Where Love Defeats Sorrow (Preview)

Chapter One

Lauren held the razor-sharp scalpel between the gloved forefinger and thumb of her right hand and squinted down the microscope at the tiny stem of the plant. Behind her, she could hear her intern, Becky, chatting away to their boss, asking question after question about their upcoming research trip to Costa Rica.

She’d told Becky at her induction that there was no such thing as a dumb question, because otherwise how does a person learn if they don’t ask? But listening to her now, she wasn’t so sure. Trying to tune her out, Lauren concentrated on opening the pollen tube to gain access to the ovary of the orchid, and the chatter gradually reduced to a gentle background buzz. She wanted to tease out the ovule, which would develop seeds upon fertilization. Part of her research trip was to attempt some cross-pollination with non-indigenous orchids in the Costa Rican rainforest to bolster the native population with hardier crossbreeds.

Becky’s buzzing was barely audible as Lauren worked, but soon the bench started to vibrate, and she tutted in annoyance. Tempted to tell her intern to shush, Lauren jumped as she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“You’ve got a call.”

Lauren lifted her head slightly to look sideways at her intern, who smiled and pointed downwards to where Lauren’s phone vibrated silently on the bench. She always put it face down so that she wouldn’t be distracted, but it was moving around like it was alive.

“Who is it?” Lauren asked Becky, turning her attention back to the microscope.

“Louisa?” Becky flipped the cell over, and Lauren twisted her head again to see an old picture of her sister, Louisa, showing on the screen.

What does Lou want with me? She never calls unless it’s an emergency.

“Can you answer it, please? I’ll talk to her.” Lauren turned back to her work, expecting Becky to hold the phone to her ear.

“Lauren? Are you there? I can only see your ear.”

Lauren stood upright and turned with a frown, coming face to face with her sister on screen.

Video call? We only ever speak, never video call.

“Hey.” She managed to smile whilst glaring at Becky, who just shrugged and grinned.

Lauren peered a little more closely at her sister through her safety goggles and noted that she looked very flushed, her eyes wide.

“Lou, are you okay? Is it Dad?”

Her sister laughed and moved the phone to the side so that Lauren could see her father sitting at the kitchen table. Her dad waved without saying hello, and she swallowed against a ball of emotion in her throat. It had been a while since she saw him in the flesh, albeit by video, again, preferring to speak to him without seeing him.

And this is exactly why I call, message, or email, because of how it makes me feel.

Lauren didn’t keep in touch as much as she should, and as much as she felt guilty, she always managed to push it aside. Just then, that guilt, combined with the achingly familiar scene from her childhood, everyone eating together and catching up on their day, made her feel like she was missing out. But it was her own fault, and she just had to get over it.

She waved her gloved hand, still holding the scalpel, at them both and waited as a slightly awkward silence descended in the lab. Over the top of the phone, Lauren saw both Becky and their boss looking at her with interest, as her phone never rang at work.

“I’m getting married,” Louisa spoke first, her words bubbling with excitement.

“I know, I got the invite. July fourth of next year.” Lauren nodded.

“No, I mean, I’m getting married now, in two weeks.”

“What? Why? What’s wrong?” Lauren frowned, again, worried that someone was sick.

Why else would you bring a wedding forward by over a year?

“Lauren!” Louisa laughed and shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong. Mitchell’s been promoted, and his posting has been moved up. He has to go to London to report for duty in three weeks, so we decided to get married now instead of waiting and have a few days honeymoon.”

Lauren was supposed to be her sister’s maid of honor, and although she’d told Louisa she’d be there when she’d received the invitation a few months ago, it had been so far in the future, Lauren had plenty of time to come up with an excuse, a reason that she couldn’t go home.

“Wow!” Lauren could think of nothing else to say because the ball of emotion in her throat was now moving very quickly to the pit of her sinking stomach.

“Can you make the new date, it’s two weeks from tomorrow? Can you come home and help me get ready? It’s all such a rush. Can you?”

Lauren recognized an edge of panic creeping into her sister’s voice, and it made her feel very uneasy. The silence descended again, and Lauren was very conscious of her own breathing and how loud it sounded. She had no intention of going back home for the wedding, and now on the spot, her sister wanted her to commit to something she couldn’t do. She hadn’t been home for almost eight years, instead inviting her family to come to Florida to see her. As much as she loved her sister, it wasn’t something she was able to do, even if she wanted to.

