Want a sneak peek at Chapter 1 of Marrying Grace? Then, keep reading…

Chapter 1


December 23

The scent of Christmas holidays filled the air as Grace Parson exited the elevator and entered The Athenian’s opulent lobby. She practically skipped across the open space with excitement.

Looking out the large glass doors, Grace knew the brilliant blue sky was deceiving. She pulled a white knit I’m the Bride stocking cap a little lower over her ears in anticipation of the frigid temperature. She was about to open the door when the scent of coffee from Harmony Brews lured her like a siren across the lobby.

“Good morning, Melody.” She gave a little wave to the woman behind the counter.

Grace had met Melody shortly after moving into The Athenian when she’d happily realized the building had a coffee shop right in the lobby, along with a bookstore, a wine bar, and a spa. She loved not having to go outside to meet most of her needs.

“Morning, Grace.” Melody smiled. “Just two more days, right?”

Grace smiled and nodded, her whole body aflutter with anticipation.

Just two more days, and she would be Mrs. Carl Montgomery. She could hardly wait.

She placed an order for six coffees. Since she was making her friends and soon-to-be mother-in-law wait, she decided should treat them to coffee. And, in her humble opinion, Melody made the best coffee in Nashville.

Grace found a seat at the only available table to wait for her order. She looked around the small café and smiled. She would never have thought she could feel at home in this beautiful building, but most of the faces were familiar.

A gentleman from the sixth floor scowled, looking for an empty table.

“Mr. Titan,” she called to him. “I’m happy to share.” She gestured to the empty seat opposite her.

He looked around again then came closer. “I prefer not to share a table,” he said, his voice clipped.

“I’m leaving as soon as my coffee is ready, and it can be all yours.” Grace was used to his acerbic tone and didn’t take it personally.

“Very well.” He sighed heavily before reluctantly sitting in the chair across from her. He set a notebook and pen on the table in front of him.

“So how’s the new book coming?”

Xavier Titan was a best-selling author of thrillers. Grace had read part of one of his books but couldn’t finish—it had scared the bejeezus out of her. She didn’t share that bit of information with Mr. Titan, though.

His head popped up, almost like he’d forgotten she was there. “My characters aren’t cooperating,” he grumbled.

Grace didn’t know how to respond and was grateful when Melody called her name. She stood and looked down at him. “Um…good luck with that.”

He was so absorbed in his notebook, he didn’t hear. Or, more than likely, he didn’t feel a response was necessary.

Within minutes, Grace was heading back through the lobby, her hands filled with a tray of steaming coffees. Brian, the doorman, pulled the large glass door open for her. At the same moment, though, a woman with an armful of packages started to lean on it from the outside. At the sudden opening of the door, she fell right into Brian’s burly arms, and her packages scattered across the marble floor.

“S-sorry, ma’am,” Brian stammered, helping her to regain her balance. “Are you okay?”

“Krisi, my goodness.” Grace rushed over.

Upright again, Krisi put a gloved hand on Brian’s cheek. “Thank you, kind sir. You’re an absolute prince.” She turned to Grace with a big smile. “I didn’t think I’d get to see you before your wedding. One of these is for you and Carl.” She waved her arm at the gifts scattered across the floor.

Grace grinned at Brian’s flushed cheeks and Krisi’s exuberance. Setting the coffees on a small table, she helped pick up the scattered packages.

“Here it is.” Krisi handed her a beautifully wrapped silver package. “Have a wonderful wedding and a very merry Christmas.”

“Thank you and Merry Christmas to you as well.” After a quick hug, Grace picked up the tray of coffee and, finally, headed out the door.

The wind blew Grace’s shoulder-length dark blonde hair across her face as she walked past Jillian, her soon-to-be sister-in-law, who was staring into the back of the vehicle. After setting the coffees on the seat of the SUV, she walked around to the back to see how the packing was going. Absentmindedly, she twirled her engagement ring and bounced on the balls of her feet before looping her arm through Jillian’s and snuggling against her. Then, giving the beautiful heart-cut diamond one last glance, Grace pulled gloves out of her pocket and covered her chilly fingers.

