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One True Love

One True Love

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"A pair of wary, emotionally fragile protagonists, a cast of exceptional secondary characters ... and a multilayered plot that deftly interweaves humor, passion, and a tragedy result in a poignant, heartwrenching, yet heartwarming story that is laced with love." Library Journal

The last place Lisa Alvarez expected to find herself was babysitting for her ex-sister-in-law's three rambunctious kids. But when Maggie called her up and begged for time alone, something in Lisa made her say yes. Lisa never expected her handsome ex-husband Nick to show up on the doorstep, walking back into her life, and taking over more than the weekend....

Nick can't believe how Lisa has changed over the years - and how she's stayed the same. His heart still races when her eyes catch his, his pulse pounds when she's near. After tragedy pushed them apart, Nick spent eight years rebuilding his life and his soul. Can he risk losing his heart again, for a second chance at true love?

What the Readers Are Saying

"ONE TRUE LOVE is guaranteed to give readers a few tears and a big smile at the end. A carefully structured, polished novel, where the romance shines. ONE TRUE LOVE is a winner!" Contra Costa Times

“This couple's journey is one of heartbreak, maturity and healing. One True Love is about finding your voice while listening to your heart. Those skills will eventually lead to the place you belong. Home.” Isha Coleman – I Love Romance blog

"This uplifting book made me want to hug my loved ones and reaffirmed for me to not take life for granted. I highly recommend readers to experience this poignant and heartfelt second chance romance." – Beth - Goodreads

"Have tissues ready and a lot of them! This was a great book and an emotional roller coaster. At times you're laughing then crying then smiling. So much happens in the story and it goes between 4 main characters, that you can't put the book down because you just have to know." Brandi - Goodreads



Wind chimes blew in the warm breeze, a robin sang out for its mate to finish the nest before the babies came, and Nick's guitar played a soothing melody of sleep and love. The porch swing creaked as Lisa stroked her baby's head, letting the fine strands of black silk curl around her fingers. She pressed the baby closer to her heart. She'd never felt so happy, so complete. Then Nick hit a false chord, a shrieking note that clashed with the springtime harmony. The robins squawked and fluttered and flew away, leaving their nest dark and empty...

Lisa Alvarez jolted awake, her heart racing, her breathing ragged. "It was a dream," she told herself. "Just a dream." The pounding on her office door brought her back to reality.

"Elisabeth?" her secretary called.

"Come in," Lisa said somewhat weakly, still disoriented by the vivid dream.

Her secretary, Marian Griggs, walked into the office with a brightly wrapped box in her hand. "I know you told me not to disturb you, but this just came for you. I thought it might be a wedding present, and well, you know how I am about presents." Marian set the box down on the desk in front of Lisa and sent her a curious look. "Are you all right?"

She pushed a sweaty strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm fine. I just put my head down for a minute. I was so tired after working all night, I guess I fell asleep."

"Open the gift," Marian encouraged.

Her hand shook slightly as she slipped the ribbon off the box and removed the lid. She carefully pulled away the white tissue paper to reveal a charm bracelet that held only one small charm, a pair of gold baby shoes. "Oh, no," she whispered as she touched the shoes with her fingertip. "Oh, no." The metal burned her fingers, and she slammed the lid down on the box and took a deep breath.

"What's wrong?" Marian asked with concern.

"Please, go. Just go."

Marian looked like she wanted to argue, but then she nodded. "Okay. I'm going." She walked out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

She took several calming breaths. Why was it all coming back now, when she finally had her life together? After a long moment of indecision, she opened the box once again. This time, she reached for the small envelope lying beneath the bracelet. She slipped it out and opened it.

"Eight years, Lisa. You can push the rest of us away. You can marry this safe, older man, but I will not let you forget her—Robin Nicole Maddux. This bracelet was blessed. If you hold on to it, you will feel the magic. Believe in it now and come home, before it's too late."

