About the Book:
Town(shipped) is a bride-on-the-run, amnesia sweet romcom. Aiden’s lived in the small town of Bordeaux (pronounced Bored Ox) Ohio his whole life. Townspeople tease him that it isn’t like a woman is going to land on his doorstep and fall in love with him. And that seemed to be the case until Mallory came crashing into his life. Town(shipped) is a closed-door, sweet romcom with a happily-ever-after. It is book three in the Getting Shipped! series, but can be read as a standalone.
Today would have been the day.
I would have been sitting with curlers in my copper hair, while a prestigious, high-profile makeup artist applied finishing touches to my face. Gabriela would have been standing nearby, making me laugh in hopes that I’d bypass the freight train of nerves running through me.
The bridal suite would have been a flurry of activity with bridesmaids primping, dressing, and chattering about their dresses, hair, and the eligible groomsmen. I would have donned my inordinately expensive Vera Wang wedding dress—the one I sold back to the boutique for half the original price two weeks ago.
And once I was dressed and had walked down the stairs to take my father’s waiting arm, Buck would have stood at the end of the aisle, with his expectant eyes and calm demeanor. Buck, the man whose heart I broke only sixteen days ago when I called off our engagement. Buck, the man whose mother probably wanted to reinstate the Salem witch trials after she heard how I had dismantled her dreams by calling off my wedding to her one and only son.
“It’s just not done in our circles. You can’t simply cancel an event of this magnitude,” she had said before she skewered me with a string of expletives that could make a sailor blush—at least every sailor in our yacht club.
Over the past year, my wedding had turned into a society event-slash-craft project that would make Martha Stewart salivate.
For almost that whole year I had avoided the small voice in my head saying, This is wrong, as I got dragged into marriage-prep mayhem. And that tiny inner voice of hesitation got swept along like a dust bunny on a hardwood floor when a wind comes through. Only I was a dust bunny being draped in beaded gowns, addressing three hundred embossed invites and deciding whether rose, crepe, or flamingo was a better shade of pink for the napkins and chair bows.
The closer the wedding had gotten, the more that inner voice went from a slight nudge to something more like a tackle from a two-hundred-fifty-pound linebacker.
I refused to see the truth, and for almost a year I didn’t say a thing—until I did.
So, instead of today being my wedding day, I’m currently sitting in the underground parking garage of the Niagara Falls Hilton, just having downed my last Red Vine and slurped the last sip of my forty-ounce gas station convenience store diet soda.
It obviously had been Buck’s idea for our honeymoon to consist of three weeks touring historic and notable landmarks of the Midwest. My suggestion of Hawaii seemed cliché to him. Everyone goes to Hawaii, Mal. Why don’t we do something more edifying and less crowded?
Bracing my hands on the steering wheel, I let out a sigh that feels like the first real breath I’ve taken in over two weeks. Then I pop open the trunk of the car I borrowed from Gabriela’s brother, Diego. I wasn’t about to take my new Accord on this two-thousand-five-hundred-mile trip, so Gabriela talked me into borrowing her brother’s car.
Diego’s on a scholarship to a four-year program at Oxford studying dead poets or dead languages or maybe it’s the dead language of dead poets. I remember it being a subject fully lacking in real-life application. While Diego’s away, his car has been sitting idle in his parents’ driveway. He was happy to have me drive it.
The sound of the liftgate popping echoes against the concrete pillars of the underground parking structure. I step out, hoist my suitcase and shut the trunk. Pulling my coat snug around myself, I take the elevators up to the sleek lobby with its marble-look flooring, glass fixtures, and high ceilings. One expansive hallway out of the reception area attaches the hotel to the adjoining casino. The other leads to the tower of rooms overlooking the falls.
I approach the welcome desk and mention my reservation was made for the Crowninshield party.
In a nasally but animated voice more suited to a circus ringmaster than a four-star-hotel clerk, the young man behind the counter says, “Welcome to the Hilton, Mrs. Crowninshield. And where is your dashing groom?”
Dashing groom? Seriously?
“I’m checking in alone. And it’s not Mrs. Crowninshield. It’s Miss O’Brien for the Crowninshield reservation.”
The hotel clerk, whose name tag reads Ryne, scrunches up his face, searches the computer monitor in front of him and says, “Ah, yes. I see that here. So, you’re taking your honeymoon without your husband?”
His voice echoes across the tile and pings against all the glossy surfaces, somehow gaining volume with each ricochet. Other hotel guests look our way.
“Yes,” I answer in my indoor voice.
Okay. I grew up in Boston. We’re not known for being demure as a rule, but I’m from the circle of families considered old money. We trace our roots to the Mayflower. Which, somehow, means prestige. Though, I don’t know how descending from people who traveled over on a cramped ship and lived on corn and fish while dwelling in a drafty log cabin translates into a status symbol.
