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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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Wonderful You

BOOK: Wonderful You
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WONDERFUL YOU

 

Mariah Stewart

 

Twenty-eight, single, and struggling to keep her funky little shop of handicrafts afloat, Zoey Enright never thought she would become a celebrity like her mother, an internationally acclaimed mystery writer. But to her surprise, a knockout audition lands her a plum job as an on-air saleswoman for the Home MarketPlace home
-
shopping network. Unbeknownst to Zoey, the HMP's wily CEO, Delaney O'Connor, has set out to bring
his only grandson, Ben Pierce—
the hero of Zoey's childhood

home from Europe to run the network.

Ben's one true passion was grand prix racing

until he laid eyes on Zoey again. But suddenly, a near-fatal accident brought his driving career to a screeching halt. Coming back to the States brings him face-to-face with not only an all-grown-up Zoey, but his own haunted past as well. Forced to confront painful emotions he crossed an ocean to forget, Ben finds that he must barter his old dreams for new ones if he and Zoey are to claim the wonderful future they were meant to share.

 

Prologue

 

 

A
discordant sound from somewhere in the big, rambling house rattled the silence that wrapped around the sleeping child like a Band-Aid and shook her forcefully from her slumber. Pulling the covers up over her head to shield her from any stray Night Things that might be lurking about, she opened one eye to sneak a drowsy peek, just to make certain that nothing of questionable intent had, as yet, invaded the sanctuary of her room.

All appeared well.

A slow sigh of relief hissed from between her lips and she slowly inched the blanket away from her face. Drawing confidence from that small but brave act, she sat up quietly and leaned her back against the tall, carved wooden headboard, careful, for all her bravado, not to make the bed squeak and perhaps invite attention to herself. Not that
she
believed in Night Things. Her little sister did, but of course, her sister was only eight and
she
was almost eleven.

A sudden, nameless
thud
from the front of the house sent her scurrying back under the sheltering wing of her blankets, where she huddled in the cavelike warmth for a
long moment, holding her breath to quiet herself as she strained to acclimate her ears to the sounds the house made at night.

Cautiously she slid to the edge of the bed until her head and shoulders hung over the side.

From somewhere in the night she heard voices.

She forced herself to remain there, suspended between the floor and the side of the bed, between fear and curiosity.

Curiosity, as always, won out.

Easing herself onto her feet without making a sound, she picked careful steps across the thickly carpeted floor, her feet making shallow wells in the deep blue wool pile. A deliberate finger bravely poked the bedroom door aside and she peered into the hallway, hoping neither to startle nor be startled. A glance up the long corridor to her right assured her that the door to her sister’s room was closed. Employing great stealth, she crept into the hall, her destination the balcony that overlooked the dimly lit foyer below, from which the faint sound of muffled voices could be heard.

Someone was downstairs with her mother.

She paused at her brother’s bedroom door, briefly considering whether to wake him. Her brother always treated her like a baby, even though he was only three and a half years older than she was. If she woke him up, he would think it was because she was afraid. Taking a deep breath, she crept past his door and continued alone down the hall.

Once at the railing she
lowered herself onto the floor—
oh so quietly—and leaned slightly into the space between the balusters, seeking the best view of the scene below.

Her mother, wrapped in her dark green chenille bathrobe, stood facing a white-haired man in a dark overcoat. Between them stood the boy, who was facing her mother, and it was to him that she spoke, her low voice but a whisper in the night. The girl wished she could hear what was being said.

No one looked happy, least of all the boy.

As her mother spoke, she brushed the hair back from his face with both hands, but he appeared to be looking not at her, but rather at the floor of black and white checkered marble. The man never spoke at all.

Finally the boy nodded, just the tiniest tilt of his head, and as her mother walked toward the study, the grandfather clock chimed a rude and sudden four bells. Trying to follow the drama and caught up in it, the girl leaned a bit too far to the left and banged her forehead on the wooden railing. The soft
bump
echoed, floating downward like carelessly tossed confetti through the darkness to the foyer below. The man and the boy both looked upward with eyes that seemed to tell the same story from vastly different points of view. The eyes of the boy burned dark and fierce, while the eyes of the old man held little else but sorrow. Both of them, she would someday realize, had appeared equally lost.

Her mother returned with the boy’s jacket and held it open to him, helping him to ease arms heavy with reluctance into the sleeves. She hugged him then, holding him only long enough not to cause him embarrassment. The boy was almost as tall as her mother and the girl wondered why she hadn’t noticed before.

She froze at the sound approaching from behind, a soft footfall on the plump carpet. Light fingers touched her shoulder to reassure. Without turning around, she knew that her brother, too, had felt rather than heard the disturbance. Together they watched, in silence, as the drama below played out.

Finally, her brother pointed at the old man in the foyer and whispered, “
That’s
his grandfather. He’s taking him back.”

The girl bit her lip. As if she didn’t know who the man in the dark raincoat was. “He doesn’t want to go, Nicky. He wants to stay here. Can’t we do something?”

“Mom said Ben belonged with his grandfather, Zoey. It’s what his mother wanted.”

