Monday, July 10, 2017

Week #29: Picnics and Promises (Six Delicious Summer Romances)

 
MOOSED OPPORTUNITIES—JAN ELDER
Rev. Samantha Evans loves Moose Creek, Maine, the land of moose and men, particularly her fiancé Eric Palmer. Forest ranger, Eric, strives to plan their wedding, but Samantha’s busy schedule, his interfering ex-wife, missing college students, and a pregnant moose, all conspire against him. Will their lives continue to be a series of Moosed Opportunities?

ZARA’S FOLLY—CLARE REVELL
British equestrian, Zara Michaels, heads south to convince TJ Greggson to sell his property to her developer father. Any way she can. TJ co-owns the stables, catering to disabled children—his life’s purpose. His brother wants to sell. TJ doesn’t. Can TJ help untangle Zara from her past follies, or will their secrets destroy them both?

A POCKETFUL OF WISHES—MARY MANNERS
As childhood neighbors, Jenna Palmer and Carter Stevens discover first love. When a cross-country job transfer separates them, they promise to one day find each other. Years go by and they lose touch until an accident causes their paths to once again cross. Can their promise stand the test of time, or will time crush their promise…and their love?

SWEET DELIGHTS—CECELIA DOWDY
Patty-Lynn is stunned when she runs into her wealthy ex-boyfriend, Sam. She’s still haunted by their painful breakup seven years ago. Recently widowed, Sam now wants to fix their broken relationship. Seeing Patty-Lynn, happy in her bakery, gives him hope. Can her prize-winning pie recipe sweeten his new business venture and heal their broken hearts?

IMPERFECTLY PROVERBS 31—AUTUMN MACARTHUR

The last thing geeky Samantha Rose planned for was the homemaking blog only her sister was ever supposed to see going viral. After a disastrous picnic, Daniel Novak, the cynical reporter dispatched to interview her, insists he must reveal the truth. But that could ruin everything, including their budding love.

