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The Bridge Tender

The Bridge Tender

4.0 10
by Marybeth Whalen

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A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina—this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be


A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina—this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be. Seven years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.

Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.

Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.

Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of the locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life—and new love—that her lost love made possible.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Emily Shaw doesn’t really want to honor her late husband’s final wish—that she should purchase a home at Sunset Beach, where they honeymooned only five years earlier—even though he leaves her the funds to do so. Still grieving a year after Ryan’s death, she decides to move to the beach and becomes reluctantly drawn into the lives of her neighbors—and especially to Kyle, a former movie star whom Emily had a teenage crush, on but who no longer acts. Emotions run high in this usually relaxed summer haven, as Whalen (The Wishing Tree) expertly explores the reach of grief, love, and faith. Richly drawn secondary characters relate their own broken dreams to Emily, in the process helping her find peace in a life without Ryan—possibly with another love. Every character seems to have a story and a need for forgiveness and grace. And over and around the human drama swirls the wind-swept sands and waves of Sunset Beach, painted vividly enough to be a character all its own. This sweet and funny, raw and poignant story will leave readers emotionally spent, yet eager for more. (June)
4 Stars Romantic Times
“Whalen's novel is incredibly charming.”
Library Journal
Newlywed Emily Shaw is sure she will never be as happy as she is this moment, on her honeymoon with Ryan at Sunset Beach, NC. The couple make a pact to buy a house there one day, but sadly Ryan dies of cancer seven years later. The heartbroken Emily is surprised to learn that her husband left her the money to buy the house, and she reluctantly returns to Sunset Beach where she realizes as she gets to know the community that perhaps God's plan for her is to continue with her life after all. VERDICT Whalen's third series title (after The Guest Book; The Wishing Tree) is a touching and emotional story of true love both lost and found. The fully developed characters and bittersweet tone combined with the steady pace will resonate with readers who enjoy Robin Lee Hatcher.

Product Details

Publication date:
A Sunset Beach NovelSeries Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Bridge Tender

a novel

By Marybeth Whalen


Copyright © 2014 Marybeth Whalen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-33840-6


March 3, 2006

Emily Shaw stood in front of her open closet, her eyes drawn to the black dress hanging there as if someone was shining a spotlight on it. She remembered buying the dress—a wardrobe basic, some fashion article had called it. Every woman needs a basic black dress, she had read, and, being a rule follower, she'd gone out and purchased one almost immediately. But she'd never worn it, preferring to wear colors like red and pink, yellow and blue. Happy colors, she'd always thought. Colors that made people happy to see her. Colors that made her feel happy when she wore them.

But Emily wasn't happy. Not anymore. Might as well dress the part.

She reached for the black dress, tugging it free from the hanger. She held it up to determine whether she could still wear it. She'd lost so much weight in the past weeks as Ryan started to slip away. Her appetite had gone the way of his fight. She pulled the dress over her head and walked over to stand in front of the full-length mirror in their bedroom. When would she stop thinking of it as their bedroom? Now it was her bedroom, hers alone. The bed was made. There was no laundry left on the floor, no folded piles waiting to be put away. There wasn't a collection of discarded, half-drunk coffee cups and soda cans littering the surfaces. She didn't have a thing to clean up, and she missed it. It's finally clean, Ryan, she thought.

She looked at herself in the mirror, took in the image of the stranger reflected there. Her hair, once cut in a cute style, had grown ragged in the months after Ryan's diagnosis. The highlights she'd splurged on had grown out, revealing long dark streaks on the crown of her head. She was so thin her head looked too large for her neck. Her eyes no longer held a spark but blinked back at her dully. And the once-flattering black dress looked exactly like a sackcloth on her. She would be a sight at her husband's funeral. And she couldn't care less.

She imagined what her mother would say, the way her mouth would form that grim little line of disapproval even as she bit back her critique of her only daughter. Her mother was the quintessential preacher's wife—used to living in a fishbowl and prone to caring what "the people" thought of them. It just wouldn't do for Emily to have anything less than a positive attitude, a smile on her face, some roses in her cheeks as she bravely faced the untimely death of her young husband. What would the people think? If her mother had her way, Emily would address the mourners today wearing vibrant red or brilliant blue, share an inspiring message of hope for a bright future. She'd quote some pithy verses and rally everyone with talk of God drawing near even in the valley of the shadow of death.

But God, as far as she could tell, was nowhere around.

