The Perfect Recipe for Love and Friendship


By Shirley Jump

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Bridget O’Bannon is ready for a do-over. After years of pretending she had a happy marriage and denying that she missed the friends and family she’d left behind, she’s headed home to restart her life.

But working alongside her family every day at their bakery isn’t as easy as whipping up her favorite chocolate peanut butter cake. Her mother won’t give her a moment’s peace, and her sister Abby is keeping secrets of her own. And there doesn’t seem to be enough frosting in the world to smooth over the cracks forming between them.

Bridget can see the recipe for a happy life- including the possibility of a new romance- written out before her, but first she and her family will need to lay bare their secrets and rediscover the most elusive ingredients of all: forgiveness, laughter, and love.



The primroses were blooming. If there was one thing Bridget would remember about that spring, it was the way they bloomed, small but proud and bright, like they were determined to show their happy faces even as winter’s gray lingered, making one last feeble attempt to overpower April’s promised sunshine.

She stood on the back porch while people hovered inside her house, talking in hushed tones with somber faces. Her heels pinched at her toes, black shoes she’d bought and set on a shelf in her closet. Worn today, for the first time, shiny and tight and mean.

She inhaled deep breaths of the crisp, fresh air. She’d always thought spring smelled like hope. Like promises of great things around the corner. In elementary school, her desk had sat by the wide crank windows at St. Gregory’s, and every spring, the breeze would drift into the room, riffle her papers and books, and tease her into going outside. As soon as the bell rang at the end of the day, Bridget would run for the door, eager for the long walk home that she dreaded when snow filled the streets. Today, the air didn’t smell like hope at all. Instead, it seemed too harsh, too angry.

Good old-fashioned Catholic guilt, woven into the very fiber of her soul by countless Sundays spent whispering confessions to the shadowy outline of Father McBride, washed over Bridget. She should be inside, playing some kind of macabre hostess. Her mother and her sisters were expecting her, along with the other three dozen people milling around the three-bedroom bungalow with its cornflower-blue paint and crisp white shutters. She and Jim had bought it two years ago. They had still been in the process of fixing it up, about to start the kitchen demo next, when—

Bridget turned back to the house, to the place where all her hopes still resided, clinging to some life raft of delusion. The half of her mind that kept saying everything was fine, that this was all some weirdly realistic dream.

Her mother stood in front of the bay window. Colleen O’Bannon wore a stern expression like it was an accessory to her prim black dress. She motioned to Bridget, that expectant gesture that had brought her four daughters into line a thousand times before.

The rope of muscles in Bridget’s chest tightened. She couldn’t go back in there. Not now. She slipped out of the shoes, setting them neatly side by side on the porch, then padded barefoot down the wooden steps. The last one creaked, bowing a bit under her weight.

I have to remind Jim to fix that.

But just as quickly as the thought occurred, it was chased by a second one.

Jim can’t fix anything. He’s gone.

Not just gone. Forever gone.

That thought of forever was too big, too overwhelming, too much of a tsunami pushing at her. It made that rope inside her chest twist again and her heart skitter and her breath stop. She couldn’t even follow it by the word dead. Maybe she could make his death not real, if only she didn’t think about it, didn’t hear the doctor’s voice in her head. “He’s gone,” the doctor had said, and she’d been in such denial—not Jim, never Jim—that she’d said, “Gone where? And how? I have the car.” The doctor had given her that sad, sympathetic smile they probably learned in medical school and said a whole lot of things that culminated with dead.

None of this was real. She was dreaming the whole thing. The accident, the hospital, the Quincy funeral home with the cloying flowers and the ugly mauve carpeting.

Breathe, Bridget. Breathe. Instead, panic clamped a vise grip over her windpipe.

Bridget charged across the lawn, barreling away from the house, the murmurs, the expectations, and toward the flowerbeds nestled beneath the mottled stone wall, the flowerbeds she had planted just a month ago, when it seemed like everything in her life was as perfect as it could be.

“If we have a baby someday, he or she will see these every morning,” she’d told Jim. “They’re the perfect flowers to say good morning, don’t you think?”

He’d chuckled. “I don’t think flowers can say anything.”

“Aye, then you haven’t listened to my Irish grandmother,” Bridget had said. “The sabhaircin are magical. They protect against the fairies.”

He’d knelt beside her in the dirt, scooping out the musty earth and gently nestling a tender primrose into the ground. “I thought fairies were a good thing. Like the fairy godmother in Cinderella.”

