Breeze Layton and her sisters are the newest generation of identical female triplets in her family who can shapeshift and sense the future. Despite her supernormal gifts, she had no premonition that Jackson Tremonti and his daughter, Gabriella, were her destiny when they checked into her family's Inn Of The Three Butterflies.
Jack is instantly attracted to Bree, increasingly bewitched by the woman and the seashore setting where his troubles melt away. When an FBI Agent with whom Bree had a romantic history involves her in a drug smuggling operation, Jack's daughter is put in danger.
Will Bree risk losing Jack by revealing her fantastical abilities in order to save Gabriella?
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Present Day — Outer Banks, North Carolina
Sunrays glinted off the sleek, midnight black BMW's mirrored surface. Dr. Bree Layton slammed down the trunk of the rented convertible. She dragged an oversized red paisley suitcase toward the bottom of the sun-bleached wood steps leading up to the Inn of the Three Butterflies' wrap-around deck. Sliding her sunglasses over her brow to the top of her head, she tilted her face toward the cloudless Carolina blue sky, closed her eyes and basked in the sunshine. Radiating warmth toasted away the strain of the long drive from the Norfolk airport. She needed this time away from the Chicago gray skies as much as her parents needed her help readying the Inn for the peak season.
The screen door slammed. Her dad hurried down the stairs, his flip-flops slapping in rapid repetition.
"Wow! Nice ride sweetheart." A typical male in his car worship, Michael Layton rounded the front fender and ogled the luxurious car before embracing Bree in a bear hug. "But I could have picked you up at the airport and saved you the money."
"I wasn't sure when I could escape Chicago, and I figured you would get a kick out of running your errands in this little baby." Chuckling, she tossed him the keys. "Enjoy."
"Come to think of it there are a few essentials I need to pick up at the hardware store. I'll head over there as soon as I get your suitcase up to your room."
His crystal blue eyes twinkled as he hoisted the suitcase up with one hand and hugged Bree to his side with his free arm. "Between you and me, you're my favorite, Breeze, my girl."
Bree hooted a laugh. "Oh Daddy. You say the same thing to Skye and Summer."
Smiling, she mounted the steps at her father's side. He set the suitcase down on the porch and trailed Bree around the deck to the back of the house.
She drank in the pleasure of her first glimpse of the ocean this trip — dark aqua swells breaking on a nearly deserted, sugar-colored stretch of sand. A briny scented, gentle wind tousled her long hair and swept auburn tendrils across her face.
"Ah," she said as she exhaled.
Her dad sidled up beside her and stood silently as she inhaled deeply the fresh ocean air. Delighted to be back in her favorite place on earth she turned towards him. "It never gets old does it?"
"No it never does." The husky female voice emanated from one of the wicker chaise lounges.
"Summer!" Bree squealed.
Summer rose from her seat, opening her arms.
Bree sped over to hug her sister. "I love your hair. When did you get it cut?"
Frowning, Summer ran her fingers through her short, spiky, coppery hair. "Do you really like it? I regretted it the minute I had it chopped off."
"It looks great. You look a little like Halle Berry."
She grinned. "Bree, you always say just the right thing. I wish I looked that good."
A cell phone buzzed in Summer's hand. She squinted at the display. Furrowing her brow, she said, "I have to take this. It's my boss."
"Let's get your things inside in the meantime," Mike suggested as Summer drifted over to the deck's railing, deep in conversation on the phone. "Your mom can't wait to see you."
He slid open the sliding glass door. Bree preceded him into the sunny dining area. Closing the slider behind him, he left her to retrieve the suitcase from the front porch.
"Mom, I'm home!" Breeze called out. She smiled as rapid footsteps sounded in response.
Barefoot as usual, Kay Layton rushed toward Bree, open-armed.
"Finally, you're here," she exclaimed, enveloping Bree in a warm hug. And then she held her at arm's length, her penetrating gaze unnerving.
"You look tired, love. I've been worried about you from afar. Now I see that I have cause. Is it your injury?"
