To my family who support and believe in me even when the "Crows of Doubt" are pecking wildly.
To Joan, Nicola and Rachael who are always on the end of an email and happy to listen and to brainstorm with me.
Many thanks to Rechelle for her passionate, patient and detailed descriptions of thermography, and for an insight into the intricacies of wedding invitations. Any errors in the story are mine.
To Serena for the cheerleading and grammar assistance.
Mega thanks to Charlotte whose perspective smoothes out the kinks in the manuscript and helps my characters shine.
Welcome to Whitetail, Wisconsin, future home of Weddings that WOW!
As acting mayor, Annika will do anything to revive the economy of the town that's been her refuge ever since her art career imploded and her fiancé walked out. Even if it means crashing an engagement party to talk business with the bride's billionaire father. But the evening starts with a kiss from a gorgeous stranger-and ends with a night in jail.
Finn Callahan can't believe his sister is getting married, not after their parents' disastrous track record. And he'd rather be anywhere than working from his family's vacation home. Until he catches a leggy blonde sneaking in the window, and suddenly telecommuting for the season is very appealing.
Unable to resist their mutual attraction, Annika and Finn are soon mixing business and pleasure-just for the summer. Too bad Annika's heart missed the memo about not falling in love…
Many small towns are struggling during this economic depression. Jobs are disappearing, young people are moving away and places that existed as agricultural centers are looking at ways to reinvent themselves. When I was writing Boomerang Bride, Matilda sold her wedding dress and she and Peggy Hendrix started a small wedding business. This got me thinking about creating an entire small town that was ALL all about weddings.
Welcome to Whitetail; a small town languishing on the edge of a pristine, north-woods lake and home to an electric group of people who love nothing more than throwing a great wedding for their own. Of course, Whitetail is in Wisconsin because I used to live there and I know it well. The north woods is a very pretty part of the state dotted with lakes and fishing cabins. It's beautiful but isolated. Annika and Finn's story kicks off the trilogy but the townsfolk are all introduced and across the series many of them get their own love story in Picture Perfect Wedding (August 2013) and Runaway Groom (December 2013). I hope you enjoy getting to know the supporting cast of the romantic leads- Nicole, the hair stylist from 'Affairs With Hair', Melissa who runs the 'Northern Lights' Boutique, John Ackerman, the owner of 'Whitetail Market and Video' and Mrs Norell,the vibrant senior with pink hair who has an opinion on everything.I hope you fall in love with Whitetail and revisit it often!
♥Saved By The Bride♥
Excerpt From Chapter One
Who knew that being a klutz and combining it with a distrust of wedding bouquets could lead to a black eye?
Annika Jacobson automatically touched the four-day-old berry-colored bruise with its spectacular vivid yellow edges with the tips of her fingers as if that would will it away.
"Stop it." Nicole Lindquist from Whitetail's Affairs with Hair leaned forward and captured her hand. "I've concealed it with makeup but if you keep tapping it with your fingers, you'll ruin all my hard work."
"Sorry." For the thousandth time in ninety-six hours, Annika asked herself why she hadn't just caught the damn flowers. Everyone outside the old Whitetail church knew that Jennifer would throw her bouquet to her best friend and they'd all discreetly taken a step back so it could happen. She'd known it too and had thought she was up for the task but at the last minute she'd panicked and moved sideways, thinking it would leave Melissa wide open for the catch. In her own inimitable, uncoordinated style, she'd misjudged it completely and the only thing she'd caught was a wad of firmly packed tulip stems to the cheek. Stems which packed a hell of a punch. All in all it had capped off a day she'd been dreading for months.
Not that she didn't think Jennifer's marriage was a good idea, it totally was. Jennifer, unlike herself, had been born to be married and Carl was a great guy, but their wonderful wedding, where the town had made them celebrities for the day, had been their last day in Whitetail. They too had joined the parade that led out of town toward jobs in Madison, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and beyond. Their departure made the economic situation very real and meant that after a decade, she was the only member of her graduating class still living in Whitetail. Financially, she was barely holding on herself because personalized calligraphy was a luxury few in town could now afford and her almost nonexistent bank account had her seriously worried. Reggies, the biggest employer in the town, had been shedding jobs for a year and had now pulled out completely. The business park lay idle and her beloved town was shriveling before her eyes-slowly languishing on the curve of a pristine northwoods lake.
