Thursday, August 1, 2013

Royal Secrets - Kathleen Irene Paterka

ROYAL SECRETS is the story of the Royal Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, and of Lily Lavender, whose family is distantly descended from the British royal family. Immersed in the regal world of weddings and romance, Lily grew up believing in brides, grooms and happily-ever-afters. It seemed her destiny and royal birthright to someday assume a position as wedding coordinator in their family-owned wedding chapel business. But when her mother Mimi’s third marriage eventually fails, Lily’s dreams of her own happily-ever-after quickly fade. She’s no longer interested in a life of assisting brides walk down the aisle into a life of disillusionment and possible divorce. Lily turns her back on The Royal Wedding Chapel and leaves Las Vegas to fashion a life of her own. Years later, Lily—now a single mom—discovers her teenage daughter has run off to Las Vegas, lured by Mimi to help run the chapel. Determined to save her daughter from the broken dreams of Sin City and the nonsensical world of which family fairy tales are made, Lily returns to Las Vegas. But nothing prepares Lily for the royal drama which awaits her… or the sins and secrets she stumbles across that threaten to close the chapel and ruin her family forever.


I haven’t worked a chapel wedding in years, and for a few moments, I find myself caught up in the beautiful romantic dream unfolding around me. It’s a large wedding party, and family and friends crowd the pews of our grandest room, the King Edward’s Chapel. Francesca runs the music as I wait with the bride, who is radiant in a rhinestone-encrusted, strapless sweetheart gown with a floor-sweeping train. I stand just inside the chapel door, watching as she starts down the aisle to meet her groom. The ceremony runs a little longer than usual, but other than that, everything is perfect… until I hear raised voices and a din from outside. Opening the door a crack, I peek out and spot a second bride stalking the room.

“We’ve been waiting out here five minutes,” she complains as I slip out to greet her wedding party.

“I’m very sorry,” I say, remembering Francesca’s warning that Bride Number Two would be a problem. Their ceremony is scheduled for early afternoon in the smaller, more intimate Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal. “We’re a little understaffed today.”

The scowl on her face deepens as the King Edward Chapel doors open and the first wedding party streams through the lobby. They crowd the room with noisy happiness as Francesca escorts them outside into the sunshine.

“These flowers are not what I ordered.” Bride Number Two balks at the bouquet I remove from the cooler. “I ordered cream-colored roses. Cream-colored. These aren’t cream, they’re blush… and they’re not even fresh.” She shoves them back into my hands.

“Let me see what I can do.” I slide behind the reception desk and scramble for her file. Not that it will make much difference. According to Francesca, the florist missed his regular delivery yesterday. Very few flowers are left in the cooler.

“Carlos, this is all your fault.” She turns to her groom, seated on the bench behind her. “I told you we would have problems with this place.”

I glance at Mimi’s paperwork, praying everything else is in order for their ceremony. At least this wedding party is smaller than the first: the bride and groom plus two witnesses and a toddler with wispy blond hair in a jewel-encrusted dress matching the bride’s. I put the finishing touches on their contract and wait for the printer to churn out a copy while keeping an eye on the little one wandering the reception area. She can’t keep her hands off anything. She leaves a trail of smeary smudges on the large glass cabinets showcasing the bridal jewelry, unity candles, and sand-pouring sets. She circles the room and yanks at the small potted trees lining the entrance. I cringe as she breaks off one of the branches, sniffs it, then tosses it on the floor. Finally she comes to a halt in front of Mimi’s prized possession, the heirloom tiara. She sticks her nose against the bulletproof glass, fogging it with her breath. “I want that.”

“Shania, you shut your mouth.” The bride glowers at the little girl. “This is Mama and Daddy’s wedding day. I don’t need you making trouble.”

The little girl starts to cry, and the groom grabs his daughter, hoists her in his arms. “Don’t you worry, honey. We’ll get you a crown of your very own once Mama and Daddy get married.”

“But I want it now.” She buries her head in his shoulder and wails even louder.

Bride Number Two rolls her eyes and turns back to me. “Like I said, these flowers are not what I want.”

I take a deep breath. Dealing with this bride is not what I want. “I’m very sorry. Things are a little hectic around here today.”

