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Authors: Caroline Mickelson

The Wedding Favor

BOOK: The Wedding Favor
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Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

The Wedding Favor ©2014 Caroline Mickelson
.

Published by Bon Accord Press

Formatting by
Sweet 'N Spicy Designs

All rights reserved.

THE WEDDING FAVOR
Caroline Mickelson

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Chapter One

“I’ve got an offer here that you won’t be able to refuse.”

Ava McKenna smiled at the sound of her realtor’s enthusiastic tone. It wasn’t that the property in question had been on the market long. She’d only put her childhood home up for sale two weeks ago. So that meant the offer must be close to the asking price. She tried to muster the same enthusiasm she heard in the realtor’s voice but it wasn’t easy. Even though she hadn’t visited the home she’d grown up in since her mother’s death ten years earlier, the decision to sell still hadn’t been easy. Alone in the world, the house was all that tethered Ava to her childhood. Other people had aunts and uncles, cousins and extended families. She had a house.

“Ava? Are you listening?”

“Yes, I’m here.” Ava pulled into the reserved parking space in front of her office and switched off the convertible’s engine. “You have my full attention.”

“Good. Now, I’ve got a cash offer for the full asking price. And, as we both know, you set the asking price well above the comps for the neighborhood so we should be pleased.”

Pleased? Ava shifted in the seat. No, she wasn’t pleased. Or relieved. Or happy. She should be, of course, but she wasn’t. “Can I have some time to think about this, Jessie?”

An awkward silence filled the line for a long moment before Ava’s realtor spoke. “Of course, it’s your decision, not mine. But there’s one more thing.”

“I’m listening.” Ava slipped her car keys into her bag. In a well-practiced move, she slid out of the car holding her handbag, briefcase and coffee cup. She savored the cool morning breeze as she headed into her office, glad it had a window she could open to take advantage of the perfect Arizona spring morning. “Do the buyers have a long laundry list of modifications they want me to make? Because I’ll tell you right up front that I’m not interested in going overboard to please a fussy potential buyer.”

“No, Ava, it’s nothing like that. The buyer would like to meet with you personally to discuss the offer.”

Odd. Ava unlocked her office and flipped on the light switch with her elbow. Thank heavens for her Bluetooth. Hands-free was her favorite word. She dropped everything onto her desk. “I don’t know, Jessie. What good would that do?”

Her realtor didn’t skip a beat. “What harm would it do?”

“You don’t watch the news?” Ava booted her computer up and turned on the monitor. “A woman meeting a strange man at an empty property could come to quite a bit of harm.” She headed down the hallway to start a pot of coffee. She was always the first one to arrive and she liked to have freshly brewed java ready for her staff as they trickled in. Ava flipped the coffee maker on.

“Well, that’s the odd part,” Jessie said. “He says he’s not a stranger. He said he knew you way back in the day and he wants to meet you at Papagayos for dinner.”

Ava’s delicately arched eyebrows rose. Not a stranger? She really shouldn’t even ask. She should just pass. But curiosity won out. “What is the buyer’s name?”

Jessie’s answer was a delicate cough and a moment of silence before she finally spoke. “He asked that I not reveal that. I guess he wants to surprise you.”

“Well, I am surprised,” Ava said, surprised enough that her hands shook as she added sweetener packets to the almost empty jar on the coffee station. “I don’t know anyone from the old neighborhood.” Which wasn’t strictly true but she didn’t want to think about the past. She’d made a clean break years ago.

“So is that a yea or nay?” Jessie asked.

Ava paused. Her rational brain, the part that she used ninety-nine percent of the time, told her to decline the offer right now. She didn’t need to sell the house immediately. The market was healthy enough and she didn’t need the money. But that wiggly emotional one percent egged her on. Agree to meet the mystery man, it coaxed her, if for no other reason than to put the past to rest. Prove you can go back, that the past has no hold on you. She sighed.

Jessie pounced on her indecision. “So that’s a yes? I can call his realtor and confirm that you’ll be there?”

Ava needed time to think. “I’ll get back with you later today, I promise,” she said, neatly sidestepping a direct confirmation. “I appreciate all of your hard work on this, Jessie.”

“It’s my job and I’m happy to do it. But, Ava, I think you need to really think about why you want to both sell the house and hold on to it. It’s one or the other, both won’t work.”

Didn’t she know it too, but she couldn’t explain her complicated feelings to her realtor when she didn’t understand them herself.

Ava spent the rest of the morning in a staff meeting. She loved her work as a professional fundraiser and she was good at it. Pouring her time, talent and energy into causes she cared about resulted in a significant amount of dollars being raised. She’d made her career her whole life and she knew that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. But if she stopped spending every waking moment on her clients and their projects, what would she do to fill her time? She couldn’t face that big of a void.

After the meeting Ava grabbed yet another cup of coffee and hibernated in her office. Between calls and emails to current and prospective clients, her mind continued to whirl with questions about the offer on her house and the accompanying offer of dinner with a mystery man from her past.

