Christmas in Good Hope (A Good Hope Novel Book 1) (22 page)

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Ami took a hot shower and got her emotions under control. She pulled on a new pair of flannel-lined jeans, a wheat-colored bulky sweater, and her beloved UGGs, then set off to visit her sister. She found Marigold in the living room of the family home, positioning several large poinsettias for maximum effect.

“I see Dad put you right to work.”

Her sister plopped down on the sofa, looking adorable in black leggings and a royal-blue sweater. “Actually, he told me to get some sleep. Said the bags under my eyes could double as suitcases.”

“He did not say that.” Ami couldn’t imagine her gentle father ever saying anything that rude.

“Perhaps those weren’t his exact words. But he did mention I looked tired.”

Ami studied her sister. She’d pulled her mass of curly blond hair back in a tail that managed to look both stylish and comfortable. But even artfully applied makeup couldn’t fully disguise the dark circles beneath those huge blue eyes.

“You look tired, but you also have this kind of glow about you.” Ami dropped on the sofa beside her sister. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I’ve missed you.” Marigold gave her a quick, hard hug. “You have to catch me up on all the Good Hope gossip.”

“Tonight. Once Primrose and Fin get here.” Ami felt a surge of anticipation.

“When exactly will they arrive?”

“Fin has a flight that’s supposed to touch down in Green Bay around four or four thirty. Prim and the boys are driving from Milwaukee and will pick her up at the airport. I assume they’ll grab something to eat, then drive the rest of the way to Good Hope. So I’d say by nine.” Ami smiled. “It’ll be like old times; all of the Bloom sisters together.”

“I miss those days.” Marigold’s expression turned pensive.

“Well, you’ll just have to move back.”

Her sister laughed. “I didn’t say I missed them all
that
much.”

“Still loving life in the big city?”

“Absolutely. Since I became a full-fledged stylist last fall, I’ve been able to start building my client list. I love the money, and the artistic freedom I’ve been given has been wonderful.”

“I’m happy for you.” Ami paused, then gentled her tone. “Now, tell me what’s not so good.”

“It’s nothing, really.” Marigold waved a dismissive hand even as her blue eyes darkened. “Steffan has just been a bit snippy lately.”

Steffan, Ami knew, was the head stylist and owner of the salon where Marigold was employed. Handsome and talented, the man had taken Chicago by storm five years earlier when he’d relocated his successful Los Angeles salon to the Windy City.

Ami had been impressed when she’d read that the Steffan Oliver Salon had been named Salon of the Year by
Elle
magazine. Yet the honor hadn’t surprised her. Marigold often mentioned the important clients who flew in from other states specifically to have her boss cut and color their hair. Even the cream of Chicago society had to book appointments months in advance to get an appointment with him.

Ami had met Steffan. While a bit on the high-strung side, he’d seemed like a genuinely nice guy. It was difficult to fathom him being snippy to her sister.

After all, he’d personally recruited Marigold while she’d still been in her cosmetology program. From the beginning, Marigold’s natural talent had created a buzz. Her sister had started her career at his salon as soon as she’d graduated. That was nearly five years ago.

Marigold had never complained about Steffan before. To the contrary, her sister often mentioned how nice it was to work for a man who had become a good friend. “Any idea why he’s acting that way?”

Marigold pursed her lips. “He and his partner, Marc, are going through a rough patch. I think the stress from all that drama might be spilling over into his professional life and making him edgy.”

Ami tried to recall what Marigold had told her. “He and Marc have been together a long time.”

“Yes. In fact, Marc was the reason Steffan relocated to Chicago.” Marigold’s eyes turned cloudy. “I know he loves Marc, so I hope they kiss and make up soon. I can’t take much more of his mood swings.”

“Have you considered leaving and opening your own salon?”

“Not really.” Marigold yawned hugely, covering her mouth with pink-tipped fingers. “I learn so much from Steffan and the other stylists. Not to mention working for him opens so many doors for me.”

“Sounds like a difficult situation.”

