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Last Chance Knit & Stitch
By Hope Ramsay
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 19, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Simon Wolfe returns to quickly settle his father’s estate and then leave Last Chance for good. Still wounded by a broken heart, Simon is surprised when the town’s charming streets and gentle spirit bring back good memories. Soon the beautiful, strong-willed Molly sparks a powerful attraction that tempts him to break his iron-clad no-commitment rule. Can Simon and Molly find a way to share work space-and build a future together in Last Chance?
Table of Contents
A Preview of Inn at Last Chance
Reading Group Guide
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Molly Canaday pulled the tow truck in front of the silver Hyundai Sonata. She killed the engine and used her sideview mirror to assess the stranded motorist.
He was not from around these parts.
For one thing, he was driving a rental car.
And for another, he was standing in the hot May sunshine wearing a black crew-necked shirt, gray dress pants, and a charcoal gray worsted sport jacket.
The sun lit up threads of gray in his dark, chin-length hair. He hadn't shaved today, but somehow the stubble looked carefully groomed.
This guy was seriously lost, like he'd made a wrong turn in Charleston and kept on driving.
She straightened her ball cap and hopped from the truck's cab. "Howdy," she said, putting out her hand for him to shake. "I'm Molly Canaday from Bill's Grease Pit. We're located in Last Chance, just down the road a ways. The rental agency sent your distress call to us. What seems to be the problem?"
Mr. I'm-so-cool-and-sexy regarded her hand, then let his gaze climb up to her battered Atlanta Braves hat, back down to her favorite Big and Rich T-shirt, ending with her baggy painter's pants. His mouth curled at the corners like a couple of ornate apostrophes. The smile was elegant and sexy, and might have impressed Molly if it hadn't also been a tiny bit smirk-like.
She forced a neutral customer-service expression to her face, even as she dropped her hand. She sure wanted to leave Mr. Urban Cool to burn up by the side of the road. Maybe walking the six miles into town in the blistering sun would help him lose that smirk.
He finally spoke in an accent that sounded like it came from nowhere. "Canaday, huh? Does Red Canaday still coach the Rebels football team?"
Whoa, this guy didn't look like your average football fan. Much less like anyone who would know anything about Davis High's football program. "Uh, yeah, he's my daddy." She studied his face, trying to place him. He had dark brown eyes and a sturdy, straight nose. He didn't look a lick like anyone Molly knew.
His steady stare sucked her in and left her feeling unsettled. If he knew about the Rebels, then he wasn't a stranger.
He wasn't lost.
"Nothing ever changes here, does it?" he said.
"Do I know you?"
Something flickered in his eyes. Was it kindness? It was there and gone in an instant. "You might remember me. I mean, I knew your father. But that was a long time ago, and you were little."
"Are you saying you're from around here?" No way.
"I'm Simon Wolfe. Charlotte and Ira's boy. I was a placekicker on the team a long time ago."
Oh. Wow. Talk about prodigal sons. She didn't really remember him. But she sure knew all about him. He had been a member of the 1990 dream team—the one that won the state championship. He was also the player who hadn't attended a single team reunion. The guy who left home, the guy who never came back, the guy who broke his daddy's heart.
And now his daddy was dead.
Two days ago, Ira Wolfe had keeled over right in the middle of his Ford dealership's showroom.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Molly said. Although Simon didn't look all that brokenhearted. In fact, he shrugged like a coldhearted idiot.
And he proved his cool nature a moment later when he said, "So Red Canaday's little girl grew up to become a mechanic. I guess that was totally predictable."
She clamped her back teeth together before she said something unlady-like. Not that she was much of a lady. Instead, she took a deep breath and tried to be mindful of her feelings, like Momma was always telling her to be. She sucked at being mindful, and she was not about to take up meditation the way Momma had.
"What seems to be the problem?" she asked in her sweetest voice, which admittedly was not very sweet. Sweet was definitely not her normal MO.
"I have no clue what's wrong with it. It stopped running," he said.
