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Prologue

Years ago…

The perfect wedding dress was all Claire could think about, talk about, dream about! Her fiancé was sick and tired of hearing her complain that not one dress she tried on was the perfect wedding dress. Her mother was avoiding her calls and finding excuses to avoid spending time with her.  Her boss reprimanded her and told her that if she wanted to continue in her position as his legal assistant, she needed to focus on her job and stop spending all her work hours online in search of the perfect wedding dress.  Her father said he didn’t give a royal damn what the dress cost, just buy it and stop talking about it! Her Grandmother offered to let her wear her wedding dress, which smelled of moth balls, and was miles too big for Claire! Even her sister, who was her maid of honor, was sick and tired of spending every Saturday driving miles in search of the perfect wedding dress, one that she was sure didn’t exist for her picky sister!

Claire persisted however, and without telling one soul, she designed her own wedding dress, bought a sewing machine, and purchased beautiful satin and lace, and after making a few practice shells out of cheap muslin, she knew her pattern was absolutely perfect. Then and only then, she carefully cut out her perfect wedding dress, and spent hours and hours stitching and adding details to the dress she would only wear one time! Finally, it was done! She stood in front of her full length mirror, admiring herself and her creation, content in the knowledge that her perfect wedding dress was worth all the time and effort she’d put into it!

Claire carefully hung the dress in a brand new garment bag, and hung it on her closet door so she could admire it morning and night while she waited for the special day to arrive. In one of those terrible twists of fate, Claire’s wedding day didn’t arrive for her.  She died in her sleep less than a week before she was to wear her perfect wedding dress!  Her sister wept and wished she could spend another Saturday shopping with Claire. Her grandmother said that worry over her wedding dress caused the stress on Claire’s heart and took her away from them too soon. Claire’s father wished he could tell his daughter he was sorry for being so impatient with her.  Her boss bought an expensive spray of flowers, and told the grieving family that Claire was the best assistant he’d ever had in his thirty years as an attorney! Her sobbing mother refused to bury her daughter in the perfect wedding dress her daughter would never wear.  She packed it in a trunk and stuck it in the attic of the old home that Claire bought before she met her fiancé.  And, her fiancé, who Claire’s entire family and friends thought was a jerk, married the girl next door, who was five months pregnant with his child, six weeks after poor Claire died!  But, Claire made the dress with love in every stitch…


Chapter One

The present…

The old house had seen better days; buying a fixer-upper was the only way Brook could afford to buy a home and keep the price down so that she could manage the payments, utilities, and still be able to eat! She carried in another box and put it down in the large living room.  It had a few items from her apartment that she’d decided she would use to decorate the room, once she patched the holes in the wall and painted.  Brook also wanted to tear up the nasty carpet, but the closing took longer than it was supposed to, and the two weeks she’d planned on having to do some updating didn’t happen.  She had to be out of her apartment by tomorrow evening, and she wanted to give that place a thorough cleaning in hopes of getting her deposit back.  That money would go a long way toward buying some paint, and renting a sander for the hardwood floors underneath the nasty green carpet.

The kitchen needed a major update, too, but that would cost real money, and she was going to have to work and save for quite a while to make that happen.  The main thing, it was livable; the appliances worked, the cupboards had doors, and while the vinyl covering the floor wasn’t her first choice, it would do until she could afford to replace it.  She would tackle some new countertops since someone had burned a hole in the counter beside the stove.  And, adding a backsplash would be nice, too.  Painting the cupboards and putting new hardware on them was also something she could do as time permitted.  Luckily, her parents owned an appliance store, so if she absolutely needed to replace the stove or refrigerator, she could get one at cost from them, and make payments.  She didn’t want to do that, however. 

She carried in several more boxes, and wondered when her brother was going to show up to help her with the heavier stuff.  Landon had a part-time job at Speedway, and he’d called last night to tell her that his boss called and said he needed him to work today…!  Brook wasn’t happy, but Landon needed his job so he could afford to live on campus instead of at home. Still, she needed help, and it wasn’t like she had that many people she could call to give her a hand.  She and Landon were the only siblings in her small family.  They had no cousins.  Brook didn’t have male coworkers who could take away time from their families… and her Dad and Mom worked at their store on Saturdays. She would have to be patient.  Not for the first time, Brook wished she could afford to hire movers!

When she returned with the second load, she spotted a neighbor mowing his grass and realized that was something else she needed to buy… a lawnmower!  Perhaps she could hire a kid to mow for her this summer…?  Another detail of owning her own home! Brook smiled.  It made her very happy to put her money into something that had the potential to earn equity. 

