SOME DREAMS ARE WORTH WHATEVER IT TAKES
- With love in their hearts and planning the perfect wedding on their minds, the possibilities are endless for the women of Lynette Austin's new Magnolia Brides series. Readers will fall head over heels with:
- The sweet Southern charm
- The second-chance romance
- The wonderful cast of characters full of small-town heart
Jenni Beth Beaumont left her broken heart behind when she took her dream job in Savannah. But after her brother's death, Jenni Beth returns home to help mend her parents' hearts as well as restore their beautiful but crumbling antebellum mansion. New dreams take shape as Jenni Beth sets to work replacing floors and fixing pipes to convert the family homestead into the perfect wedding destination. She wants couples to find their happy place in her family home during the most important moment of their lives. However, some folks in their small Southern town are determined to see her fail.
Cole Bryson was once the love of Jenni Beth's life, but the charming architectural salvager has plans of his own for the Beaumont family home. As the two butt heads, old turmoil is brought to the surface and Cole and Jenni Beth will have to work through some painful memories and tough realities before they can set their pasts aside and have a second chance at their own happily ever after.
Praise for The Best Laid Wedding Plans:
"All about small towns, community, and sweet and sexy romance."—Booklist
"An intriguing premiere...well-developed characters and sensual romantic tension."—Publishers Weekly
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The Best Laid Wedding Plans
By Lynnette Austin
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Lynnette Austin
All rights reserved.
"To have and to hold, from this day forward ..." Jenni Beth Beaumont whispered the age-old vows.
Tiny white lights transformed Savannah's Chateau Rouge's gardens into a magical fairyland. The heavily beaded bridal gown shimmered in their reflected light.
Unfortunately, Jenni Beth was not wearing the gown.
But oh, how she wanted this. Not the wedding itself. No. She wanted to be the driving force behind making a bride's wedding day the most special of her life. Instead of organizing events here at Chateau Rouge, she wanted her own wedding planner business.
Tonight's bride fairly radiated. The groom, Jenni Beth's second cousin, looked so handsome in his dress uniform. He'd just last week come off a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Pain, instant and excruciating, washed over her, left her light-headed. Her brother Wes had been even more handsome in his dress uniform the day he'd graduated from Officer Candidate School, then again the day he'd deployed in his camos. The day she'd kissed him good-bye. The last time she'd seen him alive. Her throat constricted.
She exhaled, forced herself to shake it off. Not tonight. Tonight was a celebration of love. The beginning of a new family. Of dreams come true.
While the bride and groom funneled their guests through the receiving line, Jenni Beth bolted to a separate section of the garden to make sure the cake, the bubbly, and the band were in place. She did a last-minute check on table settings, place cards, candles — the list was never ending.
The music started, the bridal party wended their way to the area, and the celebration began.
As the evening wore on, Jenni Beth relaxed.
A familiar voice whispered in her ear. "Dance with me."
Cole Bryson. She hadn't seen his name on the guest list.
Shivers raced down her spine, and her heart stuttered. It had been too long, not long enough. "No."
She wouldn't turn around, wouldn't meet those mesmerizing eyes.
His hands settled on her bare arms, and she nearly jumped. As the work-roughened hands moved over her skin, her stomach started a little dance of its own.
"I'm working, Cole."
"Nothin' needs doin' right now. Sean and Sarah are deliriously happy, and everything's runnin' smoothly. Come on, sugar. You don't want to cause a scene."
Knowing she shouldn't, she turned to face him. Mistake. She had always found him irresistible, and that hadn't changed. He'd perfected that slow Southern drawl, had the sound of a true gentleman. But the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. Revealed the bad boy tucked not far below the surface.
Right now, dressed in a dark suit and tie, the man looked like every woman's dream. He appeared smooth and debonair, but beneath lay the wild.
He took her hand, and, God forgive her, she followed him, weak-kneed, onto the portable dance floor, telling herself she didn't want to, that she only did it to keep peace. Knowing she lied.
