Friday, December 3, 2010

Death on the Aisle {Chapter One}

As some of you know, I don't just plan weddings.  I also write the Annabelle Archer wedding planner mystery books that were published by HarperCollins (the 3rd book is pictured above).  The books are based on my often crazy wedding planning experiences, my hilarious colleagues and the DC wedding industry. The first book, Better Off Wed, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel (which was way cool).

After much ado and many letters and emails from lovely Annabelle Archer readers, I've decided to post the fourth novel in the series online.  Each Friday a new chapter will go up on Bridal Bubbly.  I will be writing these chapters as we go (and I won't have the advantage of a team of editors and copyeditors proofing and tweaking for a year before going to press) so I apologize in advance for any goofs.  I hope you enjoy the latest wedding planner mystery.  Remember, it's all fiction.  Enjoy!

Death on the Aisle
by Laura Durham

Chapter One

            “We’re going to get killed out here.” Kate’s voice barely carried over the furious sounds of the storm.
            “Hold on to the rope,” I said, pushing my wet hair off of my face with one hand and holding an umbrella with the other.  The rain was pelting me from the side and making my umbrella useless.
            “You’ve got to be kidding,” Kate said as she slid down the metal ramp in front of me, clutching the thin rope railing to keep from falling overboard. 
            When we reached the dock, we both ran to the catering tent a few feet away and pushed our way through the clear plastic sides.
            “Well, it’s about time,” Richard said, his hands planted firmly on his hips. “I can’t hold this food much longer.”  Richard’s usually perfect hair was curling around his temples like it did when it rained and he didn’t use enough styling cement.
            “We’re ready,” I folded up my umbrella and threw it to the ground. “It took longer than we thought to move all of those guests to the upper decks.”
            “Whose idea was it again to hold a wedding on a yacht?” Richard wagged a finger at me.
            As the owner of WeddingBelles, one of Washington D.C.’s most up and coming wedding planning companies, I’d done a few weddings on boats before.  The kind of boats with paddle wheels that get rented out for the afternoon.  But nothing like the luxury yacht that was the setting for my latest wedding.
            “It’s a super-yacht,” I corrected him. “And it would have been a perfect idea if it hadn’t rained.”
            “This isn’t rain,” My assistant, Kate, wrung out the hem of her skirt. “It’s a monsoon. Speaking of disasters, Richard, what are you wearing?” Bold words from someone who was wearing one of the tightest evening suits I’d ever seen. I was surprised that she could bend over without the whole thing ripping in half.
            Richard glanced down at the black trash bags that he had taped around his body with silver swaths of duct tape. “If you have a better idea for protecting my Prada suit, I’m all ears.”
            Kate’s mouth fell open. “You’re wearing Prada on a night like tonight?”
            “You must be out of your mind if you think I’m going to caterer a wedding on the most luxurious yacht that’s ever docked in Washington D.C.’s Harbor and not wear designer.”
            Richard Gerard Catering was known for the impeccable style of its owner just as much as for its world-class cuisine, and Richard would never dream of wearing off-the-rack for a six figure wedding.
            “Speaking of designer, did you see the dresses on the women in there?  And the jewelry?” Kate nudged me with her elbow. “Do you think it’s real?”
            “Of course,” I said. “The stylist was telling me how many carats the stepmother of the bride was wearing.”
            Richard’s eyebrows popped up. “Stylist? Anyone I know?”
            “Not unless you know anyone from London.  He travels with the family.”
            Richard sniffed. “Well, that seems like a bit of overkill.”
            “Oh, you think that pushed it over the edge?” Kate ran her fingers through her short blond bob that had managed to stay surprisingly bouncy. “Not the floral designer flown in from New York or the interior designer from Paris who redid the entire ship in the wedding colors?”
            Richard made a face at Kate, and then turned to me. “Are you sure everyone is out of the living room? I don’t want my waiters to get mobbed again.”
            “It’s safe.” I nodded. “They’re all devouring the seafood station upstairs.”
            “Nothing like food to keep people occupied,” Kate said.
            “Food or booze,” Richard corrected her.  I knew he was referring to the massive ice bar that we’d craned onboard. The huge slab of ice had been carved to hold half a dozen different bottles of the world’s finest vodkas, which meant that the guests would be able get very drunk very fast.
            A figure draped in a dripping tangerine orange tablecloth burst through the tent sides. “Did someone say booze? Because I really need a drink.”
            Kate and I jumped back as the tablecloth splattered to the floor and Fern emerged. His dark hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, and he looked remarkably dry considering that the rest of us appeared to have swum to the wedding.           
            “Where did you get that cloth?” I eyed the mound of orange fabric in a wet, wadded mound on the floor.
            Fern shrugged. “It was lying around and I couldn’t find an umbrella.”
            “Lying around as in lying over a table to cover it?”  I didn’t remember having extra linens just sitting around and had a horrible vision of the bride catching a glimpse of a now-naked catering table with its knobby metal legs and particle board top.
            “Of course not,” Fern said, and then bit the edge of his lip. “At least I don’t think so. But I was in too much of a hurry to notice.”
            “If those people sent you down here for more food, you tell them we’re going as fast  . . .,” Richard began.
