Monday, July 24, 2017

Week #30: Moonlight Kisses by Mary Manners


Jaylie Caldwell shared her first kiss many moons ago with Holt McCaffrey along the property of Honeysuckle Cove Inn. She’s sure he’s forgotten the moment, but she never will. Jaylie’s dreams led her to Chicago and a coveted position as evening anchor for Channel 8 News, while Holt stayed behind to climb the ranks of the Honeysuckle Cove Police Department. But, when an emergency calls Jaylie home, Holt is waiting.

Holt McCaffrey is honor bound to protect the community of Honeysuckle Cove, so, when an accident puts the life of a friend in jeopardy, he holds himself personally responsible. He’s finally gotten his wish from a long-ago moonlit night when he shared a sweet kiss with Jaylie Caldwell—she has returned home. But will the terms of her homecoming leave any room for forgiveness...or for him?
Jaylie Caldwell leaned forward in the chair and pressed her cheek against the kitchen table with a sigh. Exhaustion burrowed into her bones. She’d give away her entire collection of shoes for a cup of coffee, but she couldn’t summon the energy to rise from the seat and crank up the coffeemaker on Grandma Nan’s kitchen counter to brew a pot.
Thank goodness Gran had come home from the hospital and was finally in her own bed again, sleeping peacefully with the help of painkillers Dr. Metz had prescribed. The past few days had been nothing short of a raging tempest woven with worry and frazzled nerves.
Gran had taken a tumble down the back porch steps and cracked her head hard enough to open a gash that required half-a-dozen stitches. It was no small miracle she hadn’t broken a leg or a hip, as well. Thankfully, Gran’s bones proved as hardy as her stubborn streak.
Thank goodness…
Jaylie’s gaze wandered along painted sunflower yellow cabinets and over walls where a flurry of carefully-framed photos and drawings spoke to the years she’d spent growing up in the modest frame house. The pastel of an outdoor scene that she’d designed for Gran’s sixtieth birthday stood the focal point. The image was frozen in time, a cheerful splash of color that spoke to Gran’s vibrant personality.
Hopefully, that fighting spirit would carry Gran through this tough time and into a full recovery. As far as Jaylie had gathered up to this point, something in the back yard had spooked Gran during a storm that swept through last Friday night. When Gran had ventured outside to check things out she’d slipped on the porch stairs and taken a tumble. How long she’d lain there on the pavement, unconscious and bleeding, remained a mystery. Mrs. Talley, Gran’s longtime neighbor, had discovered her as she went to fetch the morning paper. Zeke, Gran’s quirky chocolate lab, had alerted Mrs. Talley with a lengthy bout of uncharacteristic, frenzied barking.
News of the accident traveled fast through the tightknit Honeysuckle Cove community. During the forty-eight hours Grandma Nan had spent in the hospital, good wishes, along with enough food to fill a supermarket chain, filtered into the house. Platters of various sizes filled the fridge and overflowed onto countertops. Mrs. Werner’s apple cobbler sweetened the air while a plate of brownies that had been heaped tall enough to feed an army winked from the center of the cozy dining table tucked into the bay-windowed breakfast nook. And the fridge…Jaylie could barely get the door to close after storing all the perishables.
No one in this house would go hungry. No, sir. Jaylie’s hips widened just thinking about the buffet of fried chicken and vegetable lasagna, baked honey ham and sweet potato casserole. Just about everyone in town had stopped by to check on Gran.
Everybody loved Grandma Nan. She’d taught third grade at Honeysuckle Cove Elementary for over forty years. Just about every resident under the age of fifty had come through her classroom at one time or another. Each had stories to share about their adventures. Whether they proved class clown or valedictorian mattered not an ounce to Gran. She loved each and every one of them with every fiber of her being, just as she’d spent a lifetime loving Jaylie. Memories of a school year spent with Grandma Nan were sure to last a lifetime.
Tears welled in Jaylie’s eyes as the events of the past forty-eight hours filtered through her mind. Exhaustion and worry burrowed into her bones.
“I almost lost you, Grandma Nan,” she whispered. Her only response was the tick of the clock on the wall over the sink. She wished with all her heart that she could turn back its hands. She might have arrived in time to shelter Gran from the fall. Then, instead of Gran sleeping off the pain of her injury while Jaylie fretted, they’d be sitting here together, playing a board game and laughing over silly things. She sniffled as tears spilled over to run down her cheeks. “And I couldn’t bear to lose you. I need you, Gran. You’re all I’ve got.”
How many times over the years had Gran sheltered her from danger…from heartache and pain? More than she could count.
Jaylie had come to live with Gran the summer between her second and third grades of school. What was meant to be merely a weeklong visit together while her mom went off on a honeymoon with her third husband, stretched to two weeks and then an entire month. Before she knew it, August rolled around without any sign of her mother.
When Jaylie finally asked, Gran gently explained that her mother had gotten into a tight spot and she was going to get some much-needed help to get back on her feet. It was years before Jaylie realized that ‘tight spot’ included the new husband, prescription drugs, and a very serious brush with the law.
Being separated from her only living parent might have made other girls her age homesick, but not so much Jaylie. Life with her mother had meant missed school days, spotty meals, soiled clothes that never seemed to fit, and lots of lonely afternoons spent tiptoeing around the rundown apartment they leased while mom holed up in her bed, nursing a chronic headache.
But with Gran Jaylie experienced warm hugs, loads of laughter, chicken and dumplings, and clothes that smelled like sunshine. Best of all, Gran never cocooned herself in the bedroom, begging a headache. Jaylie longed to stay with Gran forever. She’d told Gran as much.
