An Elin Hilderbrand Entertainment Weekly Summer Reading Pick “The book-equivalent of a perfect first date... Highly highly recommend.” —Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author “A heady kaleidoscope of romance, heartbreak, and healing that’s both rich in insight and enchantingly funny.” —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author The author of the “emotional, hilarious, and thought-provoking” ( People) novel The Bucket List returns with a witty and heartfelt romantic comedy featuring a wedding planner, her unexpected business partner, and their coworkers in a series of linked love stories—perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Casey McQuiston. For the past twenty years, Liv and Eliot Goldenhorn have run In Love in New York, Brooklyn’s beloved wedding-planning business. When Eliot dies unexpectedly, he even more unexpectedly leaves half of the business to his younger, blonder girlfriend, Savannah. Liv and Savannah are not a match made in heaven, to say the least. But what starts as a personal and professional nightmare transforms into something even savvy, cynical Liv Goldenhorn couldn’t begin to imagine. It Had to Be You cleverly unites Liv, Savannah, and couples as diverse and unique as New York City itself, in a joyous Love-Actually -style braided narrative. The result is a smart, modern love story that truly speaks to our times. Second chances, secret romance, and steamy soul mates are front and center in this sexy, tender, and utterly charming rom-com.
Release date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Print pages: 384
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
It Had to Be You
THREE MONTHS LATER
The first day of Savannah Shipley’s new life dawned cloudless, as if there was absolutely nothing standing in her way. The scrubbed-clean March sun that blasted the cold streets of Brooklyn seemed bold and ready to work.
At first, Savannah was stunned that Eliot Goldenhorn had left her half his business. Yes, she’d interned at An Event to Remember, Lexington’s most popular event-planning company, for two whole years. She’d met Eliot six months before he died, when she volunteered to give the consultant from New York City a tour. Knowing his line of work, she’d gushed about how much she adored weddings—the way they brought people together, the beauty of tradition. Eliot wasn’t the most attractive man she’d ever met, but he hummed with magical, big-city energy. Their conversations started in the office, graduated to dinner, and culminated in bed. The sex felt experimental on both their parts. He, “newly separated” (which she now knew to be a lie), and her, newly adult and curious. The way a deliberate moment of eye contact could transmute a relationship was a thrilling, frightening power.
When the shock of his death wore off, it started to feel like kismet. Eliot was a smart guy: he must’ve had his reasons, even if they weren’t clear. And Savannah had an unwavering faith in the universe and the God who created it. This was all obviously meant to be.
She arrived at Liv’s brownstone in Prospect Heights a full forty-five minutes early. The New York that Savannah had grown up seeing in movies conjured rows of the classic houses that were all exactly the same, standing to attention like a well-dressed marching band. But actually, the brownstones on Liv’s street were all slightly different shades of brown. This one bold mahogany, that one nostalgic sepia, the one next door a chichi caramel. The Goldenhorns’ had a weathered, washed-out facade. In the small front garden, a faded LOVE WON poster was stuck at an angle in the last island of dirty snow. Most people in Savannah’s small hometown voted against love winning. Savannah didn’t consider herself political, but maybe privately disagreeing with the status quo had set her on the path here, to New York, a city that was the same and different from her imagination.
She snapped a selfie in front of Liv’s house, swiped for a filter that bettered the color of the brownstone, and added it to her Instagram, @Savannah_Ships. She’d read in a travel magazine that the last American quarry to mine brownstone closed years ago, in Portland. It was actually a mediocre stone—just brown sandstone. Its softness made it vulnerable. An odd choice to clad a city where it appeared resilience was key. But New York also traded in beauty, Savannah thought, smiling at a woman walking two fuzzy Pomeranians. The woman smiled back, and why wouldn’t she? Beauty could be powerful, too.
At 10:00 a.m., Savannah picked up the potted orchid she’d purchased as a gift and marched up the wide front steps. She knew this wouldn’t be easy. She knew, by some measure, this was completely insane. But she had the moral high ground (she’d really had no idea Eliot was still with Liv), she had the legal grounds (Eliot’s will), and most important, she had the unwavering belief that this was the right thing to do. Not just for her, but for Liv. According to her online sleuthing, In Love in New York was currently nonoperational, following a scathing review entitled PIGEONS AND BEES RUINED MY WEDDING! that went mildly viral and now lived on every wedding planner review website. The diatribe was from a wedding last November. The day Eliot died.
