Merried - Jamie Farrell

Merried

Misfit Brides, Book 5

He’s the Spare Heir of Bliss’s most famous jewelry shop
Max Gregory’s family is best known for creating and displaying the world’s most cursed diamond ring, but here in the bridal capital of the world, Max is best known for having a cursed love life. Not that he believes in curses. Or he didn’t, until he met Merry.

She’s the daughter of a notorious jewel thief
Merry Silver's parents have wreaked havoc on her life. After her last romantic disaster—thanks, Daddy—she’s fleeing the country for a chance at normal. But first, she has to avoid her favorite ex-boyfriend while she gets her mom married off. Again.

And they’re about to get a second chance at love
Max was horrified when he discovered why Merry disappeared last year. Now she's back in Bliss for a wedding, and her father may be after his family’s most prized possession. But is it the diamond Max is worried about? Or is he afraid of losing the only woman who’s ever made him want to settle down?

Either way...the family jewels are in danger.

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Phoebe Moon would never be a normal girl, but sometimes she wished she had a normal uncle.
—Phoebe Moon and the Sneeze Snatcher

While everyone else at the Snow Bride Festival in Bliss, Illinois, watched Santa and Mrs. Claus step onto the stage beneath the massive wedding cake monument, Merry Silver was contemplating theft.

The internet, she decided.

In her next middle-grade novel, Phoebe Moon’s diabolical Uncle Sandy would try to steal the internet, which would be housed in a five-story-high wedding cake monument.

No, too obvious. Maybe…a gingerbread house? Yes! A gingerbread house, and—

“Earth to Meredith.” Victoria Silver, also known as Mom, tugged on a lock of her hair.

Merry instinctively checked her front pocket beneath her dark blue bubble coat. Phone, ID, and cash were still there. She knew better than to zone out in public places. “Sorry, what?”

Fairy lights twinkled on the bare trees around the illuminated wedding cake monument. Flurries danced through the darkness as though they’d been ordered specially for Bliss’s Snow Bride Festival. Patrick Dean, Mom’s next victim—er, latest fiancé—winked at her and lifted his paper cup higher, which he’d apparently been dangling for a while. “More hot chocolate for my favorite girls?”

Merry handed her own paper cup to impending stepfather number six. “I’d love some. Thank you, Patrick.”

While Patrick trotted off, Mom graced her with an indulgent smile that was thankfully unsuspicious. “Dreaming of your own wedding cake?”

“Wondering if there’s a medical billing code for treatment for injuries sustained after becoming trapped beneath the world’s largest eyesore.” Merry shifted her weight to her left foot, the lie coming easily.

“Hide it all you want, darling. I know you’re a romantic at heart.”

She humored her mother with a smile, then scanned the crowd around them, subconsciously cataloguing earrings, scarves, and purses. She didn’t see Daddy.

Not that she expected him to let her spot him easily. If he were here. He’d only shown up for one of Mom’s other weddings—not that Mom had known he was there—but she had a feeling.

A suspicious, tingly, Daddy-had-been-too-quiet-for-too-long feeling.

Especially since she knew there was something else he wanted in Bliss.

Speaking of Daddy and things he wanted, she eyed Mrs. Claus onstage. The blonde woman smiled indulgently and passed a treat to a kid in the crowd, her tiara glittering atop her hair.

Merry sincerely hoped those sparklies in the tiara were rhinestones.

“What’s with the skunk?” she asked. The black-and-white creature—large and stuffed, thank goodness—sat behind Santa’s magnanimous red velvet throne, its dead, beady eyes trained on the crowd. Oh, Phoebe Moon’s dastardly Uncle Sandy could be training a skunk to help steal the internet. She’d name it—

“Merry.” Mom sighed. “It represents the kindly old skunk that showed Felix Blythe the way to Bliss back in 1841 when he founded the town, and then blessed his marriage to his mail-order bride. You haven’t been listening at all, have you?”

And reviewers said Phoebe Moon’s adventures could never happen in real life. Obviously, they’d never heard of Bliss. Merry fluttered a hand toward the monument. “Sorry. It’s distracting.”

“I can only imagine the number of calories in a cake that size.” Mom shuddered. She’d kept her girlish figure, which she usually showed off with waist-high skinny jeans, heeled boots, fitted silk blouses, and an ivory peacoat. Her once strawberry-blond hair was now intentionally dyed silver and stylishly trimmed. Anything else nature had taken, her ex-husbands’ bank accounts had paid to give back.

