Twin sisters Waverly and Charlie Talbot have drifted far apart as they pursue opposite dreams of stardom and service to the poor. Now they must come together to face their fears, find their courage, and fight for what they love.
Celebrity chef Waverly Talbot has built a successful career with her home-entertaining show Simply Perfect. Yet she and her husband, Andrew, have never been able to realize the true desire of Waverly’s heart: to become a mother. Meanwhile Waverly’s twin sister, Charlie, buries her bitter disappointment and shattered idealism beneath a life spent serving others as an international aid worker in Budapest, Hungary.
When the beloved aunt who raised them passes away, Waverly and Charlie come together in their grief after living years on separate continents. Struck by a fierce desire to bridge the distance between them, Charlie offers Waverly and her husband the selfless gift of surrogacy.
But soon the sisters find they are each in danger of losing their jobs, seemingly putting their dreams on hold once again. When Waverly shows up unannounced in Budapest with a plan to rescue Simply Perfect, the sisters embark on an adventure across central Europe that could save them both from occupational hazards. Though the twins haven’t had to rely on each other since childhood, a dramatic turn in their journey forces them to stand together to save their careers, the baby, and each other.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Rachel Linden is a novelist and international aid worker whose adventures in over fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her writing. She is the author of Ascension of Larks, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, and The Enlightenment of Bees. Currently Rachel lives with her family in Seattle, Washington, where she enjoys creating stories about hope, courage, and connection with a hint of romance and a touch of whimsy. Visit her online at rachellinden.com; Instagram: rachellinden_writer; Facebook: authorRachellinden.
Read an Excerpt
September The Simply Perfect stage kitchen Greenwich, Connecticut
Waverly Talbot gritted her teeth and smiled brightly for the television camera. She could not swear on the Food Network channel, not even if one of her browned butter tarts with a lemon zest–infused shortbread crust was stuck tight to the festive Easter tart tin, not even if she'd warned the kitchen prep team that the daffodil shape was going to be a pain in the rear. The eyes of America were on her, so she smiled her thousand-watt smile for the camera and ignored the perspiration prickling under the arms of her ecru silk blouse. She tried with all her might to look as though she were smoothly professional and not desperately trying to unstick a reluctant tart crust.
Which she was ... on both counts.
"Now, this step can be a little tricky, so watch closely," Waverly cooed, using just the right intonation of warmth and professionalism. It was a tone that hinted at movie star, kindergarten teacher, and sexy housewife rolled into one — a paragon of domesticity, showing a watching nation just how to make the perfect spring treat.
Out of the corner of her eye, Waverly saw her producer, Beau, give her a thumbs-up as Wyatt, the cameraman, zoomed in for a close-up while she carefully dislodged tarts from the baking tin onto the smooth marble surface of her TV kitchen island. Casting a serene smile at the camera, Waverly swallowed hard, struggling to keep her attention on the tarts. The truth was that she was beginning to feel a little queasy. She closed her eyes for a brief second, delighted by the sensation. Please, please, please, please, she whispered silently.
Forcing herself to focus on the task at hand, she ignored the slight seasick feeling in her stomach that made her heart flutter with a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. She applied a bit more pressure to the tin. With a tiny pop the tart dislodged, coming out whole except for the tip of one daffodil petal that crumbled onto the counter. The camera moved back, capturing Waverly's slightly flushed face. A curl of soft blond hair fell across her brow, and she swept it back, keeping a calm smile on her pale pink lips.
"Oh dear!" Waverly trilled. "Well, we just have to eat the ones that aren't perfect, don't we?" She winked. "These tarts are wonderful for almost any occasion, and combined with the strawberry-basil limeade we whipped up earlier, they'll have you feeling festively springlike in no time. With a little effort and a little bit of luck, you, too, can design and host a spring-themed garden party that is ..." She paused for a half second, then delivered her signature line with demure confidence, sweeping her hand over the tarts sitting in a row before her. "Simply perfect."