A COURTSHIP FOR CLOVER—MARION UECKERMANN

Clover Blume’s chance of getting to know the groomsman escorting her to her sister’s wedding is threatened when he’s delayed. Jonathan Spalding’s money hasn’t managed to buy him one thing: a woman to love. Is the auburn-haired beauty partnering with him at his best friend’s wedding finding a way into his heart? What will it cost Jonathan to realize it profits him nothing to gain the world, yet lose his soul? And the girl.
 
~~~~~
 
1st Chapter: A POCKETFUL OF WISHES:
 
SUNLIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE WILLOWY branches of elm trees that lined the road, warming Jenna as Carter loaded her suitcase into the trunk of the car. The street was quiet, almost as if it had gone down for a nap, with the exception of Old Man Corker’s Bassett Hound who yowled in protest of his confinement to the yard three houses down.
Jenna felt like yowling, too. Maybe she’d trod over to Old Man Corker’s yard, throw herself into the grass beside Buster, and sob until no more tears came.
Sadness gripped her heart. She could barely breathe.
Life as she knew it was going to end right here in the driveway of the modest ranch home she’d lived in since the day she was born. Literally, her mom had given birth to her right there in the living room, when Jenna decided to come into the world too quickly for her mom and dad to make it to the hospital. She’d heard the story so many times she knew it by heart, and her parents joked that she still had only one speed—fast.
Everything she’d ever known in her whole life was in this house, yet her parents were still bent on taking her from it. The moving truck that had left before the sun peeked over the horizon was proof. And the jam-packed car didn’t help matters, either. There was hardly room in the backseat for her to squeeze in when the time came.
Which would be soon…way too soon. She winced at the pinch of disappointment.
Maybe she could stay behind. She was thirteen now—almost fourteen—and old enough to take care of herself, right? She’d stay in the house, make her own meals and get herself to school when summer came to an end. Maybe she couldn’t drive herself yet, but she had her bike and the bus also stopped by every morning, in case of rain. She could make it work, couldn’t she?
Except for the fact that the house had already sold. She and her parents had to be out today, because the closing was over and the new people planned to move in that evening. By nightfall Jenna would no longer be in Tennessee. Worse, she wouldn’t live right next door to Carter anymore.
Did that mean they couldn’t still be best friends?
Her breath hitched once more. Jenna couldn’t imagine ever laughing again as she romped along the water’s edge to find the best swimming hole in Maple Ridge or raced through a field of tall grass with the wind at her back and a kiss of sunlight tickling her cheeks. Not without Carter at her side to share in her adventures. Not while he remained here in Maple Ridge while her family relocated clear across the country to Leavenworth, Washington—exactly two thousand, four hundred and eighty-one miles away. She’d studied the map Dad had given her, and had memorized every nuance of the route. So she knew. And it was awful.
Leavenworth.
It sounded like one of the bad words Mom and Dad forbade her to use. How ironic that this new town her parents were determined to drag her to shared the same name as a prison. Because Jenna might as well be going to prison. Her parents were ruining her life.
Especially her dad, with his new job. That’s all he’d talked about for weeks now. He didn’t even have time to talk about school anymore, or come to her softball games.
When she was still playing softball. Which she couldn’t do anymore, because they were moving to Leavenworth.
Just for spite she rolled the word around on her tongue and muttered.
Leavenworth…Leavenworth…
Tears welled in her eyes as she lifted her gaze to find Carter. Dark, shaggy hair spilled over his forehead, highlighting the dusky pallor of his cheeks. In another month his skin would glow bronze from hours spent in the sun while he helped his dad with their lawn care business. He’d worked beside his father since the summer he’d turned nine. He was fourteen now—nearly four months older than Jenna.
Carter swiped the tumble of hair away, revealing eyes the color of rain-slicked river rock—gray with specks of russet along the edges. She’d always loved his eyes. They were one-of-a-kind.
Carter closed the trunk and turned to face her.
“Don’t cry, Jen.” He grinned ruefully as he jammed his hands into the pockets of his favorite pair of faded jeans. She knew they were his favorite because he’d told her last week while they were eating sundaes together down at Miller’s Ice Cream Parlor following an afternoon of swimming at the community pool. Carter had said the pants probably wouldn’t fit much longer, since he’d launched into another growth spurt, but he’d make them last as long as he could. His folks would be tight on money until the mowing season cranked up to its full stride in a couple of weeks, maybe a month. “Everything’s going to be OK.”
“How can this ever be OK?” Jenna’s lower lip trembled and she caught it between her teeth. “I might as well be moving to Mars.”
“It’s not that bad. You’ll see.” He shrugged, trying his best to lighten the moment. But his tone told her he was just as miserable. “You can write to me and fill me in on all the fun places on your side of the country.”
That sounded forever apart.
“I don’t think there are any fun places in Leavenworth.” How could there be, with a name like that? Suddenly her belly roiled like it had last weekend, when Carter jumped from the pool’s high dive and then dared her to do the same. She’d climbed the ladder and inched out to the end of the board. Then a glimpse down into the water had stars dancing in her line of vision as she suddenly felt like she’d pass out. But Carter had gently coaxed her from the pool’s edge, his voice low and raspy, making her believe she could do it. So she did believe, and she squeezed her eyes shut tight and jumped. For a beat of time the breath lodged in her throat, then her squeal could probably be heard into the next county. The adrenaline rush was so cool that, following a congratulatory fist bump from Carter, she went back five more times.
But this whole idea of moving cross-country didn’t feel cool. It just felt…awful. She didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay right here, with Carter.
“Of course there are fun places.” Carter’s eyes betrayed his words. Jenna had known him since they were both in diapers, and right now his forehead was knitted into a frown, his eyes stormy-dark. “You’ll find them. Then you’ll write and tell me all about them.”
“Like pen pals?” She placed a hand on his forearm. His skin warmed her chilled fingers. “Sort of like passing notes in class except we have to send them through the mail instead?”
They’d done a lot of note passing over the years without getting caught. They were both good at it. Really good.
“Yes, like that, only better because we’re already…” He glanced down at her hand resting easily on his arm and offered a sort of lopsided grin. “Best friends…and even maybe more.”
