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By Debbie Mason
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Olivia Davenport has finally gotten her life back together. She’s left her painful past behind, started over in a new town, and become Harmony Harbor’s most sought-after event planner. But her past catches up to her when Olivia learns that she’s now guardian of her ex’s young daughter. With her world spinning, Olivia must reconcile her old life with her new one. And she doesn’t have time for her new next door neighbor, no matter how handsome he is.
Olivia may act like she’s got everything under control, but Dr. Finn Gallagher knows a person in over her head when he sees one. He’d really like to be the shoulder she leans on, but Olivia makes it clear she doesn’t want his help. Since he’s returned to town, his waiting room has been full of single women feigning illness. Yet the one woman he’s interested in is avoiding him. But with a little help from some matchmaking widows and a precocious little girl, Finn might just win Olivia over.
BONUS: Includes a complete novel from BookShots Flames! The McCullagh Inn in Maine by Jen McLaughlin
Gardening had once been Olivia Davenport’s favorite pastime. Her mother and grandmother had both been avid gardeners. They’d passed on their love of flowers to Olivia and taught her to appreciate the simple pleasure of being at one with nature.
But Olivia hadn’t picked up a trowel or hoe in more than two years. She’d lost the desire to carefully tend the tender shoots and bulbs only to have them blossom and then die. Yet here she was, sitting in the middle of an overgrown garden on the Gallaghers’ estate with her trusty trowel in hand.
As the event planner for Greystone Manor, she took care of all the details—nothing was too big or too small. Including ensuring that the gardens were shipshape for the upcoming outdoor wedding season.
She looked up from under her wide-brimmed sunhat at the imposing granite mansion casting a shadow over the fragrant garden. Eight months before, on a dark and dreary September night, a thick fog rolling off the Atlantic had forced her to seek shelter in the coastal town of Harmony Harbor. Little did she know then, as she’d spied the fairy-tale castle rising from the mist, that Greystone Manor would become her home. The place where she’d reinvent herself. The place where she’d become Dana Templeton.
No one here knew she was missing Boston socialite Olivia Davenport. No one knew she’d once been a mother and a wife. No one knew that for the past week the memories had been threatening to bring her to her knees.
She never knew when they would strike. Sometimes they were like a thief in the night, coming out of the darkness to pounce on her, stealing her breath and the tiny bit of contentment she’d managed to carve out for herself in her new life. At other times, they were like a warm, all-encompassing hug that she never wanted to end.
But it didn’t seem to matter if the memories were good or bad; they had one thing in common: the power to send her to that dark place she’d escaped from not so very long ago. She supposed it said something that she actually cared whether she ended up back there or not. There’d been a time when she hadn’t.
It was the anniversaries. They were piling up on one another. Today was difficult. Tomorrow would be far worse. Even so, Olivia had no choice but to do her job.
That wasn’t entirely true. She had a choice; there was always a choice. It wasn’t like she had to work for a living. But in some ways, she credited her job for saving her life. Staying busy, filling her mind and time with work, helped her cope.
Her job as Greystone’s event planner had given her a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. And the Gallagher women had given her something even more precious—their friendship.
So, no matter how tempting it was to stay in bed tomorrow with the blankets pulled over her head, Olivia would do her best to make the day special for both her friends and the other mothers staying at the manor. She’d keep the crippling memories at bay the same way she had for the past week—antianxiety pills and sleeping pills.
They were the same weapons she’d used in the past. However, now she was using them not only to help with the pain of remembering, but also to fight the feeling of impending doom. She didn’t worry she’d become addicted. She just needed a little help to get through the next thirty-six hours. Admittedly, she’d doubled up on that help today.
Her nerves were frayed because of the phone calls. The ones she wouldn’t answer because she recognized his number. She’d have to answer, eventually. Stanley Morton wasn’t a man who gave up. But he couldn’t hurt her anymore. He’d already done his worst. Now it was probably something as mundane as changing the ownership on the brownstone. Except, in her mind, even something that small could grow like a tenacious weed and suck her back into her old life.
Tossing a clump of yellowtail into the growing pile beside her, she did her best to push thoughts of Stanley and his phone calls out of her head. She couldn’t afford to be paralyzed by worry today. Her schedule wouldn’t permit it.
At three that afternoon, fifteen children between the ages of four and ten were scheduled to gather in the conference room to paint miniature flowerpots. Each pot would hold one of the pink tulips Olivia was now trying to carefully dislodge from the greedy hands of the spring soil. She was determined that the mothers would enjoy their flowers for more than a few days and did her best to keep the roots intact.
