What if you got another chance at the life that got away?
In an emotional story brimming with wry humor, New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery pens a heartwarming tale of love, family, and a woman's journey of discovery.
L.A. accountant Megan Greene has a successful job, a handsome cardiologist fiancé, and a doting father. Surely they make up for her estranged sister and hypochondriac mother...and a niggling sense that something, somewhere, got lost along the way. But then Megan's life falls spectacularly apart. Faced with the knowledge that neither her father nor her fiancé are the men she thought they were, she is loath to trust Travis -- the high school boyfriend who never quite left her heart. But his reappearance stirs dreams she once reluctantly packed away, and forces her to confront her relationship with her sister -- a bond that has been strained to the limit but has never quite broken. And amid the turmoil lies the promise of a future Megan never expected -- one that may turn out to contain everything she really needs....
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New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women. Publishers Weekly calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and Booklist says “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at www.SusanMallery.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"If only you'd been born pretty," Tina Greene said as she glanced at her daughter's reflection. "Or with only one flaw. Like a big nose. That we could fix."
"As it is, we must suffer with my moderate unattractiveness," Megan told her mother, going for sarcasm so no one would know how she really felt. Well, most people could guess, but her mother would take the words at face value. To do otherwise would mean giving thought to another person -- something Tina Greene never seemed to do.
"I suppose 'moderate' covers it," Tina murmured as she reached for a brush and eye shadow. "On a good day. If only you were more like your sister. Leanne's only thirteen and she has boys calling here all the time."
Dateless, Megan thought grimly. Eighteen and dateless. "Too bad there's not a recovery center you can send me to. You know, to get over being ugly and not having a boyfriend."
Tina nearly frowned. "Are you being smart with me?"
"No, Mom," Megan said in her most innocent voice.
"There was that one boy. I forget his name. Didn't he end up in prison?"
She refused to answer on the grounds that it was true. Her only boyfriend had been arrested. It wasn't his fault -- at least that's what she'd heard. But then she'd also heard Travis had killed someone. She wasn't sure what was the real story.
"You didn't even go to your prom," Tina said. "I could have set you up with someone, but you'd rather sit home by yourself. Do you know how embarrassing that was for me? My daughter not going to the prom?" Tina turned in her chair. "Do you go out of your way to make my life difficult? Does it bring you joy to make me unhappy?"
Megan stared at her mother. She'd read about a study that said babies were more likely to look at attractive faces than unattractive ones. If that was the case, she probably hadn't slept much as an infant. Her attention would have been riveted on her mother's perfect face.
Through some combination of good genes and great luck, Tina had been born beautiful. Stop-traffic, is-she-really-human beautiful. Dark hair that fell in perfect waves, big green eyes and clear, pale skin that practically glowed. It didn't sound all that amazing in words, but in person, Tina was goddess material.
To this day, guys were constantly staring. Men came on to her every time she went out. As her eighteen-year-old daughter, Megan thought it was gross. And depressing. Worse, her baby sister was nearly as pretty. Megan, instead, was the smart sister.
Smart and funny, she reminded herself. She had substance. That's what her dad said. They were the regular ones in the family. Tina and Leanne were shallow and narcissistic, but they loved them anyway because she and Dad had substance.
"What is that you're holding?" Tina asked, pointing at the blouse on the hanger.
"It looks like something. Did you make that? The color doesn't work at all on you. Yellow? Megan, how many times do I have to explain the purpose of clothing? To enhance what you barely have. Or in your case, make it look like more than it is."
Megan glanced at the yellow thrift-store blouse she'd bought for three dollars and basically taken apart and put back together so that it looked like a sexy Chanel design. At least that had been the plan. It was pretty enough, and the fit was perfect, but something was missing. Maybe if she changed the buttons...
"I worked on this in my design class today."
Tina sighed and returned to face the mirror again. "I swear, I don't understand why your father indulges you the way he does. You can take all the craft classes you want, but don't for a minute think you can make a career out of any of them."
"It's not crafts. It's fashion design."
"Whatever. Be realistic. I don't mean to be cruel, but the truth is you're very unlikely to marry well. You simply don't have that much going for you. You'll have to make your own way. You need skills."
The speech was familiar. A variation on the same theme she'd been hearing for years. Only beautiful women got to marry well. Only beautiful women got to have perfect lives. Lesser mortals simply lived in pain and suffering until they were mercifully put out of their misery by death.
Normally Megan could hear the words and let them wash over her without them touching her at all, but not tonight.
