After growing up in privilege and marrying into money, Lila Alders has gotten used to the good life. But when her happily-ever-after implodes, Lila must return to Black Dog Bay, the tiny seaside town where she grew up. She’s desperate for a safe haven, but everything has changed over the past ten years. Her family’s fortune is gone—and her mother is in total denial. It’s up to Lila to take care of everything...but she can barely take care of herself.
The former golden girl of Black Dog Bay struggles to reinvent herself by opening a vintage clothing boutique. But even as Lila finds new purpose for outdated dresses and tries to reunite with her ex, she realizes that sometimes it’s too late for old dreams. She’s lost everything she thought she needed but found something—someone—she desperately wants. A boy she hardly noticed has grown up into a man she can’t forget...and a second chance has never felt so much like first love.
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED
About the Author
Beth Kendrick is the author of ten novels, including Cure for the Common Breakup,The Week Before the Wedding, and The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service. She lives in Arizona with her family and a pair of unruly rescue dogs.
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Also by Beth Kendrick
The last thing Lila did on her way out of town was sell her wedding rings.
When she arrived at the pawnshop, she looked flawless—she’d made sure of that before she left her custom-built brick house for the last time. Her honey blond hair was freshly straightened, her nails impeccably manicured, her blush and mascara tastefully applied. Her blouse matched her skirt, her shoes matched her handbag, and her bra matched her panties because, as her mother had always reminded her, if a terrible accident should ever befall her in a grocery store parking lot, she would be on display to a whole team of paramedics and hospital workers.
But as she pulled her diamond rings out of her purse, all Lila could think about were the things that didn’t look right. The dark roots that were starting to show where her hair parted. The visible tension in her face from months of clenching her jaw at night. The pale stripe on her finger where her rings had been. And even worse than the flaws she couldn’t hide were the ones she could. Out in the parking lot, her white luxury SUV awaited. Spotless and brand-new and jam-packed with the last remnants of her life she’d managed to salvage from the divorce.
For a solid two minutes, Lila kept her hands in the pockets of her stylish rose pink trench coat and listened to soft jazz on the sound system while the store employee scrutinized every facet of the diamonds. Beneath the glass display case, rows of rings sparkled in the light, each one representing a promise exchanged by two people coming together in trust and faith and hope. Lila tried to imagine the men who had proposed with these rings: rich and poor, old and young, each of them in love with a woman they believed to be as unique and dazzling as these jewels.
And they had all ended up here: the relationship boneyard. An “estate jewelry” storefront sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a pet groomer in a suburban strip mall.
The clerk finally looked up, clicking her tongue. “The setting’s very dated, but the stone itself is decent.”
Lila blinked. “Dated? Decent? That ring was on the back cover of Elle magazine the month I got engaged.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“Well. Seven years.” Lila squinted to read the employee’s name tag and tried a different approach. “Norma. I appreciate that you have a business to run and a family to support, but look at the cut and color of this diamond! The stone was imported from Antwerp, the setting is really quite classic—”
“If I’ve learned one thing in this business, it’s that everything goes out of style eventually.” The saleswoman lowered her loupe and tilted her head, her gaze shrewd. “The whole ‘timeless classic’ line? It’s a marketing myth.”
“But the cut.” Lila cleared her throat. “It’s exquisite.”
Norma lifted one corner of her mouth. “Do you happen to have the GIA certification papers?”
“Not anymore.” Lila knew she was being assessed for weakness. How desperate was she for cash? How much did she value this touchstone of her past?
What was the bare minimum she would accept?
She should lift her chin and meet the other woman’s gaze, but she couldn’t. She’d been completely depleted—of confidence, of certainty, of the will to stand up for herself.
“We can sell the diamond, but the setting will have to be melted down and refashioned.” Norma put on her glasses, picked up her pen, and wrote a few numbers down on the pad in front of her. “Here’s what I can offer you.”
Lila glanced down at the figure and swallowed back a sigh.
“I know it’s probably not what you were hoping for, but the fact is, diamonds just don’t hold their value.” Norma’s tone was both apologetic and insincere.
“But that’s less than a third of what my husband paid for it.” Lila hated how tentative and soft she sounded. Then she corrected herself. “My ex-husband, I mean.” She flattened her palm on the cool glass case and tried to rally as she stared at the number written on the pad.
You can do this.
She knew better than to accept an opening offer. She needed to negotiate.
You have to do this.
But she glanced up at the jeweler through lowered eyelashes, her eyes watering and her lip trembling. All the fight had been drained out of her. The spark inside had flickered out.
“I . . .” Lila trailed off, cleared her throat, forced herself to start again. “I’ll take it.” The amount wasn’t enough to save her, but she needed every bit of cash she could get right now. So she let go of all her old hopes and dreams and prepared to take the money.
Norma half smiled, half sneered. “Let me write you a check.”
An electronic chime sounded as the shop’s door opened; then a shrill feminine voice rang out. “Holy crap! You’re Lila McCune. I love you! I’m your biggest fan. Marilyn Waters.” A short, windblown woman in a green turtleneck shook Lila’s hand, squeezing tightly. “I can’t believe this! Do you live around here?”
“Until recently.” Like this morning.
Marilyn turned to the jeweler and demanded, “Did you know she’s a celebrity?”
Norma’s sneer got a little sneerier. “No.”
Lila bowed her head. “Oh, I’m not really—”
“She was the late-night host of my favorite shopping channel for three years.” Marilyn turned back to Lila. “You probably don’t recognize my voice, but we’ve spoken on the air. I called in a few times, and you were so nice. You made me feel good about myself when I was fat and hormonal and losing my damn mind.”
Lila was beaming as she struggled to reclaim her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person—I love connecting with callers. What were some of your favorite items?”
