She should have been off-limits. After all, Benedetta “Benny” Grady is his best friend’s widow. But in the space of a whirlwind week, Daniel Greene went from strong shoulder to lean on to Benny’s ardent lover. Now Dan is determined to make Benny his bride. He hasn’t waited this long for love to let it get away so easily. But first, Benny has a few ghosts to contend with…
When Benny finds herself pregnant with Dan’s child, telling him should be easy. After all, she’s fallen hard for the wise-cracking bachelor. But how can she love another while remaining true to her late husband’s memory? Could the past hold the key to their future happiness?
“Terri-Lynne DeFino writes my favorite kind of romance, delightfully real and straight from the heart.” —Sarah Hegger
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Bitterly Suite Romance
By Terri-Lynne DeFino
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Terri-Lynne DeFino
All rights reserved.
When Evening Falls
"You sure you want to do this?"
"Very sure, Harriet. I must."
"That's not exactly true. You could just stay here."
"That's your choice, not mine."
"I never stepped foot outside of this town. Don't 'spect I ever will."
"Then you can?"
"'Course I can. And so can you. You don't have to bedevil that young woman. Just go."
"Bedevil? Harriet, I would never."
"August, you miscreant, you bedevil me constantly."
"Then you should be glad I seek her assistance. You'll be rid of me for all eternity."
"Lot'a'nonsense, far as I'm concerned."
"Only because you are more stuck than you want to believe."
"Stuck? Bah! I'm just waiting."
* * *
Cold earth. Fragrant, moist earth. Under-her-nails, in-the-cracks-of-her-chapped-hands earth. It smelled of snowmelt and leaf mold and worms. Black and rich and crumbly, it was the perfect medium for the colorful pansies planted among the forget-me-nots just starting to pop. Sitting back on her heels, Benny inspected her work.
"What do you think, Henny?" she asked. "Better than impatiens, right? This spot is way too sunny. Maybe we'll do some morning glories this year. I still have that little wooden trellis in the shed. I love morning glories. The blue ones with yellow centers. Yeah, let's do it. I'll stop for seeds on the way ho —"
The nausea banished by dirt swished through her again. She shoved her hands back into the churned-up earth, let the cool fragrance soothe her belly. Swallowing, swallowing, swallowing until it passed. Benny turned to the neighbor. "What do you think, Mrs. Farcus? You like the pansies?"
Again the swell of nausea. Four months. This was supposed to be over. But it hadn't just come in the morning, so why should it stick to the first three months? She'd ask Mrs. Farcus, but she didn't know Benny was pregnant. No one did. And no one would. Yet.
Benny dusted her hands off on the front of her jeans and pushed to her feet. She picked up her trowel and the empty bag from the soil, bent again to grab the plastic potting containers and nearly vomited right there in the garden she'd just spent the last hour planting. Leaning heavily upon the tombstone, she screwed her eyes tight until it passed.
"Hey, Benny? You okay?"
Her eyes flew open and she was grateful for the dark fringe of hair obscuring her face. It gave her a moment to hide all she did not want anyone else to see. Straightening, she waved to Charlie McCallan standing with one foot in and one foot out of his truck. "I'm fine, Charlie. No worries. Just hungry. I think I forgot to have lunch."
Instead of waving back and moving on, he closed the door and started up the rise toward her. Benny choked down the panic. Could he see? Did he know? But Charlie was squinting into the sunlight, smiling the same smile she'd known since they were young and she was his best pal's pesky kid sister. Benny tried to relax.
"It gets more extravagant by the year," Charlie said. He brushed dirt from the grey stone. "I see you did up Mrs. Farcus's plot too. As always."
"She's an old friend."
"She died nearly a century before you were born, Benny." Charlie laughed softly. "She's my great-whatever grandmother."
Benny looked up. "Really? How did I not know that?"
"Didn't know my family went back so far? Why would you?"
"Because I haunted this cemetery as a kid."
Charlie's eyebrow quirked, but he said nothing of her horrible pun. "Harriet was one of three daughters," he said instead, "so the name Gardner died out here in Bitterly, but I have Farcus cousins somewhere."
"I wonder why she's buried alone."
"Her husband, I think his name was Josiah, died out west somewhere about six months before she ever found out. That's the story, anyway."