“It is what it is.” Marigold lifted one shoulder in a delicate shrug. “For now, I’m in a holding pattern, waiting and hoping for the best. Does that make sense?”

Ami thought of Beck. “It does.”

“But don’t think for a minute that I’m letting him walk all over me.” A cocky arrogance filled her sister’s eyes. “I’m a darned good stylist and I’ve been getting a lot of good press lately. If Steffan continues to be difficult, I won’t stay.”

Talking about the salon appeared to be getting her younger sister more worked up by the second, so Ami changed the subject.

“Tell me about you and Daniel.” Ami recalled the excitement in her sister’s voice several months ago when she’d mentioned some grand soiree they’d be attending. “Don’t you two have a big fancy event coming up soon?”

“Actually, that event was this weekend.” Marigold swung her feet off the coffee table and onto the floor. “The party was the reason I didn’t think I’d be able to come back early for Shannon’s wedding.”

Ami pulled her brows together in puzzlement. “Why did you change your mind about going?”

“One simple reason. Daniel Smithson is a dickhead.” Marigold expelled a harsh breath and jerked to her feet, adding, “I’m starting to believe that at heart all men are jerks.”

Ami thought of Beck and silently disagreed. She moved to Marigold’s side and placed a sympathetic hand on her arm. “What happened?”

“I caught him with another woman.” Pain flashed through Marigold’s baby blues like a bolt of lightning and was gone just as quickly. “Apparently his definition of exclusive and mine are vastly different.”

Ami’s heart ached for her little sister. She knew that beneath Marigold’s cool, confident exterior beat an easily bruised heart. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. How about I make us some hot cocoa and you can tell me all about it?”

“Snowflake hot cocoa?” Marigold asked hopefully, following Ami into the kitchen.

“Umm, not today. Snowflake takes hours to prepare. We’ll go with the less fancy variety for now, but I guarantee you’ll love it.” Opening the cupboard, Ami grabbed a can of unsweetened cocoa powder and went to work. While she waited for the ingredients to come to a boil, she glanced over her shoulder at Marigold. “Attending Shannon’s wedding must have been hard. All those hearts and flowers coming so soon after your breakup.”

“Actually . . .”

Something in her sister’s tone had Ami turning from the stovetop, spoon in hand.

Marigold rested her back against the Formica countertop, a sly smile lifting her lips. “I—”

Raising a hand, Ami stilled the words. “Hold the explanation and grab some mugs. I think I’m going to need some chocolate to wash down what you’re about to tell me.”

The soft laugh that tumbled from Marigold’s lips told her one mug might not be enough. In minutes, Ami sat across from her sister at the kitchen table, with two steaming mugs of cocoa topped with whipped cream between them. “Tell me.”

Marigold studied her, appearing to enjoy Ami’s blatant curiosity. She took a sip of the cocoa and purred. “You’re right. This
is
awesome.”

Ami waited impatiently as her sister took another drink. “Tell me what happened at the reception.”

“I danced. I flirted. I had a fabulous time.” Marigold’s dimples flashed. “It was after the reception that the night really heated up.”

Ami tried to think what her sister could have done after an Egg Harbor wedding reception that would have brought such a smile to her face. She couldn’t think of a single thing.

“You can’t tell anyone.” Marigold’s expression turned solemn. “What I’m about to say must remain in the vault.”

Her sister drew an imaginary box in the air and met Ami’s gaze with an intensity that sent a shiver of trepidation rising up Ami’s spine.

Ami lifted three fingers, mimicking the Girl Scout salute. “I swear.”

“Swear on our mother’s grave.”

“Dear God, Marigold, what did you do?”

“Swear.”

“Sheesh, I swear.”

Apparently satisfied, her sister took a deep breath, let it out slowly.

“First, I want you to know this was something I’d never
ever
done before.” Two swaths of pink appeared on Marigold’s cheeks. “I hope you won’t think less of me.”

Ami reached across the table and took her baby sister’s hand. “Nothing you’ve done will make me love you less. I’ll always be here for you.”