Eight years, and her mother, Silvia Alvarez, still hoped for a miracle. When would Silvia learn that there was no magic in the world—only foolish dreams?

She looked at the bracelet once again. It had been blessed by her great-aunt Carmela, who drank tequila for "medicinal purposes" and fashioned jewelry out of gold nuggets she believed were from an ancient Aztec city. Her mother might believe Carmela was a descendant from the mystical Aztecs and therefore had special powers, but as far as Lisa was concerned, Carmela was nothing more than an old con artist. That's why Lisa had left the bracelet behind all those years ago—as she had left everything else behind.

Setting the box on the edge of the desk, she walked over to the window, resting her palms on the windowsill. Below, the streets of downtown Los Angeles bustled with activity, but here in her third-floor office, she was protected from the heat and the smog, the mix of languages, the car horns, the curses, the smells of burritos and quesadillas being sold in tiny taquerias tucked in between the glass and chrome skyscrapers.

She had left Solana Beach, a suburb of San Diego, to come to the sprawling city of Los Angeles, to lose herself in the crowds. It was easy to do that here. Her Mexican/Irish heritage raised few eyebrows in this city of immigrants. She heard three or four languages every time she stepped on the elevator. No one questioned why her hair was so black, her eyes so blue. No one asked, because no one cared. That was the trade-off.

For almost eight years she'd lived in L.A., working her way up from a receptionist in a public relations firm to a senior account executive at one of the most prestigious advertising agencies in Los Angeles. She had changed jobs every few years and apartments almost as frequently, never letting herself get too close or too settled—until now.

In less than a month, she would marry her boss, fifty-two-year-old Raymond Curtis, a man twenty-one years her senior. The age gap didn't bother her. Raymond was the first man she'd felt comfortable with in a long time. She couldn't keep running for the rest of her life. It was time to settle down.

Her mother thought she had chosen Raymond because she wanted a father figure, but Lisa had stopped looking for a father years before. Patrick O'Donegan had taken off two days after Lisa's birth, knowing his family couldn't accept a child who wasn't pure Irish.

In truth, she didn't feel Irish or Mexican. She felt alone. Her mother said she'd been born with a chip on her shoulder. Maybe so. After all, her father had taken one look at her and run screaming for the hills. Was it any wonder she always anticipated rejection?

As she turned, her gaze was caught by the sudden fluttering of a bird outside the window. The bird had a bright orange chest and a gray coat—a robin. Lisa swallowed hard as the bird settled on top of the streetlight just a few feet from her office window. She couldn't imagine how the bird had come to be here, amidst the concrete, the buildings and the smog. She closed her eyes against a wave of memories. But in her mind she could see another robin, a tall tree, a budding nest and Nick holding their baby... no, she wouldn't remember. She couldn't.

A knock came at her door, and she opened her eyes. The robin had disappeared. Perhaps she had simply imagined its appearance. With a sense of relief, she turned away from the window as her fiancé entered the office.

"I'm back," Raymond Curtis said, offering her a broad smile.

Raymond was an attractive man with thin brown hair, graying sideburns, and a narrow face. Of average height, he had a lean, wiry look that came from hours of exercising. A noted clotheshorse, he had a closet full of suits and ties for every occasion. Today, he wore his trademark charcoal gray Armani suit, which he fondly referred to as his "pitch" suit. Judging by the smile on his face, his latest pitch had gone well.

"How did it go?" she asked.

"Exceptionally well." He kissed her on the cheek, then set a box of cereal down on her desk. "I hope you like graham cracker cereal with marshmallows."

"Can't say I've tried it."

"It's new, and the Nature Brand people want to launch the cereal with print, broadcast and Internet ads. This is going to be great, Elisabeth." His eyes lit up at the prospect of landing a big new client. "I need an initial proposal, campaign strategy complete with various slogans and artwork four weeks from today. We're competing with one other firm, and we're talking million-dollar account."

She stared at him in amazement as he rattled off a hectic schedule of meetings and appointments with the Nature Brand people. "Raymond, have you forgotten? We're getting married in four weeks."

