In the middle of the year, in the middle of her life, Bethanne Hamlin takes a road trip with her daughter, Annie, and her former mother-in-law, Ruth.
They're driving to Florida for Ruth's 50th high-school reunion. A longtime widow, Ruth would like to reconnect with Royce, the love of her teenage life. She's heard he's alone, too…and, well, she's curious. Maybe even hopeful.
Bethanne herself needs time to reï¬‚ect, to ponder a decision she has to make. Her ex-husband, Grant—her children's father—wants to reconcile now that his second marriage has failed. Bethanne's considering it….
Meanwhile, Annie's out to prove to her onetime boyfriend that she can live a brilliant life without him!
So there they are, three women driving across America. They have their maps and their directions—but even the best-planned journey can take you to a turn in the road. Or lead you to an unexpected encounter—like the day Bethanne meets a man named Max who really is a hero on a Harley. That's when Bethanne's decision becomes a lot harder. Because Grant wants her back, but now there's Max….
From Seattle's Blossom Street to the other end of the country, this is a trip that could change three women's lives.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Debbie Macomber, with more than 100 million copies of her books sold worldwide, is one of today's most popular authors. The #1 New York Times bestselling author is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Debbie is a regular resident on numerous bestseller lists, including the New York Times (70 times and counting), USA TODAY (currently 67 times) and Publishers Weekly (47 times). Visit her at www.DebbieMacomber.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I think Dad wants to get back together." Bethanne's daughter, Annie, spoke with studied nonchalance. "He still loves you, Mom."
Bethanne's spoon hovered over her bowl of soup as they sat at a window table in their favorite cafe. This wasn't actually news and shouldn't have come as any surprise. Didn't come as any surprise. She'd seen the signs, as recently as this morning. These days Grant was inventing excuses to call her.
Six years ago her world had imploded when her husband confessed that he'd fallen in love with another woman. With barely a backward glance, Grant had walked out—out of their home, their marriage, their lives. And now he wanted back in.
"Don't you have anything to say?" Annie asked, toying with her fork. She watched her mother intently.
"Not really." She swallowed the soup and lowered her spoon for another taste.
Annie, it seemed, had forgotten. But not Bethanne.
The morning Grant told her he wanted a divorce would stay in her mind forever. He couldn't seem to get away from her fast enough. He'd retained a lawyer and advised her to do the same, then coldly informed her that all future communication would be through their lawyers. The less contact with her and their children, the better, he'd said. A clean break was best.
Grant's decision had struck Bethanne with the force and unpredictability of a hurricane. She'd stumbled blindly through the next few months, trying to hold her family together, clinging to the semblance of normality while her world disintegrated around her. "You really don't have anything to say?" Annie prodded.
"No," Bethanne said shortly. She swallowed another spoonful of soup and reached for the herb scone. "What disturbs me is that your father would let you do his talking for him."
Annie had the grace to look chastened, but she pushed her food away as if she'd suddenly lost her appetite.
At one time Bethanne had dreamed Grant would regret what he'd done, that he'd seek her forgiveness and come crawling back to her. She'd wanted him to suffer for the way he'd treated her, for the hurt he'd inflicted when he'd turned his back on their children.
But in the years since the divorce, Bethanne had gradually found her footing and, in the process, discovered a self she didn't know existed—a stronger, independent Bethanne, a woman forged in the fire of despair. Now her two children were on their own; her oldest, Andrew, was engaged to be married in a few weeks, following his graduation from law school. As for her daughter, Annie was a year from obtaining her MBA. She worked part-time with Bethanne on the creative end of the party business Bethanne had established in the wake of her divorce.
During her twenty years of marriage, Bethanne had become known for her lavish and inventive parties. She'd taken pride in making Grant look good by hosting unforgettable events for clients and potential clients—an invitation to Grant's home became a sought-after privilege in certain circles. Her birthday parties for Andrew and Annie were legendary. But never once had she
dreamed that her party-giving skills would eventually be parlayed into such a success.
She'd started the business, which she called simply Parties, as a way of making enough money to continue living in their family home, although she'd had to take out a substantial second mortgage to get Parties off the ground. Grant had paid the required support, but depending on that would've meant moving to a smaller house in a different neighborhood. If ever her children needed stability, she knew, it was in the period after the divorce. She'd since paid off both mortgages.
To Bethanne's astonishment, the business had taken off immediately. She'd started small, with themed birthday parties for children. The Alice in Wonderland Tea Party had been the most popular of the dozens of concepts she'd created. With busy schedules, parents were looking for an easy, economical way to make birthday parties special. Bethanne's company had filled that need.
