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Greer Jones closed the iron gate with the heart and lovers’ initials wrought into it in front of the two-hundred-year-old house at Two Love Lane. “He wasn’t the man for me, Mom,” she said into her phone. Behind her the house stood tall and proud beneath a canopy of oak and pecan trees. Its windows—three stories of them—sparkled in the sunlight. Love is everywhere, it seemed to say. Come in and we’ll help you find it.
It was Greer’s job—and her passion—to help people find love. She was a very successful matchmaker. Every day she was lucky enough to work at Two Love Lane with her best friends and business partners Ella Mancini and Macy Banks, and their office manager and good-luck charm Miss Thing. Greer’s specialty was tweaking the secret algorithms they used to make matches to make them as helpful and accurate as possible. She was the brain, the computer whiz, the one with a graduate degree from MIT.
No one knew about her secret hobby—not even her best friends. When she was stressed, she worked on planning her Perfect Wedding. She always thought of it that way: with a capital P and a capital W. At Two Love Lane she’d sit at her desk and happily cut out photos of her favorite wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and wedding cakes, and glue them in a scrapbook. She also had a secret Perfect Wedding Pinterest page she’d stray to when the number crunching got to be a little much.
Her latest Perfect Wedding endeavor was coming up with a playlist for the reception on Spotify. She wanted a band, for sure, not a DJ. But the band had to be really good. The best, in fact. She was more worried about the music—and whether to have cupcakes or a cake—than she was about finding true love.
Perfect Wedding planning wasn’t about that. You know, finding a partner. It was about the party stuff! And the girly stuff! The desserts, and the dresses, and the honeymoon location, and the invitations, and the bachelorette parties, and the showers. The list could go on and on.
It was nine in the morning in May, and she’d left the office empty and locked with a sign on the door—BACK AT ELEVEN—to attend a special charity event, an auction for the homeless shelter that Two Love Lane was partially underwriting. So she was anxious to go and support the effort. Ella, Macy, and Miss Thing were in California at a taping of The Price Is Right, celebrating Miss Thing’s fiftieth birthday. Greer got stressed watching loud, hyper TV contestants who made ridiculous bids without even thinking about them—especially when they won—so she told the girls she’d stay behind and run the business and attend the auction. They agreed her idea was probably prudent, especially because the spring wedding season had just ended, and lonely people were calling them off the hook, looking for love.
She was walking down King Street toward Wentworth Street in Charleston, South Carolina, the spring sunshine warm on her face, and the scent of jasmine and gardenias filling the air. It was Wednesday, Hump Day. Yay! She was especially glad since she was running the office alone this week. On Monday, she’d had to ask Pete at Roastbusters to come down the alley and help her get Oscar, Macy’s cat, out of a tree in the backyard. And on Tuesday, one of Ella’s clients had had a huge meltdown about a terrible date. Greer had also forgotten to mail the electric bill Miss Thing had left out on her desk.
But she was surviving. And thriving. Who couldn’t when you lived in one of the prettiest, most romantic cities in the world and you worked in the love business?
So on the phone, she gathered from her mother, Patricia, that it was forty-two degrees in her small hometown of Waterloo, Wisconsin. At first Greer thought that was why her mom was in a foul mood. But she soon came to find out it was something else entirely, something that had rocked Greer’s world when she’d first found out on social media. Her ex-boyfriend Wesley—a guy she’d dated for ten years—was getting married to someone else.
“He was the one for you, I’m sure of it,” her mom said. “And now it’s too late.”
Too late for what? To be happy? Greer didn’t believe it. Her Perfect Wedding scrapbooking had completely stopped by the time she’d finished with Wesley. If that wasn’t a sign to her he was the wrong man, she didn’t know what was.
“What’s your reason?” her mom asked. “Your father and I can’t figure you out. Neither can the whole town of Waterloo.”
“You’ll just have to get over it, Mom. We broke up four years ago.”
“And he’s been pining away for four years! You know this woman he’s marrying is his second-best choice. All you have to do is snap your fingers and he’ll come running.”
“I don’t want to,” said Greer, and peeked at the time on her phone. “We dated up close. We dated long-distance through college, my grad school, and his med school, and we tried to make it work. But it didn’t. I have to go. I’m heading to an auction. Two Love Lane is one of the sponsors.”
Her mother sighed.
“Isn’t my success good enough for you?” Greer asked. “I’m doing really well.”