So as Gran set out to prepare her classroom for the coming year, Jaylie tagged along. When the school bell ushered in a new school year, Jaylie was issued a front row seat—right next to Holt McCaffrey who lived in the sprawling house right next door to them. Jaylie knew this because while riding the shiny new bike Gran had given her for her birthday, she’d spied him in the yard, chasing his dog and playing fetch when he returned from a summer-long trip out west with his parents.
She’d spent the entire year—a magical year—catching the bus, sharing lunch snacks and trading notes with Holt. She’d learned the meaning of friendship and discovered her first—and only—true love.
Blue-eyed Holt McCaffrey.
Jaylie stayed the next year with Gran, and the next. And every one that followed. Gran gave her more than money could ever buy. Jaylie felt wanted…and loved. Gran was never too busy to help her to bake chocolate chunk cookies or listen to her school day adventures. They’d even performed together in the mother-daughter talent show Jaylie’s eighth grade year. The crowd had issued a standing ovation.
As high school graduation loomed, Jaylie had confided to Gran her feelings for Holt. Gran had listened with a twinkle in her eye and a grin on her lips.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Gran had assured her with a tone of confidence Jaylie wished she also felt. “You’ll see, Jaylie.”
Wasn’t that the truth! Less than a month later Gran had dried Jaylie’s tears when Holt asked Megan Daniels to senior Prom instead of her. Not that Jaylie could blame him for that. Megan was a petite brunette bundle of TNT and the cheerleading captain. And, as the only daughter of the most successful real estate agent in Clover Cove, she owned a closet full of designer clothes. She zipped around town in a cherry-red ragtop Miata—a far cry from Jaylie’s department store wardrobe and the used sedan she shared with Gran.
It didn’t help matters when Megan confided an unsettling secret to Jaylie just a few weeks later, implicating Holt in her misadventures. The unexpected news broke Jaylie’s heart.
She couldn’t even consider the details now and forced all thought of that fateful day from her mind. There was no going back, no undoing what was done.
Instead of dwelling on what couldn’t be changed, Jaylie had embraced the opportunity to put distance between her and Holt. High school graduation came and went. She’d packed her suitcase and moved halfway across the state to study journalism. Four years later, bachelor degree in hand, she’d snagged a job as a reporter with the Windy City’s Channel Eight News.
Since then she’d been woefully lax on her visits to Gran. Her studies had left little free time and the move to Chicago made day travel impossible. She learned early on that vacation days proved few and far between for an inexperienced college graduate trying to stake her place in the media world. Over the course of six years she’d worked her tail off. She’d climbed the ranks of the fickle news industry in record time, clawing her way to the coveted position as evening news anchor. Life had been a dream come true.
Except for missing Holt and wishing…always wishing for something more in that arena, though she knew it could never be.
Then a few months ago the station was bought out and wham, the hard-won position was snatched from her. It mattered not one iota that she had more talent and experience in her pinky finger than the new GM’s niece, who had happily—and with a haughty dose of arrogance—slipped into Jaylie’s seat at the anchor desk.
Jaylie had seethed over this turn of events. She’d buried herself in a dark pit and covered the hole with self-pity. She’d finally crawled from the trench to phone Gran and share her disappointment. Together, they’d decided her best option was to come home to the cove and hash things out. Jaylie had felt a surge of optimism. Gran always knew just how to tackle even the toughest problem and come out on top. Jaylie had actually been packed and ready to head this way when the call about Gran’s fall had come through.
“You need to come home right away, Jaylie.” Holt’s voice, steeped with concern that had her nerves standing at attention, drifted through her ears. “Nan’s had an accident. I’m not sure if she’ll be…I mean, I don’t know how bad it is.”
Emotions churned through Jaylie. Worry over Gran blended with the most subtle hint of delight over speaking to Holt again after so many years.
God works in mysterious ways…
Zeke sauntered into the room. He padded over to Jaylie, sniffed the tile, and plopped down at her feet.
“There’s my good boy.” Jaylie swiped tears from her cheeks and extended a hand to offer him a soothing stroke along his flank. “You’re my hero, baby. You summoned help for Gran. I owe you bigtime. I’ll never forget that.”
A low-pitched rumble bubbled up from Zeke’s throat. He pressed his grizzled snout to Jaylie’s knee as if he understood the depths of her appreciation.
“Yes, you’re a good boy,” she cooed. “The best.”
The sound of a motor drew Jaylie’s attention through the broad bay window that flanked the breakfast nook. Zeke’s ears perked as he rose on all fours. He lumbered to the window and propped his front paws along the ledge.
A police cruiser wound its way up the drive. Impeccably-waxed paint along the front hood glinted beneath the mid-May sun. The driver’s eyes were shielded by a pair of reflective sunglasses but Jaylie would recognize the strong curve of that chiseled jaw anywhere, even after all this time.
Holt McCaffrey.
He pulled beneath the shade of Gran’s beloved century-old elm tree and killed the motor. A breeze rustled through the leaves as he leaned back in the seat and rested behind the wheel, probably debating whether or not to come inside.
That in itself brought a whole new level of heartache.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

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

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?

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?

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?

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?


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.


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.