Autumn Warren and her friend Cecily determine to have one last hurrah before the crazy whirl of planning Cecily’s wedding. Autumn reluctantly agrees to lay off the barbed comments about her friend’s imminent move to Italy (for no better reason than that Cecily fell in love) and the girls rent an apartment at Cambria’s Paradise Pines Lodge for the entire fall season.
Autumn’s reluctant agreement to remain silent regarding her friend’s upcoming marriage, in no way indicates a change of heart about letting a man into her own life. She’s watched enough friends get married and divorced to sour her on the subject of love and the sanctity of marriage. (Autumn isn’t exactly a religious person, but she doesn’t believe in divorce, and seriously…given the current divorce statistics, why even risk it?)
But when she meets Russ Amundsen and his adorable daughter, Dalynn, she finds herself in danger of losing her carefully guarded heart. And what is it about the mysterious Miss Angelina Love—who may or may not own Paradise Pines—that makes Autumn believe her heart never stood a chance once she set foot inside the lodge?
Autumn Warren covered both ears with her hands and gave her head a vehement shake. Bright auburn hair went wild, wrapping long tendrils around her neck and over her face. She swept it out of her eyes with an impatient flick of one wrist. “Take it back, Ceci!” She stomped one booted foot and crossed her arms like a pouty child.
Cecily Adams rolled a pair of stunning violet eyes. “Honey, you can be so dramatic sometimes.”
Autumn dropped backward into the cushy softness of her sofa. Her rear hit the cushion and sank in. She wished for an old-fashioned couch with springs. In moments like this, she needed to bounce when she landed.
With characteristic grace, Cecily sat down on a wingback chair.
Autumn’s best friend since kindergarten, partner in all manner of crime, her soul sister, with whom she’d made a solemn pact to never be suckered into the whole love-and-marriage fiasco. “You can’t be serious, Ceci! ’Fess up. You’re kidding, right?”
“Autumn. Why would I kid about this? I love Gabe. I’m going to marry him, and move to his family’s estate in Italy. I’m ecstatic, and I refuse to apologize for having found my soul mate. Honey, won’t you just try to be happy for us? Please?”
“But—” Autumn pounded the cushion with one fist. “Ceci, you and I, we’re…we’re not getting married. Ever. Love is a crock, remember? It isn’t real.”
Her friend got up, kicked off her expensive heels and joined Autumn on the sofa, where she pulled both bare feet up under her. Wrapping one arm around Autumn’s stiff shoulders, she tugged her closer and nestled their heads together, mixing shiny, coal-black strands with vibrant auburn ones. “Life hasn’t been easy on us, has it, Autie? I don’t know what would have become of me if you hadn’t been there.”
Autumn relaxed against her friend and blinked back tears. She couldn’t decide whether those would-be tears were more angry or scared-to-bits, but whichever they were; she refused to let them fall.
Ceci’s two-hundred-dollar perfume tickled her senses, and Autumn breathed it in, relishing the soft hints of jasmine and lotus, completely forgetting to pull her usual gagging pretense. Gabe-The-Italian-Hunk was stealing Ceci away, taking her halfway around the world, where she’d become part of a whole new culture. Autumn might not enjoy teasing Ceci about her perfume for years and years…and years.
She choked back a giggle at her own over-the-top exaggeration. This was not a time for laughter. This was a time to make Ceci feel guilty. Maybe even guilty enough to change her mind and stay here in the good old USA, where she belonged.
Autumn enacted an elaborate mental eye roll. What’s so great about living in stupid Italy, anyway? Italian food, Italian this and that and the other thing. And what’s the big deal about catching the attention of a disgustingly perfect man who treats the woman he loooooves like some kind of royalty? Hmph!
She and Ceci had been each other’s lifelines. How could her friend forget that?
Both sets of parents had gone through ugly divorces while the girls were in elementary school. Cecily’s dad married again the next year and left his new, younger wife just before their second anniversary—this time for a woman-child, barely out of high school. Autumn’s mother followed pretty much the same pattern through two more husbands. Thank goodness her dad kept his sanity. She’d have gone bonkers if both parents went over the edge.
Through it all, Cecily and Autumn, crushed and confused, leaned on each other. They processed their parents’ shenanigans through bright, active, developing little brains. And they learned.
Other than a brief attachment here and there, both girls made it through high school without a major broken heart. Few of the immature young males who tried and failed to gain their attention could compete with the bond that had developed by then…a bond of shared sorrows, joys, heartaches and happiness. An unwavering attachment created in the proverbial “school of hard knocks.”
During college, they were bridesmaids at the weddings of several mutual friends. Beautiful, showcase nuptials that cost thousands of dollars each. Despite the exorbitant monetary investment, not one of those unions lasted much longer than the elaborate ceremonies that never should have happened. Another friend’s marriage dissolved, leaving their college pal expecting a baby and drowning in tears and heartache.
Autumn and Cecily had met at a favorite restaurant, clinked their glasses together and vowed to never let themselves believe in love and never to allow that fickle emotion to break their hearts and ruin their futures.