The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay: A Novel

The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay: A Novel

by Kelly Harms

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A young painter, Lily has reached a crossroads in her life. Her career hasn't taken off, her best friend may no longer be the trusted friend she thought, her boyfriend is a disappointment, and now she can't keep up with the rising cost of living in the city. With no one to turn to, Lily is forced to move from her beloved apartment, but while packing she comes across a piece of mail that had slipped to the back of her junk drawer: a letter detailing further action needed to finalize the annulment of a quickie Vegas wedding. Ten years ago!

Lily decides it's time to turn over a new leaf and the first item on her list of things to fix is getting the annulment... but you can't just send a reply ten years later, "Hey by the way we are still married." This is something that must be addressed in person. Lily takes to the road to track down her husband - the charming, fun, and sexy man she connected with all those years ago - Ben Hutchinson.

Ben Hutchinson left a wealthy dot-com lifestyle behind to return home to his family and the small town he loves, Minnow Bay. He's been living off the grid and the last thing he expects is a wife he didn't know he had to show up on his doorstep.

By chance, Lily arrives at the magical Minnow Bay Inn, and there she will discover not just a place to lay her head, but new friends, a thriving art community, and maybe even the love of her life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466880948
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 949
File size: 510 KB

About the Author

KELLY HARMS is a former editor and literary agent who has worked with a wide array of bestselling and award-winning authors of commercial fiction. She traded New York City for the writing life in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her adorable and sometimes imperious toddler Griffin. The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is her first novel.

KELLY HARMS is a former editor and literary agent who has worked with a wide array of bestselling and award-winning authors of commercial fiction. She traded New York City for the writing life in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her adorable and sometimes imperious toddler Griffin. The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay

By Kelly Harms

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Kelly Harms
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8094-8



"Getting evicted is the best thing that could have happened to me."

I am trying to be convincing. I am keeping the tears at bay like a champ. Now I force a closed-mouth smile for punctuation.

"Well, that's insane," says my oldest, best friend. We are sitting at the coffee shop sixteen stories below her office. She looks good, for her, for right now, the place in her life that she's in, which is one that is not overmuch concerned with how she looks. Still, good. I am sure I do not, with my paint-stained yoga pants and puffy eyes. I'm a crier, a private crier, and I have been exercising that muscle quite a lot since I came home early on New Year's Eve and found yellow seal tape around the edges of my apartment door.

In public, and we are in public right now, I try to be tough. I admire tough women, like Renee. Her toughness can be mistaken by some for rudeness. It is toughness. In another life, in another universe, she could have been a dynamite soccer coach. Or a bouncer.

Renee says, toughly, "The best thing that could happen to you is that you move according to your own timeline and your own terms, without a bad credit reference and a looming deadline."

Today, as raw as I am, the toughness feels rude.

"Yeah. You're right," I say. "But this is the next best thing. It's a sign from the universe saying, 'Get on with your life, Lily.'"

"It's a sign saying, 'Pay your bills on time,' more likely," she says with a sigh. "Where will you go?"

I look at her long and hard. She is wearing a navy pantsuit. The suit is pressed and clean and fits funny. There is a lime green scarf involved, running under the collar of the jacket, maybe intended to soften the look. It does not look like something my oldest, best friend would wear if a gun were pressed to her temple, but I think that about her outfit every time I see her lately. I think, Who is this person?

And now I wonder again, is there any chance in hell she will go along with this plan of mine? Her grand and stately home in the near west suburbs has room for me. It has room for a flock of me's. There are four bedrooms up and one master down and a huge finished basement, which she and I refer to as the pleasure dome, that is divided three ways: a mom cave (for scrapbooking. Scrapbooking! My oldest, best friend, scrapbooking!), a man cave, and a children's playroom. That playroom alone is twice as big as my old apartment and has three times nicer things in it, if you are the sort of person who believes that handmade, hand-dyed all-natural wooden educational toys are nicer appointments than a beat-up IKEA platform bed and upcycled shelving. I am that sort of person. I would rather sleep on a yoga mat on her playroom floor, cooking all my meals on her charming switch-operated pellet stove and eating off of compostable children's tea sets, than spend another night in my old apartment where my life and choices have grown stagnant and dusty.

