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DANCING ON THE DRIVE excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

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Delaney McBride knew her fortunes had changed the moment the telephone rang. She danced across the room to take the call she’d been waiting for all afternoon, the one that would put her back in control of her life. She paused to compose herself, then said in her most businesslike voice, “Delaney McBride.”

 

“Pumpkin. How the hell are you?”

 

Her brain stopped. Her heart stilled. Suddenly she was the fat, orange-haired teenager who’d obsessed over Mike Connery all her life. The high-school junior who’d pressed a note into Mike’s hand that said she would save herself for him. Her face began to burn. Thank God she and her mother had moved out of town a few months later.

 

“Pumpkin?”

 

She dropped into the soft leather cushion of her living room sofa and pressed a hand to her cheek, the heat warming her palm. How could something she’d done fifteen years ago have such an effect on her today? This call was supposed to be a job offer, not a connection to a past she’d rather forget. She tried to pull her thoughts into order. “Yes?”

 

“This is Mike Connery from—”

 

“Birch Harbor. I know.” The words came out more sharply than she intended. Surely he wasn’t calling about the will.

 

“I’m sorry about your great-aunt. She was a wonderful woman.”

 

A sympathy call from Mike Connery? “Thanks, she was really special.”

 

“Uh, I’m calling about her will.”

 

There it was. She exhaled. Well, why wouldn’t he call? He stood to gain—or lose—as much as anyone else. For a moment, she felt a peculiar camaraderie with him, swept into the maelstrom of her aunt’s eccentricity by the woman’s last will.

 

She shoved a hand through her hair as if to shove the emotion away. “I can’t believe this will is legal,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anything so absurd. I even met with another lawyer …”

 

“I’m an attorney, Pumpy. It’s ironclad.”

 

Her stomach tightened. She wasn’t Pumpy anymore. Pumpkin and her insecurities no longer existed, thanks to years of therapy. She wanted to tell Mike to call her Delaney, but couldn’t bring herself to let on that the old nickname bothered her. She made a fist, then let out a controlled laugh. “So my attorney confirmed,” she said in a low voice. “Although, as a lawyer you should know nothing is ever ironclad if you have the right connections.”

 

Mike gave an equally controlled chuckle. “Does that mean we shouldn’t count on you? I’ll tell the other heirs so they can quit planning …”

 

“Planning?”

 

“Yeah. To pay off credit cards, take their first vacation in years, have an operation. Sully Sullivan was going back to Ireland to see his mother. Hasn’t seen her in twenty-five years, and she’s getting old.”

 

“Is this why you’re calling? To pressure me into complying with that ridiculous will? To guilt me into overseeing a bunch of weddings?” Delaney stood and crossed the living room of her Victorian row house to gaze out at the organic food store across the street. She’d chosen to live in Boston’s South End because it was full of young professionals, people with drive and an eye on the future. Her lifestyle was totally incongruous with wedding planning.

 

He ignored her questions. “Are you in or not?”

 

God knew she needed the hundred thousand dollars her great-aunt had left her. She’d been unemployed for more than three months, laid off when the ad agency where she worked lost the big account she was in charge of.

 

Now she was in debt up to her eyeballs. Her savings were depleted, her rent was due, her car payment was overdue, the balance on her credit card kept going up, and all she had to live on was a small unemployment check. The mere thought of her finances made her heart begin to race. She sucked in a breath to calm herself.

 

“Pumpkin?”

 

All of which made this inheritance a godsend. Except, in order to get the money, which she desperately needed, she had to go to back to her hometown in Wisconsin—Birch Harbor. Worse, she had to finish planning the weddings that remained on the books of her late aunt’s wedding planning shop.

 

“Are you in or out?” Mike pressed.

 

“It’s not that simple.”

 

“What’s the problem? You have an aversion to money?” he asked with thinly disguised impatience.

 

She huffed. She was supposed to be getting a job offer today from an ad agency in San Francisco. With a salary nearly rivaling what she’d receive from her inheritance—and no requirement that she had to plan weddings to get paid.

 

If she’d only heard from them already, this whole conversation would be unnecessary. “Of course not. It’s just, I’m not sure I have the time to take this on. I don’t know anything about wedding planning.”

