Nestled beside the coastal town of Misty Harbor, Maine, lies the picturesque village of Mistletoe Bay. There, overlooking the clear blue sea, is a charming old house that's the perfect place to gather for the holidays and give thanks for family, good friends, and bright new beginnings. . .
When Cooper Armstrong left California to return to Maine, he also left a cheating ex and all his plans for settling down. Now Coop concentrates on taking care of his ailing father and learning his route as the area's new UPS man. It's not just Coop's parents who need assistance--Jenni Wright, whose blossoming new business has him making daily deliveries to her property, could clearly use some help. With three young sons, her mother-in-law, and a teenage niece all sharing a rickety house that seems to be held together with duct tape, Jenni has her hands full. To Jenni, Coop is their UPS guy, handyman, and her boys' guardian angel all in one gorgeous package. She's sure he'd run a mile before getting involved in the chaos of her life. But as Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas, the lovely, resilient Jenni turns Coop's expectations of a cold, lonely winter upside-down, revealing the promise of warmth, love, and a lifetime of happy memories. . .
"The magic of everyday pleasures permeates Evanick's contemporary romance. . .Evanick has a gift for finding the humor in small details, and her story of opposites who attract unfolds with endearing warmth."--Publishers Weekly on Harbor Nights
"Evanick's enchanting series never skimps on humanity, warmth, and romance."--Romantic Times on Harbor Nights
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Read an Excerpt
By Marcia Evanick
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Marcia Evanick
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCoop Armstrong swore as a ghost darted out of the woods directly into the path of his truck. He slammed on the brakes, kicking up pebbles and rocks behind him, as a bug-like alien creature followed the ghost into the thick woods and brush on the opposite side of the gravel driveway. Before the three-foot green-faced bug disappeared from sight, it turned and waved.
He waved back and tried not to think about how close he had come to hitting the creatures.
The Wright boys were at it again. At least there was a reason for their costumes today. It was Halloween.
For the past week he had been making deliveries and pickups at the big old house surrounded by woods on three sides and Mistletoe Bay on the fourth. The two boys had greeted him every day. To be more accurate, the boys had tried terrorizing him every day. Yesterday they had been lions or some other type of beasts waiting to attack him on the slightly slanted front porch. The day before that they had been pirates wielding curtain-rod swords and demanding all of his loot.
Whoever their babysitter was, she was doing a terrible job. The woman, who appeared hurried, hassled, and totally out of her depth when it came to the young boys, appeared to be in her late forties. The boyscalled her Grandmom, but she signed the name Dorothy Wright for the packages he delivered and picked up daily.
Learning his new route and all the side streets of the area was challenging enough. Most of the businesses along his route he already knew or were self-explanatory, but the Mistletoe Bay Company was still a mystery to him. He had no idea what the home-based company made or sold. One thing for sure, it wasn't child restraints or home repair items; 27 Bay Road had fallen into disrepair two decades ago.
The big, ramshackle old house was leaning toward the right, while the entire porch listed left. It was quite obvious, even to the untrained eye, that the house hadn't felt the blow of a hammer or a cut of a saw in twenty-five years. Since he had worked in construction for the past thirteen years he could pick out over a dozen exterior flaws within two minutes. The most pressing was the porch. He'd give the weather-beaten structure one, possibly two, more Maine winters before it crumbled into sawdust.
If the Wrights were lucky, the porch wouldn't take the front of their house with them.
He slowly drove the rest of the winding gravel driveway and parked in front of the monstrous house that looked like it could have been used as the set of a teenage horror film. And that had been before the Halloween decorations were added.
Hay bales, pumpkins, gourds, polyester spiderwebs, and wart-nosed witches were everywhere. Plastic electric ghosts and torn white sheets adorned what three weeks ago had been brightly colored autumn trees. Peak season for the fall color was over, leaving mostly bare trees and a foot's worth of fallen leaves everywhere. A six-foot skeleton was hanging by the neck out of a second-story window and banging against the house with the cool fall breeze. The expertly tied hangman's noose deserved a merit badge. Tombstones dotted the yard, which hadn't seen a rake in the past decade.
Someone with a really sick and twisted mind had placed a five-foot stuffed panda on one of the porch rockers and had sliced open his belly, causing stuffing to spill out. If that wasn't bad enough, they had smeared ketchup-at least he hoped it was ketchup-across the wound and plucked out both of his eyes, so they dangled upon his cheeks.
