When five New Yorkers receive an anonymous, mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Story Society, they suspect they’re victims of a practical joke. No one knows who sent the invitations or why. No one has heard of the literary society. And no one is prepared to reveal their deepest secrets to a roomful of strangers.
Executive assistant Lexa is eager for a much-deserved promotion, but her boss is determined to keep her underemployed.
Literature professor Jett is dealing with a broken heart, as well as a nagging suspicion his literary idol, Gordon Phipps Roth, might be a fraud.
Uber driver Chuck just wants a second chance with his kids.
Aging widower Ed is eager to write the true story of his incredible marriage.
Coral, queen of the cosmetics industry, has broken her engagement and is on the verge of losing her great grandmother’s multimillion-dollar empire.
Yet curiosity and loneliness bring them back week after week to the old library. And it’s there they discover the stories of their hearts, and the kind of friendship and love that heals their souls.
- Sweet, contemporary stand-alone novel
- Book length: approximately 100,000 words
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Sold by:||HarperCollins Publishing|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Rachel Hauck is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of The Wedding Dress, which was also named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times and was a RITA finalist. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pet and writes from her ivory tower. Visit her online at RachelHauck.com; Facebook: RachelHauck; Twitter: @RachelHauck; Instagram: @rachelhauck.
Read an Excerpt
AUGUST IN MANHATTAN
Well this was a fine mess. Spending the night in Central Booking for instigating a fight at a wedding reception. What was he thinking?
He glanced at his sore hand through the dull light beaming in from the hallway fluorescents and flexed his fingers, wincing at the pain swelling from his bruised flesh.
He hadn't thrown so many punches since he was a boy in Chappaqua wrestling with his brother.
The next time he got an invitation, especially a wedding invitation, he'd RSVP with a big fat no.
Though he could hardly blame the invitation. He alone earned this all-expenses-paid night in holding. For defending a bridesmaid from a drunken groomsman.
Yet he was no hero.
Jett Wilder, associate professor of English at the prestigious New York College, lover of words and literature and the occasional ride through class-five rapids, was a criminal.
Perhaps criminal was an exaggeration. Nonetheless, he'd been cuffed, read his rights, hauled off in a paddy wagon, and thrown behind bars, where he spent a long, odiferous night with drug dealers, pimps, drunks, petty thieves, and civil violators.
So he too was counted among the transgressors.
What happened to him? He deplored violence, prided himself on diplomacy and statesmanship.
Rising from the bench where he sat next to the big guy, who had also jumped into the fight, Jett made his way to the iron bars.
The cell's shadowy confinement robbed his sense of time. Had he been here for one hour or five? The booking officer took every time-keeping device he owned — watch and phone — before leading him away to rot.
However, by the rumble in his belly, the hour was well past breakfast.
He gripped the bars and fought a wave of claustrophobia. He wanted out. But he deserved to be here. In fact, for the rest of his life, anything that came his way, he'd deserve.
Divorced? Deserved it. On the rocks with his boss? Deserved it. Tense relationship with his parents? De-served.
What was it about being locked up that made a man assess his life? Besides the jailhouse smells and chorus of snores and moans?
"Hello?" Jett pressed against the gray, flaking bars. "Hey, does a guy get a phone call around here?" If he used his, he'd forgotten.
Last night was not one for the memory books.
"You refused your phone call." The big guy came alongside and threaded his arms through the steel squares. "Nice punch you threw at the Harness-Neville wedding."
"I'd say thanks for giving me a hand, but look where we landed."
Big Guy offered his hand. "Chuck Mays. Uber driver. Civil offender. The dude had it coming."
Jett clapped his palm against Chuck's. "Jett Wilder. Associate professor of English, NYC. Civil offender."
"If I need a witness that you started it, can I count on you?" Chuck's somber request was accented by his swollen and protruding lower lip. "Even though you were pretty lit?"
Jett pressed his fingers to his throbbing temple. "I don't drink much."
"Then why were you knocking them down like water last night?"
"I'm not a fan of weddings."
