Read an Excerpt
A Grand Design
Quilts of Love Series
By Amber Stockton
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Amber Stockton
All rights reserved.
I hate the month of June!"
Alyssa Denham shouldered her way through the revolving door to her office building and onto the concrete sidewalk, her arms laden with bridal shower grab-bag gifts. She should have tossed most of the stuff or found an unsuspecting coworker and bestowed the gifts on her as a random act of kindness. Three office bridal showers in the first three weeks of April. It had to be a record. The predictable wedding invitations arrive in her inbox, and she still didn't have a date for the events. Some of it was her fault. It shouldn't bother her, but it did.
I don't have a date, period.
Every year for the past five years, whenever a wedding occurred for someone she knew, it happened in June. And this year was no different. If June was her least favorite month, then April followed as a close second. As Alyssa stepped out from under the overhang, the light drizzle falling most of the day changed to a steady rain.
"Perfect," she muttered, looking up and down the street for a taxi to the train station. She usually walked, but the gift bags and little wrapped items she carried made the idea impossible. The six blocks would feel more like sixty.
Alyssa straightened as a yellow cab rounded the corner. She stepped forward and tried to free one arm to signal it. When the driver maneuvered toward the curb, relief coursed through her. Just as she reached for the door handle, a Tom Cruise look-alike in a dark gray tailored suit stepped in front of her. He opened the door and held it for a young blonde who could easily pass for a magazine model.
Recognizing the girl as the latest bride-to-be from her office, Alyssa rolled her eyes and sighed. The pretty girls always get the guys—and the cabs. So what if the girl was also in a jam. The young woman and her fiancé might be late for dinner reservations, but Alyssa had an armful of packages—thanks to the two who had just stolen her ride. The cab pulled away from the curb, and the rear wheels sent a spray of water in her direction.
Her favorite cream slacks now sporting a dirty rainwater splatter, Alyssa headed for the corner to catch the city bus. It arrived just as she reached the stop. Balancing her bags on one arm, she managed to withdraw enough loose change from the purse dangling on her arm for the fare, then turned to find a seat. Sandwiched between a woman in a black business suit and stiletto heels with a cell phone pressed to her ear and a fifty-something gentleman with a rounded middle and gray-speckled hair, Alyssa couldn't wait to get home.
If you don't do something besides work and stay at home, you'll never meet Mr. Right. Live a little, Alyssa!
The admonishment from her best friend floated through her mind as she surveyed the other riders. From the shabbily dressed college-age crowd to the handful of silver-haired men headed for retirement, there wasn't a prospect in the bunch—unless she counted the Don Juan type with the slicked-back hair and gold-capped smile who eyed her from across the aisle. At only twenty-nine, she wasn't that desperate yet.
Well, Lord, I would live a little. But on my salary, this is about as social as it gets.
Thankfully, the ride to the train station wasn't long, and Alyssa stepped off the bus. Grateful to be under shelter, she smiled and thanked the man who held the door for her and headed inside to catch her train.
Forty minutes later, she walked through the door to her comfortable two-bedroom apartment. She deposited her armload onto the maple dining room table her grandmother had given her and breathed a sigh of relief. Alyssa flipped through the stack of mail. Nothing but bills and advertisements. She sighed. The usual. Suddenly, a bold word on the front of one envelope caught her attention.
Alyssa stared at the return address. Oh, no! How in the world had this happened? She'd entered the magazine contest on a dare. And now, she'd won? She'd never won anything before in her life. Was this God's answer to her current solitary life, or was He pulling her leg? Alyssa smiled. It had to be a God-thing.
But why this? And why Mackinac Island of all places?
Curious, Alyssa slit the envelope and pulled out the full-color, tri-fold brochure along with a letter. She kicked off her pumps, padded over to her favorite burgundy recliner, and extended the footrest. The one lone accent piece in her otherwise neutral décor. Settled into the cozy comfort of the soft velour, Alyssa scanned the enticing images and well-written descriptions. Just the way the mind of her youth remembered it. As if nothing had changed in all these years. The image of a lighthouse and a few seagulls reminded her of her father and the walks they used to take along the beach. Speculating on the types of people who had walked the beach leaving prints behind had been a favorite pastime for both of them.
Every written description in the brochure promised an unforgettable time. And each picture included a happy couple enjoying the boating activities, horseback riding, rafting, and tennis, not to mention the horse-drawn carriage rides and scrumptious dinner selections. She'd done it all at one point many years ago. Advertising the island as a romantic getaway made sense. But it didn't make her current status any easier to swallow.
Couples, couples, couples! Didn't singles go anywhere anymore? Just once she'd like to see a vacation spot showing someone having a grand old time alone. But as she unfolded the brochure, each new page revealed another toothy twosome, caught up in euphoric delight. And she was a "onesome"—an unsmiling "onesome" at that. Blotting out the images of the couples, she focused on the swimming, boating, and nature walks—things she loved to do and hadn't done since she was a kid. And she hadn't taken her vacation yet this year. Why not throw out the romance and do a getaway for one?