“They are. But they’re also mischievous little things,” Bridget had said. “So people would lay a bouquet of primroses on their doorstep to keep the fairies from entering in the middle of the night and wreaking mayhem. The fairies love primroses, and if you grow them, it’s said that your house will be blessed and happy.”

Jim had kissed her then, kissed her in that sweet spot above her brow, where he would let his lips linger, and he’d inhale the scent of her skin, her hair. It was the kind of kiss that had always made Bridget feel treasured. “How I love every last one of those legends and superstitions of yours, Bridge,” he’d whispered. “You make this practical accountant believe in the impossible, even if all those tales are nothing more than make-believe.”

And now the primroses were blooming and Jim wasn’t here to see them and they were never going to have a baby or have a life together. Although that was the same life she had begun to question until—

Her chest heaved, each breath harder and harder to find. Bridget kept moving toward the primroses, toward those happy beckoning white faces, heedless of the dewy grass that some distant part of her mind thought had grown too long.

It’s Saturday. Jim will mow—

She crumpled to her knees, her black dress puddling around her, spreading an inky cloth stain across the thick, green grass. Bridget grabbed her arms, tightened her grip, and rocked back and forth, willing the tears to stop, for all of it to stop, for time to reverse. For her to be back here, planting the primroses with Jim, planning for the future she’d always dreamed, while the sun shone and the world spun happily along.

A world that she had created, almost like a writer spinning a tale. Having a baby would fix everything, she’d told herself, over and over again. A baby would mend the wounds in their marriage, bring them together, reknit the connection that had become tenuous in the year since Jim took the job in Boston. The one where he traveled more and stayed home less and seemed to be somewhere else, even when he was sitting on the same sofa.

But every time she brought up getting pregnant, Jim had changed the subject or told her they would talk about it later. Every time she cracked open another circle of birth control pills, she asked Jim if they should start trying. He’d press a kiss to her cheek, promise to talk later, and head out the door on yet another trip.

And now there would be no later.

She closed her eyes, but that only made it worse, made Jim’s face dance in the dark space in her mind. She opened her eyes and focused again on the primroses, on their white faces, their yellow cores.

Something twitched in the corner, by the tallest group of primroses and their long, green, finger-like leaves. The flowers trembled, their stems bending. Bridget duck-walked over there, swiping at her eyes to clear the brimming tears.

A hummingbird, so tiny she was sure it was a baby, was caught in a spider web that had been spun between the flowers and anchored into the rough surface of the rock wall. The bird was flying hard and furious, but the web was strong, and every flutter of the bird’s green and blue wings wrapped more of the sticky web around its body.

As Bridget approached, the hummingbird’s movements became more frantic. “Shh, shh,” she whispered, “it’s okay. I’m going to help you.”

The spider, fat and black, sat in the upper corner of the web, bouncing on the gossamer string like a Wallenda. Bridget reached under the bird and pushed at the web, breaking the strands one at a time. “Don’t be scared. It’s okay. I’ve got you now.”

The hummingbird stilled, his heart beating so hard she could see it thunder under his gray breast feathers. Another quick swipe and the web was off the bird’s wings, but still he stayed. She put a hand beneath him, and the hummingbird eased into her palm, his eyes darting left, toward the spider, then right to her. Bridget flattened her palm and turned toward the primroses. “Go ahead, buddy. Go home.”

The hummingbird stayed still for what seemed like a forever moment, watching her, his tail twitching, eyes dark, wary, and big against the blue and green feathers of his head. He lifted off her palm, hovering, wings beating so fast, Bridget could feel the wake. A second later, he was gone, a blur darting toward the trees.

“Don’t tell me. You’re out here looking for a wee leprechaun to make you some new shoes?”

Bridget turned at the sound of her sister Margaret’s voice. No one called her Margaret, hadn’t since the day she’d been born, the youngest of the four girls, the one who was the loudest, the most insistent of the O’Bannon daughters. They’d dubbed her Magpie, and the name had stuck. “I just couldn’t handle another second in there. It was like…”

“A funeral?” Magpie said; then her face softened with sympathy and she dropped down beside her sister, heedless of grass stains on her navy cotton skirt. That was Magpie. Young and brash and unconcerned with the kinds of things that consumed the rest of the world. Her light brown hair hung in one long plait down her back, like an anchor for the flowy cotton blouse that billowed away from her tiny waist and belled on her thin wrists. She draped an arm over Bridget’s shoulders and drew her close. “This sucks.”


Magpie sighed. “I wish I had some kind of good advice for you. Something that would make it all better. But you got dealt a shitty hand, and there’s nothing anyone can say that will make it any less shitty.”

