By: Mary Calmes

Timing: Book One

For my mother, who believed in grace,

and for Elizabeth and Lynn for theirs.

Chapter 1

IT WAS unfair of my boss to order me to go.

“I don’t understand why this is a big deal. We’re only talking about the morning of one of the days. We’re not talking about your entire—will you look at me, please?”

But I didn’t have time. I was sorting paperwork on my desk in preparation for being away. I had different people doing different things, and so I was making piles. “My best friend is getting married, Knox. I don’t want to think about—”

“I need you to meet this woman, Stef. You’re the only one who can close the deal, so you’re the one who’s going.”

“I’ll go when I get back,” I responded absently, checking the inbox of my internal e-mail, hoping he’d get the hint and just leave.

“Look at me.”

But I was so busy. There were things I had to finish before I could leave and not worry. My assistant was amazing, but I couldn’t leave her everything. She’d kill me.


I lifted my gaze from my computer screen to meet his.

“That makes sense to you, does it? You’re going to fly to Amarillo—”


“Stefan.” His voice dropped irritably as he realized I had stopped listening to him.

“Are we still talking about this?”

“You’re going to Amarillo for your—”

“Lubbock,” I corrected him. “I’m flying into Lubbock.”

“Whatever. You’re telling me that you’re going to fly to Lubbock and drive to the small town where your friend is getting married—which, it turns out, is one town over from where Mrs. Freeman is—and then you’re going to come back here to Chicago only to turn around and make the same trip back out again? That seems logical to you?”

It didn’t, no. And even though I had no intention of telling him so, my best friend, Charlotte Holloway, soon to be Charlotte Cantwell, had told me the exact same thing when I explained what my boss was planning.

“Just take the meeting.” She had laughed at me over the phone. “I mean, for crissakes, Stef, it’ll only take the morning of that Wednesday, and the wedding stuff doesn’t even start until that night. I so don’t care, I swear to God.”

“You’ll resent me for making your wedding into a business trip.”

“I will only resent you if you’re not there when I need you. Other than that… I’m good.”


“Stef, I’m in Winston. Where you’re going is in Hillman. Seriously, it’s like an hour drive away, tops.”

“I just want you to know that my trip is all about you.”

“Yes, dear, I know.”

“Stefan!” Knox barking at me brought me sharply back to the present.

“Are you listening to me?”

I had been daydreaming, so the answer was no, I was not listening to my boss, Knox Bishop, Director of Strategic Operations and Marketing.

“Just go see Mrs. Freeman. I already said I would pay for your ticket, what more do you want?”

“I don’t do sales,” I repeated for what felt like the millionth time. “You know I don’t. I’m in acquisitions, not sales.”

“It’s a title, Stef. You’re in sales, believe me.”

“No.” I squinted at him. “I assess what property we should or should not purchase and how much money should or should not be offered to purchase said property. After a pitch is made and the deal is closed, I—”

“This is important.”

“Then send one of the sales—”

“I need it to be you.”


“Because a great deal of money is riding on us closing this deal,” he explained, taking a seat across the desk from me.

Knox Bishop was one of those high-powered corporate men who always looked like he had just walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. He was model perfect. All the designer labels he wore, the way his steel-blue eyes never missed anything, the wisps of silver that had started to show in his thick, gray hair—he was flawless. The only thing more amazing than the way his suits fit or how broad his shoulders were or how his eyes twinkled when he was happy was his ever-calculating mind. The man was a first-class schemer, and he never missed a thing. The fact that he wanted me to go to Texas instead of someone else had already been carefully calculated. I just needed to figure out his angle. After four years of working for the man, it should have been easier for me to figure out what that was.