Barbara Bretton

Sneak Peek

Chances Are (Paradise Point, Book No. 2)

Who knew finding the love of your life would be the easy part?

Three weeks to the day after Maddy Bainbridge announced her engagement to Aidan O'Malley, she found herself stripped and held hostage in the bridal department of the Short Hills Saks in front of her family, her future in-laws, and a PBS research assistant named Crystal whose tattoos were outnumbered only by her piercings.

Maddy is no bridezilla and Aidan is starting to talk about eloping, but they’re no match for their wedding-obsessed families.

The DiFalco and O’Malley clans are putting aside their differences to plan the wedding but long-buried family secrets (and a few brand-new ones) threaten to wreck the nuptials before the two lovers have a chance to walk down the aisle.

Everyone in Paradise Point agrees that Maddy and Aidan are a match made in Jersey Shore heaven, destined to enjoy the happily-ever-after ending that somehow eluded their families.

If they survive the wedding!

Alternately poignant and humorous, this contemporary romance gracefully illuminates life's highs and lows. --Publishers Weekly

Bretton skillfully intertwines their stories with threads of emotions ranging from gentle humor to palpable angst. --Shelley Mosley – Booklist

Bretton’s books are always magical. --Jill M. Smith – RT Book Reviews

Chapter 1

Paradise Point, New Jersey

Three weeks to the day after Maddy Bainbridge announced her engagement to Aidan O'Malley, she found herself stripped and held hostage in the bridal department of the Short Hills Saks in front of her family, her future in-laws, and a PBS research assistant named Crystal whose tattoos were outnumbered only by her piercings.

Her mother had told her she was taking her out for lunch to celebrate the pending nuptials, a splashy fun get-together with family and friends on hand to share the good news. She had set her taste buds for the amazing chicken burritos at Casa Mexicana in Spring Lake and was dismayed when they rolled right past the exit and kept on heading north. Visions of one of those terrible spa lunches--three lettuce leaves, a grape tomato, with a side of guilt--made her wish she'd stashed a bag of chips in her purse along with her daughter Hannah's current favorite Barbie.

As it turned out, a spa lunch would have been a vast improvement over what her mother actually had in mind.

"Where is she taking my clothes?" Maddy protested as a fiercely-groomed sales associate disappeared with her favorite cotton sweater and jeans.

"Don't worry," Rose DiFalco said to her daughter. "This is the only way we can be sure you won't make a run for it."

Her fashionable aunt Lucy turned her critical eye on Maddy's nearly naked form. "Does Aidan know about that underwear?" she asked and the assembled aunts and cousins and future in-laws burst into laughter. Crystal, the research assistant, stood near the door trying very hard to be inconspicuous which wasn't easy given the scene from Lord of the Rings tattooed down the length of her right arm.

"Turn around," Maddy's cousin Gina ordered her. "I want to see if you have Monday embroidered on your butt."

The dream she'd been having lately--the one about being naked at Stop and Shop--suddenly seemed prophetic. How she had ended up standing on a carpeted pink pedestal in front of her nearest and dearest--and a future in-law--while wearing a pair of cotton bikini panties and a bra that predated the premiere of Friends was a question a Talmudic scholar couldn't unravel.

She was a grown woman. She had a child. She had a degree from an accredited university. She had figured out a way to balance work and romance with the equally demanding jobs of daughterhood and motherhood but from the moment she said yes to Aidan, it seemed that control of her life had been handed over to a powerful force called The Wedding.

The questions were endless. How many bridesmaids? (Don't forget your cousins, Maddy.) Church or hotel? (Is there something wrong with The Candlelight?) Catered dinner or upscale buffet? (You should ask Aunt Lucy to bake the cake.) Local band or big city musicians? (Cousin Benny would love to sing at your wedding.)

Long dress with a short train or short dress with a long train or maybe some combination nobody had even thought of yet. There were flowers and menus to consider, seating arrangements and engraved invitations to design, and whatever you do don't even let them get started on hairstyles, makeup choices, and Brazilian bikini waxes for the blushing bride-to-be.

When Gina asked her if she was registered, it took Maddy a second to realize she was talking about wedding gifts and not the AKC.

