Not the Marrying Kind
by Nicola Marsh
LA party planner Poppy Collins has kept her side business—planning divorce parties as the Divorce Diva—under wraps, but keeping her sister’s company afloat is proving tougher by the day. When a new divorce party prospect gives Poppy the opportunity to save the day and boost her bottom line, she can’t pass it up. But this time, she’s about to get way more than she bargained for…
Vegas golden boy Beck Blackwood knows Poppy’s secret, and he’s not afraid to use it to get exactly what he wants—a wife. With his reputation and corporate expansion plans on the line, the only way he can repair the damage is by getting hitched, and fast. And if blackmail is the only way to get Poppy to the altar, then so be it…
But they’re in the city of high stakes, and Poppy has a few aces up her sleeve. Now it’s time to find out if they’re playing to win…or if they’re playing for keeps.
© 2012 Nicola Marsh
Divorce Diva Daily recommends:
Playlist: “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
Movie: He’s Just Not That into You
Cocktail: Slow, Comfortable Screw
Beck Blackwood could kill them.
Every one of those uptight, conservative pricks.
Beck’s fingers curled into fists as he paced his office, oblivious to the million-dollar view of the Strip. He liked his office perched on the highest floor of the tallest tower in Vegas. King of the world. No other feeling beat it. Apart from sex, but he’d even given up on that while finagling every detail of this deal.
He stopped in front of his desk and slammed his fist against the prospectus, the pain not registering half as much as having a boardroom of investors hedge around his win-win deal because his company wasn’t respectable enough. Translation: he wasn’t respectable enough.
Damn it, he thought he’d left his past behind.
He’d thought wrong.
Didn’t matter he rivaled the richest guys in town for penthouse space, property investments, and fast cars. Because of his lifestyle choices—single, heterosexual guy who enjoyed his freedom—and the City of Sin he chose to live in, they didn’t deem him worthy. Throw in the PR disaster when his site manager was found in a compromising position with an apprentice on one of his prominent constructions recently, and the fate of Blackwood Enterprises had been sealed.
Vegas loved a scandal. Sex between a married guy and a barely eighteen-year-old girl? The press attacked. Every newspaper article had shown his building site, with his company’s name boldly emblazoned with its signature cactus. Damned if the thing didn’t add a phallic connotation to every word printed.
Never mind he’d fired the manager and set up counseling for the teenager if she needed it.
Never mind he’d been working his ass off trying to recoup losses the company had sustained in the crash of 2008.
Never mind he’d spent the last eighteen months living and breathing this deal to build hotels across the country that would see company profit margins soar again.
Blackwood Enterprises had been crucified. All his hard work down the toilet because they didn’t deem him good enough.
He’d sat in the boardroom after presenting projected statistics that would’ve had guys with half a brain salivating, rage simmering, as each and every one of the pompous bastards scrambled for excuses.
Too big a risk.
People are still talking about your company, and not in a good way.
The face of this project needs to have solid family values.
What they were basically saying was that because one of his employees screwed up and he didn’t have a band on his ring finger, he wasn’t good enough.
His intercom buzzed and he glared at it, not in the mood for interruptions, not in the mood for anything unless it involved eight signatures on the construction deal of a lifetime.
“What is it, Simone?”
“Mr. Robinson wanted to remind you about the function you’re planning.”
He bit back his first response—Screw Lou.
“Tell him I’m on it.”
“Will do, Mr. Blackwood.”
“And I’m incommunicado for the next hour.”
It’d take him that long to calm down.
The intercom fell silent and he flung himself into a chair, ready to tackle a stack of quotes. However, the requisite quick glance at his inbox stalled when he glimpsed an email, every word from Stan Walkerville punctuating his disillusionment at losing out on the deal of the century.
Beck’s gut twisted. Stan, the unofficial appointed leader of the investors he’d been counting on earlier today, reiterated his disappointment they wouldn’t be building the biggest chain of hotels America had ever seen.
Not half as disappointed as he was.
The fortune he’d amassed meant jack if they didn’t consider him reliable enough. What did the old farts expect, for him to marry to become the biggest name in construction in the country?
Frigging great, he was back to this.
His foolhardy plan.
It had first come to him in the meeting when the investors were delivering their verdict because of the tainted Blackwood name. He’d wanted to yell, What the fuck do you expect me to do, pull a wife out of my ass for respectability?
