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Best Laid Plans

Beejay Milliston has a fail-safe plan for acquiring the perfect husband and there's no place in it for love. Every clear minded person knows that love turns sensible people into muddle-headed starry eyed idiots. She refuses to be among their number.

What she doesn't plan for are her own run-amok hormones, broken water pipes, a useless Home Owner's association, appendicitis, and a deliciously handsome bachelor with a plan of his own and five orphaned nieces and nephews to provide for.

An Awe-Struck Release


Isabel L Martens

A widow and mother of five children, Isabel currently lives in Marietta, GA with her son's family and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Eve who is in charge of all of them. Isabel always loved to read, and writing her own stories just naturally followed. She wrote her first horse story at the age of fourteen and hasn't stopped since. When Isabelís not writing or reading, she visits her widely scattered children and their families. Awe-Struck has published Ms. Martensís contemporary romance, Johanna. Clementine, a Regency romance, is her second novel published by Awe-Struck.

Reviews

ďFeaturing characters who learn a lot about themselves and each other as they grow closer, this was a fun story full of the unexpected.Ē

Long and Short Reviews

Excerpt

Beautiful, intelligent, IRS auditor, Barbara Jean "Beejay" Milliston has exactly the life she wants. She owns her own home on the right side of town, has a Homeowner's Association to make home ownership trouble free, and has a guaranteed-to-retirement job with the Federal Government. She has attained this enviable status through careful planning. Plans keep her life neat, tidy and predictable.

Her most current plan is, without a doubt, the most important plan of her life, an eighteen page questionnaire that will net her the perfect husband and ideal father. Unlike her previous plans which she could execute on her own, this one requires outside help. For that assistance she turns to her best friend, Karen Fanning. A romantic to her core, Karen is not going to approve of the absence of love in Beejay's master plan. Thus the luncheon at Carolina's Tearoom where Beejay hopes the elegant ambience will dilute Karen's disapproval.

Beejay arrives on time. Karen does not. She rarely arrives anywhere on time. Confusion and chaos rule supreme in the Fanning household. Beejay signals the waiter and orders salads for both of them. A moment later Karen bolts off the elevator, strawberry curls flying. Spying Beejay, she bounces into the air and waves. The maitre dí cringes and Beejay shudders. Karen darts between the tables with the agility of a gazelle, oblivious to the censoring frowns and muttered reproaches cast her way. Beejay gets to her feet in time to be enveloped in a crushing hug.

"Beej, darling!" Karen bubbles. "It is sooo good to see you. I know! Iím late! I got hung up in traffic." She gives Beejay a kiss on the cheek and slides into a chair. "You're looking absolutely gorgeous. Of course, you always do. How can you look anything but gorgeous with those bones?" People pause with forks halfway to their mouths, captured by the ringing clarity of Karen's voice ricocheting around the room.

"Karen, please," Beejay pleads in embarrassment.

Karen pays no attention. "Itís your fault I'm so excited," she babbles on. "If I saw you more often I wouldnít be so overcome with joy at the sight of you. You could come by the house, of course, but you won't, will you?" She doesn't give Beejay an opportunity to answer. "Oh, well, there's no cure for that. So, it's been ages, three months at least."

The warmth of Karen's smile and the firmness of her hug has banished both Beejay's irritation and her embarrassment. She has never been able to stay upset with Karen. , but she is not blind to the obvious. Karen has on white slacks and a pink and white stripped maternity smock.

"You're pregnant! Again!"

Beejay sank back in her chair. "I do not understand how you can continue to do this."

"It's not rocket science, Beej. First you get a husband, and then youó"

"Oh, for heavens sake," Beejay interrupted. "I'm not stupid. I just don't understand how you can keep adding children to your family when your financesÖwell, never mind. It's really none of my business."

"True," Karen agreed without rancor. The waiter set a plate heaped with salad greens in front of her. She grimaced. "Twiggs and sprouts? I had my heart set on something sinfully sweet, not horse fodder drenched in fat-free, flavor-free dressing."

