March 15, 2022
Standalone Women's Fiction
One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery.
Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future. She has always put her family first. Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?
Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.
But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.
“I’m going to sleep with Dimitri.”
Robyn Caldwell picked up her glass of white wine and briefly thought about swallowing the entire contents in one gulp. Mindy’s statement was certainly gulp-worthy. But she knew pacing herself through lunch was the responsible thing to do. A lesson her friend had yet to learn.
“You are not,” Robyn murmured, because shrieking wasn’t attractive. Especially at “the club,” where their friends and frenemies were also enjoying Thursday’s lobster salad. The dining room was filled with forty or so women, all dressed in Florida chic—diamonds sparkling, gold or platinum charm bracelets clinking, necklaces resting on tanned and toned skin.
“I might,” Mindy Krause said, picking up her champagne. “He’s gorgeous.”
“Of course. He’s a thirty-year-old tennis pro. What else would he be?”
Mindy, a petite brunette who was six months from turning forty, sighed. “I need a Dimitri in my life.”
“You have a great husband. Payne loves you and the kids, and never has eyes for another woman. Why would you screw that up?”
“Payne would never know.”
“There aren’t any secrets in this town. Not in our social circle.”
Something Robyn had learned the hard way herself. She’d been blissfully unaware of her ex-husband’s affairs until a “friend” had oh-so-sweetly informed her.
“Maybe just some kissing,” Mindy mused. “I want a little Dimitri action. The fantasies make me happy, so imagine what the real thing would do.”
“The fantasies are safe. The real thing could destroy everything you have. Knowing you’ve cheated would devastate Payne.”
Mindy’s mouth formed a pout. “I never see him anymore. All he does is work.”
Robyn stared at her friend-slash-boss. “You two talked about how that promotion would be more work for him but that it would be worth it. You wanted this for him.”
“I didn’t know how much he’d be gone.”
The unreasonable statement grated nearly as much as Mindy’s whine. “This isn’t a good look for you,” Robyn murmured. “You’re changing the rules without telling your husband. That never ends well.”
Mindy dismissed the warning with a quick shake of her head. “I’m not worried. Besides, if he does find out, I can just move in with you.” She laughed. “You’ll soon have that big house all to yourself.”
“You have four kids,” Robyn pointed out. “If things go south in your marriage, I’d rather have Payne move in.”
“Well, that would get people talking.” Mindy held up her empty glass to the server. “More, please.”
The server obliged.
Mindy took another sip. “My sister called, swears she found a Thomas Pister chest in a tiny shop in Wales. It’s dirt cheap, so I’m afraid it’s a fake. She’s looking for someone to prove authenticity. Wouldn’t that be a find?”
“It would. I’d love to see it.”
Thomas Pister had built beautiful chests and cabinets in the late 1600s and early 1700s. His intricate designs with stunning inlays sold quickly and for huge amounts. Depending on the condition and the materials, a good-sized chest of drawers could go for sixty or eighty thousand dollars.
“She also found a couple of early Dutch strongboxes,” Mindy added. “Those sell for at least thirty K.”
Mindy, along with her three sisters, owned an exclusive antique shop in Naples. None of the other sisters lived in Florida, so Mindy was in charge of retail. Her sisters traveled extensively, keeping the shop well-stocked with unique and expensive items.
Robyn and Mindy had met in the store. Robyn was a frequent client, although her taste was slightly less upscale than much of Mindy’s inventory. They’d quickly moved to having lunch every month. When a part-time position had opened up, Robyn had applied. It was only a few hours a week, but Robyn enjoyed working with the other clients, as well as checking out whatever was new in the store. The selling wasn’t her favorite, but learning about different eras and the history of each piece enthralled her.
Mindy set down her glass. “How goes the wedding?”
Robyn did her best not to grimace. “So far we’re just talking generalities.”
“You’re still not happy they’re engaged?”
Robyn again resisted the urge to chug her wine. “Kip’s great. He adores Harlow, and doesn’t every mother want that in a future son-in-law? I just wish…”
She placed her hands flat on the table. “She’s barely twenty-two. They’ve known each other less than a year, and getting married is such a big step. Why can’t they live together for a few years? Take off for Paris or go hiking in Chile? Why get married so quickly?”
Mindy tried to hide her amusement. “And how old were you when you married Cord?”
