“Pagan, your eleven thirty appointment just called to cancel,” my assistant and best friend, Alison, says, dropping a stack of papers on my desk with a thud.
I sigh, running my fingers through my tangled blonde hair. Trust me to be in such a rush this morning that I forgot to brush it. Hell, I’m surprised I remembered to brush my teeth.
When I started my business four years ago, I was excited, overjoyed that I was given the opportunity to start my own company. Yeah, I worried about getting the clientele I needed to keep it running, but I shouldn’t have. The first year I had to turn work away because we were that booked up, and the second year I decided to open another office, hiring other event planners.
Four years on and I have three more offices, more staff and a fully booked schedule. The only thing I don’t have is a life.
I don’t go out anymore unless it’s to do with work. All my social events? Work. Dinner dates? Work. Everything in my life is work, work, work. I even live above my office. That’s how much my work has leaked into my life.
The last time I went on a date was over four years ago, and let’s just say I’d rather forget about that experience. He turned out to be my brother’s wife’s ex-boyfriend, who was a raving lunatic. He kidnapped her, beat her, and well, it’s a long story but thankfully he’s dead now. That’s all that matters. But still, he used me to get to her, and I’ll never forgive myself for putting her in danger.
At the beginning, that was the reason I put off dating, but after time, my work was enough to make me happy. It’s not enough anymore.
I want the love I see in each of my wedding clients. I want the love my brother has with his wife, Lola, and what my parents have after fifty years of marriage. I want to be able to leave work and go home to my husband, where we can just be us. I want children. Hell, at the moment, I just want a life that consists of something other than work. I never thought I’d ever even think those words.
I love my job, love the order of it, the routine. I like seeing something start at nothing and build its way up to something spectacular. And that feeling I get when the client sees the end result makes it all worth it. But lately, I don’t feel the same excitement I once did. I know I’m missing something—and that something is a life.
“Thank you, Alison. Are you packed?” I ask her, looking up through tired eyes.
We leave in a few days to go to London, where we’ll be for three weeks organising a wedding for one of our new prestigious clients. Her son is getting married, and she wants only the best for him.
He’s a partner at one of the best law firms in London, but based on the size of this wedding, you’d think he was the prince.
They’ve also only given us six weeks to plan the wedding, and three of those will be spent in London with them.
“Yeah. I’ll be around tomorrow to pack yours.” She smiles, picking up some folders.
“How did you know?” I groan. She knows me too well, because I haven’t packed a damn thing. In fact, the only thing I’ve done in preparation for our trip is to make sure that everything is booked for the big day.
“You need me to remind you to eat, and I’m pretty sure if I didn’t text you at night, you’d still be awake until the morning.” She chuckles, shaking her head.
“True. You are a godsend. Tell me, when was the last time I gave you a raise?” I tease.
“Last week, which I told you I didn’t need.” She scoffs, rolling her eyes.
“Well, you need another,” I laugh.
“What are you going to do for the two hours you have free?”
“Um, work?” I ask, knowing it’s not really a question but a statement. I have so much to do before we leave.
I’m leaving my other event organiser, Catherine, in charge while I’m away. However, I don’t trust anyone other than myself to get everything done. People pay me more because I’m good at what I do; one bad event and my whole life’s work could go down the drain.
“No. You’re going to go out into the reception area, where Brooke and Lola are waiting with Cece to take you out for lunch. Now go,” she orders, handing me my coat.
I give her a soft look, taking the coat from her. “Come with us. We could both use the break.”
“Oh no, I don’t want to intrude.”
“Don’t be stupid. Brooke and Lola love you. Now come on. I could use a drink before we have to deal with Mr. Harrington.” I shudder and she does the same, looking at me in horror.
“Yep, we definitely need a drink to deal with him.”
Mr. Harrington works at the local vet and is always in here, hiring us to help organise a fundraiser to help the stray animals brought in to him. But he’s slimy. Instead of making eye contact when he’s talking to you, he stares at your chest. It’s worse for Alison because she has a bigger chest than me and has to deal with him for longer periods of time.