“Oh, Lord, I bought so many things. When I was up with my first baby, I watched you every single night. I was exhausted and healing from a third-degree tear, but your show was really soothing. This woman can sell anything to anyone,” Marilyn informed the jeweler. “Crystal Christmas tree ornaments and fancy French sauté pans and this amazing cream that gets rid of the calluses on your heels. Works like magic. Would it be okay if I take a quick picture with you?”
“Of course.” Lila summoned her cheeriest, camera-ready smile.
“One more, just in case.” Marilyn clicked her camera phone three times in rapid succession. “I can’t wait to put this up on Instagram! My sisters are going to be so jealous.”
While Marilyn fiddled with her phone, Lila sidled over to Norma and murmured, “Make the check out to Lila Alders, please. A-L-D-E-R-S.”
Norma raised one finely penciled brow. “I thought you were Lila McCune?”
“I was. Now I’m back to my maiden name.”
Marilyn clicked off social media and rejoined the conversation. “So, what happened, Lila? You’re not on the air anymore.”
“My contract was up, and, um, my agent and I decided it was time to transition.” Lila’s jaw ached. “I’m exploring some new opportunities.”
“Ooh! Like what?”
“Like . . .” Lila had never been so happy to hear her phone ring. “Would you please excuse me for a moment? I have to take this.” She pressed the phone to her ear and walked toward the front window. “Hi, Mom.”
“Where are you right now?” her mother demanded.
“I’m at the engagement ring boneyard.”
“I’m selling my rings.”
Her mother made a little sound of disappointment. “So you won’t be here for dinner?”
“No. Sorry I’m running late; it took me forever to pack up the car and then I had to drop by my attorney’s office to pay off my balance.”
“Well, now you can put it all behind you.” There was a pause on her mother’s end of the line. “Did you get a good price for the rings, at least?”
“No.” Lila forced herself to relax as her temple started throbbing.
“How much?” Her mother’s voice stayed light and airy, but Lila detected an urgent undertone. “Approximately?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason.” Another pause. “We’ll talk about it when you get here.”
“Talk about what?”
“Nothing. Drive safe, sweet pea. I can’t wait to see you.” Her mother hung up before Lila could say anything else.
When Lila returned to the glass counter, Marilyn was frowning and nibbling her lower lip while Norma examined a hair comb fashioned of tarnished metal.
Lila stepped closer to Marilyn and asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a hair comb,” Norma said flatly.
“It belonged to my great-aunt,” Marilyn confided. “And her mother before her. It’s not really my style, but I thought maybe we could find a buyer who would really appreciate it. Stuff like this should be worn, you know? Doesn’t do me any good collecting dust in a drawer.”
“It’s beautiful.” Lila peered over Norma’s shoulder. The comb was shaped like a flower atop two thin prongs. “What’s it made of?”
“Steel. Dates back to the early eighteen hundreds.” Norma sounded disapproving. “Not interested.”
Marilyn’s whole body folded in a bit. “But it’s vintage.”
Norma remained impassive. “Worth a hundred bucks, max. Try listing it on eBay.”
Marilyn took back her family heirloom with evident shame.
“Well, I love it.” Lila straightened her shoulders. She ran her fingers along the faceted edges of the flower’s petals. The steel had been cut like a gemstone, designed to look dainty despite its strength.
“You do?” Marilyn’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Absolutely. Tell you what—I’ll give you two hundred dollars for it.” Lila opened her wallet, realized her current net worth stood at thirty-seven dollars and three maxed-out credit cards, and closed her wallet. “Let me go cash this check really quick.”
The sparkle returned to Marilyn’s eyes. “Keep your money. Just give me your autograph and we’ll call it even. It will be such a thrill to know that somewhere out there, Lila McCune is walking around wearing my great-aunt’s comb.”
“Oh, I couldn’t—”
“I insist.” Marilyn gave a little hop of glee.
Lila accepted the metal comb and slid the prongs into her hair. “Thank you, Marilyn. I’ll make sure it always has a good home.”
“I want it to be with someone who loves it.” Marilyn shot a hostile look at Norma. “Someone who understands that everything doesn’t have to be made out of platinum to be worth anything.”
For the second time in ten minutes, Lila’s eyes welled with tears. She hugged Marilyn, said thank you a dozen more times, and hurried back out to the parking lot before she lost her composure.
The woman on TV who kept you sane in the middle of the night isn’t supposed to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the afternoon.
The prongs of the metal comb were biting into her scalp, and she reached up and pulled it out of her hair, then unlocked her car with a click of her key fob.
“Oh, Lila, wait!” Marilyn’s voice called. “If I could just trouble you for one more thing before you go.”
Lila startled. In her hasty attempt to shove the comb back into her hair, her thumb hit the button to open the SUV’s back gate.
A jumble of linens, clothes, shoes, books, file boxes, and a lamp tumbled out onto the asphalt.
Marilyn stopped midstride and looked down at the mess, then back up at Lila with an expression that was equal parts shock and pity.
“I’m transitioning,” Lila explained in her perky, late-night shopper voice as she picked up a fragment of the shattered stained-glass lampshade. “I’m considering my options.”
Steady, pounding rain drenched the windshield of Lila’s SUV as she made the drive to Black Dog Bay, Delaware. The night sky was starless, the roads were treacherous, and Lila stayed in the right-hand lane of the highway, praying that she wouldn’t skid on an oil slick or scrape a guardrail or misjudge her braking speed.
She wanted to turn on the radio and take a sip of coffee from the travel mug resting on the console, but she was too afraid to release her death grip on the steering wheel.
Buying this car had been a mistake; she could admit that. A huge mistake. Almost as huge as the vehicle itself.
Once upon a time, in her heyday of hawking callus cream on late-night cable, she had driven a sporty little black coupe. She’d never given a second thought to issues like braking speed or turning radius.
And then, ten months ago, her father had died. And after the funeral, she’d come home to the news that her producers had opted not to renew her contract. Six weeks later, her husband had explained that, while he would always love her on some level, he was not actually in love with her. Because he was in love with someone else.
