Two-year-old Beau Evans splashed around in the baby pool his father, Hale, had installed the moment he’d returned from his honeymoon. Beau’s toddler tummy stuck out big and proud and big yellow floaties circled his miniature biceps. He kicked his little feet in the water, splashing his mom and half-sister who dangled their legs in his pool while sharing a large pitcher of frozen strawberry margaritas.
After all, it was five o’clock somewhere and Lolly was desperate for advice.
She had to give Brooks credit. This hardball thing was indeed getting her attention. And now that she was taking a serious look at herself, she wasn’t all that crazy about what she was seeing.
On the one hand, Brooks had been unreachable all weekend for the first time since they started dating and she’d found that terribly unnerving.
On the other hand, she was so busy working all weekend finishing her dress, her mother’s dress, and Darcy, Annabelle, and Piper’s dresses for the Fourth of July that she was almost grateful she couldn’t reach him.
She kept telling herself that the dresses were important, that after three years it was a House of DuVal tradition. And now she was thinking she should have made something for Beau and Vance, Jr. She sighed, knowing that if they had been born girls she would have absolutely made dresses for them as well. She wouldn’t have been able to resist.
Which was the problem, wasn’t it?
“Momma, I love my work. But I’m starting to see how I am a little obsessive-compulsive about it.”
“How so?” Genevra asked, unable to fully hide her devilish grin behind the slushy red drink.
“I want to do it all myself, which I know is impossible. But I just don’t trust the quality is going to be up to my personal standards if I don’t touch and feel everything before it goes out the door. On top of that, there are certain projects where I want to maintain complete control. Like the Fourth of July dresses. I didn’t just design them. I made them with my own two hands, just as I did that first summer. But there is no real reason the workroom couldn’t have put them together, freeing me up for something else. Which would probably have been more designs … but Brooks is … well, he’s bought me a ring.”
Her mother’s breath hitched.
“And he’s also given me some ultimatums.”
“He’s insisting I figure out how to run House of DuVal within the constraints of a forty-hour workweek.”
Genevra set her glass down and leaned back on her hands. “Why wouldn’t you want to do that?”
“I don’t know. It just feels like I’d have to give up too much control. I need to feel confident about every garment that bears my name.”
“And you should. However, if you don’t mind me sayin’, you have a gold mine you are underutilizing in Bebe Gannon.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you’re a brilliant designer, and she is a brilliant seamstress. She understands fabric and trim and how to get them both to do what you want them to do. And”— Genevra raised one perfectly manicured finger—“she’s a perfectionist.”
“She is good,” Lolly agreed.
“I suggest you turn the workroom over to Bebe. Let her hire and fire personnel. Let her train the new people. Let her inspect every article that goes out the door. And if you can stand to give her a piece of your company, she’ll be as invested in the success of House of DuVal as you and Annabelle are. That will free you up to do the one thing you’re best at and she cannot do. Design.”
Lolly took a deep breath.
Oh, Lord Brooks may be right. She may indeed have to hire a counselor to help her stop micromanaging. She just felt such a personal attachment to it all.
“You really think Bebe can handle all that?”
Genevra nodded. “Plus, I think she’ll increase productivity. You’re too nice! The president of the company should not be picking up the slack or correcting shoddy workmanship. Bebe will make sure all of it is done perfectly and on time. I’d at least give her the chance to show you.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Lolly conceded, considering the time she’d gain if she didn’t have to manage the workroom.
“Sometime it takes looking at things from a distance. You’re too close to it all. It’s your baby.”
“It is. But I guess my baby is like Beau here, walking on his own now. I don’t have to carry it anymore.”
“Exactly. But you never take your eyes off it, either. And one more suggestion. You’re going to need a room of your own.”
“When you and Brooks move in together—wherever that is—make sure you always have a room where you can go to do your design work and to sew. A place where you can find peace and quiet without going into the office after hours.”
“That’s a good idea. Right now I’m always running to the office to sketch or sew. That’s a really good idea.” Lolly smiled at her mother, feeling a little better now that she had a plan. “The other thing Brooks is requesting is that I give him a firm wedding date. He wants me to book the church and club and get that done in the next couple of days.”
“And your holdup there?” Her mother’s face was radiant with joy.
“I can see you’re looking forward to a firm date as well.” Lolly grimaced at what she needed to confess. “The holdup is so petty I can hardly bring myself to say it out loud.” She took a deep breath and decided to give it to her straight, knowing her mother was the least likely person to judge her. “Between designing your wedding gown, Piper’s reception gown, Darcy’s bridesmaids’ dresses, and then Annabelle’s entire wedding party, I of course, was thinking about my own wedding.”
