Chapter 1 Rest Thy Head
With an air of reverence, Eleanor O’Malley passed her hand across the white damask tablecloth in the box. “This is very nice, Peyton. Feel how heavy it is. It should last you a lifetime.”
Peyton opened and read the card that accompanied the gift. “Best wishes for a long and happy marriage. Henry and Anne Williams.”
Her mother flashed her best high‑wattage smile. “Can you believe it? The Williams family sent you a wedding gift! They’re one of the nicest families in town.”
“Considering the fact they’re best friends with Drew’s parents, I sort of expected a gift from them.” Peyton tossed the card back into the box. “I’m not as happy with the tablecloth as you are.
I’d rather give a barbecue and eat outside.”
Peyton frowned when she noted the patronizing smile on her mother’s face.
“Darling, that’s fine for right now, but later on after Drew goes to work with his father, you’ll be expected to entertain his clients and business associates. I imagine they’ll expect more than a
barbecue in the back yard.”
Peyton rolled her eyes at her mother. “Yuck.”
Eleanor glanced at her watch. “It’s three, and we have to meet Ashley at three thirty; we’d better get going.”
Peyton picked up her purse, which sat beside an antique trunk her mother used as a coffee table. It had belonged to some famous Civil War general, a fact her mother repeated over and over
to anyone who visited them. Eleanor hadn’t come right out and said so, but she had given Drew’s parents the impression her family was related to the famous general. Peyton sighed. “Mother, I
really want Ashley to be in the wedding. Be nice to her.”
“I admire your loyalty to your sister, but frankly, I think it’s in poor taste to let her be a bridesmaid.”
“I wanted her to be the maid of honor, but thanks to you she refused when I asked her,” Peyton complained with a scowl.
A pained expression came to rest on her mother’s face. “I’m so tired of having to explain things to a daughter who should understand but refuses to do so. The Roberts would not appreciate
someone like Ashley serving as your maid of honor. Be grateful you have Roberta to fall back on.”
“Roberta is Drew’s sister, not mine,” Peyton cried. “I don’t even like her.”
“She’ll grow on you. Now, we’d better hurry.”
Peyton ran to put the tablecloth on the dining room table with her other wedding gifts. Pausing for a moment, she stroked the table’s smooth, gleaming surface. Her mother had found it in a second hand shop and spent a long time refinishing it. No shabby chic for Eleanor! It now looked like a prized family piece, which was exactly what her mother had wanted.
Everything in this house looked old, elegant, and well-tended. She didn’t think anyone would guess most of the furniture came from thrift stores and junk shops.
“Peyton? Where are you?”
As they drove across town to meet Ashley, who was having her bridesmaid dress altered, her mother chatted non-stop about the wedding. Like that wasn’t all she’d talked about for months! Peyton didn’t have to contribute to the conversation; all she had to do was nod and say uh huh at the appropriate time.
Bet if she’d gotten engaged to Willie Lucas her mother would’ve killed her. Willie’s father worked at a local convenience store and lived on the edge of a not-too-nice neighborhood, but Willie had had quite a thing for her in high school.
She turned up the radio when her mother started talking about Ashley. There wasn’t any use getting into a quarrel with her mother now when they were on their way to a fitting. Of course, there was no reason why she and her mother had to go at all.Ashley was capable of getting herself to the shop and taking care of business.
Why did her mother treat Ashley like a red-headed stepchild? Yeah, Ashley had made a few mistakes, but that didn’t make her a bad person. Whether her mother liked it or not, Ashley
was her daughter, and families needed to stick together.
Peyton’s heart sank the moment they entered the alterations shop. Ashley hadn’t been able to get a babysitter. She’d had to bring her little boy Griffin with her, and Griffin was not a happy
camper. His wails and cries grated on Peyton’s ears and brought two round, red spots to her mother’s cheeks. “Griffin,” Eleanor snapped. “Stop that horrible noise at once!”
Ashley took a deep breath and pushed her chestnut hair behind her ear as though she was trying to hold on to her patience. “Mother, he’s little. He can’t help getting bored. If you’ll just play
with him while Mrs. White pins my dress, we can get out of here a lot quicker.”
Eleanor’s lips thinned, but she held out her hand to the small boy who tearfully clung to Ashley’s legs. “Let’s go and find you an ice cream, Griffin.” The child smiled and took his grandmother’s
hand. “We’ll be across the street at The Ice Cream Parlor. I must say this isn’t what I expected.”
