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If I Didn't Know Better

If I Didn't Know Better

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"Loved this book. Great start to the Callaway Cousins spinoff. A little suspense, a lot of romance and a great story make this a winner." Bette - Goodreads

Mia Callaway thought she had the perfect guy and the perfect job...until she didn't. After a run of bad luck, Mia is looking for an escape, so she agrees to go to Angel's Bay to clean out her aunt's house. She has no idea that the wounded soldier next door and his adorable, but also wounded, daughter are about to change her definition of perfect.

Add in stolen art, a family secret, and a town where miracles can happen, and Mia's escape turns out to be the greatest adventure of her life.

A small-town romance with an emotional love story and an intriguing mystery from #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy. 

What the readers are saying…

"Barbara Freethy delivers stories that supply variety and suspense that keeps her readers from getting too comfortable and her stories from being redundant. If I Didn't Know Better has adventure, mystery and at the center of it all is family. This is a story of healing that brings hope, family and emotion along for the ride." Isha – Goodreads

"Another great read in this series! A true Callaway Series has all the fundamental of a great book. Humour, suspense, tenderness and romance. Loved all of it." Mary – Goodreads

"What better way to continue the Callaway saga than to also include our beloved Angels Bay. What better place for three souls to heal in the place where angels make miracles happen. Mia and Jeremy's story is fantastic. Suspenseful and yet romantic. You will definitely fall in love with the characters as well as the story." Mommymoose



"I'm not running away," Mia Callaway said forcefully as she looked into her older sister Annie's disbelieving eyes. "I'm helping Mom. She can't clean out Aunt Carly's house with a broken foot, and I have some time on my hands, so I said I would do it."

"You're going to drive five hours down the coast tomorrow to Angel's Bay and spend the summer clearing out Aunt Carly's house, which could probably be on one of those shows about hoarders?" Annie Callaway asked doubtfully.

"It can't be that bad."

"Aunt Carly has been collecting junk for forty years."

"I doubt she would call souvenirs from her travels—junk," she said defensively. 

"What happened to your job?" Annie asked. "You worked so hard to get that position at the museum. It was perfect for you. And what about Grayson? I thought he was the perfect guy."

Mia sighed. "He definitely turned out to be less than perfect. It's too long of a story to get into now."

They were standing on the sidewalk in front of her cousin Nicole's house, where a huge combined bridal/baby shower was about to begin. At least two dozen Callaway females were waiting inside, and she did not need that kind of attention on her now somewhat dismal life. 

She opened the passenger door of her car and grabbed her two presents, then tipped her head toward the house where balloons adorned the porch railing. "The party is starting. We should go inside."

"We have a minute," Annie said, tucking a strand of her long, dark red hair behind her ear. Unlike Mia, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, Annie had inherited her mother's red hair and green eyes. Those eyes were now staring at her with stubborn determination. 

Mia had thought she'd get the most pointed questions from her mother or her twin sister Kate, but her mom's fractured ankle and Kate's FBI training, had apparently kept their focus elsewhere. Annie, who, at twenty-nine, was three years older than Mia, rarely kept that up-to-date with her life. Nor did her three brothers who probably had no idea she'd lost her job or her boyfriend. But that was a good thing. 

Being the baby in the family, she'd grown up under the protective eye of two parents and five siblings, and she was more than a little tired of being under their microscope, which was another good reason for going away. 

"I'm not going inside until you tell me what is going on with you," Annie said, determination in her eyes. "I'm worried about you, Mia. Kate is the one I expect to go off on a whim or some crazy adventure, not you. You've always had your act together, a solid plan, a list of goals. So what is the deal?"

"There's nothing to worry about, Annie. Things didn't work out with Grayson, and I decided to leave the museum." She'd actually been asked to leave, but she didn't need to get into that. "I'll find another job, but I could use a break. I've been working nonstop for the last four years." Actually, she'd been working nonstop her entire life: buried in books, chasing goals, trying to be the smartest person on the planet, or at least her family, only to find out she'd been about as dumb as anyone could be. 

"What did Grayson do?" Annie asked, a sharp, speculative gleam in her eyes. "And don’t say it was nothing."

