A romantic, Christmas wedding at her seaside hotel gives Delilah a chance to shine with her unique gifts. But will her light be snuffed out before the bride and groom say “I do”?
As manager of the Tidewater Inn, Delilah Carter has been planning a spectacular Christmas wedding for her friends at the grand hotel overlooking the ocean. While picking up still more twinkly lights and some last-minute groceries for the reception dinner, a huge truck runs her off the freezing, wet roads into the dark night. Her car stops just short of an enormous tree and the truck speeds off into the night. Delilah escapes with her life and has almost convinced herself the whole thing was an accident, but then she begins to receive threatening phone calls. With the wedding just hours away, she’s distracted and anxious. Then Sheriff Tom Bourne stops by the inn and volunteers to help.
Tom has always had a soft spot for Delilah, and he’s determined to protect her. But he is pulled away by a bizarre Christmas stunt that has the neighborhood reeling, and Delilah is attacked again.
Will Delilah have to cancel the Christmas wedding at Tidewater Inn? And will Tom’s protection be enough to save Delilah from the shadowy figure looming in the background?
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Sold by:||HarperCollins Publishing|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author and RITA finalist best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series. Connect with Colleen online at colleencoble.com; Instagram: colleencoble; Facebook: colleencoblebooks; Twitter: @colleencoble.
Read an Excerpt
All Is Bright
A Hope Beach Christmas Novella
By Colleen Coble
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Colleen Coble
All rights reserved.
Delilah Carter's breath plumed in the frosty air as she cranked up the heater and turned her gray Toyota away from Tidewater Inn. The sun setting over the back of the inn would make a pretty postcard. Delilah had worked here for ten years, and she loved it as if she owned it. It was the only real home she'd had as an adult, and she never wanted to live anywhere else than her little suite on the third floor.
As she drove toward Hope Beach, she lowered the window and waved at Amy and Curtis Ireland putting their surfing equipment in the back of their truck. They waved back as she passed. Only those two would be crazy enough to brave December water temperatures. even the Outer Banks was chilly this time of year. The temperature was forty-five and was expected to fall to thirty-six tonight.
Curtis's aunt must be watching the kids. Amy was the local midwife, and she'd married one of the local Coast Guard men. They were raising Curtis's niece, and they'd adopted a little girl six months ago.
Delilah's phone rang through the navigation system on the dash, and she hit the button to answer the call from Elin Summerall. "You just can't stand it, can you? I'm on my way to town to get the decorations. Everything is under control. The bride is not supposed to be stressed before the wedding. Relax."
"Easy for you to say." Elin's voice held an edge of strain. "The dress doesn't fit and will have to be taken in. The wedding is only a week away, and there is so much to do! Why on earth did I ever think a Christmas wedding was a good idea?"
"Have you been dieting?" Delilah adopted a stern tone. "With your heart transplant, you have to make sure you're eating well."
"I'm eating way too much! With so many showers and Christmas parties, I've gained five pounds. The bridal shop must have misgauged the sizing. I'll have to find a seamstress."
Delilah grinned at her friend's wheedling tone. "You know perfectly well I used to work for a bridal shop in Richmond way back when. I'll do it for you."
"You're a doll, Delilah. Is there anything you can't do? You run the inn with your hands tied behind your back, soothe guests, cook like Julia Child, and keep us all in line."
"Flattery will get you everywhere. Go get a massage or something and calm down. Talk to you later." She ended the call.
Night had quickly fallen even though it was only six. A guest at the inn with car trouble had delayed her, but her friend who ran the craft store had agreed to meet her after hours. Delilah spared a glance at the lovely ocean, ten feet below the road.
She glanced in the rearview mirror. A black truck was bearing down on her. With no lights, it was coming fast, and she veered a bit to the side of the road to let it pass.
She gripped the steering wheel and kept glancing in the rearview mirror. The truck's visor was down, obscuring the person's face in the dim twilight. It was a man though, and he sat so tall in the seat that she could see just a bit of a scruffy jaw.
She tapped her brakes just a bit to warn him to slow down, but he edged even closer. She was afraid he would ram her. What on earth? A big curve lay just ahead, and she would have to somehow make the turn without ending up in the ocean's pounding waves. Her throat closed as she saw the curve grow nearer. easing off the gas pedal, she tapped her brakes again.
Before she could register the increase in its speed, the truck's huge chrome bumper struck her from behind. Her car fishtailed as it entered the curve, then the tires tried and failed to find purchase in the shoulder's soft gravel.
The view of the ocean grew larger in her windshield, and she fought with the wheel to steady the car. It quit careening and began to straighten, but before she could breathe a sigh of relief, another impact rattled her teeth and pushed her car to the edge.
It's going over the side.
She grabbed the handle and gave it a yank, then pushed the door open enough so she could roll out — too late. Her car left the pavement and she caught a glimpse of movement as it sailed over the edge of the hillside and down the steep slope toward the sea.
She abandoned the idea of trying to get out and steered the car as best as she could to keep it from rolling over. The car plunged into the ocean and a great plume of water washed over her windshield. The water immediately poured in her partially open door, and she held her breath as panic froze her in place.
