Beth Kendrick sweeps you off your feet with a captivating tale of how even the best-laid plans can falter at the altar.
After enduring a chaotic childhood, Emily McKellips yearns for a drama-free life, complete with a white picket fence. Her dreams are about to come true: She has a stellar career, a gorgeous house, and a fiancé any woman would die for. But as friends and family arrive in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, for her wedding, an uninvited guest shows up.
Ryan is Emily’s first husband from a disastrous starter marriage. They wed on a whim, only to discover that combustible chemistry couldn’t ensure a happily ever after. But Ryan is no longer the headstrong boy she left behind. He’s now a successful film producer who just happens to be scouting a resort in Valentine with his adorable retriever in tow.
As the bridesmaids revolt and the mothers of the bride and groom do battle, Emily is surprised to discover new sides of both her ex and her fiancé. She thought she had life and love all figured out, but the next seven days might change her mind—and her heart.
read an excerpt
The Week Before the Wedding
“I’m Emily, and I’ll be your cautionary tale tonight.”
Emily McKellips struck a pose, her hands stretched over her head and her hips swiveling in tight low-rise jeans that barely covered her ass. The two-room dormitory suite was packed in flagrant violation of the campus fire code, with everyone dancing and laughing and crowding around the keg in the corner. The bass on the stereo was cranked so high she could feel the downbeat vibrating through her body, and her lungs filled up with the familiar Friday night smells of smoke, sweat, and stale beer.
“Finally!” Summer rushed over, thrust a red plastic cup into Emily’s hand, and tugged her toward the suite’s second room. “We’ve been waiting for you. You have to see this.”
“See what?” Emily twisted her unruly auburn hair up into a bun. “I’ve seen everything there is to see around here.”
Summer, Catherine, and Jess were clustered by the bunk beds, giggling and nudging each other. Emily elbowed her way into the trio of blondes, and grimaced as she took her first sip of cheap, lukewarm beer.
She tried to follow the direction of their gazes, but the room was too dark and the overhead strobe light too disorienting. “Give me a hint. What are we looking at?”
Jess pointed her index finger. “Him.”
Emily squinted into the shadowy fray. “Who?”
“The hot transfer student,” Summer said.
“He’s in my film studies class. I didn’t hear a word the prof said today.” Catherine grinned. “I don’t think I even kept my tongue in my mouth.”
“This is about a guy?” Emily coughed as a marijuana-scented cloud of smoke billowed their way. “No, thank you.”
“His name’s Ryan,” Jess said. “And if you hadn’t lost your mind and switched majors last spring, you’d probably have met him already. See? This is what happens when you take boring accounting classes full of boring people. You miss out on all the hotties.”
“Yeah, but just imagine how much more boring the accounting classes would be without me,” Emily pointed out. “I’m doing a public service, really.”
“Whatever. I will never understand how you can sit around crunching numbers and studying graphs with all those future corporate sellouts. I thought you were allergic to conformity and responsibility.”
“Conformity, yes. Earning potential, no.”
“Doesn’t the thought of wearing a suit and working in a cubicle give you hives? I can’t picture you wearing pantyhose.”
“Never,” Emily vowed. “Death before pantyhose. Which reminds me, I just ordered a new leather miniskirt today. It’ll be perfect for when I finally track down the lead singer of Wake Up Will and get arrested trashing a hotel room with him and show up on a bunch of celebrity blogs.”
“Didn’t you already do that last summer?” Catherine asked.
“That wasn’t Wake Up Will,” Emily said. “It was the Ice Weasels. And we only got arrested because Summer kept flashing people from the balcony.”
“We were in New Orleans.” Summer shrugged. “That’s how you say hi in New Orleans. I was just immersing myself in the local culture.” She got a little glint in her eye. “God, I love hotels. The maid service, the little bottles of shampoo . . . I have no idea what I’m doing after graduation, but my future job’s going to involve staying in lots of hotels. Mark my words.”
“And my future job’s going to involve leather miniskirts and the singer from Wake Up Will.”
Jess laughed. “And you need an accounting degree for that, why?”
“If you’d grown up with her mother, you’d understand,” Summer said. “Now focus. We’re staking out the new guy, remember?”
