“There’s no way around it. I’m going to need a wife.”
Sawyer Garrett looked across the table at his brother, Wolf, and his sister, Elsie, and then down at the tiny pink bundle he was holding in his arms.
It wasn’t like this was an entirely new idea.
It was just that he had been thinking the entire time that Missy might change her mind, which would put him in a different position. She hadn’t, though. She had stuck to her guns. When she found out she was pregnant, she told him that she wanted nothing to do with having a baby. She wanted to go through with the pregnancy, but not with being a mother. Not even when he proposed marriage. Oh, they hadn’t been in a relationship or anything like that. She was just a woman that he saw from time to time.
In fact, Sawyer Garrett could honestly say that he had a very low opinion of relationships and family.
Present company excluded, of course.
But when Missy had said she was pregnant, he’d known there was only one thing to do. His dad had been a flawed man. Deeply so. He’d acted like the kids were an afterthought and all he’d really done was let them live under his roof.
Sawyer wanted more for his child. Better. He’d determined he would be there, not just providing housing and food, but actually being there.
If he could spare his child the feeling of being unwanted, he would.
And that was where this idea had been turning over in his head for a while.
The fact of the matter was, Garrett’s Watch had a lousy track record when it came to marriage.
The thirteen-thousand-acre spread had been settled back in the late 1800s, with equal adjoining spreads settled by the Kings, the McClouds and the Sullivans, all of whom had now worked what was known in combination as Four Corners Ranch in the generations since.
And where the Garrett clan was concerned… There was nothing but a long history of abandonment and divorces. The one exception being Sawyer’s grandparents. Oh, not his grandfather’s first marriage. His biological grandmother had run off just like every other woman in their family tree. As if the ground itself was cursed.
But then the old man had happened upon an idea. He thought to write a letter to one of the newspapers back east asking for a woman who wanted to come out to Oregon and be a mother to his children. They’d had the only successful marriage in his direct line. And it was because it was based on mutual respect and understanding and not the emotional bullshit that had been a hallmark of his own childhood. He barely remembered his own mother. He remembered Wolf’s and Elsie’s, though. Two different women. Only around for a small number of years.
Just long enough to leave some scars.
Hell, he didn’t know how he wound up in this position. He was a man who liked to play hard. He worked hard. It seemed fair enough. But he was careful. He always used a condom. And Missy had been no exception. He’d just been subject to that small percentage of failure. Failure.
He hated that. He hated that feeling. He hated that word. If there was one thing he could fault his father for it was the fact that the man hadn’t taken charge. The fact that he just sat there in the shit when everything went to hell. That wasn’t who Sawyer was. But Sawyer had to be responsible for his siblings far sooner than he should’ve had to be, thanks in part due to his father’s passivity. If there was one thing Sawyer had learned, it was that you had to be responsible when responsibility was needed.
He wasn’t a stranger to failing people in his life, but unlike his father, he’d learned.
He’d never let anyone who needed him down, not again.
“Marriage,” Wolf said. “Really.”
“Unless you and Elsie want a full-time job as a nanny.” Elsie snorted, leaned back in her chair and put her boots up on the table—which she didn’t normally do, but she was just trying to be as feral as possible in the moment. “Not likely,” she said.
“Right. Well. So, do you think there’s a better idea?”
“Reconsider being a single father?” Wolf said.
“I am,” Sawyer said. “I’m aiming to find a wife.”
Wolf shook his head. “I mean, reconsider having a baby at all.”
A fierce protectiveness gripped Sawyer’s chest. “It’s a little late, don’t you think?” “Wasn’t too late for Missy to walk away yesterday,” Wolf said.
“Too late for me,” Sawyer said.
It had been. From the moment he’d first heard her cry. The weight of… Of everything that he felt on his shoulders when this tiny little thing was placed into his arms. It was difficult to describe. Impossible. He wasn’t good with feelings when they were simple. But this was complicated. A burden, but one he grabbed hold of willingly. One he felt simultaneously uniquely suited for and completely unequal to. He didn’t know the first thing about babies. Yeah, he had done quite a bit to take care of Elsie and Wolf, and… He could see where he’d fallen short. Elsie was just a hair shy of a bobcat in human form, and Wolf suited his name, and, well…big, a little bit dangerous, loyal to his pack, but that was about it.