Savannah could guess what Liv thought of her: a gold-digging airhead, a midlife crisis, a few mean words inked on a bathroom stall door. And that was just plain wrong. Savannah was determined to prove herself to Eliot’s wife and help resurrect a business that did the most noble thing of all: celebrate people’s love for each other.
Because Savannah Shipley was always up for a challenge.
She summoned the biggest smile she could muster and rang the doorbell.
Nothing. Her cheeks started to hurt.
She rang the doorbell again. And again.
A voice sounded from inside. “Jesus Christ, coming!” The front door cracked. Liv was in an old dressing gown. A cigarette smoldered between her fingers. Her tangled black bob looked like the aftermath of a fire. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Three months had passed since they’d met across the street from the brownstone. Savannah had assumed three months would be enough time to fall apart, mourn, and begin rebuilding. Clearly, Savannah was wrong. But to be fair, she had emailed about all this, many times.
“Good morning, Mrs. Goldenhorn. I’m here for our first meeting. With our new clients.”
“What are you doing in New York?”
Alarm edged into Savannah’s chest. “Like I said in my emails, I moved here. For this job.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’m very serious, Mrs. Goldenhorn.” Savannah shifted the plant from one arm to the other without breaking eye contact. “I moved here, from Lexington, to run In Love in New York. With you.”
Liv let out a hard bark of a laugh. She tightened her dressing gown and narrowed her eyes. “How did you get my husband to change his will?”
Savannah was unaccustomed to being accused. Heat seeped up her neck. “I didn’t. Like I said in my emails, I had no idea he’d done it until your lawyer called me. And I did not know y’all were still married. He told me you were separated.”
Liv tapped her cigarette. Ash floated onto Savannah’s shoes. “Do you know what the term undue influence means?”
Savannah’s smile dropped; she caught it and put it back in place. “Yes. And I know it doesn’t apply to me. I had no sway over Eliot at all. Honestly, Mrs. Goldenhorn, I’m here to help you. I sent you a deck. With a business plan, and a social media strategy, and a division of roles, and—”
“Couldn’t open it.” Liv cut her off with a curt wave of her hand. No ring on that fourth finger anymore. “I don’t have Key-whatever.”
“Keynote.” A program she could download for free. “But I got on a plane, I got a sublet, and our first clients are— our first meeting is today.”
“Meeting?” The bags under Liv’s eyes were the size and color of figs. “In Love in New York has been on hiatus since… actually since the last time I saw you.” Liv pointed her cigarette at the orchid. “I hope that’s not for me. I can’t keep anything alive.”
Savannah’s industrial-strength optimism finally cracked. “But I’ve messaged you about all this a dozen times: she’s an Instagram celebrity, he’s a talent manager—Kamile Thomas and Dave Seal—”
“She’s a what?” Liv’s nose crinkled. “Instagram… celebrity?”
“Yes! Her support will help get the business back on its feet. Good reviews are our number one priority right now.”
“Our?” The word was slick with contempt.
Tears rushed Savannah’s eyes. She’d come all this way. This was her big break. “But Dave and Kamile are—”
“Savannah?” An attractive young couple who wouldn’t look out of place in a renters’ insurance commercial stood behind her on the stoop.
“Early,” she finished. Dave and Kamile were here.
Savannah followed Liv inside as if it wasn’t the very first time she’d done it. The bones of the brownstone were impressive—high molded ceilings, sturdy hardwood floors. There was framed art on the walls: classy art, the kind that didn’t make sense. Somewhere, possibly upstairs, faint classical music was playing. Savannah’s shoe clattered against an empty wine bottle, one of many lining the wall. No way Dave and Kamile could miss that. She didn’t dare turn around to check.
Liv paused outside the first door to the right. If Savannah’s googling served her correctly, this was In Love in New York’s office. Liv’s hand lingered on the doorknob for a long moment. Savannah said a quick prayer as Liv turned the knob and led them inside.
