Meant to Be - Lori Foster

Meant to Be

Part of the Visitation, North Carolina Series

Meant to Be is featured in the anthology In Bloom and is not available on its own.

Meant to Be

This story is only available as part of an anthology and does not have a cover of its own.

Part of the Visitation, North Carolina Series

Meant to Be is featured in the anthology In Bloom and is not available on its own.

When Cory Creed was just a little girl, she knew she’d grow up to marry Austin Winston—and she made the mistake of telling him so. Tired of watching him avoid her ever since, Cory has decided it’s time to leave Visitation, North Carolina, and Austin, behind. But Austin has finally realized what Cory was once so sure of, and now it’s his turn to prove they belong together…with a little help from their mothers.


Note from Lori: This story is part of the Visitation series. Cory is Jamie’s daughter (from the book Jamie) and Austin is Joe’s son (from the book Say No to Joe?).

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Meant to Be

is Part of the Visitation, North Carolina Series

The full series reading order is as follows:

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Meant to Be

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Chapter 1

The Mother’s Day party took place the week before the actual holiday so that everyone living in the small town of Visitation, North Carolina could take part without its disrupting their own, more private celebrations the next weekend. The townsfolk of the remote area loved having a reason to be on the large recreation lake owned by the Winston family.

It was one particular Winston, however, who occupied Cory Creed’s thoughts. Without being too obvious, she glanced toward where he manned the refreshment shack. Because Austin Winston worked in construction, he had the very fit body of a manual laborer. When he moved, delicious muscles moved, too. Though he had a full-time job, whenever necessary, he also enjoyed lending his parents a hand at the lake.

It seemed to her that Austin was part fish, he was so often in the water. Between his job working outdoors, and his penchant for swimming, Austin’s very fair hair was practically white, made more noticeable by his deep tan.

Today he wore a loose T-shirt with board shorts, his hair typically mussed, dark sunglasses shielding his eyes.

He smiled at two kids, and Cory ached.

Unfortunately, his beautiful smiles were rarely for her.

Carrying her sandals in one hand, she made herself look away and finished crossing the sandy beach to where her mother was helping Austin’s mom clear a few picnic tables. It wasn’t right that the two very best mothers in the whole world were working during the party, but Cory knew them well enough to know there’d be no talking them into relaxing.

Just as she reached them, Luna, Austin’s mom, said, “I think that’s it for now,” and after a quick friendly greeting to Cory, she hustled off toward the large house where she and Joe Winston lived, likely to grab a few more supplies.

Cory’s mom smiled at her. “What a pretty dress.” Teasing, she asked, “Did you wear it for anyone special?”

The yellow floral sundress did look nice with her dark hair and eyes, but she’d worn it to boost her morale, not to get attention. One, no matter what she wore, Austin wouldn’t make a move. And two, she didn’t care about any other guys noticing her.

“Actually…” Cory dropped to sit at the picnic table bench. “Do you have time to talk for a minute?”

Concern replacing her smile, her mother quickly sat. “Of course, honey. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong, exactly.”

“Baloney. I might not have your or Jamie’s ability, but I have Mother’s Intuition, and I can promise you it’s stronger.” Her mom put a hand to Cory’s cheek. “I know you, and I know when something is bothering you.”

Smile twitching into place, Cory repeated, “Mother’s Intuition?”

With lofty insistence, her mom stated, “All mothers have it.” She considered that, then amended, “All good mothers, that is. Especially when they adore their children as much as I adore you.”

Far too often, Cory felt like an outsider. Like her father, she had the uncanny ability to know things before they happened. Once upon a time, that gift had made her father’s life a living hell – until her mom, Faith, had found him, loved him, accepted him and in the process helped Jamie to accept everyone else.

For Cory, it had never been as bad, because she had Faith in her corner. From the time she’d been a baby, her mother had encouraged her ability, embraced it, and she’d helped Cory to understand and refine it. Mother’s Intuition. Yes, maybe it was a thing, because Faith had always known exactly what she needed and when.

Which was why Cory wanted to talk to her now. Rather than look morose – because by God, she wouldn’t be – she forced a smile. “I made a decision today.”

