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A Week Till the Wedding
Linda Winstead Jones

A Week Till the Wedding
Linda Winstead Jones

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www.millsandboon.co.uk/ebookxmas (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/ebookxmas)

“You make me break every promise to myself.

“I promise myself that I won’t like you,” Daisy continued. “I tell myself that one night with you is enough, that it’s all I need. And then … and then you ruin it all. Worse than that, you make me indecisive. I’m not indecisive, Jacob, I don’t make an important decision and then change my mind because of a kiss.”

“Are you inviting me in?” Jacob rested his forehead against hers.

“I am.”

“If I come inside, I won’t leave until morning.”

“You better not,” she said. “And I do hope you’re more prepared than you were last time.”

“I’m ever the optimist, so yes.”

Daisy pulled Jacob inside by the tie. “You and your suits,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind him. “Take it off.”

Dear Reader,

Small-town living in the South is rife with possibilities when it comes to writing romance. There are characters everywhere you turn, families who have made their mark, men and women who have chosen to make themselves a part of a community where everyone knows everyone else and secrets are hard to keep. A beauty shop and small-engine-repair business is not at all a stretch, when it comes to small towns everywhere.

Family is important to me, as it is to Daisy Bell and Jacob Tasker in this story. They’re both willing to make sacrifices for family members, to endure personal pain in order to make life easier for those they love. But after making those sacrifices for others, is it time to let the mistakes of the past go and take time for themselves? Can they find a second chance at love?

I hope you enjoy your journey into Bell Grove, Georgia, and the chance to watch Daisy and Jacob find one another all over again.

Happy reading!

Linda

About the Author

LINDA WINSTEAD JONES is a bestselling author of more than fifty romance books in several subgenres—historical, fairy tale, paranormal and, of course, romance suspense. She’s won a Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence twice. She is also a three-time RITA® Award finalist and (writing as Linda Fallon) winner of the 2004 RITA® Award for paranormal romance.

Linda lives in north Alabama with her husband of thirty-seven years. She can be reached via her website, www.lindawinsteadjones.com.

A Week Till the Wedding

Linda Winstead Jones

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

For my niece Christy, a hairstylist who keeps me

from going gray and living in ponytails. She hasn’t yet

added small-engine repair, but … maybe someday. :-)

Love you!

Chapter One

“Those women on Crime Stoppers never have good haircuts. Have you noticed? Maybe if they didn’t look so unkempt they’d make better choices. You know, get a job, marry a decent man. Just look at those bangs, bless her heart.” Sandra Miller was a talker; Daisy never had to work to make conversation when Sandra was in the chair getting her hair done.

Daisy paused, scissors in hand, and glanced over the top of her client’s head to catch a glimpse of a mug shot on the twenty-inch television that was mounted on the wall. Bell Grove, Georgia, was a small town off the beaten path, north of Atlanta. They didn’t have their own television station, but they picked up the Atlanta stations. “Yeah, those bangs are pretty bad.”

“A woman just can’t feel good about herself if her hair looks that awful.” Sandra gestured to the television. “I swear, I’d be tempted to use drugs myself if I had bangs like that. She has to have something to dull the pain.”

Another mug shot was flashed on the screen. “Oh, dear,” Sandra said softly. “Her problems go so far beyond bangs I don’t know where to start. Don’t they sell conditioner in Atlanta? And what color is that, exactly? I have never seen a box of Miss Clairol with orange or pumpkin stamped on it.” In the mirror, Sandra caught and held Daisy’s eye. “You know, you could do a lot of good, if you were of a mind to help those poor, unfortunate women. You can’t overestimate how important hairstyle is to a woman’s confidence.”

Daisy laughed. “Sorry, Sandra. My hands are full enough without adding in the occasional trip to the Atlanta jail to give beauty advice.”

Yes, her hands were more than full enough. Daisy was the sole proprietor of Bell’s Beauty Shop and Small Engine Repair. She had no employees, though her sister Mari—the youngest of the three Bell girls—came home on the weekends to help with the repair aspect of the business. Mari was in junior college, and Lily had recently started a new job in an Atlanta art gallery. Lily didn’t make it to Bell Grove as often as she had when she’d been a student. These days her weekends were taken up with the new job and new friends and settling into her new apartment.

While Daisy missed seeing her sisters on a regular basis, it wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to do. In addition to the business, which kept her busy enough since it was Bell Grove’s only beauty salon and repair shop, she did volunteer work. On Mondays, when her shop was closed, she delivered meals to a number of housebound residents in the county. Some were elderly, others were in bad health; a couple had just fallen on hard times and needed a little help. While she wasn’t keen on the idea of inspiring prisoners to change their ways by providing free haircuts, she had spent more hours than she could count spiffing up the hairstyles of those who didn’t get out much. The service—the meals, not the hair trimming and restyling—was sponsored by the Bell Grove Methodist Church, as was a food bank which Daisy also volunteered for when she could.

