In this heartwarming collaborative debut from country music star Evans and Christian romance veteran Hauck (Sweet Caroline), antique dealer Jade Freedom Fitzgerald of Whisper Hollow, Tenn., must make peace with her hippy mama, Beryl Hill, before she can marry her lawyer fiancé, Maxwell Charles Benson. But wait, there's more: she also needs an annulment from an elopement at 16, to resolve her anger at the father who abandoned her, to learn how to get along with a pushy mom-in-law-to-be and take responsibility for a dire choice she made 13 years before. The arrival of Jade's mother and her tempestuous little sister, Willow, before the big day shakes things up further, especially after Beryl reveals an unhappy secret of her own. Comforting in that Southern way and inspirational without being too saccharine, Evans and Hauck's first outing together shows promise. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Sweet By and Byby Sara Evans, Rachel Hauck
It begins with a little red envelope . . . the one Jade doesn’t want to send. The envelope that invites her mother, Beryl, to her wedding---and opens up more of her past than she cares to deal with. Jade has worked so hard to put her hardscrabble childhood behind her.See more details below
It begins with a little red envelope . . . the one Jade doesn’t want to send. The envelope that invites her mother, Beryl, to her wedding---and opens up more of her past than she cares to deal with. Jade has worked so hard to put her hardscrabble childhood behind her.
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The Sweet By and By
By Sara Evans Rachel Hauck
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Sara Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhisper Hollow, TN
The October sun warmed the Blue Umbrella's office. A pool of light washed over Jade's paint-chipped desk and the box of ruby-red invitations shoved against the windowsill.
"Here you go, Liz. Eighty-five dollars for your aunt's antique bread box." Jade pushed the box out of the way so she could grab the check she'd printed for her customer, exposing a solitary, displaced red invitation.
Beryl Hill, Prairie City, Iowa.
"Bless your heart, old Aunt Ginny, for never making friends with the garbage can." Liz Carlton blew a kiss at the check before folding it into her purse. "Jade, I've got plenty more items to consign with you."
"I'm always interested." She patted the small, spry woman on the shoulder. "And don't forget you can sell some of your valuables on eBay."
"On eBay? Goodness, child, I'd have no idea how to-"
"And there's the county dump." Jade walked her across the bright, polished shop to the front door.
"The county dump? I do believe you don't sound a bit grateful, Jade Fitzgerald. I bring in my precious family treasures for you to sell, sharing the profits with you, and what thanks do I get? A recommendation to the county dump."
"Liz, I appreciate your business. You know I do. But the Blue Umbrella is looking for timeless pieces, itemswith a story and a history. Last week you brought in a bag of peeling costume jewelry and some moth-eaten sweaters."
"Those sweaters had a story, Jade. I told you my great-great-granny knitted them by a coal fire."
Jade gently slipped her arm through Liz's. After all, she was a valued client, despite her lack of vintage prowess. "I'm looking for quality, not quantity, Liz. But I do admit"-Jade paused at the door-"your items always come with interesting stories."
Liz opened the door. "You wait and see what I dig up next."
"I'm holding my breath," Jade said with a grin.
Back in her office, Jade dropped to her desk chair, sighing. Liz was entertaining if nothing else.
She surveyed the row of lime-green sticky notes running along the top of her desk. Her to-do list. Her eyes fell on one sticky note, the one with the curled edges where her arm grazed over it:
Jade snatched up the note. The gummy adhesive was dotted with dust and lint and no longer adhered to the desk's surface. The lump she felt in her chest every time she moved the note had grown from a pebble to a rock. How much longer could she stall? The wedding was five weeks away.
"Hey, boss, what's up for today?"
Jade glanced up at Lillabeth, her sole and treasured part-time assistant. "You're early today."
"Coach rescheduled the team meeting for Friday." The seventeen-year-old folded herself into the rickety metal chair beside the desk. Her blonde ponytail swished over her shoulder, and a pair of tiger-striped Oakley shades rode atop her head.
"It's slow-day Monday. Why don't you work on the Baker estate inventory?"