“Okay.” In her typical, supportive way, Faith settled in beside her, close enough that their shoulders touched. “What kind of decision?”

Saying it out loud made it so final that the words stuck in her throat.

Sensing her uncertainty, Faith looked at her sharply. “It has to do with Austin, doesn’t it?”

See, that. That was why she needed her mom right now. Going for a teasing note, Cory said, “Wow, your Mother’s Intuition is dead-on.”

“Of course.” Lightly, Faith tugged on one of Cory’s long corkscrew curls.

“Well, I’ve decided it’s past time that I move on. I’m cutting Austin loose – not that I ever had him in the first place.” Apparently that had all been a figment of her imagination, or maybe wishful thinking. “I want to start over. New job, maybe new location for a while.” She’d go where no one knew her, where she could be like everyone else. “Maybe a new guy, too, though I’m not in a hurry for that part of it.”

At the mention of a new location, Faith’s alarm showed. “You’re talking about leaving Visitation?”

“Mom.” Cory took her hand. “My job at the school is fun, and I love the kids, but there’s no room for advancement.” Just like her non-existent relationship with Austin. “I’m twenty-three now. Past the age when I should be getting out on my own instead of living with you and Dad. But I promise I won’t go far. I’ve been looking at jobs and apartments in the city. Only two hours away, which means we could visit often.”

For long moments, Faith just stared at her before she seemed to come to a decision. “You know, it’s not really your decision anymore.”

“Of course, it is.”

Faith shook her head. “Years ago, when you were just a little girl, you knew you’d one day marry Austin. You announced it to your father and me as a foregone conclusion. Since Jamie didn’t deny it, he must have recognized the statement as true.”

As a remote viewer, her father had astounding ability, but his love for Cory had probably skewed his perception.

Or at least that’s what Cory told herself.

Gently, Faith continued. “Regardless of how discouraged you might be right now, nothing has changed.”

Maybe she had changed. Maybe she was no longer willing to wait for Austin to wise up.

Looking out over the lake, Cory reflected on that day so long ago. Austin had been spying on his older sister, Willow, and her boyfriend, Clay, while they swam. From the day Cory had met him, Austin had been protective of his older sister. They were extremely close.

He’d been almost fourteen at the time, and already so appealing to her ten-year-old heart. She’d surprised him, making him bonk his head on the boat trailer he hid under.

Knowing his concern for Willow, Cory had promised him that she and Clay would be fine – and they were. In fact, they’d be marrying in June.

Unfortunately, using a ten-year-old’s candor and lack of discretion, she’d promised Austin something else, too. One day I’m going to marry you – and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In hindsight, she realized issuing that warning probably hadn’t been the best move. For a long time after that, her nearness had freaked him out. Once he’d matured, he’d learned to just avoid her whenever possible. Now at twenty-seven, Austin watched her a lot, but whenever they spoke, he was merely polite.

In her heart, she still believed they were destined to marry – but at some point she’d need Austin’s cooperation, and she badly feared he’d fall in love with someone else first.

She’d put her life on hold long enough.

Turning in to her mother, Cory hugged her tight. In her current state of confusion, she needed her mother’s understanding. “I’m sorry, Mom. I promise I’ll still be around a lot. But I have to shake things up a bit.”

Faith gave her a gentle smile. “Just because you know things, doesn’t mean you can control them. Jamie learned that, you know. He could see problems unfolding, but he could rarely affect the outcomes. Let it be enough that you know. Do you think you can do that?”

“I can do it better from another place, without constantly bumping into Austin.”

Faith actually laughed. “I can just imagine how he’ll react to that.”

“He’ll be thrilled.”

“That’s bitterness talking.” Straightening her shoulders in a familiar, stubborn way, Faith said, “You know I’ll support you in any decision you make. But do you think you could try something else first? For me?”

Feeling a trap closing in – which was another thing her mother excelled at – Cory tried to change the topic. “Why don’t we talk about it later? This is a Mother’s Day celebration, and here I am –”

“Making me feel like the luckiest mom in the world,” Faith finished for her. “You know that, don’t you? You’re a very special person, and having your trust, being your confidante, knowing you love me, makes me happier than you could ever imagine.”