Within moments of learning her daughter was planning to be married, Rose was on the phone to a multitude of sources, lining up auditions for bands, booking appointments to check out hotel ballrooms, and conferring with her sister Lucy about the all-important dress.

As a rule Maddy was very happy to fly beneath her mother's radar, but as the days passed, she began to feel like a guest at her own impending nuptials.

How come nobody ever told you that finding your soul mate was the easy part?

Falling in love with Aidan had been as natural as breathing. One moment she was moving through life, concentrating on being the best mother she could possibly be, and the next she was floating somewhere on Cloud 9, madly in love and dreaming of a rose-covered cottage with a satellite dish. In her own mind she made the leap from courtship to marriage seamlessly, with maybe a few well-chosen words uttered in a small church while a handful of nearest-and-dearest dabbed at their eyes and toasted to their happiness.

Fat chance.

Her own clan hadn't the slightest idea how she was feeling. Between them, Fay's girls had walked down the aisle a total of sixteen times, which meant a total of sixteen engagement dinners, sixteen bridal showers, sixteen trips to the bridal department of every major store in the tri-state area, and sixteen wedding receptions complete with laughter, music, and promises that this time it was going to last forever.

The trouble was, it never did last forever. In fact, on one memorable occasion the marriage barely managed to last past the reception. When Aunt Toni grasped the knife to cut the pricey six-tier Weinstock wedding cake you could hear the sound of three hundred wedding guests as they held their collective breath and prayed the groom didn't make any false moves.

She wondered if anyone would share that anecdote with Pete Lassiter, the historian/journalist currently gathering up tales of Paradise Point's past for a documentary on Jersey Shore towns. The second Lassiter heard that a DiFalco was planning to marry an O'Malley, his journalistic imagination shot into high gear and he began to shape his narrative around the upcoming nuptials. The town's oldest families, whose establishments anchored the north and south ends of Paradise Point, were about to merge before man and God and a pair of PBS's best cameramen. Maddy had endured a series of pre-interviews with Lassiter's underlings, long and exhaustive question and answer sessions that dug up details not even her own mother found very interesting. Aidan, not always the most cooperative man in town, made it halfway through his first interview before he called it quits in a fairly dramatic fashion.

"I'll bet that makes it into the documentary," she had teased him, laughing at his unprintable response. He had already sat for a preliminary interview at his old firehouse, held in place more by the memory of the brother he had lost than any desire to see his face on camera. She didn't blame him for not wanting to go through a lengthy re-telling of the warehouse fire that had taken his brother's life almost three years ago. Aidan had been cited for bravery for his own part in fighting that fire in a ceremony that was held in his hospital room a week after Billy's funeral, a fact she had to learn from his sister-in-law Claire.

The O'Malley and DiFalco families had both settled in Paradise Point in the early 1920s, immigrant families with nothing going for them but the fact that they had nothing left to lose. After decades of struggle, both families were finally beginning to reap the reward of over eighty years of backbreaking work. The town wasn't even a town back then, just a stretch of sand and hope with a couple of dilapidated Victorian houses facing the beach, a reminder of better days.

Under Aidan's guidance, O'Malley's Bar and Grill was taking giant steps into the twenty-first century and had posted its first profitable quarter in longer than anyone cared to remember.

But that success was nothing compared to the killing Maddy's mother Rose had made when she turned her own late mother Fay's rundown old boarding house into the most popular B&B on the East Coast. There had even been some talk of buying the B&B next door and upgrading it to meet The Candlelight's standards but so far Rose hadn't made her move. Maddy knew it was only a matter of time. When it came to making money, her mother had the golden touch.

Out of all the DiFalco cousins, and they were legion, only Maddy had managed to reach her thirties without a divorce under her belt. "Don't look so smug," her cousin Gina had pointed out last week over nachos and margaritas at O'Malley's Grill. "That's only because you never married Tom. You were with him for six years before you two split--and that's longer than both my marriages put together--but let's face it, kid: he still walked out that door. If you ask me I'd say you're upholding family tradition just fine."

