Authors: Fiona Harper
Praise for Fiona Harper
‘The author never strikes a false note,
tempering poignancy perfectly with humour.’
—RT Book Reviews
‘Classic Fiona—funny with fantastic characters.
I was charmed from the first page.’
Invitation to the Boss’s Ball
‘It’s the subtle shadings of characterisation
that make the story work, as well as
the sensitive handling of key plot points.’
—RT Book Reviews
Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses
pairs a simple plot with complex characters,
to marvellous effect. It’s both moving and amusing.’
—RT Book Reviews
Also by Fiona Harper
Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses
Invitation to the Boss’s Ball
The Bridesmaid’s Secret
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
As a child, Fiona Harper was constantly teased for either having her nose in a book, or living in a dream world. Things haven’t changed much since then, but at least in writing she’s found a use for her runaway imagination. After studying dance at university, Fiona worked as a dancer, teacher and choreographer, before trading in that career for video-editing and production. When she became a mother she cut back on her working hours to spend time with her children, and when her littlest one started pre-school she found a few spare moments to rediscover an old but not forgotten love—writing.
Fiona lives in London, but her other favourite places to be are the Highlands of Scotland, and the Kent countryside on a summer’s afternoon. She loves cooking good food and anything cinnamon-flavoured. Of course she still can’t keep away from a good book, or a good movie—especially romances—but only if she’s stocked up with tissues, because she knows she will need them by the end, be it happy or sad. Her favourite things in the world are her wonderful husband, who has learned to decipher her incoherent ramblings, and her two daughters.
and a Baby
For Joy, a true friend with a big heart and open arms.
was one thing Jennie Hunter had a gift for, it was getting away with blue murder. Unfortunately, her magical powers deserted her suddenly and unexpectedly one New Year’s Day—around the same time a dishevelled arrangement of trumpet lilies and green hit her in the chest and then fell upside down into her waiting hands.
How had that happened?
She’d been actively retreating as her step-brother’s new bride had turned her back and hurled her bouquet over her shoulder into the waiting crowd. What had Alice done? Fitted it with a homing device? Jennie wouldn’t have put it past her. Since she’d got engaged to Jennie’s stepbrother she’d been trying to pair all her single friends off, and Jennie had become her pet project.
A damp, puffy hand clapped her on the
shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, Jennie. It’ll be your turn soon!’
She turned to give Cousin Bernie a smile that could probably have been more accurately described as a sneer. If he’d left a sweaty mark on her vintage satin bridesmaid’s dress, she’d stuff this bouquet down his throat, petal by petal.
Your turn soon
. How many times had she heard that today?
She looked down at the jumble of flowers and leaves in her hands, then turned it the right way up. Why had she clutched on to it when it had collided with her? Must have been a reflex. A whole herd of single women had been frothing at the mouth at the thought of securing this prize; she should have let one of them mow her down and scoop it up. As it was, she could feel their resentful eyes on her as the assembled wedding guests surged forward to say their farewells to the bride and groom before they got into their car.
Jennie was shoved along with the rest of the crowd, still holding the offending bouquet. There was nowhere handy to dispose of it, so she really didn’t have much choice. She stood at the back of the crowd for a while, watching Cameron and Alice as they said their goodbyes, and even her current healthy
dose of cynicism for ‘true love’ couldn’t stop her sighing.
Alice looked gorgeous in her nineteen thirties vintage gown, like a willowy debutante. And Cameron? Well, he couldn’t take his eyes off his new wife. And that was how it was supposed to be with newly-weds, wasn’t it? The bride was supposed to be the centre of her groom’s universe, his reason for living.
An unplanned scoffing sound escaped her lips. She disguised it as a cough and decided that this was as good a time as any to plunge through the crowd and say her farewells. Once she’d hugged her smug-looking stepbrother, she turned to Alice. The bride glanced down at the flowers in Jennie’s hands and a satisfied gleam appeared in her eyes.
Jennie stifled another huff by stretching her lips wide. She held the bouquet up and did her very best to look pleased. Alice grinned back and pulled her into a hug.
‘You deserve to find your special someone,’ she whispered in Jennie’s ear. ‘Just wait until you meet him. He’ll turn your world upside down and you’ll be so happy you won’t know what to do with yourself.’
What a pity Jennie had decided recently that she liked her world the right way up, thank you very much. Now, if only it would consent to
She closed her eyes briefly, trying to mentally rearrange all the things recent events had turned on their heads. It took all her effort not to let out a giant sigh. However, by the time Alice released her, Jennie’s eyes were open and full of the usual sass and sparkle everyone expected to see there. She was putting on an awfully good show.
And then the bride and groom were gone, accompanied by a flurry of confetti, shouts of good wishes and the rattle of tin cans. Their car sped up the curving drive of the exclusive country house hotel and Jennie felt all the air leave her lungs in one long
Finally, it was over.
Now Alice and Cameron had left, people would just concentrate on drinking too much, catching up with long-lost relatives and dancing in a way they would regret when they found the inevitable videos uploaded onto FriendPages tomorrow.