“It’s not too late,” Elsie said. “In the strictest sense. You haven’t even given her name.” No. It was true. He hadn’t settled on anything yet. And he knew there was paperwork that he had to do.
“You want me to give her back?” He shook his head. “It’s not like I have a receipt, Els.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Elsie said. “It’s just… It’s a hard life here.”
“And I aim to make it a little less hard.”
“So, you’re going to… What? Put an ad in the paper?”
“Granddad did,” he said.
And it had changed their lives for the better. The history of Garrett’s Watch might be rich with failed love stories, but it was a marriage of convenience that had brought real love to the ranch.
Their grandmother—their real grandmother (blood didn’t matter here, staying mattered)—had loved them all with a ferocity their own mothers hadn’t managed, let alone their father.
She had taught Sawyer to tie his shoes and ride a bike. She’d hugged him when he’d fallen and scraped his knees.
She taught him tenderness. And he was damned grateful for it now, because he had this tiny life in his care, and if it weren’t for her, he would have never, ever known where to begin.
And thanks to his grandfather, he knew what else he might need.
However crazy his siblings thought it was.
“It’s not 1950,” Wolf pointed out.
Though, sometimes, on Four Corners you could be forgiven for not realizing that. For not realizing it wasn’t 1880, even.
Time passed slowly, and by and large the landscape didn’t change. Sure, the farm implements got a little bit shinier.
On a particularly good year, the savings account got a little bit fatter.
But the land itself remained. The large imposing mountains that surrounded the property that backed Garrett’s Watch. The river that ran through the property, cutting across the field and the base of the mountain. The pine trees, green all through the year, growing taller with the passage of time.
They were lucky to have done well enough in the last few years that the large main house was completely updated, though it was ridiculously huge for Sawyer by himself. Wolf and Elsie had gone to their own cabins on the property, which were also sturdy and well kept.
In truth, this whole thing with the baby had been a wake-up call. Because whether or not he could look out the window and see it, time was passing. And when Missy had asked him what he wanted to do about the baby, the answer had seemed simple. It had seemed simple because… He had no excuse. He had plenty of money, and had the sort of life that meant he could include a kid in most anything. His dad had done him a favor by showing him what not to do. They were largely left to their own devices, but it was a great place to be left to your devices. And he’d had to ask himself… What was he hanging on to? A life of going out drinking whenever he wanted, sleeping with whoever he wanted.
He was at the age where it wasn’t all that attractive, not anymore.
Thirty-four and with no sign of change on the horizon. In the end, he decided to aim for more. To take the change that was coming whether he was ready or not. Turns out not very ready. But again, that was where his plan came in. “I’m aware that is not 1950,” he shot back at his brother. “I can…sign up for a… A website.”
As if he knew how the hell to do that. They
had a computer. Hell, he had a smartphone. They had a business to manage and it made sense. But the fact remained, he didn’t have a lot of use for either.
Elsie cackled, slinging her boots off the table and flipping her dark braid over her shoulder. “A website? I don’t think people swipe on their phones looking for marriage. I think they look for… Well, stuff you seem to be able to find without the help of the internet.”
His sister wasn’t wrong. He found sex just fine without the help of his phone. That was what Smokey’s Tavern was for.
“The way I see it,” Sawyer said, speaking as if Elsie hadn’t spoken, which as far as he was concerned was the way it should be with younger siblings, “marriage can work, relationships can work, as long as you have the same set of goals as the other person. It’s all these modern ideals… That’s what doesn’t work.”
“Which modern ideals?” Elsie asked. “The kind that saw every woman in our bloodline leaving every man in our bloodline all the way back to when people were riding around in horse-drawn carriages?”
“Yes,” he said. “That is what I mean. People thinking that they needed to marry for something other than…common need.”
He was pretty sure his grandparents had loved each other in the end. But it reminded him of something other than romance. It reminded him of his connection to the land. You cared for that which cared for you. It sustained you. You worked it, and the dirt got under your nails. The air was in your lungs. It became part of you. Of all that you were.
That was something better than romance.
Excerpted from Unbridled Cowboy by Maisey Yates. Copyright © 2022 by Maisey Yates. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Author Website: http://www.maiseyyates.com/
Facebook: Maisey Yates
Skylar Beaumont never wanted to return to Alaska. Still, when duty calls, she can’t refuse. And, as a third-generation “Coastie” and the only female captain in the local coast guard, she has too much to prove. Being stationed in her hometown of Port Serenity isn’t ideal—but she’ll tough it out until her transfer goes through and she can move on to warmer waters. That’s the plan, at least, until she crashes into Dex Wakefield. Again.