Boy, he might have been born in the South and even played football once. But he'd clearly lost his southern accent and attitude somewhere. Any local man worth his salt would have already popped the hood and taken a look. Local men would also have dozens of theories about what had gone wrong.
Not this guy. This guy spoke in short sentences, dressed like a GQ model, and didn't want to get dirty. Of course, he had been a placekicker on the team, and a good one, too. But placekickers avoided dirt. It was a well-known fact.
"Did it make any funny noises before it died?"
"Nope." He looked at his watch.
"I'm sorry. You have a wake to get to, don't you?" She didn't mention that she, also, had to get to Ira Wolfe's wake. She owed that man a great deal.
Simon turned his back on her. He walked a short distance away toward the edge of the road and put his hands on his hips. He studied the soybean fields like he was looking at some alien landscape.
"God, this place is like being nowhere at all." The words were spoken in a soft, low voice and not intended for Molly to hear. But she was just annoyed enough not to let him get away with them.
"Yeah, well, some of us like living here," she said, investing her words with all the civic pride she could muster.
She popped the hood and started poking around in the engine. "So, I take it you're not planning to stay very long." She aimed her flashlight down into the engine to check the fan belt.
"No, I have to get back to Paradise."
"Paradise? Really?" The fan belt looked okay.
"It's a place in California."
"Of course it is." He would live in a place called Paradise. She had a feeling he was about to discover that there could be hard times in Paradise, but far be it from her to be the bearer of bad news.
Instead she inspected the battery terminals and connections but didn't see anything obvious. There was probably a problem with the generator, or alternator, or maybe the voltage regulator.
She pulled her head out of the engine. "I'm going to have to tow it."
He checked his damn watch again. Boy, this guy was wound up tighter than a spring.
"Don't worry, I'll get you to the church on time. Or the funeral home, as the case might be."
Simon stifled the laugh that wanted to spring from his chest. It wasn't right to find Molly Canaday amusing on the day of his father's wake.
She helped him transfer his luggage from the Hyundai's trunk to the back of her truck. Then he stood back and watched while Coach Canaday's daughter hooked the Sonata up to a heavy chain and then winched it onto the truck's flatbed. The woman sure had a way with machinery.
Which didn't surprise him.
The last time Simon had seen Molly Canaday, she'd been a little kid in overalls, not much older than four, standing on the sidelines with Coach. She never missed a game. She never whined like other little kids. She never failed to inspire them all.
And Simon never attempted a field goal without first patting Molly's head. Her hair had been short and soft under his hands. It was longer now, but still dark and barely contained by her ball cap. He had the sudden desire to paint a portrait of her, with all that glorious hair undone and falling like a curly black waterfall to her shoulders.
"It's going to be tomorrow before we can figure out what's going on with the car. So I'll drop you by the funeral home. I'm sure Rob or Ryan Polk or one of their kids can give you a lift home from there. And you can use Ira's car. God knows he has a lot of them." Molly's words pulled him away from his suddenly wayward muse.
He climbed into the passenger's seat and checked his watch.
"So, I guess you're just counting the hours until you can leave again? Paradise is calling, huh?"
He kept his gaze fastened to the soybean fields that whizzed past as she pulled the truck onto the road and headed into town. He saw no point in responding to her question. She had summed up the truth. He needed to get back home and back to work, especially since the work hadn't been going well.
The fields gave way to houses with big yards, and then he caught his first glance of the Last Chance water tower—painted like a big, tiger-striped watermelon.
This scene was frozen in his memory. And yet, nothing was quite the same as he remembered it. A large commercial building with a big parking lot occupied what had once been cotton fields just north of town. A big sign at the gates of the facility said "deBracy Ltd." Not too far away, someone was developing a neighborhood of new single-family homes.
The Last Chance of his memory was gray and used-up and on its last legs. But in this town, bright awnings hung over the shop windows. In this town, pedestrians hurried about their business on the sidewalks. In this town, the movie theater was no longer an empty eyesore, but covered in a scaffold where workers were bringing it back to life. This town looked alive.
He wasn't prepared for the tight band that squeezed his lungs like a tourniquet, cutting off his oxygen. He refused to feel any nostalgia for this place. He'd buried a piece of himself here a long time ago, when he'd been just a boy. He'd never planned on coming back and unearthing it.
