Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 1

Listen Audio


"You are such a beautiful bride." Christie Hayden smoothed out the cuff of Sarah Bartow's long-sleeved wedding gown and smiled at her friend in the full-length mirror. Summer Lake, still mostly frozen and lightly dusted with snow, was reflected through the large-paned window in the mirror.

Sarah's eyes were full of excitement and anticipation for her wedding day. "Thank you for everything you've done to help us. I could never have pulled this off so quickly, or so beautifully, without you."

Christie was pleased by how smoothly the wedding preparations had come together. Her final walk-through downstairs half an hour ago confirmed that the Summer Lake Inn had been completely transformed into a tasteful, elegant wedding venue.

"I've absolutely loved helping you," Christie said, "but we both know you could have single-handedly planned a dozen weddings in the past two weeks and gotten a spread in Brides magazine while you were at it."

Sarah grinned. "That was the old me, before I decided to start playing with yarn all day at the store."

Christie was happy to let Sarah say whatever she wanted. After all, this was her wedding day. But both of them knew that moving back to Summer Lake and becoming engaged to Calvin Vaughn hadn't changed the core of who Sarah was. She had always been driven. Brilliant. And on top of that, she also happened to be one of the most loving, caring people Christie had ever had the good fortune to know.

Business at Lakeside Stitch and Knit was more brisk than ever now that Sarah had taken over the store for her mother and grandmother. Not only because Sarah was a phenomenal businesswoman with a background in management consulting, but also because she was truly passionate about knitting and the women who shopped in her store.

As Sarah turned to look into the antique mirror in the inn's wedding prep room, she seemed almost surprised by the wedding gown, the soft curls brushing against her collarbone, the pretty makeup, and the lacy knitted veil over which she couldn't stop running her fingers in wonder.

"I never thought today would come," Sarah said softly, "but I always wanted it." She lifted her gaze to meet Christie's in the mirror. "I've loved Calvin my whole life."

Christie blinked quickly to push away the tears threatening to fall. "You and Calvin both deserve the love you've found again. Especially since this time, it's forever."

She smiled as she looked at Sarah's slightly rounded stomach, and the lump in her throat was replaced by the joy of knowing there would soon be a new baby to cuddle. Her friend's fingers spread across the growing life inside her in an instinctive gesture of protectiveness and nurturing, and a bolt of longing hit Christie so hard that she nearly stumbled back from the force of it.

"Christie?" Sarah reached for her arm. "You know you can talk to me, don't you?"

Christie knew she'd just given too much away. She always did. Some people had poker faces, but hers would cause her to lose everything in a casino because she didn't have the first clue how to play the game. Especially when it came to love.

Still, knowing the last thing she should do was dump her fears and hurts and baggage all over Sarah on her wedding day, Christie was intent on finding a way to deflect her friend's concern and lighten the mood. "I always get emotional at weddings. You should have seen me at each of my sisters' ceremonies. I cried buckets. The guests in my row were all wishing for raincoats so I wouldn't soak them."

But Sarah didn't so much as crack a smile. "You don't have to pretend with me." Regret flashed across her face. "Ever since I got pregnant, my brain has been fuzzy and I want to sleep all the time. That's got to be why I didn't see it more clearly before--we never should have scheduled our wedding for this weekend." Sarah's words were said softly, and while there wasn't pity behind them, Christie believed that was due only to their close friendship.

Unfortunately, there was no escaping the fact that Christie was supposed to have been the one to get married this weekend. Only, instead of wearing a long white gown and saying I do, she was going to be sitting in the audience, watching her friends make their vows of love to each other.

It hadn't been easy walking down Main Street these past three weeks, going to the grocery store, getting a coffee at the cafe, knowing people were whispering about her. Sure, they all smiled and exchanged pleasantries. But either they had to be feeling sorry for her, or they were trying to figure out just what horrible thing she'd done to make Wesley Kane call off the wedding--and disappear from Summer Lake the very next day without a word to anyone.

Including her.

