Gavin's challenge of turning his rundown hotel into a profitable operation within one year. Winning means earning a share in their uncle's sizable estate. More than that, it determines how they'll spend the rest of their lives. Sheena wants to stay on at the hotel, overseeing the hotel operation. But Darcy and Regan want to move on with their lives--Darcy writing a novel and Regan going into the interior decorating business with Mo. But life has other plans for them. And in the end, all three realize that the only thing that really matters is finding--and keeping--family.
About the Author
“Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.”
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she's lived or visited and on the interesting people she's met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.
Read an Excerpt
Sheena Sullivan Morelli stood outside Gavin's, the new restaurant at the Salty Key Inn on the Gulf Coast of Florida, feeling as festive as the mini-lights wound around the trunks of the palm trees that softened the outline of the building. She was dressed in her finest on this unusually warm, mid-December night, and the tropical Gulf breezes felt good as they caressed her skin.
From among the hibiscus planted around the perimeter of the restaurant, lights twinkled like the stars in the inky sky above and lent a sense of peace to the area. That, and the fact that Petey, the pesky peacock Rocky Gatto had rescued and brought to the hotel, had decided not to bother with this celebration and was hanging out down by the bay.
"Let's make this an evening to remember!" said Sheena, giving her younger sisters, Darcy and Regan, an encouraging smile.
Named after their uncle, the restaurant would, they hoped, bring in enough revenue for them to be considered successful in meeting the terms of his will. With less than a month before their final meeting with Gavin's estate lawyer in Boston, they were trying their best to prove to him that they had succeeded in beating the challenge of turning his rundown hotel into a profitable operation within one year. Winning meant they would inherit Gavin's sizable estate along with the hotel. More than that, it would determine how they'd spend the rest of their lives.
Sheena brushed an imaginary crumb off her blue linen dress and studied her sisters. Darcy was wearing a green sheath that offset her red curls nicely. And Regan, beautiful as ever, even with the scar on her face she couldn't quite hide, had chosen a violet, flowy dress that matched her striking eyes. Funny, Sheena thought, how she hadn't really known her sisters until the three of them had been forced to live and work together at the hotel. And when Regan and Brian Harwood, now her fiancé, were in a serious motorcycle accident a few months ago, frightening everyone, they'd become even closer.
"I hope everyone likes what they see," Regan said. "Mo and I did our best decorating the interior with the budget we had."
"Don't worry. It's gorgeous," said Darcy, giving Regan an impish nudge with her elbow.
"The restaurant is stunning," said Sheena, "and the food is great. We were lucky to get Graham Howard as our chef." She turned as a stream of people headed their way from the parking lot, which was filling up fast.
"Here we go! Make it good," said Sheena softly, prompting Darcy and Regan to roll their eyes at the big-sister moment Sheena couldn't help.
They'd invited county commissioners, members of nearby city and town councils, other government officials, news people, owners and managers of other hotels in the area, and even the governor of Florida to join them for this grand opening. It had been a bold move on their part, but it had already paid off in publicity, even though the governor and some county commissioners had politely declined. The fact that Darcy had been writing a column for a local newspaper helped them. She was acquainted with the ins and outs of generating publicity and had invited several writers of local social columns, travel blogs, and magazines.
Sheena was soon swept up greeting people and ushering them inside to enjoy drinks and to taste the delicious-looking food displayed in the bar and on a long buffet in the dining room.
The dark wood paneling on the walls of the main dining room supplied a rich background for the brass and crystal wall sconces that spread a soft glow along the room's edges. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, casting their own warm light. White linen cloths covered the tabletops, which were set with sparkling wine goblets and silverware that reflected the light from the chandeliers and sconces.
Flickering battery candles sat among tasteful, holiday greenery, adding a pine perfume to the mouthwatering aroma of the hors d'oeuvres being passed by staff.
Upstairs, the large function room held another bar and more food to sample, drawing people through the entire restaurant. A buzz of conversation enhanced the sense of excitement. The crowd was a pleasing mixture of people who, hopefully, would be a source of future business.
Kenneth Cochran, better known as Casey, was a Cornell Hotel School grad and manager of the restaurant. Tall and thin, he was a natural at his job with his ever-present smile and alert blue eyes. Tonight, he seemed to be everywhere, overseeing staff, and greeting people. Sheena observed him with satisfaction as guests responded to his attention. If she and her sisters won the challenge, they hoped to hire Casey as the hotel manager to help Sheena, who would remain an active overseer of the property.
Sheena looked up as her husband, Tony, appeared with their two children. Tears stung her eyes when she noticed the effort Michael, at eighteen, and Meaghan, at fifteen, had put into their appearance. After initially being against her plan to come to Florida, they now embraced their new lives and were proud of all she was doing.
"Hi, Mom," said Michael. His brown eyes, so like Tony's, sparkled. "Okay if I help myself to some of the food?"
She laughed at the typical, teenage hunger of a still-growing, young man. "Of course. Enjoy." "You look pretty, Mom," Meaghan said. "Thanks for letting me wear your necklace. It's great with my new holiday dress." She twirled in front of Sheena. Her auburn hair, like Sheena's, swung above her shoulders and brought out the hazel in her eyes.