“More?” Jenna’s pulse did the same weird sort of leapfrog against her throat as it had when Carter asked her to dance the last slow song at their end-of-school dance. “Do you really think so?”
“Um…yeah, I do.”
“Me, too.” Jenna’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Will you write back?”
“You know I will, Jen.”
Carter drew his hands from his pockets and fidgeted for a moment, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. A mockingbird ran through its litany of calls as he took a step closer to her and skimmed his thumb ever-so-gently over her cheek.
Jenna closed her eyes and sighed. This was one of his gestures she loved. Her insides dipped and scrambled as if she’d just plunged over the first huge crest of the Screaming Banshee coaster that she and Carter had ridden together at last year’s Labor Day fair.
“I don’t want to go,” she murmured on a sob as she opened her eyes again to focus on him. “I really don’t.”
“I know.” His lips trembled. “I don’t want you to, either. I’m going to miss you so much, Jen.”
“This can’t be happening.” Jenna gulped back the lump in her throat as tears spilled over to trail down her cheeks. “Tell me it’s just a bad dream, Carter.”
“I can’t.” The words were anguished now. His voice cracked, as Jenna knew it tended to when he got upset. “I can’t because it’s more real than a heart attack.”
As if to prove the truth in that, Jenna’s parents shuffled from the house. Mom had a tote bag, stuffed full of magazines and knitting supplies, slung over one shoulder. Dad carried a pair of overnight bags. Unlike Jenna, they were both prepared for the journey ahead. It would take six days by car to travel from Maple Ridge to Leavenworth, considering the list of sightseeing detours Dad had tacked onto the trip.
Six days…a lifetime.
Her parents came down the short flight of steps and, instead of heading straight for the car, went to the side of the house. They disappeared around the corner to check on something. Their voices drifted on the breeze.
Jenna swiped at her tears. She had only a few minutes more with Carter. She could hardly bear the thought. Time sped up just as she wished it would come to a screeching halt. She was in a race car with no steering wheel, no emergency brake. The end of the track rushed up to greet her.
Why had her dad agreed to take the Chief of Police position in Leavenworth? Wasn’t the sergeant’s position in Maple Ridge good enough for him? She’d heard her parents whispering heatedly to each other behind the closed door of his office and knew there had to be some explanation, but as usual she stood firmly in the dark. Was it too late for Dad to change his mind and let them remain here, where everything was perfect, happy…familiar?
With Carter.
Jenna had begged and pleaded with her parents, but to no avail. The decision was final.
They were leaving.
Today. In a few minutes.
“Don’t forget me.” Jenna lifted her gaze to capture Carter’s and held tight as his face swam before her. “It’s going to be hard enough not seeing you every day. I couldn’t bear not talking to you, too.”
“I won’t ever forget you, Jenna. We’ll see each other again. I promise.” His eyes filled too, and his chest heaved as he struggled with his emotions. “I’ll wait for you.”
“Write to me.” She swiped tears from her cheeks. “Every day.”
“And twice on Sunday.” He cupped her elbows and leaned in close. Sunlight cocooned them as a gentle breeze ruffled Jenna’s hair. His T-shirt held the scent of summer mingled with citrus from the dryer sheets his mom used. “Every Sunday.”
Carter dipped his head, his gaze suddenly softening. His fingers trembled along the nape of her neck as his breath skimmed her cheek.
Jenna’s pulse galloped as the universe shifted. Carter was going to kiss her.
They’d never kissed, never even really held hands except for the slow dance a few weeks ago. Or when he helped her navigate slick rocks to cross a shallow section of the river.
And there was the time they rode the Screaming Banshee together. Then he’d laced his fingers with hers and held tight. In that moment Jenna felt as if she could conquer the world.
She wanted to kiss Carter…had wanted to for the longest time.
She sensed he wanted to kiss her as much. He shifted slightly and his lips settled ever-so-lightly along her cheek, grazing the spot where his thumb had wandered only moments ago. His touch was so gentle and tender, that no words were needed to communicate all he felt…mirroring all she wished for.
A moment or two passed as Jenna held her breath. She tilted her chin and his lips skimmed lower to find hers. As his mouth melded to hers, the softest gasp billowed up from deep inside her. Her heart paused and then quickly recalibrated, turning everything bright and new as the sun burst into a million points of light. As he held her close she inhaled the blend of summer sunshine and fresh-mown grass on Carter’s skin. She bottled the scents that would forever brand him into her memory.
Carter.
She would experience only a single first kiss in her lifetime, and now that kiss belonged to Carter. No length of time or distance could ever take it away.
Forever sealed. Forever ours…together.
Her parents’ voices, drawing closer now, carried on the breeze to shatter the tender moment. She turned and spied them heading back around the corner. Reluctantly, she pressed a hand to Carter’s chest. As he stepped back, putting distance between them, an arctic blast sliced through Jenna.
“Jenna, it’s time to go,” her mother called. “Say your final goodbyes.”
Jenna shivered as another chill swept in.
Final…this is final.
“No, it’s not.” Carter had developed a knack over the years for sensing what she was thinking. Being next-door neighbors since birth did have its advantages. “This isn’t final. I’ll find you, Jenna, no matter how far away your parents take you. I promise.”
“I’ll find you, too.” She nodded stiffly. “I will.”
“That should be easy, since I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ll be right here.” Carter delved a hand into his pocket to retrieve something. He pressed the small, cool object into the palm of her hand. “Take this. Keep it close and I’ll always be with you. Always, Jenna.”
Jenna closed her fingers over his gift as a wave of sadness chased away all of the light. She couldn’t bear to look at what he’d given her. She turned away, sobs suddenly taking over as Carter held open the car door for her and she slipped into the backseat. A moment later the door closed and the engine roared to life.
As Dad steered the car away from the curb Jenna turned and knelt in the seat. Through the rear window, she kept her gaze glued to Carter. She’d never forget the vision of him standing alone at the edge of the sidewalk haloed by sunlight. He’d jammed his hands into his pockets and tried his best to smile, but looked as miserable and lost as she felt.
Jenna folded her arms and rested her chin on them as her chest heaved. She struggled to breathe through her tears while her mind screamed what she’d failed to form into words.
    Goodbye, Carter. I’ll love you forever.
~~~~~