“I saved the best designs for myself,” she admitted. “At least the ones I liked best. I didn’t even show them to Darcy or Annabelle, so who knows what they would’ve thought. But the designs I liked, I kept for myself.”
“And your problem is?”
Lolly rolled her head around her neck and then stared at her mother. Finally, she just spit it out. “They are not designed for pregnant women. Annabelle is six months along and Piper is just pregnant again. If we wait for Annabelle to deliver and lose her baby weight, Piper will be as big as a house. If we wait for Piper to deliver we run the risk of Darcy turning up pregnant. Not to mention that Brooks wants to be married like, yesterday.”
To her mother’s credit, Genevra simply nodded, not at all appalled. “I completely understand. If you were a florist, the flowers would be most important. You’re a special-occasion dress designer. Of course you want your wedding party to show that off.”
“Still, it’s shallow. The emphasis should be on marrying Brooks and not about my brilliant designs,” she said with a cheeky grin.
“I need to get over it because I am not admitting this to Brooks and I would hate for Piper or Annabelle to think they’re holding up our wedding.”
“Then, let’s look at this as an opportunity. I haven’t seen your designs, but I do know you aren’t the only bride who has this issue. If we can squeeze the wedding in about a month after Annabelle is due to deliver and you get on the phone right now and beg Darcy to hold off getting pregnant a few more months, then it would likely only be Piper’s dress you’d have to redesign. If you can create something beautiful for Piper, it could turn into an additional line for your business. Pregnant women have to get dressed up all the time. In fact, hopefully, there will come a time when even you will be in need of formal maternity attire.”
“Good point,” Lolly said warming to the idea. “The way Brooks has been talking about his neglected sperm scares me. How about the end of October? The weather is good, debutante season will be complete, and there are no other House of DuVal weddings on the books during that time. I like it.”
“Let’s call the club.” Genevra stood to go get her phone. “If they’re already booked we’ll just hold the reception right here.”
“Geez, you’re making this sound so easy. I’ve been racking my brain for days over Brooks’s ultimatums.”
“Again, sweetsie, you’re too close to the situation. “And I’ve been secretly planning your wedding for years now. I’ll be right back.”
Lolly smirked and floated a toy boat back to where Beau stood in the water putting toys into a bucket and dumping them out again. She caught sight of Vance strolling up from the garages and waved to him as he came up on the patio.
“Look at this.” He grinned. “All us siblings right here together. We ought to call Jinx in from the library.” Lolly laughed as he leaned down to kiss her cheek, slipping off his flip-flops before stepping into the baby pool and plucking Beau up out of the water. “How’s my little brother, Brody?” He blew into Beau’s tummy causing uproarious giggles.
“You need to stop calling him that,” Lolly insisted as Vance did it again, laughing along with Beau. “He’s going to get confused.”
“Not my fault. I’ve been telling everybody his name since he was a baby bump. Are you babysitting?”
“No. Momma’s inside.” She looked over at Vance. “Did you know what Brooks was up to over the weekend?”
“I did. How’d you find out?”
“I sort of shanghaied him at work this morning. He bought me a ring.”
“Don’t see it on your finger.”
“He’s holding it ransom.”
“I bet he bought you a doozy.”
“Oh, it’s a doozy. At least from the stingy glimpse he gave me. And then he dangled the wouldn’t Darcy just love to see it when she comes home for the Fourth of July bait at me. But I have to meet a list of demands. He’s playing hardball. And it’s working,” she grumbled. “I’m capitulating to everything.”
“Now where’s the fun in that? What you need to do is give him a compelling reason to want to put that ring on your finger. Demands met or no.”
Lolly eyed him suspiciously. “I thought you’d be on his side.”
“Oh, I am. You’ve been stringing the poor guy along for years, and he’s truly at the end of his rope. But now that you’ve told me you’re capitulating, I figure why not stir the pot? Besides, between starting your company and the mayoral campaign, that was a lot of real life getting in the way of good, old-fashioned fun and romance.”
“So how do you suggest I add back the fun and romance?”
“Do I need to remind you about the hot-pink trench coat debacle? Or the wet T-shirt scandal? Lolly you’re still smoking hot and turning heads. You’ve got to remind Brooks that he’s the luckiest son-of-a-bitch out of all his buddies because he’s robbing the damn cradle.”
“Even if I do, that’s not a real compelling reason to put a ring on my finger.”
“Well, now,” Vance said with a crafty grin. “It all depends how you remind him.”
To be continued …