Home > Holiday Rebel (The Anna Albertini Files #5.5)

Holiday Rebel (The Anna Albertini Files #5.5)
Author: Rebecca Zanetti




Three months ago…

Her fiancé was ghosting her. It was the only explanation, and yet at the same time, it didn’t make sense. Serenity McDerny stood in her simple, elegant wedding gown in her breakfast nook and made sure she could walk across the room without slipping. The lovely white dress cinched in at the waist. Narrow straps caressed her shoulders, and the hemline fell just slightly above her shoes so she wouldn’t trip. The dress had small beads along the bodice, but that was it.

No fluff and no flair.

When she was younger, she had wanted a glorious, Cinderella-esque wedding dress, but she’d grown up, and this was what she could afford. And it was a lovely gown. Besides, she wasn’t going to spend her entire savings account on a dress when the marriage mattered, not the wedding. Those fairy-tale weddings were for other women, which was just fine with her.

She loved her life.

Yet she was feeling anything but secure right now. She had been calling and texting her fiancé for almost two weeks with no answer. He worked for the forest service, and considering it was late summer, he was out on a fire. Even so, he usually messaged her back, at least. And yet…crickets.

One of Rory’s many brothers also worked for the forest service. Serenity had called him, but he had been out on a fire in Montana. He had returned her call, saying he didn’t know where Rory was stationed this week. Even though both men were headquartered in Idaho, there were also fires in California and Washington right now. However, at the moment, Idaho was clear of blazes.

Serenity walked over to her table and gently sat to reach for her phone, careful of the long dress. The silence didn’t make any sense. She dialed quickly.

“Elda Albertini,” Mrs. Albertini answered.

“Hi, Mrs. Albertini,” Serenity said. “This is Serenity.”

“Serenity, I’ve told you repeatedly to call me Nonna since you’re going to marry my grandson.” Good cheer infused Mrs. Albertini’s voice. “We’re about to be related, and I’m going to be your nonna.”

Serenity wasn’t certain the wedding would take place. She had a pit the size of a mutated grapefruit in her stomach and couldn’t dispel it. Was Rory okay? Their romance had been a dream, and she missed his presence. He had a way of calming the world around them through sheer will and humor.

Sometimes with a hint of tension that always sped up her heart rate in an intriguing way.

“Sorry, Nonna,” Serenity said, the word still feeling odd on her tongue. For her entire life, it had only been her and her mother—well, the times that mattered anyway. Her father had died in combat before she was born, and then her mom had endured a couple of unfortunate marriages that ended badly both times. Hopefully, Serenity was choosing better than her mother had. “I can’t get ahold of Rory.”

“Oh, my,” Nonna exclaimed. “He must be out on a fire.”

Serenity chewed on her bottom lip. “I think so, but he can usually text or get back to me.”

“Well, that is odd. Just a second, dear. Let me check around, and I’ll call you right back.”

Relief fluttered through Serenity. Mrs. Albertini was a force beyond nature. “Thank you, Nonna. I don’t want to worry you, but I am becoming concerned.”

Nonna didn’t call back for over an hour, and by then, Serenity was pacing. “Hello?” she answered rapidly.

“Hi. It’s Nonna. I can’t find him.”

Serenity was quiet. “What do you mean, you can’t find him?”

“I’ve asked around the family, and nobody knows where he is. Surely, he’s out on a fire. Quint is in Montana, and I did get ahold of him.”

The sinking feeling in her stomach intensified. “Yes, I talked to him, too,” Serenity said. “Well, I didn’t mean to worry you, Nonna.”

“I’m sure he’s fine, sweetheart. Sometimes it takes a while when they’re out on these calls. It’s not easy working for the forest service, you know, even though Quint usually manages problems from a desk.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Serenity wondered if Nonna knew that Quint was actually a smoke jumper. Or maybe she did, and she considered that managing. It was entirely possible that the exuberant Italian woman who somehow seemed to wrangle a wild group of offspring and great-offspring might think that was a typical day. “All right, Nonna. If I hear anything, I’ll call you.”

“Ditto, sweetheart. If you want to come to dinner, let me know.”

It was tempting, but work came first. “Thank you, but I’m closing the hardware store tonight.”

“All right. I like how hard you work. Have a good night,” Nonna said cheerfully, clicking off.

Serenity put her phone down and looked out the window. She didn’t want to be one of those clingy women, but she also needed to know if Rory was okay. Taking a deep breath, she keyed in the forest service phone number and instantly reached a nice-sounding young man named George Monopolist—or at least he sounded young. “Hi there. This is an odd question, but I can’t find my fiancé, and I think he’s out on a fire. His name is Rory Albertini.”

“Albertini?” Shuffling came over the line. “Do you mean Quint Albertini?”

“No, no. Quint’s brother.” The Albertinis were, well, numerous. Rory had five brothers, and Serenity couldn’t count how many cousins there were. She couldn’t wait to be related to all of them. They were a fun and very supportive group, and she’d always wanted to be part of a big family.

“Oh, let me see. Well, I have a Tarrant Albertini who works for the forest service, but he’s more in management over in Oregon.”

That was probably another cousin. There were many she hadn’t met yet. “No, no, no. His name is Rory.” She spelled the name. “Albertini.”

“All right. Hold on a sec.” Rapid typing came across the line. “Gee, I’m real sorry, miss, but we don’t have a Rory Albertini working for the forest service in Idaho.”

Her stomach clenched. “You certainly do,” she said. “He often leaves to fight different fires. I believe he attended some conference in Colorado about forest management just last month.”

“Hmm, let me check.” More typing came over the line. “There wasn’t any forest management convention in Colorado last month. I’m the guy who books those things for all our employees.” Then the man fell silent. “I’m really sorry.” The sympathy in his voice caught Serenity hard.

“Oh. Well, thank you. There must be some mistake.”

“I think there might be,” he agreed quietly.

She wanted to throw up. Why would Rory have lied to her? “All right. Bye,” she said, ending the call. Rory didn’t work for the forest service? A knock had her standing quickly. She lifted the hem of her gown and hustled through her small home to open the door, hoping Nonna had arrived with news.

Instead, Rory stood there, a scratch on his jaw and flowers in his hands. She stepped back.

“Hi.” His blue eyes glimmered. “Holy everything. You look gorgeous.” His nostrils flared.

She forgot all about the fact that he’d just seen her in her dress before their wedding and stared at him.

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