Holding Her Heart - First chapter preview!
The leg of Aster’s jeans rode up slightly, and she caught a glimpse of the invisible socks she was wearing. Huh. Not so invisible when I can clearly see I have bloody odd ones on. She frowned, staring down at her feet; had she always had one that looked slightly bigger than the other? Perhaps it was the shoes she was wearing. She’d never noticed before.
She unbuttoned the top of her shirt, puffing out her cheeks as she ran her hands down her thighs. What if the images she’d brought over today were terrible? That would mean she’d ruined someone’s wedding day.
Okay, she was thinking about complete rubbish now. This always happened when she was nervous, especially when she was meeting with the woman who was technically her boss until she handed over her work. Two weeks ago, someone by the name of Eden Kline had contacted her via an assistant requesting her skills for a wedding. Aster had been initially panicked, she always felt as though she didn’t perform well when someone called her with a last-minute offer, but she had to admit…she’d excelled and then some this time around. It helped that the couple getting married were ridiculously photogenic, but she still had to receive final approval from Eden before she released the images to the client. It was then down to them to select the pictures they wanted to use for their wedding album.
Aster owed her best friend. If it hadn’t been for Grace’s recommendation, she wouldn’t be sitting here now, potentially with a chance of getting in at The Garden of Eden, the leading event planning business in the north of England. If this meeting went well, they may consider calling her back for more work in the future.
Aster had done her homework the night she’d returned home from the wedding, and the reviews on all of the relevant sites spoke for themselves. Eden Kline was known to have a great rapport with her clients. But deep down, Aster knew Eden was likely putting on a show for any potential business. She’d worked with these event planning companies before, usually freelance, and she was yet to come across a boss who didn’t love the sound of their own voice.
The click of a door startled Aster. Her stomach rolled as the receptionist got to her feet and the phone started to ring. She spoke into the receiver, replacing it only moments later. “Eden is ready for you now.”
Aster nodded, gripping her camera bag before slinging it over her shoulder. “Thank you.”
She’d dressed in a simple pair of black skinny jeans with a grey tailored blazer covering her white fitted shirt. Aster had chosen to wear her hair down this morning; Grace always told her she looked more comfortable with her blonde locks flowing, though Aster had no idea what she meant.
As she stopped in front of Eden’s office door, Aster took a calming breath and placed her hand on the polished chrome handle. Shoulders pulled back, she entered the room, her smile bright but not too enthusiastic.
“Oh, hi.” The woman who stood from the desk in the window beamed a million-dollar smile, smoothing her pencil skirt before she rounded the desk. “Aster, right?”
Aster relaxed immediately. Eden didn’t have a demanding or icy presence. “That’s right. Nice to meet you.”
They exchanged a handshake, nothing overly dominating on Eden’s part. “Interesting name.”
“Blame my mother. She was a keen gardener.” She was yet to meet someone who didn’t insist on knowing the origin of her name. These days, it was easier to get it out of the way during the first meeting. “I’d say she chose it simply because she liked it, but I have two sisters called Lily and Rose, birth name Primrose, so…”
Eden motioned towards a couch against the bright white office wall. “Mm. Very Alan Titchmarsh. But I like it. Can I get you something to drink before you show me your work?”
Aster eyed an area containing a kettle, several sizes of cups, and a coffee machine. Clean and tidy. Just how she liked it. “I’d love a coffee if it’s not too much trouble.”
“None whatsoever.” Eden busied herself at the coffee machine, standing heavier on one leg as her hip jutted. She was very well put together, her pencil skirt finishing high up on her waist and a cream blouse tucked in. She wore black heels—at least six inches, her legs naturally tanned, not orange like some of the women around here. Elegant, but not overbearing. That was the vibe Aster got from her potential boss.
As the beans ground, the scent of fresh coffee wafting towards her, Aster relaxed further. Eden didn’t appear imposing, humming along to a tune in her head as she prepared their drinks. Aster was…pleasantly surprised.
“I have to admit, I did hire you for the wedding two weeks ago on a whim. But Grace spoke very highly of you.”
Grace. Aster smiled. “How do you know Grace?”
“She plays football with my best friends’ fiancée,” Eden said, turning and crossing the room, placing two cups down on the small coffee table in front of Aster. “And Dom wouldn’t tell me to hire someone for the sake of it.”
“Oh, you know Dom?”
“Dom is engaged to Blair. We’ve been best friends since school. I was lucky Dom was there when I called Blair in a panic. I was away in Paris and my usual photographer let me down.”
“Oh, that’s not cool.”
“No, it’s not. But Dom called Grace and asked if she thought you would be keen. Thankfully, you were.”
Aster blew out a deep breath. “Well, then I hope I don’t disappoint.”
Eden smiled, her deep chocolate eyes gentle. “I asked for your handle on social media. I have seen what you’re capable of. It’s why I called Grace immediately and asked for your number. I’m sorry I didn’t call you myself, but Maxine was taking care of things while I was away.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Aster released her grip on her camera bag, unaware she was latching onto it for dear life. “Everything came together so it’s fine.”