"I know." The light in his eyes dimmed slightly. "The timing isn't the best."

"That's an understatement."

"This account is too good to pass up." He smiled persuasively. "The wedding details are pretty much set. All we have to do is send out the invitations."

Her eyes drifted over to the box of invitations sitting on her credenza. The engraved ivory cards still needed to be addressed, sealed and stamped. She tucked a strand of her hair behind one ear.

"I wouldn't say that's all we have to do, Raymond. I still have the final fitting of my gown, presents to buy for the bridesmaids you insisted we have, last-minute decisions about flowers, and--"

"Let Mrs. Carstairs handle it."

"I'm still not comfortable with a wedding consultant planning my wedding."

Raymond laughed. "That's her job. Look, I know I'm asking a lot, but this account is just what we've been waiting for, especially since losing Bailey Brothers to Beverly Wickham earlier this year. This one will put us back on top."

"Is Beverly competing for Nature Brand, too?"

Raymond tugged at the knot in his tie. "Unfortunately, yes. There's one other thing—the honeymoon."

She stared at him with dismay. "You're not planning on canceling the honeymoon?"

"No, of course not."

"Good, for a minute there...”

"Just cut it short by a day or two. If we get this account, Monty Friedman, Nature Brand's CEO, has asked that we meet the week after our presentation to work out a detailed game plan. I can put him off until Wednesday or Thursday, of course."

"Of course." Lisa echoed with a sigh.

"Once we have the campaign up and running, we'll take two weeks off and go wherever your heart desires. What do you say?"

What could she say? She couldn't deny Raymond the opportunity to land a big account. The agency was more than just a job to him. It was his life—hers, too. "All right."

"I can always count on you. So, what have you been up to today?" Raymond glanced at her desk, immediately zeroing in on the package. "Hey, what's this? Did we get a wedding present already?" He reached for the box before she could stop him.

"No. It's not a wedding present. It's--"

"A bracelet." His gaze turned puzzled as he looked into her eyes. "Baby shoes?"

She swallowed hard as she stared at the gold charm bracelet swinging from his fingers. In her mind, she saw another man's hand, heard another man's voice.

"I wonder what other charms she'll get over the years, a baseball bat, a mitt, a basketball,'' Nick said with a laugh, his curly brown hair still mussed from his daughter's restless fingers, his light green eyes twinkling with pleasure.

"She's a girl," Lisa replied.

"She can still be an athlete.

"Like her dad.'' Lisa felt Nick's strong arm slide around her waist.

"Or a writer, like you. In fact, she can he anything she wants to be. As long as she's happy."

"Oh, Nick, you make it easy to believe in the impossible."

"I don't believe in the impossible. I believe in you—in us.''

Damn that bracelet. She didn't want to remember.

"Elisabeth, what's wrong?"

She took a deep breath. "Nothing is wrong. The bracelet is a gift from my mother. Something old for luck."

Raymond didn't look satisfied with her answer. "You did tell her we're not planning on having children, didn't you?" he asked, worry running through his usually placid brown eyes.

"Yes, but my mother doesn't hear anything she doesn't want to hear. My father was gone for ten years before she admitted he might not be coming back. The woman is the queen of denial."

"Elisabeth, I raised a son, and I don't want to do it again. Frankly, I was never good at being a father. Just ask Ray Junior, if you don't believe me. He's twenty-five now, and I still don't know what to say to him."

Twenty-five! His son was twenty-five, only six years younger than her. When she'd been in the first grade, Raymond had been having a child. Lisa took another deep breath. The age difference didn't matter. They had the same goals now. That's what was important.

"I don't want children," she said. "I don't need to be—a mother."

He looked deep into her eyes. "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely, positively sure." She refused to let any doubts creep into her voice.

He glanced down at the bracelet in his hand, fingering the tiny gold baby shoes. Finally, he set it back in the box and checked his watch. "What time are you meeting Mrs. Carstairs?''

