiotic shows that I can see every plot twist from a mile away.”

“Trust me, I’m about to put you to the test.” I frowned as Coco kissed my cheek and I felt how raspy her tongue was. “Didn’t anyone put coconut oil on her tongue while I was gone?” I demanded. “It’s like an emery board.”

“She won’t let anyone touch it,” Sofia protested. “I tried. Tell her, Steven.”

“She tried,” he acknowledged. “I watched.”

“He laughed until he fell off the sofa,” Sofia said.

I shook my head and looked into Coco’s soulful eyes. “I don’t want to think about what you’ve endured.”

“It wasn’t that terrible —” Sofia began.

“Sweetheart,” Steven interrupted, “I think she’s talking to the Chihuahua.”

After taking care of Coco’s tongue, I asked everyone to stop what they were doing and sit at the long table. “For the rest of the day,” I said, “we’re all going to be busy with a special project.”

“Sounds fun,” Val said lightly.

“It’s not going to be fun in the least.” I looked at Ree-Ann. “Have the Warner wedding invitations gone out yet?” I asked, thinking, Please say no, please say no…

“Yesterday,” she said proudly.

I uttered a word that made her eyes widen.

“You told me to,” she protested. “I was only doing what you —”

“I know. It’s fine. Unfortunately it means extra work, but we can handle it. I need you to print out the master list, Ree-Ann. We’re going to have to contact everyone on it and obtain verbal confirmation of the cancellation.”

“What? Why? What are you talking about?”

“We have to unplan the Warner-Chase wedding.”

“How much of it?” Steven asked.

“All of it.”

Tank looked bewildered. “It’s postponed?”

“It’s off,” I said. “Permanently off.”

Everyone looked at me and asked in unison, “Why?”

“It doesn’t go beyond this room. We do not gossip about clients. Ever.”

“Yes, we all know,” Steven said. “Explain, Avery.”

Two hours later, my team still appeared to be dazed by the turn of events. I had assured them that we would all be compensated for the time we’d spent. There would be other weddings, other chances to make our mark. Still, that was small consolation when they had been tasked with unraveling a wedding that was only a month away. Steven had already succeeded in canceling the fleet of Rolls-Royces and one of the wedding favor orders. Sophia had contacted the caterers and the chair and table rental company and was waiting for callbacks. Val and Ree-Ann had both been assigned to call every name on the guest list and inform them of the cancellation, while claiming ignorance as to the reason why.

“How long do we have to do this?” Ree-Ann moaned. “It’s five o’clock. I want to go home.”

“I’d like you to work until six, if possible,” I said. “Depending on how the unplanning goes, we’ll all have to put in some overtime this week, so you may want to —” I stopped as I heard a key turn in the front door.

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