“You’re doing what?”

“I’m staying here and going into business with Sissy Landon.”

Taylor faltered, fully contemplating this new development. Without the investors, if she had a prayer of getting a bank to lend her money, she’d need more than what she had in her savings. And Sissy didn’t need another employee when she was taking the financial risk of expanding. She needed a full partner who would shoulder the business burden of taking on new lines of service. Taylor would have to make some calls and see what other options she had here in Elliott. Otherwise, this plan wouldn’t work.

“Does your new business venture have anything to do with you”—her mother took a swig of her drink, stalling out on the next question as she searched for the best words—“seeing the Landon boy?”

“Yes.” Taylor swallowed hard, taking a sip of her own whiskey to settle her nerves a bit. “We’re involved…together…and I’m staying to see where it goes.”

“Has he proposed?”

“No!” Sweet baby Jesus, she’d freaked out when he’d brought up the possibility of staying. If he’d proposed, she would have lost it. But her heart had done a backflip—the good kind and not the heart attack kind—when he’d said he loved her. She liked that part, a lot. “We aren’t there yet.”

“So, you’re going to give up a good business opportunity in Hawaii that I presume you’ve cultivated over time and stay here to work in a local salon.” She poured herself two more fingers of whiskey and took a drink. “You have no plans for marriage.”

Her mother paused, looking at Taylor for acknowledgment. Taylor nodded.

“No place to live?”

“We haven’t talked about that yet.”

“And what will he do for a living? Return to the Marines?”

“No. He’s going to buy Promised Land farm.”

“Well, he never was afraid of hard labor so I’m sure he’ll do just fine.” Somehow her mother made it sound like a compliment and a slam all at once.

“Mother, this has been a long time coming. Lucky and I are good together, and we just need time to figure it out.” She ignored the little voice in her head recounting all her fears and doubts. Lucky believed in them, and she believed in Lucky. That was all that mattered—right?

“Taylor—”

“Mother, I know what you’re going to say. Lucky isn’t right for me. He’s not good enough.”

“You don’t know what I’m going to say, so shut up and listen.”

Whoa. Taylor hit the back of the stool with the force of a physical shove. Shock rolled through her system and she was a little worried about whether the medication her mother had to be taking wouldn’t mix well with alcohol. Marian Elliott did not tolerate any kind of rude language in her house and saying “shut up” was the same as dropping the f-bomb.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do or what man to date—you wouldn’t listen anyway.” Her mother gave her a look that dared her to disagree. “But I’m going to tell you to be careful about passing up your dreams for a man. Any man. I did it and look what it got me.”

She gestured around the kitchen with the hand holding her glass and the liquid sloshed over the lip and onto the countertop. Her mother didn’t sound drunk, but the whiskey was definitely loosening her up.

“Your father was charming and handsome, and he adored me when we first got married.” She pointed a manicured finger at Taylor and pushed against her shoulder to emphasize her point. Maybe her mother was sloshed after all. “I was a student at Vanderbilt. I studied English and had plans to be a writer. But he sweet-talked me into quitting after two years and getting married. He was going to be a big-shot lawyer with his fingers in politics and I was going to create a gracious home, have children, and make him look good. It wasn’t a sacrifice because we were in it together.”

Taylor had heard parts of this story growing up, but not with this spin. She knew how his story ended. Her mother got the shaft. Not for the first time, anger made her teeth clench as she wondered just what the hell her father thought he was doing by pulling this stunt after thirty-five years of marriage.

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