Amid the wildly beautiful beaches of Sunset Bay, Oregon, lies Sanctuary Ranch, a refuge for strays, both human and animal. A place where love and healing go hand-in-hand . . .
When journalist Jonathan Byers leaves L.A. with his career in tatters, he heads to Sanctuary Ranch, determined to settle some of his personal affairs by putting his aging father in a seniors’ home. But his father stubbornly refuses to leave his secluded retreat—and has even rallied Sanctuary Ranch’s beautiful gardener to his cause. Something about sexy, mysterious Abby Warren piques the rugged reporter’s investigative instincts—and his interest—luring Jonathan to stay a little longer . . .
Having found her own healing at Sanctuary Ranch, Abby knows Jonathan’s hard-headedness hides a wound that needs mending. Believing a time-out in nature will help father and son see eye-to-eye, she welcomes Jonathan into the only haven she has ever known. But Abby never expects to find herself so drawn to him—or that he will uncover devastating secrets she’d hoped to keep long buried. Will their deepening connection be enough to steer them through the darkness ahead, and toward a bright future for everyone?
Praise for Sunset Bay Sanctuary
“Grief and loss define this slow burning contemporary romance featuring a large cast of folksy characters who infuse the first installment in Snopek’s Sunset Bay series with lots of down home charm and many examples of tough love. Fans of small town series with character driven plots, such as those by Susan Wiggs and Debbie Macomber, will find that Sunset Bay hits the spot.”
About the Author
USA TODAY bestselling author Roxanne Snopek writes contemporary romance both sexy and sweet, in small towns, big cities and secluded islands, with families and communities that will warm your heart. Her fictional heroes (like her own real-life hero) are swoon-worthy, uber-responsible, secretly vulnerable and occasionally dough-headed, but animals love them, which makes everything okay. Roxanne writes from British Columbia, Canada, where she is surrounded by flowers, wildlife and two adoring dogs. She does yoga to stay sane. It works, mostly.
Visit Roxanne on her website at: www.roxannesnopek.ca, friend her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/RoxanneSnopekAuthor or follow her on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/RoxanneSnopek.
Read an Excerpt
From Abby's notebook:
Blueberry Buttermilk Coffee Cake
This is the perfect treat for a lazy Sunday morning, or as part of a breakfast buffet for friends and family.
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups buttermilk
2 cups blueberries
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup bran
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan. To make the batter, sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.
To make the topping, combine flour, bran, walnuts, and sugar in a small bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over batter and swirl a knife through, to incorporate some of the topping into the cake.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool slightly and serve.
From Abby's notebook:
The dormant season may seem uneventful, but plants are resting, gathering strength and energy, preparing for the next season of abundance.
Two years later
At the gate to the old man's property, Abby cut the engine and stepped out of the truck. Tentative late-morning sunlight splintered between the naked trees crowding the narrow, winding road between Sanctuary Ranch and Roman's place, as if not yet strong enough to commit to spring. Heavy evergreens swallowed what was left and the drifting Oregon fog made the dying ticks of the old motor sound like pennies dropped on a wool blanket.
The Byers low sprawling ranch house was hidden from the road, deliberately secluded. But the solitude was an illusion. Creatures small and large, land-bound or with wings, skittered, skulked, and stalked in those misty- green depths. They triggered a heightened awareness dosed with awe and respect, but not fear. Abby absolutely believed that those wild things were more afraid of her than she was of them.
Humans were different. Predator and prey looked alike until experience, and hindsight, offered up the subtle distinguishing clues.
Solitude was safe, though as Roman Byers was learning, not great as a long- term plan.
Trust, for joy, she reminded herself.
Suspicion, for survival, her primitive brain replied.
She walked around the vehicle, reached into the passenger side, and slid a covered basket across the bench seat, wedging it against her hip. Inside were carrots, turnips, beets, and a few parsnips from the cellar, topped with a bunch of fresh parsley that she managed to keep growing year-round in the cold frame.
