Mitsy Collins is on her way to a gloriously happy life with her fiancee, but they have a few speed bumps to pass over in the form of his family. Her brave white knight cowers in fear of his stoic and stuffy parents, while one of his sisters is certifiable and the other is a Disney villain in disguise out to thwart their happy union.
How will Mitsy survive the dirty looks, snide remarks, and tofu? Will she and Mr. Perkins be driven from the house, or will Mr. Perkins drive the family dog up the walls?
"Are we there yet?"
"Are we there yet?"
"Are we there yet?"
"Mitsy, I swear to God I'm going to turn this car around and drive straight back home." That was Steven Dunner, formerly my boss and now my fiance. He was at the wheels of his fancy car driving us to his parents' house for a week of family bonding.
My name's Monica Collins, but you can call me Mitsy for short, all my friends do. Mr. Perkins was in the backseat in his carrier meowing for his canned cat food and adding to Steven's misery. I couldn't blame him; this car ride was longer than I expected. We left the city four hours before and still weren't at his parents' place. All around us was a thick serving of trees with the occasional side dish of dirt road and abandoned cabin. I swear I even saw one or two skeletons beside warning signs written in red lettering warning us to turn back or meet our doom.
"How far was this place again?" I asked him.
He was playing all mysterious with who his parents were and where they lived.
"Almost there, just a few more corners," Steven replied.
"You said that a couple of mountains ago," I pointed out. We had climbed to a high enough altitude to touch the moon and still weren't there. I didn't dare open the window for fear all the air would suck out into the vacuum of space. "Should I have brought an oxygen mask?"
"My parents' house is big enough you may never even find the doors leading outside," he assured me.
"Ah-ha! So your parents have a huge house!" I exclaimed. That was the most I'd gotten out of him since he thought up this family get-together. I had to admire his perseverance against my constant barrage of questioning; it took a tough man to survive a woman curious and stubborn.
"And that's all I'm going to say about it," he replied.
I smirked and slid over toward his chair; the seatbelt put a cramp on my sexy style by trying to strangle me. "How can you be sure I won't find out anything else?"
"Because we're here."
We whipped around another corner and a large mansion with a matching lawn came into view. My mouth dropped open while my wide eyes wandered over the countless large windows along the long two floors. Each window looked into extravagance that made a five-star hotel look shabby, and on one side of the house was a large pool. In the back I glimpsed a tennis court with a small hedge maze. Steven drove us up to the pair of twin doors and the few steps that made up the entrance and got out, but I hesitated. The gravel driveway was pearl-white and I was afraid my plebeian upbringing would soil the dirt.
Steven walked around, opened my door and offered his hand. "Come on, they don't bite," he encouraged me with a laugh.
"But what'll they say when they find out I do?" I teased him as he helped me out. "Especially when I start drooling on the furniture."
"Well, they can fumigate the place during the winter," Steven replied. I raised an eyebrow and he sheepishly grinned back. "This is just their summer retreat. They go south for the winter."
I blinked. "Summer retreat?" I gave the place another look just to make sure we were seeing the same house; yep, it was still huge, and I was still confused. I looked back to him and folded my arms across my chest. "I think you need to do some explaining before-"
"Stevie!" a voice yelled behind me. Steven was standing in front of me one moment and on the ground at the next. A girl of about sixteen was on top of his chest and giving him a death hug. I would have been jealous if I didn't think she was out to suffocate him more than make love to him. "You finally made it! Mom and dad were so worried you'd careened off a cliff or got eaten by bears!"
"Nothing that dramatic, just took my time," Steven replied with a laugh.
"More like drove like a maniac," I muttered.
My words reminded him I was still there, so he peeled the girl off him and stood them both up. He smiled and gestured to me. "Nicole, this is Mitsy. Mitsy, this is my little sister Nicole."
The girl leaned forward and squinted at me. She circled me, and looked me up and down with a careful scrutiny. "She's different then the others you brought. You going to keep this fish or-" Her eyes found the ring on my engagement hand and she jumped on my arm like a rabid wolf on fresh meat. "She's got a shiny!" the girl shrieked. I didn't think I was going to have my hand for much longer the way she was twisting the ring around my finger.
"Nicole, where are your manners!" a sharp voice snapped at us. A tall, skinny young woman about my age came out of the open front doors and Nicole snapped at attention.