They stood on the bustling sidewalk, in front of the imposing facade of The Athenian, the luxury apartment building Grace and her best friend Breena called home. The Athenian—a nod to Nashville’s nickname, Athens of the South—stood tall, a sentry among the high-rises of downtown Nashville, only a couple of blocks from the Cumberland River. The building exuded comfort and elegance with its sleek, dark glass windows and light-colored stone.

Growing up in a solidly middle class home in Orlando had not prepared Grace for the luxurious penthouse she’d inherited from her mother, the legendary Marilyn Parson. Grace had always considered herself a fairly simple person. She’d never needed a lot of stuff to enjoy life, and money was never a huge motivator for her. She would much rather have her mother back than the huge inheritance.

It had taken time for Grace to get used to the opulence of The Athenian. While the pain of her loss lingered, living in an apartment filled with the warmth of her mother’s style and humor had helped sooth her tender heart and offered Grace comfort. But now she was going to say goodbye to it.

Her upcoming move to Carl’s tranquil log cabin on the edge of the Whiskey Creek Nature Preserve stirred excitement. She couldn’t wait to be his wife, but preparing to part ways with this apartment that held so much of her mother’s presence was bittersweet.

This morning, the late December light cast The Athenian in a festive glow. The skeletal branches of trees lining the sidewalk in front of the building sparkled with twinkling white lights, creating a magical feel. Enormous wreaths, crafted from fragrant fir tree branches mingled with rosemary and bright holly berries, decorated the building doors, and the damp air, infused with holiday scents, held the promise of celebration. And snow.

As Grace prepared for the next chapter in her life, she felt her mother’s presence. The memories were a tapestry woven from a life of laughter, a journey of growth, and a beautiful example of a life well-lived.

Jillian brought Grace back to the present. “In my expert opinion, there’s definitely no space for anything more in this vehicle.”

Breena O’Malley, Grace’s best friend since grade school, stepped up beside them, her red hair tucked under a dark green beanie. She looped her arm through Grace’s other arm and stood with them, staring into the back of the vehicle. “Holy moly, that baby is stuffed to the brim. Are you sure we’re going to fit?”

Mrs. Montgomery, Carl and Jillian’s stepmother, laughed when she came to the back of the car. She set down another armload of decorations and swiped an ineffective hand through her messy hair. With no hat, the wind batted her short, light blonde hair all about. She looked like she could be Grace’s mother, with her long lean body and light hair. Jillian sported a dark auburn bob and stood about six inches shorter than Grace.

“Just barely,” Mrs. Montgomery answered Breena. “Although, whoever’s in the back won’t have much leg room, that’s for sure.”

“Grace,” Jillian said. “Since you have the longest legs and you’re the bride, you should sit up front. Breena and I will squish our short selves into the back.”

Grace grinned at Jillian. The wedding was taking place at Grace’s mountain cabin, Hope’s House, on Christmas morning. She, Mrs. Montgomery, and the rest of the women were heading up early to decorate the house. In lieu of a bachelorette party, Grace had wanted time with her friends.

The last of their crew, Kelly Foster and Laci Love, pulled up in Kelly’s white Toyota and parked behind Mrs. Montgomery’s vehicle. Kelly was the newest member of their group. She worked for Breena’s fiancé, Gabriel van Neugh, and had been Laci’s tour manager.

Grace studied her friends as they walked to the SUV. Laci, a few inches shorter than Grace’s five-foot-ten, was curvy, and her honey-blonde hair was long and wavy. Today, she wore jeans, cowboy boots, and a leather bomber jacket over a bright red sweater.

At about five-foot-three with a slender build, Kelly was more petite than the rest of them. She was dressed in dark brown corduroy pants, practical leather work boots, an off-white sweater, and an orange puffy jacket.

“We have the bridesmaid dresses,” Kelly announced as she walked toward the group, her long dark braids flapping in the wind. “And your bridal gown, Grace, so you may now, officially, get married.”

