Simply the Best by Mary P. Karnes - Read Online
Simply the Best
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Grace Mc Kenna is a spunky, beautiful wedding planner in exclusive Santa Barbara, California. It's not easy being wedding planner to the rich and famous, but someone has to do it. Grace's seemingly ideal life is complicated by a handsome cop ex-husband, a mischievous 12 year old daughter, and oh yes, a murdered assistant who just happens to be the Maid of Honor in her latest wedding. Grace wants to solve the case when her best friend is accused of the murder, but is the cost too great?
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ISBN: 9781483519630
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Simply the Best - Mary P. Karnes

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Sunday June 5

One, two, three, four, I counted all the way to thirty. My fingers interlaced as my hands performed chest compressions on her heart. I’d been doing this for five minutes. With 100 compressions a minute, I was getting tired. She was dead, dead and cold, but I couldn’t give up. I knew I shouldn’t be contaminating the scene, but I couldn’t stop.

She wasn’t breathing. I tipped her head back to open the airway, pinched her nose closed, and made a seal over her mouth with my own. Her cold mouth finally shocked me into acceptance. I rose from her, blood staining my shirt. She was dead. She was really dead.

Chapter 1

Friday June 3

I know, I know. As my mother has repeatedly told me, I would be getting much more business had I named my event planning company, ‘A Perfect Party.’ That way, my company, (specializing in weddings), would have been among the first in the yellow pages. Even so, ‘Simply the Best’ was generating almost more events than Caitlyn, my trusty assistant, and I could handle. And I am definitely not ready to hire more help. My part- timer, Kelly, is more than enough. I started the business when my cop ex-husband and I divorced. Disregarding the twinges over my ex, Jack, I have a happy life. I love our daughter, Belle, my parents, Caitlyn, ‘Simply the Best’, and yes, even Jack.

This morning was the kind of day, which made Santa Barbara, California famous. The sky was azure and seemed endless. Big cotton candy clouds wisped it. I slipped out onto my backyard patio, my favorite mug filled with Starbucks. Ah, I loved my coffee. If I had my choice, it was always gourmet, but instant would do in a pinch. Instant or brewed, cream was a must.

Morning, Mom, my beautiful 11 year old daughter said as she walked onto the patio carrying a mug of cocoa. She was dressed for school, dark jeans and a t -shirt. Isabella, or as we called her, Belle, was genetically blessed. She got the best features of both her father and me. From Jack, she got her magnificent blue eyes and glossy chestnut hair. From me, she was the beneficiary of delicate features and a slender body. My hair was glossy too, but straight as a pin and more of a chocolate color. My eyes matched.

Ready for the science test, honey? I teased her as she settled into the bistro table with one of my banana chocolate chip muffins and a slice of honeydew.

Yep, she managed in between bites. Belle was an outstanding student. She needed to be prodded, though. She was a bit of a procrastinator.

Did you get the flowers worked out for Merritt’s wedding? she asked, crossing her legs in a way reminiscent of yours truly.

Yep, I responded, feeling a bit anxious, knowing she referred to the biggest Santa Barbara society wedding of the year. I must admit I only got the contract because Kelly, my part-timer, was maid of honor. Kelly and the bride were college roommates at UC Santa Barbara. No matter how I got it, I was glad for the business. Not that I wanted MORE weddings, just more high profile ones. If I played my cards right, more society weddings were in my future. Big bucks, there, although, Mother of the Bride, or MOB Candace Harriman, was hard to deal with. But for the fee they were paying me, I could deal with anyone, and anything. Which reminded me, I needed to check in with the florist. I had told Belle the problem was all worked out, but…

I dribbled a little coffee on my slate blue yoga pants, bought on sale at Nordstrom. Time for a quick change.

As I opened the doors to my walk in closet, I let out a sigh of contentment. It was every woman’s dream. It was roughly 10’x12’. Drawers lined half of two walls. Cubbies filled the rest. Those cubbies were filled with my vast shoe and handbag collection. Sweaters and lingerie filled the drawers. The other two walls housed my hanging items. I had organized everything by color, as Santa Barbara had one season – perfect spring.

In the center of the closest, I had placed a chaise that I too infrequently laid on, but was perfect for sitting and buckling those high strappy sandals I favored. I laid out a white denim Donna Karan skirt, Michael Kors belt, and pink strappy Lillie Pulitzer sandals. Jack and I had to lose one of the small bedrooms to accommodate my closet, but we never missed the space. Belle is an only child, but not for the lack of trying…

After a quick shower and dressing, I was ready. I didn’t get my beach walk in this morning; maybe Belle would go with me after dinner. As we were just two blocks from the ocean, there were no excuses.

I pulled my white Suburban into the parking lot of Mimi’s Floral Bouquet, and locked her up. I had different bakers, florists, photographers, (you name it), to go with each client’s budget and personality. Mimi the florist was perfect for the Harriman wedding. Mimi was extravagantly expensive and exceptionally good at holding the hand of a ‘Nervous Nellie Society Mama’.