"Same." Chuck linked his thick fingers together around the bars.
Jett glanced at him. "You a friend of the bride or groom?"
"Groom. Went to high school together in Jersey. You?"
"Bride. She's a colleague."
The men jutted chins toward each other as some sort of grunted acceptance.
"So, if you don't like weddings and you don't drink, what happened last night?" Chuck said.
"Long week. What about you? Why'd you jump in?" Weddings agitated Jett as much as alcohol. The two together? Disaster.
Jett laughed. "Eight days?"
"Without the Beatles singing background."
"I'm on the same calendar."
"This will cost me." Chuck gripped his hands into fists and the line of his jaw was taut with tension.
"Both of us. I expect a bill from the bride's father."
"That? So what? This will cost me more than ... Did they read you the charges?"
Jett pointed to his head. "Took me a minute when I woke up to figure out why I was in here."
Chuck relaxed his hands. "Disorderly conduct. Public intoxication. Assault." His composure changed as he rattled off the charges. His voice rattled with anger. "Stupid, stupid, stupid —"
Stupid was one word for it. Jett should've stayed home.
Apologized to the bride, Jenn, after the fact.
"I wanted to come, but weddings —"
But weddings what? Reminded him of what he'd lost? Awakened the heartache he'd finally put to rest?
Yet he couldn't go through life hiding from the happiness of others. Besides, being on faculty at the illustrious, private, elite New York College came with certain obligations. He'd be considered aloof and unsupportive if he avoided Jenn's nuptials.
And he sort of owed her. She had listened to his sob stories when his wife walked out, and rallied the rest of the faculty around him. Attending her wedding was the least he could do.
It was any man's guess how much the reception damage would set him back. A lot more than a humble apology.
"That groomsman was a piece of work." Jett glanced around to see Chuck pacing in tight circles, muttering to himself. "The brides-maid told him to leave her alone, what? A dozen times? This will ruin me."
Jett recognized the underlying darkness in Chuck's expression, shadowed even more by his dark, hooded eyes.
"Ruin me." His reply came fast and hot. "She'll find out. She will. I'll lose them."
Chuck sat on a bench someone had vacated for the toilet and covered his face with his wide hands.
"Seems ironic, doesn't it?" Jett walked over and patted his stone-hard shoulder. Once. "The two of us behind bars for defending a bridesmaid's honor while the offender walks free. What happened to chivalry?"
The big guy never raised his head.
"You okay?" Jett angled forward to see his face.
"No." Chuck stood, rising to his full height. Hard to believe he folded himself into an Uber job all day. "I've probably ruined my life."
"Come on, can't be as bad as all that, man. A tussle at a wedding reception." He cheered himself as much as Chuck. "Nothing more than a civil violation." Surely such a petty crime wouldn't ruin anyone's life. "We'll pay a fine and go home."
"You don't understand. I can't afford anything like this." Chuck touched a laceration on his cheek. "You throw a mean punch."
"Don't be. I should've kept my nose out of it." Chuck pointed to his knuckles, then Jett's. "You're pretty banged up. Will this get you in trouble with your college?"
"Not sure." Jett extended his fingers once more against the swelling and aching.
His knuckles were scraped and bruised, and when he ran his hand along his jaw, he grazed one cut, then another. When he touched the area around his eye, he winced.
With that Chuck returned to his hunched position, head in his hands.
What else could he say to the guy?
"Yo, Mr. Police Officer?" Jett peered down the corridor for a sign of deliverance.
A fellow inmate roused with a laugh. "You stuck here until they come for you, man."
"What happened to swift justice?"
With a sigh, he sat next to Chuck, his ripped tuxedo collar dangling over his shoulder. He noticed two coat buttons were missing. And his shirt was torn and stained red. Wine. Not blood.
He needed to get home, showered, and to work. Put last night behind him. In the annals of yesterday.
He also had two classes this morning, papers to grade, a dissertation to finalize for publication and present to the Roth Foundation Reception in November. His boss, Renée, the literature department chair, had finally put her foot down. Her words, not his.