She turned away from the mirror and went to put her hair in a ponytail instead of styling it. She should probably have washed it but the truth was, she just didn't care how she looked. She had actually considered not attending the funeral; let her parents and Ryan's explain to "the people" that she was just too grief-stricken to drag herself out of bed. The ones who counted would understand. The rest she didn't care about anyway. But a cooler head had prevailed and she'd relented when she looked out the window by her bed that morning and was greeted with a weeping sky. It was as if the world was telling her it was okay to be sad. She'd promised herself she would go and pay tribute to Ryan, but she would not look happy about it when she did. Hence the black dress, the lack of makeup, the unwashed hair.

Marta arrived to drive her to the funeral a few minutes early—more evidence that all was not right with the world. Her best friend had never been early for anything in her life. She frowned when Emily entered the kitchen where Marta was helping herself to the coffee Emily had made but not drunk.

Marta shook her head and blew on the hot coffee. She took a few sips as Emily shifted nervously from foot to foot, watching her. Between sips she saw Marta take in the too-big dress, the way the fabric billowed around her body. She gestured at the dress. "That new?"

Emily narrowed her eyes. "As if," she responded.

Marta ignored her unfunny retort. "When this is over I think you should get rid of it. It doesn't do much for you."

Emily shrugged and looked at the microwave clock.

"You should want to pay your respects," her mother had said yesterday when she'd admitted she was seriously considering not going. "This is your time to honor Ryan." Her mother used guilt to guide her like ranchers used cattle prods. Walking out with Marta, she caught her unsightly reflection in the stainless steel oven door. Her mother's guilt maneuver had worked yet again. Maybe she would take one look at her daughter and regret using it. As sad as she was, the thought made Emily smile just the tiniest little bit.

* * *

Following the service, her parents opened the church gymnasium for a reception. All the old ladies from the church had made food, plates lining several long tables filled with every kind of food imaginable—fried chicken and deviled eggs, tea sandwiches and ham biscuits. Another table held pies of all kinds—fried pies and apple pie and blueberry pie and a chocolate meringue piled high with a fluffy white topping. Emily surveyed the food as if it were a foreign substance she'd heard of but had no need for. She felt like an alien among earthlings, watching them take part in this ritual known as eating. She was surprised her stomach rumbled in response to Marta's filled plate, the smell of the fried chicken causing this one body part to betray the rest of her. Marta held up the plate. "You sure I can't get you something?" she asked.

Marta's overly attentive attitude was yet another indication that things weren't right. Not that her best friend wasn't kind and helpful sometimes, it just wasn't that often. She looked around them at the collection of men—Ryan's friends from college and his office, many of them single. Normally Marta would've been on a hunt. Even at a funeral. But she seemed not to notice any of them, her eyes focused and intent on her best friend, eyeing her as if she were an armed bomb missing her timer.

"You should eat," Marta intoned, waving the plate under her nose.

Emily nearly remarked that she sounded like her mother, but held her tongue. Marta would take that as an insult when she only meant it as an observation. She just shook her head and ignored the smell of the chicken, her hand resting on her concave stomach to stop the rumbling. She couldn't eat at Ryan's funeral. It just didn't seem right. There were ways to mourn properly, and scarfing fried chicken in the presence of his friends and family wasn't one of them. "Maybe one of the ladies will make me a plate," she mumbled. "For later."

Marta, who was attacking her chicken, stopped mid-chew. "Great idea! I'll go ask." Obviously relieved to have something to do, she trotted off to find Mrs. Miniver, the grande dame of food at Christ Community Church.

Emily stood still and surveyed the room, grateful for this first moment alone. Her mother and father were occupied with other people and Ryan's parents had ducked out shortly after the reception got underway. Emily had nearly asked to go with them but had taken one look at Mrs. Shaw's face and known that the woman needed to be alone to grieve her son apart from the onlookers. At the very least, Emily understood that. She'd given her in-laws one last hug and watched them go, wondering if they were still her in-laws if their son was dead.

"Excuse me, Emily?" The voice at her elbow startled her and brought her back to the crowded church gymnasium filled with the smell of grandma's cooking. She turned to find a face she recognized but couldn't place, which had happened often that day.

"Yes?" she asked.

"I'm Phil, Phil Griffin?" He watched her face for some sign of recognition and, seeing none, continued. "I worked with Ryan, but not in the same department. I handled—" His voice faltered. "I handle wills and, um, things of that nature." He finished, straightening his posture and exhaling loudly. "Did Ryan ever mention me?"