"It's nice of you to pretty-up her grave too."
Benny shrugged. "I always bring too many flowers."
Her gaze moved to the tombstone easier to look at than Charlie's familiar concern.
Henderson Parker Fredericks
June 3, 1976 ~ August 20, 2010
Benny-and-Henny, a joint moniker earned in high school that carried through to the day he crashed his motorcycle barely a mile from their home. Now she was Benny-without-Henny, and the hole he left in her gaped just as wide and as deep as it had six years ago.
"I'm okay, Charlie. Really."
"Why not come to the bakery with me? Johanna's still got some shepherds-pie-pies left from lunch. You'd be doing us a favor if you take some. They're not as good the next day. The crust gets soggy."
"I'm sure you and your ridiculously large family will find use for them."
"Do you know how often we eat shepherds-pie-pies?"
They laughed together. Benny's belly churned. "I'll have to pass. You know my mother. She's already made dinner enough to feed the whole town. But thank you. And say hi to Johanna for me."
"Will do." He started back to his truck. "And say hey to your brother for me. Tell him to come home once in a while. I haven't seen him since the reunion."
"He is home," Benny called. "In North Carolina."
"Bitterly is home. Always. Whether he likes it or not."
Benny shook her head, waved him off and finished tucking her tools into the daisy-dotted canvas carrier she bought two years ago and subsequently had inked into the tattoo covering most of her right arm. Her trowel. The forget-me-nots. The always-reliable marigolds and snapdragons. Last year's impatiens. This year she would add the pansies, thus marking her gardening calendar as only Benedetta Marie Grady would, no matter what her mother thought of tattoos.
She pushed back her sleeve, peeking at the first tat inked, on the first anniversary of Henny's death — a little blue forget-me-not, there on the underside of her wrist. In the six years since her husband's death, Benny added steadily to her sleeve. A tribute to Henny, and the garden she kept for him, there on her arm.
"Forever, baby," she told the tombstone. "I promised you forever, and I meant it."
Her hand moved to her still-mostly-flat belly that had never actually been flat in her whole life, but she stopped herself, closed her eyes to the impulse until it passed. A promise was a promise, and Benny knew straight down to her superstitious-Italian soul that breaking this one was even less of an option than stepping on a crack in the sidewalk, or refusing to wish on birthday candles.
"Ah, Henny." She squatted on her haunches again, pinching off a spent flower she hadn't earlier noticed. "You make it very hard to leave Bitterly, but I have to. If I stay, everyone will know, and ... well ... anyway. I won't be gone long, and it'll be winter, so it won't matter so much, right? I'll come back after I figure things out. I just want to do it without everyone hovering. You know how my family is. And then there's Dan —"
Benny spun to the tap on her shoulder and thumped flat onto her bottom. No Charlie or anyone else who might have snuck up on her while she confided in her dead husband. Benny found only herself among the tombstones. She looked narrowly in Mrs. Farcus' direction.
"Are you playing games with me, you old trickster?"
No answer. Of course. Mrs. Farcus never answered, not once in all the years Benny had been talking to her grave. Neither did Henny, for that matter.
Benny laughed, a sound as hollow as it felt. She picked herself up, brushed herself off, and hurried to her motor scooter before either of her ghosts decided to finally oblige.
* * *
Benny twirled her spaghetti with no intention of eating it. Tomato sauce gave her the worst heartburn in the history of heartburn. When she thought no one was looking, she shoved a forkful into her mouth as she rose from the table and headed straight for the garbage can in the corner of the yellow kitchen.
"Don't even think about it, young lady." Clarice Irene Grady descended upon her daughter with all the intensity of an Italian mama intent upon feeding her young. She yanked the full bowl of spaghetti and meatballs from Benny's hand. "You hardly touched it."
"I'm not hungry. I ... I went to CC's on the way home from the cemetery. Charlie said there were a whole bunch of pie-pies left over. You know how I love them. I'm sorry, Ma. I couldn't resist."
"Ah, you should have brought one home for me." Peadar Grady gazed heavenward, his hands patting his paunch. "There's no bit of heaven like one of Johanna Coco's pie-pies. You make me jealous, girl."
"I'm sorry, Daddy." Benny kissed his forehead. "Next time. I promise."