Beejay's smile is sanctimonious. "Get here on time and you may order whatever you wish." She spread her napkin over her lap, enjoying the smoothness of the ironed linen slipping between her fingers. "Eat," she urged, picking up her own fork. "You know Iím on my lunch hour and my time is limited."

The maitre dí passed by, a couple in tow.

"Pattonís posture should be so good," Karen snickered.

Beejay smothered her own laughter. "You are terrible."

"You love me for it."

"I do," Beejay admitted. She treasured Karen's ability to provide her with glimpses of a warmer, funnier world than she sees on her own. She treasures their friendship and hopes that today wouldn't put it to the test.

"Wouldnít you hate to be married to a stuffed shirt like that?" Karen asked as she thrust her fork into the pile of greenery on her plate.

Beejay pinned a bright smile on her face and plunged. "Speaking of marriage, Iím planning to."

Karen choked on a lettuce leaf. "Excuse me?" she squeaked, face red, eyes streaming.

"Iím going to get married."

Karen sucked in a wheezing breath and managed to dislodge the piece of lettuce glued to her vocal cords. "How? And who? You donít even date." Her eyes narrowed. "More important, why? Youíve always considered marriage one of lifeís great mistakes."

"I do not disapprove of marriage per se," Beejay countered.

"Oh, really?" Karen sat back, blue eyes round as an owl's and full of mock innocence.

Beejay cringed. Karen was in full attack mode.

"Then it was just my marriage you disapproved of?" Karen asked in a light, sugary voice.

"You threw away a promising career," Beejay explained earnestly. "I mean, really, how many fine arts majors find anything to do with their degrees?"

"I was in love."

"Right!" Beejay pounced gleefully into the opening Karen provided. "And people in love do not make good choices. They areÖ" She started to say idiots, but the cautionary gleam in Karenís eyes convinced her that would be unwise. "Blinded by romance," she said instead.

"I was not blind," Karen said.

"Blind and pregnant," Beejay maintained. "You must have slept with him on your first date."

"Second." Karen's expression turned dreamy. "If visions of Sister Theo hadn't haunted me he could have had me right there in the gallery the very first night." Karen heaved a dramatic sigh. "I looked across the room, our eyes met, and we knew. Jordan said he felt the same way. We were destined."

"Oh, please," Beejay moaned. "Enough babbling about destiny and true love. What you and Jordan felt was lust, pure and simple. Raging hormones. And all beside the point, because I don't want to talk about your marriage, I want to talk about mine."

"You're joking, right?" Karen asked around a mouthful of mushrooms, endive, and something crisp and purple. "You can't be serious."

"I am very serious."

"How?" Karen asked. "Do you have a man I don't know about stashed on the side?"

"No. I have a plan."

Karen rolled her eyes. "Heaven help us."

Beejay sighed. "Will you at least hear me out before you start disapproving?"

Karen propped her chin on her hands. "Fair enough. I will hear you out and then I will disapprove." She flashed a smile of happy anticipation.

Beejay hurriedly explained the plan, giving Karen no opportunity to interrupt. Karen listened, at first politely and then with such rapt attention that the sound of her fork skidding across her empty plate startled them both. She regarded her plate with an element of horror. "Good heavens, I ate it all."

"And wasnít it excellent?" Beejay asked brightly.

"I donít know. I didnít taste it." Karen set down her fork.

"So, what do you think?"

"What I think is that no one should eat something they didn't taste," Karen replied.

"Oh, for heavens sake, I'm talking about my plan, not your food."

Karen rested her elbows on the table and offered up a truly chilling smile. "Let's see if Iíve got this right. You've decided to get married and youíve composed a questionnaire that's supposed to determine if your prospective dates have the right stuffó"

"Correct qualifications."

"Whatever. All stuff they have to be before you'll even go out with them."

