To Love and to Cherish

By: Lauren Layne

For Kristi. Because . . . Logan.





Prologue



Eight Years Earlier

WHAT CAN I GET you, miss?”

Alexis settled at the barstool, unwinding the scarf from around her neck and placing it on top of her warm puffy coat before smiling at the bartender. “Pinot grigio?”

“You got it. Which one? We’ve got two by the glass.”

“Um . . .” She glanced down at the menu, scanning for the wine list. “I had one the other day . . . I think it was four dollars?”

“Ah, yup. That’s our happy-hour white. I can still give it to you, but it’ll be eight fifty now as it’s past seven.”

“Oh,” Alexis said, trying to hide the stab of dismay. “That’s fine.”

She’d just have to drink it slow, make it last.

“Food menu?”

“Yes, please,” she said. “You mind if I work on my laptop here at the bar?”

The bartender shrugged, her blue eyes completely disinterested. “Fine by me. Tuesdays in January are slow. You could pretty much sleep here, and nobody would notice or care.”

A few days ago, the offer might have been somewhat tempting, but as of yesterday morning, Alexis was officially a New York resident.

Well, sort of. Did subletting count? She’d signed a three-month sublease on a two-bedroom place in Harlem with a sweet, if slightly ditzy, roommate named Mary.

It wasn’t quite where she wanted to be, but it beat the cheap hotels she’d been staying at before now, at least budget-wise. Enough so that she was fully intending to eat something with protein in it tonight.

She flipped open the menu and winced as she saw the price of a cheeseburger. Or not.

Even hole-in-the-wall pubs were pricey in Manhattan. Alexis thought she’d been prepared, but she was running through her allotted spending money a hell of a lot faster than she’d expected. Especially considering she hadn’t made any traction on a potential investor in her business idea: an elite, full-service wedding-planning agency.

Alexis glanced at the bartender, hoping she wasn’t too late to cancel her wine order, but the bored-looking redhead had already poured her wine and was heading her way.

At least the glass was filled to the brim. Alexis must have looked like she’d needed it. Still, she’d have to offset the wine price with the cheapest food item. Again. Just a few months ago, she wouldn’t have thought it possible to be sick of French fries, but she’d passed that point about a week ago.

“You know what you want to eat, or need a few?” the bartender asked.

“Still deciding.”

“No prob.” Her attention was on her phone. “Just holler when you’re ready.”

The bartender wandered away, still typing on her phone, and Alexis opened up her laptop and pulled out the ever-present file folder where she kept a printed copy of the most recent proposal.

Generally speaking, the electronic version of her business plan was more practical, but you never knew when someone who mattered was going to ask you for more information, and she wanted to be ready.

Alexis was always ready.

Her stomach rumbled in hunger, and hard as she tried to ignore it, it wasn’t the first time a tiny part of her wished that she’d taken her father up on his offer of a loan. Then her company would be a reality instead of a dream, and maybe she’d be able to eat something other than cereal and ramen.

But though she had a reasonably good relationship with her sometimes-cold father, his stipulations had just been too much.

For starters, the loan came with a location requirement. Stay in Boston.

That wasn’t the dream. New York was the dream.

The other stipulation had been even harder to swallow.

You could hire your sister, you know . . .

Yeah, no.

She didn’t want to hire her sister. She loved Roxanne, but her sister wasn’t the type of person she was looking to bring on to help get this business off the ground. Alexis needed someone with drive and business acumen. Roxie, while smart and savvy, was easily bored when it came to her career choices. Alexis needed someone who’d be in it for the long haul.

Plus, there was the bigger elephant in the room—it was just too damn hard to be around her sister right now.

The wound would heal, eventually. Alexis knew that. It was just a little too fresh, and Boston was just a little too painful.