Read an Excerpt
"Is there a Haley Scott here?"
Haley glanced through the storm door at the package carrier before opening the latch, letting in some of the frigid March wind.
"That's me, but not for long."
The blank stare the man gave her as he stood on the porch of her mother's new house only made Haley smile. In fifty-one hours and twenty-nine minutes, her name would be changing. Her life, as well, but she couldn't allow herself to think about that now.
She wouldn't attribute her sudden shiver to anything but the cold, either. Not with a bridal fitting to endure, embossed napkins to pick up and a caterer to call. Too many details, too little timeand certainly no time for her to entertain her silly cold feet.
"Then this is for you."
Practiced at this procedure after two days back in her Markston, Indiana hometown, Haley reached out both arms to accept a bridal gift, but the carrier turned and deposited an overnight letter package in just one of her
hands. Haley stared down at the Michigan return address of her fiancé, Tom Jeffries.
"Strange way to send a wedding present," she murmured.
The man grunted and shoved an electronic signature device at her, waiting until she scrawled her name.
As soon as she closed the door, Haley returned to the living room and yanked the tab on the envelope. From it, she withdrew a single sheet of folded notebook paper.
Something inside her suggested that she should sit down to read it, so she lowered herself into a floral side chair. Hesitating before she unfolded the note, she glanced at the far wall where wedding gifts in pastel-colored paper were stacked. Her stomach tightened as she read each handwritten word.
"Best? He signed it best?" Her voice cracked as the paper fluttered to the floor. She was sure she should be sobbing or collapsing in a heap, but she only felt numb as she stared down at the offensive piece of paper.
The letter that had changed everything.
"Best what?" Trina Scott asked as she padded into the room with fuzzy striped socks on her feet. "Sweetie?"
Haley lifted her gaze to meet her mother's and could see concern etched between her carefully tweezed brows.
"What's the matter?" Trina shot a glance toward the foyer, her chin-length brown hair swinging past her ear as she did it. "Did I just hear someone at the door?"
Haley tilted her head to indicate the sheet of paper on the floor. "It's from Tom. He called off the wedding."
"What?" Trina began but then brushed her hand through the air twice as if to erase the question. "That's not the most important thing right now, is it?"
Haley stared at her mother. A little pity wouldn't have been out of place here. Instead of offering any, Trina snapped up the letter and began to read. When she finished, she sat on the cream-colored sofa opposite Haley's chair.
"I don't approve of his methods." She shook the letter to emphasize her point. "And I always thought the boy didn't have enough good sense to come out of the rain, but I have to agree with him on this one. You two aren't right for each other."
Haley couldn't believe her ears. Okay, Tom wouldn't have been the partner Trina Scott would have chosen for her youngest daughter if Trina's grand matchmaking scheme hadn't gone belly up. Still, Haley hadn't realized how strongly her mother had disapproved of her choice.
"No sense being upset about my opinion now," Trina told her. "I kept praying that you'd make the right decision, but I guess Tom made it for you. Now we have to get busy. There are a lot of calls to make."
Suddenly, tears that had been slow in coming were pouring down Haley's cheeks. Humiliation made her skin burn. How could she stand in front of the church and announce that her wedding had been canceled? But her problems went beyond embarrassment over a ceremony that wouldn't happen and gifts that would need to be returned.
"Oh, Mom. What am I going to do? I quit my job. I gave up my apartment. I was supposed to move into Tom's place right after the wedding."
"You'll stay here until you find another job and another place to live. You weren't planning to always work in what was it this timethat hospital records department, anyway, were you?"
Haley shrugged. She couldn't focus on her distant future when all she could think about was that the day after tomorrow should have been her wedding day. "Wait. When were Jenna and Caroline coming in?"
As she asked, a key turned in the lock, ending all hope that she would be able to catch her sisters before they boarded their flights to Indianapolis. Jenna burst through the door, whistling the tune of "Chapel of Love." She pulled the smallish suitcase she used in her job as an airline attendant behind her. A less-experienced traveler, Caroline followed her in, dragging a heavy, wheeled suitcase.
Still humming as she jogged into the living room, Jenna paused when she saw Haley. The song died on her lips.