The morning after Carl broke the news that he was abandoning her for something new, Lila had decided she deserved something new, too. And Carl deserved to pay for it. She’d stalked out of the house, roiling with rage, and driven to the nearest auto dealership.
“I want the biggest car you have on the lot,” she told the first salesman she saw. “Fully loaded: leather seats, sunroof, power everything.”
The salesman didn’t miss a beat. “Backseat DVD player?”
“Sure, why not?” she’d replied, though she had no children. She didn’t even have a dog. There’d be nothing in her backseat but baggage after Carl sold the house she’d spent five years decorating with custom flooring and fabric and furniture.
“Do you have a color preference?” the salesman asked as he led her toward a line of shiny new vehicles.
“No.” She pulled out her checkbook. “Let’s just get this done before my husband closes the joint accounts.”
And that was how she’d ended up with this all-wheel-drive behemoth with an interior large enough to set up a pair of sofas and a coffee table. This sumptuous, supersafe SUV—or, as she privately referred to it, the “FU”-V.
She’d driven back home in a spurt of renewed optimism, feeling invincible.
Then she’d turned into the circular driveway in front of their stately brick home and realized that she had blind spots the size of a small planet and insufficient clearance to maneuver the vehicle into the garage. She’d had to park outside and slink in to face the scorn of the man who’d vowed to love her in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.
Except that man hadn’t been waiting for her in the house. He’d vanished, taking his laptop and golf clubs with him, leaving a certified letter from his accountant explaining that because his businesses had been “gifted” to him by his father, she wouldn’t be entitled to any portion of his company’s equity or revenue going forward.
All her outrage and optimism sputtered out after that, followed quickly by her savings, because Carl did indeed freeze the joint accounts.
But she still had this FUV, cocooning her within steel crossbars and countless air bags as she cruised down Coastal Highway 1. She had a world of comforts at her disposal—heated leather seats, climate control, enough cup holders to accommodate a case of cola, and, of course, the backseat DVD player. She’d signed the purchase agreement thinking that she was buying a guarantee of safety and protection.
She instinctively tapped the brake as she glanced at the dashboard. An orange alert light in the shape of an exclamation point was blinking. She had no idea what that meant, but she knew it was bad.
Reminding herself to stay calm, she tried to watch the road ahead and maintain her speed.
One hazard light wasn’t the end of the world. She could call Triple A. How did the Bluetooth system work, again?
Another light illuminated—this time, the engine temperature alert.
The oil level alert.
The battery life alert.
BEEP BEEP BEEP.
The antitheft alert blared to life at eardrum-shattering decibels.
Lila didn’t realize she was yelling until she heard the sound of her own voice in her ears in the split-second pauses between beeps and dings.
Her fingers gripped the steering wheel so tightly her wrists trembled. She tried to focus on the road, but all she could see in front of her was a cluster of red and orange lights, announcing crises she hadn’t even imagined.
She glimpsed a gas station on her right and swerved into the parking lot, skidding on the wet pavement and jumping the curb in her haste. For a moment, she worried the enormous hulk of machinery would simply topple and roll over, but it righted itself with a shudder.
The cacophony of beeps and dings continued. She threw the transmission into park and started jabbing at buttons on the dashboard and key fob. Nothing changed—the lights kept blinking, the alarms kept blaring.
She heaved the door open and jumped out, stumbling on the retractable assist steps that automatically unfolded.
“Shit!” She fell into a gasoline-scented puddle. Though she managed to catch herself with her hands, the water splashed onto her cheeks and collar.
The car alarms kept sounding.
She grabbed the edge of the massive metal hood and pulled. Nothing budged. She could barely see at this point; her hair was plastered to her face in the icy downpour.
“Stop.” A calm, authoritative male voice filtered through all the honking and dinging. A hand pressed down on her shoulder. “Give me your keys.”
Shaking and breathless, she whirled around to face a man wearing a baseball cap and a dark wool jacket. He smiled at her and held out his palm.
Lila hesitated for a moment, worst-case scenarios flashing through her mind. If she handed over her keys, this guy could steal her car. She’d be stranded here, shivering and alone.
Without the three-ton vehicle that she could barely drive.
She pointed toward the driver’s side door. “They’re in the ignition.”
The man stepped onto the metal ledge, reached into the SUV’s cabin, and cut the engine.
Everything stopped at once—the dinging, the honking, the panic and despair.
Lila listened to the raindrops spatter against the pavement during the long, lovely pause.
Then the engine rumbled to life again as the man turned the keys in the other direction.
She started to protest, but the words died on her lips when she realized that she could hear the engine now. She could also hear the steady squeak of the windshield wipers. All the alarms had been silenced.
And the guy that had done the silencing was now staring at her.
She took a faltering step back.
He kept right on staring. “Lila?”
She took another step back.
He took off his hat, and suddenly those features fell into place in her memory. The brown eyes and thick hair and the deep, teasing voice. “Lila?”
“Ben?” She clapped a hand to her mouth, suddenly aware of how bedraggled she must look. “Ben!”
Without another word, he opened his arms to her and she ran to him, closing her eyes as she pressed her cheek against his shoulder. It had been years since he had held her, but she suddenly felt sixteen again, hopeful and shy but safe.
“What are you doing here?” Something about the way he asked this made her wonder how much he’d glimpsed of the FUV’s contents.
“I promised my mom I’d come stay with her through the summer,” she mumbled into his jacket. “She’s been having a hard time with everything.”
His arms tightened around her. “I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry. He was a great guy.”
“Yeah, it’s been a tough year. But we’re hanging in there.” She looked up at him.
He cupped her chin in his hand. “It’s so great to see you.”
“What about you?” she asked. “I thought you were still in Boston.”
“I moved back last month. I’m taking over my dad’s company. We’re starting some new projects down by Bethany Beach.”
