Isabella walked downstairs, showered and dressed in a slate gray pantsuit, her hair still damp. It was just past seven and she could already hear the activity downstairs floating up. As she reached the landing, she saw that the florist had already been there. There were garlands of roses, in shades of sunset, and baby's breath, with lavender threaded lightly in between, twisted around the banister. By the big oak door, there was a tall vase set on the round antique table, replacing a similar albeit smaller one she kept, filled with burgundy carnations and roses, the color of autumn leaves.
She couldn't believe how everything was coming together! Just last night her inn reflected the summer days that were coming to a close, filled with sunny golden tulips and pink lilies. Today, everywhere she turned, it seemed that autumn had come early, shades of maroon and orange, gold and rust filling the bright reception and continuing into the dining room. She walked through the inn, following the faint voices that drifted in. The French doors leading to the patio were open in the dining room, the pink lemonade sheers billowing in. The scent of freshly cut grass was mingled with the light fragrance of tiger lilies and as she stepped onto the patio, she saw a woman arranging the gorgeous orange tiger lilies, as big as her hand, alongside the aisle into sleek wooden vases, just at the end of the footpath.
"Carol, everything is coming together so beautifully."
She straightened, shaking back her blond curls. "Do you think so?"
Isabella raised her eyebrows as she glanced around. "Are you kidding me? How could you even ask that? It's amazing!"
"Still got a lot to do though. When is the bride due to arrive?"
"Not for another hour, hour and a half max. Want another pair of hands?"
"Would love them! We're just starting on the chairs. Come on." Carol walked down what was going to be the bride's aisle in a matter of hours towards the gazebo. "We're leaving this for the last. Here are the ribbons." She opened a cardboard box and pulled out a huge bag that was filled with maroon satin ribbons. "I saw the cake when I arrived. It's spectacular."
Isabella grinned. "How's Aiden today? I haven't seen him yet."
Carol laughed as she opened the bag and set it on a chair. "Oh, pretty calm, considering."
"I hope he stays that way!" Pulling out a few strands of the ribbons, she moved over to the chairs on the left as Carol took the right. Pulling the ribbon over the back of the chair, she tied a bow, making sure that it was even, before she moved on to the next.
"Will the bride and groom be staying the night here?"
"No, they're actually leaving immediately after the reception. By helicopter." Isabella glanced over and caught Carol's grin. "I know. One of the many gifts from the father of the bride. I cannot wait to see how it goes."
"But where will it land?"
"Down in the meadow. Behind the barn? We got it cleared just last night."
"And does the bride know?"
"Not yet. It's actually going to be pretty amazing. They'll ride down in a carriage to the helicopter. That we are giving complimentary. I mean, how could I not? When her father called to make sure it would work out and if we could actually pull it off, I just couldn't say no."
"Yes, we all know what a sucker for romance you are."
Isabella laughed, shaking her finger, "Now, let's not tell everyone. I've got an image to maintain."
They were halfway down the aisle when Mary came and took over. Isabella walked into the dining room to see some of her guests having breakfast. The ladies were all excited and gushing over the decorations and she stopped to answer questions on her way to the kitchen. Just as she pushed open the door, Carrie came rushing over.
"Isabella. The bride and her family is here. They just pulled up."
"Thanks. Right on time." She glanced at her watch as she turned back. She checked her reflection, shaking back her hair, before stepping out onto the front porch. A black limo stretched along the driveway and as she walked down the steps, the chauffeur opened the passenger door.
"Mr. Richardson, welcome."
"Thank you. And it's Craig. How many times must I tell you, Ms. Knight.."
"Isabella, please." She grinned, charmed. In chinos and a navy blazer, Craig looked handsome. The only indication that he had a grown-up daughter was the salt and pepper strands that graced his temples. His wife stepped out next and looked as elegant as she always did, in a floral summer dress that fell to her knees.
"Iza-bella," She purred, her Italian accent heavy, "You look beautiful. How are you, darling?"
She grinned. "Excited. Where is our bride?"
