In this irresistible romantic comedy from award-winning author Beth Kendrick, three wildly different women form an unlikely friendship as they try to decide whether they’d do it all again.
They’ve had the white dresses and fancy receptions. But now that the honeymoon’s over, Stella, Casey and Erin have each had to face some hard truths about the men they’ve married and the lives they’ve chosen.
So when the news breaks that the pastor who presided over their weddings failed to file a few critical pieces of paper, none of these newlyweds are rushing down to the courthouse to legalize their vows. Instead, the brides share their hopes, disappointments, and secrets while grappling with that pivotal question: Should they stay or should they go?
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Chapter One – STELLA
“Yum.” I stretched my arms over my head and curled my toes into the zillion-threadcount sheets of the Cartwell House Inn’s luxurious honeymoon cottage. “Honey, that was fantastic.”
Mark grinned. “You enjoyed your wedding day, Mrs. Porter?”
“And how.” I let my head drop back against the pillow, closing my eyes to relive the ceremony, the dancing, Mark’s champagne toast that had brought tears to my eyes. “Total dream come true. Modern Bride and Vera Wang and Cinderella all rolled into one ginormous lacy orgasm.” Well. Except for the white-hot glares my new stepdaughters had kept shooting my way.
“And the wedding night?” He waggled his eyebrows at the blue garter, Richard Tyler ball gown, and ivory satin sandals scattered across the hotel room floor.
“Also a dream come true,” I assured him.
“Are you sure? Because you know I can write myself a script for Viagra if you’re not satisfied.”
“I’m satisfied, I’m satisfied. Thank God I met you after your sexual peak or I probably wouldn’t be able to walk.”
“Just making sure. Men of a certain age have to make sure our nubile young trophy wives are happy.”
I reached over and swatted his arm. “That’s all I am to you? A fluffball trophy wife with a sick body?”
“A sweet, kind, smart trophy wife whom I will cherish for the rest of my days,” he corrected. “Who also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous.”
“Too late. Don’t try to butter me up,” I huffed, turning over on my side so he wouldn’t see me smiling. “I’m un-butterable.”
He wrapped his arms around me, pulling me back against his chest. “You trophy wives are so temperamental.”
“High maintenance, but worth it.” I yawned, tucking my head under his chin.
He stroked my stomach through the sheet. “Can I ever make it up to you?”
“Are you sure? No way to weasel my way back into your good graces?”
“Hmm. Maybe. But it’s gonna cost you.”
“Name your price. Jewelry? Handbags? Insanely overpriced shoes?”
I turned my head back far enough to give him a flirty wink. “Well, I’m going to need a new winter wardrobe. I can’t tromp around the Berkshires in that fur coat like I did in Manhattan. It’s ostentatious. But I don’t want to stock up on size fours if we’re going to get pregnant, so it’ll have to be shoes or jewelry. Or both. We trophy wives are crazy materialistic, y’know.”
Long pause. Then a forced chuckle. “Heh. I don’t think we need to worry about you getting pregnant anytime soon.”
“Why not?” I turned over to face him. “I know I’ve only been off the pill for a month, but it could happen. Wouldn’t it be romantic to have a honeymoon baby? My gynecologist said most women are very fertile right after they…” I trailed off as his expression changed. “What?”
“The pill?” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Sweetheart, I can’t believe you kept taking the pill after our conversation in Bermuda.”
I pushed back from his chest. “What conversation in Bermuda?”
“About my vasectomy.”
The warm, dreamy afterglow evaporated in the first icy twinges of shock. “Mark. Quit it. Is that supposed to be funny?” I scrutinized his face, but the twinkle in his eyes was completely gone.
“We talked about this. At the French restaurant on the seacliff, remember? I told you I’d had a vasectomy after I divorced Brenda, and you said you were fine with it.”
I rocketed into a sitting position, because I was suddenly, horribly afraid that he wasn’t kidding.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I yanked the blankets up to cover my chest. “How much did you have to drink tonight?”
“I’m not drunk.” He reached over, covering my hand with his. “But we discussed this, Stella. Right before I asked you to marry me.”
He had surprised me in Bermuda with a huge diamond ring and a proposal on the pink sands under the huge white moon. I had cried when I said yes, so stunned and grateful that I found such a wonderful man, that I would get the chance to start a family with my soul mate. “We did not talk about this. I definitely would have remembered you mentioning a vasectomy.”
“I told you,” he insisted. “I did. The night we went dancing, remember? We had dinner in that restaurant with the amazing wine list and then—”
And suddenly I knew the exact night he was talking about. The third night of our vacation, when I had decided to overindulge in frosty, pastel-colored drinks topped with paper umbrellas. “Oh my God. You mean the night I got so drunk I practically passed out in the hotel lobby?”
He nodded, looking relieved. “Yeah. That night.”
“That’s when you told me about your vasectomy?”
He nodded again. “You said you were fine with it. You said as long as we were together, nothing else mattered.”
“Because I’d had a bottle of rum instead of dinner! Mark! You could have said you wanted to have a threesome with me and Brenda and I would’ve been fine with that, too! You know how I get when I drink on an empty stomach! And you know I hate French food but you insisted on—” I clapped my hands over my mouth. “You knew. You planned this whole thing!”
