Authors: Rachel Hauck
Copyright Â© 2006 by Rachel Hauck. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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Taylor Hanson parked her new BMW in the shade of her childhood home, pressed her head against the steering wheel, and whispered a prayer.
Lord, what have I done?
After a moment, she drew a long breath, smoothed her hands down the front of her dark red linen suit, and popped the BMW's trunk. Stepping out of the car and into the afternoon light, she wondered how many times she'd driven the familiar roads from Manhattan to White Birch and back again.
Gold-tipped maple leaves rustled in the afternoon breeze as she yanked her suitcases from the car's trunk and slung the strap of her laptop case over her shoulder, then snapped the trunk shut.
Any other day, any other time, the beauty of the day would motivate her to change her clothes and go for a good, long run. But for now, in this moment, her heart remained locked in the dark places of disappointment, frustration, and anxiety.
As she walked toward the kitchen door, dragging her suitcases behind, Taylor pinched her lips together, determined not to cry.
She did this to herself. She'd calculated the cost and acted. Nevertheless, she never imagined
would happen to her.
Taylor entered the two-story brick home and called, “Mom?”
No answer. The house was quiet and perfumed with the lingering scent of bread and cinnamon.
Taylor lugged her suitcases up the back stairs from the kitchen to her old bedroom. She dropped her designer purse and laptop case onto her worn oak desk, shoved her luggage and overnight bag against the wall, then fell face-first into the familiar comfort of her old bed.
Lord, please tell me I didn't ruin my life
. She sat up with a jerk, pressing her fingers against her eyes.
“Get ahold of yourself, Taylor.” She paced around her old room. “This is a minor setback.”
She removed her laptop from its monogrammed leather case, booted it up, and hooked up to the phone line. While dialing out to the World Wide Web, Taylor made a note in her electronic data assistant:
Arrange for broadband Internet connection at Mom and Dad's
. She would need it.
For the rest of the morning and afternoon, Taylor surfed the Web, made calls, and e-mailed contacts. She barely noticed when the afternoon light faded to the muted colors of dusk and dark shadows fell across her room.
When a thin, familiar “Hello?” sounded down the hall, she glanced up from the computer.
“Mom, in here.”
Trixie Hanson graced the doorway and flipped on the light. “Taylor, what are you doing here?”
Taylor gave her mom a hug. The petite, trig woman wore a navy suit with matching pumps. “How are you?”
“Fine; exhausted. I've been at a ladies' aid meeting for the church bazaar.”
“Ladies' aid meeting? Can Mrs. Cramer still talk a mannequin to death?”
Mom smiled. “Of course. Some things never change; you know that. But never mind about Dotâwhat are you doing home? It's the middle of the week.”
In the faint glow of the lamp's light, Taylor saw the concerned expression on her mother's delicate features.
“I just needed to come home.” She sat on the edge of her bed, realizing she still wore her business suit and two-inch heels. Her makeup felt stale and congealed, and the idea of a shower reminded her of how good the community pool felt on a hot summer day.
Mom studied her for a moment. “Are you all right?”
Taylor kicked off her shoes and squished her toes into the carpet nap. “I'm fine. Is this carpet new?”
“Yes, it is.” Mom studied her for a moment then added, “And it is highly unusual for you to show up unannounced, Taylor. Are you sure everything is all right?”
“Well, I'm not sick or hurt, if that's what you mean.” Taylor opened one of her suitcases, looking for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. She wanted to explain her sudden appearance in White Birch but still had trouble understanding the events of the last three days herself.
“Hello â¦ anybody home? Trixie?”
Mom fluttered over to the doorway. “Grant. Up here in Taylor's room.”
In few seconds, Dad's cheery face peered around the door. “My two favorite women.” He kissed Trixie and wrapped his arms around Taylor.
“So,” he started, holding her at arm's length, “what are you doing home?” His gray eyes sparkled with merriment.
Sadness washed over Taylor like a chilling waterfall. How could she tell her biggest fanâthe man who had dubbed her the whiz kidâthat she'd failed?
“Taylor, is everything all right?”
She said without rehearsal, “I left Blankenship and Burns.”
Trixie leaned on Grant's arm. “What do you mean?”
“I quit.” She hated the sound of that wordâ
. It spelled failure.
Grant chuckled. “She's teasing us, Trixie.”
Taylor peered into her father's eyes. “No, Daddy, I'm not. Movers are packing up my apartment as we speak. I'm putting my stuff in storage.” She glanced around her room. “I'd like to stay here for a while if I could.”