She came by as often as she could without raising questions. The man's secret was still hidden, so far. But it kept her up at night, eating at her stomach, and every time she arrived to visit, dread quickened her steps. With high season just around the corner, it would soon be even harder for her to keep tabs on him.
Last fall she and Quinn had planted an enormous bulb garden. Snowdrops and crocuses were already up, with daffodils and tulips right behind them. She'd gotten up early this morning to get the beds ready for public viewing but there was still a lot of mulch to spread on the footpaths.
On her way out, Daphne called her to the kitchen and handed her a loaf of oven-fresh bread, a chunk of leftover meat loaf, and an enormous slab of her blueberry buttermilk coffee cake.
"Who knows what that grumpy duck is living on out there?" the cook had asked. "Can't have him starving to death next door, can we?"
No, Abby agreed. Starvation wouldn't do at all.
A rise and slope of wooded hillside, a creek that emptied into the ocean, and a couple of miles of gravel road was all that separated the ranch from their nearest neighbor, but Roman had stayed hidden from them for years. Once found, though, he couldn't be unfound. He was a stray and Sanctuary Ranch collected strays like honeybees gathered pollen.
Lucky for Roman. Until Jamie, Abby's friend and coworker, had happened upon him, he'd been on track to be one of those headlines: HUMAN SKELETON FOUND ON ISOLATED PROPERTY. FOUL PLAY NOT SUSPECTED. Abby bent low to get herself and her package through the rusted metal rungs of the gate, wondering why he still insisted on keeping it up. A sign reading BEWARE OF DOGS listed sideways on a single nail in the wooden side post.
Beware of dogs. Ha!
"Roman, it's me," she called as she rounded the bend leading to his house. "Don't shoot."
It was a running joke with everyone at the ranch, now. When Jamie had first knocked on his door, she'd been greeted with a shotgun. Turned out the gun wasn't the weapon to worry about. Nature had given Roman Byers a tongue as sharp as his mind, a defective brain-mouth filter, and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Pain had honed those weapons to a wicked edge and loneliness taught him to wield them. Abby recognized what lay behind the attitude. Pity infuriated him. Verbal jousting was the way in.
"Chaos," she called, looking for the man's dog, "I've got a treat for you."
Usually, that was the signal for Roman's beautiful, brilliant and diabolical young Labrador to come pelting toward her.
Nothing. No dog in sight.
She continued up the path, hefting the basket on her hip. The old man preferred to be left alone, but occasionally, when the training sessions he and Chaos took at the ranch went long, Roman joined the rest of the staff in the main house for supper. Daphne loved feeding guests, and always made plenty, just in case.
Over the past winter, however, he'd been forced to ask for help. He'd chosen Abby, and sworn her to secrecy. She drove him to his appointments, physiotherapists, doctors, specialists. More specialists. Usually, if he wasn't hurting too much, they stopped for coffee. Sometimes, they had lunch.
"Roman?" Abby checked the yard, with its mature fruit trees and great mounds of perennials greening up from the black soil. She could see now that he'd neglected them the previous season. As soon as the bulb garden was done, she'd come help him out.
How that must have pained him.
"Hey, old man." You better not have died on me.
All those times she'd baited him, and he'd just smiled.
She bit her lip, looking past the fence to the woods. Roman refused to give up his birdwatching walks but Chaos was trained to stick close, help him up if he fell, and lead him home if he got disoriented. Chaos had turned into an excellent helper. He'd also been taught to bring Roman his mobile phone, his pills, the remote control for the TV, and in case of a true emergency, to cut through the wooded hillside to Sanctuary Ranch for help.
Now, she feared Chaos gave him a dangerous sense of self-reliance.
She climbed the wide plank steps to the back porch, pulled open the screen, and rapped on the door. Immediately, the sound of claws scrabbling on hardwood greeted her.
The dog was inside, whining and howling, throwing himself at the door between them.
She tried the knob. It was unlocked. She pushed inside and nearly tripped over the dog, who bolted past her, stopped at the first bush, lifted his leg, and peed and peed and peed.
