Mercy Me (A Lilac Romance Book 3)
Copyright © 2017 Pamela Ferguson
Published by Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications
There had to be a mistake.
Luke Stratford squinted at his phone and double-checked the rhinestone-studded numbers on the mailbox. He studied the white farm house with its sprawling wrap-around porch. His gaze wandered to the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, mere foothills compared to the Cascade Range he’d left long ago. Still, the cool autumn air, clean and crisp as only mountain air could be, poked his senses, reminding him there was a world beyond the Manhattan skyscrapers he now called home.
The sausage and green pepper breakfast burrito he’d snagged at JFK for his 6 a.m. flight roiled his stomach. Why would his boss, Martin Dalwich, a man who could buy a town like Lilac twenty times over, send him here to prevent a bridal salon from working at his super-model daughter’s upcoming wedding?
As if anyone with an ounce of sense would need convincing to stay as far away as possible from that matrimonial three-ringed circus. Not that he didn’t like Azure Dalwich and her fiancé. They were great people. But a bridal vendor auction to benefit an endangered blue butterfly? No matter how noble the cause, an event like this was going to attract publicity hounds anxious to donate extravagant amounts of money in exchange for photo ops with the superrich.
I don’t care what you have to do, Martin Dalwich had shouted, red-faced, clutching the list of invited vendors. Keep Belmont Bridal away from this auction.
Luke shook his head. Sure, the boss had been under pressure lately, assuring employees the accusations of insider trading were lies fabricated by his enemies. Company gossip had it Dalwich now spent most days holed up in his office with his inner circle of close advisors. Luke had been surprised when he’d received the call, summoning him to Dalwich’s office. He’d gotten on upper management’s radar five years before when he’d spotted a ten-million-dollar accounting error that everyone else had missed. Dalwich had promoted him out of his account manager job and given him a private corner office with the words Special Projects on the door. Whenever an issue arose that needed additional scrutiny, it made its way through the management chain to Luke’s desk.
This assignment was nothing like the other financial problems he’d tracked down. Instead of discussing the insider trading rumors as he had hoped Dalwich might, his boss had stunned him by launching a rant about his daughter’s bridal vendor auction.
He shut off the engine and sat back against the seat. What had Belmont Bridal, with its frilly curtains, pink-shuttered windows, and mailbox shaped like a fairy princess carriage, done to tick off a hard-nosed billionaire like Martin Dalwich? Even if the auction invitation had been a mistake, why not allow Belmont Bridal to participate and lose? There was no way this small-town shop could compete with rich New York designers.
But asking how high when management said jump had proven to be a winning strategy, gaining Luke a Fifth Avenue condo, a closet of Italian suits, and name recognition with headwaiters at the top restaurants in New York. Sure, the days were long, and having to be on call 24/7 to investigate every obscure request meant zero personal life. But that was a fair trade for enjoying wealth and prestige beyond his wildest dreams, wasn’t it?
The sooner he convinced Belmont Bridal to stay away from the auction, the sooner he could return to New York, to the world where he belonged.
“We’d better use the twenty-inch fitting platform,” Chloe Belmont said as she lifted the layered skirt of crystal-encrusted blue tulle from the design table. “The bride is almost a foot taller than me.”
“Wait! That skirt weighs at least sixty pounds,” Renata, Chloe’s design assistant, exclaimed as she scooped up an armful of the sparkly fabric.
“One of the lighter ones,” Chloe joked as they carried the skirt to the front salon together and draped it gently across the white satin settee. She climbed the steps up onto the fitting platform and smoothed the blue satin dress she wore into place. She couldn’t wait to see how the form-fitting short blue dress, with its heart-shaped bodice and crystal-accented lace appliques, would look when combined with the full-length blue tulle skirt. “Are you going to be able to fasten the skirt around my waist without Mom’s help?” Chloe asked.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful,” Renata said as she reached for the fabric. “Here’s the center of the waistband. Hold that in front while I button the back.”
Chloe watched as Renata draped the massive skirt around her waist, the heavy fabric anchoring Chloe in place on the pedestal. Yards and yards of cascading tulle ruffles reached out a full six feet around her, creating the dramatic hour-glass shape that Belmont Bridal clients loved. Her mother had outdone herself with this design.
“Maybe you should keep this dress,” Renata said. “With your auburn hair and blue eyes, it looks like it was made for you.”
Chloe shook her head. If she ever got married, she knew exactly what kind of dress she wanted. The vision had been in her mind since the first time she’d picked up a needle and thread. “I’d like to put a picture of this blue dress on our website before the Dalwich auction.”
Renata adjusted the skirt hem and stood up. “Don’t you think you should tell your mother about the auction? I mean, you are business partners.”
Chloe shook her head. “I want to surprise Mom. Remember how much she complained about me taking so much time to learn about website design and to create social media accounts? That invitation to participate in the Dalwich bridal auction proves it was worth it.” Belmont Bridal had always relied on word-of-mouth advertising. Clients came from as far away as Maine and California to purchase a one-of-a-kind dress from the small shop. But if she wanted to expand the business, word-of-mouth advertising would no longer do the trick.
Chloe studied the cascading fabric. “The crystal swirls on the skirt are supposed to duplicate the lace pattern on the bodice. What do you think?”
“Stunning.” Renata nodded her approval as she circled the platform. “Wait, I think we missed a spot.”
“Where?” Chloe glanced over her shoulder.
Renata retrieved the tall, slender mirror on four wheels and rolled it near the platform so Chloe could see the skirt panel. “Look, here on the right side. I think—who’s that?”
Read Mercy Me to find out what happens next.