"What's wrong now?" Jenna visibly braced herself, just as she had a year before when Haley had met her flight to tell her their father had died of a heart attack.
Caroline gripped her hands together. "What is it?"
"Everything's fine," their mother told them. "Except there's been a change of plans. There won't be a wedding this weekend after all."
"What happened?" Jenna asked.
"Tom sent a letter to call off the wedding," their mother explained.
Caroline's eyes widened. "A 'Dear Jane' letter?"
"Two days before the wedding?" Jenna chimed.
"Ladies." Trina held up her hand. "Haley has received some difficult news, and she's going to need our help."
Haley shifted in her seat and waited. Even if their mother wasn't the touchy-feely kind of mom who kissed scraped knees, her sisters would come through with the hugs she needed. As if on cue, they rushed to her and sandwiched her between them. But before Haley could sink into their embrace, Jenna pulled her head back.
"At least one of you came to your senses," Jenna said with a grin.
Caroline was smiling as well when she released Haley. "If he'd waited much longer, we would have been forced to make the announcement at the church like a cheesy movie-of-the-week."
Haley closed her eyes and opened them again, convinced she was in some alternate reality. Where was her real family that should have been furious on her behalf? If they were on camera for some video prank show, she wished the host would just jump out and let her in on the joke because right now, none of it was funny.
"If you all believed I shouldn't get married, why didn't you say something?"
"We did," Caroline said. "Many times. You wouldn't listen."
Jenna held her hands wide. "Remember all of the tag-team phone calls where Caroline and I said that no one should get married until she's thirty and where we cited all the newest divorce statistics?"
Come to think of it
Haley shook her head. "I thought you just didn't want me to be the first one to marry."
Her sisters turned pitying glances her way, and those humiliated her more than their jokes.
Their mother was already lacing up the white leather sneakers she called "errand shoes" when Haley turned back to her.
"Okay, there are a lot of details that need to be dealt with to un-plan a wedding," Trina said.
Un-plan. Haley rolled the sour word on her tongue. She'd liked the idea of having the first Scott wedding. Third-born children never had the opportunity to do anything first. Having the chance to be the first sister dumped just short of the ceremony wasn't what she'd had in mind.
Heat built behind her nose and eyes again, but she struggled to hold back tears. "You two don't need to stay here to take care of the details."
"Why not?" Jenna asked. "We already took vacation to spend some time here with Mom after theI mean
after. And you know how hard it is to get Caroline to take any time off from the mega mall. She would be back at work thirty minutes after her plane touched down at O'Hare."
"I would not." Caroline frowned since her workaholic tendencies were as much a source of family humor as Haley's frequent job changes. "Anyway, we're staying."
Jenna rubbed her hands together. "What's first?"
"I'll call Amy." Trina dug the cell phone from her purse and hit one of the speed dial numbers.
Haley winced. In any situation, it shouldn't have surprised her that her mother's first reaction was to phone her best friend, but Trina had more than knee-jerk reasons to make this call. Not only had Amy Warren been asked to join them downtown this afternoon for Haley's final bridal fitting, but she also was scheduled to make the wedding cake at her bakery, Amy's Elite Treats.
Haley asked herself again why she'd agreed to have the wedding in her hometown. Now her humiliation would double as she shared it with family friends. One in particular.
"May I speak to Amy?" Trina began as someone answered the line. "Oh, Matthew, is that you?"
That's the one. Haley squeezed her eyes shut. If there was one person Haley wished could miss the news flash about her suspended nuptials, it was Matthew Warren. He'd already witnessed one of her most embarrassing moments, and now he would have a front-row seat to another.
"Oh, the wedding," Trina continued, oblivious to her daughter's mortification. "That's why I called. Here, let me speak to your mother first."
First. Of course, Matthew Warren would need to hear the news of a canceled wedding second or at least third, behind the Reverend Leyton Boggs, who would have performed the ceremony. As part-time music minister at the Community Church of Markston, Matthew would be in the loop.
Haley stood and backed from the room, not wanting to hear the events rehashed. Jenna started to follow, but Haley shook her head to stop her.
"I just need to fix my makeup."
In the bathroom, Haley wiped trails of mascara from her face with a dampened tissue. She was still patting dry her cheeks when someone rapped on the door.