She searched the recesses of her mind, thinking back through the months after his diagnosis, the decision not to prolong his life with treatment, the stunning reality that cancer would take his life quickly, and their valiant efforts to enjoy every last minute they'd had together. They'd talked through so much—the gift of time, her father had called it in his eloquent service that day—but had the name Phil Griffin from his office ever come up? No. She shook her head at Phil. "I'm sorry but that doesn't ring a bell."

Phil held up his hands. He wasn't eating either. "'S'okay. I didn't think he would. Ryan ..." She was startled to watch the man's eyes fill with tears. He swallowed hard and continued speaking. "Ryan loved you very much. He made me promise I'd wait 'til ... after to divulge anything to you. He made some plans a long time ago, plans that affect you now." He looked away, scanning the room before looking back at her. "I came today to pay my respects but also to find you and set up a time to have you come to my office. Would you be willing to do that?"

Intrigued, she nodded as the rest of the room fell away—gone was the idle chatter of the collected mourners, the smell of food. All that mattered was this stranger who promised to tell her something she'd not known about her husband. "How soon could we do it?" she asked, waving Marta over so she could introduce her to Phil. She would beg Marta to take her to his office immediately, to this last piece of Ryan she hadn't known existed, whatever it was. Suddenly, even though she was at his funeral, he felt close again. She found herself wanting to wrap her arms around this feeling and hold it forever. But she knew the more she tried to hold on, the more it would slip away.


It didn't take much cajoling to get Marta to bug out of the reception but she elected to wait in the car, furiously tapping at her phone, while Emily followed Phil into his office, her heart hammering away in her chest for reasons she couldn't explain. No matter what this man had to tell her, nothing was going to change. Ryan was still going to be dead, left behind in that cold grave they'd stood beside hours earlier while her father called out the Lord's Prayer and everyone mumbled along. Whatever he'd left for her wasn't powerful enough to bring him back, of that she was sure. And beyond that, what did it matter? She took a deep breath and did her best to compose herself. Phil gestured for her to have a seat across from his desk, first moving some file folders out of the chair so she could do so. He smiled nervously at her before reaching into a drawer and thumbing through more files. "Sorry I'm not more prepared," he said as he searched. "I had no idea you'd want to come down today."

She shrugged as if she'd come out of convenience and not curiosity, but she knew she was fooling no one. She kept quiet so he could keep looking for the papers he'd promised at the funeral. His desk looked a lot like Ryan's, with piles of papers sloping dangerously. They'd been kindred spirits, she imagined. That was probably why Ryan had chosen him. Two messies in the midst of a sea of buttoned-down type As had found each other. She heard Phil mutter to himself when he found the right one, extracting it with a flourish. "Terribly unprofessional," he said. "My apologies." There's a method to my madness, she could hear Ryan tease. She ignored him and focused on Phil.

Without waiting for her to reply, he opened the file he'd placed on the desk. She could see the name "SHAW, R" marked in black ink across the top. He read silently for a moment, then looked up at her, blinking as if he'd just stepped into the light from a dark cave. "How to say this?" he sighed. "I don't usually handle this part, you understand." He waited for her to nod even though she didn't understand anything. "But because of Ryan's and my professional connection I agreed to do so." He cleared his throat. "For him." His mouth turned up ever so slightly at the corners. She guessed that he was remembering something Ryan had said. "He could be quite ... persuasive."

She nodded again, willing herself not to cry, even as a memory emerged from the recesses of her brain. Ryan, goading her to strap on their old inline skates and race each other. He'd won, of course, and she'd ended up with a skinned elbow. She'd called him a ringer. He'd broken into a very bad rendition of Abba's "The Winner Takes It All," singing the part about the loser taking a fall especially loud. He'd made it up to her with a big scoop of ice cream on their way home. Now she bit the inside of her cheek and tried to focus on Phil instead, who slid a stack of stapled papers across the desk to her.

"Did you know about the life insurance policy your husband took out early in your marriage?"

She narrowed her eyes at him, thinking through the things like this they'd discussed before he died. She took a guess. "He had one through work? It'll cover his funeral costs and medical bills and leave me a little bit of money?" Somehow she didn't think that was what he was referring to. She was holding her purse in her lap and realized she was squeezing the straps tightly, the leather edges biting into her skin. She made herself loosen her grip.

"Right. I knew about that one. But I helped him with the legalities of another one. One he told me was to be kept secret until the time of his death. I was just making sure he didn't decide to tell you himself at—" His voice cracked. "At the end."