Sadly, beauty and fresh air didn't pay the bills and the town desperately needed a new industry to survive. She thought of her two overdue rent notices and knew deep in her heart she needed a regular job to survive. A job so she could stay in Whitetail where she belonged.
"I'm just nervous, is all." She glanced around at the other four expectant faces, the core group of the Whitetail Chamber of Commerce who'd joined her in the limousine for moral support. At least they thought it was moral support. Annika felt it was more along the lines of making sure she didn't back out of "the plan." Just the thought of "the plan" made her sick to her stomach so she tried to joke. "At least this party's full of out-of-staters and no one will have read about my epic failure in The Bugle."
Melissa Bergeron, the owner of the Northern Lights Boutique and the woman who'd lent Annika the evening dress she was now wearing, made a funny face as if she was trying not to laugh.
"They might have seen it in the online edition."
Annika's stomach rolled on acid and not much else. "Since when does The Bugle have an online edition? I thought Eric was still learning how to use the Guttenberg press?"
"His grandson, Joshua, is home for the summer and as part of his IT project to get the seniors online, he's taken the paper to the web, complete with a subscription deal," said John Ackerman, the proprietor of Whitetail Market and Video. "This week's the inaugural edition and Jennifer's wedding video is the first click-through feature."
"Joshua's wonderful and he made everyone at the center have a practice," said Ella Norell, a vibrant senior with a passion for gardening and cake decorating. "Anni, you looked quite pretty before you sprawled on the grass."
Annika almost dropped her head into her hands before realizing she wasn't allowed to do that because it would ruin her hair and makeup. Life was so much easier wearing her ink-stained jeans and pulling her hair back in a ponytail. So she gave a shuddering sigh instead as that was the only option open to her. After twenty-nine years she knew she couldn't hide how uncoordinated she was from her small hometown, but the world didn't need to know.
The internet knows. "Oh, God, why did it go live this week? The video's probably been uploaded everywhere and someone at the party will have seen it."
Nicole nodded in sympathy. "Don't worry. Just think of it as more of your exemplary community service."
When Annika was twelve and on a 4-H hike, she'd organized a group of girls to carry out an injured Sally Tomie on a stretcher made of sweaters. On their arrival back in Whitetail, both the town and her often-distracted parents had gushed with pride. Annika had been "helping out" ever since.
"Me being suckered by treacherous tulips wasn't part of any plan to get Whitetail on the map."
Neither was the town's current plan of having her gate-crash an engagement party hosted by the head of AKP Industries from Chicago, which was being held at his vacation house on Lake Whitetail. Sean Callahan's company had bought the business park from Reggies and as the mayor's volunteer assistant, she'd made numerous telephone calls, sent emails and even snail-mail letters requesting an appointment to discuss the future plans for the park. Without a business plan the town would die and she was determined not to let that happen. She'd put in hours of work but all she'd got back was silence. Utter, devastating silence.
At an emergency town meeting held two days ago when then-mayor, Donna Wakeen, had unexpectedly blown off the town by running away to Chicago to a job that paid, Annika had suddenly found herself appointed acting mayor despite a thousand reservations of her own including the accusatory internal voice that said, You need to focus on your career.
She'd silenced the voice, accepted the temporary position and while looking for a way to move forward, she'd posed the general question, "What is Whitetail good at?"
The town, on a post-wedding high, had replied exactly that. Weddings.
Nicole had told everyone how Hobin, Wisconsin, had been successful with weddings and they only had a red barn for receptions. Annika had pointed out that surely Wisconsin only needed one small town for weddings. Nicole had enthusiastically argued that as Whitetail was close to the Minnesota border, they were in the perfect position to attract couples from Minneapolis/Saint Paul and they had a lot more to offer than a barn. Then she'd waved a glossy magazine article about Bridget Callahan's engagement.
Despite John Ackerman's opinion of the family-"worst vacationers ever. They never spend a cent in the town"-suddenly everyone was pushing Annika to use Donna's invitation to attend the engagement party and go convince the bride-to-be to have her wedding in Whitetail.
"It will put us on the map just like Chelsea Clinton did for Rhinebeck," Mrs. Norell had claimed, and the town had enthusiastically agreed.