Her plan was to find a quiet corner, kick off her heels and toast the death of her hopes and dreams with as much champagne as she could lay her hands on.
He watched as she turned and walked away—
No. Jennie Hunter didn’t just walk. Walking was too ordinary a word. But he couldn’t think
of either a verb or an adjective that summed up the sideways sway of her hips, the elegant length of her stride as she crossed one foot in front of the other.
The bridal bouquet hung at her side, loose in her fingers, as she navigated the gravel driveway in heels. Other female guests picked their way across the uneven surface, but not Jennie. She didn’t even look down, every step giving the impression she was gliding on a smooth and polished surface. Her ash blonde hair swung round her shoulders, just short enough to give him glimpses of a long and graceful neck.
A neck he’d suddenly discovered he would dearly like to wring.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. Not tonight, at least.
She joined a group of people and he could hear her laugh, clear and bright above all the others. She came alive at parties. Not surprising, since she’d made them her life’s work. Being one of the most talked-about socialites on the London party scene had stood her in good stead when she’d started her own event-planning business. Everybody wanted to be at a party where Jennie Hunter was.
He sighed. Seeing her here confirmed all his worst fears and darkest thoughts about her.
He so wanted to be wrong, but he suspected this wasn’t a woman who could commit to anything for a month, let alone a lifetime. She’d fooled him. Maybe not on purpose, but he’d been duped, all the same. And that didn’t sit easily with him. He was a man used to reading people in the blink of an eye, and he was rarely wrong. Why this woman? How had she managed to distract him from the truth?
He moved to get a better view of her as she approached the hotel entrance. Her recent lack of sociability had made her hard to find, but he’d known she’d planned to be at her stepbrother’s wedding. Cameron Hunter had opted for a very private and exclusive affair. Friends and family had been sworn to secrecy, so it hadn’t been easy to find out the exact loca without causing suspicion, but he’d done it eventually.
He stepped out of the bush he’d been hiding in and straightened his tie. He hadn’t crashed this wedding for nothing. Now the bride and groom had left, it was time to get what he’d come for. No, not revenge—although seeing her had started that beat pulsing inside his head—but the truth.
Who was Jennie Hunter? Who was she really?
When the last fluttering streamers of toilet paper tied to the back of Cameron’s car had disappeared from view Jennie pivoted on her designer heels and headed back inside. Her arms went limp and the heavy bridal bouquet swung by her side, hooked loosely on a finger by its wide satin ribbon.
Suddenly she felt really tired. Exhausted. The smile she’d worn for Alice and Cameron as they’d driven into Happy Ever After started to fade. When she looked up and saw who was coming towards her the smile froze her features, making her face feel brittle.
Aunt Barbara swayed a little on her sensible heels. ‘My favourite niece,’ she announced loudly, the words bleeding into one another. She opened her arms wide and Jennie had no choice but to walk into the hug.
She was careful to extricate herself quickly and cleanly before her aunt’s thick foundation left a smear on her dress. Secretly, she thought Auntie Barb’s penchant for orange-coloured make-up kept half her family’s dry-cleaners in business.
‘Come on,’ she said gently, putting a steadying arm around the other woman’s shoulders. ‘Why don’t we go and find Marion?’
Her stepmother was an expert at situations like these, always brimming with patience and
grace that Jennie could only aspire to. She’d been the only mother-figure in Jennie’s life for the last twelve years, and Jennie liked to think that they had the same sort of bond she’d have had with her own mother, if she’d lived long enough to see her daughter grow up. Well,
to grow up. There were some members of the family who had their doubts about that one.
Steering Auntie Barb through the smattering of guests who hadn’t made their way back to the bar was harder than Jennie had anticipated. She scanned the crowd, desperate to locate the familiar serene features of her stepmother.
No luck. Just her father leaning on the reception desk in the lobby, waiting to talk to the clerk.
Auntie Barb turned to Jennie and squinted up at her. ‘You’re a good girl, really,’ she said, patting her arm. ‘And don’t you mind—it’ll be your turn soon, you mark my words.’
Okay. That was it.
One parent was as good as another, Jennie decided, as she altered course and headed straight for her father.
Auntie Barb erupted into movement and noise. ‘Dennis!’ She lunged at him and puckered up once more.
Jennie’s mouth twisted into an off-centre smile. There was something very satisfying about seeing Dennis Hunter, president of Hunter Industries and ruler of all he surveyed, being engulfed in one of his sister’s squashy orange hugs.
Jennie met his pleading eyes over the top of Auntie Barb’s shoulders.
What have you done this time?
they said, but at least these days the familiar exasperated expression was tempered by an indulgent smile.
‘Look who I found,’ she said, making sure there was a twinkle in her eye as she delivered the words.
‘Impossible child,’ she heard her father mutter as her aunt lost interest in her one and only brother and turned to ask the reception clerk which way the bar was. The girl nodded in the direction of the pumping music and coloured lights emanating from the function room.