A December Bride

By: Denise Hunter

A YEAR OF WEDDINGS NOVELLA





Acknowledgments


I’m so grateful for the fabulous team at HarperCollins Christian Fiction, led by publisher Daisy Hutton: Ansley Boatman, Katie Bond, Amanda Bostic, Sue Brower, Ruthie Dean, Laura Dickerson, Jodi Hughes, Ami McConnell, Becky Monds, Becky Philpot, Kerri Potts, and Kristen Vasgaard. Thank you for giving me the honor of launching this novella series.

Thanks especially to my editor, Ami McConnell. Woman, you are a wonder! I’m constantly astounded by your gift of insight. I don’t know of a more talented line editor than LB Norton. You make me look much better than I am!

Author Colleen Coble is my first reader. Thank you, friend! I wouldn’t want to do this writing thing without my buds and fellow authors, Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt, and Kristin Billerbeck. Love you, girls!

I’m grateful to my agent, Karen Solem, who is able to somehow make sense of the legal garble of contracts and, even more amazing, help me understand it.

To my family: Kevin, Justin, Chad, and Trevor. You make life an adventure! Love you all!

Lastly, thank you, friend, for letting me share this story with you. If you enjoy A December Bride, be sure and check out Barefoot Summer to read Madison and Beckett’s story!

I’ve enjoyed connecting with readers like you through my Facebook page. Visit my website at the link www.DeniseHunterBooks.com or just drop me a note at [email protected] I’d love to hear from you!





One


Layla O’Reilly squeezed into a corner of the bustling kitchen of Cappy’s Pizzeria and leaned into the receiver.

“No, no, no. You cannot cancel on me now. The wedding’s in five hours. Five hours, Cooper.” She wound the spiral cord around her fist, a sweat breaking out on her forehead.

“Layla, I—”

“Don’t even tell me you have to work. I asked you over a month ago. You said you got the night off.”

“If you’d just let me talk. I have strep, Layla. I’m contagious. I have to be on an antibiotic for at least twenty-four hours before—”

“I’ll risk it.” She didn’t care if he had malaria. She was going to this wedding, and she was going with a date. Nothing said See, I’ve moved on like an attractive man draped on your arm.

“I feel like trash. I have a 102-degree fever and barbed wire in my throat.”

Layla took a deep breath, the familiar aromas of garlic and oregano filling her nose. She couldn’t believe this was happening. “Now that you mention it, you don’t sound so good.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know tonight’s a big deal.”

She closed her eyes. “It’s not your fault. The strep or the wedding.” She banged the receiver against her temple once, twice, three times. “I’ll bring you chicken soup tomorrow.”

“My sister’s already on it; don’t worry about it. What are you going to do about tonight?”

“I don’t know.”

“Just don’t go. You don’t need them.”

“My whole family will be there.”

“This isn’t about your family and you know it,” he said. “This is about you having something to prove.”

She knotted her fist around the cord. Nothing stung as long and hard as betrayal. “Shut it, Cooper.”

“You know I’m right.”

Olivia passed with a tray, nodding her head toward the back. Layla followed the direction of her nod. Cappy’s bald head gleamed under the kitchen lights. He gave Layla a pointed look.

“I have to go. I’m in the middle of lunch rush.”

She took two orders, working on automatic as her mind filtered through the possibilities. She had to find someone and quick. On her break she made a few calls. No luck.

Think, Layla.

She tidied her long brown ponytail before exiting the break room. She had two and a half more hours of work, one hour to get ready, and a half-hour drive to Louisville. Feeling desperate, she scanned Cappy’s. The new busboy, David, wasn’t bad looking, and he was always smiling at her. She hadn’t encouraged him because he was four years younger, but no one would know. Besides, desperate times and all that.

A few minutes later she walked away from David even more depressed. He was scheduled till closing. Worse, her invitation had encouraged him.

“You okay?” Olivia asked as she passed.

“Yeah, fine.”

“Well, order’s up for table four, and a family was just seated at five.”

“Thanks.” Layla grabbed the order from the heat lamp—a personal Whole Shebang—and headed toward four, her mind in overdrive.

She was tableside before she saw him. Seth Murphy recognized her at the same time. He pocketed his iPhone without taking his blue eyes off her.

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