Alternate beginning scene from SAY I DO IN GOOD HOPE

Eliza Shaw spat an expletive as every muscle in her body tensed for battle. She couldn’t recall ever being so angry.

Shifting her gaze back to her phone, to the email received from her father, Eliza knew one thing. Donald Shaw was lucky he wasn’t standing in front of her.

“What’s the matter?” Lindsay Lohmeier, Eliza’s BFF, shifted her gaze from the candy bar she’d been eyeballing at the end of the counter.

After a lunch at Muddy Boots, the two friends had strolled back to the General Store that Eliza owned and managed. Lindsay had the afternoon off from her job as a floral designer at the nearby Enchanted Florist.

“Just my dad being a jerk.” Eliza dropped the phone into her pocket. “As usual.”

“At least he’s far away in Palm Springs.” Lindsay cast another longing glance at the chocolate bar. “My mom lives less than a mile from me.”

Eliza wished her friend would leave. She needed to call her father and get this ridiculous matter resolved.

“I suppose I should let you get back to work.” Lindsay expelled a heavy sigh. “Dan is coming over at three.”

Eliza cocked her head. Lindsay had been dating Dan Marshall, the senior pastor at First Christian, since last year. Everyone expected an engagement would soon be announced. “Why so early?”

Two bright spots of pink colored Lindsay’s cheeks. “He’s been so busy with weddings on the weekends we haven’t had much time together. He’s free tonight and says he has something special in mind.”

“Do you think he plans to propose?” Eliza tossed out the words, making sure to keep her tone light.

Lindsay gave a half-laugh. She dropped her gaze so Eliza couldn’t see her eyes.

“Would you say yes?” Eliza pressed.

She saw her friend’s head jerk up. The direct question shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Eliza never had been one to mince words.

“Dan is a good guy.” Lindsay’s tone turned evasive. “My mother loves him.”

Eliza rolled her eyes. “Then your mother should marry him.”

“You and I aren’t getting any younger.”

You and I? Since when had this discussion been about her?

“We’re in our prime,” Eliza’s tone dared her friend to disagree.

“What the heck.” Lindsay marched over and picked up the candy bar. She held it up. “How much?”

“Nothing. It’s yours.”

Lindsay’s blue eyes narrowed. “You always make me pay.”

“Okay. Two hundred dollars.”

Lindsay’s fingers, which had been in the process of ripping off the wrapper, paused. “What was in that email from your dad? You were in a good mood. Now you’re acting strange.”

Eliza lifted a hand, palm out. She was absolutely not in the mood for twenty questions. If Lindsay persisted, she’d show her the door.

But Lindsay, who’d been her friend since childhood, understood how far to push and when a change of subject was indicated. “You haven’t told me if you’ll attend the wedding with me.”

There was no need to specify which wedding. The marriage of the town’s mayor, Jeremy Rakes, to Delphinium Bloom in two weeks was the talk of Good Hope.

Jeremy had once been the love of Eliza’s life. She couldn’t recall a time when she hadn’t love him. There’d been only one chink in Eliza’s happily-ever-after dreams. Jeremy had never loved her. For him, it had always been Fin.

Lindsay planned to attend the ceremony as both the minister’s girlfriend and family friend of the bride. Eliza understood a thirty-something single woman’s desire for a “date” for a wedding, but she wasn’t about to commit.

Not to going with Lindsay.

Not even to attending.

“Don’t plan on me, Lin.”

Lindsay looked at her as if she’d suddenly sprouted horns. “You’re not going?”

Eliza shrugged. In the past year, she and the Bloom sisters including the bride-to-be had resolved past differences. Yet, watching the man she’d once hoped to marry exchange vows with another…well, let’s just say it didn’t top her list of fun things to do.

Lindsay’s eyes turned soft. “If you change your mind about going with me, let me know.”

The antique clock on the wall began to chime.

Lindsay gave a little yelp. “I promised my mom I’d stop by her shop on my way home. You know how she feels about people who are late.”

