Kristi, one of the women in the Friday Friends Cooking Club, is planning her wedding and right when everything starts going right….it all starts going topsy-turvy, upside down, bonkers!
Enjoy this sneak peek into Wedding Disaster, the second cozy mystery in the Friday Friends Dinner Club mystery series. If you want to read more, you can find the book at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.
Kristi burst through the chestnut panelled doors on the rainy March morning. She rushed inside, breathing heavily, bringing in early blossoms that had been whipped off the trees by the gusty weather. Despite the chilly spring morning, beads of sweat dotted her forehead. She brushed her hand through her messy bob. Usually, she walked slowly through the boutique admiring the trendy new arrivals and window display of the latest European wedding dresses. Usually, she’d stare at the photographs of elegant evening weddings on the wall.
But not today. She hurried towards the desk at the back of the boutique, her green eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed, smiling from ear to ear as if she had won the lottery. In a way she had.
It was the day she was picking up her dream wedding dress.
Beaming, she approached Vera, the meticulous shop owner, who sat straight as a board behind a large mahogany desk. Her long black hair rested in a perfect wave over her left shoulder.
“You’re just in time, Kristi, I was about to run out for a coffee,” Vera said, pushing back the square-framed glasses on her nose. “I’ve been here since 3:00 this morning.”
Kristi’s hands shook from excitement as she pulled out her black wallet. “You must be insanely busy. I’m sorry. My car didn’t start this morning. How much do I owe you?”
“$229 even,” Vera said, clicking on her computer screen. “I’m finishing dresses before I leave for my trip.”
Kristi handed her the debit card and Vera pointed to her left. “Your dress is right behind the curtain, go on back to look at it before I wrap it up.”
Kristi stepped behind the divider, hiding the work area. Her dress hung on a white satin hanger. She smiled and put a hand over her thumping heart. She had been staring at the dress for weeks, hanging on her coat rack in her bedroom. But she hadn’t become bored looking at it; instead, every day she grew more excited to wear it on her wedding day.
It was stunning with a straight neck that swept right underneath the collarbone. It was silky and Grecian looking and it flowed down to the floor, collapsing in an elegant flourish. The white gown flowed loosely, but it formed at the waist and then fell softly to the floor. There was not a bit of tulle or fluff on it, it was pure minimal elegance. Kristi had fallen in love with it when she saw it at Elvira Hopinshield’s estate sale. It had been two sizes too big, but Vera’s magic fixed that.
“I’m so glad you came in last night to try it on,” Vera called out, “otherwise I wouldn’t have been correct in my final measurements for the back.”
Kristi ran her fingers down the smooth silk material. The dress was one of a kind, made in the 1920s; it was a Downton Abbey style dress with a long train and matching veil. The morning’s problems—running late for work, the breakdown of her car, and the upcoming meeting with her prickly perfectionist boss—were all forgotten. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. She exhaled and gently caressed the sleeve, loving the sensation of the soft silk against her fingers.
“Oh, Vera, it is absolutely beautiful. It still takes my breath away.”
Vera entered through the curtains and surveyed the dress. “Well, it really is one of a kind. Elvira Hopinshield’s daughter said the dress was made by her neighbor, but I could swear it has the look and make of a fashion designer from the 20s or 30s. There were so many people with questions about that dress. I must have talked to four or five different people.”
As Vera talked, Kristi fingered the dress, smiling as she imagined herself putting it on and walking down the aisle at the Lord’s Community Church. She inhaled again and imagined the sweet floral scent of the lilac and rose bouquet she was going to carry. “Do you think Elvira wore this dress every few years or so, just to relive her wedding day?”
Vera shrugged her shoulders and began to wrap the dress. “I don’t know a lot about the family, just that they did a wonderful job keeping this dress intact.” Even though Vera worked in the wedding industry, she was imploringly practical and realistic. “The important thing is that you’re happy with it. There were certainly a number of other people who were interested in this dress after you bought it at the Hopinshield estate sale. Like I said, lots of telephone calls.”
Kristi tilted her head. “Really? Who else was interested in this dress? I mean, there was the woman from the Art & Historical Society who practically tried to wrestle me to the ground over it at the estate sale, but I thought she was just one of those odd museum people.”
Vera closed her eyes and tapped her finger on the wedding case. She shook her head and waved her hand in the air nonchalantly. “I can’t think of their names. There was someone named Anna, no—that’s not quite it—from a fashion institute or history museum, but I can’t remember her full name. She was interested in how long I’d have the dress. A little odd if you ask me. I wouldn’t think too much of it.” She smiled tightly and zipped up the clear plastic dress casing.