Bree extended and retracted her arm while reassuring her mother, "Good as new."
"What then?" Kay persisted.
Bree pinched her brow and then scrubbed a hand over her face. Here in the Inn's homey atmosphere she was distanced from the recent unremitting stress associated with her profession as a pediatric psychiatrist. She had employed all her skills to prepare Toby and his family for his death. The cancer invading his tiny body had become a shared enemy. She had grown too fond of Toby, violating her own rule prohibiting personal involvement with a patient and his parents.
"The past few months have been so hard, Mom," Bree confided. "But as of yesterday, Toby's leukemia miraculously seems to be in remission."
"I just knew it!" Kay exclaimed, grinning broadly. "Let's go celebrate. I made some lemonade iced tea ..."
"Whoa," Bree interjected. "What do you mean you knew it? Did you see it?"
"Hmm," her mother responded as she narrowed her eyes. "No, I don't think so ..."
Kay gazed at the hardwood floor as if her thoughts turned inward.
"I sensed it," Kay continued. "The power of prayer. His parents must be ecstatic."
Bree gave her mother a warm smile. "Thanks for praying. And continue, please? Fingers crossed that he'll survive."
"I believe he will," Kay professed. "Come sit a while and have a glass of that tea."
Bree followed her mother's streaking trail into the kitchen, content to soak up the enveloping warmth that her parents had always infused in her family home like a giant hug. Staying at the Inn brought her peace. She relished the prospect of mindless housekeeping readying for high season. Maybe she'd find a little time for beach combing.
The kitchen walls were painted buttercup yellow with snow-white trim. Even when the hurricane shutters on every window shut out a raging storm, the room appeared awash with sunshine. Multi-sized glass jars brimming with starfish, whelks and sea glass lined the counters — the priceless treasures that her mother found during sunrise walks along the beach that fronted the property.
Kay yanked on the industrial refrigerator door handle as Bree propped her hip on one of ten wicker bar stools at an L-shaped counter. Joining Bree on the other side of the counter she supplied a tall glass of iced tea and sat companionably on the stool next to her. Beginning next week and all through the summer, the counter would display delicious homemade breakfast selections from six until eleven each morning, followed by plates of assorted baked-from-scratch cookies and soft drinks for the remainder of the day. Evening fare featured delectable appetizers, cheeses, breads and crackers along with complimentary wines that Mike delighted in carefully choosing for the establishment.
"What still needs to be done to get ready for the guests?" Bree took a sip of her tea. "Delicious as always Mom."
"Thanks, dear. I think we have most of the big cleaning done. Rachelle's daughter, Roseanne took a semester off from school this year. She needed money so Daddy and I hired her. It's unbelievable how fast she finished the deep cleaning."
"Are you saying that you don't need our help this week?" Bree asked. "Does Summer know?"
"We couldn't refuse Roseanne and we thought it would be nice for you girls to just have some unexpected sister time. Don't be mad that you're here on false pretenses."
"Heck, I'm thrilled that I don't have to help with deep cleaning. I feel like a little girl again on the first day of summer vacation." She touched her mom's hand and smiled. "It's good to be home."
"We still do need your help with cooking and serving, though." Mom chuckled.
"I didn't plan on staying longer than a week," Bree said. "I'll likely leave before the first guests arrive Memorial Day weekend."
"Actually I think we'll have early guests this year," Kay reported.
"Really? When are they coming?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe tomorrow or maybe tonight." She sipped her drink gazing at Bree over the rim of her glass, her eyes dancing. "How is that Dr. Steve you were seeing?"
Bree rolled her eyes and replied, "Dr. Steve is dating Dr. Richard now."
Kay's eyebrows shot up. "Oh my. You don't seem too broken up about it."
"I'm not. At least now I know what wasn't clicking in the relationship. Hey, but wait a minute," Bree said narrowing her eyes. "What do you mean you're not sure about these early guests? You know everything."