Grace chuckled. “I think we’ll need to work on you two next.” She hugged Laci and Kelly.

“Oh no,” Kelly said quickly.

Laci looked at her and grinned. “But what about Grant? You two were making eyes at each other all through the tour.”

Kelly’s cheeks colored. “We barely spoke with each other. Besides, I’m not interested in making another bad choice. I’m ready to be single for a while.”

She shook her head and looked into the back of the SUV, overfull with Christmas decorations, food for several days, and of course, their personal luggage. With eyes wide and mouths agape, Laci and Kelly looked at Grace.

“There’s no chance of fitting anything else in there,” Laci commented.

Kelly looked back at her car. “I’ll tell you what—I can come up behind you with the dresses, the cake, and anything else you might have forgotten. Half my car is empty, so there’s plenty of space for more.”

Grace looked at Kelly with mixed emotions, relieved to have a solution but concerned about Kelly driving to the mountain house alone. “Are you sure you want to drive separately?”

“Yeah, no problem. You all go ahead. I’ll only be a couple of hours behind you. Let me know if there’s anything else you need me to grab, just call or text. I have a few things to handle this morning anyway.”

With the space problem solved, they shuffled a few of the things around between Mrs. Montgomery’s vehicle and Kelly’s trunk.

Grace hugged Kelly. “Okay, don’t wait too long to leave. I don’t want to worry about you driving in the mountains at night.”

Kelly grinned at her. “You don’t have to worry about that. I don’t want to be driving at night. The turnoff for your house always confuses me, even during the day.”

The women, excluding Kelly, piled into the SUV. Mrs. Montgomery tapped the horn as she pulled out, and they were on their way.

“I wonder what Kelly has to do today? I wish she were coming up now versus later.” Laci watched Kelly’s white car pull out behind them before turning the opposite direction.

“Yeah. Curious she has something to deal with on December twenty-third,” Jillian said.

Twenty minutes later, they pulled off the interstate and onto the state road that would take them to Hope’s House in the mountains.

“Woo-hoo!” Breena crowed. “We’re on our way to Grace’s wedding!”

Grace raised her hands over her head. “Woo-hoo!”

Mrs. Montgomery glanced over at her and smiled. “In just two days, I’ll have another daughter.”


While the route to Grace’s cabin was beautiful, the slushy roads made the going slow, and the drive took just over an hour. The trees lining both sides of the road were frosted with snow and looked like a Christmas card. Grace smiled at a cardinal sitting on a snow-covered branch as they drove past.

After hauling in almost everything from the SUV, the exhausted women sat in the upstairs living room of Hope’s House, where the large windows looked out on snowy mountain. The Christmas decorations were in a pile in the library downstairs, awaiting a Christmas tree. The plan was to go out for one after the men arrived the next day. Grace was looking forward to trimming the tree with her friends and family.

The house sat in a cleared space surrounded by trees. The dark green conifers stood out amid bare branches. Snow sparkled through the trees, where the sun caught it, giving the forest a serene, almost magical, appearance.

But dark clouds were beginning to fill the sky, and Grace was happy to be inside, looking out.

Everyone would contribute to the big Christmas/wedding dinner in a couple of days. Mrs. Montgomery was cooking a ham, a sweet potato casserole that was Carl’s favorite, and a rice salad—one of Grace’s favorites—while Mr. Montgomery would bake his famous dinner rolls. Jillian and her fiancé, Jackson, were making an appetizer they’d learned in Italy. Breena and Gabriel were bringing a chocolate pecan pie that had been one of Grace’s mother’s favorites. All in all, they were set for a delicious feast after the wedding.

“Okay, tonight is lasagna,” Breena said as she hauled herself up from the couch. “Fortunately, I have everything prepped and it just needs to go in the oven.”

“Do you need any help, Breena?” Mrs. Montgomery asked.

“No but thank you. It won’t take long. Laci’s going to throw together a salad, and I’ll get the garlic bread ready while the oven preheats.”

Mrs. Montgomery looked at Grace. “Well, in that case, why don’t you show me around this beautiful house, Grace?”

