By Jill Shalvis
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Love awaits you in Lucky Harbor . . .
After losing her boyfriend and her job, Maddie leaves L.A. to claim her inheritance-a ramshackle inn nestled in the little town of Lucky Harbor, Washington. She sees the potential for a new home and a new career-if she can give the inn the makeover it needs. Enter Jax, a tall, handsome contractor who knows exactly what Maddie needs…
The Sweetest Thing
Helping her sister set up the family inn is just the thing to make Tara forget her ex-husband and focus on her new life. Until she meets a sexy, green-eyed sailor determined to keep her hot, bothered, and in his bed. When her ex reappears, Tara must confront her past and decide what she really wants.
Kissing Santa Claus
NASCAR driver Logan Perrish returns to Lucky Harbor, Washington, with love in his heart and a ring in his pocket. But can Sandy Jansen forget the past and give him a second chance? Or will Logan be spending another Christmas alone?
Under the Mistletoe
There’s no place like home for the holidays. And the Lucky Harbor Bed & Breakfast is bursting with festive lights and good cheer. But for Mia, Christmas is turning out to be anything other than merry and bright. Her recent break-up with her boyfriend Nick has made her return bittersweet. But then a surprise arrives, when Nick follows her to town bearing gifts – and asking for forgiveness.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Always on My Mind
A Preview of Once in a Lifetime
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To another middle child, the middle sister, the middle everything. To Megan, the peacemaker, the warrior princess, the fierce, loyal protector of our hearts.
"I chose the path less traveled,
but only because I was lost. Carry a map."
Maddie drove the narrow, curvy highway with her past still nipping at her heels after fourteen hundred miles. Not even her dependable Honda had been able to outrun her demons.
Or her own failings.
Good thing, then, that she was done with failing. Please be done with failing, she thought.
"Come on, listeners," the disc jockey said jovially on the radio. "Call in with your Christmas hopes and dreams. We'll be picking a random winner and making a wish come true."
"You're kidding me." Maddie briefly took her eyes off the mountainous road and flicked a glance at the dash. "It's one day after Thanksgiving. It's not time for Christmas."
"Any wish," the DJ said. "Name it, and it could be yours."
As if. But she let out a breath and tried for whimsy. Once upon a time, she'd been good at such things. Maddie Moore, you were raised on movie sets—fake the damn whimsy. "Fine. I'll wish for…" What? That she could've had a do-over with her mother before Phoebe Traeger had gone to the ultimate Grateful Dead concert in the sky? That Maddie had dumped her ex far sooner than she had? That her boss—may he choke on his leftover turkey—had waited until after year-end bonuses to fire her?
"The lines are lit up," the DJ announced. "Best of luck to all of you out there waiting."
Hey, maybe that's what she'd wish for—luck. She'd wish for better luck than she'd had: with family, with a job, with men—
Well, maybe not men. Men she was giving up entirely. Pausing from that thought, she squinted through the fog to read the first road sign she'd seen in a while.
WELCOME TO LUCKY HARBOR!
Home to 2,100 lucky people
And 10,100 shellfish
About time. Exercising muscles she hadn't utilized in too long, she smiled, and in celebration of arriving at her designated destination, she dug into the bag of salt and vinegar potato chips at her side. Chips cured just about everything, from the I-lost-my-job blues, to the my-boyfriend-was-a-jerk regrets, to the tentatively hopeful celebration of a new beginning.
"A new beginning done right," she said out loud, because everyone knew that saying it out loud made it true. "You hear that, karma?" She glanced upward through her slightly leaky sunroof into a dark sky, where storm clouds tumbled together like a dryer full of gray wool blankets. "This time, I'm going to be strong." Like Katharine Hepburn. Like Ingrid Bergman. "So go torture someone else and leave me alone."
A bolt of lightning blinded her, followed by a boom of thunder that nearly had her jerking out of her skin. "Okay, so I meant pretty please leave me alone."
The highway in front of her wound its way alongside a cliff on her right, which probably hid more wildlife than this affirmed city girl wanted to think about. Far below the road on her left, the Pacific Ocean pitched and rolled, fog lingering in long, silvery fingers on the frothy water.