“I wish she hadn’t died, Nicky. I wish everything
could be just the way it was.” The girl’s bottom lip began to quiver in earnest. Her hero was leaving, and there was nothing she could do about it.

A nod from her mother seemed to imply a hesitant consent, and the man opened the front door. Before the girl could so much as blink, the man and the boy had disappeared. Her mother stood alone in the open doorway, wrapping her arms around herself against the chill of the night air, and there she remained long after the sound of tires crunching on stone had ceased.

A sense of overwhelming sadness drifted to the second floor and the girl leaned back on her haunches to ponder it all. The boy—who, unlike her brother, had never treated her like a baby, and had never been too busy to teach her how to climb trees and throw a fastball and catch frogs down near the pond—had vanished into the night, and there was, about all, a dense air of finality she did not comprehend.

“Nicky, do you think we’ll ever see him again?”

He wanted to reassure her, to tell her yes, of course, Ben would be ba
ck
. But having already learned that children were, after all, pretty much at the whim of adults, he merely shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

 

 

1

 

 

Z
oey Enright leaned against the window and watched as, for the third day in a row, fat drops of water smacked and spattered against the wooden steps leading to the entrance of My Favorite Things, the shop she had opened but seven months earlier. April showers were one thing, she grumbled as she let the lace curtain fall back against the glass, but this was ridiculous.

Unconsciously she straightened a stack of hand-knit sweaters for the fifth time in half as many hours. Like all of the merchandise in her shop, the sweaters were exquisite things, made of hand-woven wool, one of a kind, and pricey.

Maybe a bit too pricey f
or this rural Pennsylvania two-
mule town, her sister, Georgia, had ventured to suggest
.

At the time, Zoey had brushed off Georgia’s comment with a wave of her hand. What did she know, anyway? She’s a
dancer,
Zoey had pointed out, not a shopkeeper, and Georgia had shrugged that she’d only been voicing concern.

Zoey had been convinced that her unique little shop would be the talk of Chester County, located as it was in
a hone
y of a tiny renovated barn
midway between Wilmington, Delaware, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just a pleasant drive from the country-chic of Chadds Ford and all those new upscale housing developments.

The nearest shopping was a strip mall that was under renovation and had not been scheduled for completion until next year. By that time, Zoey had hoped to have her clientele all firmly locked up, and there would be a steady stream of repeat shoppers beating a path to her door to find all those very special goodies they could not find elsewhere.

Shelves laden with baskets of sweaters, wooden toys and dolls, pottery and jewelry, hats and afghans, painted boxes of
papier-mâché
and stained glass windows lined the shop and competed for the attention of the customer’s eye. From old-fashioned clothes racks, satin hangers displayed dresses and capes, the styles of which dated from the turn of th
e century, some antiques, some
reproductions. Authen
tic Victorian boots of softest
black leather trimmed with jet beads sat next to nineties’
style granny boots. Marcasite bracelets from the twenties
and thirties shared case sp
ace with new pieces crafted by
up-and-coming c
ontemporary jewelry designers.

A glance at the calendar reminded Zoey that she had been open for business for exactly seven months today. With backing from her mother, Zoey had spent the entire summer preparing for her grand opening back in September. Georgia had driven up from Baltimore, where as a member of the famed Inner Harbor Dance Troupe, she worked hard to make a name for herself in the world of professional ballet. Early in the morning on opening day, Georgia had
knocked on the front door and
waited patiently for Zoey to admit her as My Favorite Things’ very first customer.

“So,” Zoey had ushered her sister into the shop, “what do you think of my little venture?”

Georgia had stood drop-jawed in the middle of the colorful, handmade rag rug that covered the center of the floor.

“Zoey, it’s awesome. It’s like

” Georgia had sought to do justice to Zoey’s displays. “Like a tiny mall full of perfect little boutiques.”

“Exactly.” Looking pleased and somewhat smug, Zoey folded her arms across her chest, watching with pleasure as her sister lifted item after item and marveled at the variety.

“Where did all this stuff come from?” Georgia held aloft a small hand-blown glass perfume bottle to admire the workmanship.

“Here, there, and everywhere.” Zoey grinned.

“Well, it’s all wonderful.” Georgia had lifted a black beaded shawl and draped it over her shoulders to cover the river of thick, straight blond hair that ran the length of her back.

“That’s the real thing.” Zoey’s blue eyes sparkled with pride as she straightened out the back of the shawl. “Circa nineteen twenty. Those are real glass beads, by the way, hand sewn on silk.”

Georgia glanced at the price tag.

“Ouch!” she exclaimed. “Are you kidding?”

“Nope.” Zoey leaned back against the counter.

“Zoey, this is one pricey item.”

“Georgia, that shawl is handmade, it’s eighty years old, and it’s in mint condition. I don’t know where you’re likely to find another like it, if in fact another exists. And the price, I might add, is barely marked up over what I had to pay to get it.”