Annika thought the plan to be utterly insane. The daughter of a billionaire who'd never supported Whitetail wouldn't even consider getting married in a tiny northwoods town. No, she'd be having a glitz-and-glamour wedding at a venue like Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, .
Just like yours was going to be.
She banished the thought so fast she almost gave herself whiplash. The town's outrageous wedding plan wasn't hers. Whitetail needed real jobs with a long-term future but as Sean Callahan hadn't accepted any of her offers to take a meeting, she had no choice but to resort to gate-crashing his daughter's party. When she finally did meet him, she wouldn't be talking about weddings-she'd be talking about the business park and the future of Whitetail.
Al, the owner-driver of Whitetail's Feel Like a Star car and carriage service, brought the limousine to a halt near a clearing in the dense pine trees. He turned to them and said, "The gates of the Callahan property are just up ahead. The four of you need to get out and I'll collect you all after I've delivered Anni to the front door."
Annika's heart kicked up. This crazy plan was actually happening. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breath out.
Nicole, her eyes shining and with a smile that broke through the strain of grief which had circled her since the start of the year, tucked a stray strand of Annika's hair into place and gave her face a final dust of powder. "Don't be nervous. We've made you look so amazing we hardly recognize you. You're going to fit right in with those Chicago socialites."
Mrs. Norell added, "Anni, just remember Tess in the movie Working Girl. She gate-crashed a wedding and talked business. Oh, Harrison Ford was gorgeous back then."
Annika was too stressed to point out that was the movies and the eighties, where as this was real life. Her real life.
John gave her a supporting smile tinged with hubris. "You might mention that my fruit and vegetables are equal to what their cook brings in from Chicago."
"John, she's going to be talking about weddings," said Melissa as she adjusted the strapless dress. "Tell Miss Callahan I can order in any number of wedding dresses."
"Out," Al said firmly. ".Leave the poor girl alone."
They scrambled across the seats and out into the sweet evening air and a minute later Al drove the vehicle through the open and imposing gates with their monogrammed Kin the center, up the long drive and came to a stop halfway around the circle. As he opened the door for her, he said in his best chauffeur's voice, "This is the Callahan's cabin on the lake."
She gave him a tight smile. "Thanks, Al."
The property was closer to the town by boat than by car and she'd never been here before. She moistened her lips and stepped out, and as she was smoothing down her dress it hit her that not only was she a walking example of the Whitetail Chamber of Commerce, she carried the expectations of the entire town on her now bare and nervous shoulders. Her stomach spun like the spin cycle of the washing machine she couldn't afford. Why had she let the town talk her into this?
Jobs and the future. Your future.
As she watched the limo pull away and disappear down the wide sweep of driveway, she took in a deep breath and turned to face the Callahans' lakeside cabin. She instantly wondered if the rich took pleasure in irony. She supposed a small and simple fishing cabin might have existed once, but not anymore. The setting sun cast a golden glow on an imposing classic American house with a silvery-gray cedar-shake exterior, white windows and a shingled roof, and it reminded her of an era long passed. Four enormous stone chimneys rose majestically but only those with an eye for detail and some knowledge of architecture could tell they also marked the spot where the original house ended and the huge modern extension started.
. The house-Kylemore, according to its copper nameplate-loomed above her, its steeply pitched roof dwarfing her and her bravado.
She smoothed down her dress and squared her shoulders. She could do this.
Then she laid eyes on the headset-adorned security guard. Her stomach lurched so hard it almost tugged her sideways. Crap. Security. It hadn't occurred to her to factor that into her plans.
A tremble started in her toes but then, out of nowhere, part of the 4-H pledge rolled through her brain, stalling the wobble at her knees. I pledge my heart to clearer thinking. She took in a calming breath, letting the sight of the sparkling water on the lake soothe her. As steadily as one can in three-inch heels, she walked purposefully to the front door with her head held high and a smile pasted on her face. "Good eve-"
The security guard barked out the word so loudly, so unexpectedly and so very un-Wisconsin-like, that she wavered precariously on her heels as her composure fled. "Ann…Donna Wakeen."
Damn, damn, damn. She stifled a groan. She'd practiced over and over what she needed to say and now the first time she'd opened her mouth she'd gone and fluffed it.
