“This is Patrice Moreng of Planning Heaven returning Amanda Dexler’s call. Is she available?”
“Yes, Ms. Moreng. Please hold while I connect your call.”
Patrice scanned the website for handmade lace to match a hand-drawn sample a client had submitted. She had told the client that the design wouldn’t match exactly, but Patrice would try to get as close as she could. She had already found three patterns that were close. She wanted three more before she placed the order for a sample package.
“This is Amanda. How are you, Patrice?”
“That depends on the urgent matter you mentioned in your message. What’s the problem?” She clicked on another lace pattern that was close. Two more to go.
“I thought I would be speaking to Shawna about this. I left her the message.”
“I know that. She passed it to me. Shawna doesn’t handle the details. I do. You know that. What’s the problem?”
Shawna was the owner and creator of Planning Heaven, one of the most highly sought after wedding planning companies in the state. Shawna designed every bride’s special day and made sure everything was perfect, from the dress to the cake to the reception. Couples had been known to change their wedding date so they could fit into Shawna’s appointment book. There was even a rumor going around that having Planning Heaven design the event guaranteed the couple would be happily married forever.
While no couple who had hired Planning Heaven had gotten divorced, it was also true that Planning Heaven had only been running for the last seven years. Two D-list celebrity weddings in their first year open had put Planning Heaven on the map. Couples had been clamoring for Shawna’s brand of perfection ever since.
Patrice made sure perfection was ordered in the correct quantities and delivered on time. She handled the details, thus allowing Shawna to exercise her creativity to the fullest without being bogged down with little annoyances, like florists who called with urgent messages.
Amber said, “The problem is the wedding this Saturday.”
“Orchids. What about it? Is there something wrong with the order?” Patrice clicked another lace sample. One more, and she could move on to the next project.
“There are no orchids.”
Patrice stopped. She froze all movements and stared straight ahead at nothing. In what she hoped was a calm voice, she asked, “Amanda, what do you mean there are no orchids? When I placed the order three months ago, you said it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“A parade float.”
Patrice kept herself from parroting the woman. Instead, she ran her hand over her head, digging her fingertips into her short-cropped hair. At a time like this, she would normally be pulling out chunks of hair in frustration. That’s why she had cut it so it was only a half an inch long, so she couldn’t get a grip on her dark brown locks to snatch it out.
Amanda said, “I’m not the only florist they hit. Everyone was wiped out. I put in a replacement order for your event as soon as I accepted the float order.”
“The shipment was cancelled due to a company audit. I tried other distributors, but the amount needed would have to come from multiple distributors, which would increase the price. Plus there is the added expense of rushing the shipment to arrive in time for the wedding.”
Patrice reached out and stabbed the call button on her desk over and over. “Amanda, Planning Heaven isn’t in the habit of not delivering what the client has ordered.”
There was a light knock at Patrice’s office door. Melissa, her assistant, stood in the doorway with a questioning look.
Amanda said, “I know that, and I’m terribly sorry about this circumstance. Had I known this would happen, I wouldn’t have filled the order.”
Pressing the phone against her ear with her shoulder, Patrice freed up both her hands so she could use sign language to say to Melissa, “Call every florist in the state if you have to. We need orchids for the Summer-Grey wedding.”
Melissa signed back, “What about Fantasma Floral? They should be handling that order.”
“They aren’t. Hurry up.”
Melissa gave a thumbs up and left the doorway.
Patrice said to Amanda, “Do you have any orchids?”
“Not enough to adequately fill your order or even fake your order. We have two dozen at the most.”
“That’s only enough to make the bride’s bouquet. She wanted bridesmaids bouquets, boutonnières for ten groomsmen, centerpieces, and dipped orchids to give out as keepsakes.”
Patrice’s brain was going a mile a minute. The dipped orchids were safe. One thousand orchids had already been sent to be lacquered, trimmed in twenty-four carat gold, and mounted on pins. The shipment was due in today or tomorrow.
She clicked the minimize button on the lace search and pulled up the site page for the company delivering the keepsake orchids. Unfortunately their site wasn’t interactive. She would have to call to get an update on when the orchids would arrive.
Amanda said, “I have a substitute.”
“And that is what?” Patrice picked up her cell phone and dialed the number listed on the site. When someone answered, she hit mute on her call with Amanda and said to the operator, “This is Patrice Moreng calling from Planning Heaven. I’d like to check on our order.”
The receptionist said, “Of course, Ms. Moreng. If you have the order number, I’ll check on that right now.”