The two of them crossed the street to the restaurant, leaving Ashley and Peyton alone with Mrs. White, who smiled at Ashley. “We’ll be done soon.”
A look of relief crossed Ashley’s face. “I’m glad. Mother isn’t too good with children.”
Mrs. White removed a pin from her mouth. “Yes, I noticed. Your mother and I went to school together way back in the dark ages. She wasn’t good with people then either.”
Peyton cringed. She could only imagine how her mother had probably treated Mrs. White.
When they finished pinning the dress, Peyton and Ashley crossed the road to The Ice Cream Parlor. “Hey, sugar,” Peyton cried when she saw her sweet nephew licking a chocolate covered
ice cream cone. “Do you feel better now?”
Griffin nodded and smiled at Peyton, but he reached for Ashley and accidentally smeared Eleanor’s new silk blouse with sticky ice cream.
“Oh, Griffin!” Their mother’s piercing cry reverberated around the room, causing several people to look their way. “Look what you’ve done!”
Ashley grabbed a pile of napkins and tried to wipe the spot off her mother’s arm, but the chocolate wouldn’t budge. “I’m sorry, Mother. I hope the blouse is washable.”
“It isn’t, but never mind that. I take it you got the dress pinned.”
“Yes, I did.” Ashley paused to wipe Griffin’s sticky hands. “Mrs. White promised we’d have it by the end of the week.”
Eleanor sniffed. “I hope so, but she never was too reliable. That’s why I wanted to come today. I wanted her to understand how important it is for the dress to be finished on time. The wedding’s in two weeks. If you’re going to be in it, you need the dress.
Peyton rolled her eyes, and Ashley bit her lip. “We’d better go, Mother. Griffin’ll be getting hungry soon.”
“Hey, how about a burger for dinner?” Peyton exclaimed, remembering that Ashley had had to work today and was probably tired.
Eleanor frowned. “You’re supposed to have dinner with Drew’s grandparents.”
“Oh, I can…”
“You go home and get ready, Peyton. You and Ashley can have a burger later.”
Eleanor picked Griffin up and carried him to Ashley’s car, leaving Ashley and Peyton to trail along in her wake. “Sometimes I’d love to choke her!” Peyton whispered to Ashley, whose eyes
sparkled wickedly at the very idea of it.
As her mother drove past a local farmer’s market, Eleanor decided she needed something fresh for dinner. “I’ll drop you off at home first, Peyton. I want you to have plenty of time to get ready
for your dinner engagement. It won’t take a minute for me to circle back.”
Peyton sat home alone for all of fifteen minutes before she got bored and decided to go over to Drew’s apartment. He’d said he would pick her up at six, but she wanted to see him now. It
would be fun to surprise him.
She skipped outside and got into her car, a dark blue Mini Cooper that she bought for herself after she graduated from Tri State Tech. Drew always said the car matched her eyes, and it did. If she did say so, she had beautiful eyes. She laughed aloud. Drew thought the rest of her looked okay too, especially her long, slim legs. In fact, that’s what he said attracted him to her in the first place.
They had met at a fraternity party two years ago. Peyton’s date, a creep by the name of Josh Pope, got drunk and tried to put the moves on her. It had made her so mad when he wouldn’t take no for an answer that she took off her shoe and beat him until he let her go and ran for cover. She still smiled when she thought about it. Drew had witnessed the whole thing from the safety of the bar. “Boy, I’d sure hate to make you mad,” he exclaimed when Peyton came to get something to drink.
“Yeah, well, that jerk deserved what he got.”
“How about we leave the party and find something to eat?”
Peyton hadn’t thought she wanted to go off with a stranger, even one who looked like a Greek god come to life, so she cornered her roommate, and the three of them went to an IHOP for pancakes. Drew had called her the next day, and from that time on they had spent virtually all of their free time together.
Her mother loved Drew. His family had both money and social standing, while Eleanor had neither and wanted both.
She did wish her mother had been nicer to Ashley this afternoon, but that was probably expecting too much. Once Ashley got pregnant without the benefit of a wealthy husband, their mother was done with her. Why couldn’t she see a sweet grandson was worth more than social position and money? Griffin was adorable, but it looked as if he’d never have a grandmother who’d love and spoil him.
That dress had looked like a million dollars on her sister. Ashley imbued grace to every movement she made, just like Eleanor, but she was short like their father. Both of them had the same dark chestnut hair, though. Ashley had blue eyes too, but hers were much lighter in color than Peyton’s.
