Excerpt from Wedding Bell Blues
Book #2 of the Dunlin Shores Series
Dishes clattered and waitresses bustled back and forth, catering to the noon crowd that filled Andie’s Diner. Feeling lucky to have snagged a booth for her and Kelly, Cammie Yarnell shook her head. “I can’t believe the girl I used to babysit is getting married.”
“Hey, I’m twenty-four—no girl anymore." Kelly Atwood beamed, her freckles making her look far younger. "Bryce and I have been together since high school. It’s about time we got married. At least that’s what Daddy says.”
Local big shot Weston Atwood oversaw Atwood Enterprises, which among other businesses owned the Dunlin Shores News Weekly, the Oregon town’s only print newspaper, plus the online site, a local radio station, and a chunk of prime waterfront real estate in their seaside resort town. He also bought all of his insurance through the company Cammie’s parents owned and operated. Keeping him happy was important, but Kelly’s happiness also mattered.
“That's his opinion. What do you want?” Cammie asked, needing to know if the man had bullied his only offspring into something she wasn’t ready for.
“The same thing. I’ve dreamed of marrying Bryce since the first time he smiled at me when I was a high school sophomore.” Her eyes went all starry.
Stifling a pang of envy that Kelly had found true love and she hadn't, Cammie smiled. “In that case, I’m thrilled for you."
“That means a lot to me. I owe you so much. After Mom died, you were the only person I could talk to.” Kelly grew solemn and a little teary-eyed. “Sometimes you still are.”
“I know, sweetie.” Cammie recalled ten-year-old Kelly falling apart in her then seventeen-year-old arms more than once. “I’m glad I was there for you.”
"Me too. Daddy, Bryce, and I want you to plan the wedding.”
“I’d be insulted if you didn’t.” Cammie went into business mode, sliding her phone and a notepad from the enormous leather bag that doubled as purse and briefcase. “Have you set a date?”
Cammie checked the following year's calendar on her cell phone. “It’s good that you’re booking early. I have a bar mitzvah May thirtieth and a wedding July twenty-sixth, but the seventh is wide open. Which happens to be a Sunday.” She frowned at Kelly. “Did you know that?”
The bride-to-be fiddled with her napkin. “June seventh this year falls on a Saturday.”
This year? “But that’s only six weeks from now.” Cammie placed her hand over her suddenly panicky heart, then eyed her younger friend. “OMG, are you pregnant?”
Flushing, Kelly shook her head. “Bryce and I know better than to let that happen. He starts med school in August, and we want to be married and settled in Portland before then. I know this is short notice, but please tell me you can fit us in.”
Cammie checked her schedule for May and June of this year. The second week in May was the eighth-grade graduation dance, a town tradition and rite of passage for kids before they started high school. There was nothing else scheduled until a wedding on June thirtieth. She could easily work in one more wedding.
“I’ll do it,” she said, “but with the tight time frame I may not be able to add the usual special touches to make your wedding day extra wonderful.” Which seemed a shame. Another thought struck her. “And unfortunately, my parents will be out of town until June eleventh.” They were about to leave for a month-long trip to Europe, in celebration of their thirty-fifth anniversary. “Their tickets are nonrefundable and nonexchangeable. They’ll be sick about missing this.”
"That's a shame, but I understand, and so will Daddy. I contacted Fran Bishop. She said we could have the wedding at the Oceanside Bed and Breakfast.”
Oh, great. Cammie rubbed the space between her eyes, where the faint pain signaling an impending stress headache had started.
On cue, Andie, who was friendly but nosy, bustled over with the coffeepot. “Refill, ladies?”
“Please,” Cammie said. Though at this point she’d have preferred alcohol.
“You okay?” the fifty-something waitress/diner owner asked, scrutinizing her like a fish she might buy at the market.
Cammie arranged her expression into bland happiness. "More than okay—Kelly just shared some wonderful news. Is it okay tell her?" The girl nodded her assent. “She and Bryce are getting married.”
Andie lit up. “Congratulations, honey.”
She gave Cammie the same quick, veiled look she used every time Cammie planned someone else’s wedding—friendly concern with a hint of "tell me more so I can broadcast the news." Stifling the urge to roll her eyes—no sense fueling the woman's speculation—Cammie flashed a bright grin.