Currently, there were five Parties stores in the Seattle area, including the original location, and she was considering a deal that offered national franchising opportunities. The key was to keep the ideas fresh and the prices reasonable. This past winter she'd added a "birthday party in a box"—more scaled-down, do-it-yourself versions of her trademarked theme parties.
A year earlier Bethanne had hired Julia Hayden as her corporate operations manager. Julia was efficient, dedicated and gifted. She loved the job and had begun overseeing the company's day–to–day activities, freeing Bethanne to focus on creative development. Annie worked with her, and the two of them had recently developed birthday party ideas for cats and dogs, which was now a popular trend, especially among childless, affluent professionals. They'd expanded into other types of parties, too—anniversary and retirement celebrations, Christmas and even Halloween events.
Bethanne signaled for the check, and they went their separate ways with a quick hug and a wave. Annie was walking back to the office, while Bethanne headed for Blossom Street and A Good Yarn. Knitting had become one of her favourite activities. When
she needed to think, nothing helped more than sitting down with a knitting project. She felt a sense of happy anticipation as she parked in front of the yarn store, which was owned by her dear friend Lydia Goetz.
With the wedding only six weeks away, she'd wanted to knit something for Courtney, her almost-daughter-in-law, to wear during the wedding.
The wedding. It was why Grant had called her two weeks ago— their son's marriage had given him a legitimate excuse—and he'd called twice since then, including this morning.
Other than the occasional joint decisions they'd made regarding their children, they'd had little personal contact since the divorce. Then Grant had phoned her with a question about a wedding gift for Andrew and Courtney. He'd been friendly and relaxed. And this week, he'd asked her to dinner.
Dinner. She and Grant. After six years?
She'd heard from Annie that his marriage to Tiffany had ended in divorce the previous year—after a brief separation—and felt genuinely sorry for him. This was a second divorce for Tiffany, as well. In fact, Bethanne had briefly dated Paul, Tiffany's first husband, shortly after the divorce, although date wasn't exactly the right word. They'd been more of a two-person support group, helping each other grapple with their betrayal by the people they loved. Unfortunately, Andrew's relationship with his father remained cool. Her son had met his father's desertion with a bitter resolve that only seemed to harden as he grew older. Andrew was polite but kept an emotional distance from Grant.
For Annie, sixteen at the time, the divorce had been nothing short of devastating. Always a "daddy's girl," she'd acted out her shock and pain as only a willful teenager can. Annie blamed Tiffany for stealing her father away and had done everything she could to sabotage the marriage. But Bethanne was also a target for her rage during those early months. Annie had railed at her for being too "boring" and "clueless" to keep her father happy. Bethanne had never responded to Annie's accusations about her failures as a wife, afraid to reveal how close to home her words had hit. Eventually, Annie had adjusted to the new reality, although she still referred to Grant's second wife in sarcastic tones as "the lovely Tiffany."
Bethanne thought about her conversation with him that morning. His excuse for calling this time was so flimsy Bethanne couldn't even remember what it was. He'd kept her on the line, relating office gossip as if she was still intimately familiar with the goings-on at his workplace. After several minutes of chatter, he reminded her that she hadn't given him a definite answer regarding his dinner invitation.
"Grant," she'd said bluntly. "Why are you doing this?"
For a moment there was silence on the other end. When he spoke, any hints of lightheartedness were gone. "I made a mistake, Bethanne." His voice caught, and for once he seemed at a loss for words. "A major one." He left the rest unsaid, but she knew what he meant. He wanted things back the way they used to be.
Well, good luck with that. Bethanne wasn't the same naive woman he'd divorced, and she wasn't interested in retracing her steps.
After six years on her own, she'd discovered she didn't want or need a man complicating her life. Years ago she'd read somewhere that "it takes a hell of a man to replace no man." At first, that remark had seemed merely humorous; she hadn't completely understood what it meant. She did now.
While she was flattered that Grant wanted to reconcile, the situation wasn't that simple. He'd had his chance. He was the one who'd deserted her, who'd left her floundering and shaken. Without ever thinking about the consequences of his actions, he'd ripped apart their family, betrayed her and their children, robbed them all of their security.
Now he was sorry. Fine. He'd seen the error of his ways and realized what a terrible mistake he'd made.
So of course he wanted her back. She was a successful businesswoman with a growing company that received lots of media and corporate interest. In six short years she'd made a name for herself. She'd been interviewed by Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. A piece had been written about her in USA Today. Her ex had his nerve.
