Monday, July 10, 2017

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.



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