"The publication of that dissertation means a great deal to the Roth Foundation and the college, Jett."
Showing up on campus meant he'd have to face Renée. Maybe the English department dean. He hadn't read far enough in the faculty handbook to know what happened to delinquent professors. Especially ones who ruined another professor's wedding.
So, this was life at thirty. A divorced professor who couldn't quite find his footing, his excuses no longer able to belay him.
Losing his brother, Storm, that day on the Eiger mountain was hard enough. But when the one person who made his very breath worthwhile walked out ... well, sometimes it was just too much.
Jett sat back against the wall and succumbed to the fatigue of his two-year journey.
Could he be tired? Just for a moment?
As he exhaled, his eyes drifting closed, a buzzer sounded. A steel door opened and closed.
Jett sat forward, gently rousing Chuck. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. I hear footsteps."
"John Wilder and Charles Mays." A uniformed officer swung open the door. "You're free to go. No charges."
Jett shot out with a curt nod. "Thank you, Mr. Jailer." "You're welcome, Mr. Prisoner."
In the precinct house, another officer walked him out, handed him an envelope containing his things — imagine, his most prized possessions fit in a manila envelope — and he bolted for daylight. For freedom.
"Jett Wilder." Chuck followed him down the courthouse steps, his smile burning away his former despondency. "That was lucky. No charges."
"I'll take it." Jett offered the big man a hearty handshake. "Until the next wedding."
"May it be a long time away. And about back there, in the holding cell. I got a bit emotional."
Jett raised his palm. "No need. It was a long day."
Chuck shot him a sideways grin and turned to go. "By the way," he said, coming back around. "Are you any relation to Bear Wilder, the adventure guy?"
"He's my father." Jett walked backward toward the curb.
"Your father. What was that like growing up? And didn't your brother —"
"Chuck." Jett stepped into the street to hail a taxi. If he hurried, he could make his first class. "We spent one night together. Let's make a note in our diaries and in years to come, we'll look back on it fondly."
"Just asking, man." The big guy started off in the opposite direction.
"Sorry, but I'm in a hurry." A cab pulled to the curb. "I have a class in two hours."
"I was going to offer you a ride home. On the house."
"Thanks anyway." Jett slipped into the back of the cab, rattling off his Greenwich Village address.
He dumped the envelope's contents onto the seat and a thick cream-colored card dropped out. He ignored it while he checked his phone for messages — there where forty — and fastened on his watch.
After tucking his wallet into his inside jacket pocket, along with his keys, he examined the card, expecting to find an inventory of the envelope's contents.
Instead, he found an invitation.
YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO THE FIFTH AVENUE STORY SOCIETY. THE FIFTH AVENUE LITERARY SOCIETY LIBRARY THE BOWER ROOM MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9 @ 8:00 P.M.
Jett laughed. An invitation? He flipped it over and back. There was no RSVP or return address. This wasn't his.
He'd never even heard of the Fifth Avenue Literary Society Library. And in light of his night in a holding cell, he had no plans to say yes to any invitation any time soon.CHAPTER 2
Getting ahead required courage. All she had to do was muster some from the recesses of her being, walk into Zane's office, and ask. Or better yet, tell him.
"I'm your CEO."
He'd posted the CEO position nine months ago and had yet to interview anyone.
To be honest, on the org chart Lexa was nothing more than Zane Breas's executive assistant. He'd hired her seven years ago when she moved here as a newlywed.
She was fresh out of Florida State business school. He was fresh out of Nebraska launching ZB Burgers, a fast-growing gourmet hamburger chain.
In those lean, early days, there was no organizational chart. From the get-go, Lexa functioned as the executive of the fast-growing ZB Enterprises, the parent company for Manhattan's hottest new restaurant.
At her desk, she ate her power bar while combing through email. Hers as well as Zane's. The coming fall season brought one of their biggest promotional events, Zaney Days.
ZB Burgers in cities such as Manhattan, Miami, Omaha, Dallas, and Denver sponsored a family day of fun and food at a local park.
