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Authors: Sarah Morgan

Sunset In Central Park

BOOK: Sunset In Central Park
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Praise for Sarah Morgan

‘A gorgeously sparkly romance’
– Julia Williams

‘The perfect book to curl up with’

Heat

‘Full of romance and sparkle.’

Lovereading

‘I’ve found an author I adore – must hunt down everything she’s published.’

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

‘Morgan is a magician with words.’

RT Book Reviews

‘Dear Ms Morgan, I’m always on the lookout for a new book by you …’

Dear Author blog

SARAH MORGAN
is the bestselling author of
Sleigh Bells in the Snow.
As a child Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours on the way she is now living that dream. With her writing career she has successfully combined business with pleasure, and she firmly believes that reading romance is one of the most satisfying and fat-free escapist pleasures available. Her stories are unashamedly optimistic, and she is always pleased when she receives letters from readers saying that her books have helped them through hard times.

Sarah lives near London with her husband and two children, who innocently provide an endless supply of authentic dialogue. When she isn’t writing or reading Sarah enjoys music, movies, and any activity that takes her outdoors.

Readers can find out more about Sarah and her books from her website:
www.sarahmorgan.com
She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Dear Reader

As a child I was always in awe of my mother who could name every plant we ever passed, often by its Latin name. I used to test her, trying to catch her out. I’d tug her arm and point to some obscure leaf or flower, often hidden behind another, and ask ‘what’s that?’ She always knew. I badly wanted to be such an expert, able to impress people with my depth of knowledge. Sadly, that has yet to happen (although I’m confident with ‘rose’) but one of the great things about writing is that you can create characters who are everything you’re not.

The heroine of this story, Frankie, is most definitely an expert. Like my mother, she can take a few stems of greenery and arrange them in such a way as to make a person stop and admire. Frankie is a strong, independent woman who is very good at her job and she is in control of every part of her life except one – her love life. Taking that leap requires her to put aside her tarnished beliefs about love. The one person who might be able to do that is Matt, the older brother of her best friend.

Friends-to-lovers is a theme I love exploring. I enjoyed watching Frankie and Matt’s long friendship turn into something deeper, and seeing Frankie learn to trust after years of keeping barriers between herself and the world.

Thank you for picking up this book! I hope you enjoy
Sunset in Central Park,
and that reading it brings some reading sunshine to your day. Don’t forget to look out for Eva’s story,
Miracle on 5th Avenue,
coming later in the year and if you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll join me there.
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSarahMorgan

Love Sarah

Xx

This one is for my dear friend Dawn, with much love.

Epigraph

The course of true love never did run smooth.

—William Shakespeare

Chapter One

Sleeping Beauty didn’t need a prince. She needed strong coffee.

—Frankie

S
he’d expected hearts, flowers and smiles. Not tears.

“Crisis unfolding, two o’clock.” Frankie tapped her earpiece and heard Eva respond.

“It can’t unfold at two o’clock. It’s already five past three.”

“Not the time, the position. Crisis is unfolding ahead of me and to the right.”

There was a pause. “You mean by the apple tree?”

“That’s what I mean.”

“Then why not just say ‘by the apple tree’?”

“Because if you’re going to make me wear an earpiece and look professional, I’m going to sound professional.”

“Frankie, you sound more like the FBI than a floral designer. And how can there be a crisis? Everything is running smoothly. The weather is perfect, the tables are pretty and the cakes are looking stunning if I say so myself. Our
bride-to-be looks radiant and the guests will be arriving any minute.”

Frankie stared at the woman crumpled against the tree trunk. “I hate to tell you this but right now the bride-to-be isn’t looking radiant. We have tears. I am the last person to make an observation on the psychology of weddings and all the fluff that surrounds them, but I’m guessing that’s not the usual response. If they reach this stage, it’s because they think marriage is a good thing, am I right?”

“Are you sure they’re not happy tears? And how many tears exactly? One tissue or a whole box?”

“Enough to cause a world shortage. She’s crying like a waterfall after heavy rain. I’m starting to understand why they call it a bridal shower.”

“Oh no! Her makeup will be ruined. Do you know what happened?”

“Maybe she decided she should have gone with the chocolate ganache instead of the orange sugar icing.”

“Frankie—”

“Or maybe she saw sense and decided to get out now while there’s still time. If I were about to get married, I’d be crying, too, and I’d be crying a hell of a lot harder and louder than she is.”

A sigh vibrated in her ear. “You promised to leave your relationship phobias at the door.”

“I closed the door, but they must have sneaked in through the keyhole.”

“The mood for this event is sunny optimism, remember?”

Frankie stared at the bride-to-be, sobbing under the apple tree. “Not from where I’m standing. It’s been a dry summer, though. The apple tree will be pleased to be watered.”

“Go and give her a hug, Frankie! Tell her everything will be okay.”

“She’s getting married. How can everything be okay?” Sweat pricked the back of her neck. There was only one thing she hated more than bridal showers, and that was weddings. “I will not lie.”

