Beloved key characters from The Lawson Sisters return in a standalone rural romance about motherhood, family traditions and having the courage to chart a new future. A new novel from award-winning romance author Janet Gover.
Kayla Lawson believes nothing is good unless it’s perfect. This search for perfection has made her a successful high-end wedding planner. But all that comes crashing down when Kayla discovers she’s pregnant. She retreats to the sanctuary of Willowbrook Stud to consider this imperfect future as a single mother.
Connor Knight has never known perfection. A kid from the wrong side of the tracks and a motorcycle gang member, he’s no stranger to trouble with the law. But he’s trying to leave that past behind. By giving a run-down pub in Scone a new lease on life, he’s hoping to rebuild his own.
At Willowbrook, Kayla is reunited with her childhood best friend. Jen and her two kids have come to stay while her husband is awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit. While struggling to decide her future, Kayla is suddenly exposed to what motherhood really looks like.
When she meets Connor there’s instant chemistry between them that can’t be denied. But with her plans in tatters around her, is there any way to make the pieces fit? Or are the obstacles in front of them insurmountable?
‘It needs to be perfect,’ Kayla told the hotel’s events coordinator. ‘Do you think it’s perfect?’
The woman in the dark suit scanned the room. Kayla watched her assess the layout of the chairs and the flowers. Eyes almost as critical as Kayla’s checked the shine and placement of the wine glasses on the tables along the wall and the crispness of the white tablecloths. The room was a symphony of silver and sparkle, the perfect tone for a winter wedding. Then the woman’s head tilted slightly.
‘One moment, please.’ She walked quickly to the arch of white roses where the ceremony would take place. The lectern was polished mahogany, but its placement was not quite right. The events manager straightened it and returned to Kayla, nodding in approval. ‘Now it’s perfect.’
Kayla chuckled. ‘I agree. You and your team have done a fabulous job.’
‘Thank you. Coming from you, that means a lot.’
Kayla knew her high standards were hard to meet but this was one of Sydney’s most prestigious hotels. It was accustomed to providing nothing but the very best, although it came at a high cost. Not that Kayla’s clients cared. If you could afford the services of Elite Weddings, money was not a problem.
Kayla glanced at her watch and walked to the big double doors at the end of the ballroom. She nodded at the two uniformed staff standing by them. The men swung the doors open just as the first group of wedding guests appeared at the top of the escalators from the foyer. Kayla stood to one side as the stylishly dressed women and equally expensively outfitted men came through the door. There were a few ‘oohs’ as the guests took in the beautifully decorated ballroom, the subtly lit balcony and the big arc of the Sydney Harbour Bridge beyond. The wonder lasted only a few seconds, before the hum of voices and the clink of glasses told Kayla the important part of the evening was underway. The highest of the mostly very high-profile guests had taken their places and were beginning to hold court while lesser mortals gathered around.
What’s wrong with me? Am I becoming this cynical?
She waved away a waiter offering Moët & Chandon in crystal glasses. The guests were in good hands. Her job now was to check on the bride and groom. Leaving the room, she took the reserved lift up one floor to the bride’s room. Her knock was answered by a bridesmaid, who ushered her through the suite to a room full of mirrors, where the bride was having a last-minute touch-up done to her make-up. Kayla paused in the doorway. The girl was only nineteen and a vision in couture ivory silk covered with sequins and crystals. That gown cost more than many people paid for a car, but it was beautiful. The young woman was glowing with happiness. No second thoughts or uncertainties would mar this day that Kayla had made perfect for her.
Having assured herself that everything was as it should be in the bride’s world, Kayla set out for the groom’s domain. This time when she knocked on the door, the response was a long time coming. The loud music and rowdy voices inside the suite probably had something to do with that. At last, the door opened a few inches and one of the groomsmen looked out.
‘It’s the wedding planner.’
Kayla heard some scuffling inside and the door opened another few inches, just enough for her to see the stripper dash for the bathroom. The groom walked into view. His hair was ruffled and he was buttoning his shirt.
‘Hi, Kayla. Everything all right?’ He didn’t even have the grace to look abashed.
‘Are you ready? You need to be downstairs in five minutes.’
‘I’ll be there.’
Kayla bit her tongue and walked away. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to go back to the bride’s room and tell the beautiful girl wearing the white dress that she should take it off now and find someone worthy of her. But she couldn’t. She was being paid a lot of money to facilitate the perfect wedding. She fulfilled that role expertly, meeting even her own exacting standards. Sadly, no amount of money would change what was happening in the groom’s rooms.
By late evening, the girl in the white dress was a wife, the groom and his friends were raucously drunk and the most important people had slipped away. Kayla was about to do the same, but as she turned to go, her stomach heaved, sending her rushing to the bathroom. She barely noticed the shiny marble counter, soft white hand towels and free Chanel hand cream. She dashed into a cubicle just before her stomach completely revolted and she lost what little food she had eaten today.
When she was convinced there was nothing more to throw up, she left the cubicle and used one of the fine towels to pat the sweat from her face. The door opened and a wedding guest tottered in on impossibly high heels.
‘Are you all right?’ she asked as she watched Kayla straighten her smart black dress.
Kayla looked at the woman and saw the unspoken words in her eyes—she assumed Kayla was drunk, or worse. The judgement and censure she saw in the woman’s eyes broke through the barriers that had slammed down on Kayla in her bathroom that very morning. She was finally able to say to this stranger the words she had not yet been able to admit to herself.
