Amy March is more like her older sister Jo than she’d like to admit. An up-and-coming designer in New York’s competitive fashion industry, ambitious Amy is determined to get out of her sisters’ shadows and keep her distance from their North Carolina hometown. But when Jo’s wedding forces Amy home, she must face what she really wants…and confront the One Big Mistake that could upend her life and forever change her relationship with Jo.
Gentle, unassuming Beth grew up as the good girl of the family. A talented singer-songwriter, she’s overcome her painful anxiety to tour with country superstar Colt Henderson. But life on the road has taken its toll on her health and their relationship. Maybe a break to attend her sister’s wedding will get her out of her funk. But Beth realizes that what she’s looking for and what she needs are two very different things.…
With the March women reunited, this time with growing careers and families, they must once again learn to lean on one another as they juggle the changes coming their way.
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It's always a mistake to sleep with a man who's in love with your sister. Even in Paris. Even if they'd broken up again-for good this time, he said. Even though I'd been in love with him since I was eleven years old.
But I was young and dumb and homesick. So. Whatever. I had a one-night hookup in a foreign city with Trey Laurence, the rich boy next door, after my sister broke his heart.
Three years later (Thirty-three months, if I were counting. I was totally counting), I was older and a whole lot wiser. But returning home for my sister's wedding was still going to be all kinds of awkward.
Oh, I'd been back to North Carolina before. For holidays, and that awful time when Momma got sick, and when my nephew Robbie was born. I still saw my sister occasionally when she came to New York to visit her publisher or the restaurant where she'd once worked. But even though Jo was about to be married to another man, I still couldn't face her without a squirm of guilt. I'd had sex with her ex-a clear violation of the Sisters' Code. As for the other guilty party, Trey . . . Well. Just because he'd found a way to forgive himself didn't mean I had to forgive him. Or myself. Mostly I avoided him.
Which was going to be a lot harder to do now that we were members of the same wedding party. (And no, my heart wasn't holding on to some pathetic hope that since Jo was finally marrying somebody else, Trey would pull his head out of his ass and realize it was me he loved after all.)
But maybe being a bridesmaid in Jo's wedding would bring me and my sister closer. Maybe this was my chance to prove to Trey-or at least to myself-that I was over him. I had better things to do with my life than obsess over a stupid childhood crush. My handbag business, Baggage, had taken off. Meghan Markle herself had recently been photographed carrying one of my totes, and demands for the rechristened "Duchess" bag were pouring in, threatening to flood my Bedford Park apartment in the Bronx.
"It's like a goddamn rainbow puked in here," my assistant, Flo, had said before I left New York. She zipped tape across the top of a carton, adding to the boxes of custom orders packed and stacked for pickup by the door.
I glanced from her Frida Kahlo T-shirt to her natural hair, tipped this month in fiery red. "Yeah, I know how much you hate color," I said, making her laugh.
I skirted a rack of bins to get to my worktable, piled high with wallets waiting for snaps and trim. Purses, totes, and cross-body bags in bright colors and various stages of assembly overflowed every surface. I was already renting storage from the dry cleaner's downstairs. My bedroom was so filled with bolts of vinyl and leather, I couldn't find my mattress. Not that I had much time to sleep anyway.
The truth was, we needed a bigger workroom. A second sewing machine. More shelving. More light. Maybe even a little retail space, although a storefront in Manhattan was totally out of my price range, at least for now.
I reached for a punch tool. "You sure you're all right filling these orders while I'm gone?"
"Mamey." Easy. Flo Callazzo was a real New Yorker, a proud Afro-Dominican-Puerto-Rican daughter of the Bronx.
Me? Not so much. In Paris, my schoolgirl French had marked me as irredeemably "other." I'd thought being back on American soil would feel like home. But my first week in the city, I'd realized my down-home accent made me stick out among the fast-talking Yankees all around me. Waitresses asked me to repeat myself. Buyers assumed I was uneducated. Guys figured I was easy. Or naive. A dumb hick blonde.
Which worked to my advantage, sometimes.
"You're not getting out of your sister's wedding on account of me," Flo said.
"I'm not trying to get out of anything." I busied myself inserting a snap. "I already rented a car and everything. I drive down Wednesday."
"Faster to fly."
"I thought I'd stop along the way. Take a day to do some store checks."
I didn't actually need to visit clients on my way to my sister's wedding. But I needed the car to transport her wedding present, draped across the backseat.
Anyway, I loved walking into a store and seeing my bags, my brand, displayed on the gleaming shelves. #bagsinthewild #ownit I loved the expensive smell of the boutiques, citrus, sandalwood, jasmine, the fragrant scent of bergamot oil. The accounts were always happy to see me, flattered I'd gone out of my way to visit.
Not like going home at all.
Not that my family didn't love me, I told myself as I left the last client store in Raleigh and hit the highway for my mother's farm. They did. All of them, even Jo. But my sisters were too busy with their own lives to care much about mine.