"What am I to do with all of this?" Clarice held up the plate. "I cook a good meal and you stop on the way home for —"
"Give it here, Ma." Benny's brother Peter held out his hand. "I'm ravenous."
"And if you don't stop eating like a horse you'll be as big as your father."
"Then throw it away. See if I care."
Clarice plonked the plate on the table in front of him, glared at Benny and huffed to the stove, muttering. Benny mouthed, thank you to Peter. He winked and tucked into her uneaten meal. Tall and lean and muscular, her baby brother didn't have an extra ounce on his body and never had. Neither had their father in his younger years, as Clarice was fond of reminding him. Still she fed him as if he'd been starved half his life, and would continue starving for the rest of it if not for her efforts.
Benny headed into the parlor, as her mother preferred to call it, and to the interior stairs leading up to the second-story of the two-family house. Seven years, she and Henny had lived there. Six years alone. She wasn't sure if the notion that she would never leave her familial home comforted or smothered.
"It's movie night," Clarice called after her. "You coming back down?"
If having her way were actually an option, Benny would take a long bath, curl into bed, and be asleep before dusk gave way to dark. But —
All ways here, you see, are the Queen's ways.
The urge to push against every one of Clarice's shoves had once been automatic. It diminished year by year. It wasn't only because her mom had been her rock after Henny's death, Benny just didn't have it in her anymore. After a shower, Benny would be downstairs again, plopped on the couch she'd been plopping into all her life, to watch a romantic comedy starring one of the British Dames her mother was mad for.
In the privacy of her own apartment, Benny smoothed her hands over her belly. She imagined it rounding, swelling, exploding, and her mother's extraordinary, if slightly embarrassed, joy after it had.
Clarice had been dreaming of grandchildren since her own brood turned from childhood to adolescence. Grandchildren provided within a year of a wedding and at a rate of every other year thereafter. But Tim married and moved to North Carolina before the first was born. Peter hadn't even had a serious girlfriend yet. And in the seven years of Benny's marriage, there had not even been a suspected oops. She and Henny wanted to see the world first. They planned to backpack across Europe, to book passage on a cargo vessel sailing from California to Japan, to work the vines in Napa a full season. Seven years of planning adventures they never took.
Then he died.
No Henny. No adventures. No baby.
Benny moved like a ghost through her apartment, closed all the windows. The beautiful day was becoming a chilly dusk. Nights were usually cold in Bitterly, even when summer days spiked in the nineties. The trees, the river, the sheltering Berkshire Mountains absorbed the heat, stored it away for the long winter. A winter she would miss. Along with the autumn splash in the mountains. She would be in North Carolina with her brother, Tim, and his family. Where it was hot. Even at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And she would have a newborn Clarice didn't even know about. A baby born in sorrow, whose daddy was not Henny.
Benny couldn't breathe. She needed out. Now. She bolted to the door, yanked it open, and pounded down the exterior stairs leading to the yard. She jammed the helmet on her head, kicked her scooter to life, and sped off before her mother could shout her name, even if Benedetta saw her at the back screen door.
* * *
The bakery was still open. During the summer months, CC's North often hopped long after the posted six o'clock closing. It was only June and unseasonably cool, but it was still light enough to pass for daytime. The doors of the bakery were open wide.
Benny slipped off her scooter. Adjusting her getting-tight jeans, she followed the scent of baking into CC's and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Oh." She forced her feet to walk her into the bakery. "Hey."
"How are ... what have ... Valentine's getting so big."
"Yeah, I hear kids do that."
Benny quelled the urge to press her palms to burning cheeks already giving away too much. Dan Greene shifted the toddler in his arms. Waiting? What could he be waiting for? Benny pretended she didn't know exactly what and instead moved to the counter, her back to him.
"Jo!" he called, startling both her and the baby. "Come get your kid. I have to go home."
Johanna Coco McCallan pushed through the swinging door, arms outstretched. Flour on her cheek, long hair in a knot on top of her head, she swooped past Benny with a look of surprise and a wave before scooping her daughter from Dan's arms.
"Sorry, Dan. I didn't realize —"
"No worries." He kissed the baby's round cheek. "Will I see you and Charlie for my niece's graduation party?"
"We'll be there. Caleb will be watching the bakery, but we'll have Tony and Millie with us."