Vera stepped back and began to wrap the dress in a special bridal case. “Let’s get this safely into your car.”
“I don’t have my car, remember, I told you it wouldn’t start. I walked here.”
Vera stopped with her hands in midair and looked at Kristi, her eyes wide and expression frozen. “Pardon?”
Kristi bit her lip as she explained her predicament. “I had to get my car towed. My work is only two blocks away on Apple Street. It will take me ten minutes to get there.”
Vera raised an eyebrow in doubt.
Kristi held up her right hand as if taking an oath. “I’ll hold it above my head so it doesn’t hit the floor, and promise to not let anything happen to it.”
Vera glanced at the street and then back to the dress. “I guess you don’t have much of a choice since I’m leaving for Paris this evening. I’ll be gone for a month. Take care of this dress.” She finished wrapping the dress and handed it to Kristi. “Hold it with one hand around the case and the other hand holding the handle. Don’t stop for coffee.”
Kristi smiled. “I’m going straight to work.”
Vera closed the case with a snap and handed it to Kristi, as she glanced at the clock. “I’d offer to drive you, but I have four more dresses to finish before 5:00 tonight.”
“Have fun in France, Vera, and thank you for everything!”
The bell jingled on her way out and Kristi took a deep breath and stared at the blue sky in a dreamlike trance. Ever since high school, Kristi had dreamed of this dress and now it was really going to be the dress she wore down the aisle to marry the love of her life, Peter Greenwater.
She glanced down to make sure the dress was high off the ground. She carefully sidestepped a puddle of water from the previous night’s rainstorm and began her walk down the crowded sidewalk to work.
Passing people shot her confused looks, but she continued to smile. The day started haphazardly, but nothing could alter her boisterous mood now. The sun warmed her face, birds chirped a morning song from the trees that lined the street, and she inhaled the crisp March air. The day showed promise.
By the end of two blocks, her arms ached from the awkward carrying position. She readjusted her bag on her shoulder and her case in her arms. Besides, she was minutes from work, Nota Bene’s headquarters. It was a small office space that was beginning to overflow with products and marketing materials for the skin care startup. Thankfully there was a closet in the back that should fit the dress. Kristi’s excitement turned to nervousness. I cannot be late for the meeting.
Pushing through the front glass doors with her back, she greeted the receptionist and walked straight for the employee lounge. She avoided the cold eyes of her boss, Jessica, but could feel her stare upon her as she walked past.
The lounge was empty. Kristi moved her coworkers’ jackets down to one side in the closet to make room for her dress. Once it was safely inside, she breathed a sigh of relief that the dress fiasco was over. She glanced at the clock and nodded her head in success. 9:27. Three minutes to spare before the meeting began.
She grabbed her clipboard, iPhone and pen and entered the adjacent room. It was a brief meeting before several investors came to hear Nota Bene’s marketing presentation for their new product line and the projected sales. Everyone needed to be on their A-game to impress the investors and persuade them that Nota Bene was the beauty line destined to become the next industry darling. Jessica and Tiffany talked back and forth, emphasizing what needed to be said and shown over the course of the day.
Kristi glanced at the clock and sighed. Only thirty minutes had passed. Talk of the company’s eye cream sales and projections, and possible endorsers and investors for Nota Bene felt a bit dull in comparison to her excitement over her dress. The upcoming wedding and all the planning had overtaken her life. And her attention. She gulped a cup of coffee and tried to refocus on Jessica’s talking points.
An approaching brown delivery truck caught her attention and she perked up in her chair. It pulled up in front of the building and her stomach leapt with excitement. Her eyes stayed glued to a tall, muscular blonde man who held a large box with a handle on the top. The words Fragile, Handle Carefully were printed on the side.
Thinking of the contents inside sent a wave of excitement through her stomach. She leaned over to Alexandria, who sat next to her. “My veil, shoes and accessories,” she squealed with delight.
The UPS driver stepped into the office space. He looked around and cleared his throat. His name tag on his shirt read, ‘Barry.’
His eyes scanned the room. “Is a Kristi Allinav here?”
Kristi jumped up. “Yes, that’s me.” She got up from her chair and walked to the tall delivery man.
“It says to handle gently.”
“Yes, yes, it’s items for my wedding.” Kristi’s breath quickened as she took the package.
