A summer wedding, a college reunion, a gorgeous Maine beach house it s the ideal setting for this captivating novel about the connections that shape us, sometimes break our hearts, and forever change our lives . . .
|Product dimensions:||5.49(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.15(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Bess Culpepper steered her white Subaru wagon past the First Congregational Church at the crossroads of North Street and Log Cabin Road, noting with pleasure the pristine whiteness of the stately old building. Just beyond the church was the serenely charming Arundel Cemetery with its well-tended stone grave markers. Not many moments later Bess turned left onto Main Street, making a right onto Western Avenue at the Village Baptist Church.
She didn't need to drive through Kennebunkport — a town founded in 1653 — in order to reach her destination, but she so loved the quaint town with its charming boutiques, beautiful homes, and the famous, though unassuming, bridge over the Kennebunk River that she chose to do so, patiently inching her way through the heavy summer traffic. Kennebunkport's year-round community was small — only a few thousand people made their homes there through winter — but in summer the population swelled to much larger numbers.
As Bess drove through Dock Square — at an even slower pace; cars vied with heavy foot traffic — she recalled the many delicious dinners she had eaten at Hurricane Restaurant, and the excellent local musicians she had heard there as well. She vowed to stop into Abacus Gallery before long; there was always something special and absolutely essential to be found there. Bess loved to shop.
Once out of the center of town, she made a left and began the final leg of her journey to Birmingham Beach along roads that were shady with the dark green leaves of trees and bordered by charming Colonial-style homes, their lawns colorful with blooming rhododendrons, their gardens bright with peonies and roses.
Summer had always been Bess's favorite time of the year. Winters in Maine were long and more often than not, brutal. Fall was gorgeous but too short, and many years spring came almost too late to be properly appreciated. But summer! Now there was a season to be cherished. The sun in the sky until nearly eight o'clock; temperatures that didn't call for layers of fleece and wool; the sound of local bands playing rock and blues at the restaurants with decks and patios. Summer provided an excuse (as if there needed to be one) to eat ice cream whenever the mood struck and to wear bright and happy colors with pretty names like Mint Froth and Petunia Pink, and to visit the beach without the risk of frostbite.
And this summer would be the most special of them all because this summer forty-two-year-old Bess would be getting married. Like many women, she had dreamed of her wedding day since she was a little girl, long before she had any conception of the real meaning behind the pomp and ceremony. She had pored over magazines and websites, and had spent just as many hours imagining scenarios based on the classic fairy tales she had read and the movies she had watched throughout her childhood and adolescence. The magnificent wedding scene in The Sound of Music. Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy in Funny Face. Queen Victoria marrying her beloved Albert. Sigh.
The details of a wedding — from the dress to the veil, from the ring to the bouquet — had been easy to conjure, even as she progressed through varying moods and fancies. At twelve Bess had thought Princess Diana's frothy confection by David and Elizabeth Emanuel was the model for the perfect wedding gown. At twenty, she had considered the possibility of getting married at the top of Cadillac Mountain, a location that seemed to call for a lacy, prairie-style dress, like something a Bohemian bride might have worn back in the 1960s. At thirty, a sleek frock like the one by Narciso Rodriguez that Carolyn Bessette had worn on her wedding day had seemed just the thing.
What had been more difficult to imagine through the years was the groom, that necessary figure who would make a wedding possible. But Bess hadn't been worried. Prince Charming would make an appearance at the right time as all romantic heroes did. He might come in an initially off-putting packaging like The Beast or in an all-around glossy form like — well, like Prince Charming — or somewhere in between the two, a Mr. Darcy complete with a bit too much pride or prejudice but an otherwise stellar character and on sound financial footing to boot. Bess had dated enough deadbeat guys to appreciate the value of financial health.
But as she approached her fortieth birthday Bess had begun, just a little, to doubt that her very own Knight in Shining Armor would ever show up to walk side by side with her through life. She needn't have worried. Less than a year later, Nathan Creek, a widower for the past twenty odd years, had spotted her across a crowd of party-goers, introduced himself, and asked if he might take her to dinner one evening. Bess had said yes; three months later, Nathan had proposed; in about two weeks' time they would be married.
For the past eleven years, Bess had owned a party and event planning company called Joie de Vivre. The business continued to flourish even in years when the economy was not as robust as anyone would like it to be. People needed to honor loved ones and to acknowledge milestones no matter how much or how little money they had. Bess strove tirelessly to create special occasions tailored for each client; she loved what she did and could think of no career for which she was better suited.