“One second. I should have had that ready when I called. I apologize.”
“Not problem. Take your time.”
On the other line, Amanda said, “Purple lilies.”
Patrice pulled open her side desk drawer and reached for the folder for the Summer-Grey wedding.
“What do you think?” Amanda asked in a proud voice.
Patrice pulled out the folder and flipped to the printout for the keepsake orchids order. She repeated the order number for the receptionist, who then put her on hold. Taking the phone from her ear, she hit the mute button again. “Amanda, purple lilies are not the same color as purple orchids.”
“Not a problem. I can dye them.”
“How do you do that without ruining the flower?”
“It’s an easy process of mixing the right amount of dye into the water. I’ve already gotten several samples. It matches the hue of the orchids perfectly.”
Patrice hit mute on Amanda again and raised her cell phone to her ear. “Sorry about that. You found it?”
The receptionist said, “Your order has been shipped and should arrive at your office tomorrow morning. I have your email on file. Would you like me to send you the tracking number?”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
“You are welcome, Ms. Moreng. The email is sent. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“That was all. Thank you so much. Goodbye.” Patrice pushed the end button without waiting for the woman to return her farewell. She pushed mute, returning to Amanda’s call. “I’m going to need to see those samples. Today.”
“Of course. I can have my delivery girl bring them over right now.”
“Will you be able to fill the order with the lilies?”
“Good. I’ll call you back when your delivery person shows up.”
“Thank you, Patrice.”
“Goodbye, Amanda.” Patrice hung up the phone, again without waiting for Amanda to return her farewell.
She looked at her desk clock. It was nine. She’d only been at work for an hour, and she already needed a break.
She looked up at Melissa. The woman shook her head. Patrice groaned as she let her head fall back. “Don’t tell me.”
“Nothing.” Melissa walked into the room and closed the door. “I called every florist in the state. No one has any orchids. They all got wiped out by the same company building a float for some parade competition.”
“I take it Fantasma Floral did too?”
“They sold our order, thinking they could replenish it before we found out. She’s sending over a substitute.” Patrice sat up. “I need you to get Miss Grey to come in and take a look at these lilies Amanda is sending over. But don’t tell her that’s why she’s coming.”
“Okay. She’s going to want a reason.”
Patrice stared at her computer screen. She closed the window for the keepsake company. The lace site popped up in its place. Patrice snapped her fingers. “That’s it. Call Consuela. She wanted to pitch her lace veil idea to Miss Grey. She gets her chance. Tell Miss Grey it’s a final fitting.”
“She already had her final fitting last Friday.”
“She’s a jittery bride. She won’t think anything of it. While she’s here, Consuela can pitch her veil idea, we can pitch the lilies, and… and… We need something else.”
“The guest book. She never gave a definite answer about the guest book.”
“Perfect. Call Daniel. Tell him to bring in samples of his most ornate guest books. Nothing with roses. Miss Grey hates roses.”
“When should they be here?”
“Tomorrow after lunch. The keepsake orchids should be here by then too. Miss Grey can take a look at them and gush over how beautiful they look while we break the news to her that those and her bouquet are the only orchids that will be there.”
Melissa scrawled out quick notes on the pad she held. She flipped back a page and then said, “Last thing. Sam called while you were on the phone with Amanda. The DJ he booked for the Cooper-Moore wedding week after next got arrested for possession with the intent to sell.”
Patrice smacked her forehead.
“He says not to worry. He has another guy lined up, but he wanted you to know so you wouldn’t be surprised when the guy you interviewed wasn’t the one who appeared that day.”
“I want to meet him.”
“I figured as much and set up an appointment for after lunch today. You have a free half hour. Sam has already provided the replacement with the acceptable artists list.”
So much for sneaking in a free period where I can take it easy, she thought.
Though Patrice hated to do it, she asked, “Anything else?”
Melissa grinned. “You still have to tell Shawna that Fantasma screwed up again.”
“Good mood or bad?”
“She seemed happy when she walked in.”
Patrice stood and straightened her black suit skirt. “Good. She must have hooked up with someone who gave her a quickie this morning. She’s always easier to deal with after she’s gotten laid.”
“Maybe you should follow the same philosophy.”
“Yeah, right. When would I have time?”
Melissa flipped through her notepad.
Patrice held up her hand for Melissa to stop, knowing the woman wouldn’t find anything. “Rhetorical question.”
“I was going to say you have some free time tomorrow morning. You could always hook up with someone tonight at a bar and then sleep in.”
