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THE CHRISTMAS WEDDING GUEST

SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

September 28, 2021

The Christmas Wedding Guest

Wishing Tree, Book No. 1

Susan Mallery, author of the Fool’s Gold romances, cheerfully invites you to Wishing Tree, where Christmas comes to life…

The Somerville sisters believe in love, but they’ve lost faith it will happen for them. Reggie hasn’t been home since the end of the world’s shortest engagement. When her parents decide to renew their vows, she buffs up her twinkle to help with the Christmas wedding. Unexpectedly, Toby, her first love, is back too, and the spark between them shines as brightly as ever. In the spirit of the season, will they let go of past hurts and greet the new year together?

Done waiting for the one, Dena is pregnant and on her own—on purpose. But then a gorgeous, sad-eyed songwriter checks into a room at her inn. Micah, unable to write since he lost his wife, finds inspiration in Dena’s determination to be a mom. One snowflake-speckled kiss and he’s a goner. But Dena is afraid to believe that a rock star could fall for a cookie-cutter small-town girl like her.

As the Christmas wedding draws closer, these two sisters just might unwrap the most treasured gift of all…love.

Chapter One

“It’s a vacuum,” Reggie Somerville said, trying to sound less doubtful than she felt. “You reinvented the vacuum?”

Gizmo stared at her, his hurt obvious, even behind his thick glasses. “It’s a smart vacuum.”

“Don’t we already have those round ones that zip across a room?”

“They’re not smart. They’re average. Mine is smart.”

Reggie was less sure about the vacuum’s intelligence than her client’s. Gizmo had a brain that existed on a different plane than those of average humans. His ideas were extraordinary. His execution, however, wasn’t always successful. A basic knowledge of coding shouldn’t be required to work any household appliance—a fact she’d tried to explain to him about fifty-seven thousand times.

She eyed the triangular-shaped head of the vacuum. The bright purple casing was appealing, and she liked that it could roam on its own or be a regular stick vacuum if that was what she wanted. The printed instructions—about eighteen pages long—were a little daunting, but she would get through them.

If the trial went well, she and Gizmo would discuss the next steps, including her design suggestions. Once those were incorporated, they would start beta testing his latest invention. In the meantime, she would be doing a lot of vacuuming.

“I’ll get you my report in a couple of weeks,” she said.

Gizmo, a slight, pale twenty-year-old who lived with his extended family just north of Seattle, offered her a small smile. “You can have until the first of the year. I’m going to be busy with Christmas decorations for the house. We started putting them up just after Halloween, and it’s about to get really intense. I’ve worked out some of the kinks from last year, so the animatronics look more real. It’s taking a lot of time. My grandma’s really into it.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“We’re launching the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we’ll be upgrading everything through December. Come by close to Christmas. You’ll be blown away.”

“I can’t wait,” she said with a laugh.

She and Gizmo talked for a few more minutes before she walked him out of her home office. When the door closed behind her client, Belle, her one-hundred-twenty-pound Great Dane, poked her large head out from behind the desk.

“You didn’t come say goodbye to Gizmo,” Reggie said. “I thought you liked him.”

Belle shifted her gaze to the purple vacuum sitting in the middle of the area rug, obviously pointing out that potential death still lurked.

“It’s not going to hurt you,” Reggie told her. “It’s not even turned on.”

Belle’s brows drew together, as if she wasn’t willing to accept the validity of that claim. Reggie tried to keep from smiling. Belle made a low sound in her throat, as though reminding Reggie of Gizmo’s last invention.

“Yes, I do remember what happened with the dog walker robot,” Reggie admitted.

The sturdy, odd-looking robot had started out well enough—walking a very concerned Belle around their small yard. Unfortunately, about ten minutes in, something had gone wrong with the programming, and the robot had started chasing her instead. Belle, not the bravest of creatures, had broken through the screen door in her effort to escape the attack, hiding behind Reggie’s desk for the rest of the day.

Gizmo had been crushed by the failure and had needed nearly as much reassurance as the dog. Sometimes, Reggie thought with a sigh, her job was the weirdest one ever.

“I’m going to leave this right here,” Reggie told Belle. “It’s turned off, so you can poke at it with your nose and get used to it.”

Belle took two steps back toward the desk, her body language clearly saying she would never get used to it, and why couldn’t Reggie have a regular job that didn’t threaten the life of her only pet?

“Or you could sit on it,” Reggie pointed out. “The robot weighs about ten pounds. You’re more than ten times that size. You could probably crush it like a bug.”

The dog’s brown eyes widened slightly, filled with affront.

Reggie held in another smile. “I’m not commenting on your weight. You’re very beautiful and way skinnier than me.”

She settled on the sofa and patted the space next to her. Belle loped all of three strides before jumping up and leaning heavily against Reggie. The soft rose-colored sweater Belle wore to protect herself from the damp cold of mid-November looked good on her dark gray fur. Reggie put an arm around her dog and pulled her phone out of her pocket. A quick glance at the screen told her she’d missed a call. From her mother.

She tried to ignore her sudden sense of dread. Not that she didn’t love her parents—she did. Very much. They were good people who cared about her. But they were going to insist she come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and she couldn’t think of a single reason to refuse.

Last year had been different. Last year, she’d stayed in Seattle, with only Belle for company, enduring the holidays rather than enjoying them. She’d given herself through New Year’s to mourn the breakup and subsequent humiliation that went with the man of her dreams proposing at the Lighting of the Trees on the Friday after Thanksgiving, arranging an impromptu celebration party on Saturday, and then dumping her on Sunday.