And yet, for all the pain he'd suffered here, Last Chance would always be home.
Despite her joke about being late to a funeral, Molly had no intention of being late for Ira Wolfe's wake. She had to hump to get Simon and his car delivered and then get home.
She raced through her shower, threw on a pair of slacks that weren't too wrinkled, and topped off her outfit with a gray cotton shell she'd knitted for herself using a seed stitch.
She headed into her mother's big country kitchen to collect the casserole Momma had made last night. Miz Charlotte wouldn't need too many casseroles, seeing as she probably had a housekeeper up in that big house of hers who would do her cooking and cleaning during this sad time. But still. Momma was of the opinion that when somebody died, it was a moral obligation to cook a casserole.
Molly didn't entirely share this view, mostly because she couldn't cook worth a durn.
She was just putting the mac and cheese into a grocery sack when her brother Allen sauntered into the kitchen wearing a pair of garnet and black plaid boxers and a University of South Carolina Athletic Department T-shirt. He looked like he had just rolled out of bed, even though it was four-thirty in the afternoon. He scratched his head, mussing the cowlick he'd had since he was two. "Have you seen my sunglasses?" he asked.
"Don't tell me you've already lost the Oakleys. You spent your entire paycheck on them."
"Don't be that way, Mol. I just misplaced them is all." Allen shuffled to the refrigerator, pulled out the milk carton, and took a couple of long, deep swallows that made his Adam's apple bounce.
"That is totally disgusting." Molly's voice assumed the big-sister tone that Allen had learned to ignore at a depressingly early age.
Allen wasn't very mature for twenty-three. His twin brother, Beau, on the other hand, had been born responsible. Beau had just completed his first year of law school, and he was working as an intern in the governor's office up in Columbia. Everyone reckoned that Beau had a bright future in politics.
Allen, not so much.
Allen rolled his gorgeous amber eyes and managed to look adorable even with a milk mustache. He'd always been adorable, which explained why he got away with so much.
He put the milk down on the counter and frowned. "Oh, uh, I forgot. Momma called around nine-thirty this morning with a message for you."
"Why would she do that? I had my cell phone."
"I have no idea. I was groggy, you know. It was a late night last night. Anyway, she told me to tell you that she loves you, and then she told me where I could find the message she left."
"Find the message? You mean she wrote me a note?"
"Yeah." Allen shuffled over to the little desk in the corner of the kitchen where Pat Canaday, Molly's mother, kept the household bills and her personal papers. He picked up an envelope and handed it to Molly.
Molly stared down at the white envelope bearing her name written in Momma's flowing script. This couldn't be good. The hair on the back of her neck and along her arms danced a little jig. Momma hadn't been very happy the last few months. She hadn't said much. She almost never talked about her feelings. But something was wrong. Momma had gone to town with her meditating. She'd even set up a meditation corner in the spare room.
Anyone who meditated that much must have a whole lot on her mind.
Molly's heart pounded as she tore open the envelope and read.
I'm off to see the world. I would have liked to see it with your daddy, but he's gone fishing. Again. I'm not going to wait for another football season to come and go. Again. So I'm going by myself. You'll need to take care of the shop. I know you don't want to, but it will be good for you. Take care of your little brothers, too. Your daddy can obviously take care of himself.
P.S. You know I've been meditating about this situation. I've even tried praying about it, too. And at the moment it seems like leaving is the best thing. But just because I've failed to control my temper, doesn't mean you shouldn't keep trying to control yours. You should read my meditation book. And you can use my thinking corner if you like.
P. P. S. I left the book on the kitchen counter, along with my recipe box. You're going to have to learn how to cook.
Molly blinked down at the stationery with rosebuds embellishing the edges and bottom of the page. She shifted her gaze to the kitchen counter. Sure enough, there was Momma's recipe box sitting right on top of a well-thumbed copy of One Minute Meditations.
"What's the note say?" Allen asked, as he pulled a jar of peanut butter from the pantry, opened it, and scooped some up with his finger.