What a beautiful day to be alive! Milford always looked its best in the spring as sunshine flooded the little town with warmth and new life and chased away the chill of winter. Peyton popped a CD into the player and sang along with Garth Brooks. Drew hated country music so even though she loved it, she only played it when he wasn’t around.
As she turned into Drew’s apartment complex, she paused to comb her hair with her fingers before sh e went in. She had let the windows down to take advantage of the balmy, spring breeze, but it had almost blown her hair away. Oh, well; Drew liked the tousled, casual look.
She got out of her car and strolled down a winding, concrete walkway to Drew’s apartment. To her surprise the door stood open a small crack. Peyton frowned. Did he think robbers would pass by
so tempting a target? True, this upscale complex had excellent security, but really!
The living room was deserted, but she heard voices coming from the kitchen. She tossed her purse onto the sofa and went in search of her man. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she froze. Megan Thomas, whom Drew used to date, was with him in the kitchen, and the two of them were hugging each other so tightly it was a wonder either of them could breathe.
Peyton gasped, and when Drew saw her he shoved Megan away, causing her to fall against the stove. “Peyton, I can explain!”
Peyton could hardly speak around the rage that almost choked her. “What’s to explain, Drew? I’m not an idiot. You don’t have to say a thing.”
She spun on her heel and ran from the kitchen with Drew right behind her. “Peyton, wait.” He grabbed her arm and brought her to a stop before she could escape.
“Peyton, don’t! Don’t do this. We’ve been together too long for you to throw everything away.”
Pain penetrated her anger. Did he really think a couple of sentences would fix this? What was she supposed to do? Forget she caught him in Megan’s arms? Peyton bit her lip hard to hold back
tears as the reality of his betrayal started to sink in.
Drew was right about one thing. They had been together for a long time. She’d promised her heart and her future to him, and he had promised the same to her, but he had betrayed their love. He
had betrayed the shared life she’d expected to have.
She had seen Drew as the best thing that ever happened to her. He was the one who had her back, the one who’d stand between her and the world, but she had been wrong about him. At that moment, Megan peeked around the corner. The little smirk on her face sent Peyton’s temper soaring.
“I believed in you! I believed in you!” She jerked her arm from Drew’s grip and ran for her car. He and that little heifer deserved each other! Megan had a bad reputation in Milford, and the entire town talked about her. If that’s what Drew wanted, let him have her.
Peyton sat up when she heard the front door slam. Great. Her mother had returned. She considered jumping out the window and escaping. Of course her room was on the second floor, but who cared. Maybe if she got lucky she’d kill herself, and no one would ever know Drew had dumped her for Megan Thomas.
She heard Eleanor coming up the steps and braced herself. Knowing her mother, this wouldn’t be pretty.
“Why are you still here?” Eleanor demanded as she burst into Peyton’s room without knocking. “You aren’t even dressed yet. Don’t you know how important this evening is?”
Peyton stared at the wall just below her mother’s left ear. “I’m not dressed because I’m not meeting Drew’s grandparents.”
“Why not? Did they cancel?”
“Let’s just say that Drew should take Megan Thomas to meet them, not me.”
Eleanor frowned. “You’d better tell me what you mean. I don’t like riddles.”
When Peyton told her, Eleanor sank down onto the side of the bed as if she couldn’t stand up any longer. “Sweet goodness! Why now?” she exclaimed. Peyton watched as her mother tried to control her emotions. She seemed to have a harder time of it than usual, but she eventually got her ‘I am your mother, and I know best’ look firmly in place.
Eleanor reached for her hand. “Darling, I know this hurts. I can imagine what you must be feeling right now, but truthfully, this isn’t the end of the world. Megan Thomas gets her reputation honestly. I’m sure the entire thing is her fault.”
“I saw her in his arms.”
Eleanor nodded. “I understand. She undoubtedly offered, and Drew gave in to temptation this once, but he loves you, Peyton, not Megan. Go and call him, and give him a chance to apologize. I’m sure he’ll never do a thing like this again.”
Peyton’s bitter anger subsided as she stared at Eleanor. Could her mother possibly be that naive? “You can forget it. Drew and I are through.”
Eleanor smoothed the fat fringe on one of the decorative pillows on Peyton’s bed. She sounded calm and composed. “You’re not thinking with your head. A marriage to Drew is a dream come true for a girl like you.”
Peyton bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean, a girl like me?”
“A girl with no money, no family, and no prospects.”