While he’d wisely kept his temper in check at the time, the dumb idea had stuck in his head like a burr, no matter how many times he dismissed it. Stupid thing was, he’d analyzed it from every angle and he kept coming back to it.
He needed instant propriety to clear his company’s name and get the investors on his side again.
A wife would do that.
He re-read the email. Twice. Focused on the last line.
If circumstances change, call us. We’d love to do business.
Was it as simple as that?
Get hitched? Become the best in the business? Make his dream of being the biggest in America come true?
Only one problem.
Where the hell was he going to find a wife?
Hating what an idiot he was for even considering getting married for business, Beck scanned the rest of the emails, eventually finding the one he was searching for.
Late last night he’d agreed to another outlandish idea. Lou Robinson, his Chief Financial Officer and oldest friend, had latched onto a crazy idea to throw a party to celebrate Lou’s divorce. Worse, in an effort to get Lou refocused on the job and to ensure word didn’t get out his company was promoting divorce—another black mark against it for sure—Beck had said he’d organize it. Anything to snap the usually astute CFO out of his crappy mood.
Besides, organizing some senseless party had to be better than punching the wall. It’d take his mind off the deal long enough for him to come up with a viable solution for Stan and Co. to quit stalling and sign. One that didn’t involve shackling himself to a woman. He grimaced at the thought and as the crisp website in fuchsia font came up, he wrinkled his nose.
Divorce Diva Daily.
Apart from some nifty alliteration, he had a feeling this site offered nothing but a few party favors at an exorbitant price. Not that he objected to Lou spending a fortune on exorcising his demons. Hell, he’d chip in, no matter how much it took. The faster he threw this party, the faster he could have his competent CFO back.
Beck had an agenda. Schedule a meeting with the probable charlatan running this site, organize the party, make sure Lou was back on the job Monday. To come up with a feasible Plan B to wow the investors, he needed his friend alert and focused, two things he hadn’t been able to attribute to Lou in a while.
Lou needed to get drunk and get laid. He’d latched onto this lame-ass party idea instead. Whatever. If a divorce party would get Lou back on track, Beck was all for it. The faster he could get this organized and happening, the better.
Against his better judgment, he started reading the diva’s blog entry for today.
Top Tips for moving on:
Remove all traces of the ex from your habitat—including corny first-date memorabilia, Valentine’s Day cards (commercialistic crap), all engagement and marriage photos, and barf-worthy sentimental gifts.
Beck’s mouth quirked at crap and barf. A woman after his own heart.
Smells are powerful reminders. If after several wash cycles his or her stink remains, burn the item involved.
Stink? Beck eased into a smile.
Music is an excellent purging tool. Download the following and crank to full volume:
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette
“Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash
“I’m Free” by Rolling Stones
“Goodbye Earl” by Dixie Chicks
Stock up on beverages. Whether hot chocolate or appletinis or Budweisers are your poison, make sure you have plenty. You’ll need it for step 5.
Throw the party of the year. Invite your closest friends and whoop it up. Thank them for supporting you. Forget the past. Move forward.
Let Divorce Diva Daily help you help yourself.
Okay, so the ending lacked the chutzpah of the earlier tips, but he kinda liked this diva. Sure, she was touting a spiel for business, but he could see the appeal in forgetting the past and moving forward.
He’d done a stand-up job of that himself.
It was what drove him every day. Making sure he earned enough money and held enough power to ensure he’d never again have to tolerate the condescending, pitiful stares of people looking down on him because he had nothing.
Growing up destitute in Checkerville ensured he’d bottled those feelings of resentment and bitterness. He had used them to great effect studying endlessly to win a scholarship to college, cramming all-nighters to ace tests, and scrimping every cent he earned in part-time jobs to buy land in Vegas just before the boom hit.
Yeah, he’d shown them all. But it was days like today, when the investors stared at him with the same condescension he’d experienced in his youth that old insecurities he thought long buried flared to life. Everyone in Vegas had a past and he’d paid his dues: self-made millionaire who’d grown up tough. He hadn’t hid his past from anyone. Which made their rejection now all the more infuriating.
Annoyed at the turn his thoughts were taking, he hit the “About Us” button and scanned for the price list—nada but “Price on Application.” He didn’t trust POA. Price on Application gave potential shysters free rein. The last thing Lou needed now was to be shafted by a shady online company.
