The Honeymoon Cottage
by Lori Foster
Publication Date: May 24, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
A wedding planner, who has resigned herself to spinsterhood, organizes other people’s happy endings in this romantic new women’s fiction from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster.
A light, romantic family saga centered around Yardley Belanger’s country wedding planning business and her eccentric family, and set in a quirky small town with the unusual name of Cemetery, Indiana. (Sure, people have tried, but Betty Cemetery, who is descended from the town founders, will let the name be changed…over her dead body.)
At 31, Yardley Belanger is really good at her job as a wedding planner—organizing other people’s happy ever afters. Yardley doesn’t care that she has zero love life…all the eligible guys in Cemetery are men she grew up with, and none of them interest her anyway. She’s put her heart and soul into her business and has built a reputation specializing in country weddings—complete with a cottage by the lake for honeymooners—attracting happy couples and their families from all around.
Travis Long had to take on too much responsibility too soon. When their parents died, he took care of his younger sister, Sheena. For years, it was just them against the world. But now his baby sister is getting married, and Travis is struggling to accept this change. He thinks Todd isn’t good enough for Sheena, and without meaning to, Travis is noticebly judgmental of his sister’s intended.
Travis and Sheena are in town to plan her country wedding. Travis wanted something classier for his sister, but then he meets Yardley. He notices she puts her heart and soul into everything, and that she really listens to what the bride wants. Yardley has this no-nonsense way of interpreting what his sister says and doesn’t say.
How the hell is he falling in love during wedding prep for his little sister? Easy. He never expected to meet someone like Yardley Belanger.
“Mother, didn’t you plan to go out?” It was nearing noon, and Aurora Belanger had yet to leave. Lilith, her mother’s sister, also lingered in the foyer right outside her office. It was as if they knew she had an appointment and they wanted to oversee the process. It was a fact that no matter how she succeeded, they expected her to fail, or sometimes they just disapproved of how she succeeded.
“Why the rush?” Aurora asked as she adjusted the V-neck of her sleeveless blouse to show more cleavage.
Granted, for an almost-fifty-year-old woman, her mother still had it. The problem was that she knew it, and she focused on looking sexy more than she did on making the business work. Yardley forced her mouth into a smile. “I thought you had some local honeymoon locations to scope out today.”
“I don’t scope out locations. And stop slouching.”
Automatically, Yardley straightened, but damn it, she hadn’t been slouching anyway. “So, what would you call it?”
“I visit, investigate, and collect valuable information that will enhance our clients’ experiences.” She shot Yardley a superior look. “It’s a key part of the business, you know. Certainly, the locations I suggest are more appropriate than that rustic Honeymoon Cottage you always recommend.”
“The cottage is amazing and you know it.”
Aurora sniffed. “Most people are more interested in their honeymoon than the actual wedding.”
Meaning her mother’s contributions were more valuable than Yardley’s efforts? Baloney. She knew one thing though: Aurora’s choices were certainly more expensive. Folding her arms, Yardley said, “Huh. I guess a lot of happy clients didn’t realize that, because more than half choose the cottage, so—”
“Because it’s so disgustingly cheap,” Aurora insisted.
“Affordable,” Yardley countered, but why she bothered, she didn’t know. They’d disagreed on the point too many times to count.
“I need to leave soon for the café,” Aunt Lilith interrupted. She was four years Aurora’s senior, and though they shared similar features, she was more concerned with flaunting her intellect than her sex appeal. At least the niche, tea-parlor-type café Lilith owned turned a small profit, even though they’d transitioned from meeting prospective clients there to having them at the home office instead.
Lilith focused on Yardley with nerve-rattling acuity. “Whatever are you up to, Yardley? Do you have an appointment, hmm?”
“Yes, I do, and I need to prep for it. So… I’ll see you both later.” She took a step back. Then another. Neither of them budged. Damn.
Lilith gave her a longer look. “Don’t you have something more appropriate to wear?”
Looking down at her summer dress, Yardley frowned in consternation. It was one of her favorites. She adored the way the soft, flowing material gently draped her body. The skirt ended mid-calf, and it had just enough adornment to make it professional while still being comfortable. Plus Mimi had told her that the pretty blue floral pattern matched her eyes. “I love this dress.”