Not something Maddy particularly wanted to hear but since when had Gina--or any of her other relatives, for that matter--ever worried about anyone's sensibilities. Maddy loved them all dearly but every now and then she was reminded why she had spent fifteen years living a continent away from their well-meaning observations. Maddy's one serious relationship had ended shortly after their daughter Hannah was born and with it went her dreams of building a family with the man she had loved.

But then one day everything changed. Maddy left her old life in Seattle behind and brought Hannah home to Paradise Point where she fell in love with Aidan O'Malley and, to her delight, the object of her affections returned the sentiment ten-fold. Of all the surprises the fates might have had up their sleeves, that was the biggest one of all.

She glanced around the enormous dressing room and did a quick head count. "Where's Hannah?" she asked Rose, trying to keep her tone even as visions of her five-year-old daughter running amok through row upon row of ten thousand dollar gowns made her knees knock.

Rose looked up from the book of fabric swatches she had been inspecting. "Kelly found her turning somersaults across a stack of bridesmaid dresses."

"Oh God--"

"She scooped Hannah up midroll and took her out for some ice cream."

Bless her future stepdaughter for always knowing the right thing to do.

"The bridesmaid dresses--?" She steeled herself for the damage.

"Are fine," Rose said, her attention clearly divided between her daughter and a shimmering square of rum pink duchesse satin. "The child is full of high spirits. There's nothing to be concerned about."

A year ago Maddy wouldn't have been able to hold back the sharp retort but times had changed. Now she counted to three before she opened her mouth.

"Did you see the price tags on those outfits? Hannah could somersault her way through a year's salary while I'm standing here in my underwear waiting for some snippy sales clerk to bring me a pile of--"

"And here we are," said the snippy sales clerk as she sailed into their midst, arms piled high with gowns. "I brought three size eights and a ten . . . just in case."

Aunts Toni and Connie exchanged knowing looks. Maddy considered telling them she would choose padded hips over drooping jowls any day of the week but doubted anyone but Gina would see the humor in her remark.

Get me out of here, she silently pleaded to Gina as she stepped into a frilly white confection that seemed better suited to Scarlett O'Hara than a thirty-something Jersey girl.

Too late, Gina said with a grin and a shrug of her shoulders.

"We've all been through it too," Aunt Lucy whispered in her ear as she helped button Maddy into the too snug bodice. "The worst is almost over."

Sure it was. Try saying that when you were standing there in your underwear.

Rose, her usually practical and levelheaded mother, the woman who would be first in line to tell her it was time to cut a few calories, held up a narrow tube of ivory satin that looked like a ribbon of heavy cream. "This would look wonderful on you."

"On my right thigh maybe."

"Try it on."

"I don't think so."

"Madelyn, you can't judge a gown on the hanger."

"I can judge that one. It's too small."

"I'm sure it will fit."

"She's probably right, Rosie," Aunt Toni piped up. "Better you try it in a ten or twelve."

"Sleeveless?" Aunt Connie sounded dubious. "No woman should go sleeveless after thirty-five."

"I'm thirty-three," Maddy said, praying for a well-timed lightning bolt or a minor earthquake to put an end to this hideous scene.

"Be that as it may, if you're over size eight, don't show your arms," Aunt Connie barreled on. Her gaze zeroed in on Maddy's less than perfect upper arms like a pointer during duck season. "Case closed."

"Liposuction did wonders for your double chin, Connie," Aunt Lucy observed with a wicked smile. "Too bad Dr. Weinblatt also sucked out what was left of your brain."

Gina snickered loud enough to be heard in Pennsylvania while Denise and Pat quickly turned away so nobody could see them laughing. Lucy and Connie had been at war for as long as anyone could remember. Age had done little to diminish the sibling rivalry that had been simmering between them for more than sixty years.

Maddy caught sight of Aidan's sister-in-law Claire reflected in the huge dressing room mirror. Claire looked both amused and slightly embarrassed by the familial bickering, but at least she wasn't playing connect-the-dots with Maddy's stretch marks the way her blood kin were. Still, there was something disapproving about Claire, something Maddy couldn't quite put her finger on but sensed through the wisecracks and laughter. Claire had seemed to like her well enough before she and Aidan announced their engagement but the second Maddy showed up with a ring on her finger, Claire had turned noticeably chilly and, to Maddy's surprise, the coolness hurt.