Bridget tightened her grip on her sister. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For saying the first honest thing I’ve heard all week. Everyone else is like, ‘It was for the best he went quickly,’ or ‘He’ll be an angel now,’ or the worst one of all, ‘He’d want you to enjoy your life.’ Really? My husband was killed in a car accident at the age of thirty, and I’m supposed to enjoy my life? All I really want to do is crawl into bed and shut the blinds and drink until I forget what day it is.”

“Then do it.” Magpie gave her a little shake. “I’m serious. And I’ll bring the wine.”

Bridget laughed. “You’re nuts.”

“No, I’m not. Mom had me tested.” Magpie winked.

The moment of lightness passed in a blink. Bridget put her hands on her knees and looked out over the lawn, but the green blurred in her vision. “Abby didn’t stay.”

Magpie gave Bridget a crooked, sad smile. “She told me she had to get back to work. Something about her boss being on vacation.”

The lie hung in the air, but neither of them called it out. And why would they? If there was one thing the O’Bannon girls excelled at, it was sweeping the truth away and locking it in a closet. If no one mentioned what had happened three years ago, then they could all go on pretending.

But the truth sank its tenterhooks into every sentence, every look exchanged in the O’Bannon family. The “disagreement,” as their mother called it—really a full-on shouting match the morning of Bridget’s wedding—had culminated in Abby storming out of the reception after telling her sister that she was being blind and stupid. That she would regret marrying that man someday.

Magpie got to her feet and put out a hand. “Come on, Bridge, let’s go back inside. Aunt Grace made her crab puffs, and she’s upset no one is eating them.”

“Because we all got food poisoning at Uncle Lou’s funeral.”

Magpie hugged Bridget’s waist as they walked back to the house. “Look at the bright side. Food poisoning is a totally legit excuse to stay in bed and shut the blinds.”


Bridget did exactly that for the next three days. She closed the blinds, turned on Netflix, and binge-watched Orange Is the New Black. A thousand times she picked up the phone to call her sisters or a friend, anyone who could fill the lonely gaps in her days. But in the end, she’d put down the phone and curl back into the pillows.

Every time Bridget tried to think about tomorrow, hell, even an hour from now, she would begin to hyperventilate. It was too much to think about, too much to deal with. Like the sight of Jim’s clothes in the closet and his still-dented pillow beside her and the teetering pile of spy novels on the nightstand that she had nagged him a thousand times to put away.

Magpie came by at lunch, followed by their sister Nora at dinner and their mother an hour after Nora left. It was as if the other O’Bannon women had conspired to make sure Bridget was never alone, although Nora barely talked to her and Magpie chattered and paced the room like a caged animal. Two days later, Magpie mentioned a job she had to get to, and just as quickly as she flitted into their lives, she darted away again. None of them mentioned Abby, and not a single one spoke Jim’s name.

Their mother foisted food on Bridget like it was a morphine drip. So Bridget ate the soup her mother made and fumbled her way through awkward, stilted conversations about nothing, as Piper and Alex and Red survived prison and Bridget could think of nothing but being back in her bed.

On the fourth day, her mother was there at the butt crack of way-too-early, ringing the doorbell, then knocking, then ringing some more. Bridget swung out of bed, jerked her arms into a robe, and flung open the door. “I’m alive. Please let me sleep.”

“Not today. Today you are going to take a shower and do your hair and leave this place.” Colleen O’Bannon crossed her arms over her chest and gave her eldest daughter a stern look. It was the look that she’d practiced in the twenty years she’d been a single mother, a single Irish mother at that. “If your ancestors survived the potato famine—”

“I can survive this,” Bridget finished. “This isn’t the same thing, Ma. Not at all.”

“No, it’s not.” Colleen took her daughter’s arms and stared up into Bridget’s eyes. Colleen was a good four inches shorter than all of her daughters but had the presence of someone a foot taller. “This is a terrible thing. I know exactly what you are feeling, my sweet daughter. But I also know you will survive and you will be just fine.”

Indeed, her mother did know. Colleen had watched her husband have a heart attack at the dinner table one Sunday afternoon and buried him a week later, then picked herself up and moved forward with four little girls under the age of ten as if nothing more had happened than a broken dish that needed to be cleaned up. For the next two decades, she had acted as if Michael O’Bannon were there, silently setting a place at the table for him in the cramped kitchen of the duplex in Dorchester every night and referencing him in the present tense.