“That’s fine,” said her mother with all the enthusiasm of a NASCAR driver being told to go under the speed limit.
“It doesn’t sound fine. I know you worry—”
“You bet we worry.”
“But you and Dad don’t have to.”
There was a miserable beat of silence.
“You match other people.” Her mother sounded on the verge of tears. “Why can’t you match yourself? You’re thirty years old, Greer. You’re logical. Organized. Brilliant, in fact. What’s holding you up?”
Her words cut deep. “Mom, we’re living in the twenty-first century. I can be perfectly happy without a man. But if a nice one comes along, of course I’ll leave my options open.” Her Perfect Wedding scrapbooking was in high gear again, after all.
“I hope so.” Her mother sniffed. “But Greer…”
“What?” She was running out of patience.
“Try harder. Weddings don’t just happen by themselves.” And with that, Patricia Jones, queen of patience and polite behavior, was gone.
Wow. Her mother had never hung up on her before.
Greer guessed she should have seen it coming. She’d felt a growing resentment from her parents brewing about Wesley for the last four years, which was a big reason she didn’t go home often. Her parents were practical dairy farmers who didn’t like conflict. All three of them pretended that everything was fine. Yes, over the dinner table they’d told her they were disappointed she’d broken up with Waterloo’s favorite son, but they’d also never acted angry. Now Greer could see that it was because they’d still held out hope she and Wesley would get back together.
But that bridge had now burned, and burned completely.
Greer was long over Wesley, even if her parents and everyone in Waterloo couldn’t forgive her for leaving him. It seemed that all her worth—according to them—was tied up in her getting married to him. And now that he was officially out of the picture, her mother had made it clear she wanted Greer to marry someone … anyone.
Weddings don’t happen by themselves.
At the auction, which took place at the beautiful Alumni Memorial Hall in historic Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston, she sat down and tried to get interested in the items up for bid. There was the Wedgwood blue china plate paired with the simple sterling silver candelabra. A butler to a contemporary British prince visiting Charleston had brought them to remind His Royal Highness of home when he had his morning toast. The prince had left the items behind as a gift to his hostess, a true Southern magnolia with a generous heart and an eye for the perfect donation to a fund-raiser. And then there were vacations and restaurant packages and lots of other home décor items: sofas, chairs, fine lamps, and some gorgeous original artwork. She sat through it all, bidding on nothing, buzzing all over with humiliation.
She was not a loser for being single!
So why did she feel like one?
And then an auction item came up that had just been added to the program. It was a wedding gown that had a name! She never knew dresses could have names. How had she missed that, especially with wedding dresses, which she looked at all the time in magazines and online?
It was called Royal Bliss, which instantly made her heart beat faster.
Royal … Bliss. Two perfect words, put together!
The auctioneer, an energetic older woman in a purple suit, was Fran Banks, the famous New York talk-show host who’d moved to Charleston. She was the guest celebrity hostess at a lot of charity events in Charleston these days. Greer knew her well, since her nephew Deacon had married Greer’s business partner Macy last spring. Fran didn’t suffer fools lightly, however well she knew them, and let the world know it.
“There’s a bit of extraordinary lore associated with this brand-new gown dubbed Royal Bliss,” said Fran, “and it’s sewn by one of Charleston’s own designers who’s making a huge splash in New York. She was kind enough to donate her exquisite creation at the last minute. A small heart-shaped patch of this gown’s beading, on the center bodice…”
And she explained that those beads were taken from a shorter bridal veil worn at the wedding reception of a late, great American icon and actress who became a European princess. The tulle on the veil tore that day, but recently the princess’s grown children realized that even in its imperfect condition, it was valuable. The beads attached to it were divided into five groups and sold at auction to benefit the late princess’s favorite charity. The provenance of this particular set of royal beads accompanied the gown, making it a one-of-a-kind garment and extremely valuable.
Fran let the crowd stir. Greer’s heart pounded. What a story! She wished Ella, Macy, and Miss Thing were with her.
“But the best part of the story,” Fran said into the microphone, “is that the beads for the original veil were handmade especially for the American princess by an elderly citizen of the prince’s country, a woman who was known to be a good witch. She put a spell of sorts on the beads, a wish from the heart specifically designed to beckon true love to the wearer of the gown. And as you all know, the princess did, indeed, have her happily-ever-after with her prince. She lived to an old age and left behind a large, loving family, as well as her Hollywood acting legacy.”
The crowd once again murmured its excitement.