“That’s what I love about you, Melissa. You have such a vivid imagination.” Patrice patted the woman’s shoulder as she left her office, headed for Shawna’s.
Patrice could easily follow Melissa’s advice. Men loved the mysterious combination of her emerald eyes with her dark brown complexion. They said it made her look like a dark elf from the fantasy movies. Her cherub-like features and ears with a slight point aided the image along.
Many a client had told her that her voice and attitude didn’t match her face. She didn’t care. The only problem was that her appearance attracted the guys who wanted to treat her like a child. They learned the hard way that trying to control her life pissed her off faster than anything else. She wasn’t shy about telling them where to go and how fast to get there, either.
The kind of man that would satisfy her needs wouldn’t be found in a bar or at a club. The sad thing was that she didn’t know what kind of man she wanted. Most women could rattle off a list of features and attributes of their ideal man. Patrice had no such ability. In that way, she wasn’t picky. So long as he didn’t annoy her, which was sometimes a very hard stipulation to meet, she was happy.
It didn’t matter, though. She had her work. A man would come along eventually. If he didn’t, then she hoped she would learn to settle in her old age. Somehow she doubted it.
With a quick, bracing breath, she entered Shawna’s office without knocking. That was something Shawna insisted on in case she was on the phone with a client. Shawna didn’t want the sound of knocking to carry over the phone and make the client think Shawna wasn’t paying attention to them one hundred percent.
Shawna wasn’t on the phone, however. She looked up from her computer screen at Patrice. “Good morning, stranger. If I hadn’t caught a glimpse of you when I walked in, I wouldn’t even know you were here.”
“Believe me, I wish I was still in bed.” Patrice’s cell phone chimed that she had received a new message. She pulled it out of the holster and checked the message.
Shawna sat back in her oversized executive chair. “What happened?”
Patrice related the entire Fantasma Floral fiasco to Shawna while sending messages back and forth to Michelle.
Shawna drummed her fingers on her desk. “How many times is this?”
“This is the third.” Patrice rolled her eyes as she typed out another message.
“Do we have them booked to do any other weddings?”
“Three more. One next month and then two more the month after that.”
“Cancel them. Find another florist who can fill those orders and then cancel any outstanding contracts with Fantasma. I’m sick of Amanda screwing up. She always has some excuse. That is no longer good enough. She’s messing with my reputation now.”
“Good. I’ll leave the details up to you. Now what the hell was all that texting about? I know you don’t have a boyfriend checking up on you.”
“Hardly.” Patrice showed Shawna the cell, knowing the woman couldn’t see the tiny screen from her desk. “Samuelson-Don wedding. The bride loves the skirt of her dress but hates the top. So she wants to keep the skirt but wear body paint and pasties.”
Shawna stared at Patrice with her mouth hanging open.
“She also wants us to find the perfect body painter. I gave Michelle the name of a few tattoo parlors that should have a body painter on premises.”
“Body paint.” Shawna shook her head. “I’m glad you can talk about that with such a calm attitude. Anything else?”
“Miss Grey is coming in tomorrow after lunch to meet with Consuela and Daniel. We’ll tell her about the orchids then.”
“Good. Good. Looks like you’re on top of things.”
“As best as I can be.”
“Nonsense, Patrice. Give yourself more credit. You’re amazing.”
“I’d be even better with some coffee. I was in such a rush this morning that I left without it.”
“Go to that new place around the corner.” Shawna rummaged through the papers on her desk and then pulled up a brochure. “Here it is. ‘Café Midnight. Your most exotic orders filled with a smile.’ That’s the company slogan.” She held out the brochure. “It looks pretty nice. I’ve never been, but that’s no reason you shouldn’t go.”
Patrice took the brochure despite not really wanting it. “Okay. I just want coffee.” The brochure had a full menu on the inside. They had every single kind of coffee imaginable. “And it looks like they serve that. I’ll be right back, then. Hold down the fort while I’m gone.”
“Pick me up a cappuccino with extra foam in a separate cup while you’re there.”
“Will do.” Patrice left Shawna’s office feeling a little relieved that the whole encounter hadn’t turned dramatic.
Shawna was usually pretty even-keeled — until stressors were applied. At those times, she became prone to hysterics. That was why Shawna handled the creation and Patrice handled the implementation.
Patrice stopped by her office for her purse and jacket. Spring might be in the air, but that air was still a little cool. The last thing she wanted was to get sick.