“It’s not a lie! Plenty of people live happily ever after.”

“In fairy stories. In real life they sleep around and get divorced, invariably in that order.” Frankie made a huge effort to smother her prejudices. “Get out here now. This is your area of expertise. You know I’m no good at the touchy-feely thing.”

“I’ll handle it.” This time it was Paige who spoke and who, moments later, strode across the neatly tended lawn, cool and composed despite the New York heat and humidity. “What was she doing immediately before she started crying?”

“She took a phone call.”

“Could you hear any of the conversation?”

“I don’t listen to people’s conversations. Maybe the markets crashed or something, although judging from the size of this house it would need to be a big crash to make a difference.” Frankie pushed her hair away from her sweaty forehead. “Can we do these events indoors from now on? I’m dying.” It was the sort of day that made your clothes stick to your skin and made you dream of iced drinks and air-conditioning.

She thought longingly of her small apartment in Brooklyn.

If she were home now she’d be fiddling with cuttings, tending the herbs on her windowsill and watching the bees flirt with the plants in her tiny garden. Or maybe she’d be on the roof terrace with her friends, sharing a bottle of wine as they watched the sun set over the Manhattan skyline.

Weddings would be the last thing on her mind.

She felt a touch on her arm and glanced toward her friend. “What?”

“You’re stressed. You hate weddings and all things bridal. I wish I didn’t have to ask you to do them, but right now—”

“Our business is in its infancy and we can’t afford to turn them down. I know. And I’m fine with it.” Well, not
fine
exactly, Frankie thought moodily, but she was here, wasn’t she?

And she understood that they couldn’t be choosy about their clients.

She, Paige and Eva had started their and-concierge business, Urban Genie, only a few months earlier after they’d lost their jobs at a large Manhattan-based events company.

Frankie gave a little smile, remembering the giddy excitement and sweaty fear that had come from starting their own company. It had been terrifying but there had also been a powerful feeling of liberation. They had the control.

It had been Paige’s brainchild, and Frankie knew that without her she would very likely be out of a job right now. Which would mean no way to pay her rent. Without the money to pay her rent, she’d have to leave her apartment.

Unease rippled through her, as if someone had thrown a pebble into the quiet, smooth pond that was her life.

Her independence was everything.

And that was why she was here. That and the loyalty she felt toward her friends.

She pushed her glasses back up her nose with the tip of her finger. “I can cope with weddings if that’s what comes our way. Don’t worry about me. She—” Frankie nodded her head toward the woman under the apple tree “—is your priority.”

“I’m going to talk to her. If the guests arrive, stall them. Eva?” Paige adjusted her earpiece. “Don’t bring the cakes out yet. I’ll let you know what’s happening.” She walked over to the bride-to-be.

Frankie knew that whatever the problem was, her friend would deal with it. Paige was a born organizer with a gift for saying exactly the right thing at the right time.

And she possessed another gift, crucial to the success of events like these—she believed in happy endings.

As far as Frankie was concerned, people who believed in happy endings were delusional.

Her parents had separated when she was fourteen, when her father, a sales director, had announced that he was leaving her mother for one of his colleagues.

And as for everything that had happened since—

She stared blindly at the ribbons fluttering in the breeze.

How did people do it? How did they manage to ignore all the statistics and facts and convince themselves they could find one person to be with forever?

Forever didn’t exist.

She shifted restlessly. Paige was right. There was nothing on earth she hated as much as weddings and all things bridal. They filled her with a sense of foreboding. It was like watching a car driving along the freeway, heading toward a pileup. There was a hideous inevitability to it all. She wanted to cover her eyes or shout out a warning. What she didn’t want to be was a witness.

She saw Paige put her arm around the sobbing woman and turned away. She told herself that she was giving them privacy, but truthfully, she didn’t want to look. It was too raw. Too real. Looking stirred up memories she preferred to forget. Fortunately, her job wasn’t to manage the emotions of the clients; it was to provide a floral display that reflected the tone and mood of the event.

The mood was supposed to be happy, so she’d chosen creams and pastels to complement the beautiful linens. Celosia and sweet pea nestled alongside hydrangea and roses
in glass pitchers chosen to satisfy the bride-to-be’s request for simplicity.

Of course,
simplicity
was a relative term, Frankie thought as she surveyed the two long tables. Simplicity could have meant feasting from picnic baskets, but in this case the tables gleamed with silverware and the shimmer of crystal. Charles William Templeton was a lawyer with a famous clientele and sufficient funds at his disposal to ensure that his only daughter, Robyn Rose, could have any wedding she wanted. The Plaza was booked for the following summer. Frankie was relieved Urban Genie wasn’t involved with that event.

The brief for the bridal shower had been garden elegance with a touch of romance. Frankie had managed not to wince as Robyn Rose had mentioned Flower Fairies and
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Thanks to Eva, who had no trouble turning their clients’ romantic visions into reality, they’d more than met the brief.

They’d rented chairs and customized them with ribbon that coordinated with the table setting. Handmade silk butterflies were artfully positioned around the garden, and acres of lace created the feel of a fairy grotto. You could almost believe you were in a fairy tale.

