The Jingle Bell Bride Dec 2017


New York wedding planner Jessica Christie always goes above and beyond for her clients. So, stopping in Alaska to pick up the famed Jingle Bell flower for her famous client’s bouquet doesn’t seem too outrageous–until she ends up stranded there.

Matt Holden has spent the last five years since his fiancée died, living in a virtual bubble in Alaska. His research work as a botanist and assistant at the local reindeer farm keep him busy during the holidays.

But when Jessica Christie bursts into his life, all bets are off. Her stay is definitely temporary, but the feelings she ignites aren’t. Could Ms. Oh-So-Wrong actually be Mrs. Right?

CHAPTER ONE

Day Six

Jessica Christie held the phone to her ear as she scribbled frantically. “Where? When?”

Her brain was fried. It was only six days until the wedding in the UK of her latest client and the list of demands was multiplying like a virus. Her current list had seventy-six items.

“Yes, Renee, I’m here. I’m picking up your dress now." She glanced around the exclusive New York designer’s showroom. What she hadn’t said out loud was that she was actually picking up Renee’s fourth wedding dress – the reality TV star had still not decided which one she would wear. But none of the dress designers knew that. They all thought they had an exclusive deal.

Renee. She was so famous that she just went by one name. Like some kind of rock star. Or pop singer. Her reality TV show was transmitted worldwide, and she was sponsored by around ten different products that were regularly placed in the background while she filmed, meaning Renee was rapidly moving towards billionaire status.

Her engagement photos alone had earned her three million.

“Okay, got to go. Franc’s just appearing. Speak later." Jessica breathed a sigh of relief as she cut the call and gave her head a shake, trying to clear some space.

All brides got stressed in the lead up to the big day. Jessica was used to it. She’d been a wedding planner in New York for the last six years. She worked hard and had a real attention to detail, and those attributes had been noticed. Slowly but surely she’d become more and more in demand. But Renee was the queen of demands.

She’d wanted to get married in the UK at a castle, instead of in her home in New York. She’d insisted that all the staff in the castle sign confidentiality agreements. Then she’d decided she wanted a white bandstand installed in the castle grounds, along with pale peach night-lights in the surrounding gardens. Then she’d wanted a particular calligrapher to write all the invitations, a famous classical musician to sing between the wedding vows and a million other little things that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Jessica had spent the last six months catering to every whim and demand in order to give Renee the wedding of her dreams.

“Six more days,” she whispered.

Six more days then she’d never need to set eyes on Renee again.

Franc came out with the stunning dress on a hanger, the skirts spread out on his other arm as he held it aloft for admiration. “We’re finally finished.” He blustered, his face almost scarlet. “All the beading and sequins have been replaced as she requested.” He looked almost offended. “I thought she might have reappeared for a final fitting.”

Jessica spoke tactfully. She’d already attended three final fittings across the state of New York with Renee. “You know how frantic things get before a wedding. She’s at the airport right now, about to fly to London. And you fitted the dress so perfectly the last time I’m sure it won’t need any further adjustments.”

Franc’s face was still bright red. He frowned at the dress. “I’ve never had a bride demand so many last minute changes.”

Jessica smiled and put her hand on his arm. “It’s just Renee. She changes her mind about everything, believe me, I know." Jessica moved slowly around the dress under the muted lights of the showroom. This was New York. There were no bright white lights to show wrinkles or bumps that celebrities didn’t want to see.

The now pale pink sequins and beads caught the light just perfectly, giving the whole dress a magical hue.

Each of Renee’s four dresses was entirely different. This was the most traditional – previously in white, but now in the palest of pinks – it had a sequined and beaded bodice with an illusion neckline and straight tulle skirts. The dress had originally been decorated with white beading and sequins, then, last time she’d come for a fitting, Renee had insisted they all be replaced with pale pink.