“Not interested,” Emily said. “I’ve benched myself from dating until graduation. What was I thinking when I enrolled in this tiny little school in the middle of Minnesota, of all places? Ten thousand lakes and no decent guys.”
“How can you say that?” Catherine cried.
“You don’t even give them a chance!” Jess said. “You just meet and delete!”
“They delete themselves by puking in my car or kissing like they’re giving my tonsils a deep-tissue massage or using the phrase ‘ipso facto’ while asking me out.” Emily shuddered at the memories. “I’d love to find someone I could really connect with, but I give up. Six hundred men on this campus, and I’ve screened every last one of them.”
Summer gave her a look. “Don’t bench yourself just yet.”
“Too late—I’m out for the rest of the season.”
“You haven’t even met him.”
“Fine.” Emily drained the rest of her beer. “Five hundred ninety-nine screened, one to go.”
“You only need one,” Jess said. “Maybe this guy is it.”
Catherine nodded. “He doesn’t look like the type to puke in your car.”
“Ooh.” Summer batted her eyelashes. “Sounds like soul mate material.”
Emily almost gagged. “There’s no such thing as a soul mate. And if there were, he definitely wouldn’t be a film studies major.”
Summer grabbed Emily’s chin and swiveled her head until she was staring at the back of some guy’s head. A guy with broad shoulders, a flannel shirt, and thick black hair. “Look. There he is.”
“Well, ah do declare.” Emily made a big show of fanning her cheeks with her hand. “That’s one fine lookin’ cranium he’s got there.”
Then he turned around.
He turned around and looked right at her, and Emily froze on the spot, her lips parting and her eyes widening.
“Psst. Put your tongue back in your mouth,” Catherine murmured. “Don’t be like me.”
But Emily wasn’t listening. She couldn’t feel anything except the deep, steady pulse of the bass thrumming through her body.
He stared at her.
She stared at him.
And then the lights came on.
“Security!” boomed an authoritative male voice. “Break it up!”
The overhead fluorescent lights blazed down, temporarily blinding Emily, but she barely blinked. She didn’t want to look away.
She didn’t want to sever the connection.
All around her, kids scrambled to extinguish their cigarettes and stampede out the door before they got busted for underage drinking.
“Come on,” Jess yelled, yanking on Emily’s hand.
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Emily held her position and waited.
Sure enough, he came for her.
She lowered her face to hide her smile as he approached. Men. So predictable.
He stood directly in front of her, waiting for her to look up at him. “We should go.” Then he offered his hand, as if he had no doubt whatsoever that she would take it.
And she did, allowing him to lead her out the door, down the hall, and into the cool, clear night. When they got outside, she took a deep breath. The fresh evening air was mixed with his scent: soap and shaving cream and a hint of spicy cologne.
Cologne usually did nothing for Emily; she found it cheesy and synthetic and a little desperate. But something about this particular scent on this particular guy made her want to locate his pulse points and lick them.
His grip on her hand tightened as they started across the grassy quad.
“Where are we going?” she asked, though she already knew the answer: his dorm room, his off-campus apartment, or his car.
He surprised her again by saying, “Want to see a secret?”
“Depends. Is it the kind of secret where I end up dismembered under your floorboards?”
Because he was still ahead of her, leading her further and further into the dark, she couldn’t make out his next words, but one of them sounded like “tunnels.”
“What?” she asked. “Did you say, ‘tunnels’?”
“Yeah. There’s an underground tunnel system below campus.”
“No, there isn’t.”
“Yes, there is.”
She laughed and squeezed his hand. “Look, I know you’re new here, but the underground tunnel story’s just an urban legend. Like jackalopes. Or snipe shooting.”
“Positive. I know everything about everything at this school. Why don’t we just go back to your room?”
He turned suddenly and tugged her up a flight of stone steps to a dormitory. She assumed he’d seen reason and was going to lead her up his room, but once they were inside, he took her down three flights of stairs to the basement, where the bluish glow of the vending machine lit up the deserted laundry room.
“Here.” He turned a corner and pointed to a battered metal door, which had been marked with a triangular sign depicting a bolt of lightning: DANGER! KEEP OUT!
