Read an Excerpt
Her Surprise Engagement
A Sorensen Family Novel
By Ashlee Mallory
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Ashlee Mallory
All rights reserved.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Daisy Sorensen would have thought the buckets of rain lashing against the windshield of Skippy's tow truck for the past twenty minutes would have lubricated the wiper blades enough to dull the incessant squeaking refrain by now. But as the last month week had proven, she wasn't so lucky.
Unsurprisingly, the only thing more annoying than the sound was the ever-pounding headache she'd developed somewhere between Reno and the mile marker located twenty minutes outside of Tahoe City where her never reliable minivan decided to make its last stand.
"Are we almost there yet?" her eight-year-old daughter, Natalie, asked from next to her in the backseat, a mere five minutes since seven-yearold Paul had asked the same question.
Having never been to their intended destination before, Daisy wasn't entirely sure. She squinted, trying to look through the rain for any signs indicating their location, but it was well past nine at night, and with the dark rain clouds obscuring any light from the night sky or from the streetlights lining their path, her task felt impossible.
"Actually, this should be it," the guy she assumed was named Skippy said, dropping the truck into a lower gear as he maneuvered them off the road and onto a small, graveled drive.
Natalie and Paul walloped in excitement while her oldest, ten-year-old Jenna — up front with Daisy's aunt — remained silent, no doubt just as worried as her mother at the turn of events that had left them without their car. Her aunt Glenda patted Jenna's arm reassuringly and glanced back to smile at Daisy.
Daisy tried to smile back, more than a little relieved that she'd caved to her aunt's pressure to let her come along on this last-minute vacation to help out. The older woman had claimed that she'd always wanted to go to Lake Tahoe herself and that she was just as excited as anyone at the opportunity. Daisy hadn't been as sure, since, as well-meaning as her aunt was, she knew that the seventy-one-year-old woman preferred the comfort of her home, her dog, and her bevy of friends to any traveling. But the prospect of undertaking the eight-plus-hour drive from Salt Lake to the western portion of Lake Tahoe alone and with three young kids had been intimidating, and Daisy had acquiesced with the understanding that her aunt would be there solely to have fun and relax.
For the millionth time since their divorce, Daisy cursed her irresponsible, self-absorbed ex-husband. Had Leo honored his promise, he and their kids would be on their way to their original summer vacation destination — a week in sunny Disneyland. The kids had done nothing for the past few months but talk, plan, and dream about their trip only to have Leo decide last week to call it off. Apparently, he and his latest girlfriend had decided alone time in Europe was more important than spending time with his kids.
In any other scenario, Daisy would have declined her new sister-inlaw's generous invitation to make use of her family's vacation home located on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Daisy hated handouts. But the prospect of devastating her young kids with the news that their summer plans were broken and that they'd be spending their week back in day camp had left Daisy desperate to salvage what she could of their summer plans. Which was why she'd reluctantly accepted Payton's offer, rearranged her work schedule — not an easy feat — and packed everyone up early this morning and set out for Tahoe.
She could only hope that the closest grocery store would be in walking distance since, as far as Daisy knew, the house hadn't been occupied in months and their limited supply of Twinkies, Doritos, and Go-Gurts were sure to run out by morning.
The truck slowed even further as it reached a driveway before coming to a stop. Despite the darkness outside, she could make out the hulking but elegant shape of what she assumed was the Vaughns' summerhouse.
"Call the shop in the morning. They should be able to give you some idea of what you're looking at for repairs," Skippy said, a toothpick clenched in his teeth. "But keep in mind. Next week is the Fourth of July, and the shop's working with a skeleton crew, so it might not be ready for a day or two."
So long as it would actually be ready in a day or two, she supposed things could be worse.
She nodded and thanked the driver as everyone piled out. "Okay, kids," she said with enthusiasm she didn't feel. The sky was dark and the rain seemed to be coming down even harder, but it couldn't be helped. "Make a run to the front door, and I'll be there in a minute."
With shouts of excitement, the three kids zoomed across the lawn and up to house that, right now, Daisy couldn't begin to appreciate. One step at a time. Instead, Daisy started unloading the suitcases from the back while the tow guy stayed dry and warm in his seat. But she wasn't going to complain since it was favor enough that he'd gotten them this far.
Three trips later, the roar of the tow truck heading back down the driveway ringing in her ears, she searched her phone for the security code Payton had given her.
The kids were bouncing up and down, eager to see their new digs for the next week. So much for getting them into bed and asleep in the next hour so she could have some time to decompress.
She closed her eyes.
Dios mio. Dame fuerza.
