Shannon here: Cathy Bryant shares a romantic excerpt from her book, A Path Less Traveled. Comment on any post dated Dec 6 – 11 for a chance to win a copy. Deadline: Dec 11, midnight Central time. Here’s Cathy:
A PATH LESS TRAVELED
By Cathy Bryant
In spite of the thousands of winking lights surrounding Trish James, a wedding somehow lost its luster in the wake of death. She nudged her shucked shoes out of the way with her big toe and adjusted the tulle on the wedding arch, the soft netlike fabric billowing beneath her fingertips as she encased the twinkle lights. The church sanctuary, with its white pews, stained-glass windows, and smoky blue carpet, served as the perfect backdrop to her design.
“This wedding must be hard on you after Doc’s death.” Dani spoke the words as if uncertain she should speak at all.
The ache in Trish’s heart started afresh, a wound that never healed, but she pushed it aside with practiced expertise. This wedding wasn’t about her. “I’m fine. It’s not everyday my brother marries the most wonderful woman in the world.” She forced a bright smile. “I’ve never seen Steve so happy.”
Her sister-in-law-to-be didn’t return the smile. Instead the area above her clear blue eyes creased. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yep.” Trish snipped the word and bent low to snag a sprig of silk ivy, then inserted it in the proper place and blinked away tears. In truth, it would be great to have someone to share her concerns with, but within boundaries—not right before the wedding, not with anyone who lived in Miller’s Creek, and definitely not with family members. The last thing she wanted was for them to feel like they had to come to her rescue.
She’d told Delaine some of the situation, but her best friend since high school now lived the fast-paced, Austin lifestyle, their conversations limited to when Delaine didn’t have something else on her agenda.
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be both mother and father to Little Bo.” Dani lowered her head, blonde ringlets framing her face. “And then trying to start a business on top of everything else.”
Oh, no. She wasn’t going there. Trish clenched her teeth. Steve had already given her this lecture. With his best brotherly concern, he’d told her she didn’t have to be Superwoman. Yeah, right. Try telling that to her empty checkbook and refrigerator. She glanced at Dani, who sat atop the piano railing swinging her legs. “Are you ready for the big day tomorrow?”
A happy glow wreathed her friend’s face. “And the day after, and the day after that. I think I’ve been getting ready to marry Steve my entire life.”
“I’m happy for you both.” Though it hurt to speak the words, she meant it. It wasn’t their fault her life was in the doldrums.
Dani sprang from her perch and trotted down the steps to view the stage. “You have such a gift, Trish. Everything looks magical.”
Trish gazed at the curly willow branches she’d ordered and spray-painted white, now wrapped with tiny sparks of light. The fairy tale forest blanketed the stage and meandered down the side aisles in an aura of enchantment. Once the ribbons and flowers were placed, and candles inserted into globes and nestled among the boughs, her vision would be complete. “I hope it’s what you wanted.”
“It’s better than I could’ve ever imagined.” Dani hurried over and draped an arm across her shoulder. “Once everyone in Miller’s Creek see this, you’re gonna get loads of business.”
A heavy sigh whooshed from her before she could contain it. “From your lips to my bank account.”
Dani’s eyes clouded. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it and get it over with. Are you okay? I mean…do you need to borrow money or something?”
No. Yes. Yes. She wasn’t okay. She needed money. She needed…something. “I’m fine.” The lie popped out as she stepped to the box perched on the piano bench. With care she lifted two delicate cracked-glass globes and moved to the candle stands. The words “I’m fine” were her constant mantra these days, like saying them made everything all right. Who was she kidding?
She closed her eyes and reopened them with a slow blink, weary of pretending. But what choice did she have? Her brother’s wedding wasn’t the time or place to air her personal problems. Besides, she was thirty-two years old, more than old enough to handle life on her own. A glance at her wristwatch sent her pulse on a stampede. Still so much to do to make the decorations perfect. God, please let this bring me business.
Dani plopped back onto the railing. “Is Little Bo doing better?”
How could he be? “Sure, if you don’t count the nightmares and barely letting me out of his sight.” She omitted the fact that he was a hairsbreadth away from flunking kindergarten unless she could help him catch up before the school year ended.
“So the psychologist is helping?”
Before Trish could respond, the double white doors at the rear of the church burst open. Incessant rain poured from the April sky and silhouetted the form of a man. Dani let out a squeal. “Andy!”
The petite blonde flew down the steps toward a man who looked vaguely familiar. He wore a lightweight suit with a loosened necktie, and had an easy-going smile that brightened the room. “Hey, how’s the bride?”
Dani looked up at him, her face radiant. “Never better.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
She tugged his arm. “Come here. I want you to meet someone.”
His loose-limbed gait gave the impression of someone always relaxed, like he’d just returned from a vacation at the beach.
“This is Andy Tyler, my friend from Dallas. Andy, this is Steve’s sister.”
Sea-green eyes sparkled. “Well, does Steve’s sister have a name?” He jogged up the steps and held out a hand, his smile still bright.
Trish laughed and took his hand. “I’m Trish James. Nice to meet you.”
Dani’s face took on a crimson hue. “Sorry. Guess my mind is elsewhere.”
Andy’s gaze rested on her bare feet. “Glad to know you have a name. What about shoes?”
She couldn’t help but smile. “I have them, but kicked them off hours ago.”
The hall door squeaked behind them, and Mama Beth, Dani’s mother and the mother figure of all of Miller’s Creek, bustled into the room. Along with her came the smell of fresh baked bread wafting from the fellowship hall. Trish could almost taste the melt-in-your mouth rolls. Maybe she could sneak a few leftovers for her and Bo to nibble on next week.
“My goodness, Trish, if this isn’t the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.” Mama Beth hugged Andy’s neck. “Hi, Andy.”