"I'll let my sister know. See you, Jo. Benedetta."
Benny waved over her shoulder, eyes resolutely on the menu board.
"Curiouser and curiouser."
Johanna's voice turned Benny around. There were others in the bakery. They sat at tables, sipping coffee out of to-go cups from the coffeehouse next door. It was a deal Johanna struck when first she opened her bakery in Bitterly — she wouldn't serve coffee if the coffeehouse didn't serve baked goods. The result was a sort of co-op suiting not only the two businesses, but the town as well.
"What's curiouser?" Benny held out her arms for Valentine, a chubby little cherub as fixed an icon in CC's as Johanna's mud cookies and shepherds-pie-pies.
Johanna handed her over. "Dan. I usually have to pry Valentine from his arms before he'll give her up."
"She's a special girl." Benny's heart pounded. "I don't blame him."
"Well he was sure in a hurry to hand her off just now." Johanna pulled the elastic from her hair, piled it high again and secured it in place. "Did someone say something to him?"
"I only just walked in." She bounced the baby, avoiding Johanna's eyes. "Dad was hoping for some of your pie-pies. Any left?"
"One or two. Charlie said you turned him down."
"I did. Out at the cemetery. When I got home, Dad was inconsolable that I would pass up a pie-pie."
"Then I'll go grab one for him. You mind holding her?"
Benny clutched Valentine closer. "Try taking her."
Johanna scooted around the counter and into the back. Valentine watched her mother vanish, but didn't cry. Smiling a wet, baby smile, she reached for Benny's turquoise pendant.
"No you don't." She tapped it away from the baby's mouth, but not out of her hand. Valentine studied the blue stone, her baby brow furrowed with thoughts Benny couldn't begin to guess at. Would she dream in blue that night? Holding the baby closer, Benny closed her eyes and allowed her own tremulous joy rumble through her.
A boy. She was positive. And already, she loved him so much.
"Here you go," Johanna came at her, the bagged pie-pies outstretched and already spreading buttery patches in the paper sack. "Tell him he got the last two."
"I'll trade you." She offered Valentine, who reached for her mother with a little squeal. Benny grabbed the sac. "Crap. I didn't bring any money."
"I'm not charging you for leftovers, Ben."
"They're not leftovers until tomorrow."
"They're leftovers the minute lunch is over. Seriously, don't be weird."
Johanna waved away her thanks. "Now if I can get these laggers out of here, I can go home. I should have gotten Dan to do it before he left. He's good at clearing a room."
Benny laughed along with Johanna, even if it made her woozy. Funny man, Dan Greene. Always joking, lightening even the darkest moments. Dependable. Loyal. Kind. Everyone's favorite plow man in winter, landscaper the rest of the year even if he liked to pretend he was an ornery old bachelor and dedicated grouch. It was part of his charm, and Benny had always liked that about him until she more than liked him for it, which was entirely unacceptable.
Excerpted from Dreaming August by Terri-Lynne DeFino. Copyright © 2015 Terri-Lynne DeFino. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a romance between a widow and her husbands best friend. Benny's husband has been dead for 6 years. She was finally able to start to move on a few months ago with Dan her husband best friend. They slept together and she became pregnant. She is guilt stricken and regularly visits the cemetery, where she communicates with ghosts? Dan tries to slow court Benny and eventually they work out their feelings. I didn't really connect with book and found the plot and characters confusing. I was given a free copy for an honest review.
Benny is stuck in a rut. She promised to love Henny forever and that is what she is doing even though he died six years before. She squashes happy feelings as wrong – almost as if she wishes she were dead, too. She seems to have been marching in place for six years and only going through the motions of living. Dan is a good man and into Benny though she squashes the good feelings he brings out in her because she is stuck in that rut of her own creating. Benny is a bit quirky and spends quite a bit of time in the cemetery. This felt to me to be a story of loss, grieving, awakening, love, family, friendships, caring, sharing and community. I enjoyed this story and the side story of August. I enjoyed the idea of Benny getting to know her mother better on the trip to Brooklyn and I also enjoyed Dan’s story of his family, too. This was a well-crafted very enjoyable read and I look forward to reading more books in the future by this author. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the copy to read in exchange for an honest review.