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Rachel Hill longs for a family of her own, but time is ticking away and she’s never been able to get past the loss of her high-school boyfriend.
Daniel Montgomery leaves the family business to strike out on his own when his fiancee calls off the wedding leaving him alone, confused and broken-hearted.
They run into each other unexpectedly and recall a vow they once made: if they’re still single at forty, they’ll marry each other. With middle-age looming, these high school sweethearts elope without giving it more than a moment’s thought. But in the cold light of day, they soon come to regret their hasty choice.
Release date: April 22, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 228
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Daniel Montgomery took a swig of coffee.
The scalding liquid burned his tongue and left a trail of pain running down to his gut. He choked then grimaced as a drop of coffee landed on his freshly laundered blue shirt. He set the cup on the counter in front of him and reached for a napkin to blot at the stain.
Not a great way to make a first impression.
The cafe buzzed with noise. A bicycle sped past on the road, and a cable car trundled by with commuters clinging to the floor-to-ceiling steel poles as it descended the steep hillside.
Nerves buzzed in his chest.
Today was the first day at his new job. He’d never have thought he’d leave Montgomery Ranches, the family business, to branch out on his own. But a few months earlier, he had been headhunted by one of the biggest new tech companies in San Francisco and hadn’t been able to turn down their offer to be the in-house counsel.
It was a chance at adventure, at something new and different. Not that his life needed any kind of change. At twenty-eight years of age, everything was on track. Dan liked to plan, liked to have everything work out the way he’d conjured it up in his imagination. So far, his life was on track.
He sighed, a smile lingering around the corners of his mouth. His life was so close to perfect, it’d been hard to find the adventure in it. So, even though moving to San Francisco to work for what was essentially a start-up, albeit a very successful one, didn’t make any sense to the people in his life, it did to him. His skin had fairly itched with the need to find something exciting, unknown, and challenging to do. His family had been supportive, but they hadn’t under stood at first. Still, most of the resistance had come from his fiancée, Christina.
Dan had hoped she’d be on board. She’d given up her job at Walgreens six months earlier, so she could work on finding a career more suited to her personality, but so far, she hadn’t had any luck. As an art history major, her chances of finding something would be much better here, in what was essentially one of the art capitals of the nation, than they were in Billings. Despite that, she’d quietly resisted the move, even though she’d given him her blessing when he’d asked what she thought about him taking the job. She’d wanted to stay behind in Billings. But he’d assured her it was better for them to be together. They were getting married soon, and she’d have to establish a life for herself in the new city anyway. She might as well do it now, and that way, they wouldn’t have to be apart.
Sometimes he didn’t fully understand his fiancée.
It was hard for Dan to admit that. He didn’t like the unknown. And Christina was such a good match for him; everyone said so. Still, there were many times he’d look into her smiling eyes and wonder what was going on behind them. What was she thinking?
Once they were married, he reassured himself, everything would work out. They’d share an apartment, visit restaurants and museums together, one day even start a family. It would be everything they’d dreamed of. He grinned as he jogged across the street and shot his empty coffee cup into a nearby trash can. Coming to a stop, he peered up into the sky—there it was. The building he’d be working in for…he had no idea how long. It might be months, could be up to two years. The unknown was part of the adventure, and his stomach turned over.
He caught sight of his reflection in the floor-to- ceiling glass doors in front of him. Tall, athletic build beneath a flawlessly designed business suit in black with a blue shirt and dark blue tie. Wavy brown hair and hazel eyes, squinting against the glare of the sun.
He’d never worked at any company not owned by a family member. What if they didn’t like him? He had to make a good first impression, coffee stain and all.
The phone in his pocket vibrated. Dan tugged it free, still staring up at the skyscraper glistening and shimmering in the early morning light.
“Dan, it’s Chrissy.”
“Hey, sweetheart. I’m staring at my new office building…it looks real good.”
“I’m glad. Listen, honey. I’ve decided not to come.”
He blinked and lowered his gaze to the revolving glass doors in front of him. “What?”
“Yeah, look I never really wanted to. You know my entire family lives in Billings. I won’t be able to drop by Momma’s or visit Gran in the home. My friends are all here. What about my Pilates group, and my book club? I won’t have anyone in San Fran. I’ll be all alone.” Her voice trailed off to a whisper, and he thought he heard a sob.