Just like last time. If she didn't get out, she would drown just like her parents.
Terror bubbled in her chest, and her fists battered at the window. The water was deep here and so cold that it numbed her limbs. A scream formed in her throat, and she realized she was struggling to get out with her seat belt still fastened. She released it and reached for the handle. She pushed hard to try to open the door far enough to get out, but the force of the water gushing inside held it in place.
She reached for the window control and ran the window down. Water pounded her face, and she took a last deep breath before submerging so she could escape through the window.
As the vehicle dived for the bottom, the strong ocean current tugged at her coat, and she unzipped it so she could swim better. It was so dark she couldn't tell which direction led to the surface.
Then her feet touched sand, and she pushed off and swam for the surface. Spots danced in her eyes, and she wanted so badly to draw in air. Her vision was nearly gone by the time her head broke the surface and she managed to pull in oxygen.
She dog-paddled a moment until welcome air cleared her head. Lights from passing cars and a few houses oriented her to the shoreline, but she was too exhausted to do anything but bob in the waves. By the time she could summon enough determination to swim, the riptide had carried her past her car and farther out to sea.
Her muscles ached from the frigid water and the tension. Kicking off her shoes, she struck out for shore, but her tired body didn't want to cooperate. The cold numbed her mind, too, and she found it hard to focus.
No! She wouldn't give up. She'd beaten death once, and she could do it again.
She gritted her teeth and started to swim, but a big wave grabbed her and shoved her under again. Then a hard hand yanked on her arm. The dark figure pulled her toward the top, and her head broke the surface.
She blinked water out of her eyes and saw Amy swimming toward her too. Curtis had hold of one arm, and Amy took the other as they headed for the shore without speaking. Delilah couldn't have told them what happened if her life depended on it. Moments later, she lay gasping and shuddering on the shore.
Someone had tried to kill her.
* * *
Sheriff Tom Bourne sat at a table by himself in the corner of the café on Oyster Street. The spot was a local hangout smack-dab in the middle of Hope Beach's downtown. Christmas music played in the background, and the small, homey restaurant had been decked out with strings of pine garlands and tiny lights. The festive mood did little to raise his spirits. He'd be spending Christmas alone again this year unless he accepted the usual invitation to Tidewater Inn by his cousin. Some years he went and some years he didn't.
It was depressing to think that he was thirty-seven years old and might never have a family. His job kept him hopping, and his one attempt at marriage had ended after only one year when his wife, Holly, died of meningitis. While he'd loved her, their marriage had been no grand passion that had kept him single after her death. It was more a case of simple busyness.
Across the street, a spotlight illuminated a manger scene in front of city hall, and carolers gathered on the lawn. The faint refrains from "Silent Night" mingled with the canned music in the café.
The door opened and the wind ushered in Vanessa Mitchell. Her father had owned Tidewater Inn, the spectacular bed-and-breakfast outside town. He'd left it to his daughter from a previous marriage, Libby Bourne, who was married to Tom's cousin Alec. It had caused quite the sensation around town, but the siblings had all seemed to finally work things out.
Since she was alone, he waved to her. "Want to join me?"
"I thought you might be here when you weren't at your office." She slid into the chair opposite him and shrugged off her coat.
A striking beauty with brown hair tipped in purple, Vanessa had grown up quite a bit over the past few years. She was in her midtwenties and had lost the petulant expression that used to drive him crazy. She ordered coffee and soup.
He regarded her over the rim of his coffee cup. "You were looking for me?"
She nodded and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I thought about calling, but I was afraid Delilah would hear me. She'd have heart failure if she knew I was making a fuss."
Delilah ran Tidewater Inn and was a treasure. Tom had thought about asking her out a few times, but she was way out of his league. Long dark curls and beautiful skin caught the attention of every man in a room. For the life of him, Tom couldn't figure out why she wasn't married.
He leaned back in his chair. "So what's up?"
"She nearly drowned tonight."
His gut clenched at the thought of Delilah at the bottom of the sea. He straightened and struggled to keep his expression from betraying him. "Is she all right?"
Vanessa's mouth was a grim line. "She would be dead if Amy and Curtis Ireland hadn't been heading home from surfing. Delilah had waved at them as she passed, and they were a few miles behind her. They saw the car lights in the water and went in after her. She was under the water and nearly gone when Curtis grabbed her."
Tom winced at the mental picture. "What happened?"
"A truck hit her and forced her off the road."
He frowned. "Deliberately?"
"She's trying to downplay it now and make out like it was an accident, but I can see the fear in her eyes. She thinks the guy ran her off the road on purpose. I think you should take a look at the accident scene."
"I should have been called to look anyway."
"One of your deputies stopped right afterward and filled out a police report. But I'd feel better if you checked it out. Something about it really gives me the creeps."
It did more than give him the creeps. "I'll check it out right now. I'll string up lights and look around before any evidence gets contaminated. Delilah isn't one to overreact. If she thinks the guy intended to hurt her, that's what happened."
