Fate with a Helping Hand Holiday Romance
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
"Hilariously funny!" "Delightful!" 4 STARS Romantic Times Magazine
What would you do to get a second chance at love? Sometimes fate needs a little helping hand...
Ruthie Carvalho finds an old birthday card with a marriage proposal
scribbled on the back, she figures she's hit pay dirt and is destined to
get her 35 year old daughter married.
trouble is, Ruthie can't stand Cara's boyfriend and Cara is just
stubborn enough to push in the opposite direction of what her mother
Devin Michaels gets a phone call from his old friend's mom, he knows
Ruthie is up to something. But he's at a crossroad. It's been 17 years
since he's seen Cara and memories of their soulful talks and walks on
the beach make him long to reconnect.
back to the seaside town of Westport Massachusetts to reconnect with
Cara seems like just the thing to do. One look at Cara and the years
seem to melt away. With a little help and “creative” planning from
Ruthie, can these old friends become lovers and have a second chance at
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could think of a hundred places she wanted to be right now.
one of them.
She tugged on
the rope dangling above her head. A musty cloud of dust hit her in the face as
the stairs leading to the attic of her parents' Westport home dropped, gaining
her access. Gripping the splintered stairs, she began her ascent into the
“black hole”, she so affectionately dubbed the attic in her childhood, with
mixed emotion. Ever since her parents decided to sell the home she had grown up
in and move to Florida with the senior league, she found herself becoming
overwhelmed with emotion.
Of course, her
thirty-fifth birthday being right around the corner wasn't a big help. That her
mother kept reminding her of her single, childless status only added to her
She yanked on
the metal chain dangling above her head and light quickly spilled into the
sweltering crawl space. “It's a furnace up here!” she called down, immediately
feeling the cool air below bathe her warm face.
Whose idea was
it to delve into this black hole on a hot August afternoon? Certainly not mine!
she fumed silently.
“I know. We
should have done this earlier in the day, before the sun had a chance to heat
the attic,” she heard her mother, Ruthie, call up from below. “Do you want me
to get the fan?”
I want to get
out of here and not do this. “No. I can't stay up here long, anyway. I'm
already sweating like a pig.”
On her hands
and knees, she carefully crawled along the aged planks, feeling them bend under
her weight. Aerobics twice a week and running three miles a day had her wearing
the same size she had worn since college. With each creak of the aged floor
boards, she was glad she’d taken pains to keep her figure trim.
dim light, it was difficult to see. She squinted and tried to focus. Boxes.
There were loads of them scattered Helter Skelter around her, tucked into
corners they'd been placed in years ago and long since forgotten. The life she
used to lead was lost up here. Why couldn't things ever remain the same...?
with a few, dear. We can rummage through them first and price anything you want
to include in the tag sale,” Ruthie suggested.
“Sounds like a
good idea. I'll come back up tomorrow morning before breakfast to get more. I
can barely breathe up here now.” Cara's eyes roamed the piles of memories one
last time. After choosing the five boxes closest to the hole and carefully
lowering them to her mother, Cara descended to fresh air once again.
She helped her
mother drag the boxes down the stairs and out to the back porch of the
beachfront home. Plopping the last one on the wrought iron patio table, she
puffed her cheeks and slid the back of her hand across her sweated forehead.
The sooner we get through this the better.
Ruthie was the
first to begin the unveiling and plunged into the first box while Cara poured
both of them a tumbler of her mother’s homemade lemonade. After a few minutes
of digging, Cara found her tension ease. While she'd been dreading the idea of
unearthing old memories, she found the task easier once she delved in and became
lost in them.
The first box
was filled with old Christmas ornaments and treasures she and her brother,
Manny, had made in school when they were kids. A paper doll chain. An old
wooden whale Manny had made in woodshop. The next box had old crochet blankets
and booties from when they were babies. While Cara fingered the soft yarn of a
baby afghan, Ruthie dove into the box filled with old yearbooks and newspaper
clippings from Manny's athletic high school days.
Manny would want to keep any of these things?” Ruthie asked, picking up a
yearbook and fanning the pages open. A candied piece of what looked like edible
underwear fell to the floor boards by their feet. Ruthie retrieved the
“article” and held it up in the air between her fingers.
remembering the gag gift Manny had given her years ago. It was harmless, but
she knew her mother wouldn't find the truth so humorous.
mine, Ma. Manny gave them to me before he left for the seminary.”
expected, Ruthie threw her an appalled look. “How would your brother know about
such things? He's a priest, for goodness sake!”
immediately, sucking in her cheeks to keep her laughter at bay. She knew her
mother had a hard time remembering Manny as a normal everyday teenager before
he'd left for the seminary. Now wasn’t the time to remind her.
usually, Cara didn't leave it alone. She reached across the table for the
naughty underwear. “What size are they anyway?”
mind.” Ruthie dropped the brittle article of “clothing” in the green rubber
garbage can by the table. “If your grandmother saw this, she'd probably take
them for herself.”
“She would not!”
“Oh, you'd be
surprised. The other day I caught her standing in front of the full length
mirror, trying on one of those tight bustiers Madonna wears all the time.”
kidding. You are kidding, aren't you?”
heavily, a worried looked suddenly etching her face. “I think she has
flew to her chest. “Why?”
new? She always acts strange. She's a free spirit.”
remained somber. “As we speak, she's at church.”
only go to confession on Sunday?”
the yearbook on the table. “She thinks she's Madonna. And there's the fishing
Cara held up
her hand to halt her. “Fishing?”
and reached across the table, patting Cara's hand. “You’ve been away for a
while, honey. You'll see what I mean after a few days.” Cara turned her
attention back to one of the boxes in front of her and pulled out a pair of
white baby booties.
these mine?” she crooned, examining the tiny booties.