The Wrights were one disturbed family, especially considering the fact that no one would be coming this far out of town to go trick-or-treating tonight. The nearest town was Misty Harbor, and that was a good two miles down the road-or by Maine's standard five miles of twisting, turning roads.
All the kids would be hitting the most populated area, which was the town. More houses meant more candy in the bags. He might be thirty-two years old, but Coop still remembered the rules of Halloween; he with the most candy wins. Nothing beat frightening a bunch of girls on the scariest night of the year, unless you could give your buddies a good scare and make them scream like little girls. Then you were cooler than cool. You were king.
As he grabbed his clipboard and the two boxes he was delivering, Coop quietly chuckled at his memories of being king back in Sullivan for a couple of years during his misspent youth. He stepped out of the truck and silently looked at the latest addition to the tasteless Halloween decorations.
A pair of jean-clad legs and scruffy white sneakers were sticking out from under the porch. Wasn't it supposed to be striped stockings and ruby slippers instead of Keds?
Coop was halfway up the porch steps when he heard a voice and realized that the legs and sneakers sticking out from under the porch were attached to a live person-a female person, who was making reassuring promises to someone or something named Bojangles. He gave it ten-to-one odds that Bojangles was the mutt that chased his truck back down the driveway after every delivery.
Coop's eyebrows rose as he watched the legs move out from under the dilapidated porch, followed by an enticing jean-clad bottom. He had no idea whose bottom it was, but one thing was for certain: It wasn't Dorothy Wright. He sat down on the wooden step to enjoy this Halloween treat and prayed he wasn't about to be tricked.
"Come on, sweetie," purred Jenni Wright in her softest singsong voice, the same tone she used when she was passing out doggie treats. Bojangles, the family dog, had had enough trauma for one afternoon, and at fifty pounds, he was a little hard to yank out from underneath the porch. "You don't look that bad, honestly," she lied in her sweetest voice.
The dog was a disaster, and Jenni was a close second. She wiggled her way farther out from under the porch while holding onto Bojangles's collar and uttering threats against her son under her breath. She hated tight, creepy spaces, especially when they were crawling with spiders and heaven only knew what other critters. The dog was coated in pink slimy Skin So Sexy shave gel, and three-quarters of his hair had been cut off. Thankfully Bojangles had escaped the evil clutches of four-year-old Tucker before he could locate her razor to finish the job.
Tucker the terror had wanted to make Bojangles into a dragon for trick-or-treating tonight. Since dragons were hairless and Jenni had been busy out in the shop while her mother-in-law, Dorothy, had been baking pumpkin cookies in the kitchen, Tucker had decided he was old enough to give the dog a haircut and a shave.
Bojangles had other ideas.
Currently Dorothy was cleaning up big clumps of dog hair and splattered pink shaving gel from nearly every room in the house. Being the mom, Jenni got to haul Bojangles out from the nightmarish muck under the porch and into the tub upstairs. The fifty-pound mutt, who was half Old English sheepdog and half Heinz 57, was petrified of baths-almost as much as Jenni was terrified as to what could be crawling on her now.
Jenni wiggled faster and tightened her grip on the blue collar. "Come on, sweetie, we're almost there."
Bojangles dug in his front paws and howled.
She muttered a word she hoped her children didn't hear as the dog's howl echoed throughout the small space. Knowing Tucker, he wasn't anywhere near the scene of the crime. He probably was running through the woods with his three-year-old brother, Corey, scaring whatever animal crossed his path. In the past six months, since they had moved here, Tucker had managed to frighten off nearly every critter on their two acres. The black plague had caused less destruction than her four-year-old son.
Jenni got to her knees and put every ounce of strength she had into hauling the howling mutt the rest of the way out. Bojangles gave up the fight and hurled himself straight into her arms, knocking her flat on her back and covering her with more pink shaving gel, decomposed leaves, and muck.
"Yuck! Bojangles, stop! Get off me, you big lug." She turned her face to the side to avoid a lapping tongue. The UPS delivery man was sitting on the porch steps grinning at her. Humiliation washed over her, and she tried to control the fiery blush sweeping up her cheeks. She had known this wasn't going to be her day when she had been awakened at six this morning by one of the cats hacking up a furball in the middle of her bed.