"Tell me himself about what?" Her fingers tightened on the purse again. She twisted the leather around once, twice, until it was nearly cutting off her circulation. What was this guy talking about?

He gestured at the papers in front of her. "He took out a half-a-million-dollar policy on himself and you're the beneficiary." He caught her eye and gave her a small smile. "But he had a condition on what the payout could be used for. He was very specific." From the file in front of him he extracted a photo and slid that across the desk to her. She could've sworn he was blushing as she took it from him. She looked down at the photo from five years ago, taken by a random woman they'd flagged down and asked to snap the picture. They'd been walking back from that house in the ocean, holding hands and feeling giddy over the prospect of having their own home at Sunset Beach someday.

She studied the two of them as if they were two people she didn't know—a nice young couple with sun-kissed skin and big goofy grins on their faces. They were so unaware of the future she wanted to reach into the picture and shake them. Didn't they know that happiness like that never hung around for long?

She remembered Ryan's promise to her that evening and awareness began to creep in. He had taken that promise seriously. She raised her eyes to meet Phil's, her look telling him she'd figured it out. He nodded and slid an envelope with her name written on it in familiar handwriting. "He explains everything in here." He pointed at the stapled papers. "That's just all the legal mumbo-jumbo. You can look it all over and then let me know how—and when—you'd like to proceed." He chuckled, already visibly lighter now that he'd delivered the news. The poor man had obviously been dreading this part of his job. Used to hiding behind the legal documents, this case had involved getting his hands emotionally dirty. He probably wished he'd never agreed to it, but someone had to keep Ryan's secret for him. Phil rose from his desk. "I'll just be right outside so you can have a moment to read that." He reached over to a box of tissues sitting on a credenza nearby and, without aplomb, handed her a few. She hadn't realized she was crying.

After Phil was gone, she slid her thumb into a small crack in the sealed envelope and tugged it open, trying not to dwell on her name in Ryan's handwriting, trying not to anticipate what he had written to her. She pulled the sheet of folded paper from inside the envelope, smelling his scent on the paper as she did, thinking of his hands smoothing out the folds she was now opening. When he wrote this, he'd done it knowing that the end was near and—even then—thinking of her. She swallowed hard and focused on the words swimming before her eyes, blinking so she could see again. She saw her name at the top and rested her forehead against the page as she gave up and let the tears fall freely. Grief grabbed her by the chest as it had done so many times recently, squeezing the very life out of her as she fought to take in air.


Excerpted from The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen. Copyright © 2014 Marybeth Whalen. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. She is the cofounder of She Reads, an online book club focused on spotlighting the best in women's fiction. Marybeth is the author of The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, The Guest Book, and The Wishing Tree. Marybeth and her family live in North Carolina. Visit her website at www.marybethwhalen.com.

