By Jen Gilroy
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Mia Gibbs spent her marriage putting her husband’s needs before her own. And now, after a painful divorce, she’s building a new life for herself and her two daughters back home at Firefly Lake. The last thing she needs is a man to complicate things. But former bad boy turned friend Nick McGuire-and the one kiss they’ve shared-has turned everything upside down . . .
Attorney Nick McGuire wasn’t meant to be a family man. His career has always been his focus and after taking time out to help his mother, he’s ready to get back to the city . . . until Mia and her daughters arrive at Firefly Lake. Mia is beautiful and intriguing, and it doesn’t take long to realize being “just friends” will never be enough. As the summer nights turn colder, Nick will have to choose between the life he’s always wanted . . . and the woman he can’t live without.
As always, I'm indebted to Dawn Dowdle, who is not only my literary agent but also my friend. Both personally and professionally, Dawn's support is invaluable, and I'm grateful she's a partner in my writing career.
I also extend appreciation to my fabulous editor, Michele Bidelspach; Elizabeth Turner, art director; and the entire Grand Central Forever team who work so hard to help make my books shine.
Thanks to the anonymous reviewer who critiqued an early version of this story via the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) New Writers' Scheme (NWS). That feedback helped me dig deeper into character and taught me much about writing craft.
My RWA Golden Heart class of 2015, the Dragonflies, are a steadfast source of friendship and encouragement. Once again, the dragonfly reference is for you.
Jennifer Brodie, Tracy Brody, and Arlene McFarlane have lifted me up through some very tough times. Thank you, my friends.
Special thanks are also due to Jennifer Brodie, who provided insightful comments on the first chapter of Summer on Firefly Lake when I needed a wise and detached sounding board.
My dear friend Susanna Bavin is the best supporter any author could hope for. Generous, loyal, and kind, she's a blessing in my writing life and beyond.
To the women who have shared their experience of divorce and single parenting with me, thank you. Your devotion to your children is exemplary, and your strength and courage in building a better life inspire me.
I have also walked alongside loved ones on their cancer journeys. Those experiences shaped this story as well.
To my husband, Tech Guy; our daughter, English Rose; and Heidi, the sister of my heart. Thank you for your love and support and always being in my corner.
Not least, I'm grateful to my parents, who gave me both roots and wings. Their abiding love reaches beyond death to nurture and sustain me.
You want to hire me?" Mia Connell laced her fingers together, and the pad of her thumb lingered on the bare space where her wedding and engagement rings had once nestled.
"Why not? Friends help each other out." Nick McGuire's smile had a sexy edge, and Mia's breathing quickened. "In this part of Vermont we all depend on one another."
That sense of community was one of the reasons she'd moved to Firefly Lake last month. "I appreciate the offer, but I've already got a job. Two jobs. When school starts, I'll have private music students and substitute teaching. Besides, you've helped me out so much already."
And Mia had a plan. To be independent and stand on her own two feet. To take control of the life that had gotten stuck on hold when she'd married young and given everything to her family.
Nick's smile broadened. "Why can't my hiring you to help my mother be part of your new start? It'd only be for a few weeks."
The new start was part of the new life she was determined to build out of the rubble of the old one. Mia glanced around the gracious hall that led to a country-style kitchen, where July sunlight flooded through the French doors at the back of the house. "I'm surprised your mom wants to sell Harbor House."
"This place is way too big for her." Nick scrubbed a hand across his face. "We've made an offer on a new bungalow in the development by the lake. She's thrilled. She won't have to go up and down flights of stairs every day, and the house has a small yard, so it'll be easy to maintain."
"She's lived here so long." Mia looped his mom's dry cleaning over one arm and backed toward the kitchen.
"Too long." Nick took the dry-cleaning bag, hung it on a hook behind the kitchen door, and followed Mia.
He nudged six-four, and with his wind-ruffled dark hair, white shirt open at the neck, and loose tie, Nick was a lifetime away from the badass kid Mia remembered, the one who'd hung around the edges of her life for those endless vacations she'd spent at her family's summer cottage on Firefly Lake outside town. He was the kid who'd become a man who never lost control and who, in the last year, had also become her friend, cheerleader, and steady compass in a world that had spun off its axis.
"I'm not a professional organizer." She tried to ignore the flutter in her chest that was new. It had nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with the way Nick's shoulders filled out his shirt.
"Mom doesn't want a stranger in her house. She wants someone she already knows and trusts. With all the moves you've had, you'd be a natural."
"Surely your sisters want to be involved. They're her family."
"They'd help if I asked them to, but…" A pulse ticked in Nick's jaw. "Cat's teaching summer school in Boston. As for Georgia, she couldn't organize herself or anyone else. Besides, she's at that retreat center in India until Christmas."