"Shouldn't you have mailed these already?" Lillabeth slipped a wedding invitation from the box.
"You sound like my future mother-in-law." Jade took the envelope and jammed it back with the others.
"What about that one?" Lillabeth pointed to the banished invite.
"This one is special. Sort of." Jade tucked it a little farther under the box. "Tell me, what do you think when you hear the word invitation?"
"'You're invited,' I guess." Lillabeth shrugged, making a face. "'Come to the party. We want to see you.'"
"Come and participate? Your presence is requested?" Jade had been thinking about this for a while.
"Pretty much." The Whisper Hollow basketball star nodded. "Is this a trick question? Do I win a prize for answering right? Money?"
"Money? You're on the clock; you're getting paid." Jade got up and headed toward the storeroom. "Come on. Let me show you the Baker stuff."
On the opposite side of the shop was the old Five & Dime's storeroom, cool and dark with cinder-block walls, a cement floor, and a row of random old calendars hanging on the back wall.
When Jade set up the Blue Umbrella, she left the calendars for posterity's sake. A piece of the building's history. The first calendar was 1914. Then 1920, followed by 1929. There were calendars from 1945 and 1950, 1963 and 1967, 1980 and 1988, 1996 and 2001.
Jade planned to add her own, but she wanted to wait for a really cool year. Though so far, the one she lived now had been fairly stellar. When she moved to Whisper Hollow, a close-knit, small Southern town up the mountain from Chattanooga, she'd expected to moonlight for her former boss writing promotional copy for Smoky Hills Media. But the Blue Umbrella thrived its first year, ending in a lovely shade of financial pink.
Then she met Max-love wrapped in olive-toned skin, hazel eyes, strength, and kindness. Yes, this calendar year just might be worthy of the wall.
"Okay, where's this famous Baker inventory?" Lillabeth dropped to the stool in front of the antique-white secretary hutch Jade used as the storeroom desk and jiggled the computer's mouse. "Odd question about the word invitation, Jade."
"Yet you still answered it." Jade pushed a crate toward Lilla with her foot. "These are leather-bound, mint condition, first editions."
"Books? Since when do we take books?" Lillabeth angled to read the gold-imprinted spines while absently launching iTunes, then hunted for QuickBooks in the Mac's dock.
"Since these are worth money. A friend from college knew the family and hooked me up." Jade gave her a cheesy thumbs-up. "Jessup Baker was a Tennessee governor and his wife, Cecelia, earned all kinds of humanitarian awards for establishing reading programs in the hills."
"Who's going to read these?" Lillabeth wrinkled her nose as she examined one of the books, the spine creaking, the pages crackling.
"Plenty of people. We just need to figure out how to lure book snobs to Whisper Hollow."
Lillabeth settled the book on the secretary. "Who don't you want to invite to your wedding?"
"Someone. So, get to inventorying these and listen for the front bell. I'll be in the office." Jade paused in the doorway. "The camera is in the file cabinet. Take pictures of the books for the website."
"I'll crash your wedding if you didn't invite me." Lillabeth started typing in the publishing information. "I witnessed your first meeting with Max, right here in the shop. I should get a finder's fee or something."
"What is with you and money today?" Jade propped herself against the door frame.
"Nothing." The girl's light dimmed.
Jade regarded her for a moment. "Hey, if you need to talk ..."
On her way back to the office, Jade checked the shop for customers. It was quiet, like last year this time, and she welcomed the reprieve. Gave her time to catch up from the busy summer, scout out new inventory avenues, advertise for new consignment clients. It wasn't like vintage merchandise came with manufacturer sales reps.
Jade stood by her desk and scanned her sticky note to-do row.
Call Henna Swift about exhibiting at February's Country Home Antiquing Festival in Nashville. Upload new images to website. Call Ilene to pick up her consigned items. Dress fitting at 2:00 next Monday. Set appointment for trial wedding hairstyles. Pick up prescription for Max's back. Mail invitations.
She couldn't get past Mail invitations. Not today. She had been ignoring that particular note, despite her future mother-in-law's constant, "Please mail the invitations."