But just the thought of going alone dampened her excitement. She'd played the odd woman out too many times. Not her idea of fun. She stared at the word two in the letter as if it were a death sentence. Two. Then, a flash of enlightenment tugged at the corners of her mouth. Not a couple. Just two.
Alyssa snapped the recliner into its upright position and reached for the phone on the end table next to the chair. After dialing, she waited for her best friend to pick up. One ... two ...
Alyssa straightened as the third ring stopped midway through, and she planted her feet on the carpeted floor. "Libby, you'll never guess what's happened."
"What?" Libby's excitement transcended the distance between them.
"Remember the contest the girls dared me to enter in the latest Bride magazine?" Alyssa twirled the phone cord around her fingers and leaned back. "The one promising a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip for two and touted it as a 'honeymoon in heaven'?"
"How could I forget? You almost wouldn't complete the thing," Libby complained. "And I had to dare you to mail it." Her friend's breath hitched. "Wait, don't tell me."
"Yep. I have the notification right here in my hand." Alyssa held the phone away to avoid being deafened by Libby's shriek. "There's only one snag," she said when it was safe. Tucking a strand of her cinnamon-colored hair behind her ear, she pivoted and propped her feet on the edge of the end table. "The getaway is for two."
"Now you listen to me, Alyssa Denham ..." Libby predictably launched into attack mode. "This is not a problem. We'll figure something out. I mean, you are always looking for some excuse to get out of changing your dull routine. If you can find any reason whatsoever not to do something, you will use it. This is just the kind of thing—"
"I want you to come with me," Alyssa interrupted, grinning.
"—you do all the time. And frankly, I'm ..." Silence filled the line, followed by an incredulous, "What?"
Alyssa smiled. "I said I'm going, and I want you to go with me."
"Alright. Who are you? And what have you done with my best friend? Alyssa would not agree to do something like this so easily."
Alyssa laughed. "It's me, Libby."
"Well, you sure don't sound like the Alyssa I know and love. She would die before she'd make up her mind this quickly. I mean, this is the girl who waited a year before getting her hair cut in the latest style. She got her ears pierced ten years after all her friends did. And she waits until styles go out of season before she decides she likes them enough to buy them. So this can't be Alyssa."
Alyssa crossed her ankles and picked imaginary lint off her cable-knit sweater. "Well, God and I had a little chat about my life on the bus ride home. And when I walked in the door, this letter was waiting. Seemed like a quick answer to me, so I decided to go." Glancing back at the brochure on her lap, Alyssa sighed. "Just maybe, that friend you know is changing. Maybe she's looking for a little excitement in her life."
"Wow. I always said it would take an act of God to get you to break out of the rut you call a life, but who knew He'd take me seriously."
Alyssa shook her head. Leave it to Libby to be sarcastic. They'd been best friends for almost twenty years. Libby's rather boisterous style and brand of wit is what attracted Alyssa. Inwardly, she hoped some of it would rub off on her.
"Come on, Libby. Cut me some slack here. You're the one who's always telling me to live a little. So are you in or out? Answer quickly before I have time to talk myself out of it."
"In," Libby exclaimed. "Just bear with me. I'm still in shock." She paused and took a breath. "And it's free? No catches, no time-share spiels to listen to?"
Alyssa picked up the letter of confirmation, reading it again, barely believing it herself. "It says so right here. And I have the letter to prove it." She reclined the chair back and stared at the stucco finish on the ceiling, the white speckled design resembling the intricate patterns on the sand-washed rocks she had on the shelf in her bathroom. Another reminder of the life she'd lived as a child.
"You seriously want me to come along?"
"Well, who else would I take? I don't exactly have a long line of suitors waiting at my door."
Libby's grin came through the phone line. "No, I mean wouldn't you want to take this trip alone? You never know. Mr. Right could be waiting for you. Speaking of which, where is this place?"
"Mackinac Island in Lake Huron." Alyssa examined the brochure again. "There's even something here about it being named 'Turtle Island' by the local Chippewa Indians who discovered it."
"Turtle Island?" Incredulity laced Libby's words.
Alyssa shrugged. "Hey, I don't write the descriptions." She read further. "Anyway, the brochure says it's a great getaway with lots to do and the perfect place for some excitement." Raising one eyebrow, she pursed her lips. "Somehow, I think the 'excitement' they promise has more to do with their billing this island as a romantic getaway than the kind of adventure you and I could have."
"There's boating, horseback riding, cycling, parasailing—"
"Parasailing?" Libby latched onto the word. "I can see it now. A skimpy little number with a drop-dead gorgeous instructor standing behind me as I fumble with the sail and play the dimwitted damsel who can't tell which end is up."
Alyssa laughed and shook her head. Her friend's flare for the extreme is what made their friendship work. "And what if the instructor's a woman?"