This morning’s visit was to smooth some ruffled feathers. Candace Harriman, (or Candy, as she was previously known before her own wedding), was NOT an easy client to work for. She was a former cocktail waitress who struck gold when she was 20. She was picked up in the bar where she worked by the college–boy scion of one of Santa Barbara’s oldest families. The family was not happy when three months later, she was pregnant and the couple announced their plans to marry. The blessing was finally given when Mr. Harriman, Candy’s future father-in-law, reminded his wife that at least their son was marrying a woman (they had long worried about junior’s sexuality). From the minute the wedding ring was placed on her finger, Candy fancied herself the grand dame of Santa Barbara, and became ‘Candace’. She ran rough shod over tradespeople like they were mud beneath her perfectly pedicured feet. Mimi had been the most recent recipient of this less than desired treatment, and I feared she’d pull out on principle. I couldn’t afford to loose Mimi; at this late date, I’d never be able to get another florist. As I entered the shop, a harried looking Mimi met me. She was red-faced and shiny, already perspiring in this mild weather.

Thank God you’re here, Grace, she said grabbing my arm and pulling me into her fragrant office. Good Lord, that woman’s going to be the death of me.

I didn’t need to ask who ‘that woman’ was. Mimi sat down heavily in her old swivel desk chair. Her flushed face didn’t look healthy. A pile of short, blond curls clung damply to her cheek.

You feeling OK, Mimi?

Hell, no, I feel like crap, and I look it too. Don’t bother to tell me I don’t. She exhaled roughly. I’m going through the change, damn it, and don’t let ANONE tell you, ‘Oh, it’s great, you don’t have a period, or have to worry about getting pregnant.’ She scowled at me.

I couldn’t help but smile. She was a character, and a loveable one at that. She and Caitlyn, my assistant, had been there for me during the whole mess with Jack, and I’d never forget it. A hot flash probably explained Mimi’s rather concerning red face. I was no longer worried she was going to keel over from a heart attack.

What’s she done now? I asked sitting in the plush visitors’ chair across from her desk.

Well, the stephanotis arrived for the alter flowers, and now she’s decided she wants white orchids instead, Mimi took a large gulp of coffee, and then held her mug aloft raising her eyebrows at me in silent offering. I shook my head no. I love coffee, but I’d had Mimi’s brew, and I didn’t love it THAT much.

Is it too late to order the orchids?

No, but what happens to the stephanotis? I really don’t want to be out that money.

I leaned back in my chair and tipped my head back, way, back. I exhaled all the air out of my chest. Then I sat up straight.

Tell her you can order the orchids, but she’ll also have to pay for the stephanotis. I’ll find somewhere for them.

She’ll scream bloody murder, Mimi replied. And then she’ll threaten to bad mouth me to all her little society friends. And she’ll do it, too, if she doesn’t get her way.

I’ll talk to her.

You know, Mimi, said, I really don’t care anymore. I’m a damn good florist, and everyone knows it. To hell with her! I’m going to tell her exactly what I think. Yeah! I like this menopause thing, Mimi stood up then, and with a determined look walked to her office door. Heaven help Candace Harriman, I thought. I almost wished I had enough time to stick around and watch the fireworks. It’d be fun to see two such strong women go at it. But duty called.

Chapter 2

Friday June 3

I had a meeting with Candace’s daughter and the bride, Merritt. She wanted to discuss the butterfly release immediately following the ceremony. A month ago, Candace decided the guests would release monarchs as the beautiful couple ran directly from the church to the family owned Bentley.

But what about the wedding pictures? wailed Merritt, referring to the pictures traditionally taken after the ceremony of the bride, groom, family and attendants.

We’ll take them all before the wedding, Candace answered promptly. Guests usually went ahead to the reception and enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail while the wedding party took pictures. Under Candace’s new plan with Merritt and Blaine running through guest-released butterflies to their car, pictures could NOT be taken after the ceremony.

Before? Merritt screeched. Blaine can’t see me before the wedding! Everyone knows it’s bad luck!"

We make our own luck. Besides, think how beautiful the butterflies will look flying all around you.

Mother, Merritt said regaining some of her usual composure. I really don’t want the butterflies. I want the birdseed, an environmentally friendly alternative to the old-fashioned rice throwing. And I don’t want the pictures before the wedding. But Merritt’s protests fell on deaf ears.

Today I was meeting Merritt at her future home with Blaine, high in the French Riviera-type hills of Santa Barbara. The meeting was no more than to calm some nerves. Merritt met me at he door as I approached. She glowed in an apricot St John knit suit, a little mature for her, but it worked.

Hey, Grace, thanks for coming out. I know it was inconvenient for you, but I’m getting several furniture deliveries today, and I can’t leave. You know how it is, ‘delivery due any time between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM’. And while I would leave it to Consuela, (her housekeeper), Blaine wants me to oversee the deliveries. He’s scared to death they’ll scratch the new floors, she rambled.

I smiled. I liked Merritt. She was warm, genuine, and most importantly, not at all like her mother. Always at their convenience, I said, as I shook my head.

Merritt graciously waved me in the front door of her palatial new home. Come in, please. Consuela has prepared some goodies for us on the patio. You’re a coffee drinker, right, Grace?

"Yes, I responded with only marked enthusiasm. I didn’t want anyone to think I was too crazy for the elixir of the gods.

I followed Merritt out to the patio, which was home to a gorgeous black-bottomed pool. There was a waterfall to it’s left, and if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was a natural pond. On a lovely wrought iron patio table was a stainless steel carafe, of what I assumed was the promised coffee. Surely Merritt served some exotic brew, pure Kona, or some sort of organic free trade. Yes, and there was also a tray filled with beautiful pastries, but who cared? I zeroed in on the coffee.

I seated myself on a matching hunter green wrought iron chair and Merritt began to pour. I studied her furtively. It truly wasn’t fair that any one woman could have so