It's always a mistake to sleep with a man who's in love with your sister. Even in Paris. Even if they'd
broken up again-for good this time, he said. Even though I'd been in love with him since I was eleven
But I was young and dumb and homesick. So. Whatever. I had a one-night hookup in a foreign city
with Trey Laurence, the rich boy next door, after my sister broke his heart.
Three years later (Thirty-three months, if I were counting. I was totally counting), I was older and a
whole lot wiser. But returning home for my sister's wedding was still going to be all kinds of awkward.
Oh, I'd been back to North Carolina before. For holidays, and that awful time when Momma got sick,
and when my nephew Robbie was born. I still saw my sister occasionally when she came to New York
to visit her publisher or the restaurant where she'd once worked. But even though Jo was about to be
married to another man, I still couldn't face her without a squirm of guilt. I'd had sex with her ex-a clear
violation of the Sisters' Code. As for the other guilty party, Trey . . . Well. Just because he'd found a
way to forgive himself didn't mean I had to forgive him. Or myself. Mostly I avoided him.
Which was going to be a lot harder to do now that we were members of the same wedding party.
(And no, my heart wasn't holding on to some pathetic hope that now that Jo was finally marrying
somebody else, Trey would pull his head out of his ass and realize it was me he loved, after all.)
But maybe being a bridesmaid in Jo's wedding would bring me and my sister closer. Maybe this was
my chance to prove to Trey-or at least to myself-that I was over him. I had better things to do with my
life than obsess over a stupid childhood crush. My handbag business, Baggage, had taken off.
Meghan Markle herself had recently been photographed carrying one of my totes, and demands for
the rechristened "Duchess" bag were pouring in, threatening to flood my Bedford Park apartment in
"It's like a goddamn rainbow puked in here," my assistant, Flo, had said before I left New York. She
zipped tape across the top of a carton, adding to the boxes of custom orders packed and stacked for
pickup by the door.
I glanced from her Frida Kahlo T shirt to her natural hair, tipped this month in fiery red. "Yeah, I know
how much you hate color," I said, making her laugh.
I skirted a rack of bins to get to my worktable, piled high with wallets waiting for snaps and trim.
Purses, totes, and cross-body bags in bright colors and various stages of assembly overflowed every
surface. I was already renting storage from the dry cleaner's downstairs. My bedroom was so filled
with bolts of vinyl and leather, I couldn't find my mattress. Not that I had much time to sleep anyway.
The truth was, we needed a bigger workroom. A second sewing machine. More shelving. More light.
Maybe even a little retail space, although a storefront in Manhattan was totally out of my price range,
at least for now
I reached for a punch tool. "You sure you're all right filling these orders while I'm gone?"
"Mamey." Easy. Flo Callazzo was a real New Yorker, a proud Afro-Dominican-Puerto-Rican daughter
of the Bronx.
Me? Not so much. In Paris, my schoolgirl French had marked me as irredeemably "other." I'd thought
being back on American soil would feel like home. But my first week in the city, I'd realized my
down-home accent made me stick out among the fast-talking Yankees all around me. Waitresses
asked me to repeat myself. Buyers assumed I was uneducated. Guys figured I was easy. Or naive. A
dumb hick blonde.
Which worked to my advantage, sometimes.
"You're not getting out of your sister's wedding on account of me," Flo said.
"I'm not trying to get out of anything." I busied myself inserting a snap. "I already rented a car and
everything. I drive down Wednesday."
"Faster to fly."
"I thought I'd stop along the way. Take a day to do some store checks."
I didn't actually need to visit clients on my way to my sister's wedding. But I needed the car to transport
her wedding present, draped across the backseat.
Anyway, I loved walking into a store and seeing my bags, my brand, displayed on the gleaming
shelves. #bagsinthewild #ownit. I loved the expensive smell of the boutiques, citrus, sandalwood,
jasmine, the fragrant scent of bergamot oil. The accounts were always happy to see me, flattered I'd
gone out of my way to visit.