Jessica let out a little sigh. For all her faults, Renee had a good eye. Something about the change of color just gave the dress that little extra oomph. That little suck one's breath in when they saw the bride feel.

One of the other dresses had a plunging back that practically showed off Renee’s backside. Another appeared to be made of white stretch net with panels covering only the most essential items of skin – it looked like a stripper’s outfit instead of a wedding gown. The third was ultra slim fitting, showing off Renee’s curves with an enormous fishtail at the back. This was the most sedate by a million miles.

“It’s amazing,” she admitted to an anxious Franc. She pulled out her phone. “Let me take a quick photo and send it to her. I’m sure she will just love it.”

Franc gave a nervous cough as he held the gown. “I thought she might have had second thoughts about the veil she’d chosen. The white doesn’t look quite right now the dress has changed tone.”

Jessica smiled. Franc nodded to where a garment bag was hanging up as she snapped the photo and pressed send. “So, I’ve given you two. The original, and the same veil made in palest pink. I think it will match perfectly.”

Jessica planted a kiss on the side of his cheek. “Franc, you’re a miracle worker. Thank you for this. Our bride is going to be beautiful." As Franc carefully packaged the dress for transport, Jessica could feel a tiny bit of the tension start to release from her shoulders. This was the last thing she had to do before she headed home to pack for London. She’d already arranged four special deliveries to the castle in the heart of England, as well as sourcing the dozens of other little essential "items" Renee required that meant Jessica was now travelling with three giant suitcases to London.

She couldn’t wait to finally get on the plane and get this wedding underway. Her scribbled items had now been added to her electronic tablet. Seventy-seven items. All just details. Details that were currently circulating around in her head.

Her taxicab pulled up outside and Franc wrinkled his nose as he took great umbrage at having to deposit the box carrying the beautiful dress in the trunk. Although it was only afternoon, the sky was beginning to darken, making all the Christmas decorations on the street and shop windows stand out even more. She couldn't help but smile. Nowhere did Christmas like New York. The tree at the Rockefeller Center, the ice rink, the red and gold decorations at her favorite department store. All things that just made the holiday season sparkle in New York. She’d already given the cab driver her address, so Jessica leaned back against the leather seats as her phone rang again. She didn’t recognize the number as she pressed the phone to her ear. “Jessica Christie?”

“Jessica, it’s Renee.”

She must be using the phone in first class. “What can I do for you?”

“Flowers. I need you to get me flowers.”

Jessica frowned and sat forward. “What do you mean? The flower arrangements and bouquets are already arranged. That’s all been taken care of in England." She could picture the list in her head. All she had to do was call the florists to make sure there were no hiccups.

“Yes, but…” Renee let her voice trail off.

Jessica’s stomach flip-flopped. She’d experienced this before. It was never a good sign.

“But what, Renee?”

She heard Renee take a deep breath. “I’ve been rethinking our whole ideas about flowers.”

A horrible prickle crawled its way down Jessica’s spine. “Yes…” she said warily. She could see all their carefully made plans fly out of the window. This was going to be another swap-all-the-beads-and-sequins on the wedding dress scenario.

“I’ve discovered something new. Something really unique that I’d like in my wedding bouquet." Enthusiasm was bubbling from Renee’s voice.

Jessica was still treading carefully as her mind raced. Where on earth had Renee had time to look at some new flower, between their last conversation and this one? Last time they’d spoken Renee had been at the airport and since boarded a plane to London.

Renee kept going. “You know how much I love Christmas. You do too; that’s why I picked you as my planner above all the others.”

Oh no. She was reminding Jessica how lucky she was. This could only go from bad to worse.

Even though Jessica knew she’d regret it, she said the words out loud. “What is it you want in your bouquet, Renee?”

She could almost hear the smile in Renee’s voice. “Well, it’s something beautiful. Totally unique. A wildflower. And wait until you hear the name, you’ll just die when you hear the name. It was made for Christmas freaks like you and me. And, what’s more, it’s red – our favorite color." The emphasis on the word our told Jessica exactly where this would go.