Smiling when she lifted the entire flower, bulb and all, from the ground, she transferred it into one of the small pots. The tulip symbolized happiness and good wishes, which, in her opinion, made them the perfect choice for the children to give to their mothers. No sooner had the thought passed through her mind than a memory from three years earlier sprang to life right before her eyes. She clearly saw her little boy carrying a white wicker breakfast tray to where she sat in a canopied bed. Noting how he struggled under the weight of the tray, she reached out to help him. Cooper lifted his determined little chin.
He was six, pale and skinny from another round of treatment for leukemia, and it made it next to impossible not to try and help him. Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, she clasped her hands tightly on her lap to keep from doing so. From beneath his Boston Red Sox hat, he rewarded her with a proud smile that reached his blue eyes as he placed the tray on the bed.
He’d made her breakfast, a juicy orange peeled and torn into segments and a bowl of his favorite cereal, Cocoa Puffs. He held up a painted pot that contained a perfect pink tulip. He’d remembered the meaning. She reached out to hug him. Instead she grabbed thin air.
Her eyes grew wet, the grounds a blurred blob of green and blue as she checked to be sure no one had witnessed the moment. She lowered her empty arms to her sides. Two years ago tomorrow, she’d buried her son. This year, the anniversary fell on Mother’s Day.
She didn’t know who she’d been trying to fool. Herself, obviously. Because no matter how much medication she’d taken today or would take tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough to keep the memories at bay or her emotions in check. And wouldn’t that be embarrassing…and possibly terrifying for the children. Maybe her good friend and boss, Sophie Gallagher, would take over the craft session for her.
No sooner had the idea popped into Olivia’s head than she heard Sophie’s voice coming from the patio on the other side of the boxwood hedge. Olivia took it as a good omen and was pushing to her feet to wave her friend over when another voice joined Sophie’s, deep and rich with a seductive rumble that Olivia felt straight down to her rubber-boot-encased toes. She immediately dropped to her knees to hide, wincing when she landed on the edge of the trowel.
Ridiculously handsome, dark-haired, blue-eyed men didn’t typically send Olivia to the ground, but this particular one did. And it wasn’t because of the temptation of his alluring face and seductive voice or that lately he’d played a starring role in her dreams—for which she put the entire blame on her medication. No, it was because, when Finn Gallagher looked at her, she had an uncomfortable feeling he saw past her disguise and knew exactly what she was hiding.
There was another reason for her discomfort. But she didn’t want to acknowledge it because, once she did, she’d have to face her feelings.
“Have you seen Dana?” asked the man with the sea-blue eyes that seemed to see through to Olivia’s very soul. “Grams is worried about her. She thinks Dana’s coming down with something.”
At the sarcastic edge in Finn’s voice, Olivia stiffened while her traitorous heart picked up speed. It seemed the universe wouldn’t be happy until she faced every uncomfortable and worrisome thought and feeling today. Any hope of achieving a Zenlike state in the garden was shot thanks to Finn’s matchmaking grandmother.
Oh yes, Olivia knew exactly what Kitty Gallagher was up to. The seventysomething woman was hardly secretive about her determination to find her grandson a wife.
And sadly, Kitty’s recent successes with Finn’s older and younger brothers led the older woman to believe she had a gift.
She was also highly motivated. A wife would keep Finn from returning to the Congo to serve with Doctors Without Borders. He’d been badly injured in March when rebels attacked the hospital where he’d been working.
“I just saw her a little while ago,” Sophie said. “She seemed fine to me.”
Olivia heard the frown in Sophie’s voice. Four months pregnant, head over heels in love with her husband, Liam, an extremely hot and sweet firefighter, and busy raising their adorable eight-year-old Mia and managing the manor, Sophie wouldn’t have a clue what Kitty was up to.
“Come on, you can’t seriously think the woman is fine, Soph.”
And there it was, the thing Olivia didn’t want to examine too closely—Finn and his resemblance to her late husband, Nathan. Not so much in looks despite them both having dark hair and blue eyes; Nathan had been handsome but Finn was stop-and-stare gorgeous.
It was the way Finn spoke about her, the scorn in his voice that reminded her of Nathan. Admittedly, she hadn’t spent much time in Finn’s company. Intentional on his part, she thought. He did his best to hide his feelings, but she could tell he’d judged her and found her lacking.
Not that anyone else would notice because Finn was unfailingly polite whenever they crossed paths. But he would be, wouldn’t he? He was a Gallagher after all. One of the good guys, men who were raised to serve and protect.
“Well, I did think she was fine, Finn, but obviously you think I’m missing something,” Olivia heard Sophie say. Her friend sounded ticked with Finn too. Which Olivia found somewhat gratifying.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. Blame Grams. I’m running a little low on patience these days thanks to her.”
“You can’t blame Kitty for trying to keep you here. She’s worried about you, Finn. So are Liam and your dad. Are you sure you’re not rushing things? It hasn’t been that long since you were in a wheelchair.”
“Your days must go a lot faster than mine. I’ve been out of the chair for more than six weeks, Soph. I’ve booked my flight. I leave the day after Griff and Ava get back,” he said, referring to his oldest brother and his wife. The couple were honeymooning in Italy.
“You haven’t told them yet, have you?”
“No, I’ve been putting it off.”
Olivia felt sorry for Finn. Yes, he was judgmental and not overly friendly toward her, but she knew how much he loved his family. It would be difficult for him to say goodbye, especially knowing how much they wanted him to stay.
“They’ll miss you. We all will.” There was a smile in Sophie’s voice when she added, “So will Miller. He’s gotten used to having someone at home with him all day. Here, go fetch, boy.”
Miller, the Gallaghers’ golden retriever, gave a happy bark, his paws scrabbling on the flagstone patio as he went after whatever Sophie had thrown.
“Jeez, you’re almost as good as Grams and Dad with the guilt thing.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. So, tell me what you think is wrong with Dana.”
Oh no, it sounded like they were walking toward the other end of the patio—the end that would lead them onto the garden path on which Olivia was currently kneeling. She awkwardly got to her feet and then crouched low to walk to the back of the garden. Branches and dried-out stems from the overgrown perennials got caught on her hat as she made her way to the back hedges to stay out of view.
She was reaching up to pull off the leaves when Finn said, “What I think or what Grams thinks?”
“It’s not the same?”
“Nope. Grams thinks her precious Dana has migraines. I don’t know what it is about that woman, but to hear Grams tell it, Dana Templeton is a saint.”
If Olivia didn’t know what Kitty was up to, she might have smiled. But the sarcasm in Finn’s voice would have immediately wiped it away. He really didn’t like her. She didn’t know what she’d ever done to him. He certainly didn’t take after his grandmother and great-grandmother, who were kind and welcoming. Olivia didn’t know where she’d be right now if not for Kitty and Colleen Gallagher.
“I don’t know what your problem with Dana is, Finn. She’s one of the sweetest women I know. She’s been a wonderful friend to me and everyone at the manor. She’s tireless. She’d give you the shirt off her back if you asked.”
Take that, Finn Gallagher, Olivia thought, her lips lifting in a grateful smile.
“Well, if I’m not mistaken, the sweetest woman you know is using, Soph.”
Olivia lifted her hand to cover her outraged gasp. Using? How on earth did he come to the conclusion she was doing drugs? Just before her hand reached her mouth, her eyes dropped to the palm-shaped leaf attached to the glove. She must have removed it from her straw hat. Distracted by the conversation between Sophie and Finn, she hadn’t realized she’d crumpled it in her gloved hand.
She recognized the leaf’s shape almost immediately—monkshood. A member of the buttercup family, its showy blue flowers would bloom midsummer. And while it was a tall and lovely perennial that would grow beautifully in the shady spot at the back of the garden, there was one problem. It was poisonous. In the language of flowers, monkshood symbolized a warning that a deadly foe was near.
Finn’s voice penetrated her panic. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’m not. But she’s not using illegal drugs. She would never do that. I think she’s hiding from someone, Finn. I just wish she’d open up to us and let us help her.”
“You might want to find a way to get her to do that sooner rather than later, because I have a feeling your friend is in more trouble than you know.”
She wasn’t in trouble. She’d been getting better. As soon as Finn left, she’d be fine. Kitty would stop trying to match her with her grandson and the most difficult anniversary would have passed. And somehow Olivia would find a way to deal with Stanley. As she carefully removed the gardening gloves, she wondered if it was her late husband’s best friend or Finn Gallagher who was her deadly foe.
An animal brushed against her back, and she released a startled yelp, throwing the gloves in the air—one almost hitting a black cat as he came around to sit at her side. She pressed a hand to her chest and bowed her head. “A meow would have been nice, Simon. You scared the life out of me.” He meowed. “A little late,” she informed him.
She glanced at Simon, following the direction of his bright blue gaze. A fortysomething woman strode toward them carrying a broom. She had a silver streak in the front of her dark hair and wore a short-sleeve black uniform dress with a black and white apron. It was a woman from housekeeping. Ivy, Olivia thought her name was. She helped out at the events too. Olivia noticed her lips turn down when she spotted Simon, her hand tightening around the broom.
“What have you been up to, Simon? She doesn’t look happy with you.” Olivia put a protective arm around him. She wasn’t really a cat person, but she’d grown fond of Simon. He had an odd habit of showing up whenever Olivia needed a friend.
Like Colleen, he knew all her secrets. At least Olivia didn’t have to worry about the truth getting out. Although, she did have a small fright when she’d discovered Colleen had written everyone’s stories in a leather-bound book—The Secret Keeper of Harmony Harbor—and it had gone missing.
Since the manor had been extensively searched, Olivia’s fears had been somewhat alleviated. Even if there was a book, she assumed it had gone missing long before Colleen died. So the Gallagher matriarch wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write down the secrets Olivia had shared not long after she’d arrived at the manor.
“Is there a problem, Ivy?” she asked when the woman approached. At the sound of Finn and Sophie calling to Miller, Olivia scooped up Simon and came to her feet.
The woman sucked on her teeth, lifting her chin at Simon. “Is he your cat?”
“In a way, I suppose he is. We’ve all adopted him. He belongs to the manor, something of a mascot.” Olivia smiled.
The woman didn’t return her smile. Her eyes flicked beyond Olivia, then back to her. “I’d suggest you all find yourself a new mascot before this one lands you in hot water with the Health Department.”
That’s all they needed. “Was he in the kitchen? He’s a very good mouser, so perhaps—”
“There weren’t any mice around. He was—”
At the sound of Miller barking, Simon hissed and jumped from Olivia’s arms. She turned to see retriever galloping down the path toward her, his tongue lolling happily out of his mouth. Then he veered off the path and into the garden, tromping on the pink tulips and anything else that got in his way.
“Miller, come out of the garden this—” Olivia began, but the friendly retriever gave her a playful bark and then picked up…her glove. “Miller, no, drop the glove. Drop it now!”
Finn Gallagher stood on the garden path calling after the willowy redhead running after his dog. “Dana, don’t chase him! He thinks you want to play!”
If he wasn’t concerned about Miller getting lost in the woods because some crazy woman wouldn’t listen, Finn might take the time to figure out what it said about Dana Templeton that she was gardening in a pink shirt and a pair of khaki slacks stuffed into beige rubber boots decorated with pink flowers. He thought it was seriously weird that someone coordinated their wardrobe to dig in the dirt.
She whipped around, the pink floppy hat falling off her head. If he didn’t know better, it appeared her shoulder-length red hair was about to do the same.
“You don’t understand. He has my gardening gloves!”
“Good God, woman, I’ll buy you another pair! Just stop running after him.” He blew out an annoyed breath when she ignored him and continued to sprint down the path. He didn’t know what ticked him off more—that she wouldn’t listen to him or that he now had to chase after her and his dog.
“It’s okay. Don’t strain your leg, Finn. I’ll go,” his sister-in-law offered.
Huh, he didn’t think anything could have ticked him off more than Dana and his inability to run like he used to, but his sister-in-law had just proved him wrong.
He started after Dana. “Thanks, but I’ve got this. I’m not an invalid, you know,” he said to Sophie. Then realizing he was being hypersensitive, he added over his shoulder, “My overprotective baby brother would have my head if he knew I let you run a five-mile marathon when you’re pregnant and not feeling well. Go home and put your feet up, have a nap.”
Sophie called after him, sounding a little sheepish, “It was just an excuse. I’m feeling fine. I didn’t want Kitty and Tina to know we’re having an early Mother’s Day celebration with Rosa today.”
Their grandmothers had a long-standing feud. He didn’t know what it was about or if they’d just taken up where their DiRossi and Gallagher ancestors had left off. According to local folklore, the original feud had started sometime in the seventeen hundreds. Apparently his grandmother had started this one by insisting that Sophie’s mother, Tina, stay at the manor. A move that was guaranteed to tick off Rosa, who wasn’t exactly her former daughter-in-law’s number one fan.
“I’ve got your back, but you might want to…” He lifted his chin at the dark-haired woman crouched on the path picking up the flowerpots that Miller had bowled over. Because he wasn’t paying attention, Finn’s foot landed awkwardly on the uneven woodland trail. His pained grimace turned into an eye roll when he heard Miller’s playful bark and Dana’s panicked cries for his dog to stop before he dies.
Talk about a drama queen. Then again, maybe it was a reaction to whatever drug she was on. She might be delusional, but she was also fast. He was running full-out…He shook his head at his assessment.
His full-out was equivalent to someone jogging. Finn ignored the voice in his head that said he had to accept his limitations, that he was lucky to have survived the rebels’ attack. The voice sounded a lot like his old man’s.
Finn grimaced, and this time it wasn’t due to the twisting pain in his leg. It was because Sophie was right; the family wouldn’t be happy about him leaving. Grams, never one to let the grass grow under her feet, as his great-grandmother Colleen used to say, had already come up with what she seemed to believe was a winning strategy.
First, she and her fellow members of the Widows Club had decided he should take over for Doc Bishop, the local family physician, who was retiring next week. Not that it was going to happen, because the last thing Finn wanted was to move back home and have his every move dissected, discussed, and evaluated.
He loved his family, but really, what thirty-four-year-old guy would subject himself to 24/7 surveillance and interference? Grams had proven him right when she suggested Dana would make a wonderful wife. Wife? He barely knew the woman. But he’d seen and heard enough to know that she wasn’t his type, even when she wasn’t wasted.
Up ahead, he caught a glimpse of pink through the trees. They were closing in on the footbridge that arched over the tide pools. The bridge connected the estate to the windswept spit of land his oldest brother, Griff, a former Navy SEAL, had recently purchased. Griff and his wife, Sophie’s cousin, were renovating the lighthouse.
They’d be back in a few days from their honeymoon…and he’d break the news he was leaving the next day. He’d put off telling his family. Mostly because he hated goodbyes. And it was tough to hold his ground in the face of their sorrow. He hoped none of them cried. Tears got to him every time. There was a part of him that wanted to sneak off in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.
“Miller, stop this instant!”
The image of what his family would do to him if he left without saying goodbye faded at the sound of Dana’s voice. Her tone was all proper and superior. He thought of it as her high-society voice. Come to think of it, that might have been the reason he’d taken an almost instant dislike to Dana.
It wasn’t her fault. She reminded him of Amber, a woman he’d dated while doing his residency. Amber and her mother, who lunched and raised funds for the hospital like the rest of their moneyed friends. Women who had no idea how the other half lived and had no interest in knowing. The only thing they were concerned about was their social standing, having a wing named after the family, and the preferential treatment they felt they were entitled to due to their connections and their husband’s or daddy’s bank accounts.
But even if Dana were his type, the last thing Finn wanted was a wife. He didn’t do long-term relationships. He liked his women fun and fleeting. Did he have issues? Sure he did, and he’d made friends with his issues years before. And if his grandmother thought that was going to change anytime soon, she was as delusional as the woman she was trying to set him up with. The one who was currently on her knees and elbows, her backside in the air, playing tug-of-war with Miller.
Now, Finn might not have any interest in the woman, but he had to admit she had one great-looking ass. He wondered how he’d failed to notice that. Probably because her conservative wardrobe was classy and not sexy or the least bit revealing. He couldn’t help but wonder what else she’d been hiding, because that was one sweet…
As though his matchmaking grandmother could see that particular thought bubble over his head, Finn quickly burst it by reminding himself that Dana was the reason for the persistent throb in his leg.
He limped to the small hill in the clearing where the tug-of-war continued. Miller was winning, and Dana was…Oh hell, she was sobbing. “Please, I don’t want you to die. Please let me have the glove.”
“Hey, come on, don’t cry. Miller isn’t going to die because he ate your garden glove.” He had to work to keep the sarcasm from his voice. Beige with pink flowers, the glove matched her gardening outfit to a T. His leg screaming in protest as he crouched beside her, he bit back a curse and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Seriously, if you saw what he eats, you wouldn’t be worried about a little—”
She looked up at him, a tear slipping from eyes that almost looked black. “No, you don’t understand. The glove came in contact with a monkshood leaf. They’re highly poisonous.” A sob broke in her voice. “Does…does he look dizzy or confused to you?”
The slivers of bright blue that ringed her dilated pupils reminded him that he was dealing with a woman whose feelings and thoughts may not exactly be grounded in reality.
- "I've fallen in love with Debbie Mason's Harmony Harbor. She's created a group of interesting, realistic characters and woven them into a perfectly imperfect fabric of life in her small east-coast town."—The Romance Dish
- "4 Stars! This is a book worth savoring as it has all the elements of a fantastic read."—RTBookReviews.com
- "Heartfelt and delightful!"—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author
- On Sale
- Apr 7, 2020
- Page Count
- 336 pages