"Then I'll give her to you while I scout out the Baywatch guy."
"Gee, thanks. Some friend you are."
"You know you love me."
"Only the Lord knows why." But Alyssa did know.
Life was an adventure to Libby, and she wanted her best friend to take part in it. Libby usually managed to pull her from her staid and simple existence to create memories far exceeding her wildest imagination.
"So other than the obvious, tell me a little more about this place."
A big ball of fur jumped up into Alyssa's lap. She waited for Kalani to find a comfortable position, then stroked the dark gray Persian's ears, earning a rumbling purr in response. "The brochure says the main hotel was built around the turn of the century, and they don't allow cars on the island."
"No cars? How do you get around?"
"Bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and your own two legs."
"Sounds like your kind of place. No modern conveniences." Sarcasm dripped from Libby's words. "Wonder if they have indoor plumbing."
Alyssa planted her fist on one hip, startling Kalani. "I appreciate my modernized lifestyle, thank you very much." She gently coaxed the cat to relax. "But, I admit, a part of me would like to get a feel for a bygone era."
"Looks like you'll get your chance." Libby made a sound like snapping her fingers. "Hey, wait a second. Doesn't your grandmother live on the island? And isn't it the same island where you used to spend all your summers as a kid?"
"I was wondering if you'd actually remember."
"As if I could forget. It was all you used to talk about when we first met. I always wished I could go with you just once."
"Well, it looks like you'll get your wish," Alyssa replied, throwing her friend's words back at her.
"Guess so." She paused. "It's been a while for you, hasn't it?" came the soft words.
Libby knew all about what had happened—all except for the real reason Alyssa hadn't returned.
Though her friend couldn't see her, Alyssa nodded. "Nearly fifteen years." Even now, moisture gathered in her eyes. She blinked several times and looked toward the ceiling. No. She wouldn't cry. She wouldn't. She couldn't. It would spoil the elation she should be feeling.
"It's been a long time."
"Yes." Alyssa snatched a tissue from the box next to her and held it to the corners of her eyes. "In some ways, it feels like yesterday. In others, like forever."
"Well, experiences and memories don't just go away. You and your dad had a lot of fun there for many years."
Alyssa sniffed. "And then Dad got sick, and well, somehow the joys of going didn't hold as much enticement anymore."
"Because your mom never cared much for the island. Though I'm not sure why."
"Like you, she preferred the more modern conveniences and easy access to an abundance of stores, outlets, and entertainment options." Alyssa shrugged. "The island just didn't suit her as well as it did Dad and me."
"Probably the lack of cars," Libby intoned. "Still, I think it's been far too long for you, and it's high time you returned. Guess God had the same idea."
Obviously He did. "Well, we've talked about taking a vacation together. And you said you had two weeks coming to you. I can take off as well. It's the perfect opportunity."
"When are we supposed to fly off to our land of adventure?"
Alyssa reached for the letter and scanned the page. "Umm, July seventh." She kicked her feet against the table and swung the chair around, squinting to see the calendar on the wall behind her desk in the corner. "It's a Monday."
Libby rustled some paper. "It gives us a little more than two months to plan. We can have an amazing two weeks, stop in and visit your grandmother, and get into all sorts of trouble. I can't believe this is happening."
"Me, either." Alyssa was almost tempted to pinch herself. She'd wanted a change for a while. This was just the opportunity to help her make it. And it followed all those weddings she'd been invited to attend. After being present to witness three more women she knew being joined in eternal wedded bliss, she'd need a vacation. Winning this trip sealed the deal. "We'll have a blast, whether Prince Charming is there or not."
"You're on, girlfriend," Libby chimed in, obviously infected by Alyssa's enthusiasm. "Mackinac Island, here we come!"
Well, almost. Alyssa had another phone call to make.
* * *
"Oh, Alyssa dear, are you really coming back to our island?"
"Yes, Grandma, I am."
"Praise be to Jesus. My little girl is coming home." Her sniffle was like a knife in Alyssa's gut. "Oh, how I have prayed and prayed for this day to come. I'd almost given up hoping you'd ever return, dear."
"I know, Grandma, and I'm sorry." She shouldn't have stayed away so long. But the days had become weeks, and the weeks had become months, and the months had become years, and before she knew it, fifteen years had passed. "I should have made more of an effort to come see you. What with school and my summer jobs and planning for college, then a career, it's hard to imagine it's been as long as it has."
"Child, there is no need to apologize, though I certainly do forgive you. Your mama needed you after my Richard passed away. It isn't easy losing your soul mate, the love of your life."
Grandma knew it all too well, even if Alyssa could only imagine. First, Grandpa, and then a year later, Dad. And Alyssa had stopped her annual visits, only keeping in touch through cards or the occasional phone call.
Excerpted from A Grand Design by Amber Stockton. Copyright © 2014 Amber Stockton. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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