Grace pulled herself up from the comfortable couch. “I’d be happy to. Carl has done so much in the last few months. It’s even better than I envisioned.”

Jillian tagged along with Grace and her mom on the tour.

“Let’s start upstairs.” Grace suggested.

They walked up the staircase to a spacious landing. The walls were pale green with sand-colored Berber carpet. To the right were three bedrooms, and to the left, two more.

“Hope’s House is set up to shelter abused women who need a place to heal and find themselves again,” Grace said as they walked down the hall and poked their heads into the bedrooms. “Some of the rooms are set up for women with children and some for single women. Each room has been decorated to give comfort.” They walked through some of the rooms, then headed back to the stairs.

“These are beautiful, Grace,” Mrs. Montgomery commented.

Grace smiled, thinking of the hours she and Carl had put into the house. While he worked mostly on the bottom level, she set up and decorated the common spaces and bedrooms, hoping to make them safe, comfortable spaces for the women who would one day stay here.

She led them to the bottom floor, then walked them through the space Carl had spent most of his time. With Breena’s help, he’d created two exam rooms.

“Y’all have accomplished so much since I was here a few months ago,” Mrs. Montgomery said.

Grace nodded. “Carl and Breena finished up these rooms just last week, and Jillian has been getting the security we need in place. I’m so grateful to have such talented friends.”

“I can’t believe I get to work here.” Jillian smiled at Grace then turned to her mom. “Jackson and I are moving to one of the on-property cabins next month.”

Jillian, a former police officer, had accepted Grace’s offer to be head of security. She’d recently become engaged to Jackson Starr—Breena’s fiancé’s business partner—and Grace was thrilled both of her best friends would be on property, working with her and helping her run Hope’s House.

“This is my office.” Jillian opened the door at the end of the hall. It was a small room with three pale blue walls, the fourth covered with monitors. She’d framed and hung pictures from her and Jackson’s recent trip to Italy. The room was cozy without being cramped, and functional without being sterile.

“Oh, I love that picture, Jilly.” Grace pointed to one of the sunsetting on the Grand Canal. The buildings along the dark water shimmered in fading sunlight, the water reflecting shades of red, yellow, and orange from the sun and buildings. It was a stunning photo.

Jillian grinned. “That’s my favorite too. Jackson took me on a gondola ride at sunset. It was magical.”

Mrs. Montgomery gave a low whistle as she looked around the room. “Wow. I’m so proud of you, Jilly. This is a wonderful mission. You ladies are going to make such a difference for so many women.”

Grace nodded. “I’m grateful Jillian accepted my offer. She’s set up a top-notch security system. The women who come here won’t have to worry about safety. Which, I suppose, is the whole point.” She grinned and rubbed Jillian’s back.

They strolled back down the hallway, new sconces Carl had added just last week lighting the polished wooden floors. The last room was Grace’s favorite—the library. Her eyes swept the room; it felt familiar, like a friend. She wanted the space to be a comfortable and welcoming refuge for her guests. Shelves, standing tall along two walls, held books old and new. The scent of aged paper, leather, along with that new-book smell greeted them as they stepped into the room. She could almost hear the rustling of pages and the murmur of voices that were to come.

Her gaze turned to the back wall, where a breathtaking view unfolded in front of them. The entire wall held large windows, framing the spectacular mountains. Rich, mustard yellow curtains, swaying gently in the breeze of the heating vent, served as protector of the books and added to the warm atmosphere of the room. Her favorite spot was the fireplace with its cozy chairs, the perfect place to sit and read.

In her mind’s eye, she pictured a crackling fire in the hearth, young minds lost in books. A mother rocking her baby, a lullaby murmured. To Grace, this was more than just a room, more than just a library. It was a place of hope and healing, of dreams and desires.

“I think this is my favorite room,” Mrs. Montgomery said.

“Mine too,” Grace agreed. “That’s why I want to get married in here. Can’t you just picture a tree in front of the windows, a fire roaring in the fireplace, stockings hung on the mantel, Carl looking dashing in his tuxedo, and me in my dress?”