She was grinning now, not her camera smile but her real smile. She knew she looked toothy and ridiculous, but she couldn’t stop.
Because the first boy she’d promised to love forever was smiling down at her with what could only be described as adoration. “You changed your hair.”
She nodded. “I went blond a few years ago.”
“It looks great. You always look great, Lila.”
“Oh, please.” She pulled away, trying to straighten her hair and her shirt and her earrings all at once. “I’m a drowned rat.”
Ben shook his head. “You get prettier and prettier. Listen, here’s my card. We should get together sometime and catch up.”
She forced her lips into a more demure expression as her mother’s voice resounded in her head: Don’t be too eager. There’s nothing a man likes more than a woman who has other options. “Thanks. I’d like that.”
“You’re staying with your mom?”
“Take it easy on the drive into town, and get your car checked out, okay?” He nodded at the SUV. “This model has a lot of electrical problems. Probably a short somewhere.”
“How do you know?”
“My foreman used to have the same car. Emphasis on used to.”
Lila climbed back into the FUV, buckled her seat belt, and just sat for a few minutes. Relishing the heated seats and warm air gusting out of the vents. Watching the dashboard for any more emergency lights.
Reeling from the unexpected gift she’d just been given.
Finally, she put the FUV into gear and started back down the highway to her hometown. And five minutes later, when she passed the quaint clapboard sign adorned with the silhouette of a Labrador retriever—WELCOME TO BLACK DOG BAY—she removed one hand from the wheel, turned on the radio, and scanned through the static until she found a song she could hum along to.
Maybe coming home wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
As if on cue, Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” came on as Lila piloted the FUV toward Main Street. The bass line brought back a flood of memories: drinking diet soda in the cafeteria, stretching her hamstrings before cheer practice, pinning corsages to the velvet bodices of her formal dresses.
She hadn’t heard this song since high school. She’d barely been back to Black Dog Bay in the last ten years, except for the occasional summer weekend and her father’s memorial service. Once she left for college, her parents had always been happy to come to her for visits and vacations. Her mother, in particular, had welcomed any opportunity to get out of small-town Delaware and meet her daughter for restaurant Thanksgivings in New York and Philadelphia. They’d had Christmases in Colorado, Easters in West Palm Beach and the Bahamas, August getaways in Maine and Vermont.
But even though she’d barely set foot here in ten years, she knew exactly what to expect. This town was her safety net, her fallback plan, her last resort she could always depend on when the rest of the world failed her. As she drove down Main Street, she recognized the familiar standbys: the candy shop that sold hand-pulled saltwater taffy, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the white gazebo and bronze dog statue in the town square. Of course, a few businesses had changed hands since she’d graduated from high school. The old ice cream shop had been replaced by an antique store. The diner where she and her friends had hung out on Friday afternoons had been deposed by a bar called the Whinery. There was a bookstore now, and a boutique called Retail Therapy.
But everything important, the essence of Black Dog Bay, remained unchanged.
And Ben was back.
As the first wisps of fog rolled in from the sea, Lila pulled up in front of the huge white house where she’d grown up. Her father had built this home as a wedding present for her mother, and her mother had spent the past three decades customizing the mansion on the beach. Over the years, the eighties architecture and decor had been remodeled to reflect a more historical sensibility, and now, thanks to endless updates, the house looked as if it had been there for centuries.
A bronze-accented light glowed warm and bright on the wraparound porch. Lila parked the FUV on the gravel driveway, left her belongings in her car, and sprinted through the rain to the house.
Before she could make it up the wooden steps, her mother flung open the front door. Even in a bathrobe, Daphne Alders looked perfectly put together. She had modeled in New York for several years before she got married, and she’d never lost her sense of chic, her smooth complexion, or her lithe physique.
“Sweet pea!” Daphne threw both arms around her daughter. “You’re here!”
“I’m here.” Lila closed her eyes and breathed in the faint notes of jasmine from her mother’s perfume. “I made it.” When she opened her eyes, she glanced around the foyer and living room. Her mother had gone on another redecorating binge. Lila recognized the abstract bronze sculpture on the mantel and the vintage candelabra hanging from the ceiling, but the living room wallpaper—finely woven grass cloth that looked almost like burlap—was definitely new, as was the retro gray settee that looked like it had been stolen from the set of Mad Men. But everything somehow worked together, punctuated by green glass vases of white hydrangeas, to create a balanced, beautiful tableau.
“Thank goodness. I’ve been waiting all night for you.” Daphne pulled out of the hug, grabbed a stack of mail from the hall table, and handed the pile to Lila. “Here. You’ll know what to do with these.”
“I will?” Lila shuffled through the stack, glancing at return addresses from utility companies and banks and health insurance corporations.
“Your father paid all the bills online, and you know I’m hopeless with a computer.”
Lila flipped over an envelope. Some of the postmarks were from months ago. “You haven’t opened any of these?”
“I just can’t bear to. You know the finances were your father’s department.”
“Yes, but what about the attorney? I thought you had set up a trustee?”
Daphne dabbed at her eyes. “And the registration for his truck is due. I have no idea how to renew it.”
“Oh, well, we can just—”
“And the water heater’s broken.”
“The water heater?” Lila stopped thumbing through the stack of envelopes.
“Yes. The pilot light’s out and I need to take a shower and I can’t deal with one more thing right now. You’ll handle it, won’t you? Oh, I’m so glad to see you, sweet pea. Your father was right—he always said you’d take care of me.”
* * *
Lila pressed her back against the bathroom door, dabbing the sweat off her forehead with a fluffy white hand towel made from the finest Egyptian cotton.
She could hear her mother bustling around the kitchen, making tea and cutting up a single apple, which was Daphne’s idea of a decadent late-night snack. The water heater was still inoperable, but Daphne’s relief was evident. Because her daughter was here to take care of everything.
