Happily-Ever-After isn’t on Emily Donovan’s agenda…
Emily’s been too swept up in a challenging year of firsts—from becoming a stand-in mum to her niece Lizzy to moving to remote but beautiful Puffin Island—to think about love.
But that’s before charismatic local yacht club owner Ryan Cooper kisses her…
Ryan knows Emily has a complicated past that she’s struggling to face. So he makes it his mission to help her unwind and enjoy the chemistry they share.
Can the welcoming community of Puffin Island work their magic on Emily and get her to take her biggest leap of trust yet—putting her heart in someone else’s hands?
About the Author
Romantic Times has described her as 'a magician with words' and nominated her books for their Reviewer's Choice Awards and their 'Top Pick' slot. In 2012 Sarah received the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America. She lives near London with her family. Find out more at www.sararahmorgan.co
Read an Excerpt
It was the perfect place for someone who didn't want to be found. A dream destination for people who loved the sea.
Emily Donovan hated the sea.
She stopped the car at the top of the hill and turned off the headlights. Darkness wrapped itself around her, smothering her like a heavy blanket. She was used to the city, with its shimmering skyline and the dazzle of lights that turned night into day. Here, on this craggy island in coastal Maine, there was only the moon and the stars. No crowds, no car horns, no high-rise buildings. Nothing but wave-pounded cliffs, the shriek of gulls and the smell of the ocean.
She would have drugged herself on the short ferry crossing if it hadn't been for the child strapped into the seat in the back of the car.
The little girl's eyes were still closed, her head tilted to one side and her arms locked in a stranglehold around a battered teddy bear. Emily retrieved her phone and opened the car door quietly.
Please don't wake up.
She walked a few steps away from the car and dialed. The call went to voice mail.
"Brittany? Hope you're having a good time in Greece. Just wanted to let you know I've arrived. Thanks again for letting me use the cottage. I'm really
I'm" Grateful. That was the word she was looking for. Grateful. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I'm panicking. What the hell am I doing here? There's water everywhere and I hate water. This is Well, it's hard." She glanced toward the sleeping child and lowered her voice. "She wanted to get out of the car on the ferry, but I kept her strapped in because there was no way I was doing that. That scary harbor guy with the big eyebrows probably thinks I'm insane, by the way, so you'd better pretend you don't know me next time you're home. I'll stay until tomorrow because there's no choice, but then I'm taking the first ferry out of here. I'm going somewhere else. Somewhere landlocked like like Wyoming or Nebraska."
As she ended the call the breeze lifted her hair, and she could smell salt and sea in the air.
She dialed again, a different number this time, and felt a rush of relief as the call was answered and she heard Skylar's breathy voice.
"Sky? It's me."
"Em? What's happening? This isn't your number."
"I changed my cell phone."
"You're worried someone might trace the call? Holy crap, this is exciting."
"It's not exciting. It's a nightmare."
"How are you feeling?"
"Like I want to throw up, but I know I won't because I haven't eaten for two days. The only thing in my stomach is a knot of nervous tension."
"Have the press tracked you down?"
"I don't think so. I paid cash for everything and drove from New York." She glanced back at the road, but there was only darkness. "How do people live like this? I feel like a criminal. I've never hidden from anyone in my life before."
"Have you been switching cars to confuse them? Did you dye your hair purple and buy a pair of glasses?"
"No. Have you been drinking?"
"I watch a lot of movies. You can't trust anyone. You need a disguise. Something that will help you blend in."
"I will never blend in anywhere with a coastline. I'll be the one wearing a life jacket in the middle of Main Street."
"You're going to be fine." Skylar's extrafirm tone suggested she wasn't at all convinced by what she was saying.
"I'm leaving first thing tomorrow."
"You can't do that! We agreed the cottage would be the safest place to hide. No one is going to notice you on an island crowded with tourists. It's a dream place for a vacation."
"It's not a dream place when the sight of water makes you hyperventilate."
"You're not going to do that. You're going to breathe in the sea air and relax."
"I don't need to be here. This whole thing is an over-reaction. No one is looking for me."
"You're the half sister of one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, and you're guardian to her child. If that little fact gets out, the whole press pack will be hunting you. You need somewhere to hide, and Puffin Island is perfect."
Emily shivered under a cold drench of panic. "Why would they know about me? Lana spent her entire life pretending I don't exist." And that had suited her perfectly. At no point had she aspired to be caught in the beam of Lana's spotlight. Emily was fiercely private.