Beryl Hill, Prairie City, Iowa.
A snort resounded from under her desk. Jade took her seat to peek underneath, nudging the sleeping dog with her foot. "Wake up, Roscoe, and give me some advice."
The sprawled-out German shepherd lifted his head, viewing her with his one good eye.
Jade flashed him the red invitation. "Do I invite her to the wedding? What would you do if, say, dogs got married?"
He exhaled, tucked up his paws, closed his eye, and dropped his head back to the floor.
"And after all I've done for you." Jade tapped his belly with her foot. "Don't expect me to share my pizza crust next time, buddy." The threat carried no authority, caused no shiver of trepidation. One wink of his big brown eye, and she'd hand over a whole slice without hesitation.
"Okay, Roscoe, how about this. Heads, I invite her; tails, I don't." Jade fished a quarter from the stash she kept in the middle drawer's paper clips slot. "Lift your head for, well ... heads. Wag your tail for tails. Here we go."
Before she settled the quarter on her thumb and forefinger, a squeaky, airy sound emitted from Roscoe's hindquarters.
"Oh, dog. Phew." Jade fired her rolling chair across the floor, crashing into the filing cabinet. "Why don't you tell me how you really feel?"
"I need a soda." Lillabeth burst into the office, going straight for the quarter stash. "My throat is clogged with book mites."
"Wait." Jade rolled back to the desk and slapped her hand over Lillabeth's as she retreated with fifty cents. "Heads or tails?"
"Call it. Quick." With a flick of her thumb, Jade launched the coin high in the air. "Heads or tails?"
"Heads, no ... tails. Tails."
The coin rotated in midair, a silver glint slicing through warm afternoon sunlight, then fell to the floor, landing on its narrow edging with a ping, and rolled across the floor. Jade and Lillabeth hunched over and followed it until the quarter hit a crack in the floorboards and disappeared.
"Ack." Jade dropped to her knees and slapped the floor with her palm, then thunked her forehead against the wood to peer through the dark slit. "Get me a flashlight, Lilla. I want to see if it's heads or tails."
"You've gone crazy, Jade. What are you trying to decide?"
"If I should dye my hair pink for the wedding." Jade held up her hand, wiggling her fingers.
"Liar." Lillabeth snatched the flashlight from the leaning bookshelf and slapped it into Jade's palm. "Pink's not vintage."
"I do have more than one string on my violin, Lilla. I play contemporary now and then." Shining the round beam through the narrow slit, Jade tried to see how the coin had landed, but she couldn't even find it, let alone discover if it was heads or tails.
"Contemporary, maybe, but not 1999 punk. Too tacky. Dark brown hair suits you fine."
Jade sat back with a heavy exhale. "There goes twenty-five cents and the answer to my problem."
"Is this about the invitation? Jade, you have the answer." Lillabeth tapped her chest. "In your heart."
"Don't you have work to do in the storeroom?" Jade returned the flashlight to the shelf.
"Hey, you asked me. Heads or tails. Remember? I just came in for soda money." Lillabeth rubbed her two quarters together. "For what it's worth, I think you should send it. I mean, unless you're inviting an ex-lover or something. Or an ax murderer."
"Can I pretend she's an ax murderer?" Jade plopped onto her chair and stared out the window. The trash guys forgot to empty the Dumpster again.
"Who is this horrible person?"
"Someone." Raking her hair back from her face, Jade dug around her soul for a thimble's worth of emotion that might tell her what to do.
"Ah, the elusive someone." Lillabeth lowered herself into the rickety metal chair. "Hey, Jade, can I ask you something?"
"Sure. What?" Jade drummed her fingers over the invitation. If she sent it, the issues of her life she'd carefully dubbed "unusable vintage" would recycle through her heart and resurrect all kinds of ugliness. Liz Carlton's great-great-granny's moth-eaten sweaters had nothing on Jade's tattered past.
The teen inhaled long and slow, tapping the edge of one quarter against the face of the other. Jade watched her, slipping the invitation onto the desk.