"My daughters…" Mia's chest tightened and her throat got raw.
"Are with their dad in Dallas for the next month." Nick closed the distance between them.
As if she needed a reminder of the custody and visitation agreement with her ex-husband. Sending her two girls thousands of miles away to stay with him and another woman had torn Mia apart. "My sister needs me to help get ready for the baby. It's Charlie's first, and I'm the only family she has."
"Her husband and his whole family hover over Charlie twenty-four/seven."
Mia sucked in air as Nick moved even closer.
"Besides, if Charlie needs you so much, why did I find her barricaded behind her laptop yesterday in the back booth of the diner? And why did she make me promise not to tell anybody, you included, where she was?"
"She's almost eight months pregnant. Pregnant women are hormonal."
A shadow flitted across Nick's face and was gone almost before Mia registered it. "Charlie didn't look hormonal. If you ask me, she looked pissed off."
"See, she's hormonal."
Mia looked out the French doors at the terraced gardens surrounding the stately Victorian perched high above Firefly Lake. The small town was spread out below, and the spire of the Episcopal church rose out of the trees near the town green. A patchwork of rooftops sloped toward the gentle scoop in the lake from which Harbor House took its name. The whole scene was encircled by the rolling Vermont hills, which made her feel safe and protected in this little corner of the Northeast Kingdom.
"Please?" Nick's breath warmed her cheek, and the scent of his aftershave enveloped her, cedarwood and amber topped with something crisp, confident, and suave. "While your girls are in Dallas, you could stay here. Mom could sure use the company."
His mellow baritone tugged at an almost forgotten place inside her, and Mia smoothed a wayward strand of brown hair. She was being ridiculous. Why shouldn't she help Gabrielle? The money Nick offered was more than generous, and it was money she needed as more security for the girls. Besides, staying in Harbor House would be perfect. She wouldn't have to live in a construction zone while the new kitchen was installed at her place.
It was time to stop the excuses. It was also time to stop the self-doubt, which had made her defer to others and ignore what she wanted and needed.
"I'd have to have a contract." She tried to sound competent and professional. "To get this house ready for sale is a bigger job than you might think."
"Of course." Nick gave her an easy smile, all business. His eyes were dark blue with a hint of steel. "We can work on one together."
"I couldn't work set hours." She smiled in return. The kind of smile she'd perfected as the doctor's daughter, the executive's wife, and the queen of more beauty pageants than she could count.
"Completely flexible. You'd be doing me a big favor." Nick pulled at his tie, took it off, and stuffed it in the pocket of his suit jacket.
"I can start today if you want." Mia's stomach churned.
"Mom will be thrilled. I knew we could count on you."
Everyone had always counted on her. First her parents, then her husband and daughters and all the organizations where she'd volunteered in each new city her husband's job had taken them to. She was helpful and dependable Mia. But she was also a thirty-nine-year-old woman, and it was more than time she learned to count on herself. Depend on herself.
"There's one more thing." She plumped a stray cushion and slid it back onto a chair in the breakfast nook, a sunny alcove that overlooked a pond thick with water lilies.
"Anything." Nick gave her the smile again that almost made her forget he was her friend—the only male friend she'd ever had who didn't want something she couldn't give.
She nudged a dog basket aside with one shoe, and the red kitten heels gave her a confidence she didn't feel. "I agree your mom needs help. She hasn't gotten her strength back after being sick. You work all the time and your sisters aren't around much, so she's here alone."
"I gave her Pixie."
At the sound of her name a tiny whirlwind barreled past them with its tail up. It had fluffy white fur and short legs. It also had a bark at odds with the dog's small size.
A laugh bubbled inside Mia and rippled out before she could stop it. "Your mom needs more in her life than a dog."
The Maltese gave her a bright-eyed stare.
Mia lifted a hand as she glimpsed a flash of orange under the weeping willow by the pond. Nick's mom in her garden smock. "You think your mom needs to move, but I'm not so sure. This house has been in her family for generations. She's rooted here."
With the kind of roots Mia longed for.
"It's not like she has to leave Firefly Lake. She'll still have friends nearby and all her clubs." Nick avoided Mia's gaze.
"Harbor House is her home. To leave it, even if she's as excited about the new bungalow as you say, is bound to be a wrench." Mia stepped around Pixie and gestured toward the window. "Look at those beautiful gardens. Those plants mean the world to her."
It wasn't only the plants. It was the memories of children who'd toddled on chubby legs around the garden paths, and the pencil scratches on the kitchen door to mark how they'd grown. The memories of Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays that, when put together, made the fabric of a life and a house a home.
