Adding the final box of flowers to the pile, Morgana Lawrence blew a sigh of relief as though it might cool her flushed face. She checked the thermostat: eighty-six degrees. That worried her. If the temperature didn't drop rapidly, she would be stuck with hundreds of wilted orchids and gardenias in the morning.
Pulling her sweat-soaked hair away from her face, Morgana pinned up her black tresses. She usually refused to wear her hair that way since it accented her long neck, but she was too hot to care. Longing to do nothing more than strip off her skimpy T-shirt and shorts and jump into a refreshing shower, Morgana picked up her clipboard instead. It wouldn't hurt to do one more inventory.
Everything had to be perfect for the sunrise wedding ceremony. Although she tried to ignore the chattering chimp and screeching birds, it was impossible. With a sigh of resignation Morgana crossed the room, opened the cage door, and held out her hand.
"Come on out, you little creep," she said to the chimp.
Like a small child that knows it has won its way, the chimp eagerly took her hand and waddled alongside her.
"I don't think they'll miss one banana, do you?" She lifted a bunch from one of the dozens of crates stacked along the walls. He took the fruit she offered him, then, engrossed in removing the peel, sat quietly.
"If only you two could be silenced so easily." She scolded the macaw and cockatoo. Their screeching was giving her a royal headache!
"I'll be glad when this wedding is over," Morgana complained as she eyed the clutter. Would the van hold all this? Across the room the phone rang. Morgana glanced at the chimp before going to find it. He was absorbed in eating his banana. She was sure he'd be all right for a moment.
Unable to see the telephone, Morgana followed the cord to its hiding place behind the boxes of flowers she had stacked so carefully. She hunted for the phone anxiously, hoping the caller would hang on for a few rings longer. In her haste she managed to dump an entire box of orchids around her feet.
"Damn!" Her hand closed over the receiver. "Hello. Lawrence and Smythe, Fantasy Weddings."
"Oh, Mr. Wake." Morgana was relieved to hear from him. She had tried unsuccessfully to reach him all day. "The deliveries have been made, and everything's ready for tomorrow," she said, assuring him with her fingers crossed.
"Miss Lawrence, I don't know quite how to tell you this, but I have some news for you."
"Another change?" she asked wearily, pulling her hand across her forehead. She couldn't believe her luck. Every time she thought everything was set, the Wakes threw her another curve. If it weren't for the money...
"Mr. Wake, I'll do the very best I can, but it is Saturday afternoon. That only leaves us about thirteen hours--"
He interrupted her. "The jungle wedding is off."
"Lavinia and I have decided to elope."
"Elope?" The word came out in a strangled sob. She'd gone through all this for nothing?
"The family's impossible, just like the first time we got married. We eloped then, too."
"Mr. Wake, the wedding is scheduled for sunrise. Everything had to be delivered here. At my shop!" Morgana waved her free hand in agitation. "I'm surrounded by crates of fresh fruit, gallons of pina colada mix, boxes of flowers, one screeching chimp, and two squawking birds!" On cue each animal tried to outdo the other, so Morgana used her free hand to cover her left ear. "What do I do with all this?"
"Sell everything," Mr. Wake said.
"We're leaving for Africa tonight," Wake told her. "We'll be married at the safari camp where we reconciled. My bush outfit and Lavinia's suede wrap dress will be a little fancy for the real jungle, but we'll wear them anyway. You did do a nice job designing them," he conceded, as if playing up to her ego would smooth over things.
Morgana found herself in the middle of a nightmare. There had never been a cancellation before. She'd sensed this wedding would be trouble, but she'd gone along with her sister when Blanche enthusiastically accepted the Wake wedding, assuring the reconciled couple their ideas were perfectly within reason.
"Mr. Wake, there are outstanding bills--"
"I'm sure my lawyer will be able to convince you they are your responsibility." His voice had lost its congeniality.
Morgana studied the flowers strewn around her feet, crushing one under her heel in disgust. From the corner of her eye she saw the chimp climb over the crates and cages while stuffing himself with bananas. He was throwing the peels around the room.
"Mr. Wake, make no mistake. I'm a businesswoman. Your lawyer doesn't frighten me. You will receive an invoice for the unpaid portion of your wedding bill. I suggest you pay it promptly!" She slammed down the phone, barely missing her own fingers. "What nerve!"
Her adrenaline pumping like mad, Morgana turned to face the clutter. She was calculating her losses, trying to find a way to minimize them, when the impact of the chimp's mischief hit her. Morgana closed her eyes to shut out the sight.
Knowing the mess would not disappear because she refused to look at it, Morgana reluctantly surveyed the damage. The chimp had strewn banana peels and mangoes around the room, but he hadn't done any real harm. At the moment he was on the highest stack of crates, trying to open a plastic jug.
"The pina colada mix. No, you don't," Morgana scolded him as she crossed the room to the devilish animal. "Come on, give it here," she coaxed.
Just out of her reach, the chimp seemed to delight in her efforts to take hold of him. He jumped up and down, screeching at her, then moved back and took the jug with him. While he renewed his efforts to open the bottle, Morgana pulled another crate next to his refuge. This time her long arms and legs couldn't do the trick alone.
"Be a nice boy, would you? I've had a hard day," she complained.
Morgana managed to get a grip on the bottle while the chimp succeeded in loosening the top. The struggle was short-lived. Morgana gave a huge tug. The chimp let go! It might have been an ocean wave approaching. Morgana saw it in slow motion. An undulating, rippling swell of whitish fluid separated into tiny splashing streams, missing her clothes by a scant few inches but spraying her face.
"Wait until I get my hands on you!" she threatened.
Jumping up and down on the box and pointing a finger at her, the chimp was making strange noises that sounded like laughter. Morgana lunged to grab him, but he scooted under the worktable. At that very moment she heard the door open and her sister Blanche's trilling voice.
"Step in here. Oh, dear, whatever are you up to, Morgana? You'll have to pardon the mess," Blanche said doubtfully to the couple who had followed her into the workroom. "Wait right here, won't you?" She rushed to Morgana.
Looking past her sister, Morgana stared into the cool gray eyes of a striking-looking man in a three-piece suit. Although she disliked the formal business attire intensely, Morgana had to admit he was elegantly dressed, the gray suit perfectly tailored to his tall, trim form. An Italian import, no doubt. His companion was a young, petite blonde casually dressed in a flame-colored Gibson girl blouse and turquoise jodhpur pants. Morgana thought they made a strange couple.