He checked the contact details, coming up with an email address to a faceless provider. No phone number. No address. Definitely shady.
Like that’d stop him.
With a few clicks of his mouse, he’d IM’d a PI who’d done some work for him when hiring prospective employees. Beck didn’t like surprises and he didn’t trust an anonymous website.
In less than five minutes he had more information. Links between the quirky divorce diva and a party planning company in Provost that had candid testimonials from an extensive list of genuine clientele.
Which made him wonder. Why wouldn’t the diva capitalize on the positive PR of an established company? What did she have to hide?
Instincts told him to blow off this diva and find a legit planner, but what if Lou balked and wasted more time? Beck needed a new plan to wow the investors, and that meant having Lou back on board ASAP.
The fastest option would be to follow through with Lou’s choice and get this party happening. To do that, he’d have a face-to-face meeting with the diva by the end of the day.
Then he’d focus on more important matters: like finding a quickie wife.
“You think?” Poppy Collins stopped scrolling through her iPod for appropriate break-up songs to add to her new blog and glared at her BFF, Ashlee.
“Divorce is painful for a lot of people. And you’re making fun of it.” Ashlee pointed at the computer screen where Poppy had uploaded her latest post for Divorce Diva Daily, the blog that would single-handedly save Party Hard, her sister’s party planning business.
“I’m intending on making a lot of money from it,” Poppy muttered, tossing her iPod on the desk and swinging her chair to face Ashlee. “Money that’s going to keep you employed.”
Ashlee winced. “Financials that bad?”
“You’re Sara’s assistant. You tell me.”
Poppy hated seeing her driven, career-oriented sister in a deep depression that had almost cost her the business. She hated seeing Sara’s smug, WASP ex Wayne, prancing around town in a midlife-crisis-red convertible more.
Suburban Provost on the outskirts of Los Angeles wasn’t big enough for both of them, which was why Poppy had insisted that Sara recuperate at a private clinic in LA while Poppy put her freelance promotion business on hold, utilized her marketing degree, and ran the business.
Problem was, Poppy knew as much about party planning as she did about relationships: absolutely zilch.
The divorce party idea was her last stand.
It had to work.
Sara had lost Wayne the Pain. No way would Poppy let her lose her prized business, too. It was all Sara had left.
“But celebrating divorce is tacky,” Ashlee said, her gaze drawn to the PC screen again. “We’ll get crucified by every do-gooder along the western seaboard.”
“That’s why Divorce Diva is anonymous. Plus Sara would throw a hissy fit over the D-word, so best to keep this under the radar.” Poppy tapped her temple. “Up here for thinking.” She pointed at her favorite crimson pumps with the three-inch stiletto heels covered in sparkles. “Down there for dancing.”
“Planning parties online is one thing. What if someone wants a one-on-one consult?” Ashlee’s frown deepened.
“You’re not a party planner. You’re a party pooper.” Poppy blew out a long breath. “One step at a time, okay?”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“And I’ve got a worse one about this.” Poppy stabbed at the stack of bills teetering next to her in-tray. “This idea doesn’t take off? We’re history.”
And Sara would lose everything.
No way would she let that happen. She owed her sister. Big time.
Ashlee made disapproving clicking noises. “But divorce is so…so…”
“Inevitable? Guaranteed? Worth celebrating?”
“Private. Painful. Devastating.”
“And that’s exactly why I’m doing this.”
Poppy had seen what impending divorce had done to Sara. Her vibrant, career-driven sis had fallen apart when Wayne walked out, and she’d been a zombie for months, popping anti-depressants until Poppy organized a prolonged stay at the clinic, complete with on-site psychologists. Sara had made progress, but to see her listless without an ounce of spark rammed home for Poppy the fact that love came with risks. Big ones.
Despite the best medical supervision, counseling, and medication, Sara languished, rehashing every reason why her marriage had failed. Poppy could’ve saved her a fortune in therapy bills with the truth: Wayne was an immature asshole who’d spend his life and fortune searching for the next best thing. Guys like him were never happy with what they had for long. They grew bored. They needed shiny new toys. They kept looking for something bigger and better. Splashing their cash around, seeking vicarious thrills…but they were never truly happy. Narcissistic jerks.