"You're wrong," she said, deliberately inviting trouble. "I have talent, and I mean with more than just eyeliner. My teachers say that -- "
Tina rose and tightened the belt on her silk bathrobe. She might have been forty, but she had a body even Megan had to envy. "Your teachers are delighted to cash the checks for the exorbitant tuition they charge at that ridiculous design school. They're going to say whatever they have to so the money keeps coming. Look at yourself, Megan. You're a disaster. Those jeans are cut all wrong, your T-shirt has stains on it. Your hair looks like something cats slept in. When you look in the mirror, do you see 'designer'? You're much more the secretary type. Accept that and move on."
I hate you.
The words boiled up inside, but years of practice kept them from spilling out. Without saying anything, Megan left her mother's room and returned to her own.
Her friend Allegra was sitting on the bed, flipping through a magazine. "And?"
Megan tossed the blouse on the floor. "I'm so stupid. No, what's beyond stupid? I got a great verbal score on my SATs. I should know."
Allegra grabbed the blouse and held it to her chest. The buttery yellow shone against her caramel skin. "I love this. You're doing great work."
Megan joined her on the bed and flopped back on the pillow. "Maybe."
"Hey." Her friend poked her in the arm. "What happened to all the excitement? You love design school. You're going to be a great designer and I will be your star model. Let's talk about your collection."
"I'm eighteen and in my first design class. I need to talk about my homework."
"Attack of the Killer Mom?"
"Right to the heart with a quick jab to the creative spirit."
"Want me to call my therapist? I have his home number."
"It's Friday night."
"He's old. Like fifty. What else has he got to do?"
Megan laughed. "I'll be fine."
"Are you sure? Because I can call."
She probably could. Allegra's parents were successful professionals who worried about their only daughter's emotional state. Allegra had been in therapy since she was six. From what Megan could tell, her friend was the most rational, normal, loyal person she knew, but Allegra's parents didn't see it that way.
"I'm beyond fine. I'm in a dimension of goodness that requires me to get up off the bed. We're going to the party."
Allegra groaned and collapsed in a dramatic swoon. Her long, curly hair fell down, covering her face. "No. Please. Anything but that."
"Or we can spend the evening with my mother."
Her friend straightened. "Party it is."
They looked at each other. "We can do this," Megan said.
Allegra nodded. "Oh, sure. I enjoy going places where people will point and stare."
"They don't do that."
Allegra raised her eyebrows. "I've seen them. It's part of my freakishness."
"You're not a freak."
Her friend stood and put her hands on her hips. "Excuse me? How many other girls do you know who are six feet tall and weigh four pounds?"
"You weigh more than that."
But her friend was right -- Allegra was really tall and really thin. And there was something unusual about her face. Huge eyes and wide lips. Cheekbones that seemed on the verge of cutting through skin.
"You have a look," Megan said, meaning it. "One day everyone is going to think you're amazing and want to be just like you."
"Can it be today?"
They'd met in second grade, when Allegra had moved to the neighborhood. She'd been introduced to the class, and a boy had loudly said the new girl was as ugly as Megan and they should sit together. They did, and a friendship had been born. One bound by time and love and exclusion.
"I'll see what I can do," Megan told her. "But we are going to that party."
They'd been invited. At least as much as anyone was ever invited to a big, loud party at the beach. Getting out of the house seemed like the best way to forget how much her mother had hurt her.
Megan felt twisted inside. She knew in her head it was because she'd finished high school and was ready to start college. She was nearly grown up and sometimes, being free and an adult sounded impossibly wonderful. But other times, she wanted to crawl back in bed and hug her teddy bear.
"Come on," she said as much to herself as to Allegra.
She opened her closet and flipped through the clothes Allegra had left behind on her many sleepovers. She paused at a short red skirt, then tossed it over her shoulder.
"That," she announced. "With the tank top you have on."
"I'll be naked."
"You'll be sexy."
"I'll trip and everyone will see my panties."
"Walk slowly and make sure your underwear doesn't have holes."
Megan pulled out the dress she'd finished over the weekend. The sateen cotton had a sheen that made the really dark green look almost black, but when it caught the light, it flashed with color. The dress was simple and fitted, with skinny straps, but the last six inches of the skirt had a really tight pleating that had nearly killed her to get right. It had come out perfect.
"That's so hot," Allegra breathed. "Can you make me one like it?"
Megan flushed with pleasure. "Sure. We'll go buy fabric tomorrow."
They dressed, then tried to decide on makeup. A lot? A little? It was hard to know what to do. Megan made it a point never to listen when her mother tried to teach her.
"Mascara," Allegra said finally. "And lip gloss."
"Right. We'll be fabulous."
Her bedroom door burst open and her baby sister strolled in. "Mom's sick," Leanne announced, plopping on the bed.
"Get out, rodent," Megan told her.
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