"Exactly," Beejay said, pleased Karen understood so well. "I only have a year, so I can't waste time dating men that don't qualify."

"Lord no!" Karen threw her hands up in the air. "Let's not waste time on the unqualified for pity's sake." She leaned across the table, her voice rising with every word. "Have you lost your flipping mind? You do not make up a spec list for a husband! You meet someone, fall in love and then you get married." She heaved a sigh of disgust. "For an intelligent person, you can sometimes be truly dumb."

"Love will not enter into the equation," Beejay said with equal vigor.

"Love is the main ingredient," Karen retorted, louder still. "Itís the lynch-pin that keeps a marriage together."

"Wrong! Good planning is the lynch-pin."

"Beej, you do not plot marriage likeÖlike you were building a boat!"

Beejay sat back, arms crossed, and smiled smugly. "Are you implying that building a boat is a more significant undertaking than a marriage?"

Karen sputtered incoherently.

Beejay beamed. "Trapped by logic, aren't you? You canít refute me, can you? You know perfectly well that marriage is much too serious a matter to approach in anything but the most rational manner. People who fall willy-nilly in love and get married are invariably ill equipped for the task. The ones who donít end up in divorce court fighting over property, children, and money stay together and fight over property, children, and money. In addition, they are miserable and they raise thoroughly miserable children. I will not be one of those statistics. I will not end up divorced and I will not raise miserable children. I will marry a man with perfect qualifications and we will live happily ever after. I insist on it."

"You insist?" Karen echoed. She buried her face in her hands and groaned.

Ignoring Karen's histrionics, Beejay hurried on. "It is absolutely insane to contemplate marriage while blinded by a fog of romantic passion. The decision to marry should be made calmly, logically, and in the clear light of day. The questionnaire will accomplish that. Romance may be well and good for you, but it is not for me. My marriage will join two clear-thinking adults who'll proceed in a business-like manner."

"God help us," Karen muttered. Then she forced a smile. "Knowing that you on a mission is as unstoppable as a mile-high tsunami, and also knowing that I'm going to hate myself in the morning, I now ask how I figure in the scheme of things? I know I figure. Otherwise you wouldn't have gone to all this trouble explaining. I'm sure I'll hate it, but lay it on me, old friend. I'm dying of curiosity."

Ignoring Karen's sarcasm, Beejay handed her the questionnaire.

Karen riffled through the pages. "I can't believe you want children," she said, blue eyes reflecting her surprise.

"I do. A boy and a girl. Having been an only child, I don't recommend it. My spouse will have to take care of them, of course, because, as you know, I have no maternal instincts," Beejay stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice,

Karen's expression softened. "Oh, Beej, that's not true. Youíll be a great mom. You have a tender heart and the greatest capacity for loving of anyone I know."

"You couldn't be more wrong," Beejay said, shaking her head. "Parenting is an acquired skill. Ask any zoologist. Primates reared in isolation and denied mothering walk off from their newborns without a backward glance. Females who had poor mothers are poor mothers. Abusive parents raise children who abuse. You think itís easy because your parents were so good at it. I didn't have that advantage. No, Karen, I will be a terrible mother."

"Then why do you want to have children?" Karen asked, puzzled.

Beejay squirmed in her seat. "I need them."

"Need them," Karen echoed.

Beejay studied the far wall as she searched for some logical way to explain the illogical.

Karen leaned across the table toward her. "Speak to me Beejay, because Iím not saying yea or nay to this brainstorm of yours until I know what your motives are."

Beejay toyed with her silver, lining her utensils up side-by-side. She moved her water glass forward then back, swept breadcrumbs into a tidy heap and piled them next to her butter plate.

Karen reached across the table and covered her hands, stilling them. "Stop it," she ordered gently. "Talk to me."

"Oh, dear," Beejay sighed. "Do I have to?"

Karen nodded.

Unable to meet Karen's gaze, Beejay studied the tablecloth. "My biological clock has gone off."