Just fine had become the O’Bannon girls’ motto that summer after Dad died. They’d practiced saying it to teachers and neighbors and church gossipers so often that, if there could have been an Emmy for pretending to be okay, there would have been a four-way tie. Just fine, thank you.

Now Bridget was doing it too. I’m just fine, she told her friends, her sisters, her mother. She’d even copied and pasted I’m fine so she could send it back to every well-meaning text and email. Except she wasn’t. She didn’t know how to move forward, what to do. Was it because she had grown too dependent on Jim in the three years they’d been married? Had she really gotten to the point where she couldn’t make a decision on her own?

“Now, off with you,” her mother said as if she’d read her daughter’s mind, shooing Bridget toward the master bath. “We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

Bridget opened her mouth to argue, saw by the tight line on Colleen’s face that arguing was pointless, and headed into the bathroom. But even here it was impossible to forget. Jim’s toothbrush still sat in the bronze holder between their two sinks; his razor was still perched on the edge of his sink, perpetually drying after one last shave.

I’ll be home before you know it, Bridge, Jim had said. It’s just a couple days, and I’ll be back. Then I’ll take a day off with you. I promise.

She’d argued with him that morning, storming out of the bathroom, slamming the door so hard that it had shuddered on the hinges. Jim had packed his overnight bag, climbed into a taxi, and left without saying goodbye.

That was the last memory she had of her husband—another fight, another silent departure. The chance to mend that fence had died when a drunk driver swerved across the lanes outside the departure drop-off at Logan, just as Jim stepped out of the taxi.

Bridget fluttered a hand over the razor, the toothbrush, the crumpled towel on the counter. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Jim was gone, but the life they had planned was still waiting for her. Maybe not with the baby she’d dreamed of having someday, or the future she’d pictured a thousand times, but a life nonetheless. Either she started getting her shit together or she’d end up like Aunt Esther, who had never left the house after her husband died, collapsing of a heart attack thirty years later among a pile of newspapers so high that they smothered her in a makeshift coffin of musty Globes.

Bridget could do this.

She had to do this.

The shower blurred her tears and ran them down the drain with bubbles of almond-scented soap and raspberry shampoo. Her face burned, her shoulders seemed weighted to the ground, but she managed to at least go through the motions of cleaning up.

By the time she emerged, her mother was already standing there, holding a blue and white checked dress and a pair of low navy pumps. A pair of pantyhose that Bridget didn’t even remember owning was draped over her mother’s arm. “This will do just fine for today.”

She bristled. “I hate that dress. And those shoes. And don’t even get me started on the pantyhose. Where did you find those anyway?”

Normal people would have been disturbed that their mother had gone through their closet and drawers and then walked into the bathroom uninvited. But normal people didn’t have Colleen O’Bannon as a mother.

“A lady always wears hose with her shoes,” Colleen said. “And the dress suits you just fine. It’s appropriate for where we are going.”

Appropriate. That one word raised the little hairs on the back of Bridget’s neck. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” Colleen thrust the clothes at her daughter. “Now, do your face and hair. You can’t go out in the world looking like you were blown about by a hurricane.”

Bridget wanted to say, My husband just died. Who gives a shit how I look? But her mother was giving her that I-survived-this-and-you-can-too look again, so Bridget sighed and nodded instead. It was easier to do what her mother said than to try and figure out what to wear. Whether to wear the blue dress or her black pants, or heck, pajamas, just seemed like a monumentally stupid decision to have to make right now.

After her mother left the room, Bridget swiped a clear circle into the foggy mirror. Dark shadows hugged the bottoms of her red-rimmed eyes. Her wet, dark hair hung as limp as old spaghetti, and her skin had taken on a pale parchment tone. Okay, so maybe her mother had a point about her looking like she’d been caught in some massive storm.

But when Bridget got out the plastic case that held her makeup, the whole process just seemed so…overwhelming. Too many decisions. Foundation or concealer first? The coral blush or the pink? And the eye shadows…God, why had she ever thought she needed five different shades?

She leaned into the mirror and pressed her palms against her cheeks. I don’t recognize this woman, she thought. A woman who had lost everything in the space of one rainy afternoon.

She was a widow now.

The word sounded so foreign, so odd. Wid-doh. She tried it out three times in her head, and then whispered it once in the steamy air. “Widow.”

One whose husband had died. Her husband. Died.


She could feel the tears starting again at the backs of her eyes, burning their way to the surface. She swiped at her face with a towel and then shut the case and pushed it to the side. Bridget pulled on the dress and slid into the shoes—ignoring the pantyhose—and then gave her hair a quick once-over with a wide-toothed comb.