A tender gleam lit his eyes as he wrapped his arms around the older woman’s shoulders and kissed her cheek. “Hi, sweet lady.” He turned raised eyebrows to Trish. “You did all this?”
She ducked her head, and pushed a silky strand of hair behind one ear.
“All of it.” gushed Dani. “And wait until you see the fellowship hall.”
“Speaking of fellowship hall, I could sure use your help in the kitchen.” Mama Beth’s voice took on a commanding tone as she scuttled to the door. “We’ve got enough work to do for this rehearsal dinner to keep an entire army busy.”
Dani looked torn. “But I can’t leave Trish down here to do all this by herself.”
Trish wrestled the wieldy greenery in place, longing to comment that she didn’t need help. It would suit her just fine if they’d all go away and leave her alone.
Andy rested his hands on his hips in mock protest, his tan jacket pulled back. “What am I? Pork belly? I’ll help Trish. You go help Mama Beth.” He held up a hand. “Trust me when I say I’ll be more help here than in the kitchen.”
“Good point. I’ve had your cooking.” Dani grinned and rushed after Mama Beth. “Y’all know where to find us if you need help.”
Andy chuckled and shed his jacket, then laid it across the front pew and turned her way. “What can I do to help?”
Trish mentally checked her to-do list. “I was actually waiting for someone with more muscles than me to come around. There’s a box full of candles I need brought in from my Suburban.” She pointed toward the side door. “It’s out there and it’s unlocked.”
He gave a mock salute that bounced his sandy curls. “Yes ma’am.” Andy’s stocky frame loped down the steps and disappeared through the doorway.
Her eyebrows rose as she made her way to the pile of greenery on the front pew. Dani’s friend was more handsome than she remembered. Trish burrowed through the tangled mess, remembering the promise she’d made Dani to help Andy feel welcome. As if she needed a man to take care of along with her other responsibilities.
The door slammed, Andy’s eyes and forehead barely visible above the box he white-knuckled. She ran to him. “Let me help. I know that’s heavy. I loaded it this morning.”
“Nah, I got it.” The words wheezed out. “You loaded this by yourself?”
She ignored the question and pointed to the stage. “Can you bring it up the steps?”
He shot her a ‘you’ve-got-to-be-kidding’ glare then labored up the steps, his face red, his breath coming in agonized spurts. As he reached the last step, the toe of his leather loafer snagged the extension cord snaking along the edge of the stage.
Trish tried to speak, but her words congregated behind locked lips. Andy stumbled, and the box flew from his arms, the candles launching like small missiles. He hit the floor with a thud, the box crash-landing at the base of the first tree.
In slow motion, like carefully-placed dominos, the trees rippled to the floor in a sickening staccato of crashes and breaking glass. As if to punctuate the effect, the white metal archway in the center leaned forward with a creak as it teetered, then toppled forward with a bang.
Her mouth hinged open, and her hands flew to her cheeks. All her hard work…ruined. In shock, it took a moment to realize Andy still lay face down on the carpet. “Are you all right?”
He pushed himself up on all fours and surveyed the devastation.
Assured he was okay, she slung herself down to the top step. The scene replayed in her mind. A giggle gurgled out then burst forth in an almost-maniacal laugh.
Andy chuckled and crawled to sit beside her.
Without warning, her laughter turned to sobs. She covered her face with trembling hands, rage surging at yet another unexpected crying jag. Now she’d never be ready on time. No one would be impressed. No one would want her services. No business. No money.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Andy slid a hand down her arm. “I’ll fix it, Trish, I promise. I’m so sorry.”
Trish fisted her hands, then straightened her spine and swatted at the tears on her cheeks. “Will you please stop apologizing?” There was no controlling her snappish tone. “For Pete’s sake, it was an accident. I’m not gonna sue.” She clamped her lips, rose to her feet, and waded through the ruins. Fingers at rest against her lips, she knelt to retrieve shattered slivers of glass from the broken globes. These weren’t even paid for.
Andy stooped beside her, his eyes boring a hole into her skull. “Here, let me get that. You start putting things back where you want them.”
Trish could only nod at his softly-spoken words, a knot wedged in her windpipe. She lifted a tree into position, the light strands dripping from the branches like a child had thrown them in place. So far her determination to prove herself capable had been met with nothing but industrial-strength resistance.
Grief paints a celebration with shades of gray…
Trish James shoulders a secret, while her son wrestles with his daddy’s death.
Andy Tyler conceals his own haunting past, but becomes a father-figure for her daddy-starved little boy and helps him through the psychological trauma.
Trish is determined to forge a path for her son, but will that mean leaving Miller’s Creek? Or is God leading her to…
A Path Less Traveled
Purchase Link for A Path Less Traveled: http://amzn.to/aDhOVi (also available in e-book format)
A Path Less Traveled book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VXblI4HgCg
About Cathy: Bio: Cathy Bryant’s debut novel, Texas Roads, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis contest finalist, and was released in the spring of 2010. The second book in the Miller’s Creek novels, A Path Less Traveled, released in November 2010. A Texas gal since birth, Cathy lives in a century-old Texas farmhouse with her husband and a phobia-ridden cat. You can learn more about her and her books at www.CatBryant.com
It’s that time again. I’m picking my favorite post for the second quarter of my blog’s life : Sept – Nov. And your favorites.
Come back Dec 11 for my quarterly favorite blog post. See what real life story might end up in one of my future books, if the author grants permission.
Come back Dec 13 and meet the first Door County Christmas author: Cynthia Ruchti shares her real life romance and two chances to win her novella anthology.
Every Saturday through Jan 1, I’ll countdown your top three blog posts and end with links to the top ten.