Distract with chitchat. She smiled again and this time her cheeks ached as she tried to keep the edge of anxiety out of her voice. "You must be from Chicago."
A grunt was all she got as he studied his clipboard and followed with, "You're not on the list."
I'm not on the list!
Don't panic yet. She opened the ridiculously small but exquisitely beaded evening purse and pulled out a folded piece of thick, embossed paper. Paper she knew cost a fortune because a calligraphy client had once asked her to price it. "Here's my invitation."
The stone-faced man stared at it impassively. "You're not on the list which means I can't let you in."
Her heart pounded against the figure-hugging bodice of the dress. It had never occurred to her that holding the invitation wouldn't be enough to gain entry. Frantically trying to think, she crossed her fingers in the folds of her dress. Forgive this bending of the truth. It's for a good cause. She tried to peer at his list. "Oh, dear, aren't I? My P.A. assured me she'd telephoned and given theRSVP. Clearly there's been a miscommunication."
His dark eyes showed no emotion and he turned away, speaking into the mouthpiece of his headset. Annika strained to decipher the words but his voice was a low and unintelligible rumble and all she caught was "Donna." He turned back. "You got your cell on you?"
She smiled brightly. "Yes."
He nodded and then said "yes" into his mouthpiece before looking directly at her. "Neiquest or Callahan?"
"Pardon?" She had no clue what he was talking about.
He spoke slowly, his expression shrewd. "Are you friends of the Neiquests or the Callahans?"
Understanding dawned. "Oh, right, um, the bride's father." Well, that's kind of close to the truth seeing the impossible-to-contact Sean Callahan is the reason I'm here.
He tapped his clipboard. "Your phone's not ringing."
"Ah, no. Should it be?"
"If you were Donna Wakeen then, yeah, it would be."
He flicked some gum with his tongue, the action of a man in total control and holding all the keys to the kingdom. "The dispatcher just rang the number and got her voice mail. I don't know who you are, lady, but no one gate-crashes a Callahan party on my shift." His stance widened to block the doorway and his hands moved to his hips. "I'll be asking you to leave now."
She could hear the animated sounds of the party and she was so very close to her goal and yet so very far away. Desperation flooded her. "This invitation was for the mayor and she couldn't come and-"
"Do you need me to escort you off the property?" His expression was granite.
Her cheeks burned with mortification. "No. Thank you, I can find my own way."
"Good." He continued to stare at her as if she was a June bug he could squish whenever he chose.
With her confidence in tatters, she somehow managed to muster up her dignity, turn very slowly on her heels and stalk down the blacktop into the fast-fading light. As the pine trees enveloped her and the noise of the party became a low buzz, a smolder of fury burned inside her, slowly gaining heat. What did manners cost? If that was the caliber of the staff Callahan hired then she wondered at the type of person this billionaire was. Easy-undeniably rude!
The balls of her feet burned and with a rough tug she pulled off her sandals and sank down into soft pine needles. Okay, so she'd tried to use another person's invitation to gain entry but only because Callahan hadn't responded to any of her communications. Why had she even thought he might? According to older residents, the Callahans had been coming to Whitetail for years but unlike most other vacationers, they'd kept themselves aloof from the town. Each summer they buzzed the lake with their powerboats and water scooters, and every Thanksgiving they cut down a Christmas tree and, without a backward glance, headed back to Chicago.
Always taking, never giving.
The smolder ignited into a hot flame that quickly took hold until a fire raged. Damn it all, good people were hurting and this family owed her a meeting. Owed Whitetail a meeting. She'd always been good, always done the right thing, and her dealings with AKP Industries were no different. She'd gone through all the correct channels and what had it got her? Squat. Now the town had gone to enormous lengths to get her ready for this party so she could meet Sean Callahan, and she didn't need to imagine their reaction if she returned without meeting him-she could taste their disappointment in her already. She hated letting people down.
She heard a band start up followed by cheering. Given the volume of noise and combining it with the fact it was a warm and balmy summer night, she knew everyone was dancing outside. She should be there. Not dancing but mingling outside in the crowd and finding the man she needed to meet.
Outside. The thought rocked her. Most people would be in the garden, leaving the house fairly empty. With a determined pull, she strapped her dainty shoes back on her feet. There was more than one way to skin a cat so there was more than one way to get into that party.