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The Bridge Tender 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Ashley_22 More than 1 year ago
The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen While on their honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Shaw make a pact. No matter what the have to sacrifice, they will return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina and but their own home. A beautiful pact made by newlyweds. A pact that was never to be. Seven years into the marriage, Emily Shaw is left a widow. Alone, heartbroken, and past the point of caring. Until A man shows up with something for her from Ryan. Unsure if she's able to stay in their home, Emily returns to Sunset Beach, ready to hold up her end of the pact. In no time, Emily finds the perfect home and becomes immeresed in the coastal town life. As the town debates among each other on wether to build a new bridge or keep the old one, Emily tries to decide wether she should side with her new neighbor and the Bridge Tender she has met, or side with the others. Emily must also decide if she should and could, build her own bridge. A bridge to a new love and new chapter in her life, or will she be stuck on the old bridge, unable to let go of a past love? This book was really good. At first I thought I was going to be bored with it. However, after a chapter or so, I was hooked. I wanted to know if Emily could move on and keep her end of this beautiful pact. In the end, I was very happy I got this book. *I recieved this book From BookLook, as part of their blogger program, in exchange for my honest review.*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dealing with grief over the loss of her husband,a young woman keeps a promise and finds healing and a return to the faith of her childhood. A poignant story of love, loss, and healing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MitziAB More than 1 year ago
5 stars ***** out of 5 Contemporary Romance This novel is a wonderful story that I think about every once in a while even though it has been a while since I read it. The idea of a young widow being left a surprise by her late husband definitely touched my heart. The response to the surprise was just want I would have expected, and MaryBeth conveyed it with profound feeling. At no time did I feel pulled out of the story, she used excellent imagery, very vivid, and I could almost feel the mist come off of the water as I watched the Bridge tender raise the bridge for the boats. The issues broached in the story were valid, and I felt the conflict of those living at Sunset Beach as they tried to determine the best coarse of action. Definitely a keeper, and I'll be reading more of MaryBeths novels based on how I loved this one. Thank you to BookLook Blogger for the opportunity to read this book. I received it free in exchange for an honest review. A positive critique was not required. The opinions are my own. I apologize for not posting this sooner. I thought I had, but when I checked my records it was missing.
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
Thought the book was OK.  The premise of the novel is great but it lacked depth.  I would not recommend.
nhr3bookcrazyNR More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. It told the story of losing, getting through the grief, and coming out stronger on the other side. There's a lot of growing stronger going on in this book. Definitely a sweet, quick read.
Nicnac63 More than 1 year ago
Emily Shaw feels she’s lost everything when her husband dies. She has not only lost the love of her life, but her dreams for the future are reduced to rubble. A gift from her husband leaves her with an added burden, and she wonders if she’ll ever climb from the wreckage.   Uprooting her life and moving to the seaside does little to change her heart or mind until a yearning to help a young girl, who might be as lonely as she is, and an interest in a handsome bridge tender begins to smooth the edges of her pain. This is a sweet story of a woman’s journey to find peace and contentment after the death of her husband. Emily is a likeable character who garnered my sympathy. I felt her anguish, and like how the story didn’t progress too quickly. One doesn’t ‘get over’ the death of a loved one overnight, so I’m pleased the author took the time to gently pull her from her grief. A good summer read. Cover: Love it Title: Love it Publisher: Thomas Nelson Pages: 326 Pace: Steady First Lines (prologue): Emily Shaw stood on the beach and watched as her husband emerged from the ocean, water beading on his newly tanned skin. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a Review Copy from BookLook. I was not required to write a positive review. The options I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255
susanwalkergirl More than 1 year ago
When selecting a new book to read The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen caught my eye. First the beautiful cover picture, then comments from other readers and finally the storyline drew me in. I’m not usually one to read romance books, so I wasn’t entirely sure if I would like this book by an author who is new to me. The story starts out with Emily and her husband Ryan on their honeymoon in Sunset Beach filled with carefree days, romance and love. Fast forward five years and we find Emily getting dressed for Ryan’s funeral. In the ensuing chapters, we learn about Emily and how she handles overwhelming grief and how life moves on in spite her. I found the author very insightful on relationships, friendships, grief, loneliness and learning to live again after a huge loss. Many times I found what was shared evoked in me a desire to appreciate what I have been given and to recognize that I don’t know how long I will have those gifts in my life. I appreciated how Emily reasoned through her way to be supportive of her friend Marta who had a budding romantic relationship in the wake of Emily’s loss of her husband Ryan. God and faith were part of what Emily wrestled through, but I would have appreciated an even greater emphasis on faith. There were many times, I didn’t want to put the book down when duty or sleep called. All in all The Bridge Tender holds a special place in my heart and look forward to reading more books by author Marybeth Whalen. I highly recommend this book. I would like to thank the team at BookLook for providing me with a free copy of The Bridge Tender to read in exchange for an honest review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.
RubieLee More than 1 year ago
The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen is an unexpected journey through grief and recovery. This is not the typical romance novel where you meet the widow a year after her husband’s death and she quickly meets and falls in love with a man she hardly knows. In fact, this book is more about a woman who faces a devastating loss and slowly moves through recovery. It is heavy and emotional and I would not take it on vacation. In this book, we are introduced to Emily Shaw who has married an amazing man named Ryan. After being married a few years shy of a decade, Emily loses Ryan to illness. He left her enough money to buy their dream home on the island of their honeymoon destination, Sunset Beach. It is there she meets new people she grows to love, including a man who understands loss. Marybeth Whalen has a way with words. This story is unlike anything I have ever read. It is so different from many books that address the same issue of loss and loving again. The grief Emily Shaw feels in this book is tangible. It felt real and I actually cried a few real tears! I loved this book for that reason. While it does end happily, the hope and relief come slowly. There is no instant gratification here. I would still give this book four stars, but I do not recommend this book for a fun and flirty vacation read. Seriously, you will need tissues…and a muffin. I was given a complimentary copy of this book from its publisher and BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review. I have not been compensated and all opinions are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is supposed to be 99 cents on BookBub but when I click through Barnes and Noble is charging $9.99.