She leaned her head against the cab window as the Christmas lights rolled past in a blur of white, red and green. “What’s it called, Renee?”

Renee let out a little squeal. Jessica could almost feel the people in first class next to Renee all cringe. She pulled out her electronic tablet. She might as well add it to the list. “It’s called the jingle bell flower. It had some weird kind of other name pen… penstemon barb… something.”

Jessica was instantly intrigued. “It is? Oh, that sounds nice." She frowned for a second. “Oh, well, I’m sure if I give it a try I’ll be able to find a florist in the UK that can provide some for the wedding bouquet." Her fingers instantly itched to start searching the internet, but her phone was pressed to her ear.

“Well, that’s just the thing,” continued Renee. “There’s only one place that the flower grows out of season.”

“Oh?”

“Yes." Renee paused for a few seconds. “The only place the flower grows is…. Alaska." She said it as if it were some kind of celebration.

“What?" Jessica’s voice rose instantly causing the cab driver to glance in his mirror at her. She gave her head a gentle shake. She must be hearing things.

But Renee just confirmed Jessica's instant worst fears. “Yes, Alaska. In a special university place.”

The breath seemed to suck itself out of her lungs. Renee was chattering away so easily. It was clear she already had a plan.

Jessica tried to interrupt. “There must be other places it grows, Renee. Why don’t you give me a few hours to try and find out? By the time you land in London I might even have already sourced some for the bouquet.”

Please, please let me source some for the bouquet.

“No. You definitely can’t. Anyway, I’ve already messaged the place it grows. You can pick it up on the way to London.”

“What?" The cab driver jumped as her voice increased again.

Jessica struggled to find the words as she stared at her list. She liked lists. They worked for her. They brought order to chaos that was the life of a wedding planner in New York.

No matter what she was doing in this life she made a list. Whether it was groceries, household tasks, or errands to run. Nothing made her happier than an electronic list for work duties, and a pile of multi-colored post-its stuck to her fridge at home.

But somehow the usual sense of calm she got from looking at a list was rapidly evaporating. “Renee, there’s no way that can happen. My flight to London is already booked. I’ve got extra luggage to bring. I leave first thing tomorrow and I’ve just picked up your other dress. There’s no way I’ve got time to go to Alaska to collect flowers for you. Can’t they just ship them? I’m sure I can find a courier somewhere that will collect and deliver.”

That was the thing about working for Renee. Money was never an issue. The world of reality TV had served her well.

“No. No,” Renee said firmly. “You have to do it. You’re the only person I trust. Anyway, the guy was kind of weird about shipping. Said they had to be picked up in person. Apparently, he’s in kind of an out of the way place. Couriers don’t pick up or deliver. And there’s some kind of weird international paperwork that needs completed – a certificate or something. But hey – he said there’s a reindeer farm. How cool is that?”

Jessica’s head was spinning. “No. Wait. Leave this with me. Send me the details. I’ll work something out. There’s no way I can get to Alaska, and then on to London, in time to sort out all the last minute details for the wedding. That’s why we were both going early Renee, to make sure that everything would be just perfect for you.”

Even as she said the words she knew it was fruitless. Renee was notorious for being single-minded. Once she had her mind set, there was no chance of changing it.

“And this will make things perfect for me, Jessica - once you bring me the jingle bell flowers.”

Jessica slumped back against the seat. Her insides twisted. Alaska. What did she know about Alaska? Apart from the fact it was probably the one place on earth right now that was colder than New York?

How could flowers even grow there?

“I’ll send you all the details. Thanks sweetie,” Renee chirped before she rang off.

Jessica shivered. She hadn’t even agreed. Renee hadn’t even waited for a yes.

“Everything okay?” the cab driver asked.

“Not really,” Jessica murmured as she slumped back in her seat. “Looks like I’m going to Alaska.”


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