Gorgeous, all of it, but what registered more than anything was the silence. No horns blaring while jockeying for position in the clogged fast lane, no tension-filled offices where producers and directors shouted at each other. No ex-boyfriends who yelled to release steam. Or worse.
No anger at all, in fact.
Just the sound of the radio and her own breathing. Delicious, glorious silence.
As unbelievable as it seemed, she'd never driven through the mountains before. She was here now only because, shockingly, her mother's will had listed property in Washington State. More shockingly, Maddie had been left one-third of that property, a place called Lucky Harbor Resort.
Raised by her set-designer dad in Los Angeles, Maddie hadn't seen her mother more than a handful of times since he'd taken custody of her at age five, so the will had been a huge surprise. Her dad had been just as shocked as she, and so had her two half-sisters, Tara and Chloe. Since there hadn't been a memorial service—Phoebe had specifically not wanted one—the three sisters had agreed to meet at the resort.
It would be the first time they'd seen each other in five years.
Defying probability, the road narrowed yet again. Maddie steered into the sharp left curve and then immediately whipped the wheel the other way for the unexpected right. A sign warned her to keep a lookout for river otters, osprey—what the heck were osprey?—and bald eagles. Autumn had come extremely late this year for the entire West Coast, and the fallen leaves were strewn across the roads like gold coins. It was beautiful, and taking it all in might have caused her to slide a little bit into the next hairpin, where she—oh, crap—
Barely missed a guy on a motorcycle.
"Oh, my God." Heart in her throat, she craned her neck, watching as the bike ran off the road and skidded to a stop. With a horrified grimace, she started to drive past, then hesitated.
But hurrying past a cringe-worthy moment, hoping to avoid a scene, was the old Maddie. The new Maddie stopped the car, though she did allow herself a beat to draw a quick, shuddery breath. What was she supposed to say—Sorry I almost killed you, here's my license, insurance, and last twenty-seven dollars? No, that was too pathetic. Motorcycles are death machines, you idiot, you nearly got yourself killed! Hmm, probably a tad too defensive. Which meant that a simple, heartfelt apology would have to do.
Bolstering her courage, she got out of the car clutching her BlackBerry, ready to call 911 if it got ugly. Shivering in the unexpectedly damp ocean air, she moved toward him, her arms wrapped around herself as she faced the music.
Please don't be a raging asshole…
He was still straddling the motorcycle, one long leg stretched out, balancing on a battered work boot, and if he was pissed, she couldn't tell yet past his reflective sunglasses. He was leanly muscled and broad shouldered, and his jeans and leather jacket were made for a hard body just like his. It was a safe bet that he hadn't just inhaled an entire bag of salt-and-vinegar chips. "Are you okay?" she asked, annoyed that she sounded breathless and nervous.
Pulling off his helmet, he revealed wavy, dark brown hair and a day's worth of stubble on a strong jaw. "I'm good. You?" His voice was low and calm, his hair whipping around in the wind.
Irritated, most definitely. But not pissed.
Relieved, she dragged in some air. "I'm fine, but I'm not the one who nearly got run off the road by the crazy LA driver. I'm sorry, I was driving too fast."
"You probably shouldn't admit that."
True. But she was thrown by his gravelly voice, by the fact that he was big and, for all she knew, bad, to boot, and that she was alone with him on a deserted, foggy highway.
It had all the makings of a horror flick.
"Are you lost?" he asked.
Was she? Probably she was a little lost mentally, and quite possibly emotionally, as well. Not that she'd admit either. "I'm heading to Lucky Harbor Resort."
He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head, and be still her heart, he had eyes the exact color of the caramel in the candy bar she'd consumed for lunch. "Lucky Harbor Resort," he repeated.
"Yes." But before she could ask why he was baffled about that, his gaze dipped down and he took in her favorite long-sleeved tee. Reaching out, he picked something off her sleeve.
Half a chip.