Another week passed and Kayla hadn’t said those words again outside the walls of her flat with its tiny balcony that allowed her a glimpse of Sydney Harbour. She never worked Mondays during the wedding season, and this Monday morning found her emerging from the bathroom to pour the coffee she’d made down the sink. She opened the balcony doors to get rid of the coffee smell and poured herself a glass of apple juice, which seemed to be the only thing her stomach could handle first thing in the morning. She’d taken another two pregnancy tests, with the same result on each. She had also missed her second period and couldn’t put it down to stress or overwork this time. She knew with absolute certainty exactly how far along she was. It was time she faced facts and made some decisions.
Of course, the job came first. Being a wedding planner required focus and long hours. She was very good at her job. At least, she always had been. Throwing up at the reception wasn’t part of the job description. And that was just the start. She shuddered, thinking about the impact a pregnancy—or a child—would have on her work.
She should do this in person, but she wasn’t up to it. She reached for the phone.
‘Hi, Kayla. I didn’t expect to hear from you today. I see the Crosby wedding was another triumph.’ Her boss Pascale Bonnet was also her friend, but when she was in the office, Pascale was all business.
‘It was fine. The hotel did a good job, although I’ll put a note on their venue listing about staff phones. I caught one waitress trying to take a photo. Luckily, I got to her in time.’
Kayla could picture the frown on Pascale’s perfectly made-up face. The money their celebrity clients paid for the services of Elite Weddings often came from an exclusive photo deal with some high-end glossy magazine. A guarantee of absolute privacy was important to Pascale’s business.
‘Point taken. I’m talking to the manager today about another booking. I’ll mention that to her and see if I can get a discount.’
‘I know it’s short notice, but I’ve decided to head up to Willowbrook tomorrow.’
‘But we don’t have any more bookings there this season.’
‘I know.’ Kayla’s family home at Scone had become a sought-after wedding venue in the twelve months since they had opened for business. The horse stud that had been in the family for generations was run by her big sister Lizzie and her husband Mitch, while the wedding business in the old homestead was Kayla’s concern. During the spring and into summer, there was a Willowbrook wedding almost every weekend, but no-one was looking for outdoor venues in mid-winter. ‘Pascale, I need to take some time off.’
In an instant the boss was gone, replaced by the friend. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes … no … I’m not sure. I need to take some time to think about things. I can’t do that here in the city.’
‘Can I help?’
‘Thanks, but no.’
‘Take all the time you need and call me if there is anything I can do.’
‘Are you sure you’ll be all right?’
‘I have Lizzie. She’s the sensible one in the family. I think I need a bit of her right now.’
‘Is there anything—’
Kayla smiled. ‘You already asked, Pascale. Thanks. Don’t worry about me. I’ll talk to you soon.’
Kayla disconnected the call. Now that it was done, all she wanted was to be away from here as fast as she could. Sydney was suffocating her. If she didn’t get away and clear her head, she had no idea what she would do next.
It was almost dark as Kayla approached Scone after a nightmare drive that involved traffic queues caused by an accident on the freeway, delays due to roadworks, and a scary few minutes dodging some roos. She was almost in tears and desperate to go to the toilet when she turned off the main road towards Willowbrook and the beautiful sandstone homestead her great-grandfather had built.
The house looked wonderful as the last glow of evening painted it gold. Where once it had shown signs of decay, it now looked as beautiful as it must have the day it was finished—maybe more. It was hard to believe that the homestead and horse stud had been on the brink of foreclosure just over a year ago. Lizzie had been trying to run it all on her own since their parents’ deaths when the sisters were teenagers. Despite her best efforts, it had slowly slipped into decline. The project to turn it into a wedding venue had done more than save the homestead, it had also rebuilt Lizzie and Kayla’s relationship, and brought Lizzie back to her first and only love, Mitch, with whom she had renewed her wedding vows. Now they lived across the creek from the homestead. With the two of them behind the stud and Kayla behind the wedding venue, Willowbrook was thriving. It would be ready to pass down to the next generation, as it had been passed down to the sisters by the generations before.
Next generation? Lizzie and Mitch didn’t have any kids. Lizzie always avoided even talking about the topic. So what next generation was there going to be? The baby Kayla carried? A baby as unwelcome as it was unexpected.
She parked in front of the house. The veranda light was on. Another light shone through the windows from inside the house. That was a bit strange, but she was far too tired to think about it. She pulled her bag out of the boot and climbed the steps to the front door. It was unlocked, which it shouldn’t have been. She walked into the foyer. The light was on, but one bulb had blown, leaving it dim, which perfectly suited Kayla’s mood. In front of her, the curved staircase led upstairs to her room and the office from which she ran Willowbrook Weddings. That was her domain and a place where she always felt happy and content.
But first she had another urgent need. She dropped her bag on the carpet and dashed into the nearby bathroom.
Afterwards, she wandered into the big kitchen looking for some refreshment, but as she put the coffee on to brew, the smell sent her dashing back to the bathroom. Why was it called morning sickness when it seemed to strike her at any hour of the day?
Having once again lost the contents of her stomach, Kayla was washing her face with shaking hands when she heard what sounded like a car outside. Maybe Lizzie and Mitch had seen her arrive and decided to drop by. She usually told them when she was coming; this time she’d hoped to delay the meeting until tomorrow, but it didn’t really matter. Lizzie and Mitch were her family, and the only people she wanted to be around right now.
Then she heard a child’s voice in the hall outside the door.
‘Is this our new home, Mummy?’
On Sale: 03/01/2024