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The McCullagh Inn in Maine
Foreword by James Patterson
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 5, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Chelsea O’Kane escapes to Maine with a gun and fresh bruises. She’s ready to begin anew — until she runs into her old flame, Jeremy Holland. As he helps to fix her inn, her heart heals and they rediscover what they once loved about each other. But as the two play house, it starts to seem too good to last. . . .
Original romances presented by JAMES PATTERSON
Novels you can devour in a few hours
possible to stop reading
When I first had the idea for BookShots, I knew that I wanted to include romantic stories. The whole point of BookShots is to give people lightning-fast reads that completely capture them for just a couple of hours—so publishing romance felt right.
I have a lot of respect for romance authors. I took a stab at the genre when I wrote Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas and Sundays at Tiffany’s. While I was happy with the results, I learned that the process of writing those stories required hard work and dedication.
That’s why I wanted to pair up with the best romance authors for BookShots. I work with writers who know how to draw emotions out of their characters, all while catapulting their plots forward.
It’s been fun working on The McCullagh Inn in Maine with Jen McLaughlin. She wanted to weave a suspense plot through this otherwise peaceful story of redemption, and I think she did a top-notch job of blending both of those worlds in one cohesive piece. Our heroine, Chelsea O’Kane, is stubborn, strong, and a little rough around the edges, but when she becomes reacquainted with her soul mate, Jeremy, you’ll get to see her heart soften—and it’s a pretty spectacular view.
The sickly sweet scent of dying roses drifted over me as I backed down the driveway, moving too quickly to check for traffic first. My heart raced faster than the engine of the stolen Volvo XC90 as I stepped on the gas. All good plans allow for improvisation, right?
My fingernails were digging into the wheel. I forced myself to relax. There was no room for weakness, for panic, in my life. Not anymore. Whatever lay ahead was guaranteed to be better than what I was leaving behind, and it certainly couldn’t be worse than what I’d already survived.
I took a deep breath and held it as I ran a red light, feeling more alive, more like myself, than I had in years. A horn blasted, and I gripped the wheel hard. It was a miracle I didn’t break my swollen knuckles off at the joints. I was temporarily blinded by the oncoming headlights and I instinctively stepped on the gas, tensing as a truck headed directly for my door. The lights veered left and the pickup skidded off the road and into someone’s yard. Not my fault, not my problem.
I never wanted it to turn out this way. Sure, I saw the writing on the wall, kept a bag packed, and made contingency plans, but I was supposed to just disappear. Vanish into the night, be an unsolved mystery. Instead, I was going to have to spend the next couple of days fleeing for my life, hoping no one put two and two together. If I could just make it to the inn…
I screeched onto the ramp for I-95 with the scent of burning rubber filling the car, but I didn’t slow, not hesitating as I headed toward safety. North. I wouldn’t stop until I reached the one place where I knew I could escape. The same place I fled from years ago, with dreams of being something—someone—else. I was older now, and wiser, and I’d learned people never change. My current circumstances proved that point. All you could do was play the cards you were dealt.
No one would think to look for me in the sleepy Maine town I’d once called home, the one I’d erased from my record.
I’d sworn never to go back.
Sirens wailed at a distance, and I eased up on the gas pedal, forcing myself to obey speed limits. The last thing I needed was to get pulled over right now.
Once I put a little more distance between me and Miami, I’d find a rest stop, change my clothes, and wash up. Dyeing my brown hair could wait until I found some hole-in-the-wall to stop at for the night. I’d go blond. No one would expect me to go for that color. I hated blondes.
They led charmed lives the rest of us could only dream about.
My phone lit up, the screen showing a picture from my former life. I cursed. Keeping my eyes on the road, on that horizon, I fumbled around on the seat until I found the phone. Grabbing it, I chucked it out the window. A glance in the rearview mirror showed it disappearing under the wheels of a semi.
I gave a quick look at the object still remaining on the seat. My fingers flexed on the steering wheel. If I could only get rid of the gun the same way.…
This hadn’t been the plan, but then again, neither was murder.