She scowled at her brother. "Do you have any idea how gross you are?"
He shrugged like he didn't really care about her opinion. "What's it say?" he asked through the peanut butter in his mouth.
"It says she's ticked off with Coach, and she's gone to see the world."
"Momma's ticked off? Really? That's kind of interesting, isn't it?"
"I don't know, but I have a really bad feeling about this." She handed the note to her brother who proceeded to get peanut butter on it, which was more or less par for the course. Molly pulled out her cell and dialed her mother's number. Momma's unmistakable ringtone—Bert and Ernie singing "Rubber Ducky"—sounded from her desk drawer. Molly opened the drawer and discovered Momma's phone with a sticky note attached to it that said, "You didn't think I was dumb enough to take my phone, did you?"
Just then, the landline rang. Molly picked up the handset from the old-fashioned phone bolted to the kitchen wall. "Hey."
"Molly, is that you? It's Kenzie. I'm desperate for a skein of carmine red alpaca, but there's a sign on the front door of the yarn shop that says 'Closed Until Molly Realizes She's in Charge.' What in the world does that mean?"
Molly rested her head on the wall beside the phone and squeezed her eyes shut. "It means my mother has run away and expects me to fill her shoes and run the Knit & Stitch." No doubt this was Momma's way of forcing her to become a true southern lady—the kind who cooked casseroles, never lost her temper, and was always gracious and polite. In short, the kind of woman who didn't have a burning desire to fix cars or a five-year plan to open a body shop.
"Oh, well, that's okay," Kenzie said. "You know more about yarn than your mother does. Can you open the shop, please? I'm desperate."
"Uh, no. Not right now. I've got to go to Ira Wolfe's wake."
"Oh. Okay. But what about the Purly Girls meeting tomorrow afternoon? You're going to open up for that, right?"
Oh, brother. Molly was going to murder her mother the next time she saw her. If there ever was a next time.
The funeral home's foyer was dark and smelled of lemon oil polish. Simon checked his baggage with the cloakroom attendant and made his way into a large room with big bay windows hung with heavy draperies. The drapes blocked all but a little crack of sunshine.
He checked his watch. After all his worry, he was half an hour early, and all alone with the guest of honor.
Daddy was stretched out in a bronze-colored coffin wearing his purple and yellow Davis High Football booster shirt. The coffin's lining was also in the school colors. Simon wondered how Mother felt about this. She had never been a big Rebels fan.
Simon stared down at the corpse, so peaceful in death. His father had been a handsome man, with piercing blue eyes and a strong chin. His eyes were closed now, and the dark hair that Simon remembered had gone to gray. Daddy's big hands were crossed on his chest, and he still wore his wedding ring.
What irony. Mother and Daddy's marriage had been a disaster. The two of them could hardly speak without igniting an argument. And Simon had lived his life between their battle lines.
A familiar futility settled in his gut. It had taken years to learn how to recognize this feeling. And it sucked big time that he found himself unable to reason the pain away. He wanted to be numb. He wanted not to care. But instead, the wounds of his youth opened and bled.
He checked his watch again and paced the room to the window. He pulled away the drapes and stared out at a colorful garden filled with an abundance of flowers. If only he could escape to that bright place.
He wanted to get out of here. He needed to get back to his painting. The Harrison commission loomed over him like the sword of Damocles. He should never have let Gillian negotiate that deal, but he and Gillian had been in the appeasement phase of their relationship. He'd let her have a little bit of control, and then he'd realized that it was a mistake. Now Gillian was gone, and only the problematic commission remained.
"Oh my goodness, Simon, is that really you?"
He turned to discover a thin, sixty-something woman with carefully coiffed white hair and hazel eyes. She wore a simple black suit—the kind old ladies wear to funerals.
Who was this person?
"Don't you know me, honey? It's Aunt Millie."
He blinked a few times. She had changed. The last time he'd seen her, Aunt Millie had tipped the scales at 170 pounds, easy. But this woman couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.