“Sweetheart.” He looked alarmed. “Don’t get paranoid. Hand to God, I thought you—”
“You picked that French restaurant on purpose so I’d have all wine and no food and then mix it with rum and then…” I scooted way over to the edge of the bed. “You lied to me!”
“Stella, listen to me.” His voice took on an edge of desperation. “I would never lie to you. Ever. I love you more than words can say and—”
“Don’t you even! You know how I feel about this.” I glanced down at my belly, which, according to my new husband of twelve hours, would not be swelling up with a honeymoon baby anytime soon. “When I first met you, I was working as a nanny, for God’s sake!”
“Well.” He paused. “As of this morning, you’re a stepmother to my lovely daughters.”
“Your lovely daughters want me dead! And one of them’s older than I am!” I leapt out of bed, stomped over to the rustic, wood-paneled bathroom, and crammed my arms into the plush white bathrobe hanging next to the Jacuzzi. “How is that anywhere in the same ballpark as a baby?”
“They don’t want you dead,” he soothed.
“Ha. Taylor held onto her steak knife for the whole reception. She was just waiting to get me alone.”
“Try not to take it personally, sweetheart. She’s never liked any of the women I dated after the divorce, but she’ll come around in time. Marissa likes you. Or she will, anyway, once she gets to know you. Tell you what: we’ll have both girls over to the new house for Thanksgiving and–”
“I want a baby!” I exploded.
We both froze, assessing each other like a lion and an antelope on one of those Discovery Channel shows.
“Well.” He shrugged. “I can’t give you a baby. I wish I could, but…my vasectomy.”
I crossed my arms. “Can’t you get it reversed?”
“I had the procedure over ten years ago. And even if the reversal went flawlessly, you have to remember that my age is going to affect our chances of conceiving. Best case scenario, we’re looking at a 15, 20 percent chance of success.”
“Don’t give me that.” I yanked the robe belt around me so tightly, I could hardly breathe. “You’re a surgeon. You’ve played golf with the best doctors in New York. We can do in vitro if we have to. We can go to a specialist, take fertility drugs, whatever, but you have to at least—”
“No.” He shook his head slowly.
I took a giant step back, nearly tripping as my foot got tangled up in the rumpled wedding gown. “No?”
“No. Even if we could reverse the vasectomy, I don’t want to.”
I reminded myself to breathe. “Then we’ll adopt.”
“No.” He dropped his head. “I’ve raised a family, Stella. Two wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting daughters. But I was a lot younger then, with my whole life still ahead of me.”
I leaned back against the doorjamb and looked at him. After a whirlwind twelve-month courtship, I still couldn’t believe Mark was fifty-three. He was, as some of my snippy college friends have felt obligated to point out, old enough to be my father. But he didn’t act fifty-three. And with his full head of thick dark hair (graying at the temples, but in a distinguished way) and a tall, lean body kept fit by a disciplined ritual of pre-dawn jogging, he certainly didn’t look it.
“Well, you’re going to live another fifty years, at least.” I slapped on my sweetest smile. “And a new baby will keep you young. And I can…we can…I’m certified in infant CPR,” I finished lamely.
“Can we talk about this later, please? Let’s not ruin our wedding day.”
I checked the clock. 12:27 AM. “Our wedding day was over at midnight. We’re talking about this now.”
“Well, I don’t know what else to say.”
“How about, ‘I’m sorry I tricked you in Bermuda and I’ll make an appointment tomorrow morning to get my vasectomy reversed’?” I suggested.
He stared down at the snowy white sheets we’d had wild, passionate sex on just minutes ago.
“Mark.” I took a big step toward the bed. “I have to have children. That is my calling in life. I cannot not have kids.”
“And you have known that since our first date.”
“So this is nuts. We’re having a baby. I already know you’ll be a great father—that’s part of why I said yes in Bermuda.”
I waited for the next nod. And waited. And waited.
“You’ll change your mind,” I said with a confidence I didn’t feel. “You’re just nervous. Everybody says if you wait until you feel ready to have kids, you’ll never have them.”
“I’ve already had kids.” He finally met my gaze. “Why can’t you be happy with just us, Stell? You, me, in love, carefree. We’re so happy. Why can’t that be enough for you?”
I marched over to the door and yanked it open, letting the chilly September air into the cabin. “Get out.”
“You’re not serious.”
I grabbed his huge leather suitcase and heaved it out onto the cabin’s front porch. “Get out.”
“Have you lost your mind? It’s the middle of the night! And there’s a frost advisory!”
I marched into the bathroom, bundled up his toiletries, and flung his shaving kit out into the bushes.
“The innkeeper said they’re booked solid for the weekend,” Mark protested. “There are no other rooms for me to move to.”
I ripped the blankets off him, marched him out the door, and hurled his boxer shorts out after him. When the door slammed shut between us, I turned the deadbolt.
Then I wadded my beautiful, bias-cut wedding gown into a ball and wept for hours, blowing my nose on the delicate imported silk.
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