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Give it up.
The word's echoed in Jake's mind as the swirling Maine mist wrapped itself around his small rental car, obscuring everything beyond a thirty-foot radius. He frowned and eased his foot off the accelerator. Should he continue the short distance to Castine or play it safe and pull in somewhere for the night?
A sign appeared to his right, and he squinted, trying to make out the words. Blue Hill. He glanced at the map on the seat beside him. Castine was less than twenty miles away, he calculated. But he suspected that these narrow, windingand unfamiliarroads weren't too forgiving, and dusk was descending rapidly. Not a good combination.
Besides, he was tired. He'd driven up from Boston, then spent what remained of the day exploring the back roads and small towns of the Blue Hill peninsula. If he wanted to feel rested and fresh for his interview at the Maine Maritime Academy tomorrow, it was time to call it a day.
As if to validate his decision, a sign bearing the words Whispering Sails B&B loomed out of the mist. Talk about perfect timing! He pulled into the gravel driveway and followed the gradual incline until he reached a tiny parking area, where one empty space remained. Hopefully, the space was a good sign.
Jake eased his six-foot frame out of the compact car and reached into the backseat for his suit bag, then slung it over his shoulder. As he made his way up the stone path, he peered at the house, barely discernible through the heavy mist. The large Queen Anne-style structure of weathered gray clapboard was somewhat intimidating in size, its dull color offset by the welcome, golden light spilling from the windows and the overflowing flower boxes hugging the porch rail. Definitely a haven for a weary traveler.
Jake climbed the porch steps, read the welcome sign on the door and entered, as it instructed. A bell jangled somewhere in the back of the house, and he paused in the foyer, glancing around as he waited for someone to appear. The house was tastefully decorated, with none of the "fussiness" often associated with this style of architecture. In fact, the clean, contemporary lines of the furnishings set off the ornate woodwork beautifully, and he found the subtle blending of old and new quite pleasing. A soft, warm color palette gave the house a homey feelno small accomplishment for high-ceilinged rooms of such grand proportion. Clearly the house had been decorated by someone with an eye for design and color.
His gaze lingered on the ample fireplace topped by a marble mantel, which took up much of one wall, and he was sorry the month was July instead of January. He wouldn't mind settling into the large overstuffed chair beside it with a good book on a cold night. There was something restful about the room that appealed to him.
As Jake completed his survey, a door swung open at the back of the foyer and a young woman who looked to be about twenty hurried through.
"I thought I heard the bell." She greeted him with a breathless smile. "I was on the back porch changing a light bulb. Sorry to keep you waiting."
He returned the smile. "Not at all. I was hoping you might have a room for the night. I was trying to make it to Castine, but the weather isn't cooperating."
She made a wry face and shook her head in sympathy. "Not exactly Maine at its best." She slipped behind a wooden counter that was half-hidden by the curving stairway. "You're in luck for a room, though. We're always booked solid in the summer, but we just received a cancellation." Passing a pen to him, she smiled. "If you'll just fill out this card, I'll help you with your bags."
"No need. I just have a suit bag. But thanks."
He provided the requested information quickly, then waited while the young woman selected a key and joined him on the other side of the desk.
"I'll show you to your room. It has a private bath and a great view of the baywell, it's a great view on a clear day." She shot a rueful grin over her shoulder as she led the way up the steps. "Maybe by tomorrow morning it will be clear. We can hope, anyway. Breakfast is between eight and nine in the dining room, which is next to the drawing room. Checkout is eleven. My name's Allison, and I'll be on duty till ten if you need anything. Just ring the bell on the desk." She paused before a second-floor door at the front of the house and inserted the key, then pushed the door open and stepped aside to let him enter.
Jake strolled past her and gave the room a quick but thorough scrutiny. It seemed that the hand of a skilled decorator had been at work here, as well.
The room was done in restful shades of blue. A large bay window at the front of the house would afford a panoramic view of the sea in clear weather, he suspected, and a cushioned window seat beckoned invitingly. A four-poster bed, antique writing desk, carved wardrobe and comfortable-looking easy chair with ottoman completed the furnishing. His gaze paused on the fireplace, noting the candle sconces on the mantle, and again he wished it was cool enough for a fire.
"I hope this is all right." Allison waited by the door.
He turned to her with a smile. "Perfect. The room is very inviting."
Allison grinned. "My aunt has a way with color and such. Everybody says so. And she makes all the guests feel real welcome. That's why we have so many regulars. You know, you're really lucky to get this room. It's the most requested one. Especially with honeymooners."
Jake grinned. "I can see why. It's quite romantic."
"Yeah, it is. Well, if you need anything, just let me know. Have a pleasant evening, Mr. West."
As the door clicked shut, Jake drew a deep breath and stretched, flexing the tight muscles in his neck. He'd been on the road since early morning, but the time had been well spent. Before he decided to make this area his permanent home, he intended to check it out thoroughly.