He took another off her collarbone, and she broke out in goose bumps—and not the scared kind.
"Salt and vinegar," she said and shook off the crumbs. She'd muster up some mortification—but she'd used up her entire quota when she'd nearly flattened him like a pancake. Not that she cared what he—or any man, for that matter—thought. Because she'd given up men.
Even tall, built, really good-looking, tousled-haired guys with gravelly voices and piercing eyes.
What she needed now was an exit plan. So she put her phone to her ear, pretending it was vibrating. "Hello," she said to no one. "Yes, I'll be right there." She smiled, like look at me, so busy, I really have to go, and, turning away, she lifted a hand in a wave, still talking into the phone to avoid an awkward good-bye, except—
Her phone rang. And not the pretend kind. Risking a peek at Hot Biker Guy over her shoulder, she found him brows up, looking amused.
"I think you have a real call," he said, something new in his voice. Possibly more humor, but most likely sheer disbelief that he'd nearly been killed by a socially handicapped LA chick.
Face hot, Maddie answered her phone. And then wished she hadn't, since it was the HR department of the production office from which she'd been fired, asking where she'd like her final check mailed. "I have automatic deposit," she murmured, and listened to the end-of-employment spiel and questions, agreeing out loud that yes, she realized being terminated means no references. With a sigh, she hung up.
He was watching her. "Fired, huh?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
He accepted that but didn't move. He just remained still, straddling that bike, sheer testosterone coming off him in waves. She realized he was waiting for her to leave first. Either he was being a gentleman, or he didn't want to risk his life and limbs. "Again, sorry. And I'm really glad I didn't kill you—" She walked backward, right into her own car. Good going. Keeping her face averted, she leapt into the driver's seat. "Really glad I didn't kill you?" she repeated to herself. Seriously? Well, whatever, it was done. Just don't look back. Don't—
He was watching her go, and though she couldn't be certain, she thought maybe he was looking a little bemused.
She got that a lot.
A minute later, she drove through Lucky Harbor. It was everything Google Earth had promised, a picturesque little Washington State beach town nestled in a rocky cove with a quirky, eclectic mix of the old and new. The main drag was lined with Victorian buildings painted in bright colors, housing the requisite grocery store, post office, gas station, and hardware store. Then a turnoff to the beach itself, where a long pier jutted out into the water, lined with more shops and outdoor cafés.
And a Ferris wheel.
The sight of it brought an odd yearning. She wanted to buy a ticket and ride it, if only to pretend for four minutes that she wasn't twenty-nine, broke every which way to Sunday, and homeless.
Oh, and scared of heights.
She kept driving. Two minutes later, she came to a fork in the road and had no idea which way to turn. Pulling over, she grabbed her map, watching as Hot Biker Guy rode past her in those faded jeans that fit perfectly across his equally perfect butt.
When the very nice view was gone, she went back to studying her map. Lucky Harbor Resort was supposedly on the water, which was still hard to believe, because as far as Maddie knew, the only thing her mother had ever owned was a 1971 wood-paneled station wagon and every single Deadhead album ever recorded.
According to the lawyer's papers, the resort was made up of a small marina, an inn, and an owner's cottage. Filled with anticipation, Maddie hit the gas and steered right… only to come to the end of the asphalt.
She eyed the last building on the left. It was an art gallery. A woman stood in the doorway wearing a bright pink velour sweat suit with white piping, white athletic shoes, and a terry-cloth sweatband that held back her equally white hair. She could have been fifty or eighty, it was hard to tell, and in direct contrast to the athletic outfit, she had a cigarette dangling out the corner of her mouth and skin that looked as if she'd been standing in the sun for decades. "Hello, darling," she said in a craggy voice when Maddie got out of her car. "You're either lost, or you want to buy a painting."
"A little lost," Maddie admitted.
"That happens a lot out here. We have all these roads that lead nowhere."
Great. She was on the road to nowhere. Story of her life. "I'm looking for Lucky Harbor Resort."
