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Authors: Mary Kay Andrews

Christmas Bliss

BOOK: Christmas Bliss
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.

 

For Stuart Krichevsky, who saw something I couldn’t, and made me believe I could

 

Acknowledgments

 

Deepest thanks go to Savannah attorney Carl Pedigo, and U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney, Miami, District 7 Public Affairs office, for legal and technical advice. Any errors or misstatements in this book are my own and not theirs. Extra thanks to the SKLA team—Stuart Krichevsky, Shana Cohen, and Ross Harris—not just for their usual stalwart expertise and support, but this time around for help with New York landmarks and logistics. With each new book I am reminded of how lucky I am to have the amazing Jennifer Enderlin as my editor. Thanks also to everybody at St. Martin’s Press who make my books happen—including, but not limited to, Sally Richardson and Matthew Shear, Jeanne-Marie Hudson, Anne Marie Talberg, and art director Michael Storrings, whose covers just get better and better. Meg Walker of Tandem Literary is my secret marketing weapon and a dear friend and colleague. And thanks and love to my family—Tom, Katie, Andy, and Mark, who make every day together as sweet as Christmas morning.

 

Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Epilogue

Also by Mary Kay Andrews

About the Author

Copyright

 

Chapter 1

 

’Twas the week before Christmas

“Jean Eloise Foley!”

Marian Foley tugged hard at the fabric of the ivory lace dress. “How am I going to fix this dress if you can’t stand still for five minutes?”

I squirmed and looked over my shoulder and down at my mama, who was glaring up at me. I was standing on a none-too-sturdy wooden kitchen stool, and in high heels yet.

The volume on the red plastic radio that had stood on my parents’ green Formica countertop for as long as I can remember was turned down, but I could still hear strains of Brenda Lee singing “Jingle Bell Rock” and the telltale ching-ching of the cell phone on the counter next to the radio.

“Mama,” I pleaded. “That has to be Daniel, texting me. Can’t we just stop for a minute so I can grab my phone?”

“Don’t you move,” Mama managed to say, despite the fact that her lips were clamped tight around a clutch of dressmaker’s pins. “Not an inch. We have to get this dress fitted and pinned today. No more excuses. We’re already weeks behind schedule, and if I don’t get started cutting this dress down this afternoon, you’ll be getting married in your slip.”

“Wouldn’t Daniel just love that.” I looked longingly at my phone, which sat only a few feet away. “I’m dying to hear how it went at Cucina Carlotta last night. There were rumors the food critic from the
New York Times
might sneak in.”

“I don’t care if the pope himself ate there,” Mama said. “Daniel Stipanek can just wait his turn. Anyway, didn’t he call you last night?”

“No,” I admitted. “He’s been so crazy busy with work, he hasn’t had a minute to talk. So we’ve been texting.”

“Ridiculous,” Mama said with a sniff. “I don’t know why you all can’t just pick up a phone and communicate like normal people. I still don’t understand all this texting foolishness.”

“He’s been up there for three weeks, and he’s still working nearly eighteen-hour days. He warned me it would be like this. New York isn’t like Savannah. He says the pace is twice as fast as it is here, and the kitchen is twice as big as his kitchen here at Guale. Cucina seats eighty people—that’s a lot! He’s spending most of his waking hours in the middle of a kitchen surrounded by the staff. He doesn’t want people listening in on our private conversation. Anyway, it’s only for one more week. Then he’ll be home, the wedding is Christmas Eve, and then life is back to normal, until we can get around to the honeymoon in Paris.”

“What makes you think he won’t want to stay up there in New York after the wedding? Savannah is going to seem like Hicksville to him now,” Mama warned. “The next thing I know, you’ll be telling me you’re moving up there for good.”

“Daniel doesn’t want to work for somebody else—even if Carlotta Donatello does own the hottest, hippest restaurant in New York right now. I keep telling you, he’s only a guest chef. It’s some sort of gimmick. Mrs. Donatello has invited six different chefs from all over the country to come in, design menus from their own region, and run the kitchen for a month at a time. It’s a huge honor that she asked Daniel to be the only Southern chef. And it’s great publicity for Guale.”

“If you say so,” Mama said, but her face showed she was clearly dubious of any enterprise that threatened to send her only child off to the wilds of what she considered the frozen wastelands of the North.

“I do. Now, if you’d just hand me my phone,” I coaxed, “I can find out how it went last night.”

Instead, Mama cinched in another two inches of lace on the right side seam of the dress.

“Owww!” I howled. “That was my hip you just pinned.”

Jethro, my black Lab mix who was lounging nearby under the dinette table, raised his muzzle, and gave a short, sharp warning bark.

“Hush,” Mama said, giving Jethro a withering stare. “You too, Weezie. Quit squirming and stalling, and quit being such a baby.”

