Tori and McKenna St. James have been living comfortably on their trust funds in Dallas. But their uncle Monty, keeper of the purse strings, decides to push them out of their comfort zones by requiring them to spend one year in Alaska or lose their inheritance. Initially the sisters are stunned, but they aren't willing to back down from the challenge.
Tori is sent to a primitive homestead outside the tiny town of Sweet Home. She had been prepared to forego fashion magazines and lattes, but not electricity and running water! Will her rugged wilderness guide, Jesse Montana, teach her to survive, or send her fleeing back to civilization? Meanwhile, outdoorsy McKenna is stuck within the concrete walls of an Anchorage bank. Her sexy boss Luke McAvoy is tasked with teaching her the business but what he’s really doing is tempting her. Not that she’s the type to fall for a stuffed suit like him.
Tori and McKenna find much needed solace with Sweet Home’s Sisterhood of the Quilt. Will this crafty group of women be up to the challenge of teaching two outsiders how to sew—and perhaps how to love?
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Tori St. James gripped the chair in the lawyer's office as she and her sister McKenna glanced at each other nervously.
Terrence, their great-uncle's lawyer, opened the door and wheeled in a big-screen TV.
"Please tell us what's going on!" Tori implored. "Is Uncle Monty okay?"
The sisters feared the worst. Uncle Monty was their last living relative. He meant so much more to them than the large inheritance they were to receive when he passed away.
"Montgomery is well." Terrence plugged in the television.
"Then why all the secrecy?" McKenna asked. "Why were we summoned?"
"All will be revealed on the recording," Terrence said calmly. He stood back and hit play.
Uncle Monty appeared on the screen. "Hello, girls."
They were hardly girls. Tori was twenty-eight and McKenna was twenty-nine; they were only eleven months apart.
"I've made plans for the both of you," Uncle Monty continued.
Tori's worry turned to excitement. The last time Uncle Monty made plans, she and McKenna were whisked off to Monaco for a month.
"I've rented out your condo. Make peace with it." Uncle Monty's voice had a steely edge.
"Wait a minute." Tori was confused. This wasn't the uncle they knew. "Pause the video."
Terrence clicked the remote.
"Is our uncle ill?" McKenna asked.
"He doesn't seem like himself," Tori added.
"He's fine and of sound mind," the lawyer said. He turned the video back on.
But Uncle Monty looked a little strained as he glanced down at his desk. It was like he was referring to a script. "Neither of you girls have any long-term goals because everything has been provided for you. You expect nothing of yourselves. I've decided it's time you both stood on your own two feet."
"I bet it was Peggy who decided," McKenna said under her breath. Peggy was a therapist and Uncle Monty's latest girlfriend. At least she was fiftysomething instead of the thirtysomethings he usually dated, and this one seemed to stick around for more than the money. Peggy had been shocked when she found out that the St. James sisters didn't work. And why should we? Tori thought. Uncle Monty had the means and allowed them to enjoy life without a budget.
On the screen Uncle Monty was wearing a stern expression she'd never seen before. "You both need to change. This is your notice: I've put your trust funds and credit cards on hold."
"You've what?" McKenna complained to the screen. "I have a climbing trip at the Grand Canyon coming up."
"Go home and pack," Uncle Monty said. "You'll need clothing for four seasons, but especially for cold weather. No Dallas winter for you girls this year. You're headed for Alaska."
"Oh, that's not a bad idea," McKenna said, smiling. "There's plenty of outdoor activities there."
Tori frowned at her sister. "Sure, Alaska is great for you. But what am I supposed to do there?"
Uncle Monty continued, looking increasingly grim. "I really hate to do this to you, but I'm going to split you up. One in the city, one in the wilderness."
"Sounds good to me," McKenna said cheerfully.
This time Tori glared at her. "I don't think Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau is the size of Dallas. They probably don't have a single Galleria among them."
"And here's the hardest part," Uncle Monty said. "I've tied all this to your inheritance. If you complete your respective stays, the money will be yours. Terrence has your assignments."
The lawyer passed a folder to each of them. Tori flipped hers open but couldn't believe what she was seeing. "One year on a homestead in the middle of nowhere?"
"He can't seriously put me in a bank in Anchorage and expect me to survive," McKenna said at the same time.
Uncle Monty was talking again. "You've both heard me speak about my time as a young man living in Alaska near the small town of Sweet Home. Well, I've spoken with Piney at the Hungry Bear grocery-diner and she's found some local gentlemen to help you settle in and adjust to life in Alaska."