Since Landon obviously had to work later than planned, she’d picked up some of the heavier boxes and loaded them on the U-Haul by herself.  Getting them from the truck and into the house was going to be tough, but Brook knew she needed to keep moving.  She had to return the truck by six o’clock, and there were still at least two more loads!  She had furniture to move, and she had her Granny’s trunks and boxes… Her Mom told her to just get rid of the old stuff, but Brook couldn’t bear to part with her great-grandmother’s belongings.  Granny thought these items were valuable enough to save, and Brook wanted to take her time going through everything before she pitched anything.  Her Mom wasn’t sentimental; Brook was.

“Ohhhh, this is so heavy!” She huffed and puffed as she picked up a box to carry it into the house.  She made it a few steps, and then the unthinkable happened…! The bottom of the box gave, and Brook had office supplies all over the steps to the porch!  A couple of items tried to blow away, and she chased them across the lawn.  The next thing she knew, the neighbor and a little girl she took to be his daughter, were bringing back a few things that ended up in his yard.

“Thank you,” she mumbled, embarrassed.

“You put too much in the box,” he noted, already problem solving.  “Janie, pick up what you can carry, and ask the lady where she wants this stuff.  We can help her get it all inside, okay?”

“Sure, Uncle Mikey.  Ohhhh, this is so pretty!”  Janie held up Brook’s pink tape dispenser.  “Could I have one of these, Uncle Mikey?  It matches my bedroom!” she exclaimed.

“When you get a bit older your Mommy might think it okay, but right now you are at the age where asking for a piece of tape is the best idea.”  He smiled at the child.  “Miss, where do you want all of this?” he asked again.

“I’m going to use the smallest bedroom as my office.  It’s the first door on the right in the hallway.”

“Sounds cool.”  He found the correct room, and put his armful on the floor beside the wall.  Within a couple of minutes, the items were all picked up and moved inside.  Uncle Mikey picked up the box and said, “I think this box is done for.”

“I think you are right.  I’m Brook Jefferson, your new neighbor, obviously.”

“I’m Michael Burroughs, and this is my niece, Janie Wilson.  I’m babysitting so my sister can do some shopping.”

“My brother was supposed to help me today, but he was called in to work,” she explained.

“I wouldn’t mind helping you carry the rest of your load inside…?” Michael offered with a smile.  “I’m finished mowing, and Janie and I make a good team, don’t we, Janie?”

“We sure do, Uncle Mikey.  Don’t you have any furniture, Brook?” she asked, curious about the empty house.

“I do have furniture, but it is all at my old apartment.  I’m going to bring most of it on my next load.” Brook loved kids, and she loved their honest questions.  “Do you have furniture, Janie?” she asked.

“I have a pink bed, a pink dresser, and I have a pink mirror that has glitter allllll over it!”

“Are your walls pink, too?” Brook asked with a smile.

“Oh yes!  Pink is my favorite color.  So is purple and white, but not yellow.”

“I’m not a fan of yellow, either,” Brook agreed.

“If I say I don’t like yellow, too, can I get this parade started?” Michael teased the two females, leading the way to the rented truck. “You don’t have much in here, Brook.”

“Maybe not, but I can’t reach up that high,” she explained, making a face at him.

“Did you see that, Janie?  Brook made a silly face at me!”

“You don’t think like a woman, Uncle Mikey.  Mommy said so.”

“Mommy needs a spanking,” he promptly answered, and Janie giggled. 

“I’m going to tell Mommy you said that!” she told him.  “She’ll be mad.”

“I’ll tell her you said it first,” Michael continued to tease, and Brook laughed out loud when the little girl sighed and put her hands on her hips to look up at him. 

To Brook’s surprise and delight, the truck was empty in no time.  “Thank you both so much!  It would have taken me a long time to do that by myself!”  She would bake some cookies and take some to Michael and his wife to thank him for helping, and her for allowing him to help.

“I know you don’t know me, Brook, but since we have Janie to chaperone, would you let me come to your apartment and give you some help loading?  I promise you I am safe.”

“Won’t your wife object?  I’m sure she has plans for the two of you…?”

“Uncle Mikey is a ‘set-in-his-stuffy-old-ways-bachelor,’ Brook.  That means he’s ‘not married and no one will have him,’” Janie solemnly explained, shaking her head sadly.

“Your Mommy is definitely going to get that spanking now,” Michael said, his handsome face suffused with red.  He was so embarrassed he felt like borrowing some of the tape from Brook’s pink dispenser for Janie’s mouth.  She repeated everything she heard, and since his sister and his mother rarely watched what they said in front of her, he sometimes got an earful, like right now!

Brook wanted to laugh, but she could tell that Michael was not happy with his niece for saying those things, and she certainly didn’t want to offend him.  “I don’t think your Uncle is one bit stuffy, Janie.  I would say he is discriminating, and that is a good thing in today’s world.”