Smiling often was supposed to lift a person's spirits. It wasn't working, but she kept trying. That counted for a lot, right? Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, she was doing all right.
“You girls want dessert, to celebrate?” Andie asked as she collected the dishes and juggled the coffeepot with amazing skill. “I have a beautiful cheesecake or coconut cream pie—on the house in honor of your engagement, Kelly.”
Cammie’s mouth watered, but since she'd turned thirty last year her metabolism had slowed. Now everything she ate went straight to her hips. Which was one reason why she and her best friend Jules had signed up to play coed volleyball starting next week. “Just coffee for me, thanks.”
“Same here,” Kelly said. “Feel free to spread the word about me and Bryce,” she added.
As if she needed to.
After the busybody hurried off, Kelly frowned. “The Oceanside’s okay with you, right? I know that’s where you and Todd were supposed to get married. And you haven’t done a wedding there since.”
Chewing her lip and shredding her napkin, she looked worried half to death. Cammie hurried to reassure her. “That was nearly a year ago. I’m over it now,” she lied.
Not a day went by that she didn’t yearn for what might have been. The cottage near the ocean she and Todd had looked into buying, possibly a baby on the way…
Give it up, Cammie. The pity-party was getting old, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Looking back, it was obvious she’d loved the idea of getting married more than she’d loved Todd. And as her parents reassured her time and again, eventually she’d find the right someone.
Thirty-one wasn't so old. Plenty of time to have the three children she wanted—once she met her future partner and they fell in love.
As of this moment she was ready to find him.
What better way to prove that to herself than planning a wedding at the Oceanside? “The Oceanside is perfect,” she said. With its open floor plan, spacious rooms and oceanfront location, it truly was.
“Good, because Daddy loves the idea. And since he’s the man with the checkbook…”
What Weston Atwood wanted, Weston Atwood got.
“You’re sure June seventh is okay with Fran?” Cammie asked.
By then tourist season would be in full swing, and Fran’s popular oceanfront bed-and-breakfast was sure to be packed. Mornings, she cooked and served gourmet breakfasts. Afternoons, she pampered her guests with wine and cheese socials. Both kept her busy and then some.
“She's thrilled about it. Says her guests will love the idea of a wedding in the great room. Of course they’ll be invited to the reception after the ceremony.”
“In that case, we’re on.” Cammie reached into the inside pocket of her bag and retrieved her silver Waterman’s pen, a gift of appreciation from the Pendeltons, repeat clients, after their fiftieth anniversary party last year. “Now, let’s talk about what you and Bryce—”
“Um, Cammie,” Kelly interrupted, “there’s something else you should know.”
Her failure to meet Cammie's eyes put her on alert. “What’s that?”
“You’re not gonna like this.” Kelly fiddled with her coffee mug, then dropped her bomb. “Daddy has hired Finn Brannigan to photograph everything.”
Finn Brannigan. The very name grated against Cammie’s nerves, and under the table her foot tapped rapidly on the black-and-white linoleum. The despicable man, whom she'd once considered a close friend and had often worked with, was responsible for introducing her to Todd. Finn had watched her fall in love, never once bothering to mention that Todd was a liar and a cheat. She’d discovered the ugly fact herself, the morning after the bachelor party.
Some friend Finn Brannigan had turned out to be.
She narrowed her eyes. “I don't work with him anymore.”
“I know, and I tried to change Daddy’s mind, but he says Finn’s the best and he won’t settle for anyone else. He also says you two were the best event planner–photographer team on the west coast, and it’s time you moved past your personal problems and worked together again.”
“Well, your daddy is wrong.”
Cammie relied on other photographers now. She avoided Finn and limited what she said to him when they ran into each other. Which, given that the population of Dunlin Shores was only 2,274, happened regularly.
Kelly’s face fell. “Then you won’t plan my wedding?”
She looked up to Cammie, and Cammie considered her family. She couldn’t let her down. Besides, she and Finn were both professionals able to separate business from their personal lives. As long as she remembered that, she could survive working with him again. Just this once.
“If you were anyone else… But I love you dearly. I’ll do it.”
Kelly exhaled a loud breath. "Thank you."
That settled, Cammie uncapped the Waterman’s. “Let’s do some planning.”
