Being left at the altar is not for sissies. Aside from the humiliation and hurt, there are actual logistics to worry about. Odds are if a guy is willing to leave you standing alone in front of three hundred of your closest friends and relatives, not to mention both your mothers, he isn't going to sweat the little stuff like returning the gifts and paying the caterer. Which explained why three months after going through that exact experience, Andi Gordon was putting her life savings into a house she'd only seen twice, in a town she'd only visited for seventy-two hours.
Go big or go home. Andi had decided to do both.
After signing the final paperwork and picking up the keys, she drove up the hill to the highest point on Blackberry Island and stared at the house she'd just bought. It was known as one of the "Three Sisters." Three beautiful, Queen Anne-style homes built around the turn of the last century. According to the Realtor, the house on the left had been restored perfectly. The ice-cream colors reflected the style and fashion of the year it was built. Even its garden was more traditionally English than casual Pacific Northwest. A girl's bike leaned against the porch, looking modern and out of place.
The house on the right was also restored, but with less period detail. The slate-gray trim framed stained-glass windows and there was a sculpture of a bird taking flight in the front yard.
The house in the middle still had a For Sale sign planted in the unkempt grass. While like the others in style and size, the house she'd bought had little else in common with its neighbors. From the roof, with missing shingles, to the peeling paint and broken-out windows, the house was a testament to neglect and indifference. If the building hadn't been historic, it would have been torn down years ago.
Andi had seen the seller's disclosurelisting all the problems with the house. It was pages long, listing every major issue, from an electrical upgrade done twenty years before to lousy and nonfunctioning plumbing. The building inspector Andi had hired to look over the place had given up halfway through and returned her money. Then her agent had tried to show her a lovely condo overlooking the marina.
Andi had refused. She'd known the second she saw the old place that it was everything she'd been looking for. The house had once been full of promise. Time and circumstance had reduced it to its present conditionunloved and abandoned. She didn't need a degree in psychology to understand she saw herself in the house. She understood the pitfalls of believing if she fixed the house, she would also be fixing herself. But knowing and doing, or in this case not doing, weren't the same thing. Her head might be busy pointing out this was a mistake of mammoth proportions, but her heart had already fallen in love.
Given her recent, very public broken engagement, falling for a house seemed a whole lot safer than falling for a man. After all, if the house abandoned her at the altar, she could simply burn it down.
Now parked in front of the three-story disaster, she smiled. "I'm here," she whispered, offering the promise to both herself and the house. "I'll make you whole again."
The past three months had been a nightmare of logistics and recriminations. Buying one of the "Three Sisters" had given her something else to think about. Emailing documents for her loan was a lot more fun than explaining to her second cousin that yes, after dating for over ten years, Matt really had left her at the altar. He had actually said their decision to marry had seemed sudden and that he'd needed more time. And yes, he had run off to Las Vegas two weeks later, marrying his receptionist. She refused to think about the conversations she'd had on the subject with her mother.
But knowing that she would soon be leaving Seattle for Blackberry Island had kept her going. She'd focused on her escape. Then she'd packed up her place in the city and headed north.
Andi squeezed the keys her real estate agent had handed her, feeling the metal dig into her skin. The pain brought her back to the present, to this moment where there were only possibilities.
She got out of her car and stared at the broken house. But instead of boarded windows and a sagging porch, she saw what it would be. New. Shiny. A home people would admire. Not a castoff. Because when the house was restored, Andi could call her mother and talk about that. It would be a far better conversation than listening to the woman list everything Andi had messed up in her life. Like not allowing Matt to guide her into changing herself and how she'd foolishly let a good man get away.
Andi turned to admire the view. On a clear day the water of Puget Sound sparkled. Granted, clear days were relatively rare in this part of the country, but Andi was okay with that. She liked the rain. The gray, drizzly sky, the squish of her boots against the sidewalk. All that gloom made her appreciate the sunny days.
She turned west, looking out over the sound. The houses had a perfect view. They'd originally been built by sea captains, oriented to watch the ships sail in. In the late 1800s, seafaring had still been important to the area, not yet overtaken by the lure of logging.