She picked up a tart, the daffodil troublemaker, and took a tiny nibble, obliterating the mistake. She gazed into the eye of the camera, waited three beats until she heard, "Cut!" and then promptly dropped the offending tart on the counter.
"Great show. This is going to be a popular one." Beau approached the island, scribbling a few notes onto his clipboard. "Especially when those tart tins are featured in the March issue of Good Housekeeping next spring. Perfect product placement, Boss."
She brushed buttery crumbs from her fingers and nodded, glad the episode was over. She disliked doing themed episodes for her home entertaining show; they were too gauche for her taste, but audiences loved them. With every pumpkin cookie cornucopia, every patriotic red-white-and-blue ice cream cake, Simply Perfect's ratings climbed. So Beau pressed for at least three a season. In her Simply Perfect domain, Waverly Talbot was queen, but public opinion was king.
Waverly untied the frilled turquoise dotted swiss apron she'd worn for the show. Although it was September, it was a warm day and the studio kitchen was sweltering from the lights and the oven. She left the apron on the counter, where an assistant would launder it and return it to the apron closet. Her aprons were as much a part of her image as anything else. She was Simply Perfect's Waverly Talbot, a combination Martha Stewart and Marilyn Monroe, the perfect fifties housewife in the modern world who could sew the button on a shirt cuff, Google instructions for steaming Dungeness crabs, and still look divine in heels and pearls on cable TV. She had over a hundred aprons, all of them custom-made.
"Beau, tell the team to please read all of the preparation notes," Waverly instructed with a frown, washing her hands and carefully slathering on a lemon-scented moisturizer. "We can't afford any more mistakes on camera like we had with that tin today. Every detail needs to be right."
"You got it," Beau said, hurrying behind her as she headed back to her office, tucked behind the stage kitchen. Both were located in a renovated carriage house on the expansive Greenwich, Connecticut, property belonging to Waverly and her husband, Andrew Ross. She had begun using the carriage house six years ago because it was free, but as Simply Perfect rose in popularity, she chose not to move to a more spacious sound stage. She loved the convenience of walking across her backyard to get to work.
With Beau at her heels, Waverly breezed into her office, a narrow galley space decorated in pale, understated tones. The only color was a series of candy-bright vintage advertisements for fifties kitchenware that dotted the walls, lending a certain air of domestic gaiety to the muted beige-and-cream space. She turned to her producer, intending to ask him to give her a few minutes. She wanted to be alone, to regain her equilibrium and allow herself to explore this new, slightly seasick sensation, and all it could potentially mean.
"Hey, Boss, I wanted to check on a few things for the launch party," Beau said, making himself comfortable on the tufted cream-colored leather loveseat and diving into business before she could speak. "You said you wanted to go with a sort of Mad Men–themed cocktail bash here at your place. What still needs to be done?" He held his pen aloft, poised for her reply.
Waverly's new project, a cocktail hour entertaining book, was coming out in just over a month. Publicity was kicking into high gear for the book's release.
She sank into her cream leather office chair and slipped off her high heels with a sigh. Might as well get this over with. She could dwell on the future later. She'd have plenty of time before Andrew came home from his job in the city.
"Sophie has it all under control. Invitations are already in the mail. I think everything's in hand."
They had decided on a designer cocktail bar with a small jazz band, waiters in black tie, and a select guest list of TV producers, influential cooking blog writers and book reviewers, and a couple of daytime talk show hosts — a glamorous, intimate evening with a few dozen people whose good opinion could propel book sales from average to bestseller.
Beau jotted a few notes on his yellow legal pad, his ponytail bouncing with his energetic scribbling. Beau Beecham was not the sleekest producer around, but he had been with Waverly from the beginning, from her little-watched local television channel show, Entertaining with Waverly, to the growing home entertaining empire she presided over now. He was detailed, loyal, and down-to-earth, the right-hand man Waverly relied on to help her keep Simply Perfect moving up in the world. "I think that's all we need to discuss," she said, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. "We can talk about the particulars later."