"Right here!" Alicia literally bounded out of the limo and threw her arms around Isabella's shoulders. "I feel as light as a feather. You really do look beautiful. Have they started setting up? Hi, Carrie! How are you?"
Isabella turned and watched as Alicia rushed up the stairs and into the inn. She was a whirlwind. Craig threw her a grin and followed his wife up. Hearing a sound, Isabella turned back towards the limo and watched as a guy got out. He turned towards the chauffeur and said something in a tone too low for her to catch. Puzzled, she watched as he looked around over the hood of the car, running his fingers through his messy blond hair. She fixed a smile on her face as he turned. He tilted his head a fraction, obviously surprised to see her, and covered the five steps between them in two strides.
"Welcome to Butterfly Inn."
The smile that slowly stretched across his face made an uncharacteristic warmth spread in the pit of her stomach. He pulled off his Prada aviators and her mouth went bone dry as she met his hazel eyes.
"Enchanted." He held out a hand and she had no choice but to take it. She smiled and tried to pull back her hand but he just tightened his grip. "Parker, brother of the bride."
"Isabella." So this was the brother that Alicia adored. He hadn't made an appearance during any of the many meetings they had over the past three months.
"Sei bello." He murmured, his eyes roaming over her face.
Flustered, she pulled back her hand and, thankfully, he let go this time. Pushing back her bangs, she stepped back and hoped to God her smile was intact. "Please come on in."
"Is the lunch delivery here?" Isabella kicked off her heels and stretched her toes as Jonah leaned against her office's doorway.
"I just checked. It should be here any moment. Everything's on track. You can take five minutes to yourself."
She threw him a smile as she leaned back, her eyes already closing. "Just two minutes." A noise in the reception made her sit back up. "What was that?"
"I'll handle it. You," Jonah pointed a finger towards her. "Relax."
She tried to settle back again but it was pointless. She stretched her shoulders and neck before reaching into a drawer and pulling out a compact and hair brush. Her hair, which she had left open to dry, was now wavy. She pulled it back into a pony and teased the top with the end of her comb. Applying some lipstick on, she slipped her heels back on and shrugged into her blazer.
When she walked out, she saw Parker at the desk with Jonah.
"If you could tell me what it is that you'd like." Jonah reasoned.
Parker's eyes flicked up and he straightened up. "Here she is. My sister is asking for you."
Immediately concerned, she rounded the desk. "Is everything alright?"
"I assume so. But what would I know about brides. I'm not married after all."
She took the effort required to not roll her eyes and gave him a polite smile. Subtle.
"Well, let's go and see what's going on."
She followed him up to the bride's suite on the first floor. The sound of laughter and light music drifted through the door. Isabella knocked on it softly, and poked her head around the door.
"Hello, ladies. How is everything going?" She smiled, taking in the scene. Champagne bottles had been opened and everyone had a glass in their hands. Alicia was having her hair done and even without a trace of make up on, was beaming.
"Isabella! Everything is perfect! Thank you so much!" She looked up as Isabella reached her side. Catching a hold of her hand, she squeezed it. "I love it."
"It's my pleasure. Would you like me to top this off?" She tapped a finger on the empty champagne flute standing resolutely among the many hair styling instruments.
"Yeah. I think just one more should be okay."
"Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Yeah, I had a couple of ideas for the photographs I wanted to pass by you."
"Of course, would you like me to get the photographer? She'd have more ideas than me and be more helpful."
"I'll be right back."
She stepped out of the suite to find Parker leaning against the wall. He straightened when she walked past him and started following her.
"Anything I can help you with, Mr. Richardson?"
"Parker, please. Mr. Richardson is my father. And being addressed by that reminds me of my boarding school principal."
She reached the landing and turned around. But with him still, two steps up, she had to tilt her head back to meet his eyes.
"Boarding school?" She smiled.
He started to say something, but then clearly thought better. After a glance around, he turned back to her. "Your inn. I've heard many wonderful things about it from my family and it is a beautiful property."
"I was wondering," he continued, coming down to stand across from her. "About making reservations. You know, what process you follow around here. Would I need to make a reservation much in advance?"