Karen gave a soft sympathy laden, "Ah."

"I'd always thought it was a myth," Beejay continued earnestly. "But it isn't. It's very real and totally compelling. I look at pregnant women with envy, sigh over poppets in gingham sun suits and find myself wandering through the park seeking out the playgrounds just so I can sit and watch the children. I've tried everything to turn it off. Nothing's worked not even logic. I'm awash in hormones. Tearful one moment and angry the next." Beejay heaved a shaky sigh. "I finally realized that the only solution was to have children of my own. Naturally, that means being married." Sudden tears stung her eyes. "I can't go on like this forever. I weep every time I see an expectant mother. I want to pick up the babies I see in the park and hug them. It's absolutely awful. I even forgive you for adding to your already large family."

"That's kind of you," Karen managed with only a slight tinge of sarcasm.

"Iíll soon be thirty-four. Child bearing after your thirties is risky, especially if itís a first child." Beejay frowned. "I don't understand it, but if you start out at twenty you can have a baby every couple of years until you're fifty without much trouble."

"I think that's a slight exaggeration, but I'll agree that elderly first timers are generally considered high risk," Karen said, tongue in cheek.

"It isn't a joke, Karen. Not to me anyway." Beejay twisted her hands in her lap, folded and refolded her crushed napkin.

Karen shook her head. "You really seriously want to have children? Unbelievable after all the times youíve treated my babies like pond scum."

"I have never treated your children pond scum," Beejay protested. "What a horrid thing to say. It's just that they're usually so sticky, and dirty, and their nosesÖ" She broke off with a shudder.

"Pond scum," Karen repeated.

"Pond scum," Beejay echoed unhappily.

Karen sat back, satisfaction glowing in her eyes. Beejay could say nothing in her own defense. She had treated Karen's children poorly. She ignored them as much as possible substituting lavish gifts for personal attention, a ploy that had obviously fooled no one.

"I hope you realize that your kids won't be any different that anyone else's," Karen said. "They all have runny noses, sticky fingers and temper tantrums. It's called growing up."

Beejay could offer no rebuttal. She suspected Karen was right. "Their father will handle all that," she said hopefully.

Karen sighed. "I don't approve of this plan."

"I doubted you would," Beejay said, not at all offended. Actually, she'd have been surprised if Karen had embraced her idea. Such planning violated all of Karen's romantic ideals. "I'm not asking you to leap into the air and click your heels with glee. I'm simply asking for your help."

Karen considered that for a moment. "Okay, just for the sake of argument, let's say I agree to get involved. What kind of help are we talking about?"

"You and Jordan will have to provide me with prospects."

"Blind dates?" Karen bleated.

People halfway across the room turned to stare.

"Please," Beejay begged, reducing her own voice to a hoarse whisper. "My only alternative is to advertise."

"Advertise!" Karen cried. She gripped the table with both hands and leaned forward. "You can't be serious! Jordan would throttle you if you did something that stupid and he doesn't even like you!. Ads like that attract rapists and serial killers."

"I'm very serious," Beejay countered. "And Iím counting on your help. You are my very best friend, after all."

"Iím your only friend," Karen replied.

Beejay grimaced. "How kind of you to remind me."

"Sorry if the truth hurts," Karen said without a hint of apology in her voice.

"I did try," Beejay pointed out.

During their freshmen year in college Karen had done her utmost to turn Beejay into a social butterfly.

"I know you did," Karen agreed. "We just had different objectives in mind."

Beejay had warned Karen she was a lost cause, but Karen, ever optimistic, and impressed by Beejay's natural beauty, had refused to be dissuaded.

"You aimed too high," Beejay now told her. "I knew I could never be the next campus queen. And, really, all I wanted were one or two reasonably presentable men who wouldn't mind escorting me to the couples-only functions."

"Maybe I aimed too high, but you didn't aim at all," Karen pointed out. "It should have been easy. You're so drop dead gorgeous. The guys should have been falling all over themselves to get to you."