Our mother, who never took a day's vacation in her life, had encouraged all of us girls to work hard and follow our dreams. Meg was the perfect mother to two perfect children. Jo was a bestselling author. Beth was a budding country star. And I . . . I made accessories. It didn't matter how many Instagram followers or employees I had. In my family's eyes, I was still little Amy, playing with scraps from Miss Hannah's quilting bag.
And yet . . . There was comfort in the familiar landscape rushing by, the tall pines stretching to the wide blue sky, the sunlit ditches full of cattails and turtles, the poppies blooming by the side of the road. I turned up the gravel drive marked sisters' farm, the stones spitting beneath my tires. The square frame house, the old mule barn turned creamery, the child's playset in the baby goats' paddock.
Too bad nobody was there. No car. No truck. Nobody.
I got out of the car and took a deep breath of country air scented with hay and the river. Also . . . goats. Brown goats, black goats, striped and spotted goats, all sizes, smelling like cheese left out on the counter too long. They crowded to the fence, bleating and bumping for attention, the babies skipping around the paddock like they were auditioning for YouTube. Cute, if you liked that sort of thing.
Our mother loved them. Not more than she loved us girls, of course.
Our mother, Abigail March, could do anything-drive a tractor, make a pie crust, refinish a table. Find anything-toys, shoes, missing homework. Fix anything, except a broken heart. She made sure we got our shots and permission slips on time, taught Meg to cook and me to sew, and came to all our school performances. But her time and attention were always rationed between us and the farm.
Meg said things were different before Daddy quit his job as a minister and went to Iraq as an army chaplain. I remember I cried when we left the parsonage and all my friends in town. But I was only ten when our mother moved us girls out to the farm. Most of my memories were of her working.
It wasn't like her to be gone in the middle of the day.
I didn't expect to see our dad. Mom had asked him to move out almost three years ago. But I felt his absence like poking at a missing tooth with your tongue.
Stupid. Meg and Jo were grown and gone when I was still in high school. I should be used to coming home to an almost empty house by now.
I leaned against the front fender as I called Momma's cell. She didn't pick up. Typical. "Why would I ignore somebody standing right in front of me to answer the phone?" she liked to say. But I could call Meg, my oldest sister. Meg was busy, too-her twins were about to turn five, and she kept the books for several farms and businesses in town. But she always found time for me.
A guy walked around the corner of the barn. Tall and rough-looking, his face seamed with sun and hard living behind a don't-mess-with-me beard.
I kept a hand on my phone just in case he turned out to be, oh, a serial killer or something. Living in New York had taught me caution. And out here in the country, nobody was around to hear me scream. "Hi."
He nodded in greeting. The strong, silent type, obviously. Beneath the beard, he looked vaguely familiar. Which . . . Yeah. Everybody looked familiar in Bunyan. Because of inbreeding, Jo said. But it was more that everybody had a cousin who used to go to your daddy's church or went to school with your sister, strands of connection twined and knotted like macramŽ.
I tried again. "Do I know you?"
He looked at me, no expression at all, like a New Yorker. Or a Frenchman. "Dan Harkins."
I smiled encouragingly, waiting.
"I work for your ma."
So he knew who I was. Or at least that Momma was expecting me. I relaxed my grip on the phone.
Our mother came from tough Scottish stock, too proud-or too cheap-to pay somebody else to do her work. But after she was hospitalized a couple years ago, she'd hired some of Dad's vets to do the heavy lifting. Mom was better now, but as her herd and business grew, she'd kept on some of the new hires.
"Where is my mother?" I asked.
"Over at Oak Hill." A pause. "Helping your sister."
Jo, being Jo, had taken a casual approach to her wedding. She and her love, Eric Bhaer, were already living together, dividing their time between New York and North Carolina. They had three kids-baby Rob and two teenage sons from Eric's previous marriage. It was only now that Eric's ex-wife was deployed and his younger son Alec was coming to live with them that Jo decided it was finally time to get married. "I don't need a poofy dress and a big, fancy wedding," Jo said when she called me. "I just want to marry him."
So. No poof. No bachelorette parties, no bridal showers, no save-the-date cards or hair and makeup trials. It wasn't quite an elopement-our great-aunt Josephine had offered her big old house at Oak Hill for the wedding, and all the family would be there-but it was pretty close.
I thought of the garment bag in the backseat, hung from the hook on the passenger side. I had to give it to Jo sometime. And there must be a million things to do before the ceremony on Sunday. Food. Eric was a chef. Maybe I could help with the flowers or something.
"I guess I'll go give them a hand," I said.
Because nothing says I'm so sorry I slept with your old boyfriend like a flower arrangement. Anyway, spending time with my sister couldn't be more awkward than hanging out here with Silent Sam.
With a little wave, I got back in the car, flipping down the visor to check my Parisian Red lipstick. The little flick of eyeliner I'd applied so carefully this morning was only slightly smudged. Good enough, I decided. It wasn't like I was going to see Trey. And Jo didn't care.