He strolled over to the window and stared out into the gray mist. Home, he repeated silently. To his surprise, the word had a nice sound. After twelve years of roaming the globe, his worldly possessions following him around in a few small boxes, the thought of having a home, a place to call his own, had a sudden, unexpected appeal. Perhaps because for the past couple of years he'd been plagued with a vague feeling of restlessness, of emptiness, a sense of "Is this all there is?"
Even before his brother's phone call, the notion of "settling down" had crept into his thoughts, though he'd pushed it aside. It wasn't something he'd seriously consideredor even wanted to considerfor a very long time. In fact, not since he was engaged to Maggie.
Jake frowned. Funny. He hadn't really thought much about Maggie these past few years. Purposely. During the early years after their breakup, she'd haunted his thoughts day and night, the guilt growing inside him with each passing month. It was only in the last three or four years that he had met with some success in his attempts to keep thoughts of her at bay. So why was he thinking of her now?
His gaze strayed to the chocolate-chip cookies, wrapped in clear paper and tied with a ribbon, resting between the pillows on the bed. He'd noticed them earlier, had been impressed by the thoughtful touch. Maybe they had triggered thoughts of the woman he'd once loved. She used to bake him chocolate-chip cookieshis favoritehe recalled with a bittersweet smile.
But Maggie was only a memory now, he reminded himself with a sigh. He had no idea what had become of her. She'd moved less than a year after their parting, breaking all ties with the town which held such unhappy memories for her. Even his parents, to whom she had always been close, had no idea where she went. It was better that way, she'd told them. They'd understood. And he had, too.
But though he'd initiated the breakup, he had nevertheless been filled with an odd sense of desolation to realize he no longer knew Maggie's whereabouts. He didn't understand why he felt that way. Didn't even try to. What good would it do? All he could do was hope she was happy.
Jake walked over to the bed and picked up the cookies, weighing them in his hand. Here he was, in the honeymoon suite, with only memories of a woman he'd once loved to warm his heart. For a moment, a wave of self-pity rose before he banished it as too indulgent. His solitary state was his own choice. He'd known his share of women through the years, even met a few who made him fleetingly entertain the idea of marriage. But that's as far as it ever went.
Because, bottom line, he'd never met anyone who touched his heart the way Maggie had.
He sat down in the chair, overcome with weariness, and let his head fall against the cushioned back. He'd never really admitted that before. But it was true. Maybe that was the legacy of a first lovethat no one else ever measured up. Most people got over that, of course, moved on to meet someone new and fall in love again. He hadn't. As a result, he'd never regretted his decision to remain unmarried. Yet now, as he contemplated a future that consisted of a more "normal" land-bound existence instead of the nomadic life he'd been living, the thought of a wife and family was appealing. For the first time in years, he felt ready to seriously consider marriageand fatherhood.
Of course, there was one little problem.
He hadn't met the right woman.
Then again, maybe he had, he acknowledged with a sudden, bittersweet pang of regret, his smile fading. But it was too late for regrets.
Twelve years too late.
"I mean, this guy is gorgeous!"
Abby looked at her sister and grinned as she scrambled some eggs. "Are you sure you're not exaggerating? "
"Absolutely not." Allison peeked into the oven to check the blueberry muffins, then turned back to her twin. "Tall, handsome, dark hair, deep brown eyes. And you know what? I think he's single."
"Yeah?" Abby paused, her tone interested. "How old is he?"
Allison shrugged. "Old. Thirty-something, probably. But for an older guy, he's awesome." "Let me serve him, okay?" Abby cajoled. "Hey, I saw him first!"
"Yes, but you had your chance to talk to him last night. It's my turn. That's only fair, isn't it, Aunt Maggie?"
Maggie smiled and shook her head. "You two are getting awfully worked up about someone who will be checking out in an hour or two."
Allison sighed dramatically. "True. But we can dream, can't we? Maybe he's a rich tycoon. Or maybe he's lost his beloved wife and is retracing the route they traveled on their honeymoon. Or maybe he's a Hollywood producer scouting the area for a new movie. Or "
"Or maybe you better watch those muffins before they get too brown," Maggie reminded her with a nod toward the oven.
Allison sighed. "Oh, Aunt Maggie, you have no imagination when it comes to men."
"I have plenty of imagination. Fortunately, I also have a good dose of common sense."
"But common sense is so.so boring," Allison complained.
"He just came in," Abby reported breathlessly, peering through a crack in the kitchen door. She grabbed the pot of coffee before Allison could get to it, and with a triumphant "My turn," sailed through the door.
Maggie smiled and shook her head. One thing for sure. There was never a dull moment with the twins. At eighteen, the world for them was just one big adventure waiting to happen. And she encouraged their "seize the moment" philosophywithin reason, of course. Because she knew life would impose its own limitations soon enough.
When Abby reentered the kitchen a few minutes later, she shut the door and leaned against it, her face flushed.
"Well?" Allison prompted.
"See? Didn't I tell you? What's he wearing?" Allison kept one eye on the pitcher of cream she was filling.
"A dark gray suit with a white shirt and a maroon paisley tie."