Left to Chance: A Novel

Left to Chance: A Novel

by Amy Sue Nathan


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From the author of The Good Neighbor and The Glass Wives comes an enchanting story of returning home and discovering what truly matters after loss.

No one knows why Teddi Lerner left her hometown, but everyone knows why she’s back.

Twelve-year-old Shayna— talented, persistent, and adorable—persuaded "Aunt Tee" to return to Chance, Ohio, to photograph her father’s wedding. Even though it's been six years since Shay's mother, Celia, died, Teddi can hardly bear the thought of her best friend's husband marrying someone else. But Teddi’s bond with Shay is stronger than the hurt.

Teddi knows it’s time to face the consequences of her hasty retreat from family, friends, and, her old flame, but when she looks through her viewfinder, nothing in her small town looks the same. That’s when she truly sees the hurt she's caused and—maybe—how to fix it.

After the man she once loved accuses Teddi of forgetting Celia, Teddi finally admits why she ran away, and the guilt she’s carried with her. As Teddi relinquishes the distance that kept her safe, she’ll discover surprising truths about the people she left behind, and herself. And she'll finally see what she overlooked all along in Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250091116
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/21/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 700,712
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Amy Sue Nathan is the author of The Good Neighbor, and the founder of WomensFictionWriters.com, named a Best Website for Writers by Writer's Digest. Amy lives in Philadelphia and has a grown son and daughter. You can find her online, often when she shouldn't be.

Read an Excerpt


Getting picked up once meant flirting and free drinks. Today it meant hurrying through the airport in comfortable shoes.

I wove in and out of the slow-walkers and rushed past restaurant outposts selling breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The sweet, buttery aroma wafting over from the gourmet popcorn shop didn't slow me down, but when I reached a flower stand called Eliza's, I paused. I could resist the bongo-like buckets overflowing with roses, carnations, sunflowers, and the assorted I-missed-you bouquets. What caught my eye was the faux-vintage signage and the way the flowers were shielded from the imaginary sun by an awning, all meant to mimic Victorian London. It didn't hurt that the stand also sold energy drinks and earbuds. Nostalgia and irony. I resisted pulling out my camera.

My phone dinged as the carousel spit out my suitcase. I wouldn't make Shay wait more than a few moments for my reply. I'd known Shay — Shayna — since the day she was born. I remembered when she'd babbled and burped, when she'd first walked and talked. Now she was a thumb-typing, artistic tween who held a piece of my heart tighter than ever before, mostly from afar.

But today, and for the next week, Shay and I would be face-to-face. First, we'd reminisce about meeting in Chicago last summer — tea at The Drake, climbing the wall at Maggie Daley Park, the miniatures at The Art Institute, and finding our way to the bottom of a tin of Garrett popcorn. We'd replay every detail but save the best fun for last, recalling how the hotel's pastry chef let Shay decorate her own cake, which we later ate for dinner. Then we'd tick off the rest of the list: school, Shay's art, friends, reality TV, and maybe, could it be possible — boys?

I couldn't wait to see her, hug her, spend time with her.

I also couldn't wait to leave.

Shay: Dad will be a few minutes late.

Me: Aren't you with him?

Shay: In art class sorry.

Me: Ok.

Not okay. I didn't want to spend an hour and a half alone in the car with Miles. Shay was the bridge, the bond, the buffer. And Shay wasn't coming.

I paced between the signs for taxis and shuttle buses. Car after car slowed as it passed, then kept moving, or stopped for someone else. I watched bear-hug reunions and aloof hellos. I smiled at every woman driver who passed. I even stifled a few waves. My insides rolled. This had to stop.

Celia would not be picking me up.

A horn beep-beeped and a white sedan pulled alongside the curb. I slung my camera bag over my shoulder and tipped my suitcase toward the trunk, my eyes on my old friend as he stepped out of the car. Miles's hair was gray and a little thin, more than it had been when I'd seen him a year before — or since, in the pictures he'd posted on Facebook. He'd lost weight.