"Not everything, dear. I keep trying to make you girls understand that the things I see change all the time. People change their minds."
"Who are these guests?"
"A young man and his daughter. The daughter is having a hard time right now."
"Her mother passed away recently, and I suspect that the father is having a hard time, too." Wagging her head, Kay drained her glass.
"It's very sad. You'll be good for them. I love your take-charge attitude, Bree." Kay rose from the stool, rounded the counter, opened the dishwasher and set her empty glass on the rack.
"How will I be good for them?" Bree posed handing over her glass. "Are you matchmaking, Mom?"
"No, no ... nothing like that. Here comes your father," she said swinging closed the dishwasher door.
Although Bree heard no indication that someone approached, a few seconds later her dad appeared at the kitchen door. Accustomed to her mother's "seer-side" Bree mulled over the prediction about the anticipated guests.
Her parents embraced and then Mike jangled the Beemer's keys in his hand grinning impishly. "Want to run some errands with me? Bree lent us her convertible."
"Oh," Kay groaned. "I wish I could. I love riding in convertibles but I have to make cookie dough in case our guests show up tonight."
"I can bake a batch of cookies for you, Mom," Bree volunteered.
"Are you sure?"
At Bree's nod, Kay opened a drawer, withdrew a laminated recipe card and held it out toward Bree.
Wagging her head in refusal, Bree said, "I don't need the recipe. I can make the cookies in my sleep."
She hopped off the stool and strode into the kitchen's work area. "Go have some fun."
Bree opened a cabinet, selected the dry ingredients to make the house's trademark, decadent, chocolate chip cookies and assembled everything that she needed on the counter.
"Thank you, honey." Kay bussed Bree on the cheek. "We won't be long. Skye is upstairs in her studio."
Hand in hand, Kay and Mike strolled out of the room. Her parents' love for each other prompted Bree's melancholy smile. Katherine Binder Duncan had married Michael John Layton almost thirty years ago and they still acted like newlyweds.
Bree dreamed of finding a lifetime-love like that and so far hadn't come close — the Dr. Steve and Dr. Richard fiasco a glaring recent example. Had her parents' romance set the bar too high? Was it unrealistic to want what they had and accept nothing less?
She put the first batch of cookies in the oven and headed outside in search of Summer. Finding her shoving her phone into her leather backpack as if preparing to leave, Bree pulled up short.
"I should go back to New York," Summer said reading Bree's perplexed expression.
Bree frowned, her mood darkening. She hadn't realized how much she wanted sister time until now. "Already? Didn't you just arrive this morning?"
"We're in the middle of a big case. I thought I could handle the paperwork from here. The DA thinks differently ..." Summer scowled. "The bastard," she muttered.
"I take it things aren't great at work," Bree said.
"Right. I broke up with Gerald's son a couple months ago, and he apparently intends to punish me by becoming the boss from hell."
She raised her hand averting Bree's assumed I-told-you-so.
"I know, I know," Summer said in a sing-song. "You all warned me not to get involved with Brett. I should have listened to you and Skye. But I'm the stubborn one — remember?"
"You are?" Bree replied.
Summer gave her a lopsided grin. "You know what? I don't give a shit about Gerald's petty tactics. I deserve this week away, and I'm handling my desk virtually whether he likes it or not."
Delighted, Bree hugged her. "It's selfish for me to say this, but yay!"
"How cool is it that Mom hired Roseanne to do our work?" Summer said. "I can't remember the last time we had a week to play together like this. Mom even set up the twin beds in our old room."
Summer slung the strap of her backpack over her shoulder. "I'm going to run upstairs for a quick shower. Then maybe we can drag Skye out of her studio and go to the beach."
"Sounds great," Bree responded.
Her sister in tow, Bree opened the sliding door. As they neared the kitchen the scent of buttery chocolate tantalized.
"God, those cookies smell lethal," Summer remarked as she peeked into the oven. "There goes my diet."