Not like going home at all.
Not that my family didn't love me, I told myself as I left the last client store in Raleigh and hit the
highway for my mother's farm. They did. All of them, even Jo. But my sisters were too busy with their
own lives to care much about mine.
Our mother, who never took a day's vacation in her life, had encouraged all of us girls to work hard
and follow our dreams. Meg was the perfect mother to two perfect children. Jo was a bestselling
author. Beth was a budding country star. And I . . . I made accessories. It didn't matter how many
Instagram followers or employees I had. In my family's eyes, I was still little Amy, playing with scraps
from Miss Hannah's quilting bag.
And yet . . . There was comfort in the familiar landscape rushing by, the tall pines stretching to the
wide blue sky, the sunlit ditches full of cattails and turtles, the poppies blooming by the side of the
road. I turned up the gravel drive marked SISTERS' FARM, the stones spitting beneath my tires. The
square frame house, the old mule barn turned creamery, the child's playset in the baby goats'
Too bad nobody was there. No car. No truck. Nobody.
I got out of the car and took a deep breath of country air scented with hay and the river. Also . . . goats.
Brown goats, black goats, striped and spotted goats, all sizes, smelling like cheese left out on the
counter too long. They crowded to the fence, bleating and bumping for attention, the babies skipping
around the paddock like they were auditioning for YouTube. Cute, if you liked that sort of thing.
Our mother loved them. Not more than she loved us girls, of course.
Our mother, Abigail March, could do anything-drive a tractor, make a pie crust, refinish a table. Find
anything-toys, shoes, missing homework. Fix anything, except a broken heart. She made sure we got
our shots and permission slips on time, taught Meg to cook and me to sew, and came to all our
school performances. But her time and attention were always rationed between us and the farm.
Meg said things were different before Daddy quit his job as a minister and went to Iraq as an army
chaplain. I remember I cried when we left the parsonage and all my friends in town. But I was only ten
when our mother moved us girls out to the farm. Most of my memories were of her working.
It wasn't like her to be gone in the middle of the day.
I didn't expect to see our dad. Mom had asked him to move out almost three years ago. But I felt his
absence like poking at a missing tooth with your tongue.
Stupid. Meg and Jo were grown and gone while I was still in high school. I should be used to coming
home to an almost empty house by now.
I leaned against the front fender as I called Momma's cell. She didn't pick up. Typical. "Why would I
ignore somebody standing right in front of me to answer the phone?" she liked to say. But I could
call Meg, my oldest sister. Meg was busy, too-her twins were about to turn five, and she kept the
books for several farms and businesses in town. But she always found time for me.
A guy walked around the corner of the barn. Tall and rough-looking, his face seamed with sun and
hard living behind a don't-mess-with-me beard.
I kept a hand on my phone just in case he turned out to be, oh, a serial killer or something. Living in
New York had taught me caution. And out here in the country, nobody was around to hear me scream.
He nodded in greeting. The strong, silent type, obviously. Beneath the beard, he looked vaguely
familiar. Which . . . Yeah. Everybody looked familiar in Bunyan. Because of inbreeding, Jo said. But it
was more that everybody had a cousin who used to go to your daddy's church or went to school with
your sister, strands of connection twined and knotted like macramé.
I tried again. "Do I know you?"
He looked at me, no expression at all, like a New Yorker. Or a Frenchman. "Dan Harkins."
I smiled encouragingly, waiting.
"I work for your ma."
So he knew who I was. Or at least that Momma was expecting me. I relaxed my grip on the phone.
Our mother came from tough Scottish stock, too proud-or too cheap-to pay somebody else to do her
work. But after she was hospitalized a couple years ago, she'd hired some of Dad's vets to do the
heavy lifting. Mom was better now, but as her herd and business grew, she'd kept on some of the new
"Where is my mother?" I asked.
"Over at Oak Hill." A pause. "Helping your sister."