The silence stretched on and on, but Lauren didn’t know how to let her down gently. She felt Becky and her boss’s gaze on her and looked down at her hands. Inspiration struck, and she realized she had a legitimate excuse.

“I’m so sorry, Lou. I’m going to be away on a research trip to South America. We leave in ten days, and I’m going to be away for at least a week.”

“South America?” Louisa’s voice sounded almost disbelieving, and Lauren was desperate to convince her she was telling the truth.

Grabbing the phone from Becky, Lauren turned the phone around to show her sister all the equipment already boxed up in the corner of the lab and the piles of research material on the end of her boss’s desk.

“We’ve been planning it for months, and everything’s arranged, Lou. I’m sorry.” Lauren turned the screen back so that she could see her sister, and the expression on Louisa’s face tore at her heart.

Louisa’s eyes filled with tears, a tiny frown pulled her eyebrows together, and she pressed her lips together, all signs of sadness that Lauren recognized from the years after their brother Leon died. Leon was Louisa’s twin, and as much as Lauren felt his loss, she knew that her sister felt it much more deeply.

Lauren felt her cheeks color as the guilt seeped deeper inside of her, both for letting her sister down and for the relief she felt of having a genuine reason that she couldn’t be there for her.

“I understand. Your job is more important.”

Lauren turned sharply on her heel, aware of Becky and their boss whispering with their heads close together and walked a few steps away. She was familiar, too, with Louisa’s penchant for emotional blackmail. She’d used it many times since Lauren had left home to go to college in Florida, in one form or another, to try and get her home, but it hadn’t worked.

“It’s not more important, Louisa. It’s not my fault that you have to change your plans, and it’s really not something that I can get out of.” Lauren kept her voice quiet, but her gaze was intent on her sister’s. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Someone cleared their throat behind Lauren, and she looked over her shoulder warily at Becky.

“I’d be more than happy to take your place on the research trip, Lauren,” Becky told Lauren cheerfully.

What?

“I agree.” Lauren’s boss rose from her desk and walked towards them. “It will give Becky some excellent field experience, and I’m sure you’d much rather be home celebrating with your family.”

Lauren forced the frustration rising in her body back down and put a smile on her face. “There will be other research trips for Becky, Dr. Himmel. We’ve been planning this trip for months.”

“Costa Rica isn’t going anywhere, Lauren, but your sister is.”

Lauren looked helplessly from her boss to her intern and back. Both smiled at her, Becky with barely contained excitement at her first overseas field trip and Dr. Himmel with a kind look in her eyes. Lauren respected her boss immensely, and as she nodded at her, she heard Louisa’s hopeful question.

“You’ll be here? You’re coming home?”

Closing her eyes, Lauren turned back to face her sister and saw an equally hopeful expression on her father’s face as he came to stand with Louisa. Lauren saw his blue eyes water and the lines around his mouth deepened momentarily with a smile, rather than the grief she remembered etched in his skin.

Unable to get out of it, because of her colleagues’ best intentions, Lauren nodded, unable to find a suitably joyful response to match her family’s reactions. While those around her acted like she’d won the lottery, with Becky clapping, Louisa laughing through happy tears, a sense of panic started low in her gut. She hadn’t been back to Harbor Springs in nearly eight years, and now, through no fault of her own and completely out of her own control, she would have to face up to the painful memories and ghosts she’d been hiding from for all those years.

“When can you come, Lauren? I have so much to do. I hadn’t even chosen a dress, the date was so far away, and I’ll have to find a venue and organize a cake, catering.” Louisa paused for breath, and Lauren could see that Becky was about to jump in again, no doubt to say Lauren could be home in just a few days.

There was no way that was going to happen. I need some time to get myself mentally ready.

Lauren held up her hand to silence her intern and spoke firmly to her sister.

“I can come just a few days before. Although someone else is able to take my place on the trip—” Lauren gave Becky a warning look as she started to interrupt her again. “I do have other work to complete before I can come. I’ll be home on the Wednesday before, that’s the soonest I can make it, Louisa, and I’ll help wherever I can.”

“Lauren, I’m so excited to see you. We’ll all be together again, just like it used to be.” Louisa wiped tears from her cheeks with her free hand and blew a kiss. “We love you, Laurie.”