Everyone in the small community on the shores of Green Bay knew Anita Fishback. Lindsay’s mother had opinions--usually strong ones--about most everything.

“You’d better hurry, then.” To ensure Lindsay got moving, Eliza rounded the counter and walked her friend to the door.

She waited until Lindsay disappeared from sight before pulling out her phone. Simply re-reading the words had her jaw tightening.

If Donald Shaw thought he could steamroll his only daughter, he was seconds away from finding out he was wrong. She hit his number in Palm Springs.

“Eliza, I was just leaving the house for the Club. I have a tee time in twenty minutes.” Donald Shaw’s voice was easy, as if unaware he’d destroyed his only daughter’s life with one email. “I should be available this evening. Let’s talk then.”

“Why did you do it?” When her voice threatened to tremble, Eliza paused to steady it. Her dad abhorred weakness of any kind. “Gram wanted me to have the house.”

“She left it to me.” Her father’s tone betrayed no emotion.

“With the understanding that you would pass it on to me.” Eliza sputtered, feeling like a tea kettle about to blow. “She made that very clear.”

Her father hesitated for only a second. “The fact remains that the home belongs to me. To do with as I choose.”

“You know what the house means to me.”

“Too much.”

“Pardon me?”

“You’re too attached. To your routine. To the house. To the town.” Donald’s words came more quickly now, as if he was eager to get through the conversation. “I hoped things would change once Jeremy proposed to fin Bloom. Nothing has. You refused to meet Stan’s son when he was in Milwaukee last fall. You didn’t make it to Palm Springs at Christmas because you were too busy overseeing the Twelve Nights celebration. You, my dear, are in a rut. Since you can’t seem to pull yourself out, I’m helping you.”

“By selling my home.” There was no point in arguing all the points he listed, only one mattered. “Gram promised that this home would be mine.”

For all his faults, for all the bluster, her father had loved and respected his mother.

“If you stay much longer, you’ll end up with regrets, just like Katherine.”

Why her father chose this moment to bring up her grandmother’s cousin, Eliza wasn’t certain. All she knew was she had to get him to take the home off the market.

Eliza opened her mouth to speak, but Donald took a breath and continued. “You’ve been in a holding pattern for years, hoping you and Jeremy would end up together. Now, that option is off the table. It’s time for you to spread your wings and soar.”

Eliza wanted to reach through the phone and grab her dad by the neck. Instead, she forced herself to loosen her grip on the phone. Nothing shut down a conversation with her father faster than showing emotion.

“Let me get this straight. You’re threatening to sell my home in the hopes of pushing me out of Good Hope.” An arctic chill blasted through the calmly spoken words.

“Honey, this really isn’t a good time for me. Stan and Jerry are waiting.” Her father’s tone remained pleasant but matter-of-fact. “Just to be clear, I’m not threatening to sell the house, I already did. I firmly believe that one day when you look back, you’ll see I did you a favor.”

+

Eliza took a seat across the table from Beckett Cross. When she’d contacted the attorney, and told him she needed to speak with him as soon as possible about a legal matter, he’d offered to meet her either at the café he owned or at his home office.

Eliza had chosen Muddy Boots. The café, known for a menu heavy on comfort food, was a perfect microcosm of life in Good Hope. Everyone, from locals to tourists, were warmly welcomed the instant they stepped through the front door.

She and Beck sat across from each other at a table by the window that had been readied with two glasses of iced tea. As it was mid-afternoon, only two other tables were occupied. Both far enough away that Eliza felt confident she and Beck could converse without fear of being overheard.

Beck was a handsome man with hair the same chocolate brown as his eyes. Those dark eyes fixed on hers. “How can I help you?”

She liked his directness. Liked a man who got right down to business.

The bells over the door rang. Eliza momentarily shifted her gaze then stiffened.

Though she kept her face expressionless, Beck turned in his seat. He lifted a hand in greeting to Kyle Kendrick. Dressed in jeans, work boots and a Carhartt jacket, the construction worker appeared ready to tackle and cold March day in relative comfort.