“So,” Fran said, “whoever wins this lovely dress tonight is going to be very fortunate. Do we have any brides in the audience?”
Only two women raised their hands.
“I’ve already got my gown,” said one. “My mother’s.”
Everyone said, “Awwww.”
And the other said, “It’s so tempting, but my dream gown has always been strapless. Sorry.”
Royal Bliss had capped sleeves.
“Perfectly understandable,” said Fran, “but where are all the other brides?” She scanned the room. “I’ll bet there are a few shy ones right here who didn’t speak up.”
“The rest are probably at the big bridal show in Charlotte,” the bride wearing her mother’s gown called out.
Fran shook her head. “My goodness. Bad timing for them … no gown at a bridal show in North Carolina can compare to this one, can it, people?”
“No!” several audience members shouted.
Weddings don’t happen by themselves.
Greer couldn’t get that out of her head! Of course, she didn’t believe the beads on that dress would guarantee the wearer true love, but …
How could she be sure?
And the dress itself was so gorgeous—and those beads had been worn on the veil of such a famous American actress-turned-princess! Wow! That alone was amazing.
Greer got little tears in her eyes. If she were a bride, Royal Bliss was exactly the dress she would want. Part of her felt a twinge of regret that she’d given up her chance to live the fairy tale, at least for now. She’d never felt that way before. Not until her mother’s phone call today, and now, this dress—this special, gorgeous gown.
Her wistfulness became discomfort, building and building into a sort of panic.…
“Okay, let’s start the bidding,” said Fran, “at a humble five hundred dollars. Even if you’re not a bride, you can bid on this and become a fairy godparent to a bride you know, or if you’re extra generous, even a bride you don’t know. And remember, every penny from this auction goes to adding beds to the homeless shelter. So think big, people!”
Greer might not have a partner, but she could have a bridal gown. Weddings didn’t happen by themselves, right? She was normally so logical and pragmatic, but she was hit with a crazy feeling of utter determination and lust. If she could get this dress, she’d be one step closer to making a wedding come to her.
To heck with having a partner!
She wanted that gown. She wanted it so much, she threw off the voice of reason that usually led her docilely through life and let an impetuous part of her rule the day.
She jumped to her feet. “Five hundred dollars!” she cried.
Fran’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head—she had to be wondering how there was even the slightest chance Greer was getting married when she wasn’t dating anyone—but she recovered quickly. “That’s a fine starting bid. We’ll go much higher, I’m sure, but thanks for getting us going.”
Greer nodded, aware that she was surrounded by about a hundred people staring at her. She hated being the center of attention, but she often was in Charleston. There was her neutral accent, for one, which had taken her years to cultivate. Now almost no one guessed she’d grown up in Wisconsin (she’d even stopped calling Coke “pop”), but it was clear she was no Southerner, either. She favored monochrome Stella McCartney pant suits and severe yet opulent Chanel briefcases. She didn’t have a single monogrammed handbag—Southern women monogrammed everything, including their cars—and she wouldn’t be caught dead in a vibrant Lilly sheath.
She smiled at the crowd without really seeing them, which she could do by looking over the top of her signature ivory eyeglass frames. She had four pairs through which she regularly rotated, the same way her mother regularly rotated through vintage farmhouse kitchen aprons she picked up at church jumble sales.
Greer plopped down in her seat. She would have to explain later to Fran that she wasn’t engaged. But not now, not in front of all these people.
“Nine hundred,” a mild, thin male voice drawled from Greer’s left, like a sleepy kitten calling for its mother, and held up his right hand with the fingers spread to clarify the amount because he knew very well no one could hear him.
Greer’s insides shrank. That was Pierre Simons—pronounced Simmons, which conveniently identified people who weren’t local when they said it wrong. He was a Charleston native whose family arrived in the Lowcountry before the Revolutionary War, and the city’s leading fashionista. His family’s clothing store for women was called La Di Da. The store had been open in the same location on King Street for a hundred fifty years, although until 1949, when Pierre’s mother took it over, it had been called nothing more than Simons Fine Apparel. Pierre was a world traveler and frequent visitor to Milan and New York, where he picked up extravagantly priced frocks and accessories to bring home to Charleston.
He was also a snazzy dresser himself, a lover of bow ties, tasseled loafers, fine shirts, and suits. He didn’t own a single pair of jeans.
He hated Two Love Lane, the matchmaking agency Greer had started with her two best friends, because they’d never been able to find him his soul mate, and they’d tried three times.