The woman's white eyebrows jerked upright, vanishing into her hair. "Oh! Oh, finally!" Eyes crinkling when she smiled, she clapped her hands in delight. "Which one are you, honey? The Wild Child, the Steel Magnolia, or the Mouse?"
Maddie blinked. "Uh…"
"Oh, your momma loved to talk about her girls! Always said how she'd screwed you all up but good, but that someday she'd get you all back here to run the inn together as a real family, the three of you."
"You mean the four of us."
"Nope. Somehow she always knew it'd be just you three girls." She puffed on her cigarette, then nearly hacked up a lung. "She wanted to get the inn renovated first, but that didn't happen. The pneumonia caught her fast, and then she was gone." Her smile faded some. "Probably God couldn't resist Pheeb's company. Christ, she was such a kick." She cocked her head and studied Maddie's appearance.
Self-conscious, Maddie once again brushed at herself, hoping the crumbs were long gone and that maybe her hair wasn't as bad as it felt.
The woman smiled. "The Mouse."
Well, hell. Maddie blew out a breath, telling herself it was silly to be insulted at the truth. "Yes."
"That'd make you the smart one, then. The one who ran the big, fancy production company in Los Angeles."
"Oh." Maddie vehemently shook her head. "No, I was just an assistant." To an assistant. Who sometimes had to buy her boss's underwear and fetch his girlfriend's presents, as well as actually produce movies and TV shows.
"Your momma said you'd say that, but she knew better. Knew your worth ethic. She said you worked very hard."
Maddie had worked hard. And dammit, she had also pretty much run that company. May it rot in hell. "How do you know all this?"
"I'm Lucille." When this produced no recognition from Maddie, she cackled in laughter. "I actually work for you. You know, at the inn? Whenever there's guests, I come in and clean."
"Well, business hasn't exactly been hopping, has it? Oh! Wait here a second, I have something to show you—"
"Actually, I'm sort of in a hurry…" But Lucille was gone. "Okay, then."
Two minutes later, Lucile reappeared from the gallery carrying a small carved wooden box that said RECIPES, the kind that held 3x5 index cards. "This is for you girls."
Maddie didn't cook, but it seemed rude not to take it. "Did Phoebe cook?"
"Oh, hell, no," Lucille said with a cackle. "She could burn water like no other."
Maddie accepted the box with a baffled "Thanks."
"Now, you just continue down this road about a mile to the clearing. You can't miss it. Call me if you need anything. Cleaning, organizing… spider relocation."
This caught Maddie's attention. "Spider relocation?"
"Your momma wasn't big on spiders."
Uh-huh, something they had in common. "Are there a lot of them?"
"Well, that depends on what you consider a lot."
Oh, God. Any more than one was an infestation. Maddie managed a smile that might have been more a baring of her teeth, gave a wave of thanks, and got back into her car, following the dirt road. "The Mouse," she said with a sigh.
That was going to change.
"Don't take life too seriously. After all, none of us
are getting out alive anyway."
Turned out Lucille was right, and in exactly one mile, the road opened up to a clearing. The Pacific Ocean was a deep, choppy sea of black, dusted with whitecaps that went out as far as Maddie could see. It connected with a metallic gray sky, framed by rocky bluffs, misty and breathtaking.
She had found the "resort," and Lucille had gotten something else right, too. The place wasn't exactly hopping.
Dead was more like it.
Clearly, the inn had seen better days. A woman sat on the front porch steps, a Vespa parked nearby. At the sight of Maddie, she stood. She wore cute little hip-hugging army cargoes, a snug, bright red Henley, and matching high-tops. Her glossy dark red hair cascaded down her back in an artful disarray that would have taken an entire beauty salon staff to accomplish on Maddie's uncontrollable curls.
Chloe, the twenty-four-year-old Wild Child.
Maddie attempted to pat down her own dark blond hair that had a mind of its own, but it was a waste of time on a good day, which this most definitely wasn't. Before she could say a word, a cab pulled up next to Maddie's car and a tall, lean, beautiful woman got out. Her short brunette hair was layered and effortlessly sexy. She wore an elegant business suit that emphasized her fit body and a cool smile.
