Made to last, p.1

Made to Last, page 1

 

Made to Last



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Made to Last


  © 2013 by Melissa Tagg

  Published by Bethany House Publishers

  11400 Hampshire Avenue South

  Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

  www.bethanyhouse.com

  Bethany House Publishers is a division of

  Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

  www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

  Ebook edition created 2013

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

  ISBN 978-1-4412-6280-6

  Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Cover design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services

  Author represented by MacGregor Literary Group

  Praise for Made to Last

  “Clever plot. Engaging, funny, fresh writing. A winning voice with deeper layers that touch the heart. Melissa Tagg is the whole package. A delight for CBA readers.”

  ~Rachel Hauck, award-winning and bestselling author of Once Upon a Prince

  “If there is such a thing as a perfect story, Melissa Tagg has written it with this first novel. Laugh-out-loud funny, a delightful premise, hunky heroes, surprising plot twists and poignant, heart-tugging moments, all wound together with beautiful writing. Made to Last is a keeper that will charm its way onto your shelf, and into your heart.”

  ~Susan May Warren, RITA Award winner and bestselling author of Take a Chance on Me

  “Made to Last is a fun romantic comedy that will have you turning the pages. Melissa Tagg is a fresh voice to watch.”

  ~Jenny B. Jones, award-winning author of Save the Date and There You’ll Find Me

  “Melissa Tagg has written a fun, fast-paced romance. Her first novel will certainly not be her last.”

  ~Kristin Billerbeck, author of The Scent of Rain

  “A must for fans of romantic comedy! Melissa Tagg’s endearing characters charmed me and their story line captured my imagination. Reading Made to Last was like eating a hot fudge brownie sundae with girlfriends. Fun. Delicious. Completely entertaining.”

  ~Becky Wade, author of My Stubborn Heart and Undeniably Yours

  “Sweet, fun, and faith-filled, Melissa Tagg’s Made to Last is a story made to delight lovers of romance and behind-the-scenes reality TV. Pull up an armchair and enjoy!”

  ~Lisa Wingate, national bestselling author of Blue Moon Bay, one of Booklist’s Top 10 of 2012

  “With witty dialogue, lovable characters, and an entertaining plot, Melissa Tagg is sure to become a new favorite among fans of Christian romance. Made to Last reminds us all that we are more than the roles we play. At our core, beneath our failures and hang-ups, we are loved and cherished by a faithful God.”

  ~Katie Ganshert, author of Wildflowers From Winter and Wishing on Willows

  “Readers are going to fall in love with Melissa Tagg’s novels! She writes vivid stories filled with true-to-life characters who wrestle with questions about life, faith and romance. Melissa’s writing is equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and moments that touch your heart. I can’t wait for others to discover this talented new author!”

  ~Beth K. Vogt, author of Wish You Were Here and Catch a Falling Star

  “What happens when a harmless lie you didn’t intend to tell takes on a life of its own? When you’re Miranda Woodruff, star of a home improvement show, you learn how to let go and become who God called you to be because nothing else is left. A great story with life-impacting truth surrounded by romance to make you swoon.”

  ~Cara Putman, award-winning author of A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island

  “Reading Made to Last, Melissa Tagg’s debut novel, was like meeting new friends whom I wanted to continue hanging out with long after the book ended. Melissa’s fresh voice and ability to craft a well-written story hooked me with the opening line and held my attention to the very end. Her flawed characters, LOL moments and spiritual truth provided a foundation for a stellar debut novel. I even had to dab my teary eyes a couple of times. Melissa Tagg is an author to watch and one whose books I want to fill my shelves.”

  ~Lisa Jordan, award-winning author of Lakeside Reunion and Lakeside Family

  To Mom and Dad:

  because more than anyone I know,

  you’ve shown me what

  “made to last” love and faith look like.

  And because I love you.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Praise for Made to Last

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Acknowledgments

  Discussion Questions

  About the Author

  Back Ads

  Back Cover

  Chapter 1

  ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

  On any other day of the year, in the lull of routine, she could almost forget the lie she lived. But today’s would-be anniversary made forgetting about as easy as building a house from cotton sheets.

  Miranda Woodruff hooked a thumb under her tool belt and stepped onto the outdoor set, squinting against the familiar glint of studio lights. The light crew usually played off the sun when taping outside, but this evening’s canopy of low-lying clouds dimmed the valley already hazed over by the smoky cover of the Appalachians.

  Mission: Smile. Access her inner Colgate commercial and convince everybody she meant it. Forget the date on the calendar, and while she was at it, pretend this afternoon’s lousy interview never happened. Hey, if anybody could fake it—

  “Randi! Where’ve you been?” Across the set, Whitney’s heels clicked over the bluestone patio. How did her assistant walk in those stilts? Especially with a tangle of cords and wiring webbing the set.

  Miranda skirted around a camera to meet Whitney, pasting on a grin about as plastic as the lighted Ficus trees hedging the patio. Only one more sequence to shoot, and then they could call this week’s taping of her show, From the Ground Up, a wrap.