Shocked to see his secret high school sweetheart after all this time, Dex can’t help but wonder if he should finally come clean. Skylar deserves to know the real reason why he abandoned the dream they’d shared—and broke her heart. But this small tourist town is home to one big grudge where their families are concerned… And leaving the past behind might be the only way Dex and Skylar will finally realize that their first love deserves a sweet second chance.
They say you can’t go home again. If only that were true.
As Skylar Beaumont drove past the town limit sign with its featured serpent queen, Sealena, welcoming visitors to Port Serenity, the weight of expectation immediately settled on her shoulders.
Could she really do this?
Her heart had been pounding since she’d deboarded the plane in Alaska, her insecurities barely contained during the two-hundred-mile drive to her hometown. Her reflection in her coast guard uniform in the rearview was one she’d never doubted she’d achieve. A third generation coastie, Skylar had been around the sea her entire life, fascinated by its mysteries, astonished by its paradoxical sense of danger and calm. She’d always known she’d follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. She just hadn’t exactly wanted to follow those legendary footsteps back to the jagged shores along her hometown.
Being stationed here meant that everyone would naturally assume she’d gotten this far this fast because of her family name…that her father or grandfather had had some influence over her unusually speedy career advancement. Nothing could be further from the truth. She’d busted her ass at the academy for four years, working harder than everyone else, putting in extra time and excelling in her courses. Then she’d worked alongside the experienced crew of the North Star cutter on the East Coast for two years, gaining her on-sea requirements to write the captain’s exam. And she’d aced it.
But maybe her last name had helped a little in securing the competitive spot at the academy in the first place…
Nope. She squared her shoulders and gripped the steering wheel tighter as she fought against the self-doubt. She’d been accepted into the highly competitive program based on her transcripts, her letters of recommendation (not from anyone with her last name) and her own application letter. She’d earned her spot.
Still, expectations were high and she had a lot to prove.
She was there now and until she could request a transfer or apply for a new position, she’d have to make the best of it.
Pulling off the highway, she drove along Main Street, which cut through the center of town. It was just after nine, and the shops were flipping their Closed signs to Open. Tourist season hadn’t officially launched yet, but in the coming weeks, as the late spring weather turned milder, the town’s population would explode, nearly tripling with visitors. By summer, all the local inns would be full and the outdoor restaurant patios would be a constant flutter of laughter and loud music. The marina and beach would be hotspots for families, fishermen and water sport enthusiasts.
Skylar scanned the familiar surroundings as she drove. She’d lived in Port Serenity her entire life. She’d loved it there as a child, especially during tourist season. She craved the bustle and all the strange, exciting faces of visitors flocking there for the chance to see Sealena for themselves.
A glimpse of the serpent sea witch was a rare occurrence indeed, but not an impossibility according to the old fishermen who were happy to recount their tall tales to anyone willing to listen, encouraging tourists to pay an outrageous price to get out on the water for the search themselves. It had been fun to see the renewed excitement on people’s faces as tourists arrived in Port Serenity for the first time. Unfortunately, that excitement seemed to dull over the years as Skylar had learned what this popularity had cost the town. As she’d realized that Port Serenity really only belonged to one family: the Wakefields. Their name adorned almost every awning on the main street. Wakefields’ Pharmacy, Wakefields’ Convenience and Grocery,
Wakefields’ Outpost and Fishing Supply… The wealthy Wakefields had reinvented the town and in doing so, they basically owned it. It was no secret that the mayor consulted the family patriarch, Brian Wakefield, on every major decision. And no one opposed. Everyone appreciated the security the Wakefields’ businesses had provided when the fishing industry had struggled to support families. The influx of tourists meant every local had a way to make a living. Like her cousin Carly, who ran the bookstore and local museum. Restaurants, inns, cafes and gift shops capitalized on the sea witch’s popularity and likeness, making enough during tourist season to keep afloat all year. It was hard to fault the Wakefields. Unless of course you were a Beaumont.