Bojangles finally noticed the man and tried to make a flying leap for him. Her fingers clutched the slippery collar as she wrapped her other arm around the mutt. "No, Bo! Bad dog!" She wrestled the dog to his back. If there had been a clean spot on her before, there wasn't now.
"Don't worry. He's all bark, no bite." The dog was acting as if he wanted to either rip the UPS man apart or go play fetch.
"We've met before."
Jenni glanced at the gorgeous man all dressed in brown as he stood up. He topped six feet and had the world's most beautiful smile. She felt that smile in the pit of her stomach. "Oh, you must be Mr. Brown." Tucker and Corey were constantly talking about their new friend, the delivery guy. Neither one of her sons or her mother-in-law had bothered to inform her how handsome brown could be.
"Brown? No, I'm afraid my name is Cooper Armstrong-Coop to my friends."
She stood up, while keeping a death grip on the collar. Cooper didn't appear to be a guy who would appreciate being covered in pink shaving gel and rotting leaves by a nearly bald dog. "My boys named you Mr. Brown after seeing a commercial about UPS."
"That explains that." Cooper looked like he was holding back laughter. "Would you like to explain how Bojangles lost his hair and what that pink stuff is all over him?"
"In a word, Tucker."
"My four-year-old son."
"He did that to the dog?" Cooper looked impressed.
"He was trying to make Bojangles into a dragon for tonight's trick-or-treating."
"A pink dragon?" Cooper chuckled. "I'll give the boy points for imagination."
A woman could wrap herself in that deep, husky chuckle and keep warm all winter long. "It's shaving gel. Tucker wanted a bald dragon."
"A ghost and a dragon?"
"How did you know Tucker is a ghost?" Up until last night, her son had wanted to be a pirate, or to be accurate, Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Felicity, her seventeen-year-old sister-in-law, and her boyfriend, Sam, had come up with a string of battery-operated lights to go under an old pair of window sheers. In the darkness Tucker had glowed and shimmered, scaring his poor grandmother into dropping an entire bowl of cake batter when he had snuck up on her.
"He was either the ghost or the alien." Coop reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a dog biscuit, and tossed it to the struggling dog.
Bojangles nearly pulled Jenni's arm out of its socket jumping for the treat. "What alien? And where did you see them?" She glanced around the yard but didn't spot either boy.
She wasn't too worried. The boys knew the boundaries. It was one of the first things she did when they moved in months ago. She had purchased over the Internet two huge rolls of yellow plastic police tape, the kind that said POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS and had strung it around trees near the house. This effectively marked the area of the woods where the boys were allowed to play. Only two areas on the property were left open-one was the driveway and the other was the treeless shoreline of the bay. The boys were under threat of eating spinach for dinner every night for a month if they went near the road or the bay.
"A ghost, and I think it was an alien, ran across the driveway on my way in." Cooper looked hesitant for a moment before adding, "You might want to have a talk with them about looking both ways before running out into the middle of the drive."
She closed her eyes and visualized the scene. "How close did you come to them?"
"Not that close, but, then, I knew there are two boys living here. I was going slow. Someone else might not be." Coop picked up the two boxes and his clipboard.
"Three, and he's a caterpillar."
"Three what?" Cooper looked confused.
"Three boys. You probably haven't met Chase yet. He's six and in first grade."
Coop whistled. "You and your husband seem to have your hands full."
"My husband passed away two years ago." She pulled the dog up the four steps, picked up his leash, and tied him to a post. She didn't want to talk about Ken and the empty hole in her heart. Two years seemed like only two months to a shattered heart. "You really think Corey looked like an alien instead of a caterpillar?" She had tried so hard on that outfit too. Sewing wasn't one of her specialties, but what did the UPS delivery guy think the two dozen feet going down the front of her son's costume were, antennaes?
"He went by pretty fast, so I really didn't have a good look at him." Cooper handed her the clipboard to sign. "Spacemen or aliens are supposed to be green, so I just assumed."
"He's supposed to be the Very Hungry Caterpillar from his favorite Eric Carle book." Next year she'd stick to making soap and buy the kids' costumes online. She signed for the boxes and handed the clipboard back to Cooper.