Tara, the Steel Magnolia.
As the cabbie set Tara's various bags on the porch, the three of them just stared at one another, five years of estrangement floating awkwardly between them. The last time they'd all been in one place, Tara and Maddie had met in Montana to bail Chloe out of jail for illegally bungee jumping off a bridge. Chloe had thanked them, promised to pay them back, and they'd all gone their separate ways.
It was just the way it was. They had three different fathers and three very different personalities, and the only thing they had in common was a sweet, ditzy, wanderlusting hippie of a mother.
"So," Maddie said, forcing a smile through the uncomfortable silence. "How's things?"
"Ask me again after we sort out this latest mess," Tara murmured and eyed their baby sister.
Chloe tossed up her hands. "Hey, I had nothing to do with this one."
"Which would be a first." Tara spoke with the very slight southern accent that she denied having, the one she'd gotten from growing up on her paternal grandparents' horse ranch in Texas.
Chloe rolled her eyes and pulled her always-present asthma inhaler from her pocket, looking around without much interest. "So this is it? The big reveal?"
"I guess so," Maddie said, also taking in the clearly deserted inn. "There don't appear to be any guests at the moment."
"Not good for resale value," Tara noted.
"Resale?" Maddie asked.
"Selling is the simplest way to get out of here as fast as possible."
Maddie's stomach clenched. She didn't want to get out of here. She wanted a place to stay—to breathe, to lick her wounds, to regroup. "What's the hurry?"
"Just being realistic. The place came with a huge mortgage and no liquid assets."
Chloe shook her head. "Sounds like Mom."
"There was a large trust fund from her parents," Maddie said. "The will separated it out from the estate, so I have no idea who it went to. I assumed it was one of you."
Chloe shook her head.
They both looked at Tara.
"Sugar, I don't know any more than y'all. What I do know is that we'd be smart to sell, pay off the loan on the property, and divide what's left three ways and get back to our lives. I'm thinking we can list the place and be out of here in a few days if we play our cards right."
This time Maddie's stomach plummeted. "So fast?"
"Do you really want to stay in Lucky Harbor a moment longer than necessary?" Tara asked. "Even Mom, bless her heart, didn't stick around."
Chloe shook her inhaler and took a second puff from it. "Selling works for me. I'm due at a friend's day spa in New Mexico next week."
"You have enough money to book yourself at a spa in New Mexico, but not enough to pay me back what you've borrowed?" Tara asked.
"I'm going there to work. I've been creating a natural skin care line, and I'm giving a class on it, hoping to sell the line to the spa." Chloe eyed the road. "Think there's a bar in town? I could use a drink."
"It's four in the afternoon," Tara said.
"But it's five o'clock somewhere."
Chloe's eyes narrowed. "What?" she said to Tara's sound of disappointment.
"I think you know."
"Why don't you tell me anyway."
And here we go, Maddie thought, anxiety tightening like a knot in her throat. "Um, maybe we could all just sit down and—"
"No, I want her to say what's on her mind," Chloe said.
The static electricity rose in the air until it crackled with violence from both impending storms—Mother Nature's and the sisters' fight.
"It's not important what I think," Tara said coolly.
"Oh, come on, Dixie," Chloe said. "Lay it on us. You know you want to."
Maddie stepped between them. She couldn't help it. It was the middle sister in her, the approval seeker, the office manager deep inside. "Look!" she said in desperation. "A puppy!"
Chloe swiveled her head to Maddie, amused. "Seriously?"
She shrugged. "Worth a shot."
"Next time say it with more conviction and less panic. You might get somewhere."
"Well, I don't give a hoot if there are puppies and rainbows," Tara said. "As unpleasant as this is, we have to settle it."
Maddie was watching Chloe shake her inhaler again, looking pale. "You okay?"
She tried not to take the sarcasm personally. Chloe, a free spirit as Phoebe had been, suffered debilitating asthma and resented the hell out of the disability because it hampered her quest for adventure.
And for arguing.