Lana, on the other hand, had demanded attention from the day she was born.
It occurred to Emily that her half sister would have enjoyed the fact she was still making headlines even though it had been over a month since the plane crash that had killed her and the man reputed to have been her lover.
"Journalists can find out anything. This is like a plot for a movie."
"No, it isn't! It's my life. I don't want it ripped open and exposed for the world to see and I don't" Emily broke off and then said the words aloud for the first time. "I don't want to be responsible for a child." Memories from the past drifted from the dark corners of her brain like smoke under a closed door. "I can't be."
It wasn't fair to the girl.
And it wasn't fair to her.
Why had Lana done this to her? Was it malice? Lack of thought? Some twisted desire to seek revenge for a childhood where they'd shared nothing except living space?
"I know you think that, and I understand your reasons, but you can do this. You have to. Right now you're all she has."
"I shouldn't be all anyone has. That's a raw deal. I shouldn't be looking after a child for five minutes, let alone the whole summer."
No matter that in her old life people deferred to her, recognized her expertise and valued her judgment; in this she was incompetent. She had no qualifications that equipped her for this role. Her childhood had been about surviving. About learning to nurture herself and protect herself while she lived with a mother who was mostly absentsometimes physically, always emotionally. And after she'd left home, her life had been about studying and working long, punishing hours to silence men determined to prove she was less than they were.
And now here she was, thrown into a life where what she'd learned counted for nothing. A life that required the one set of skills she knew she didn't possess. She didn't know how to be this. She didn't know how to do this. And she'd never had ambitions to do it. It felt like an injustice to find herself in a situation she'd worked hard to avoid all her life.
Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, and she heard Skylar's voice through a mist of anxiety.
"If having her stops you thinking that, this will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. You weren't to blame for what happened when you were a child, Em."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Doesn't change the fact you weren't to blame. And you don't need to talk about it because the way you feel is evident in the way you've chosen to live your life."
Emily glanced back at the child sleeping in the car. "I can't take care of her. I can't be what she needs."
"You mean you don't want to be."
"My life is adult-focused. I work sixteen-hour days and have business lunches."
"Your life sucks. I've been telling you that for a long time."
"I liked my life! I want it back."
"That was the life where you were working like a machine and living with a man with the emotional compass of a rock?"
"I liked my job. I knew what I was doing. I was competent. And Neil and I may not have had a grand passion, but we shared a lot of interests."
"I We liked eating out."
"That's not an interest. That's an indication that you were both too tired to cook."
"We both enjoyed reading."
"Wow, that must have made the bedroom an exciting place."
Emily struggled to come up with something else and failed. "Why are we talking about Neil? That's over. My whole life now revolves around a six-year-old girl. There is a pair of fairy wings in her bag. I don't know anything about fairy wings."
Her childhood had been a barren desert, an exercise in endurance rather than growth, with no room for anything as fragile and destructible as gossamer-thin fairy wings.
"I have a vivid memory of being six. I wanted to be a ballerina."
Emily stared straight ahead, remembering how she'd felt at the age of six. Broken. Even after she'd eventually stuck herself back together, she'd known she wasn't the same.
"I'm mad at Lana. I'm mad at her for dying and for putting me in this position. How screwed up is that?"
"It's not screwed up. It's human. What do you expect, Em? You haven't spoken to Lana in over a decade" Skylar broke off, and Emily heard voices in the background.
"Do you have company? Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Richard and I are off to a fund-raiser at The Plaza, but he can wait."
From what she knew of Richard's ruthless political ambitions and impatient nature, Emily doubted he'd be prepared to wait. She could imagine Skylar, her blond hair secured in an elegant twist on top of her head, her narrow body sheathed in a breathtaking designer creation. She suspected Richard's attraction to Sky lay in her family's powerful connections rather than her sunny optimism or her beauty. "I shouldn't have called you. I tried Brittany, but she's not answering. She's still on that archaeological dig in Crete. I guess it's the middle of the night over there."
"She seems to be having a good time. Did you see her Facebook update? She's up to her elbows in dirt and hot Greek men. She's working with that lovely ceramics expert, Lily, who gave me all those ideas for my latest collection. And if you hadn't called me I would have called you. I've been so worried. First Neil dumped you, then you had to leave your job, and now this! They say trouble comes in threes."
