“…And any couple that spends the night in the Christmas Cottage shall have love everlasting.”
Lacey Quinn stifled a groan as she listened to her best friend and bride-to-be retell her family’s fairy tale of a house that was the key to a successful and happy marriage. Lacey had been hearing the story her entire life; the Quinns and the Callahans had been friends long before Lacey and Ava were born. The story wasn’t anything new. What was new was that Ava was the one getting married in seven short weeks and would get to experience the fairy tale for herself.
If Lacey didn’t strangle her first.
“Yes, yes, love everlasting, blah, blah, blah.” Lacey sighed as she reached for the last Chinese dumpling. “Honestly, don’t you ever get tired of saying it?”
“Never,” Ava replied adamantly. Standing, Ava took the clip out of her long blond hair and shook it out as she went to stand in front of the full-length mirror by her front door. “I’m thinking of wearing my hair up.” Doing a quick twist, she turned and faced Lacey. “What do you think?”
A quick gulp of wine fortified Lacey for the conversation they’d had at least a dozen times before. “You know your hair looks fabulous in an up-sweep. Plus, with the tiara you picked out, it will look stunning. Positively princess-like,” she added just to stroke Ava’s bridal ego.
“Of course, if I wear it long and loose, I can have some fabulous curls done. Mason loves it when my hair is down.”
There wasn’t enough wine in the universe to make Lacey want to continue this conversation. “Then you should wear it down,” she said as she stood and took the now-empty wine bottle to the kitchen and prepared to make an exit and head home.
“Well, which is it, Lacey? Up or down?” Lacey didn’t have to see her friend to know Ava was pouting; it was there in the tone of her voice. Taking her time to rinse her glass and place it in the drain board, she silently counted to ten before heading back into the living room.
“You will look beautiful no matter how you wear your hair. Mason is going to be the luckiest man in the world, and it won’t matter one bit about your hair. We’ll see how you feel on your wedding day.” There, that sounded comforting and diplomatic, didn’t it?
“I know you’re right,” Ava said, sighing with relief as she released her hair and turned to face Lacey. “Before you go, there’s one last bit of the wedding details that I need to talk to you about.”
So close, Lacey thought to herself as she looked longingly at the door. What more could there possibly be to discuss? The weddings in the Callahan family were tradition; no one strayed from the formula. They owned a massive ranch outside Asheville, North Carolina, where the family spent every Christmas. Lacey loved the old ranch and had spent many a Christmas there herself. The weddings were almost always done on Christmas Eve with the entire family in attendance. Then, the beaming bride and groom would head to the guest cottage, tucked a discreet distance farther up the mountain, for their wedding night.
The Callahans had been having wedding celebrations like this since the Depression. From the pictures Lacey’d seen, the cottage was a cross between a gingerbread house and a house you’d see on Christmas cards. Charming and inviting—those were the words that always came to mind when the pictures were brought out. But even charming old houses need to be renovated from time to time.
Ava had been distraught over the thought of the cottage being “wrecked” before it was her turn to stay in it. Luckily, most of the work seemed to have to do with bringing the wiring and plumbing up to date and some minor cosmetic updates. Everyone had assured Ava that none of the cottage’s charm or “magic” had been tampered with.
Noticing that Ava was still standing there looking anxious, Lacey realized she’d let her mind wander for a moment. What were they talking about again? Oh yes, more wedding details.
For the life of her, Lacey couldn’t imagine what else in the world there was to cover. The wedding ceremony would be held in the Callahan home, the caterer had been booked, their dresses had been ordered, and all of the fittings were done. Invitations had been sent, and all of the RSVPs had been received. Flowers had been ordered, bouquets designed, and the groom and his groomsmen had been taken care of as well. As far as Lacey could tell, all that was left was for the darn day to finally get here so she could get some peace.
“Right, details,” Lacey said. “What’s up?”
“Well, there is this one last little tradition that needs to be taken care of,” Ava began, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Okay, shoot. What is it?”
“As my maid of honor, it is up to you and Mason’s best man to take care of getting the cottage ready for us.”
That was it? Score! Easy-peasy. “No problem,” she responded, anxious to get home. “I’m sure we’ll have time to slip out during the reception and light some candles, sprinkle some rose petals and whatnot. No worries, Ava, I’m on it!”
“No!” Ava cried, despair written all over her face. “This is no ordinary honeymoon suite, Lace. You have to get the cottage ready for us and not just with that silly clichéd romantic stuff.”
Of course not. Why had Lacey even thought for one second that this was going to be easy? “Okay then, what is it exactly that I’m supposed to do?”
With that, Ava grabbed both of Lacey’s hands and dragged her back over to the couch. “Well, I have a bunch of ideas.”