We walk out into the reception area and I smile when I see my niece with her head inside a book.
Just like her mother and father.
She looks up when she sees me, her chubby face breaking into a wide smile, and I can’t help but return it. At four years old, my niece is a genius, but more than that, she freaking rocks. I love her to bits and can’t imagine my life without the little madam.
“Auntie Pagan, look what Mummy bought me,” she shouts, twirling around in a princess dress.
“You look beautiful.” I smile humorously down at me niece.
“I know!” She grins, twirling again before launching herself at me. I bend down, picking her up and resting her on my hip.
Sheesh, the kid is putting on weight. Soon I won’t be able to pick her up. That thought kind of sucks.
“Hey, Pagan. We’re going out for lunch and were wondering if you and Alison wanted to join us?” Lola, my sister-in-law, asks, smiling beautifully. Every time I see her smile, something inside me shifts. She’s come a long way from the girl who turned up here five years ago, alone, broken and lost. She’s gone through hell, but with her strength and with help from my darling brother, she’s made it through to the other side. She also gives me hope that one day I’ll find someone who loves me like my brother loves her.
“Yeah. If anyone could drag me away from my work, it would be my favourite niece and my two faves.” I grin, bumping Cece in my arms, making her giggle.
“I’m your only niece,” Cece pouts.
“Not for long,” I tell her, winking. Lola is six months pregnant―not that it shows. She can cover her bump with a few baggy tops and no one would even know. She’s stunning, no matter what she wears, but pregnant, the woman glows.
“I want a brother,” Cece tells me. “I want to be the only princess Daddy has.”
I giggle along with Brooke and Lola. Cece’s a daddy’s girl through and through. In fact, she has all the men in our family wrapped around her little finger. My dad can’t say no to her, and the same goes for my twin brother, who makes it his life mission to give her everything she asks for.
Alison walks back into the room with her coat and bag, and I turn her way. “You ready?”
“Yep. I hope they’re ready for us. I have a feeling this afternoon is going to be a long one.”
“Let’s go, then. Where to, Your Majesty?” I say dramatically to Cece.
She giggles and points to the door. “To the car!”
*** *** ***
A few hours later, I’m leaning back in my chair, my belly stuffed with yummy food. It actually feels good not to eat on the run, or another dreaded pot noodle. The company isn’t so bad either. And I called Catherine to handle Mr Harrington, so that’s a bigger bonus. Not having to deal with him has made my day.
“So Lola said you’re leaving in a few days to go to London. You excited?” Brooke asks, looking as full as I feel.
“To stay with what is most likely a snobby family for three weeks and have a bridezilla bossing me around? Um, no.” I shudder, my face pinching together.
“Only because you like being the one to do the bossing around,” Lola giggles, covering her mouth.
I give her a mock glare before groaning because it’s true. I do prefer to be the one doing the bossing around. It’s just in my nature. “It’s not that. I normally just send Catherine to do our out-of-town events or have one of the other offices closer do it, but for some reason this family has requested me specifically and are paying triple the rate I would normally charge. I’m just worried the triple amount won’t be worth it if I have to deal with a bunch of snobby rich people, especially when they won’t let us book into a hotel. They’ve requested I be there at their house to help run things.”
Lola knows all too well that I don’t play nice with rich people. We used to run a charity event for one of the local companies, but one of their associates attacked Lola at one of them, leaving her in a bad state. We dropped all ties with them and started throwing them ourselves after that. Ever since then, I don’t do too well around entitled people. I see them all as the same, and I know I shouldn’t. Not everyone is stuck up their own arses. But I’ve only met one rich person who doesn’t think their shit doesn’t stink, and she’s sitting right in front of me.
“I don’t think they’re like that, Pagan,” Alison answers, her black bob bouncing around her chin. “And I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what it’s all going to look like. I mean, they have doves, ice sculptures, and don’t get me started on the actual venue.”
