Welcome to Honeymoon Harbor, the brand-new, long-awaited series by beloved New York Times bestselling author JoAnn Ross, where unforgettable characters come face-to-face with the kind of love that grabs your heart and never lets go.
Working as a Las Vegas concierge, Brianna Mannion is an expert at making other people’s wishes come true. It’s satisfying work, but a visit home to scenic Honeymoon Harbor turns into a permanent stay when she’s reminded of everything she’s missing: the idyllic small-town charm; the old Victorian house she’d always coveted; and Seth Harper, her best friend’s widower and the neighborhood boy she once crushed on—hard. After years spent serving others, maybe Brianna’s finally ready to chase dreams of her own.
Since losing his wife, Seth has kept busy running the Harper family’s renovation business and flying way under the social radar. But when Brianna hires him to convert her aging dream home into a romantic B and B, working together presents a heart-stopping temptation Seth never saw coming. With guilt and grief his only companions for so long, he’ll have to step out of the past long enough to recognize the beautiful life Brianna and he could build together.
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Seth Harper was spending a Sunday spring afternoon detailing his wife's Rallye Red Honda Civic when he learned that she'd been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
Despite the Pacific Northwest's reputation for unrelenting rain, the sun was shining so brightly that the Army notification officers — a man and a woman in dark blue uniforms and black shoes spit-shined to a mirror gloss — had been wearing shades. Or maybe, Seth considered, as they'd approached the driveway in what appeared to be slow motion, they would've worn them anyway. Like armor, providing emotional distance from the poor bastard whose life they were about to blow to smithereens.
At the one survivor grief meeting he'd later attended (only to get his fretting mother off his back), he'd heard stories from other spouses who'd experienced a sudden, painful jolt of loss before their official notice. Seth hadn't received any advance warning. Which was why, at first, the officers' words had been an incomprehensible buzz in his ears. Like distant radio static.
Zoe couldn't be dead. His wife wasn't a combat soldier. She was an Army surgical nurse, working in a heavily protected military base hospital, who'd be returning to civilian life in two weeks. Seth still had a bunch of stuff on his homecoming punch list to do. After buffing the wax off the Civic's hood and shining up the chrome wheels, his next project was to paint the walls white in the nursery he'd added on to their Folk Victorian cottage for the baby they'd be making.
She'd begun talking a lot about baby stuff early in her deployment. Although Seth was as clueless as the average guy about a woman's mind, it didn't take Dr. Phil to realize that she was using the plan to start a family as a touchstone. Something to hang on to during their separation.
In hours of Skype calls between Honeymoon Harbor and Kabul, they'd discussed the pros and cons of the various names on a list that had grown longer each time they'd talked. While the names remained up in the air, she had decided that whatever their baby's gender, the nursery should be a bright white to counter the Olympic Peninsula's gray skies.
She'd also sent him links that he'd dutifully followed to Pinterest pages showing bright crib bedding, mobiles, and wooden name letters in primary crayon shades of blue, green, yellow and red. Even as Seth had lobbied for Seattle Seahawk navy and action green, he'd known that he'd end up giving his wife whatever she wanted.
The same as he'd been doing since the day he fell head over heels in love with her back in middle school.
Meanwhile, planning to get started on that baby making as soon as she got back to Honeymoon Harbor, he'd built the nursery as a welcome home surprise.
Then Zoe had arrived at Sea-Tac airport in a flag-draped casket.
And two years after the worst day of his life, the room remained unpainted behind a closed door Seth never opened since.
Mannion's Pub & Brewery was located on the street floor of a faded red brick building next to Honeymoon Harbor's ferry landing. The former salmon cannery had been one of many buildings constructed after the devastating 1893 fire that had swept along the waterfront, burning down the original wood buildings. One of Seth's ancestors, Jacob Harper, had built the replacement in 1894 for the town's mayor and pub owner, Finn Mannion. Despite the inability of Washington authorities to keep Canadian alcohol from flooding into the state, the pub had been shuttered during Prohibition in the 1930s, effectively putting the Mannions out of the pub business until Quinn Mannion had returned home from Seattle and hired Harper Construction to reclaim the abandoned space.
Although the old Victorian seaport town wouldn't swing into full tourist mode until Memorial Day, nearly every table was filled when Seth dropped in at the end of the day. He'd no sooner slid onto a stool at the end of the long wooden bar when Quinn, who'd been washing glasses in a sink, stuck a bottle of Shipwreck CDA in front of him.
"Double cheddar bacon or stuffed blue cheese?" he asked.
"Double cheddar bacon." As he answered question, it crossed Seth's mind that his life — what little he had outside his work of restoring the town's Victorian buildings constructed by an earlier generation of Harpers — had possibly slid downhill beyond routine to boringly predictable. "And don't bother boxing it up. I'll be eating it here," he added.
Quinn lifted a dark brow. "I didn't see that coming."