“I’ll see you soon.” Lauren forced a smile but couldn’t bring herself to show the same emotion to her family, ending the call, even though her stomach was churning, and her head was spinning with emotions she didn’t want to examine right then and there.

Enough that her colleagues had been involved in what had just happened, that they had seen her emotionally vulnerable, that they might have seen her reluctance to take part in a family event that most people would rejoice over. Lauren liked her work colleagues, looked to Dr. Himmel as a mentor, but she tended to keep those relationships at arms’ length. Every once in a while, when required, she was sociable but did not engage in the easy camaraderie that others found so enjoyable out of work. She knew enough about Dr. Himmel, Becky, and her other colleagues to maintain social niceties, but anyone who had worked with her long enough knew that a friendly invitation to join their family for dinner would be politely declined.

Whatever she was feeling after agreeing to return to Michigan would have to wait until she was alone, at home, late at night, and then, only if she could do so with the emotional detachment that had seen her through the years of separation from her family. Work was her balm, calming and filling her mind so that the memories of Leon, Louisa, and her father could be kept at bay.

🙡 ⚪ 🙣

As the workday ended, Lauren heard Becky on the phone telling her boyfriend that she was going to Costa Rica for work, and the excitement in her voice drew her thoughts back to Louisa and how excited she was to be getting married so soon and also that Lauren was coming home.

With a sigh, Lauren finished packing away the samples safely, and she turned to find Dr. Himmel waiting for her.

“Becky is about to ask you to join us for a drink to celebrate her first research trip.” Dr. Himmel’s voice was quiet.

“I—” Lauren started to speak, but her boss touched her hand gently.

“Lauren, I know you prefer to keep to yourself. I respect that, and I recognize how dedicated you are to your work, but you do have to let people in sometimes.”

Lauren looked at the older woman for a long moment, and suddenly the idea of opening up to her, telling her exactly why she wasn’t close to her family, didn’t get close to anyone, flashed through her mind. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought it but had never found the courage to. Now wasn’t the right time either, but perhaps, just for once, she should put someone else’s feelings ahead of her own. Not that she was selfish, she just didn’t have the capacity to deal with other people’s emotions when she didn’t have room for her own.

“Hey, Dr. Himmel is joining me at the bar across the street. Would you like to join us? My treat.” Becky ended her call and walked towards Lauren.

All Lauren wanted was to go home, but flicking her gaze to her boss, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Sure.” She smiled at the younger woman. “I’ll come along for a bit.”

“Awesome,” Becky said, and before Lauren knew what was happening, she found herself wrapped in a hug from her younger colleague.

“Oh!” Caught by surprise at the affectionate gesture, Lauren felt a rush of warmth at how included she felt. She recognized the feeling from the old church social events that she attended when she was welcomed by her fellow worshippers like an old friend. “I just need to finish up here, and I’ll join you shortly.”

“Promise?” Becky held her at arms’ length, and for the second time in less than an hour, Lauren recognized that she was responsible for someone else’s happiness. By agreeing to go to Louisa’s wedding, no matter if she wanted to or not, she’d made her sister cry tears of joy, and she’d made Becky’s day, as she got to take Lauren’s place. Both events were out of her control, but both inadvertently provoked emotions in her that she hadn’t expected to experience when she came to work that day.

“I promise,” Lauren told her and moved away before Becky had any idea of hugging her again.

Dr. Himmel and Becky left a short while later, and Lauren wrote up her notes, cleared down her workbench, and did a dozen unimportant things while she screwed up enough courage to do what came naturally to most adults, socializing.

Lauren had spent so long in her own company, she found it hard to relax when she was with other people and tended to withdraw into herself, often coming across as standoffish and cold. She knew in her heart she wasn’t like that, but the ability to show the warmer side of herself, to let people close, became more and more difficult the more time that passed since the loss of her brother.

Get it over and done with, Lauren. The sooner you go, the sooner you can leave.

As Lauren entered the bar across the street, she looked around the room and saw Dr. Himmel and Becky sitting at a tall table near the window. Becky waved her over and pulled out a stool.

“Would you like a glass of wine?” Becky picked up the bottle by its neck and waved it in front of Lauren’s face.

Lauren noticed it was nearly empty, and taking the bottle, she read the label. “Why don’t you finish this?”

She poured the Riesling into Becky’s glass and signaled for the server.

“You don’t like Riesling? I can get something else.”