He couldn't move, which was okay because Millie wasn't paralyzed. She hurried forward, threw her arms around him, and held on fiercely. He remembered then. Aunt Millie had always been a refuge.
"I'm so sorry about your daddy, son." She patted his back and then smiled through her unshed tears. "I'm so glad you're here. Your uncle Rob is bringing your mother up the back way. I know it will warm her heart to see you here."
Simon's insides went free falling. He hadn't seen his mother for eighteen years.
A moment later Mother entered the room, her hand wrapped around Uncle Rob's forearm as if she needed his support. Mother had not changed. She had celebrated her sixty-fifth birthday this year, but there wasn't a single gray hair on her head. In some cynical corner of his mind, Simon knew that Mother probably kept a weekly appointment at the local beauty shop, but that didn't matter. She was Mother. Still.
She turned her gaze on him, and it was like getting hit with a shotgun blast. All the unpleasant memories of living with Mother and Daddy tumbled through him. And yet he wanted to run to her and hug her. He had missed her, even if he couldn't stand being with her.
"Mother." He took a few steps toward her, but he didn't get close enough for an embrace.
Charlotte Wolfe took a step back, her big brown eyes growing wide and fearful. "Who are you?"
The words burned right through his middle.
"Now, Charlotte," Aunt Millie said in her most patient of voices. "It's your boy, Simon. Don't you remember him? He's come home to take care of you."
Simon opened his mouth to protest, but before he could utter a word, his mother shook her head. "No, he's not Simon. I would know my boy. Simon would never wear his hair long like that, or go around unshaven. Don't you try to fool me, Millie." Mother clutched Uncle Rob's arm and looked up at him with a wide stare. "Ira, you tell Millie she's wrong."
Uncle Rob, Mother's older brother, stared down at his sister with a look of pity. "Darlin', Ira's passed. Don't you remember? It happened on Saturday. He had a heart attack."
She blinked a few times, and her eyes seemed to brighten just a little. "Oh, yes, I remember." She turned to stare at the casket, her expression resolving itself into lines of grief. Uncle Rob escorted Mother to a seat on the opposite side of the room and hovered over her.
Aunt Millie sagged where she stood. She looked tired. "So now you know," she said. "Charlotte is having a very bad day today. I'm sure it's the shock of Ira's passing. There are some days when she's almost herself. Don't you worry, she'll remember you eventually. You haven't changed that much. You still look like the Polk side of the family."
"How long has she been like this?" His voice sounded like it came from a very great distance. Here he'd been thinking he could breeze in for the funeral and make a quick escape. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen. It was like the ground beneath him had turned to quicksand.
"Charlotte's been fading away for about five years. It's progressed pretty slowly. And your father took good care of her. So today is hard."
"Daddy took care of her?"
"Of course he did."
"But they could hardly stand one another."
"That's not true. Your folks had their share of fights, but they loved each other. Your daddy adored her. And he was so good for her. He was a bighearted man, Simon. And you broke his heart badly."
"They broke mine first." His voice was hard and tight.
Aunt Millie patted his back. "Son, I don't really know what happened between you and your folks. I never could really understand it. I know they had dreams for you that weren't what you wanted, but that wasn't a good reason for you to leave and never come home. And now I'm afraid it's time for you to pay the piper. Your mother needs to be cared for."
Of all the things waiting for him here in Last Chance, this was the most unexpected. He had thought he was coming to say good-bye to his father, and then he'd go back to his nice, orderly life in Paradise. The truth was beginning to sink in.
"I guess I'll have to take her back to California with me. I'll find a retirement home or something."
Millie stiffened. "You can't do that. You can't take her away from the home she loves. She's put her whole heart and soul into that garden of hers. And you can't take her away from her friends in the garden club and the Purly Girls."
"She's taken up knitting. The occupational therapist said it would be good for her because gardening is getting difficult. She needs to be watched when she's using her tools. Last month, she pulled up all her daffodils. She thought they were weeds. So we've been encouraging the knitting."
"She can knit in California. That's where I live. I realize she needs to be taken care of. But I'm not moving back to Last Chance, Aunt Millie. I'm just not."