She gave some of these same people rides to town, when she wasn’t working and they needed to go to the doctor—there was a grand total of one in Bell Grove—or the grocery store. There was just the one grocery store, too. Bell Grove provided all the necessary services; there just wasn’t much to choose from. Anyone who wasn’t happy with their limited selection could—and did—drive into Atlanta or one of the communities between Bell Grove and the big city.

Daisy didn’t get out of Bell Grove often. Everything she needed was close at hand. She liked it here, and everything she needed was within reach. Well, almost everything.

Sandra asked about Lily and Marigold, and Daisy filled her in on all the latest news. As she did, her heart sank a little. Just a little. She tried not to let her sad reaction show. When their parents had been killed Daisy had stepped up and done what needed to be done. She’d put her life on hold, sacrificing her own plans to take care of her younger sisters. Lily and Mari had still been in school at the time, Lily in the county high school, Mari in the middle school. There had been no close relatives to take over as guardian to the younger girls, so that duty had fallen to Daisy. Now they were grown, they had lives of their own.

That was as it should be, right? But sometimes Daisy felt as if she was suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome at the ripe old age of twenty-eight.

She never would’ve considered staying in Bell Grove and taking over her parents’ businesses if they’d lived. Her plans had been grander than that. A college degree—she’d waffled between physical therapy and elementary education and had finally decided on education—and a job in the big city. Marriage, babies, the PTA and Little League. Maybe her plans had not been grand, but they’d been hers. More than once in the past seven years she’d spent a sleepless night wondering where she’d be if that eighteen-wheeler hadn’t crossed the center line. She would’ve finished college, gotten that job, made a life of her own. Would she have been as content with that life as she was with this one? Would things have turned out as she’d planned? She’d stopped asking those questions years ago. There was no way to know what that alternate life might’ve been like; there was no upside for her in “what-if?”

She liked her life just fine, and those old plans seemed so distant they might as well have been someone else’s.

Daisy gave Sandra’s new, shorter cut a good blow-dry with a round brush, touched it up with a spritz of hair spray and whipped off the purple cape that had protected her client’s clothing. Sandra was happy with the new style, and had just begun to gush about how much slimmer her face looked with the new cut when the door to the shop opened. Daisy didn’t have anyone scheduled for another hour. She’d planned to grab a sandwich as soon as Sandra left. But she did take walk-ins, and since business wasn’t exactly booming she’d gladly skip lunch to squeeze in another haircut. Maybe someone was dropping off a small item for repair, though if that was the case …

That was as far as her thoughts wandered before the person who’d opened the door stepped inside.

Jacob Tasker, the biggest “what-if?” of them all, looked her in the eye the way he always had, with confidence in his steady gaze. Dark brown eyes, like strong black coffee, caught hers and held on. He was bigger than he’d been when she’d last seen him. Not in a bad way; he didn’t have the beginnings of a gut, or jowls, or a double chin. All through college he’d bordered on skinny. He’d been wiry, at the very least. Since then he’d put on a few pounds of muscle, filling his expensive suit well.

Not only did that suit cost more than she made in a month, but no one wore a suit in Bell Grove unless A) They were Mayor or B) It was Sunday.

His haircut was expensive, too. There wasn’t a single hair out of place, no misbehaving cowlick or split ends. He was recently well-shaven. Damned if he couldn’t’ve just stepped out of an ad for expensive cologne or a ridiculously overpriced watch. And that smile … even though she could tell it was somewhat forced, the smile hadn’t changed at all. That smile had captured her when she’d been fifteen and he’d been eighteen. She’d fallen hard. She’d doodled Mrs. Daisy Tasker on the inside cover, and numerous pages, of every notebook and journal she’d owned, with swirly hearts over the i in Daisy. At that time he’d been too old for her, and she’d never confessed her feelings to anyone, not even to her closest friends. He’d been her secret crush, her heart’s deepest desire.

Four years later, when she’d been nineteen and he’d been twenty-two, they’d attended the same college and the three-year age difference was no longer an impediment. Since he’d taken a year off between high school and college, and he’d changed his major—twice—they’d even had some classes together. The smile had done her in again, along with other attributes she hadn’t been able to even imagine at fifteen. That had been a blissfully happy time of her life; she’d lived in a fairy tale.

And a little less than two years later it had all fallen apart, and she’d been reminded that the original fairy tales always had a wicked twist at the end.

Crap. Daisy couldn’t say she hadn’t ever imagined seeing Jacob again, but in her fantasy she’d had time to put on something pretty and freshen her makeup. She’d been ridiculously happy; she hadn’t missed him at all. In her daydreams she could barely remember what he looked like. She had no regrets, there were no “what-ifs?” On the other hand he’d been miserable, so very sorry he’d let her slip away. In her imaginings he had not aged well. Maybe there was a gut, or a softening of his features. Just enough of an unflattering change to make her glad that their relationship had ended when it had. Ah, fantasy.

But in real life she was wearing a minimum of makeup and a black smock over well-worn jeans and a sadly old Brooks and Dunn T-shirt. And he looked better than she remembered, more a man, harder. Sharper. She thought about Jacob too damn often. And he didn’t look at all sorry. No, he looked as confident as always, as if he never had a single moment of doubt about any decision he’d ever made.
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