I met Miles at the trunk. We reached our arms around each other and hugged hard, but quick. Miles wasn't just thinner, he felt more fit than I remembered. What had been soft was now solid. But his newfound physique couldn't hide the lines around his eyes. He looked tired.

"Thanks for coming all the way out here," I said.

"Not a problem. I hope Shay texted you. She had a project to finish for art class." Miles shooed my hand from my suitcase and lifted it into the trunk. "What've you got in here, Ted? Bricks?"

No one in my life now called me Ted. It sounded unfinished, yet smooth and familiar.

"Nope, just rocks."

Miles smiled and just like that, memories broke through. Was he remembering, as I was, our long-ago friendly teasing during Scrabble matches and Pictionary marathons with Celia? We'd always joked that with Celia as his wife, and my best friend, we were practically related.

I touched his arm before I could stop myself. "Good to see you, Mi. This is weird for us, isn't it? To be here, I mean?"

"A little bit, yes."

"We okay?"

"As okay as we're going to be, Ted."

"I would have come back sooner if you'd asked me." I wasn't sure that was true. "Let's not do this now. You being here is important to Shay, so it's important to me."

"I hope that's true."

"If it wasn't true, I wouldn't be here," I said.

"I guess not." Miles's tone was soft, his words slow, leaving space for his thoughts. And mine. "You look good."

"Oh, God, Mi — I'm a mess. But thanks." I knew how my hair smashed to my head after a long airplane sleep. I had a natural tan that sometimes hid the fact that I was thirty-nine, but not after two flights. My skin tone was the reason most people thought I was Italian or even Greek, not descended from the Russian Jews who had journeyed west — which meant past Cleveland — from New York's Lower East Side in the 1890s.

"I have to admit, once we got used to the idea, it was exciting to think you'd be our wedding photographer. I just want you to know that, under the circumstances, we really appreciate everything you're doing for us."

Our. We. Us.

Miles and ...

My breath caught.

Not Celia.

Violet Frank.

His fiancée.

And I was going to photograph the wedding. That's what Shay had wanted. That's why I was here.

"Ready?" Miles asked.

No, I wasn't ready at all, but within moments I was headed toward the place that had haunted me for the past six years, the town I grew up in, and ran from, on the day of Celia's funeral.

Chance, Ohio, was no place for wimps.

I was on my way, regardless.

A straight stretch of rural highway connected the Robertson Regional Airport to the road leading to my hometown, tucked in the northeast corner of Union County. Or it had been a rural highway. The last time I was here the "highway" had been two lanes flanked by cornfields. Now the road was the blackest black with bright yellow lines. Newly paved and painted, it was four lanes wide. Two lanes out of town I understood, but two lanes in? I stared out the window at the cornfields. I loved the way the light played off the stalks at different heights, how the clouds cast a shadow that seemed to go on for miles. But I knew that as soon as I saw the fields, the exit would be near. Hey! Where were my cornfields?

"There's an outlet mall?" I hadn't meant to say it aloud.

"I'm sure Shay will talk you into going. It's her favorite place. She says it has everything."

"There's enough space in the parking lot for —"

"For a hotel. And a water park. I know. It's exciting, isn't it?"

"Someone is building a hotel and a water park?"

"Not yet."

"Who would go there?"

"Everyone," Miles said. "There's a new road off Route 33 now, so it's easy access. Small-town feel, big-town amenities. The mall has done a lot of good things for the area, Ted. And it's only the beginning."

"What are you doing? Running for mayor?" I was kidding.

Miles was not.

"No," he said with a smile. "The county board of commissioners. Just decided yesterday!"

I could have sworn a light sparked off his front tooth.

I tried to imagine Celia as a politician's wife, all buttoned-up business suit, pearls, and coiffed hairdo. Nope, couldn't picture it. Celia was an artist, a teacher, an expert tailor. Politics, even small-town politics, would have eaten her up and spit her out. The expectations, the gossip, the mandatory mingling. Or maybe Celia would have changed its landscape with her caring conversations and handmade clothes. I shivered. It didn't matter what kind of political wife Celia would have been or what she could have done. Violet would be the one on the campaign trail.