But Aunt Phee would, I thought as I turned down the long sandy lane toward Oak Hill. Nothing mattered more to our great-aunt than appearances.
Our father grew up in the big white house on the hill. When Daddy deployed to Iraq, Momma refused to move in with our father's aunt Phee, moving us instead to her parents' small farm. Over the years, Oak Hill's land had been sold off to developers and the Coastal Land Trust, but the manor and some of the original outbuildings remained. Too much space, Aunt Phee said, for one old lady. Our father had moved into the carriage house after Momma kicked him out.
I could see signs of recent activity as I approached. The dark magnolias had been trimmed back from the house, the columned porch freshly painted, and the grass mowed all the way down the long slope to the duck pond. Azaleas and early roses bloomed everywhere, clouds of pink, red, and white transforming the scrubby gardens into the perfect wedding venue.
I pulled into the long, circular drive and parked behind our mother's battered blue pickup under a mature live oak draped in Spanish moss. A white van with The Taproom logo-Eric's new restaurant in town-was parked by the side of the house.
And there was my sister Jo, laughing and chasing Robbie on the grass. He was grinning at her over his shoulder as he pushed a toy lawn mower, his fat little legs moving as fast as they could go.
Gladness and guilt surged inside me. And maybe . . . a pang of envy? She looked so happy.
"Jokies!" I cried, getting out of the car.
Which is what I always called her. We had always been rivals, for Dad's attention and, later, for Trey's. She didn't confide in me the way she did in Meg. She didn't baby me the way she did Beth. But we were sisters. The funny pet name was my way of establishing a special bond between us.
Robbie looked in the direction of my voice, stumbled over the mower, and fell.
"Oh shit. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. You're okay," Jo said. To which one of us? She scooped up her baby, smooching his cheeks and propping him on her hip. She smiled at me over his head. "Hey, Ames."
I hugged her awkwardly, the baby between us. He peeped at me from her neck, his shy smile revealing a string of little pearl teeth. He had his daddy's dark skin and curly hair. Eyelashes to die for. "Hello, handsome." I kissed his forehead gently. "You're getting so big," I marveled.
"Nineteen months." Jo shifted his weight. "Good to see you. Mom wasn't sure when you were getting in."
"I wanted to come early to help. Not that you need it," I added. "Everything looks wonderful."
"Thanks. Wait till you see the inside," Jo said.
I thought of fetching her wedding present from the car. But her arms were full with Rob, and anyway, it was her turn to show off. I trailed her up the wide, shallow steps to the high, shaded porch. Planters of ferns flanked the leaded glass door.
Oak Hill manor was built in 1852 in the Greek Revival style. Aunt Phee's style of furnishing was almost as old. But the faded velvet drapes and most of the oriental carpets were gone, the pine floors refinished, the walls painted a creamy neutral. The whole effect was light, bright, and inviting.
Reading Group Guide
Beth and Amy by Virginia Kantra
1. What scenes or lines from the original Little Women do you recognize in Beth & Amy? What struck you as most different?
2. Amy feels guilty for having sex with her sister Jo’s ex—“a clear violation of the Sisters’ Code.” Do you believe in a similar code? What makes Amy’s choices in Paris and three years later in Bunyan okay or not okay?
3. When Beth arrives for the wedding, her family reacts to her changed appearance. “Look at you,” Abby says. “You’re skin and bones.” And Phee replies, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” How do their comments reflect the messages women hear about their bodies? How do other characters in the story feel or talk about weight or appearance?
4. Why do you think the author chose to include Abby/Momma’s point of view in this story? What did it add to your understanding of the characters?
5. At what point in the story did you realize Beth had an eating disorder? Why doesn’t she confide in her family about her anorexia? Why do you think it took her family so long to recognize her problem? Have you known anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder? Have you discussed it with them? What do you think is helpful to say or not say? (Want to learn more about eating disorders? You can find resources and support at nationaleatingdisorders.org.)
6. Several romantic relationships in the book involve missed opportunities and connections—Abby and Ash, Jo and Trey, Amy and Trey, Beth and Colt, Aunt Phee and James Laurence. How were these resolved? Were you satisfied with the resolutions? Why or why not?
7. Do you agree that Beth and Amy are “defined by who we were not. Shadows of Meg and Jo”? How does birth order affect the sisters’ relationships? In what ways do they embrace or reject their family roles? How does their closeness, comparison, and competition affect their choices?
8. Amy refers to Trey as “Prince Charming” and herself as “Cinderella.” How accurate is this description? How does their relationship stay the same or change?
9. When the March sisters go out to dinner, Beth says, “Food has always been about me saying no. I have to teach myself to say yes.” What are the turning points in the story where the characters say yes or no?
10. In Louisa May Alcott’s time, many young women died in childhood or childbirth. The original Beth dies of scarlet fever. Why do you think the author chose to give Beth an eating disorder instead? Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with the decision not to kill off her character?
11. At the end of the book, Abby thinks Ash is “finally the man he was meant to be.” Do you agree or disagree? In what ways do the other characters become their best selves?