She bounced over to the counter and swirled her index finger inside the bowl of cookie dough. Licking off the batter, she sighed. "So good."
"Go shower." Bree gave Summer a playful shove. "I'll bring some up to Skye's studio when they're done."
While batches of cookies baked and cooled, Bree sat on a stool, slid the rubber band off the rolled newspaper on the countertop and spread flat the local gazette.
Jumbo typeface read, 120 POUNDS OF COCAINE SEIZED ON CAUSEWAY.
Bree scanned the article and learned that shortly after midnight, a panel van had weaved erratically on the approach to the causeway heading towards the mainland. The possible drunk driving of the only vehicle on the bridge prompted the Currituck County sheriff to pull the van over. As the officer approached, the passenger door popped open. A man jumped out, scaled the railing and leapt off the bridge before the sheriff could reach him.
The officer radioed for water rescue and additional assistance on the bridge. After the second squad car arrived, the sheriff and three officers approached the van and discovered the drugs valued at over $7 million. The yet unidentified driver didn't survive the fall into the Sound.
Shaking her head at the unprecedented incident in her peaceful hometown, Bree took the last batch out of the oven. She distributed cookies on her mother's serving platters and then loaded a paper plate with fragrant treats. Opting for a tiny bit of exercise, she avoided the elevator and climbed four flights of stairs up to her sister's art studio in the penthouse.
Tapping her knuckles on the door Bree called out, "Can I come in?"
"Of course," came Skye's melodic voice, "especially since you come bearing cookies." Her laughter tinkled.
Bree entered the room smiling at the welcome sight of her sister in her lair. The pastel, sea foam green walls reflected the bright sunshine flowing through the wall of floor to ceiling windows. Skye stood at her easel. Her waist length, russet hair was partially done up in a messy bun on top of her head. The rainbow-striped maxi skirt she wore brushed the tile floor.
"How do you know I brought cookies?" Bree asked. "Are you starting to take after Mom?"
"Nope," Skye replied without turning from the easel. "The smell of chocolate has made me ravenous for the last half hour."
She swept a brush across the canvas, a stroke of vivid purple. "I'll be right with you."
"If you're busy I can come back." Bree placed the plate on the wicker coffee table. "I don't want to interrupt you."
Skye gazed at Bree over her shoulder. "No, please stay. I'm just putting the finishing touches on this little guy."
Bree ambled towards the easel and took a closer look at the painting: the profile of a pelican, wings half spread. Skye's realism animated the bird as if he'd fly off the canvas any second.
"Oh Skye, he's beautiful. I love him. Can I have a print of this?"
"Sure. I'd give you the original if I hadn't already sold this painting."
With a flourish she signed her trademark S in the bottom right corner. Setting the brush on a palette, she wiped her hand on a towel. She strolled over to a mini fridge, opened the door and held a can of diet coke up in the air. "Want one?"
Bree fielded Skye's toss, popped open the shaken can gingerly and gulped some soda before she bit into a still warm cookie. Licking a smudge of melted chocolate off her finger, she wandered around the studio. Outer Banks-inspired paintings leaned against three walls. Skye's unique, three- dimensional style drew Bree into each scene. Dolphins frolicked in the ocean — so true to nature that Bree could almost feel the ocean spray on her face. Boats sailed silhouetted by a glorious sunrise, reflecting reds and oranges on the sea. Several portraits of weathered fishermen mesmerized her as if she could smell the tobacco smoke puffing from the pipes that dangled from their chapped lips.
"These are amazing, Skye. I want prints of everything."
"Where in the world will you hang them all?" Skye chuckled as she stretched her arms over her head.
"Trust me. I'd put up more walls in my condo for these," Bree assured her, plopping down into a cushioned wicker chair.
"I have to pinch myself. Almost every painting in this room is pre-sold," Skye said, her expression wonderstruck.
"Mom said that the art show in the Norfolk gallery was a huge success."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bewitching Breeze"
Copyright © 2018 K. M. Daughters.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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