*As gigs went, this one sucked big-time. Standing in the large, glass-walled great room of the Oceanside Bed and Breakfast, camera gear piled on an oversize armchair nearby, Finn fiddled with his tripod and did his best to act cool. Not easy with Cammie in his sightline. Seated around the coffee table on the opposite side of the room, hammering out wedding details with Weston, Kelly, and Bryce.
Fran Bishop, who owned the place, had let them in, set out refreshments on the table, and then disappeared into her basement apartment. Finn wished he could disappear too. But among his various clients, Weston Atwood was the biggest by far. Finn did all the man's photography, for both the print and online paper, as well as for Atwood's marketing needs and brochures, and whatever else the man wanted photographed. From time to time, Atwood also recommended Finn to friends in need of a photographer.
Finn wasn’t about to sabotage that relationship. Especially now, when his father’s medical insurance had run out. Thanks to a nasty car accident, Finn and his brothers were strapped with bills for the old man’s back and hip surgeries, and ongoing, extensive physical therapy.
No, he’d do the job and do it well. Which meant taking pictures from now through the wedding. Nothing digital. Weston wanted things done the old-fashioned way—film and the darkroom.
“Hey, Finn. You going to stand there all afternoon, or photograph us planning the big day?” Weston settled his portly frame in his easy chair. “I’m sick of grinning.”
“I'm waiting for you to relax,” Finn said. “Forget I’m here. I’ll take the candid photos you want.”
Kelly nodded. Bryce, whose family had hired Finn several times in the past, shrugged.
“You’ll photograph me grinning or not at all,” Weston ordered, morphing into his usual bulldog glare. He pointed a menacing finger at the camera and re-pasted the jovial expression on his face.
Ignoring Finn, Cammie jotted something on her notepad. Except for the tightening of her lips, she might not have acknowledged him at all.
Nothing new there. Since she’d called off the wedding with Todd, she’d avoided him as if he had a contagious disease.
Not that he gave a damn.
Right, and life is filled with happy endings.
Stifling a scowl, he selected a thirty-millimeter telephoto lens from the equipment bag. He caught Kelly, radiant as she beamed at her soon-to-be husband, and Bryce, dazzled with love. A rare shot of Weston genuinely smiling at his daughter, his pleasure over the engagement evident. Then the camera found Cammie.
Five foot six, with curves in all the right places, blue-eyed, blond, and smart to boot, she made his breath catch. He’d been hot for her since eighth grade, a secret he kept to himself.
Now she hated his guts.
Wincing, he manually focused the Leica. She’d always favored skirts. This one was pleated, deep green, and short, and with her legs crossed, exposed a decent chunk of thigh. He zoomed in to the small bouquet of violets tattooed above her ankle. They’d been together when she’d got that, high-school friends in search of identity. Cammie, who favored vivid colors, had fallen in love with the rich purple-blue color of violets. Finn had chosen a video camera on his calf because he’d known even then that photography was his future.
Her parents were strict, and she’d been forced to hide the tattoo for a while. Not Finn. By then his mom had been sick and past caring at all about stuff like that. And the old man had been engrossed in his latest bimbo, who’d become the second of his four wives.
Finn narrowed the shot. Click-click. He grinned to himself, knowing these photos were for him alone. Next he focused on Cammie’s face, alive with excitement over some wedding detail. Damn, she was beautiful.
Suddenly, she noticed the camera. Her generous mouth flattened, her eyes narrowed and her posture stiffened like a soldier’s.
Finn didn’t think he could handle five straight weeks of frost-queen attitude, not from Cammie. Time to thaw the ice for good. So what if he’d already tried phone calls, texts, e-mails, and a hand-written letter sent through the post office? She’d ignored them all. Never answered her door either. But he’d stopped pestering her months ago, and didn’t the experts talk about the healing power of time? Surely almost twelve months after the pre-wedding fiasco, working together on this wedding, she’d soften and they’d make up.
Why he wanted that so badly was beyond him. But he did, and if necessary he’d beg, borrow, grovel… Anything.
He offered a careful smile—not too warm, don’t want to piss her off. For his effort he received a disapproving frown that made him feel two inches tall.
