Twelve years ago, Jillian Henriksen cut off all her hair and placed it in her young husband's hands as he was buried. After his tragic accident, she clung to the only remaining stability she had - her young son Clint, her family of women, and her job at their lakeside diner, the Shore Leave Café.
Now it is summer again, and change is in the hot and humid air. Jillian's sister, Joelle, and her teenaged nieces, Camille, Tish, and Ruthann, have come home to Landon, bringing a welcome distraction.
And then there is Justin Miller, longtime family friend, brooding and sexy, but damaged after a terrible accident five years earlier. Will Jilly and Justin risk their broken hearts - and the Davis family curse - to take a chance on lasting love?
About the Author
Abbie Williams' love of the outdoors, changing seasons, and steamy romance is exactly why she is addicted to writing a saga about the lives and loves of a family of women who live on a Minnesota lake. When not curled over her keyboard, you can find her listening to bluegrass music and hanging out lakeside near her home of Rochester MN.
Read an Excerpt
Notion of Love
A Shore Leave Café Novel
By Abbie Williams
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved.
Landon, MN - August, 1984
Our new pink radio was plugged in and positioned on the back of the toilet tank, blaring my current favorite song, "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart. I swayed my hips to the beat as I carefully curled my bangs; last week I hadn't been paying enough attention and burned the crap out of my forehead. Seconds later my older sister, Joelle, flew into the bathroom and slapped her hip against mine, grinning as she effectively bumped me over and then leaned close to the mirror to reapply her new lip gloss. She'd just picked it out yesterday, on her seventeenth birthday. I watched her critically before saying, "It already looked fine."
Jo rolled her eyes at me, rubbing her lips together and then miming a kiss in the mirror. Everyone is always saying we look so much alike, and I guess we do, but I always thought Jo, being older, had an edge on me in the looks department. I mean, she's my best friend and I love her like crazy, and I'm happy with how I look — mostly. It's just hard when your older sister is tall and has D-cup boobs, and you aren't tall and yours are still (hopefully) growing. We both have long hair and good tans from being on Flickertail Lake all summer, and I know looks aren't supposed to be important in the long run. Gran is always telling us that it's far better to know how to catch and clean a fish, make a proper margarita, and be a considerate human being. And Great-Aunt Minnie says looks fade but spirit always glows. But still.
"Happy birthday," Jo said for the hundredth time today, meeting my eyes in the mirror, a smile crooking her glossy lips. "You look so pretty, Jilly Bean. What time is Chris getting here?"
I couldn't help but grin at the mention of my boyfriend, Chris Henriksen. His sixteenth birthday was back in June and his mom was letting him drive her car until he could afford his own, which would probably be around the time he turned twenty-five or so. I shook out my hair, fluffed my bangs one last time and said, "Pretty soon. How about Jackie?"
"I think I just heard his truck. Here, let me fix your shirt before I go."
She reached and turned my hips so I faced her, then hiked up the bottom of my hot-pink tank top and tied it in a knot, exposing my belly, just like hers. Then she tugged my jean shorts down about two inches and stepped back, satisfied.
"I hate showing my belly button," I grumbled, but Jo slapped my hands from adjusting her handiwork.
"But you have such a cute little belly," she teased. "Now leave it!"
There was no point in arguing. I asked, "Did Mom say anything else about the tattoo?"
Jo rolled her eyes again, complaining, "No, still no. Even though it's all I wanted for my birthday. I mean, it would just be a little daisy, right near my hip. I could cover it up anytime I wanted. I don't get why it's such a big deal."
"Yeah, but what about what Gran said, about when you have a baby someday, and it would get all stretched out?" I reminded, leaning to click off the radio before following her out of the bathroom.
Jo thumped down the stairs, calling over her shoulder, "Believe me, that's something I'm not doing for a looooong time! Shit, Jills, can you imagine?"
"No," I said honestly. "Not really."