“That’s what the seamstress at The Embroidery Empire said. She also said to make sure it hangs upright and doesn’t get squished between clothing or anything else. Sign here please.”
Kristi glanced through the glass wall on the other side of the room. The women from the PR firm were sitting with Tiffany and Jessica and going through the swag bags Kristi had put together for them.
Kristi signed for the package and gave Barry a big smile. “Thanks so much!” Kristi took the brown box, walked over to the closet and pulled it open with one hand. She frowned. Between her wedding dress, jackets and boxes of inventory, the closet was packed.
“Can you help me for a second?” she asked, turning her head toward Alexandria who had come in behind her and was reapplying her lipstick.
“Sure,” Alexandria said, walking up beside her. She moved the hanging jackets to the farthest end and placed some boxes on the floor. “Not sure why there are inventory boxes in here anyway.”
“Thanks,” Kristi said, placing her package right beside her wedding dress.
“It’s a gorgeous dress.”
“I’m in seventh heaven. I’ve never felt so beautiful as when I put it on.” Kristi closed her eyes, remembering how she felt when she tried on the dress. It was the dress she dreamed of when she was a little girl, cutting out pictures from wedding magazines for her paper dolls. It made her feel beautiful.
Kristi smiled, remembering how she had fingered a piece of the sleeve when she found it at the estate sale. She couldn’t stop touching the dress when she bought it, memorizing the way it looked and felt.
To meet my perfect man in my perfect dress. It doesn’t matter what happens, the wedding doesn’t get better than this.
Alexandria cut through her thoughts. “That’s how you know the dress and veil is real, when it makes you feel absolutely beautiful. Now come on, we’ve got a brand to sell. I need you in that room with the bosses.”
Kristi nodded and focused her thoughts on work. “Right. Of course. I’m ready to wow them with our line, Alex. This is going to be a great year.”
The angel investors, Marc, Peter and Mindy walked into the white conference room at Nota Bene, Starbucks cups in hand. The sun shone in on both sides of the room via the wall-to-wall windows. Granite floors created a sort of modern, industrial look. The tables were set up in a U shape so everyone could see everyone. Jessica welcomed them, motioning to leather padded chairs for them to sit in, she chatted enthusiastically about their newest eye cream line and the debut of their upcoming lip care products.
Once everyone was seated, Kristi opened her laptop, cleared her throat, and began to talk through the marketing plan for the Nota Bene Total Eye Care Conditioner. This was her biggest presentation to date. Beads of sweat began to show on her forehead and under her arms of the pink cotton shirt.
She flipped through the slides on the PowerPoint, outlining the social media channels, the beauty bloggers who were set to review the product and the samples given out through small beauty boutiques. The adrenaline from the morning gave Kristi the energy she needed to spread the enthusiasm for the product to everyone in the room.
After twenty minutes her presentation was done and everyone clapped. Once the investors left the room, Kristi leaned back in her chair with a deep exhale.
“Nice job,” Tiffany murmured as she walked by. She nodded towards Marc, Peter and Mindy, who stood in the foyer. “You kept their attention the entire time.”
Kristi smiled and exhaled again in relief. She closed her laptop, put on her sweater and left the office to grab lunch with the venture capitalists and marketing team. They made it back to the office at 1:30, and immediately began the prep for the photo shoot at the park. Kristi was hoping to get enough shots for not only the debut of their lip care line, but for all the blog posts and social media events for the next two months. There were enough models and set changes to do that. The park had a variety of potential scenes—the playground, the rose garden, the water fountains and the gorgeous oak trees—that Kristi figured she could capture several good shots.
She spent the rest of the afternoon styling models’ hair, applying eye cream, makeup, and snapping photos. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was bright and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was so bright Kristi was concerned there would be a bit of a glare problem with her camera, but she could fix it in Photoshop. March boasted unpredictable weather and Kristi was thankful it wasn’t pouring down rain today.
“We don’t get paid enough,” Alexandria whispered as she walked by Kristi.
“We will be when this line goes bananas. Think about the bonuses.” A group of seagulls circled overhead and began to squawk. Kristi handed an umbrella to the model. “Just in case they decide to drop something unexpected,” she said.
“Hopefully, those bonuses are going to come soon,” Alexandria said. “Sometimes it feels like we’ll never make it past barely surviving.” She brushed a highlight of blush onto a model’s cheekbones.