  Whitney reached her, disapproval tugging her face into a frown. “What’s with the cookie crumbs all over your shirt, girl?”

  Busted. “Got a secret stash of Chips Ahoy! in the truck.” Along with enough Coca-Cola to de-corrode a few car batteries. The stuff of emotional self-medication.

  “Let’s see, we’ve covered your season finale, plans for next season. Now I’d like to get personal for a moment.” Hours later, that reporter’s nasally voice still played on repeat—accompanied by a feeling so achingly routine it barely stung.

  Fine, not true. A dozen rag
ing wasps couldn’t do to her what today’s interview did.

  “What do you have to say regarding the rumors about your marriage?” Miranda’s shoulders stiffened all over again at the memory of the reporter’s averted eyes as she posed the question—the subtle-as-a-foghorn interest edging her words, the disappointment when Miranda’s underwhelming answer fell flat. “I’m sorry. I don’t talk about my personal life to the media.”

  “You know everybody’s curious about where you disappeared to today.” Whitney brushed the crumbs off Miranda’s white V-neck tee.

  And probably annoyed, too, since her last-minute appointment with the magazine journalist meant taping would run late tonight. “One of those spur-of-the-moment interviews. Brad coerced me.” “We need this, Rand.” Why the worry in her manager’s voice as they’d spoken over the phone? Surely after their third season finale her homebuilding television show had finally hit its prime. “Is the crew mad?”

  Whitney stepped back, glance darting from Miranda’s boots and denim up to her signature tee. “Not mad. A tad irked, maybe. No one likes to stay late. Might’ve helped if you’d hit the catering table with everyone else. You always eat with the gang.”

  Except on October 4. But none of the studio bunch knew the gut-punching significance of the date. And she’d just as soon keep it that way. Otherwise there’d be no holding it together through tonight’s taping. “Needed a little quiet. That’s all.”

  “Well, let’s hope the break has you in top form so we can close this in one take. That dark sky won’t hold out forever.” A spotlight snapped on as the set hummed into post-break activity. Whitney pulled a tube from her pocket. “Now, pucker up.”

  “Right, because a girl can’t build a house without lipstick.”

  “Correction: lip gloss. Now get out there and do the Home Depot thing.”

  As Whitney pranced away, Miranda turned her eyes to the green ridges peeking through dusk’s fog. Those paunchy clouds did promise rain, and soon. They just needed to get through this taping. . . . Correction: she needed to.

  And she would. Always did—on all four October 4ths since he left.

  Robbie.

  But she couldn’t let her mind wander there—to Robbie, the anniversary. She needed to ditch thoughts of that prickly interview, too. C’mon, think favorite things. Real Sound of Music–like. Bubble baths. Bonfires. Ooh, or how about the new Powermatic 2000 3HP table saw? Now, there was something to put a little spring in a girl’s step.

  “Oh, please tell me that grin means what I think it means.”

  Her focus slid to the right. Brad Walsh. Yup, there he stood in all his hair-gelled, leather-shoed, this-century’s-William-Holden glory.

  “And what do you think it means?” And why in the world did her manager have to pick today of all days to visit the set?

  “That you’re happy to see me,” Brad said, sweeping his arms wide. “That you realize, after years of my devotion, you’re finally ready to make the move from client to dinner date.” He honed in on her mouth.

  Don’t even think about it, Walsh.

  “Kid, you’ve got lipstick on your teeth.”

  She brushed a finger over her front teeth. “Uh-uh, lip gloss. And thanks. But no dice on the dinner date. We’ve had this chat a thousand times.”

  Brad rolled his chocolate-brown eyes. “I know . . . I’m city, you’re country. Hogwash.”

  Despite the blues she’d lugged around all day, giggles pushed out now. “Hogwash? Is that your way of trying to fit in down here in backwoods-ville? Nice attempt, but you need a debutante, an urbanite. Maybe a ballerina. I’m too . . . flannel and scrambled eggs.” Seriously. He should see her at breakfast.

  She stepped away from Brad, nodded at the head cameraman as he settled in his perch at the Panasonic, and found her own spot behind a granite-top island.

  “You’re hardly a lumberjack, Rand.” Brad moved beside her. “You’re television’s tomboy darling. So said TV Guide last week.”

  She surveyed her props for the closing how-to segment: pitcher of water, steam iron, oak slab. “What’re you doing here, anyway?”

  “Lincoln called, said we needed to talk.”

  Sure enough, the show’s producer strode across the set now. He stopped, exchanged words with the director, and then angled for Miranda and Brad.

  “He looks intense,” Miranda said.

  “Always does.”

  Lincoln reached them, held out a hand to Brad. “Good to see you, Walsh. Randi, I need a few minutes with the two of you.”

  Oh, please don’t let it be bad news. Anything else today and she’d need a bucket of ice cream to go with the rest of her cookies. “Should we sit?” She gestured to the rattan furniture positioned on one side of the porch set.