That is not true at all.

I want to stay where I am. I've been in that apartment for ten years now. Since the summer after I graduated from Northwestern. It's an ancient two flat with good bones and good light. It is small and noisy, but so am I. There was never any reason to move.

Now there is a very good reason. Three months ago my landlord told me to find a new place because she was going to sell to developers. I did not find a new place, or look. I still had ten months on my lease. Then I missed a rent payment, in December, when Christmas gifts always get me a hair behind. Just a hair. I paid her later, midmonth. Late-month, really. Not the same as not paying at all, I don't think. But she says it is. She wants me out by next week.

A suspicious person might think that my missing that one isolated payment was my landlord's opportunity to cash out of that particular rental investment. That evicting me for one three-week-late payment is morally iffy and, probably, telling me to leave within seven days is legally iffy as well. I try not to be a suspicious person, though.

I would also prefer not to be a homeless person. I look across the table at Renee. Her face is suddenly wide and unfamiliar to me. We have been best friends since freshman year of college, and that feels like a long time to me. We've been through a lot.

"Do you think —" I begin.

She knows right away what I am about to ask and cuts me off. "You know what I wish," she says, and it is not a question. "I wish I could just offer you a bedroom at our house. Wouldn't that be nice? I'd love you to come stay with us for a while, God knows I could use the help with the girls. If only I had the room. Chicago real estate is so hard," she concludes.

"I know," I say, nodding. "It's hard." We both turn our heads to gaze out the windows, at the snowy, windy, gray Chicago January. As bleak as it is, it is better than looking at each other.

If I were a suspicious person I would think that maybe Renee does have plenty of room for me. Room upon room upon room for me to choose from. It's just her and Nic and Natalie and Natasha in there. The girls sleep in the same room. In the same bed even. That leaves approximately thirty-five bedrooms available for guests and/or evicted oldest, best friends.

"I know the house is big compared to your apartment, but with two little kids running around it shrinks fast. We need one bedroom open at all times in case the nanny needs to stay over. That's part of our agreement with her so we can use her at night, you know. And we need the guest room with the en suite for Nic's mother to visit. I can't have her on a sofa. She's hard enough to deal with when she gets a good night's sleep."

"I know," I say. I do know how hard she is to cope with, how jealous and possessive she can be of Nic. Before they married, Renee and I used to refer to her as the deal-breaker. "I totally understand."

"And we're still trying for a boy. You know. Keep your fingers crossed. And then it will be a full house."

I cross my fingers obediently, but ... a baby takes nine months to arrive. I just need a couple weeks. Does she think I'm looking for a place to crash indefinitely? Maybe if I clear that up.

"I totally understand, but I so wish it were possible, even for a very short time." I say the words "very short time" a bit louder than necessary. "I never get to see the girls anymore. Or you. We're just all so busy. And it would be so nice to have a home base for a couple of weeks so I can find a decent apartment instead of just having to move into the next available dump I can find."

She looks at her hands. They are showing her age, I think, uncharitably.

"Have you asked Mitchell?"

I take that as a firm no. I wish, not for the first time, that I had never dated stupid Nic Larsen, future husband of my best friend. I have not so much as been invited to dinner at their house since he made a crass but complimentary joke about the caliber of our college-era sex life. Renee was pregnant with Natasha at the time and did not take it well. Now she simply cannot keep us far enough from each other, though the idea of cheating with my best friend's husband is odious, and Nic himself is also odious.

"I don't think Mitchell is in a position ..." I begin. Then I give up.

"You asked him and he said no?"

I shake my head, embarrassed. "I haven't asked him yet."

"What? Why not?" she asks.

"I know what he'll say. He'll say that it would muddle our professional relationship," I say softly.

Renee rolls her eyes. "This is what you get for sleeping with your boss."

"He's not my boss, you know that. He's my gallerist. We have a partnership. And a relationship. Two separate things."

"But not the kind of partnership or relationship where you can ask to move in with him."

"His place is too small anyway," I say. His place is not too small, not by a mile, but I want her to hear how ridiculous her own excuse sounded.

And maybe she does. She purses her lips, but doesn't respond to that, saying instead, "Have you tried Daniella?"

"Daniella moved to Seattle last year," I say. "You should see her Christmas card. She loves it there."

"Hm. I must have gotten deleted from her list."

"I'm sure that's not it," I say. Though I am actually surprised Renee was ever on Daniella's list. We were all best of friends at Northwestern, but Renee and Daniella grew apart, rather passionately, after graduation. "Probably she doesn't have a list. You know her, she probably just sends the cards to whomever she saw on Facebook that day."

Renee laughs a bit at this. "Seattle is perfect for her. Fast and cool but still removed from reality."

I cannot help but nod. That is Daniella to a T. In college we all believed she would be the one to go all the way with her art career. Now she's a freelance graphic designer who makes a killing when she works, but doesn't work very often. She drinks a little more than seems prudent, and doesn't make art anymore, and plays weird mind games with men. Whenever I call her she is either out of breath or slurping dashi. I imagine most of her days are spent running long distances on foot to ramen noodle shops.

Renee is insightful, to sum up Daniella so well even though they probably haven't been in the same room since my last birthday party. She has always had a gift for seeing people, knowing them through and through in an instant. As a result, she always knows just what to do, which way is up.

Which is why I ask her what she thinks I should do next about housing. If she can't take me in, maybe she has a better plan.

"I think you should sue, honestly," she says casually, sipping her flat white.

"Sue Mitchell?" My brain doesn't compute.

"Don't be ridiculous. Mitchell is the best thing that ever happened to you. I think you should sue your landlord."

I roll my eyes. Renee is a divorce lawyer — she thinks everyone should sue for something.

"I'm willing to bet your lease clearly states you have thirty days to leave the premises — that's the law. But even beyond that, I'm not sure she can boot you for being late with rent one time. So either you're not telling me the truth about your payment history or she's evicting you illegally." Renee recrosses her legs and checks her phone and then adds, "Probably it's a little of both."

I nod, though I was telling her the general truth. I've bounced a couple of rent checks over the decade I've lived there — I'm a visual artist, for God's sakes — but none in the last two years. Other than that, I've kept up to date. It's the first bill I set money aside for whenever I get a sale.

Still, it's a moot point. "I'm not going to sue. You know that."

Renee nods her head and rolls her eyes at me. "Good old Lily. Never one to put up a fight."

I decide to take that as a compliment. "Any other ideas?" I ask her.

Renee pretends to think for a moment. "If you ask me, and you just did, it's time to get out of Chicago. No offense, but you can't afford it here. Not the way you live. I bet you're in credit-card debt up to your ears, or you would have paid your rent with a card advance. Am I right?"

I bite my lip. She is a little right.

"And what good does it do you exactly to stay here? Your apartment sucks, your day jobs always suck, and now that you've got a good relationship with a gallery you don't need to be here to schmooze with the art people anymore. Go live in the outer suburbs and see Mitchell on weekends."

I am speechless. Stunned. Chicago is my home. I've never lived anywhere else.

I think Renee sees my face crumple up a bit, because she softens her tone and takes my hand across the table.

"Lily. Honey. You're so talented. Your art sells well, and for a lot of money, for what it is. Go somewhere you can live on that and keep making your beautiful art. Meet new people. Get your feet under you. Be a grown-up, just a little."

"But all my friends are here," I say. And I think, Really, Lily? Daniella's gone a year now. Kat, Corie, Risha, all married with children in the suburbs, their art careers waiting quietly off to one side while they live their other lives. Their real lives. And Renee, my best friend, actually telling me to go farther away from her than I already am.

"I know," Renee says, nodding sympathetically. "It's hard to make a change."

"Especially when you never wanted a change."

Renee exhales. Puts her phone down. "Well, that's the thing about you, Lily," she says sadly. "You never want anything to change."

My heart sinks. I know what Renee is talking about. Not just about my decade-long residence in my crappy apartment, or the five-year stint as a barista at the Starbucks across the street, or even the way I paint the same subjects again and again, over and over, in morning light or nighttime, from the left and then the right, and then straight on again. She is talking about her and me. About how she has moved in new directions that don't include aging friendships with thirty-two-year-old fiscally unsound visual artists.

We have nothing left to talk about.

"No, you're right," I say lightly, but I take back my hand. "I'm working on it. And now there will be change, no matter what, right?" I say in a falsely chipper voice. "Who knows what the future holds?"

But Renee only raises her eyebrows. It is as though she is saying, "I know what it holds. And I am not impressed."

* * *

The Helms gallery was, for a brief time, my favorite place in Logan Square. Now it feels like the principal's office. It is sandwiched between a taxidermy shop and a bespoke handbag designer, and, because of Mitchell Helms's particular brand of high/low taste, it seems to actually tie the two neighbors together. I text Mitchell when I'm five minutes away so he knows to expect me. He tells me to come straight upstairs.

Upstairs is an iron spiral staircase in the middle of the second gallery that leads to a little glassed-in loft where Mitchell oversees his kingdom. Downstairs there are assorted staff members to greet me, but after the most cursory of hellos, I climb up the stairs, clang, clang, clang, and surface at the foot of his large chrome and glass drafting desk. When he turns toward me, I feel that thing, that thing I always feel around Mitchell. Renee calls it chemistry, but I know it as something else. I feel like I am wearing too-high heels and a too-short skirt and a too-sheer blouse. The effect is at once intoxicating and uncomfortable.

"Lily," he says on an exhale. He has this way of saying my name like he invented it. My imaginary heels grow higher. Then he looks me over and says, "You're empty-handed."

Inwardly I cringe. I have been avoiding, at all costs, letting Mitchell discover how stagnant my painting has become over the last few months. Every two or three weeks I've been dusting off something old from my stash and passing it off as a new work. But I haven't even done that lately. When was the last time I showed him something "new"? It must have been before Christmas.

"Nothing?" he asks me, a little sadly.

"Nothing," I admit. "I'm sorry, Mitchell." His eyes look genuinely concerned. I think he must know something is wrong. For a moment, just a fleeting one, I consider trying to tell him about how I've been painting the same thing for the last six months, over and over again, unable to get it quite right. Sometimes I have gotten lucky and made something I like, and sometimes I have even given something to Mitchell to sell. But mostly I am treading the same waters over and over again, day in and day out.

"Lily, don't apologize to me. This is how it works. Sometimes inspiration comes, sometimes it doesn't."

I exhale. He's right, of course. It's never how it's worked for me before, but nothing has really been the same for me since my art started to sell. Maybe I just need to tune out some of the pressure.

"The only thing is," Mitchell continues, "people are asking."

Or, maybe I need more pressure.

"I don't want a long fallow period to depress your stock."

Mitchell is always talking about my artwork like it's an offering on the Dow Jones. I cannot imagine trying to do what he does — to balance some kind of business acumen with the tastes and whims of buyers and the egos and frailty of the artists. As a particularly frail artist myself, I don't know what I would do without him.

"Something new is coming," I lie. Then I remember why I'm here. "However. I'm having a little issue with my studio. It isn't helping the situation. I have a favor to ask."

"Hm?" Mitchell steps out from behind his desk at last. He towers over me at six foot something. My imaginary heels are starting to totter. "Wait," he says. "Come here. I forgot to give you something."

For a moment I dare to hope he's got some kind of check for me. Maybe I lost track of a quarterly payment? Forgot to cash something from months ago? But when I get closer he puts his arms around me, pulls me in for a quick peck, and then goes back for a real kiss that I feel up and down my spinal column like a cold wind off Lake Michigan. When he pulls back he shakes his head at me and says, "I can never get over the way you smell. Like cured acrylics and candy."

"I need to stay with you for a week," I blurt out. "I'm being evicted."


Excerpted from The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay by Kelly Harms. Copyright © 2016 Kelly Harms. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part I: Time Transfixed,
Ten Years Earlier,
Part II: The Key,
Two Years Earlier,
Part III: Study From Life,
Six Months Earlier,
Fourteen Years Earlier,
Fourteen Years Later, April,
Also by Kelly Harms,
About the Author,

