Undertaking Love

Chapter One

Marla squinted at her new neighbours from the upstairs office window and fumbled around on the desk behind her for her glasses.

‘Holy crap, Emily … Emily, quick!’

‘Where’s the fire?’ Emily appeared around the doorway, puffed out from sprinting the length of the aisle and up the steep, rickety chapel staircase.

‘Oh, it’s worse than that. Come and see this.’

Emily joined Marla, and the two women stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the window and gazed out in silent, duplicate horror. Before them were two nervous looking workmen balancing on stepladders, inching brand new shop signs above their heads as a huge bald guy yelled instructions at them from across the street. He was flinging his arms around him like a possessed windmill, and his hairy beer belly was sliding in and out from underneath the hem of a tea-stained T-shirt that had clearly not seen an iron in the last decade.

Marla slid her glasses up her nose and cracked the window open a little, all the better to eavesdrop. Not that they needed much extra help, because the bald guy was bellowing at the top of his Irish lungs.

‘Up a bit. Not that much!’ He hopped from foot to foot and clutched his football of a head in exasperation. ‘Down a bit! Feck it, man, it’s practically vertical!’

Marla turned away and pressed her hands against her flushed cheeks in panic. This had to be a joke. Had someone called that TV show where they turn your worst nightmare into reality, and then expect you to laugh when they reveal it was all a big old set up?

‘Umm … that doesn’t look much like a cupcake bakery …’ Emily ventured.

‘You don’t say.’

‘It’s … err, it’s a funeral directors, I think, isn’t it?’

Marla closed her eyes as Emily voiced her worst fears.

‘Cupcakes. It was supposed to be cupcakes, Emily. Not dead bodies.’

Emily grimaced. ‘Maybe there’s some mistake?’

Marla’s head spun with the implications of going from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of her new neighbours. None of them were good. Wedding limos fighting for space in the street outside with hearses. Brides bumping into widows. Wreaths instead of bouquets. And how many happy couples would run the risk of ending up with a party of sobbing relatives huddled in the back of their wedding photos for all eternity?

‘It better be a mistake, or we’re ruined.’

Marla had shed blood, sweat and tears over the last three years to turn her Little White Wedding Chapel into a national smash hit, and the idea of it suddenly being under threat made her shiver with fear. And anger.

‘I’m going over there.’

‘Excuse me! Err … Hello …’

Marla marched up to Guinness Guts, who had finally allowed the workmen to hang their signs and shambled his bulk back across the road.

‘Are you in charge here?’

He screwed up his chubby nose and shrugged a non-committal shoulder, before reaching for the mug of tea that he’d balanced on the narrow window ledge.

‘Some might say that, darlin’. Depends entirely upon whose doin’ the askin’.’

‘I’m Marla Jacobs – from the wedding chapel? You know, that wedding chapel.’ She jabbed a finger towards her beloved premises. ‘The one right there.’

‘Aaah. The new neighbours.’ He glanced down at her empty hands. ‘No cup of sugar, then?’

Marla narrowed her eyes. Was he joking?

‘Where is the cupcake bakery?’ She asked, enunciating each word with care.

His bushy eyebrows twitched as he looked at her. Then he shrugged. ‘Don’t ask me for directions, darlin’. I’ve only been here five minutes.’

The man was either winding her up, or he was an idiot. Possibly both.

‘No, no, no … Mr?’

Marla glared and waited for him to supply his name. The smirk on his face told her he knew so too, yet he made no effort to provide it. She clenched her teeth and ignored his rudeness with considerable difficulty.

‘Look. There must be some mistake.’ She smiled, despite the fact that she actually wanted to knock the grin right off his face. ‘These premises,’ she waved her arm towards the shop currently bearing his ruler straight new signs. ‘These premises have been sold to a cupcake bakery. You know … for cupcakes? Cakes? For birthdays. And weddings. And all sorts of other happy events.’ She emphasised the happy in the hope that he would finally cotton on to the thumping-great problem. The blank expression on his face told her otherwise. Maybe diplomacy was overrated, after all.

‘Happy events. Not sad. And certainly not events for dead people,’ she hissed, her fists clenched into tight balls on