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Week #28: Showered by Love by Mary Manners

 
 
 
Jessica Marlin comes to Honeysuckle Cove carrying a secret–she’s pregnant. Shamed by her indiscretion and the circumstances of a former way of life, she’s determined to make a home for her child in the quaint community—even if it means going it alone forever. But when her secret becomes too big to keep, she fears she’ll be forced to abandon her new role as kitchen manager at Honeysuckle Cove Inn. Will friendship—and God’s grace—prevail, or will Jessica be forced to uproot and move on once again?

Rogan Brooks has convinced both himself and his hometown of Honeysuckle Cove that he’ll never settle down long enough to embrace marriage, let alone fatherhood…until he sees the glow of pregnancy, along with the promise of a future, radiate from Jessica Marlin’s eyes. Can Rogan assure Jessica that his heart is true and he’s committed to being a daddy—complete with a happily ever after—for keeps?
 
 
~~~~~
 
 
Jessica Marlin hummed along to the radio as she whipped a pair of egg whites into a bowl of angel food cake batter. Now that she was in charge of food prep for Honeysuckle Cove Inn, she planned to add the sweet, airy confection to the dinner dessert menu. Topped with a handful of plump, wild blackberries that grew along the pathway at the inn’s rear garden as well as a generous dollop of whipped cream, the confection was sure to please even the most discerning patron.
Jessica had arrived in Honeysuckle Cove only yesterday to claim her position as head chef—which was actually more akin to chief cook and bottle washer—of quaint and cozy historic Honeysuckle Cove Inn. The move made her feel alive again, as if she breathed fresh air for the first time in months.
She’d returned home. For real. For good.
Forever.
She’d traveled a rough road to circle back ’round to the cove. Kurt had been gone nearly five months now, but bittersweet memories remained. She’d been convinced, despite all of the warning signs that said otherwise, that once they scaled a few hurdles his love for her would prove genuine and lasting. She’d been so sure of it. But his words at the end, just before the car accident stole his final breath, had cut through her heart like a rusty knife. Now all she had to show for the pair of years they’d spent together was the ridiculously-oversized diamond he’d insisted she wear—one that had constantly snagged on packages and utensils as she’d tried to prepare exquisitely garnished meals at the prestigious Chicago restaurant where they’d worked together. She’d finally, against Kurt’s demands, removed the cumbersome rock and tucked it into her jewelry box.
That’s not all you have, Jess. Shake it off…time to look forward, not back.
She swallowed hard and pressed a palm to her belly, letting it rest there for a moment or two before she turned her attention back to the mixing bowl. She whisked the batter, letting the action carry away a thrum of hurt. The past was done. There was no turning back. The future waited.
“Oh. My. Goodness.” Maggie O’Connor, owner and proprietor of the inn along with her husband, Dylan, strode into the kitchen. Her vibrant strawberry blonde hair bounced in a flurry of curls as she made a beeline to the cook island. Green eyes widened with delight as she peeked into the mixing bowl. “Whatever you’re whipping up, I want some. It smells like a slice of heaven.”
“I’m experimenting with a couple of recipes. The chocolate chip scones are ready. They’re cooling on the counter over there.” Jessica nodded and pointed with her elbow. “If you like them, I thought we’d serve a batch for breakfast tomorrow. I also threw together a platter of petit fours for the afternoon tea. They’re in the fridge. And this here is a batch of Grandma Sue’s angel food cake recipe that I plan to serve tonight as a special after-dinner treat.”
“Oh, then I have found heaven. It’s a proven fact that no one baked as well as your Grandma Sue—until you.” Maggie snatched a scone from the cooling rack and chanced a nibble. She closed her eyes on a sigh. “Oh, wow. This is definitely a yes for breakfast…or anytime. Yummy.”
“Thanks.” Jessica smiled…the first genuine smile that had touched her lips in weeks. From the first time she’d stepped into the inn as a child, when Maggie invited her to a sleepover the summer between sixth and seventh grades, she had always enjoyed the homey, welcoming feel of the inn. The two had remained close friends over the years…at least until they’d both gone their separate ways following high school graduation. The distance had caused them to lose touch for a few years but thankfully, they’d just recently reconnected.
She and Maggie had decided to serve family-style evening meals for the inn’s guests instead of cooking ala carte, extending that feeling to the dining area. It was up to Jess to finalize each day’s menu, and she was already having fun experimenting with all the hearty options.
“Wait until you taste the roast and baby potatoes that I tossed together and slipped into the oven.” She motioned with the whisk. “The mushroom gravy is a top-secret recipe and definitely to die for.”
“Ugh.” Maggie splayed a hand along her midsection. “I can already feel the waistband of my slacks constricting.”
The comment brought reality crashing down. Jessica’s slacks snugged tight as well, but not for the same reasons as Maggie’s.
Ready or not, you’re going to have a baby, Jess. Motherhood looms. Are you going to be able to handle all of your responsibilities for the inn and a baby?
The words niggled. When Maggie had called with the offer of a job, Jessica had had no idea what events the coming days would bring. As far as she knew, the run-down feeling that dogged her was a direct result of the aftermath of her blow-up with Kurt and, on the heels of that, his unexpected death. The pair of events had taken the wind from her sails and plagued her with flu-like symptoms that she couldn’t seem to shake.
So she’d trekked to the doctor in search of antibiotics, and had instead received the shock of her life.
She was pregnant.
Thankfully, the nausea had passed. But that merely meant her due date closed in.
“I’m so sorry, Maggie.” Jess frowned, remembering how she’d broken the news to Maggie soon after leaving the doctor’s office. “I would have told you about my…my situation sooner if I’d known. If you want to find a replacement chef, I completely understand. I’ll just pack up—”
“Hold it right there.” Maggie turned to face her with flashing green eyes. “Not another word about replacing you. That’s nonsense. This job is yours, Jess, and it will remain yours for as long as you’d like. When the baby comes, we’ll all pitch in and work it out. It’s the way we do things around here. No one gets left behind. Dylan and I are here for you, and Cameron’s happy to roll up his sleeves, as well. You’re not alone in this. The inn is your home now, for as long as you want to stay. End of discussion…end of story.”
Or just the beginning, Jess thought. A wonderful, bright beginning. If nothing messed it up. But something always managed to find a way. She forced the thought aside. Not here…not now.