Together all three sisters walked across the creaky porch and into the inn. Like most of the other buildings in Lucky Harbor, it was Victorian. The blue and white paint had long ago faded, and the window shutters were mostly gone or falling off, but Maddie could picture how it'd once looked: new and clean, radiating character and charm.
They'd each been mailed a set of keys. Tara used hers to unlock and open the front door, and she let out a long-suffering sigh.
The front room was a shrine to a country-style house circa 1980. Just about everything was blue and white, from the checkered window coverings to the duck-and-cow accent wallpaper peeling off the walls. The paint was chipped and the furniture not old enough to be antique and yet at least thirty years on the wrong side of new.
"Holy asphyxiation," Chloe said with her nose wrinkled at the dust. "I won't be able to stay here. I'll suffocate."
Tara shook her head, half horrified, half amused. "It looks like Laura Ingalls Wilder threw up in here."
"You know, your accent gets thicker and thicker," Chloe said.
"I don't have an accent."
"Okay. Except you do."
"It's not that bad," Maddie said quickly when Tara opened her mouth.
"Oh, it's bad," Chloe said. "You sound like Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham."
"The inn," Maddie clarified. "I meant the inn isn't so bad."
"I've stayed in hostels in Bolivia that looked like the Ritz compared to this," Chloe said.
"Mom's mom and her third husband ran this place." Tara ran a finger along the banister, then eyed the dust on the pad of her finger. "Years and years ago."
"So Grandma ran through men, too?" Chloe asked. "Jeez, it's like we're destined to be man-eaters."
"Speak for yourself," Tara murmured, indeed sounding like Susan Sarandon.
Chloe grinned. "Admit it, our gene pool could use some chlorine."
"As I was saying," Tara said when Maddie laughed. "Grandma worked here, and when she died, Mom attempted to take over but got overwhelmed."
Maddie was mesmerized by this piece of her past. She'd never even heard of this place. As far as she knew, none of them had kept in regular contact with Phoebe. This was mostly because their mother had spent much of her life out of contact with anything other than her own whimsy.
Not that she'd been a bad person. By all accounts, she'd been a sweet, free-loving flower child. But she hadn't been the greatest at taking care of things like cars, bank accounts… her daughters. "I wasn't even aware that Mom had been close to her parents."
"They died a long time ago." Tara turned back, watching Chloe climb the stairs. "Don't go up there, sugar. It's far too dusty; you'll aggravate your asthma."
"I'm already aggravated, and not by my asthma." But Chloe pulled the neckline of her shirt over her mouth. She also kept going up the stairs, and Tara just shook her head.
"Why do I bother?" Tara moved into the kitchen and went still at the condition of it. "Formica countertops," she said as if she'd discovered asbestos.
Okay, true, the Formica countertops weren't pretty, but the country blue and white tile floor was cute in a retro sort of way. And yes, the appliances were old, but there was something innately homey and warm about the setup, including the rooster wallpaper trim. Maddie could see guests in here at the big wooden block table against the large picture window, which had a lovely view of… the dilapidated marina.
So fine, they could call it a blast from the past. Certainly there were people out there looking for an escape to a quaint, homey inn and willing to pay for it.
"We need elbow grease, and lots of it," Chloe said, walking into the kitchen, her shirt still over her nose and mouth.
Maddie wasn't afraid of hard work. It was all she knew. And envisioning this place all fixed up with a roaring fire in the woodstove and a hot, delicious meal on the stovetop, with cuteness spilling from every nook and cranny, made her smile. Without thinking, she pulled out the BlackBerry she could no longer afford and started a list, her thumbs a blur of action. "New paint, new countertops, new appliances…" Hmm, what else? She hit the light switch for a better look, and nothing happened.
Maddie added that to the list. "Faulty wiring—"
"And leaky roof." Tara pointed upward.
"There's a bathroom above this," Chloe told them. "It's got a plumbing issue. Roof's probably leaking, too."
Tara came closer and peered over Maddie's shoulder at her list. "Are you a compulsive organizer?"
- On Sale
- Sep 24, 2013
- Page Count
- 800 pages
- Grand Central Publishing