Everything Changes (Creek Canyon #3) by Catherine Bybee



CHAPTER ONE

If one more person asked Grace when she was going to find Mr. Right and settle down, she was going to deck ’em. Why did weddings and baby showers bring on the incessant questions regarding her nonexistent love life?

On the dance floor, Colin wrapped around his newly minted wife, Parker, in a slow dance. Her brother was all smiles, and her sister-in-law had shed actual tears while reciting her wedding vows. It really had been the perfect ceremony.

Colin was the first of them to get married. Grace was fairly certain her other brother, Matt, wasn’t far behind. He danced with his live-in girlfriend and her fellow bridesmaid, Erin. Yeah, they were just as lovey-dovey as the ones who’d tied the knot.

Truth was, Grace was insanely happy for both her brothers.

Only now that they were paired up, all family eyes were on her. Even Grandma Rose, whose dementia often resulted in Grace being called Nora, her mother’s name, followed by a question about coming home late from school . . . asked if Grace was ever going to find a man.

Grace leaned back in a chair, legs crossed, with her toe swinging in the air to the slow music. The lights were dim, and all eyes and cameras were focused on Colin and Parker.

Behind her, the sound of a chair scooting out from under the table had Grace glancing out of the corner of her eye. Aunt Bethany.

Grace lifted the hand holding her champagne in the air before her aunt had the chance to speak.

“Don’t.”

“What?”

“Not one word.”

Her aunt was Grandma Rose with a full-watt memory.

Grace heard the woman sigh over the music.

Three bars of music passed . . .

The chorus . . .

“Weddings always make me nostalgic,” Aunt Beth started.

Grace felt her easy grin turn into something painful.

“Nostalgic?” Grace found herself responding.

“Oh, yes . . . for those early days of romance and possibilities.”

“Yup.” God, this was painful. It was like watching a train barreling down the track toward a crossing with dysfunctional arms and wondering if the oncoming traffic would get caught in its path.

Okay, maybe not that bad . . . but still.

“So, what is it about all your relationships that keeps you from having someone at your side at these events?”

And there it was.

Grace felt her hand tighten around the caterer’s cheap flute.

Option one: toss champagne at her aunt and cause a scene at her brother’s wedding.

Nope.

Option two: drink the champagne and grit her teeth to the point of pain.

Check.

“Grace?”

She swallowed half the glass in one gulp and proceeded to cough as some of the liquid went down the wrong pipe.

She grabbed for a napkin to keep from spitting wine all over her dress and then fled the room.

Eyes followed her retreat.

Outside the ballroom, the hotel lighting and decrease in noise stopped her forward motion.

Air . . . she needed air. Across the hall were double doors that led out to the hotel’s garden. Colin and Parker had taken copious numbers of pictures there only a couple of hours before.

Grace cleared her throat and marched toward the doors leading outside.

The second she passed the threshold, brisk December air rushed down her back.

“Holy moly.” She considered turning around.

Freeze or listen to Aunt Beth?

Cold it was.

Her feet took her toward the lighted path of trees. She hugged her arms in an attempt to stay warm.

The one fancy hotel in Santa Clarita was decked out for the holidays. But it wasn’t the view that snapped her out of her crappy mood, it was the fact she could see her breath.

Determined to stay outside long enough to look flushed and energized when she returned to the reception, Grace forced her legs to carry her to the end of the garden to stare at the water fountain.

“This is stupid,” she muttered to herself.

She rubbed her arms absently as a strange heat tickled the back of her neck.

The sensation of someone watching her was unshakable. She imagined there were hotel guests looking down from their rooms and wondering what kind of fool walked around in the cold, in a dress . . . without a coat.

“Me.” I’m the fool.

She shifted from foot to foot and slowly turned to determine if she could locate the eyes on her. Her head tilted up, as if she were looking for stars. The spans of hotel windows, all four stories of them, were in various stages of open blinds. Most were closed, but a few were wide open with the lights on in the rooms. Yet no one peered down.