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After unpacking and taking a long soak in the claw-foot tub of her Lake Tahoe rental cabin, Beth Tierney put on an old sweatshirt and sweatpants along with her sock-monkey slippers. Then she settled down on the living room couch with a glass of wine, a pen and a yellow legal pad.
Before she left the cabin on Sunday, she would have a Single and Proud of It speech for her well-meaning yet interfering family when they gathered for Christmas. Never again would she face a holiday dreading that they'd try to fix her up with a marriage prospect. Pen poised, she debated how to begin.
Now that I've turned thirty, I She scratched that out. No sense in calling attention to her age when that was the first thing they mentioned when they broached the subject of her singleness. As you all know, I used my Thanksgiving break to take stock of my life.
That was better. Her father was fond of telling his children to "take stock of their lives." She'd reminded her mother of that when announcing she wasn't going to be attending the family Thanksgiving celebration in Sacramento this year. Her two brothers and one sisterall married even though they were younger than she washad thought hiding away in a cabin for the Thanksgiving weekend was stupid, and had called her to say so. But her mom and dad had given their blessing.
She glanced out the window where a light snow continued to fall. Good thing she'd made it before the roads got bad. Returning her attention to the yellow legal pad on her lap, she chose her next sentence carefully.
After much considerationher dad would love that partI've decided to embrace my single status. Brilliant opening. She tapped the pen against the paper, pleased with herself.
This getaway had been such a great idea. Besides writing the speech to give to her family on Christmas, she planned to spend the long weekend appreciating all the enjoyable things about being unattached. She sipped her wine and stared into the fire.
These days, being single no longer carried a stigma. The words spinster and old maid didn't apply to an educated woman with a terrific future in business. She had a loving family, many close friends and a spacious condo.
She didn't need a man to keep her feet warm at night. Wearing wool socks to bed was a far simpler solution.
She didn't require a ring, a wedding and a home in suburbia to feel complete. Her life was full, and her family might as well give up the quest for a fairy-tale ending. It wasn't going to happen.
She wasn't bitter about that. No tragic love stories had turned her against marriage. Besides her family's endless matchmaking attemptswhich had never gone wellshe'd dated some almost-right guys over the years. Two had even proposed.
But neither of those relationships had measured up. She wanted to be madly in love, of course, but she also needed to be respected as an equal partner. Her ideal man wouldn't take himself too seriously, but he would take the nurturing part of their relationship very seriously. for example, he would remember her birthday without being reminded. She would love to meet the man who believed that remembering birthdays and anniversaries was important. If a guy could tell her, without a cheat sheet, the birthdays of his parents and siblings, that would make her sit up and take notice. everyone said her expectations were too high, which meant there was a good chance no man would make the grade. She was okay with that. Some people were meant to be married, and some weren't. She fit into category B. She was perfectly fine as she was, and she was going to give them a detailed list of all the reasons why. Maybe then her well-intentioned family would get off her back.
The fire needed tending, so she got up to add another log. Once she had it crackling nicely again, she decided she could do with some brain food to help her list along, walked over to the tiny kitchen area adjacent to the living room, and opened the refrigerator. Cheese and crackers sounded good.
She found a wooden cheeseboard on one of the shelves, and used a knife from the well-stocked drawer of kitchen utensils to slice the cheddar she'd brought. Ken and Jillian had thought of everything, but then, they would have since they spent many weekends at the cabin during the rest of the year. She rinsed off the knife and left it in the strainer.
But as she picked up the cheeseboard and started back to the couch, she heard water dripping. Returning to the kitchen, she opened the doors and examined the pipes under the sink. Near as she could tell, a pipe fitting had worked itself loose. She tried tightening it by hand and then tested it by running more water in the sink. Still dripping.
She could call the handyman whose number was posted on the refrigerator, but that seemed silly. She'd carried a toolbox in her trunk for years, a habit instilled by her dad. He always said a person should be prepared for life's little hiccups. Handling this herself would be symbolic: Beth Tierney proves that she doesn't need a man around.
After donning her jacket and pulling boots over her monkey slippers, she hurried outside, fetched the toolbox and ran back in. The handyman shouldn't have to come out in this weather, anyway. He was probably some old guy who was at that moment helping his wife with the pumpkin pies or hauling in folding chairs for the extended family that would arrive tomorrow.
Beth battled a wave of nostalgia. By doing the hermit thing this year, she'd miss the carving of the turkey and the Thanksgiving Day toasts. Her mother, sister and sisters-in-law would gather in the kitchen for girl talk while her dad, brothers and brother-in-law watched football and her nieces and nephews ran around fighting over who got the wishbone.
Holidays were chaotic in her family, and she loved every minute, except they would always, always, drag some single guy into the mix, hoping Beth would hook up with him and instead add a sour note to her holidays. If she ever expected to enjoy another holiday with her nearest and dearest, she had to put an end to their matchmaking.
After taking off her coat and boots, she chose a wrench from her toolbox and wriggled into position under the pipe. A few twists of the wrench and the dripping stopped. Scooting out from under the counter, she tested her job by running water into the sink. All fixed. Beth Tierney, single girl, had triumphed over another household emergency. Who needed men?
Although she had to admit there was one thing she did need a man for. She wasn't ready to give up sex at the ripe old age of thirty. But a girl could have sex without expecting it to lead to white lace and promises. In fact, sex would be much more honest if both parties agreed that it wasn't a prelude to courtship and marriage.