I think about it for a second. “Probably. I mean, the mother, Pamela, was really nice on the phone, but from past experiences, that could just be a ruse to get me to take the job. And I haven’t seen the venue yet. I’m hoping the measurements they gave me are all correct. They seem to be on a larger scale than we’re used to.”
“I’ve spoken to her, and the nan, Ada. The nan seemed pretty crazy but legit,” Alison tells me, but I don’t say anything, not wanting to jinx myself.
I remember the last prestigious wedding I did and it wasn’t fun. The bride was a monster. If I believed in the supernatural, I would actually believe she was a demon. By the fifth day, I quit, walking out and never looking back. I didn’t even care that they didn’t leave a glowing recommendation. She wasn’t worth the pay cheque, and definitely not the headache. But I can’t let that happen again, not if I want to keep my business running as smoothly as it is.
“Yeah, but still, London,” Brooke says dreamily. “You get to visit Big Ben, the London Eye, Harry Potter studios, the Natural History Museum―”
“There are children present,” Lola teases, referring to Brooke’s hazy expression.
She shakes her head, grinning. “Sorry. I’ve never been and have always wanted to go. There’s so much to do there. All those museums, all those tourist attractions―”
“You’re doing it again,” Lola sings, interrupting. We all giggle this time.
“Sorry.” Brooke blushes before turning to me. “You get my drift. You’re going to have a blast.”
“You did hear the part where I’ll be working, didn’t you?” I ask, my lips twitching.
She waves me off, scoffing. “You can probably get that shindig organised in three days tops. You’ll have a blast.”
“And you might get to meet Prince Harry and get him to propose,” Lola says, grinning.
Always the dreamer.
Now it’s my turn to scoff. “I should be so lucky. I’d probably have more luck talking one of those statues outside Buckingham Palace into proposing to me.”
“Don’t be stupid. The prince would be lucky as hell for you to agree to marry him,” Alison butts in, giving me a stern expression.
“You say that like it’s a real possibility I may run into the prince and get him to fall in love with me,” I say dryly.
“Meh, weirder things have happened.”
I laugh, shaking her off. “Well, you’ll stand a better chance, since you’ll have more time off than I will.”
“Hey, I’ll be working right alongside you.”
“Aw, why can’t my staff be as good as yours?” Brooke smiles.
I turn to look at her and frown. “You’ve still not fired her?” I ask, referring to the young girl Brooke hired three months ago fresh out of college. She has no idea what to do when it comes to kids, and I’m pretty sure she spends most of her time on the phone instead of actually working. Both times I’ve seen her, Brooke’s been running around and the girl just looked around in a daze, like she’s forgotten why she’s there.
“No,” she sighs. “Every time I build up the courage and talk to her, she starts crying, telling me something bad’s happened in her life. Her nan died last weekend.”
Lola’s expression hardens. “I swear her nan died the first time you tried to fire her.”
“Maybe both her nans died?” Brooke says, actually looking hopeful. Not about two people dying but about her employee telling her the truth.
“Nope. Remember, she called earlier and said she was going to be late because she was looking after her sick nan,” Lola grunts.
I frown, not liking my friend being taken advantage of. “Do you want me to come over and fire her? Surely you have a list of written warnings and other stuff piled up by now.”
“Really?” Brooke asks, her eyes lighting up. “Firing someone’s never bothered me before, but for some reason, with this girl I just can’t. She reminds me so much of myself at her age, so lost and confused―just without the lying part.”
I look to Alison and we both share a grin. Firing staff is a specialty of mine. I’ve done it so many times, but girls like this one really rile me up. If you’re going to work, no matter if it’s at McDonald’s or as a surgeon, you work damn hard to earn that money. After all, everyone needs to make a living.
“I’d love to. Let’s go do it now. You can go next door with Lola and Cece while we clear her out.”
“Are you sure?”
“She’s positive.” Alison beams at them, then at me.
“Why do you both look positively happy about firing someone?” Lola asks warily.
“Because it’s a stress reliever,” I answer, waving her off.
“Shall we go now?” Alison asks me. Lola and Brooke eye each other, probably wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.
“Yep,” I answer cheerfully, my day definitely looking up.