Savannah could see how the large front room could be a lovely office. A three-cornered bay window looked out onto the quiet, sun-dappled street. A long white desk and two brown leather office chairs were at the opposite end. Four smaller chairs faced them. Above the desk hung the pink-and-black In Love in New York logo, an oval design Savannah felt was dated. A sofa and coffee table were tucked against the far wall, next to a tall bookcase stacked with wedding and photography books. Half a dozen framed magazine and newspaper articles hung on the walls, including the front page of the New York Times Style section. MEET BROOKLYN’S IT WEDDING PLANNERS invited the subhead, under a photo of a much younger-looking Liv and Eliot, lounging casually by the bay window. Of all the publicity photographs Savannah had found online of Liv, that one was her favorite. The dark-haired young woman looked cool, confident, and completely in charge. Hashtag boss lady. Savannah tried to replicate that facial expression in approximately one thousand selfies but always came across less like a CEO and more like a snotty heiress who owned too many whippets. The article suggested that a happily married couple working out of their enviable brownstone gave In Love in New York a unique edge. Engaged couples felt buoyed by both the home and the couple’s charm and class: This could be our future, married and living in a gorgeous brownstone in a tree-lined neighborhood. The article casually noted the celebrity clientele, which included Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the latter described as “very intelligent, with a strong sense of what she wanted on the big day.” Savannah could picture a productive and positive consultation in this room, where everyone hugged at the end instead of shaking hands.
If the room didn’t look like a squat.
In the middle of the floor was a bag of golf clubs that had once been set on fire. Strewn next to it were four bulging suitcases, a few boxes of books and records, and about two dozen men’s shirts and trousers still on hangers. A framed set of baseball cards under broken glass. Most shocking of all, a dozen vases of long-dead flowers. Most likely, three-month-old funeral flowers. They were responsible for the smell. The stench of death.
Savannah forced her mouth into a breezy smile and spun around. “Sorry about the mess: renovations. Come, take a seat.” Two patches of sweat circled from her underarms, staining her peach-pink blouse. Her heart, which had been bouncing with excitement all morning, was now thumping like an executioner’s drum.
Dave took in the room’s disarray with an expression of light confusion. In his expensive-looking chinos and blue-check button-down, he looked a bit like a Kennedy—someone for whom style was an instinct. Kamile wore tight white jeans and a silk shirt printed with tiny flowers. The rock on her fourth finger was the size of a skating rink. Kamile was a sorority sister, president when Savannah was a sophomore. She’d built her extensive online following (@TheRealKamile, on all platforms) by exploiting her natural beauty and her private life. The chance to help plan this successful woman’s wedding was Savannah’s first real career opportunity. As an intern she’d been indulged but never respected. Never put in the driver’s seat. And now she was sinking into the worn leather chair Eliot bequeathed her in his will. Its divot was off-putting; her feet didn’t touch the floor.
Rather than join Savannah behind the desk, Liv sat on the white sofa behind the couple. She gave the room a raw stare, took a drag of her cigarette, then ground it into one of the sofa cushions.
Kamile didn’t notice, instead angling her phone at herself, trying to find the best light. “Hey guys! Dave and I are here at our very first meeting with our wedding planner.” Big smile, hair flip. “We have so much to get through, so I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish us luck!” Kamile put her phone faceup on the desk and addressed Savannah. “Sorry, so rude. Hi. How long’s it been?”
“Too long!” Savannah was so flustered she honestly couldn’t remember. “It’s great to see you again, and meet you, Dave. You look great, and this is just so”—she raised her palms to the ceiling, smiling manically—“great.”
“You were the best social chair that Delta Zeta Lambda ever had,” Kamile said. “I know you’ll be an amazing planner.”
Savannah glanced at Liv, so distracted by her lack of involvement that she almost missed her cue to reply. “Thank you, yes, of course.”
A pause. Dave and Kamile glanced at each other, then back at her.
“Sorry,” Kamile said. “We’ve never done this before, obviously, so we’re not exactly sure…”
Savannah looked back at Liv, who slanted her eyebrows slowly, as if to say, Be my guest.
A tiny ember in Savannah’s chest began to glow hot.
The only thing on the desk in front of her was a pen and an In Love in New York branded notepad. Scribbled on the first page was the word FUCK, underlined three times. Savannah tossed it into a wastepaper basket and cleared her throat.
“It is the honor of my life to help you plan your dream wedding. We will merge sophistication and tradition in ways that will surprise and delight you, to create memories that’ll warm your hearts for years to come.”
Kamile put her hand on her chest, and gave Savannah a moved smile. Dave kissed his fiancée on the cheek.