She dropped the basket. "Roman?"
Chaos hadn't been out in hours and his doggy door was still locked, which meant something had interrupted Roman's usual morning routine.
"Roman?" Abby glanced around the great room. The man wasn't in his armchair or lying on the couch. She pushed through doors, shoved furniture, looked down the stairs to the cellar. He wasn't in the kitchen or pantry or sunroom.
As she ran toward his bedroom, she heard the sound of water trickling.
He was in the bathroom, on the floor, naked and motionless, while water slopped over the edge of the bathtub onto the floor.
You better not have died on me.
"Roman!" She reached around him to close the faucet, which was trickling ice-cold water, then dropped to the floor. Her knees slid sideways in the puddle. Her brain stuttered at the scene before her.
Blood feathered from a cut over his eye. He was wet and shivering. The puckered, spotted skin on his back was bluish white and dotted with silver hair, and small circles where bathwater had evaporated.
His thighs were clenched together and quaking, the bones visible beneath the sagging skin. He'd managed to drag a small towel over his genitals, and clutched it with one clawed hand, a desperate grasp at dignity that broke her heart.
"Roman, can you hear me? Wake up, please. Please!"
He opened his eyes and gave a low groan that ended with an expletive.
"Oh, thank God!" Abby exhaled in a huge rush. He was awake, conscious, and breathing.
"Took you ... goddamn ... long enough," she heard him say.
She grabbed a hand towel, folded it, and pressed it against the cut.
He tried, but his hand was shaking too hard.
She tucked another towel under his head. Under the thin gray stubble, his scalp was damp and oily, his skin ashen, his eyes sunken and wreathed with lines.
"Hang on," she said. "I'm going to get a blanket."
With trembling hands, she yanked the comforter off his bed and ran back to the bathroom where she tucked it around him. Preserving body heat was essential but protecting his battered pride was just as important.
"Can you get up?" she asked, winding her arm beneath his shoulder.
He cried out at the movement. "Bloody ... hip ..." he said through gritted teeth. "I can't move."
"How long have you been lying here?"
"How the hell should I know?" he muttered.
It was nearly noon. He'd likely been lying here for hours.
A cold nose nudged her from behind. Chaos, whining at the state of his master, pacing back and forth, not knowing what to do.
Abby knew the feeling.
She patted the pockets of her hoodie, feeling for her phone. First she called 9-1-1. Then she called the ranch. Then she called Quinn.
Last, she called Roman's son.
Surely, now, Roman would tell him the truth.
* * *
Whitey Irving, editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine, was sitting behind his enormous desk, his hands linked over his belly, observing him the way a toad might observe a fly.
Jonathan Byers stood in front of the desk feeling like a truant schoolboy, staring at a spot of dirt on the ceiling, choosing his words, deleting the ones he knew he'd regret.
"It's a good story —" he began.
Irving waved a hand. "No, son. It's not. But you seem a little hard of hearing."
"If you let me tell you about it, I know you'll want to run it."
This story was risky. You didn't accuse a top Hollywood moviemaker of professional misconduct without bracing for blowback.
You also didn't do it unless your facts were rock solid.
Jon's were. All he needed was one disgruntled employee, one duped investor, one harassed woman to go on record and the rest would follow. It would be a landslide.
"I already know what it's about and I'm not interested." Irving unfolded his arms and sat forward. "You're a good reporter, Byers. Keen, hardworking, except of course, when you're taking time off to be with your father in Oregon."
Jon felt his eyes widen as a double whammy of betrayal hit. His managing editor, who'd always had his back, had apparently been keeping score.
"I've never missed a deadline." His jaw felt tight. "Hal said as long as I filed my stories and made it back for the team meetings, it wasn't a problem."
Irving ignored him. "My biggest issue is that you don't seem to understand the power dynamic here."
"Power dynamic? This isn't about me. It's about a story. A huge story that for some reason people here don't want to touch." It was Pulitzer material; he knew it in his gut. Yet they wouldn't even consider it.
