Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 1
Table of Contents
An Excerpt from Only with You
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To Melissa, Suman, and Jaimie: for the epic cubicle chats that inspired me to think beyond 9–5 and chase my dreams. I am indebted.
And to the women of Stratejoy (lookin’ at you, Molly!) for giving me the tools to make it all happen.
Even in my pre-published days, I’d always heard that the process of taking a manuscript from early draft to finished book required a team. And I thought, “Yeah, yeah, of course, the cover, the printing, etc., I get it.” Well, I didn’t get it. If being published has taught me anything (other than how to drink obscene amounts of coffee [and wine, definitely wine]), it’s that there is literally a team behind every book that you see on the shelf or your e-reader.
In the past, I’ve defaulted to “and thank you, everyone who worked on this book!” and I’ve meant it from the bottom of my heart, but that’s not quite sufficient for this book. Made for You went from being a messy jumble of words to the book you see today in a few short months. In publishing that is akin to a miracle, and definitely deserving of some shout-outs.
First, and foremost, I owe a big thank you to Lauren Plude (or, as she is known affectionately in my head, simply Plude, to account for that pesky same-first-name business). If I’m the book’s mother, she’s its kick-ass nanny who made sure it didn’t grow up into a total weirdo. Thanks for helping shape the story, and for shepherding the book through the publication process.
Despite the old idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” we readers and writers totally judge a book by its cover, and I, for one, am grateful, because this cover could not be more perfect for this story. Huge thank-you to cover designer Claire Brown for taking my directive of “Um, something pretty?” and getting this cover exactly right on the first try.
I used to think that writers were writers, and we could therefore put together our own copy just like we could a novel. Um, no. Different skill set. Thanks to Katie Panicali and Huy Duong for figuring out how to describe an 80,000-word book in a few fantastic sentences.
To senior managing editor Bob Castillo and senior production associate Jessica Krueger, for working all kinds of magic I’ll never understand, thank you. You are heroes!
All authors know on some level that after writing the book, they’ll have to sell the book, but that’s something we can’t do alone, and thank goodness for people like Marissa Sangiacomo who are there to hold our hands. Thank you!
To Amy Pierpont and Leah Hultenschmidt, I’m not going to lie…your names are the ones I whisper in soft, deferential tones. I don’t know everything that you do, but I know it’s a lot. *bows in gratitude*
To my copy editor Janet Robbins, I owe both gratitude and maybe an apology because honestly, I’m never going to know the difference between lay and lie, and sometimes I still stumble on whom, so thanks for kicking my butt.
And to production editor Jamie Snider, could you be any nicer? Knock it off. Seriously, though, thanks for being so great to work with and for being patient with me when I have “writer’s brain.” Which is always.
Lastly, to Nicole Resciniti, who’s technically my agent, but mostly my advisor, therapist, plot guru, and friend: thanks for being my partner in this book and every book.
For anyone else who’s touched this book whose name should be here and isn’t, sincerest apologies, but know that I am so grateful!
Accept the aging process with grace
—Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an
Exemplary Life, #32
Distributing toilet paper was not on Brynn Dalton’s life list.
Neither was crying in a public bathroom at her own birthday party.
But if there was one thing Brynn was starting to suspect, it was that life’s plans went to hell after thirty.
“Excuse me, um…ma’am? Would you mind passing some toilet paper? This roll is empty.”
The slightly embarrassed question from the neighboring bathroom stall caught Brynn on the verge of a sob, and she blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay.
“Oh. Sure.” She kept her voice composed. Her voice was always composed.
Brynn carefully tore off six squares of toilet paper and folded them neatly. She was about to pass them under the stall when she paused. The tidiness of the bundle annoyed her. So instead of handing it over, she set the folded squares on her knee and slapped at the toilet paper roll again until she had an enormous wad of tissue. Brynn very slowly, very intentionally crumpled the toilet paper into a ball.
Plus, now the poor lady on the other side wouldn’t be in the awkward position of having to ask for some more toilet paper. And Brynn Dalton was very good about not putting people in awkward situations.
Brynn leaned down slightly and thrust the wad of tissue under the stall wall.
“Thanks,” came the relieved voice. “You’d think a classy place like this would have enough TP stocked, huh?”
“You’d think,” Brynn agreed politely. Not that she gave a hoot about the toilet paper stocking policies at SkyCity’s private event venue.
“You here for the party?” the voice asked.
“Mm-hmm,” Brynn said, becoming aware that she was on the verge of entering full-on conversation from a toilet seat.
What kind of crassness was this? Talking through bathroom stalls had always made Brynn uncomfortable. Weren’t bathroom stalls supposed to be sacred places?
“Do you know the birthday girl?” the voice persisted.
“I’ve never met her,” the other voice said. “I’m just tagging along as the date of one of her friends.”
“Oh, nice,” Brynn said, struggling to keep her voice polite.
Brynn heard Chatty Cathy’s toilet flush. Finally. “Well, see ya,” the voice said. “Good luck.”