“There is too much divorce, and I want the ‘happily ever after,’” he said firmly.  “Let me go and leave a note for my sister and get Janie’s car seat, and then we’ll head on over to your apartment, unless it makes you uncomfortable…?” he asked, his dark brown eyes looking at her questioningly.

“I would love your help, Michael,” Brook accepted.  “It wasn’t often she met a handsome man, at least one who wasn’t ill… And, she wasn’t about to date a patient!  She knew that some of her coworkers did, but in her opinion, most men are not at their best when ill.  In only a few moments, they were all loaded into the truck and on their way to the apartment.  A car pulled right out in front of her, and without giving it a thought, Brook cursed.

Michael looked at her and said, “One.”  Before she could ask him what he meant, Janie spoke up.

“That’s a bad word!” Janie said disapprovingly. “You will have to do a time out, Brook!”

“I’m sorry, Janie.  I get angry when people do stupid things like that.  I’m a nurse, and I take care of accident victims all the time.  It’s pretty serious business, but you are right… Saying that word is very bad.”  Her cell phone rang then, and she pulled it from her jeans pocket and answered, “Hello?”  It was her brother, and she asked him to come to the apartment.  She put the phone down and Michael said, “Two.”

“Why are you counting?” she asked.

“Because my sister isn’t the only one who needs a spanking.”

Brook looked at him in surprise, but she couldn’t tell if he was serious or teasing her.  She knew her cheeks were red at the idea of a spanking, and she wondered if the man was actually a spanko, or if he was one of those who made promises he had no intention of keeping.  She’d heard men do that, and frankly, she wasn’t impressed by the threats.  It would be too much to hope for that she would actually be neighbors with a man who believed in spanking as much as she did.

Landon was already at the apartment when they arrived.  She introduced him to Michael and Janie, and Landon was immediately in love with the five-year-old.  He asked her all about kindergarten, and teased her while working with Michael to load the truck in record time. 

“I cannot believe you two managed to get everything on the truck!  I thought it would take two trips,” she explained.

“You’re just short, Waters.  We stacked Granny’s trunks and boxes, and you don’t have much furniture.  When are you going to get some more?” Landon wanted to know.

“Not until I do some carpet removal, refinishing, and painting,” she answered.  I can put a stool at the island to eat. I have a bed and dresser, and I have a rocking chair, small table, and a lamp. You know, Landon, instant gratification is a huge problem in this country.”

“Here she goes!” he warned Michael. “Waters is a nice girl, but she’s old-fashioned.  Go on, get it all out,” he said, winking at his sister.

“It’s the truth, Landon, and you can make fun of me all you want.  People do not have to have ‘everything’ immediately.  Whatever happened to living within your means, and buying something when you can afford it?  It might take me awhile, but I will appreciate everything more if I don’t go into debt to buy it now.”

“I agree with you, Brook,” Michael surprised her by speaking up.  “I have one credit card, and it is strictly for emergencies, and I don’t mean in case I see something I want… It is for fixing the car, or getting a plumber if there is a leak…That sort of thing.”

“I bet you eat at home all the time, too?” Landon muttered, shaking his head at Michael.

“It’s less expensive to eat at home, healthier, and I like to cook,” Brook told her brother.

“I agree,” Michael said, looking at his new neighbor.

Landon laughed, and then winked at Janie.  “We’ll be going to a wedding come June, Janie,” he whispered loudly, making sure his sister and Michael heard him.  It was hard to tell which of them was more embarrassed.  Landon followed the truck in his old car, and within an hour, Brook’s belongings were carried inside and placed where she wanted them.  They also put her bed together for her, and made sure she would have a place to sleep that night. 

To Brook’s surprise, Landon methodically went to each door and window and tested the locks.  When she asked him what he was doing, he answered, “I will sleep better tonight knowing that you are safe, Waters.  I don’t want someone breaking in… In fact, I’m going to go to the store and get new locks for the doors.  It was nice meeting you, Michael, and you, too, Miss Janie. I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon,” he added with a grin. “I’ll be back soon, Waters.”

“Why do you call Brook ‘Waters’, Landon?” Janie asked curiously.

“A brook is a creek… and a creek is full of water.  So, I call her Waters,” he explained, grinning at the child.

Janie giggled, and after he left for the store, Janie said, “Landon is a nice big brother.”

“He’s my little brother, Janie.  He’s bigger than me, but I am still the oldest!”

The doorbell chimed and Brook jumped.  “Goodness, that startled me!  I am used to a buzzer calling me when someone arrives.”  They all trooped to the door and a pretty woman stood there, an expectant smile on her face. 

“Hi, I’m looking for my little girl!”

“I’m right here, Mommy.  Uncle Mikey and I were helping Brook move.  Uncle Mikey said he is going to spank you!” she gleefully tattled.


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