The Perfect Homecoming (Pine River)

BOOK: The Perfect Homecoming (Pine River)
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ALSO BY
J
ULIA
L
ONDON

HISTORICALS

The Devil’s Love

Wicked Angel

The Rogues of Regent Street

The Dangerous Gentleman

The Ruthless Charmer

The Beautiful Stranger

The Secret Lover

Highland Lockhart Family

Highlander Unbound

Highlander in Disguise

Highlander in Love

The Desperate Debutantes

The Hazards of Hunting a Duke

The Perils of Pursuing a Prince

The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount

The School for Heiresses
(Anthology): “The Merchant’s Gift”

The Scandalous Series

The Book of Scandal

Highland Scandal

A Courtesan’s Scandal

Snowy Night with a Stranger
(Anthology): “Snowy Night with a Highlander”

The Secrets of Hadley Green

The Year of Living Scandalously

The Christmas Secret
(novella)

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin

The Seduction of Lady X

The Last Debutante

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
AND WOMEN’S FICTION

Pine River

Homecoming Ranch

Return to Homecoming Ranch

The Fancy Lives of the Lear Sisters

Material Girl

Beauty Queen

Miss Fortune

Over the Edge (previously available as Thrillseekers Anonymous series)

All I Need Is You
(previously available as
Wedding Survivor
)

One More Night
(previously available as
Extreme Bachelor
)

Fall Into Me
(previously available as
American Diva
)

Cedar Springs

Summer of Two Wishes

One Season of Sunshine

A Light at Winter’s End

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Guiding Light: Jonathan’s Story,
tie-in to
The Guiding Light

NOVELLAS

“The Vicar’s Widow”

“Lucky Charm”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Dinah Dinwiddie

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477821619

ISBN-10: 1477821619

 

Cover design by Laura Klynstra

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014915842

For the loyal readers who have stuck with me on the trails through the lives of many characters

 

PROLOGUE

Beverly Hills, One Year Ago

Emma Tyler was at work, in the break room of Cypress Event Management, when she first heard about the devil child. Apparently, Cayley Applebaum was a skinny, curly-haired, twelve-year-old brat with a sense of entitlement so vast it rolled off of her in big tsunami waves. She had no limits on her cell phone and was perhaps the most spoiled of the children who roamed in packs up and down Santa Monica Boulevard. She lived in a Beverly Hills mansion in a magic bubble of infinite privilege and, like most of her friends, was accustomed to regular routines that included massages and facials, New York shopping sprees, and birthday parties that cost as much as art-house film productions.

Cayley was the only child of Reggie Applebaum, a film-industry mog
ul and power broker. He possessed buckets of money, and on the occasion of Cayley’s bat mitzvah, he’d hired Cypress Event Management—CEM, as it was known around town—to produce a party. He’d said,
money is no object
. He’d actually said those words, as if they weren’t a completely laughable cliché. Money was
no object
for a party for a twelve-year-old? Could anyone even say that with a straight face?

Reggie could, and he did.

Emma was fascinated by the tales of this kid. The planners working the event held court in the break room, reenacting Cayley’s demands and tantrums with many expletives. Emma wondered who produced children like this? By what failure of parenting did darling little toddlers become demons in a few short years?

Emma was a vice president at CEM, but she didn’t actually do much event planning herself. Her boss, Melissa, a well-preserved woman with an impressive collection of Chanel suits and handbags, said Emma lacked “people skills” and “empathy” for their most important clients.

Emma didn’t disagree with that assessment. She’d never been an event planner to begin with—she’d landed her job at CEM some years ago by sleeping with one of the members of the board of directors. She’d taken the job because she’d liked the
idea
of event planning. But it turned out that she wasn’t very good at execution. She couldn’t click with brides and anniversary couples. She was one to speak the truth and had a hard time distinguishing which truths people were willing to hear and which ones they weren’t.

But dammit, Emma had tried.

A few months into it, while working a divorce party—an inanity of the first order—Emma had agreed with the honoree that she did indeed look fat in her cocktail dress. After that, it looked as if Emma would be fired. Before Melissa could fire her, however, an important wedding had hit a snag. On the day of that wedding, the flower delivery van was hit from behind on the way to the venue and many of the arrangements were lost. The florist wanted to go with half the original order, arguing that he couldn’t possibly replace what was lost and get it across Los Angeles in time for the ceremony. Emma had been the only one available to deal with the disaster, and she’d handled it beautifully. She’d told the florist the truth: The couple had paid thousands for flowers, which was a drop in the bucket of what they’d put into a smear campaign if the flowers didn’t arrive as ordered, on time.