"So, how's your life?"

"It's good. Lots of traveling, lots of interesting people."

Miles drummed the steering wheel.

"What's it really like working for Simon Hester?"

People always wanted to know about Simon "The Hotel Man" Hester. He had landed on at least one big most-eligible-bachelor or best-dressed list per year since he was twenty-five, almost twenty-five years ago. That kept some women interested in him. At first, that had kept me from being interested.

"I like working for Simon."

"I saw that write-up in San Francisco Magazine."

"You get San Francisco Magazine?"

"There's this thing called the Internet now. And yes, we have a real copy too. You're a celebrity."

"Hardly. I take pictures of some celebrities and some fancy places. The Hester hotels have an A-list clientele. That's thanks to Simon, not me."

"That article had more than a few paragraphs about you."

It was all part of Simon's branding. He bragged about — promoted, he had said — all the weddings and corporate events we handled, and how I shot the most important ones. Since A-listers always want to be considered most important, they started requesting me as their photographer.

"The article was about modern hoteliers." I shouldn't have used that word — it made me sound like an industry insider. Which I was. I just didn't want to sound like one around Miles. Not yet, anyway. "I wasn't the only one mentioned in the article. Or in the photo. You remember me because you know me. Just like the other people in the photo. Everyone who knows them thinks they're famous too. Believe me, none of us are."

"Well, you were the only one from 'a small town in Ohio.' It would have helped our image if they had mentioned Chance by name."

Chance had an image?

"So, no problem getting away, with your schedule and all? That article made Hester sound like kind of a hard-ass. But I guess you'd have to be ..."

"Simon's a very nice man. I've told you that before." There was a time I'd have talked to Miles about Simon for real, but that time had passed. "No, it wasn't a problem at all. Nothing for Shay would ever be a problem."

It hadn't been a problem. It had been a nightmare.

I'd never taken off so much time before, and now I was handing over supervision of two weekends of weddings in New York and San Francisco, weddings that had been booked more than a year in advance. I'd rescheduled outdoor photo shoots at our new resort in Scottsdale and had canceled models, wardrobe, and makeup in Denver. I'd sweet-talked my assistant, Annie, into making the calls for me and for helping me find the perfect apology gifts, likely gourmet meals or spa services, for the wedding couples. Luckily, the corporate attorneys were loophole experts.

Back in San Francisco, I'd color-coded and organized everything, then e- mailed with cc and bcc, finally backing up to an external drive and the cloud. I was ready to leave for eight days. Then, this morning over coffee, Simon had thrown a curveball into my game plan. But I wasn't going to think about that now.

What mattered was that I'd promised Shay I'd come home, and I had.

"Where's your favorite hotel?" Miles asked.

"I don't have a favorite."

Miles wanted an answer. They always did. "I always like Aspen in the summer. Palm Springs is always nice in the winter."

"Too bad we only have Nettie's on Lark."

"I'll love staying at Nettie's. It's full of memories."

"I don't know about that. It's been renovated, but it's not a hotel at all, you know. You're in for a DIY vacation."

As long as DIY included decent cell reception, I'd be fine. I pulled out my phone. I'd just hold it. In case an urgent message came through. I needed to check in with Annie, but really, after the two flights all I wanted was a bath, a drink, and a nap before seeing Shay.

"If you need to check in with work, I don't mind," Miles said. "You can tell your boss about the land if you want."

I didn't know if Miles was kidding and didn't ask. "No, it's fine. Tell me what's new with Shay."

"You text her all the time, I'm sure you know all about her art class. She's really enjoying it."

"She's a natural."

Miles glanced at me. "I know."

A lump grew in my throat. "How are your parents?" I asked.

"Excited about the wedding. Yours?"

"They're in Portland now."

"Celia always admired their adventurous spirit. Sometimes I think she envied it."

I shrugged. "I guess."