Mia swallowed. This wasn't her house or her garden. She had to focus on her daughters. To provide for them and be a mother they could be proud of.
"I'm looking out for Mom." Nick's expression hardened. "That's my job."
"Of course it is." One of Mia's heels snagged Pixie's basket, and she grabbed a kitchen chair to keep her balance. "But if I help your mom like you want, looking out for her becomes my job too. It means more than dropping off her dry cleaning and popping in every few days with cookies or a casserole." She took a deep breath and straightened to her full height, which even in the shoes only brought her to Nick's collar, stiff, white, and unyielding.
"That's what I'd pay you for."
Mia channeled the woman she wanted to be instead of the one everyone expected. "If your mom changes her mind about selling Harbor House, will you accept her decision and not stand in her way?"
"Why would she change her mind?" Nick picked up the dog, who eyed Mia, unblinking. "I want you to help Mom, but I don't want—"
"You can't have it both ways. I'll help your mom and live here with her for the next few weeks, but I won't let you push her into anything."
Or let him push her into anything, either.
"I'm only doing what's best for Mom." Nick's features were a careful blank.
"Best for her or best for you?"
Nick opened his mouth, closed it, and fiddled with his watch strap.
Before she lost her nerve, Mia turned and walked out of the kitchen, her heels a comforting staccato on the tiled floor.
Nick set a wiggling Pixie in her basket and pressed his fingers to his temples in a vain effort to erase the image of the little sway to Mia's hips as she walked away from him in those sexy red shoes. How her hair, fastened away from her face with a clip, was like a sleek, dark pelt, except for one rogue curl that had escaped to brush the perfect curve of her cheek.
He balled his hands into fists and looked out the window. On the upper terrace, a breeze off Firefly Lake stirred the patio umbrella, and his mom walked up the gravel path to the old summer kitchen. His breath caught as she wrestled the light screen door open. She didn't want his help, but illness had made her need his help, made her vulnerable.
Mia was vulnerable, too. It was in the tight set of her jaw and the stiff way she held herself. It was in the tension that radiated off her and the pain that lurked in the depths of her beautiful brown eyes.
That pain caught him unaware and sparked feelings as unwelcome as they were unexpected. Mia was his friend and a single mother. Two good reasons, if he'd needed any, why he couldn't let those feelings go anywhere.
He shrugged out of his suit jacket and draped it over a kitchen chair. His mother had to move. That was the plan. Then he could go back to New York City, leave the apartment over the law office on Main Street behind, start his life over, and claw back the self-respect his ex-wife had yanked away.
Nick moved into the hall. The formal dining room was to his right. The massive oak table where he'd eaten Christmas dinner for thirty of his thirty-nine years was piled high with art supplies, and an easel stood in front of the bay window. Sunbeams bounced off the crystal in the glass-fronted cabinets and gleamed on his great-grandmother's silver tea service.
Pixie bumped his leg and yipped, her steps muffled by the thick carpet.
He shook his head at the dog and crossed the hall again toward the living room at the front of the house. Pale sunlight filtered between heavy patterned drapes. Decorated in faded gold and cream, it was an obstacle course of side tables, spindly chairs, two Victorian horsehair sofas, and a baby grand piano nobody ever played.
"You don't know what your help will mean to me, honey." His mom's voice came from the alcove off the living room. Connected to the summer kitchen by a short passage, the small room had once been his dad's office.
"I can stay here while my daughters are with their father."
Mia's gentle voice comforted him like the liquid amber of single malt Scotch whiskey. Except those days were long gone. He'd turned his life around. In all the ways that counted, he wasn't the guy he'd once been.
"Nick's right. This house is too big for an old woman to rattle around in alone." His mom's trademark silver bracelets jingled.
"You're only sixty-two," Mia said. "That's not old."
"The cancer was a wake-up call." His mom's voice was low. "I thought I had all the time in the world, but it turns out I'm as mortal as anybody else. Besides, this house needs a family."
Nick's body was heavy. It should have been his family here. Before he'd found out he couldn't give his wife the children they both wanted and he'd never be a family man.
"I'm happy to help you, Gabrielle." Mia said his mom's name with the musical French intonation that was a legacy of her Montreal childhood. "Whatever you need, all you have to do is ask."
"Oh, honey." His mom's voice had a wobble Nick hated because it reminded him how close he'd come to losing her.
He cleared his throat and stuck his head into the room. "Hey, Mom. Mia."
Perched on a low blue love seat, his mom wore an orange smock that lit the room like a beacon and was in stark contrast with her cropped silver hair. She gave an elegant shrug and glanced at Mia beside her. Cool, confident, and still as out of reach as the glamorous girl who'd spent her summers in Firefly Lake and all the boys had wanted to date.