"Must be hard to talk about. Usually I can't get you to shut up." Jade smiled and kicked the air in front of Lillabeth.
"Yeah, well"-big exhale-"let's say you did something you didn't mean to do and the result-"
"Good afternoon, ladies." A svelte, tan June Benson, outfitted for golf, swooshed into the office with a wide smile and grand gestures. "Lillabeth, goodness, how are you? I didn't see your mother on the tennis courts all summer. Here it is fall. Tell her we could use her on the golf course. We're missing a fourth."
"She's into Pilates these days." Lillabeth held up her quarters and motioned she was going back to work.
"Take me with you ...," Jade called after her, then laughed for June's sake, but the woman was focused on the invitations.
"As I suspected. These lovely"-June patted the box of invitations-"unique ... very red invitations are still here. We can say one thing: the envelopes will stand out in the mail. So what do you say we mail them, hm? Time is running out, Jade. Please let me take them. Except your mother's. You can keep that one until you decide."
"I haven't told her yet." Jade wadded up the lime-green sticky note. Mail invitations.
"Then call her. Land sakes, you're a grown woman." June collapsed in the metal chair Lillabeth had just vacated, catching herself when it listed to starboard. "What will people think if your mother is not at your wedding?"
"That I'm wise and gutsy."
June straightened the hem of her madras golf skort. "Or petty and childish."
Roscoe peeked out from under the desk, his eyebrows twitching as he scanned the space between Jade and June. Ladies, keep it down. Let sleeping dogs lie.
"If you'd let Max and me get married in a small ceremony up on Eventide Ridge at dusk like we wanted-"
"And have my only child married without a proper ceremony?" June propped her hand on the edge of the desk and leaned toward Jade. "No ma'am. And you'd regret it, too, in time. Trust me."
Jade matched her future mother-in-law's hard gaze. "Trust me. I wouldn't."
"Send the invitation, Jade, because these"-June rose, switching her handbag from one shoulder to the other and tucking the box of invitations under her arm-"are going out whether you're ready or not. I'm sorry, but time is running out. I don't mean to be so bossy ... goodness, I can't imagine what angst exists between you and your mama. Were you abused? Pardon my frankness."
"My granny, bless her soul, used to say, 'Whatever ill you have against someone isn't worth sending the Lord Jesus back to the cross.'"
"I don't even know what that means." Jade faced her computer screen and clicked on an unread e-mail. "But I'm not sending Jesus anywhere."
"It means Jesus' love and forgiveness is sufficient for any wrong or violation done to us, Jade. Don't you think it's powerful enough for you and your mama? This I do know"-June stood just beyond Jade's peripheral vision-"you need to forgive your mother for whatever it is that she did to you." She paused. "Believe me, holding a grudge does nothing but deepen and widen your hurt."
"I appreciate your input, June, but forgiveness has a twin: forgetting." Jade waved Mama's invitation in the air. "Which is what I'm trying to do."
The only way she figured she'd come close to forgiving was to forget her past, which included her mama.
"I won't argue with you. You know your own heart better than I do, but I wish you'd reconsider." June pressed her hand gently on Jade's shoulder. "See you at seven? Diamond Joe's, meeting with the wedding planner?" She leaned to peer at Jade's to-do list. "I declare, I don't know how you run a business this way."
"My system works for me." Jade rolled her chair away from the desk, giving June a good-bye, have a nice afternoon smile. "See you at seven."
"What's this?" June invaded "the system" and snatched up a sticky note. "A prescription for Max?"
Nosy. Jade took the note from her. "You have my wedding invitations; now you want my sticky notes too?"
"What's wrong with Max?"
"His back is out again, and the doctor called in a prescription to the pharmacy up here. He asked me to pick it up."
"I didn't know he hurt his back. What'd he do?" June snatched the sticky note from Jade, her expression drawn, her tone laced with concern. She seemed a bit ruffled.
Excerpted from The Sweet By and By by Sara Evans Rachel Hauck Copyright © 2009 by Sara Evans. Excerpted by permission.
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