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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Christmas at the Chalet

A Novel

Anita Hughes

St. Martin's Griffin

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

One

Seven Days Before the Fashion Show5:00 p.m.


Felicity


FELICITY STOOD ON THE ELEGANT terrace of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and thought St. Moritz really was the perfect location for the debut of her winter collection. The snow-covered mountain at sunset was pink and ivory, like the inside of an oyster shell. If she peered over the ledge she could see the village with its quaint chalets, as well as the frozen lake, rimmed with fir trees and filled with ice-skaters wearing bright parkas and fur hats.

When Raj first suggested holding the fashion show for Felicity Grant Bridal in St. Moritz during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Felicity had been hesitant. It seemed like a logistical nightmare to transport the dresses from New York to Switzerland. And how would they keep an eye on half a dozen models in one of the most hedonistic capitals in the world?

But Raj always thought bigger than she did, and that’s one of the reasons they were successful.

“We’ll book a whole row on the plane for the dresses,” he said one evening as they sat in the bridal atelier on Madison Avenue in New York.

“What about the cream tulle?” Felicity asked worriedly. “If anyone so much as breathes on it, it wrinkles. And think about the models. I’m afraid of being responsible for them in a foreign country. I know they have contracts, but what if one of them falls in love and runs off with an Austrian ski instructor and we never hear from her again?”

“I’ll personally hold the tulle on the plane,” Raj suggested. “And we’ll insist that the girls be responsible for each other. All the cosmopolitan set who frequent Paris and London will be there. At night there will be sleigh rides, and during the day everyone will attend the snow polo matches. They’ll practically be forced to watch the show if we use the famous catwalk at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel as a runway.”

Raj was right, and Felicity had given in. This was her eighth collection, and she needed a bigger stage than the usual shows in New York, held in downtown lofts littered with fake snow. The same tired press, squeezing in a viewing between Elie Saab’s event in her private atelier and the new designers who were always popping up with outrageous designs: rhinestone-studded pantsuits for the bride, or leopard-skin bridesmaids’ dresses.

Felicity wished she were relaxing in the Palace’s lobby, with its massive stone fireplace and picture windows overlooking the ski runs. Instead she was shivering on the hotel terrace and waiting for Katie, the model, to arrive.

The sneak-peek photo shoot was scheduled to begin in thirty minutes, and the model was missing. If Katie didn’t appear soon, the pink-edged snow would be replaced by pitch darkness, and the wedding blogs and online fashion magazines would go with their backup fluff pieces and probably wouldn’t cover the collection at all.

And the dress! She stroked the crepe fabric and fell in love with it all over again. It had come to her as her best ideas always did, at completely inopportune times: when she and her boyfriend Adam were going to dinner with one of his important clients, or in the middle of a heated game of Scrabble, or even in the delicious afterglow of making love.

That was the wonderful thing about Adam. He didn’t mind meeting the client for cocktails by himself, or setting the board game aside, or letting her peel herself away from his embrace and slip out of bed. How many nights had she sat at the oversized desk in Adam’s bedroom, wrapped in his robe and sketching on her notepad? She mused at how lucky she was that he took her career as seriously as she did.

The crepe sheath wasn’t the most elaborate wedding dress in the show. That was an organza gown with diamond buttons shaped like snowflakes, which no one had seen except Raj and herself. That gown was safely locked in the hotel’s storeroom, and Nell, the show’s most famous model, would wear it for the show’s grand finale. Felicity could see it so clearly, it gave her goose bumps: Nell with her huge emerald eyes striding down the runway, while the orchestra played and fireworks exploded above the mountain.

This dress was simple and fluid, like a waterfall that had frozen midflight. She had specifically chosen Katie to wear it, because Katie’s natural beauty wouldn’t overpower the sweetheart neckline and illusion sleeves. But Katie had disappeared when all the other models went to watch the luge races, and no one had seen her since.

Felicity spotted Raj striding toward her and gulped. He was alone, his shoulders hunched the way they were whenever he had to deliver bad news: a bolt of fabric had been ruined in a warehouse flood, etc.

“You promised you wouldn’t come back until you found Katie,” Felicity said. “St. Moritz is a small village, and it’s five o’clock in the evening. It’s much too early to go dancing, and anyway, she must be exhausted. We only arrived this morning; I can barely keep my eyes open from jet lag.”

“I did find her.” Raj joined Felicity on the terrace. “She’s buried in an eiderdown comforter with a hot compress on her forehead. Apparently Katie suffers from altitude sickness, and every time she stands up she passes out.”

“You specifically requested models who were used to high altitudes.” Felicity frowned. “It was one of the prerequisites of the job.”

“Katie’s from Kentucky. The highest thing she’s ever climbed is the ladder in her parents’ barn.” Raj sighed. “She sent the money she made this fall to her mother to buy Christmas presents for her younger siblings, and she’s going to be late on her January rent.” Raj paused. “She lied to the agency.”

“Oh, dear,” Felicity commented. That was one of the pitfalls of working with high-fashion models. They seemed impossibly sophisticated, with their long eyelashes and wide red mouths, but many of them had arrived in Manhattan with nothing but overdue credit cards and a suitcase. They supported boyfriends or families back home, and spent the rest of their money on trendy restaurants and apartments in doorman buildings.

“We’ll have to send her home and ask the agency to provide a replacement,” Raj suggested.

“How could she! Everyone knows how important this show is,” Felicity said angrily. But then she thought of the pictures Katie had shown her of her twelve-year-old twin siblings. They both had big brown eyes and freckles on their noses. “It would be awful to send her home. It’s Christmas; what if her mother has to take back the presents? Perhaps we should give her another chance.”

“Katie is scheduled to wear three dresses in the show. The A-line with the matching ermine cape, the hand-embroidered tulle, and that spectacular Grecian column with the twelve-foot silk train.”