"Sweetie, are you all right?" Trina pushed open the door and stuck her head inside. "Amy said she was sorry to hear the news. She canceled the cake order. Too bad the bridal shop won't be able to do that for the dress."
"Oh." Haley closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I hadn't even thought about that yet." What she would do with a silk bridal gown with an empire waist, she had no idea. Maybe make white silk bathroom curtains?
"Matthew said he was sorry, too."
Haley lowered her hand and opened her eyes, her cheeks growing warm. "That was nice of him."
Her mother studied her face as if deciding whether to tell her more. Haley would have assured her that nothing could surprise her now, but then Trina spoke again.
"Matthew also told me to tell you if there's anything he can do to help, you should just ask."
Matthew Warren jumped at the sound of the doorbell, narrowly missing slicing his finger in the same julienne style as the carrots on his mother's cutting board.
"I'll get it." Four-year-old Elizabeth climbed down from the stool where she'd been helping by playing in the sudsy dishwater. She raced across the room.
Matthew caught his daughter before she reached the swinging kitchen door and hoisted her into his arms. "I don't think so, young lady. You know only grown-ups are supposed to answer the door. What if it's a stranger?"
"Those aren't strangers," his mother supplied, patting her short silver hair. "They're our guests."
"Well, about that
" He glanced at the kitchen door, feeling the same nervous tension he experienced whenever he met new clients at his law practice. "Did I mention that this dinner is a bad idea?"
"About five times now."
"Haley's probably still reeling from the news. I doubt she's in the mood for socializing."
"And Elizabeth and I shouldn't be here, either. I have things I need to do. If I don't find a new sitter by Monday
Amy Warren stopped, planting her hands on her hips. "Matthew, we still have to eat."
The bell rang again. It was an unnecessary interruption to the dispute since Matthew had already lost.
"Daddy! The door." Elizabeth wiggled out of his arms and then grabbed his hand, pulling him from the kitchen.
"Coming," he called out as they hurried down the hall.
Tonight's dinner was still a bad idea, in his opinion. The whole thing felt like an ambush. He shouldn't have offered his help to Haley, either, when he was dealing with enough of his own problems. His mother's stubbornness over her dinner party irritated him, but everything had bugged him today since he'd made the mistake of answering his mother's cell phone while on his lunch hour.
In the foyer, he hesitated. He had no reason to be nervous. It had all happened a long time ago, and even then it hadn't been a big deal. Anyway, Haley probably had bigger things on her mind today than her adolescent crush that had ended in an embarrassing rejection. Shaking his head, he opened the door.
Trina Scott stood on the stoop, her gloved hand poised to knock. "Oh, there you are. I thought you were going to let us freeze out here."
Behind her, the older two Scott sisters stood in their heavy coats, their arms laden with food.
"Sorry about that," he said.
Elizabeth squeezed in front of him as he pushed open the storm door to let them inside. "Hi, Grandma Trina. Daddy and Grammy were arguing in the kitchen."
"Really?" Trina lifted an eyebrow as she leaned in to hug Matthew and then dropped a kiss on Elizabeth's head. She turned to her daughters. "Elizabeth needed something to call me, so Amy thought 'Grandma Trina' would be nice."
Matthew turned to the other women. "Hey, Jenna. Hey, Caroline. Where's Haley?"
Just as he spoke her name, the fourth guest appeared behind them, her face peering out from the hood of her parka. She opened the door and stepped inside.
"Hi, Haley. It's been a long time."
"Yes, it has."
Haley flicked her gaze his way as she removed her coat and handed it to him. She looked different, but he should have expected that. People tended to change after nine years. Her hair was blonder than he had remembered, and though she used to wear it long like her sisters, she'd cut it in a sassy shag style that reached just to her chin. It suited her, he decided.
"Who's she, Daddy?"
Matthew glanced down at the child tugging his arm and then looked back to Haley. "I guess you two haven't met." Of course, they hadn't. Her sisters had helped their mother move back to Markston a year before and had visited a few times since, but until now, Haley hadn't made the trip.
Instead of answering him, Haley crouched in front of his daughter and extended her hand. "Hello. I'm Haley."