Outside, the late-afternoon air was clear and mellow, scented by the campfire that Dodge was tending over by the cafe. Jo, spotting her boyfriend, Jackie Gordon, pulling into the parking lot, sprinted ahead. He climbed down from his rusty F-150 and pushed back his sunglasses as she jumped into his arms and they kissed like it was months since they'd seen each other, instead of just a few hours.
"Lookin' good, babe," I heard him say, his hands all over her.
I would have considered this obnoxious except that when Chris got here I planned to cover him in kisses, too. My heart sent a rush through my blood as I thought about Chris, who'd been my boyfriend since last spring. I'd known him forever, of course, like basically everyone in Land-on. I hadn't paid any attention to him in middle school, but all of a sudden in tenth grade we had four classes together and he just seemed to be in my mind ... a lot. A lot, a lot.
I would think of him as I lay in bed with my headphones on, trying to block out Jo, talking incessantly to Jackie on the phone in our room, at least until Gran would get on the extension from the kitchen downstairs and tell her it was time to quit yakking and go to bed. Gran thought that was funny, rather than just sticking her head in our bedroom door. But every song I heard as I lay there in my twin bed somehow reminded me of Chris. His eyes were brown, with a gold sheen and flecks of green sprinkled throughout. It wasn't something you could see unless you looked directly into his irises.
The first time he'd asked me to hang out was last March, after geometry but before lunch. He was with a group of his buddies and I was walking with my good friend Jenny Hull, and he pushed off from the locker he was leaning against and followed behind us.
"Hey, Jills," he said, the nickname just about everyone in school used, but for some reason when Chris spoke it I felt a little extra thud in my heartbeat. I turned and walked backward for a couple of steps so I could look at him, until he laughed and grabbed my elbow, the one not cradling a pile of books, and said, "Don't crash!"
We all stopped, Jenny included, and Chris shot her a slightly flustered look, but then his eyes came back to me and he asked, "Hey, you wanna swing by Dairy Queen with me this weekend?" His voice cracked just a hair on the last word. I found myself studying the face that was so often in my daydreams. He'd grown about six inches between the beginning of the year and March. His hair was chestnut brown, cropped close to his head. He had a square jaw and the kind of laugh that made everyone around him want to laugh, too. His eyes seemed to be sparkling at me as he waited, though I could sense he was really nervous.
"Sure," I heard myself say, and the smile that spread over his face was surely mirrored on mine in the next moment.
"Cool, I'll see you," he said.
And we'd been pretty much inseparable ever since.
"Hi, honey!" Dodge called as I came near. He was one of my favorite people in the world, someone who was such a part of Shore Leave that sometimes, in my most secretly-guarded thoughts, I pretended he was my dad — even though he was married to Marjorie, with two of his own kids, Justin and Liz. Justin was in Jo and Jackie's grade and Liz a year behind me. Dodge ran the filling station and engine repair shop about a quarter-mile around the lake, but he was still here at the cafe all the time, helping out with the things Mom and Aunt Ellen couldn't manage. He stopped in for coffee every morning of the busy season, without fail, sometimes bringing Justin, who helped him in the summers. Dodge's bushy salt-and-pepper hair was held under control only by the aviator sunglasses perched on the top of his head. His full beard and mustache seemed like a continuation of his unruly hair.
"Hi, Dodge," I said, burrowing against him and squeezing tightly. He couldn't hug me back because he held his drinking mug in one big hand and a long, tapered stick in the other, which he used to poke at the blazing fire. Though the sun wouldn't set for a couple hours, the bonfire was already alive and kicking. He kissed the top of my head and I smelled his familiar, comforting scent, a combination of wood smoke, motor oil, tobacco, and Jim Beam.
"Happy birthday!" he said, sounding jovial as always. Truly, I'd never seen him in any other mood. And then he hollered, "Boy! What's taking you so long?"
"Shit, Pa, I'm coming," Justin said, giving us a grin as he staggered up to the fire bearing an enormous armload of wood. "Where do you want this?"