Jo, being Jo, had taken a casual approach to her wedding. She and her love, Eric Bhaer, were
already living together, dividing their time between New York and North Carolina. They had three
kids-baby Rob and two teenage sons from Eric's previous marriage. It was only now that Eric's
ex-wife was deployed and his younger son Alec was coming to live with them that Jo decided it was
finally time to get married. "I don't need a poofy dress and a big, fancy wedding," Jo said when she
called me. "I just want to marry him."
So. No poof. No bachelorette parties, no bridal showers, no save-the-date cards or hair and makeup
trials. It wasn't quite an elopement-our great-aunt Josephine had offered her big old house at Oak Hill
for the wedding, and all the family would be there-but it was pretty close.
I thought of the garment bag in the backseat, hung from the hook on the passenger side. I had to give
it to Jo sometime. And there must be a million things to do before the ceremony on Sunday. Food.
Eric was a chef. Maybe I could help with the flowers or something.
"I guess I'll go give them a hand," I said.
Because nothing says I'm so sorry I slept with your old boyfriend like a flower arrangement. Anyway,
spending time with my sister couldn't be more awkward than hanging out here with Silent Sam.
With a little wave, I got back in the car, flipping down the visor to check my Parisian Red lipstick. The
little flick of eyeliner I'd applied so carefully this morning was only slightly smudged. Good enough, I
decided. It wasn't like I was going to see Trey. And Jo didn't care.
But Aunt Phee would, I thought as I turned down the long sandy lane toward Oak Hill. Nothing mattered
more to our great-aunt than appearances.
Our father grew up in the big white house on the hill. When Daddy deployed to Iraq, Momma refused
to move in with our father's aunt Phee, moving us instead to her parents' small farm. Over the years,
Oak Hill's land had been sold off to developers and the Coastal Land Trust, but the manor and some
of the original outbuildings remained. Too much space, Aunt Phee said, for one old lady. Our father
had moved into the carriage house after Momma kicked him out.
I could see signs of recent activity as I approached. The dark magnolias had been trimmed back from
the house, the columned porch freshly painted, and the grass mowed all the way down the long slope
to the duck pond. Azaleas and early roses bloomed everywhere, clouds of pink, red, and white,
transforming the scrubby gardens into the perfect wedding venue.
I pulled in the long circular drive behind our mother's battered blue pickup under a mature live oak
draped in Spanish moss. A white van with The Taproom logo-Eric's new restaurant in town-was
parked by the side of the house.
And there was my sister Jo, laughing and chasing Robbie over the grass. He was grinning at her over
his shoulder as he pushed a toy lawn mower, his fat little legs moving as fast as they could go.
Gladness and guilt surged inside me. And maybe . . . a pang of envy? She looked so happy.
"Jokies!" I cried, getting out of the car.
Which is what I always called her. We had always been rivals, for Dad's attention and, later, for Trey's.
She didn't confide in me, the way she did in Meg. She didn't baby me, the way she did Beth. But we
were sisters. The funny pet name was my way of establishing a special bond between us.
Robbie looked in the direction of my voice, stumbled over the mower, and fell.
"Oh shit. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. You're okay," Jo said. To which one of us? She scooped up her baby, smooching his
cheeks and propping him on her hip. She smiled at me over his head. "Hey, Ames."
I hugged her awkwardly, the baby between us. He peeped at me from her neck, his shy smile
revealing a string of little pearl teeth. He had his daddy's dark skin and curly hair. Eyelashes to die for.
"Hello, handsome." I kissed his forehead gently. "You're getting so big," I marveled.
"Nineteen months." Jo shifted his weight. "Good to see you. Mom wasn't sure when you were getting
"I wanted to come early to help. Not that you need it," I added. "Everything looks wonderful."
"Thanks. Wait till you see the inside," Jo said.
I thought of fetching her wedding present from the car. But her arms were full with Rob, and anyway, it
was her turn to show off. I trailed her up the wide, shallow steps to the high, shaded porch. Planters of
ferns flanked the leaded glass door.
