My Darling Bride: Chapter 23


Since the basement incident, Graham’s taken care of dealing with the plumber, swept the rotunda, and helped an elderly couple onto the elevator. Both he and Jasper wear ball caps, and only a couple of people have recognized them.

Graham looks relaxed—that is, until Londyn squirms in Andrew’s arms and points at Graham. Andrew hands her to Graham, who holds her from his body with outstretched arms until Andrew tells him to put Londyn on his hip. He bounces her around when she starts to whimper, and pretty soon he’s walking around the store with her, pointing out different things for her to look at. She’s sleepy and rests her forehead on his shoulder.

I take a bite of the grilled cheese Jane made me earlier. It’s the first time I’ve sat down all day.

“Quite the view, right?” Brody says as he plops down next to me at the table. He arrived about an hour ago, after Graham texted him. Cas stayed behind for work but said he’d come by later.

I take a sip of my tea. “What view?”

“Graham with a baby. Giving you ideas?” He waggles his brows. “I’d adore a little niece or nephew. Cas and I have thought about adoption, but we need to get the business going first.”

“Are you looking at places for your gym again?”

He nods. “I think we’ve found a great place in Brooklyn. It’s in a fun part of town and has plenty of space for everything we want to do.”

“The cookies are going off in the oven,” Jane calls out to him.

Brody smirks and rises to his feet. “Sorry. I’m on cookie duty. Want me to bring you a hot one? It’s chocolate chip in this batch.”

I tell him no, that I don’t eat chocolate because of caffeine, then check my phone as a text comes in. It’s from the art girl who made the shark. I sent her a text this morning, hoping she might have some ideas for us on how to repair the shark.

Sorry I can’t help you fix Mr. Shark. I got hired at Bloomingdales full-time.

I congratulate her on the job, then toss the phone down and want to cry in frustration.

Great. Now what?

“Tomorrow is the big reveal for our window,” I tell the staff and everyone else who’s gathered in the rotunda. It’s nearly closing time, and a few customers come and go, but Jane is handling them.

“The Times will be here to take a look at it. We’d planned a shark window, but that isn’t going to happen because the shark is ruined, and the artist isn’t available to help. I need quick and easy ideas, and whoever is available tonight to stay and help put it together. I know we’ve all been working hard, but this window is our biggest coup of the summer. We need something fantastic.” I pause. “Also, in case you haven’t heard the good news yet, our buyer of the store is keeping it open. He’s also here today helping us. Staff, meet Graham Harlan.” Apparently Graham met with Terry in Atlanta, and they officially signed the papers.

Babs claps excitedly.

The staff waves a hello at him. Some of them cheer.

“Graham, would you like to add anything?” I ask.

He clears his throat. “Good work, everyone. I’m glad to be here.”

Andrew munches on a cookie as he flirts with one of the newly hired girls. “He bought it because he loves my sister. They’re married.”

Babs rolls her eyes. “We all know they’re married, Andrew.”

Graham’s eyes find mine and glint with something. “Who couldn’t love her?”

Brody smiles widely as he gives me a thumbs-up and claps. “Bravo, brother! The bookstore is your great new adventure.”

Jasper elbows Brody. “Being the best tight end in the country is his adventure.”

“With that settled, shoot me with your ideas for a summer display,” I say. “Anything. Just something. Please.”

Jasper’s hand shoots up in the air, and I smirk. “You don’t have to raise your hand, Jasper.”

“Oh, well, you’re in charge, so . . . How about a bunch of sand, giant beach balls, then toss some books in there about summer—”

Jane interrupts him as she arrives with Londyn in her arms. “Not exciting.”

“It’s a great idea,” he retorts to her as she sits at their table.

Babs clears her throat. “Just rolling with the beach theme . . . we could put a chair in there, an inflatable palm tree, put the male mannequin in a Speedo, and let him read a book with a summery title. Oh! We could toss in a surfboard.”

I jot down her thoughts on a clipboard.

“We could ask our owner or one of his friends to sit in the beach chair a few hours a day, you know, just to make it exciting,” Jane says with relish as she sweeps her gaze over Graham and Jasper. “Gives them something to do besides banging against each other on the football field.”