"Listen to me. I love you, but if you take your mother to California and shove her into a nursing home, I will be so disappointed in you. I will not let you warehouse her."
"I didn't say I was going to shove her into a nursing home. I'll find a nice place for her with a mountain view."
"Simon"—Millie invested his name with a world of censure—"that would be exactly like warehousing her."
Millie was right, of course, and that thought wrapped itself around his neck and squeezed. Then Millie went on to tighten the noose.
"You know, son," she said, "you're going to have to stay for a little while anyway. There are legal issues. Eugene Hanks wants to talk with you about your father's will. And your uncle Ryan is very agitated about the financial situation at the dealership. You know his bank loaned your daddy a lot of money."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your daddy's business is practically bankrupt."
"How could a Ford dealership be failing in a place like Allenberg County?"
"The economic downturn hurt business, I guess. Your uncle Ryan has been talking about forcing the dealership into receivership. Of course, if you were willing to stay and help run the business, your uncle might change his mind. And it's important to save the dealership. There are about forty people who work there. It would be a disaster for this town if Wolfe Ford went out of business."
He looked at his watch again. He didn't know where else to look. Aunt Millie was crazy if she thought he was going to go into the business of selling cars. The bank would never go for it. Simon was an artist, not a car salesman. And he had a very big commission due in two months. He didn't have time for this.
He looked up toward the casket. His mother sat dry-eyed and hunched-shouldered by his father's corpse. Hell and damnation. How had it come to this?
He rudely turned away from Aunt Millie and went searching for the outside door—the one that led to the garden he'd seen through the windows. He sat down on a bench in the warm sunshine and watched a couple of goldfinches as they visited a bird feeder. They were the same color as the coreopsis that grew in clumps along the perennial border. He tried to clear his mind and focus on nothing at all.
But the coreopsis sent him back in time.
He remembered the day his mother had taught him the name of that flower. He'd been a little boy. He used to love spending time with Mother in the garden, getting dirty and learning the names of the flowers and the colors that went with them. All those different shadings of yellow, from buttercup to Carolina lupine. He'd learned them all at his mother's knee, along with an appreciation for how colors go together. He used that knowledge every day he painted.
And now the woman who had taught him this one, important thing didn't even recognize him.
Despite all his efforts to dam them up, a flood of tears deluged him.
Molly stood beside Ira's casket gazing down at his body. He looked pretty good for a dead man.
Ira Wolfe had been one of Davis High's biggest boosters. His contributions had refurbished the football field, paid for the new lighting system, and kept the team in uniforms. Which probably explained why the dealership was having some financial problems. Ira was generous to a fault.
- "Last Chance captures the essence of Southern charm and quirkiness. I'm totally captivated!"—Sherryl Woods, New York Times bestselling author
- "4 Stars! Ramsay's romance packs just enough heat in this holiday-inspired story, with lead characters who will induce both belly laughs and smiles. Her hero and heroine are in for rough times, but their heartache and longing had me longing right along with them."—RT Book Reviews on Last Chance Christmas
- "4 1/2 stars! Get ready for a story to remember...with characters that define eccentric, off the wall and bonkers, but most of all they're enchantingly funny and heartwarmingly charming."—RT Book Reviews on Last Chance Beauty Queen
- "Witty, touching, and absolutely delightful - this story has heart!"—JoAnn Ross, New York Times bestselling author of The Homecoming on Welcome to Last Chance
- "Welcome to Last Chance is an impressive start to a charming new series, featuring quirky characters you won't soon forget."—Barbara Freethy, New York Times bestselling author of At Hidden Falls
- "Last Chance, South Carolina, is a caring community filled with the promise of hope. Come for a visit!"—Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author of The Welcome Home Garden Club
- "Ramsay strikes an excellent balance between tension and humor as she spins a fine yarn."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Welcome to Last Chance
- "A sweet confection . . . This first of a projected series about the Rhodes brothers offers up Southern hospitality with a bit of grit. Romance readers will be delighted."—Library Journal on Welcome to Last Chance
- On Sale
- Nov 19, 2013
- Page Count
- 384 pages