Savannah beamed. Exactly the reaction she wanted. “Well, why don’t you start with what you have and, I guess, what you need?”
Kamile nodded, shaking her hair out with her fingers. “Okay. Wow. So we’re getting married on May fifteenth, two months away, which is totally crazy, I know. I was going to do all the planning myself, but work is insane. We’ve got the venue, thank God, a really cute farm upstate in the Catskills; we just need chairs and tables and stuff. For flowers: I’m thinking lilies, irises, things like that, very elegant and graceful and, um, baroque? No roses, I just don’t like roses—I know I’m weird—and obviously no baby’s breath or carnations or anything, like, cheap-looking.” She was speaking very quickly, gathering speed with every word. “Jazz for cocktail hour, nothing cheesy, sort of breathy and sexy and Norah Jones-y? And then a DJ who can MC—they all do that, right? Not to sound shallow, but I’d prefer someone good-looking—it’s probably illegal to say that, but whatever. Cocktails are important, we’re sort of cocktail snobs, so we’d love a certified mixologist who’s trained somewhere good and uses all fresh stuff; I don’t want everyone wasted on Long Island iced teas, that’s sort of my worst nightmare, apart from people not using the hashtag, which—given Dave’s last name is Seal—is, obviously…” She looked at Savannah, as if they should answer together. “Sealed the deal,” Kamile finished as Savannah guessed, “Kiss from a rose?”
Kamile looked mildly appalled. “Cute, but no, and literally just said I hate roses.” Kamile started ticking off her fingers. “Got my dress; Dave’s got his tux. Need hair and makeup, someone who’s done a million brown brides before, obviously. I don’t want anyone who’s, like, ‘I don’t have foundation dark enough for you!’ Like, what a nightmare. Need a photographer who can shoot for social, that’s nonnegotiable, I have, like, three hundred thousand followers now; it’s nuts. Do you know any good DPs who can livestream? Definitely planning on doing a tasteful amount of sponcon, so it’ll be good for you to middleman that. Sorry, should I be saying middlewoman now? You know what I mean. Oh, and the caterer has to be vegetarian/gluten-free/farm-to-table, locally grown, one hundred percent organic but yummy.” A deep breath. A smile at Dave. “Whew! Did you get all that?”
Savannah looked down at her notepad. Cat’s kills (?) No BB breath. Norah Jones. Baroque MC = hot. Yummy.
Silence feathered into the still room. Impossibly, Liv was smiling. The sight of her smugly amused face spiked a burning flash of rage. The feeling was so unprecedented, so radically unfamiliar, that for a long moment Savannah forgot entirely who she was.
“So… you have your… dress.”
“Yep.” Kamile nodded.
“And Dave’s got his… his tux.”
“Yep.” Dave nodded.
Savannah pretended to write this down, when in reality she wrote FUCK and underlined it three times. “And, you’re… you’re thinking about sponsoring your livestream?”
“No, I’m getting some things sponsored, but I want you to organize the livestream.” Kamile cocked her head. Her voice became a little more assertive. “Not to sound rude or anything, but this is our wedding, and I kind of need it to be perfect. You’re up for this, right, Savannah?”
Savannah opened her mouth, ready to deflect this silly questioning of her competence. She was Savannah Shipley: head of the yearbook committee, champion fundraiser, the best social chair Delta Zeta Lambda ever had!
Not a single word escaped.
Savannah stared at Liv. Please, please help me I need you.
Kamile and Dave twisted around to eye the hungover, half-dressed woman on the couch behind them.
Liv exhaled a short puff of air: Okay, fine. “How much? Our fee,” Liv clarified, before changing it to “my fee: partial planning costs ten percent of the budget or eight thousand dollars, whatever’s higher.”
Kamile traded a look of unease with Dave before turning to Savannah. “I thought I was pretty clear about that.”
“You were.” Savannah heard her own voice, tiny as a church mouse. She willed it louder. “You were. Mrs. Goldenhorn, I said we’d do the wedding for free. In exchange for some posts on Kamile’s social media.”
Liv rose from the couch, dressing gown dangerously close to falling open, and moved to shake hands with Kamile and then Dave. “Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. This has been extremely… ridiculous.” She walked out of the room, leaving everyone staring, dumbfounded, after her.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...