"You look pretty, too, sweetheart," Sheena said. Her little girl was growing into a beautiful young woman.
Tony gave her a smile that warmed her heart. His smile had been one of the reasons their marriage had been prompted by the unexpected creation of Michael all those years ago. And though they'd always loved each other, their relationship had grown even stronger during their time in Florida.
He kissed her. "See you later. I'm going to mix with the crowd a little. Brian and I are hoping to pick up some new business."
She gave him a heartfelt smile. Following Brian Harwood's motorcycle accident with Regan, Tony had agreed to become a partner in Brian's construction company and was now settled into his new life in Florida. As Tony walked away, Sheena noticed Blackie Gatto headed in her direction.
Blackie was Uncle Gavin's financial advisor and a great supporter of her and her sisters as they attempted to do as their uncle wished by transforming what had been a small, run-down, family hotel into the upscale, full-service resort property he'd envisioned.
"Welcome to Gavin's," Sheena said to him, giving him a quick hug. "I'm so glad you could make it."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied, lifting her hand, and kissing it in a gallant gesture. He indicated their surroundings with a sweep of his arm. "I think Gavin would be very pleased with this."
"We hope it brings in enough new business and revenue for us to complete our challenge here at the Salty Key Inn."
He nodded and settled his gaze on her. "I hope so, too. The downside of borrowing the money from Gavin's estate to complete the restaurant could be difficult for you and your sisters if you fail."
Sheena's stomach curled inside her, but she didn't want Blackie to see how worried she was. For the sake of her sisters and her family, she had to remain upbeat. With only a few weeks remaining to accomplish everything they had left to do, self-doubt could ruin them.
"I probably shouldn't warn you, but a special guest is going to appear this evening," Blackie said mysteriously.
"What? Who?" Sheena said and turned when Tony joined them.
"How are you, Blackie?" Tony said.
Sheena smiled as they shook hands. At one time, Tony had thought she and Blackie had something going on between them. With his Italian temper rising, he'd even yelled at Blackie to keep away from her. Now, they all could laugh about it.
"Heard you bought into Brian's company," Blackie said to Tony. "A good investment, if you ask me.
The two of you guys can make a real go of the construction business in this part of the state."
"Thanks," said Tony. "Brian is still recovering from his motorcycle-accident injuries, but he's able to do more each day in the field."
"Nice to keep it all in the family," said Blackie. He waved to a gentleman in the crowd. "Well, guess I'd better go say hi to a few other people."
After he left, Tony wrapped an arm around Sheena. "You look beautiful, Mrs. Morelli."
She smiled at him. "Thanks. When you entered the restaurant with the kids, I could hardly believe how grown up they looked."
"Just a couple more years and we'll be on our own." Tony gave her a sexy grin that sent a gleam to his dark brown eyes. "It's gonna be great. Really great."
Sheena's laugh came from deep inside her. She loved that Tony still found her so desirable.
Darcy approached them holding Austin Blakely's hand. Engaged now, they were, Sheena thought, a darling couple. And well suited. Darcy tended to be a bit impetuous, and Austin, though not the least bit boring, was a calming influence.
"What's up?" Darcy asked.
"We're talking about the future," said Sheena. "The kids will be gone before we know it."
Tony grinned. "It's going to be really nice to be alone. What's going on with you two?"
"Looking around at all the preparations for this party, I'm starting to get a little nervous about my wedding," said Darcy. "I hope I can get everything done the way I want."
"All I care about is saying 'I do.' I don't need all the fancy stuff associated with it," Austin said in his usual, good-natured way.
"Whoa!" said Sheena. "We're counting on you two to set the standard for weddings here at the hotel.
It's a big reason why we're going after the wedding business."
"What about Regan's wedding?" Darcy said to her. "Are she and Brian going to get married here?
I've asked her, but she says she doesn't know."
Sheena laughed. "She'll figure it out. I think her engagement to Brian is still a surprise to her."
At the sight of the manager of a nearby hotel, Sheena excused herself and went to greet him. They needed as many friends as possible to help pull off the restaurant's success. In truth, they probably should have waited to build Gavin's. Now, all she could do was hope it would prove to be a risk worth taking.CHAPTER 2
Regan mingled with the crowd, telling herself it would be good practice for when she'd begin filming as spokeswoman for Arthur Weatherman's restaurant chain. After her accident with Brian, she'd been certain Arthur would rescind his offer, but he and his wife, Margretta, had surprised her by keeping to their agreement. She'd always be grateful to them for helping her realize her beauty was perceived by her actions and how she felt about herself as a person. Growing up, she'd been considered the "looker" in the family — and the dumb one.
Being here in Florida, working on the hotel, had been the beginning of a whole new life for her, one she'd vowed never to leave. Her gaze searched for Brian Harwood. He was across the room leaning on his cane while he talked easily with a group of people. Even with his injuries, he still looked like a poster boy for Florida tourism with his sun-bleached brown hair and buff, tanned body. Love for him surged through her. Of all the good things that had happened to her, finding love with him was the best.