“Gee, thanks, Mother.”
“Be sarcastic all you want,” Eleanor shot back, “but if you want an easier life than I’ve had, get off this bed, and let Drew make it up to you.”
“Why would he want to make up with me?” Peyton sniffed. “As you’ve pointed out, I’m not exactly the kind of woman you’d expect Drew to be interested in. You remember; no money, no family, and no prospects.”
Eleanor turned a cold eye on Peyton. “I’ve done a lot for you. I scrimped and saved and did without so you and Ashley could have opportunities I never had. You owe it to me to marry Drew.”
Peyton’s mouth fell open. “I refuse to discuss this anymore. This is my life we’re talking about. I’m not a bargaining chip in a marriage market to ensure your future.”
Eleanor’s hands clenched. Her face looked so angry that Peyton shrank back into the pillows. “Oh, you refuse, do you? What’s wrong? Are you ashamed of your selfishness? I’d counted on you and Drew to be there for me in my old age. Huh! Ashley sure can’t. She couldn’t even manage to get herself a husband before she got her baby.”
“Let it go!” Peyton cried. “I’m sick of hearing you talk trash about Ashley.”
With a suddenness that stunned Peyton, her mother grabbed her and shook her until her hair tumbled around her shoulders. “Don’t ever speak to me in that fashion again!”
The ringing of the doorbell brought Eleanor to her feet. “You remember what I said. I’ve got a lot invested in you, and I have no intention of losing Drew to a hussy like Megan Thomas.”
She strode from the room, leaving Peyton too shocked to even cry. A moment later Eleanor called from downstairs, “Peyton, Drew is here to see you.”
What now? What should she do? Peyton pressed her hands against her burning face. She didn’t want to talk to Drew, but stunned by her mother’s attack, she called, “I’ll be down in a minute.”
She ran into the bathroom and splashed cool water on her hot face, careless of the makeup that she had so carefully applied earlier in the day. Her mascara dribbled down her cheeks like black tears. Staring at herself in the mirror, she swiped at the streaks with the backs of her hands. Great. Now she looked like a raccoon. She’d die before she let Drew know how badly he had hurt her, so with hands that trembled she snatched a washcloth from the linen closet and scrubbed her face. She hated Drew, she hated Megan Thomas, and she hated her mother most of all!
With her head held high, she descended the stairs to find Drew and her mother waiting for her in the living room. She paused for a moment to listen when she heard Drew’s contrite sounding voice. “Mrs. O’Malley, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I don’t know how I could do such a thing. She came over, and…I am so sorry.”
Peyton clenched her teeth as Eleanor patted his shoulder. “I understand. You don’t have to say anything else.”
“I feel…” He broke off when he saw Peyton standing in the doorway and rose to his feet. “Could I talk to you for a minute?”
Eleanor smiled at him. “I’ll leave you two alone to talk.” As graceful as any ballerina, she left the living room and shut the door behind her.
Peyton retreated as Drew reached for her hand. She’d throw up if he touched her now. “Why did you come here, Drew?”
“To explain. Honey, you’ve got to believe me. I…don’t…I don’t know why I did it. She just showed up at the door, and…” Peyton threw her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to hear the dirty details.”
“I love you, honey. You’re the woman of my dreams. I’d never do anything to hurt you. Please tell me I haven’t wrecked everything. Don’t let my mistake ruin things for us.”
Peyton turned her back on him and moved to the window to put a little more distance between them. A pretty cardinal landed on the bird feeder. He flashed his wings at a female who moved aside for him to eat. “We don’t have anything to say. Go home and leave me alone.”
Drew didn’t go. He joined her at the window and pulled her stiff body into his arms. “It doesn’t have to ruin anything, baby. Don’t you know how much I love you?”
Ice dripped from Peyton’s voice. “Actually, I don’t.”
“Well, I do, and you know it. Please, sweetie, don’t do this. Everyone expects us to get married. Your mother likes me, and my folks like you. Don’t let one mistake screw up our future.”
Yes, Eleanor certainly liked Drew. Peyton remembered what her mother had said. Eleanor had raised two children without a father to help her; Peyton knew how hard her mother had worked for her and Ashley. She bit her lip. Maybe she did owe it to Eleanor to marry Drew. He certainly seemed sincere when he said he was sorry. Maybe Megan really was to blame. She’d give anything to think so.
Her chin went up. “I’ll think about it, but I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank God! I love you, Peyton; you won’t be sorry that you gave me another chance. Uh…you don’t still want to have dinner with my grandparents do you?”