But Tori wasn't really listening at this point. "Why is he doing this to us?" she asked Terrence. "The Spring Fashion Show Gala is next week and I have responsibilities." Her job that night was to make sure every model was perfectly dressed and styled before walking the runway. It had taken her months to pick just the right outfits.
Uncle Monty was waving. "See you both in a year." The screen went blank.
"This is a disaster," Tori grumbled.
"He can't split us up, Tori," McKenna said fiercely.
McKenna had always watched out for Tori, as she was the younger and weaker of the two. Fragile was the word everyone used to describe her. Just like their mother, who had died during an asthma attack, Tori had weak lungs, too.
She looked back at the screen, about to let her uncle have it, only to be reminded he was gone.
As if choreographed, she and McKenna pulled out their phones at the same time.
"It won't do any good," Terrence said, pointing to their cells. "Monty is on a trip around the world for the next year. You are welcome to email him, but he'll only have limited access."
"He can't do this to us." Tori wanted to scream. "He can't make us go to Alaska!"
"True," Terrence said. "Neither of you has to accept your assignment."
"Really?" McKenna said.
"Yes. You can stay here, get jobs, and pay your own way in the world."
He didn't say the rest, but Tori could read his expression: Pay your own way in the world, just like the rest of us.
Terrence continued. "All assets are frozen except a modest allowance for incidentals, nothing like the unlimited access to cash and credit you had before."
"What about Tori's medication? Her inhaler?" McKenna looked as worried as she always did where Tori's breathing issues were concerned.
"Of course," Terrence said, giving Tori a pitying glance. "I'll have all of her prescriptions sent to Sweet Home."
McKenna didn't look satisfied.
"Fine," Tori said, tired of always being the sickly one. "We'll do it."
"We will?" McKenna said. "We'll stay here and get jobs? Do it on our own without the trust fund? If you say so, but I don't think your bachelor's degree in fashion management and mine in parks and rec are going to pay enough to feed us, let alone make rent on an apartment."
"No, silly. We're going to accept the challenge and go to Alaska. Uncle Monty wants us to get out of our comfort zones, and we will."
McKenna shook her head. "Alaska is a good fit for me, but I don't think it's a good fit for you. Remember when I took you to Thailand? You hated roughing it."
Tori was determined to prove her uncle-and that snooty Terrence-wrong. "Come on, sis. We can do this. A year will go by quickly," she added comfortingly, but she didn't actually believe it. The year would drag on. It would be miserable. But they'd survive.
Seven days later, she and McKenna were on a plane to Anchorage, both of them still shell-shocked from uprooting their life in Texas. When the pilot announced they would be landing soon, they reached for each other's hand and held on tight. Not because they were afraid of a bumpy touchdown, but because they would soon be separated.
"We've never been apart for more than a few days," Tori whispered.
"I know." McKenna's voice was filled with worry. "Did you pack your nebulizer?"
"Yes, for the millionth time. I have it packed along with my EpiPen."
"I can't stand it that I won't be there with you," McKenna said.
"Stop worrying." This was something Tori said often to her overprotective sister. "Besides, you made me research the allergens near Sweet Home that might trigger an asthma attack."
"I'm worried about the other triggers, too. Like cold air," McKenna reminded her.
"You were there when my allergist laid out a plan for me. I'm going to be fine." But then it all overwhelmed her again. "A homestead! It sounds dreadful. Like living in Little House on the Prairie." It rang of hard work and broken nails. She glanced down at her perfect manicure, knowing it might be some time before her hands looked this nice again. Glancing out the window, she saw her reflection and thought dejectedly, No highlights or shopping malls.
She knew most people saw her as pampered and shallow, but she wasn't as self-centered as she let on. Sure, she liked to buy clothes for herself, but not even McKenna knew the joy Tori found in shopping for the women's shelter. After all, every woman-homeless or not-deserved to look good when interviewing for a job. Tori's other clandestine pastimes included stocking the local food pantry and paying random people's utility bills through the Pay It Forward Organization. Why did Tori keep her charitable acts a secret from everyone, even her sister? A long time ago, Uncle Monty gave her some sage advice: when you do nice things for others, do it anonymously; never toot your own horn.
But how was she supposed to do those nice things now, when her accounts had been frozen and she was banished to a homestead?
"Tori," her sister said, squeezing her hand. "Don't worry. It's all going to be okay."
Tori gave her a sad smile.
When they got off the plane, Tori headed straight to Starbucks.
"What are you doing?" McKenna said.