“So…” Eden paused, her smile spreading across her face. “Can I see the magic you created?”
Magic? Bold of her to assume. But Aster did appreciate the faith Eden appeared to be putting into her. Aster knew she was good with the camera, knew she was one of the best when she put her mind to it, but Eden and her assumptions were making Aster more anxious than she already was. “Of course, yeah.”
“My computer is on. You get everything set up for me, and then give me a shout when you’re ready.” Eden crossed her long legs, placing her hands on her knee as she sunk back into the couch. “I’ve been wanting five minutes to myself all day. Now is the perfect excuse.”
Aster gulped her coffee down, almost burning her throat as she did so. Eden and the thigh she was showing wasn’t what she’d expected this morning. The mental image she’d had in her mind was one of a stuck-up, middle-aged woman, but no…this was entirely different. “Right. Yeah. I can do that.”
She approached Eden’s Mac, her white, high gloss desk tidied to perfection. Does she actually do any work here? The first thing Aster noticed was the small cactus plant beside the computer; she had one in her own home office. The second observation was the framed photograph of Eden with Blair. Eden’s eyes were bright, her smile taking over the entire frame. It was clear they were close.
“Are you freelance?” Eden’s sudden question sent Aster’s head upright.
“I am, yes.”
“And do you prefer freelance?” Eden fisted her hand under chin, her elbow resting on the arm of the couch. “The freedom to do what you want, when you want?”
“That’s a tough one. Guaranteed work is my dream, I expect that applies to most people, but I do like the freedom. Except sometimes, there’s too much. You know?”
“Freedom?” Eden asked, her eyes pinning Aster to the chair.
Lord, that is an intense stare. Aster nodded as she returned to the screen. She plugged her hard drive into the Mac, blowing out a breath as the icon appeared on the desktop. “Okay, it’s ready.”
“I can hardly wait.”
Eden shot to her feet, her long, dark, beach wave bouncing as her heels hit the floor. Aster admired the slight blonde highlights woven through Eden’s glorious head of hair, not too much volume at the root.
She was happy to be here this morning. Ecstatic, to be fair.
“Okay, so…if there’s anything that concerns you, give me a shout. I’ll wait over on the couch.”
Aster rose from the chair only to be gently pushed back down by Eden’s hand. “Stay there. View them with me.”
“O-okay.” Aster swallowed, watching the hand still resting on her shoulder from the corner of her eye. It was gentle but demanding. And if Aster concentrated, she could feel the warmth of Eden’s hand penetrating her blazer. When Eden removed it, Aster untensed. But then Eden bent at the hip, her free hand resting beside Aster’s as her other took control of the mouse. “I can make any changes you think are needed before they go to the client.”
“T-these are…” Eden paused, her smile warm as she scrolled through the images slowly. She leaned in, narrowing her eyes. “Wow. You certainly know how to capture beauty.”
“Thank you.” Not the outcome I expected today. Second-guessing herself never did Aster any favours. She knew exactly what she was capable of, but her inner critic always had different ideas. Aster wrung her hands in her lap, diverting her gaze as Eden offered the gentlest smile while she focused intently on the screen.
And then Eden turned her head towards Aster. All she could do in return was meet Eden’s eyes. Wow, this woman was stunning. And please, stop looking at me with those eyes.
“Can I ask how old you are?”
“Thirty-two. Why?” Did Aster’s age have some kind of relevance in all of this? It wasn’t what she thought about while she sat outside in the waiting room.
“I’m very impressed.” Eden offered a single nod. “Can I keep a copy? I’d like to look through them this evening with a glass of wine.”
“Sure, yeah. These are only copies anyway.” Aster took a blank USB from the side of her bag, copying the images over to it for Eden. “All done. They’re all watermarked, but not because I don’t trust you. I just didn’t expect you to want them.”
“Do you have a business card?”
“Um, yeah.” Aster frowned, reaching once again into her bag. She removed a holder, slipping a card from it. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” Eden’s fingers brushed Aster’s, a thrill jolting up her arm. Oh, no. That’s not supposed to happen. “I’m going to enjoy looking at these in depth this evening, but I think the client is going to be very happy with them.”
“I hope so.”
“And I was wondering if we could meet at the end of the week?” Eden powered off her computer, backing away from Aster and giving her some space. “I’d like to discuss some things with you.”
Aster could make herself available. It was no issue. Especially if it meant she was able to see Eden again. She was very easy on the eye. In your dreams, Bennett. “Sure. Let me know where and when.”
“I will.” Eden held out her hand. “And thank you for stepping in when I was desperate.”
Aster offered a slight shrug of her shoulders as she shook Eden’s hand. God, she has the softest skin. “That’s okay. It was a quiet weekend.”
“Don’t expect that to be the case for much longer, okay?” With a perfectly quirked eyebrow, Eden turned and walked to the door. “It’s been lovely meeting you, Aster. I’ll see you at the end of the week.”
“Thanks. See you.”