It had to be hard for Claire to watch Aidan build a new family after all these years of being a single father while she was still adjusting to life without her husband Billy. Aidan's firefighter brother had died in a blaze almost three years ago, leaving Claire alone with five children, a heavily mortgaged house, and a rundown bar on the blue-collar side of town.

Who could blame the woman if she found it tough to join in the preparations with a full heart. Still, Maddy found she missed the old wise-cracking Claire. They hadn't been close but at least the potential for friendship had been there.

Claire turned slightly and their eyes met in the mirror. Maddy made a face and Claire offered a sympathetic smile. It was the kind of smile you flashed at the woman in line behind you at the ATM. Impersonal. Easily forgotten. Still, it was better than the polar breeze Maddy had been feeling lately from her future, sort-of sister-in-law and she was grateful.

Unfortunately that was when she made the fatal mistake of sighing deeply and the top button popped the loop and rocketed across the dressing room straight toward Aunt Toni.


Toni slapped her hand over her right eye and let out a howl. "I've been shot!"

It would take more than a bolt of lightning or a minor earthquake to get Maddy out of this one with her dignity intact. "Aunt Toni, I'm so sorry. My--uh, my button popped."

Toni glared at Maddy from between splayed fingers. "I told you to try on the ten, didn't I?"

"Ma!" Gina's expression was downright murderous. "Can you give it a rest?"

"I think I need a doctor," Toni said, ignoring her daughter completely. "That button shot across the room like a bullet! It could've put out my eye."

"For God's sake, Ma." It was Denise's turn. "It didn't touch you. I saw it hit your ring and ricochet past you."

"My own daughters don't believe me." Toni turned to her sisters for support. "Is this the thanks I get for all I've done for them? I could've been killed and they stand there telling me nothing happened."

Gina whipped out her cell phone and flipped it open. "You're right, Ma. You're lucky you weren't killed. In fact, it might have been attempted murder. I'll call the cops so you can file a report." She winked at Maddy. "Death by bridal button. It'll look good on the front page of the Star-Ledger tomorrow morning."

Toni huffed. She had had a lot of practice over the years and was a world-class huffer. "I don't know why we had to drive up to Short Hills anyway. We should've gone to the Bridal Barn in Freehold. They specialize in plus sizes."

"That's it," Rose said, flinging open the door to the enormous dressing area. "Everybody out!"

"You're throwing us out?" Toni looked horrified.

"What did I do?" Connie demanded. "I'm not the one who's calling the cops."

"Out!" Rose repeated. "Every single one of you."

Maddy gathered up her voluminous skirts and stepped down from her pedestal. "You don't have to tell me twice."

"Not you," Rose said, grabbing her firmly by the wrist. "The rest of you."

The aunts and cousins grumbled but they knew Rose meant business. Crystal, the PBS research assistant made a gallant attempt at standing up to Rose but quickly--and grudgingly--admitted defeat. Claire, however, looked profoundly grateful.

"My sisters are horses' asses," her mother said as she closed the door behind the extended DiFalco clan plus two. "If I ever doubted that fact, they proved it today."

"You won't get an argument from me."

"Buttons pop all the time."

"Sure they do," Maddy said dryly. Every time you tried to squash a size ten woman into a size eight dress without a shoehorn.

"Don't make more of a popped button than the situation warrants."

Easy for you to say, Rosie. You're not the one whose cellulite was hanging out on display.

"I'm a size ten. I've been a ten all my life. Why pretend I'm an eight when I'm not? If I can live with it, why can't the rest of them."

"Lucy was looking more for style than fit, Madelyn. They can take care of the fit once you've settled on a gown."

Maddy took a deep breath and two more buttons clattered to the floor. There was no time like the present. "Ma, about the gown . . . "

Rose helped slide the fussy bodice off her daughter's shoulders. "Not your style at all. I completely agree."

Another deep breath. Thank God there were no more buttons to pop. "I'm not sure any of them is."

She stepped out of the gown. Rose, unnaturally calm, gathered it up and reached for the enormous padded hanger.

"You've only tried on one dress, Madelyn. I don't think you should lose hope quite so fast."