“No, please, let me. It’s not every day you get to celebrate your first research trip.” Lauren consulted the wine menu and smiled to herself, asking the server for a bottle of Miller Springs Pinot Grigio. “And a jug of water and two fresh glasses, please.”

Becky finished her wine and looked on as Lauren poured water for all of them and insisted they drink it to cleanse their palettes. She poured them both a glass of the wine she had ordered and let them taste it.

“You’re not having any, Lauren?” Dr. Himmel asked after complimenting her choice.

“No, thank you. What do you think, Becky?”

“It’s lovely. Do you know about wine?”

“A little. My family owns a vineyard.”

Becky and Dr. Himmel exchanged a glance, and Dr. Himmel inspected the bottle. “Miller Springs. Is this from your family vineyard?”

Lauren nodded and felt a tiny rush of pride. That wasn’t something she’d felt in a long time, wasn’t something she’d told anyone since she left Michigan, even when she was studying viticulture in Italy for a semester for her graduate thesis. Today, it felt like a faucet that had been screwed shut tightly, had been turned on, just a little, but enough for the past to start dripping into her present.

“Are you a wine snob, Lauren? Even your own wine isn’t good enough?” Becky laughed, taking another mouthful of wine.

The teasing stung a little more than it should have, and it wasn’t true. Lauren knew how good the wine was, always had been. That wasn’t the reason she didn’t drink. She knew having a drink would help her relax, fit in, be more easygoing, but that might blur the lines she drew between personal and private. Personal, in short bursts, with people she knew, was okay, but private, that was out of bounds. No one knew what was in her heart. She’d hidden that from everyone for years.

But wine snob was easier to go along with than the truth and kept the atmosphere light.

“You got me.” Lauren laughed, practicing for the moment she returned home, where she’d have to pretend to be happy to be there, to celebrate her sister’s wedding, to face up to the people she’d left behind.

When she wouldn’t be happy to be there, she’d struggle to be happy for her sister and her new husband, when just being back home would reopen an old wound that nobody else knew existed. But it would only be for a few days. She’d do her part, play her role, and come back to Florida and wait for the scars, old and new, to begin to heal again.

Chapter Two

Tom left his house and crossed the yard to the winery offices at six-thirty in the morning. He’d planned on being out in the fields today, but David had texted to ask him to come over as soon as possible. As he knocked on the office door, David looked up from his paperwork and spoke without preamble.

“I’ve got a problem, Tom, and I’m relying on you to help resolve it.”

“Are you okay, David? Is it your heart?” Tom crossed the room quickly, looking for signs that the older man was suffering.

David was good at hiding his aches and pains, but Tom, having worked with him for years, recognized the pinched look around his eyes, the clenching of his jaw, a sharp intake of breath. But today, there was none of that, just a look of impatience as he took off his glasses.

“Why is that the first thing everyone asks me? Yes, I had a heart attack, but I’m fine, apart from all these darn pills. If I rattle any more, I’ll be playing percussion at the wedding reception with the band.”

Whose wedding?

Tom was single, as was his sister, Molly. As far as he knew, David had no lady friends, so that only left Louisa, but that wasn’t for another year.

“What do you need me to do?”

David explained Louisa and Mitchell were getting married much earlier than planned, and although they’d looked around for venues that might be available at short notice, there was nothing free.

“Can we get the old barn ready in two weeks?” David asked, his voice lifting slightly at the end in hope.

Tom leaned against the desk next to his boss and considered the situation. Part of the longer-term business plan for Miller Springs was to offer the winery as a wedding venue, and Tom had already started work on some elements with a view to starting next year.

The old barn, disused for many years, was of sturdy construction but in disrepair. When Tom had first suggested it to David and Louisa as a possible venue for wedding ceremonies, he’d seen the look that passed between them, and the idea was dismissed. He left it for some time and then broached the subject with Louisa, who explained that it held some bad memories for the family, which was why it hadn’t been used.

Tom, sure that it was the best location, carried out repairs on the barn to make it solid, replacing the barn doors, fixing holes in the roof and walls, cleaning out the inside. When he asked Louisa if she’d like to see what he’d done to the place, she came reluctantly but did so. She’d been overwhelmed by the changes and agreed it was the ideal place to get married at the winery.

They’d shown David together, who was as reticent as his daughter, and his silent approval was a single nod, and he turned on his heels and left. Louisa had told Tom that was as much as he’d get out of her father on the subject.