After sharing her happiness with nearly everyone she knew, having her friends coo over her gorgeous ring and ask about wedding plans, she’d had to explain Jake had changed his mind. She assumed. His actual words, “I can’t do this. It’s over. I’m sorry,” hadn’t given her much to work with.

Hurt and ashamed, she’d buried herself in work and her life in Seattle. She hadn’t returned home to Wishing Tree even once since it had happened, preferring to lick her wounds in private. She’d told herself she was healing, but Reggie knew the truth was less flattering. She was hiding, and it was time to suck it up and get over herself. She’d worked hard to put Jake behind her and move on with her life. Thanksgiving was next week, and she was going home, like she did every year. Besides, it wasn’t as if she was still mourning her ex-fiancé. She’d gotten over him, and now it was time to demonstrate that to her hometown…and possibly herself.

“At least, that’s the plan,” Reggie told her dog and pushed the button to phone her mother.

“Hey, Mom,” she said when the call was answered.

“Reggie! It’s you. You’ll never guess. It’s so wonderful. Your dad and I are getting married.”

Reggie blinked a couple of times. “You’re already married. Your thirty-fifth wedding anniversary is coming up next month. I thought we’d have a party or something.” She and her sister had talked about the possibility a couple of weeks ago.

Her mother laughed. “You’re right. Technically, we’re married. We eloped and I have to tell you, I’ve always regretted not having a big wedding. Your father pointed out I’ve been upset about that for the last thirty-five years, so maybe it was time to do something about it. We’ve decided we’re renewing our vows with a big wedding and a reception afterwards. It’ll be the Wednesday before Christmas.”

“You’re having a wedding?”

“Yes. Up at the resort. We’re inviting everyone. It’s been so much fun, but the planning is getting out of hand. I was hoping you could help me.”

“With your wedding?”

“Yes, dear. Are you feeling all right?”

“My head’s spinning a little.”

“I know it’s a surprise, but I’m so happy. You’re coming home for Thanksgiving, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“Good. So I was thinking you could just stay through Christmas. There’s plenty of room down in the basement for you to work. You could handle your business in the morning and help me in the afternoon. It’s only five weeks, Reggie. You have a job that lets you work from anywhere.”

While that was technically true, Reggie wasn’t thrilled at the thought of packing up her life and moving in with her folks for over a month.

“What about Belle?” she asked, hoping bringing up that subject would help shift things.

“You know we love her.”

“She’s afraid of Burt.”

“Oh, they’re fine together. It’s all a big game.”

Reggie thought about how Belle quivered with fear every time she saw her father’s small dachshund in the room. Burt was normally good-natured, but he’d never taken to Belle and spent most of his time running after her and biting her ankles. Belle, for her part, tried to keep out of his way, frequently traversing a room by going from tabletop to sofa to chair, often with disastrous results.

“I want her to be a flower girl,” her mother added. “We’ll get her an adorable dress and she can have a basket of rose petals hanging around her neck.”

Reggie rubbed her dog’s back. “She’d look good as a flower girl.”

“See? Say you’ll come home and help with me with my wedding, Reggie. I need you. Dena’s busy with school, and she’s developed terrible morning sickness. I have no idea where she got it from—I was fine with both my pregnancies, but she’s wiped out. You’ve been gone too long. It’s time to come home.”

Almost the exact words Reggie had told herself, minus the wedding guilt.

“Mom,” she began, then held in a sigh. Why fight the inevitable? Once she was home, she would be happy she’d done the right thing. Plus, it was Wishing Tree at Christmas—nowhere else in the world came close to that little slice of magic.

“Sure. I’ll be there. Belle and I will drive over the day after tomorrow.”

“I’m so happy,” her mother squealed. “Thank you. We’re going to have fun, you’ll see. We haven’t had the first snowfall yet. Maybe you’ll be home for that, and you can go to the big town party. All right, now that I know you’ll be home for the holidays, I have yet another favor to ask you.”

Reggie wasn’t sure if she should laugh or moan. “What did you do?”

“Nothing, really.”

“It has to be something or we wouldn’t be talking about it.”

“Yes. Good point. Dena’s class is going to do a knitting project for their holiday charity. Normally I’d be happy to manage it for her, but this year with the wedding and all, I just don’t have time. I was hoping you could do it for me.”

Dena closed her eyes. “Mom,” she began, then stopped, knowing she was going to say yes in the end, so why fight it?

Every year students at the local elementary school came up with several charity projects to do in December. Since Dena, Reggie’s older sister, had started teaching there, the family had also gotten involved. For the past couple of years, Reggie’s mom had been in charge of that project, organizing supplies and students, paving the way for their good deed.

“This is why I’ve avoided coming home,” Reggie said weakly.

“No, it’s not. You avoided coming home because Jake Crane was too stupid to realize what he had with you. I hope he spends the rest of his life regretting his decision and fighting a very painful rash.”

“Go, Mom.”

Her mother laughed. “I can be supportive.”

“You always are.” Reggie smiled. “Fine, I’ll be the knitting queen.”

“Wonderful. I’ll email you the information you’ll need to get up to speed. You’re going to have a great time with the kids. In the meantime, be thinking about wedding favors. Something we’ll make ourselves, so it will be really special. I was playing with the idea of painted coasters, or we could make soap. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that. We could go botanical or floral.”

They were going to make soap? “You know you can buy really cute little soaps, Mom. They sell them online.”

“I’m not buying the favors. I want this to be a project for us to do together. Anyway, I’ll see you soon. Let me know when you leave Seattle so I can start worrying when you’re not here on time.”

“How about if I just show up unexpectedly so you don’t have to worry at all?”

“Where’s the fun in that? I can’t wait to see you. I’ll give Dad your love.”

“Thanks, Mom. And congratulations on the wedding.”

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