Exasperated, Emily snatched back her hand and folded her arms. “That’s not a secret tunnel—that’s a bunch of circuit breakers.”
Why were the cute ones always crazy?
The guy sifted through the flotsam in his jeans pockets—lighter, lint-covered mints, ticket stubs, and coins—until he fished out a brass key, which he inserted into the door lock.
“Where did you get that?” Emily demanded.
A puff of warm, stale air wafted out as he pulled the door open, revealing a narrow corridor with no discernible destination.
“The tunnels,” she marveled, sticking her head into the blackness. “They’re real. How the hell did you find this?”
“I like to know things no one else does.” His hazel eyes met hers and his smile was slow and subversive. “When they built these dorms in the seventies, they dug tunnels between some of the buildings so students could go to class without freezing their asses off in winter. But there were problems with asbestos, so they sealed off the whole system.”
Emily took a step over the threshold, into the dark. “So we’re not supposed to go in.”
“Automatic expulsion if you get caught.”
A little thrill ran up and down her spine. Rules? Made to be broken. Lines? Drawn to be erased. “Well then, we better not get caught.”
She walked further into the darkness, trailing her hand against the gritty stucco wall, and he joined her, closing the door behind them.
For a moment, she experienced total sensory deprivation: no sound, no sight, nothing except the cool solidity of the wall. Then, slowly, she registered the rush of her own heartbeat in her ears and the steady, shallow rasp of his breathing. She could smell the cologne as he came nearer, and her own breath caught in her throat.
There was a faint metallic click; then a flickering light cast a warm golden halo around them as he held up his cigarette lighter.
“I’m Ryan, by the way. Ryan Lassiter.” He watched her face. “But you already knew that.”
He waited a beat for her to introduce herself, and when she didn’t, he straightened up and illuminated the path stretching out in front of them.
Emily rubbed her nose as the stale, humid air settled back into stillness. “You’d think it would be freezing in here, but it’s warm.”
He nodded in agreement, then pulled off his flannel shirt to reveal a well-worn white T-shirt. Through the dim, flickering light, Emily could make out the logo of her favorite band.
She rounded on him, pressing her palms against his chest as he ran into her. “Where’d you get that shirt?”
He glanced down at the block of text, which read WAKE UP WILL. “I saw them at a club in Minneapolis two years ago. Right before they broke up.”
“Lucky.” Emily traced the W with her index finger, both envious and desperate for more details. “I’d kill to see them play live. Hell, I’d kill for that T-shirt.”
The tunnel went dark again as he released the lighter. Through the blackness, Emily heard the soft rustle of cloth and felt the heat of his skin inches from hers.
Then, his voice, low and warm in her ear: “Put your hands up.”
She didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment. She didn’t know what he was going to do to her, and she didn’t care. She only knew that whatever it was, she wanted it.
She felt his hands on her shoulders, then sucked in her breath as the damp air hit her stomach. He pulled her shirt over her head, then skimmed his hands along her sides as he pulled the soft, worn cotton of his shirt down over her.
She turned her head and sniffed the shirt’s collar. It smelled like him, warm and spicy.
“You just gave me the shirt off your back?”
“What can I say? I’m that kind of guy.”
She reached out blindly until her palm connected with his chest again. He’d just held her hand for five minutes, but this skin-on-skin contract felt completely different. “What kind of guy is that?”
She could hear the smile in his voice. “A literalist.”
“I like it.”
His lips brushed against her cheek as he asked, “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Emily.”
She responded by kissing him in a manner that would warrant immediate expulsion, tunnels or no tunnels. And the thin, flimsy layer of cotton between them only served to intensify the slow, steady slide of his body against hers.
Both of them were laughing and panting by the time they came up for air.
“Emily?” Ryan said.
She traced his lips with the tip of her tongue. “Mmm?”
“You’re kind of unbelievably hot in my shirt.”
“I’m that kind of girl.” She wrapped both arms around him and whispered in his ear, as sultry and sinful as any soap opera vixen, “A temptress in a T-shirt.”
They collapsed, still laughing, his body cushioning her from the floor.
And just like that, in the middle of the tunnel, in the middle of the night, they fell in love.