It’s France. It’s summertime. It’s an amazing chateau in the countryside.
And it’s a hen party for three brides. The girls are in France to pick up a hen for a lovelorn peacock living in the Hideaway Creek Cemetery, and to celebrate their upcoming weddings, which are all to take place on the same day.
BeeBee Barton is the only unattached member of the wedding entourage, and Grandma Blue decides to do a little matchmaking for her with the sexy Frenchman who almost runs BeeBee down with his tractor.
What could be more perfect than one crazy fling with a handsome Frenchman?
Unless it’s the sexy single dad back home in Hideaway Creek.
One Crazy Fling
© 2020 Jennifer Skully
Chateau Louie was bathed in the red glow of the setting sun as BeeBee Barton turned into the long, long driveway. She stopped the minivan, breathing in the beauty of the chateau and its grounds, the tranquility of the countryside, the warmth of the August evening.
“OMG. Is that where we’re staying?” Seated in the front next to BeeBee, Erika Rutland stared agog. At twelve-going-on-thirteen, she’d never been to France. She’d never been to Europe. She’d never been anywhere, she’d complained dramatically.
Neither had BeeBee, who was feeling a little agog herself.
“Where are the peacocks?” Lili Goodweather asked, then answered her own question. “They’re probably already roosting. I’ll have to wait to see them until morning.”
The fab eight, as they’d dubbed themselves on the long journey from San Francisco to Paris to Toulouse, gazed out the van’s windows in awe. This was their chateau for a whole week.
Beyond the expanse of green lawn, the impressive chateau was enveloped in hydrangea bushes and surrounded by forest. BeeBee counted eight windows across the second story, the two in the middle being full-length stained glass. More stained glass surrounded the massive front doors. Dormer windows tucked along the roof line made up the third floor, the servants’ quarters in days of old and unused now Lili had been told.
It was a palace.
“Let’s not just sit here,” Grandma Blue groused. “Let’s explore.” At the age of eighty-two, she sounded more excited than the excited almost-teenager in their midst. BeeBee had permed the little lady’s blue-white hair for the trip, and Grandma Blue had purchased several new muumuus, the one she wore today displaying bright fuchsia flowers.
BeeBee started the van rolling again, bumping along the gravel drive, which had to be at least a quarter-mile long.
Madison O’Donnell breathed deeply, let it out with the most contented sigh. “Wow. How many women have their hen party at a real French chateau?” Hen being the operative word since they’d made this trip to pick up a peahen. The bachelorette party to celebrate the three upcoming weddings was incidental—at least for Lili, who was all about the bird.
Madison’s gorgeous titian hair—the unimaginative word red would never do—glowed like fire in the last of the sunlight. As her beautician, Madison’s hair was BeeBee’s pride and joy, and she took meticulous care of it. In a month, Madison would be Mrs. T. Laurence Hobbs, the boss’s wife instead of the boss’s secretary. And damn proud of it.
Their fab eight—and hen party attendees—consisted of the three brides, Madison O’Donnell, Lili Goodweather, and Opal Smith. Their bridesmaids were BeeBee, along with Kate Carson, Lili’s boss, and Pearl, Opal’s sister. Erika Rutland, Lili’s soon-to-be stepdaughter, would be their flower girl, although she claimed she was way too old to be a flower girl. Grandma Blue claimed she was too old to miss a trip to France. Related by blood to Opal and Pearl, she’d become grandmother to everyone in the wedding party.
There weren’t a lot of women who would share their wedding day, but Madison, Opal, and Lili had known each other since they were girls. When Lili planned her wedding for the end of August, Opal and Madison joined in. Now the weddings were thirty-one days away, on the last Saturday in August.
BeeBee pulled the minivan to a stop in front of the wide stone porch, and Lili hopped out, followed by Erika close on her heels. They were the epitome of contrasts, Lili with her long, plum-black hair and tall, willowy figure, Erika a beautiful strawberry blond destined to stun the boys in a few short years.
Lili jiggled the lock with the skeleton key she’d dug out of the lockbox at the base of the stone steps.
Madison, Pearl, and Kate followed while Opal helped her grandmother, not that Grandma Blue thought she needed help.
“I can do it,” she said, holding onto Opal’s arm. While Blue considered herself spry, her definition of spry wasn’t quite the same as other people’s, not when you were talking about hauling yourself out of a minivan’s back seat.
BeeBee climbed out, too, stretching her legs. The drive south from Toulouse had been over an hour, the traffic heavy until they reached the city’s outskirts. Rush hour was universal.
But here, with the fresh country air, BeeBee felt… peaceful.
Of course, they should have been exhausted after the long flight. With the time change, they’d been up almost twenty-four hours. Having flown out on Wednesday, with the time change they’d lost nine hours, arriving at their destination at sunset on Thursday. Yet the excitement of arriving at the chateau had revived them all. Erika, the youngest, and Grandma Blue, the oldest, were also the widest awake.
“Oh my God.” Erika’s voice carried from the dark depths of the foyer. She hadn’t even used the acronym this time. The sight must be amazing.
Lili had found the chateau when she was searching for a peahen for Henri the peacock who inhabited the Hideaway Creek Cemetery. He’d been dumped there several months ago by a restaurant owner who claimed Henri made a mess on the restaurant grounds. The restauranteur obviously hadn’t been willing to invest in a pooper scooper. And now poor Henri was bereft without a peahen or peachicks.