Conscious of Kyle’s cool-eyed assessing gaze, Eliza met his blue eyes with a boldness that would have intimidated most men.

He didn’t look away.

She wasn’t about to either, until Beck spoke and drew her attention back to him. “Tell me what’s happened.”

Eliza dropped her gaze to the briefcase sitting on the floor. Reaching inside she pulled a printout of the message from her father as well as several other papers.

“This is what he sent me.” Disappointment now mixed with the anger. “I realize this is a long shot, but in the letter to me from my grandmother she clearly indicates that my father agrees the house will go to me upon his passing.”

Beck studied the documents with a thoroughness that impressed her.

She wished he’d say something reassuring, but she didn’t press. Eliza sipped the tea and kept her eyes focused on the top of his head as he flipped through the documents.

“Do you have a copy of the title?” Beck lifted his gaze. “When your grandmother died and the home passed to your father, was your name by any chance, added to the title?”

Eliza hated being caught unprepared. She thought she’d gathered the necessary information but, in her haste, had forgotten the most important piece. “I’ll get it.”

“If you’d like,” Beck paused before continuing, “I can take care of that for you.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Eliza saw Kyle intently studying her. Oddly flustered, she refocused on Beck. “Thank you.”

Beck’s gaze searched hers. “You’re concerned.”

“Certainly, I’m concerned. My father made it sound as if he’d already sold the house. That simply isn’t possible.” Eliza was horrified to feel tears push against the back of her lids. She quickly forced them down. No way was she letting Beckett Cross or anyone else see how much her dad’s ridiculous threat had upset her.

“You’ve spoken with him.” Beck leaned back in his chair, his gaze sharp and assessing.

“Yes.” Her voice betrayed no emotion.

“Make the call now.” It wasn’t a request. Eliza had never been a patient person and this matter was too important to wait. With a show of nonchalance, Eliza picked up her glass of tea and took another sip.

Beck pulled out his phone and punched in some numbers.

Eliza tapped her nails against the table while he made small talk with a clerk. Finally, blessedly, the two got down to business.

This would be resolved in a minute, Eliza reassured herself. She’d gotten riled up over nothing. His email had simply caught her off-guard. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately. Then, when she’d spoken with her father and he’d been such a sanctimonious jerk –

“Thank you.” Beck hung up the phone, his eyes dark and unreadable.

“Is my name on the title?” Eliza hated the tiny quiver that wove through the question.

“The only name on it had been your father’s.”

Eliza ignored the unease and managed a smile. “What’s our next step? I realize this will be more difficult to fight without actual legal papers, but surely my grandmother’s wishes mean something.”

When Beck didn’t immediately respond, the unease became a hard ball in the pit of her stomach.

“Unfortunately, the law doesn’t care about wishes or promises.” Beck expelled a harsh breath. “The courts will say if she wanted the home to go to you, she’d have to put that in her will.”

“But the email—"

“—is just an email that stated her preference on that particular day.” Beck steepled his fingers, his brown eyes firmly fixed on her. “That’s not all I discovered.”

The silence scraped on her last nerve. “How much worse can it be?”

“The home has been in your father’s name since the death of your grandmother.”

“You said that already.” It took all her inner control not to snap. “You don’t need to repeat it.”

From the pity in Beck’s eyes, Eliza knew she didn’t want to hear anymore. But she was a Shaw. Whatever it was, she could handle it. “What else?”

“Your father has already sold the home.”

“That’s not possible.” Eliza’s heart slammed against her chest wall. “No one even looked at the house. Not that I’d have let them if they’d come around.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, other than the sale was finalized last week.” Beck picked up the glass of iced tea he’d ignored until now. He gestured with the glass. “Kyle will probably be contacting you about taking possession soon. I’m not sure why you haven’t heard from him yet.”

Eliza’s throat felt dry as sawdust. She reached for her own tea and croaked out the name. “Kyle?”

“Kyle Kendrick.” Beck expelled a long breath. “He’s now listed as the owner of the property.”

 

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