Oak Hill manor was built in 1852 in the Greek Revival style. Aunt Phee's taste in furnishings was
almost as old. But the faded velvet drapes and most of the oriental carpets were gone, the pine floors
refinished, the walls painted a creamy neutral. The whole effect was light, bright, and inviting.
"Wow." I surveyed the changes. Tables had been set up in the living and dining rooms. Dining chairs
were stacked in the hall. "I thought you wanted a simple wedding."
"Oh, it's not for the wedding." Jo's face lit with excitement. "Tell her."
Only one man brought that light to my sister's face. I turned to see her honey, Chef Eric Bhaer, striding
from the direction of the kitchen. Arm Porn Guy, I'd dubbed him when they first got together. He kissed
Jo and hefted their baby in the air, making him squeal with delight, before wrapping me in a big bear
"Amy! Spatz!" Sparrow, in German. I felt a little glow at the special pet name. "It's so good to have you
Here was the welcome I'd hoped for. Eric was such a great guy. There was a time I couldn't imagine
how Jo could possibly reject Theodore James Laurence III in favor of, well, any other man. But
obviously my sister had made the right choice. Which only proved-didn't it?-that I was over Trey. "Tell
me what?" I asked.
"Eric's opening a restaurant," Jo said.
"Another one?" I asked.
Jo nodded, beaming. "Here at Oak Hill."
"But you just opened The Taproom."
"A year ago," Jo said.
"I wanted someplace for everyone to go year-round," Eric said. "Casual dining, but good food."
"And ever since The Taproom opened, we've been mobbed," Jo said. "Especially on weekends
during the tourist season. So Eric got the idea for Oak Hill. Fine dining, in season, weekends only."
"What about Gusto?" His restaurant in New York. The one that launched his bestselling cookbook.
"I will still consult, yeah? But I have been in New York for ten years. When I started, my restaurant is
something different. Now there are restaurants like Gusto on every corner. Here in Bunyan, I am
making a difference again."
"Eric started hiring teens at The Taproom. Training them," Jo said. "But now he has the chance to do
more. He's hired a whole new staff. Local kids who can't afford culinary school. Working at Oak Hill
will give them a chance to learn the high-end food business-everything from busing and dishwashing
to cooking and hosting-without going into a bunch of debt."
"I do not do it alone. Your sister is teaching them life skills, how to budget, how to write a résumé."
"Jo wants to change the world," Trey had said one summer long ago. "And you want to make it
"It's a great idea. But how on earth did you get Aunt Phee to go along?"
"It was her idea," Jo said. "She wants Oak Hill to stay in the family, and she wants us to spend more
time in North Carolina. So she offered us Oak Hill."
"But where will she live?" I asked.
"She's moving into the carriage house. At least for now."
"Aunt Phee is going to live with Dad?"
Jo hesitated. "I think they're still working that part out."
"She is in the library with your mother now," Eric said. "They will be glad to see you."
"They were arguing about a seating chart for the reception when I left," Jo said.
"Oh." Well. Definitely not the time to spring my surprise on Jo. "I'll go . . . referee."
Jo grinned. "Better you than me."
My sandals tapped and echoed on the polished pine floor. ". . . have a responsibility," Phee was
insisting as I came down the hall.
"Not anymore." My mother's voice was flat.
I blinked. Abby March was all about taking responsibility.
"He's still your husband," Phee said, and my stomach sank.
They weren't talking about the wedding. They were arguing about Dad. I pasted a smile on my face
and pushed open the door. "Hey, Momma," I said brightly. "Hi, Aunt Phee. Am I interrupting?"
Phee glowered. She and my mother faced off across the library desk. My mother's hands and lips
were pressed together, a sure sign she was angry. But she smiled when she saw me.
"Hey, sweetie. What are you doing here?"
Like I needed another reason to feel de trop. I felt my smile slipping and dragged it back. "I thought I'd
come in early. To help." I gave Momma a quick hug before going around the desk to kiss Phee's
cheek. The little dog in her lap growled.
"What about your work?" my mother asked.