Dodge pointed with the stick and Justin grunted as he deposited the burden on the ground. He stood and brushed debris from his flannel shirt, which flapped open over his tan, bare belly and damp swim trunks.
"Hey, Jilly," he said to me, offering an easy smile. Justin was tall and lean and wiry, with wavy black hair that hung past his shoulders in back, though the sides were shorter, and a face that Gran always said was too pretty for a boy. I was glad she'd never said that directly to him. I'd known Justin forever; the two of us, along with Joelle and Justin's sister Liz, played like siblings every summer as far back as my memory stretched. He treated me like a little sister, teasing me mercilessly when we were kids. Since high school we'd drifted apart, but now he added amiably, "Happy birthday."
"Thanks," I said, and then waved farewell as I practically skipped over to where Mom and Aunt Ellen were busy hanging Christmas lights over the picnic table. I felt a splash of excitement; the cafe was closed for the evening, though people would flock out here in less than an hour to celebrate. Mine and Joelle's birthdays were a day apart, and our party was always the final send-off to summer; school would start next week already, and so I meant to enjoy the weekend to the fullest.
"There's my sweet sixteen," Great-Aunt Minnie said from the porch, where she and Gran sat having a smoke and a couple of beers. "Look at you."
I bounded up the steps and kissed her cheek. Minnie's golden hair hung in a thick braid down her back, nearly to her waist, as she disliked cutting it. My grandma, her younger sister, wore hers in a similar style most days, though Gran let her own hair go white while Minnie kept hers dyed. I was the one who helped her color it; every six weeks or so she'd tip her head back over the tin washtub and I'd use Clairol Natural Palest Blonde to counteract the gray.
"Hi, doll," said Gran, blowing smoke out of the side of her mouth and grinning at me. "You excited?"
"For sure," I said, tingly and happy. I plopped into the chair between them and Gran slid her bottle my direction.
"Just a little one, now," she cautioned. "And for God's sake, don't let your mother see."
I grinned and snagged a sip, the beer cool and with a slight honey flavor. Good thing Gran figured this was the only drinking I'd be doing on my birthday.
"Where's Joelle?" Great-Aunt Minnie asked.
"With that Jackson," Gran said, with a disapproving tone. She always said that Jackson instead of just using his name, which drove Joelle crazy. I knew Gran wasn't overly fond of my sister's boyfriend, even though everyone else seemed to love him. Especially Mom. I overheard Mom telling Aunt Ellen once, around last Christmas, that she hoped they'd get married someday. I didn't mind Jackie, but I hated the thought of my sister marrying him and moving across town, and subsequently away from me. I hated the thought of anything that separated us.
Rich Mayes poked his head out the screen door to wish me a happy birthday. He added, "I'll go get Pamela and then we'll be back to celebrate, sweetie."
I hopped up from the chair to hug him. Rich worked at the cafe as a cook, and he and his wife Pam lived just a few miles away. Pam's grown daughter lived in either Texas or Oklahoma, I couldn't remember which; she'd been up to visit once years before, when I was just a kid.
"Oops, there's your fella," Minnie said, indicating Chris's mom's car as it bumped into the parking lot.
"And there she goes," I heard Gran chuckle, but I was too excited to see my boyfriend. I met him just as he climbed out of his car and jumped right into his arms.
"Hey," he said, hugging me hard, my toes lifting from the ground. "My birthday girl. What's your wish?"
"I can't tell," I said, unable to stop grinning at him. He wore his new Van Halen t-shirt, the one with the angel from their latest album cover. I reminded him, "Or it won't come true."
Chris leaned back into the car and reached for a package wrapped in bright pink paper and tied with a silver ribbon. "Well I hope this comes close, anyway," he said, not letting me take it from his hands. When I giggled and grabbed for it, he lofted it above his head, where I hadn't a chance of reaching. I dug my fingertips into his ribs. He yelped and almost dropped it, and finally surrendered it into my grasp.
