Welcome to a place where love is in the air, fate is in the stars, and home is just a heartbeat away…
Sheriff Andie Shepard may be new to Sanctuary Island but, like everyone else who comes here, she's already fallen under its healing spell. Andie is determined to leave her mistakes behind her and make this scenic haven her home. But she just might have to change her plansas well as open her heartwhen an unexpected visitor shows up on her doorstep…
Caitlin is the ten-year-old niece Andie never knew she had. Silent, wary, and shy as can be, Caitlin only responds to the horses that run wild across the island. Andie has no idea how to deal with Caitlinuntil Sam Brennan enters the picture. A tall, handsome loner who rehabilitates abused horses, Sam is able to help Caitlin break out of her shell. But that's not all: He finds a way to touch something deep in Andie's heart, opening her up to the healing power of love. Together, these three lost souls must face the darkness in their past to build a brighter future. Because here, on Sanctuary Island, anything is possible…
About the Author
Lily Everett grew up in a small town in Virginia reading Misty of Chincoteague and Black Beauty, taking riding lessons, and longing for a horse of her own. Sadly, her parents gave her a college education insteadbut she never forgot what the world looked like from the back of a horse. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes full-time.
Read an Excerpt
A Sanctuary Island Novel
By Lily Everett
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Lily Everett
All rights reserved.
Six months later ...
Sam Brennan pressed a soothing hand to the door of the mare's travel stall and wished he were on the top deck to catch the first glimpse of Sanctuary Island on the horizon. It had been too long since he saw the place.
Hurry the hell up, he silently coaxed the ferry. The rusty old clunker used to go faster than this.
After a terrible storm the year before incapacitated the ferry that used to shuttle between Sanctuary Island and Winter Harbor, Virginia, the town council had voted to retire the old girl and put a special measure on the ballot to fund a brand-new ferry. When his cousin happened to mention last week that the shiny new ferry sported a travel stall for large animals, the plan dropped fully formed into Sam's head like a gift.
Sanctuary Island was the perfect hideout, for a ton of reasons. It didn't hurt that the only members of his family that Sam still talked to lived there, and his cousin Penny had been kind enough—or crazy enough—to extend a blanket invitation to stay with her anytime. Even better, she'd wound up marrying the guy that owned the house where she was caretaker, so there was plenty of room for the new couple, Penny's teenage son Matt, and a spare cousin who traveled as light as a single leather duffel and a well-worn, hand-tooled saddle.
But by far the biggest benefit to making his getaway to Sanctuary Island was that he was known to travel there once or twice a year, often bringing a horse with him. So this particular trip shouldn't raise any eyebrows. Not even the sleek, dark chestnut brows of the prettiest lady sheriff imaginable ...
Another muffled thud against the stall door reminded Sam to guard against distractions, no matter how perfectly curved and sweet smelling. The miserable, frightened mare in the stall was the main reason he'd steered his course to Sanctuary Island.
"Just a little longer," he promised softly, heart squeezing like a fist. "And you'll be settled nice and cozy in your new digs at Windy Corner Stables. All we have to do is wait for the cars to get off the ferry when we dock, then walk down the gangplank and straight into the trailer Jo Ellen is sending for us. Easy as pie."
The mare's distressed breathing was audible even through the metal of the ferry's reinforced stall door, and Sam sighed.
Something told him his fantasy of making a quick, no-muss-no-fuss transfer from ferry to trailer wasn't going to come true. Still, no matter what happened when he finally got this godforsaken animal off this boat, it was a damn sight better than the fate that awaited the poor horse back on the mainland.
Sam could only close his eyes and pray that the dangerous risk he'd taken wouldn't land his newly acquired horse—and himself—in even worse trouble. Silently vowing to keep his head down and make as few waves as possible, Sam ignored the banked fires of want in his belly.
He'd avoid Sheriff Andie Shepard on this trip because he had to. No matter how much he wanted to touch her, kiss her, claim her ... he couldn't. Not yet.