Lila rattled off a string of obscenities into the Egyptian cotton and resolved to be the daughter her mother needed her to be. She had been fired from the land of late-night TV shopping and ruthlessly litigated out of her marriage, so helping her mother was her full-time job for now. She would strive to uphold the image her father had always had of her as the gifted golden child. She would use whatever weapons she had in her arsenal.
She would fix this damn pilot light if it was the last thing she did.
After splashing her face with cold water, she emerged from the powder room with what she hoped was an air of calm capability.
“Let’s take a look at the water heater.”
Daphne offered her an apple slice, then handed over a three-ring binder labeled “House Instructions.”
“What’s this?” Lila flipped through the laminated papers, which were full of notes and diagrams in her father’s blocky handwriting. There were colored dividers marked “bathroom,” “kitchen,” “furnace,” and “A/C system.”
“Dad left you a book of instructions?”
Daphne broke into tears. “He put that together years ago, so I could do things like light the pilot lights when he was out of town.”
That was typical of her father—always taking care of “his girls.” Lila waited for the wave of emotion to pass, then asked, “So you must have dealt with this stuff before, right?”
“No. I always just waited until he came back to fix it or called one of the neighbors.”
And this time, her father wasn’t coming back. Lila closed her eyes for a moment, then forced them open and flipped to the page marked “water heater.” She found her father’s explanation of how to rekindle the pilot light and read it several times. “Okay . . . okay . . . This doesn’t look so hard.”
Her mother regarded her with a mixture of hope and despair. “So you can do it.”
“Yes.” Lila took a deep breath. “I think I can do it.”
* * *
“I can’t do this.” Fifteen minutes and two singed fingers later, Lila gave up.
“But you’re following the instructions.”
“I know! Which is why the pilot light should be lit.” Lila, crouched on the epoxy-coated cement floor in the garage, shoved her sweat-drenched hair back from her face. “And yet.”
Her mother collapsed against the hood of the pickup truck with expired tags and started to sob.
“Don’t cry, Mom. Don’t cry.” In desperation, Lila flicked the cigarette lighter’s spark wheel one more time. But she couldn’t even get a flicker of flame.
“What are we going to do now?” Daphne choked out.
Lila considered this for a long moment, then resigned herself to the inevitable. “Now we move on to plan B. How late is the hardware store open tonight?”
“How on earth would I know? I’ve never set foot in the hardware store.”
Lila led the way back into the house and checked her watch: quarter to ten. “Well, let’s hope they’re open till ten, because there might be someone there who can talk me through this.” She located her handbag on the kitchen counter. When she pulled out her phone, a white business card fluttered out.
Daphne snatched it up. Her jaw dropped when she spied the name embossed on the card. “Ben Collier?”
Lila’s mood lifted at the memory. “Yeah, he’s back in town. I just ran into him at the gas station out on Highway One.”
Daphne’s shock turned to horror. “Looking like that?”
“Well, I wasn’t all sweaty, obviously.” Lila recounted their reunion, leaving out the part where she had been drenched with rain and reeking of gasoline.
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“Because I got distracted with the water heater drama. Now let me call the hardware store before—”
“Forget the hardware store.” Daphne’s dark eyes gleamed. “You’re calling Ben Collier.”
“Mother. No.” Lila grabbed for the business card.
Daphne skittered out of reach, putting the limestone-topped kitchen island between them. “Yes! Don’t you see, Lila? This is a sign. You and Ben, back together after all these years. It’s perfect. It’s meant to be!”
Lila held up both palms. “No way. I am not calling him to fix the water heater when he had to fix my car two hours ago.”
“Fine; I’ll call him.”
At this, Lila planted her hands on her hips. “Don’t you have any shame?”
“I don’t need shame. I need hot water.” Daphne picked up the landline and started dialing. “Now stop talking back and go clean yourself up. Your hair’s a mess, your fingernails are filthy, and you need to change your shirt. That shade of pink is too pale for you.”
In the twenty minutes it took Ben Collier to arrive at the Alderses’ front door, Daphne managed to comb out Lila’s hair, shape her eyebrows, apply fresh foundation and mascara, and outfit her in a low-cut red top.
“This is overkill,” Lila protested. “I look like Scarlett O’Hara about to throw herself at Ashley Wilkes.”
“Stop talking and hold still so I can put on your lipstick.” Daphne hummed a little tune while she selected a shade from her vast array of lip color options. The master bedroom featured a makeup alcove separate from the bathroom, and mirrors and lighting had been strategically located around the vanity table.
“I thought you always said I shouldn’t call boys.” Lila tried to talk without moving her lips. “That it makes me look desperate.”
“If you called Ben, it would look desperate. But when I call him, I’m just a helpless widow in need of rescue.” Daphne exchanged her bathrobe for a cream georgette tunic and black leggings. “And he’s such a nice boy, he couldn’t have been sweeter about it.”
“Appalling.” Lila stuck out her tongue at her relentlessly well-lit reflection. “Do you really not see how embarrassing this is? For me to fall over my high school boyfriend the second I get back to town?”
“Don’t worry.” Daphne slipped a chunky gold statement necklace over her head. “I’ll do the talking. You just make a cameo when I tell you, then make yourself scarce. Always leave him wanting more.” Daphne stopped humming. “Are you aware that your roots need a touch-up?”
“I’m aware,” Lila said. “I’m also aware that I look like a hussy in your shirt.”
“Don’t blame me for that. You’re the one who shoved all your clothes in a wrinkly heap in the back of your car.”
The doorbell rang and Daphne flitted downstairs. As instructed, Lila remained up in the master suite, waiting for her cue.
“Ben Collier!” Daphne’s voice soared up to the handmade French chandelier hanging above the open foyer. “Come in, honey! It’s so great to see you again and you’re just as handsome as ever. How are you?”
Ben’s reply was lost in a flurry of Daphne’s high-pitched exclamations.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear you’re back in town. How’s your sister? Where are you staying?” Without even pausing for breath, Daphne half turned and called up the grand, curving staircase. “Lila, baby, look who’s here!”