Her past. There were no big scary monsters in Ava’s past, no newsworthy traumatic events either. Just a whole lot of loneliness as an only child coupled with an inordinate amount of guilt from watching her single mother work herself to the bone to keep a roof over their heads. If it hadn’t been for the generosity of their neighbors, especially the Ortega family, Ava didn’t know if her mother would have been able to keep the house. Somehow, when the McKenna’s grocery budget couldn’t stretch to the end of the month, some of the Ortega’s bounty had found its way to the McKenna’s table. Ava’s closet had stayed full of fashionable hand me downs from one of the Ortega’s grown daughters’ closets. Just as miraculously, when something in the McKenna’s house broke, one of the Ortegas knew just how to fix it.

It was like living next to a whole family of fairy godparents. They were the best kind of friends. Ava bit her lip. She wasn’t being truthful enough. The Ortegas were more than that. They were the family she’d always wanted to belong to.

And then just as Ava entered her senior year in high school, her mother had been diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. Trina McKenna had grown weak and faded away as quickly as morning mist. The first surprise had been how rapidly her mother’s health had deteriorated. The second surprise had been that her mother had a life insurance policy that provided for her daughter better in death than she’d been able to while alive. In shock over losing her mother and suddenly having the funds to go to any college she wanted, Ava had left the working class neighborhood on the south side of Phoenix and had never gone back.

Ava rested her elbows on her desk and buried her head in her hands. She didn’t want to remember any of this. All of her memories belonged safely tucked in the past, left where they couldn’t hurt her anymore. As a child she hadn’t known how to ignore her loneliness but now she was a master at it.

Her cell phone rang and she reached for it, already knowing that it was her realtor. Caller id confirmed her guess.

“So what’s it going to be?” Jessie asked. “Have you made a decision?”

“I’ll do it,” Ava heard herself say. She needed a clean break with the past. She’d made the decision to sell the house once and for all and this was part and parcel of her decision. She’d see it through. “I’ll head over to Papagayos after work. Do you know what time this meeting is set for?”

“Six thirty. Do you want me to join you there?” Jessie asked. “As reinforcements in case the buyer isn’t someone you once knew or isn’t someone you want to know now?”

Ava didn’t hesitate. “No thanks, Jessie. I can handle it. Did this person say who to look for?”

“He said he’d recognize you.”

Ava’s stomach did a little flip. She glanced at the clock. Four hours to go.

**

Mateo Ortega glanced up at the clock in his office. It was close to three o’clock and the final bell would be ringing soon. He closed out the file he was working on and switched off his monitor. While he’d been working on a grant application he’d rolled up his sleeves and loosened his tie but he never liked the kids to see him appear overly casual. His position as a role model mattered greatly to him, as did each and every one of the children in his school. All two hundred and forty-nine of them.

He stepped into the corridor just as the final bell of the day rang. As they did every day at this time, the doors flew open and the students began pouring into the hallway. The noise level skyrocketed and some little feet forgot the no running edict as they made their way, en masse, to the waiting buses. His presence was meant to be a calming reminder to slow down and, he hoped, it would show them how much he cared.

He waved in response to each and every “Hi, Mr. Ortega” and “Bye, Mr. Ortega.” His own memories of his elementary school principal were of a somber looking man who stayed behind his desk and remained disengaged from his students. Mateo did everything he could to be different.

Once the buses were gone and the last of the children either picked up by parents or off to the after-school program, he headed back into his office.

“A phone message for you, Mateo.” His office manager handed him a slip of paper.

He glanced down and saw that he’d just missed a call from his aunt. Back in his office, he shrugged out of his jacket and dialed her home number.

“Hi Tia Sylvia,” he said when his aunt answered. “I just got your message. Is Abuelo okay?”

“He’s comfortable, Mateo.”

Comfortable was code for toughing out the pain that stomach cancer had brought upon his grandfather. Mateo took a deep breath and then blew it out. He was a grown man who had known loss before but the thought of his losing his much beloved grandfather made his heart ache. “What can I do to help, Tia?”

“You’re such a good boy to ask, Mateo.”

His aunt’s words made him smile. He hadn’t been a boy in years and all the kids in school thought he was positively ancient. But to little kids 35 was prehistoric. “You know that anything you need, you say the word.” Mateo glanced up at the clock. Again. Suddenly he felt like a teenage boy counting down the moments until a hot date. “How is Abuelo feeling?”

“He’s having a good day,” she answered.

Mateo knew something more was coming. He recognized that worried tone in his aunt’s voice. The much loved patriarch of their family had been ill for months now. Several weeks ago he’d informed his doctors that he no longer wanted to continue with chemotherapy treatments. The entire Ortega family knew the only thing they could do was make the last days of his life as comfortable and happy as possible. Which was easier said than done when they were all faced with their own heartache at the impending loss. “Good. I’m glad to hear that. Tell me how you’re holding up?”

BOOK: The Wedding Favor
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