Some risks were too dangerous to take, even for a man like Sam Brennan.
* * *
There were only so many places a fifty-pound bulldog could hide.
Holding her breath, Andie unhooked the flashlight from her utility belt and crouched to shine it through the small hole in the old stable door. She squinted around at what she could see of the broken-down, abandoned stalls, but she saw no movement other than the dance of dust motes in the sunlight filtering through the partially caved-in roof. Andie made a hopeful kissing noise. "Come on, Pippin. Are you in there? Your daddy's pretty worried about you. Come on out."
He had to be there. She'd already checked the pine copse behind Mr. Leeds's big plantation-style house, the overgrown kitchen garden where the dog liked to dig up vegetables, and the crawl space under the wraparound porch—which explained the red clay dirt streaking her khaki uniform where it clung to her sticky, sweaty skin in damp patches.
Sighing, Andie contemplated the ragged hole in the stable door. Was it even big enough for a dog of Pippin's considerable bulk to squeeze through? She had zero desire to step foot in a building that ought to have been condemned years ago if there wasn't a chance the missing dog might actually be inside.
What alternative did she have, though? She couldn't go back up to the house and tell Dabney Leeds—the wealthiest full-time resident of Sanctuary Island, leading member of Sanctuary's town council, and a major contributor to local political campaigns—that she hadn't been able to find his beloved bulldog.
But there was a limit to what Andie was willing to do, even in an election year. Risking her life in a derelict outbuilding just to be able to tell Mr. Leeds she'd searched everywhere—was it really worth it? Especially when she was running unopposed. Her time would be better spent going through the pinewood again, this time with a pocketful of dog treats.
Decision made, Andie wiped her hands on her thighs and prepared to stand up—when her gaze snagged on a wisp of blue fabric clinging to one of the torn slats in the stable door.
Her heart sank. She'd seen that shade of blue before ... on a certain depressed bulldog who'd been crammed into a sailor costume.
She was going to have to go in.
The spring breeze kicked up, sending a chill through Andie's bones when the dilapidated stable building creaked ominously. Standing, she put a hand to the pocked, rotting wood of the door and felt the tremor as the wind shook the entire structure. She was so focused on tracking the building's rasping groans that she almost missed the faint whimper from inside.
Pippin. He was in trouble. Maybe he'd gotten trapped in there, or injured, and that's why he hadn't come when she called. The world went sharp and clear as determination filled Andie's chest. She didn't pause to ponder the fact that her body was having the same response to rescuing a runaway bulldog as she used to get from tactical raids on drug dealers' hideouts back in Louisville.
She pulled in a deep, bracing breath and grasped the rusted iron handle of the sliding barn door. It stuck, of course, but Andie kept the pressure slow and steady until the door finally yielded with a piercing shriek. When the opening was wide enough to slip through, Andie shone the flashlight around the dim interior.
The stable clearly hadn't been used in years, maybe decades. Piles of dried green hay had drifted down from the sagging loft, filling the still air with the smell of mildew and decay. Wind whistled through the cracks in the walls, and when Andie narrowed her gaze up at the sharp, uneven slope of the roof, she got a clear view of clouds moving quickly across the pale April sky. It was really blowing out there.
In here, it wasn't much better. Andie's pulse sped at the knowledge that this old place could come down around her ears at any moment. She reminded herself that the building had managed to stay standing for a long time, even through last spring's terrible storms. There was no reason that today should be the day it collapsed.
Except for the fact that today was the day Andie had to go poking through it, moving fallen beams and generally disturbing whatever structural integrity it had left, in her search for a wayward bulldog.
She whistled softly. "Hey, boy. I know you're in here someplace. Come on, puppy."
The low whine from deep in the gloom sounded so human, Andie almost fumbled her flashlight. There, in the furthest corner of the stables under the droopy overhang of the loft, Pippin squatted, looking miserable. Or maybe that was just his face.
"Hey there!" Andie moved closer, careful about it in case Pippin got spooked and ran off before she could get her hands on him. But after a single, morose glance, Pippin twisted his stocky body and started licking at his left haunch, below the ripped hem of his mud-streaked sailor suit. Andie squinted—was that blood?
Concerned, she picked up the pace as the wind buffeted the building again. In the corner, Pippin switched from licking the scratch on his hindquarters to giving his undercarriage a good tongue bath. Andie snorted. Trust a male creature to get distracted from an injury by a little attention to his manly parts.
Hoping that indicated his wound wasn't serious, Andie reached the dog just as a particularly loud creak sounded through the structure. Her gaze shot to the loft, which shuddered as she stared up at it as if it were about to come tumbling down. There was no time to coax Pippin out on his own, even if he could still walk.
Instead, Andie bent her knees and got her arms around his squirming bulk, and lifted him against her chest. Thank the sweet Lord she'd kept up with PT since she took this job or she'd never be able to heft a reluctant, wriggling bulldog and hustle them both to safety. Pippin was fifty pounds of muscle, fat, and heavy bone—and he apparently hadn't had a pedicure in a while, judging by the pain raking across her skin wherever he flailed those scrabbling paws.
The next few minutes were a blur of huffing, puffing, barking, and whimpering, but Andie got them out of the stable more or less intact. However, when she tried to put the struggling bulldog down, he refused to stand on his own feet. Groaning, Andie heaved him back up and staggered toward the main house. As soon as they were within view of it, Andie had to bite back another groan.
Mr. Dabney Leeds was standing on the porch, banging his brass-topped cane impatiently against the floorboards. "Finally! Took you long enough. Where was he?"
Reminding herself that Mr. Leeds's querulous tone was most likely a cover for how worried he'd been about his furry friend, Andie gasped out, "In the old stable out back."
"Is he hurt?" Mr. Leeds's anxious gaze roamed over Pippin, who'd given up wiggling, at least. The bulldog had gone absolutely limp in Andie's arms, turning his bulky body into a dead weight.
"I think it's just a scratch," Andie said, concentrating on hauling herself up the porch steps.
Mr. Leeds scowled. "My poor baby! Hurry on now, get up here and put him in his bed so you can call Dr. Fairfax for me."
A perfect miniature replica of the cushioned wicker porch furniture sat beside the gliding loveseat. Andie deposited her burden on the pink-rosetted pillow and straightened with a hand to her back. Mr. Leeds fussed over Pippin, who closed his eyes in resignation, apparently having given up on his bid for freedom. At least for today.
Andie pulled out her cell phone to dial the local veterinarian just as the radio receiver clipped to her utility belt crackled to life.
"Disturbance in progress down at the dock," the dispatcher's staticky voice said.
"What are you waiting for?" Mr. Leeds's angry demand shocked Andie into looking up. "Call Dr. Fairfax, girl! I won't have my dog contracting an infection because of your incompetence."
"Sheriff? Come in?" Ivy Dawson, Andie's brand-new dispatcher, sounded impatient and annoyed, a combination Andie already recognized as an indication of actual worry.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Leeds. I have to take this call," Andie said, unhooking the radio from her belt. "Feel free to step inside and call the vet yourself—I'll keep an eye on Pippin."
Her finger hovered over the "talk" button but before she could press it, Mr. Leeds banged his cane against the porch railing, making Andie and Pippin both jump. "No! Now I've sat here all morning waiting on you to do your job. I'm not waiting another second. I'm a Town Councilman! The council directs the Sheriff's office, so you'd better do what I say, girl. Quick now!"
"Mr. Leeds, I understand you're upset," Andie said, holding onto her patience with both hands, "but I have a duty to all the citizens of Sanctuary Island, to keep people safe and be responsive to their needs. I can't ignore a call like this."
Mr. Leeds narrowed his watery eyes. Despite his stooped bearing and the tremor in his thin muscles, Andie felt a chill rush through her at the sheer force of will in the man's eyes. She must never make the mistake of underestimating him. Dabney Leeds was used to getting his own way.
"You can't ignore a call. Not even for the biggest campaign contributor on the island?"
Andie's stomach knotted at the unsubtle threat. She could survive without Dabney Leeds and his bags of money, so long as no one else entered the race. But the deadline for a candidate to throw his hat in the ring hadn't passed yet, so she couldn't be sure.
Still ... what kind of sheriff would she be if she caved to the demands of a single wealthy, entitled old man? "I'm very sorry, Mr. Leeds." Andie kept her tone as firm and no-nonsense as she could. "But I'm going to have to go. You have a nice day, now."
She didn't have time to appreciate the dawning rage on Leeds's pinched face as she turned and strode back to her county-issued SUV. "Sheriff Shepard," she said into the radio as she got behind the wheel. "What's the disturbance, Ivy?"
"Oh, thank the sweet heavens," Ivy said. "I was starting to worry I'd have to leave the station to go check it out myself, and I do not do wildlife. Especially not the actually wild kind."
They were really going to have to work on Ivy's radio communication skills. "Give me the rundown," Andie said calmly, throwing the truck into gear and heading up the winding driveway back toward Shoreline Drive.
"It came from down at the harbor. Buddy called it in, something about a horse going crazy and trying to kill someone? Although I don't know what a horse would be doing down by the harbor where the ferry captain could see one. Don't the wild herds usually stick to the other end of the island?"
"They're called bands, not herds. And yes, they do." Andie pressed down the gas and hustled through the center of town toward Summer Harbor. "The wild horses aren't domesticated, and we strictly enforce the rules about not feeding them or trying to touch them, so they mostly keep to the uninhabited northern tip of the island. But sometimes one of them will get separated from his or her band and become disoriented."
"And try to kill people?" The alarm in Ivy's tone made Andie bite down on a grin. Ivy was a recent transplant from Atlanta, and as she'd put it in her phone interview, she was not a "nature girl."
"That would be highly unusual," Andie said soothingly.
Ivy hmphed. "I notice you didn't flat out deny the possibility."
"Maybe you haven't been here long enough to notice, but big cities have nothing on small towns when it comes to the variety of creative ways people can find to get into trouble."
"You know that's right," Ivy agreed. "How many big city cops spend their morning tracking down a runaway bulldog dressed like the villain from a James Bond movie?"
"No monocle today," Andie replied, laughing. "It was the sailor outfit."
"That poor animal! Can't we arrest Mr. Leeds for pet abuse or something?"
Resolutely not thinking about how many problems that would solve, Andie sighed. "I don't think it's actually against the law to spend thousands of dollars on toys, treats, and fancy costumes for your dog."
"Well, it should be. It's a fashion crime, at the very least." Ivy paused. "You sure you're okay to check out the harbor call? I know dealing with Mr. Leeds is pretty stressful."
"I'm fine," Andie insisted. "And I'm almost there anyway. I'll keep you posted."
"Don't get trampled by a stampeding stallion," Ivy advised. "Over and out."
Grinning and thankful, once again, that she'd ignored Ivy's lack of experience and followed her gut about hiring someone who could make her laugh, Andie replaced the handheld radio on her dash as she crested the sandy hill above the harbor. The Atlantic Ocean rolled out in front of her like a deep blue carpet, the mainland an indistinct smudge of gray along the horizon.
The sight sank into her bones and lifted her up, the way it had ever since she first stepped foot on this tiny, undeveloped gem of an island. Without even a causeway to connect it to the mainland, the only link between Sanctuary Island and the closest town of Winter Harbor, Virginia, was a two-hour ferry ride.
Excerpted from Heartbreak Cove by Lily Everett. Copyright © 2015 Lily Everett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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