"Five-thirty at the bridal salon," she replied with a sigh.

Raymond sent her a curious look. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She hesitated. "Don't you think it would be better to have a small, intimate wedding?"

"How small would you suggest?"

"You and me and two witnesses," she said hopefully,

"Don't be silly. I have family, friends, business associates. I want to show you off. Every time I see you I thank God no one snatched you up before now."

Her heart stopped. She had to tell him. She'd been trying to for days, but the right moment had never arrived.


She stopped as the intercom buzzed, feeling both relieved and annoyed by the interruption. She reached over and picked up the phone. "Yes?"

"Maggie Scott on line one, Elisabeth," the receptionist said.

Maggie Scott—another voice from her past. Why were they all coming back now—when she finally had her life under control? "Tell her I'll be with her in a minute."

"Problems?" Raymond asked.

"It's an old friend of mine, Maggie Scott. We grew up together in Solana Beach. We used to be best friends."

"Used to be?"

"She got married, had kids. I moved away." Lisa waved her hand in the air. "We drifted apart."

"That happens."

She nodded, knowing they hadn't just drifted apart. She'd turned her back on Maggie, the same way she'd turned her back on her mother and...

"Stop by my office when you're done," Raymond said, turning toward the door, "We'll discuss our plans for the weekend. Monty Friedman has invited us to a party tomorrow afternoon. Everyone will be there. It will be a good opportunity for you to meet the key players."

"Okay," Lisa replied, her mind more on Maggie than the upcoming party. She was suddenly filled with a sense of foreboding. The past was catching up to the present, and she wasn't ready yet.

* * *

Maggie Scott pulled the phone cord around the corner of the desk in the upstairs hall, searching for a quiet place to talk. She could hear her thirteen-year-old daughter, Roxanne, practicing cheerleading routines in the living room with three other giggling, adolescent girls. Her eight-year-old son, Dylan, was playing video games on the television in the family room, yelling "Victory!" every time he knocked out a warrior. Her five-year-old daughter, Mary Bea, was having a tantrum in her bedroom. Even with the door closed, Maggie could hear Mary Bea crying, her sobs intermixed with defiant shouts of "I don't like you, and I wish I had another mommy!"

For a guilty moment, she wished the same thing. Not that she didn't love her kids; they were just driving her stark raving mad. She had them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without relief.

Of course, that's the way she'd wanted it. After her husband, Keith, had died last year, she had proudly told her loving family she could handle things on her own. She could be a single mother. She could manage her house and her children.

For ten months, she'd held it together. She'd smiled and laughed through her heartache. She'd learned how to fix the toilet, change an electrical fuse, and mow the lawn. She'd even bought a jockstrap for her son. Through it all, she'd pretended that Keith was coming home any minute, that he'd be proud of her accomplishments, and she'd finally have some help. But Keith wasn't coming home.

Her stomach churned at the reminder. Her breath caught in her throat, and she felt claustrophobic, scared, and anxious. The attacks of panic had begun two weeks earlier when a card had arrived in the mail addressed to Keith. The letter was signed Serena Hollingsworth. Maggie had never heard Keith mention a woman by that name, but the letter had suggested a personal relationship.

Serena had asked why Keith hadn't contacted her as promised. She said she'd been traveling but had checked her messages faithfully, hoping to hear from him.

The first thought that came into Maggie's mind was that her husband had had an affair. Then it occurred to her that Keith had been dead for almost a year and this woman knew nothing about it. How close could they have been?

She had thrown the card away, then dug it out of the wastebasket and stuck it in her "to do" pile, which never seemed to get done. She'd decided to simply notify the woman of Keith's death, only she hadn't gotten around to it. She hadn't wanted to confront the fact that Keith had had a friendship with a woman she knew nothing about. For the first time, she wondered what else she'd known nothing about. The memory of her loving husband, the foundation of her solid marriage, seemed suddenly unstable.