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The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Cynthia181 More than 1 year ago
I won this book from Goodreads Giveaways. This is a wonderful story about an artist who is trying to be a great artist but has had put herself into really bad situations. First and foremost is that she has been evicted from her apartment for being late with her rent and is pretty much having to beg friends and family for a place to live. And this were is finally realizes that she has been support in one way or another for everyone in her life but who the rough spot hit no one wants to help. She is selling her art. Her boyfriend/art dealer doesn't want her to move in, her best friend is afraid to because she married Lily's ex-boyfriend, her step brother will take her money but won't help. She when Lily go to pack up her apartment she finds the manila envelope from the state of Nevada. She realizes that she never mailed it back and she is still married to the guy she met when she took her friend to Vegas for bachelorette party. She goes to Minnow Bay to get everything straightened out and he pretty much treats her like she is only there for his money. Because not known to her he is a millionaire. Her credit cards are maxed and the one card she has to pay for the B&B works when she checks in but when processing check out it is maxed out. With twist and turn Lily finds good friends, a old friend realizes what a real friend she is and she finds out the her art dealer is stealing from her on her sales of her paintings. I loved this story.
Jarina More than 1 year ago
The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay is the second novel by Kelly Harms. In this story we find struggling artist Lily Stewart down on her luck in many ways. Her best friend from college, Renee, has married Lily's college boyfriend, has two beautiful daughters, and is with a prestigious law firm. Her somewhat boyfriend and gallerist Mitchell Helms keeps her dangling. And she is being evicted from her Chicago apartment with nowhere to go and no money to go there with. Both Renee and Mitchell have a series of reasons they cannot, or will not, assist her. Then, as if this isn't enough, as she is packing up her belongings she finds an envelope stuck in the back of a drawer that she should have completed and posted ten years ago. It tells her she is still married to the dot com developer she met while hosting Renee's bachelorette party in Las Vegas. To top off a wonderful evening, on a whim and a dare, she married Ben Hutchinson. Maybe it's time to get her act together, and perhaps it begins by making things right with Ben. She loads up the few belongings she has that are worth keeping in her fifteen year old car and heads north to Minnow Bay, Wisconsin. Minnow Bay is a storybook small town. Lily has booked herself into the local bed and breakfast for what she feels should be an overnight trip. While there she meets inn ownerColleen O'Donnell and Art galley owner Jenny Cho. Between heated exchanges with Ben and soul affirming encounters with Colleen and Jenny, Lily begins to reevaluate her life, her friends, and her own actions. In doing so, she finds she is done with being walked on by others and discovers her own strength. In a winter wonderland, Ms. Harms spins a delightful tale of circumstance, direction, and the evolution of character as Lily discovers who to trust and what to believe about herself. As the reader witnesses Lily come into her own, you applaud her actions and cheer for the woman she has become. I recommend this book.
Bette313 More than 1 year ago
This is a delightful read about a young woman who after realizing her life choices may not have been the best ones for her goes to a quaint small town and meets some of the most entertaining and quirky characters around. Lily is looking for her "husband". The man she married hastily and has never signed the annulment ending the misguided marriage. Hard news to break to someone after ten years. Going to Minnow Bay may be the best decision she ever made. While there she meets some great new people who truly seem to like her, she falls in love with the town, and she discovers that maybe that hasty wedding wasn't such a mistake after all. Definitely a great read and a book I would highly recommend.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay by Kelly Harms Harms’ sophomore offering, The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay is a deferred coming of age story, a story about friendship, love and starting over. Her characters run the gamut from straight-laced to ultra quirky. Her town of Minnow Bay was quaint, eccentric and as much of a character as any of her actors. Her dialogue was easy to read and kept the flow of the story going. Her protagonist Lily is portrayed at first as a bit of an air-headed pushover who lets her friends and lovers lead her by the nose and I personally wanted to shake her a few times. But it was the way Harms beautifully manipulates Lily from a clueless yet steadfast doormat into a strong capable woman at the end that rocked this read. To say artist Lily Stewart was having an off week would be a gross understatement. She’s being evicted from the only place she’s called home for the last ten years. Her so-called friends won’t lend her a dime or give her a place to sleep until she can land on her feet. She’s totally tapped out financially, her artists muse has taken an extended vacation and while cleaning out a kitchen drawer while packing she discovers that her trip to Vegas nine and a half years ago just keeps on giving because that stranger she married on a whim, yeah well she never filed the annulment papers and they’re still man and wife. So she’s putting her real life on hold and is off to some middle of nowhere town called Minnow Bay Wisconsin to rectify that situation. What she finds when she gets there is not what she expected.