But how do you find a soul mate for a pompous ass, especially one who spoke so softly you had to come close to experience his barbs and braggadocio? Charlestonians weren’t pushovers. Even so, Two Love Lane’s most spectacular failure of a client managed to have a gaggle of friends—mainly newly arrived social climbers who didn’t know any better, and a few gold diggers—but the agency’s famous soul-mate-seeking algorithms hadn’t been able to locate anyone who was truly compatible with the man.
Oh, and Pierre also hated Two Love Lane because early on, he’d tried to pick up all three owners—at the same time—and failed.
Why would he want the gown? It was outrageous! He didn’t sell wedding gowns at La Di Da, he wasn’t getting married, and he was too hard-hearted to be any bride’s fairy godparent.
“Nine hundred and fifty dollars!” Greer stood and called out. She held up her index finger, which trembled ever so slightly, and remembered to sit back down. She felt a stab of guilt. She was being rash and irresponsible. It was so unlike her. She didn’t need a wedding gown.
She didn’t need a man, either, but she wished a handsome lover would show up and sweep her off her feet anyway. Today, especially, after officially disappointing her parents, she was in the mood to be adored, although the world would never know. Her no-nonsense air made sure of that.
A stranger next to her leaned over. The sleeve of his gray plaid blazer was slightly rumpled, and he smelled vaguely of West Indies bay rum cologne. “I always thought I preferred the auctions with little cards you hold up,” he said, “until today.” And then he chuckled.
She suspected it was at her expense, but she was so agitated, she didn’t care. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said out of the corner of her mouth, her stomach in knots.
She didn’t remove her eyes from the gown, which a young man with a bored face held aloft on a hanger. Greer willed him to have a good grip on it.
“You’re quite entertaining,” the man in the plaid blazer said.
In an English accent. She hadn’t noticed it at first. The wedding gown had had her full attention.
She whipped around to face him.
Two amused dark blue eyes looked back. Something shot through her, like a light beam through water. And then it was gone. Before she could process it, she was already cataloging him, Two Love Lane–style, the way she did every new man she met: early thirties, craggy somehow, with a sharp, sunburnt nose and a jutting, square chin covered in fashionable stubble, and too-long golden brown hair.
Professor, hipster, permanent bachelor?
She wasn’t sure.
“Are you getting married?” he asked her.
“No,” she whispered, and put her finger to her lips.
He spluttered. Or laughed. She couldn’t tell.
“One thousand,” Pierre said.
This time his social-climbing friend, a young brunette in a high ponytail, held up all the necessary fingers to signify the amount. Her aqua-blue nails were like tiny daggers.
“One thousand one hundred dollars!” Greer called.
Pierre turned and glared at her. So did L.A. Lady.
Greer glared back.
The man in the plaid blazer chuckled again.
“That’s how you do it!” Fran said. “But let’s get some more bids, people. Whoever wins the gown called Royal Bliss will own a little bit of royal history. And have good luck in love besides.” She scanned the crowd expectantly.
Royal history! Good luck in love!
Greer uncurled her index finger, prepared to throw it in the air again and bid higher. Funny how things happened. She hadn’t even wanted to come to the auction today. It was weird that now she was being loud and crazy and was bidding on something—without thinking. She admitted it. She wasn’t thinking. She was feeling. She always got into trouble when she did too much of that. Four years ago, she’d genuinely thought she was in love with Wesley, and then suddenly, she’d felt nothing. Not a single loving feeling for him could she conjure, and he hadn’t changed. She had. And she still didn’t know why. So she’d turned down his proposal, said no to his engagement ring, and broken his heart.
That whole thing had scared her. And it didn’t help that everyone back in Waterloo gave her a hard time about it.
“So, one thousand one hundred dollars is our highest bid?” Fran barked, her gavel hovering over the podium. “For this incredible gown?”
Greer held her breath. She might win Royal Bliss!
“Two thousand dollars,” Pierre said in his soft monotone.
L.A. Lady elbowed him in the side and looked back at Greer.
Greer clenched her jaw. Pierre was so annoying with his fake little voice. He couldn’t even get excited enough about winning such a spectacular gown to crank up the volume? The man would probably whisper, “Help,” if his house caught on fire.
Wait—two thousand dollars?
“Can he do that?” she whispered to the guy in the plaid blazer. “I mean, skip straight up to the next thousand?”