When Sara was ready, Poppy would help her move on with the biggest damned divorce party she could throw. Until then, it was imperative she kept Divorce Diva a secret from her stressed-out sis. With Sara’s divorce imminent, no way would she approve, and Poppy didn’t want her idea scuttled before it had a chance to work. Or worse, cause a relapse when Sara had finally begun to make progress.
Poppy would do whatever it took to save Sara’s business. Plenty of time later to clue Sara in—after she’d succeeded.
“Divorce parties are all about marking the end of suffering and starting fresh. We have rituals for everything else—weddings, births, deaths—why not divorce?”
Ashlee said nothing, her compressed lips and dent between her brows conveying her disapproval.
“A new phase in life is worth celebrating.” Damned straight she’d help Sara celebrate The Pain’s exit. But if Ashlee didn’t buy the professional spiel Poppy had concocted, prospective clients wouldn’t either and that would signal the end. “Plus it can be an opportunity for the newly single to thank all the people who’ve stood by him or her during the ordeal.”
Another thing that had torn Sara apart was losing so many of her friends, those tiresome couples who were happy to hang out with other married peeps but scattered when the couple split. What was up with that? Like friendships were expendable or based on the glittery bauble on your ring finger?
“Friends can throw a party to show their divorcing pal they’re supported and not alone. Or it can be a time to vent, cry, yell, laugh, whatever, in the company of people who love you.” Sara had done enough crying. Poppy would ensure she whooped it up at her divorce party. “What’s so bad about that?”
“I still say it’s tacky.”
Starry-eyed, recently engaged Ashlee would think anything tarnishing the holy sanctity of marriage was tacky. Wait until dearly beloved Craig started working nights and taking longer interstate trips and deleting text messages as soon as they pinged. Then she’d get a reality check.
“We’re not promoting divorce. We’re giving people the option to celebrate it once it’s final.” Poppy pushed a stack of literature across the desk toward Ashlee. “I’ve researched this thoroughly. Divorce parties are the latest and greatest. Party planners are raking it in. We have to do this—it’s good business.”
“I guess.” Ashlee gnawed her bottom lip and darted a nervous glance at the stack of bills.
“No guesswork. Divorce Diva Daily is going to rock.” Feigning confidence, Poppy interlocked her hands behind her head and leaned back.
“It better. Or we’ll be back serving ice creams at Iggy’s.” Ashlee made a mock gagging motion and Poppy wrinkled her nose at memories of their first job in high school. Iggy had a thing for cones—of every variety—and often rocked up to the shop stoned out of his head, sharing the love by feeling up his employees and giving away freebies. The only reason he was still in business was customer loyalty. Provost looked after its own. Poppy hoped that kind of loyalty extended to Party Hard if her Divorce Diva Daily idea went belly-up and Sara lost everything.
“It’ll work, trust me.”
Ashlee perched on the desk. “Like how I trusted you with my mom’s bachelorette party and we almost landed in jail?” She held up her fingers and started counting off misdemeanors. “Like how I trusted you with my secret make-out place and the entire tenth grade ended up there? Like—”
“Build a bridge, hon.” Poppy grinned and waved away Ashlee’s concerns, thankful her best friend was along for a ride that promised to be bumpy at best.
A smile tugged at the corners of Ashlee’s mouth. “I’ll get over it when you prove you’ve matured beyond high school.”
“Hey, I’m mature.”
Ashlee raised an imperious eyebrow and pointed at her desk. “You’re saving a printed RPatz autographed Twilight flyer, your Gryffindor Forever stick-on tattoos are plastered everywhere, and you’ve been clubbing three times this week.”
“I like to bust a move.”
“And the rest?”
“Can never have enough sparkly vamps or Harry Potter around.”
“Just make this work, okay?” Ashlee’s reluctant smile turned into a full-fledged grin as she tapped the stack of bills with a magenta-tipped fingernail.
“You bet.” Poppy saluted.
It wasn’t until Ashlee bustled out of her office that Poppy slumped in her seat, glaring at the bills like they were radioactive.
No matter how many times Divorce Diva Daily recommended songs like Stevie Nicks’s “Stop Dragging Your Heart Around” or ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” they needed parties to plan.
First request that came in? She’d bust her ass making it the best damned divorce party ever.