She gave a long, martyred sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know why you can’t just go out to the mall and buy a nice new dress like every other girl in the country. This old thing is way too big and way too long on you. You’re swimming in it. There’s no easy way to shorten this skirt with all this scalloped lace at the hem. I’m going to have to completely remove the skirt from the waist and cut it off there. Same thing with the sleeves. They were three-quarters on me, but look, on you, they hang down almost to your wrists.”

She bunched the fabric on the opposite side of the dress and pinned, and that time, I swear, she drew blood.

“Damn, Sam!”

“Sorry,” Mama muttered. “I told you to stand still.”

“I
am
standing still. I know it’s a lot of work, but I’ve always dreamed of getting married in Meemaw’s dress. I could spend ten thousand dollars and not find a dress as perfect as this one. Or one that means as much to me.”

“Then why didn’t you wear it the first time?” Mama shot back.

I winced. Mama has never recovered from the demise of what was supposed to be my fairy-tale marriage to Talmadge Evans III, the scion of an old, socially prominent Savannah family. That marriage had an unhappy ending after Tal cheated with Caroline DeSantos, a dark-haired vixen who’d worked at his architecture firm. Caroline had ended badly too, murdered by a romantic rival.

“I was only twenty and dumb as dirt back then,” I said. “Tal’s mother brainwashed me with all that crap about how every Evans bride for five generations had worn that stupid gown of theirs. Their gown, their church, their friends. This time around, the wedding is all Daniel and me.”

Marian took a step back and considered her handiwork. “I still don’t think it’s right, you wearing a white dress for a second wedding.”

I fluffed the billowy tulle skirt. “It’s not white anymore. It’s closer to buttercream. Anyway, if Daniel had his way, we’d get married in flip-flops and shorts on the beach out at Tybee. He’s being a good sport to put up with even the tiny little ceremony we’re having at my house on Charlton. But he knows how much it means to me to wear the dress you and Meemaw wore.”

“Hmpph,” Marian said. “Now you’re just being silly and sentimental.”

Marian Foley didn’t do sentimental. She lived in the here and now. She liked her furniture and clothing new and store-bought, her coffee strong and black, and a nice, orderly life. But I’ve always been the exact opposite, a dreamer and a schemer who made my living selling antiques, which she thought of as peddling other people’s castoffs.

I smoothed my hands over the gown’s creamy lace-over-satin bodice. As I was growing up, my grandmother had often told me stories about taking the train up to Atlanta from Savannah, to buy the fabric and lace for her wedding dress at Rich’s Department Store. The gown was a confection straight out of the 1950s, with an off-the-shoulder bateau neckline and a tight-fitted ruched waist that billowed out at the hips into a ballet-length skirt consisting of reembroidered lace over layers of tulle.

“Go ahead and hop down and take it off,” Mama directed. “I want to get started on it this afternoon.”

She was helping me unfasten the row of tiny satin-covered buttons when the kitchen door opened and my daddy, balding and still in his pajama bottoms and house slippers, walked slowly into the kitchen, sniffing the air expectantly.

He planted a kiss on the top of my head.

“Marian, when’s lunch?” he asked plaintively. “I’m getting pretty hungry.”

“Joe, honey, you know you just had lunch an hour ago,” Mama said, rolling her eyes. “Remember? You had a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup and some Christmas cookies Weezie brought you.”

Daddy rubbed the graying stubble on his chin. “I already ate?”

“Sure did,” I said. “You even ate the other half of my sandwich.”

“Oh, well, all right then,” he said. He looked me up and down and beamed his usual loving smile. “Shug, you look real pretty in that dress. Are you going to a party?”

Mama’s face paled and two bright pink circles bloomed on her cheeks. “You know Weezie’s getting married in a week. This was my wedding dress. Weezie’s going to wear it when she marries Daniel on Christmas Eve. Remember? We’ve been talking about it for months now.”

Daddy bristled. “I know that, Marian. Think I don’t know my own daughter is getting married? She’s marrying that boy at the restaurant. Some name that starts with a D. You don’t have to treat me like a child, Marian.”

“I’m sorry,” Mama said.

“His name is Daniel,” I reminded him. “Daniel Stipanek.”

“Damned right,” Daddy muttered. He turned and shuffled out of the kitchen, his worn leather shoes sliding on the checkered linoleum.

I waited until he was completely out of earshot. “Mama, how long has Daddy been like this?”

“Like what?” Marian frowned down at the gown. “I believe I’m just going to hand-baste these side seams and then fit it on you again before I do any cutting.”

“Like that,” I said, gesturing toward the door where my father had just exited. “Mama, you can’t pretend you don’t notice. Daddy didn’t remember he’d eaten lunch. He didn’t know why I was wearing your wedding dress, or even Daniel’s name.”

“He’s fine. Just a little forgetful, that’s all. You’ll forget things too, when you’re nearly eighty.”

She lifted the dress over my head and laid it across the back of a kitchen chair.

“I think it’s more than that,” I said gently. “He hasn’t shaved today. That’s not like him. Used to be, sometimes he’d shave twice in one day, especially if company was coming over. And he’s still wearing his pajama bottoms and slippers.”

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