“Of course,” he said. “It’s for charity, after all.”
Everyone shifted in their seats.
“Two thousand dollars,” crowed Fran, her face beaming. “What a delightful bid and a shrewd investment decision, but still on the low side. No telling how much this gown will be worth someday. Do I hear more? This is a very exciting day for the shelter!”
What was Greer to do? She didn’t have two thousand dollars to spend on a wedding gown! Not now, at any rate. She’d just bought herself a bright red Vespa, a rug and reading chair from Pottery Barn, and an elliptical machine for her apartment. She didn’t believe in using credit, either. She chalked it up to growing up on a little farm in Wisconsin, where she actually churned butter and milked cows.
“How could he?” she whispered to the man in the plaid blazer.
“He’s doing you a favor,” he replied, his gaze still on Fran.
“No, he’s not.”
“It’s just a dress,” the man murmured.
“It’s not just a dress. It’s special.”
“The beads?” He mulled it over. “I’ll grant you that the story makes the dress a collector’s item for some people.”
“That’s right,” Greer said. “At the very least, it’s an investment. You heard Ms. Banks. It will only gain in value.”
“That’s why you want it?” His eyes narrowed. “Because it’s an investment?”
“Are you sure?”
“I think you want this dress for yourself,” he said, “and you just don’t want to admit it.”
Bingo. How did he know she was lying?
“It’s purely for investment reasons,” she said.
“We all have our little quirks,” he said.
“Not me,” Greer said. “I’m predictable. And sensible. I told you I’m not even getting married, so why would I want it for myself? Huh?”
“Don’t be embarrassed,” the Englishman said, and without removing his gaze from hers, added, “Your foot is swinging fairly hard, you know. And your pupils are really large at the moment for such a brightly lit room.”
She stopped her foot and felt heat rise up her neck. “It’s an investment,” she said again, and straightened in her chair. She would ignore this man in the plaid blazer from here on out.
“Whatever you say.” He held his hands loosely knitted in his lap. She saw a flat gold signet ring on one of his fingers. “I thought you might have some compelling personal reason, or even a mad, illogical yen, to bid on the gown.”
He said yen with a lot of emphasis.
“I don’t believe in yens,” she said.
“Is that so?” he asked.
It was a perfectly innocent question. But somehow it knocked her off her foundations. Maybe because he asked it so clearly. So boldly. With his gaze on hers. As if her answer mattered … really mattered.
How silly of her to think that it did, or that he honestly cared. “Hmmph,” she said. It was one of those generic answers that covered her bases fairly well when she was flummoxed yet wanted to appear self-assured. He didn’t need to know that she had both a yen and a personal reason for bidding. That was her business.
He leaned over. “You believe in yens,” he whispered.
“No, I don’t!”
“Are you sure about that?” And he winked at her.
Of all the nerve! Dear God, people didn’t even use the word yen anymore.
“Any more bids?” Fran asked.
Greer stood up. “Two thousand … and one dollars.” That sounded weird to her ears, but that’s how they did it on The Price Is Right, outbidding the other person by a dollar! She’d seen it happen!
For a moment, nobody said a word.
Then Fran smiled brightly. “Nice try, but the rules of bidding state that bids have to be at least one hundred dollars apart once the amount reaches one thousand dollars.”
“Fine,” said Greer, remembering too late that she could bid from a seated position. “Two thousand one hundred dollars.” She was an idiot. But she couldn’t stop. She wouldn’t. She sat down again and missed. She landed on the left thigh of the man in the plaid blazer.
“Sorry,” she said, enjoying the warmth and solidness of his leg very much without wanting to.
“I’m not,” he said.
But surely she imagined that. No gentleman would ever say such a thing, and she didn’t have time for bad boys. She quickly slid over to her seat and kept her eyes on Fran.
“Five thousand,” said Pierre in such a tiny voice everyone leaned toward him.
“There’s no way he could have said five thousand,” Greer whispered to the man in plaid.
“He said five thousand,” he murmured.
There were audible gasps in the room. Charlestonians loved drama. They were also appalled by garish displays of wealth—unless it was at a charity auction, and then they gave themselves permission to act like everyone else.
Greer herself was holding on by a thread to her sense of decorum.
“Halle-frickin’-lujah!” said Fran. “This is turning out to be quite the auction item, and we haven’t even gotten to the week in Paris at a five-star hotel or the month at a Hamptons summer cottage for ten. Is there anyone who can top five thousand dollars?”
