Stepping outside on a Saturday morning, Gavin Hartfield, the creator of Charmed Occasions, the wedding and event-planning company within the Southern Charm Bed & Breakfast, touched the Bluetooth wireless earpiece that wrapped around his ear to reset it. Then he adjusted the microphone.
A trio of calls with immediate hang-ups buzzed his phone.
He pulled it out and checked the screen. The area code was from Atlanta, his previous hometown.
There was one person who kept harassing him, no matter how many times he changed his number.
A flicker of a panic attack increased his heartbeat.
Again. All of this. All over again.
He wanted the bastard to leave him alone.
“No. No. Concentrate on the wedding. They deserve your full attention—not an asshole who can’t let go.”
“Help! Gavin! You there?”
Wincing at his assistant’s voice, Gavin wanted to rip the entire headset away. “Yes. I’m here. Use the volume control. Please.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Victor MacArtney said. “Better?”
“Yes. What did you call for, Victor?”
“The family member acting as the cameraman for the virtual part is here. His name is Ryan. He wondered if he could follow you for all the pre-wedding stuff to show the family and guests waiting in their online group.”
“I’ll meet him inside. Have him wait by the entrance.”
“Gotta keep some of our secrets and tricks. Right?”
“Will do, boss.”
Shrugging off the earlier panicky sensation, he checked his tablet to update the list and timings for the wedding of Michael and Charles. Since the pandemic had changed everything, they’d pushed back their wedding multiple times until it was considered safer, when everyone would have been vaccinated. Once they’d chosen this Saturday, they were determined to exchange their vows and rings. They’d selected Occasions’ smaller package with a gazebo wedding and a brunch reception. The rest of the extended family, friends and co-workers had been invited to a virtual party in a Discord group that would be livestreamed by Ryan. The grooms kept the ceremony and reception areas subdued, simple, with a few splashes of flowers and a single pale-blue accent color against the natural background. It suited the older couple, who were both in their early forties. Now he needed to make their dream wedding come true on this July morning.
“Gavin, we have a problem!” Victor said while racing over.
Gavin wondered what disaster Victor had created this time. “Where is Ryan?”
“Left him inside like you said.”
“What is that?” Gavin focused on what Victor held in his hand.
Victor held up the battered birdcage. “One of the birdcages fell while the lighting team tried to hang it in the gazebo. A few pieces of metal snapped. Luckily, Jude hadn’t added the flowers or that would be another disaster. Ryan didn’t film anything. Would make it even—”
“Don’t even go there.”
“Yeah. True. What should we do?”
“First, calm down. There is always a solution. You must learn that part of the job.”
“Okay.” Victor spun the damaged item between his hands.
Gavin inspected the cage and realized they couldn’t repair it. They would have to discard the item. Okay, minor disaster, but there’s always a solution. Focus on that. “There’s no fixing this cage.”
“What’s the solution?”
Gavin tapped open the inventory program and scrolled to figure out his options. “Okay. Aisle 3, Bin C. There’s a matching cage that’s a little smaller, but it’ll work. Toss that one, remove it from the inventory list and get the replacement.”
“Please tell them to be extra careful. Those are our only white cages. We’ll have to be on the lookout next time we go shopping. And don’t go through the main entrance. Avoid the camera.”
“Promise. Keep out of sight until it is all fixed and perfect. Understood.” Victor raced off.
“What next?” Gavin waved to the violinists. While he talked to Victor, the pair of music students had arrived and begun practicing. They’d worked an Occasions wedding before and knew the drill. Then he returned inside to weave his way to the kitchen.
“Morning, Malcolm, how are we progressing?”
The sous chef, Malcolm Bissete, chopped and diced with a massive chef’s knife. If Gavin used one of those, he would be afraid of losing a finger. “I’m not going to be filmed. Right?”
“The camera guy is waiting by the front entrance. I’ll keep him contained. This was agreed upon between Occasions and the grooms.”
“Okay. Too busy to deal with that nonsense. Stupid pandemic.”
“I know. I know. At least we get to go back to some normalcy.”
“True. Anyway…progress check. Right.” Mal didn’t look up throughout the entire conversation but kept his attention on his work. “Cocktail hour is done and ready.” He scooped the ingredients to a bowl. “The cocktails will be made fresh to order. Zak is on his way and will mix everything. Unlike me, he knows what he’s doing.”
Mal went to the warming oven, plucked out a couple of pieces, plated them and passed it to Gavin. “These are the egg-white tartlets with bacon, Gruyère and sun-dried tomatoes. The other is the mini-French toast. I added dark maple syrup, so it bakes into the bread. Nothing should bother your lactose issue. Both grooms requested alternative milks.”
“I missed one of my favorite parts of every event—the tasting element.”
“Still not going to share with Victor?”
“Nope. Not guilty, either.” Gavin savored the hors d’oeuvres Malcolm had created to satisfy an early morning hunger before the actual brunch—something to offset the morning dip into alcohol. The cocktail hour would be celebrated with an option of mint juleps and Bellinis, along with coffee and tea. While the grooms and wedding party finished the pictures, the guests could enjoy some delicacies. “Wow. These are delicious!”
Malcolm slid over a cup of fresh coffee, doctored to Gavin’s taste. “Appreciate it.”
“What else is ready?”
“Katie’s delivery guy dropped off the cake. It’s waiting in the walk-in fridge. Simple but elegant, like one of the grooms, Charles, wanted. Katie loved how it came out and will add it to her social media pages.” Mal pointed to another workspace. “I’m finishing the salad wraps and grilled vegetable tartlets. The frittatas are baking. The scones are done.”