“That’s not my problem.” She shifts her hip and glares at me.

“If you give me a moment, I’m sure we can make things right.” Exactly how I’ll accomplish that, I’m not sure. But I am convinced of the dire necessity.

“Damn right you will.” She taps a glittering acrylic nail on the paperwork between us. “We paid good money to have our wedding here. That woman who booked us promised everything would be perfect. Well, guess what? It’s not.” Her eyes narrow. “Where is she? I want to talk to her.”

Who booked their wedding? Francesca or Mimi? I suppose it makes no difference. Francesca is busy with Bride Number One. And as for Mimi…

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” I say, remembering Mimi’s admonishment over the years. Keep calm and carry on. It worked with the English people in WWII. It works with brides.

“She said she was the owner. If that’s true, she’d better own up to this mess and fix it now.” She turns her head toward her groom. “I never should have let you talk me into this place,” she mutters in a voice loud enough for me to overhear. “That bitch better show up and make things right or she’ll be sorry.”

“Excuse me?” My head snaps up and I eye her across the counter.

She turns back to me with a don’t-play-dumb-you-heard-what-I-said smirk.

“I’ll be glad to take care of things.” I grant her a gracious smile, surprised to hear my voice so pleasant. A rush of cool calmness drapes me, and suddenly everything seems easy. “Why don’t you have a seat while I make the arrangements.” I point to the upholstered couch where Carolos, their daughter, and the witnesses wait. “This should only take a minute.”

“About time,” the bride mutters. She flounces across the room and wiggles her way onto the bench without spilling out of her mermaid gown. The groom’s face is nearly as red as the plush velvet covering the seat. My heart goes out to him. Poor guy. He hasn’t a voice, and he hasn’t a clue. This marriage is doomed before it starts.

I scan their contract and verify the deposit they made last month. Mimi would kill me if she ever found out what I’m about to do. The chapel’s policy is firm. Brides are never wrong. Brides pay the bills. But Mimi isn’t here. She’s confined to a hospital bed. And no matter how much Mimi might annoy and frustrate me, no one—NO ONE—calls my mother a bitch.

Picking up the phone, I punch in a number I could recite in my sleep. “Jaabir, please bring the limousine around.”

Five uncomfortable minutes later, he strolls in the front door. Suave and debonair in a black suit, crisp white shirt, and stiff-brimmed hat crowning his head, Jaabir looks every bit capable of chauffeuring the royal couple at Buckingham Palace.

I nod toward Bride Number Two and her party. “These people need a ride.”

“Is the wedding already over?” He glances at his watch. “I thought it wasn’t until two o’clock.”

“It’s been rescheduled,” I say. “They are getting married today. They just won’t be getting married here.”

“Now, you just wait a minute.” Bride Number Two extricates herself from the bench and thunders across the room, a fiery storm on glittering five-inch heels. She slaps her rhinestone clutch on the counter. “We came to Las Vegas to get married.”

I ring up the refund, print the receipt, and punch the button opening the cash register. “Congratulations.”

“We drove all the way from Los Angeles to get married here… at the Royal Wedding Chapel.”

“Las Vegas has plenty of wedding chapels. Our chauffeur will take you wherever you like.”

“Forget this shit. We’re not going anywhere.” Bride Number Two scowls at me. “I want to talk to the manager.”

“You’re talking to her.” I count out five crisp one-hundred-dollar bills and slide them across the counter. “Here’s a full refund and your receipt.”

“You can’t do this,” she sputters.

“I believe I just did.”

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About Kathleen

Kathleen Irene Paterka is the author of numerous women’s fiction novels which embrace universal themes of home, family life and love, including ROYAL SECRETS and the James Bay series (FATTY PATTY, HOME FIRES, LOTTO LUCY and FOR I HAVE SINNED). Kathleen is the resident staff writer for Castle Farms, a world renowned castle listed on the National Historic Register, and co-author of the non-fiction book FOR THE LOVE OF A CASTLE, published in 2012. Having lived and studied abroad, Kathleen's educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from Central Michigan University. She and her husband live in the beautiful north country of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

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