by Lynette Austin
Picture Perfect Wedding, the third book in my Magnolia Brides series, Tansy Calhoun Forbes, Beck Elliot’s first and only love, married someone else and had a daughter, Gracie Bella, to him. Tansy’s returned to Misty Bottoms, Georgia, her small hometown to open Sweet Dreams, where she’ll create wedding cakes for the Magnolia brides.
While she and Beck are still dancing around a relationship, he’s fallen hard for her four-year-old daughter. In this scene, Tansy has invited Beck to dinner with her and Gracie. I admit to more than a few tears as I wrote these pages.
Beck finished the book, his arm tightening around Gracie as he leaned forward and laid it on the coffee table. He sniffed her hair. “You smell good, Gracie Bella.”
“My mama puts lotion on me.”
“Ah, I see. Do you think that’s why she smells good, too?”
“Uh-huh.” Gracie looked up at him with those expressive eyes as she twisted the bow on her T-shirt. “My daddy doesn’t like me.”
The words left Beck totally vulnerable.
Gracie sat very still in his lap, her eyes never leaving his.
He fought for the right words. Kissing the top of the girl’s head, he said, “That can’t be true, sweetheart. How could anyone not love you?”
She shook her head, her long hair swinging side to side. “He told me so. Lots and lots of times.” She reached up and put one hand on either side of his face. “I wish you were my daddy.”
He heard a small sound and looked up to see Tansy in the doorway.
“Wait! I forgotted.” Gracie jumped off his lap and skirted around Tansy. Crouching, she rooted around in her backpack. Pulling out a small piece of crumpled red paper, she ran back to Beck. “Teacher said to give this to our daddy. I don’t have one anymore, so I’ll give it to you.”
Jeez, could she stick that knife in any deeper? He unfolded the paper, skimmed it, and glanced up at Tansy.
“What is it?”
“An invitation to the preschool’s father/daughter luncheon tomorrow.”
The color leeched from her face, and she sank into a chair, setting the coffee cups on a side table. “Oh, sweetie.” She drew her daughter to her. “Why didn’t you tell me? Beck can’t—”
For a heartbeat, he couldn’t string three words together. Then he blurted, “Yes, Beck can,” he said. “If it’s okay with you.”
“Please, Mama, please.” Gracie twined her arms around Tansy’s neck. “I want Beck to go with me.”
“Are you sure?” Tansy raised stricken eyes to his.
“But you have to work.”
“Nothin’ needs done that won’t wait. This is important, sugar.”
Gracie looked from one to the other with basset-hound eyes. It would take a stronger man than he was to say no to that face. How could a person ever deny her anything?
“I think it would be wonderful.” The smile Tansy sent his way did crazy things to him. “Gracie, honey, why don’t you tell Beck good night? It’s time for bed.”
“Will you come for my school party tomorrow?”
Gracie patted his cheek. “Will you come for dinner again?”
He looked to Tansy for help. What did he say? The tenacious child was laying him bare. The daughter wanted him here, but did her mother? He hoped so, but with Tansy…
“We’ll see.” A nonanswer, but the best he could do.
Gracie’s grin was his reward. She crawled back up into his lap, pulled his head toward hers, and gave him a big, sloppy kiss.
He kissed her back, then lifted her off his lap. “Night, sugar.”
As she left the room, one hand in Tansy’s, she turned and blew him another kiss.
He caught it and closed his fist, holding it tightly.
Then he slipped quietly out of the house.
I hope this scene touched you as much as it did me. And Beck? I love him and hope you do, too.
What do you think makes a great hero?
Book #3 of the Magnolia Brides series
One mistake can change everything…foreverBeck Elliot and Tansy Calhoun were inseparable—until Tansy left Misty Bottoms, Georgia, promising to come back after she finished school. Beck stayed behind to save the family business, dreaming of the day when Tansy would return. Instead, his trust and his heart were broken when she inexplicably married another man and bore his child.Five years later, Tansy comes home, a sadder and wiser woman. Despite his anger, Beck finds it hard to avoid her and her adorable little daughter—especially with all the busybodies of Misty Bottoms going out of their way to throw him and Tansy together, hoping a lingering spark will reignite their enduring flame...