"Ma, this whole thing is moving a little too fast for me. I'm not sure a big wedding is what Aidan and I have in mind."

"Your wedding is only four months away." Rose fastened the dress to the hanger and suspended it from the rod in the corner. "Isn't it time you decided?"

Four months, three weeks, and eleven days. The unemployed accountant in her was keeping close track. "I thought we might just enjoy being engaged for a while longer before we start planning the wedding."

"I understand," Rose said, although it was clear to Maddy that she didn't, "but if you're serious about a late September wedding, we need to start planning right now."

"It's not even June yet, Ma. We have plenty of time."

"The best places book up years in advance. We're already operating at a disadvantage."

"Then we won't plan a big wedding." Check and mate! "We'll just have a small, intimate gathering."

She had to hand it to her mother. Rose didn't even blink. "A big wedding is every bride's dream." A beat pause. "Especially if the bride comes from a big family."

"The DiFalcos have seen more than their share of weddings. One more would only get lost in the shuffle."

"God knows we've given more than our share of wedding presents to your cousins. It's time we were on the receiving end."

A wiser woman might have retired to her corner to fight another day but old habits die hard. Her mother's words reawakened her sleeping inner teenager, the same one who had made Rose's life as difficult as humanly possible a lifetime ago and enjoyed every minute of it.

"Aidan thinks we should elope."

This time Rose's expression shifted from surprise to shock and then from shock to outrage. "I hope this is your idea of a joke."

Oh God. Why did she say that? A hand grenade would have done less damage than those five words. "He--uh, he suggested we grab Kelly and Hannah and fly to Vegas." Next time she heard someone espouse total honesty, she would mention this hideous moment.

"I thought he was smarter than that."

She had been about to add that Aidan had probably been joking but her mother's remark stung. "Actually I think it's a very good idea. You'd save a lot of money and I wouldn't have to stand around in my underwear while your sisters ridicule the size of my butt."

"Your aunts are the way they are. If I had a nickel for every insult they've sent my way, I'd own every B & B from here to Maine. You're entirely too thin-skinned, Madelyn. You always have been."

"Apparently my skin is the only thing about me that's too thin."

Rose quickly gave her the once over. "Well, you have put on a few pounds since Christmas."

"Thanks," she snapped. "Nothing like words of comfort from the mother of the bride. Make sure you give my measurements to Crystal so she can use them in the documentary."

"I didn't say it was unbecoming. You're tall. You carry it well."

"Sure I do," said Maddy. "I guess I'm not supposed to notice that medieval corset the saleswoman brought in with her."

"Proper foundation garments can make or break a formal gown."

"I really don't need a lecture on girdles, Mother."

"I never said you needed a girdle. Bridal gowns require a certain type of underpinning. You either have boning sewn into your dress or you wear a merry widow. It's all part of the game."

"Maybe I don't want to play that game."

"It's one day of your life, Madelyn. It's about family."

"No, it isn't," she shot back. "It should be about Aidan and me. Nobody else."

Rose turned away but not before Maddy saw the sheen of tears in her eyes. Her mother never cried. The only time she had seen Rose cry was that terrible day last year when they had rushed Hannah to the hospital and for awhile it had seemed they were going to lose her. It had been a day of intense emotions. Anger. Guilt. Fear. And then the almost punishing sense of relief when Hannah came back to them.

"Ma," she said, swinging wildly between anger and guilt, "don't cry." She forced a laugh. She felt naked and vulnerable, standing there in her ratty cotton underwear. More like her mother's child than the mother of a child of her own. "Get a shoehorn. I'll try to squeeze into that dress if it means that much."

"No need," said Rose as she turned back toward Maddy. The tears had been replaced by the familiar steely resolve that had sent her daughter running clear across the country immediately after high school. "It's almost one-thirty. I think everyone could use some lunch."

"But why don't we--"

"I'll get your clothes."

Maddy was trapped. Rose was already halfway out the door and it was clear Maddy wasn't going to follow in her bra and panties. The only thing she could do was wait until her mother rescued her sweater and jeans from the snippy saleswoman so she could join the rest of the clan for a tasty lunch of humble pie with a side of crow.

A DiFalco family favorite.


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