This was right, she thought happily. She belonged here. Or she would belong, with time. If the renovations started to get to her, she would simply look at her view. The dance of the water, the peninsula beyond were far different from the high-rises of downtown Seattle. The city might only be a couple of hours away by car, but it was another planet when compared to the small town that was Blackberry Island.
"Hello! Are you the one who bought the house?"
Andi turned and saw a woman walking toward her. She was of average height, with long dark red hair that flowed halfway down her back. She wore jeans and clogs, with an ivory cable-knit sweater that just grazed her hips. Her face was more interesting than pretty, Andi thought as she approached. High cheekbones and large green eyes. Her pale skin was probably a result of both genetics and a complete lack of sun exposure since the previous September.
"Hi. Yes, I am."
The woman smiled. "Finally. That poor place. It's been so lonely. Oh, I'm Boston. Boston King." She pointed to the house with the sculpture of the bird on the lawn. "I live there."
They shook hands. Weak sunlight broke through the clouds and highlighted what looked like a dark purple streak in Boston's hair.
Andi fingered her own dark hair and wondered if she should do something as dramatic. The most she'd ever managed was a trim.
"Any relation to Zeke King?" Andi asked. "He's the contractor I've been emailing about the house."
Boston's expression brightened. "My husband. He and his brother own a local firm here on the island. He'd mentioned he'd been in touch with the new owner." She tilted her head. "But he didn't say anything about you, and I'm dying to know the details. Can you spare a few minutes? I just put on a fresh pot of coffee."
Andi thought about the cleaning supplies in the back of her SUV. With the moving van arriving in the morning, she had plenty to do to get the place ready. But there were only three houses on the small cul-de-sac, and getting to know one of her neighbors seemed just as important.
"I'd love a cup of coffee," she said.
Boston led the way across the ragged grass to her own yard, then up the steps to the front door. Andi noticed the boards that made up the porch floor had been painted dark blue, and there were stars and planets scattered around. The front door was dark wood with stained-glass panels.
The eclectic mix of traditional décor and whimsy continued in the foyer. A Shaker-style bench stood by a coat-rack. On the wall was a mirror framed by silver squirrels and birds. The living room to the left had comfortable sofas and chairs, but there was a huge painting of a naked fairy over the fireplace.
Boston led the way down a narrow hallway, painted bloodred, and into a bright, open kitchen. There were cobalt-blue-painted cabinets, sleek, stainless appliances and a gray-and-blue marble countertop. The smell of coffee mingled with fragrant cinnamon and apples.
"Have a seat," Boston said, pointing at stools pulled up against the breakfast bar. "I just heated a couple of scones. I have cinnamon apple butter I made last fall."
Andi thought of the protein bar and cup of coffee that had been her breakfast and heard her stomach growl. "That sounds great. Thanks."
She took the offered seat. Boston opened the oven and removed a cookie sheet with two large scones on it. The apple butter was in a glass jar. Boston put the scones on a plate and passed one over, then poured coffee.
"Just black for me," Andi told her.
"Ah, a true coffee drinker. I have to conceal my caffeine in hazelnut and vanilla."
She got the flavored creamer from the refrigerator.
Andi glanced around. There was a big window over the sink and another in the corner eating area. A large pantry took up most of one wall. While she could see the original molding and beadboard by the back door, the rest of the kitchen had been updated.
"I love your space," Andi said. "I'm not sure my kitchen has seen so much as a coat of paint in the last sixty years."
Boston collected two knives and handed her one, then cut open her scone and smoothed on apple butter. As she worked, several silver charm bracelets clinked together.
"We saw your place at the open house. The kitchen was very 1950s."
"I don't mind the retro look," Andi admitted. "But nothing works. I have a thing about turning on a faucet and having hot water come out. And I'd like a refrigerator that keeps food cold."
Boston grinned. "So you're a demanding sort."
"I know Zeke's been drawing up plans. I haven't seen all of them, but he and his brother do beautiful work." Andi looked at her kitchen. "Did he update your house?"
"About six years ago." Boston picked up her coffee. "Where are you moving from?"
The island was small enough that Andi wasn't surprised Boston assumed she was from somewhere else.
"Big city, huh? This is going to be a change."
"I'm ready for a change."
"Do you have a family?"
