Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods

Mack laughed. “What’s not to understand? I have to say, though, that this bossy side of you could take some getting used to.”

“Something tells me you’re going to have plenty of opportunities to do just that,” she said, her tone unexpectedly sassy.

She hung up before Mack could come up with an adequate reply. Whether it was alcohol or something in the water, this was definitely Susie as he’d never seen her before. Despite its emergence at the worst possible time, he couldn’t help being fascinated. He’d never before thought of her as having a devious bone in her body, but perhaps he’d been wrong. Perhaps intriguing him had been exactly what she’d been counting on.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Laila Riley sat in her office at the bank, staring out the window, her mood dark. The upcoming holiday weekend promised to be the most depressing ever. Her parents had decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to London. Her brother would be with Abby and the twins at the O’Briens, leaving her to do what? Nothing, as usual.

She glanced up as Jess O’Brien—Jess Lincoln, she corrected—walked into her office without being announced.

“Just as I suspected,” Jess said. “You’re sitting here in a funk.”

“Who says I’m in a funk?” Laila demanded, sitting up straighter and trying to look more cheerful. “I have a four-day weekend stretching out ahead of me. I have all sorts of plans.”

“Oh, really? To do what?”

“You know, the usual Thanksgiving holiday things. I’ll eat a little turkey, hit all the holiday sales on Friday and Saturday.”

“Let’s say I buy that for a single minute,” Jess said. “With whom are you having that turkey dinner? Your parents have already left for England, and Abby tells me you turned down their invitation to join us.”

“You can’t possibly shove another person around that already overcrowded table,” Laila said. “Besides, I’m getting tired of the pity invitations.”

Jess regarded her indignantly. “Since when has anyone in my family made you feel as if you were being included out of pity? It’s a well-known fact that we invite you for your scintillating personality.”

Laila knew what her friend was trying to do, and on some level she wanted to say yes. Spending Thanksgiving on her own would be more depressing than any of the other meals she’d eaten alone since she’d sworn off dating after the whole online dating fiasco, when she’d wound up being stalked and harassed.

“Look, I appreciate the invitation, but I’ll be okay,” she insisted.

“Okay, then, I’ll back off,” Jess said a little too readily. “On one condition.”

Laila regarded her with suspicion. “What condition?”

“You tell me what your other plans are—and they’d better be good. Frozen turkey and dressing heated in the microwave and eaten all alone doesn’t count.”

Defeated, Laila sighed. “What time is dinner?”

“Three o’clock,” Jess said, obviously happy over her victory. “Will and I will pick you up at two so you can help with the preparations. That’s part of the fun.”

“Says the woman who lets the chef at her inn fix all of her meals.”

Jess grinned. “I don’t want my husband to starve, do I? Or to die from my cooking?”

“Exactly what does your grandmother let you do to help prepare Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Last year I dished up the stuffing and the cranberry relish and put them on the table,” Jess said proudly. “This year I’m pouring the wine that Will picked out from the inn’s wine cellar.”

Laila laughed. “Well, I have no idea how I’ll compete with that, but since the standard’s pretty low, I suppose I won’t fall flat on my face. There’s bound to be some task at which I can excel.”

Jess grinned back, but then her expression sobered. “You do know we all love you like family and that you belong with us, right?”

Unexpected tears stung Laila’s eyes. “Thanks.”

“Don’t you dare cry,” Jess ordered. “Just be ready on time tomorrow.”

“Promptly at two,” Laila promised.

Maybe Thanksgiving wouldn’t turn out to be half as depressing as she’d envisioned after all. Or else, once again, she’d feel like a fifth wheel among all those exuberantly happy O’Brien couples.


Thanksgiving turned out to be one of those perfect fall days in Chesapeake Shores. The sky was a brilliant blue, the air crisp and cool. There were whitecaps on the bay, churning the surface to a froth.

It was, in fact, an ideal day for playing touch football, which almost all of the O’Brien men and the spouses of the women had gathered for on the lawn. Before heading outside, they’d claimed—as usual—that it was the absolute best way to work off the huge meal. The women knew better. It was a way to get out of cleanup. Not that there was room in the kitchen for another person to squeeze in, but it might have been nice if at least one of them had offered, Susie thought as she stood at the kitchen door staring at them.

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