Only the women in the knitting group had remained the same as always. Warm. Gossipy. And yet, utterly nonjudgmental. No matter how busy she was, Christie made sure to keep every Monday night open for drinking too much wine at Lakeside Stitch and Knit, and usually doing more talking and laughing than knitting.

She'd found her home in Summer Lake, liked to imagine growing old on an Adirondack chair on a dock while she watched her future grandchildren playing in the clear blue water. She hated to think that she'd been accepted by the locals only because she was engaged to a man whose family had lived here for generations. She wanted to believe that she belonged on her own merit, because people liked her and thought she contributed something valuable to the community.

But regardless of how off-kilter she was feeling after the break-up, she refused to taint Sarah's wedding in any way. "Really, it worked out perfectly," Christie insisted. "You needed a wedding venue on short notice, and I had one all ready to go. It was meant to happen this way. I'm certain of it."

Anyone else would have stopped talking there, would have held something back, would have hidden the rest of her feelings. But Christie had never known how to do that. Especially when a dear friend was looking at her with such deep concern. Besides, she'd finally stopped lying to herself about her ex-fiance three weeks ago. So what was the point in trying to hold back with Sarah now?

"You know Wesley and I weren't right for each other. Not as anything more than friends. The truth is, I enjoyed putting the finishing details on your wedding far more than I ever enjoyed working on it when it was my own." Christie shook her head. "I guess that should have been my first clue that something wasn't right. After all the weddings I've put on at the inn, after spending time with Drake and Rosa and Suzanne and Roman whenever they're staying in town, and then watching you and Calvin together..." She made herself smile. "You two were supposed to be picking out cake toppers a few weeks ago, but couldn't stop staring into each other's eyes. That was the day I finally realized I couldn't marry Wesley. And that he shouldn't marry me either." Not just because she wanted that kind of love for herself, but because it also wasn't fair to him. "And I will always be grateful to you for helping me see the light." Long after she should have seen it on her own.

Sarah hugged her tightly, and even though Christie longed to tell her friend more--she could swear that her secrets were actually eating her up inside--there was one thing she couldn't tell anyone.

Specifically, what had happened three weeks ago when she and Wesley had broken off their engagement.


Three weeks earlier...

Christie was so twisted up inside her head--and heart--on her way to Wesley's suite of rooms that she didn't think to knock before opening the door. She literally froze in place when Wesley and John, a mutual friend of theirs from college, pulled away from each other so quickly that she almost thought she'd imagined their embrace.

Their kiss.

Wesley cursed and came toward her, hands outstretched, his face ravaged with guilt. "Christie, I didn't want to hurt you. I swear it."

She waited for betrayal to kick in, for anger to burst forth. Instead, all she felt was relief. Because this had to mean Wesley didn't want to marry her either.

Maybe she should have been shocked by his kiss with John. Only, she wasn't. Not when all of the warning signs, everything that hadn't added up from the first time Wesley had asked her out, suddenly made perfect sense.

Christie had always dated tall, dark, and mysterious men who made her heart race. Men with a core of danger and secrets that she wanted to heal. Whereas Wesley had been safe. Gentle. A calm lake instead of a roaring sea. He had been her best friend since their freshman year in art college, when they'd bonded over giggles during a nude-drawing class. Many years later, when they'd started dating, their kisses--which, honestly, had been few and far between--had been nothing to write home about. But she'd told herself fireworks were overrated. Lord knew she could live without the careening emotions that had gone hand in hand with her previous relationships.

Now, as she stood in Wesley's living room with John waiting awkwardly by the window, she finally realized why their engagement had always felt so wrong. They'd both been desperately lying to themselves. Both been wanting to believe in something that could never make either of them happy.

"Why didn't you tell me?" She wasn't angry, but as his closest friend, she was hurt that he'd felt he needed to keep his true feelings from her.

"I wanted so badly to make things work. You and I are such close friends that I thought I could be with you, but seeing John brought up so many old feelings. Feelings I thought had gone away. Feelings I'd convinced myself had never existed in the first place." His eyes looked wild, as if he was only just barely keeping it together. "I'm just so confused about everything. You must hate me. But I swear I didn't cheat on you. Just that kiss." The tears that spilled down his cheeks, along with his confession, broke her heart. "I'm sorry, Christie. So, so sorry."