She let her hand drift over her abdomen as she waited for him to finish writing. Was she really feeling queasy, or had it just been the heat and lights and the intensity of filming? To test herself Waverly pictured a full Thanksgiving dinner — roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy with giblets. There. She stopped. The thought of giblets swimming in a sea of brown sauce made her stomach turn over. She definitely wasn't imagining it. She smiled in amazement. All the other times she had never made it far enough to get morning sickness. This was an entirely new sensation.
Beau consulted his notes as he wrapped up the meeting and prepared to go. "Okay, we'll start prep tomorrow at seven and plan to shoot the first segment by nine. We're doing the cardamom quick bread first, is that right?"
Waverly's iPhone buzzed and she nodded in reply, glancing distractedly at the message. She expected to see a text from Andrew announcing that he was held up in a meeting or on his way home. He worked long hours at an investment firm in New York City, commuting from Wall Street to their home on the Connecticut shore. But the text wasn't from Andrew. It was from the hospice caregiver, Jillian.
Mae's worse. I think you'd better come. I'm sorry.
"Oh," Waverly gasped, her heart skipping a beat. She instinctively covered the screen with her hand, blocking out the words. She was not ready. She sat motionless for a moment, shaken by those few words and what they meant. It was too soon. Finally, she stirred herself into action, feeling numb and too slow, as though she were moving through icy water, her usually organized thoughts scattering like marbles.
"Beau, it's Aunt Mae." Waverly spoke slowly, trying to focus and come up with a plan of action. She couldn't just sit there, not when minutes might count, not when she was needed. "They're calling me in," she said, working out the necessary steps in her head as she went along. "I'll go immediately, as soon as I can get a flight to Columbus. Cancel the taping tomorrow and put the crew on hold. I don't know how long I'll be."
Beau gave her a sympathetic frown. Without hesitation, even though they were scheduled to finish taping the entire season in the next couple of weeks, he replied, "Okay, Boss. I'll handle it. We'll take care of everything." He consulted his schedule. "On Friday you were supposed to have Elle Fanning as a celebrity guest. You're making gourmet cake pops together. Want me to see if we can postpone her, reschedule for when you get back?"
Waverly was already on her feet, slipping her aching heels back into her shoes. She paused for a moment, tapping her fingernail against her lips, trying to think clearly. Her mind was already back in a small farmhouse in rural Ohio with the woman who had raised her from the age of twelve. Her heart squeezed at the thought of her aunt. The last time Waverly had seen her, nearly two months ago now, Aunt Mae had been as bald as a newly hatched chick, all pink scalp and wisps of hair, but as full of salt and vinegar as ever. The chemo and radiation had not daunted her. She had been soldiering on.
Waverly swallowed hard. She had thought there would be more time. "I don't know. Let's have a backup date if Elle can reschedule, but let's hope I'm back by Friday." She grabbed her phone and resolutely put aside all thoughts of giblets and queasy stomachs, cake pops and starlets. They would have to wait until later.
"Sure thing, Boss." Beau was already scribbling notes on his legal pad, rearranging the schedule. He would handle everything. He met her eyes for a moment, and in his she read a genuine sympathy. "Hey, I'm sorry. I know how close you were ... are to her."
Waverly nodded, suddenly focusing very hard on a poster of a smiling housewife beaming over a brand-new shiny silver double toaster. The toaster swam and blurred for just a second, but she blinked back the tears.
On my way.
She sent the text, already moving toward the entrance. She would call Andrew, pack her things, and leave immediately. Beau trotted behind her as she hurried through the test kitchen, where the prep crew was cleaning up and getting ready for tomorrow.