Jessica fought back tears as she continued to work the whisk. Things felt so perfect here in the cove that it was hard to imagine she’d ever fought so hard to escape the close-knit town. Maggie and Dylan’s tireless renovations had renewed the inn to its original beauty and then some. Jess’s room right off the kitchen welcomed with bright and cheerful décor. She smiled as she thought of waking that morning to sunshine dancing over a sprawling bed of wave petunias and whimsical honeysuckle bushes coming into bloom. The scent had drifted through an open window, bringing a sense of contentment and a feeling of belonging that she hadn’t felt in months.
How fortunate she was to have a friend like Maggie. Her phone call had bridged the time and distance gaps, reminding Jess she was someone to be counted on when times were smooth as well as when the road proved rough.
Like now. Jessica splayed her free hand protectively over her belly. How was it possible to be gripped by doubt while also feeling such a sense of peace? A gentle warmth coursed through her as she thought of the life growing inside her. Life might have dealt her a disheartening blow, but nothing would stand between her and her baby.
“I’m so happy to be here.” Jess dropped the whisk and wiped her hands on her apron as she took a step toward Maggie. “Coming home again was meant to be. It’s simply perfect…a dream come true.”
“Oh, Jess.” Maggie threw her arms around Jessica and squeezed hard. “I’m happy, too. I’ve missed you so. Honeysuckle Cove is where you belong…where you’ve always belonged. It just took you a while to figure it out.”
“I know that now, but I definitely traveled the long road back. Just call me stubborn and hardheaded.”
“Well, if the shoe fits…”
They both laughed, because it was true. Jessica’s stubborn streak was known far and wide throughout the cove. It had ramped up in the years following her parents’ divorce when her mother took off, causing Jess and her father to lock horns continually during her high school years.
Except now Jessica’s laughter sounded hollow in her ears. This particular lesson had brought her life full circle. Where would she go from here and what did it all mean?
“Coffee?” Maggie asked, reaching into the cabinet beside the deep, double-basin sink for a pair of mugs and then for the carafe.
“Decaf if you have it.”
“Of course.” Maggie quirked an eyebrow. “Nothing but the best for your little guy.”
“Or girl.” The baby was going to be a girl. Jessica couldn’t explain the feeling of simply knowing, but she felt so sure. She’d know for certain in a few weeks, when she went for an ultrasound. She’d made an appointment with Doc Hutchins, who’d delivered just about every baby born in the cove over the past three decades.
Jessica sipped the coffee Maggie poured as she peered out the window overlooking the vast expanse of deck and the gardens beyond. Dylan had been hard at work all morning laying a stone walkway with the help of his nephew Cameron and another guy. The mystery man’s long limbs were clad in faded denim, and the shirt pulled taut across a terrain of muscles said he was no stranger to hard work. Something about the curve of his jaw and the way he moved with an easy, graceful ease seemed vaguely familiar. But he stood too far into the distance and shielded by a century-old willow for a clear view.
“Who’s that?” Jess strained for a better look, but a tousle of chocolate-colored hair hid his eyes.
Maggie peered over the rim of her coffee mug. “You don’t recognize him?”
“There’s something...” Jessica leaned toward the window and squinted into the sunshine. “I can’t quite put my finger on it. Should I recognize him?”
“Of course. We all went through school together.” Maggie gave her a knowing look. “Third period lunch, Saturday night bonfires on the hill overlooking Wanderlust Lake, mad scientist moves…”
“Rogan Brooks…from chemistry class?” Jessica tried to wrap her brain around the thought. “Rogan, who built a greenhouse from scratch for his mom for his senior honors project, and then nearly blew up the high school lab in his quest to concoct a fast-acting recipe for plant food?”
“Yep. Uh huh.”
“The same Rogan who earned me a three day suspension because I had this misfortune of pairing up with him as a lab partner on the day he pranked Miss Gilliam by letting one of the lab rats run lose in her desk drawer?”
“Yes, that Rogan. And even though Miss Gilliam had it in for him back then, I don’t think placing the rat in her desk was great idea.”
“What clued you in? The fact that she screeched like a banshee when it burrowed beneath her sleeve and crawled up her arm, or the wail of an ambulance as it arrived to transport her to the hospital for x-rays because she cracked her skull on the corner of her desk when she passed out cold?”
“Well, then there’s that. But I suppose the plant food recipe paid off, despite the damage to the lab. Rogan owns his own landscaping company now—Rare Earth Designs.” Maggie gestured toward a van parked at the side drive, emblazoned with the company logo. “And he’s filled out nicely, hasn’t he?”
“I’ll say.” Mud-splattered jeans and a mucky—was it once pale green—T-shirt merely served to enhance his looks. Eyes the color of rich, dark soil were framed by generous waves of hair. Jess imagined a spatter of stubble accentuated his jawline. “What happened to those horn-rimmed glasses he used to wear?”
“Oh, he retired those from everyday use years ago when he had eye surgery. I think he still dons a pair sometimes when he drives, though.” Maggie chuckled and then added, “And, despite the best efforts of all the bachelorettes around the cove, he’s still single.”
“Well, no surprise there.” Jessica’s belly gave an odd little flutter. Was it a touch of nervous anticipation…or the baby kicking? “He always said he’d never marry.”
“And I said I would never return to Honeysuckle Cove for anything more than a quick visit, let alone manage this inn. But now I cannot imagine sharing my life with anyone besides Dylan. I love the idea of returning the inn to its original beauty as we build our future together here in the cove.” She pursed her lips on a sigh. “People change, Jess.”
“My life has certainly taken its fair share of unexpected detours.” Jessica’s laugh rang high-pitched and just a bit shaky. “So I’m not looking for any more surprises—especially if Rogan Brooks is involved.”
“Sometimes even when you’re not looking, those surprises have a way of finding you and latching tight.”
“Regardless, I’m not interested in rekindling anything with Rogan…not that there were any sparks to begin with.”
“That’s not what you said when we were in high school.” Maggie waggled a finger. “You were over the moon for him.”
.
“And all he ever did was get me into trouble.”
“So, he was a little bit rowdy and sort of shy.” She eyed Jess over the rim of her coffee mug. “I think he’s gotten over both of those traits.”
“It’s a moot point. High school was a long time ago…another lifetime.” She shook her head, refusing to allow her gaze to drift toward Rogan again. “And even if I still harbored an interest in him—which I’m not saying I do—Rogan’s sure to sprint away as if his life depends on it when he learns I’m expecting another man’s child. I told you, he said he’d never get married and that he’d only have kids if and when that unmentionable, vast depth below our feet freezes over.”
“In that case, I’m feeling a little chill.” Maggie glanced down at her wedding band with a wistful smile. A soft breeze carried the fragrant scent of honeysuckle through the open window over the sink. “Never say never around here, Jess. Take it from me…wonderful, unexpected things have been known to happen to those who venture along the grounds of Honeysuckle Cove Inn.”
 