Jasper glowers at her. “We have busy lives.”

“It must be so hard to put on a uniform and run around. Give the man a cookie,” Jane says sweetly.

Jasper glares at her. “I’m going to get a cookie, then I’m going to shelve more books.” He stalks away, and I sigh as I give Jane a Can you settle down for a hot minute? look.

She shrugs and mouths I’m sorry.

Brody raises his hand, and I groan. “You don’t have to raise your hand.”

“Is the shark completely ruined?” he asks.

“It has half a head. A few teeth left. The rest of the body is unsalvageable,” Graham says.

Brody taps his chin. “Maybe have the mannequin—in his Speedo, of course—fighting off a shark, only you can’t see most of the shark, just the mangled head. Blood is everywhere. His leg is gone. Maybe an arm. The girl mannequin—maybe a lifeguard—is trying to pull him out of the water. You could feature books about sharks and travel guides to sea destinations.”

I nod. “I appreciate your idea, but the blood and loss of a leg might be a bit much for some customers. We try to keep our displays PG.”

“Yeah, they don’t want to scare people away, Brody,” Graham adds.

Brody pouts. “I love gore. If I had a bookstore, it would be a horror one.”

One of the staffs suggests summer hobbies like gardening. Another suggests a camping scene with a tent and a fake fire. None of them seem to take hold.

My shoulders slump. “We need to nail this down. Any other ideas?”

“I noticed you had a box of old vinyl records in the basement,” Graham says. “Anything good?”

I shake my head. “Just some items Terry bought when we talked about selling records. What are you thinking?”

“Well, most windows will be doing beachy themes, right? We want to stand out.”

I nod.

“I was flipping through the records, and most of them are from the seventies. You could do a ‘Disco Summer of the Seventies’ or a ‘Fifty-Year Anniversary of Books’ kind of thing. You could get a disco ball; well, actually I have one at my—our—apartment.”

Brody nods enthusiastically. “Dude, yes! Hang the ball, dress the mannequins in seventies outfits—halter tops and bell-bottoms, head scarves, chokers, feather jewelry. I can get in touch with our drama teacher at the school. They’ll have a roomful of costumes.”

We have a few costumes we keep in storage for our mannequins, but not anything from the seventies. “Thanks, Brody. Could you get them today?”

He taps his phone. “Already on it. Might as well consider it done.”

Jasper comes back over. “Graham, you mentioned the records. Maybe we could play music in the window, let it trickle out into the store. We passed an antique store on the way here. They might have one of those old record players to add to the ambiance.”

I smile at him. “That’s a lovely idea. Okay. Let’s come up with a list of books. What books do we associate with the seventies?”

Everyone pops out their phones, and Graham is the first to say, “Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

“A favorite,” I say as he holds my eyes intently until tingles dance over my skin.

The Joy of Sex,” Jasper calls out triumphantly. “That’s what I’m talking about, folks! Twelve million copies sold. Boom.”

Jane smirks. “Typical that you’d go to the book about sex. Do you need a little self-help?”

Jasper narrows his gaze. “I don’t, Joanie.”

“It’s Jane.”

“Who cares,” he replies coolly.

“I don’t,” she says.

Jasper narrows his gaze. “The book is about experiencing intimacy and having fun with sex. Maybe you need it.”

“You know nothing about me,” she mutters.

“Okay, enough of you both. Keep going,” I say, rolling my hands.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasAll the President’s MenRootsThe Shining,” Babs says as she balances her phone and Londyn in her lap.

The Shining!” Brody exclaims. “A creepy caretaker at a hotel in Colorado, ghostly twins, dead guests, and an axe! Oh, I want a window just with that.”

“We have an axe,” Jane murmurs.

“Enough with the axe,” I tell her pointedly.

“It’s a good list of classics. Great idea, Graham,” I say. “You’ll make a great bookstore owner.”

He’s bent over his phone, taking notes, and glances up at me. A long moment passes, or maybe it’s just my imagination, but it feels as if we’re sharing more than just ideas. Nope. We’re just professional. A professional marriage.

“You’re welcome, darling,” he murmurs.

I shake myself out of my reverie and gaze around. “So . . . who’s going to help us get this done tonight?”


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