Authors: Kathleen O"Brien
Tags: #series, #american romance, #Wedding, #best selling, #second chance, #Montana, #bride
a montana born brides novella
The Substitute Bride
©Copyright 2014 Kathleen O’Brien
The Tule Publishing Group, LLC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Somebody famous once said, “You can’t go home again.” It’s true, because by the time we make our way back home, we’re already different people—and the place we call home has changed, as well.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the trip. Even a place that was miserable once upon a time—confining you too much, defining you all wrong, reminding you of a million little wounds you’d rather forget—can suddenly fit as perfectly as a glass slipper.
For the Marly Akers, the heroine of THE SUBSTITUTE BRIDE, Marietta, Montana, is just such a place. Nine years ago she left the small town, and her mother’s iron-fisted control, in the dust. But now that her life has been upended by a series of spectacular failures, she’s forced to come home to heal.
Working for her mother at the tiny, family-owned Copper Mountain Courier, covering the Great Wedding Giveaway, is a blow to her ego. But it doesn’t take long for Marly to see how wrong she was about almost everything—her mother, the job, the town, and especially Drake Everett, the cocky, gorgeous jock who broke her heart in high school.
I hope you enjoy her story—and all the other Montana Born stories, especially the Great Wedding Giveaway series! Writing for Jane Porter’s wonderful Tule Books, and getting to live with the other lovely authors and characters in this charming Montana town has been a joy. I’m so honored to be in their company!
nce upon a time, Marly Akers had believed that, for better or worse, people made their own luck.
Of course, that was back when all
luck was good. Now that her fortunes had taken a decidedly downward dive, she wasn’t so sure. Surely there was no way she’d brought this mudslide of failure on herself.
For this kind of punishment, she must have broken ten mirrors, crossed paths with a hundred black cats.
Pressing her lips together tightly, she looked down at her scarred antique desk at the Copper Mountain Courier, the tiny newspaper that had been in her family for generations, and tried to believe she was really here.
It seemed like only yesterday she’d sworn never to set foot in the place again.
Okay, it had actually been nine years. And most of those nine years had been great—exhausting, but rewarding—because every long day, every scary risk had brought her closer to her dreams.
Good job at a big San Francisco paper
handsome, successful fiancé
sunshine and roses as far as the eye could see
Then poof—all that had disappeared, disaster piling on disaster, until she’d had no choice but to come crawling back home, her tail between her legs.
Home to Marietta, Montana. And to her mother, the one person on earth who would be more disappointed by Marly’s screw-ups than Marly was.
“Marly? I’m going to grab something at the diner while I wait for Joey to file his column.” Her mother, Angelina Akers, paused in the small newsroom’s doorway, her hand on the old-fashioned smoky-glass door. “You hungry?”
“I...” Marly tried to smile, but the thought of the Main Street Diner’s heated air mixing with the grease from their bison burgers made her gag slightly.
She put her hand to her head, hoping to cool the sudden dizzy warmth. Amazing how, after nine years away, just the mention of the diner could bring back such strong memories.
“Thanks, but I—I brought a yogurt,” she lied. “And I ought to go over the old Wedding Giveaway clips. There have already been so many. I have a lot of catching up to do. All those stories about the film crew... And I was just reading the story you did on Risa Grant, the florist, in today’s paper. She seems like a nice gal, and—”
“Marly.” Her mother’s voice was low, with a familiar hint of disapproval. “Everyone gets to eat. Besides, for a reporter, getting out and mingling
“I know that, Mom.” Marly smiled again. Though she was thinking it, she didn’t add,
I was a reporter at a
paper for six years, remember?
Insolence like that would have been unforgivable. Her mother loved the Courier, and to her it was as authentic as any metropolitan daily. She’d taken over the tiny publication from her father, who had, in his turn, accepted the reins from his own parents, the three generations somehow keeping it afloat when plenty of ‘real’ newspapers had been capsized by economic downturns and changing technologies.
Oh, sure, there’d been a time when Angelina had wanted out of Marietta. But when, at seventeen, she’d got pregnant, she’d needed her family’s support, and she’d accepted her fate with typical grace.
She’d transferred her dreams to Marly, instead. Even from her bed in the maternity ward, Angelina had whispered to her baby girl of the wide world beyond Copper Mountain. From the start, she’d wanted more for Marley than rewriting Chamber of Commerce releases for a five-thousand-circulation local gazette.
But that didn’t mean she’d tolerate arrogance from anyone, much less the daughter for whose sake she’d given up her own dreams of escape.