Putting away her wrench, she picked up the cheese-board and returned to the couch. Maybe she'd write out that conclusion in her speech, although her sex life wasn't exactly a subject she shared with her parents. Still, she needed a manifesto that would remind her of why she'd made this decision to give up on wedding bells. She picked up her legal pad and began to write again as the fire blazed in the hearth and snow fell outside the window.
"Mom, please don't fix me up with someone for Thanksgiving." Mac McFarland cradled the cell phone against his shoulder as he pulled off his boots. Once he'd finished this call, he'd build a fire and pop open a beer. Snowy weather was a perfect excuse to relax by the fire with a cold one.
"It's not a fix-up," his mother said. "She's a friend of the family."
"Since when? I've never heard of this Stephanie person."
"A recent friend. Your father hired her last month as his new receptionist. There's no harm in meeting her, Conneach."
He cringed. Although he'd trained everyone else in his life to call him Mac, his mother insisted on using his given name, which had been a burden to him from the moment he'd realized other boys had names like Bill and Pete and Sam.
In print, his name stymied people. When he pronounced it for them, they thought he was saying cognac, and they teased him about being named after a type of brandy. Self-preservation had prompted him to change his name to Mac McFarland, and that had worked for everyoneexcept his mother.
"Mom, I'm sure these single women you round up are embarrassed to be paraded in front of me as if you're trying to marry me off."
"There's no as if about it. I am trying to marry you off. You're thirty-one years old. It's time. And I don't have to remind you that you're the hope of the McFarlands."
"No, you don't have to remind me." But she did at every opportunity. As the only son, he was supposed to guarantee that his father's branch of the McFarland clan would continue. His younger sister had no such responsibility, and frankly, that was unfair. The whole charade was so three centuries ago.
"You intend to get married at some point, I hope?"
Mac set his boots aside and wiggled his toes inside his wool socks. "Maybe. I suppose. I'm in no rush, but someday, when I meet the right woman."
"And how do you intend to do that? You're either working or camping alone in the woods."
"That's not true. I have dates."
"Like with Kathy"
His mother made a dismissive sound. "That was months ago, and you were never serious about her. I could tell."
"Mom, I love you, but you have to stop pushing."
There was a pause on the other end. "I can't uninvite her."
"I suppose not." His phone beeped. "Listen, I have another call."
"I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yes, you'll see me tomorrow. Bye, Mom." He disconnected and picked up the new call, which turned out to be Jillian Vickers, one of his favorite people. He wished her a happy Thanksgiving.
"Same to you, Mac," she said. "Hey, have you heard anything from our weekend renter, Beth Tierney?"
"No, I haven't." He frowned. "Why, is there a problem?"
"I'm not sure, but I would really appreciate it if you'd go over and check on her." Noise in the background indicated Ken was mumbling something. "Last time we were there, we thought we heard a leak in the kitchen, maybe under the sink."
"Really?" Mac sat up straighter. "You should have called me. You don't want water damage on those oak cabinets."
"I know, but I I sort of forgot about it. I'm sure it's nothing, but could you take a quick run over there and check?"
"Sure." Mac reached for his boots. Something about this situation wasn't adding up. Ken was a stickler for details. Jillian might have forgotten about a leak, but Ken wouldn't have. He'd either have made sure he'd fixed it himself or phoned Mac. Still, Mac wasn't about to refuse a request from such great customers.
"I realize I'm sending you out in the snow," Jillian added. "I'm sorry about that."
"Gives me a chance to try out my new snow tires." He pulled on one boot. "I'll give you a call after I go over there."
"Thanks, Mac. You're the best. Talk to you soon. Oh, and her name is Beth Tierney." She hung up.
I know, Mac thought. You already told me that. He was halfway over to the Vickers' cabin before he figured out what was bothering him about this errand. Instead of calling him, Jillian could have called the renter. No doubt the woman had a cell phone with her, and the rental agreement would have that listed.
Oh, well. Maybe Jillian hadn't thought of that. No doubt she was cooking and cleaning in preparation for the big Thanksgiving dinner with her family and she was distracted. He was nearly at the cabin, anyway, and he was pleased with the way his new tires gripped the road. This really did give him the chance to test them out, so it wasn't a wasted trip.
Anyway, if it turned out there was actually a leak, he needed to fix it before those beautiful cabinets suffered. He'd refinished them just last summer, and the image of water dripping on them made him wince.
Parking the truck in front of the cabin, he turned up his coat collar and grabbed his toolbox out of the camper shell in the back before going to the door. He smelled wood smoke, which meant she'd built a fire.
He pictured the roaring fire he would enjoy once he finished this chore. The temperature had dropped significantly in the past hour, and he was ready to go home and settle in for the night. He knocked briskly.
When the door opened, he blinked in surprise. He hadn't thought much about who was renting the cabin, but in the back of his mind he'd wondered what sort of woman would deliberately spend Thanksgiving weekend alone in a mountain cabin. He might have expected some eccentric old lady who'd had it with the Thanksgiving Day hype and wanted an escape. He certainly hadn't expected Beth Tierney to be young and beautiful.
Not that she was trying to be beautiful. She wore a faded UNR sweatshirt, baggy sweats, andhe couldn't help smiling when he saw themsock-monkey slippers. Her dark brown hair was caught up in a haphazard ponytail, and her face was bare of makeup, which only emphasized the soft green of her eyes. Any woman who could look that appealing without trying captured Mac's attention.
"I'm Mac McFarland, the handyman," he said. "Ken and Jillian called me about a potential leak."
"Oh!" She glanced at the toolbox in his hand. "I'm sorry you've made the trip, especially in this weather. I fixed it."