But, by my generation, our family name is synonymous with debutante balls, etiquette lessons, and a sense of propriety a mile long. I’m able to carry myself with decorum, even though I’ve never quite fit in with the whole high-society scene—at all. I’m well-versed in mustering up an indoor voice that says, Let’s all be more self-contained, why don’t we?
But Bellboy McMegaphone isn’t catching my drift at all. In an even louder volume, with an even more nasally tone to it, he presses on. “Do you still intend to stay in one of our king suites? Are you aware our suites can accommodate up to five people?”
“I am keeping our reservation as it was originally arranged,” I answer in a voice that would make a librarian beam with subdued pride.
We’re like dueling volumes, my soft answer to every one of Ryne’s crescendos. And, as you can tell, I’m losing the duel with each exchange.
“Alone?” Ryne blurts with confusion, but also maintaining his previous intensity. “On a honeymoon? Alone?”
He scrunches his face as he asks, and I wonder if he’s new to hospitality or merely unable to keep his thoughts from showing on his face like a jumbotron of judgment.
“I am staying in a honeymoon suite alone,” I confirm, feeling my Diet Coke make its presence known. Why did I get an extra large before sitting through customs? Now I’m fidgeting like a toddler learning to potty train.
I adjust my posture so I’m facing the desk head-on, hoping to avoid the stares of an increasing number of hotel patrons. We’re drawing a crowd.
“Do you still want the champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries? They are complimentary.”
I pause to let the guilt wash over me. Yes. I called off the wedding. But I am covering all the costs of this trip as well as the cancellation fees of any vendors.
I straighten myself and say, “Yes. I want all aspects of the package we booked originally. Thank you.” Though, the thought of a bubbly beverage right now only increases my need to rush check-in and get to my room. Maybe there’s a lobby restroom?
My comprehensive answer apparently isn’t good enough for Ryne. He proceeds to iterate every option we booked and waits for my response to each one. I try to picture arid deserts and take short breaths while I avoid making any sudden movements. Instead, my eyes land on the words Niagara Falls. Images of rushing water do not help my situation. I shift again, trying to be discreet.
“Couples massage at our luxury spa on the third floor?” Ryne asks with a raised brow.
Is he enjoying this inquisition?
“That can be for one,” I say.
“Obviously,” he concurs with a light snicker. “Unless you want both masseuses to work on you at the same time. Wouldn’t that be an experience!”
“I’ll pass,” I say with the gracious smile of a Southern Belle even though I’m a Yankee through and through.
Buck didn’t want the massages in the first place. He said the idea of strangers rubbing his bare flesh creeped him out.
I chuckle to myself. Buck. A part of me wishes he were here. His steadiness gave me a mooring I naturally lack. Maybe a platonic marriage is the best some people can hope for. Maybe it was all I should have hoped for. Gabriela always accused me of being overly romantic despite my independent spirit.
I accidentally take a glance behind me at the line of other guests. Most of them are starting to not-so-conspicuously eavesdrop on the conversation between me and the boisterous desk clerk. A few aren’t even hiding the fact that I’m their main source of entertainment.
“So, honeymoon suite for one, champagne for one, strawberries for one, massage for one, breakfast in bed for one.” And a restroom for one. Please. Soon.
The song about one being the loneliest number starts to ring through my head.
“You got it,” I say.
“Well, I hope you enjoy your stay at the Hilton. You have a stunning view of the falls from your suite, Miss O’Brien. Let us know how we can serve you while you are here.”
My room key and a paper bag to put over my head would be great right about now.
Ryne hands me the card to my room on the thirty-fifth floor and I turn to smile at my now audience of people waiting in the line of shame behind me.
I give them my best imitation of a parade wave followed by a Miss America smile. Then I quickly make my way through the lobby, up the elevators and to my room.
Buck and I had planned a winter hike behind the falls and some other sightseeing for tomorrow before leaving for the rest of our trip. I’m content planning to unwind in the comfort of a heated room while enjoying the falls from a remote and dry aerial view.
Opening the door, I park my suitcase, set my purse on the desk, and barely take in the luxurious room. The king bed sits at the center of one wall, facing an opposing wall with a built-in fireplace. Straight past the bed, on the far side of the room, floor-to-ceiling windows look out over a full view of both falls. Around the corner from the room’s foyer is a full bathroom (thanks be to all things porcelain!). I pass the tub that could fit all five people—if the room were fully occupied.
After using the restroom, I fish out my phone. Pulling up Gabriela’s number, I walk toward the windows, collapse into one of the overstuffed chairs, and call my best friend.
“Hey, chiquita! How’s the road trip?” Gabriela asks as soon as she answers her phone.
“Beautiful. Lonely. Introspective. And filled with more caffeine and Red Vines than I’ve had in years.”
“That’s how it should be.”
I spin a little in the chair. It swivels with me.
“I’m all checked in at the Hilton. The view is beyond stunning. Canada’s so crisp and clean. It’s like they must have a whole colony of nocturnal elves who come out and spiff up the landscape and buildings at night. And the falls are breathtaking. I’m a few blocks away, but high enough up in the tower to see the mist rising from the spray down below.”
“Take pictures! I want to see it all.”
“How are you holding up?” Gabriela asks, her tone turning soft and serious.
“It’s surreal being here today—the day I almost exchanged lifelong vows with Buck. I could be a wife today. Instead, I’m just me. A twenty-eight-year-old single redhead with no idea what’s next.”
I’m quiet and Gabriela waits for me to speak. As outspoken as she can be, she’s the best at waiting for me to say whatever’s on my heart.
“I never wanted to hurt Buck. I keep questioning myself. You said it yourself. Buck was kind, steady, and faithful. And I liked him. We got along.”
“Do you hear yourself, mija? You got along? Since when is that your standard for marriage? You don’t go into a life-long commitment based on sympathy or simply because you get along. I get along with the guy who works at the carniceria. He’s a pot-bellied old man and he smells like beef tongue and pickles. He’s not my Mister Right. Do you hear what I’m saying to you?”
I chuckle. “You’re right.”
“Nothing new there,” Gabriela teases me.
“Maybe this road trip was a bad idea, though. I’ve got too much time on my hands. Too much silence.”
I stare off at the waterfalls, powerful and timeless. People travel from all over the world to see them every day while the falls flow in a steady predictability with purpose and intensity, unfazed by who’s watching and unmoved by popular expectations, trends, or opinions.
“I’m considering the philosophical meaning of Niagara Falls right now,” I confess.
“That’s pathetic,” Gabriela teases. “Do you want the truth?”
“Are you giving me a choice?”
“Not really.” Gabriela laughs that carefree, beautiful laugh that makes me want to hop in the car and drive back to Boston so I can spend three weeks at her house, eating savory food and talking until late into the night.
“You need this time away,” she says in a careful tone. “Besides that, knowing Buck’s mom, there will be aftershocks to this cancellation. You may not have heard the end of things with her. It’s probably good to be a couple states away for the coming weeks.”
“Now that you mention it, I probably should join the witness protection program.”
“I hear you. But taking your honeymoon on your own is a good compromise. What you need is a little time on the road to clear your head and let this news sink in for everyone while you’re gone. Give yourself the chance to get your thoughts straight—and grieve. This can be a road trip like Thelma and Louise, minus the shooting and, well, minus Louise. You’re just Thelma.”
I laugh, but then I consider everything Gabriela’s saying.
“I probably do need this time to figure out what’s next. Maybe I should just go off the grid—you know, really take the time to figure myself out.”
“That sounds just right. You have a rare opportunity to consider your future as a blank slate. Decide what you want to write on it—and what you don’t.”
A blank slate.
The idea thrills and scares me in equal measure.
“It’s downhill from here,” Gabriela says. “Or uphill. Which should it be? Downhill sounds so … down. But uphill is harder. Right? So … downhill it is.”
“Are you talking to me or yourself?”
She giggles. “Just figuring out whether your life is going up or down. Either way, it’s getting better. That’s all I know. You are single. You have a wide-open future. It’s looking up. That’s what’s going down.”
I laugh. “I wish you could have come with me.”
“Me too, sweet hermana, but I need to be here doing all the hashtag adulting while you gallivant around our fine nation. Take lots of pictures and flirt a little with a few strangers.”
“This is me we’re talking about.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Don’t be so you. Release your inner Thelma on this trip. Let yourself go a little. You deserve to break out of the expected routine. Take a breather from living up to everything you think everyone wants from you for once.”
I nod even though she can’t see me. I’m not about to flirt with strangers, but the idea of letting go of expectations feels unusually freeing. I may not fit the mold of the social class I was born into, but I definitely live with the burden of making everyone around me happy. I pursued the career my parents wanted for me, and I almost married a suitable man from a reputable family, just to check off boxes and satisfy expectations.
Gabriela and I talk a little longer, and then I yawn. The hours of driving, and maybe the emotions of this day, seem to be catching up with me.
“I’d better let you go,” I say.
“Off the grid,” she says. “We’ll talk when you’re back here. And remember, Buck’s not your person.”
“You’re my person,” I tell her.
It’s something we’ve said to one another for years.
“I am. And you’re mine. One day I expect I’ll have to share you with a man. It just wasn’t meant to be Buck.”
If you enjoyed this first chapter of Town(shipped), you can read the rest of the story in ebook or paperback on Amazon. Town(shipped) is available to purchase after June 6th, 2022 and is offered free to read to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
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