It’d taken two days of back-roads driving before I reached North Carolina. Ditching the car, I hopped on a bus for twelve hours. I looked like a preppy sorority sister going home for the weekend, my society persona left behind with the car. Once I hit the Maine border, I hitchhiked to the nearest used car dealer and bought a rusted old Chevy with some of the cash I’d stolen.
My destination was Hudson, Maine, which was only listed on the most thorough maps, a tiny pinprick of ink among shades of green. If you’ve ever heard people tell jokes about towns where the wild animals outnumber the humans, it’s possible they were talking about Hudson.
This late in the season, most of the autumn leaves had dropped, and the nearly bald tires of my junker car crunched over pine cones as I navigated roads I hadn’t seen in years. Finally, I arrived at the only home I’d ever known, the McCullagh Inn. My aunt, who’d owned it, had died six months ago, leaving me the business. I hadn’t been able to go to the funeral, but I knew a heaven-sent opportunity when it arrived, and so I’d made discreet arrangements to keep the lights on and get a cleaning service to come through once a week.
I’d never told anyone down in Miami about the inn or my life before I arrived there, so if I had any luck left in my bones, no one would search for me here. Sure, it might seem like someone could track me down easily enough, but I came from a long line of less-than-law-abiding folks. There were ways to muddy the water.
My father had taught me to prepare for all outcomes. I knew how to fade off the face of the planet so no one ever found you again. I’d done it once before, when I ran away from home. But now I was back.…
And I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was where I was supposed to be all along.
I flipped the TV on, muting it as I dialed my brother on the burner phone I’d bought at a Virginia convenience store. I may have tried to go straight, but Paul had stayed in the family business.
I turned away from the morning news and caught a glimpse of myself in the tarnished, ornate mirror over the fireplace. The pale green walls of the foyer and the wood paneling of the living room weren’t doing a damn thing for my complexion, and I could see the faintest shadow of a bruise beneath the makeup I’d slathered on. As I listened to the phone ring, I looked into my own blue eyes, wondering if I knew the person looking back at me. Then I turned back to the news, watching to see if what had happened in Miami had gone national. My newly blond hair swung in its ponytail. I really should’ve cut it, but, hey, even a girl like me is entitled to some vanities.
“Hello?” My brother’s raspy voice cut through the cheap phone.
I closed my eyes for a second, nostalgia making my throat ache. Or it could’ve been the abuse my vocal cords had recently taken. Nothing had a greater hold on you than family. “Paul?”
“Yeah?” Silence. A lot of silence. And then: “Chelsea? Is that you?”
I licked my lips. “Yes.”
“You’re alive,” he said flatly.
“Yes,” I said again, staring at the old tree outside the front window, next to the driveway.
“I’m going to kill—”
“Paul.” I swallowed again, eyeing the whiskey I’d brought out from the kitchen. It would hurt in the morning, but it might be worth the pain. “I need help, and I need you not to tell anyone I called, or where I am.”
There was no hesitation. “What do you need?”
Relief hit me in the chest. It was true what they said about family. “A new ID. A completely new identity, actually.”
“You’re on the run. Again.” At my silence, he sucked in a breath. I’d learned at a young age that people would say anything to fill a silence. “Did you dye your hair yet?”
“Nice.” He sighed. “What happened, Chels?”
A phantom gunshot filled the empty inn, and for a second, I was back in that moment. I eyed the table by the front door, where I’d shoved the gun in case I needed it again. It would’ve been smarter to ditch it, but it was the best protection I had right now.
When the silence continued to stretch, Paul cleared his throat. “Where are you?”
I thought of the bruises I was trying to hide, the secrets I carried, and I knew my older brother would see right through me. I had no choice. I needed that ID. It was the only way I’d get my fresh start. “I’m at Aunt May McCullagh’s inn, my inn.”
There was a brief pause.
“The lawyers found you,” he said.