She still blamed him for the whole mess with her ex, when the fault lay with Todd. Yeah, the guy had been Finn’s friend, but how was he supposed to know he couldn’t keep his pants zipped?
The morning after Todd’s bachelor party she’d caught him in bed with two strippers. Which sucked and hurt and turned out to be the last of a long line of sexual betrayals, but sure as hell wasn’t Finn’s fault.
Aiming out the floor-to-ceiling window, he snapped several photos of the ocean. The tide was coming in, and frothy waves teased the sand, only to dart back, the way a hard-to-get woman might.
The group stood, and Finn pivoted toward them, focusing on Cammie, who posed like a sentry.
Under the cover of the camera, he let his gaze go where it wanted. It drifted from her short, blond hair, the natural curl tamed, to her chest, which, thanks to her rigid shoulders, stuck out. He'd never seen her breasts, but once, during the eighth-grade graduation dance, he'd felt their softness against his chest when a spin-the-bottle game had paired them.
Finn shot a close-up of her face, her head held high on her slender neck. It had been nearly seventeen years, but he still remembered standing in the closet with her that Friday night, excited, aroused, and scared as hell. His first ever kiss, though not hers, and the whole thing had just about knocked him off his feet. She’d smelled good, tasted like bubble gum, and he’d sprouted a giant erection. Certain he was in love, he’d floated through the rest of the weekend.
Unlike Cammie. Their school, which went from kindergarten through eighth grade, was a block from the high school. Older guys noticed and liked her. By Monday she and the freshman football quarterback were going steady, and she’d all but forgotten about Finn.
After licking his wounds and pretending he didn’t care, he’d gotten involved with Joanie Bates, who was two years older and the fastest girl in school. She’d initiated him into the wonderful world of sex. He’d never looked back.
Weston moved toward the dining room, which was separated from the great room by a shoulder-high bookcase. A sliding glass door led onto a huge view deck adjacent to the dining-room. Weston unlatched and slid it open. The scent of the chill salt air gusted into the room, momentarily overpowering the aromas of coffee and fresh-baked cookies Fran had supplied.
The older man inhaled deeply. "Nothing like the smell of sea air. Make a note to open the door during the wedding, Cammie.”
“Even in June, the breeze off the ocean is bound to be chilly,” Cammie reminded him. You don’t want your guests to be cold.”
Scoffing, Weston dismissed the concern. “That’s what heaters are for, sweetheart.”
A nickname she detested. Finn waited for her to let Weston know. She never got the chance.
Paying her no attention at all, the businessman pushed on with his own agenda. “We ought to have fireworks. Can you pull that off, Cammie? I’ll pay whatever it costs.”
Bryce and Kelly shared alarmed glances. “No disrespect meant, sir,” Bryce began, “but Kelly and I don’t want fireworks.”
“Nonsense, son. We’ll have ’em, and you’ll be glad we did. Got that, Cammie?”
“I’ll look into it,” she said, jotting a note on her pad, “but I really think we should make this the wedding Kelly and Bryce want.”
Atwood’s steely gray eyes glinted. “I’m not paying you to think, sweetheart.”
“Daddy!” Kelly scolded.
Her father scowled. “Look, I’m the one with the brains. Cammie knows that, and so do you.”
Cammie opened her mouth, but Finn cut in, his first opportunity to get back into her good graces. “She’s not your sweetheart, and you know damned well she’s smart. That’s why people pay her big bucks to think and create.”
Ignoring the shocked look on Weston’s face—Finn had never spoken to his boss that way—he turned to Cammie. Instead of a grateful smile, her eyes widened and she gave him a be-quiet look.
So much for getting on her good side.
He braced for Weston to fire him, and wondered how he’d pay his share of his pop’s medical bills.
Kelly looked surprised and impressed, and Bryce seemed downright amazed. Why couldn’t Cammie feel like that?
Because she was impossibly stubborn and not about to forgive him. Not yet.
Several moments passed. Weston didn’t react to the outburst. Relieved, Finn grabbed a cookie from the plate Fran had set on the dining-room table and chewed without tasting. His friends didn’t call him Finn the Rock for nothing. He was every bit as stubborn as Cammie, and had always liked challenges.
He and Cammie would be friends again. If it took the whole five-plus weeks to convince her, so be it.