Opening weekend makes Audrey anxious, with family and friends coming from all over to help celebrate the occasion. But when Audrey’s daughter, Landyn, arrives, the U-Haul she’s pulling makes it clear she’s not just here for a few days. Audrey immediately has questions. What happened in New York that sent Landyn running home? Where was Landyn’s husband, Chase? And what else was her daughter not telling her? One thing was for sure, the Chicory Inn was off to a rocky start. Can Audrey still realize her dream and at the same time provide the comfort of home her daughter so desperately needs?
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Home to Chicory Lane
A Chicory Inn Novel
By Deborah Raney
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Deborah Raney
All rights reserved.
So, Mrs. Whitman, is everything ready?" Grant stood under the archway dividing the formal dining room from the parlor, smiling that cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin Audrey adored. And had for nearly thirty-five years.
She went to lean on the column opposite him. She loved this view of the house—no, the inn. She must remember to refer to it as such. This wonderful house where they'd raised their five kids and where she'd played as a little girl had finally become The Chicory Inn. The stately home just a mile outside of Langhorne, Missouri, had been built by her maternal grandparents on a wooded fifty acres with a clearwater creek running through it. Now it was her fifty-five hundred square-foot dream fulfilled. Or at least that was the plan.
Audrey gave her husband a tight smile. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I just know I'm forgetting something."
"Come here." He opened his arms to her.
She stepped into his embrace, desperately needing the strength of him.
"Everything looks wonderful, and anything you forgot can't be too important. Just look at the weather God supplied—sunshine, cool October breeze, and the trees are at their autumn peak. Even the chicory is still in bloom in the ditches. Made to order, I'd say."
She nodded, feeling as if she might burst into tears any minute.
Grant pulled her closer. "Can't you just enjoy this weekend? It's no fun if you're in knots the whole time."
"Were we crazy to invite the kids home for this?"
He kissed the top of her head. "We were crazy to have kids, never mind five of them. But hey, look how that turned out."
"I wish your mom could've been here."
He cleared his throat. "Trust me, it's better this way. Besides, you know she'll find a way to get in her two cents, even from the wilds of Oregon. What do you want to bet she'll call, just as guests are arriving, to make sure you didn't forget anything?"
She loved Grant's mother dearly, but the woman did have a way of trying to run the show—even when it wasn't her show to run. Grant was probably right. Cecelia—or CeeCee, as the kids called their grandmother—had timed her trip to visit Grant's brother perfectly.
Audrey's cell phone chimed, signaling a text message.
"See?" Grant gave her an I-told-you-so grin. "There she is."
She checked her phone. "Your mother barely knows how to make a call on a cell phone, let alone send a text. Oh, it's Link. He's running late." She texted a quick reply to their son.
"Link late? Well, there's a huge surprise."
She laughed, grateful for the distraction. Their son was notoriously tardy. But after she put her phone back in her pocket, Audrey turned serious. "Oh, Grant ... What if this whole thing is a big fat flop?"
"And why, sweet woman, would it be a flop, when you've poured your heart and soul and passion into it for the last eight months?"
"And most of your retirement funds, don't forget." The thought made her positively queasy. It wasn't as if he could just return to his contractor job tomorrow and get back his 401K. "Not to mention a lot of sweat equity."
"And don't forget the blood and tears." He winked.
"And your blood pressure," she said with a look of warning. "How can you joke about this, Grant? What if we—"
"Shh." He tipped her chin and silenced her with a kiss.
She knew Grant had been relieved to get out of the rat race his job had become. In fact, his doctor had prescribed retirement along with the blood pressure meds he'd put Grant on last fall. The past year of renovations had been anything but relaxing, but things would settle down now that the remodel was finished. Maybe this was all a sort of blessing in disguise. She let that thought soothe her. For the moment anyway.
The doorbell rang.
"That'll be Corinne." She pushed away from him. "She promised to help me with the hors d'oeuvres."
"I don't see why we couldn't just have chips and salsa or pretzels or—"
"And don't forget your tie." Audrey scooped the despised noose, as Grant had dubbed it, off the end of the hall tree and tossed it at him.
He caught it and dangled it by two fingers as if it were a poisonous snake. "You're not really serious about that?"
"Serious as a heart attack."
Grant's grumbling faded behind her as she hurried to answer the door.
Their eldest daughter stood on the wraparound veranda with almost-two-year-old Simone propped on one hip.
"Corinne?" Audrey sagged. "I thought Jesse was going to watch the kids?"
"He is, but I think Simone's cutting teeth, and I didn't want Jesse to have to deal with that, too. You know how he gets when—" Corinne stopped mid-sentence and eyed her mother. "It'll be fine, Mom. Dad can watch Simone if we need him to."
"No, your dad has a whole list of things he's in charge of. I need him." She pushed down the resentment that threatened. "Never mind. You're right ... it'll be fine." She reached for her youngest granddaughter and ushered Corinne into the foyer.
Corinne walked through to the parlor, her eyes widening. "Wow! It looks gorgeous, Mom. You've been busy."