“Is that a threat?” the florist had asked.

“It’s just the truth,” Emma had said. “Oh, and by the way, I know someone with a helicopter.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” the flustered florist had demanded.

“If I were you, I’d pay to have that shit airlifted over Los Angeles rather than face the fallout of not delivering flowers to a Hollywood star’s wedding. But that’s just me.”

The last of the flowers arrived just as the violinists began to tune their instruments.

Once Melissa discovered that Emma was good at cutting through chaos and handling bad situations that popped up, she saw her employee in a new light. Eventually, Melissa came to appreciate that Emma didn’t mealymouth her way around vendors and promoted Emma to vice president. She instructed her staff to call Emma if things broke.

If a vendor wasn’t delivering, staff called Emma. If a venue canceled on them, staff called Emma. If a twelve-year-old girl was calling the shots and screwing everything up, they definitely called Emma.

Paul and Francine, two very competent, bullshit-tolerant planners, told Emma they couldn’t deal with the kid. “Cayley changes her mind every day and we can’t
book
anything. Now she wants to cancel the audiovisual vendor and it’s
two days
before the bat mitzvah.”

Emma was almost eager to go with Paul and Francine to meet this child, if for no other reason than to lay eyes on her.

The first thing Emma noticed about Cayley was that she had an insufferable habit of sneering at her mother, Tallulah.

Correction.

Tallulah was the vessel who had brought the little shit into the world, but she was no mother. She deferred every decision to the pubescent monster and quaked in the marquee glow of her daughter’s displeasure. Emma wanted to slap both of them.

It became quickly apparent to Emma that in spite of the kid, the bat mitzvah would be stunning, even by Hollywood standards. CEM had booked the Beverly Hilton and would erect three distinct lounges. The first lounge was for younger children who were forced to accompany their siblings and parents to this event. Those children would be treated to little bowling lanes with Nerf pins and plastic bowling balls, a bouncy castle, a big foam pit for jumping into, and a face-painting station. Teens who were not as privileged as Cayley, who had to work summer jobs for spending money, had been hired to babysit.

The main lounge was built for Cayley and her friends. Cayley had decreed it would be pink. The teens would feast on cheeseburger sliders, Chinese food, and french fries served in cones. Cayley had planned entertainment stations to include temporary tattoos, a smartphone bling station, and of course, a
Guitar Hero
stage complete with microphones and a running video. But what Cayley was clearly most enamored with was the three photo booths that would grace the teen lounge.

As if all that wasn’t enough, CEM had hired a handful of “party motivators.” These were out-of-work actors hired to walk around and make sure the brat and her friends were having a good time.

The motivators had been Tallulah’s grand contribution. “I just worry that the kids will be a little self-conscious and won’t want to take advantage of all the great party treats,” she’d apologetically explained to Emma in a high-pitched, wispy girl’s voice.

“Heaven forbid that the kids actually pick themselves up off the pink velvet beanbags and walk around the pink lounge,” Emma had said, and ignored the dark look Francine shot in her direction.

“Yes, well, that’s a vulnerable age,” Tallulah explained.

Well then, thank God for party motivators!

“God, Mom, you’re so
stupid,
” Cayley had said as her fingers flew across her phone, and Emma couldn’t help but agree. “Anyway, those party people are all, like,
old.
I don’t want them there.”

“We’ve already hired them, honey,” Tallulah said.

Paul and Francine exchanged a wary look, and the adults held their breath, waiting to see if Cayley would look up from her phone and insist they fire the four party motivators, or forget her displeasure.

When her fingers continued to fly across her phone, Francine carefully turned the attention back to the event.

The third lounge was intended for the adults. Cayley had become nearly hysterical when at first it appeared the adults would actually mingle with their children, and in the end, she’d gotten what she wanted—a separate lounge. It would not be pink. She’d agreed it could have a bar, and even a buffet. Apparently, Tallulah had suggested movies for the adults to watch, to which Cayley had agreed, but had recently changed her mind in favor of what she thought was a better idea: karaoke. She’d also agreed to have seating with power outlets and televisions hung overhead. That way, parents could watch sports while staying plugged into the world they’d abandoned just beyond the Hilton’s doors.

But as they reviewed the plans for the adult cave, Cayley changed her mind again. “No,” she said. “They don’t get that.”

“Oh honey—” Tallulah started.