So, when it came time to plan her own wedding, Bess was in the perfect position to make her dream a reality. A wedding on the beach. That was what she wanted, and that was what she was going to have. And an essential component of that wedding was a charming vacation house from which Bess could hold court prior to the big day.
Her amazing assistant, Kara, had found just such a place. Driftwood House had cost Bess a fortune, as the owners quite wisely preferred to rent for a four-week minimum, Maine's short summer being prime time for discriminating vacationers. But nothing was too good for her wedding or, perhaps even more importantly, for her friends. And not just any friends. The friends she had made in college and had kept and cherished all the years since. Marta Kennedy, long married to Mike MacIntosh, another of the old gang. Chuck Fortunato, now husband to Dean Williams. And Allison and Chris Montague.
There was only one dark spot in the sunny scenario. Two of those dear friends, a couple since freshman year of college, were nearing the finalization of a divorce. Bess and the others were deeply puzzled. No explanation or excuse had been offered. Questions had been deflected or met with silence. Endless hours had been spent guessing at reasons why the seemingly golden marriage of two such perfectly matched people as Allison and Chris was about to be so decidedly broken.
The upsetting fact of the impending divorce hadn't put Bess off from wanting — indeed, from needing — both Allison and Chris at her wedding. Even the fact, recently uncovered by Mike through an unprofessionally chatty colleague in the law, that Chris had been the leader in the divorce proceedings hadn't put Bess off inviting him.
Marta, however, had strongly suggested that before extending Chris an invitation Bess ask Allison how she felt about her soon-to-be former husband attending the wedding. So, Bess had called Allison one evening and after a few minutes of small talk had broached the delicate subject. "I'm thinking of asking Chris to the wedding," she said. "But I wanted to check with you first. It's totally fine if you say you'd rather I didn't. The decision is yours."
After a long moment of silence Allison had given her permission if not exactly her blessing. "Of course, you should ask him if that's what you really want. It's your day, Bess. It's all about the bride."
For a split second Bess had wondered if Allison had meant something snide by that last remark but dismissed her suspicion as ridiculous. Allison was never snide. Still, Bess had gone on to extract a promise from her old friend that she was one hundred percent sure that she was okay with Chris attending the wedding. "It's just that it would be a shame for him not to be there," she said. "Even knowing ... even knowing that it was Chris who initiated the divorce."
Allison had laughed then, an unhappy laugh. "I suppose I should have known it would come out sooner or later," she said.
But she had offered no further information and ended the call quickly after that. Bess sent the wedding invitations the very next morning. Before a full week had passed Chris had returned the reply card with the WILL NOT ATTEND box firmly checked off and a brief note scrawled on the back of the card. I wish you and Nathan the best, it read.
"I'm sure he'd like to come to the wedding," Bess told Marta on the phone that night. "He probably just thinks that it would be awkward seeing Allison. I'll tell him that Allison is fine with his being there. He'll change his mind. You'll see." Marta had not been so sure.
Bess had gone on to pursue Chris with a vengeance, first with texts and e-mails and when they went unanswered, with a handwritten letter. When after two weeks Bess had received no reply to this missive, she had called his cell phone; the call had gone to voice mail and Bess had left a carefully rehearsed message in a determinedly chipper voice.
Still, Chris did not respond and finally, with both Marta and Nathan urging she back off, Bess agreed to leave the matter alone. But in spite of Marta's telling her that she was being dangerously naïve in thinking that by bringing Allison and Chris together under the same roof she would work a miracle of reconciliation — and that was indeed Bess's fond hope — Bess wasn't sure she had done the right thing by ending her campaign to get Chris to join his old friends at her wedding this summer.
Driftwood House! There it was just ahead. Bess turned into the drive and parked outside the three-car garage. The house really was lovely. Built about ten years earlier, the cedar shingles had softened to silver. Gables, a traditional aspect of the Shingle Style home, gave a soaring aspect to the two-story structure. A back porch looked out over a lawn that rolled gently down to a set of wooden stairs that led directly onto Birmingham Beach. There could be no more perfect setting for Bess's perfect wedding.
Bess got out of her car, pushed her wavy light brown hair from her face, and smiled up at the house. It was certainly large enough to accommodate her friends comfortably. Mike and Marta were due to arrive first, followed by Allison, and then by Chuck, Dean, and baby Thomas. He would be the only child in Driftwood House until the day of the wedding when Bess's nieces and nephews, all seven of them, would make their boisterous appearance. Though it would embarrass Bess to admit this, it always took her a moment to recall the children's names and to remember which child belonged to which of her two sisters. Dennis, Alan, and Gus Jr. belonged to Mae and her husband. Lily, Tildy, Jacob, and Little Owen belonged to Ann and Walt. Bess kept meaning to come up with a trick to help her keep straight her family members, but she never got around to it.