Melissa was on the phone when Patrice left her office. She signed, “I’m going on a coffee run. Do you want anything?”
“Mint tea and a blueberry muffin.”
“Okay. Be right back.” Patrice adjusted her purse strap as she left the main office and headed for the elevators.
According to the address, Café Midnight was only two blocks away. Matter of fact, the parking garage she used was on the other side of it. She’d never really paid much attention to the place before. If their coffee was good, she would stop by every morning on her way to work and possibly on her lunch break.
She wondered if they had a rewards program. Planning Heaven was going into wedding season. Lord knows, Patrice would rack up hundreds of points before the summer was over.
She entered the café and then had to stop so her eyes could adjust to the low light. The floor plan was very spacious. The inside definitely looked much bigger than the outside. There were recliners situated next to end tables and booths that looked like they couldn’t fit more than three people, possibly four if everyone squeezed.
Not what she would expect from a typical coffee shop. It was definitely cozy, though.
Patrice stepped up to the counter.
The woman behind the counter smiled at her. “Welcome to Café Midnight, where your most exotic orders are filled with a smile. How may I help you today?”
“I have a to-go order. The largest size coffee you have, one cappuccino with extra foam in a separate cup, one mint tea, and a blueberry muffin.”
“That will be eight dollars even.”
“Wow. Really? That’s pretty good for all of that.” Patrice fished out a ten from her purse and handed it to the woman. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you very much. Here’s your receipt.” The woman handed Patrice the receipt and then gestured to the dining area. “If you would like to have a seat, one of the waiters will bring your order out to you when it’s ready.”
Patrice was about to tell the woman she could stand when she changed her mind. Those recliners did look very inviting. “Thanks.” She headed for the recliner closest to the register. That would keep her close to the door, so she could leave once the order arrived.
Hopefully it wouldn’t take too long. She still had to finish ordering her lace samples, finalize the menu with the catering company for the nudist vegan wedding, and then track down a very specific four-inch tall teddy bear the father of the bride wanted to give out as keepsakes.
Patrice needed to talk to Shawna about hiring another assistant. Melissa was an asset that couldn’t be replaced, especially with her knowledge of sign language, but every year brought in new, more eccentric clients. The workload was getting to be too much for two people. Patrice couldn’t see Shawna doing half of what Melissa did. The woman would have a meltdown after the first phone call.
“Excuse me, miss.”
Patrice turned toward the man who had spoken. She barely kept her jaw from dropping open. Hotness incarnate stood wearing the café uniform with a long waist apron to complete the image.
His white buttoned-up shirt clung to his sculpted, muscled physique like a second skin. It was short-sleeved, so she had an unimpeded view of his hard biceps. He wore two leather wristbands, one on each wrist, giving him a bad boy look. Long, sandy-blond hair spilled over one shoulder. Coupled with his knowing look, it helped the image along.
He smiled at her.
“Is my order ready?” She started to get up but the man laid a hand on her shoulder, urging her to sit back down.
“Not quite. I was hoping to interest you in a sample of our newest tea, Chamomile Nights. It is an herbal infusion containing chamomile, hibiscus, mint, rose petals, and lemongrass. Perfect for relaxation.”
“Sounds nice. I could use some relaxation right about now.”
“One moment.” The waiter walked to the counter and retrieved a cup sitting there. He returned to Patrice and held out the cup. “Would you care for some sugar?”
“No, but thank you. I prefer to have it raw — as it were — when I first try it so I can actually taste the flavor. If I like it, the next time I’ll add sugar.”
She thought the waiter would leave, but he remained at her side, watching her. He probably wanted to know what she thought of the tea so he could report the information to his boss.
She took a cautious sip, trying not to burn her tongue. The chamomile was definitely the strongest component of the tea. It tasted wonderful. She inhaled the scent of the lemongrass as she took another sip.
Cradling the cup, she sat back with a sigh as all of the tension seemed to leave her body. The tea worked fast. “This is delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
Rather than a cup of coffee, she needed more of this tea. She looked up at the waiter. “Is it too late to change my order?”
“Not at all. What would you like?”
“Instead of the coffee, can I have a large cup of this? What did you call it?”
“Chamomile Nights. I’ll bring that right out to you with the rest of your order.”
“Will that change the price?”
“Not at all.”
“Oh, good. Thank you.”
“I will return shortly.”
Patrice nodded and then took another sip of the tea. The cup was small, so it didn’t take long to finish off her sample. She was happy she had ordered more.
