Coventry, Texas bills itself as the "tiny town with the big heart." Amid its picturesque storefronts and open-minded locals, one woman in search of a temporary hideaway might find much more than she hoped for. . .
Jandy Taylor's grandfather always teased her about not being able to finish anything. So perhaps it's not a shock that a few days before her wedding to soap star Hudson Blake, Jandy postpones the ceremony and hitches a ride to Coventry, Texas, with a stranger named Sam, a dog named Sue, and an overwhelming desire to escape--if only for a few days. . .
Coventry is in the middle of its famed annual Godiva Festival, making it the perfect place for Jandy to be carefree and invisible. That is until the press dubs her a "runaway bride." Now, with an eager groom, her PR-hungry mother, and a swarm of paparazzi on her trail, Jandy has to figure out if it's possible that a town, a life, and a man she hardly knows could suddenly feel an awful lot like home. . .
Praise for Becky Cochrane and A Coventry Christmas
"This novel is written with warmth and lots of cute, fun dialogue." --Romantic Times
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A Coventry Wedding
By Becky Cochrane
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Call me Jandy."
She cringed a little inside every time she remembered saying those words aloud. Technically, she hadn't lied. When she was a little girl, her grandpa had called her Jandy. But she hadn't thought of that in years, and even the way she'd presented it-"Call me Jandy" instead of "My name is Jandy"-sounded dishonest. Lying about her name was ominous, much like the sign a few feet away with its warning: POISONOUS SNAKES AND INSECTS INHABIT THE AREA.
She dismissed her feeling of doom. She'd never been superstitious; she believed in cold, hard facts. She also believed in things she could see, and so far, those things hadn't included snakes or spiders. She was more concerned with a pest that walked upright on two legs, called itself Sam, and belonged to a gender that tended to boast that it ran the world. Considering the state of the world, she wasn't sure that Sam had much reason to brag. Nor did she think his current suggestion of a coin toss to settle their argument over custody rights indicated any great intellect.
Maybe it was the effect of the desert heat on her brain that made her agree to his proposition. Or maybe it was her memory of Burger v. Burger (Los Angeles County Superior Court). Perhaps if Theodore Burger and his former wife Mary Therese had settled their custody dispute with a coin toss, they'd have spared themselves millions of dollars in damages and attorney fees.
Maybe a coin toss was a quick solution to an unexpected and unwelcome roadblock on her road to liberty.
With a pang of guilt, she nodded at Sam. He took a quarter from his pocket and flipped it in the air while saying, "Heads I win; tails you lose."
She pressed her knuckles against her lips to stop herself from protesting. No matter how infuriating it was to be considered stupid-did he really think she didn't understand that "heads I win; tails you lose" meant that she lost either way?-the last twenty-four hours were proof that her judgment skills had faded almost as fast as her cell phone battery. She needed sleep. She needed food. She needed help with her stolen truck, which only a half hour earlier had suffered a much noisier death than her cell phone. What she didn't need was a custody battle under the broiling Arizona sun.
She could tell by the sweat running down her face and the way her hair was plastered to her skull under the yellow bandanna-and yellow was so not her color-that she wasn't looking any better than she felt. She was hideous, hot, and hopeless. She was five hundred miles from home without a soul to call to rescue her. Not that she believed in being rescued. And not that she could call anyone anyway, with a dead cell phone.
The single advantage of losing phone service was that she no longer had to dread a possible phone call from her mother. Unfortunately, having Dear Prudence along for the ride was nearly as bad-even if Dear Prudence was nothing more than the name she'd lifted long ago from a Beatles song and given to the nagging voice inside her head. Dear Prudence didn't smile, didn't play, couldn't see or hear the beauty in the world, and cast a pall over everyone else's good time.
When she'd been a child, Dear Prudence kept her from making mud pies with the fresh dirt the landscapers put in the flower beds. Dear Prudence kept her from running through the jets of water that kept the grass a brilliant green on the golf course behind their house. When she became a teenager, Dear Prudence kept her out of messy entanglements with boys and away from dirty tricks the mean girls played at school. Dear Prudence ensured that she never drove without a license, shoplifted an article of clothing, cheated on a test, smoked a joint behind the gym-in fact, had any fun at all.
As an adult, she still heard the voice, though she'd shortened its name to Pru, and it often seemed more grimly real than her mother. Some people had imaginary friends. But she had to come up with an imaginary mother, as if the one who'd given birth to her wasn't hard enough on her nervous system.
This is not the way you were supposed to be spending this week, Pru chimed in on cue.
She couldn't argue. Buried somewhere in the bottom of her purse, probably wrapped around the twelve thousand in cash that she was supposed to have put in the bank, was a piece of white card stock embossed with cascading roses. Its words were burned into her brain by remorse hotter than the sun that shone on the Grand Canyon State.