“But I’m here. You won’t be alone, because you’ll have me…”
“Yeah, I know. But still…”
He shook his head, still not comprehending what she was saying. “Sweetheart, I’m not just here for a visit. We’re going to live here once we’re married. You can’t stay in Billings forever, since I won’t actually be there. You know that, right? And besides, I thought you wanted to find a job at one of the galleries here before the wedding.”
She sniffled. “I don’t want to move there. Not ever.” He frowned. “You want me to come back to Billings?”
Another sniffle. “No. I don’t think we should get married, Dan. We just aren’t right for each other. Momma said it from the beginning, only I didn’t listen to her. But I’m listening now. I’m a Montana girl. I don’t want to live anywhere else. Besides, I thought I was marrying a Montgomery, you know, from Mont‐ gomery Ranches. Everyone here knows the Montgomery family and respects Montgomery Ranches. But a guy who works as a lawyer for some start-up in San Fran… Well, no one will know you, who you are…”
His brow furrowed harder. “Does that matter?” “It does to me.”
“Okay…” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Was this really how she felt about him?
“Look, I can’t talk right now, Dan. We’ll talk tonight. I’ve got to get to Pilates, and Mom wants to meet me at the mall for lunch. It’s a busy day.”
“Right, well, you should get going then.” Dan’s head spun and yet was completely blank. He should feel something. Maybe he should be angry, yell down the phone line. But he couldn’t do anything except breathe
—in and out. Slow breaths. Deep.
The phone call ended, and his hand dropped to his side. This couldn’t be happening. What was she saying? She didn’t want to marry him? That couldn’t be right. How could she decide not to marry him because people in San Fran wouldn’t know him by name, wouldn’t be impressed by his family credentials?
Maybe he’d misunderstood her. They’d talk tonight, sort everything out. It was a miscommunica‐ tion. That’s what it had to be. No one threw away a lifetime together because of something so… He inhaled slowly. No one… Except the more he thought about it, something inside of him clicked. It was just like Christina to think about those kinds of things. He’d never wanted to trade on his family name, instead preferring to live a simple life. But she’d always pulled it out and paraded it around Billings, while clinging to his arm.
“Daniel Montgomery,” she’d say when they arrived for a restaurant reservation, or when introducing herself to someone at the downtown Methodist church they attended, or even at Macy’s when asking the attendant to help them pick out a tie.
“Yes, one of those Montgomerys,” she’d often add with a quirked eyebrow, and it always made him uncomfortable.
Dan headed for the revolving door and somehow made his way through it. His head felt light, almost as though he were taking too many breaths. He should calm his breathing, slow things down a bit. They’d figure things out later. Right now, he had to find his new boss and impress him.
The elevator was packed full of bodies, and he jammed himself into it right at the front of the group. He drew back a black, leather-covered toe so the elevator door could shut then waited as they rose up through the building toward the top floor. By the time they reached it, he was one of only four people left in the small space. He stood back to let the rest of the group out, one hand holding the elevator door open, as though his whole world hadn’t just fallen apart. He even mustered a dim smile and a few “good mornings” to throw at them as they passed him by.
He’d been the lawyer for his family’s very successful billion-dollar ranching enterprise for four years. Christina was supposed to be packing up the last things in her apartment in Billings, Montana, at that moment to come and join him in San Francisco in an apartment building adjacent to his own. He was starting a new, exciting life. Just thinking about it made his gut churn.
His father probably never thought he’d leave Mont‐ gomery Ranches. And he’d felt comfortable there. He was known. But that was exactly why he’d wanted to leave. He was still young, and there was a lot he had yet to learn. So far, he’d worked under one lawyer since graduating from Harvard Law—Bernie MacDonald. Bernie was the in-house counsel for Montgomery Ranches and had been ever since his father first needed someone twenty years earlier.
Everyone knew Bernie wanted to retire, and he’d given Dan a year to make the transition to take over his role. Dan had learned everything he could to prepare himself, but deep down, he felt it wasn’t enough. He wanted to learn how other companies did things, make some mistakes, grow as a lawyer, expand his vision.
Then one day, he’d go back to Billings, back to Montgomery Ranches, older, wiser, and ready to help his brother lead the company. Bernie had agreed to push back his retirement by two years and wait for Dan to return. And he intended to soak in as much knowledge as he could before accepting the responsibility of a billion-dollar enterprise to rest on his shoulders.