Meaning that, by having dinner here at the pub six nights a week, the seventh being with Zoe's parents — where they'd recount old memories, and look through scrapbooks of photos that continued to cause an ache deep in his heart — he'd undoubtedly landed in the predictable zone. So, what was wrong with that? Predictability was an underrated concept. By definition, it meant a lack of out-of-the-blue surprises that might destroy life as you knew it. Some people might like change. Seth was not one of them. Which was why he always ordered takeout with his first beer of the night.
The second beer he drank at home with his burger and fries. While other guys in his position might have escaped reality by hitting the bottle, Seth always stuck to a limit of two bottles, beginning with that long, lonely dark night after burying his wife. Because, although he'd never had a problem with alcohol, he harbored a secret fear that if gave in to the temptation to begin seriously drinking, he might never stop.
The same way if he ever gave in to the anger, the unfairness of what the hell had happened, he'd have to patch a lot more walls in his house than he had that first few months after the notification officers' arrival.
There'd been times when he'd decided that someone in the Army had made a mistake. That Zoe hadn't died at all. Maybe she'd been captured during a melee and no one knew enough to go out searching for her. Or perhaps she was lying in some other hospital bed, her face all bandaged, maybe with amnesia, or even in a coma, and some lab tech had mixed up blood samples with another solider who'd died. That could happen, right?
But as days slid into weeks, then weeks into months, he'd come to accept that his wife really was gone. Most of the time. Except when he'd see her, from behind, strolling down the street, window shopping, or walking onto the ferry, her dark curls blowing into a frothy tangle. He'd embarrassed himself a couple times by calling out her name. Now, he never saw her at all. And worse yet, less and less in his memory. Zoe was fading away. Like that ghost who reputedly haunted Herons Landing, the old Victorian mansion up on the bluff overlooking the harbor.
"I'm having dinner with Mom tonight." And had been dreading it all the damn day. Fortunately, his dad hadn't heard about it yet. But since news traveled at the speed of sound in Honeymoon Harbor, he undoubtedly soon would.
"You sure you don't want to order until she gets here?"
"She's not eating here. It's a command performance dinner," he said. "To have dinner with her and the guy who may be her new boyfriend. Instead of eating at her new apartment, she decided that it'd be better to meet on neutral ground."
"Meaning somewhere other than a brew pub owned and operated by a Mannion," Quinn said. "Especially given the rumors that said new boyfriend just happens to be my uncle Mike."
"That does make the situation stickier." Seth took a long pull on the Cascadian Dark Ale and wished it was something stronger.
The feud between the Harpers and Mannions dated back to the early 1900s. After having experienced a boom during the end of the end of the nineteenth century, the once bustling seaport town had fallen on hard times during a national financial depression.
Although the population declined drastically, those dreamers who'd remained were handed a stroke of luck in 1910 when the newlywed king and queen of Montacroix added the town to their honeymoon tour of America. The couple had learned of this lush green region from the king's friend, Theodore Roosevelt, who'd set aside national land for the Mount Olympus Monument.
As a way of honoring the royals, and hoping that the national and European press following them across the country might bring more attention to the town, residents had voted nearly unanimously to change the name to Honeymoon Harbor. Seth's ancestor, Nathaniel Harper, had been the lone holdout, creating acrimony on both sides that continued to linger among some but not all of the citizens. Quinn's father, after all, was a Mannion, his mother a Harper. But Ben Harper, Seth's father, tended to nurse his grudges. Even century-old ones that had nothing to do with him. Or at least hadn't. Until lately.
"And it gets worse," he said.
One of the things that made Quinn such a good bartender was that he listened a lot more than he talked. Which made Seth wonder how he'd managed to spend all those years as a big bucks corporate lawyer in Seattle before returning home to open this pub and microbrewery.
"The neutral location she chose is Leaf."
Quinn's quick laugh caused two women who were drinking wine at a table looking out over the water to glance up with interest. Which wasn't surprising. Quinn's brother Wall Street wizard Gabe Mannion might be richer, New York City pro quarterback Burke Mannion flashier, and, last time he'd seen him, which had admittedly been awhile, Marine-turned-LA cop Aiden Mannion had still carried that bad boy vibe that had gotten him in trouble a lot while they'd been growing up together. But Quinn's superpower had always been the ability to draw the attention of females — from bald babies in strollers to blue-haired elderly women in walkers — without seeming to do a thing.
After turning in the burger order, and helping out his waitress by delivering meals to two of the tables, Quinn returned to the bar and began hanging up the glasses.
"Let me guess," he said, "you ordered the burger as an appetizer before you go off to a vegetarian restaurant to dine on alfalfa sprouts and pretty flowers."
"It's a matter of survival. I spent the entire day until I walked in here taking down a wall, adding a new reinforcing beam and framing out a bathroom. A guy needs sustenance. Not a plate of arugula and pansies."
"Since I run a place that specializes in pub grub, you're not going to get any argument from me on that plan. Do you still want the burger to go for the mutt?"
Bandit, a black lab/boxer mix so named for his penchant for stealing food from Seth's construction sites back in his stray days — including once gnawing through a canvas ice chest — usually waited patiently in the truck for his burger. Tonight Seth had dropped him off at the house on his way over here, meaning the dog would have to wait a little longer for his dinner. Not that he hadn't mooched enough from the framers already today. If the vet hadn't explained strays' tendencies for overeating because they didn't know where their next meal might be coming from, Seth might have suspected the street-scarred dog he'd rescued of having a tapeworm.