Lila made her appearance at the top of the stairway, waving and smiling down. Ben looked up, so much taller and stronger and stubblier than she remembered, and smiled back.
And the old feelings came rushing back. The giddy anticipation of dates on Friday nights. The thrill of breaking curfew. The warmth and pride of knowing that she was young and beautiful and worthy of adoration.
And yes, she had been a cheerleader and Ben had played varsity football. Yes, they had been elected prom queen and king their senior year. Yes, they embodied every cheesy high school stereotype. So what? That hadn’t detracted from the sincerity of their feelings. Their love had been pure and strong and steadfast.
Maybe her mother was right. Maybe feelings like that never really went away.
Lila tucked her hair behind her ear and mouthed, “Thanks” at this stranger she had once gone parking with in her mother’s Mercedes.
He threw her a charming, heart-melting smile, and winked. Then he turned his attention back to Daphne, who chattered all the way into the garage.
“Our Lila’s a celebrity now, you know. A very popular shopping channel host on a very popular station. Doesn’t she look stunning as a blonde?”
* * *
Four minutes later, the water heater was working and Daphne’s dossier on Ben Collier was up-to-date.
Mrs. Alders sent him off into the night with a kiss on the cheek and a promise that he’d let her bake him cookies in gratitude. The moment the door closed behind him, she beckoned Lila down to the foyer. “He’s single, he’s taking over his father’s property management company, and he’s renting a house by the golf course for the summer. Never married, no kids. His manners are still excellent, he’s got a good sense of humor, and he knows his way around a toolbox. You officially have my blessing.”
Lila blinked. “For what?”
“For living happily ever after.” Daphne dusted off her hands and headed back to the kitchen. “Now, I know second weddings are supposed to be subdued, but we could host the whole thing here at the house. You could wear my ecru Alexander McQueen coatdress, very tasteful.”
Lila laughed. “Easy on the marriage talk. I just finished paying off my divorce lawyer, remember?”
Daphne’s smooth forehead wrinkled with worry. “You didn’t say that to him, did you?”
“No, but I’m not going to lie about it. I’m divorced. It’s a fact. I know you don’t like to think about or talk about it, but it’s the truth.”
“Sweet pea, I just don’t want you to dwell on it.” Daphne’s brow furrows deepened. “And divorce, well, it’s so unpleasant. It makes people uncomfortable. Part of being a good conversationalist is putting people at ease.”
“I know, I know.” Lila had heard that phrase repeated a thousand times since childhood. “But before you call the florist and the caterers, keep in mind that he hasn’t even asked me out.”
“Only because your mother was standing right here.”
Lila opened the refrigerator and scanned the shelves for a snack. “Promising to bake him cookies. Yes, I heard that. You are shameless. Not to mention a liar.”
“How dare you! I’m a wonderful baker.”
“Really. You know what I see in your refrigerator? Bottled water, eight kinds of lettuce, coconut oil, and yams. You know what I don’t see? Butter, eggs, anything with refined sugar or white flour.”
“Fine, so I won’t bake cookies. But I’ll let him marry my daughter. He’s coming out ahead.”
Lila grimaced as she dug through stacks of spelt bread in search of a bagel. “I’m done with this conversation.”
“Just promise me one thing. If he does ask you out, promise me you’ll say yes.”
Lila gave up foraging and decided to choke down a slice of spelt bread. “I don’t have to promise that.”
“Now you’re being contrary. Why wouldn’t you go out with him? Don’t try to tell me the old flame isn’t still burning.”
Lila kept her head hidden behind the refrigerator door so her mother wouldn’t see her grin.
“Wait and see.” Daphne opened the cabinet doors and handed Lila a plate. “I’ll try not to say I told you so. But we both know you loved him.”
“I did love him.” Lila paused, trying to sort through all the nostalgia and trepidation. “When I was sixteen. But it’s been like thirteen years. He’s probably a totally different person.”
“Haven’t you learned by now?” Daphne turned her eyes to heaven. “Men don’t change.”
“I’m going to bed.” Lila managed two bites of spelt bread, then decided she’d rather go hungry. “But before I do, why did you ask about how much I got for my rings?”
Daphne was suddenly consumed with the need to empty the dishwasher. “Oh, just curious.”
Lila moved closer. “Are you having cash flow problems?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Daphne hunched lower, fiddling with the silverware rack. “I merely happened to be thinking about money this afternoon because I was looking over my property tax bill, and—”
“I thought you didn’t open the mail.”
Daphne practically climbed into the top-of-the-line, stainless steel Bosch. “Let’s talk about all this tomorrow. I’m desperately tired, and I need a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.”
“See you in the morning.” Daphne kissed her cheek and fled up the stairs.
“Tomorrow,” Lila said. “We’re going to talk. Summit meeting. State of the Union.”
“Sweet dreams!” Her mother’s voice echoed down the hall.
Lila cupped both hands around her mouth and called, “What time for the summit meeting?”
All she heard in response was the slam of a bedroom door and the hiss of the shower water.
After spending the night in her childhood bedroom (her mother had replaced the girlish white furniture and bulletin boards with an elegant four-poster bed, custom pink and white linens, and a series of black-and-white lithographs), Lila felt more disoriented than ever. Clad in pink pajama pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo from her high school cheerleading squad, she padded down the stairs to grind and brew strong black coffee for her mother, a task her father used to perform without fail.
Everything was the same, yet undeniably different—this house, her mother, the entire town of Black Dog Bay. Everywhere she looked, she saw framed photos of the girl she used to be, so self-assured in her tutus and tiaras, blessedly unaware that her lifelong winning streak would come to an end and her future would turn out nothing like what she envisioned.