Nick moved into the alcove. His dad's law books were long gone, as was the big desk and the black chair Nick and his younger sisters used to spin around in until they got dizzy. They'd been loaded into the moving van with the clothes, football trophies, golf clubs, and mug emblazoned NUMBER 1 DAD Nick had given him for Father's Day. It was as if his dad had never existed.
"I told your mom I can help with whatever she needs to get ready for the move." Mia's voice was brisk and efficient, and that loose curl of hair still mocked Nick and made him want to yank the clip out and run his hands through the thick, dark strands.
"I'll miss my flowers." His mom's tone was wistful as she glanced out the half-open window, where white roses tumbled over a wooden trellis.
"Think how much fun you'll have this winter planning the garden at your new place," Nick said. "Besides, you can take cuttings from here."
"I suppose so." His mom sighed and set her sketchbook and watercolor pencils on a side table. "Some of those plants are irreplaceable, though. Like the trees I planted when you and your sisters were born, and when my parents died. To leave those behind, well…"
Mia covered one of his mom's hands with hers. Her chest rose and fell under her clingy top. From the top of her glossy dark head to the tips of her designer shoes, Mia was a walking, talking reminder of the world he'd left behind. The woman who'd left him behind.
"Do you ever think this house and everything in it holds you back?" Didn't his mom realize he wanted to protect her? That it had been his job since he was eleven?
Mia looked up and something sizzled between them. Then she flashed him a smile that made her look younger and a lot more available. "Leave the psychology to the professionals. You need to relax."
"I am relaxed," he lied. Lately, just when he'd gotten his life stable again, being around her had him wound up tight and wanting something, someone, he couldn't let himself have.
"No, you're not. You should try yoga. I got Charlie into yoga, and she's a new person."
Nick's laugh spilled out, rusty. "Your sister's a new person because she's blissed out with Sean." And his friend was blissed out, too, and settled into married life like he'd never known anything else, a cozy domesticity as strange as it was unsettling. "Next thing you'll tell me I need a cat."
Mia shrugged, and a dimple dented her right cheek. "Even though I've never had one, I like cats. They're low maintenance and independent."
Cool and aloof, too, a lot like her. Yet another reason the two of them weren't suited. If he had time, he'd have a dog. Open and uncomplicated, dogs wagged their tails because they were happy to see you, unlike cats, who strolled along with their noses in the air and a twitch in their tails.
"Like I told you, I want what's best for my mom."
"I do too." Mia's smile didn't reach her eyes.
"I'm glad we agree." Nick jammed his hands into his pants pockets.
Pixie clambered onto the love seat and gave him a fixed stare.
"See, Nick, you got what you wanted. You go back to work, and Mia and I'll get started." His mom waved a hand to dismiss him. "I'm sure you have lots more important things to do."
He did, but as he looked at Mia and his mom, with Pixie sandwiched between them, maybe what was most important of all, what he really wanted, was right here.
Four days later, Gabrielle shut her sketchbook and abandoned the half-finished outline of a rose, budded tight. She tugged at her wide-brimmed straw hat and stared at the lake.
She'd told Nick and Mia she'd miss her flowers, these terraced gardens her French-Canadian mother had carved out of the rocky northern soil when she'd come here as a bride, but she'd miss this view of Firefly Lake even more.
The lake, her lake, was still and ice-locked in winter, snug in a blanket of silver-blue snow. It came alive in spring as the sun-warmed ice cracked, and the boom echoed off the cliffs below Harbor House, where dark water foamed onto the beach. In summer, it was a gentle blue, dotted with green islands and white sails. And come fall, it was framed by a panorama of red and yellow leaves with splashes of orange, a paint box of colors she looked forward to all year.
Yet as the seasons rushed past, day by day and year by year, so did her life. And it had slipped through her fingers.
"I'm a foolish, sentimental woman, Pixie."
At the foot of the sun lounger, Pixie opened one sleepy eye, her expression quizzical.
"And you're a very wise dog." Gabrielle drained her glass of ice water. "Nick's right. I can't stay in this house. Neither he nor the girls want it. But that bungalow? Promise me you won't tell him how much I hate the idea."
Pixie whimpered and moved to lick Gabrielle's face.
"I know you promise." Gabrielle sighed, long and heavy. "Maybe you can tell me where I went so wrong with my children. Cat and Georgia only come home when they have to. As for Nick, even though he'd never say so, he can't wait to leave."
"You ever think your kids might share some of the blame?"