And so, Tom continued onward with his project. The track leading up to it had already been leveled and resurfaced. Tom had wanted gravel, as it was weather-proof and would compact nicely over time. Louisa had pointed out that it wasn’t the easiest surface for wedding guests to walk on, moving between the barn and the winery offices, where the reception could be held, especially for ladies who often wore high-heeled shoes. They’d settled on flagstones for the two tracks for vehicles to follow, which could also be used to walk on. Tom had to admit it did look good, but it had taken so much longer than he’d planned.

“Yes, sir, we can,” Tom answered. “I’ll make sure it’s clean and ready for Louisa to decorate how she wants. I’ll need to know numbers so that I can hire in chairs and ensure there’s sufficient transportation to and from the barn.”

David let go a sigh of relief, his shoulders lowered, and Tom was glad he was able to lessen the burden for him.

“You’ll need to speak to Louisa about that, but that’s the biggest thing on her list taken care of.”

“I’ll do that, sir. Do you know where I might find her?” Tom nodded.

“Last I heard, she was heading to see your sister. I stopped listening when she started mentioning fabrics and left the house when she moved onto types of lace and cuts of dresses.”

Tom grinned. He was very used to those conversations as Molly was a dress designer specializing in wedding gowns. He turned to leave when David called out to him.

“And how many times do I have to ask you to call me David. Sir makes me feel old.”

Tom left him grumbling to himself and headed back to his house to see if Louisa was there. She was, but Molly had left to take her son, Lucas, to school, leaving Louisa with wedding magazines to look through and a portfolio of Molly’s designs.

“I hear congratulations are in order,” Tom said as he closed the door behind him and crossed to give Louisa a hug.

He’d worked with her closely over the last year on the winery and its expansion plans, and he held her in high regard. She’d taken a two-year sabbatical from her role as a teacher to help her father in the family business, after which she had a teaching post waiting for her in London when Mitchell was deployed after their wedding. But now the wedding was moved up, Tom wondered if she’d be leaving with Mitchell. Not one to hold back, he voiced the question.

“Yes, I’ll be leaving with him. The school won’t have a vacancy for a few months, but I can start in September. I know it’s leaving you all in the lurch, but I’ve waited so long to get married. I don’t think I could stand to be away from my husband for a year,” Louisa answered.

“We’ll manage, don’t worry about us,” Tom reassured her, but there was a niggling thought in the back of his mind about the worst-case scenario if David had another heart attack or became seriously ill.

Just as Louisa’s plans had been brought forward, maybe it was time for Tom to give some much more serious thought about his plans for the future and the winery. But time enough for that after Louisa had gone.

“So, will the barn be ready for the ceremony? I know you’ve been working hard on it.” Louisa sat down on the sofa and took hold of a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other.

Tom liked that about her. She was organized to the nth degree, something that was sorely lacking in the home he shared with Molly and Lucas. There were always fabric swatches piled up or reams of material spread across the floor and the sofa. Molly really needed to find a studio to work from, but it was convenient to be able to sew at home on those occasions when Lucas was too poorly to go to school. His cystic fibrosis was mostly manageable, but there were times when his breathing was compromised, and he had to rest. But Tom had an idea about his sister’s work environment, too, all tied up with his future plans.

“It will.”

Louisa’s smile was broad as she dramatically wrote a tick against something on her list. “Thank you, Tom. It’s going to look amazing.”

“I’ll make sure it’s clean and tidy, and then you can get to prettying it up. I do need to know how many guests you’ll be expecting, as we’ll need to hire in the chairs. If your wedding is a success, then we can look into purchasing our own for future events.”

“I’ll get you the final numbers as soon as I can. But I am going to need you for more than just getting the barn ready, Tom. Is that okay?”

Tom’s gut clenched at the thought of getting drawn into any wedding planning, other than helping out behind the scenes. His fear must have shown on his face because Louisa laughed.

“Don’t worry, I’m not about to ask you to sing at the reception.”

With your father on percussion?

“What were you thinking then?”

“All the logistics, getting guests from the yard to the barn and back, setting up both spaces, maybe even overseeing the decorations.”

Tom could lift, shift, move, direct, marshal, and yes, even decorate, as long as he was nothing to do with the actual wedding itself. Just the idea brought back some memories of his own wedding day that he’d not thought about for a long time, especially since it all went sour after just a few months.