She tossed instructions over her shoulder as she walked. "Get Sophie to book a flight for me, the earliest one I can catch to Columbus today, and have her reserve a rental car for the week. Tell her to get something midsize, not one of those little economy cars. I want something with power windows at least. Oh ... and Charlie." She stopped, suddenly remembering her twin sister, Charlotte. Of course Charlie needed to know as soon as possible.
Waverly calculated the time difference in her head. Six hours from the East Coast to Central Europe. It was after ten at night over there, but she couldn't wait.
"I'm going to pack a bag. Order a taxi for JFK, and have them here in thirty minutes."
"You got it, Boss." Beau pulled out his phone and started punching numbers.
Waverly didn't look back, confident that Beau would arrange everything. She hurried out the french doors that led from the carriage house and crossed the wide brick entertaining patio and the long emerald sweep of lawn to the main house.
Upstairs in the spacious master bedroom suite, she paused just long enough to call Andrew. He was in a meeting, so she left a message with his secretary and then called her sister's European cell number. Although Charlie was based in Budapest, she traveled almost constantly, and there was no telling what country she was in at any given moment. She worked for an NGO that focused on developing community health programs in post-Communist countries. The last two times they had talked, Charlie had been staffing a women's health drop-in center in Belgrade and riding a night train to Moldova to run a reproductive health seminar in a local high school.
The call went straight to voicemail. Charlie's voice, deeper than her own and less polished, whiskey to Waverly's champagne. "It's Charlie. Leave a message."
"Charlie, it's Waverly. Jillian just contacted me." Her heart was beating so fast she had to stop and catch her breath. "She says ... she says Aunt Mae is failing. She thinks we'd better come. I'm flying down there now. Call me when you get this."
Her hands were trembling as she disconnected the call. It had been a few weeks since she'd talked to Charlie, maybe even a month. They'd been keeping in contact more frequently since Aunt Mae's diagnosis, their calls mostly centered around health updates. Before that they had talked briefly every few months, on holidays and their joint birthday mainly, but hadn't seen each other in several years. It seemed that they had less in common with each passing year. The path of their lives had forked years ago, and the distance had been widening ever since.
Waverly pulled her trusty Louis Vuitton suitcase from the walk-in closet, opened it, and stared at the empty hull for a long moment, her mind a complete blank. What would she need in Ohio? Finally she threw in a couple of sweater sets and a gray silk dress she liked that seemed funeral appropriate. She didn't want to believe that she would actually need it. Not yet. She snatched her nude pumps and a bag of miniature toiletries she always kept packed and ready. She lingered for a moment over the jewelry. In the end she chose a pair of gold hoops and her Tiffany pearls, a one-year anniversary present from Andrew back when Entertaining with Waverly was a struggling local public access channel show and such a gift was an unexpected luxury. Those pearls were still her favorite. Not the best or most expensive, but the ones that held the most sentiment.
She glanced at the clock. Five minutes until the taxi was due to arrive. Zipping the suitcase, she straightened, smoothed her skirt, and took a deep breath, trying to recall anything she might have forgotten.
And then she felt it — a sharp gripping in her abdomen, like the closing of a tiny fist over her womb. It was a familiar sensation, one that rooted her to the carpet in sudden horror. She swallowed hard, all her attention focused internally, pinpointed on the spot where she had felt the cramp.
"Oh no," she whispered. She felt hot and cold, and slightly nauseated. Outside she heard the crunch of tires on the drive and a moment later the honk of the waiting taxi. And then she felt it again, another cramp, harder this time, unmistakable.
In the spacious pearl-gray master bathroom, Waverly sat down on the side of the soaking tub, her hands clenched tight, willing the sensation to go away, willing herself to be wrong. She waited for one breath, then another. Outside the taxi honked again, but she ignored it. The gripping again, low in her pelvis, so familiar and so shattering.
Excerpted from "Becoming The Talbot Sisters"
Copyright © 2018 Rachel Linden.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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