Series: Blackberry Island #4
Published by MIRA on February 11, 2020
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From the New York Times bestselling author of California Girl comes an all new original Blackberry Island novel told with Susan Mallery’s trademark humor and charm. Sisters by Choice is a heartfelt tale of love, family and the friendships that see us through.
Cousins by chance, sisters by choice…
After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can’t grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.
Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She’s a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself—a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn’t be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.
Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather’s goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?
Sophie ordered salad, mac and cheese and two pieces of chicken. Heather did the same, replacing the salad with baked beans. Amber got the four-piece dinner, which seemed like a lot but Sophie figured she would take it home for the next day.
“How are things at the warehouse?” Heather asked. “Is it ready to go or do you have to order things like shelves and desks and stuff?”
“It was a totally blank canvas. I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to customize stocking and shipping the way I want.”
An upbeat attempt to minimize the truth of feeling overwhelmed, Sophie thought.
“Oh, I hired a guy to run the warehouse. His name is Bear and he has a fantastic résumé. He’s a little gruff, but I think we’ll get along. He’s already gotten me a proposal for the shipping area. And I ordered a forklift.”
“Do you need a license to drive a forklift?” Heather asked with a laugh. “I think I’d like to learn how to do that. Will there be a job fair?”
“Because you need another job?” Sophie asked, her voice teasing. “When would you find the time?”
“I’m looking to consolidate my employment portfolio.”
“You don’t need to go to a job fair,” Amber told her. “Just tell her what you want to do.” She thought for a second. “I think I’d like to answer the phone. That sounds easy enough. Yes, that’s what I want.” She stared at Sophie. “Is that a problem?”
“What? Sophie doesn’t care, do you?” Amber’s gaze locked with hers.
Sophie felt the beginnings of a headache. Being away had allowed her to forget how draining Amber could be. “I will need to hire a receptionist, so sure. What about you, Heather? What’s your dream job?”
“I don’t have any office experience. Maybe something in the warehouse or shipping. But I’m happy to go to the job fair.”
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready to start hiring. I’m hoping to be there in the next few days.”
By Monday for sure, she thought. Product would be piling up by then. She’d already lost too much—she wasn’t going to lose her business, too.
One amazing chicken dinner later, Sophie said goodbye to Amber and Heather and started for her room. After setting the three-quarter-full wine bottle on her dresser, she looked around at the pretty space and knew she couldn’t possibly spend the rest of the evening trapped here. She grabbed her car keys and the bottle of wine and headed out.
On her way to her car, she quickly texted Kristine.
Can I stop by?
Of course. I’d love some company.
Sophie drove the short distance to her cousin’s place and parked in front.
The two-story house looked more comfortable than elegant. Every window was brightly lit and even from the street Sophie could hear the boys yelling as they raced from room to room. She could see a couple of bikes leaning against the porch railing and two SUVs in the driveway.
Kristine and Sophie were the same age. They’d grown up in the same small town, had gone to the same schools and yet their lives couldn’t be more different. Kristine had married right out of high school. She was a stay-at-home mom who baked cookies and drove her kids to soccer practice. Sophie had never wanted any of that. Yet, as she walked up to the front door, she found herself wondering if maybe Kristine had been the one to get it right.
“Hey, you,” Kristine said, opening the door and hugging her. “What’s going on?”
Sophie held up the bottle of wine. “It’s slightly used but still good.”
“I’m not going to say no to a glass of wine with you. Come on in. Ignore the shrieking. Apparently, they didn’t burn off enough energy at school. We’ll sneak downstairs because if they find out you’re here, we’ll never get a minute alone. Generally, they quiet down about this time, but until that happens, pretend the noise is the soft warbling of Puget Sound cranes.”
“Do cranes warble?”
Kristine laughed. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”
They went into the finished basement. Kristine pointed to a well-worn sofa. As Sophie took a seat, Kristine got two wineglasses out of a built-in cabinet and joined her.
“So, what’s up?” Kristine asked. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good. Getting settled. I had dinner with Amber and Heather tonight.”
Kristine winced. “On purpose?” She slapped her hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe I said that and I can’t even blame the wine. It’s just Amber is…”
“Who she’s always been,” Sophie said glumly. “She is very much a cautionary tale. But she seemed worse than usual. And there was definite tension between her and Heather. Is something going on?”
Kristine picked up her wine. “I can guess. Amber’s car was totaled in her recent car accident. Yesterday she came by and showed me her new ride. It’s a nice, late-model Subaru that had to cost way more than what she got for her insurance payout.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I doubt she makes enough to qualify for a very big car loan, which means she had to come up with the balance herself. You don’t actually think she has savings, do you? She had to get the money from somewhere and I’d say Heather is the most likely victim.”
-Excerpt from Sisters By Choice by Susan Mallery. Published by MIRA.