“Pretty sure concrete calories aren’t absorbed well by the human body,” Merry said.

Mom sighed again, but then she clapped with all the glee of someone fifty years younger. “I’m so glad we got here in time to see the end of the Snow Bride Festival. I can’t wait to see the wedding reenactment. Weddings are fabulous, aren’t they?”

Hmm. Phoebe Moon hadn’t investigated any reprehensible crimes at a wedding.

She filed that away to consider later. “Amazing,” she agreed.

“You should have one someday.”

“Um, no.”

“Oh, honey, don’t grimace. It’ll give you wrinkles.”

Wrinkles were the least of her worries.

With parents like hers, she was more concerned with ulcers, anxiety, and accidents.

“You can’t fool me.” Mom’s perfectly plump lips spread in a grin, but thanks to Botox, none of the rest of her face smiled. “I know there’s a romantic heart in there. Who was it I caught daydreaming over wedding flowers this afternoon?”

“I wasn’t daydreaming. I was marveling at the complexities of flower production during the darkest part of the year.”

“And swaying to those romantic songs the wedding planner played for us?”

“Must’ve been my evil twin.” Phoebe Moon had an evil twin, but Merry had sometimes thought she might need a morally ambiguous secret triplet too.

Or maybe that would be better for a conversation with a therapist rather than a plot thread to spring on the unsuspecting, mystery-loving tween population of the world.

Not that it would take a therapist to figure out what was wrong with her.

“Can’t find a husband if you don’t date, sweetheart,” Mom said.

“Dating is an activity that typically requires a person to stay in one place for an extended period of time.”

Mom’s eye twitched. “The right man would move with you for any reason. In the meantime, that’s what the internet and all those smart phone appetizers are for.”

“Applications, Mom. Apps stands for applications.”

“Regardless, as my only child, it’s your duty to give me grandchildren. A woman shouldn’t have more ex-husbands than grandbabies. It’s not natural.”

“Then quit getting remarried.”

“Meredith Cordelia Silver, hush your tongue.”

Merry burrowed her hands into her jacket pockets. She could feel her phone in her jeans. Overall, Bliss seemed to be a proverbial safe Midwestern town, but she knew firsthand that nowhere was safe.

Daddy had taught her that well. Daddy and karma.

A presence at her back made her jump.

Patrick the winker winked a slow wink that made his right cheek wrinklier than his left. “More hot chocolate for my favorite ladies.”

As far as husbands and prospective husbands went, Mom had done worse. Patrick was in respectable shape for a man in his sixties. His gray hair was thinning, but he didn’t drink or smoke to excess. He’d made a fortune by patenting a special type of shoe leather used in military boots, and as such, his shoes always matched. Which couldn’t be said for all of Mom’s ex-husbands. The rich part, yes. The matching part, no.

“Thank you, Patrick,” Merry said.

Mom took her hot chocolate and planted a smacker on his lips.

If Phoebe Moon had had to watch her poor mother kiss a man on the lips, she might have considered suggesting occasionally-heroic-in-his-own-way Uncle Sandy break said man’s kneecaps.

But lucky for Phoebe Moon, she was an orphan.

A rumble grew in the crowd.

Merry did a quick sweep, checking her surroundings, subconsciously registering hiding spots, easy marks, and shadows before she let her attention turn to the stage.

“But what do we have here?” Santa said. “Oh, ho, ho, ho! It appears my elf has found a naughty boy.”

A massive elf in red-and-white-striped tights, jingle-bell elf shoes, a green tunic, and a floppy elf hat—complete with fake ears—dragged a handsome, well-dressed blond man onto the stage.

But it wasn’t the man in black slacks and a wool coat that made Merry’s heart twist and her breath flee her lungs in a puff of white mist.

It was the elf.

The thick dark hair beneath his crooked felt hat.

His muscled legs.

His shoulders, broader than Santa’s.

Memories swirled thicker than the snowflakes. His hands on her body. His laugh. His sleepy bedroom eyes.

Her favorite memories.

Experiences she’d never have again with a man she never should’ve dated.

“Someone’s been very naughty, Santa,” Max Gregory said.

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