“It doesn’t scream professionalism,” said her aunt.
“I’m not sure I want my clothes to scream.”
Ignoring that, her aunt said, “Yellow would be better for you, to offset your dark hair. Perhaps a business suit.”
A yellow business suit? She’d look like a block of butter.
“Nonsense,” said her mother. “Just the opposite is true. It wouldn’t kill you to wear something a little less matronly.”
“My dress isn’t matronly.” Was it? No, no, it was comfortable, damn it.
“You have breasts. Even though they’re small, you should showcase them.”
Yardley started to sweat. “Look, both of you—”
Aunt Lilith cut in. “Only you, Aurora, would think she needed to be sexy to sell a wedding. If you’d furthered your education, as I did, instead of getting pregnant so young—”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Aurora gasped in affront—as she always did when this debate got started.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t mine.” Lilith scoffed. “I didn’t have unprotected sex.”
“Likely because you, dear sister, have never experienced real passion.”
Lilith’s face went red. “No one said passion must equal an unwanted baby—no offense, Yardley.”
Yardley obligingly replied, “None taken.” This whole argument was so old, she knew the lines by heart. There was always some variant of the same thing. Over and over again.
It infuriated Mimi. If her friend was here now, she’d be blasting them both.
“I did the responsible thing,” Aurora specified with flair. “I raised my daughter. You’d probably have given her up.”
“How dare you?” Lilith pointed one manicured finger Yardley’s way. “I love Yardley.”
“Now you do. But while I was carrying her?”
“I was attempting to be the reasonable one.”
“You didn’t want her around, but now you try to claim her as your own.”
“At least I don’t advise her to show off her breasts!”
Yardley lifted her phone to look at the time…and then she heard two things. A man clearing his throat, and a young woman giggling.
OMG. Awash with humiliation, she turned to face her clients…and holy crapola. Pretty sure her ovaries just danced.
Travis Long was a feast for the peepers. She knew because her eyes were gobbling him up from head to toe.
He wasn’t the intended, thank God, just the brother. Is he married?
Good Lord, why did she care? But she answered herself real quick as she took him in feature by feature. Sandy-blond hair, steaked by the sun.
Dark brown eyes, fringed by ridiculous—like, really ridiculous—long, thick lashes.
Broad muscled shoulders.
Long, strong legs.
Of course he had to be married. He’d probably had a dozen proposals by now. Some lucky woman would have snatched him up already.
Unless… Remembering her initial phone conversation, she thought maybe he was too aloof. Too unfriendly. A discerning woman wouldn’t be reeled in by mere good looks. Somehow she didn’t feel all that discerning right now.
Whatever this man does for a living, it works in his favor.
The young woman laughed aloud this time. “Don’t worry, Ms. Belanger. He has that effect on everyone.” She nodded at Aurora and Lilith, and Yardley realized they were both gawking, too.
Appalled, Yardley loudly cleared her throat—and accomplished nothing. Her mother and aunt continued to stare.
“I’ve told him he could have made more money as a model,” the young woman said, “but no, my brother went into construction instead.”
Attempting to ignore the heat in her face, Yardley stepped forward, hand extended—toward the woman. Who would be her client. She was the one who mattered. “Hello. You must be Ms. Long.”
“Soon to be Mrs. Borden, with your help.”
“Oh, I do hope so. That I get to help, I mean. Not that you become Mrs. Borden. I’m sure that’s a foregone conclusion or you wouldn’t be here.” Shut up, Yardley. “Please, just call me Yardley.”
“If you’ll call me Sheena.”
Beside her, Travis shifted but said nothing. Compared to him, his sister looked extra petite. Her hair, lighter blond than Travis’s, hung just past her shoulders. They shared the same striking dark eyes and sinful lashes.
Sheena appeared to be just out of her teens. Maybe twenty or twenty-one. Young, excited, and brimming with optimism. Total opposite of her silent, possibly brooding, brother.