"I just want everything to be perfect. Just this one time." She didn't have to look at her daughter to know Corinne was rolling her eyes.
"Just this once, huh?"
She ignored the sarcasm and tweaked little Simone's cheek. "Are those new toofers giving you trouble, sweetie?"
The baby gave her a snaggletoothed grin and wiped her turned-up nose on the shoulder of Audrey's apple green linen jacket.
"Simone!" Corinne's shrug didn't match the grimace she gave Audrey. "Well, at least it matches."
Audrey did not find that amusing.
Corinne swooped in with a tissue, which made Simone screech like a banshee. Which made Huckleberry come running, barking as if he'd just cornered a squirrel.
Great. Just great. "Can somebody please take this dog outside? How did he even get in here?" Audrey hated raising her voice to her family, but she knew too well that the playful Lab could undo in two minutes everything they'd spent a week preparing. "I want him outside until the last guest leaves."
"Come here, Huck," Corinne coaxed, stroking the sleek chocolate-colored coat. "You bad boy."
"It's okay. I'll take him out." Audrey handed the baby off to Corinne, put Huck outside, and came back to the sink. Grabbing a damp dishcloth from the basin, she scrubbed at her jacket, exchanging the toddler's snot stain for a dark wet spot. She prayed it would dry before the first guests started arriving.
The clock in the foyer struck eleven, and a frisson of panic went through her. They had less than two hours and so much still to do. She heard Link's voice at the front door. Maybe she could enlist him to watch Simone for a few minutes. Like his brother Tim, Link had always had a way with kids.
"Hey, Mom. Dad said to report in." Tall and rugged-looking like his father, Link appeared beneath the arch of the kitchen doorway. "Smells good in here." He gave Audrey a quick hug before snatching a bacon-wrapped canapé from a silver tray. He popped it in his mouth before Audrey could protest.
She placed herself between her son and the gleaming marble counter full of food. "There are snacks out in the garage for you kids, but I'm not joking; this stuff is off limits until we see how many people show."
"Got it, Mom. Off limits." In one smooth motion, Link gave her a half-salute and reached behind her for a sausage ball.
"Cut that out! Shoo! Out of my kitchen!"
"Place looks good, Ma."
Grant appeared in the doorway. "Reporting for duty."
Link shot his dad a conspiratorial grin but obediently backed into the entryway. Audrey wondered for the thousandth time why some sweet young girl hadn't snapped up this handsome son of hers. But that was a worry for another day.
"Hey guys," Audrey said, "can you bring in some folding chairs from the garage? Maybe just half a dozen or so. I don't want to set up more than we need."
"You'll need more than six." Grant sounded so sure the day would be a success. "Bring a dozen, Link."
She hoped he was right. But if not ... Well, there would be no problem getting rid of all the food she'd made. The good ol' Whitman family reunion they'd planned for the rest of the weekend would take care of that. The thought brought a pang of longing with it. It was wonderful to have most of her family together, but it wouldn't be the same without Landyn and Chase.
And Tim. Nothing would ever be the same without Timothy.
* * *
Landyn Spencer craned her neck to check the Interstate traffic behind her in the rearview mirror, but all she could see was the U-Haul trailer she was pulling. The extended mirrors on the behemoth were smeared with a dozen hours of rain and dust.
New York was thirteen hours behind her, and with the sun finally coming up, she realized she was in familiar territory.
She'd left the city after ten last night, starting out on only four hours of sleep. She'd been watching the lit-up Empire State Building fade into the skyline in her rearview mirror, and not until she'd passed through the Lincoln Tunnel and come out on the New Jersey side had she finally allowed herself tears.
That was a mistake. She'd been crying ever since. But enough. She had to get hold of herself before she got home. She swiped at damp cheeks, took a deep breath, and steadied her gaze on the road in front of her. If her eyes got any more swollen, she'd have to pull the Honda over. And if she did that, chances were good the stupid thing wouldn't start again. Then she'd really be up the Hudson without a paddle. Besides, right now, she just wanted to put the past—and Chase Spencer—as far behind her as she could.
She still couldn't believe that her husband of six months had gone so far off the deep end. Without even discussing it with her, he'd let their great, albeit small, apartment on the Upper West Side go—sublet their home to a stranger—and rented a fleabag excuse for a studio apartment in Brooklyn. What was he thinking?
He wasn't. That was the problem. He'd let his art rep convince him that living in Bedford-Stuyvesant near some stupid gallery that was supposedly the next hot thing would jumpstart his career. The agent had told Chase the studio would pay for itself in a matter of months—and probably herald in world peace too.
Well, fine. Chase had made his choice. But they were newlyweds. She should have been his choice. Oh, he claimed he wasn't forcing her hand. But if she did what he wanted and followed him to Brooklyn, it meant an almost two-hour commute for her every day. They saw each other little enough as it was! Had he thought any of this through? No, he had not. And despite what Chase said, leaving Fineman and Justus, and a marketing position she loved, didn't leave her with many options. Especially not now ...