The honor of your presence is requested at the marriage of Miss January Day Halli to Mr. Henry Hudson Blake Saturday the third of June Two thousand and six at half after seven o'clock
Blah blah blah. Instead of looking like he'd been cast in the role of the perfect bridegroom, Hud was in Minnesota, and she had changed her name from January-or even the name she was usually called, Jane-to Jandy and embroiled herself in a custody fight with an annoying man named Sam who thought she was stupid.
Heads I win, tails you lose.
Seeming to hover in the air, the coin looked like a flame, an illusion caused by the reflection of the unrelenting sun. Memories of Theodore and Mary Therese Burger again pulsed through her heat-addled brain. Three million dollars in fines and fees and damages. The swimming pool of their Hollywood Hills mansion filled with headless chicken and duck carcasses purchased at Hong Kong Market. A Land Rover dredged out of Lake Arrowhead. Careers ruined. Families divided. All because two adults who desperately wanted to be free of each other couldn't agree about which of them had the greater claim to an award-winning, eleven pound bichon frisé named Wallace.
No. She didn't need that kind of drama. Let this Sam person win his coin toss and with it, custody.
She glanced down at the stocky dog who was scratching its ear with a hind paw, indifferent that its fate was being decided by a bogus coin toss. Except for being white, this dog was nothing like the pictures she'd seen of the Burgers' little Wallace. In a world of canine celebrity, this dog would be the barrel full of muscle and fat that acted as bodyguard to the petite powerhouse that was Wallace. This dog would be invisible, in fact, unless some overly ambitious fan or photographer got too aggressive toward Wallace. And then ...
She glanced again at the dog's benign expression and thought, Not even then. This dog is just a big, dumb flea carrier. Although thanks to this dog, at least the fleas are getting somewhere, unlike me.
As much as it rankled her to admit it, Sam was probably right. If the dog had a choice, would it want to end up with a woman who thought of it as a big, dumb flea carrier? A woman who knew nothing about taking care of a dog? A woman who was sweat-soaked, exhausted, and couldn't manage to steal a functioning truck?
The dog yawned, as if bored by the outcome of the coin toss.
Fine. Let Sam think she was that stupid. The sooner she stopped arguing with him, the sooner he'd take the dog and get out of her way. She was waiting for someone and didn't need to be distracted by man or beast.
"Heads," Sam said and let her see the coin in his palm. "I win."
"I guess you got yourself a dog." She looked down to see the dog staring up at her, its tongue hanging out from between pink and black gums. "What'll you name it?"
Sam had removed his belt from his cargo pants and was making a loop to put around the dog's neck. He glanced at her, squinting against the sun-her initial assessment that he was no genius was backed up by his failure to realize that his sunglasses were hanging from the front of his shirt-and said, "I don't know. Maybe I'll call it Sue."
She scowled at the way he emphasized his words, and Pru jeered, Maybe he's smarter than you think. Sounds like he knows Jandy's not really your name.
Whatever, she answered. It's not like I'll ever see him again.
"A boy named Sue?" she asked.
Sam looked puzzled and said, "I would never have figured you for a Johnny Cash fan."
They stared at each other, and finally she said, "Why would you name a boy dog Sue?"
"I wouldn't. I chose Sue because that eye with one black ring made me think of Rudbeckia."
Too much heat and too little sleep were apparently affecting her comprehension skills, so again she said only, "What?"
"The flower," Sam said. "You might know it as black-eyed susan, but its real name is Rudbeckia. Perfect for her, because she looks like she has a black eye."
"Oh!" she said, looking again at the dog. "It's a girl dog."
The expression on Sam's face, and maybe the dog's face, too, made it clear he was sure that the right person had won the coin toss and with it, possession of the dog. After all, if she couldn't figure out a dog's gender, what ignorance might she show regarding more serious matters like when to feed it, what shots it needed, and whether it had worms?
Ugh. Worms. Maybe it really was best that the dog was now wearing Sam's belt.
"I hope you two will be very happy together," she said.
Sam raised an eyebrow, probably because of her dismissive tone, but simply said to the dog, "C'mon, girl. Sue. Let's go for a walk so you can take care of business before we hit the road."
She felt a twinge of regret as the two of them walked away without a backward glance. She again thought of Wallace Burger, the bichon frisé. The big, dumb flea carrier wouldn't have been Wallace's bodyguard after all. She was a graceless, lumbering female who would probably never have been allowed near the little champion. And if she had been, onlookers would have wondered, What's he doing with her? She's way out of her league with him.
She shook her head. She was so tired that she was attributing unattractive human qualities to dogs. It was possible that she was just bothered by the dog's indifference as it walked away from her. Who wanted to be judged unworthy of friendship by a dog? Dogs were supposed to like everybody, weren't they?
She certainly didn't care what Sam thought of her. So what if he'd been kind enough to help a dog? So what if he had nice eyes, interesting eyebrows, good skin, and a semi-attractive smile? He thought she was stupid, and she had no patience for that. One thing Hud never did was treat her like she didn't have a brain. In fact, Hud almost always deferred to her decisions, including the one she'd made to postpone their wedding less than a week before it was scheduled to take place.
