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A Husband for Holly (Seven Suitors for Seven Sisters Book 4)

By Marion Ueckermann

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“OH NO. Hurry, Heather, before she spots us.” Holly Blume hunched over as she rose from the pew and grabbed her sister’s hand, dragging her into the side aisle of St. Stephen’s Church. All the while her gaze flitted past Heather’s blond hair.
Heather giggled, and who could blame her? How many Sundays had Holly put her through the ducking and diving ritual? Sometimes successfully—most times not.
“Yoo-hoo. Holly…” From the center aisle, Agatha Wilcox waved her wrinkled hand high in the air. At least as high as her five-foot frame would allow. She pressed her palm out in Holly’s direction. “I need to speak with you.”
Too late. No escape now. How could such a small woman evoke such apprehension?
Holly slowed and released her grip on Heather. She settled her gaze on Agatha. At her age, the woman was still far too active in the church—and in Holly’s personal life. She watched as the head of the Women’s Committee cleared a path through the congregation waiting to exit the church, and then slipped down an empty pew. Holly blew out a sigh. Thank the good Lord nobody was with her. It should be safe enough to see what she wanted.
Ever since Holly had started attending St. Stephen’s in the quaint North Yorkshire coastal town of Robin Hood’s Bay three years ago, Agatha had made it her mission to find her a husband. Said it was her ministry. Now that Heather stayed with her, the elderly woman had doubled her efforts, determined to see them both wed in the beautiful old church. ASAP.
“Am I glad to see you.” Agatha pushed up her gold-rimmed glasses and Holly couldn’t help noticing the color blended with Agatha’s beige coat. And her beige hat with its plaid pattern made from thin burgundy and brown lines. Short grey curls licked the hat’s brim.
Holly pursed her lips as her gaze flitted to Heather.
Her sister gave her head a small shake before she looked away.
Thanks. Leave me alone in this.
Holly pasted a grin on her face. “Morning, Agatha. What can I do for you?” Anything but go on another of those dreadful blind dates she kept arranging.
Agatha slid her small hand into Holly’s and offered a sweet smile. The remembrance of the awkward situations Holly had suffered because of her eased.
“Holly, you know our new reverend arrives from Scotland in two weeks’ time?”
“Yes.” Thank heaven. The past few months without a permanent minister had played havoc on her spiritual life, each stand-in preacher wanting to be stodgier than the previous one, and she felt like the Laodicea church—a ghastly lukewarm. Please, Lord, let the new reverend have some spunk. Going to church had become more of a ritual than anything else. If this Scottish preacher was no good, she’d have to commute to a nearby town and find another place to worship. Maybe she should look for one anyway and be done with Agatha’s matchmaking efforts.
“The Women’s Committee met yesterday and we thought it would be a nice welcoming gesture to revamp the reverend’s church office.”
It had been so long since Holly had been inside that office. It didn’t look great then—it could only look worse now. “Probably a good idea.”
Agatha tightened her clasp on Holly’s hand and gazed up at her with watery eyes.
Not the puppy dog look.
“W–we were wondering whether you’d be able to do something there…before the reverend arrives.”
Within two weeks? Interior design was more than slapping a few drawings and material samples together.
“Please.” Agatha shifted closer. “We would pay you, of course.”
Pay? That wouldn’t feel right. God had blessed her business more than she had dreamed, and her work was known amongst many of the finest households in England. This was an opportunity to give back to Him. “Nonsense, Agatha. I can’t accept money from the parish. I’d be happy to do the work pro bono, but I am concerned about getting it done within the time frame. I’d need to use whatever materials I have in stock, or what’s easily available.”
“I’m so sorry, Holly. We should have thought of this a while back.” Agatha shrugged. “We just didn’t.” She poked her finger to her head. “Gray matter.”