Skylar’s own family had been generations of civil servants, protecting the community they loved. Her great-great-grandfather, Castor Beaumont, had been a state trooper. It was rumored that he’d been responsible for arresting Earl Wakefield, his former childhood friend, on smuggling charges. The man had done time for bringing contraband into Alaska through Port Serenity; the town had been divided and the family feud between the Wakefields and Beaumonts had begun.
Small towns held long grudges.
As she turned the corner at the end of Main Street and the ocean came into view, her chest tightened. It felt as though things had frozen in time the day she left. The scene unfolding was eerily familiar. A father and his daughter stood on the water’s edge skipping rocks along the surface. An older woman sat on a graffiti-tagged concrete bench wearing a pensive expression as she stared at the waves and the sun rising over the horizon. A young couple strolled along the wooden pier, hand in hand, a young puppy excitedly walking ahead with a stick in its mouth. Farther down, a seniors’ group did sunrise yoga on the sandy area of the small beach and several fishermen enjoyed a morning beer on the docks with their fishing poles doing the work along the shore.
On the other side of Marina Way, there were boarded-up beach huts that would open in the hotter summer months, selling ice cream, refreshments, swim gear and overpriced Sealena-themed souvenirs. Among them was a small hut that advertised adventure whale watching tours, bird island excursions and trips to the ice fields in winter.
In the distance, there was a small research cabin that housed the Marine Life Sanctuary and beyond that, a lighthouse stood high on the hill above. Sailboats and power boats lined the coastline below.
Everything looked exactly the same as the day she’d left.
Though her pulse raced as she approached the marina and the nondescript coast guard station, her heart swelled with pride at the sight of the Starlight docked there. With its deep V, double chine hull and all-aluminum construction, the forty-five-foot response boat was designed for speed and stability in various weather conditions. Twin diesel engines with waterjet propulsion eliminated the need for propellers under the boat, making it safer in missions where they needed to rescue a person overboard. Combined with its self-righting capability to help with capsizing in rough seas, it had greater speed and maneuverability than the older vessels. The boat was the one thing she had total confidence in. And she would be in charge of it and a crew of five.
The crew was the tougher part. She was determined to gain their trust and respect. She was eager to show that she was one of them but also maintain a professional distance. Her father and grandfather made it look so easy, but she knew this would be her hardest challenge, to command a crew of familiar faces. People she’d grown up with, people who remembered her as the little girl who’d wear her father’s too-big captain hat as she sat in the captain’s chair in the pilothouse. Did that hat finally fit now?
Weaving the rental car along the winding road, and seeing the familiar Wakefield family yacht docked in the marina, her heart pounded. The fifty-footer had always been the most impressive boat in the marina, even now that it was over thirty years old. Its owner, Kurt Wakefield, had lived on the yacht for twenty-five years. Kurt had died the year before. Skylar peered through the windshield to look at it. Had someone else bought the boat? Large bumpers had been added to the exterior, and pull lines could be seen on deck. She frowned. Had it been turned into some sort of rescue boat?
It wasn’t unusual for civilians to aid in searches along the coast when requested, but the yacht was definitely an odd addition. There had never been a Wakefield who had shown interest in civil service to the community…except one.
The man standing on the upper deck now, pulling the lines. Wearing a pair of faded jeans and just a T-shirt, the muscles in his shoulders and back strained as he worked and Skylar’s mouth went dry. She slowed the vehicle, unable to look away. Almost as if in slow motion, the man turned and their eyes met. Her breath caught as familiarity registered in his expression.
And unfortunately, the untimely unexpected sight of her ex-boyfriend—Dex Wakefield—had Skylar forgetting to hit the brakes as she reached the edge of the gravel lot next to the dock. Too late, her rental car drove straight off the edge and into the frigid North Pacific Ocean.
Dex Wakefield dropped the lines he was securing and hopped over the side of his boat onto the pier, risking a sprained ankle at the ten-foot drop. He hurried at a breakneck pace toward where the small Fiat bobbed among several small ice pans, the hood sinking below the water.
Skylar Beaumont had made quite the unexpected entrance.
Ignoring the chill in the late April air, Dex kicked off his shoes and jumped into the water.
Goose bumps covered his exposed flesh and his breath came in small pants as he tried to adapt to the shock. Ice bobbed next to him as he took a deep breath and dove below the surface in time to see Skylar open the driver’s side door and escape from the sinking vehicle.