Mom gasped and covered her cheek with her hand. “Really, Taylor. You actually quit. Well, I neverâ”
Taylor snapped. “Yes, Mom, I quit.” Grant held up his hands. “Okay, you two, let's go down and have some hot tea and some of Mom's coffee cake. Then, Taylor, you can fill us in.”
Will Adams sat on the edge of the couch in his twin brother's spacious living room. A blind date. What was he thinking?
“I'm thirty-three,” he muttered, running his hand along the back of his neck. “Going on a blind date like a desperate schoolboy.”
“Come on, it's not that bad,” Bobby said, laughing. Will stood to pace, jiggling the keys in his pocket. “I can't believe I let you and Elle set me up.”
“Beats sitting at home on a Friday night with Harry.”
Will turned to him. “Harry's great company. Man's best friend, you know.”
“It's one night, Will. One night. Who knows? You just might fall in love.”
They were to pick Mia Wilmington up on their way to dinner at Italian Hills, the town's most romantic restaurant. Not Will's idea for a first date. Wouldn't a casual night of eating pizza at Giuseppe's be much better?
“You know, you're making this way harder than it has to be,” Bobby said, glancing over his shoulder at Will while clicking through the sports channels. “You run a multimillion-dollar furniture company.”
“Furniture, I know. Mia Wilmington, I don't,” Will said, laughing softly as he regarded the man whose features mirrored his own.
Elle entered the room. “The kids are settled in the family room with your mom, fried chicken, and cold sodas.”
The men stood. “You look beautiful, Elle.” Bobby kissed his willowy wife.
Will slipped on his tan sports coat. “Let's go before I change my mind.”
Elle brushed her hand down his arm. “Give tonight a chance, Will. It's been so long since youâ”
Bobby interrupted. “Don't go there, Elle. He'll bite your head off.” He held his wife's coat for her.
Elle slipped her arms into the sleeves. “I know it's hard to meet new people, Will.”
“People I can handle. Blind dates â¦ different species.”
Elle exhaled. “Honestly, if I'd known it would traumatize you this much I wouldn't have bothered.”
Will squirmed. Elle deserved more from him. “I'm sorry.”
She linked her arm with his. “Don't worry, it's going to be wonderful.”
On the ride to Mia's apartment, Elle reminded Will that his date taught performing arts at White Birch High School, possessed a very gregarious and bubbly personality, and had the “most beautiful smile.”
Her words did little ease to Will's disdain for the situation, but he only had himself to blame. He'd said yes. Never again. Bobby had made a good point earlier. Will ran a multimillion-dollar company. He didn't need his sister-in-law to find him dates.
Walking alone to Mia's door, Will secretly hoped she wouldn't answer. But after one subtle knock, the door jerked open.
“You must be Will.” A petite blond with deep-set green eyes stood in the doorway.
She threw her arms around him. “I'm so happy to meet you.”
Surprised, Will stumbled backward. “Nice to meet you, too.” She tossed her head back, flipping long, straight blond hair over her shoulders. “Elle was right; you are handsome.” She flashed Will a sparkling smile.
He shifted from one foot to the next. “Ready to go?”
“Absolutely,” she said like she owned the word.
At Bobby's Volvo, Mia glided into the backseat, greeting Bobby and Elle.
Will shut her door and hurried around to the other side. Though she'd overwhelmed him at first, he found her extremely beautiful. Maybe this evening wouldn't be so bad after all.
Fifteen minutes later they were seated in the glow of flickering candles at Italian Hills, listening to the stringed music of the Merewether Quartet. They waved hello to their cousin Ethan's wife, Julie, the quartet's cellist.
They ordered iced teas and appetizers, and Mia chatted endlessly. She went from describing the day's school lunch to a pair of shoes she wanted to wear tonight but couldn't find.
Will watched closely to see if she took a breath between sentences.
When their server arrived with the appetizers, Mia placed her hand on Elle's shoulder and said with a wink, “I should note Will's in the blue shirt so I don't accidentally try to get a goodnight kiss from your husband. I never saw two faces that looked more alike.”
Elle gave her a demure smile. “I'll make sure you don't get the wrong man.”
“Oh, Elle,” Mia said with an annoying cackle, “you're so bourgeois.”
Mia turned her attention to him. “How did you get to be the big cheese at Lambert's Furniture?” Mia reached out and gave his forearm a strong squeeze. “Wow,” she said, raising a brow. “Do you work out?”
Will moved his arm and cleared his throat. “Bobby and our cousin Ethan carry a large part of the load. I merely oversee the big picture.”