Ever After (The Christmas Cottage - Book 2)

BOOK: Ever After (The Christmas Cottage - Book 2)
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Prologue

 

It was hard to stand there feeling sorry for yourself when everyone else around you was so damn happy.  It didn’t seem to matter how much Ava Callahan nudged her inner green-eyed monster to rear its ugly little head, a smile still managed to make its way to her lips.

A sincere smile.

Dang it.

On what was supposed to be
her
wedding day, Ava willingly relegated herself to the role of maid of honor; a last minute substitution of the bride and groom in the form of Ava’s brother and her best friend Lacey.  While she could admit that there was some lingering sadness at the break up of her engagement to Mason Brooks, her primary emotion was relief.  She hadn’t really loved Mason; she’d loved the idea of getting married and having her fairytale wedding.

A fairytale wedding that was now
being celebrated by another bride and groom.  Looking across the room at the happy couple, Ava couldn’t help but smile.  Dang it!  She’d always known that Lacey had been in love with Ean and seeing them dancing together now, Ava couldn’t help but envy them just a little.  Not in a green-eyed monster kind of way, but in a wistful, can’t-help-but-sigh kind of way.

They hadn’t seen each other in a dozen years and yet in less than two months Lacey and Ean were so in love that it was obvious to anyone who was in the room with them.  How did one find that kind of love?  How do you find your soul mate and was there really even such a thing? 

Ava took a long sip of her champagne and looked at the room around her.  Everyone was happy, everyone was smiling.  Occasionally she’d catch someone looking at her with a little sadness, a little pity; she could understand why and didn’t hold it against them.  After all, this was supposed to be her wedding day. 

Earlier in the day when she and Mason had decided not to go through with the wedding, it had all been very civil, very dignified.  She guessed that’s how it usually went when neither party felt overly emotional about one another. 

How had she missed all of the signs?  When had she and Mason gone from being in love to just being two people planning a wedding?  When had they fallen out of love?  Ava wracked her brain, trying valiantly to remember when the last time was that she had actually
felt
anything resembling love for the man she almost married and was shocked to realize that she couldn’t.

That wasn’t a good sign.

In the last couple of months, she’d immersed herself in wedding planning and ignored the now obvious signs that something was wrong with their relationship.  The chance at having her fairytale wedding, including her night in the famous Callahan Christmas Cottage, was too strong of a draw to slow her down enough to see reality. 

She didn’t love Mason and he didn’t love her.  End of story.

They both had an agenda; Ava’s was to get married, Mason’s was to have a wife to help cement his image in his law firm.  In the end, Ava realized that the wife that Mason wanted was never going to be something that she was capable of.

Thank goodness they had come to their senses before walking down the aisle!

As the wedding had drawn closer, people tried to warn her; namely the now happily married Lacey and Ean.  They had seen Ava’s wedding for what it was – a colossal mistake.  Unfortunately, Ava’s stubborn streak refused to let them be right.  When she and Mason had finally come to an agreement earlier in the day, it turned out he had people warning him as well.

Particularly vocal on that end was Mason’s friend and former best man Brian McCabe.

A shiver ran down Ava’s spine at the thought of Brian and she could feel a blush creep up her cheeks and turned to look out the window just in case anyone had noticed.  Looking out at the wintery landscape she vowed that no one, not Mason or Lacey or anyone, would ever know that Brian had come to see her last night or his reasons for why he was so opposed to her marrying his best friend.

“I’d like to make a toast,” someone yelled from across the room and Ava turned, a genuine smile on her face, her glass raised.  “To Lacey and Ean! 
May you have a lifetime of love and happiness and may your fairytale never end!”

Everyone raised their glasses and cheered as the happy couple sipped their drinks and then kissed.  Ava sipped her own champagne before turning to look out the window again all the while wondering, “When will my fairytale ever begin?”

Chapter One

 

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“You’re looking.”

“Looking at what?”

“The bump.”

Ava rolled her eyes.  “Oh for crying out loud, you are almost eight months pregnant, Lacey!  Stop calling that the bump!”

Smiling, Lacey ran a hand over her rounded belly.  “Doesn’t change the fact that you were staring at it, what’s up with that?”

“Why can’t you just call it a baby?”

Now it was Lacey’s chance to roll her eyes.  “Because your brother is making me crazy!  When I refer to it as a she, he reminds me that we could very well be having a boy.  Then he gets suspicious that I’ve had some secret ultrasound that he wasn’t invited to and actually know the sex of the baby!  I don’t know who’s going to be more of a handful when I give birth, the baby or your brother!”

“So because you can’t say anything gender specific you’ve decided it’s better to call it the ‘bump’?”  Ava asked incredulously.  “That’s just weird.”

“No, what’s weird is watching an intelligent, grown man trying to wrap me and everything around me in bubble wrap so that I don’t get hurt.”

Ava had to agree on that score.  “He loves you and he wants to make sure you’re okay.  I think it’s sweet.”

“Oh it is and believe me; I love him more every day because of it.  I just wish he’d relax a little bit.”

“Ean doesn’t know how to relax.  You’ve know him your whole life and you married him; clearly this can’t be news to you?”

“It’s not,” Lacey sighed, “but it’s exhausting too.” 

Ava would have been worried, but Lacey’s tone held nothing but affection and as much as she may be griping, there were no two people
more in love than the expectant parents.  It was enough to make a person sick.