The waiter returned with a drink tray in one hand and a small pastry bag in the other. He set both on the end table beside Patrice’s recliner and then held out his hand to her. “May I help you up?”
Chivalry wasn’t dead after all. She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. He put a little too much strength into his pull, and she ended up running into his hard chest. His other arm circled around her waist, holding her against him before she could step back.
“What are you –?”
Her words were cut off when the man’s mouth landed on hers. She was too surprised to close her mouth. When the thought finally occurred, his tongue was already past her lips and exploring. He teased her tongue with his.
She found herself returning his kiss without knowing why. She should be smacking him for kissing her. But his kiss felt so nice and soothing, just like the tea she had drunk. Or maybe the tea had calmed her down more than she had realized.
That must be the case because she didn’t protest when she felt the man’s hand gripping her ass.
He moved forward, urging her back until she landed on the recliner again. Except, it wasn’t the same recliner. It was flat like a bed.
The waiter tore open her shirt. That made her breasts bounce and jiggle at being freed so suddenly. He grasped one breast in his hand while he licked the other.
Patrice didn’t feel the least bit of embarrassment at having an unknown man touching her so intimately. Weirder still, she didn’t mind. What was wrong with her? Was the tea drugged?
The waiter opened her legs wide, held her panties aside, and drove his dick deep into her pussy with one stroke.
She cried out in both pain and pleasure. The man didn’t believe in foreplay. Despite that, she wanted more. He felt so hot and full inside her. She hadn’t been prepared before but her body adapted quickly. Soon the waiter’s dick glided in and out of her.
Her hips moved, meeting the waiter thrust for thrust. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held him tight.
The bed knocked against the tiled floor each time the waiter pounded into her. She huffed at the force of his movements and wondered why no one complained. Nothing made sense.
None of the other customers said anything to their display. It was like none of them noticed. That couldn’t possibly be true with as much noise as she was making. She tried to look around, but the waiter turned her face back to his and kissed her again.
She succumbed to his kiss the same as before. Soon thoughts of her surroundings vanished. All of her senses were for her partner.
He gripped her hips and surged forward one last time. The motion triggered Patrice’s climax. She hugged the waiter tight as she regained her breath.
Once she had calmed down, the waiter pulled away from her and stood. He winked at her. She wanted to ask him why he had done it, but was too caught in the peaceful feelings of the afterglow to summon the energy needed to talk.
He tapped her cup before he walked away. Patrice watched him until he was out of sight then closed her eyes. After that little session, she could sleep for the rest of the day. It didn’t even matter that she was in the middle of a coffee shop.
Patrice’s eyes snapped open. She stared at the waiter. He’d returned.
“I said your order is ready. You seem to have dozed off.”
“What?” She sat up quickly. The recliner wasn’t a bed anymore. Also, she was fully clothed. Her clothes weren’t torn or mussed in any way.
What the hell had just happened?
The waiter stood with his hand out to her. “May I help you up?”
She blinked up at him. What was going on? Had she dreamt it all?
But it felt so real. She squeezed her thighs together, thinking she would feel a lingering sensation of the explosive sex that the waiter had served her. Everything felt normal. No soreness, no residual tingles, nothing.
The waiter didn’t act like he’d just been fucking her. He simply smiled in his cordial way.
She took his hand. This time, when he helped her up, he stepped back as he pulled her from the chair. There was no accidental bumping.
The waiter picked up her order and held it out to her. “I hope you visit us again.”
“Thanks,” Patrice said in an absent voice as she took the tray and the pastry bag.
She left the café and walked back to the office in a bit of a daze. It made no sense. That couldn’t have been a hallucination. She wasn’t that overworked. True, she needed a vacation, but not from reality.
A quick glance at her watch showed that she had only been out of the office for fifteen minutes. Five minutes to walk to the café, five minutes to wait for her order, and another five to walk back. It had felt longer than that. Like half an hour longer. Watches didn’t lie, though.
She stepped on to the elevator and pushed the bottom for her floor.
Maybe Melissa was right. Patrice needed to get laid. Waking dreams that vivid couldn’t mean anything else.
First she needed to get through the rest of her workday. Then she could call in a benefit from Trey. He would even throw in dinner and breakfast. Not to mention, his apartment was closer to the office than hers.
“Welcome back, Patrice,” Melissa said when Patrice walked into the main office.
Patrice dropped off the pastry bag and took Melissa’s tea off of the tray. She then delivered Shawna’s cappuccino before returning to her own office.
Work. Work. And more work. She had miles to go before she could sleep with her friend.