~~~~~
 
 

Thanks for visiting! I hope you've enjoyed this visit to Honeysuckle Cove. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Showered by Love. Winner will be announced Monday, July 17.

 
 

 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Week #27: Honeysuckle Cove Secrets by Mary Manners

 
 
 
Peyton Foster harbors a secret…from the day he first stepped into her life she’s loved Luke Maddox. Though she thought they’d developed a lasting friendship, events surrounding her mother’s death chased him away. It’s all for the best, since Peyton’s passion as proprietor of A Whisper in Time proves the perfect complement to her shyness—a much better fit than her former misguided schoolgirl attraction to Luke.

Luke Maddox feels a connection with Peyton Foster from the first moment their paths cross. But when he settles in Honeysuckle Cove, a past riddled by years traversing the foster care system leaves him longing to fit in, leading him to take part in a foolish school dare that costs him Peyton’s friendship. Haunted by the mistake, he searches for a way to mend the past and find a way back to Peyton’s heart. When a break-in at A Whisper in Time causes their paths to once again cross, Luke must make a choice—bare his heart and face the consequences, or allow the only woman he’s ever loved to slip away.
 
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1st Chapter:
Peyton Foster nibbled a fingernail as the tile floor came into focus through a wash of tears. Her shop lay in ruins. One glimpse of the destruction caused her nerves to vibrate like the low hum of morning rush hour traffic along the boulevard. A Whisper in Time was her baby, a livelihood rooted in whimsical dreams that she’d nurtured to one of the most respected small businesses in Honeysuckle Cove.
Countless hours spent at her grandmother’s knee drinking in rich, fanciful lore of the cove had encouraged Peyton’s childhood dreams to take wings and fly. Now the brownstone shop she’d rescued nearly half-a-decade ago from the jaws of demolition had been horribly breached during the overnight hours. Treasures she’d tirelessly accumulated lay scattered and strewn across the floor like Humpty Dumpty after his fall.
“Is anything missing?” Luke asked in a tone as soothing as warm chocolate. He eased in beside her and raked a hand across his jaw, where a shadow of stubble brought out the depth of chiseled cheekbones. Together, they surveyed the damage. “I know it’s a mess, but can you tell if anything was taken?”
Peyton struggled to focus on the task at hand as her gaze lifted to Luke’s eyes. Usually wooly-gray as a blanket of daybreak mist that billowed over Wanderlust Lake, this morning the color shone glimmering onyx. The subtle change often proved the case when his temper flared. Today that temper was elicited by an early-morning phone call that had him sprinting to find her ankle-deep in shattered glass from the shop’s smashed front door.
He hadn’t hesitated to help so much as a moment. The thought wove a ribbon of tenderness through Peyton.
“I’m not sure if anything’s been taken.” Peyton knew every detail of the shop as if it were an appendage of her body, but the extent of destruction made it difficult for her to wrap her brain around the chaos. She’d designed and set up each of the dozen or so displays for the spring season herself, and her memory served like an accounting photograph. But right now the mental film was blank, her mind overrun with a sense that her precious territory had been deeply violated. “The jewelry and coin displays weren’t even touched, but whoever did this paid special attention to the collection of music boxes, pawing through them as if searching for something in particular.”
“Yeah, I’d have to agree with that. It’s odd…almost like they weren’t concerned about the monetary value, but more as if they’d embarked on some kind of scavenger hunt.” Luke edged toward the corner display table. A variety of music boxes lay like wounded soldiers across the polished tabletop. One had been abandoned just inside the doorway, and it lay atop splinters of glass as if it had been dropped there when the looters fled. He bent to pick it up and, turning it over to check for damage, found a small engraving along the bottom panel. He read the initials aloud. “M.M.B…”
“Hmm…that’s strange.” Immediately, Peyton’s curiosity piqued. “I hadn’t noticed the engraving until just now.”
“Do you know what—or whom—the letters stand for?”
“No, I haven’t had time to adequately research that piece. It’s merely on display for the time being, not for purchase. I make it a policy not to add anything to the saleable inventory without first fully investigating its origin.” Peyton had spent a great deal of time admiring the curved shape with a pattern of delicately inlaid flowers along the porcelain finish. The piece was the epitome of beauty…a real treasure. “All I know for sure is that it’s dated pre-nineteen hundred.”
“That’s old.” Luke whistled softly as he ran his callused finger along the mysterious initials. “I wonder what sort of stories it would tell if it could talk.”
The thought caused Peyton’s pulse to skitter. If her grandmother were still alive, she’d most likely provide a depth of insight. Grandma Carlene spent a great deal of time immersed in stacks of books and news-clippings at the public library, volunteering as Honeysuckle Cove’s honorary town historian. She’d passed much of her knowledge on to Peyton, who loved to spend her free time steeped in history, dreaming of the people who shared leading roles in Gran’s stories. The thought that Luke was also intrigued by the past made the idea that much more appealing.
            Gran’s memory lived on through the shop, which had been initially leased following her death with funds she’d willed to Peyton. Peyton felt a special connection to her within these walls, as if Gran’s spirit was somehow delicately woven into the collection of pieces gathered here.
“I wonder about such stories, too.” Peyton reached for the porcelain box. Whoever it had originally been purchased for so many years ago must have been very special. The delicate trinket resonated romance. She sighed, wishing she’d one day be gifted something equally lovely and romantic by a special someone who loved her. She often wondered how she’d be remembered by future generations who chose to make Honeysuckle Cove their home. With admiration and respect like Grandma Carlene, or as a tad quirky and eccentric like the cove’s designated cat-lady, Mrs. Steinweiler.
Peyton turned the box over and cranked a small brass lever tucked along the underside. When she righted it once again and lifted the top to expose a delicate velvet compartment, the light scent of honeysuckle drifted from the fabric to kiss her nose.