 

“You don’t have to be incredible at it, just good enough to—”

 

“And frankly, I’m not into that happily-ever-after scene.”

 

Mike laughed out loud. “Seems to me you were quite the hopeless romantic in your day.”

 

Every possible thought in her head vaporized. For a moment she couldn’t speak. What kind of man would bring up her old infatuation with him to win an argument? She forced herself to say something, anything. “Yes, well, I’ve long since learned the error of my ways.”

 

He made a choking sound. “So you’d give up a hundred thousand bucks because you don’t want to plan a few weddings? Hell, for a hundred grand, I’d clean out horse stalls barehanded. And I’d smile the whole time.”

 

“Therein lies the difference between us, now, doesn’t it,” she said with a sniff.

 

“We’re talking about a few months, not a lifetime. So what is it really? You don’t need the money? You can’t get a leave from your job?”

 

“I can take off whenever I want.” With no job at all, taking time off wasn’t an issue, but she wasn’t about to open her whole life to him. She’d already spent enough years being a loser in Mike Connery’s eyes. She opened the front door and stepped outside, pausing at the top of the steep concrete steps. A cool spring breeze slid over her bare arms.

 

 “What’s the big deal, then? You afraid to fail? Or afraid to try?”

 

“I just told you.”

 

He laughed out loud, a long laugh that took her straight back to high school—and irritated her to no end. They were talking to each other with the same friendly antagonism they’d had in childhood, as though fifteen years hadn’t even passed.

 

“Oh, I get it. You have a boyfriend.”

 

“No, I don’t.”

 

“You’re so in love you don’t want to leave Boston.”

 

“You’re full of crap.” Her voice went up a notch and she grasped the stair rail. God, but he was the same old Mike. A year older than she and always had to win the arguments. Didn’t matter if the sky was blue; he’d argue that it was pink until he won. No wonder he’d become a lawyer.

 

She heard the beep of an incoming call and pulled the phone away from her ear to check Caller ID. Yes! It was the ad agency she’d been waiting to hear from. With her job offer.

 

She grinned. Thank God her cousin Nora had passed Delaney’s resume on to an ad exec she knew in San Francisco. Because that little connection was about to guarantee there would be no wedding planning in Delaney’s future.  “Mike, I have to call you back. I’ve got a business call on the other line.”

 

She swiped to the new call without waiting for his reply. “Delaney McBride,” she said in a professional voice that revealed none of her excitement.

 

Mike was so wrong about her. No boyfriend would ever prevent her from doing something she wanted to do. That described her mother, and she would never be like her mother—always needing a man to rely on, always thinking a man would make everything better. And then never getting the man.

 

Five minutes later she felt more like her mother than she ever had in her life. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Reaching for the brass ring and missing once again. She stared out her front window without seeing anything. They’d offered the job to someone else. Someone with more experience. Someone who was a better fit.

 

Whatever that meant. When all was said and done, she just hadn’t been good enough.

 

She glanced at her watch without knowing why. There was no place she needed to be; she had no meetings, no conference calls, no appointments, no deadlines. She wanted to bang her head against a wall. How could she have lost complete control of her life? She had no job. She had no money. She had no prospects. She had no choices. None except go to Birch Harbor and get up to her elbows in white satin, butter-cream frosting, and rosebud bouquets.

 

Seriously Aunt Ellie? She loved the woman dearly, but what had ever made her think this was a good idea?

 

“I can’t do it, I can’t go back there,” she said to the empty room, knowing full well that was exactly what she had to do—at least until a good job offer came her way.

 

The thought of calling Mike back sent a tremor through her stomach.

 

Not yet. Soon. She’d call soon. Just not yet.

 

She wondered whether his teenaged good looks had matured into handsome. Whether he was still as lean and fit as when he had been playing high-school baseball. Whether his brown hair was prematurely peppered with white like his father’s had been. And whether his blue eyes could still make her heart pound.

 

Are you afraid? he’d asked a few minutes ago.

 

Afraid? Damn right she was afraid. But it wasn’t wedding planning she was afraid of.