“I can help,” Heather said. “With Paxton away at Levens Hall for the next three weeks or so, I’ll need the distraction.” She turned to Agatha and grinned. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you about Paxton yet. He’s my boyfriend, and his brother, Davis, is marrying our sister, Magnolia, in a few weeks’ time. He’s had to attend to some best man duties and business at home.” She pouted and her eyes flitted to Holly. “Davis and Paxton are also heading to London. Paxton needs to be fitted for his groomsman’s suit. Wish I could’ve gone, but work—”
Holly cleared her throat. “I think the homeless people at the shelter need your smiling face more than you need a trip to London.” Ugh, all this lovesickness weaving its way through their family made her queasy. First Maggie. Then Rose. Now Heather. Well, not her. She’d keep herself uncontaminated. She had to. With her thriving business she worked long hours that often kept her on the road. As a single person she could come and go as she pleased. The last thing she needed was risking what she’d worked so hard to build—all in the name of love—though not all men expected a wife not to have a career. Look at Davis—he was supportive of Magnolia keeping her jewelry business, and even agreed to move out of the manor house after the wedding and into Maggie’s humble home because it was closer to her shop in Keswick. But then, a man is supposed to leave his mother and father—even if they live in a mansion—and cleave to his wife and her little English country home.
Her breath hitched. It was her own fault none of Agatha’s setups had lasted past the second date. She had no interest in falling in love. Too risky.
“You’re right.” Heather’s sigh pulled Holly from her musing. “The homeless do need me more. Still, it would’ve been nice to see Rose and Clover again.”
“I love weddings.” A smile wrinkled Agatha’s cheeks more than they already were. “When are they getting married?”
Heather smiled. “On New Year’s Eve.”
A marriage conversation with Agatha? Holly was staying out of it. Best way to do that was to change the subject. “Would I be able to see the office now so I can start working on ideas as soon as I get home?”
“Of course.” Agatha glanced around. When her head came to a sudden stop, that little hand of hers shot into the air again. “Yoo-hoo…Bradley…” For her age, Agatha sure had eagle eyes. She missed nothing and no one. She headed for the tall, middle-aged gent at the front of the church.
Holly and Heather tagged behind.
“Bradley, have you locked the reverend’s office yet?”
“I have. Did you need something?”
“Be a dear and unlock it for a moment. Holly is going to do some interior decorating in there, and she needs to have a quick look-see.”
Quick? She needed to take photos, measurements, make sketches… Thankfully she always carried a measuring tape and notebook in her handbag.
“Of course, Mrs. Wilcox.” Bradley pivoted. “Follow me, ladies.”
Agatha scuttled after Bradley, taking two steps to his one. “Do you know Holly Blume and her sister, Heather?”
He glanced over his shoulder and gave a nod. “I’ve seen them in the services.”
Agatha’s eyes flitted between Holly and Bradley’s back, and she raised her brows.
Uh-oh. This wasn’t good. Holly knew that look too well.
“Bradley lost his wife some years back.”
“Three years ago, Mrs. Wilcox.” He continued walking.
Agatha linked her arm around Bradley’s and raised her gaze. “You should take Holly for coffee sometime.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Holly and smiled. Wide.
I knew it! Just open that office door so I can get my sketches and photos. Then let me out of here. There was nothing about the homely man that would make Holly want to go for coffee, or tea, or anything.
Heather jabbed her in the side, stifling a laugh.
Holly shot a warning look in return before answering Agatha. “Uh, I’m going to be extremely busy for many, many weeks. I’ve the reverend’s office to decorate during the next fortnight, plus all my other clients to service. Christmas is coming. Then it’s my sister’s wedding…”
“Maybe early next year?” Bradley unlocked the office and swung the door open.
Maybe not.
Holly followed him inside, already snapping pictures with her cellphone. She handed her bag to Heather, leaned closer, and whispered, “Grab my measuring tape, notebook and pen. Let’s get this information and flee, before one of us becomes Mrs. Bradley Whatever.”