A full moon shone overhead and candlelight flickered. When he drew her into his arms and pulled her close, she sighed. One hand held hers, the other settled south of her waist.
"You smell good, Jenni Beth. You always do."
His voice, low and husky, sent goose bumps racing up and down her arms. Despite herself, she rested her head against his chest, seduced by the strong, steady beat of his heart, the illusion that he could make everything and anything all right.
One song drifted into another and she stayed in his arms, her mind drifting to what could have been. What should have been. She'd loved this man — or had it simply been a bad case of puppy love?
Whatever. She was over him.
And yet one glance at that face had her insides turning to jelly. She was deceiving herself. Sometimes, late at night, her thoughts still turned to him. The man was drop-dead handsome. All that gorgeous dark, wavy hair, those sexy hazel eyes, and that mouth — capable of making her lose her mind. Her survival instincts.
His feet? Well, they were made for walking, and she'd better darned well remember that.
Still, one night, a dance or two. What could it hurt?
"Your hair looks like molten gold in the moonlight, Jenni Beth." He brushed a hand over it. "Sure wish you'd let me loosen some of these pins and set it free."
Her own hand moved up to the chignon she'd arranged earlier that afternoon, bringing her back to reality. "Sorry, Cole. I'm working, and it's time for me to clock back in."
Before she could change her mind, she stepped out of his arms, felt the slight chill in the air.
She forced herself to stand still, to show no reaction while his eyes traveled the length of her, taking in the slim black sheath, the black pumps, and the understated jewelry. Her work uniform.
Despite herself, she ran her own mental inventory. At six foot, Cole's eight-inch advantage made her feel petite. And every bit of him was muscle. When he held her, she felt protected.
Until he walked away.
And tonight? She needed to be the one to do the walking. For oh, so many reasons.
This would be her last wedding at Chateau Rouge. Earlier today, she and her roommate had packed both her car and a tiny U-Haul to the gills, the day bittersweet. She'd miss Molly, her life here in the city.
She'd be risking everything. No choice. Her parents needed her. And this was her shot at her dream. The old go big or go home. She almost laughed. In her case, she had to go home to go big.
Or she'd go home to fall flat on her face.
Either way, by this time tomorrow, her time in Savannah would be history.
"Good-bye?" He grasped her hand as she took a step away.
"I still have a lot to do here tonight."
"How about later? I don't mind waitin'." He threw her one of those bad-boy looks, the one that made her want to fling herself at him. Made her want to beg for one more minute in his arms, one more kiss.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! She looked away, pretended to check on the wedding crowd.
"That's not a good idea. And after tonight?" Aiming for indifference, she shrugged. "I'm moving home tomorrow, Cole. Back to Magnolia House. So it's not likely we'll be running into each other. You'll be here in Savannah, I'll be in Misty Bottoms."
He frowned. "Thought you liked it here."
"But you're goin' home."
He leaned toward her.
Her breath caught, but when his lips brushed her forehead, feather light, she let herself relax. Too soon.
With a nearly imperceptible shift, his lips dropped to hers. She fought not to go under as the heat seared her. Battle lost, her hands moved to his shoulders, his hair, and she clung to him.
But sanity returned when his lips slid from hers to taste her neck.
He lifted his head, his whiskey-brown eyes heavy-lidded and passion-filled. Wavy brown hair, streaked by the sun, touched his jacket collar in the back.
He winked. "We might be seein' each other sooner than you think, sugar."
With those enigmatic words, he drifted away from the party, into the darkness.CHAPTER 2
Jenni Beth woke before dawn.
Nerves ate at her and left her feeling jittery.
She'd been back in Misty Bottoms, back under her parents' roof for a week now. Between her mother and Charlotte, the family's housekeeper since before Jenni Beth had been born, they'd fixed every single one of her favorite foods, and she hadn't figured out how to tell them to stop without hurting their feelings. So she downed pecan pie, corn pudding, fried chicken and catfish, collard greens, and flaky biscuits spread with homemade peach jam. Then she went to her room and did more sit-ups.