"Getting my last latte for a year."
They took a couple sips of their coffees and headed for baggage claim. When they arrived there, two rather attractive men-one in a suit, the other in jeans and sporting a beard-were holding up signs with their names. As expected, the suit was holding McKenna's name and the mountain man was holding Tori's. The girls turned and frowned at each other.
McKenna looped her arm through Tori's and muttered, "What if we just switch places? No one would ever know."
"Yeah, but we would," Tori sighed.
"Let's get this over with so we can get back to our normal lives," Tori said firmly. She set her sights on Mr. Mountain Man, walking straight to him. "I'm Tori St. James."
His eyes widened in surprise. "Jesse Montana." He scanned the sleek black sheath she'd bought at Nordstrom. He took in every inch of her with his eyes and seemed to appreciate the view, but at the same time, he looked like he was biting his tongue about something. He glanced over at McKenna and nodded as if she knew how to dress properly. McKenna was wearing her L.L.Bean flannel shirt, Levi's jeans, and Merrell hiking boots, looking like the next wholesome cover model for an REI ad.
Tori clipped her next words. "Is something wrong?"
"Are you really up for the challenge? You do know, don't you, that I'm taking you to a cabin in the woods?"
"Of course," she said, steeling herself while maintaining eye contact.
He broke away first and gestured to McKenna's handler, Mr. Business Attire. Tori's kind of guy. "Okay, well, this is my friend Luke McAvoy. He works at First Regional Bank here in Anchorage."
Luke gave her a sparkling smile. "Nice to meet you, Tori." His voice was deep and rich. She couldn't help but smile back.
But the frown on McKenna's face displayed her unhappiness. Not because Tori was smiling at him, but because she was stuck with a banker, dashing though he might be.
The baggage claim horn blew and the conveyor belt motored on. Jesse tilted his head toward the carousel. "Let's get your bags."
Tori stared at him for a moment. If there were any way she could've survived without Uncle Monty's gold card, she would've grabbed her sister and hopped on the next flight back to Dallas.
Jesse raised an eyebrow. "Point out your luggage. We'll follow you."
As luck would have it, their luggage was first-McKenna's brown duffel bag and Tori's three oversized Louis Vuittons. "That's McKenna's and those are mine." Tori stood back and waited. McKenna reached for her duffel, but Luke grabbed it first.
When the men had their luggage beside them, Jesse nodded to Tori. "Say your good-byes."
Tori felt like she might cry, which would be utterly humiliating.
McKenna hugged her. "I need you to take care of yourself, Tori." She squeezed her tighter. "I'm going to miss you so much!"
"I'm going to miss you, too." She didn't want to let go, but she finally stepped away. "I'm going to text you a thousand times a day."
Reluctantly, Tori walked away with Jesse. "What was that all about?"
"What?" he asked.
"I saw that look you and Luke gave each other."
"Yeah, well, texting your sister a thousand times a day won't be possible," he said, looking down at the tile floor.
Tori clutched her bag with her cell inside. "I won't let you take my phone."
"Calm down." He'd motioned with his hands as if tamping down her distress. "I'm not going to take your phone. It's just that where we're going there's poor cell reception."
Tears threatened once again. She followed him with her rolling carry-on, trying to pull herself together. He might be right-she might not be up for the challenge, but that didn't mean that she had to show how weak she was in front of this mountain man.
When they walked outside, she glanced around. "No limo?" she joked.
"Not where we're going, princess," Jesse replied. "Your chariot needs four-wheel drive."
A dark cloud settled over Tori. And so my year of misery has begun. Yippee.
ÒCheer up.Ó Jesse felt sorry for Tori. She clearly didn't belong in the wilds of Alaska. She looked more suited for the concrete jungle of New York or L.A., or some other big city. He'd bet his hard-earned money that she wouldn't make it a week in the little cabin outside Sweet Home.
Tori straightened her shoulders and stared him straight in the eyes, which was a little unnerving since hers were a vivid green. "I'm fine," she declared.
"Wonderful. I just hope you have some good utility clothes in these suitcases." He glanced at her cute black dress, tights, and silly short boots one more time. When they arrived at the homestead, she should soak her sophisticated clothes in kerosene, light a match, and incinerate them to a crisp in the burn barrel. "What you're wearing isn't going to work for homesteading."
"McKenna packed some of her jeans and a couple of chambray shirts in my suitcase."
"Good. Would you like to stop at Walmart on our way out of Anchorage, just in case? If not, the hardware store in Sweet Home might have your size."