"Please, Wes." She took his hands in hers. "Don't cry. Not over me. And don't think I could possibly hate you. Especially when I came here tonight to call off our engagement."

His eyes widened in shock. "Are you kidding?"

"No." She swallowed hard, then admitted, "I should never have said yes when you asked me to marry you. Should never even have dated you. Not when we both knew we could never be more than friends."

He squeezed his eyes tight, as if he was trying--and failing--to process everything that was happening. When he reopened them, instead of looking calmer, if anything his panic seemed to have heightened.

"Please keep my secret. About that kiss. About John." He gripped her hands so tightly that she winced. "I need to figure things out before I deal with my family. With our friends. With this town."

They both knew she was no good at keeping secrets. But it was the fear, the pain, the confusion in Wesley's eyes that had her promising, "I won't tell anyone what happened tonight." Knowing he must be desperate to talk things through with John after their kiss, especially if it was their very first, she said, "Tomorrow, we'll figure out how we want to break the news to everyone. That we've decided to just remain friends and call off the wedding."

But the next morning, Christie was surprised to find his note.

I have to leave. I need some time, some space away from Summer Lake, to think things through. I'll come home as soon as I can, but please don't come looking for me.

Mere minutes later, his mother, Susan, burst into the inn's reception room gripping a similar letter in her hand. Tears were fresh on her cheeks--and she didn't bother to hide the accusation in her eyes when she looked at Christie.


Present day...

A bird chirping loudly outside the inn's window brought Christie back into the moment. One where Sarah's look of concern had morphed into full-on worry.

"Have you heard from Wesley yet?" Sarah asked.

"No. He hasn't been in touch with any of us."

"He's family, and you know I love him," Sarah said. Her grandmother Olive and Wesley's grandmother Jean were sisters. "But that doesn't mean I always understand him, or his brother Liam, who never even responded to our wedding invitation."

Christie turned her gaze to the window, as if she could somehow spot Wesley out there if she looked hard enough. But she sensed he wouldn't be back so soon. He was dealing with a lot right now, but every now and again, she felt a little miffed that he'd left her here to deal with everything on her own, for who knew how long.

Sarah gripped her hand tighter, and Christie felt moisture tickling her eyes again. No. The only tears she'd cry today would be happy ones.

Just then, the church bells chimed. Christie opened the door and held out her hand to her friend. "I can't wait to see Calvin's face when you walk down the aisle. He's going to be the happiest man alive."


Oh my. What a lovely wedding it was. Beyond anything Christie could have prepared herself for.

Of course, the bride was gorgeous and the groom was handsome. Pink and white and red hothouse roses were in bloom all over the room. But Sarah and Calvin could have been standing in the middle of an open field wearing jeans and T-shirts and it still would have been one of the most beautiful ceremonies Christie had ever witnessed, simply because the love between them was so big and true that it reached out to wrap itself around everyone in the room as they said their vows.

Sarah was at once strong and completely vulnerable as she looked into Calvin's eyes. "Calvin Vaughn." She smiled as she said his name, and even if she said nothing more today, everyone in the room already knew from the raw, pure emotion that infused her words just how much she loved him. "There isn't any part of my life that doesn't have you in it. When I was five years old, you were there with me on the playground, pushing me higher on the swings than I thought it was possible to go. When I was fifteen, you kissed me for the first time and made me feel more than I thought it was possible to feel. And even when I wasn't here for ten long years, every single second that I was gone, you were with me in my dreams, in my hopes...and in every single part of my heart." Tears spilled down her cheeks, but Calvin caught them, gently brushing the wetness away with his thumbs. "My love for you is unconditional. My love for you is breathless and passionate. My love for you is everything I was, everything I am, everything I want to be. Anything you need, I vow to give you. Anytime you hurt, I promise to heal you. I love you, Calvin Vaughn, now and forever."

Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance