By Barb Curtis
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 29, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Just when recently evicted yoga instructor Faith Rotolo thinks her luck has run out, she inherits a historic mansion in quaint Sapphire Springs. Though Faith never imagined putting roots down anywhere, small-town life is growing on her, as is her fixer-upper house. If only her handsome new contractor, Rob Milan, would stop spoiling her daydreams with the realities of a major rehab…and his generally grouchy vibes.
A single dad of two, Rob doesn’t have much time for fantasy wish-list ideas his clients can’t afford. Then again, Faith’s creative energy might be exactly what he needs right now. But while Rob and Faith work to give her home the second chance it deserves, their spirited clashes wind up sparking a powerful attraction. As work nears completion, and Faith’s house becomes the shining jewel of the neighborhood, will she and Rob realize that they deserve a fresh start too?
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It's such a strange feeling to be at the end of this series. These characters have been in my head so long that I've begun to think of them as friends or family. I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that they are immortalized now in the pages of these books. So I'll start by thanking the woman who saw something in my words from that very first submission. Junessa Vilora, this dream would not have come true (at least when it did) had you not taken a chance on me. You're such a joy to work with, and you know exactly how to make my stories shine. I'm so glad you loved Rob and Faith's story as much as the first two books!
To my agent, Stacey Graham: Thank you for everything you do in steering this small-town Canadian girl through the turbulent world of publishing. Your pep talks work every time, and your advice is always spot on. Thank you to the rest of the team at Forever for bringing my books to life: Leah Hultenschmidt, Lori Paximadis, Daniela Medina, Bob Castillo, and Estelle Hallick. Estelle, you're amazing! I can't thank you enough for everything you do!
A big shout-out to my critique partners—Tara Martin, Janet Walden-West, and Kat Turner—and to my fellow 2020 debut authors for all their support and encouragement. We writers would be lost without our tribes.
To all the readers, bloggers, and bookstagrammers: Your support amazes me every day, and it's what keeps this ship sailing! A big thank-you to Kathleen at Mill Cove Coffee for promoting so many locals, and my local community for singing my praises. Your support means the world.
To my parents and my family: Thank you for your encouragement and for listening to me go on about ideas, sometimes into the early morning hours. ;)
And, of course, thank you to Chris and Keira. I'd be completely swallowed up by all of this without you guys in my corner to keep me grounded and remind me of the things that really matter at the end of the day. I couldn't do this without the two of you by my side.
Two months was a long time to be off the grid.
An eviction notice clung to Faith Rotolo's apartment door by a grimy piece of Scotch tape, and her key no longer fit the lock.
Her heart rate surged as she dug around her purse for her cell so she could call Nick—the friend of a friend whose apartment she'd been staying at before she went to Fiji. Her fingers clasped around the phone. She pulled it out and pressed a button.
"Ugh." Just great. She spun on her heel to race back downstairs, where her car took up the better part of two parking spots.
Settling behind the wheel, she plugged her phone into the charger, patiently waiting for it to come to life while the air-conditioning washed over her, a respite from the mid-August heat. To her horror, it vibrated with notifications and incoming messages for what seemed like eternity.
A hundred and three emails? She glanced at the parking meter. The handful of coins she'd shoved into the slot before heading upstairs would only buy her another couple of minutes, and notifications were still pouring in.
She scrolled through her mailbox quickly. Junk mostly, save the occasional email from her father. And then lo and behold, she found the answer she'd been looking for: Nick had sent a brief message a month ago. He'd skipped out on the rent—took off to go on tour with his band. She'd need to find a new place to stay when she got back.
"Ugh, Nick, you flake." Faith glared upward past the lush elm tree toward the bare second-level windows. Thank God everything she owned lived in a storage locker in North Buffalo. She drummed the pads of her fingers to her chin. It'd be impossible to find another apartment with the influx of students arriving to begin the fall semester in a couple of weeks. Either she moved into a hotel until she found a place, or she crashed at her father and stepmother's house.
A hotel might be more welcoming.
She moved on to missed calls and voicemails. Some lady named Maureen Carver, a lawyer in Sapphire Springs, had left a message asking if Faith could please contact her. Then there were two more, the urgency factor escalating in each one.
Hmm. Faith tapped her foot and pinched her bottom lip. Her mom had grown up in Sapphire Springs, but other than that, she knew very little about the place. The town had barely been spoken of in the twenty-three years since the accident that claimed her mother's life.
What would a lawyer want with her?
Curiosity won out and had her clicking on the lawyer's phone number instead of looking for a hotel. Her heart rate quickened with each ring.
Surely she wasn't being sued for a yoga injury. She'd made people sign waivers.
Oh! She'd bumped that car a few months back. Nudged it, really—didn't even leave a mark, and she'd left an apology note with her phone number so they could call her directly. Couldn't be that.
Spoken like a woman who meant business.
Faith drew in a deep breath before speaking. "Good morning, Ms. Carver. This is Faith Rotolo. My apologies for the delay in responding to your messages. I've been out of the country a couple of months." That sounded half-assed professional, if she did say so herself.
The cheeky gerbera daisy on her dusty dashboard bobbed back and forth before Maureen broke into a hearty laugh that continued for several seconds.
"Faith Rotolo. Well I'll be damned. I thought you flew the coop, girl."
The friendly tone had Faith's shoulders relaxing. "Sorry about that. I've been in Fiji teaching a yoga retreat. Cell phones weren't permitted."
"Two months without a cell phone? Sign me up." Maureen spoke over shuffling papers and ringing phones. "In all seriousness, though, you've become a bit of a fixation for me. I placed bets with the girls at the office over whether you really existed. I even searched for you on social media."
Seriously? A lawyer creeping her Instagram?
Maureen continued. "Even your father's receptionist didn't return my calls. My imagination went wild. Nobody in your life seemed alarmed over where you disappeared to. I actually debated filing a police report."
Okay, if she was dead in a ditch, somebody would miss her, wouldn't they? Her father probably would if he took time out of his busy schedule to notice.
Maureen gave a hearty laugh. "Anyway, all that to say that I'm relieved to hear a voice on the other end of the line. You're probably busy catching up on personal business, so I'll get right to the point. Would you be able to come to my office in Sapphire Springs for a meeting?"
Faith drew in a breath. Sapphire Springs had been all but off-limits since the accident. She'd never been back. Dad either, as far as she knew. The town held too much sadness.
Her eyes traveled past the blinking light on the expired meter and scaled the low-rise brick building. "I guess so…I mean—"
"I can come to you, if that's easier," Maureen persisted.
And meet where, exactly? The back alley where she'd soon be living among the pigeons and stray cats? A black car pulled up beside Faith's lime-green Volkswagen Beetle. The driver laid on the horn and gestured to her parking. Before he sped off, he flipped her the finger.
She shrunk a little in her seat and eyed the meter reader turning the corner onto her street. What prevented her from meeting Maureen other than this prickling dread over visiting the town where her mom had grown up and being hit with painful memories? She didn't have kids to think about or a boyfriend to check in with. Not even a cat, for crying out loud. "No, I guess I could come to Sapphire Springs. I can be there in about an hour."
"Great. I'll clear my schedule," Maureen said. "This file has been sitting on my desk for weeks, and I really want it gone."
With one eye on the approaching meter reader, Faith rummaged through the console until she came up with a parking ticket she'd forgotten about, and turned it over to jot down directions Maureen rattled off. She tossed the pen and ticket onto the passenger seat and pulled away from the curb as the meter reader retrieved his ticket book from his vest.
Spontaneous road trips normally sparked excitement, but Sapphire Springs registered pretty low on Faith's list of desirable destinations. She'd make it a quick trip in and out of town to settle whatever business the lawyer was so intent on discussing. How bad could it be? Besides, everything she needed sat in the back seat of her car, and she quite literally had nowhere else to go.
In the five years since she and Nate divorced, Faith had used her yoga teacher training as a way to see the world. She'd taught on cruise ships and at posh resorts, and had scored some pretty sweet house-sitting gigs through some of her dad's colleagues to fill the gaps in between. She really hadn't had much of a home base.
The monotony of the forty-five-minute drive from Buffalo to Sapphire Springs did little to ease Faith's anxiety, and the edginess only escalated by the time she navigated the narrow streets of the small town, past historic brick buildings and a park in town square. Her mom had taken her there for a picnic once, and they'd spent the afternoon cloud watching under the shade of a massive oak tree. She'd recognize that park anywhere.
Rather than sadden her, the memory of her mother's red hair sweeping into her face as she rolled over on her side and propped her head up with her elbow made Faith's lips turn upward in a smile. She hadn't thought about that day with her mom in years.
By the time she parked her car in front of the law firm, Faith imagined being sued for everything imaginable. Still, she felt lighter somehow, than she had the entire drive. After showing ID and answering a few basic questions, a blond receptionist led her to Maureen's office.
"Faith, it's nice to finally meet you." Maureen rose from her desk to shake hands, her ebony corkscrew curls bouncing. "I know I sounded cryptic on the phone, but for confidentiality reasons, I needed to be able to confirm you are who you say you are and all that jazz. Now that you're here, I'll get right to the point. You might want to sit down for this," she added, nodding toward an empty seat.
Okay, still being a little cryptic, lady. Faith lowered into the stiff office chair opposite Maureen.
"Does the name William Gray mean anything to you?"
Faith drummed her short fingernails against the padded armrest. "Yeah, he's a relative. My late mother's uncle, maybe?" Was it bad she wasn't sure?
"My condolences," Maureen began. "Mr. Gray passed away last month. You're a beneficiary in his will."
Faith laughed abruptly, the panic from earlier dissipating. "I'm sorry." She waved her hand when Maureen looked at her curiously. "I was freaking out the entire drive here over what a lawyer could possibly want to discuss with me." She relaxed into the back of the chair. "So what did the guy leave me, some crusty old lamp?"
Maureen opened a green folder on her desk and smoothed her hand across the thin stack of pages. "Actually, you're the sole beneficiary."
Faith blinked and sat up a little straighter.
"Don't get too excited. The man didn't have much to his name other than this." Maureen slid a photo printed from the internet across the desk. "Are you familiar with this Victorian property on Sycamore Street? Grandiose old Queen Anne Revival, built around 1899?"
"Romano Estate?" Faith slid forward and glanced at the picture. "Sure, it's the house where my mom grew up. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was raised by her father and her grandmother. I think after Mom met my dad and her father got sick, his brother William moved in to take over looking after his mother. We visited several times when I was a kid, but I only have a vague recollection of William. Why?"
"Because he left the estate to you."
A couple of beats passed before the words sunk in and Faith found her voice. "Um…Sorry, what?"
"This comes as a surprise, I take it." Maureen crossed her elegant arms.
Her mom's house? Faith closed her dry mouth. "There must be a misunderstanding." She passed the photo back to Maureen. "I don't even know those people."
Maureen placed the photo back in the file. "I can assure you, it's not a misunderstanding."
Faith chewed on her bottom lip. None of this made any sense. "Why would William Gray leave his house to me? I'm little more than a stranger. Did the man not have anybody? Kids?"
"No kids." Maureen shook her head, sending her hoop earrings swaying back and forth. "Now I'm fairly new in town myself, but from what I gather, William was an eccentric sort. Apparently after his wife's passing seven years ago he was moved to a nursing home against his wishes. Nobody has inhabited the place since, unless you count a few star-crossed lovers of the teenage variety. If you know what I mean," she added with raised brows.
A love shack, then. Faith furrowed her brows while Maureen went on.
"Apparently William suffered from dementia, although no formal diagnosis supported that claim. Truth or not, he had enough wits about him to put the house in the care of a trust after his wife passed away. The place is a designated historical property, originally owned by businessman Rocky Romano, who would've been William Gray's grandfather." Maureen winked. "Bit of local legend there, if you're into that sort of thing."
Faith needed to talk to her father. This was too bizarre.
"We've got lots of paperwork to go through," Maureen continued. "And I have a small army of keys to sign over to you as well."
Actually, bizarre didn't quite cut it, but if this was a dream, it was damn vivid. Maureen tossed her too much information at once. The taxes were paid up, something about the well and septic being in good working order, the pond and grounds had been maintained…A few broken windows required attention, with fall around the corner, and weeds and foliage were taking over the immediate area around the house.
Okay, some of that sounded decent, and the rest didn't seem too daunting. Maybe this house could be the answer to all her problems. She could sell the place and travel. Win-win. Things were looking up already. Options were never a bad thing.
By the fourth or fifth time she heard the word hereinafter, Faith struggled to keep up. If even a shred of excitement managed to cut through the peculiarity of the situation, the legal mumbo jumbo killed her buzz.
Nonetheless, they fell into a rhythm, Maureen licking her thumb and flipping pages as she explained the documents, Faith speed-reading and scrawling signatures wherever the woman's diamond-clad finger landed. Each time she signed her name her pulse increased.
Maureen rolled away from her desk and pushed off the chair. "Now for the keys. What we've got here could supply a small hotel." She dropped them into an envelope and handed it to Faith. "I can't tell you what they're all for. Some are labeled, and others you'll have to figure out as you go."