Asking God for strength had become a regular thing in her life these past couple of years. Heaven help her when she exhausted those prayers.
"Come on, Mom. I have to go to the bathroom," Natalie said, bouncing side to side.
Exhaling, Daisy opened her eyes again. "I'm hurrying. And make sure that everyone takes their shoes off when we get inside. I don't want to track in mud and water." She entered the last numbers for the twelvedigit code and waited, holding her breath that she'd done it right and a swarm of security guys wouldn't descend.
She turned the key in the lock and tried the door, pushing it open. The security beep Payton told her to expect went off, and she nearly wept in relief as the kids barged in, their excited shouts telling her that their enthusiasm at this last-minute vacation to Lake Tahoe hadn't waned despite the detour.
She flicked on the lights and took a moment to slip off her own shoes before following everyone down the hall, passing a couple of smaller rooms on each side. She stopped at the threshold of a room that appeared to be the center of the house.
"Can we sleep anywhere we want?" Jenna asked, wonderment in her voice as she looked around.
"Let's try and keep our rooms close together. Aunt Payton said there are five bedrooms upstairs. I'd like to use no more than three. Total." Especially since she'd insisted that Payton not worry about providing housekeeping, and Daisy wanted to keep her own cleaning to a minimum when they left.
The kids trampled up the stairs, leaving Daisy and her aunt to stare dazedly at the room surrounding them.
"I feel like I've stepped into one of those magazines. You know, the ones that usually feature homes out on Martha's Vineyard," Glenda said.
The room's white cathedral ceilings soared above them and the thick colorful rugs that covered the beautiful hardwood floors squished beneath Daisy's bare feet. The chic but comfy looking couches, rugs, and chairs were organized to break up the large room into sections, making the space feel cozier. Even the air — aside from the pungent scent of the rain outside — seemed to be of elevated quality, evoking hints of evergreens, sand, and water.
She'd never stayed anywhere so fancy in her entire life.
And Payton's family owned this? She'd spent her summers coming here? No wonder her sister-in-law was so fun and lighthearted. She'd had a dream childhood. Not that Daisy was really complaining. Growing up, the Sorensen family might not have had much, but they were happy and they'd known their parents loved them. Payton hadn't been so lucky.
They walked across the room and flicked on another set of lights that revealed a wide deck outside where, once the sky finally cleared, she could see herself sitting with a glass of wine or mug of coffee in her hand as she looked out. She turned to the left past a dining area and walked into the large open kitchen, smiling a little more now. This was beautiful. Payton had bragged about the top-of-the-line kitchen that would be at her disposal for perfecting a few recipes she'd been working on, and Daisy could see she hadn't exaggerated. She ran her hand across the cool granite surface, stopping when she saw an envelope with her name on it.
She recognized her sister-in-law's handwriting. How had Payton managed to get this here? She shook her head. Never mind. This was Payton. She could make anything happen. Opening the envelope, she read:
I hope you all have as much fun in this house as I did coming up here every summer! I had the housekeeper stop and buy a few supplies to get you started, and before you say you couldn't accept it, know that whatever you don't eat will just get thrown out anyhow — and I know you wouldn't want to waste it!
So please enjoy.
All my love, Payton
Daisy handed the letter to her aunt before heading over to the fridge. Sure enough, the thing was packed with milk, eggs, juice, raw chicken, steaks, bacon, and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. She smiled, touched by Payton's generosity and thoughtfulness.
"Looks like we might be set for the entire week," she said to her aunt.
Before she could scope out the cupboards, there was an explosive crash of thunder overhead, followed immediately by screams from the kids, who, half in terror, half in excitement, came racing back downstairs. Jenna looking paler than the other two, since, even though she was the eldest, her anxiety in storms was off the charts. Jenna was definitely her worrier. And thanks in part to the circumstances of the past two years, far older and more mature than warranted for her near twelve years.
Daisy looked at the time on her phone. Already ten. Well past bedtime.
"Why don't you guys help grab these suitcases and head upstairs. You three can campout in my room for tonight. Like a slumber party. We'll explore more in the morning."
Jenna's face, tight and drawn before, softened as she nodded gratefully.
Sure, Daisy's bank account might be barely balanced and the car — and the terrifying total it would take to bring it to working order again — might drain that balance quite a bit, but she was here with her favorite people, staying in a beautiful home thanks to her sister-in-law's generosity. She was determined they were going to have a great time.
The worst was over. Now she just needed to relax.
* * *
"Why didn't we fly again?" Jack's thirteen-year-old daughter asked probably for the fifth time since they left Salt Lake early that morning.