The first couple days, her mother clung to her and dragged out old photo albums. Played old favorite music. But she seldom said Wes's name. "Your brother." "My son." But his name? She avoided it.
Dad canceled his golf games, lunches with friends.
They needed her far more than she'd realized. It shamed her she hadn't come sooner.
By the third day, she'd felt smothered. Claustrophobic. Something had to change, or she'd go nuts.
Over breakfast, she showed them her plans for the house. They'd discussed it at length over the phone, but this was the first she'd sat down with them, showed them her actual drawings.
As gently as she could, she explained she needed time to work, and they both needed to go back to what they'd been doing before she returned.
And this venture of hers? It would either turn out to be the smartest move she'd ever made or the dumbest in history. Today, the die would be tossed.
As the sky turned pink outside her window, she covered her face with a pillow and mentally role-played this morning's scheduled meeting. So much depended on it.
After showering and dressing, she wandered downstairs in search of coffee. Charlotte, bless her heart, already had a pot brewed. Restless, Jenni Beth drank her first cup and started on her second.
"Why are you pacin' like that, honey? You're wearin' out the floorboards." Charlotte didn't mince words.
On her fourth pass, Charlotte kicked her out of the kitchen. "If you're not gonna eat, you might as well get out of here and let me work."
Half an hour later, Jenni Beth sat in Dee-Ann's Diner at one of the cute little red-and-white-check-covered tables, annoying Dee-Ann.
"Here." The feisty owner tossed a copy of The Bottoms' Daily on her table as she passed, a plate of pancakes in hand. "Maybe it'll take your mind off whatever's makin' you so prickly."
Offended, Jenni Beth sat up straighter. "I'm not prickly."
"Yeah, you are," Jimmy Don said from three tables over.
"Oh, for heaven's sake." Instead of reading the paper, she stared out the diner's window. Main Street, even on this gorgeous day, looked a tad shabby, the quaint brick sidewalk buckled in spots.
Not Dee-Ann's, though. A cheerful red-and-white awning wished passersby a good day. Ferns and baskets of both red and white petunias lined the front of the building.
At this time of day, the place was nearly deserted. Too late for breakfast, too early for lunch. Her eye caught the Confederate flag in the corner, the tin sign on the back wall that read "American by birth, Southern by choice."
Some nights, when she'd been in Savannah, she'd missed this town to the point of hurting. All she had to do, though, was close her eyes to mentally walk down the uneven brick streets of Misty Bottoms. See Wallet Owens, cranky and eccentric, hunting in the trash bins for aluminum cans, the bougainvillea spilling over the brick wall by the newspaper office. Smell Kitty's hummingbird cake straight out of the oven at her bakery, the gardenias blooming in the town park, the scent of fresh-brewed coffee in the diner. Hear the train depot's noon whistle.
Luanna Connors, order pad at the ready, stopped at her table, pulling her back to the moment. Luanna and Jenni Beth had gone through school together, but when Jenni Beth left for college, Luanna had stayed behind — three months pregnant with Les Connors's baby. Seven years later, she was slinging hash in Dee-Ann's, then going home to Les and three little kids. Through the grapevine Jenni Beth had heard that Les lost another job last week. She'd have to remember to leave a hefty tip, even if it would make her wallet cry.
All things considered, maybe her life wasn't so bad.
"When'd y'all get back into town?" Luanna asked.
"I've moved back. Permanently." Jenni Beth didn't want to say more. Not yet.
"Really? I heard you had a real good job in Savannah."
"I did. But Mama and Daddy need me here."
"Yeah, they're havin' a rough time, aren't they?"
She nodded at the understatement, felt that quick little jab to her heart.
"What can I get for y'all today?" Her old classmate pulled a pencil stub from behind one ear, loosening a strand of maroon hair from her ponytail.
"Just a big old glass of sweet tea."
She picked up the paper and immediately wished she hadn't.
Its headline, "Long-time Misty Bottoms Business Closes Its Doors," spelled disaster for her.