Emily eyed the child, still sleeping in the car. "I wish the third thing had been a broken toaster."
"You're going through a bad time, but you have to remember that everything happens for a reason. For a start, it has stopped you wallowing in bed eating cereal from the box. You needed a focus and now you have one."
"I didn't need a dependent six-year-old who dresses in pink and wears fairy wings."
"Wait a minute" There was a pause and then the sound of a door clicking. "Richard is talking to his campaign manager, and I don't want them listening. I'm hiding in the bathroom. The things I do in the name of friendship. You still there, Em?"
"Where would I go? I'm surrounded by water." She shuddered. "I'm trapped."
"Honey, people pay good money to be 'trapped' on Puffin Island."
"I'm not one of them. What if I can't keep her safe, Sky?"
There was a brief silence. "Are we talking about safe from the press or safe from other stuff?"
Her mouth felt dry. "All of it. I don't want the responsibility. I don't want children."
"Because you're afraid to give anything of yourself."
There was no point in arguing with the truth.
"That's why Neil ended it. He said he was tired of living with a robot."
"I guess he used his own antennae to work that out. Bastard. Are you brokenhearted?"
"No. I'm not as emotional as you and Brittany. I don't feel deeply." But she should feel something, shouldn't she? The truth was that after two years of living with a man, she'd felt no closer to him than she had the day she'd moved in. Love wrecked people, and she didn't want to be wrecked. And now she had a child. "Why do you think Lana did it?"
"Made you guardian? God knows. But knowing Lana, it was because there wasn't anyone else. She'd pissed off half of Hollywood and slept with the other half, so I guess she didn't have any friends who would help. Just you."
"But she and I"
"I know. Look, if you want my honest opinion, it was probably because she knew you would put your life on hold and do the best for her child despite the way she treated you. Whatever you think about yourself, you have a deep sense of responsibility. She took advantage of the fact you're a good, decent person. Em, I am so sorry, but I have to go. The car is outside and Richard is pacing. Patience isn't one of his good qualities and he has to watch his blood pressure."
"Of course." Privately Emily thought if Richard worked harder at controlling his temper, his blood pressure might follow, but she didn't say anything. She wasn't in a position to give relationship advice to anyone. "Thanks for listening. Have fun tonight."
"I'll call you later. No, waitI have a better idea. Richard is busy this weekend, and I was going to escape to my studio, but why don't I come to you instead?"
"Here? To Puffin Island?"
"Why not? We can have some serious girl time. Hang out in our pajamas and watch movies like we did when Kathleen was alive. We can talk through everything and make a plan. I'll bring everything I can find that is pink. Get through to the weekend. Take this a day at a time."
"I am not qualified to take care of a child for five minutes, let alone five days." But the thought of getting back on that ferry in the morning made her feel almost as sick as the thought of being responsible for another human being.
"Listen to me." Skylar lowered her voice. "I feel bad speaking ill of the dead, but you know a lot more than Lana did. She left the kid alone in a house the size of France and hardly ever saw her. Just be there. Seeing the same person for two consecutive days will be a novelty. How is she, anyway? Does she understand what has happened? Is she traumatized?"
Emily thought about the child, silent and solemn-eyed. Trauma, she knew, wore different faces. "She's quiet. Scared of anyone with a camera."
"Probably overwhelmed by the crowds of paparazzi outside the house."
"The psychologist said the most important thing is to show her she's secure."
"You need to cut off her hair and change her name or something. A six-year-old girl with long blond hair called Juliet is a giveaway. You might as well hang a sign on her saying 'Made in Hollywood'"
"You think so?" Panic sank sharp claws into her flesh. "I thought coming out here to the middle of nowhere would be enough. The name isn't that unusual."
"Maybe not in isolation, but attached to a six-year-old everyone is talking about? Trust me, you need to change it. Puffin Island may be remote geographically, but it has the internet. Now go and hide out and I'll see you Friday night. Do you still have your key to the cottage?"
"Yes." She'd felt the weight of it in her pocket all the way from New York. Brittany had presented them both with a key on their last day of college. "And thanks."
"Hey." Sky's voice softened. "We made a promise, remember? We are always here for each other. Speak to you later!"
In the moment before she hung up, Emily heard a hard male voice in the background and wondered again what free-spirited Skylar saw in Richard Everson.
As she slid back into the car the child stirred. "Are we there yet?"