“The gears seem to be working OK and I don’t see any chips or dings.” Luke peered over her shoulder. “And is that perfume I smell…sweet and earthy, like a hint of flowers?”
So the scent had found its way to him. It wasn’t her imagination.
“It smells like honeysuckle.” To Peyton’s great relief as the crank unwound soft music began to resonate from the box. The whimsical song coupled with a honeyed floral scent brought back memories of the mysteriously captivating Honeysuckle Cove Inn lore that Grandma had shared with her on more than one occasion.
Legend had it that Malachi Brennan, the grand patriarch of the Brennan family as well as Maggie O’Connor’s paternal great grandfather, had built the inn during the late 1800’s for his new bride. According to Gran, Malachi disappeared one evening not long after the newlyweds moved in, as a storm blew through the cove while he fished on the lake.
Gran had insisted his spirit roamed the shores searching for a way back home. She was also convinced the spirit of Malachi’s young bride, Mary Margaret, strolled the inn searching for her beloved husband. The warm, fruity scent of honeysuckle proved her signature.
Peyton pondered a question as she slid a finger once again over the engraving. M.M.B….Mary Margaret Brennan…could it be this music box had once belonged to her?
“It’s lovely.” She tore her thoughts from the mystery as she turned back to Luke. “Mrs. Hollister brought this in a few months ago along with a crate full of other trinkets. She said she found it when she was cleaning her great aunt’s attic. She’d never seen it before, as far as she could remember, and she’s not sure how it got there. She asked me to do a little research to see what I could learn.”
Guilt nagged. She’d been so busy preparing for the Touch of Spring Small Business Expo on the Town Square that had taken place over the weekend that she hadn’t given Mrs. Hollister’s request much thought. She would have to rectify that immediately.
Or as soon as police and insurance reports were filed, the tile floors cleared of shattered glass, inventory assessed, and the disrupted displays sorted and reassembled.
To name just a few of the things on today’s unexpected to-do list.
“Though the other trinket boxes were tossed around, none of them have been knocked from the table.” Luke turned a slow circle, drinking in the damage. “So, with any luck they should be OK.”
“I sure hope so.” Peyton set the delicate music box back on the tabletop, her mind now reeling with questions that went beyond the break-in. With great difficulty, she shook them off and took a moment to right a few of the other trinkets before a wave of emotion suddenly swept through. She choked back a sob and swiped at her eyes as the full impact of this morning’s events clamped down and held tight.
For a few long moments all she heard was her own ragged breathing. Then glass crunched beneath Luke’s shoes as he eased closer.
“It’s going to be OK, Peyton.” He draped a hand over her shoulder and squeezed lightly. His fingers were warm and strong while his tone soothed the ache that gripped her heart.
“Oh, I know it will. It’s just…this is a big setback. One I really don’t need right now. Not one little bit.” She estimated the break-in wreaked havoc serious enough to close the shop to customers for the better part of the day—perhaps even into tomorrow. Not good at all, since heightened advertising and exposure from the business show coupled with unseasonably warm weather had people strolling the sunny boulevard and in the mood to shop. “And I was off to a really great month—the best one yet. Actually operating in the black. So much for getting ahead.”
 “I’ll help you put things back in order and make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Luke soothed with his eyes, making her feel as if she was wrapped in a soft, downy blanket. “First things first—you need an iron-clad security system, and I’m going to take care of that immediately. Today.”
She was thankful he didn’t add ‘I told you so’ since he had done just that on more than one occasion. She’d failed to heed the warning, and now she was paying for her stubbornness in spades.
“I was hoping…” The words caught on a sob. Her tears began to fall with a vengeance. She brushed them away furiously as anger laced through like a thorny weed. She swallowed hard and found her voice again. “Good grief, this is Honeysuckle Cove. We’ve never had a crime issue. Maybe this was just some kids—”
“Regardless of who did this, there’s no sense taking a chance on it happening again, Pey.” Luke’s hand slipped down to splay across her lower back. He turned her toward him and drew her in, offering the warmth of a gentle hug. “Like it or not, times are changing.”
“I really don’t want to believe that.” She dipped her head and pressed her cheek against the corded muscles of his chest, melting into him as he wrapped her up. “Other places might experience such side effects as a result of community growing pains but not here…not in the cove.”
“Don’t fret, Peyton.” He placed a kiss along the crown of her head. “Whatever may come, I’ve got you. Just hold on tight.”
So she did just that. She fisted her hands along the hem of his shirt and held on. She hadn’t felt this off-kilter since middle school, when an anonymous note slipped into her locker on the heels of her mother’s horrific death had her world rocking from the height of Mt. Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Her heart had been shattered in much the same manner as the door glass at the shop entryway.
Luke had begun his inexplicable journey of avoidance that day, and after all these years she couldn’t say she blamed him. She’d been a train wreck back then, a real mess in the weeks and months after her mother was buried and she’d gone to live with Gran. The ugly letter, deposited before her emotional wounds had time enough to scab over, had only served to deepen her somber mood. Its horrid words still mocked on the occasional sleepless night.
You’re going to end up like her…
As the center of a spotlight in a small town like Honeysuckle Cove, she’d felt like a circus side show—with everyone but Luke. He was there for her as darkness descended, a genuine comfort until the letter launched a sort of unspoken crevasse between them. Though they’d begun to build what Peyton initially believed was a lasting friendship, he’d quickly shunned her for his football buddies and the occasional, impromptu Saturday night party along the shores of Wanderlust Lake.