Swimming toward her, he reached for her and wrapped an arm around her waist as they moved toward the dock. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Saving your life.” She removed his arm from around her waist before gripping the wooden planks of the pier overhead. Her breath came in quick gasps and her teeth chattered. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”
His ex hadn’t changed, not one little bit. Still as independent and stubborn as ever. He moved back an inch and treaded water as she climbed out onto the wooden dock. Her coast guard uniform dripped with water, and her tight blond bun was slicked to her head.
The sight might stir a reaction from him, if his limbs weren’t about to freeze off. He was actually grateful for the chilled water. It numbed the myriad of emotions he knew he’d be struggling with soon enough.
Skylar was back. She was standing right there. On the dock. In Port Serenity.
Excerpted from Sweet Home Alaska by Jennifer Snow. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Snow. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Author Website: https://jennifersnowauthor.com/contact
A wedding planner, who has resigned herself to spinsterhood, organizes other people’s happy endings in this romantic new women’s fiction from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster.
A light, romantic family saga centered around Yardley Belanger’s country wedding planning business and her eccentric family, and set in a quirky small town with the unusual name of Cemetery, Indiana. (Sure, people have tried, but Betty Cemetery, who is descended from the town founders, will let the name be changed…over her dead body.)
At 31, Yardley Belanger is really good at her job as a wedding planner—organizing other people’s happy ever afters. Yardley doesn’t care that she has zero love life...all the eligible guys in Cemetery are men she grew up with, and none of them interest her anyway. She’s put her heart and soul into her business and has built a reputation specializing in country weddings—complete with a cottage by the lake for honeymooners—attracting happy couples and their families from all around.
Travis Long had to take on too much responsibility too soon. When their parents died, he took care of his younger sister, Sheena. For years, it was just them against the world. But now his baby sister is getting married, and Travis is struggling to accept this change. He thinks Todd isn’t good enough for Sheena, and without meaning to, Travis is noticebly judgmental of his sister’s intended.
Travis and Sheena are in town to plan her country wedding. Travis wanted something classier for his sister, but then he meets Yardley. He notices she puts her heart and soul into everything, and that she really listens to what the bride wants. Yardley has this no-nonsense way of interpreting what his sister says and doesn’t say.
How the hell is he falling in love during wedding prep for his little sister? Easy. He never expected to meet someone like Yardley Belanger.
“Mother, didn’t you plan to go out?” It was nearing noon, and Aurora Belanger had yet to leave. Lilith, her mother’s sister, also lingered in the foyer right outside her office. It was as if they knew she had an appointment and they wanted to oversee the process. It was a fact that no matter how she succeeded, they expected her to fail, or sometimes they just disapproved of how she succeeded.
“Why the rush?” Aurora asked as she adjusted the V-neck of her sleeveless blouse to show more cleavage.
Granted, for an almost-fifty-year-old woman, her mother still had it. The problem was that she knew it, and she focused on looking sexy more than she did on making the business work. Yardley forced her mouth into a smile. “I thought you had some local honeymoon locations to scope out today.”
“I don’t scope out locations. And stop slouching.”
Automatically, Yardley straightened, but damn it, she hadn’t been slouching anyway. “So, what would you call it?”
“I visit, investigate, and collect valuable information that will enhance our clients’ experiences.” She shot Yardley a superior look. “It’s a key part of the business, you know. Certainly, the locations I suggest are more appropriate than that rustic Honeymoon Cottage you always recommend.”
“The cottage is amazing and you know it.”
Aurora sniffed. “Most people are more interested in their honeymoon than the actual wedding.”
Meaning her mother’s contributions were more valuable than Yardley’s efforts? Baloney. She knew one thing though: Aurora’s choices were certainly more expensive. Folding her arms, Yardley said, “Huh. I guess a lot of happy clients didn’t realize that, because more than half choose the cottage, so—”
“Because it’s so disgustingly cheap,” Aurora insisted.
“Affordable,” Yardley countered, but why she bothered, she didn’t know. They’d disagreed on the point too many times to count.
“I need to leave soon for the café,” Aunt Lilith interrupted. She was four years Aurora’s senior, and though they shared similar features, she was more concerned with flaunting her intellect than her sex appeal. At least the niche, tea-parlor-type café Lilith owned turned a small profit, even though they’d transitioned from meeting prospective clients there to having them at the home office instead.