Bojangles tugged at his leash and howled as Tucker the ghost and Corey the caterpillar emerged from the woods. Cooper was right-her son did look like an alien. The two dozen green legs looked like wiggling tentacles as he ran toward her.
She was torn between laughter and tears. Seeing Corey's smile, she laughed.
Coop dropped the clipboard and grabbed for the porch post. It would never withstand the pressure the dog was putting on it. Any minute now the dog was going to bring the porch roof crashing down on top of their heads. "Bojangles, sit!" He held the post with one hand as he dug another treat out of his pants pocket.
The dog took one look at the approaching ghost and gave an earsplitting howl while tugging on the leash.
The post gave a small groan.
Coop dropped the biscuit onto the rotten floorboards and grabbed Bojangles's leash to take the tension off the post. The dog grabbed the treat and the post fell silent. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think your post is dry rotted." He knelt down and poked the tip of his pen into the base of the post. It went in about a half inch without a problem.
"Tell me something I don't know." Jenni frowned at the post.
"Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown!" shouted the ghost as he sprinted up the rickety steps, almost tripping on the hem of his costume. "You caught our dragon."
"Afraid not-your mother did." He turned to the woman standing beside him who was still studying the post. "I'm afraid I don't know your name." She was barely five feet four inches tall, but she was cute. No way would he have placed her as the mother of three small boys. Thick nearly black hair that hung past her shoulders was pulled back into a ponytail. At one time this morning, he would guess, she had been squeaky clean and fresh as the ocean breeze. Now she looked like she had lost a battle with a shaving cream-covered dog and had just crawled out from underneath the porch.
Her most amazing feature was her eyes. One minute they looked hazel; the next he could see amber sparkles within their depths. Tucker the Terror had his mother's hair and eye color. The younger boy had reddish hair beneath his green mask and hood.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Jenni stuck out her hand, took one look at it, and quickly hid it behind her back. "Jennifer Wright, mother to these monsters and the neurotic dragon-Jenni to my friends."
Coop smiled. The name suited her. It was plain and simple and gave you the impression of the girl next door. Of course, when he had been growing up in Sullivan, his next-door neighbor had looked nothing like Jenni. His neighbor had been a sixty-year-old lobster fisherman who was as mean as a snake and had more tattoos than a circus performer. "You don't look like your mother."
"Dorothy, the woman who usually signs for all the packages."
Jenni gave a small, painful smile. "Dorothy is my mother-in-law. My parents passed away years ago."
He felt like he had just kicked a puppy. "I'm truly sorry." And he was. He could see the pain, along with the acceptance in her gaze. "I seem to be really putting my foot into my mouth this afternoon."
"It's okay. How would you have known?" Jenni reached down and unclipped the leash from the pole. Bojangles hid behind her back and wailed when the ghost waved its arms at him.
Excerpted from Mistletoe Bay by Marcia Evanick Copyright © 2007 by Marcia Evanick. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A heartwarming story
I loved this book. This novel was full of humor, wit, charm and, most of all, Love. The families portrayed are normal people with everyday problems. The way all the people came together to help those having suffered personal tragedies and losses and working together to help those in need was heartwarming. Coop, Jennie, the boys and all of the other characters were wonderfully portrayed. One of my favorite love stories of all time.
With her father ailing, Cooper ¿Coop¿ Armstrong returns from California to Misty Harbor, Maine to help care for him he accepts a job with UPS. However, the biggest change in his lifestyle is meeting single mother of three, widow Jenni Wright, at a time when he is down on all women thanks to his cheating ex back on the West Coast. Jenni, with the help of her mother-in-law Dorothy and her teenage sister-n-law Felicity raises her three sons and runs a business from their home. However, the Wright dilapidated home is falling part leading to Coop making repairs. As he and Jenni fall in love, he never planned on instant kids, let alone three of them, but he also finds he cares about them, their aunt and their grandmother too. ---- Fans of the Misty Harbor family romances (see MISTY HARBOR WEDDING and HARBOR NIGHTS) will enjoy the latest holiday tale. Coop is a delight as he does not want to fall in love with anyone let alone a single mother with three offspring. However, love magic is in the in MISTLETOE BAY so as Coop learns first hand what chaos theory truly is, readers obtain an enjoyable contemporary romance. ---- Harriet Klausner