He’d never asked her to join him…not that she would have, given the chance. Her mother’s death brought unexpected debts that were only compounded by her father’s subsequent emotional breakdown and long-term inability to work. She had no savings, so her meticulous studies and the valedictorian honors they garnered were all the hopes she had of making it through college with a business degree.
She didn’t have time for frivolity. Instead, she’d do everything in her power to grow a future and a legacy she could be proud of.
I will not end up like her. I will not…
She had plans to turn Gran’s stories and her dreams into reality by opening her own antique shop. Nothing would get in the way of that.
Not even Luke Maddox.
Peyton breathed in the scent of him, a whisper of pine mingled with a hint of soap. He smelled like he’d just stepped from the shower, and she heard his heart beating steady as the tick of a clock.
This was the Luke she’d grown to love, even if that love remained well-hidden in her heart. He was a man she could count on. A man of few words yet deep, unfathomable emotions. He knew how to laugh…how to make her laugh. And she’d seen him cry, as well.
Maybe she was becoming just a little more carefree and playful than she used to be, and she had to admit the change felt good. She’d learned to let go of the rigid routines that had given her a sense of security in the midst of her chaotic teen years while also casting her as somewhat of an outsider. Maybe that’s why Luke had turned away and left her in the dust. Who wanted to hang out with a girl who found calm reassurance in cataloging the history of her Honeysuckle Cove ancestors?
She thought of the anonymous letter tucked into a hidden, zippered compartment of her purse. She’d saved it all these years and took it out from time to time to remember the pain of the heckling words. It served as a reminder of how far she’d come from the insecure girl whose mother struggled so deeply with life that she’d finally taken her own, leaving Peyton with nothing but memories.
It also proved a gauge of how far she still had to go.
She relaxed against Luke and felt the tension ease down a notch or two. His embrace felt so right, she wanted to stay cocooned in it forever.
But she knew he was simply being nice in rushing to help her this morning…nothing more. She might have felt an unexplainable attraction to him since he showed up at Honeysuckle Cove Middle School out of the blue on a mid-November day their eighth grade year, but he obviously hadn’t returned the sentiment. Oh, she’d been a good enough friend until the in-crowd scooped him up and welcomed him to their tight-knit circle. From that point Peyton became yesterday’s news. And that hurt, it really wounded. Because she could have used a special friend all those years ago, when the sky crashed in on her world.
Maybe a touch of hope remained. Without explanation, Luke began a few months ago to stop by the shop during his lunch break and sometimes on his way home from work to make small talk. Often he brought her favorite eclairs and flavored coffee from Perini’s Bakery down the street, and they’d share dessert for lunch. Other days he presented her with bouquets of wildflowers meant to brighten the reception desk. Only a week ago, just as Peyton was closing up shop for the evening, he’d arrived with a stack of old postcards he’d found on the shelf of a closet in the house he rented. He’d asked her to join him for dinner and they’d walked down to Minter’s Deli, where they’d spent the better part of the evening poring over the cards’ delightfully scrawled messages.
Their distance across the years began to melt away as their paths wound together once again. Each time Luke came around—and it happened with greater and greater frequency—he seemed genuinely glad to see her. Though she enjoyed the time they spent together, Peyton couldn’t help but wonder…would it last?
Peyton reminded herself that Luke wasn’t here today of his own accord. He’d come to the shop that morning because she’d called him.
And she’d called him because he was the first person—even before the police or Mr. and Mrs. Constantine, who owned the art gallery next door and treated her like a daughter—she’d thought of when she’d arrived at A Whisper in Time to find the entrance door ajar, the glass panes smashed and the showroom miserably ransacked.
She’d dialed Luke because she knew he would come. And she knew he could—and would—offer the help and comfort she needed.
And she’d be fibbing if she failed to acknowledge she was still secretly in love with him, just as she’d been all through school.
Ugh…she’d thought such unrequited love played out only in sappy romance novels. But in this case truth rang stranger than fiction. She was certainly living, breathing proof.
Pathetic. It was time to move on. If Luke had any inkling of returning her romantic feelings, he would have made it known by now. Confidence was one thing Luke Maddox had quickly mastered as he’d settled into life in the cove. And as much as she’d like to imagine it, coffee breaks coupled with bakery sweets didn’t make for enduring love stories.
Luke shifted feet and Peyton felt the scrape of fabric where the Maddox Security emblem was embroidered into his navy polo shirt. She reminded herself again why he’d come. Luke owned a security company—the most reputable in the greater Honeysuckle Cove region. He was here to put in a fail-safe security system, one proven to ensure last night’s break-in would be the first and last.
“I guess we’d better get started.” With tremendous difficulty, Peyton untangled herself from his arms. Foot traffic along the boulevard had increased to a brisk pace. Soon her neighbors would get wind of what had happened. There was no sense in adding to town gossip by being spotted among the window display, swept up in Luke’s arms. “Chief Burke said he’d stop by to take a report as soon as the morning’s school traffic clears.”
“Good.” Luke snagged a stray hair from her tear-stained cheek and tucked it behind her ear. Concern tinted his eyes. “If you’ll give me the insider’s tour of this place we can figure out together the best type of system to suit your needs. How does that sound?”
“Perfect.” Peyton swallowed hard. “Sounds great.”
But it wasn’t great. All at once she felt like an insecure schoolgirl all over again. Her love life was D.O.A., her antique shop rivaled the Wreck of the Hesperus, and the installation of a security system—by Luke Maddox, of all people—stood at the top of her must-do list.
No, this chapter of her life wasn’t headed for a love story. Were her life penned for a romance novel it would never make the bestseller’s list. In fact, the story would be lucky to land in the slush pile instead of the circular file.
Could things possibly get any worse?
 
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