With a small laugh, Cory hugged her. “That’s because you’re the best mom ever. I’m so glad you took me in when you did.”

“Cory,” she reprimanded.

Yes, they rarely talked about the fact that Faith hadn’t birthed her, had in fact accepted her from her real mother in order to keep her safe. The same unscrupulous people who’d considered her father a lab rat would have viewed Cory the same.

Only she’d been a defenseless baby instead of a grown, capable man.

“In all the ways that matter, you are my mom. One hundred percent. But I’ll always be grateful that you were awesome enough to accept the challenge-”

“The honor,” Faith countered.

“-and the expense-”

“The fun,” she insisted.

Cory’s mouth twitched. “The responsibility of an infant-”

“The most wonderful gift ever.”

Giving up, Cory grinned. “Okay, so I was a special, fun, pleasurable gift. Still-”

“There is no still. I’m incredibly proud of you. You’re smart and beautiful, and I’m often in awe of your kindness.”

Her kindness, not her ability. Somehow, her mother always knew what to say to cheer her up. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too. So very, very much.”

Just then Jamie cleared his throat. “Is it safe for me to intrude?”

Getting to her feet, Cory hugged him, too. “Dad, you never intrude, you know that. I just‑”

“Needed a little time with your mother.”

Of course he knew that. After all, she’d gotten her ability from him. Sometimes father and daughter could talk without words, but out of love and respect for Faith, they rarely did so in her presence.

Hands in the back pockets of his tattered jeans, dark eyes sharp with concern, Jamie held her gaze and said in that sage way of his, “You need to understand-”

“No, shush.” Quickly, Cory put a finger to his mouth. “If it’s about Austin, I’m done with that.”

Taking her wrist, he lowered her hand. “No, you’re not, and you know it.”

“Jamie.” Faith shooed him away. “A woman has to do things her own way.”

“Mom has intuition,” Cory said with a grin.

Mother’s intuition,” Faith clarified. “That’s the best, most powerful kind – and both of you, stop grinning.”

Father and daughter quickly denied seeing any humor in the situation, but Cory knew her dad was just as amused as she.

“Now.” Pretending to fuss, Faith smoothed Cory’s untamable hair and then took her shoulders. “As your mother, I’m asking that you give it a few weeks before making any more decisions.”

“It won’t matter.”

“And,” Faith said, speaking over her, “as a woman, I’m telling you to stop being so accessible. In fact, you should leave the party. And don’t look at Austin when you do.”

“Leave?” No way. “It’s a party for mothers. For you.”

“We’ll have our own get together next Sunday. Besides, I don’t think you’ll be gone long. Just long enough for Austin to come looking for you.”

Her gaze shot to Jamie’s, and he nodded.

Huh.

“You didn’t know Austin would seek you out?” Faith asked.

“I’m blocking him.” She no longer wanted to intrude on Austin’s privacy. In her mind, he was free and clear and that meant she had no rights.

“Oh, I like that,” Faith said. “Keep on blocking him, okay?”

“Well… that’s my plan.”

“When he follows you, which he will, I want you to tell him all your concerns. Tell him you’re giving up, okay?”

“I couldn’t!” Cory figured it’d be better to simply… stop. Stop staring at him. Stop wanting him.

Stop loving him.

He’d get the message and she wouldn’t have to make any embarrassing confessions.

“Tell him why,” Faith insisted, as if Cory hadn’t refused. “You might also tell him how much you care, but you can decide that when you see how things are going.”

Jamie frowned. “I don’t think-”

“No, you don’t. You know, and it’s not at all the same thing. Look at it this way, falling in love is just as much fun as being in love. Let your daughter fall.”

Cory choked on a laugh.

Smiling at Cory, her dad spread his arms wide and said, “Fall away – but it won’t make any difference in the end.”

“Don’t listen to him. At least… not this time. Most of the time, yes, your father is brilliant. But this is the exception.” Putting her arm around Cory, Faith turned her away from the table. “This time, just trust your mother.”

End of Excerpt

Meant to Be

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