Contrition was all well and good. Bethanne felt a certain vindication in hearing Grant admit how wrong he'd been, a certain sense of righteousness. She'd forgiven him to the best of her ability, refusing to let herself be trapped in the mire of resentment. He had a new life and so did she. But forgiveness, she'd learned, was tricky. Just when she felt sure she was beyond rancor, she'd find herself wallowing in indignation. Like the night three years ago when the pipe burst in the basement and she couldn't figure out where to turn off the water. If Grant had been there he would've known what to do. By the time she found the tap she'd been shaking with anger, and as unreasonable as it seemed, she'd blamed Grant. This was all his fault. He should've been there. How dared he do this to her and, worse, to their children!
She should reject his invitation, she told herself now. Laugh in his face. Tell him to take a hike.
To her astonishment she couldn't.
It had taken courage for Grant to approach her, courage and, yes, nerve. She'd give him that. Crazy though it might be, Bethanne realized she still had feelings for Grant, feelings she'd pushed aside for the past few years. She didn't love him, not in the all-consuming way she had when they were married. Back then, she'd been blind to his flaws and his weaknesses, blind to what should've been obvious, especially after he'd started the affair. His betrayal had revealed that the man she'd married was selfish and shallow. And yet he hadn't always been like that. She couldn't forget the companionship—and the passion—of their early years together….
She loved him.
She hated him.
Both emotions warred within her.
"Dinner for old times' sake," he'd almost pleaded. "Besides, we need to talk about Andrew's wedding."
Six years ago Bethanne had been desperate for him to come home. Her pride was gone. What she'd craved was exactly what Grant wanted now—for everything to go back to the way it had been. At the time she'd believed she could fix whatever was wrong. They'd been happy, and could be again.
When it became apparent that his affair with Tiffany wasn't a fling and Grant fully intended to go through with the divorce, an all-consuming rage had taken root. She couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. At night she lay awake plotting revenge. One day Grant would be sorry. He'd beg her to take him back and she'd laugh in his face. He would pay for what he'd done.
Then, several months after the divorce was finalized, she woke with that familiar ugly feeling in the pit of her stomach and realized this corrosive, soul-destroying bitterness couldn't continue. As the saying had it, the best revenge was living well—living a successful, independent life. So Bethanne had dedicated herself to her business.
Gradually, she'd stopped thinking about Grant. She embraced her new life, her new identity. Indirectly, she had Grant to thank for her flourishing business, her circle of loyal new friends, for the strength and confidence she'd never known she had. It felt odd to her now that she'd once been content to be simply Grant's wife, looking after his social affairs and staying in the background.
Dinner for old times' sake? Just the two of them?
In the years since the divorce, Bethanne had dated a number of men. Besides Tiffany's ex, a couple of them stood out in her mind. But she'd been so focused on building her business that neither relationship had lasted more than six months. She wasn't ready or willing to make a serious commitment to anyone. Those relationships, albeit short, had boosted her depleted ego. She'd enjoyed them but she wasn't looking for a long-term commitment.
Bethanne had concluded their phone call without giving Grant an answer. She needed to ponder her ex-husband's newfound contrition, and there was no more effective way of doing that than knitting. It was both productive and contemplative; you created something while you meditated on your problems. That was why she'd stopped at Lydia's—to pick up yarn for the elegant fingerless gloves she'd make for Courtney's wedding.
Lydia glanced up from the display she was working on and smiled when Bethanne entered the store. "You got my message! The cashmere yarn's in."
Bethanne smiled back. "I can hardly wait to get started." Knitting had seen her through the darkest days of her life. Annie was the one who'd signed her up for classes, because even dialing the phone number for the yarn store was more than she could manage back then; the smallest tasks had seemed insurmountable. In retrospect, Bethanne knew she'd fallen into a dangerous depression.
Annie had enrolled Bethanne in a beginners' sock-knitting class. Meeting the other women had been a turning point for her. Her new friends gave her courage and the determination to emerge from her ordeal a stronger woman. Not only that, it was through the knitting class that she'd met Elise, and through Elise, Maverick. He'd ended up being the "angel" who'd helped her launch Parties. Her classmates had reminded Bethanne that she wasn't alone, rebuilding her confidence one stitch at a time.
That class was the beginning of Bethanne's new life. And Part Two turned out to be better than Part One had ever been. Was it possible to knit the two halves together again? Did she want to?
"The pattern isn't difficult," Lydia told her as she brought the yarn to the cash register. "Once you do a couple of repeats, I'm sure you won't have a problem, but if you do, just stop by and I'll help you figure it out."
Bethanne paid for the purchase, gratef...
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