Bess had included Marta's three kids in her invitation to the wedding, but Marta had told Bess that she could use a vacation from her brood. It was the first time Bess had ever heard Marta say such a thing. In fact, imagining Marta without her children gathered around her was almost impossible to do. But everyone needed a bit of a break from responsibility, even a Super Mom.
The car unloaded, Bess brought her travel bags inside and stowed them in the largest of the three bedrooms on the second floor. Then she returned to the car and began hauling the boxes she had packed at her office into the den, the room she had designated as her command center. A laptop and printer; charges for both of her cell phones; notebooks and pens; a framed photo of Nathan taken on the first long weekend they had spent together. In this pleasant room, the wedding of the year would take its final form.
Bess was no stranger to the fact that an outdoor wedding was a fairly big risk — even in the summer bad weather could be an issue — but she was prepared for all eventualities. Her backup plans had backup plans, and she had taken out insurance against every imaginable disaster that might disturb the perfection of her big day. She had even hired a children's performer to help keep her sisters' offspring occupied. Bored children could mean trouble.
Bess opened one of the boxes she had brought to the den and removed a handcrafted leather folio, a gift from an admiring colleague who would be out of the country at the time of the wedding. Indeed, many of the vendors and clients with whom Bess worked had sent her incredible gifts. The owner of a high-end boutique in Ogunquit had given her a gorgeous John Hardy bracelet. A new corporate client in Portland had sent a large cut crystal dish from Tiffany's. There seemed no end to the arrival of baskets filled with caviar, pÃ¢tÃ(c)s, and cheeses, or those crammed with cookies, candies, and jams. One vendor who had been working with Bess for years had given her two tickets to the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Bess had passed them on to Kara, who loved classical music. She had, however, kept the gift certificate for dinner at The White Barn Inn right here in Kennebunkport; Nathan had never been to the venerable Maine institution and was sure to love it. Everyone did.
Bess's phone alerted her to a call from her fiancé. She smiled as she heard Nathan's familiar voice greet her. The proverbial "everyone" said that the initial excitement of a romantic relationship wore off, but Bess didn't believe that it had to. Ten, twenty, even thirty years from now she fully expected to find a smile on her face when she heard Nathan's voice on the other end of the line. Romance didn't have to fade and die. It just didn't.
"So, does the house measure up to your impossible standards?" he asked when Bess got through telling him how much she loved him and he had returned the sentiment.
"Pretty much," Bess admitted. "Though I haven't made a full inspection yet."
"You know your friends will love it, flaws and all." "I know but ..."
Nathan laughed. "But you won't be happy unless every tiny detail is perfect. Well, just be careful not to lift anything too heavy. I'll be there before you know it."
"And you're Mr. Universe!"
Nathan, while fit, was in fact fifty-three years old. He laughed. "No, but I do own a monster of a hand truck and a pretty heavy-duty dolly."
"Good. And be sure to bring bungee cords, too. And a screwdriver. Never go anywhere without a screwdriver. My father told me that once and he was right."
Nathan promised to bring a screwdriver and with another protestation of love he signed off.
Bess sighed in contentment. She felt so very lucky to have finally found The One. Even her family liked Nathan and they had never liked anyone she had dated, not that they had ever said as much. They were far too reticent a bunch to speak freely about tricky things like emotions. Bess had grown up in rural Green Lakes, Maine, as had generations of Culpeppers before her. Introducing the cosmopolitan Nathan to Owen Culpepper, a man who had never traveled farther north than the paper mill town of Madawaska on the Canadian border or farther south than the amusement park in Old Orchard Beach, and to Matilda (née Wade) Culpepper, a woman who had dropped out of high school in her junior year to help care for the first of several elderly relatives she was to care for in her life, was bound to be tricky. But Nathan had very quickly won over Bess's parents with his sincerity and good humor. Even Bess's sisters and their husbands had given him the thumbs-up.
The raucous caws of a seagull caused Bess to frown. She went out to the back porch and eyed with suspicion the giant bird staring at her from the lawn. Hmm. How to keep seagulls from swooping in on the food at the reception? It was a problem she hadn't considered. Maybe she could enlist her brothers-in-law to be on seagull patrol. They could shout and wave their arms when one of the birds came too close for comfort. But that could prove dangerous. What if the bird was made angry by loud noise and vigorous movement?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Wedding on the Beach"
Copyright © 2019 Elise Smith.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.