ExcerptIn a perfect world or, heck, even in a movie, music would play softly in the background. The SUV’s windows would be down, her auburn hair blowing softly in the breeze. Her hero would wait at the road’s end, arms open and welcoming.They’d kiss…Tansy Calhoun Forbes’s cell rang, and, startled, she glanced in the rearview mirror. Gracie, her four-year-old daughter, slept soundly, a welcome respite from today’s endless are-we-there-yets.“Hello?” she practically whispered.“You unpacked yet?” Jenni Beth Beaumont, her best friend forever, sounded stressed.“Still a few miles from town, but almost there.”“Good. Great. Listen, I know this has been a stressful day, heck, a stressful year, and you’re tired…”Tansy smiled. She could practically see her friend squirming. “What do you need, Jenni Beth?”“Oh, Tanz, I have two weddings and a sixteenth birthday party coming up this week. Magnolia Brides is booked solid for the next nine months—my dream come true—but I’m dying here! I need cakes. Phenomenal cakes. Your cakes!”“I don’t have—”“Kitty said you can use the bakery’s kitchen.”Tansy sighed and ran her fingers through already-mussed hair.“I know, I know.” Jenni Beth’s tension vibrated over the airwaves. “I’m putting you on the spot. Big-time. I’m a horrible person. An even worse friend.”“No, you’re not.” Determined, Tansy sat up a little straighter. “This is exactly what I’ve insisted I want. Part of the reason I’m on my way home. Color me stupid, but I’m in.”As the city-limits sign loomed, she hung up and removed her dark glasses. Misty Bottoms, Georgia. The Low Country. Even slowing to a crawl didn’t stop the inevitable.Home, sweet home.Right back at the starting gate.Waiting for her? No music, no hero, and no kiss.And no one but herself to blame.Tansy pushed her sunglasses back in place and glared at the brilliant sunshine that bathed the beyond-gorgeous autumn day. The humidity had dropped, and a few white clouds drifted high in the bluebird sky. Shouldn’t it be raining, the sky dark with ominous thunderheads?Divorced for fifty-three days, five hours, and—she checked the dashboard clock—six minutes, and here she was, hell-bent on creating the cake for a bride’s special day.She’d had her own shot at the dream and lost—because the wrong groom stood beside her at the altar.Walking out of her supersized house that morning had been confusing. She’d expected a huge weight to lift, and it had. Still, that was the house she’d brought Gracie home to after she’d been born. Where her first four birthdays had been celebrated. Christmases and Thanksgivings.And so much unhappiness and deceit.A building off to Tansy’s right caught her attention and caused a hitch in her heart. Elliot Construction and Lumberyard.Beck Elliot, the groom behind door number one, the door she hadn’t chosen.Oh boy. Was she making another mistake? Should she have started over somewhere else?Ding, ding, ding. The low-fuel indicator chimed, and the little red light blinked on. Shoot!Tommy’s Texaco loomed.Relieved, she flipped on her turn signal, veered into the lot, and pulled up to the gas pump.And there it sat.A big red truck with Elliot Construction on the side.The door to the gas station opened, and Beck Elliot, looking hotter than any man had a right in dusty jeans, a faded T-shirt, and old work boots, stepped outside.He tore the wrapper off a candy bar and took a bite.Then his intense, midnight-blue eyes met hers. The chill had her rubbing her arms even though the temperature read seventy-five in the shade.As she got out, her gaze collided with Beck’s again.His eyes radiated resentment and betrayed hopes.Hers? She figured they held remorse, hurt, and impossible-to-deny desire.Beck nearly choked on the bite of chocolate. What the hell?He tossed the bar into the trash barrel outside the door.Months ago, he’d heard rumblings that Tansy’d enrolled her daughter in the local preschool, but since no one had said anything else about it, he’d figured she’d changed her mind. That fancy SUV of hers was loaded to the roof, though, way more than she’d need for a quick visit.His chest constricted, and he swore under his breath. Why would she return to Misty Bottoms? She looked like one of those emaciated French models in the magazines his mom read. A good strong wind off the coast would blow her from here to Atlanta.The strong, carefree Tansy he’d known had disappeared. She’d become… He didn’t know. Ethereal came to mind.Not his business—and she’d be the first to tell him that.“Hey, Beck,” Tommy said. “Got your truck filled for ya.”“Thanks. I left the money on the counter. Later, pal.”Without another word, without another glance toward the woman he’d once expected to marry, Beck hopped in his truck, turned the key, and pulled out of the gas station, reminding himself that Tansy Calhoun—no, make that Tansy Forbes—was history. Ancient history.