            “Is it the bride?” I swallowed hard remembering how nervous she’d been as Fern had done her hair earlier in the day.  Fern had a talent for loosening brides up, usually by sharing raunchy gossip of questionable origin, but this one had been a challenge even for a seasoned wedding hair stylist like him.
            “No, no, no,” Fern waved his hands around his face like he was shooing off a swarm of mosquitoes. “No one sent me.  I came to tell Annabelle before anyone else did.”
            “Tell me what?” I said, immediately running through the list of possible wedding disasters in my head. At least it wasn’t the bride; I mentally ticked her off my list. My mind leapt to the next natural problem. “Is it the mother-of-the-bride? Stepmother? Step-mother’s assistant?”
            Fern hesitated. “Maybe you should just see for yourself.” He snatched my umbrella from the floor and slipped out between the plastic flaps of the tent.
            “Great,” I said, grabbing a pale yellow napkin from a nearby pile and draping it over my head.  I’d learned this trick by watching the waitstaff try to keep their heads dry while carrying trays of food onto the boat.
            “I’m right behind you,” Kate said, picking up her own napkin.
            Richard threw his oven mitt down on the prep table. “Don’t even think about leaving me behind.” He turned to one of his chefs. “Get all the platters for the buffet ready, and I’ll be back to garnish.”
            I adjusted my napkin so I could see through the dangling points and pushed my way out of the tent.  The rain was still beating down wildly and it stung my cheeks through the yellow fabric.  I groped the few feet to the metal ramp and pulled myself up by the rope, my feet slipping on the slick metal.  I was surprised we hadn’t lost a waiter or two to the dark water below and was grateful when I reached the top. Jumping onto the boat, I ducked in through one of the heavy glass doors, and then held it open for Kate and Richard to follow.
I pulled the sopping wet napkin off of my head and pushed back a dripping strand of hair.  I usually wore my auburn hair pulled back in a bun but the rain had made a disaster of even my simple hairstyle and it kept falling into my eyes. I could only imagine that any trace of makeup had run off my face hours ago.  I reminded my self that I wasn’t here to meet men. Surprisingly, I had enough of those in my life already.
            Fern stood in the hallway that led to the informal dining room on one side and the spacious living room on the other. We were using the casual dining room to stage the food and, as the door swung open, I could see one of Richard’s chefs touching up a silver tray of hors d’oeuvres that a waiter held in front of him.
            “This way.” Fern motioned us in the other direction and we followed him across the living room to the marble entrance foyer and gleaming gold staircase that led to the lower decks. 
            The client had indeed redecorated the boat in shades of the bride’s favorite colors: lemon and tangerine.  The couches had been done in a yellow silk with orange throw pillows and the entire boat had been carpeted the color of frothy, beaten egg yolks. It felt like walking into a sunset. Or an egg.
            “Where are we going?” Kate said from behind me.  “The party isn’t down there.”
            Fern placed a finger over his lips like all the guests weren’t on the two decks above us putting away vast quantities of iced seafood and vodka.  “You’ll see.”
            We formed a silent procession down the twisting staircase to the lower deck.  I recognized this as the level with all of the guest bedrooms and the indoor gym.  This was also where we’d shoved the furniture from the upper decks when we realized that the entire wedding would have to be inside the boat.  The original plan had been to have the desserts and dancing on the top deck helicopter pad but when the rain had started in the morning and hadn’t stopped, we’d had to change strategy.
            Fern opened a door and I saw deck chairs stacked up to the ceiling.
            “Oops,” he said.  “Wrong door.”
            He opened the door next to it, and I felt the rush of humidity.  The glass door to the steam room hung open across from us and had filled the gym with a warm haze.  Like everything on the boat, the gym used space efficiently with one elliptical machine and one universal weight contraption filling the room.
            “I couldn’t find the switch to turn it off,” Fern explained with a cough.  The steam smelled like eucalyptus, and I couldn’t help taking a deep breath.
            Kate waved a hand in front of her.  “Why is the steam room on during the wedding?”
            “Is someone in there?” I narrowed my eyes and could just make out a figure slumped against the tile bench. “And are they wearing a suit?”
            Richard sucked in air. “That’s not just any suit.  That’s Dolce and Gabana.”
            “How can you tell that from here?” I asked.
            He shrugged.  “It’s a gift.”
            “All right, buddy.” Kate called into the room and clapped her hands. “Party’s over. This floor is off-limits.”
            I felt my skin go cold despite the heat billowing from the steam room. “Oh, no,” I said as the body slipped off the bench and rolled onto the floor with a splash and a thud. “Not again.”
            Richard jumped back as droplets of warm water hit our legs. “Is that . . .?”
            I splashed over to the limp body and turned him over to feel for a pulse. “It’s Jeremy Johns.”
            Kate gave a small scream. “Is he . . .?”
            I nodded as pulled my fingers away from his neck and stepped back. “Dead.”
            “I thought it looked like the fancy floral designer you flew in from New York,” Fern tapped his chin.  “But what’s he doing down here?  Wasn’t he supposed to be putting the final touches on the buffet flowers upstairs?”
            It looked like the only thing Jeremy Johns would be doing with flowers from now on would be pushing up daisies. 
            I rubbed my temples. I couldn’t believe this was happening. The week has started off so well.