While she sat in the huge white kitchen listening to the steady drip of coffee, Lila closed her eyes and felt the presence of her father. The foundation he’d laid and the load-bearing beams he’d installed were still here beneath all the imported limestone and woven wall coverings. He’d been the bedrock of the family, always steady and determined to stay the course. Though the house had been his grandest labor of love, he’d also demonstrated his devotion in smaller, more mundane ways. Bringing coffee to Daphne every morning before he left for work. The time he’d indulged eight-year-old Lila’s request to decorate a rental house’s bathroom in pink and purple polka dots.
That house had become famous with vacationers over the years. Families who made annual pilgrimages to the shore would ask the rental agent for the house with the pink and purple bathroom. Her father had bragged about this, declaring his daughter a brilliant businesswoman.
She’d been in crisis mode for the past few months, so consumed by the divorce and the loss of her job that she hadn’t really had time to grieve her dad. But here in the kitchen, where she’d shared so many meals with him, her heart finally caught up with her head.
She sat motionless in the cold, pale dawn, trying to absorb the enormity of her loss, until she smelled the coffee starting to burn. Then she pulled herself together, tamped down her sorrow and despair, and got busy with pouring and planning and preparing for everything still to come.
* * *
“I can’t go,” Daphne declared when Lila knocked on the door and announced she had sweet-talked her way into the first available appointment with the financial trustee. “I have nothing to wear.”
Lila put the coffee mug on the nightstand, sat on the edge of the bed, and gazed up at the whitewashed oak ceiling beams of the guest room. The view from this side of the house wasn’t nearly as impressive as the oceanfront vista of the master suite, but Daphne said she couldn’t bear sleeping alone in the bedroom she’d shared with her husband for decades.
“Now, Mom,” she said pleasantly, the very voice of reason, “I’m sure that if we go through your closet together, we can find something perfect for a day of financial planning. Maybe a power blazer? A few pinstripes? What do you say?”
Daphne pressed her hand against the varnished walnut headboard and closed her eyes against the sunlight filtering in through the curtains. “I have nothing, Lila. Nothing.”
Lila picked up the mug and took a sip of coffee. “Let’s just look.”
Big, breathy sigh. “Nothing.”
Lila nodded, her molars grinding as she maintained her chipper facade. “Tell you what. You stay here. I’ll go peek in your bedroom closet and find a few options.”
“Don’t treat me like a child and don’t you dare paw through my closet.” Daphne went from indolent to incensed in the blink of an eye. She pushed off the headboard, hopped out of bed, and hurried down the hall toward the master bedroom. “I’m perfectly capable of putting together an outfit.”
Lila trailed behind her, trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong.
“And I don’t need fashion tips from someone wearing baggy flannel pants, thank you very much.”
“I was trying to help.” Lila remained doggedly cheerful as she crossed over to the closet. “Sometimes it’s fun to pick out stuff together. Remember that time we—”
“Don’t!” Daphne cried before Lila could grasp the doorknob.
Lila froze, stricken by the panic in her mother’s voice. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t open that door.”
Lila pulled her hand back, her eyes huge. “Why not?”
Daphne’s whole face tightened. “Because I told you not to, and I’m your mother.”
“Don’t argue with me.” Daphne pointed to the door. “Step away from the closet.”
Lila kept her hands up as she slowly moved aside.
“Must I remind you that I am a grieving widow?” Daphne fluffed her sleek brunette bob, which looked camera-ready right out of bed. Must be an ex-model thing. “You have to mollycoddle me and let me have my way.”
But her mother didn’t sound grief-stricken at the moment. She sounded bossy and sharp and a little bit fearful.
Lila raised one eyebrow.
Daphne took her daughter’s elbow and hustled her back toward the mirrored vanity table. “Be a good girl and change the subject, won’t you?”
Lila narrowed her eyes but complied. “Fine. What do you want to talk about? And don’t say Ben.”
“Fine. Let’s talk about your other friends.”
It took Lila a few moments to admit the truth: She didn’t have a lot of girlfriends. Not anymore. Over the past ten years, she’d given up her single social life to be part of the perfect power couple. She and Carl had couple friends, and when Carl left her, many of the wives patted her hand sympathetically but said they didn’t want to choose sides. She’d told them that of course she understood. She didn’t want anyone to feel awkward or uncomfortable. Even in the court-ordered mediation sessions, she’d smiled and spoken softly and comported herself like a lady . . . and then gone home and sobbed in the shower. “I haven’t really stayed in touch with anybody from high school.”
“But you were the most popular girl in your class.” Daphne seemed a bit anxious at the thought that this might no longer be the case. “Stacie and Christa and Valerie still live nearby. You should call them and have lunch.”
“I haven’t seen Val since her wedding, and Stacie gave up on me a few years ago. I didn’t even get a Christmas card from her last December. It would be weird, calling them out of the blue after all this time.”
“They’d be delighted to hear from you,” Daphne said. “Remember how much fun the four of you used to have together?”
Lila glanced down at her cheerleading shirt and softened. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good.” Daphne cleared her throat. “Because you’re having cocktails with them at the country club at four.”
Excerpted from "New Uses for Old Boyfriends"
Copyright © 2015 Beth Kendrick.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
"Beth Kendrick has written a sharp, sassy, surprisingly emotional story that will make readers laugh out loud from page one and sigh from the heart at the end. Light and lovely perfection!"
—Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author on CURE FOR THE COMMON BREAKUP
“A smart, funny spin on happily-ever-after!"
—Beth Harbison, New York Times bestselling author
"Kendrick writes with a wicked sense of humor and great wisdom about the power of friendship [and] the importance of true love."
