Talk Of The Town
Leaving her cheating fiancé at the altar made Gracie Wilson famous in tiny Bygones, Kansas. Now the only things she can count on are her job at the Fixer-Upper Hardware store and the store's handsome owner. Though Bygones's runaway bride has boosted Patrick Fogerty's business more than any sale could, his feelings for Gracie are more than professional. But with Gracie's heart in pieces, he's afraid to hurt her. Gracie must somehow find the courage to run toward the man of her dreams.
The Heart of Main Street: They're rebuilding the town one step—and heart—at a time.
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Brenda Minton lives in the Ozarks with her husband and three children. Life is chaotic but she enjoys every minute of it with her family and a few too many dogs. When not writing she's drinking coffee, talking to friends, or hanging out at the river with her family and extended family. visit her online at www.brendaminton.netExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The stockroom of The Fixer-Upper hardware store was dark, warm and strangely peaceful. Gracie sat on a stool, staring down at the white dress that hadn't made it down the aisle. She shifted the skirt, all lace and silk, the type of creation she never would have picked on her own. The only things of her own choosing were her white cowboy boots with sequins and the crystal ribbon on the flowers.
She studied the bouquet Trent's mother had picked, so different from the daisies Gracie had wanted. When Gracie had sneaked into The Fixer-Upper, she'd tossed the bouquet on a worktable. Even from several feet away, she could smell the sweetness of the flowers, a reminder that this had never really been her wedding. Even the yellow roses, which would have been okay, had been enhanced with a few exotic blooms. Mrs. Morgan had a thing for over-the-top.
From the church to the decorations, Trent's mother had made all the decisions. Mrs. Morgan, wife of a prominent surgeon, had taken charge. After all, as Mrs. Morgan liked to point out, Gracie didn't have a mother of her own to take care of these things. And because Gracie's father's granary was struggling, like every other business in Bygones, Kansas, the Morgan family had been footing the bill for their only son to marry Gracie Wilson.
Gracie smiled as she leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. She'd finally made a decision of her own. She'd made the decision to bail on the whole dreadful affair.
It seemed as if everyone was counting on this marriage. It had definitely been a big help to the Bygones economy, thanks to the Morgans. My dad. Thinking of him, she felt guilty. He'd been happy, thinking she would never have to work hard again. She was marrying up, he'd said. She'd be set for life, her brother Evan had added.
She'd never agreed with her dad about marrying up. Her dad and her five brothers were the cream of the crop. Very few men could compete with those men of hers. Trent Morgan might have money but he was far from marrying "up" for Gracie. He'd proven more than once that he wasn't the man she wanted to share her dreams or her life with.
She drew in a deep breath and she didn't cry. As difficult as tomorrow would be for her, for her family, today she could breathe. She had made the right decision. She'd made the decision she'd been afraid to make weeks ago when she first caught him cheating. She'd made the decision she should have made months ago when first she realized something was wrong.
She'd started the relationship with Trent thinking it would be perfect. But they'd been two different people.
She knew how to rely on her faith. He used his faith as a disguise.
She had tried to do the right thing for everyone. But she hadn't done the right thing for herself.
She only hoped she still had a job here at The Fixer-Upper hardware store. She hoped her boss, Patrick Fogerty, hadn't replaced her. She would definitely need the money, because she had a feeling Mrs. Morgan would want to be reimbursed for the wedding that hadn't happened.
Her dad couldn't afford the expense.
Somehow she'd make this right. She would get her life back. Tomorrow she'd admit to Miss Coraline Connolly, retired principal of the Bygones school system, that she'd been right. She and Ann Mars, owner of the This 'N' That, had both questioned her in the past few days, telling her she didn't look as happy as a bride-to-be ought to.
Outside The Fixer-Upper she could hear cars. People were probably looking for her. She guessed her dad would have gone home to search in all of her old hiding places. No one would think to check for her in the hardware store, a business that had been in town for only two months, with an owner few people really knew.
They'd like him once they got to know him, she thought, once they realized he wasn't just a city person looking for a fresh start. He was a decent man who really wanted to be a part of a community. She thought that about all the new business owners in Bygones. From the coffee shop to the bakery, they had made the town better. They were giving her hometown hope. The folks in Bygones needed hope.
She needed hope. She closed her eyes and prayed, something she should have been doing more of. She should have paid attention to her nagging doubts about this marriage. She should have listened to God. Instead she'd listened to everyone else, to all the people telling her how great it would be to marry a man like Trent.
Gracie swiped a hand across her eyes. A tear or two slipped down her cheeks, not for the marriage that wouldn't be, but for her dad, her family and her community. She thought about her mom and how things would have been different if Eva Wilson had lived.
The door chime dinged on the wall across from her. Someone had opened the front door of the hardware store. She scooted to the edge of the stool and glanced at the back door, her only way to escape. But running out the back door would set off an alarm, and the overworked, understaffed local police didn't need more drama. They were probably busy looking for her.
She reached for a three-foot length of rebar and held it tight in her hand, just in case the person coming in thought they could rip the place off, since everyone in town was otherwise occupied. There had been some vandalism lately. As quiet as Bygones used to be, a break-in wouldn't be so surprising in this economy. The door to the storeroom opened. She held the rebar close, took a deep breath and waited.
Patrick Fogerty stepped into the room, all six feet four inches of him. He looked around and then spotted her. Gracie shrugged as she watched her boss take a few steps into the room, his ruggedly handsome face masked in shadows, his dark hair a little messy from the wind.
For the first time she really wanted to cry. It was a strange mixture of relief, sadness, guilt and anger that wrapped itself up inside of her like tangled string, none of it really making any sense. Tears sprang to her eyes and she blinked them away. Patrick offered her a sympathetic smile and that was when the tears really began to flow.