Mrs. Montgomery put an arm around Grace’s waist. “I’m so happy you and Carl found each other. You are a wonderful addition to our family.”

Grace smiled back, but she couldn’t get any words past the lump in her throat. She’d definitely won the lottery when it came to in-laws. Both Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery were wonderful people, and she loved being part of their tight-knit family. She knew her mother would be thrilled with this marriage. She and Carl had been friends long before Grace met him. That her mother wouldn’t be at their wedding made this weekend all the more bittersweet.

She discreetly wiped a tear from her cheek, and Mrs. Montgomery squeezed her a little tighter. “Your mother would be so proud of you, Grace. I’m sure this is hard, not having her here.”

Grace leaned her head on Mrs. Montgomery’s shoulder as her feelings roiled through her body. She’d never before understood how people could be extremely happy and sad at the same time. But now she knew; she was living it.

Laci and Breena came down the stairs and joined them in the library.

“Dinner will be ready in about an hour,” Breena said.

“Let’s find and put up the stockings.” Jillian grinned. “That’ll make it feel like Christmas, even before the tree is up.”

Grateful for the diversion, Grace looked through the boxes until she found the one labeled stockings. Opening it, she found the multicolored stack. Knowing the stockings were bound to be heavy when they were filled, they’d tucked a hammer and a small box of nails into the box.

Grace watched as Jillian measured the mantel, figuring out where to put the nails, then she smiled, thinking of all the Christmases they would celebrate here in this room. She pulled out the stockings they’d made one-day last month. Mrs. Montgomery had the material, and they were each able to create the look they wanted. Grace had chosen bright pink and accessorized it with white fringe. Her name was spelled out in sparkling silver. It was a nod to her mother’s fun style. Carl had made his out of denim material with a pocket on the front with his name spelled out.

“Grace.” Mrs. Montgomery handed her the pink stocking. “You’re in the middle, honey. Then Carl’s will be next to yours, on the right. We can put boys on one side and girls on the other.”

Mrs. Montgomery laid out the stockings while the others hung them up. The final order was Kelly, Laci, Jillian, Mrs. Montgomery, Breena, and Grace. Then Carl, Gabriel, Mr. Montgomery, and Jackson.

Grace held up two unnamed stockings. “We have extras?”

“Oh, we always hang an extra stocking in case someone shows up,” Jillian said matter-of-factly.

“And does someone regularly show up?” Grace couldn’t imagine uninvited guests at Christmas.

Mrs. Montgomery smiled. “There’s almost always someone who has nowhere to go for Christmas. We’re always happy to welcome them. Of course, I don’t imagine we’ll get anyone way out here.”

“But it is a tradition.” Jillian took the two stockings and hung them next to Jackson’s.

“And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care,” Laci quipped.

“Let’s go ahead and slide in the gifts we brought. That way we don’t have to remember later,” Breena said.

They all dashed up the stairs to where they’d stashed their gifts, then hurried back down, eager to fill the stockings. Mrs. Montgomery had instructed everyone to buy one present for everyone else, plus two extra gifts. Grace had wondered what the extra gifts were for, and now she knew.

She was excited about the gifts she’d found, and she started by tucking a gourmet hot sauce set into Carl’s stocking—for grill nights. For Kelly, she had a cooling gel eye mask; in Breena’s, she put a pair of fleece-lined knit slippers because her feet were always cold. She’d found a beautiful set of agate coasters that would look great in Mrs. Montgomery’s living room, and for Mr. Montgomery, she had a fun apron she knew he’d enjoy wearing while working on new creations. In Laci’s stocking, she put a set of travel-friendly perfumes. For Jackson and Jillian, she’d bought knit caps with LED lights for their early morning runs, and in Gabriel’s stocking, she put a pound of her favorite coffee. She tucked a set of Christmas bath bombs in one of the bonus stockings and a trio of Tessa Star CDs in the other.

She found the tradition of hanging an extra stocking fascinating and wondered if anyone would show up to claim either of them.

It started snowing just as they finished filling the stockings.