Andi knew she didn't mean parents and siblings. "No." Boston's expression registered surprise. "That's a big house."
"I'm a doctor. A pediatrician. I want to use the main level for my practice and live upstairs."
Boston's shoulders seemed to tighten. "Oh, that's clever. You'll avoid the hassle of commuting." She glanced out the window over the sink toward Andi's house. "There's plenty of space for parking and I can see how the conversion wouldn't be difficult."
"The biggest modification will be moving the kitchen upstairs. I was going to have to gut it anyway, though, so it won't add much more to the bill." She reached for her scone. "How long have you lived on the island?"
"I grew up here," Boston told her. "In this house, actually. I've never lived anywhere else. When Zeke and I started dating, I warned him I came with about three thousand square feet of baggage." Her smile faded a little. "He said he liked that about me."
Andi chewed the vanilla-flavored scone, enjoying the tart apple and cinnamon spread, then swallowed. "Do you work outside the home?"
Boston shook her head. "I'm an artist. Mostly textiles, although lately
" Her voice trailed off and something dark entered her eyes. "I sometimes do portraits. I'm responsible for most of the strange things you see around here."
"I love the porch."
"Do you? Deanna hates it." Boston wrinkled her nose. "She would never say anything, of course, but I hear her sighing every time she steps on it."
"Your other neighbor."
"Her house is beautiful."
"Isn't it? You should see the inside. I'm sure she'll invite you over. The front rooms are furnished true to the time period. The historical societies love her." Boston glanced out the window again. "She has five daughters. Oh, customers for you." She frowned. "Or is it clients?"
Boston nodded. "Right. The girls are very sweet." She shrugged. "And that's the neighborhood. Just the three of us. I'm so happy someone is going to be living in the middle house. It's been empty for years. A vacant house can be sad."
Although nothing about Boston's tone had changed, Andi felt a shift in the other woman's energy. Even as she told herself she was being what her mother would call "weird beyond what we consider normal," she couldn't shake the feeling that her neighbor wanted her gone.
She quickly finished the rest of her scone, then smiled. "You've been more than kind. I really appreciate the jolt of caffeine and the snack. But I have so much I have to do."
"Moving. I've heard it's tough. I can't imagine living anywhere but here. I hope you're happy here on our little street."
"I'm sure I will be." Andi rose. "It was nice to meet you."
"You, too," Boston told her, walking her to the front door. "Please stop by if you need anything. That includes a shower. We have a guest bath, you know, in case the water gets turned off."
"That's very nice of you, but if the water gets turned off, I'm moving to a hotel."
"I like your style."
Andi waved and stepped out on the porch. Once the front door closed behind her, she paused for a second, looking at her house from her neighbor's perspective. There were several cracked windows on this side, and part of the siding was hanging down, loose and peeling. The yard was overgrown.
"Talk about ugly," she murmured, returning to her car.
Not to worry, she told herself. She'd gone over the plans for the remodeling and would be meeting with Zeke first thing Saturday to finalize their contract. Then work would begin.
In the meantime, she had to get ready for the movers who would arrive in the morning. She'd identified an upstairs bedroom where she would store the majority of her furniture. While the construction was going on, she would live in two small attic bedrooms. They were ugly, but serviceable. The bigger of the two would serve as a living room and pseudo kitchen. If she couldn't heat it in a toaster oven or microwave, she wasn't going to cook it.
The tiny attic bathroom had a shower obviously built for those who didn't hit the five-foot mark and fixtures dating back to the 1940s, but everything worked. Zeke had promised to rig up a hot water heater right away.
She had what she would need to survive the three months of construction. Although she'd told Zeke she wanted everything done by early July, in truth she was planning to launch her practice September first, giving her a nice buffer. She'd seen enough shows on HGTV to know there were often problems and time delays in re-modelings.
Andi collected the supplies from the back of her SUV She needed to clean the room that she would be using for furniture storage, then tackle the bathroom she'd claimed. After that, she was going to reward herself with a pulled-pork sandwich from Arnie's. Her real estate agent had promised the food was great.
Andi carefully walked up the front stairs. Two of the eight steps were loose. She put her key in the front door and jiggled to make the lock turn. Then she stepped into the foyer.