Perched on the worn vinyl chair, Jenni Beth stirred the sweet tea Luanna delivered. She'd worked so hard, had stayed up till the wee hours every night this past week preparing for today's meeting. Everything rode on it. And now this.
Perspiration crept down her back, as much a result of this news as the changing weather. Spring was giving way to summer, the Georgia temperature and humidity rising to meet it. Even this early in the day, the closeness threatened to make a person's clothes cling, despite the overhead ceiling fans that stirred the air. They'd run nonstop from now till late autumn in a futile attempt to cool Dee-Ann's customers.
Jenni Beth gripped the paper and straightened her shoulders. Time to suck it up and remember her heritage. A woman born and raised in the South did not cry uncle. Ever. And by all that was holy, she'd uphold that tradition.
Still, this didn't bode well. Chewing her bottom lip, she concentrated on the story that ran beneath the artist's black-and-white sketch of Misty Bottoms' Main Street.
Her heart sank as she scanned the lead paragraph. Her hometown was dying. People, in search of more variety, shopped online or drove to Savannah, and who could blame them? Most of the mom-and-pop stores were fast giving way to boutiques and trendy gift shops — or boarding up their windows.
Malls were succeeding where Sherman's army had failed.
According to today's news, Darlene Dixon's Quilty Pleasures was the newest victim. Jenni Beth remembered visiting the store as a young girl with her mother. Afterward, they'd stop at the corner drugstore. Mama would buy a new lipstick or some hair spray, then they'd sit at the ice cream parlor and share a chocolate malt.
The ice cream parlor was gone.
Darlene's was closing.
Nobody came to Misty Bottoms anymore.
The timing couldn't be worse. Maybe Richard Thorndike over at Coastal Plains Savings and Trust hadn't read today's newspaper. Maybe he'd slept in. Maybe ... She huffed. Maybe pigs had learned to fly.
There was a time when the Beaumonts of Misty Bottoms, Georgia, were important. They'd founded the town. Now they were nearly broke.
She had to convince Richard that she could make this work. She knew bone-deep she could. If she had the chance.
Propping her elbows on the table, she rested her chin in her hands. Magnolia House, the antebellum home that had been in her family since the beginning of time — well, before the War of Northern Aggression, anyway — was incredible.
But the old gal needed a face-lift. Badly. Her crown molding was peeling, and fine cracks marred her high plaster ceilings. The oak floors were worn and pitted with age.
The Beaumonts of Misty Bottoms. Held captive by their heritage, one that sucked up the remains of a dwindling bank balance faster than a construction worker downed water on a hot day, they were in dire straits. Too bad she hadn't found a boatload of hundred-dollar bills tucked in the attic's rafters.
But she hadn't. And her stately, badly-in-need-of-renovation family home needed money. Lots of money, if she hoped to make the changes she planned.
First on her list of must-dos? Prove to Richard he should loan her those necessary funds. Her mama and daddy and their mamas and daddies had all done business with Coastal Plains — and so would she.
If Coastal would have her. That ugly finger of doubt poked at her. Left her mouth dry. If not, she'd drive to Savannah and grovel at one of the banks there.
Actually, she'd prefer that. She didn't particularly like Richard, but her father wanted to keep the money in town, wanted to stay with Coastal Plains. That deeply entrenched Southern loyalty, even when it wasn't deserved.
She toyed with the pearls at her neck, the ones Grandma Olivia, her mama's mama, had given her when she turned sixteen. She missed her grandmother and could use her sage advice.
But she was gone, so everything rested on her own slightly unsteady shoulders. She took a long, cool drink of tea.
Wallet, who'd earned the nickname because his seldom opened, came into the diner and headed for his table, the one on the far right.
Dee-Ann shook her head. "Luanna, get Wallet's water and lemon ready."
Her friend delivered both to him. "Gonna have anything to eat today, Wallet?"
Excerpted from The Best Laid Wedding Plans by Lynnette Austin. Copyright © 2015 Lynnette Austin. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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