  Lincoln leaned against the island counter. “Actually, let’s make this a standing meeting. I’ve got to run in a sec. Here’s the thing: I’ve got good news.”

  Miranda tasted relief, syrupy sweet.

  “And some bad.”

  Good-bye, Aunt Jemima. “I vote for the bad first.”

  Lincoln folded his arms over his black sweater, which matched his wide-rimmed glasses. “Okay, I’ll give it to you straight: Season four of From the Ground Up is on shaky ground.”

  Was it just her, or were those heavy clouds sagging even lower in the sky? “Well, we knew the network was looking at fiddling with our time slot, right?”

  Lincoln was shaking his head before she even finished. “I’m not talking a time-slot switch up. We may be on the chopping block.”

  Which explained the ripples of anxiety in her manager’s voice when he’d called about the interview. Brad must have sensed this coming. “Doesn’t compute,” he said now. “The show’s done well for three seasons. Randi’s as popular with viewers as ever.”

  “And we’re half done filming season four,” Miranda added.

  “I know it’s unpleasant to hear, but if you look at last season’s ratings and future projections, it’s not entirely unbelievable. But nothing’s certain. We have time to make our case to the network before they settle on the spring lineup. Which brings me to the good news.”

  Lincoln straightened his glasses and leaned forward. “I’ve had the best publicity brainstorm of my life. I have a plan to save the show and up your celebrity status by the zillions, Randi, dear.”

  Why did that sound more foreboding than hope inspiring? “Whatcha gonna do? Parade me in front of every grocery-aisle tabloid?”

  Lincoln’s smug smile stretched his cheeks. “Not just you.”

  Brad’s sharp intake of breath signaled his realization. She met his eyes, read his “stay calm” expression. What had he just figured out that she hadn’t? “Who else?” A niggle of alarm slipped under her skin.

  “Drum roll, please. . . . Your husband.” Lincoln’s words rushed like the breeze now rolling into a steady mountain wind. “You know, the unseen character on your show. The one who taught you all you know.”

  Oh. Oh no. Disbelief crowded out the elation of only seconds earlier. He couldn’t be serious. Lincoln Nash didn’t know what he was asking.

  Except that he did. And somehow that made it worse. Miranda hugged her arms to her body. “That’s impossible. You know I’m not . . . never was.” Her voice dropped to a hush. “You know Robbie left before the wedding.” The one that would’ve happened three years ago today.

  “What I know is you talk about him in every show.”

  “Because of you, the audition, the pilot. Because while we taped the first season, I naïvely believed I’d be married by the time it aired. Because my contract stipulates . . .” And then there was the little matter of her guilt. She shot Brad a pleading look, swallowing sour desperation. Say something!

  But Lincoln spoke first. “Don’t tell me you haven’t seen the fan websites, tabloid headlines—‘Who is Randi Woodruff’s mystery man?’ Not naming the guy was the best decision we ever made. Especially since, well . . .”

  He didn’
t have to finish. They hadn’t named her husband because the man who should have filled the role had ducked out early. She’d shielded that truth from her fans, even most of the crew, citing her desire for privacy. Up until now it had worked.

  “Anyway,” Lincoln went on, “you finally give people the peek they want, and you’ll save your show. Be sure of it.”

  “The only thing I’m sure of is”—pain latched itself to her shell-shocked words—“I don’t have a husband.” She felt Brad’s palm on her arm, the chill of the coming storm.

  Lincoln only shrugged. “So we get you one.” He checked his watch. “Gotta run. We’ll chat more.”

  And before she could hurl even one of the arguments clogging her throat, Lincoln was off.

  “He’s dead serious, isn’t he.” She slumped against the island counter.

  “Like Colonel Sanders in a chicken coop.” Brad’s eyes were pinned on Lincoln’s retreating form.

  “And I’m the chick with her head on the chopping block.” As Brad placed his arm around her shoulder, grumbling clouds drew her gaze. And suddenly all she wanted was escape. She itched for the comfort of the mountains, her workshop. The heady smell of sawdust, the feel of wood underneath her fingers, glass-smooth and waiting for her magic. Home.

  Where her lies couldn’t find her.

  Well, apparently, until today.

  MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

  “This is officially the stupidest thing you’ve ever talked me into.”

  The click of Matthew Knox’s shoes echoed on the heels of his brother’s hissed words, the empty, dark hallway stretching before him like a cave. Only a slit of light beckoned from under the closed door at the end of the corridor. On the other side of that door, a journalist’s treasure trove.

  For real—he’d hit the jackpot this time. Political favors, special-interest pandering. The evidence was at his fingertips. As long as he didn’t get stuck with one leg into this gaping window of opportunity.

  Matthew paused. This was the direction he’d seen the former politician walking, right?

  Behind him, his brother heaved a sigh. “Dude, did you even hear me? I’m talking epic proportions of stupid.”

 
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