“It’s the life of a startup,” Kristi said, shrugging her shoulders. “I love it though. The energy, creating something new that connects with people, using all my creativity and collaborating with other creative people. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The work as the marketing manager and PR person, plus fill-in content writer and photo stylist, took the majority of Kristi’s attention. Recently though, her upcoming wedding to Peter was constantly crawling to the forefront of her mind these days. She wondered if the office was locked.
Kristi snapped a few more shots and then turned to Alexandria. “We locked the door behind us when we left, didn’t we?”
Alexandria applied loose powder to one of the models. “Girl, you’ve asked that four times. Your wedding dress is fine. Only the staff knows it’s there.”
“You’re right. I’m just so nervous. Everything has been going wrong or haywire lately. My car needing to be towed, plans for the wedding, this job, even my relationship with Peter seems not all there.”
“You’re running on overload,” said Alexandria, spraying the model’s hair with an aerosol hairspray.
“Maybe you’re right.” Kristi looked up at the sky. “It’s a perfect day for a shoot.”
Jessica’s voice called from behind. “Kristi, we need you over here to take some pictures.”
“Coming!” she shouted, and then grabbed her camera and walked over to the garden area. Five models stood with colorful rain boots, jeans and printed tops, as if they were working in the garden. To the right were barrels cut in half, used for planters. Pink and white peonies filled the planters, partially eclipsed by tall light purple lilac stems. Alexandria handed out garden baskets and tools as Kristi directed the models where to stand. The fresh garden scene was supposed to mirror the fresh look of Nota Bene’s skin care and upcoming lip care line. It was Kristi’s job to make that connection happen.
Kristi gave the models posing instructions and then clicked pictures. Within seconds, she felt someone close behind her. She lowered her camera and turned around. Marc stood about a foot away, looking at the camera in her hands. Kristi smiled at him but continued to focus on her work. She let Tiffany and Jessica talk to the investors, this was their company.
“Do you have formal experience in photography?” Marc asked.
Kristi squared her shoulders trying to appear confident. “I’ve taken some classes and have learned a lot about lighting and styling from a good friend.” Jessica heard Marc’s question and quickly chimed in. “One of the things we want to do with an infusion of cash is to hire a professional photographer. We love Kristi, but we have her going in a million directions.”
Jessica paused, and Kristi seized the moment to step away. It was Jessica’s job to woo the investors, not hers. Marc and Jessica continued to talk business as Kristi adjusted the aperture settings on her camera and began to zoom in for closer shots, emphasizing the model’s eyes. As much as she tried to focus, Kristi continued to think about her dress and how excited she was to try it on again after the final adjustments had been made. She smiled thinking of feeling the soft silk and lace overlay on her skin. I have never felt so beautiful as when I put on that dress. I wonder if that’s how royalty feels when they dress up for formal events?
After thirty minutes, it was time for the models to change clothes and refresh their makeup. Several shots later, the photo shoot was done.
“That’s a wrap everyone!” Kristi said, turning her camera off. Kristi and Alexandria cleaned up the set as the models began to leave. Tiffany and Jessica were already pulling away from the curb in cars with the investors. As Kristi put the makeup away and washed the brushes, she kept thinking of how the veil and dress would look. How am I going to do my hair? I need to find someone to help me! Maybe Alexandria? Kristi lugged the props and heavy cases to the car as the staff headed back to Nota Bene’s main office. It had been a crazy busy day, but Kristi didn’t feel drained at all. She couldn’t wait to get the dress home and try it on.
Knowing everyone would be a bit tired after the afternoon out, Kristi arranged for iced tea, iced coffee and Luna Bars for a refreshment. While everyone was getting their drinks, Kristi decided this was the perfect time to sneak a quick peek at her dress. She walked down the hall to the employee break room and storage area hoping no one had smashed it with their coats.
Her heart quickened in excited anticipation. She opened the closet door and gasped.
No! No! No!
She pushed the coats to the side of the closet then quickly forced them to the other side. She fell to her knees, looking under the long jackets and moving the rain boots and purses on the ground. Her hands began to tremble.
Kristi leaned back on her feet and rocked back and forth. Tears burned in her eyes and she swallowed hard as she began to mutter. “I can’t believe it…it’s impossible…oh no.”
Alexandria stuck her head into the room. “What’s the matter Kristi?”
Kristi looked up at Alexandria. Her face felt drained of all color and her hands were trembling as she put them up to her forehead. “My dress, my wedding dress. It’s gone!”
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