She didn’t look in the mirror again.

When Bridget emerged from the bathroom, Colleen was standing there, her feet planted, her arms over her chest, and her lips in that thin line of disapproval. Bridget braced herself for the lecture.

“All right, then,” was all her mother said. She reached for a handbag on Bridget’s dresser, pressed it into her daughter’s hands, and led the way out of the dim bedroom and into the light of day.


There was something about the routine of church that both annoyed Bridget and calmed her. The hard wooden pews, the carpeted kneelers, the candles flickering in the wall sconces beneath painted images of Jesus on the cross and heartbroken disciples. The same setting she remembered from the days when she wore Mary Jane shoes and white ankle socks and wondered if God would smite her for fidgeting in her seat.

Bridget had stopped going to Our Lady Church more than three years ago, until the day of the funeral. Jim was a lapsed Lutheran who would rather read the paper and hit the links than listen to a sermon about loving thy neighbor. She’d lingered in bed with him on Sunday mornings and stayed there after Jim left for golf, feeling decadent and devilish for curling into the soft white sheets instead of heading out for communion.

Plus, Bridget had a complicated relationship with church. An even more complicated one with God. She wasn’t so sure He wanted to see her, given that just a few days ago she had cursed him the entire time she’d sat here and stared at the coffin holding her husband, but that wasn’t about to stop Colleen O’Bannon from dragging her oldest daughter into the hushed stained glass interior. For penance or peace, Bridget wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.

Her mother sent a sharp glance over at Bridget when her step hesitated. “It’s time. If any moment is the time to come back, it’s now.”

Because there’d been a death, and if there was one thing Catholics knew to do when someone died, it was go to church. Except for Jim’s funeral, the last time Bridget had stood in Our Lady, it had been in the empty aisle, long after church had emptied out on a Sunday morning, everyone heading off to Denny’s or IHOP for pancakes and eggs, while the altar boys shrugged out of their white gowns and hurried to the playground, ignoring their mother’s orders not to ruin their church clothes. She could still hear the shouts of the children through the open window, the soft clank of coffee cups being put away in the church kitchen.

You’re ruining your life, Abby had said that day, a little over three years ago. You know that, right? And you’re still going to marry him?

Why can’t you just be happy for me? Bridget had asked.

Because Jim isn’t who you think he is, Bridget. And you refuse to see the truth. I know things—

Bridget had yelled at Abby, yelled at her to shut up, to just shut the hell up. Ma had rushed in, dragging Abby away.

Bridget had looked over her shoulder at Jim, who was waiting in the doorway, framed by the sun like his body wore a halo. In that moment, she’d thought he was the most perfect human being she’d ever seen. She’d only known the outside of Jim then, unaware that beneath the dark hair and blue eyes lived a man who was quick to criticize, slow to apologize, and prone to long bouts of withdrawal, pulling into himself like a turtle in a shell. It had been too late by then. A few hours later, the vows had been spoken, the family ties ruined, and Bridget had told herself that looking back would only keep her stuck.

So she’d walked out of the church with her husband, eventually leaving her sister behind, and settled into a life for two. The fissures in their marriage had started that very day. And now…

“You need this,” her mother whispered again, and tugged Bridget forward.


  • "4 Stars! Bridget O'Bannon's grief at the loss of her husband is authentic, and her tumultuous relationship with her controlling mother and sisters refreshingly honest. As the author peels back the layers of this heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching, story, readers are given a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the ugly sides to family and forgiveness."—
  • There really isn't anything better than a book about family, friendship and food and The Perfect Recipe for Love and Friendship has all of this and more!—
  • "Beautifully written and unflinching in its portrayal of the complexities of marriage, sisterhood and long-held secrets."—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author, on The Secret Ingredient for a Happy Marriage

On Sale
Jul 11, 2017
Page Count
368 pages

Shirley Jump

About the Author

Shirley Jump is an award-winning, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author who has published more than eighty books in twenty-four countries. Her romance and women’s fiction novels have been called “brilliant” and “spellbinding” by reviewers and fellow authors like Kristin Higgins and Jayne Ann Krentz. Shirley also works as an editor and ghostwriter for celebrities and experts in various industries and has spoken all over the world about the power of narrative and how to create compelling books. A resident of Florida, she uses the beach for a quick retreat, setting inspiration, and, when necessary, a perfect procrastination excuse. Visit her website at for author news and a booklist and follow her on Facebook for deep discussions about important things like the best way to make a French omelet.

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