"I don't want to talk about Grayson. This day is about Nicole and Maddie. Let's focus on making their party special."

Since her cousin Nicole was about to give birth in three weeks, and Maddie Heller was set to marry Mia's cousin Burke in a month, the family had decided to throw a combined bridal/baby shower. With so many Callaways celebrating so many happy events these days, it had become necessary to put some of them together.

"Fine, I won't press you anymore right now," Annie said. "But I'm still not sure going to Angel's Bay is a good idea. It's so far away. And what is there to do?" 

"Clean out Aunt Carly's house."

"That doesn't sound too exciting. I still feel like you're running away from something, and I hope you know you can talk to me. I realize I haven't been the most attentive big sister, spending all my time at work, but I am here for you."

"I know that. Stop worrying. I loved visiting Aunt Carly in Angel's Bay. I can't wait to get back there. The beach is wild and beautiful. I love the shipwreck legend and the angel stories. Plus, I want to take care of Aunt Carly's house. She's the one who gave me my first set of paints. She told me stories that made me love art and history. I'm really going to miss her. We had a special bond." 

"I'm going to miss her, too, not that she and I were as close as the two of you were, but she was always fun when she came to visit."

"Usually on her way back from a trip somewhere."

"Crazy Aunt Carly," Annie said with a smile. "She and Mom might have been sisters, but they were as different as night and day."

Mia nodded. Her mother was a hard-working nurse who'd married a firefighter and raised six kids. Her Aunt Carly had never married, although she'd had numerous lovers, as she liked to call them, and she'd traveled all around the world. 

Carly had died a few weeks earlier when she was on a boat that capsized in the Indian Ocean. It was difficult to believe she would not come home with yet another great story to tell. But at least she had died having the time of her life. What more could anyone ask?

"We should go inside," Mia said. 

Before they could move, Sara, Chloe, and Emma came down the sidewalk with bags of presents in their hands.

Emma, a petite blonde with bright blue eyes, was a fire investigator and another one of her cousins. 

Sara, a dark-eyed brunette, was married to Emma's brother Aiden. With Sara was her adorable, almost two-year-old toddler Chloe, who had a mass of brown curls to match her mother and a rebellious personality that was all Aiden. Even now, Chloe was tugging at her mother's hand, eager to get to the party. 

"One minute, Chloe," Sara said firmly, as she and Emma exchanged hugs with Mia and Annie. "How are you doing, Mia? I heard you might be looking for a new job."

"News travels fast in this family." 

"I have a friend who works at the Palace of Fine Arts. Let me know if you want me to make a call," Sara said. 

"Thanks. I'm going to take a few weeks off before I decide my next move."

"Lucky you," Emma said. "I can't remember the last time I had weeks off in the summer."

"That's because you adore your job and never want to leave it," Sara teased Emma. 

Emma grinned. "Actually, my adoration is now more focused on my husband, but between him and my job, I get even less time to myself." 

Mia knew that Emma wasn't really complaining, not with the glowing smile on her face.

"Go now," Chloe demanded with another tug on Sara's hand.

"She saw the balloons and got excited," Sara said with an apologetic smile.

"I'm excited, too," Mia said. "Let's go to the party."  

When they stepped onto the porch, Nicole threw open the door to greet them. 

Like her sister Emma, Nicole had blonde hair and blue eyes, but she was also enormously pregnant, carrying all her baby weight in the front of her slender frame. 

"Welcome," Nicole said, giving them each a hug.

"How are you, Nic?" Mia asked, lingering behind as the others made their way into the house.

"As big as a house and happy as can be, but I must admit that I am a little tired." Nicole rubbed her baby bump with an affectionate hand. "My miracle child has been kicking a lot lately. I think she's eager to meet everyone." 

"We're eager to meet her, too. Where's her older brother Brandon?"

"Ryan and Sean took Brandon and Kyle to the park," Nicole explained, referring to her husband Ryan and her brother Sean, and the twin boys who were now eight years old.

"How is Brandon handling the idea of a new sibling?" she asked. Brandon had been diagnosed with autism when he was two, but he had recently improved in some areas of language and communication, which was not only due to intensive therapy, but also the reunion with his twin brother—another miracle that had been bestowed on Nicole.