“So, you invite a pregnant woman who cannot have caffeine to a coffee shop,” Lacey began as she inhaled deeply.  “This must be important.”

“He’s getting married.”

“Who?”

“Mason.”

Lacey was glad that she wasn’t drinking anything because she surely would have spit that out.  “How did you find out?”

“I ran into him.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

Knowing that Mason wasn’t here at the moment, Lacey still couldn’t stifle the urge to look around.  “Is this the first time you’ve seen him?”

“Since the wedding?”

Lacey nodded.

“Yes,” Ava replied, finally taking a sip from her own now-cool latte.  “It’s weird because we used to come here all the time and to not run into Mason once in eight months seemed unusual.”

“Was he alone or was he with…her?” Lacey asked cautiously.

“Geez, you don’t have to be so dramatic, Lace.  I was in line and Mason walked in, alone, and it was a little bit awkward but we got our drinks and sat down and that’s when he told me.”

Lacey waited to see if there was going to be more to the story and then got tired of waiting.  “And?”

“And what?”

“Talking to you is really painful sometimes, Ava, you know that?”

“Her name is Melissa; she’s a paralegal at his firm.  They met three months ago.”  Funny, but it didn’t really even bother her to say those words out loud. 

“Wow, how very
“Harry Met Sally”
of him.”

Ava’s brows furrowed.  “What?”

“Oh, come on!  Remember the movie?  When her ex announced that he was getting married to the paralegal?”

“Really?  You think now is the time to go quoting romantic comedies to me?”

Immediately Lacey felt remorseful.  “Sorry, I was just trying to lighten the mood.  Are you okay?”

“The thing is, I’m fine; I really am.  I thought I would be more upset.  It’s just that…”

“Are you still upset that you didn’t marry Mason?”

“Oh, gosh, no!  No, I realize that would have been a huge mistake.  It’s just that…”

“Are you upset that he found someone so quick?”

Ava almost growled in frustration.  “No, I’m not upset that Mason found someone.  I want him to be happy.  It’s just that…”

“Was he unkind?  Did he gloat?”

“For the love of it, Lacey, if you would just shut it for one minute I could tell you exactly what
IT
is!” Ava’s tone was a bit loud and several heads turned to stare at them. 

“Sorry,” Lacey mumbled and sat back in her seat.

“It’s just that, I thought that I’d be married by now.  What’s wrong with me that I’m not on my way to being married?  Am I that horrible?”

Lacey reac
hed across the table and grabbed her friend’s hand.  “Oh, sweetie, that’s not it at all!  You aren’t a horrible person.  You’ve taken the time to pursue your education and you’re graduating from college in less than a week!  Don’t focus on what you don’t have, Ava; think about all that you do!”

“Well a college degree is not helping me get down the aisle or start a family.”

“Dramatic much?” Lacey asked, her light sarcasm bringing a smile to Ava’s face.

“I’m just beginning to doubt that it will ever happen for me, Lace. 
I was so wrapped up in reaching the goal of getting married that I almost married the wrong man!”

“But you didn’t!  You came to your senses and although your timing was a bit off, you knew that Mason wasn’t the one for you.”

“I guess.”

“Look, falling in love is not something you can arrange or mark on your calendar.  It just happens.  It’s going to happen for you,” she said and then paused.  “You do realize that would mean that you’d have to actually start dating again.”

Ava frowned.  “I was afraid you’d mention that.”

“It’s been eight months; enough time has gone by and it’s time for you to go out and meet some people.”

“I meet people all the time, Lacey.”

“Right.  Other college students, in the bookstore.  All very safe.  How’s that working for you?”

“Gosh you’re annoying when you’re right,” Ava mumbled.  “I hate the dating scene!  That’s what was great about Mason; he struck up a conversation with me in a coffee shop.”

“I think you need therapy; you spend way too much time in coffee shops…”

“So what am I supposed to do, huh?  Try online dating?  Place an ad in the personals?  I’m telling you, Lacey, dating is hard work.  The hair, the makeup, the fake giggle…it’s not me!”

“Who says it has to be?  Why can’t you just strike up a conversation with a man that you find attractive – even if it is here in a coffee shop?”

Ava looked around and frowned.  “There’s no one here, Lace.  And in case you haven’t noticed, no one is tripping over themselves to come and talk to me either.”  She sat back smugly in her chair and her look dared Lacey to argue with her.  “You see?  It’s just…”

“Hello, Ava,” a masculine voice said from directly behind her. 

Oh, gosh!  Oh, no! 
Ava squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that her subconscious was playing games on her.  There was no way that this was happening right here, right now.  Slowly opening her eyes, she looked at Lacey who was staring back at her, her eyebrows raised expectantly.

Swallowing the lump that had lodged itself in her throat, Ava slowly turned around.  “Oh, hi Brian.  How are you?”  She took in the site of him; all six foot plus of solid muscle that shouldn’t look as good as it did in a pair of faded jeans and plain t-shirt.

Not waiting for an invitation, Brian reached over and grabbed a vacant chair and pulled it up to the table.  “I’m doing well; how about you?”

God how she hated small talk.  It was tedious and annoying and what was worse was having an audience to her misery.  “Brian, you remember my friend Lacey, don’t you?”

BOOK: Ever After (The Christmas Cottage - Book 2)
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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