"I agree, but you know how she is. She never likes to worry anyone or cause trouble. She's working on Elin and Marc's wedding stuff and didn't want to waste time on anything personal." Vanessa waited a moment as the server brought their dinner. Once they were alone again, she spread her napkin on her lap. "She's had some strange hang-ups too. Delilah has laughed it off as kids playing a prank, but I think this puts everything in a whole new light."
"How many calls?"
"About six, I think. They started two weeks ago. If anyone but Delilah answers, the caller hangs up right away. If she answers, he stays on the line and just breathes. Sometimes she hears a song playing in the background. It's always the same one too: 'Hey Pretty Girl' by Kip Moore."
He knew the song, and the lyrics in this case seemed creepy. He took a big bite of his burger, chewed, then swallowed it down with a swig of coffee before standing. "I'm going out there now."CHAPTER 2
The warmth of the fire in the living room finally drove away the last of the cold lingering in Delilah's bones. This room had been recently redecorated, and the blue and white color scheme played up the high ceilings and grand fireplace of the lovely Georgian mansion they called Tidewater Inn. A gigantic Christmas tree adorned with blue and gold ornaments took up one corner of the room and caused most guests to ooh and aah.
She ran her fingers through her damp curls and smiled up at her boss and friend, Libby Bourne, who hovered anxiously. "I'm fine, Libby. Really. I think I'll go to bed early." She lifted the fabric in her lap. "As soon as I finish Josie's costume for the Christmas play at church. She's going to be a shepherd." Josie was Elin Summerall's five-year-old daughter, and Delilah adored her.
Libby's sun-streaked light-brown hair framed a striking face with bold brows and large brown eyes. Motherhood had only enhanced her beauty. In her early thirties, she was as sweet inside as she was beautiful outside. Delilah adored her, too, and their quiet talks at night after little Noah was asleep and Alec was taking care of Coast Guard paperwork.
Libby picked up Delilah's empty teacup. "I wish you'd let me call the sheriff."
The last thing Delilah wanted was to look into Tom's dark eyes and stammer out how she'd been stupid enough to almost get herself killed. She should have just pulled off the side of the road and called 911. everything had happened so fast though. "Tom has more important things to deal with than a hysterical female."
Libby's slight frown turned to a scowl. "You're downplaying this way too much, Delilah. What about those calls too? It might all be related."
The thought was too terrifying to contemplate. "Those calls are just kids trying to scare me."
"They're doing a good job of terrifying me! I well remember searching for Nicole for weeks. I shudder at the thought of something like that happening to you." Headlights flashed through the tall windows at the front of the grand living room. "Someone's here." Libby set the cup down on a table in the entry and opened the door. "Looks like the sheriff 's truck."
Delilah glanced down at her ratty green pajamas and bare feet. Her cheeks went hot at the thought of seeing Tom looking like this. There was no time to run and change or put on makeup. She grabbed a throw from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around herself like a kimono as the sheriff's heavy steps came across the porch. She watched through the door into the entry and prayed he wouldn't come in.
Libby held open the door. "Come on in, Tom. You're out and about late."
He stepped into the entry, and Delilah's pulse leaped like it always did at the sight of him. Stupid, stupid. even if he was interested — which he wasn't — she liked her life right now and didn't intend to ever let a man hurt her again.
He took off his hat. "evening, Libby. Sorry to disturb you so late, but I heard about Delilah's accident. Is she still up?"
"She's in the living room."
Tom turned and his gaze met Delilah's. Good grief, did the man have any idea what he did to her insides? Droplets of rain gleamed in his dark hair, just starting to gray at the temples, and his strong jaw and broad shoulders made her want to run into his arms for protection. Which was probably why he'd been sheriff for ten years. He inspired trust from most of the Hope Island residents. She'd found sanctuary here about the same time he became sheriff.
Libby took his coat and hung it on the coat stand by the door, then disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
Tom stepped into the living room and examined Delilah. "You're looking mighty pretty for nearly drowning tonight."
Her laugh sounded high and forced in her ears. "Only you would say something like that to a woman in bare feet with no makeup."
He grinned, and his white teeth flashed in his tanned face before his expression turned sober. "Tell me what happened, Delilah."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "How'd you hear about it?"
"One of my deputies was investigating. When I got there, the wrecker had just managed to pull your car onto the sand."
"I'm surprised they were even able to pull it in."
"Curtis went out in his wetsuit and scuba gear to attach the hook to it. The damage to the car is pretty extensive from where the truck hit you. It's going to be a total loss."
She winced. "Vanessa told you, didn't she? She went tearing out of here shortly after I got back."
He grinned again. "Okay, yes. She found me at the café, but I would have checked it out anyway as soon as my deputy reported in. Seeing as it was you and all."
Excerpted from All Is Bright by Colleen Coble. Copyright © 2015 Colleen Coble. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hip, hip, hooray for Colleen Coble
All Is Calm is a A Lonestar Christmas Novella. Colleen Coble is a master of suspense and romance when it comes to writing books. She has captured my heart with yet another breathtaking book. That is sure to capture right from the start and not let you go until the very end. There is so much love, faith, heartache and pain. Will Lauren ever feel safe or will she keep running? A must read! Be sure to get your copy today. 5 stars!