She glanced at the two-carat, emerald-cut diamond on her left hand and remembered to twist it around so the stone wouldn't show. Then she climbed back inside the hot cab of the crippled pickup and stared at the flatbed tow truck she'd noticed when she pulled off the freeway. At least she was out of the sun. She didn't dare go inside the rest stop and miss the tow truck driver. As soon as he showed up, she could get the pickup taken somewhere for repairs and then turn back the way she'd come. She'd been in the grip of some kind of road hypnosis, but now she was clearheaded.
Her eyes felt gritty, and she longed to close them. To keep herself awake-and maybe to silence Pru-she mentally replayed the last twenty-four hours. If she could make sense of her impulsive behavior, she might be able to face her mother and anyone else who had reason to question her.
She'd awakened the day before with the feeling of a certain harsh reality settling in as she stared blearily from the balcony of Hud's Los Feliz apartment. In only a few days, she would wake up there every morning, watching him rush out the door to make it to the studio by seven. There would be some days he'd be gone for twelve to fourteen hours, finally coming home to eat and memorize his lines for the next day before falling into bed.
The three days a week he wasn't taping, he'd be busy playing softball, golfing, or surfing with the Foundlings, his group of friends who'd given themselves that name when they hadn't made it into the Groundlings, L.A.'s famous improvisational group. She suspected that rather than being self-deprecating with their name, they secretly thought they were too good for the Groundlings. She had to admit that none of Hud's friends had turned into the slash clichés: waiter/actor, stylist/singer, personal trainer/comic. The Foundlings were moderately successful, but almost nothing they did reflected the glamorous lifestyle people outside the industry associated with show business. They were just normal people who happened to be actors, writers, comedians, and musicians.
The Foundlings' ordinary lives didn't bother her; she wasn't interested in glamour. But she did wonder why they always had to be around and part of everything she and Hud did, and she had a feeling marriage wouldn't change that. She wasn't sure she was ready to drastically alter her life when Hud's would basically stay the same.
While she'd stared from his balcony at the hazy L.A. sky, she suspected it was a bad sign that the week of her wedding, she was already missing her tiny studio apartment on the edge of Silver Lake. Her rent was paid through August, so she didn't have to rush moving her possessions into Hud's place after their wedding. But shouldn't she be looking forward to starting their life together as a married couple, instead of yearning for her creaky old hardwood floors and the shaded sidewalks of her neighborhood? Even the burglar bars on her apartment windows and her aloof neighbors seemed charming compared to Hud's apartment full of gray granite, smoked glass, black leather, and stainless steel.
She'd stopped her random, brooding thoughts when her fiancé joined her on the balcony wearing nothing but a pair of Calvin Klein boxer briefs and holding out a steaming cup of coffee for her. She might be losing an apartment, but she was getting the hunk of Sweet Seasons. Thousands of women would be thrilled to spend a single night with their favorite soap actor, and he was going to be with her every night for the rest of their lives.
She'd opened her mouth to thank him for the coffee and instead heard herself saying, "I want to postpone the wedding."
She still couldn't understand what had motivated her. It was as if someone else had taken over her brain and spoken for her. Certainly not practical, dutiful Pru, who'd been filling her head with recriminations ever since. Maybe she had yet another personality inside her. Maybe someone would end up writing a book about her. They could turn her disorder into a network movie: Three Voices of a Reluctant Bride. Or better yet, a dozen episodes on HBO or Showtime. They'd get some actress with long red hair to play her. Not Nicole Kidman; she was too old. So was Julianne Moore. Lindsay Lohan was too young. Maybe Alicia Witt. Hud could play himself.
Hud, Pru reminded her. You were remembering Hud's reaction.
Hud had been amazingly understanding. Once he realized that she was serious, he assured her that she was having a bad reaction to the way the wedding had gotten beyond their control. Instead of trying to talk her into getting married anyway, he agreed to the postponement. He called the network and had someone arrange his flight to Minneapolis so he could join several of his cast mates at Suds and Studs, a meet-and-greet for fans of daytime TV. He wasn't even upset that she didn't want to go to Minnesota with him. He suggested that she treat herself to a few days at a resort of her choice, where she could relax and stop thinking about the wedding. Chandra, the agent/publicist/raving lunatic who took care of Hud, could notify the minister, the church, the string quartet, the caterer, the band, and the five hundred wedding guests. He would even ask Chandra to cancel their honeymoon plans.
All she had to do was tell her mother. Hud refused to burden Chandra with that job.
She squirmed uncomfortably and looked at her silent cell phone. She had attempted to call her mother. Several times. It was impossible to catch Carol Halli in her office, so she'd finally tried to leave the message with her secretary.
"Oh, no you don't," the secretary barked. "You deliver your own bad news. I've got one word for you: liposuction."
"Here's a test. If you can tell me my name, maybe I'll give your mother the message."
Excerpted from A Coventry Wedding by Becky Cochrane Copyright © 2009 by Becky Cochrane. Excerpted by permission.
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