“Katie would look lovely in the Grecian gown,” Felicity said longingly. “I sewed two dozen amethysts into the train to make her eyes look like tide pools. Why don’t we give her one day to stay in bed? If she’s still not better, we can get someone else to model the dresses.” She surveyed the terrace, packed with men and women sipping après-ski cocktails. “A pretty Swiss girl who’s a waitress or works in a boutique.”

Modern Bride and all the important magazines will be there.” Raj shook his head. “We can’t parade around some girl who’s used to folding sweaters or carrying trays of peach Marnier.”

Felicity thought how lucky she was to have Raj as her business partner. If it weren’t for him, Felicity Grant Bridal would still be a collection of doodles that covered every surface of the apartment they’d shared seven years ago during college.

Raj’s parents had sent him to America from India to attend NYU and study computer science. He’d lasted three semesters before he realized he wasn’t cut out to sit in front of a screen all day and decipher code. Raj was a people person; everyone loved his good looks and warm smile.

Felicity used to laugh at how girls would stop by the flat with a warm paper bag and tall-sized cups from Starbucks. Raj had somehow gotten into a conversation with a girl standing in line, and they’d both agreed the pumpkin muffins were the best they’d ever tasted. They exchanged contacts, and he might have mentioned he could only afford Starbucks once a week, but he hadn’t expected her to show up with a whole bag of muffins and two cinnamon lattes with extra foam.

The wonderful thing about Raj was that he never hurt anyone’s feelings. If he had to break up with a girl, he sent her flowers and said she was beautiful but he wasn’t ready for anything serious. His work was his passion, and he didn’t want to shortchange her.

And Raj charmed everyone in business. Every editor and online blogger fell in love with his easygoing nature and enthusiasm. If Raj predicted that Felicity’s newest line was going to rival anything by Monique Lhuillier or Reem Acra, they happily agreed. And when he’d promised one mother of the bride (referred to him by Manhattan’s most exclusive planner) that Felicity would design a tiered lace gown with a headdress that would make her daughter resemble Grace Kelly, the woman couldn’t hand him a deposit fast enough.

Few people besides Felicity knew that underneath Raj’s casual image—the dark hair that was always in need of a cut, the loafers that had seen too many years of wear—he had the sharp focus of an attack dog. Felicity Grant Bridal had grown from a sewing machine wedged into the hall closet to showrooms on Madison Avenue and in the Hamptons.

“You don’t want to only be known in Manhattan and Sag Harbor forever.” Raj rubbed his leather gloves. “We want Felicity Grant to be the name on everyone’s lips in Hong Kong and Milan and Dubai.”

Felicity pictured the dresses draped over every surface in her hotel suite and sighed. She had been working on this collection for so long; she couldn’t let anything spoil it now.

“Call the agency and ask them to put a model on the next plane,” Felicity said, relenting. “We’ll loan Katie the money out of petty cash until her next assignment.”

“You do know that Felicity Grant isn’t a charity or a bank, right?” Raj grunted. “But it is Christmas, and Katie does have the loveliest smile. I guess this time I can make an exception.”

“We’ll have to cancel today’s photo shoot,” Felicity said, remembering. “The photographer will be furious. He was already grumbling about missing happy hour at the Dracula Club. All the celebrities hang out there, and a quick photo of some actor drinking schnapps and yodeling can earn him a fortune.”

“We can’t cancel,” Raj protested. “I told Style Me Pretty and Martha Stewart Weddings that they had the exclusive first look at your collection.”

“You promised both of them an exclusive?” Felicity laughed.

“I can’t help it if someone leaks a photo and it ends up on more than one site. We have to do the photo shoot.” He shrugged.

“I don’t see how,” Felicity said. The sun was setting, and suddenly she was cold. She was wearing almost every warm item she owned—cashmere slacks and a turtleneck under a wool coat—but they were no match for the Alps. Now she understood why so many of the women she saw had swathed themselves in mink and fox. She’d never kill an animal, but it really was the only effective way to stay warm.

Raj was looking at her the way he examined yards of brocade from a new supplier for blemishes. “You’ll have to wear it.”

“Me!” Felicity choked out. “Katie is almost six feet tall; the dress would be much too long. And I don’t have a big enough bust. I’d look like a pipe cleaner.”

“You don’t have to walk down a runway. These are mood shots. Lean against the balcony and gaze at the snow-capped mountains. Hold a champagne flute and wink enticingly at the camera,” Raj said, waving his hands. “And you’re the designer; you know how to make small-breasted women look like Sports Illustrated covers.”

“I’d never encourage a bride to wear a dress that isn’t a natural fit for her figure,” Felicity replied.

“You did when she waved a big check and insisted on wearing a mermaid-style gown, even though it made her look like a baby hippo.”

“That was only once,” Felicity said, feeling slightly guilty. Felicity had tried to convince the bride that a classic ball gown would show off her small waist and slender calves, but she had her heart set on the form-fitting dress she’d seen in a magazine. It was just after they had moved into the showroom, and Raj was worried about making rent, so Felicity had swallowed her suggestions and designed a dress that could barely contain the bride’s curves.

“I suppose I could pin the hem and stuff some tissues into the bodice,” Felicity said uncertainly. “But what about my hair and makeup? And I’m wearing boots. If I go all the way back to my room to get a pair of shoes, we’ll lose the light.”

“Your hair looks fine—just add a little blush and lipstick and you’ll be gorgeous. Leave the shoes to me.” He propelled her toward the glass doors. “Take the dress into the nearest bathroom and I’ll meet you here in ten minutes. And practice that pouty look you get when you’re angry at me for not letting you tip the pizza guy ten dollars.”


Copyright © 2018 by Anita Hughes