Gabrielle jumped and her sketchbook hit the terrace with a thud. She swung her legs off the chair, grabbed Pixie's collar with one hand, and smoothed her light sweater with the other. "Who's there?" she called as Pixie barked.
"I'm sorry." A man near to her age stood at the top of the stone steps from the lake. "I didn't mean to frighten you." He wore jeans and a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. A backpack was slung over one shoulder, and a camera dangled from a strap around his neck.
Pixie barked louder. Gabrielle scooped the dog into her arms and got to her feet. Although Firefly Lake wasn't a hotbed of crime and the man didn't look threatening, a woman on her own couldn't be too careful. "This is private property."
"I realized that as soon as I spotted you." When he smiled, deep grooves between his nose and mouth creased his face. A shock of gray hair stuck out beneath a battered red ball cap. "By then, though, it was too late to go back the way I came." His warm blue eyes searched hers. "Your dog had already seen me."
"What are you doing here?" Gabrielle stroked Pixie's ears. "Hush."
He whistled, soft and musical. Pixie stopped barking and cocked one ear.
"I was taking pictures by the lake. When I saw steps through the trees, I had to see where they went." He stuck out a hand. "Ward Aldrich."
"Gabrielle Brassard." She slipped her hand into his, the handshake cool, firm, and decisive. Pulling her hand away, she patted Pixie, her fingers still tingling from Ward's brief touch.
"You've got a beautiful place here." His eyes were deep blue, almost violet, the color of the irises she'd planted in the border by the house the year Nick was born.
Pixie squirmed and she set her on the flagstones. The dog scampered over to Ward and sniffed his shoes.
"Pixie, no." Gabrielle stepped forward, but Ward laughed.
More than okay. What was he? Some kind of dog whisperer? Pixie was wary of strangers and, apart from Nick, she usually didn't like men. "Are you here on vacation?"
"A working one." Ward touched the camera. "I'm a filmmaker, nature documentaries for the most part, but also the people who live in those places." He grinned, all of a sudden boyish. "When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer. It's pretty much what I grew up to be."
Gabrielle's breath hitched. He was an attractive man, but she was a woman with a whole lot of life behind her, not the impressionable teenager who'd papered her bedroom walls with peace signs and David Cassidy posters. Not the girl who'd fallen into lust and mistaken it for love. "I should let you get back to work."
"No rush." He gestured to her sketchbook. "Are you an artist?"
"An amateur one. I taught art at the high school here." Before she got sick and her body betrayed her. When life was still rich with possibilities.
"May I take a look?"
She picked up the book and handed it to him. Gabrielle's little hobby, Brian called it, her ex-husband's smile patronizing like she was one of the children. "They're nothing special."
"I disagree. The detail and the way you've captured the light are extraordinary." He squinted as he flipped through pages. "You have a keen eye."
Warmth stole through her at his words of praise. "I always liked drawing but—"
Pixie barked and shot back to Gabrielle's side.
"Has charm to spare...The delightful supporting cast...and expertly plotted story add depth and richness to this tale, leaving readers eager for another visit to Firefly Lake."
—Publishers Weekly on Summer on Firefly Lake
- "Engaging...(a) fast paced page turner."—RT Book Reviews on Summer on Firefly Lake
- "Packed with potent emotions...[Her] protagonists tug at the heartstrings from the beginning of the story and don't let go. The strong group of supporting characters includes Charlie's sister, Mia, and her daughter, Naomi, whose stories are to be later told. Long on charm, this story invites readers to come in and stay a while."—Publishers Weekly on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "Memories, regrets and second chances are front and center in Gilroy's fantastic debut. The first book in the Firefly Lake series is complex and mired in secrets. The Vermont setting adds a genuine feel to the story, and the co-stars are highly entertaining. The homebody hero and world-traveling heroine must travel a long and bumpy road to happiness."—RT Book Reviews on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "The story has all the elements in place to create an emotional and touching atmosphere. The pacing is steady and the writing is fluid, creating just the right amount of tension and emotion."—-Night Owl Reviews on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "Jen Gilroys' The Cottage At Firefly Lane is a heart-stirring debut centering around forgiveness and second chances. Gilroy weaves a delightful story and I'm happy to recommend this book!"—-Once Upon A Page on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "This book is a lot of fun and is definitely for fans of Susan Mallery or Marina Adair."—-Katy Budget Books on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "The Cottage at Firefly Lake is Jen Gilroy's debut romance book, but you honestly can't tell. She effortlessly brings this wonderful tale of second chances to us in such a sweet and romantic way that you won't want to put this book down."—-Escaping Into Books on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- On Sale
- Jul 25, 2017
- Page Count
- 368 pages