I shook it gently, then held it to my ear.
"You'll never guess," he said confidently. "And hey, I didn't give you a kiss yet." And so saying he slipped his arms around me and pulled me close. He tasted familiar and sweet, and of Big Red gum. Chris was the only one of our group of friends who didn't smoke, which I admired. He squeezed me tightly and tipped his forehead against mine to whisper, "Love you, Jilly Bean."
"I love you, too," I murmured, and brushed my lips against his one more quick time.
He said, "You taste like beer."
"Gran," I replied, which was all the explanation he needed.
He stroked my hair, wrapping his fingers in it like he always did, before saying, "Let's go celebrate."
An hour later the sun sank like honey spilled on a pale-blue tablecloth. Twinkling lights glowed and lanterns burned, everyone eating, talking, drinking, laughing and dancing. Eddie Sorenson and Jim Olson played their guitar and banjo, like they always did for parties in the Landon area. Rich's wife, Pam, joined them with her accordion; sometimes she used a tambourine. It certainly wasn't Top Forty music like Jo and I normally listened to on the radio, but I couldn't imagine loving what Eddie and Jim played any more than I did; it was the music of my childhood. And no one could sit still. Pam laughed about something as she played, her long brown hair held up in a gold barrette. People crowded the makeshift dance floor, my sister and Jackie locked in each other's arms, even though the song was not a slow one. Everyone came to our birthday bash, and most years the weather was fantastic, like it was tonight, the air calm and Flickertail growing mysterious as the sun disappeared and stole the color from the far shore. Stars began to decorate the darkening sky, and I was sixteen.
Chris and I took a break from the dancing after the next song; I grabbed his hand and we ran down the hill to the glider on the dock, our favorite place to sit and talk. Sometimes we fought my sister and Jackson for the space, though. They thought they were so sneaky, having sex after they'd go skinny-dipping. I couldn't believe they were that brave; at least Chris and I waited until we could be totally alone, and we hadn't even gone all the way yet. I was terrified of getting pregnant, despite Jo's promise to take me to an appointment to get on the pill, like her.
"Here," he said as we claimed our spots on the glider. He'd grabbed his present for me from the stack of gifts on the picnic table. "I can't wait anymore for you to open it."
I was too excited to do anything but rip the paper away. Inside was a white gift box from the local drug store.
"A Precious Moments figurine?" I asked, holding it up and inspecting the side.
"No, silly," Chris said. "I just used the box. Open it."
I did, struggling with the tape he so industriously applied to each edge. But at last I managed and reached inside, extracting a small, blue velvet ... ring box? My heart just about stopped, but Chris laughed again, totally at ease. He said, "It's not an engagement ring, Jills. Don't look so freaked out."
I regained my voice and argued, "I'm not freaked out. But if it's not ..."
"It's a promise ring," he said, and all traces of teasing suddenly vanished. His eyes were serious upon mine in the starlight. My heart punched my breastbone and then began pounding as though I'd just jogged from downtown. He swallowed and caught my free hand between both of his. His hands were big and all knuckles, and I loved them. I loved everything about him, and honestly, if he'd asked me right at the moment to be his wife my answer would have been yes.
"A promise ring?" I repeated carefully, cradling the box in my cupped palm.
"Here, open it," he said, and freed my hand so I could.
"Oh," I said, and my eyes stung with tears as the little box opened with a click, revealing a simple gold band set with a heart containing a tiny stone.
"It's a peridot," he explained, and his voice was very soft. "For August. It's hard to tell in the dark."
"I love it," I whispered, my lips trembling. "Oh, Chris ..."
He plucked it out and studied my face, before gently taking the third finger of my right hand into the tips of his and sliding the ring over my knuckle. It fit perfectly and he smiled in triumph.
"Joelle helped me with the size," he explained.
Excerpted from Notion of Love by Abbie Williams. Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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