What could she say with her aunt and mother still eyeballing him as if they’d never seen such a fine specimen before? Honestly, in Cemetery, they probably hadn’t. “I’m thrilled for the opportunity to help plan your wedding.” Reluctantly, because she wasn’t yet prepared to gaze on him again, Yardley turned to Travis. It took her a second to get her lungs to work, and then she gasped, “I take it you’re Travis Long, the Victorian home enthusiast?”
“I am.” He briefly clasped her hand.
Very perfunctory. Not at all personal. Purely business.
But he had magic hands or something because she felt that touch radiate everywhere. With her tingling palm, she lamely gestured to the gawking duo. “My mother, Aurora Belanger, and my aunt, Lilith Belanger.”
Sheena greeted them with a little less warmth than she’d shown Yardley.
Travis merely gave them a nod, then said to Yardley, “I’m relieved to see you’ve kept the house true to the period.”
Oh goody, a safe subject, and one she was comfortable with. She could talk about the house and stare at him. “I’ve tried. Remodeling it has been a pleasure, but a slow process.” She wrinkled her nose. “Matching all that trim, finding the right valance windows, the iron railings—”
“And the slate roof. That impressed me.”
Oh, hey. She’d impressed him. Score one for her. “Most recently the kitchen got a facelift. I hope I did it justice.”
Sheena glanced around. “It’s beautiful. Can we do a tour of it later? I know it’d make this whole trip worthwhile for Travis.”
She shot a warning look at her mother and aunt. “Absolutely. I’ll show you everything.” What? “I mean, every part of the house. All the rooms. And stuff.” If only her mouth had a spigot she could turn off. “Even the upstairs rooms have been remodeled.” Had her mother and aunt left when they were supposed to, she’d have tidied their rooms for them. Now she couldn’t, meaning they were probably messy disasters.
Oh, how sweet it was to have a little payback against them. They were fanatics when it came to designing their rooms, but not so big on keeping them decluttered. Yardley knew exactly how they’d react—and they didn’t disappoint her.
“Excuse me,” Lilith said, exiting in a dignified, unhurried stride…until she was out of sight. Then they all heard the rushed clomping of her short heels on wood treads as she raced up the stairs.
Aurora managed a wan smile. “Yes, I should go as well. Good luck, dear. Oh, not that my daughter needs luck, of course. She’s quite the talented wedding planner. Very popular here and in the neighboring towns. Why, her vintage weddings are heavily trending, or so she tells me. Personally, I prefer something a little more chic, which of course she offers.”
“Mother,” Yardley said, feeling her cheeks burn. “You don’t want to be late.”
“Oh, no. No, I don’t.” Aurora barely lowered her voice when she said in an aside, “Don’t slouch.” Then she turned and sashayed away, making a little less noise on the stairs than Lilith had. Unfortunately, they could hear them rushing around in their rooms, probably tucking away bras and shoes, clearing clutter from their desks, and hopefully tidying their beds.
It was the one thing she had in common with them: they each loved to show off the house. Since Aurora and Lilith had personally helped with the decor choices for their rooms, they were especially proud of them and loved to show them off.
Yardley pinned on her most professional smile. “We finished the upstairs as a divided living area, so both my aunt and my mother have their own private suites with bedrooms, bathrooms, and seating areas. My mother chose the side with the balcony, and Aunt Lilith has that romantic turret.”
“You live here, too?” Sheena asked.
“Yes, my bedroom is off to the right of the foyer, and the kitchen is to the left.” She gestured down the hall. “Only the dining room is used as my office. If you’d like to come this way, we can all get comfortable while you share your wedding ideas. Once I have a grasp of what you’re thinking, I can show you my portfolio and we can go over the budget.”
Excerpted from The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster.
Copyright © 2022 by Lori Foster.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Lori Foster is a New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author with over 10 million books sold. She received the Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews and her books have been chosen as editors picks by Amazon multiple times. Foster is actively involved in charity work, and all of the author proceeds from her anthologies have gone to various organizations, such as the Animal Adoption Foundation, the Conductive Learning Center, and One Way Farm. She lives in Ohio with her high school sweetheart.
Facebook: Lori Foster