The tears started again and she shook her head. She couldn't even let herself think about that right now.
She attempted to distract her maudlin thoughts with the stunning colors October had painted on either side of the Interstate. She thought she'd crossed over into Kentucky, though she didn't remember seeing a sign. If Chase were here, he'd no doubt be sketching the trees or shooting photos in a vain attempt to capture the vivid colors. Then he'd complain that the pictures didn't even come close, and she'd have to—
A horn blared behind her. She checked the mirror and then the speedometer. She was barely going fifty in the left-hand lane. Stupid cruise control had quit working again. Heart pounding, she accelerated and tried to whip back into the right lane only to have the trailer tug her over the line into the passing lane. She finally managed to maneuver to the proper lane, and she glared hard at the driver as he passed her.
It was a stupid, childish thing to do. She was the one in the wrong. But the guy had almost scared her into having a wreck. It would serve Chase right if she had an accident. She quickly checked the thought. He wasn't the only one she had to think about. Mom and Dad had already lost one child. Her throat tightened at the thought of her brother. If they had to go through that again, she wasn't sure they'd ever recover. Besides, Mom and Dad didn't know she was on her way home. If she had a wreck, no one would know why she was on a road all alone, miles from New York.
It did make her smile to think about what her parents' reaction would be when she pulled into the driveway. She hadn't seen Mom and Dad since her wedding in April, and it would be fun to surprise them. Suddenly she missed them the way she had that first summer she'd gone away to church camp and learned the meaning of "homesick."
But how could she tell them she was leaving Chase? After only six months of marriage. She could hear her dad now. "Landyn Rebekah Whitman," he'd say (somehow forgetting she was now a Spencer), "you get in that car and you drive yourself right back to New York." He'd be mad at Chase, too, but she'd be the one who'd get the talking-to.
Well, they didn't know the details. And they wouldn't. Chase had fought hard to win her parents over, and she wasn't going to make him out to be the bad guy now—even though he was. One hundred percent, he was. It still made her furious.
No ... worse than that. It broke her heart.
She was beginning to understand why her parents had been skeptical about Chase in the first place. He was letting this ... delusion of getting rich and famous selling his art sidetrack him. Not that he wasn't good. He was. He had a ton of talent, but that didn't mean he could make a living at it. And their finances didn't exactly allow for risky investments right now.
Chase had landed a job in New York right out of college, working in the art department for a small local magazine. It was a job that used his art skills, and one with room to grow.
But then this nut job art rep had seen Chase's work and gotten him all wired with delusions of grandeur. In a way, she understood. Chase hadn't received much encouragement growing up. His dad left when he was five, and he'd been raised by a single mom who seemed to have a new boyfriend every other week. The minute Chase graduated high school, Mona Spencer had followed some guy out to California. She'd come back for their wedding on the arm of yet another flavor of the week, but Landyn didn't expect to see her again unless she and Chase took the initiative to make a trip out West someday.
Still, despite his rough childhood, and a couple of wild years in high school, Chase had defied the odds and turned into a good guy. A really good guy. Their youth pastor from Langhorne Community Fellowship took Chase under his wing, and by the time Landyn was old enough to date, he was toeing a pretty straight line. Well, except for that tattoo. Dad had come completely unglued when he heard Chase had gotten inked. She'd finally calmed him down by explaining that Chase's Celtic cross—on his collarbone, so it was hidden under most of his shirts—was a symbol of his faith and of the permanence of God's love for him. Landyn had always loved her husband's tat—one he'd designed himself. She'd even toyed with the idea of getting one to match. But so far the fear of her father's reaction and the lack of cash had prevented her—not to mention the disturbing image of herself as a grandma with a shriveled tat on her chest.
After Chase proposed, Mom and Dad insisted they go to counseling before getting married—more intensive than the required premarital counseling—with Pastor Simmons. And though she'd balked big-time at the suggestion, Chase had been willing. And when their sessions were over, she was certain Chase Spencer was ready to be the husband of her dreams—even if her parents weren't convinced.
Maybe she should have listened to them.
Because now he'd quit his job and all but forced her to quit hers. Forced her to run home to Missouri. Except she didn't have a home in Missouri anymore either. Her parents had turned their house into a bed-and-breakfast, and her room was now a guest room at the Chicory Inn. Real original, Mom. From what her sisters said—and from the photos Mom had e-mailed her of the finished renovation—Landyn wouldn't even recognize the place.
Sometime this week was the big open house for the inn, too. She'd told her parents she and Chase couldn't get away—which was true at the time. But now she had no choice. She'd stayed with a friend from work for three days, but if she'd stayed there one more day, she'd have had one less friend. So she'd loaded up what little furniture Chase didn't take with him, and she was headed back to Langhorne.
At least in Missouri she wouldn't be shelling out two thousand dollars a month in rent for some roach-infested studio. And she'd be a world away from New York. And him.
Excerpted from Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney. Copyright © 2014 Deborah Raney. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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