"Flo's handling orders while I'm gone. That's the advantage of owning your own business," I said. "I
can take time off." As long as I paid for the extra help and checked in three or four times a day.
If my mother was impressed by my entrepreneurship, she didn't show it. "Jo doesn't want a lot of
Don't fuss was our mother's motto. I pictured it embroidered under an imaginary coat of arms: two
goats on a green field, with a pricker bush.
"I thought I could help with the flowers," I said.
"Meg ordered the bouquets already. She's coming over later."
"What about table arrangements?"
"I'm picking up flowers when I go to the farmers' market on Saturday." Something must have shown in
my face, because our mother added, "You could arrange those. You did such a nice job for Meg's
Phee sniffed. "You want to make yourself useful, you can take Polly for a walk."
"Nice to see you, too, Aunt Phee."
I eyed the bad-tempered Yorkie on her lap. The dog didn't seem any more excited at the prospect of
a walk than I was. But I was obviously in the way here. Besides, our family owed Aunt Phee. She had
paid for my postgraduation trip to Europe. She had opened her home to Dad. And she was doing
such a generous thing for Jo and Eric, letting them have the wedding here. Letting them have Oak Hill.
Hm, I thought as I clipped the lead to Polly's collar. I wasn't jealous. Exactly. But if Phee was going to
invest in her great nieces, why not me?
Polly and I meandered toward the duck pond, the little dog stopping frequently to sniff. The sun
sparkled on the flat water. A faint breeze rippled the surface, stirring the reeds at the water's edge,
loosening a shower of petals from the nearby apple trees. All the scene needed to be perfect was
Colin Firth in a wet white shirt. In spite of the smell of pond decay.
Polly growled and quivered. A family of Canada geese was browsing on the bank, the adults standing
at attention over five little goslings.
"Don't even think about it," I told her sternly. "They'll eat you for lunch."
Polly snorted and busied herself with a stick. Let her. I didn't care if she made herself sick.
While Polly rootled at the ground, I contemplated the azaleas, wondering how long the blooms would
last if I cut some branches to use in wedding arrangements. A burst of yapping grabbed my attention.
Polly tugged against my hold on her leash. There was a squawk. A honk.
I looked. Polly had seized one of the goslings by the neck and stood with her struggling prize on the
bank, triumphant and seeming slightly bewildered by her success. Shit. I started forward. But not
before Momma and Poppa Goose lunged, necks outstretched, black beaks open and hissing.
"No!" I shouted. "Polly, stop! Drop it!"
Wild-eyed, the dog obeyed. Or maybe the gosling freed itself. Peeping in distress, the bird ran for its
mother. But it was too late. As Momma Goose shepherded her baby to safety, Poppa attacked.
Polly yelped and stumbled under the rush of the bird's wings, tumbling into the water.
"No!" I yelled again. "Shoo!"
The goose paid no attention, fixing its beady eyes menacingly on the dog.
Crap, crap, crap. I ran into the pond, my sandals sinking in the muck, and scooped up Polly. The
Yorkie bit me, drawing blood. The indignity of it-after I'd rescued her, the little monster!-slapped my
senses. The goose advanced on us, hissing, head moving side to side like a snake's. I clutched Polly
to my chest.
And then, apparently deciding I wasn't worth it, the big bird folded its wings and launched past me,
rejoining its family in the center of the pond.
The ripples faded in its wake. I stood there, dripping and shaking with shock. In my arms, Polly shook,
"I thought I heard a commotion," said Trey's voice.
I swayed. I was hallucinating. Unless . . . I turned. Nope. There he was, in the flesh, on the bank,
golden-skinned and lean and perfect, the only boy I'd ever loved.
Of course he would show up now, I thought. When I was wet, muddy, and bloody. At a total
disadvantage. History repeating itself.
Our gazes locked. "Little Amy." He smiled crookedly. "I should have known it would be you."
My vision grayed. And I realized two things.
One, I was quite possibly going to faint.
And two, I wasn't over him after all.
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