***

By the time Holly drove her Range Rover down her driveway and into the garage, she and Heather had still not managed to contain their laughter. But the drive was only minutes long, and they had much to giggle about.
Holly flopped back in her seat and sighed. “Oh, my. I don’t think I’ve ever sketched or measured an interior so fast. I hope I don’t mess up the reverend’s revamp.” She turned to Heather. “Thanks for your help.”
“I needed to get you out of there. Couldn’t have a sister named Holly Bush.”
The mere mention of the name set them off laughing again.
Holly wiped the tears from her cheeks and drew a deep breath. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to contain myself when Bradley said his surname was Bush.”
“My word, but Agatha put ideas into his head, didn’t she?” Heather’s eyes widened. “Poor man was lovestruck by the time we left. He couldn’t keep his eyes off you.”
Great. Now she had another person she needed to avoid on Sundays. Holly shook her head. “When will it sink into Agatha’s noggin that I don’t want to be set up with a man? I’m too busy with my career. I know she means well, but frankly, I’m happy to cuddle my swathes of material—they’re as smooth and strong, and they don’t talk back.” Or be threatened by your success.
Heather reached for her door. “Ha, if you want to cuddle ten yards of satin, knock yourself out. As for me, I’d rather have the real strong, smooth thing. Mmm.” She stepped out of the car and closed the door behind her.
Holly’s jaw dropped, and she stared at the shut door. Had her sister really said that? Just because Heather had found love, didn’t mean she had to rub it in. She huffed. Let it go. Not worth making a fuss over her comment. She probably didn’t even realize it was offensive. How could she? She didn’t know about her romance with Culbert Cross. Nobody knew.
Don’t go there. That relationship is over—has been for two years.
She straightened her shoulders and slid out of the car. No man would again demand she give up everything. No man would break her heart. But would those swathes of fabric keep her warm at night when she was old?
Inside the house, Holly slung her bag over the back of a kitchen chair. After switching on the kettle, she strolled to her desk in the corner of the dining room where she pulled a few sheets of paper from a drawer and her coloring pencils. After unplugging her laptop, she placed the paper and pencils on top of it, and returned to the kitchen. She plunked herself down at the counter, preferring to work on its hard marble surface.
Holly turned in her seat and reached inside her bag for her cellphone and notebook. She opened both to her notes and photos, and stared, thrusting her fingers into her hair. What had she let herself in for?
She glanced up at Heather. “Did you say you were willing to help?”
Heather nodded.
“Would you mind making lunch? I need to start on some research and designs. Reverend Christopher Stewart’s office is going to be a whole lot more work than I originally thought, and I’ve a whole lot less time than I usually have.”
“Of course I’ll cook.” Cups and saucers chinked as Heather prepared a tea tray. “What are you in the mood to eat?”
“Surprise me.” Holly didn’t raise her head, or her pencil, but kept her gaze fixed on her cellphone as she sketched on the paper. She paused to look up when Heather handed her a cup of hot tea. “Will you do me one more favor?”
Heather smiled. “Anything. I owe you so much for letting me stay with you these past few months. If I hadn’t taken the job in Scarborough, I would never have met Paxton. Truly God guides our paths.”
“When do you finish your stint at the shelter? I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten what your plans are, or have they changed?”
Heather swallowed her tea. “Meeting Paxton has put a different light on the future. I’m supposed to work until the end of November but—”
Holly’s breath hitched. “That’s in two weeks.” She should’ve communicated better with her sister, but with Paxton on the scene she barely had time alone with Heather these days. “I will miss you. I’ve gotten rather used to having you around. Will you return to your old position back home? What about Paxton? He’s just bought that beautiful house here.”
“Actually, he’s thinking of trading it in for a castle.” Heather opened the freezer.
“Seriously?”
Heather giggled as she took out a small packet of frozen meat. She popped it into the microwave to defrost. “I’m just messing with your head. He has no intention of leaving Robin Hood’s Bay. He loves being involved with the shelter, working with recovering addicts and the homeless—you know, helping people rise from the depths he once was in.”
“He’s a good guy. I’m sorry I didn’t see that at first.” Holly sketched a few more lines. If only she was able to meet with this Reverend Stewart, or at least speak to him to see what his tastes were. But that would take the surprise out of ‘surprise-office-makeover’. “What about you? Will you only see Paxton on weekends?”
“That’s the thing—they want me to stay on permanently at the shelter as the woman who was on maternity leave has decided not to return to work.”
Holly clapped her hands and grinned. “Will you?”
“I’m still praying about it, that’s why I haven’t said anything to you yet. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to work long term with my fia—” Heather clamped a hand around her mouth.
Holly widened he eyes. “You’re engaged?”
“Oops.” Heather pulled her shoulders to her neck. “Not yet, but he did ask.”
“And?”
“I said I’d think about it while he was away.”
Holly tapped the end of her pencil against the paper. “So, another Blume bites the dust.”
Heather raised a brow. “I wouldn’t put it that way. I like to think of it as being transplanted to bloom in marital bliss.” She placed a hand on Holly’s shoulder and gave a squeeze. “You’ll still get your happily-ever-after. Wait and see. It’ll happen when you least expect it.”
Holly shrugged her sister’s touch away then rose from her chair. “I’m perfectly happy as I am.” She turned to Heather and clasped her face between her hands. “But I’m ecstatic for you. Paxton is quite the catch. With your genes and his, you’re going to have the most beautiful children.”
Heather choked on her tea. She smacked her chest as she coughed. “Whoa. Don’t run away with this now. We’re not even engaged yet.”
“Well, practically…” She should’ve seen this coming, but she’d been busy lately, and life was about to get even busier and more stressful.
“Please don’t mention this to anyone else.” Heather held her gaze. “You’re the only one who knows. Soon as I give him my answer, we’ll drive to Grasmere to ask Mom and Dad for their permission. But it’ll be a while before we get married—one wedding is enough for now.”
She was right about that. Holly leaned against the counter, and her fingers gripped the edge. “So you’re going to say yes?”
A grin spread across Heather’s face.
Only a frown made it to Holly’s as she straightened and folded her arms. “What about the shelter?” She’d love to have her sister around longer. And Paxton.
“I was about to tell you before we got sidetracked by my slipup.” Heather wrung her hands. “I–I don’t want you to think I can’t make up my mind about where to work, but I’m not sure if the shelter is where I’m meant to be. Maybe I was only meant to be there for these five months so I could meet Paxton. I feel like God has something else planned for me. I just don’t know what it is.” Heather swallowed the last of her tea, and set the cup back down on the saucer beside Holly’s untouched drink. “Enough about me and my plans, you had another favor to ask?”
She did, but would Heather agree?
Holly sank back into the chair and twirled a finger around the edge of her teacup. “While you’re still here, please help me say no to Agatha—whether it’s another fix-me-up project she wants done, or just another man she wants to fix me up with. I can’t keep putting myself in these awkward situations so I don’t offend her. This has to stop.”
Right after the reverend’s office. 

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