As if he knew what she was thinking, he looked over at her and smiled, making her feel warm inside. "I heard you two got engaged. Congratulations!" said a voice behind her.
Regan whirled around. "Nicole! I'm so glad you made the trip!" She gave Darcy's old roommate, Nicole Coleman, a quick hug. She looked fabulous in a red sheath that offset her blond hair. "Have you seen Darcy yet?"
"No. I just walked in." Nicole's blue eyes lit. "Where is she?"
Regan pointed her out in the crowd. "She'll be so glad to see you."
"I was sorry to hear about the accident, but you look great, Regan." Nicole lifted Regan's hand and studied the diamond ring winking on her finger. "I'm so happy for you. And for Brian too. I had the chance to talk to him when I visited in September. He's a nice guy, and you two are great together."
"Thanks. I think so too," said Regan. She was still surprised sometimes when people told her how good she and Brian were together. For a long time, she'd been sure Brian would be nothing but trouble for her.
As Nicole left to find Darcy, Regan watched her walk away. Life sometimes seemed to be one surprise after another. In this case, she was glad Nicole had suddenly decided to leave her job in Boston, sell her new condo, and move to Florida. She suspected it had everything to do with Graham Howard. It was a good thing for Gavin's because Nicole had promised to help them with publicity for the restaurant, and they needed all the help they could get.
"Hello, Regan," came a smooth, low voice.
Regan turned to find Arthur and Margretta Weatherman standing near her. She felt a smile, still crooked from injuries she'd endured in the accident, spread across her face.
"Hello, Arthur! Margretta! I'm so glad you could come to our opening." She held out her hand, and they each shook it.
"Glad to be here," said Arthur. He glanced around. "I like what you've done here. You and Mo do good work together."
"We can't wait to have you and your business partner get started on our restaurants," said Margretta.
"Thanks," said Regan. She and Mo had bid on redoing six of the Weathermans' family restaurants in their Florida's Finest Restaurants chain. The smile left Regan's face as she suddenly fought tears. "I want to thank you both again for allowing me to be your spokesperson. As you can see, the scar under my chin and onto my jawline is now a part of me, along with a lip that may or may not completely recover from nerve damage."
Margretta, a tall, beautiful brunette, gripped Regan's hand. "We talked about it a lot before deciding, and we're very happy you'll represent us. You're a beautiful woman as you are. It's important for young girls to realize they don't have to be perfect. None of us is."
"That's why I agreed to do it," said Regan. "It was a scary thought at first, but I'm comfortable with it now."
"We'll be in touch about the filming schedule. Probably next week. We need you to start the New Year off right for us," said Margretta.
"I hear congratulations are in order on your engagement," said Arthur. "I've known Brian for some time. He's a good man. I'm happy for both of you." He glanced around the room. "Ah, I see Blackie. I'd better go say hello."
"Thanks again," said Regan. "Be sure to enjoy the refreshments. Graham has done a wonderful job with them."
After they left her side, Regan decided to check the food displays. As she was walking through the main dining room, she saw Mo talking to a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar. She hurried over to them.
"Mo! I'm so glad you came!" She hugged him and turned to his companion. "I almost didn't recognize you, Kenton! Glad you could join us too." Kenton Standish, a robust man with sandy-colored hair and fine features, was wearing tinted, thick-rimmed glasses that disguised his blue eyes. His ordinary blue blazer and green turtleneck hid the muscular, bare chest women were used to sighing over on his television show. On screen, he played a heroic Scottish fighter. In reality, he was a kind, soft-spoken person who was Mo's partner. Ordinarily, they took great care not to be noticed, so Regan knew it was a tribute to her and her sisters for them to be here in this crowd.
"You look fabulous," Mo said. His brown face softened with affection, and his dark eyes shone with admiration. "Love that dress on you!"
"Thanks. You look pretty dapper yourself," Regan said, admiring the subtly checked gray blazer and the bold, red holiday tie he wore. "Have you spoken to Arthur and Margretta?"
"Yes," said Mo. "They're very excited about what we've designed. I can't wait for us to set our work in motion." He smiled at Kenton. "And then, we'll begin work on Kenton's house."
Regan smiled at them both. "It's going to be so much fun to do that. I've already got some ideas in mind."
Mo smiled. "Me too. Black and white ... like Kenton and me ..."
"... with bold colors," said Regan.
Mo laughed. "Exactly."
Regan loved how closely their minds worked. Since meeting Mo and working with him on a few projects, her whole world had come alive with color and texture, drawing out her artistic side.
"I understand you and Brian are engaged," said Kenton. "Congratulations." They all turned as Brian approached.
"Here he is now," said Regan, beaming at the man who'd finally won her trust along with her heart.
Brian smiled and put an arm around her. "Hi, Mo! Good to see you. Thanks for the books you sent to me. It's frustrating to be laid up, so it was nice to have them to read."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Finding Family"
Copyright © 2018 Judith Keim.
Excerpted by permission of Wild Quail Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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