No one spoke.
“All right, then,” said Fran. “Going, going.…”
“Wait!” Greer yelled from her seat, then looked at the guy in the plaid blazer.
“I’m not going to bid on it,” he said.
She was desperate. “I just thought if we went in together, we could outbid him eventually,” she said at warp speed.
He lofted a brow. “We’d get joint custody of a wedding gown?”
“Sure.” Having it half the year was better than nothing, and way better than seeing Pierre win it.
“I don’t live here,” the Englishman said. “I’m a visitor from London.”
“Oh. That would make sharing hard.” She barely hesitated. “How about I’ll keep it, and in exchange I’ll give you our executive VIP soul-mate search package at Two Love Lane, my matchmaking agency? We work internationally.”
“What makes you think I need help in the romance department?” he whispered back. His eyes twinkled merrily. “I’m not James Bond, but—”
“I didn’t mean to imply—”
“And why do you assume I’ve got money to burn on royal relics sewn onto a wedding gown?” He held out his hands, palms up, and looked down at his plaid blazer, which was sporty and cool but, come to think of, quite worn. His shirt wasn’t anything special, just a white oxford that had probably seen better days. He had on jeans, too, and beat-up boat shoes. “I suppose I’m flattered on that account, at least.”
Oh, God. What if he was a missionary? Or a poor scholar researching a book no one had paid him for yet? Or was he a crew member on a yacht or a container ship tied up in Charleston harbor, and this was his only day off? He might have to go back and do the captain’s bidding, for all she knew, coiling ropes on deck or making up all the bunks.
“I-I’m sorry,” she said.
“Gone!” crowed Fran, and pounded her gavel on the podium. “Royal Bliss goes to the fine gentleman who bid five thousand dollars!”
There was a squeak of joy from either Pierre or L.A. Lady.
Greer couldn’t help stomping her right foot. Just a little. And maybe she bit the inside of her cheek, too.
“Don’t be too down,” the man in plaid said. “There will always be other investment opportunities, won’t there?”
“Right.” She was in no mood to be cajoled.
“Good thing you didn’t have an honest-to-goodness yen,” he said. “Or a personal reason.”
“Whatever,” she muttered.
“And this is for charity, remember.” He stuck his hand in his blazer and pulled out his flip phone. She was right; how rude of her to presume a total stranger would partner with her on an investment of over five thousand dollars, especially a guy who might have bought his entire wardrobe at Goodwill, a man who carried a crummy old flip phone. He started punching in a number. “They just got themselves a cool five thousand bucks, as you Americans say.”
She was about to say he had a point, but he abruptly stood and looked down at her.
“By the way,” he said with a lazy half smile, “there’s another reason I wouldn’t go halfsies with you on a wedding gown.”
“What is it?”
“Love stinks,” he said, and squeezed past all the people to the right of her in the row.
Greer watched his back as he departed. He wasn’t the first man to tell her how he felt about love. People vented with her all the time, once they found out what business she was in. But no one had ever spoken so succinctly on the topic.
She couldn’t help following him with her eyes as he left the hotel ballroom. It was midday. Why come to an auction unless you planned to bid? Why had he left in the middle? What kind of work was he doing here, if at all? Why had she turned to him and wanted him to bid with her, and how did he know what she was thinking?
He turned around and caught her looking at him. Her heart jerked violently when he gave her a nod but no smile. The gesture was old-fashioned, somehow. She thought of an embattled hero about to disappear forever; she was the movie starlet who would miss him. Something fluttered in her chest, near her heart. And then he was gone, through the tall double doors leading onto the Cistern.
She sighed. It didn’t matter. She didn’t have time to get hot and bothered over a stranger in a plaid blazer, a stranger who’d obviously had his heart broken at some point. Pierre had won the gown. Her gown.
And she was missing out on Miss Thing’s birthday. She should have been there at the taping of the show. After her display at the auction, she’d fit right in with those flamboyant Price Is Right contestants who had always stressed her out. She’d been too prissy saying no to the trip. Too controlling. And look where it had gotten her: alone at an auction on the day her mother found out Greer’s old boyfriend was finally getting married. She didn’t regret her decision to break up with Wesley. But her family and friends would be bringing the touchy subject back up again and again, for the rest of her life, no doubt. They’d remind her that no one understood her reasoning.