Irving looked at him for a long moment.
His story was better than good. It was sensational. It would expose the elaborate cover-up protecting a man who, once this came to light, would go from being a Hollywood darling to an industry pariah, overnight.
"Richard Arondi is dirty, sir, and I've got everything to bring him down. It's a game changer for the whole movie industry, revealing an ugly underbelly that everyone seems to want to ignore. I thought those were the kinds of stories we published. Was I wrong?"
"I thought Hal told you not to follow it —"
"I did it all on my own time."
"I don't care. It's not of interest." He spoke slowly and deliberately. "Are you hearing me this time?"
Beyond the glass of Irving's office, bright-eyed colleagues looked up from blinking monitors, then quickly looked down, an elaborate pretense that fooled no one.
Arondi was said to have a mix of Jamaican, African, Native American, and Polynesian blood, all of which contributed to exotic good looks surpassed only by his charismatic personality and undeniable creative gifts. Arondi broke new ground. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, regardless of naysayers, or market trends or political correctness and his films were legendary. Everyone wanted to be seen with him. Everyone loved him.
Except for those who hated him.
Arondi's predatory treatment of aspiring actresses in particular was well known, and what Jon most wanted to bring out into the open. But standing up to Arondi or speaking out against him meant career suicide for someone trying to break in. Putting up with his lecherous behavior was almost a rite of passage, the cost of doing business.
"I've got quotes, dates, times. It's iron-clad, Whitey. The second I can name names, this is a go." Jon's cell phone vibrated. Without looking, he pulled it out of his jacket pocket and silenced it.
"I do not care." Irving leaned over his desk. "You seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that this is a partnership. It's not. You're an employee. I'm your boss."
"But why, Whitey? What am I missing here? I don't get it. Diversion loves to break scandals; we do them all the time."
"Not this one. Not this time. End of story."
There had to be some reason. Jon knew that Richard Arondi's production company regularly bought full-page ads for upcoming movies and could understand Irving not wanting to piss off a major advertiser, but this was a whole different level. This was beginning to sound like something that compromised journalistic ethics, which, even for an entertainment magazine, still counted for something.
He was tired of being stonewalled. Time to play his last card.
"Perhaps it's not right for Diversion magazine. But someone will run it and when they do, their sell rate will skyrocket."
It was a wild shot, a huge gamble, but this was a career-making story and he couldn't let it go without fighting for it.
For a moment, it appeared the man was reconsidering.
"Hal doesn't want to fire you. He likes you, Byers, and I can see why. You're a likable guy. Passionate. I admire that. But I'm a numbers man. I watch sales figures, subscription numbers, ad revenue, ratings. I watch profit margins, run cost-benefit analyses. I don't care about articles. And I don't care about you. You're just a number on the payroll."
Jon didn't like where this was going.
"We gave you time to come to your senses, and you didn't. So. Collect your things. You're done here."
"Wait." Jon felt as if he'd had a bucket of ice water thrown in his face. "You're firing me? Over a story?"
Too late, he realized that what he'd taken for calm was merely the calm before the storm.
Jon saw the ice harden in Whitey Irving's eyes. For a fat man, he got to his feet with surprising alacrity. He came at Jon with his stubby index finger stretched out, stabbing at him, his lips curled.
"You idiot. You really don't listen, do you? There's no fucking story here." He inhaled and his nostrils flared as if he smelled something unpleasant. "Hal put his own neck on the line for you but you didn't appreciate that, did you? You don't take orders, you don't work well with others, and you refuse to recognize when you're in over your head. I told you, we're not running the story. Now, get the hell out of my office before I call security."
Tonight, Jon thought as he rode the elevator back down, he'd panic. But right now he was too busy being furious.
When the elevator doors opened, he was greeted by Hal's intern, holding a cardboard box of Jon's things in his arms. The boy gave it to Jon with a frightened look.
"Sorry, man. They told me to, um, give you this."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blackberry Cove"
Copyright © 2019 Roxanne Snopek.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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