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Prescription For Love, book two in the Kingsley Series.
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Congratulating herself on the great success of a party she’d been planning for months, Cameron Kingsley double-checked the wine stock in the kitchen to make sure everything was holding up to the number of guests.
"You've outdone yourself again, love," her mother, Eva, murmured. Sneaking up behind her daughter to tweak the dark curls that spilled from her simple ponytail, Eva wrapped an arm around Cameron's slender waist. She pressed a small plate of hors d'oeuvres into Cameron's hand with a grin and said, "Now get out of here; you've done your duty. Your father and I are very proud of what you've done here. And we are so thankful for all the work you put into this."
"I know, Mom," Cameron said, leaning into her mother's embrace and inhaling the ever-present scent of cherry blossoms. "I was glad to do it, really. It's just nice, for a change, to be planning an anniversary party like yours. You know, instead of planning someone else's fifth wedding."
"Oh, my jaded girl." Eva's green eyes fluttered closed, and she shook her head sadly. "How can you be so disbelieving? You spend every day surrounded by people in love, people giving commitment to each other. You were raised here, with Adam and I, and I can’t think of a more genuinely happy couple than we are. How can you be so turned off to love?"
"Mom, seriously? I’m not turned off to love. I want to be in love, real love. Last month I went to a wedding I had worked, and it was fabulous. It was deeply spiritual, and everyone cried the whole time, talking about how in love the bride and groom were. They couldn’t get enough of how beautiful they were as a couple, how perfect everything was, and how lovely they would be as little old people together."
Eva looked into her daughter's face, arching an eyebrow. "And this is bad?"
"Well, no, actually. That part really was nice," Cameron smiled as triumph flashed in her mother's eyes. Time to deliver the punch line. "You know, except for the fact that the groom has been married four different times, and I planned two of his previous weddings. Not to be outdone, his blushing bride, in all her virginal innocence, has been married something like six times, I think."
"Good God!" Eva exclaimed, her mouth dropping open in surprise. "Where did she find the time? And where did all the husbands go?"
"Oh you know. Casualties of divorce court, I guess. And mark my words, mom, that's not the last time I see that couple. They were both still so angry over their past marriages, and the bride was already hateful, envious of the wives that came before her. She kept asking me, through the entire planning process, if any of the other wives had chosen this food, or that color, or this flower. It was obscene, really. And he's had so many wives; I guess soon I'll be able to just start recycling old plans."
"That sounds lovely dear," Eva replied dryly. "I do suppose though, it could make things a lot easier on the new brides coming in. All the planning already done by the predecessors, you know?"
"Hey, you girls, come on in here!" Cameron's father, Adam, waved from the kitchen archway. He stepped forward to kiss his wife gently on the forehead, and Cameron couldn't hold back a grin as she watched her parents together. Adam took his wife's hand and tucked it into his elbow. "Drew and Cassaundra want you to come open their gift, dear," he said.
Cameron rolled her eyes, leaving her untouched plate on the counter as she followed her parents from the kitchen. "He's too good at gifts, the wretch. I bet he's outdone me again," she muttered, making her parents laugh.
"Well, Cameron," her father said, glancing back at her over his shoulder, his smile still as youthful as ever, somewhat miraculous in his aged face. "Your brother just doesn't have your talent for parties. He has to come up with other ideas."
"Besides," Eva laughed. "Look at him; he cheated. Cassaundra looks as nervous about that gift as Drew does. I'd say they picked it together, whatever it is. And if I know my son, they bought the gift months ago. You know how he likes to be prepared."
"Mom, Dad," Drew said, pulling a chair closer to the gift table and holding it steady for his mother to be seated. He winked at Eva as she lowered into the chair, his eyes as green as hers had been in her youth, his hair the same dark shade as Cameron's, but sprinkled throughout with the premature gray of their father, Adam.
Cameron smiled, watching the two couples together; her parents beside her younger brother and his new love. Adam took his place behind his wife, resting his hands easily on her shoulders, while Drew stepped back to drape an arm around Cass. She lowered her eyes somewhat shyly, holding out a giant gift bag.
"I hope we did well with these," Cass said, placing the bag carefully at Eva's feet. As she rose, she tucked a wild bit of glossy chocolate hair behind her ear.