Good luck? What exactly did the stranger think Brynn was doing in here that required “luck”?
Then again, she had been in here for the better part of twenty minutes. And come to think of it…what was Brynn doing in here?
She knew only that she couldn’t be out there. She’d rather be watching her dignity melt away while passing out toilet paper to strangers than face what awaited her:
Her thirty-first birthday, and a room full of people just itching to spot that first gray hair.
Brynn breathed a sigh of relief as she heard the sink faucet turn off, as the swish of the swinging door indicated that the talkative woman had returned to the party. Finally Brynn could commence what she’d come in to do in the first place.
Wallow. In private.
“Brynn! Brynn Dalton, are you in here?”
The door to the women’s restroom banged against the wall and the click of a fast-paced high-heeled walk echoed through the marble bathroom.
In an uncharacteristic burst of cowardice, Brynn contemplated lifting her feet above the ground so that her sister wouldn’t be able to spot her shoes beneath the stall walls. She knew full well that Sophie Wyatt wouldn’t think twice about crawling around on hands a
Then again, knowing Sophie, she also wouldn’t hesitate to look over the bathroom walls.
Resistance was futile.
The tap-tap of Sophie’s heels paused outside the stall where Brynn sat hiding.
“I know you’re in there, Brynn. I can see your boring brown shoes.”
Brynn glanced down at her designer pumps. “They’re not brown. They’re nude.”
“Seriously? Nude doesn’t even count as a color.”
Brynn’s brow furrowed. What did Sophie mean, nude wasn’t a color? The saleswoman at Nordstrom had told her that nude heels would make her legs look “impossibly long.”
She tried to look at them through her more flamboyant sister’s eyes. Okay, maybe the shoes were a little boring.
Just like you.
She pushed the disparaging thought out of her head. Self-pity wasn’t Brynn’s normal style, but it had been steadily fighting for room in her brain ever since she’d learned that the birthday she’d been hoping to sweep under the carpet was turning into a damn circus.
Brynn heard the neighboring stall door swing open and the clatter of Sophie’s heels on the closed toilet seat. Warily, Brynn glanced up and saw her sister’s accusing blue eyes staring down at her.
“I knew it!” Sophie said. “You’re not even going. You’re hiding in there.”
“Well, if I were going, I certainly wouldn’t appreciate the audience,” Brynn mumbled.
Sophie waved away this objection. Younger sisters didn’t put much stock in the value of privacy. Sophie folded her arms on top of the stall wall and rested her chin on her hands. “You okay?” she asked, her voice softening.
Brynn shifted uncomfortably, increasingly aware that the toilet seat cover was not meant for long stays. Exactly how long had she been in here? She’d only meant to hide out for a minute or two to catch her breath, but if Sophie had hunted her down, her absence must have been noted.
“I thought I specifically said no surprise parties,” Brynn said, trying to keep her voice calm as she addressed her sister.
Sophie’s brow furrowed. “When?”
Brynn’s fingers went to her temples. “When? How about every birthday for the past decade?”
“I thought all that fussing was about your thirtieth birthday. I didn’t know it applied to thirty-one as well.”
The tick in her temple increased and Brynn fought to keep from screaming at her sister. But the thing was, she knew that the warped logic made sense in Sophie’s bubbly, carefree head.
Just as she knew that Sophie would never have thrown this party if she’d suspected Brynn wouldn’t like it. Despite her occasional bouts with obliviousness, Sophie was one of the kindest, sweetest people Brynn knew.
But it didn’t change the fact that everyone in her acquaintance had seen the big fat “31” cake on the table, and now knew her precise age. And instead of looking at what she’d accomplished, they’d be looking at what she hadn’t accomplished.
No husband. No fiancé. No baby on the way…
All of which would have been fine if those things hadn’t been part of The Plan.
“I’m really sorry, Brynny,” her sister was saying. “It’s just that we haven’t really done anything for your birthday since you turned twenty-one. I thought you’d be sick of quietly toasting with Mom and Dad like we do every year.”
“Nope. The key word there is ‘quietly,’ Soph. If getting older must be observed, I like it to happen in a classy, understated way.”
“But this is classy! It’s the Space Needle. It’s not like I dragged you to Cowgirls Inc.”
Brynn stifled a shudder at the very thought of straddling a mechanical bull or doing body shots, or whatever they did at Cowgirls Inc.
“It is a lovely party,” Brynn said, belatedly realizing that she might be hurting Sophie’s feelings. The party must have taken months to plan, and here Brynn was acting like it was an execution.
Get it together.
Taking a deep breath, Brynn stood and opened the stall door and walked calmly to the bathroom mirror. She heard Sophie nosily clamber to the ground and follow her.
“You look pretty,” Sophie said, looking at Brynn’s reflection.
“Even with my brown shoes?”
“I guess they’re not so bad,” Sophie said kindly. “They’re very you.”
“Gee, thanks.” But Brynn didn’t take offense. They were her. And normally she took pride in being consistently subdued.