“Perfect. You rock.” Gavin polished off the rest of the French toast, loving the flavor combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.
“It’s a small event, so there isn’t much to make. It’ll be the same with Sunday’s reception. I enjoy these little ones. I’m not running around like crazy to get everything done.”
“There are going to be more of these smaller events until everything settles down.”
“And people become comfortable in larger ones.”
“Life came to a stop and changed. Now we need to figure out a way back,” Gavin said between sips of coffee. “Just wondering. What are you going to do when Dorian finishes school and returns home? Will you keep helping with the event side?”
“I’ll return to restaurant cooking with the occasional event-planning stuff for the larger groups. The restaurant side is my passion.”
“What?” Gavin frowned in a playful, teasing manner, complete with the sad puppy-dog look that collaborated with his baby-blue eyes. “Don’t you like working with Victor and me?”
“Not the puppy-dog eyes! No! No. Stop that.” Mal snapped his towel at Gavin. “You’re evil, man, just plain evil. Not going to sway me. Nope.”
Gavin grinned while he dropped the look when he knew he’d gotten to Mal.
“Hey, I adore you, honest. I don’t mind helping with the events if I’m needed, but I’m a restaurant kitchen guy. It’s in my blood. I love the craziness of a busy evening.”
“Understandable.” Gavin finished the coffee and pushed the dishes back across. “I’ll let you get back to things. Let me know if anything changes.” He tapped his earpiece. “Unless you run into Vincent, then tap me on this.”
“Always.” After a flourish of the towel, Malcolm tucked it back around one of his apron’s ties.
Gavin left the kitchen with a fresh burst of energy. Heading through the main restaurant, he studied a couple of people from the local businesses dressing the closed-off area for the reception. Pale-blue tablecloths with sand-colored napkins and chair covers united the area. A bounty of fresh flowers in shades of cream and pale blue added a beautiful fragrance. He loved everything the florist, Jude Sebastian, designed.
Taking a moment to adjust a couple of items and locate a missing placement, he returned outside. There he found Jude and his team setting up the last of the exterior floral arrangements around the gazebo and aisle. The lighting team finished adding pin-style lights around the gazebo that went with the strings of fairy lights. The natural morning sunlight would brighten the rest of the setting.
Though he discovered the second birdcage hanging, he couldn’t locate his assistant.
Gavin tapped his headset. “Victor, where are you?”
“Helping Charles with his outfit. We have a loose button and a wobbly belly,” Victor replied. “Don’t worry. Ryan is still in the front entrance area.”
“Okay. Keep me updated. I’ll pick up our cameraman and check on the grooms next.”
Gavin stepped closer to the dark-haired florist where he was tucking pale-blue and cream flowers into the birdcages. “Hey, Jude.” Memories of the Valentine’s Day surprise he’d created for Jude at Dr. Elliott Sheffield’s request to reveal their new home flashed through him. It had been one of his most memorable moments.
“Morning, Gavin. Wonderful day for a wedding.” Jude shifted his attention from the cage and flowers toward Gavin. He let out a low appreciative whistle. “Looking pretty dapper this morning. I like the paisley suspenders.”
Every single time they met, the florist commented on Gavin’s combination of bow ties and suspenders. They were his look, his trend and something he’d started with his first wedding. In a way, they remained his good-luck charms. If he needed to go a bit more formal, he had a collection of vests and a few coats more reminiscent of earlier centuries. There was a touch of steampunk style to some of his wardrobe. Today, he’d chosen gray-checked pants with a long-sleeved white button-down shirt. Due to the steamy early-July morning, he’d rolled the sleeves up his forearms then set off the look with gray paisley suspenders and matching bow tie.
“How many pairs of suspenders do you have?”
“Lost count a while ago,” Gavin admitted. “Same with the bow ties. At least a couple hundred, if not more, of each type.”
“Damn. How are we to know what set to get you for your birthday?” Jude let out a low whistle. “Sheesh. You probably have every single style and pattern.”
“No, not everything. Still missing a few sets, and more are always being revealed and designed. My collection is always growing. I’m not stopping anytime soon. There’s some higher-end ones I didn’t pick up.”
“Do you have a wish list?”
“Still can’t get Doc Elliott to try them?”
“Nope. Claims they get in his way in the ER.”
“Silly doctor of mine,” Jude said. “He prefers his boring scrubs.”
“He’s still a keeper. Does he have a twin?”
Jude laughed and shook his head.
“Damn. Too bad he broke the mold.”
“Oh, I’m not giving him up for anything.”
“Don’t blame you.” Gavin cupped his fingers under one bloom that was tucked into a stylized vase set on a pedestal. “These are gorgeous.”
Jude caressed one petal with a fingertip. “The one you’re touching is a morning glory. I adore that sky-blue color. The others are a combination of white mini cala lilies and ruffly double tulips. It took a bit of luck for me to find these white hybrid nerine lilies. They’re the perfect addition to intersperse among the foliage. After sending the grooms a picture, they became excited and gave me a bit of extra budget to find them.”
“I remember their excitement about it.”
“Crazy how that happens. Anyway, I chose Italian ruscus, eucalyptus and fern combinations to finish off the centerpieces and accents. Smaller versions are on the tables,” Jude said. “The grooms chose a boutonnière of a single morning glory flower and two strands of Italian ruscus. I delivered those earlier.”
“Other than tulips, I have no clue about what you just said. Tell me more.”