“I’ll do whatever you need, as long as it’s behind the scenes, Louisa.”

That merited another few ticks on her list, and they both looked up to see Molly bustle in through the door.

“Hey, you’re both here. Great. Tom, Lucas has a half-day closure today. Would you be able to pick him up, please? I want to have as much time with Louisa this morning as I can so that I can get started on her dress, especially if it’s a new design.” Molly dropped her purse on the sofa next to Louisa, along with a bag of donuts, and handed her a takeout from her favorite coffee store.

“No problem.” Tom liked being relied upon, both by his own family and the Millers, and he had no problem in doing anything necessary for his nephew.

Lucas was a special little boy and the apple of pretty much anyone’s eye, with his infectious smile, bright blue eyes, and blonde curly hair. Taking thirty minutes out of his day to fetch him from school was no hardship, and Tom enjoyed every moment he spent with him.

“I didn’t get you anything because I thought you’d be at work.” Molly wrinkled her nose by way of an apology to her brother, standing in front of where she’d placed the bags.

She was hiding the donuts from view, and he knew from experience that she never bought just enough. There was always more to be had.

“Mm, my favorite,” Louisa cooed as she picked up the brown paper bag and examined its contents. “There are four. That’s plenty for Tom to have one.”

“Lou!” Molly exclaimed and sighed dramatically as he ducked around her and took two from the bag.

“Louisa is getting fitted for her wedding dress, so can’t afford to put on any weight, and you,” Tom paused as he winked at Molly. “You are always telling me to keep food away from your materials and designs. I’m doing you both a favor.”

“Get out of here.” Molly shooed him out the door, and Tom set about the rest of his day, enjoying the unexpected donuts.

🙡 ⚪ 🙣

With less than a week to go before the big day, Tom sat down to what he hoped was a quiet evening to watch the football game after a full-on day at work. Lucas was in bed, Molly was over at the Miller’s house with Louisa, and he was halfway down a bottle of ice-cold beer when he heard voices outside.

No, no, please, not tonight.

Sure enough, the door burst open, and Molly entered backward, helping Louisa up the steps and into the family room. Louisa was pinned into a calico version of the dress, and Molly was carrying a pile of clothing and material.

“We need your opinion,” both women said at once.

“Is this the one?” Louisa asked as she began to parade around, climbing the stairs, sitting, bending, crouching.

“Why are you asking me?” Tom countered. “What about your dad or Mitchell?”

Molly turned off the television. “It’s unlucky for the groom to see the dress before the wedding, Tom.”

“And Dad’s out somewhere. I think he’s avoiding me,” Louisa moaned.

“I should have gone with him,” Tom muttered, earning himself a glare from his sister. “You look very nice, Louisa.”

“But is it the one?” Her question was very plaintive, and he shrugged.

“What do I know about wedding dresses?” Tom stood, heading for the kitchen for another beer.

“You were married, right?” he heard Louisa call after him. “Wasn’t your wife the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen on your wedding day?”

Tom buried his head inside the fridge for a long moment, waiting for the painful memory of Melissa walking up the aisle towards him to pass. He could hear fierce whispering from the family room. Molly was telling Louisa she wasn’t supposed to ask about things like that, and Louisa saying she was sorry, she forgot, but she wanted this to be right.

Walking back into the room, Tom did his best not to laugh at the guilty expressions on both their faces.

“It’s okay,” Tom told them as he sat back down. “Yes, she was, Louisa. And you will be too, but I really am the last person you should listen to about marriage.”

Louisa gave him a sympathetic look, but it was quickly replaced by the same look of panic he’d seen regularly over the past days.

“Let me call Lauren in Florida. She’ll give me an honest answer.” Louisa looked around for her purse, which Molly was still holding, and pulled out her cell. “I still can’t believe she’s actually coming home. It was such a surprise when she said she could make it.”

After Louisa dialed her sister on a video call, she gave the phone to Molly to hold up like a mirror in front of the bride-to-be. It rang for a good minute, and no one answered the other end.

“She’s probably still at work.” Louisa glanced at the phone to see it was after nine p.m., and Tom raised his eyebrows. “I’ll give her another minute.”

The ringing echoed around the room, and Tom added the unanswered call to the opinion he held, to himself, on this fictional daughter and sister, who hadn’t been home in all the time he’d worked for David. Not for birthdays, Christmas, holidays, or even when her own father had a heart attack, ending up in the hospital. All the times you’d expect a family to pull together, to be there for each other, to celebrate, to support, to love, Lauren Miller was absent.