"I don't think Brandon gets it yet, but Kyle is over the moon. And whenever Kyle is happy, Brandon is happy. That's the way with twins, I guess. You would know that better than me."

"Kate and I were never quite as tightly linked as Kyle and Brandon, but we do sense when one of us is in trouble and needs a call, a hug, or a kick in the ass." 

"I have a feeling Kate would usually be the one to deliver that kick," Nicole said with a laugh. "Anyway, come in. I'm sorry your mom couldn't come. I heard she fell down some stairs."

"Yes. She was carrying some boxes down from the attic, and she tripped. She's all right, but she fractured a bone in her foot, sprained her ankle, and has to stay off her feet for a while. She's not happy about it. Where's your mom?"

"In the living room." Nicole waved her hand toward the crowded room off to the right of the entry. "Make yourself at home. There's food in the dining room, drinks in the kitchen, and plenty of people everywhere."

Mia was used to large gatherings. Growing up in the Callaway family meant every party involved at least twenty to thirty immediate family members, and this joint shower was no exception. 

She'd always liked being a Callaway, having a solid family around her, although being a Callaway also came with responsibility. Her father had been a firefighter like her Uncle Jack and several other relatives. And while not every Callaway saved lives, a lot of them did something to better the community or the world, setting the bar quite high. She'd fallen quite a ways under that bar in recent weeks, but she wasn't going to think about that today.

As she moved toward the living room, she ran into the bride-to-be coming down the hall. Maddie Heller was another beautiful blonde with a happy glow, obviously looking forward to her upcoming wedding. Maddie reminded her of her Aunt Carly. Like Carly, Maddie had been a free spirit, traveling the world before falling for Burke and choosing to marry and settle down. 

Maybe it was about time Mia joined the free-spirit crowd. Certainly trying to do everything exactly right and meet everyone's expectations had not worked out well.  

"So glad you could come," Maddie said, giving her a hug. 

"Are you getting nervous about the wedding?"

"Not even a little bit. Burke is not perfect, but he's the perfect man for me."

"I'm so glad you found each other. I can't wait to see you two walk down the aisle."

"You're still coming, right?" Maddie asked. "Did I hear something about you going to Angel's Bay for a while?"

"Yes, but Angel's Bay is only an hour or so from Santa Barbara, so I'll be able to make the wedding."

"Good. I'm counting on you being there."

As Maddie left to say hello to someone else, Mia walked into the living room. 

Her Aunt Lynda waved her toward the couch. "Come sit next to me, Mia."

Lynda Callaway, a blue-eyed blonde in her late fifties, was married to Mia's Uncle Jack and was both mother and stepmother to eight of her cousins. She was also one of the nicest people Mia had ever known.  

"I'm sorry about your mother's fall," Lynda said, as Mia sat down next to her. "And I'm also sorry about your Aunt Carly. She was such a lovely, energetic woman. I got a postcard from her on my birthday a few months ago. I couldn't believe she remembered. The postcard was from Paris. She told me she'd rented a loft for a month and was spending her days painting by the Seine, drinking wine at dusk and talking to handsome men in the moonlight." Lynda laughed. "What a life." 

"I'll say." The restlessness she'd been feeling for weeks grew stronger as she thought about her aunt's words. Maybe her aunt had died too young, but she'd certainly lived well. 

"Your mom said you're going down to Angel's Bay to clear out Carly's house," Lynda continued.

She nodded. "Yes, it might take a few weeks. Aunt Carly had a lot of stuff."

"Well, there are worse things than spending August at the beach."

"I know. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it," she said lightly. 

"Can I give you one little piece of advice, Mia, if you don't mind?"

"Of course not," she said, tensing at the question. She didn’t know how much the rest of the family knew about her problems, but she was hoping very little. 

"Don't be in a rush to throw things away. Sometimes what people leave behind is more important than you think. And there's a healing to touching and holding items that meant something to the person you loved." 

Lynda's words brought unexpected moisture to her eyes. "I agree."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry." Lynda gave her an apologetic smile.