She led him towards the reception, "Well, it would depend on what dates you are looking at. We're no five star hotel, there is no particular process." She caught sight of Jonah behind the desk as they entered the reception. "I'm sorry.. Parker." She conceded after a slight hesitation, "But I've actually got some work. Jonah could clear up all your questions. If you don't mind," She turned to Jonah. "Jonah, please, if you could. I need to check on lunch."
It was just pure luck that the flower show had started today, just two towns away. Nearly all her guests had gotten on a bus after breakfast and were probably enjoying the beautiful, fragrant blooms on display this year. One couple had opted to go into town and shop and the only guest still residing in his room was Lucas. After making sure that lunch was packed up properly in all the picnic baskets and sent off in a van to the flower show, she assembled a tray of food and carried it up to the third floor.
At the door, she hesitated. This floor was dead quiet. There were only two suites and only one was occupied by a guest. What if he was asleep? She knew for sure that he was in. The front desk had been on the lookout since breakfast and no one had seen him leave. No other staff member was free to do it, so shifting the tray to balance over one arm, she knocked on the door. She stood back, tray back in its place and waited. Two minutes passed before she heard any sound behind the door and moments later, it opened.
He was without his baseball cap, for once. Barefoot, he towered over her, unruly black hair sticking out in ever direction. He had a gray t-shirt on over black jeans that were ripped in several places. The stubble covered chiseled cheekbones that led the way up to cool, gray eyes, which seemed to pierce your soul with a mere glance.
"Would you like to have some lunch?" She asked, holding up the tray.
He hesitated a second, before giving a curt nod. "Yes, thanks." He stepped back and she started to step into the room but he then suddenly blocked the way. "I'll take it, thanks."
She watched, surprised, as he took the tray off her hands and the door closed in her face.
Eyes narrowed, she stared at the door for a long moment. "You're very welcome." She muttered, turning back and heading downstairs.
"That was a beautiful ceremony."
Isabella glanced up from the computer to see Craig, father of the bride, and a portly middle aged man walking towards the main lobby. She smiled, quickly glancing back down at the screen. She knew for a fact that the man had appeared near the end of the ceremony, the wheels of his Porsche screeching along the curve a couple miles from the inn. He had then stood and chatted with the valet for nearly five minutes before he'd proceeded up the stairs and into the inn. After throwing a little flattery her way, he had slipped into the last and only empty seat at back, outwardly unnoticed by anyone. She had followed him inside to watch, having been alerted by Craig before the start of the ceremony that his cousin always arrived in such fashion.
"What did I tell you?" Craig joined her at the reception desk, grinning. "I think he wants the attention and purposely comes in to create a frenzy. Poor guy, someone should appease him. At least, before he starts objecting to the wedding itself!"
She chuckled politely, "Well, he was right. It was a beautiful ceremony. Alisha was lighting the place up."
"That she does." He glanced towards the dining room doorway from where the music floated in, before turning back to her. "However, you had much to do with the ceremony yourself. I know talent when I see it."
She shrugged, "Just doing our job."
He shook his head, "Yes, you are. But it is also your passion. This entire business has been built through passions and dreams. I have been to too many weddings, in the biggest, most fanciest hotels in this country as well as in Europe. But nothing could match the charm and beauty of today's affair." He lifted a hand, palm facing up as if in surrender, shrugging. "I may be a little biased, considering my wife and daughter planned quite a bit of it, but only a little."
"Thank you." She replied, blushing. "It was our pleasure. We enjoyed doing it."
He grinned, straightening, "Well, I came to tell you that I will be saving a dance for you."
"Oh, no. There's no need for that." When he raised an eyebrow, she bit her lip and conceded, "Alright. I'll be there."
"Right on time!" Adrian squeezed her arm as he appeared behind her. "I've never been so nervous!"
She rolled her eyes, turning back to him, "You say that every time! You should have a little more confidence by now. I can't remember the last time someone didn't like your food!"
"Ah, but this is different. Today, I may have just outdone myself. If all goes well."
