The Bride’s Christmas Dress
Christmas comes to the Wedding Dreams Boutique…
Liza Howard is struggling to hang on to the boutique she’d inherited. She’s pinning all of her hopes on a robust holiday shopping season. However, when one of the expensive designer gowns she has on display is damaged by her upstairs tenant’s dog, the holiday season gets off to a bumpy start. As per store policy, you damage it, you buy it. And now Dylan Carver owns a wedding dress, and he has absolutely no use for it as he’s a confirmed bachelor. Will this special wedding dress bring these two closer so they can mend their scarred hearts this Christmas?
HEAT LEVEL: Clean & Wholesome
Read an Excerpt
Sales would be strong this holiday season.
Liza Howard had to believe those words. Without a busy year end, she would most likely lose her business. And that just couldn’t happen. Her late mother had entrusted her with the business located in San Francisco’s Mission District. She wouldn’t let it fail. She wouldn’t let her mother down.
In the showroom of the Wedding Dreams Boutique, she hummed along to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as she zipped a designer wedding dress onto a mannequin. After some of the young brides had complained that she didn’t have some of the latest styles, she’d sunk her savings into buying three designer dresses. They’d just arrived that day. As soon as the boutique closed for the day, she put those dresses on the mannequins that stood in the middle of the wide aisles.
She smiled as she straightened the last dress. This was exactly what she needed to push her sales over the top. They were beautiful. The brides were going to love all of them.
This past year the sales had decreased to the point where she had to let some of the help go. She’d been filling in by working long days. She kept telling herself this would be the year she turned everything around. Her mother used to say that determination should have been Liza’s middle name.
And now that she had a renter for the apartment above the boutique, it would help her finances significantly. Giving up the spacious apartment that had been her childhood home had been so painfully hard. However, renting it and moving in with her cousin made a definite difference in her bottom line. Someday she’d reclaim the apartment for herself, but it wouldn’t be right now. At least the guy living there now seemed nice.
Today she’d let her assistant manager, Maryann, go home early to do some Christmas shopping. It had been a quiet afternoon, which Liza easily handled on her own. Now with the boutique closed for the evening, she just had one last fitting room to straighten up. And then she would be headed home to curl up on the couch and watch a movie.
With it being December first, Christmas was just a few weeks off. Soon the boutique would be filled with newly engaged shoppers. Christmas and wedding proposals went together like mistletoe and kisses.
This would be her second Christmas without her mother. Her second holiday season on her own. She didn’t want to think about her mother and how much she missed her and the holiday traditions they’d done together. It was one of the reasons she preferred to stay busy.
She moved to one of the four fitting rooms and buttoned the snow-white wedding gown there. She gently placed it back in the clear garment bag. It was time for it to go back on the rack. The bride had loved it, but it hadn’t been her size. As was common, they’d taken her measurements and ordered her a fitted gown. It would take a few months for it to come in. The wedding wasn’t until July, but it would be cutting it close.
Snowball, her all-white cat, walked up to her and meowed.
“I know, girl. It’s almost time to go home. You aren’t the only one who wants dinner.” She bent down and ran her hand over the cat’s soft fur.
In turn, Snowball rubbed over Liza’s ankles and purred.
The cat had been her mother’s. She’d found Snowball at a shelter and brought her home. When her mother had passed on, Snowball became Liza’s responsibility. And Snowball hated being left home alone. Snowball would sit by the door and cry until Liza came home, as attested to by her neighbors. And so she started taking Snowball to work with her. The cat liked the attention from the customers, and Liza no longer had to worry about the cat disturbing her neighbors. She was the shop’s unofficial mascot.
With everything in its place, she unplugged both Christmas trees with their white and silver ornaments. Next, she pulled the plugs to the strings of icicle lights that ran along the ceiling throughout the boutique.
She reached for the vacuum. It was Snowball’s least favorite part of the day. The cat acted as though the vacuum was a monster just waiting to suck her up. As soon as Liza moved the vacuum, her favorite feline took off toward the front of the boutique that had already been vacuumed.
Everything had to be spiffed up for business in the morning. Every chair was in its place, and every clip was picked up. And the glass display cases were wiped clean of fingerprints.
When she finished vacuuming, she placed it in the closet. Someday, she’d be able to hire a cleaning crew, but for now, she was owner, salesperson, and cleaning crew. Her mother raised her to believe that hard work didn’t hurt anyone, and if that was what it took to hang on to the last physical link to her mother, she was all for it.
Who could that be? Can’t they see the Closed sign?
“We’re closed!” She hoped they’d hear her and go away.
She sighed. She was all for going out of her way for her customers during business hours, but she had to guard her off-hours, or she’d burn out.
They weren’t going to give up.
A frown pulled at her lips. What could be so important that they were banging on the door after hours?
When Liza rounded the corner, she spotted her landlord. Mr. Marley stared through the glass door with a frown on his face. His snow-white hair was kept short, and not a hair was out of place. On the bridge of his nose were a pair of gold-rimmed bifocals. He tapped his cane against the glass as though to tell her to pick up the speed.
This couldn’t be good. She only ever saw Mr. Marley if her rent was due that day or there was a problem with the building.
It wasn’t time for her rent payment. So that must mean there was a problem with the building. Whatever it was, she wasn’t aware of it.
The man stood there with slouched shoulders beneath his long black wool coat as he leaned on a cane. A blue paisley silk scarf was wrapped around his neck. It color coordinated with his blue tie.
She unlocked the door and pulled it open. She forced a smile to her lips as she stepped back, allowing him room to enter. “Good evening.”
He stepped inside. “I stopped by to let you know that there will be a rent increase in your new lease.” He held out the paper to her. “This is for you.”
“An increase?” She unfolded the papers and struggled not to gape at the large increase. “I…I can’t afford this. Is there some way we can work out a lower amount?”
“No.” He didn’t even bother to pause to consider the matter. “You have until the New Year to sign and return it.”
She inwardly groaned. Try as she might to find something to like about the man, he made it an impossible task. “Please. There has to be some sort arrangement we can come to. After all, it’s Christmastime.”
She almost expected him to say bah hum bug. Instead, he frowned at her. “I don’t believe in Christmas or any other holiday. If people worked more, they wouldn’t have so many problems. And you might be able to pay your bills.”