"Their enthusiasm ended when they actually met me. I may be beautiful, but I say the wrong things, do the wrong things, and mess everything up. Face it Karen, I am socially challenged." She could discuss tax laws for hours on end without the least discomfort, but social talk eluded her.

"Big time," Karen agreed.

"Which is exactly why my plan is so necessary," Beejay insisted earnestly. "As you know, I deal very well with business associations. I'm hoping that if you set the dates up I will be able to treat them like business ventures. Are you going to help me?" If Karen refused Beejay would have no recourse except to advertise. She'd already contacted a dating service. When she'd explained about the questionnaire, the woman had hung up on her.

"And love is not a factor in this plan of yours, right?"

"No it's not," Beejay confirmed without hesitation. "All it would do is muddy the waters. Contrary to what you think; love does not make the world go around."

Karen crossed her arms over her stomach, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "This is simply rich. I can't wait to tell Jordan. He's going to howl. This is your best one ever." She laughed with unbridled mirth.

Beejay's normally unflappable temper snapped. She threw down her napkin. "I'm so glad I'll be providing entertainment for you and that warped individual you call a husband." Gathering her purse and gloves, she stood. "I see little point in continuing this discussion inasmuch as you seem to regard my dilemma as a joke." She tossed a handful of bills on the table and stalked off. "I'll advertise," she flung over her shoulder not caring that she had the undivided attention of well over half the patrons seated at the linen covered tables.

Karen scrambled after her. "Beej, don't get in a huff. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"You did not hurt my feelings," Beejay lied.

Karen caught her arm stopping her. "Dearest girl," she said gently, "you can't find a husband with a list. You need to mingle with an open mind. Let yourself fall in love."

Beejay pulled away. "I am not going to fall in love," she hissed between clenched teeth. "That's the whole point of having a plan. When people fall in love they stumble about, blinded by romantic idiocy and lust. The result of such bungling is parents like mine. I wouldn't inflict them on a half-dead dog I found on the roadside. For heavens sake, Karen, father's agent, took better care of me then my parents did. Ambrose remembered my birthday on my birthday and got Christmas presents to me before the 4th of July."

"Yes, Ambrose Sterling is a dear man." Karen regarded her with sad affection. "But aren't you ever going to forgive your parents?"

Beejay didn't dignify Karen's question with an answer. Karen, of all people, ought to understand the pain her parents had inflicted with their careless approach to parenthood. Obviously further discussion was pointless. She would carry on alone. She left the tearoom and headed for the elevator, boarding the first one that opened its doors. She would run advertisements in the newspaper, conduct her own interviews. Find a husband without Karen's assistance. She would have two children before her thirty-eighth birthday and she would do it using her plan. It was the only sensible approach. Picking out a husband willy-nilly was utterly insane. She debarked on the main floor and headed for the exit.

"Beej, wait," Karen pleaded, doing skipping steps across the main lobby in an effort to catch up.

Beejay would have preferred to keep right on walking if for no other reason then to impress on Karen that even a friendship such as theirs had its limits, but Karen was her best and only friend and destroying their friendship was unthinkable. Besides that, newspaper ads really did have the potential to attract undesirable people. Not only did she need Karenís help she wanted her help. And her moral support. Slowing her steps, she let Karen catch up.

"I didnít mean to make fun of your decision or your plan," Karen apologized. She held out her hand. "Give your stupid questionnaire back to me. Iíll talk to Jordan. See what he says."

"Donít offer if you arenít seriously going to help," Beejay cautioned. "I canít afford to have you just going through the motions."

"I'm serious," Karen pledged, hand over her heart.

Beejay sighed in relief and handed her the manila envelope.

"Are you sure this will work?" Karen asked.

Beejay's smile beamed. "Absolutely. With a plan like this, what could possibly go wrong?"

"Just about everything," Karen murmured. "Just about everything."