Marly wouldn’t have dared, anyhow. In addition to beauty and brains, Angelina Akers possessed a formidable personal dignity...a quality Marly had only recently realized was a valuable asset for a single mother facing a small town’s gossip and shame.
A quality Marly herself was going to have to acquire very soon—though her mother didn’t know it yet.
“I will get out and mingle, honestly,” she assured her mother. “But I got here less than twelve hours ago. Surely one full day to acclimate myself isn’t too much to ask.”
Her mother’s eyebrows arched delicately. “
yourself? To your home town? Isn’t that a little self-indulgent?”
...just like that, Marly felt twelve again, caught dashing off sloppy homework so she could ride bikes with the other kids before it got dark.
She’d never gotten away with it.
was the cardinal sin in Angelina Akers’ long litany of possible transgressions.
Marly felt blood rise to her cheeks. Though her hair and eyes were dark brown, her skin was pale, almost transparent, and revealed every flush. Darn it, she was twenty-seven years old. She would not react like a child to her mother’s scolding anymore.
Consider this practice for tonight. When her mother’s art club meeting was finished, Marly had promised to sit down and tell Angelina everything, every humiliating detail about her busted life that she’d been too tired to share last night.
Her mother wouldn’t like the news—and, once she’d heard everything, she would particularly dislike that Marly had withheld it, even for twenty-four hours.
She’d see it as dishonesty. Second place on the sin list.
And maybe it was. But Marly saw it as self-preservation. She’d arrived well after midnight, so she’d been dog-tired. Preferring to deliver bad news face-to-face, she hadn’t called ahead to say she was coming.
Somehow, in spite of the hour, she’d unearthed a cranky cab driver to bring her in from the Bozeman airport—though it’d cost a fortune she didn’t have. When he’d dropped her at the darkened storefront on Front Avenue that held the Courier offices on the ground floor and Angelina Akers’ two-bedroom apartment above, she’d found herself momentarily reluctant to knock.
Downtown was deserted at this hour, and the street had an air of unreality she found soothing. She wasn’t in San Francisco anymore. But she wasn’t really in Marietta, either. She was in a lovely, hushed limbo, where her problems didn’t exist, and even time held its breath.
She’d stood several minutes in the cold April midnight, her suitcases piled up on the stoop and the huge white box containing her wedding dress tucked under her arm.
She’d glanced at the jagged outline of Copper Mountain, dark against a silvered, vapory sky, hoping she could gather courage from its timeless mass.
Then she’d lifted her hand and rapped sharply into the late-night silence. Her shocked mother had opened the door. Time had begun again.
She shook herself back to the present, aware she’d been drifting. Her brain felt fuzzy, as if the nausea were a miasma clouding her thoughts.
“Marly,” her mother said firmly. “You know the longer you wait to emerge, the harder it will be.”
Marly touched her temple, her head beginning to pound. A lecture was inevitable. The virtue of facing down your problems. The futility of denial. The shame of surrendering to weakness, fear, fatigue.
She’d heard it so many times before. Her mother had no patience for any form of frailty.
Marly glanced at the framed front pages of old Couriers that lined the newsroom walls, as if something in the history of Marietta—the copper boom, the copper bust, the near-escape from becoming a ghost town—could help her.
“If you leave a void,” Angelina continued slowly, her enunciation crisp and formal, as always, “people will inevitably fill it with gossip. Every hour you don’t show your face, the speculation will get wilder. Fill that void with your own poise and confidence, and you’ll quiet them soon enough.”
Finally Marly had to smile, even though the nausea had begun to shimmer, a sick rainbow in her empty stomach. If she’d ever possessed a tenth of her mother’s poise and confidence, she’d do exactly that. But she didn’t, even on the best of days.
And this day was far from the best. She was tired, confused, heartsick...and
sick, to boot. She couldn’t face Marietta today.
In fact, if her mother didn’t move out of the narrow aisle between workstations and clear the route to the ladies’ room, she’d be lucky if she didn’t vomit all over this hundred-year-old desk.
“Tomorrow.” She summoned one last smile. “Tomorrow I’ll do damage control, I promise. Today I just need to...” She swallowed against a sudden rise of bile. “I need—”
“All right.” Her mother wasn’t the type to waste time arguing. “But as long as you’re staying in, why don’t you spend a few minutes polishing up your resume? You want to start sending it out as soon as possible.”
“But...of course.” Did her mother imagine Marly hadn’t already been calling every acquaintance and peppering the journalism world with her resume non-stop for a week now? She’d emailed the first application from the Beacon’s parking lot, the minute she’d lost her job.
This was one point she and her mother had always agreed on, even when they’d fought about everything else, from boys to bathing suits.