The thought once again sent adrenaline pulsing through her veins. In the past two weeks, she'd suffered several anxious moments when she felt her heart racing over something illogical, silly almost. She'd become afraid of so many things. She'd drive down the street and imagine how easily a car could swerve and hit her head-on. She'd get on an elevator and picture herself plunging to the basement in the express ride from hell.

Yesterday she had let Dylan take a bus trip to the zoo and had worried all day that the bus would get in an accident, that Dylan would get lost, or the zoo would suddenly become the target of a terrorist attack.

She was losing control. She felt as if her fingers were clinging to the edge of a cliff that was crumbling beneath her hand. The kids were suffering, too, and she couldn't help them. She yelled at them unnecessarily, making her fears their fears. By bedtime, all four of them were usually in tears. She wasn't being fair to them, and she had to do something soon before she destroyed what was left of her family.

"Mom, can we have a snack?" Roxy yelled up the stairs.

"I'm on the phone," she replied, walking around in circles, searching for a quiet place to sit. Her room was a mess, with a pile of laundry on the bed waiting to be sorted. The desk in the hall alcove was covered with bills she had yet to pay. Just looking at all those envelopes made her anxiety level rise yet again.

She jumped to one side of the hall as Dylan and their golden retriever, Sally, ran up the stairs.

"Sally found a dead bird in the backyard," Dylan said with excitement. The dog barked in delight. "Do you want to see it? It's in the kitchen."

"No. I'm on the phone." Maggie sighed as Mary Bea marched out of her room with her backpack in one hand and her cherished blanket in the other. Her face was streaked with tears, her blond curls a mass of tangles. "Where do you think you're going, young lady?"

"I'm running away unless you say you're sorry for yelling at me."

"I'm on the phone," Maggie replied for the third time. "And if anyone is going to run away from home, it will be me."

"Mom, we're starving." Roxy complained from the bottom of the stairs.

"I'm on the phone," she yelled back. "Can't anyone see I'm on the phone? Do you think this receiver is an earring?"

Dylan and Mary Bea looked at her in bewilderment, then Mary Bea started to cry. "You're yelling again," she accused.

She opened the door to the hall closet and walked inside, shutting herself in among the coats, the umbrellas and the tennis rackets that hadn't been used in years. She sat down on the upturned end of a suitcase she'd meant to store in the basement, but like so many things in her life, it had gone undone.

"Mom, why are you in the closet?" Dylan asked.

"Are you playing hide-and-seek?" Mary Bea asked hopefully. "Can I play, too?"

"She doesn't want to play with you," Dylan said.

"Yes, she does."

"No, she doesn't."

"Go away," she yelled. "I'm on the phone."

"Maggie?" Lisa's voice came over the receiver like an answer to a prayer.

"Lisa. Thank God, you're there." Maggie took a deep breath. Eight years ago what she needed to say would have come easily. Now there were barriers between them, years when they hadn't seen much of each other, layers of grief and disillusionment that weighed heavily on their friendship, but Maggie had nowhere else to turn. "I need you." She closed her eyes, waiting for Lisa's response.

Lisa stared blindly at her desktop, not seeing the work spread out before her, hearing only the anguish in Maggie's voice. I need you. Three short words that demanded so much, coming from a woman who had always asked for so little. They had been best friends forever. Maggie Maddux Scott with her golden hair, her big booming laugh and wide generous smile had befriended Lisa on her first day at a new middle school. She didn't care that Lisa was different, that she was too shy, too skinny, too nervous, too everything.

Maggie's friendship had come like the sun after a long winter's storm. She'd introduced Lisa to the joy of laughter, to the secrets of best friends. With two older brothers, Maggie was dying for a sister, and Lisa fit the bill. They'd been inseparable for years, until... Lisa's gaze drifted to the opened box on the desk, to the bracelet that gleamed against the tissue paper.

"Did you hear me?" Maggie asked.

