When one favor… leads to another!
The sparks are flying from the moment Emerson Adler meets her teenage crush again at a wedding.
Everything is different: Holden Roarke is now a millionaire entrepreneur—and she has sworn off relationships after all the heartbreak in her life. Yet when Holden asks for a favor…it’s impossible to say no!
Emerson knows she’s strong enough to keep her heart at a distance—or so she thinks. But all too quickly, it’s not so simple anymore!
A whimsical romp about first loves, bruised hearts, the delight to be found in the giving and receiving of favours, and, of course, falling in love...
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The question I am asked most often when people discover I am a writer is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
For me the ideas are the easy part. Song lyrics, news headlines, funny stories overheard in cafes. (Be careful; a writer might be listening.) Yet it’s often the smushing together of two – or more – arbitrary, unconnected thoughts that is where the magic happens.
Knowing this, pen and paper always with reach so that I might jot down any tiny thought that grabs me, just in case. Fortune Cookie. Divorce lawyer. Jilted prince. Secret wedding dress. Upstairs girl. Crush on The David. These random musings all turned into stories, once the right hero and heroine came along.
The idea for this story came about by way of the 70s song, Heartache No. 9. I had written it down years ago, the title alone sending me down a glorious rabbit hole - a heroine who looks upon heartaches like a cat with nine lives and after her eighth major heartache fears the ninth may herald her doom. But it didn’t have weight, purpose, heart until stumbling upon a video of a woman at a wedding lifting her glass of champagne in blithe salute after not winning the bouquet toss. At that moment Emerson Adler was born.
So thank-you to the scraps of paper, the backs of receipts, the bar coasters that have sacrificed themselves to the gods of the Big Ideas.
The tide of anticipation rippling through the crowd was palpable; voices ascending, glasses clinking, dresses shimmering in the buttery light of a marquee strung with enough fairy lights to bring a plane safely home on a cloudy night.
All the single ladies - along with a handful of convivial and unattached guys - stood in a loose group at the edge of the dancefloor; shifting from foot to foot, jostling for position, eyes sharp on the deviously-grinning bride who stood alone beneath a spotlight waving her lavish bouquet back and forth like some kind of lure.
Emerson Adler alone remained immune to the collective fervour.
As Maid of Honour, Emerson felt duty-bound to at least appear as if she was taking part. Though the bride was hardly what one might call traditional. Emerson’s place card read “Best Woman/Sister Wife” and her her dress – as chosen by the bride – was less pastel, eighties prom, more backless, glittery-bronze, va va voom Vegas hostess. The bride was nothing if not extra.
Speaking of the bride, Camille planted her bare feet, backside wiggling dramatically as she readied to make the toss, and the rowdy crowd held its collective breath. Then a whoop split the evening air, as the bouquet arced high in a tumble of white roses, orchids, moonflowers, and faux pearls.
The group surged up and to the left - like a rugby scrum, only better dressed. While Emerson and her glass of warm bubbly took a deft step to the right.
The bouquet landed atop a shelf of groping hands, then bounced - once, twice – leaving those in the bullseye in an entangled heap on the parquetry floor. Finally, like a whale breaching the surface of a stormy sea, Bernadette, sweet younger cousin to the bride, leapt to her feet, brandishing the bunch like Excalibur.
Congratulations ensued before the competitors moved off to reclaim their partners, their drinks, their chairs. While Emerson sighed in contentment, happy that she’d navigated that whole affair with subtle aplomb.
Or so she thought, till she caught the bride’s gaze across the crowded room.
Camille, being Camille, grinned broadly as she waggled a naughty-naughty finger Emerson’s way, clearly finding Emerson’s mini-rebellion hilarious.
Emerson offered a sly shrug, lifted her bubbly in salute, downed the lot in one gulp, placed the empty glass on the tray of a wandering waiter, found a gap in the crowd and took it.
Camille’s bark of laughter was loud enough it could be heard above the band, who’d just heralded their return to the stage with a clash of symbols and blurt of a trumpet.
“Dance with me, Emmy!” one of Phillip’s groomsmen begged as she slipped by.
Emerson took his hand, spun deftly beneath his arm and let go, before disappearing into the throng, stopping only when she reached her desired destination - the empty, moody, dimly-lit, back-corner bar, half-hidden behind a screen of stripped willow.
Catching the eye of the bartender Emerson motioned to the fresh tray of glasses filled with golden bubbles. Chewing on a toothpick and drying wine glasses by hand, he lifted his chin the barest amount in confirmation. Not a chatty one. Perfect.
While the soft strains of moody, forties jazz filled the marquee like smoke, bringing the slow dancers to the floor, Emerson plonked her clutch on the bar, leaned her back against warm wood, took a moment to herself for the first time in what felt like days.
Without busy work keeping her occupied, it wasn’t long before she noticed the uncomfortable feeling that had grown in her belly, incrementally, as the day had gone on. Not hunger. She’d had the fish, and the chocolate mousse. More as if her innards were being pickled in something bittersweet. More as if she felt a little…downhearted.
It made no sense, for the wedding had gone off without a hitch; the ceremony whimsical, the after-party decadent and joyful.
So why these…feelings?
If the Heartache List had taught her anything, it was that feelings were messy and perilous. Far better to keep them squished deep down inside where they might shrivel up and die due to acute lack of oxygen.
And yet, as she watched the crowd on the dancefloor part, right as Phillip swept Camille into his arms and twirled her about, before hauling her close and slow dancing as if they were the only people in the room, her two favourite humans move onto the next stage of their lives in real time, a stage that would no longer include her, Emerson’s hand dropped to her belly and the – dare she even think it – ache, therein.
“Then again,” she muttered, “maybe it was the fish.”
Shaking off the feeling as best she could, Emerson rolled her shoulders, closed her eyes and drank deeply; the bubbles biting winningly at the inside of her throat on the way down. She nudged a high-heel off one foot, releasing a small sound of relief as she stretched her toes, twirled her ankle and --
The voice calling her name, invading her moment of sanctuary, was a masculine one; deep, rumbling, and lit with the expectation of conversation returned. “Emmy Adler? Of East Kew High? Or, more particularly, the cracked, hard-plastic chairs outside the guidance counsellor’s office.”
Emerson took a small breath before twisting to face the interloper now leaning back against the bar beside her.
Used, as she was, in her work as a professional recruiter of human resources, to devouring first impressions in a blink, Emerson took mental bullet points; tall, great hair, hell of a jawline, beautiful suit, exceptional tailoring required to contain those mighty shoulders, slow smile tugging at the corners of a wide mouth, rather lovely crinkles at the edges of a pair of magnetic eyes the colour of a coming storm -
All too late a skitter of warning thundered its way down Emerson’s back, knocking against the bumps in her spine like a pinball.
The jaw, the shoulders, the stormy eyes, the ‘cracked, hard-plastic chairs outside the guidance counsellor’s office’ – they belonged to none other than Holden Roarke.
Aka Heartache Number Four.