“It is gorgeous, there’s no question that anyone would love to have it. I just hope that you’ll be able to find a buyer for it. I’d
feel a little more confident if you were a little closer to Philadelphia, or Wilmington—even closer in toward West Chester would help—but as far out as you are into the country, well, I just hope that you haven’t priced yourself out of a sale.”

“I’d be lying if I said that the thought hadn’t occurred to me,” Zoey admitted, “but that shawl was so perfect that I had to have it. It’s like these sweaters.” She held up a dark green woolen tunic. “The lady who makes them
wanted an arm and a leg for them, but they’re clearly worth it.”

“Zoey, I’
m not the financial whiz in the family, but I don’t think you’ll make much money if you don’t mark up what you buy.”

“I know, but I thought that in the beginning at least, it would be a good idea to have some really eye-catching things.”

“Well, you’ve certainly accomplished that.” Georgia removed the shawl gently and carefully refolded it, placing it back on the shelf. “I just hope that the locals appreciate your style and that they shop here frequently enough to keep you in business. I’d buy this”—she patted the shawl—“in a heartbeat if I had a few extra hundred dollars I didn’t know what to do with. You must have spent a bloody fortune on your inventory.”

“Actually, the bloody fortune was Mom’s,” Zoey admitted. “She was as excited about this venture as I was, and you know how Mom is when she gets excited about something. Besides putting up the cash, she really got into scouting out the most unusual, the most exquisite things. That collection of Victori
an mourning pins, for example…

Zoey opened the case and removed a tray of pins, which looked, Georgia noted, strangely like hair.

“They are made out of hair”—Zoey grinned—“and yes, it’s human hair. A hundred or so years ago, it was a popular custom to cut off some of the locks of a deceased loved one, and have them woven into rings or bracelets or pins, depending, I guess, on how long the hair was. There were people who actually did this professionally.”

“Oh, yuck.” Georgia made a face. “None for me, thanks.”

“They’re not exactly to my taste, either, but they are kind of interesting. Look at this brooch, Georgy. Look at how intricate the gold weaving is, and how the woven hair mimics the gold—”

“I don’t care how intricate the workmanship is.”
Georgia groaned. “The mere thought of wearing a dead person’s
hair
gives me the creeps.”

“Well, actually, not all hair jewelry was made from dead people’s hair. Some people had the hair from a
l
oved one—a spouse, a child—made into a pin or a bracelet or a—”

“Enough already with the hair jewelry, Zoey. I think it’s creepy.” Georgia handed the tray back to her sister.

“Mom was kind of drawn to the concept. She’s probably thinking about how to use it in her next book. And besides, she thought that if we were aiming for an eclectic stock of merchandise, we should really go all out and find some things that probably wouldn’t be available anywhere else locally.”

Delia Enright had totally backed the efforts of her daughter. Zoey was her middle child and the only one of the three who hadn’t—as Delia delicately put it—
landed
yet. Nick, her oldest child and only son, was a doctoral candidate who had found a contented life studying marine life on the Delaware Bay. He had met a wonderful young woman and before another year had passed, India Devlin would become his bride. Georgia, Delia’s youngest, had never wanted to do anything but dance. Pursuing her goal with single-minded drive, Georgia had, at sixteen, been invited to join the prestigious Berwyn Troupe. Three years later, she had been asked to become a charter member of the newly formed Inner Harbor Dancers, where she had, for the past six years, worked hard and performed with blissful zeal. Only Zoey had yet to find her place.

It wasn’t for lack of effort or desire on her part. Over the past several years, Zoey had tried her hand at any number of occupations, all of which she had mastered, none of which had fed her soul and promised her the kind of long-term gratification she craved. The joy that Georgia had found in dance, the satisfaction her brother had found in identifying and studying marine life, the pleasure experienced by her mother in crafting her
novels, had eluded Zoey all her life. Many are called, few are chosen, aptly described Zoey’s quest for a career she could sink her teeth into.

As a child, when asked what she would be when she grew up, Zoey would answer, “A teacher. And an astronaut. And a news lady on TV. And a fashion designer


And so on, and so on. There were few things that hadn’t caught Zoey’s imagination at one time or another. Over the years, she had, in fact, tried her hand at a goodly number of those things—except for being an astronaut, and there were times when she wasn’t completely certain that she’d given up on that.

The problem was that for all the things that cau
ght her fancy, and all the things
she did well, nothing had sustained her for long.

“Zoey is a bit of a late bloomer,” Delia would explain matter-of-factly when questioned about her middle child’s current status. “One of these days, she will find her place, and she’ll be an outrageous success and live happily ever after.”
Delia would then pause and add, “If s just taking her a little longer to get there, that’s all.”

Zoey had on many occasions offered silent thanks that she had been blessed with a mother who understood
perfectly.
It had been Delia who, recognizing her daughter’s sense of style, encouraged her to open the shop and fill it with all manner of wonderful things. Delia had had every bit as much fun as Zoey, shopping for all of those one-of-a-kind items that overflowed from every nook and cranny of My Favorite Things. All of those wonderful things that were
not
beating a path out of the store under the arms of the droves of happy shoppers who were all, alas, happily shopping elsewhere.

BOOK: Wonderful You
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ads

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