"Um, I left them inside, let me go find them," Nicole replied. She sped around the woman and shot inside.
The young woman sighed and shook her head. "What in the world are we ever going to do with that wild one?"
"Well, I'd start with a rabies shot and go from there," I quipped. Too late did I notice Steven slicing his hand across his neck as a warning; that, or the scene needed to be cut short.
The woman whipped her head over to me and raised an eyebrow. "Who are you?" she questioned me.
I sweetly smiled and gave a flourishing bow. "I am forever your humble servant, madam."
"I didn't know we needed a new maid," she shot back.
"Um, Elizabeth, this is Mitsy," Steven managed to intercept any more biting remarks. "Mitsy, this is my other sister, Elizabeth."
I smiled at my future in-law and held out my hand to my future in-law. "Nice to meet you."
She looked at my hand and sniffed. "A pleasure, I'm sure," she replied without shaking it. Elizabeth turned to Steven. "Mother and father are dying to know what this big secret is of yours. You said you'd tell us when you arrived with your, um, guest." She shot me a glare out of the corner of her eyes.
"Well, yes, um, how about we unpack first and get everyone together in the living room, and I'll tell everyone the surprise," Steven suggested.
"I'll tell mother and father you'll see them in the living room." Elizabeth gave me another dirty look which I returned with as much sweetness as I could choke down. I practically drooled chocolate.
When she'd gone I whipped around to Steven. "You haven't told them yet?" I hissed at him. It'd been two weeks since he'd proposed to me.
He held up his hands and sheepishly smiled. "I wanted to save it for a surprise."
"Uh-huh, and how many other siblings haven't you told about us?" I asked him.
"I've only got the two sisters you met already, so other than my parents you don't have anyone else you need to meet," he reassured me.
His wacky youngest sister and snooty younger one were enough. With children like those I wondered what his parents were like. "If that's all the surprises, can we go inside now?"
"Sure, but just let the butler, Doffing, take your bag. My parents don't get too many visitors except for parties and it makes him feel useful," Steven replied.
I didn't mind losing my bag, but I clutched onto poor Mr. Perkins like his life depended on it. He was a good traveling cat, but staying at a large house in the middle of the woods was a different story. I didn't want to risk losing him to a bear in the forest or starvation in the dozens of rooms. We went inside and my fears were justified; the place was huge. The entrance hall went all the way up to the second floor and on either side were entrances to various other large rooms. An old man in a neat suit toddled out of one of the rooms on the left and gave us a toothless smile. He had a bent back and his age looked to be just shy of Biblical. "Good afternoon, Master Steven, Miss-" He paused and squinted at me.
"Miss Collins," I told him.
"Miss Collins," he repeated. "May I take your bags?" The only thing he looked capable of taking was a dirt nap; the old fellow should have retired before I was born.
"You can take our bags, but Miss Collins will take her box," Steven told him.
"Nonsense," Doffing protested. For an old guy he moved fast and grabbed Perkins' cage. "I shall carry all your luggage up and you may see the Master and Mistress in the living room."
I felt guilty about playing tug-of-war with the ancient fellow, but I wasn't going to leave Perkins with a stranger. "That's all right, I can take it," I insisted. Our little game loosened the cage's front gate, and before I knew it Perkins the Bold jumped out and onto the floor.
Doffing looked at the creature and gasped. "Master Steven, you know your mother doesn't approve of felines."
My head whipped over to Steven. "Why didn't you tell me that before we left?" I hissed at him.
He shrugged. "Because you said you couldn't find a sitter for him," he reminded me.
Perkins, mad at the lack of attention, yowled and scampered off to a room on the right. I chased after him and heard Steven yell something at me, but my focus was on saving my cat from death by stupidity. He dove into the room, one of those ones that are sunk deeper into the ground than the entrance hall, and I dove after him. I caught him by the back legs and we both tumbled onto the carpeted wood floor. We crashed into a coffee table and came to a stop covered in water and flowers from a tipped vase.
"All right...cat," I panted out. Being in the round shape I was in that was the most exercise I'd gotten in a long time. "You go back in the box-"
"-and out of here immediately," a woman's harsh voice spoke up.
I slowly lifted my head and found a well-dressed couple frowning at me in front of the couch. I'd found the living room and my future parents-in-law, and they were not happy to see me.