Frankie gave a half smile.

Only Eva could have thought it up.

The only nod to simplicity was the mature apple tree currently sheltering the sobbing bride-to-be.

Frankie was bracing herself to start holding off guests when Eva appeared by her side, her cheeks pink from the sun.

“Do we know what’s happening?”

“No, but I can tell you it’s not all celebration. Paige needs to work magic.”

Eva glanced around wistfully. “It all looks so pretty and
we’ve worked so hard to make it perfect. Normally I
love
bridal showers. I always think of it as a final celebration before the bride and groom ride off into the sunset.”

“Sunset is what happens before darkness, Ev.”

“Can you at least
pretend
you believe in what we do?”

“I do believe in what we do. We’re a business. We manage events and we’re damn good at it. This is just another event.”

“You make it sound so clinical, but there’s a magical side to it.” Eva straightened the wing of a silk butterfly. “Sometimes we make wishes come true.”

“My wish was to run a successful business with my two best friends, so I guess you’re right about that. There’s nothing magical about it, unless managing to function after an eighteen-hour day is magical. And coffee is definitely magical. Fortunately, I don’t have to believe in happy endings to do a great job. My responsibility is the flowers, that’s all.”

And she loved it. Her love affair with plants had begun when she was young. She’d taken refuge in the garden to escape the emotions inside the house. Flowers could be art, or they could be science, and she’d studied each plant carefully, understanding that each had individual needs. There were the shade-loving plants like ferns, ginger and jack-in-the-pulpit, and then there were the sun worshippers, like lilacs and sunflowers. Each needed an optimum environment. Planted in the wrong place, they would wither and die. Each needed the perfect home in order to flourish.

Not so different from humans, she mused.

She loved selecting the right flower for the right event; she enjoyed designing displays of plants but most of all she loved growing them and watching the changing seasons. From the extravagant froth of blossom in the spring to the elegant russets and burnt orange of the fall, each season brought its own gifts.

“The flowers are beautiful.” Eva studied the bunch of flowers artfully arranged in the pitcher. “That’s pretty. What is it?”

“It’s a rose.”

“No, the silvery one.”

“Centaurea cineraria.”

Eva gave her a look. “What do normal people call it?”

“Dusty miller.”

“It’s pretty. And you used sweet peas.” Her friend drew her finger wistfully over the flower. “They were my grandmother’s favorite. I used to leave bunches of them by her bed. They reminded her of her wedding. I love the way you’ve put this together. You’re so talented.”

Frankie heard the wobble in her friend’s voice. Eva had adored her grandmother, and her death the previous year had been devastating. Frankie knew she missed her horribly.

She also knew that Eva wouldn’t want to have a wobbly moment at work.

“Did you know the sweet pea was discovered by a Sicilian monk three hundred years ago?”

Eva swallowed hard. “No. You know so much about flowers.”

“It’s my job. What do you think of this? It’s Queen Anne’s lace,” Frankie spoke quickly. “You’ll like it. It’s very bridal. Perfect for you.”

“Yes.” Eva pulled herself together. “When I get married I’m going to have that in my bouquet. Would you make it for me?”

“Sure. I’ll make you the best bouquet any bride has ever seen. Just don’t cry. You’re a mess when you cry.”

Eva scrubbed her hand over her face. “So you’d be happy for me? Even though you don’t believe in love?”

“If anyone can prove me wrong it’s going to be you. And
you deserve it. I’m hoping Mr. Right rides up on his white horse and sweeps you away.”

“That would attract some attention on Fifth Avenue.” Eva blew her nose. “And I’m allergic to horses.”

Frankie tried not to smile. “With you, there’s always something.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For making me laugh instead of cry. You’re the best.”

“Yeah, well, you can return the favor by handling this situation.” Frankie saw Paige hand Robyn another tissue. “He’s dumped her, hasn’t he?”

“You don’t know that. It could be anything. Or nothing. Maybe she has dust in her eye.”

Frankie glanced at her friend in disbelief. “Next you’ll be telling me you still believe in Santa and the tooth fairy.”

“And the Easter bunny.” Composed again, Eva whipped a tiny mirror from her purse and checked her makeup. “Don’t ever forget the Easter bunny.”

“What’s it like living on Planet Eva?”

“It’s lovely. And don’t you dare contaminate my little world with your cynical views. A moment ago you were talking about Mr. Right.”

“That was to stop you from crying. I don’t understand why people put themselves through this when they could just stab themselves through the heart with a kitchen knife and be done with it.”

Eva shuddered. “You’ve been reading too much horror. Why don’t you read romance instead?”

“I’d rather stab myself through the heart with a kitchen knife.” And it felt as if she’d done just that. She was looking at Robyn Rose, but she was remembering her mother, incoherent with grief on the kitchen floor while her father,
white-faced, had stepped over her heaving body and walked out the door, leaving Frankie to clean up his mess.

BOOK: Sunset In Central Park
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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