Lilith focused on Yardley with nerve-rattling acuity. “Whatever are you up to, Yardley? Do you have an appointment, hmm?”
“Yes, I do, and I need to prep for it. So… I’ll see you both later.” She took a step back. Then another. Neither of them budged. Damn.
Lilith gave her a longer look. “Don’t you have something more appropriate to wear?”
Looking down at her summer dress, Yardley frowned in consternation. It was one of her favorites. She adored the way the soft, flowing material gently draped her body. The skirt ended mid-calf, and it had just enough adornment to make it professional while still being comfortable. Plus Mimi had told her that the pretty blue floral pattern matched her eyes. “I love this dress.”
“It doesn’t scream professionalism,” said her aunt.
“I’m not sure I want my clothes to scream.”
Ignoring that, her aunt said, “Yellow would be better for you, to offset your dark hair. Perhaps a business suit.”
A yellow business suit? She’d look like a block of butter.
“Nonsense,” said her mother. “Just the opposite is true. It wouldn’t kill you to wear something a little less matronly.”
“My dress isn’t matronly.” Was it? No, no, it was comfortable, damn it.
“You have breasts. Even though they’re small, you should showcase them.”
Yardley started to sweat. “Look, both of you—”
Aunt Lilith cut in. “Only you, Aurora, would think she needed to be sexy to sell a wedding. If you’d furthered your education, as I did, instead of getting pregnant so young—”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Aurora gasped in affront—as she always did when this debate got started.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t mine.” Lilith scoffed. “I didn’t have unprotected sex.”
“Likely because you, dear sister, have never experienced real passion.”
Lilith’s face went red. “No one said passion must equal an unwanted baby—no offense, Yardley.”
Yardley obligingly replied, “None taken.” This whole argument was so old, she knew the lines by heart. There was always some variant of the same thing. Over and over again.
It infuriated Mimi. If her friend was here now, she’d be blasting them both.
“I did the responsible thing,” Aurora specified with flair. “I raised my daughter. You’d probably have given her up.”
“How dare you?” Lilith pointed one manicured finger Yardley’s way. “I love Yardley.”
“Now you do. But while I was carrying her?”
“I was attempting to be the reasonable one.”
“You didn’t want her around, but now you try to claim her as your own.”
“At least I don’t advise her to show off her breasts!”
Yardley lifted her phone to look at the time…and then she heard two things. A man clearing his throat, and a young woman giggling.
OMG. Awash with humiliation, she turned to face her clients…and holy crapola. Pretty sure her ovaries just danced.
Travis Long was a feast for the peepers. She knew because her eyes were gobbling him up from head to toe.
He wasn’t the intended, thank God, just the brother. Is he married?
Good Lord, why did she care? But she answered herself real quick as she took him in feature by feature. Sandy-blond hair, steaked by the sun.
Dark brown eyes, fringed by ridiculous—like, really ridiculous—long, thick lashes.
Broad muscled shoulders.
Long, strong legs.
Of course he had to be married. He’d probably had a dozen proposals by now. Some lucky woman would have snatched him up already.
Unless… Remembering her initial phone conversation, she thought maybe he was too aloof. Too unfriendly. A discerning woman wouldn’t be reeled in by mere good looks. Somehow she didn’t feel all that discerning right now.
Whatever this man does for a living, it works in his favor.
The young woman laughed aloud this time. “Don’t worry, Ms. Belanger. He has that effect on everyone.” She nodded at Aurora and Lilith, and Yardley realized they were both gawking, too.
Appalled, Yardley loudly cleared her throat—and accomplished nothing. Her mother and aunt continued to stare.
“I’ve told him he could have made more money as a model,” the young woman said, “but no, my brother went into construction instead.”
Attempting to ignore the heat in her face, Yardley stepped forward, hand extended—toward the woman. Who would be her client. She was the one who mattered. “Hello. You must be Ms. Long.”
“Soon to be Mrs. Borden, with your help.”
“Oh, I do hope so. That I get to help, I mean. Not that you become Mrs. Borden. I’m sure that’s a foregone conclusion or you wouldn’t be here.” Shut up, Yardley. “Please, just call me Yardley.”
“If you’ll call me Sheena.”
Beside her, Travis shifted but said nothing. Compared to him, his sister looked extra petite. Her hair, lighter blond than Travis’s, hung just past her shoulders. They shared the same striking dark eyes and sinful lashes.