"I'm fine. I'm just a little emotional."

"As you should be. Loss is always difficult. But you're the perfect person for the job, because you love history and art. I think you're going to find both in your Aunt Carly's house." 

"I am curious to see what's there. The last few years she rented out the cottage at the back of her house to artists passing through town or local painters needing a place to create their art. Aunt Carly never asked for rent money, but she did request that each artist leave behind one piece of original art when they moved on. I can't help thinking I might make a real discovery in that cottage."

"That does sound like a possibility."

"It looks like the party is starting," Mia said, as Emma took center stage.  

"Just a few games. I promise they'll be fun," Emma said with a laugh, as her news was received with groans of displeasure. 

Emma's determined gaze told the group that they were going to play whether they wanted to or not. "We're going to mix it up between baby and bridal, so our two favorite girls, Nicole and Maddie, will each feel special," she added. "Let's start with you, Nicole. You have to guess what's in the diaper bag that Ria is holding." She motioned toward the dark blonde holding an overstuffed tote bag in her hands. 

Nicole shook her head. "I can't."

"Come on, you have to play," Emma said with a frown. "I know you think games are silly, but they're fun, too."

"I can't." Nicole stood up, a pained expression on her face as she held her stomach with both hands. "My water just broke. I'm in labor. Oh, my God, I'm in labor. It's too early. It's too soon." 

"You'll be okay, Nicole," Lynda said, jumping to her feet as she rushed toward her daughter. "We're going to get you to the hospital."

"I'm going with you," Emma said. 

"I'll call Ryan," Sara put in.

"I'm sorry, Maddie," Nicole said. "I'm wrecking your party."

Maddie waved a hand in the air. "Don't be silly. We'll celebrate after you deliver your beautiful daughter." 

"It's too early. I wish Shayla were here," Nicole added, referring to her younger sister, who was also a doctor.

"She'll be at the hospital," Emma reassured Nicole as they left the living room.

"Never a dull moment at a Callaway party," Annie said, coming over to her. 

"You can say that again. I hope everything goes well." 

"It will," Annie said confidently. 

"Okay, the party will now go on," Sara declared, taking charge. "We'll just focus on Maddie and celebrate Nicole's baby when she brings her home." 

As Sara started the next game, Mia thought about how many of her cousins were making big moves in their lives with babies and weddings. She'd been stuck in a rut, but she was going to get out of it, starting tomorrow with a very long drive down the coast.

The Callaways are a family born to serve and protect, many as firefighters. Set primarily in San Francisco, the series features a blended family, with each member in the family getting their own book.

Each book stands alone with a complete story. No cliffhangers! But reading the entire series will give readers a chance to spend more time with this

amazing family!

The books feature romance, mystery and family drama with popular storylines featuring alpha heroes, firefighter romance, girl next door, love at first

sight, enemies to lovers, opposites attract, grumpy sunshine, meet cute, and second chance at love.

I love to write complex books that provide reading pleasure, a mystery to unravel, characters to fall in love with, and a story that will keep readers turning the pages. Start reading the Callaways today!

Don't Miss Any of the Callaway Novels:

  • On A Night Like This (#1)
  • So This Is Love (#2)
  • Falling For A Stranger (#3)
  • Between Now And Forever (#4)
  • Nobody But You (#5) A Callaway Wedding Novella)
  • All A Heart Needs (#6)
  • That Summer Night (#7)
  • When Shadows Fall (#8)
  • Somewhere Only We Know (#9)

Callaway Cousins

  • If I Didn't Know Better (#1)
  • Tender Is The Night (#2)
  • Take Me Home (#3) (Callaway Novella)
  • Closer To You (#4)
  • Once You're Mine (#5)
  • Can't Let Go (#6)
  • Secrets We Keep (#7)

Callaway Series Box Sets

  • Callaways Box Set, Books 1-3
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 4-6
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 7-9
  • Callaways Complete Box Set, Books 1-8
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 1-4
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 5-7

Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
Patricia Henderson
If I Didn't Know Better

Very enjoyable! I always enjoy her work.

Cynthia Tankersley

Loved the story