She realized with a start the words she’d just uttered were almost identical to the ones her mother had spoken to her the night of the accident.

“It’s not that grim.” Marigold flashed a smile. “In fact, it isn’t grim at all.”

Ami frowned. “I don’t like guessing games.”

“You’d never guess this one, anyway.”

“Marigold Elizabeth.”

The use of her sister’s middle name had the imp’s smile widening. “I had a one-night stand.”

Ami sat back, stunned.

Marigold took another sip of her hot chocolate, appearing to enjoy her big sister’s shock. “Yep, with one of Shannon’s cousins. The man was überhot and we just . . . connected.”

Her sister had been right. She’d never have guessed this, not in a million years. Even as a teenager, Marigold had been cautious in her dealings with boys. How could she sleep with a stranger? Unless, perhaps, the man was someone she already knew. “Had you, ah, met Shannon’s cousin before?”

Marigold shook her head. “I don’t think so. Unless it was when I was a kid and he came to Good Hope with his parents for some family event. He lives in Michigan.”

“Are you going to keep in touch?”

“I don’t think so. Still, it was fun. We enjoyed ourselves.” Marigold glanced down at the steaming chocolate and her lips curved. “The clandestine part definitely upped the spice element of the evening.”

“Where did you—?” Ami waved her hand. “No. Don’t tell me. I don’t want details.”

“Too bad.” Marigold’s eyes danced with barely suppressed amusement. “I was going to give you a blow-by-blow of the entire evening starting with the way he—”

“Nananananana.” Ami set down her mug and covered her ears with her hands. “Don’t want to hear it.”

Marigold threw back her head and laughed. “Okay, then, let’s talk about you and Beckett Cross.”

Ami’s smile disappeared. She dropped her hands to the table. “Let’s not.”

“You promised. I distinctly recall you saying we were going to catch up. Well, I caught you up on Daniel, shared my little secret, and even tossed my boss into the mix. Which means it’s your turn.”

Ami bought herself a little time by slowly lifting her mug to her lips and taking a drink. “I’m afraid that my relationship with Beck will soon be coming to an end.”

Her sister’s smile disappeared and her gaze turned sharp and assessing. “Why?”

“The vault door remains firmly shut,” Marigold assured her when Ami continued to hesitate.

“I love Beck.” Just saying the words aloud brought a sharp ache of longing so intense tears sprang to Ami’s eyes.

“Why, that’s wonder—” Marigold paused. “It’s not wonderful?”

Powerless to stop a few tears from slipping down her cheeks, Ami swiped at them before answering. “The summer before last, Beck’s wife and unborn baby were killed by a drunk driver.”

“Oh, no,” Marigold gasped. “How horrible.”

Ami wrapped her fingers around the mug. But the heat couldn’t penetrate the sudden chill that gripped her.

Her sister waited a beat, then spoke tentatively, as if navigating her way through a darkened room. “Is he still hung up on her? Is that the issue?”

Ami hesitated. While she knew a part of Beck would always love Lisette, she believed he was ready to embrace the future. But not with her. No, never with her.

“The woman who hit her car had been drinking.” Ami expelled a ragged breath. “Beck has zero tolerance for those who drink and drive.”

“Understandable. But what does that have to do with—” Marigold stopped, her eyes going wide as she made the connection. “You don’t think . . .”

“I don’t know.” Ami’s voice quivered. “That’s what is driving me crazy. I don’t know how he’s going to react when I tell him.”

“Don’t look for trouble where there is none.” Obviously seeing Ami’s distress, Marigold spoke in a soft, soothing tone. “You’ve given your heart to this man, so give him some credit. Trust that once you explain the situation fully, he’ll understand.”

Ami sniffled. “What happened to the woman who only a moment ago said all men are jerks?”

Marigold stared into Ami’s eyes. “It will be okay.”

When her sister rounded the table and wrapped her arms around her for a hug, Ami hugged her back, burying her tear-streaked face against Marigold’s fragrant hair. “It won’t be okay. I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to lose him.”

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