Well, she didn’t, either! It would have been a whole lot easier for her to marry Wesley. But she couldn’t. She still didn’t know what went wrong. And today especially, she felt lonely. Stupid, somehow. Lacking in her usual confidence.
“Excuse me,” she said to the first person to her left in her row. She pulled her briefcase out from under her chair and then scooted past a bunch of knees, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Was life passing her by? Could a wedding gown take the place of whatever was actually missing?
Because something was definitely missing. Not Wesley … but something else. She thought again about wishing a handsome lover would show up in her life, but it was more than just sex that she longed for. More than infatuation.
It was love. Big love. The true, everlasting kind. She was selling it every day, wasn’t she? Hadn’t Macy found true love when she never thought for a minute that she would?
But Greer wasn’t Macy. Greer didn’t have Cupid somewhere in her ancestry, the way Macy did. Greer had dairy farmers in her family tree, very practical, plain people whose greatest indulgence was icing on a once-a-year birthday cake, white muslin curtains trimmed in scarlet or yellow rickrack, and fresh cream from their own dairy cows on top of their oatmeal.
Greer had thought she’d been in love, and then she’d woken up one day and the feeling had disappeared. She’d hurt Wesley terribly. Not badly enough that he didn’t fall in love again—he had. But still. According to her friends and family, he’d been moping for years, thanks to her.
Why hadn’t she fallen in love again? Was she a robot? What was her problem? Charleston had so many interesting men in it. Sure, a few were man-boys, or had awful personalities like Pierre, but they were the exceptions to the rule.
In the back of the ballroom, she wrote a personal check with a substantial donation to the charity.
Pierre sidled up next to her. “Hard luck,” he said in his tiny voice. “Too bad you don’t make enough money at your sham of a business to buy whatever you want. You took enough of my money. Where’d it go?”
“Right back in your bank account, as you well know,” she told him, and handed the check over to an elderly lady. She was wearing a hearing aid, but there was no way she’d be able to hear Pierre’s hummingbird conversation. “We have a hundred-percent refund policy for dissatisfied clients. You’re the first and only one to have taken us up on it.”
Greer walked away from the table, and Pierre followed her.
“So, you wanted that dress,” he said. “Who’s the groom?”
“Who’s your bride?” she flung back.
He chortled. “You’re not getting married. You don’t even have an engagement ring on.”
“Whether I’m getting married or not, I certainly have no intention of sharing my personal life with you.”
“What happened? Your momma and daddy said you should be married by now? And you’re feeling blue? Gotta daydream instead?”
“Oh, shut up,” she said, and strode away. She willed her eyes not to flood with tears. Pierre was perceptive, sadly. And he was also a … a punk. She’d never called a grown man a punk before, but he was, and he wasn’t worth her tears.
He came running after her. “I bought this dress as a business investment. You wanted it so you could pine over it in your closet. Believe me, Greer, the whole audience could tell.”
“I don’t know how you stay in business with your mean attitude.”
“My business is thriving.” He was like a bulldog. “Don’t you think it’s odd that the co-owner of a matchmaking agency can’t even find someone to marry, especially when she says she believes in love all over your marketing materials? What does that say about Two Love Lane’s algorithms? And your hypocrisy?”
His words stung, but she wouldn’t let him win. “I’m sorry the algorithms didn’t work for you. It doesn’t mean they haven’t worked time and time again for other people. And I do believe in love. I’m not going to marry someone just to get married, though.”
She’d learned the best way to deal with small people like Pierre was to treat them like recalcitrant children, with pity and patience.
His little face turned red. “Your algorithms didn’t work for me because y’all messed up. Don’t blame me.”
“I’m not,” she said. “We told you they’re really good but not a hundred-percent perfect, and sometimes we can’t make matches, whether we use those or old-fashioned hunches. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, although if you want the truth, which I’ve told you before, you refused to listen to any of our coaching advice. I think that stubbornness figured into the outcome. Now please leave me alone.” She kept walking.
“I lied, Greer,” he called after her in his tiny voice.
She turned around. “About what?”
“About why I bought Royal Bliss.”
She had to strain to hear his Pekingese-sized voice.
“It’s not an investment,” he said, his forehead shiny with sweat. “I bought it so you couldn’t have it. I could tell how much you wanted it.”
She stood still and took in what he was saying. “You must hate me a lot.”
“I don’t give a hoot about you.” The outrageous L.A. chick came up and put her arm around his waist. She gloated Greer’s way. “I’m going to make sure some bride in Charleston gets it,” he said.