Lili, being an extraordinary animal whisperer who could talk to cats, dogs, goats, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, snakes, insects, and now peacocks—and God only knew what else—had gleaned the pertinent details from long conversations with Henri. After the wedding, Lili—who currently worked as a flower shop clerk—would be opening her own animal whispering business called Animal Crackers.
But in the meantime, she’d made it her mission to find the peacock a mate. And the mate she’d found just happened to live at Chateau Louie. The only caveat was that Lili had to fly to France to retrieve the peahen.
And thus, the hen party. “Hen” in more ways than one.
Really, who could turn down that offer? For BeeBee, the trip would be one of reflection on exactly where her life was going. And exactly what she wanted next.
“One of those kings must have lived here.” Grandma Blue’s voice carried outside into the evening. “He must have lost his head over this place.” She snickered loudly. Grandma Blue was always good for a laugh.
BeeBee followed the fab eight—okay, it was seven because she made the eighth—into their chateau for the week.
“Wow,” Kate Carson whispered in awe. Entrepreneur, flower shop owner, and Lili’s boss, Kate was always so put together. But after the long flight, the layover, and the commute traffic, her honey blond topknot was starting to droop.
Inside their chateau, BeeBee lost her breath like the rest.
A gorgeous vase of white lilies graced a marble-topped table in the grand foyer. Straight ahead, the marble staircase climbed to a landing, then up to the second floor. The sun shone through the stained glass over the front door, hitting the far wall above the landing and setting it on fire with color.
A pair of double doors opened to a large sitting room on the left and the dining room on the right. The main hall ran the length of the magnificent chateau, with French doors on both ends and a long expanse of marble floor inlaid with small triangles of gold-flecked green.
“They used to dance in the hall, that’s why it’s so long and wide,” Pearl told them, her arms outstretched to either side. With long flaxen hair, she was waiflike, her voice soft with awe. She twirled, arms up like a ballerina, her sundress belling out around her legs. “I can almost hear the laughter, the music, the tapping of dancing feet.”
Opal grabbed her sister’s hands and whirled them both down the marble floor, her amber gold hair flying out as they twirled. “That reminds me,” Opal called out, laughter in her voice. “I need to practice dancing with Jack for the wedding.”
“I’m sure Dynamite knew how to dance in his past life,” Grandma Blue said drily. “We all did back in the fifties. None of this bump and grind stuff, but real dancing.”
BeeBee could never tell whether Grandma Blue was for real or not. She claimed Jack Davis was the reincarnation of her favorite race car driver, Dynamite Davis, who’d died in a fiery crash back in the sixties. It was the only reason she was letting Opal marry Jack. Then again, Jack let Grandma Blue get away with saying just about anything she wanted, and BeeBee figured that’s why the little lady liked him so much. Not to mention how happy he made Opal.
Grandma Blue marched down the long dancing hallway. “To the kitchen,” she called, having memorized the online floorplan.
Blue was all about the treats she made, from sausage rolls to Bakewell tarts. “We didn’t bring you here to cook for us,” Opal said, rushing after her grandmother.
They all stopped in the oversized doorway behind Grandma Blue. The kitchen was a mix of old and new. A gas insert had been set into the old stone hearth, keeping the large kitchen toasty on cold nights. A long center island ran the length, its wood top old and scarred from years of use. But the double ovens were shiny stainless steel, the cooktop was induction, the sinks were huge, and the countertops were crammed with every small appliance imaginable from coffee pot to toaster to blender to waffle maker. The refrigerator would fit a whole cow and the pantry cupboards, when Grandma Blue opened them, were filled with every staple they could possibly desire.
“I vote we cook half our meals in and eat half our meals out.” Kate was the practical one. “We certainly have to make use of this amazing kitchen, but we need to try the local restaurants, too.”
“I wholeheartedly agree,” Madison said. “We need to sample the local food.”
“We can team up for the preparation,” Lili said. “There’s enough of us.”
Erika curled her hand through Lili’s. “Can I be on your team?”
Lili’s eyes softened with true love. “You’re already on my team, sweetie pie. Forever and ever.”
Lili had fallen hard and fast for her next-door neighbor, accountant Tanner Rutland. She didn’t hold his staid career against him, though. Being an animal whisperer, a flower shop clerk, and a believer in all things magical, she might very well have considered him unsuitable. And vice versa. But they’d fallen hard for each despite their differences. Lili was going to make a fabulous stepmother, and an amazing mother when the time was right.
The thought brought a reminder of Poppy. Dear, sweet baby Poppy. BeeBee had the sudden urge to call Poppy’s divorced dad, Theo Swann. What time was it back in California? She needed a baby fix.
And really, wasn’t that one of the big reasons she wanted this trip? Because she needed to think. She’d just turned thirty-five and while Poppy was beautiful and amazing and BeeBee loved her with every drop of her being, Poppy wasn’t hers. BeeBee was just one of Theo’s friends. Well, really, one of Theo’s brother’s girlfriend’s friends—and if that didn’t sound confusing, she didn’t know what would. But Kate—who lived with Theo’s brother Joe—was Lili’s boss, not BeeBee’s friend. Even though BeeBee admired Kate immensely and they were becoming friends, they weren’t actually there yet.
The connections were all too complicated and gave BeeBee a headache when she was sleep-deprived. What she knew for sure was that becoming a part of Poppy’s young life had made BeeBee realize that her heart cried out for motherhood.
She just hadn’t decided what to do about it.