Closing the Deal

by

Lenora Worth

Can discovering her past create her future?

Sarina Gabriel recently inherited a Victorian money-pit of a mansion. Logic dictates that she sell it, but, still grieving her grandmother’s death, she longs to keep something from her mysterious past. As she explores the house, she discovers some family secrets that just might put the historic mansion on the Hill Country map and give Sarina the roots she’s always wanted. But can she trust Drake Dunmore who promises to help her restore the mansion to its former glory, or will he break her trust and her heart?

Drake Dunmore knows a good deal in houses, and in women. He wants to buy Sarina’s historic mansion and develop the property. Confident, he sets out to charm and persuade the beautiful new owner, Sarina, to sell it to him. Funny thing happens. He falls for Sarina and volunteers to help her restore the mansion and discover her heritage. His father and his ex-girlfriend stand in their way. Can he prove to Sarina that he has her best interests at heart?

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Sarina Gabriel stared up at the white Victorian mansion that stood amid the rolling hills like a dollhouse lost in a forest, a sense of home pushing through her overwhelming need to turn around and run. Memories swirled around her in the same way magnolia leaves and crape myrtle blossoms swirled in the springtime wind.

Falling Blossoms Inn—where dreams come true. That’s what the sign at the end of the lane promised. But not everyone’s dreams came true here.

“It’s yours now, Sarina,” the lawyer for her grandmother’s estate told her this morning after they’d buried the woman everyone called Aunt Frances in the town cemetery. “She wanted you to have it and as the last remaining immediate relative of Frances Gabriel, it’s yours by law.”

Her nana, that beautiful human being who’d loved life with all of her heart and had given so much to others, had always put everyone else above herself. Her generosity had been gracious but it hadn’t paid the bills. Now Sarina had to wonder what Nana had done with the money Sarina had sent home once a month.

Sarina had inherited more than an old estate house turned bed-and-breakfast and popular wedding venue. She’d also inherited the outstanding bills and the long list of repairs that Falling Blossoms needed.

As beautiful as it looked in the spring afternoon, the three-story home the locals had nicknamed the Wedding Cake House begged for some tender-loving care. Sarina could see the age in the peeling paint and broken shutters, not to mention the missing shingles along the arched roof and over the high turrets. The gardens had held up but only because the people of this Texas Hill Country community had tried to help Aunt Frances whenever they could. To repay her for all she’d done.

People from all over the world loved to stroll through the lush azaleas and old camellias or walk under the towering live oaks and cottonwood trees, the scents of gardenia and jasmine filling the air. No wonder so many brides chose this place as their wedding venue. It did seem like something out of a romantic dream.

But sometimes, a dream turned into a nightmare. Closing her eyes, she pushed away the bad memories and focused on the good times.

The community respected her grandmother and tried to repay her for saving the town of Blossom, Texas, population one thousand and seven. After her husband had passed, Frances had decided to turn her family’s estate into an inn and wedding venue, hoping to bring in visitors and new townspeople. Almost thirty years had gone by and the quaint town remained the same. Lost in time. But that population count would increase by one if the lawyer and Sarina’s two best friends had their way.

“We have to save the house, Sarina,” her friend Kayla Burton had told her over coffee at the Falling Waters Café located near the old restored gristmill by the springs. Kayla was the chef and manager of the downhome restaurant, which served everything from hamburgers to farm-to-table home cooking. Famous for her cakes, she also baked wedding cakes and helped plan and cater weddings and other events at the estate house.

“She’s right,” Mona Perez interjected. “What will we do if you sell out? I have gowns on order well into next year and those brides expect to get married there. If the mansion goes, I’ll have to shut down my shop.”

“You’ve talked about leaving since you came back here seven years ago,” Sarina reminded her. Mona managed the Falling Leaves Boutique and Wedding Shop and designed beautiful wedding gowns and bridal attire but carried both bohemian and formal women’s fashions. But she’d always wanted to go to New York and become the next Vera Wang. “This might be your chance to start fresh somewhere else.”

“I like it here—for now,” Mona retorted before taking a nibble of one of Kayla’s famous Big Blossom cookies, which were shaped like flowers and tasted like “sugar and spice and everything nice,” as Kayla liked to tell her customers. “I have a lot of brides counting on me.”

“You have built an amazing clientele,” Sarina said. “I’m proud of you.”

“I have people depending on me too,” Kayla chimed in. “But when Aunt Frances got sick, we had to put everything on hold. We have brides waiting to plan their weddings. I’m so sorry about Aunt Frances. We all loved her and this can’t be helped. But we can’t hold these people off much longer.”

Sarina had to decide what to do. Her friends had graduated college about the same time she had, but had somehow wound up back in Blossom—supposedly temporarily. But they’d stayed here. Sarina had only come home for a brief visit before taking off to pursue her career. They’d stayed and she’d decided to leave and rarely got to visit. She owed them a lot. Maybe she could help them with the final events. “Can’t you two go ahead with the scheduled weddings?”

“Not without the house.” Kayla shook her head. “Family and members of the wedding always stay there. It’s tradition.”

Sarina stared out the café windows remembering all the things she’d neglected. “I’m not a part of that tradition and I’m sorry about that, but I do appreciate both of you. You have staying power.” Unlike her.

Mona grimaced and then smiled. “You think that because you’re the one who left, but that’s okay. We’ve been here, trying to hang on and make this work for the past few years. Now might be your chance to stay here and make this place special again.”

Since they knew part of her reason for leaving, Sarina asked, “Are you both trying to guilt me into this?”

“Yes,” her two best friends since kindergarten had said in unison.

End of Excerpt