“I’m thirty-one, Soph,” she blurted out.
“You always were good with numbers,” Sophie said. “You know what else we could go count? The huge number of presents, and even bigger number of people here to see you.”
“See me what, turn old and wrinkly right in front of their eyes?”
“Okay, stop,” Sophie said, planting her fist on her hip. “Do you have any idea how obnoxious you sound? Thirty-one isn’t even close to old, and you know perfectly well that you don’t look a day over twenty-five.”
Her sister’s criticism chafed at Brynn’s raw nerves. “Give me a break, Soph. Like you’ve never had a sense of panic over an impending birthday?” Brynn snapped. “I distinctively remember you going on a rampage about how your eggs were going to turn into raisins when you turned twenty-nine and Gray refused to turn his office into a nursery just in case.”
“Yeah, but that’s me. You know perfectly well that I am the whiner of the family. You always rise above pity parties. I thought it went against your moral code, or whatever you call that notebook of yours.”
“It’s my life list, not a moral code.” She hated how snobbish her tone sounded.
Sophie’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute. That’s what this is about. Your stupid list.”
Brynn began rummaging in her purse for her lipstick. Her nude lipstick. The same color she’d been using for almost a decade. “That’s not it,” she said primly.
Sophie snickered. “Oh, it sooo is. Isn’t there a thirty-five-before-thirty-five clause or something in there? Or is that an entirely separate list, not unlike your Thirty Things to Do Before Thirty, and your Fifty Before Fifty list.”
“If you’re going to make fun of me, I’m not going to talk about this with you,” Brynn said as she applied a careful swipe of the lipstick.
But Sophie had already latched on to the topic. “Your hyperorganized little mind is running through all of the things you were supposed to have done by now. That’s why you want your birthdays to slink by unnoticed.”
Something squeezed in Brynn’s chest. “I just…I thought I’d be engaged by now.”
She’d said it.
And she knew how it sounded. She’d practically delivered a death blow to feminism. Modern women didn’t need a husband. Brynn didn’t need a husband.
Except…it was on her plan. And what was the point of having a plan if you didn’t stick to it?
She didn’t bother looking at her sister to gauge Sophie’s reaction. She already knew her sister would be incredulous, and possibly a little outraged.
But Sophie wouldn’t get it. How could she? Her younger sister had married the man of her dreams before the age of thirty, and was happier than she’d ever been in her life.
“But, Brynny, it’s just not your time,” Sophie said softly. “And I thought things with James were going great? He’s looking for you, by the way.”
Right. She felt even more ridiculous for stressing about her marital status when she had a perfectly wonderful boyfriend. A boyfriend who was currently stuck making small talk with people he barely knew because she was lamenting the lack of a shiny ring on her fourth finger.
She was pathetic.
“Listen,” Sophie said, helping herself to the sugar-free gum from Brynn’s purse. “I know you probably have some grand plan of where you’re supposed to be by this exact date. But it doesn’t always work like that. Or, you know, ma
Again, that tightness in her chest. Dammit. “It is,” Brynn said firmly. “I know it is.”
“Okay,” Sophie said with strained patience. “Then it will happen. Someday. But hiding out in the bathroom isn’t going to get you there any faster. I hardly think James is going to get marriage-minded with a woman who spends inordinate time in the restroom.”
True. So true.
Brynn gave her sister a spontaneous hug. “I love how you always say the right thing in the weirdest way.”
Sophie hugged her back before tugging at the hem of her flouncy blue cocktail dress and dropping into a small curtsy. “I do my best.”
“You know, you might have given me a hint about this party so I could have dressed accordingly.” Brynn looked her sister up and down. “You’re not supposed to outshine the birthday girl.”
Sophie waved her hand. “Please. Outshine perfect Brynn Dalton? Impossible.”
Brynn gave a forced smile. Because once upon a time it had been very possible to outshine Brynn Dalton. But now wasn’t the time to take a trip down memory lane. Although, come to think of it, the whole hiding-in-the bathroom thing was an all-too-familiar blast from the past.
A past that involved crying in the bathroom through most of second grade. And third…and pretty much every horrible day up until she’d finally begged her parents for braces, contacts, acne medication, and a regimented weight-loss program.
At fifteen, she’d finally figured out how to do it right. It had been the start of her lists. Lists that kept her from ever being the one that stood out from the crowd to be pointed at and laughed at.
Her lists and plans had kept her from ever having to sit alone at lunch, or hook up with a guy who was out of her league.
Her lists were her life. And she wasn’t about to fall off the wagon at age thirty-one.
Besides, coming in second place to Sophie was just fine with her. God knew she was used to it.
Her sister was especially sparkly tonight. Sophie’s dress was the perfect color to offset her bright blue eyes. And unlike Brynn’s own boring “brown” pumps, Sophie’s were a shocking orange. The look should have been garish, but instead was completely charming.
LAUREN LAYNE SERIES:
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