No,
Mom,” Cayley said sharply. “It’s
my
party. I don’t get TVs! Why should the parents get TVs?” She shouted this while texting.

“We’ve already planned it. It won’t hurt—”

“I said
no,
” Cayley said in a voice that reminded Emma of
The Exorcist
.

Paul and Francine looked helplessly at Emma. She knew what they were thinking—to cancel the AV equipment and setup two days before the event was an expensive change, not to mention a coordination nightmare.

This was where Emma excelled. She stood up and looked to the big glass back doors and the stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. “Cayley, can we step outside? I want to ask you something.”

“What?” Cayley looked up from her phone. “
No,
” she said, sneering at Emma. “Ask me here.”

Emma bent over so that she was at eye level with Satan’s Spawn. “It’s about the photo booths,” she said low.

Cayley hesitated, sizing Emma up. She finally stood and walked to the back door.

Once they were outside, Cayley impatiently demanded, “What?” And returned a text.

“God, you’re despicable,” Emma said.

That brought Cayley’s head up, her brown eyes as big as teacups. “
What
did you just say?”

“You heard me.”

Cayley gasped. “You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I just did,” Emma said, and folded her arms. “So here’s how this goes, Cayley. Your overdone bat mitzvah is two days away. You’re going to go with everything we’ve planned, with no more changes, or CEM walks. You don’t want CEM to walk, because you know what that means, right?”

Cayley hesitantly shook her head.

“It means no party.” Emma leaned closer. “It means
no photo booths
. All the crap you’ve been telling your friends about this party? Who’s going to be there, who will get photos with who? Not happening. The adults get TV, and you get photo booths. Another
no
out of you, and your friends will be talking about you next week, but not in the way you planned.”

Emma didn’t give the brat an opportunity for rebuttal. In her mind, the obvious had been stated, and that was that. She turned around and left a gaping little girl behind.

“Well?” Tallulah asked when Emma stepped inside.

“Ask her,” Emma said, looking at Cayley as she shuffled in behind her.

“Okay, you can have your stupid TVs,” Cayley muttered.

The next day, Melissa asked Emma to attend that damn bat mitzvah in case there was trouble. Emma sighed heavily. “You realize I may very well kill that little twerp.”

“Try not to,” Melissa said as she fit a gold-and-diamond-encrusted bangle around her teeny wrist. “Paul and Francine have their hands full as it is.”

“I suck in situations like this,” Emma reminded her.

Melissa smiled. She was a size zero, and in a bright orange sheath, she looked a little like a plastic straw. She patted her tiny hand against Emma’s cheek. “Just don’t talk,” she suggested.

Emma arrived at the Beverly Hilton a few minutes late because of traffic, and found the party already in full swing. The teen lounge looked like the inside of a Pepto-Bismol bottle, with disco balls scattering the pink light around the room while the DJ played an endless loop of One Direction. Emma had to agree with Cayley—the party motivators roaming around did look kind of old.

In the adult lounge, the adult party motivators, otherwise known as cocktail waitresses, wore identical tight black skirts and white blouses and sleek ponytails.

The party was packed. No one was going to miss Reggie Applebaum’s event; the guest list was a who’s who of Hollywood film-industry royalty. Emma knew some of them personally, knew others by name. Some knew her, too, but kept their distance. Emma was used to that. It wasn’t as if she was part of their circle. And she had a reputation around town for being cool and distant and a bit of a slut.

All true.

Emma didn’t mix well with others, a truth that had plagued her all her life. Neither did she trust easily. And she preferred quick sex to relationships. None of these traits lent themselves to having lots of friends.

Emma also had a reputation for being beautiful, at least by Hollywood standards. Which meant that she was thin and blond. She had no qualms about admitting she was pretty—she had never understood women who demurred if anyone mentioned their good looks, or women who said things like,
No, I’m not pretty, my nose is too big,
or
my mouth is too wide,
or the worst,
you’re much prettier than me.

Emma knew what exactly she was, inside and out, ugly and beautiful. And had she been reluctant to recognize the surface good looks, there had been plenty of studio reps who had tried to convince her to take up acting, knowing that her face would trump any concerns about acting skills at the box office. But she had no desire to act or to be part of the film industry. She knew too many of the players and what they were like. She didn’t really care about the star wattage at this party, either—she’d never been overly impressed by stardom
. . .
except for the time she’d met Steven Spielberg.

BOOK: The Perfect Homecoming (Pine River)
2.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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