As he'd already told her, he'd thought it would make their impromptu summer vacation even more fun if they drove to Tahoe in his prized 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. But he was certain Lily wasn't looking for a reminder, just a chance to whine, so instead he said simply, "Because I wanted to torture you as much as possible."
"Well, congratulations, I'm officially bored." She kicked her legs up on the dashboard, balancing her phone on her knobby knees. She blew a bubble with her chewing gum, then snapped it back in her mouth.
A flash of lightning split across the sky followed swiftly by a rumble of thunder and immediately Oliver, their five-month-old chocolate Lab, jumped to a sitting position in the backseat.
"Ollie, don't even think about it," Jack warned, having settled the dog a few minutes before, after the last break of thunder had stirred him into a frenzy.
So maybe the convertible idea — with its small interior confines and minimal luxuries — hadn't gone quite as planned, particularly since the rain made taking the top down impossible. Good thing they were only a few minutes away from their destination.
Lily read an incoming text and moaned. "You're totally ruining my life, you know. Both Emma and Caitlyn are at a sleepover at Tasha's house while I'm stuck a million miles away with my dad." The way she said the word "dad" was anything but excited.
"Try not to drain that battery, kiddo. It's the only thing we have until we reach the house." Thanks to him forgetting his own charger at home, something he didn't discover until his iPhone died an hour ago. He'd have to pick up a new one in the morning, but for the time being, Lily's would have to be their backup.
"If you'd got me that iPhone instead of this wannabe phone like I'd asked, you wouldn't have this problem."
It had taken him a while to come around to the idea of getting his thirteen-year-old daughter her own cell phone in the first place; giving that same thirteen-year-old something as pricey as a new iPhone was another story — no matter how many of her friends had one. "You used to love coming here," he said instead. "Playing out on the beach, going to the fireworks show. Eating pancakes at your favorite diner —"
"Yeah, when I was eight. And that was back when Payton was there and would hang out with me. You wouldn't let me bring any of my friends this time, so I don't know what you think I'm going to do all day."
"You could hang out with me and Ollie for a change."
Jack didn't need to see her face in the dark to know she'd rolled her eyes. "Joy."
Maybe he hadn't thought this through enough. Now that she mentioned it, it was true that in the past, Payton Vaughn — well, Payton Sorensen now — had been around to help keep Lily company.
But when the governor had called Jack into his office on Monday to share the incredible news that he was accepting a position in the cabinet of the president of the United States, it only took Jack a few seconds to realize the importance of what was about to happen. As the current lieutenant governor, Jack was, by law, slated to become the state's next governor.
Which meant his and Lily's lives were about to be seriously altered. Again.
And if Lily balked at what she saw as Jack's obsessive overprotectiveness of his only child, she was going to hate the restrictions that would be placed upon her as the daughter of the governor.
At Governor Pratchett's urging, Jack had decided that before the news reached the press and their lives were irrevocably changed, he and his daughter needed to get away, just the two of them, to spend some quality time together. The Vaughns' vacation house in Tahoe had seemed the perfect solution, and after a call to Payton's mother, Emily, he'd been assured he and Lily would have the place all to themselves.
Well, Payton or not, there were bound to be other families vacationing nearby, Lily would simply have to make an effort to meet some new people.
At just past eleven and the worst of the storm finally over, Jack turned the car down the drive that led to the Vaughn property. His heart lightened when he saw the estate come into view as he was reminded of all the good memories he'd experienced here, beginning back when he and his dad were first invited to vacation with the Vaughns. He hoped that maybe this week he and Lily could make a few more memories.
As soon as Jack parked the car in the driveway, Lily threw the door open and bounded out, Ollie on her heels. Lily laughed as she chased the puppy in a circle, bringing Jack a sense of relief.
This was going to be good, despite his daughter's reservations.
Lily was a tough kid. Always had been, even before losing her mom when she was only seven years old. She'd survived that heartache — they both had — and she would survive what was to come as well. She was a Harrison.
His arms filled with their bags, Jack headed up to the house, fumbling a couple times over the security code before they reached the dryness of the house. The alarm beeped again as it reengaged.
Ollie's paws tapped loudly across the hardwood floor as they headed down the hallway toward the main room where Jack stopped to drop the bags and looked around. There were a few changes to the room since his last visit but, for the most part, everything was nearly the same.
Almost absentmindedly, he noted the light was on above the stove in the kitchen as well as an upstairs hall light. But Emily had mentioned that she would get word to their groundskeepers that guests were arriving today; it was his guess the lights were probably on for their late arrival.
Excerpted from Her Surprise Engagement by Ashlee Mallory. Copyright © 2017 Ashlee Mallory. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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