“Nineteen.” Robyn sighed. “Which is my point. I had a two-year-old when I was Harlow’s age. Sure, I had my kids early, but what if I hadn’t? What if I’d gone to college or spent six months in Australia or done something other than what I did?”
“So is your concern about what Harlow might miss out on or what you gave up?”
A very valid question, Robyn thought. “How can you be insightful? That’s your third glass of champagne.”
“Liquor brings out my best qualities.”
“I don’t regret my life. I love my kids. I wouldn’t wish them away.”
“I want her to have options.” She picked up her fork. “Not a conversation my daughter wants to have with me.” She and Harlow had managed to survive the teen years with hardly a cross word, but lately, they seemed to be fighting all the time.
“Would you have listened to your mother?” Mindy asked.
“I’m not sure. She died when I was eleven.”
Mindy’s brown eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay. As for talking to her when I was Harlow’s age, I probably wouldn’t have listened, either. I want to say I would have been mature and interested in her opinion, but it seems unlikely.”
Mindy touched her hand. “It’s your past, Robyn. You rewrite it however you’d like.”
“Thanks. The last time Harlow mentioned the wedding, she said something about wanting to dye the pool to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.”
“Can you even do that?”
“No idea, and I really don’t want to know.” She could only hope that her daughter’s wedding plans became a little more normal as time passed. Or that she decided to elope. Or hey, postpone.
“Want to play tennis next week?” Mindy asked brightly.
Robyn eyed her. “I’m not interested in meeting your fantasy guy.”
“Why not? Once you see him, you’ll have to admit he’s totally worth the risk.”
Robyn gave in to the inevitable and swallowed the rest of her wine. “Mindy, you make me crazy. You have a perfectly good penis at home. One is enough. Forget about Derrick.”
“Whatever. Don’t risk your marriage and your family. He’s not worth it.”
“But I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” She smiled dreamily. “At least let me see him naked.”
“See a therapist instead.”
Mindy assumed Robyn was kidding and burst out laughing. Robyn faked a smile, even as she told herself to stop trying to convince her friend of anything. Based on how her children were behaving lately, she had no skills at persuasion. Oh, for the days when she could bribe them with a Popsicle.
She excused herself to use the restroom. Halfway across the room, Madison Greene spotted her. The fiftysomething avid golfer’s favorite hobby was spreading bad news. The sight of her wave and quick approach caused Robyn to nearly stumble. What now?
“Robyn, darling. You look amazing. What are you doing these days? You never join me for a foursome.”
Robyn smiled as they exchanged an air-kiss, not bothering to point out that she didn’t golf.
“Always a pleasure, Madison,” she said, bracing herself.
“I heard Harlow’s engaged. You must be thrilled. My oldest refused to get married until she was nearly thirty. It was a nightmare. But she finally did the deed.”
Madison glanced around, as if checking that they were alone, which they weren’t. They were in a crowded dining room, not that Madison would care. She was here to share something awful, and the more people who heard it, the better.
“Is Cord’s relationship going to be a problem for you and Harlow? Boys will be boys, but it’s just so awkward.”
Robyn thought briefly about a quick, “We’re fine,” only she had no idea what Madison was talking about. And not knowing something about her ex-husband could be risky, especially if their daughter was involved.
Madison shook her head in faux sympathy. “You have no idea what I’m talking about. Oh, no. I shouldn’t have said a word.”
“But you did, didn’t you?”
Madison blinked at her. “Yes, well, it’s just I thought you should know. Cord is dating Zafina.”
Why did anyone think she was the least bit interested in who her ex-husband went out with? “I have no idea who that is.”
Thin eyebrows rose as much as the Botox would let them. “Your ex-husband is dating your daughter’s fiancé’s twin sister.”
Robyn stood there, trying to absorb the words. Cord was dating Harlow’s fiancé’s twin sister?
“I didn’t know Kip had a twin sister,” she said before she could stop herself. Crap! Double crap!
Madison offered a self-satisfied smile. “I wondered why you were so calm. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you such bad news.”
“Are you?” Robyn asked before she could stop herself. “It seems to me you’re delighted. It must be hard having such a small life.”
With that she turned away and continued her journey to the restroom. Once she was safely in the bathroom stall, she took a moment to decide if she was going to pee, as she’d originally planned, or just plain puke.