“No, dear. I
made them for your children, just after you were born. Not that they'll ever be
used,” Ruthie quipped under her breath.
booties for your own grandchildren when I was still a baby? What about me?
What did I get to wear?” Cara shook her head in disbelief. Utterly bewildered,
she stared blankly at the silk threads sewn in minute stitches with loving
care. Her eyebrows furrowed as she read the name embroidered on the heels.
“Omar? What's this Omar you have embroidered here?”
grandmother made you plenty of booties when I was a little girl. I was merely
passing on the tradition. One that I won't hold my breath you'll continue.”
vacation is going to be good, Cara thought. A full three weeks helping her
parents get the house ready for sale, and listening to poor Ruthie dig about her
lack of grandchildren, was going to be a slow, agonizing death.
It was times
like this she could throttle her brother for becoming a priest and dropping all
the procreation pressure on her shoulders.
Ruthie continued, “is the name I picked out for your first born son. What can I
say? I had a thing for Dr. Zhivago.”
already naming my kids!? Omar?” She mouthed the name with disgust.
like Dr. Zhivago?”
Cara drew in a
deep cleansing breath of salted sea air, wondering how she could have been born
to this crazy family. This was going to be an extremely long three weeks.
out an old birthday card from the box and read it. “Devin Michaels. Mmmm. Now
that's a name I haven't heard you speak in a long time.” Turning it over, she
read the ink staining the back and squealed in delight, practically jumping from
her seat. “Devin proposed to you!”
“What are you
talking about? He did not.”
birthday card. He proposed!” Ruthie sputtered, “How come you never told me
“Let me see
the card from her mother and speed read the note, smiling
Michaels, agree to marry you,
Cavarlho should both of us still
at age thirty-five.
this.” The memories poured back one by one. She and Devin had just toasted her
birthday. After sneaking out on her own birthday party, they sat on the
concrete ledge of the watchtower at Gooseberry Point, watching the midnight
moon, drinking cheap wine illegally, and toasting to their future success.
She had been
lamenting about Manny leaving for the seminary and the predicament he'd left her
with regarding her mother's future grandchildren. If she dared to remain
single—which, given her lofty career goals, she'd whole-heartedly planned to be
at age thirty-five—Ruthie was sure to hound her for the rest of her life. Or at
least until menopause, whichever came first.
that he would be chivalrous and rescue her from being eternally damned by her
mother. What was nothing more than a little joke between two friends was now
coming back to haunt her.
help but smile, remembering the boy, the friend Devin had been. They'd been
inseparable that summer. There’d always been something special about Devin.
Something just a little bit more…
had a thing for you, you know.” Ruthie raised her eyebrows and shined her
seemed so old to us back then.”
“Still is when
you're single, dear,” Ruthie returned.
her eyes. “We were just kids, Ma.”
Kids or not,
back then they thought they knew everything. Most of all, what they wanted in
life. Devin was going to take on the world as a lawyer. From the little bits
and pieces she'd heard over the years from people back home, and news coverage
on the tube of the highly publicized cases he'd won, he'd done just that, as a
prominent Manhattan defense attorney.
highly publicized case he'd taken straight out of law school, one that the
prosecution as well as the world thought he'd lose hands down, had propelled him
into the most exclusive law firm in Manhattan. It hadn't taken him long to make
a name for himself and become a much sought after, multi-million dollar baby of
Cara had her
own plans in which marriage had no part. She had to admit pride in the fact
that, like Devin, she'd reached the pre-set goals made that fateful summer. She
had worked hard and become a home interiors expert, opening her own successful
shop in the posh Back Bay area of Boston nearly ten years earlier.
Looking at her
mother's bright expression, and knowing what conclusions she'd already drawn,
Cara said, “This was a joke, Ma.”
“It's in black
assistants have you lost to motherhood already?”
“In a month or
so, Louise will make five.”
of her mother's statement hit Cara hard. Especially in light of the feelings
she'd been having of late. Forcing the thoughts away, she tossed out the usual
response she used when her mother started this line of conversation.
I’m not getting married. In case you hadn't heard, barefoot and pregnant went
out long ago, Ma. Women have careers now.”
“That may be
so, but look me. I was so thrilled when you were born, I never once regretted
leaving my catering business behind.”
exactly. You gave it up.”
and snatched the card back, holding it to her chest as if it were the only hold
she had on getting any future grandchildren. “That’s right. The women of your
generation want it all.”
“You say it
like it’s a dirty word.”
“It feels like
it when I have no grandbabies to spoil. Mark my words. I may just get to see
your father walk you down the aisle before I die after all. I think you should
her head to one side and blinked hard, trying her best to gather up her
control. “I haven't heard from Devin in over fifteen years! I doubt he hardly
Even as she
said the words, she knew it wasn’t true. She and Devin had been inseparable.
Warmth spread from the center of her chest outward just thinking of their
friendship. It had been a long time since she’d thought about Devin.
gasped. “Don’t be ridiculous! Devin would never forget you. If I know Devin,
he’ll keep his word. He’ll honor this marriage contract,” Ruthie continued, as
if she were in her own world.
“You must have some feelings for him or you
wouldn’t have kept his card all this time.”
“I didn’t even
know it was there.”
The way her
mother clutched the card, fanning herself from mid-day August heat, Cara knew
this was only the beginning. These next three weeks were going to be the
longest weeks of her entire life.
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