He stopped in a small lobby with the words Hungerford Incorporated scrawled on the wall in a pewter-colored font. His hands clenched and unclenched. The reception desk was empty. The phone rang, once, twice, then fell silent.
“Daniel Montgomery!” boomed a voice to his left.
He spun to face the sound and found himself staring at Cliff Hungerford, his new boss. Cliff’s face was split in two by a wide grin. He wore a button down shirt, loose at the collar, a pair of dark jeans, and loafers. His hair was carefully mussed and streaked with gray. Fine lines creased the corners of his sparkling brown eyes.
Cliff held a hand toward Dan who shook it firmly, smiling in response. “Cliff, it’s good to see you again.”
“Welcome! Welcome to Hungerford. I’m so glad you decided to join us. We’re lucky to have you.”
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’m excited to get started.”
Cliff led him through the office, showing him cubi‐ cles and introducing him to a series of faces with names he barely registered. All he could think about was the phone call and why Christina had said the things she had. Had she meant them?
Finally, Dan found himself in a small office with glass windows that looked out over the rest of the open space. Out there, keyboards tapped quietly, people murmured. One group stood in the open kitchen, and their laughter spilled out across the rest of the office. He smiled without thinking. He always did that. Always smiled if others were smiling. He’d learned from a young age to show people the side of him they wanted to see, to fit in by playing the part. It’d served him well. And right now, it was helping him get through the most difficult moment of his life without letting his boss know that inside he was dying. “So, that’s the office. I know you won’t remember all of the names I just threw at you…” Cliff’s laughter echoed off the walls. “But you’ll get the gist of things soon enough. You know where the coffee and vegan nut and hemp bars are, so that’s the most important thing.” He winked. “And you just let me know if you have any questions or need anything else.”
Dan nodded. He was finding it hard to breathe. He shouldn’t have worn a tie. No one else in the entire office had on a tie. He looked completely out of place in his suit. He’d have to rethink his entire wardrobe tonight. He focused on his breathing.
“Oh, and don’t forget we’ve got that leadership conference in Las Vegas coming up at the end of the month. I told you about that…right? We’ve already booked a room for you and your fiancée. We’re so looking forward to meeting her. You’ll be married by then, of course. So, she’ll be your wife, and my wife is already planning their itinerary for when we’re busy with our meetings. I’m fairly certain it’s why she told me to hire you over the other guy who went for your job, she wanted another woman around at these things to talk to who wasn’t part of the team. Someone to shop with!” He laughed again and slapped Dan on the shoulder. “So glad you’re with us.”
Cliff left with a rush of air, almost as though he’d commanded it to follow him. Dan stared after him, his mouth slightly ajar. What’d just happened? He should’ve said something. But what?
Um…she might be coming. Or she might not. She could be my wife by the time of the trip, or perhaps not. She’s going to talk to me about it tonight. We’re deciding our future over the telephone, I’ll let you know how it goes.
He swallowed and faced his desk with a
frown. No need to deal with that now. First things first—he had to figure out how to log onto the laptop sitting askew on his desk. He scanned the office, looking for help. Then he sighed and sat down.
One thing he’d have to learn, working for a start- up, was that some things he’d have to figure out on his own. Dan powered up the laptop and leaned back in his chair. Things were definitely no longer going according to plan, and he didn’t like it one bit.
* * *
After his first day of work was done, Dan waved his goodbyes and headed out the door. He’d kept a smile plastered to his face all day long. He’d met dozens of people, tried to remember their names, sat in on meet‐ ings, filled out paperwork, and even done an online orientation course the Human Resources manager had commissioned for the company’s new recruits. It was all very impressive. And he’d managed to push his grief and shock down deep so no one else could see it.
But as he emerged onto the street, his smile faded. He still couldn’t believe Christina would do that to him. It must be some kind of mistake. He’d call her as soon as he got home, and they’d work things out.
Dan bought a bagel wrapped in a napkin and a coffee from a street vendor and ate as he walked. A few minutes later, he tossed the soiled napkin into the trash. He glanced down at the stubborn stain from earlier that morning on his otherwise pristine shirt. With a sigh, he tightened his grip on the disposable coffee cup and headed toward his condo.
Market Street was a hive of activity. Business people strode down its length, and cars inched along the road behind and around a cable car as passengers leapt from its platform to the road below.
He couldn’t hold back a smile.
This was just what he’d been looking for. A new adventure. Something to stir things up in his life a bit. Not that his life hadn’t been great, just the way it was.