“No.” Ugh, she’d rather die than sit through dinner with him.
“I’ll make your excuses and reschedule dinner.”
“I didn’t say I’d still marry you,” she snapped, resisting the urge to slap his handsome face.
“No, but, baby, I have to believe you will.”
He attempted to kiss her, but Peyton pushed him away. If he tried to kiss her she’d barf all over him. Thankfully, Drew accepted her rebuff. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The minute he let himself out the door, Eleanor joined Peyton. “You did well. I knew you’d do the right thing. You’ve always been my good girl.”
Peyton pressed the tips of her fingers between her eyes where she’d developed a massive headache. “You eavesdropped on us.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I had to make sure you didn’t make a mistake you’d regret.”
What would her mother have done if she had told Drew to get out and never speak to her again like he deserved? Probably throw her out of the house like she did Ashley when she had Griffin. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to my room.”
“Of course. Can I get you anything?”
Eleanor leaned over and kissed Peyton’s forehead. “You did the right thing. You go and rest now. You’ll see; you did the right thing.”
“You’re an idiot,” Ashley bluntly informed Peyton as she took a bite of the chocolate chip cookie Griffin had rejected. “You know he cheated on you with Megan Thomas, but you’re letting
Mother bully you into marrying him anyway.”
Peyton sighed as she shifted Griffin in her arms and tried to find a more comfortable position in Ashley’s old, broken down recliner. She loved that little boy almost as much as Ashley did. He
had come running down the sidewalk to meet her when he saw her car stop in front of Ashley’s apartment, and they had played until he finally ran out of energy and climbed into her lap for a little nap.
“Drew’s sorry. He didn’t mean to do it, but Megan…”
Ashley snorted. “Save it for somebody who doesn’t know better. You’re doing this because of Mother. Did she give you the old ‘I’m depending on you' speech?"
Peyton squirmed in her chair. “Well, she is, and no matter what you say, you know how hard she worked to give us a good life.”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “I don’t think she deserves any special credit for that. Parents are supposed to take care of their children.” She gave a bitter, little chuckle. “Anyway, look how she’s treated me and Griffin. Oh, yeah. She has our best interests at heart, doesn’t she?”
Peyton couldn’t deny it. Once Ashley got pregnant Eleanor had washed her hands of her. Their mother could have made Ashley’s life a whole lot easier if she had wanted to. Instead, she left Ashley to fend for herself. With a small child and no education, Ashley hadn’t had an easy time of it.
Peyton indicated the butter yellow bridesmaid dress that hung in the doorway to Ashley’s bedroom. “Does your dress fit okay?”
“All right, Peyton. I’ll drop the subject, but I intend to bring it up tomorrow and every day after that until you see reason. Yeah, my dress looks fine. Mrs. White told me she could cut it off after the
wedding and make a regular dress for me if I wanted.”
Peyton nodded. “That’s exactly why I picked it. It isn’t fussy and doesn’t have sequins and junk on it.”
Ashley smiled, looking very much like the little girl Peyton had loved from the moment her mother returned from the hospital with a bundle wrapped in pink. “I appreciate it, too. I’ve been
dying for something new, but I haven’t had the money to waste.”
She knew Ashley hadn’t exaggerated. When she and Drew got married, she intended to help Ashley as well as her mother. Ashley had planned to study small business management until she got pregnant because she had always dreamed of owning an inn. Not a motel, an inn. Months ago she and Drew had agreed they’d help Ashley financially until she finished school. Yeah, she had plenty of reasons to marry Drew.
Peyton stood up and passed Griffin to his mother. “I’ve got to go. Drew and I are having dinner with his grandparents tonight.”
“Won’t that be fun?” Ashley scowled at Peyton. “Old Mr. Hamilton is nothing but a pervert.”
“Why would you say a thing like that?” Peyton pulled on the pretty eyelet jacket she had bought to wear with her jeans. “You know he isn’t a pervert.”
“I think he is. He brought his car to the car wash, and while he was paying me, he asked me if I’d care to go out with him.”
“Then I guess he thought you were pretty,” Peyton retorted, but inwardly Ashley had shocked her. Mr. Hamilton had always treated her like a lady. She wouldn’t have dreamed he’d go around
making dates with young women behind his wife’s back.
Actually, a lot of things had shocked her lately. I guess it’s best not to think about it. I’ll feel better if I don’t.