Greer intentionally loosened her grip on her purse strap. She took time to inhale slowly. “It’s been eighteen months since we last tried to help you. You’ve been stewing on this ever since?”
“Revenge is a dish—”
“Best served cold,” she finished saying with him. “Do you watch a lot of bad TV?”
“No.” He was so damned literal.
“I’m trying to say I get it,” she said. “You have the dress. Your revenge is done.”
But he didn’t hear that last part. When she looked back at him, he was strutting away with his lady friend.
“Whatever, Pierre.” Greer’s day so far had not gone well. She needed to get home. On Liberty Street, she called the girls in California and told them about her old boyfriend tying the knot.
“Wesley?” Miss Thing said into the phone’s speaker.
“Yes,” she said back.
There was a long silence.
“Hello? You don’t think I should have married him, too, do you? He was the wrong guy for me. Hello?”
“We’re still here, and no, we don’t think that!” said Macy, the only native Charlestonian among them. She was also a major player on the local social scene. “I’m taking you off speaker, if you don’t mind. It’s hard to hear. We’re in line to get into the studio, and the crowd is stirred up.”
“How exciting,” Greer said, but she really only felt a pang of guilt for not going.
“Look on the bright side,” Macy said, her Lowcountry drawl a little clearer and louder off speaker, “maybe with Wesley finally off the market, they’ll be nice to you back home again.”
“No, my mom is really upset.” Greer was passing college dorms on both sides of Calhoun Street. “But maybe eventually people back home will stop asking me why I dumped the finest man ever to walk the streets of Waterloo.”
“I hope so, sweetie,” said Macy. “That’s so rude and unfair to you.”
“His fiancée is so much more compatible with him, too. They’re both surgeons.”
“Love is crazy,” said Macy. “Look at me and Deacon! Who’d have thought I’d ever marry a Yankee from New York City?”
“True.” Greer knew Macy had fought her attraction to Deacon tooth and nail. He’d been her client at Two Love Lane, after all, and Macy was supposed to set him up with other women, not herself.
“I’m so glad you followed your gut with Wesley,” Macy said. “It freed him up to find his true soul mate. And you, yours. Someday.”
That wasn’t going to happen. Greer had tried to convince herself she was in love once. Who could say she wouldn’t do it again? She couldn’t tell her best friends that she’d wondered if there was something inherently wrong with her, like a chip missing in her heart.
But deep inside, she knew that was silly. Her heart was in fine shape. Wesley had simply been the wrong man for her. “It’s possible I’ll run into them someday, and if I do, I’ll be very happy for them. Very, very happy.”
“Good,” said Macy. “I can tell you’re worried that I don’t believe you, but I do. I can also tell you think you’ll be old and shrunken and alone, but you won’t. I promise.”
“You really think?” Greer loved how Macy always understood her.
“I know,” said Macy, and handed the phone off to Ella.
“Stop worrying about what your mother thinks,” Ella said in her Bronx accent. She also always seemed to know what Greer was thinking.
“I try not to,” she said.
“I know it’s hard. My own mother is very involved with all of us Mancini girls. She treats us like we’re still twelve. But I just let it roll off my back. Some of my sisters can’t.”
“What’s your secret?”
“I don’t know,” said Ella. “Once I figure it out, I’ll tell you. In the meantime, treat yourself like a princess.”
And then Greer got to talk to Miss Thing, who had an obsession with Queen Elizabeth II and tried to dress like her. She’d grown up in the tiny town of Kettle Knob, North Carolina, up in the mountains near Asheville, before arriving in Charleston in her late twenties. They were only babies when she started cooking and cleaning at the Sottile House, a dormitory on the College of Charleston campus where they would all later meet. She bolstered Greer’s spirits with her excitement about being in California and striking their Price Is Right adventure off her bucket list. “We’re having a wunnerful time,” she said. “Just wunnerful.”
Oh, dear. That was Miss Thing’s tequila voice.
“I hope one of you gets onstage and wins something,” Greer said, at the corner of Meeting and Calhoun, one of the busiest intersections in Charleston.
Miss Thing responded with a flurry of talk that Greer didn’t comprehend in the slightest because on the other side of the street she saw Wesley—and his fiancée.
She was supposed to run into them back home in Waterloo, a sixteen-hour drive and a thousand miles away. Not here in Charleston.
And they were with the man in the gray plaid blazer.
Copyright © 2018 by Kieran Kramer