Dan had lived in a luxurious Billings apartment, close to the office but not so close that he felt the need to stop in and check on every little thing. And he’d been right next door to Christina, the woman he planned on spending the rest of his life with. That was how they’d met. She roomed with two other women in an apartment in his building. They’d run into each other in the hall, each wearing workout gear. The park nearby was perfect for their morning jogs together. If she ran a little slower than he liked, it was a sacrifice he was happy to make so they could spend time with one another.
There was a cafe on the corner of their block that did a perfect cappuccino made from single-origin, free-trade coffee and served the best bagels with cream cheese around.
Life was good. At least it had been. Now what would it look like?
He sighed. He had to admit, life was also entirely predictable. Down to where they’d have their wedding, what the tables at the reception would look like, how long the honeymoon in Hawaii would be, and how many children they’d have once they bought them‐ selves a place just outside of town. There’d been nothing unknown, nothing unexpected or sponta‐ neous about his life before now. He’d had a pretty good idea of what every day would be like, what the future held for him.
Dan hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself or anyone else, but he’d been living in a rut. And getting himself out of that rut had spurred him forward for months now. Only, he’d thought Christina would make the change with him. He’d believed they were on the same page and would share the adventure together. He sighed as he walked into the lobby on the ground floor of his building and nodded to the doorman. He’d been wrong about Christina. Maybe this whole thing had been a bad idea after all.
The last of the cupcakes fit neatly into the white cardboard box, and Rachel Hill closed it with a half-smile.
She hated waste and was grateful she had some‐ where to take them that evening. Her neighbor was expecting and had a baby shower at her apartment. Rachel planned on surprising her with the cupcakes.
It was the fifth baby shower she’d attended this month.
Not that she minded. She loved babies and anything to do with babies. It’s just that at twenty-nine years of age, with no prospects of even a date on the horizon, let alone a serious boyfriend who might one day be husband material, she’d begun to hyperventilate just a little with each baby shower invitation she opened.
Rachel strode to the front of the bakery and peered out through the glass window. Lights spilled onto the street from restaurants, boutiques, and galleries, spaced in between with dark shop fronts. She flipped the sign on the door to read “Closed” and turned the lock so it slid into place.
Another smile and she smoothed her apron against her thighs with both hands.
She loved closing up at the end of a successful day. It was almost as satisfying as opening—when the excitement of baking new things and watching as customers studied her creations, then pointed for her to add to their box of purchases, almost overwhelmed her senses. There was no better feeling than when a regular asked for something new then tasted it right in front of her and told her it was like heaven in a pastry.
That’s what Mr. Peterson had said today. Heaven in a pastry.
It’d made her day.
Chuckling to herself, Rachel reached for a cloth and spray bottle behind the counter. She set about wiping down all the glass surfaces. She grimaced at her own reflection. Her hair had been smoothly coiffed when she left the apartment this morning but now was mussed where she’d shoved a pencil behind one ear and swiped at the sweat on her brow. Her mascara had smudged beneath both dark brown eyes, making her look even more tired than she felt, and the pink lipstick she’d refreshed after lunch was almost entirely gone. Only the outline remained.
She would kill for a bath—in a large claw-foot tub, with candles and chocolate and a good mystery book to read. She sighed. That wouldn’t happen, since she didn’t even know anyone with a tub like that, and she could hardly invite herself over to take a bath if she did. Her apartment only had a shower. A cramped, moldy shower that she spent the least amount of time possible in each morning.
The cafe phone jangled, and Rachel set the receiver against her ear while she continued working.
“Jasmine’s,” she called in a singsong voice. “Rachel, it’s Jasmine.”
“Oh, hi, Jas. Everything went great today, I’m just closing up. We sold out of the bear claws again, everyone loves those things.” She grinned.
“That’s great, Rach. Thanks for all your hard work. Hey, I’m not going to make it there to open up in the morning. I’ve just got so much going on at the moment, and you’re better with the customers than I am anyway. So, could you open for me again?”
Rachel grimaced and set the cloth back on the counter to rub a hand over her face. She sighed. “Sure, Jas. Happy to do it.”
As she hung up, she sighed again. Another early start. She’d been scheduled for the opening and closing shifts at the bakery every day that week and was starting to succumb to the kind of fatigue that made her entire body ache. If she kept living at the same pace, she’d never get a social life.
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