Ignoring the accusation in his tone, I focused on the cloudy skies above the Atlantic Ocean. I’d left all the shades drawn except for one on the bay window overlooking the cliff, where a trail led down to the beach. On either side of the trail was an overgrown garden, filled with lobelia. I’d spent half my life sitting in that window, reading and looking at the storms raging over the ocean while dreaming of a future away from this tiny town. “Yeah, I know. I suck.”
“No argument here,” he grumbled. I could picture him sitting behind the wheel of his car, glowering at nothing in particular. Paul was happiest unhappy. “She left the inn to you, wanting you to fix it up and breathe new life into the place. She never gave up hope that someday, you’d come walking through those doors alive.”
I remained silent again, because, really, what was there to say? The past was done. I couldn’t go back and fix it, even if I wanted to. And those mistakes, those choices I’d made, had turned me into the woman I was. I couldn’t regret that. Now I was here, ready and willing to make a new life for myself. And I’d make this the best damn inn in all of Maine.
Like a phoenix, I’d be reborn once Chelsea O’Kane was dead.
He sighed, dragging the sound out longer than a wave crashing on the shore. “Look. I’ll get you what you’re asking for. Meet me at Joe’s to discuss it.” There was a beat of silence. “It’s the coffee shop on Main Street, in case you forgot.”
How could I forget?
Main Street was the only street in town with any shops. There was a coffee shop, a church, a liquor store, a grocery store, a bar, and a Rite Aid. They were all on one block, with enchanting brick facades and quaint dark-gray clapboard on the old buildings. “When?”
“An hour from now. Don’t be late.”
Exactly an hour later, I walked down Main Street. The second I saw its Victorian architecture, I was comforted by its familiarity. But I tugged my baseball hat down to shadow my face and looked at the cracked sidewalks to avoid the usual small-town curiosity that would inevitably be thrown my way. I was always good at blending in, and I congratulated myself for not losing my touch…until I bounced off a brick wall.
Or, rather, a man.
His muscular arms closed around me, saving me from hitting the ground. The second his skin touched mine, a bolt of desire mixed with the panic that shot through my veins. I jerked back sharply, stumbling backward, and glanced up. The tall man who caught me was handsome, his wavy brown hair swept back off his face, and it was like the ground opened beneath me when I recognized him. Suddenly, that bolt of longing made perfect sense.
Oh, for God’s sake. I couldn’t catch a break. I’d had more than enough drama to fill ten seasons of a soap opera, and all I wanted was to lie low and nurse my injuries, but nooo.
It was Jeremy fricking Holland.
Damn it, he wasn’t supposed to be here.
Jeremy Holland had been an object of infatuation since childhood—from the time I understood the difference between boys and girls up until college. He’d been a major part of my “wish on a star” phase. We’d been best friends, the kind who were supposed to be secretly in love with each other, so when he got together with the preppy blond cheerleader Mary Walker, I was pissed. When he went and proposed to her like the idiot he was, I skipped town the night before their wedding. I hadn’t planned to return.
And I hadn’t spoken to him since.
I may have googled him from time to time, though. Last I’d heard, he was living in Bangor, dribbling his life away at some desk job.
His gaze met mine, and the casual look in his familiar green eyes brightened to recognition. I quickly turned away—like I should have done the second I realized it was him. My heart raced, and the old undeniable attraction between us jerked back to life like a tangible thing, all because our bodies had bumped against each other on the street.
Damn his muscular arms.
And damn his outdated online profile.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, sidestepping his large frame and tugging the baseball hat even lower so he wouldn’t stop me. I didn’t need this. Not now.
I didn’t want him to focus on me.
He easily stepped the same way as me, blocking my escape effortlessly. “Are you okay?”
- "A riveting, romantic read."—InTouch Magazine
- "There are family and friends, secrets, lies, shoot 'em ups, evil, anger, fear, tears, laughter and happiness, along with loving and love. The descriptions of the inn are vivid and made me feel that I was there...I look forward to reading more BookShots if this is the caliber of writing."—RomanceJunkies.com
- "An unputdownable read."—Anna's Herding Cats Review
- On Sale
- Jul 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 160 pages