She turned back to look outside onto the lawn. It was a very informal setup. There was a dance floor running down the center and the guests all sat at tables around it, in a U shape. "I didn't see the cake once it was finished."
"Or before I started icing it."
When she looked at him questioningly, he just raised his eyebrows in a 'wait, you will see' kind of way. Shrugging, she turned back and watched as three of the kitchen staff walked out, holding the cake between them. Adrian was a drama queen at the best of times, so she wasn't too concerned. He was one of the best chefs in the world and she knew she could rely on him to deliver every time. She looked on as they set down the cake on a table placed on the dance floor and waited for the staff to move in order to get a peek.
Her gasp got lost beneath the reaction of the guests. It was magnificent! As though it were all growing on a single vine, flowers rose from the bottom of the round cake, spiraling around the sides to the top, where he had piped a gorgeous coral dahlia that covered the top layer, entirely.
"Oh, Adrian." She turned, eyes wide, "I have never seen anything to spectacular. The word itself isn't enough!"
"Wait, just wait."
"There's more?" She turned back and watched the bride and groom walked onto the dance floor. "It has a strawberry center, right?"
"Among other berries."
The bride and groom cut the cake, and amid applause, fed each other. Then as they took their seats, one of the servers stepped up and turned the cake around and cut out a slice from the opposite half. The slice was a darker shade then the first. She turned back and glanced at Adrian questioningly.
The cake was twirled around slightly and another slice cut, this time, blue.
"You made a three berry flavored cake? Is that even possible?" She turned to him, shocked.
"Looks like it is."
"You're unbelievable. Your talent is wasted here! I'm sorry to have trapped you in an endless stream of scrambled eggs and chicken potpies." She shook her head, awestruck.
He rolled his eyes and pulled her close, "Oh, can it. There's nowhere else I'd rather be! This is fun to do once in a while but it's too stressful to make a career out of. Can you imagine me as a wedding pastry chef? I'd drive everyone nuts!"
"You do have a particular talent in doing that!"
The bride had detached the train from her gown after the first dance and was now on the dance floor, dancing with her husband. The dress now fell to just below her knees and she had pulled her hair back into a mermaid braid. Isabella stood and watched as her staff weaved their way between the tables and served drinks to those still sitting down. As the song came to an end, she saw, much to her horror, as Craig handed his wife over to another man and made a beeline towards her.
Oh, no. He wasn't kidding!
Smiling, he held out his hand and she followed him onto the dance floor. Luckily, it was another slow number and she easily slipped into rhythm with him.
"Everyone will be talking about today for quite sometime. The cake was incredible." He grinned, before continuing, "And that's all. I won't embarrass you further. You are a very good dancer." He changed the topic before she could get an answer in.
"Thank you." She smiled as they passed by the bride and groom.
Craig twirled her as the song came to its close and pulled her gracefully back into his arms.
They both turned to see Parker standing behind her, a hand out.
Craig released her and stepped back, winking. "Let me know if he gives you any trouble."
She suppressed a groan as she switched partners and another ballad began to play. His arms encircled her, his hands cool. His scent was making her head light and she took in a deep breath, trying to keep her focus.
"Am I so repulsive?"
She glanced up to see him looking down at her.
"No, not at all."
Her heart started a slow pound as she looked up into those honey-colored eyes. It took her a second to get a hold of herself.
"You enjoyed dancing with my father. You don't seem to be particularly happy at the moment."
She shook her head, smiling, "Sorry, I have a lot on my mind. There's still much to do."
"Do you really run the entire place on your own?"
"I have a great staff."
"Still. It's quite a huge set up. And functions so smoothly." He looked down at her, raising an eyebrow, "Are you wonder woman?"
She laughed, shaking back her hair. "I can't answer that!"
He followed her off the dance floor towards the back doors, once the song had ended. "I'm thinking of staying a couple of days."
She nodded, "I saw your reservation. Wish you a pleasant stay. I hope you enjoy it here."
He quirked an eyebrow, "Will I not be seeing you?"
She shrugged, a smile playing on her lips, "You never know."
With that, she left him looking on after her and walked into the dining room, her heart beating just a little bit quicker than normal.
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