Last year, videos and pictures from their big bash in Central Park with celebrities mingling with "ordinary" people went viral.
The idea began three years ago as her brainchild to marry food with community, and to expose hamburger connoisseurs in those major markets to the quality and freshness of Zane's family recipes.
And it had been wildly successful.
"Morning." Zane stopped at her desk looking as if he stepped from the pages of GQ. A rich cloud of cologne wafted around him, and the New York Post was tucked under his arm.
"Morning." Lexa stood, covering her mouth with her hand as she swallowed her bite of power bar. "Your iPad is on your desk. We have a Zaney Days meeting at ten." She removed the pen holding her twist of damp hair on top of her head.
"What would I do without you?"
Was he charming? Yes. But his Nebraska farm boy swagger gave him an edge. An "it" factor lacking in most young, Manhattan entrepreneurs.
Everyone loved Zane. And if they didn't love him. They liked him. Respected him.
Lexa considered herself lucky, no, blessed, to be on his team.
After her divorce, work kept her grounded. Sane. Able to breathe when she felt underwater.
Up at five, she exercised, then readied for work, hopping the short subway from her Greenwich Village apartment to ZB's new Tribeca offices by 6:45.
At her desk by 7:05, 7:10 at the latest, she prepped for the day, cleaned up email, shuffled items from her calendar to Zane's and back again, answered messages from managers at their more than twenty locations, and reviewed reports from every department.
If she was acting like a CEO, then she should be the CEO.
Zane arrived a little after eight, after which Lexa took a few minutes to flat-iron her hair in the women's lounge.
And her day was off to the races.
"Do you have the tear sheets from the Forbes article?" Zane walked toward her while scanning his iPad.
"On your desk."
Zane Breas was the latest entrepreneurial wunderkind, and he liked to collect his media clippings.
Once he opened the Forty-Sixth Street store, the business exploded. Now, scrambling to meet the demands of franchisees and cities wanting a ZB Burgers, Lexa had ideas on how to get ZB to the next level.
Which led her back to asking, telling, Zane to make her the CEO. "How was your weekend?" Zane perched on the side of her desk and handed her his iPad, calendar in view. "I don't see Thursday afternoons blocked off."
Lexa glanced at the screen, then handed back the device. "I did.
Last week. You want it blocked off every week?"
"Until further notice, yes." He took a piece of candy from the dish on her desk. "So, good weekend? I don't know how you live in that eight-hundred-square-foot walk-up."
She launched Zane's calendar. "I worked on Saturday. The Zaney Days commercial scripts were all wrong. We're not hiring that marketing group again. Then I slept most of Sunday." Speaking of working on Saturday ... The CEO job would be — "What's going on Thursday afternoons? Don't tell me you're taking up golf again."
He had tried to golf with a couple of pros last year. Ended up hitting a ball into the course's parking lot and smashing the windowof a Lamborghini.
"No. But one of these days, I'm going to master the green." He started for his office and Lexa followed. "Any news on the food cart? I'd love to hit the streets of Manhattan with a portable ZB Burgers stand, see if we can make an alternative style of restaurant for people in big cities."
"One giant to slay at a time, Zane. I moved that project to next year."
He raised a steely gaze to her as he moved behind his desk. "You should ask me before you move things. I am the head of this company."
"And I'm the neck." Her determination locked with his. Steady. Don't break. She exhaled when he flashed his charmed grin.
"My neck is a little stiff right now." He kicked out his chair and sat, flopping the paper open over his laptop and yesterday's coffee cup. Lexa reached for the cup and set it on the corner to take back to the employee kitchen. "I trust you, but let's be sure to address it in January. That cart vendor offered us an amazing deal."
"Did you read the contract? The small print on his maintenance offer was ridiculous." She read every vendor and supplier contract multiple times, on alert for twisted wording and provisional clauses. "By the way, I've made Quent my assistant."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fifth Avenue Story Society"
Copyright © 2020 Rachel Hauck.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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