Gracie Wilson stared up at Patrick, her wide, dark eyes filling with tears. He watched her for a long minute, surprised to see her sitting in the stockroom of his store. When she hadn't walked down the aisle, everyone had been surprised. Everyone, that is, except Ann Mars. He'd been sitting next to her in the church, and for whatever reason, she hadn't seemed all that shocked. She'd told him that it was because she was in her eighties and she knew a thing or two about life.
Miss Mars, instead of being worried, had seemed relieved. He'd thought he heard a few sighs of relief throughout the sanctuary of Bygones Community Church.
"Are you going to hit me with that rebar?" he asked, because he didn't know what else to say. Damsels in distress were not typically his cup of tea.
What else could he say to the woman he'd known for only a couple of months? She'd been recommended by Ann Mars, his worthy representative and guide to all things Bygones. Ann had promised him an employee who would be on time, work hard and know how to fix anything as well as bring in customers. She'd picked the right person.
Gracie Wilson could handle tools, she could handle customers, and she even seemed to know how to handle him. She'd kept him from giving up on this venture. After all, he was a city boy, born and raised. Moving to Bygones, starting a new business in a town that was struggling financially, that took faith. When his seemed to be in short supply, she loaned him hers the way neighbors loaned a cup of sugar in Bygones, Kansas.
He'd made a commitment. A business of his own in trade for a commitment to stay for two years and make it work. There were several new businesses in Bygones. They were painted, remodeled and hopefully a cure for a town that didn't want to lose everything.
"I was prepared for a burglar," she whispered as tears trickled down her cheeks.
He stood there for a long minute, unsure of what to do next. Call the police? Call Ann Mars, his Save Our Streets sponsor?
She shifted on the stool. "Say something."
"Gracie," he cleared his throat, "I guess I'm surprised to see you here."
She looked up, smiling a little as she brushed tears from her cheeks. She looked tinier than ever in the white creation of a dress, her dark hair pulled back with rhinestone clips and strings of pearls.
"I think there are probably a lot of people surprised," she said, brushing away her tears.
"Yes, surprised and worried. They're searching for you." He focused on the rebar she still had a death grip on. "Other than the ones who decided to take advantage of the reception."
"It should be a good party."
"I couldn't marry him." She laughed and then sobbed. "I'm going to be in big trouble."
"Seems to me the trouble would have been marrying him if you had doubts."
She nodded but didn't speak. The tears were streaming down her cheeks again, and he wondered if her doubts were real or if she just had cold feet and needed a few minutes to get her thoughts together.
"Can I help?"
She shook her head. "No. I mean, there's really nothing anyone can do. I just can't marry him."
"Are you sure?" He cleared his throat, not at all sure what else to say in a situation such as this. He'd never had little sisters. He'd dated but never been married.
He'd learned one thing about women: sometimes they walked when things looked difficult. At least, that was what had happened to him.
He didn't think Gracie was the type to skip out on someone just because it got a little difficult.
Sitting on the stool, she looked smaller than her barely five feet, especially in the billowy white dress that didn't seem to suit her style. Not that he was a guy who paid much attention to style. But even he could recognize when a woman needed someone, though.
He pushed aside misgivings and reached to hug her. First he took the rebar from her hand and set it on the worktable. She leaned into his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her, keeping his face out of the protruding objects that decorated her hair. Avoiding the light scent of her fragrance took more effort. It matched the softness of her skin and the sweet way she leaned against him.
For a guy who didn't notice much, unless it had to do with home remodeling or electrical problems, he noticed a lot in those few minutes holding Gracie.
"I can't marry him," she finally whispered against his shoulder and then she backed out of his embrace. "But I'm going to have to face this."
"Yes, I guess you will." He reached for a roll of paper towels on the shelf and pulled off a few sheets for her to wipe her eyes. "I don't have a handkerchief."
She smiled through her tears and then laughed. "Wouldn't that be chivalrous if you did? Maybe a little too cliche?"
"I guess that's a good reason to never offer a woman a handkerchief. What guy wants to be cliche?"
"You could never be cliche." She smiled as she said it, dabbing her eyes with paper towels that were less than soft. "My dad is going to be embarrassed. Mrs. Morgan will be furious. I wonder if there's a bus out of this town tonight."
"I don't think a bus comes anywhere near Bygones. And if you caught a bus, who would work for me?"
"You haven't replaced me?"
"Of course not. And if you're up to it, I'll need you here Monday morning. Remember, you had that great idea to have the block party in a few weeks. I can't do that without you."
"Yeah, but people trust you. They aren't always trusting of the city guy who has moved in and wants their business."
"They'll learn that you can be trusted."
"Thanks, Gracie." He reached for her hand and helped her down from the stool. "I like the boots."
"Thank you. I picked them out." She twirled in the dress that looked like white lace gone crazy. "I did not pick this. I think it makes me look like a bad version of Cinderella at the ball."
"It isn't that bad."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "It is that bad. You're just being nice."
"Okay, I'm being nice. I am a nice guy. Haven't you heard?"
She smiled up at him. She was more than a foot shorter than him, with a pixie face and dark eyes that could tease or flash with humor. Sometimes those eyes flashed fire if something got her riled up. She was twenty-four, ten years younger than his thirty-four years. She sometimes seemed younger, but more often seemed a decade older.
He knew she'd gone through a lot. She'd lost her mom fourteen years ago. Miss Coraline had given him tidbits and told him to take care of her girl, because Gracie acted strong but she needed to be able to let other people be strong for her. He'd gotten a lot of advice from Coraline Connolly since he'd moved to Bygones.
"You are a nice guy, Patrick." Gracie sighed and reached back for the veil that hung from a hook on the wall. "And my name is going to be mud. I'm glad I have one friend left."
"Want me to drive you home?"
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