Sheena appeared to be just out of her teens. Maybe twenty or twenty-one. Young, excited, and brimming with optimism. Total opposite of her silent, possibly brooding, brother.
What could she say with her aunt and mother still eyeballing him as if they’d never seen such a fine specimen before? Honestly, in Cemetery, they probably hadn’t. “I’m thrilled for the opportunity to help plan your wedding.” Reluctantly, because she wasn’t yet prepared to gaze on him again, Yardley turned to Travis. It took her a second to get her lungs to work, and then she gasped, “I take it you’re Travis Long, the Victorian home enthusiast?”
“I am.” He briefly clasped her hand.
Very perfunctory. Not at all personal. Purely business.
But he had magic hands or something because she felt that touch radiate everywhere. With her tingling palm, she lamely gestured to the gawking duo. “My mother, Aurora Belanger, and my aunt, Lilith Belanger.”
Sheena greeted them with a little less warmth than she’d shown Yardley.
Travis merely gave them a nod, then said to Yardley, “I’m relieved to see you’ve kept the house true to the period.”
Oh goody, a safe subject, and one she was comfortable with. She could talk about the house and stare at him. “I’ve tried. Remodeling it has been a pleasure, but a slow process.” She wrinkled her nose. “Matching all that trim, finding the right valance windows, the iron railings—”
“And the slate roof. That impressed me.”
Oh, hey. She’d impressed him. Score one for her. “Most recently the kitchen got a facelift. I hope I did it justice.”
Sheena glanced around. “It’s beautiful. Can we do a tour of it later? I know it’d make this whole trip worthwhile for Travis.”
She shot a warning look at her mother and aunt. “Absolutely. I’ll show you everything.” What? “I mean, every part of the house. All the rooms. And stuff.” If only her mouth had a spigot she could turn off. “Even the upstairs rooms have been remodeled.” Had her mother and aunt left when they were supposed to, she’d have tidied their rooms for them. Now she couldn’t, meaning they were probably messy disasters.
Oh, how sweet it was to have a little payback against them. They were fanatics when it came to designing their rooms, but not so big on keeping them decluttered. Yardley knew exactly how they’d react—and they didn’t disappoint her.
“Excuse me,” Lilith said, exiting in a dignified, unhurried stride…until she was out of sight. Then they all heard the rushed clomping of her short heels on wood treads as she raced up the stairs.
Aurora managed a wan smile. “Yes, I should go as well. Good luck, dear. Oh, not that my daughter needs luck, of course. She’s quite the talented wedding planner. Very popular here and in the neighboring towns. Why, her vintage weddings are heavily trending, or so she tells me. Personally, I prefer something a little more chic, which of course she offers.”
“Mother,” Yardley said, feeling her cheeks burn. “You don’t want to be late.”
“Oh, no. No, I don’t.” Aurora barely lowered her voice when she said in an aside, “Don’t slouch.” Then she turned and sashayed away, making a little less noise on the stairs than Lilith had. Unfortunately, they could hear them rushing around in their rooms, probably tucking away bras and shoes, clearing clutter from their desks, and hopefully tidying their beds.
It was the one thing she had in common with them: they each loved to show off the house. Since Aurora and Lilith had personally helped with the decor choices for their rooms, they were especially proud of them and loved to show them off.
Yardley pinned on her most professional smile. “We finished the upstairs as a divided living area, so both my aunt and my mother have their own private suites with bedrooms, bathrooms, and seating areas. My mother chose the side with the balcony, and Aunt Lilith has that romantic turret.”
“You live here, too?” Sheena asked.
“Yes, my bedroom is off to the right of the foyer, and the kitchen is to the left.” She gestured down the hall. “Only the dining room is used as my office. If you’d like to come this way, we can all get comfortable while you share your wedding ideas. Once I have a grasp of what you’re thinking, I can show you my portfolio and we can go over the budget.”
Excerpted from The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster. Copyright © 2022 by Lori Foster. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Lori Foster is a New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author with over 10 million books sold. She received the Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews and her books have been chosen as editors picks by Amazon multiple times. Foster is actively involved in charity work, and all of the author proceeds from her anthologies have gone to various organizations, such as the Animal Adoption Foundation, the Conductive Learning Center, and One Way Farm. She lives in Ohio with her high school sweetheart.