Faith peered into the envelope and back at Maureen. "So that's it? I officially own the place?"
"For better or worse." Maureen sealed the deal with a handshake. "Congratulations, Faith. Locals say the place was beautiful in its heyday. I'm sure it could be again, with the right owner."
Maureen went back to her chair and flipped through the file until she landed on a pink Post-it. "On that note, I have a few names and numbers for you. Town council and the Sapphire Springs Historical Society both have a vested interest in whatever you decide to do, given the cultural significance of the property, and a couple of people here in town are interested in buying the house to restore it. I know they'll all be eager to speak with you. They've practically been waiting with bated breath."
So now she had potential buyers before she even saw the place in person? If a bunch of people wanted it, she might find herself in a bidding war. Cha-ching. Clearly she needed to pay this house a visit. See what all the fuss was about.
Maureen lowered her voice and leaned into Faith's space before going on. "One guy's all but driven me crazy since William passed away, checking in a few times a week to see if I'd tracked you down. If you ask me, he's got too much free time," she added with a wave of her hand. "Anyway, you can contact him yourself, or if you'd rather meet with legal presence, I can set up a meeting. Assuming you want to sell, that is."
Faith stared at the pink square of paper, the names going out of focus as she tried to process everything. She didn't have a clue about legalities of anything, much less selling a property, and something about the lawyer's energy instilled trust on Faith's part. "I most likely will sell it…I mean, I don't even know anybody in Sapphire Springs." And had no reason to hold on to any attachment to the place. "You keep the number for now, though," she finally managed. "I'd rather meet interested parties with you present."
Maureen laid a warm hand on Faith's bare forearm. "You're overwhelmed. It's completely understandable, given what's been thrown at you. I'll set something up for a couple of days from now so you have time to make sense of all this. Now that you're back in the land of the living, I'll text you with the time of the meeting. I'd suggest you take the evening to get your bearings. Maybe the photos will spark your memory of the place."
She loaded all of Faith's copies into a large envelope and pushed it toward her. "If you're interested in spending a couple of days in town while you take care of business, I highly recommend the Nightingale Inn. It's around the corner in town square, right on the corner of Queen and Nightingale Streets. I'll be in touch about that meeting."
"Yeah, I'll probably just drive back ho—" She paused midsentence. Huh. Well, she'd need to stay somewhere.
Out on the sidewalk, Faith flipped through the photos. Grandiose was an understatement. Fish scale shingles and gingerbread trim offset the soft brick exterior. It had columns and a rounded tower, for crying out loud. Big stately magnolia trees flanked the driveway, their blossom-speckled branches draping over the upper-level balcony like a pair of vintage parasols.
She'd been rendered homeless and inherited a freaking house in the same day. It had to be some kind of karmic balance. Faith put on her sunglasses to shield her eyes from the afternoon sun and rounded the corner to the town square. Her gaze swept down the sidewalk over the row of brick buildings. The inn was in plain sight—right at the end of the street, as Maureen had mentioned, but she wasn't sure yet about spending a couple of days in town. Her eyes narrowed on a red hanging sign. Jolt Café.
Take the evening to get your bearings, Maureen had suggested. What she needed was a glimpse of this house.
But first, coffee.
She tried to stuff the bulky envelope into her oversized purse, but it was a tight fit between her wallet, water bottle, and the magazine she'd been reading on the plane earlier. She twisted around to paw through her bag and make room, veering off a little on the sidewalk. "I really need to clean this thing out," she muttered.
A door swung open, and a guy stormed out of a restaurant, barking something into his cell phone about a stuffy condo. Faith glanced up just in time to collide with him. The impact stole her breath for a couple of seconds and sent her reeling backward as the contents of the envelope spilled onto the sidewalk.
The guy cursed into his phone and then ended the call. "What the hell, are you all right?"
Faith squatted down to pick up the paperwork. "Sorry, yes, I'm fine," she said, glancing up at him as she gathered pages and stuffed them back into the envelope. Hello. His chestnut-colored hair was a little tousled, and his chest moved up and down with choppy breaths.
His dark brows drew into a deep V. "You should really watch where you're going. You walked right into me."
Walked into him? Clutching the giant ring of keys, she rose up to his level. "Maybe you should watch where you're going," she countered, pointing at him. "You appeared out of nowhere and plowed right into me." The keys jingled with her every gesture.
He propped his hands on his hips. "No, you weren't paying attention. You were a million miles away, digging through your purse."