They shot the breeze while Quinn served up drinks, which in this place ran more to the craft beer he brewed in the building next door. A few minutes later, the swinging door to the kitchen opened and out came two layers of prime beef topped with melted local cheddar cheese and caramelized grilled onions, with a slice of tomato and iceberg lettuce leaf tossed in as an apparent nod to the food pyramid, all piled between the halves of an oversized toasted kaiser bun. Taking up the rest of the heated metal platter was a mountain of spicy french fries.
Next to the platter was a takeout box of plain burger. It wouldn't stay warm, but having first seen the dog scrounging from a garbage can on the waterfront, Seth figured Bandit didn't care about the temperature of his dinner.
"So, you're eating in tonight," a bearded giant wearing a T-shirt with Embrace the Lard on the front said in deep, foghorn voice. "I didn't see that coming."
"Everyone's a damn joker," Seth muttered, even as the aroma of grilled beef and melted cheese drew him in. He took a bite and nearly moaned. The Norwegian, who'd given up cooking on fishing boats when he'd gotten tired of freezing his ass off during winter crabbing season, might be a sarcastic smartass, but the guy sure as hell could cook.
"He's got a dinner date tonight at Leaf." Quinn, for some damn reason, chose this moment to decide to get chatty. "This is an appetizer."
Jarle Bjornstad snorted. "I tried going vegan," he said. "I'd hooked up with a woman in Anchorage who wouldn't even wear leather. It didn't work out."
"Mine's not that kind of date." Seth wondered how much arugula, kale and flowers it would take to fill up the man with shoulders as wide as a redwood trunk and arms like huge steel bands. His full-sleeve tattoo boasted a butcher's chart of a cow. Which might explain his ability to turn a beef patty into something close to nirvana. "And there probably aren't enough vegetables on the planet to sustain you."
During the remodeling, Seth had taken out four rows of bricks in the wall leading to the kitchen to allow the six-foot-seven-inch-tall cook to go back and forth without having to duck his head to keep from hitting the door jamb every trip.
"On our first date, she cited all this damn research claiming vegans lived nine years longer than meat eaters." Jarle's teeth flashed in a grin in his flaming red beard. "After a week of grazing, I decided that her statistics might be true, but that extra time would be nine horrible baconless years."
That said, he turned and stomped back into the kitchen.
"He's got a point," Quinn said.
"Amen to that," Having learned firsthand how treacherous and unpredictable death could be, with his current family situation on the verge of possibly exploding, Seth decided to worry about his arteries later and took another huge bite of beef and cheese heaven.
The bride was beautiful, as all brides are. It was, of course, easier when you had unlimited funds at your disposal. The white couture gown, flown in especially for the event from Paris, was a cloud of diamond-white tulle, embroidered with seed pearls and Swarovski crystals. The Belgian lace veil was attached to a diamond tiara that was a duplicate of the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
As chief concierge of the butler floor at the Las Vegas Midas Resort Hotel and Casino, Brianna Mannion had arranged for a stylist to ensure perfect hair and nails for the bride and her seven attendants, all in poufy pastel taffeta gowns that would never be worn again.
The groom, while not as flamboyantly attired, nevertheless was handsome in a black tux. His concession to glitz was the crystal-studded bow tie designed to coordinate with the bride's gown. There'd originally been plans for him to wear a top hat, but when he'd steadfastly objected, the bride's harried mother had thrown up her hands in defeat.
"Well, I did want our princess to marry an alpha male," she'd said to the bride's father. Who, Brianna noted with a bit of trepidation, was pouring his third Scotch since arriving at the wedding preparation suite. Typically the suite was a women-only zone, but this was far from a typical wedding and since the bride's mother (who had a strong alpha streak herself) had insisted her husband be there for the preparations, he'd apparently caved rather than risk a scene.
Because the Midas prided itself on the extreme level of privacy afforded to its guests, this particular suite had its own high-speed elevator that opened onto the ballroom booked for the event. Although it took four trips, Brianna managed to herd the party down the sixty-five floors to the ballroom, which took some logistics when a trio of bridesmaids, having lost patience during their styling, had begun nipping at each other. Fortunately, she was able to calm things down before the pink, yellow and aqua taffeta started getting ripped apart.
The ceremony, presided over by the top Elvis impersonator in the country — no mere local Elvises (Elvi?) need apply — amazingly went off without a hitch. And although the reception might have gotten a little rowdy, both the wedding party and the guests invited to this special occasion all seemed to enjoy the tiered white wonder of a wedding cake created by the Cordon Bleu-trained top chef. But it was the gilt doggie bags filled with a variety of gourmet dog biscuits dusted with edible twenty-four-karat gold that proved the hit of the party.
After escorting the happy couple up to their honeymoon penthouse suite that adjoined that of the bride's parents, Brianna finally blew out a long breath of relief.
Excerpted from "Herons Landing"
Copyright © 2018 JoAnn Ross.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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