"Oh, I'll bet the wife loves whatever you kids have stuffed in there," Adam laughed. "You know, as long as it's perfect." Laughter spread through the room, amusement at the idea of Eva being hard to please. None of her children had ever given her a gift that she didn’t love, and they all knew that she could have received nothing and still been joyful.
"Let's all hope they bought something lousy!" shouted Drew's youngest brother, Evan. As the youngest of the Kingsley children, he was a total clown, but they loved his liveliness. "That way my gift looks extra awesome!"
As the happy rumble of laughter flowed again through the small crowd, Cameron slapped her brother's muscled shoulder playfully. "No heckling," she said, ducking as Evan reached to flick the tip of her nose.
“Heckling,” he muttered. “As if I’d be that rude to our gifted gift-shopper of a brother. I got them a quote book, Cam; I bet whatever’s in that bag makes my gift look like a kick in the shins.”
“Let it go, you know they aren’t like that,” Cameron muttered back, watching her mother dig into the depths of the gift bag Cass had placed in front of her.
"Oh, wow!" Eva pulled a fluff of tissue paper from the gift bag, reaching inside to remove an oversized cluster of amethyst crystal. Jagged purple spikes rose up from a dark base, sparkling and shimmering in the light. Other crystals followed in shades of emerald and rose, each one a sparkling illusion of fragility in the bright light of the room.
"Drew thought you might like them, surrounded with mirrors for your fireplace. You know, for the reflections," Cass said, a bit nervously. She’d been dating Drew for a little less than a year, and it had taken her a long time to feel even a little comfortable in the Kingsley family setting. She still wasn’t all the way relaxed with the whole crowd yet.
Cameron loved Cass though; watching her grow and bloom as part of the family made her somehow more beautiful, her dark eyes shining up at Drew, her pretty round face brightened by her smile. Jaded as Cameron was on the subject of love, she found herself hoping in spite of herself, wishing that Cass and Drew might someday share the love she saw in her own parents, Adam and Eva Kingsley. It kept her from spending too much time wishing for that sort of love in her own life, getting her hopes up for something she didn’t believe she could find.
"I have something else to say," Drew said, smiling down at Eva. She looked up at him expectantly, reaching to place the last of the crystals on the table in front of her. Cameron drew a breath; she'd made a career of planning weddings, watching the secret talk between lovers. She’d caught the look between Drew and Cassaundra; she knew what Drew was going to say, and so did Evan.
"Oh, wow, he's gonna do it, isn't he? Tie the knot, I mean?" he said, reaching up behind Cameron to tweak her ponytail. Making a mental note to cut it off later so that people would stop tugging it, Cameron pulled her ponytail over her shoulder, allowing the curls to tumble over her breast and spill toward her flat, slender stomach.
"I think so," she said, elbowing the firm hard presence that was Evan. "Shhh."
"-- And I'm just so inspired," Drew was saying, "watching you and Dad. Ever since I was a kid, you struggled to show me how important it is to find love. But you taught me too, that just companionship isn’t enough. You taught me to find the right one, not to settle for just anyone. You always told me, Mom, to find my match, and I remember so many talks when I was younger, sitting with you and trying not to die of boredom while you taught me what it meant to find someone who fits me perfectly."
"And you survived it, and now you have found your love," Eva said, rising from the chair to wrap her arm around the broad shoulders of her middle child, her second son. Allowing her hand to slide down and rest on Drew's chest, she turned to Cass, reaching the other hand out to bring Cass into the fold.
"I have," Drew said, looking down into Cass's slightly embarrassed face. He winked, and the intensity of color in face grew stronger, eliciting more laughter from the family surrounding them.
"And I hope," Eva whispered, her chin trembling with emotion as she took Cass' hand in both of hers, "that you two will share what I have shared with Adam. I wish good things for you, and I give my blessing." She turned again, placing Cass' hands together in the center of Drew's chest.
"You take care of my son, you hear?" She said to Cass, and it was apparent to everyone in the room that, married or not, Cassaundra Keaton was now a member of the Kingsley family. No one in the family moved or committed to anything without the blessing of Eva Kingsley, and no one second-guessed her judgment.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kingsley," Cass said tearfully, touched by the obvious move that Eva had made. It felt like an old ritual, watching Eva as she touched her son and then moved away, urging Cass into her place. Cass didn’t know that it was an old ritual, handed down from Adam’s own parents when they entrusted their own son to Eva’s love.