"Actually I think you were too busy talking on your phone to notice anyone in your path." So typical, these self-important types. He probably raced through life with that thing glued to his ear. Someone like that could use a retreat like the one she'd just taught.
He rolled his eyes and stuffed his phone into his pocket. "Whatever. Sorry to have crossed your path."
Faith shrugged. "It's fine. Nobody's hurt, right?" She shifted the weight of the keys, but they slipped out of her hand and landed at his feet.
"Right." He nodded, crouching down to pick them up. He glanced at the restaurant and then back at her, a little frown forming on his otherwise gorgeous face. "So what, do you work in a jail or something?"
Faith wrinkled her nose. "I…what? This conversation is getting weird."
He held up the key ring. "That's a lot of keys." With a flick of his wrist, he tossed them at her.
With a knee-jerk reaction, she swiftly snapped them right out of the air. "Right, that reminds me. I was on my way somewhere." She spun around and headed back in the direction of her car. Coffee could wait.
"Hey, Red," he called from down the street.
Her jaw stiffened and she glanced over her shoulder to where he still stood.
He offered the slightest nod. "Nice catch."
Somewhere between town square and Sycamore Street, Faith let the sidewalk incident go to focus on the task at hand. It occurred to her that Romano Estate was probably haunted, and how cool would that be? After all, every old house worth the beams it was built on deserved a ghost.
Rolling down the driveway, she clutched the steering wheel. A ghost would be the least of her worries. It would take a bulldozer to plow a path through the alders and vines that had taken over, like a protective barrier to ward people off. What happened to the place in the picture? The place where Mom grew up?
Before she went any further she needed to fill her father in on the bizarre series of events the day had handed her. He might be the only person who could shed some light on the situation. Normally she avoided calling him in the middle of the day, and she hoped he wasn't in one of his snappy moods.
"Dr. Chip Rotolo." He grumbled into his cell phone, despite the fact that her number would've shown up on the caller ID.
"Faith, honey, I'm glad you're back from your trip, but this is not a great time. I've got a surgery. What do you need?"
Why did he always assume she needed something? She never asked him for anything. Best to cut right to the chase. She rolled down the car window for some fresh air. "I've had a peculiar day. I came home to several messages from a lawyer in Sapphire Springs. I've inherited William Gray's house."
Silence. That got his attention.
"What in God's name would you want with that monstrosity?"
His choice of words wasn't entirely off the mark. Faith eyed the sagging veranda, which looked like it was clinging to the dilapidated old house by one nail. "I didn't say I wanted anything with it, Dad. It fell in my lap. Any idea why the old man would leave the place to a complete stranger?"
He sighed into the phone, and when he spoke again, the rushed tone melted away and his voice had gone gruff. "I don't know, Faithy. Your mom's family were always an odd bunch. It's hard to guess what his reasons may have been. He didn't have any family of his own. It's possible he went senile."
"Why not leave it to you? You're like his…nephew-in-law." Was that a thing?
Her father chuckled. "He'd never leave it to me, not that I'd want it anyway. Faith, the best thing you can do with that place is sell it, for whatever you can manage to get. The last thing a young woman like you needs is to be ridden with an old house in the middle of nowhere that's likely falling down by now."
A pretty accurate description, unfortunately.
Her father continued offering suggestions. "Someone might want to buy it for the land. Hell, I'd buy it from you for the land. If nothing else, it could be bulldozed over, divided up, and sold off into lots. You could use the money to open your little store you've been talking about."
She shifted her gaze to the photo of Romano Estate in its prime resting on the passenger seat. Her heart grew heavy, both from the way he always referred to her vision as a "little store" and the image of the house where her mom grew up being demolished. The house was in rough shape, but to discuss tearing down the place when it towered over her felt sacrilegious somehow. "You're probably right, Dad. Apparently there are a few interested buyers. The lawyer is setting up at least one meeting."
"Good girl, Faithy. Take the money and run. Now, I gotta run." He hung up before she could reply.
- "For fans of Debbie Macomber."—Booklist
- "Curtis’s sweet, inviting third Sapphire Springs romance begs to be turned into a Hallmark movie. This is everything small-town romance readers could want."—Publishers Weekly
- "A fantastic debut, Leyna and Jay's second chance proves that embers never truly die-bring on the smolder!"—USA Today bestselling author Abby Jimenez, on Forever with You
- "Fans of Susan Wiggs will find this heartwarming romance to their liking."—Library Journal, on Forever with You
- On Sale
- Mar 29, 2022
- Page Count
- 352 pages