To Have and to Hold (The Wedding Belles #1) by Lauren Layne
I loved this book, I loved the dialogue and the plot.
So when I heard that Lauren Layne - one of my favorite contemporary romance novels - was doing a series about wedding planners? Y’all, I was in like Flynn for this thing.
In this first full length novel (Layne released a novella set in this world earlier this year), we meet Brooke and Sam. Brooke is the newest addition to the highly sought after New York City firm Wedding Belles, having just transplanted from Los Angeles. A survivor of recent heartbreak and public humiliation, Brooke is eager to put her past in her past and keep focused on work. She feels this break into NYC with the Belles is huge and that her future hinges on it. Determined to not let her new bosses down, she takes on the wedding of a hotel heiress within a week of starting work.
Said hotel heiress, Maya, is a fanciful and sweet girl, marrying someone she’s known for only a handful of months. Her brother, Seth, is skeptical. Actually, skeptical may be too kind. His business instinct is telling him the fiancee is only in it for her money and so he inserts himself in the planning process a touch more intensely than necessary. He’s also on the heels of a particularly nasty breakup and therefore isn’t really in a place to believe in love. He still, however, believes in Maya and so agrees to pay for the wedding. Maya wants him involved because he’s the only family she has, he wants to be involved to monitor the potential gold digger.
So his involvement is a win-win for everyone… but the wedding planner. Brooke finds Seth to be cold and controlling, a frustrating presence in her construction of Maya’s happily ever after day. That is, until their sexual chemistry trumps anything else.
This is essentially a story about grief, which may sound odd when it’s a romance about weddings, but hear me out. Both Seth and Brooke think they’re “fine”. While they may acknowledge they’ve been a little bit beat up, they’re not willing to recognize it’s paralyzed them a little bit. Seth is still grieving the death of his parents but pretending he’s not, and Brooke is still grieving the death of her engagement but pretending she’s not. As they learn to be vulnerable with each other, they both actually find space to grieve and embrace life as it is now, not as how they’ve constructed it to be in their minds.
Additionally, we get to know the other Belles in this story, which makes me excited for the next books (Heather’s story is next, fyi). I love connected stories and the little bits of character that we’ve gotten from these women already has heightened my anticipation for the next installments.
I loved this book, I loved the dialogue and the plot. I loved that the conflict was real and that the characters seemed authentic. I inhaled it on the beach quite happily and closed the book with a sigh of happiness upon completion.
This one is recommended for anyone who likes stories where the emotional reveals are hard won, the happily ever after is affirming, and the story will continue beyond the bounds of the book.