We'd pass one more cornfield and then exit the highway, while most cars would keep going and going toward bigger towns or parts unknown. But again, not a stalk in sight. Out of the rich soil grew a Cineplex. My stomach lurched. I pressed my lips together as we rounded the exit, drove past the gas stations and string of fast-food drive-thrus that our exit was previously known for. Last Exit for 50 Miles. Then just over four miles down the road, we turned left onto Main Street. The stoplight was red.

There was a stoplight in Chance? Until I was twelve, there wasn't even a stop sign.

"I can't believe this."

"Not the Chance you remember, huh, Ted?"

"No. It's —"


I should have agreed. I should have been happy. But this seemed wrong. Main Street looked posh. Preppy, even. The Chance I knew was gritty on the outside, pretty on the inside. The place I knew didn't have filigreed street signs so glossy they looked freshly painted — or lampposts to match. And what was with the overflowing baskets of fuchsia impatiens dangling from them? And the awnings. Forest-green awnings decorated every window and doorway from the computer doctor on one corner to the eye doctor on the other. Where were the mismatched signs that had been there my whole life? Those had made sense, announcing goods and services, not flaunting a designer color scheme.

It was as if Chance had turned its back on itself.

I stared at the storefronts. I had never noticed the marble arches between the businesses, or how the ivy trailed across the bricks and along the bottom of the windows. I snapped a few pictures with my phone so I could study them later, before coming back with my camera.

"I'd love to see Shay tonight. Just a quick visit? I want to go to sleep early, but ..."

"It's Gallery Night for her summer art class. That's why she had to stay back, to set up her sculpture. She wants you to come, of course. I'll pick you up."

"Tonight? Really?"

"You can't say no, Ted. She's over the moon that you'll be there."

"Right. Of course. Of course I'll go."


That didn't give me much time to check in with Annie, unpack, shower, change clothes, apply a little makeup. It gave me no time to just be in Chance without seeing people I knew. People I'd left behind. Exhaustion swept through me. Was that what accounted for my hallucination? As Miles cruised past the alley where Celia and I had hidden to smoke cigarettes the summer before we'd started high school, I could swear I saw her standing with her back against the brick wall, a grown-out perm (an ill-fated attempt to have hair like mine) pulled up in a ragged ponytail. And there I was, sitting cross-legged on the ground with pack of Parliaments in my lap. We'd thought no one knew what we were doing, but we were grounded. Twice.

My arms and legs tingled, almost itched. Curls crept across my forehead like spiders. The air from the A/C burned my eyes, and the vibrations from Miles tapping the steering wheel pricked my nerves. I felt the ripples and stitching in the leather seatback through my no-wrinkle dress.

Since when was I the goddamn Princess and the Pea?


Nettie's on lark, its official name, had been a boarding house until the 1950s, at which point it shifted into a trendier-sounding bed-and-breakfast. After that it was an inn, which meant: no breakfast. Now, rooms were listed on vacation rental sites and described as vintage, charming, and cozy. Painted in whimsical pale blue and yellow, the house mimicked the sky and the sun in a child's drawing. The turret had made Nettie's on Lark the castle of my childhood daydreams. In college, I had cleaned the room at the top of the spiral staircase and found there was nothing royal about it, except that it was a royal pain in the ass. Celia and I had dubbed it the "Rapunzel room" and each week we'd flip a coin. The loser was the one to clean it.

"Thanks again for the ride. I know it was a hassle."

"You took two flights to get here. It was the least I could do."

"What time tonight?"

"Seven-fifteen. I promised Shay we'd be early."

"I'll be ready."

The trunk popped. "You sure you'll be okay here alone? There's no room service, you know."

"No one waits on me at the hotels," I said. "That's not who I am." That wasn't completely true. The staff did wait on me when I was with Simon, and they would have when I was alone, if I'd let them.

"You don't even have a car to get around."

"I don't have a car anywhere. I walk." Or drive golf carts, or take cabs, Uber, or limos.

Miles fiddled with his keys. His voice softened. "I still miss her, Ted. Every day. Every single day. I still can't believe she's really gone." Then he looked at me. "But you should also know, Violet's an angel. I love her very much."


Excerpted from "Left to Chance"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Amy Nathan-Gropper.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

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