Lisa started. "Yes, of course. What's wrong? Is one of the kids--"

"No. It's me." Maggie's voice sounded edgy. "I'm losing it, Lisa. The walls are closing in on me. I can't breathe."

"Are you in the closet again?" Lisa demanded.

"Yes, I'm in the closet. It's the only place where I won't be interrupted, where I can have two minutes to myself. It's not the closet that's making me crazy. It's everything else. I can't do this anymore. I can't fight with Roxy every morning about her clothes. I can't drive Dylan all over town so he can play these damn sports, and I can't take Mary Bea into Wal-Mart ever again, because my five-year-old stole two peanut butter cups and a giant-sized Hershey bar and I didn't even notice until I got home and found chocolate smeared across her chin."

"Slow down," Lisa said. "I don't think Wal-Mart will toss you into jail over a couple of candy bars."

"I'm supposed to be okay, you know. It's been almost a year. I should be getting over this by now."

"Honey, he was your husband. And you've been in love with him forever. You married him right out of high school. You might never get over him."

"I know, but I'm so angry, Lisa. He had to die and leave me with all this. It was Keith's idea to buy this big, stupid house, you know. I never wanted this elephant of a mortgage, and it was his idea to have three kids; I would have stopped at two. It was his idea to go into the lab that night..." Her voice faltered. "If he hadn't gone to his office, he wouldn't have been there when the lab exploded," Maggie sobbed, as her emotions spilled out. "I told him to wait until the next morning...”

Maggie's sobs tore at Lisa's heart. "Please don't cry."

"He wouldn't listen," Maggie said with a sniff. "He never listened to me."

Every word Maggie uttered reminded Lisa of her own guilt, her own anger. And it was so pointless. "Maggie, you have to stop torturing yourself."

"Why? I'm torturing everyone else."

"You're not."

"I am. I need you, Lisa. I'm desperate."

"Me? What about—your brothers?" God, she was pathetic. She couldn't even say his name out loud.

"I can't reach Nick. He might be away for the weekend. And Joe moved up to Monterey last year, remember? And his wife is expecting a baby any day now. My parents are finally taking their second honeymoon. I can't ask them to come home."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Watch my kids for the weekend. I know I shouldn't ask. You're getting married in a month, and you must be busy, but I could use a friend right now." Her voice tightened. "And—and you owe me, Lisa. There, I said it. I've felt it for a long time, and now I've said it. You didn't even come for Keith's funeral. I still can't believe you didn't come."

Her stomach turned over at the anger and bitterness in Maggie's voice. Maggie was right. Lisa had been a lousy friend. "I came down the week after," she protested.

"So you wouldn't have to see Nick and my parents and my kids. Your feelings came before mine."

"You're right. I was scared." Lisa twisted the phone cord between her fingers. She'd felt guilty for weeks. She still did. "I should have been there for you. If you don't want to be my friend, I won't blame you."

"You're not getting out of it that easily. I need you now, Lisa. You have to come. You just have to."

'"I'll be down as soon as I can, a couple of hours." Lisa mentally ran through the list of what she was supposed to accomplish that weekend. Raymond wouldn't be happy. Neither would Mrs. Carstairs, but Maggie was right. Lisa owed her this. Heck, she owed her a lot more than this.

"Really?" Maggie's voice filled with hope. "I know you hate it here, all the memories and Nick..."

"I can handle the memories; it's your children I'm concerned about. Are you sure you want to leave them with me?"

"I wouldn't trust anyone else," Maggie said softly.

Lisa's gaze dropped to the charm bracelet once again. Someone else had trusted her, and she had let her down. "Are you sure?''

"It's the only thing I am sure about. Lisa?"



Lisa hung up the phone, worried more than ever by the note of panic in Maggie's voice. Maggie had always been the cool one, sensible, reasonable, dependable—nothing like her older brother, Nick. Lisa's heart raced at the thought of him. But just because she was going back to San Diego didn't mean she had to see Nick. She'd managed to avoid him for almost eight years. Surely, she could make it through one more weekend.

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