Family meant everything to him, even if it was just the three of them. He would do anything for his sister and nephew, working every hour of the day, and night, if necessary, to keep them safe. Molly had dropped out of school in her junior year, after their mom died, working three jobs, just so she could keep Tom in school, so they could afford the rent on the tiny apartment they called home, so they wouldn’t be split up or taken into care. She did everything she needed to provide for them, even if it meant missing out on her own dreams.

This Lauren showed nothing of the qualities Tom would expect to see in a family, and as far as he was concerned, she had a lot to prove when or if she even turned up to Louisa and Mitchell’s celebration of their love. Not that it had anything to do with him, but as he found himself involved in this wedding, he was entitled to his opinion. He would keep it to himself because he wouldn’t want anything to upset Louisa on her big day.

Not one for holding back on his thoughts, especially if a situation warranted the truth, Tom knew the relationships between father and daughter, and the sisters weren’t close, and there was often a story that went along with it. But he wasn’t planning on having much to do with this Lauren, and she was only going to be around for a short while. He had his hands too full with work and his own family to worry himself about her.

What does concern him is if anyone in the Miller family that he cares about gets hurt by her being here. He’d worked too closely with David over the years and with Louisa these past months, and he cared about them. It was part of his job to look after them as much as it was to look after the vineyard and its future.

Miss Lauren Miller had better watch her step around him. He’d be polite because he was in her family’s employ, but if she caused any trouble, he wouldn’t be backward in coming forwards to call her out.

His thoughts were interrupted by Louisa making an announcement, suddenly and quite loudly. Tom listened out for any movement on Lucas’s monitor to see if he stirred at the noise, but there was nothing.

“This is the one. I’ve decided. Molly, will you please make me this dress?”

Molly smiled and nodded. “You’ll look sensational, Louisa. I’ll make it, and then it should be ready for a fitting next week, and you can decide on any embellishments that you might like. I’ll make any final alterations the day before. How does that sound?”

Tom sent a silent prayer of thanks skyward. This was the part of the dressmaking process that was the most peaceful, where their family would go back to some sort of rhythm, as Molly cut, sewed, embroidered, bringing the design to life. It meant there wouldn’t be quite so many Louisa-shaped interruptions for a few days at least.

Lucas stirred, and Molly glanced over her shoulder at her brother as he climbed the stairs, leaving the two women to finalize some decisions over the material. Tom opened the bedroom door quietly so as not to disturb Lucas and stood in the doorway, partly hidden from view, and watched his nephew cough hard for a few seconds before he turned over and settled himself to sleep.

Just as Molly had fought hard as a teenager to keep Tom safe and well, that fierce spirit was so evident in this little boy. He suffered every day with this cystic fibrosis, but he never let it dampen his sunny soul, and Tom felt a surge of love for him. Lucas was as near to a son Tom felt he’d ever get, and he swore to himself a long time ago that he would always, always put family first.


“Where Love Defeats Sorrow” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When she was 18, Lauren Miller ran away from her home, unable to handle a devastating loss.  Now in her mid-twenties, she foolishly believes that her wounds have been healed, until an unexpected invitation turns this illusion into dust. While she is coping with her homecoming’s turmoil, she meets a charming man who restores peace to her heart. Can she find the inner strength to choose the love she deserves, even if she has to wage a fierce battle against her past’s cruel shadows?

She finally glimpses the sunshine behind the dark clouds…

Working hard every day at the vineyard may be demanding for Tom Hughes, but it enables him to take care of his sister and nephew.  When Lauren appears on his path, it’s as if her soothing presence finally heals the void left in his life by a bitter divorce. His heart is shattered once again though, as the time of her departure approaches. How can he prove to her that she can find genuine happiness in his arms?

To reach her, he will bridge any distance…

Even though they feel numb to accept their deepest emotions, having each other gives Lauren and Tom the courage to face their gravest fears. Will they be strong and determined enough to hold on to each other when fate unleashes a raging storm?

“Where Love Defeats Sorrow” is a contemporary western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

5 thoughts on “Where Love Defeats Sorrow (Preview)”

    1. Your book is one that would be very hard to put down. I was looking for more. Can’t wait for the next part.

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