—The Chicago Tribune
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story was a lot of fun. New Uses for Old Boyfriends was a great upbeat story about overcoming. Lila was a great character who goes home after a nasty divorce to live with her Mom. Lila’s Mom is completely broke. Of course, her Mom is in complete denial about her financial situation which leads Lila to take action. This book was full of fun ideas and surprises. The setting of Black Dog Bay was so quaint and perfect for Lila to start over. There was a bit of humor in this story. I could totally relate to Lila, even though she comes from wealth she is really down to earth. This story also features some high fashion labels, I am grateful Lila is as ignorant as I am about that. Her romance starts with the man she though she would marry. It took an outsider to see the truth about this romance leaving room for someone she never even noticed. Although this is not my normal type of read, I found this lighthearted romance to be an easy read. The story builds up nicely. The author sprinkles in humor that most women can relate to. This is all written in third person, which makes it easy to understand the characters motives. There are women in almost every stage of life featured in this story. Lila’s mom, a reluctant bride, her meddling sister, a former beauty queen (who is also pregnant), a mean girl, a bartender, a NY shark, a few glamorous seniors, and then Lila herself round out this story. This is just a great story about women. Women not giving up on dreams, no matter what your age.
4.5 stars Did I enjoy this book: I really enjoyed this book. It was a fairly quick read that had me smiling throughout. New Uses for Old Boyfriends was a fun read. There were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments as well as a few giddy, romantic moments. I wasn’t sure about Lila in the beginning. She just seemed like a spoiled brat, but there was more to her. She had initiative. I loved how she and her mother went out and took control, even if they weren’t quite ready to do so. I really loved Daphne’s interest in the business at times. And Lila’s relationships with her exes were great. Ben and Malcolm–not what I expected, but loved nonetheless. Malcolm was my pick from the beginning. He is a Marine. He can sew, just don’t tell anyone. He is there for his sister, for Lila. He is a great guy. Ben is a great guy, too. And I loved the reappearance of Summer, Dutch, Jenna, and even Hattie. Would I recommend it: Absolutely!!! Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Dollycas’s Thoughts This is my first experience with this author and I am thrilled to have been offered this book for review. The story is like a breath of fresh air and just what I needed. It is hard to go back home again. In Lila’s case her life has basically fallen apart. She has lost her job and her husband has left her and all just a few months after her father has passed away. She arrives back in Black Dog Bay to start over and help her mom adjust to living without her dad, which turns out to be a much bigger task that Lila ever imagined. What follows is an incredible story where she not only helps her mom and reconnects with old friend but she also finds that going home was the right thing to do for herself. The is a light read full of funny moments. I really like Lila. She really is a strong woman who had a jerk for a husband and she moves on after first making a huge final purchase before he cut off the credit cards and bank account. She finds her friends that stayed in Black Dog Bay are moms and busy but they were able to carve some time out to spend together. She also runs into an old boyfriend or two and her mother is on a mission to find her a new man as soon as possible. Black Dog Bay is quite a place – “the best place in America to bounce back from your breakup.” With places like Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, and the Whinery bar, Black Dog Bay offers a haven for the suddenly single. So Lila is in the right place. I particularly enjoyed this book because there is such a variety of women of all ages. Being older I really identified with Lila’s mom and the changes to her life. Younger women will tune into Lila and her friends. All of these characters are very engaging and they are all very diverse. You do not have to have read Cure for the Common Breakup, the first Black Dog Bay Novel, to enjoy this story. It stands perfectly on its own. I do hope to go back and read the first one and anything else this author pens. She brings a great sense of humor to her work and gives us a happy ending too with several twists that made this an extremely delightful read.
Even better than The Cure For The Common Breakup! I love the sassy characters in the Black Bay series, I like how there's unexpected plot twists that you don't see coming, and how you can relate to the people (characters) in the stories. Beth Kendrick books are on auto-buy, and I have to pace myself, a couple of chapters at a time, to let the fun linger in your mouth like a drink at The Whinery. Thanks for another winner!!
Lila and her mother Daphne know everything worth knowing about fashion design and style. It’s a world filled with beauty and glamour but a world fraught with uncertainty. Lila painfully discovers how fleeting wealth and success can be. A TV star of a home shopping cable affiliate in Philadelphia and married to a successful man, Lila hears her husband announce he is leaving her for another woman and she also loses her job. Boom! What else can she do but return home to Black Dog Bay and begin anew! At first Lila is humiliated as she must confess her demise to all of her past friends, including some guys she dated years earlier. Then her life is overcome by the discovery that her father death left her mother penniless and that Daphne has charged her way into immense debt. There are some many funny moments in the exchanges between mother and daughter as Daphne fluctuates between despair about the loss of her fashionable collections, which she never wears by the way, and her new joie de vivant attitude. Eat those deliciously fattening chocolates and toss back that mood-lifting zesty wine! Lila, however, comes up with a brilliant plan that grows into a larger vision. Should she sell Daphne’s home and all of her charged goodies on EBay? Necessity rules this decision. The remainder of the story is delightful as Lila and Daphne begin to plan and discover that there’s a huge demand for selling vintage clothing and jewelry. Thus the rest of the novel awaits the pleasure of readers as the road to running a successful boutique, with the assistance of certain males, continues. In the process, Lila begins to realize that the men who are pursuing her have different motives. All in all, the disasters that have molded Lila into the strong woman she is today enable her to perceive what is romantically possible, what should be deemed as friendship and nothing more, and what is truly a romantic connection that is also friendship and delight in sharing “all” of her in mind and spirit as well as body. New Uses… is a delightfully clever read that is pure entertainment, with a few eye-openers to add to its punch! Nicely crafted, Beth Kendrick!
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Lila returns home to Black Dog Bay after a nasty divorce and a speedbump in her career. She finds her mom struggling to keep herself afloat in Lila's childhood home. They have to quickly find a solution to their money and directionless lives - a boutique is the right idea. Lila was a great character from the beginning - a go getter who is going to find the solution for whatever problem comes her way. I loved that her mom was her sidekick, made for a different read. I also loved the love storyline, it was different and unexpected, some may say predictable, but it is still different than the genre norm. I read this in one sitting and absolutely love Beth Kendrick.