"Now, boy, you'd better not be finished yet," Adam warned, breaking the tenderness of the moment with his gruff voice. Holding up one hand, he waggled his fingers, raising an eyebrow in challenge. He widened his dark eyes dramatically, making a silly face at Drew.
"Of course," Drew said, winking again at Cass as he made a show of stepping back. Digging his hand into the pocket of his jeans, he widened his eyes theatrically, mocking his father. Moving to the other pocket, he made a show of digging in there as well.
"Oh dear God," he muttered. "It must be here somewhere!" He leaned forward, making everyone laugh as he pretended to peek down the front of Cassaundra's dress. She held her hands to her cleavage, mortified, which made everyone laugh harder. Finally, Drew slapped himself on the forehead.
"Right!" he exclaimed. Slipping two fingers down the back pocket of his jeans, he finally withdrew the engagement ring he'd given to Cass, returning it to her finger. She'd been wearing it privately for some months already, as they had taken some time to keep the engagement to themselves. Still, the time had come to break the news and Drew had wanted to be dramatic for his mother's sake, and so he'd placed the ring carefully in his pocket just before he and Cass had entered the party.
"Oh, Drew," Eva whispered, watching her son take Cassaundra's hand and slide the ring home on her finger. She lifted a finger to swipe under her eye as Drew and Cass turned to face her, together. Smiling, she held her hands out, taking Cass in her arms.
"Welcome to my family, daughter," she said.
"And now I'll be even more busy," Cameron muttered to Evan, unable to hold back her smile.
"Nah, I bet I can get them to hire me instead," he laughed back, elbowing her in the ribs. "You may be the wedding planner in the family, but everyone knows I'm the best at everything. All these fine examples to follow. I bet I could rock a wedding party."
"Oh shut up, Ev," Cameron laughed back, watching her mother rip the paper excitedly from another gift.
Later, as the evening wound down and the party cleared out, Adam and Eva lounged on the couch in their living room. Surrounded by their children, they gave thanks for forty years of marriage.
"It's been so long," Adam said, his voice raspy with age but still deep and reassuring. Slipping his arm around his wife, he looked down into her face, his dark eyes meeting her faded green. "Who ever thought we'd make it this far?"
"I did," Eva laughed. "It might have been longer by now, if you hadn't been so slow about it." She slapped his cheek playfully, her wedding band flickering in the light of the room.
"But now, look at us," she continued. "Here we are, our children here with us, and a new marriage coming to extend our family." She looked in turn at each of her children, speaking to them individually. "Cameron, my first child, take heart. Love is real, I promise you, and one day soon, it will rear up and take you in, and it will be strong and solid; you will find it delicious and so very wonderful. Stop doubting, my girl, and open your heart." She waited while Cameron rolled her eyes, embarrassed, and then she laughed and turned to the first of her sons.
"Michael. You must know how very proud we are of you, too. Running your own business, right from scratch. I remember when you learned to change a tire, and now look at you, spending every day under the hood of a car, doing what you love."
Waiting until he nodded acknowledgement, Eva looked again to Cameron. "Just like a true Kingsley, willing to start small and crawl up through the ranks to become just who you were meant to be. Both of you, I'm so proud to share this moment with you."
She lowered her eyes to Drew, who’d stretched out on his favorite rug in the house, his ankles crossed, his head pillowed in Cass’s lap. “Andrew. Look at who you’ve become. You go out every day to a job we’re all so proud of, making a career for yourself in a way that means something beyond the borders of our home. And this woman you’ve brought home to us; I couldn’t imagine a finer choice, son.”
Turning, Eva eyed her youngest children sternly. "And you two. Harmony and Evan. You two stay away from the opposite sex, until you've decided what to do with your lives, you hear me?" Everyone laughed, taking in Evan's horrified look.
"Mom?" he asked, pretending to be in terrible pain. "I'm a teenager. Telling me something like that is just downright mean. I need women! I need cheerleaders! They make football go 'round!"
"And me," Harmony giggled, rounding her stomach and rubbing small circles around the surface of her tiny waist. "Here I am, pregnant by the tattoo-covered biker from the butch bar, and now you tell me to stay away from boys? It's too late to be careful now!"
Cameron couldn't help laughing. She couldn't deny that she hoped someday to find true love, a strong bond that lasted through the challenges of time. She wanted a house full of children and laughter, a life full of good night kisses and good morning sex. But in the meantime, she just kept telling herself that she was plenty happy, surrounded by the love of her family.