Once childhood friends, single-mom Samantha and her former boyfriend Landon are now separated by distance and secrets. As their long-dormant romance begins to bud again, Samantha must face a past that separated her from the God of her childhood. And she must tell Landon why she fled the island in the first place--a secret that could tear them apart.
The Convenient Groom
Five hours before her Nantucket beach wedding—and on the eve of her big book launch—celebrity marriage counselor Kate Lawrence has everything in place; everything, that is, but the groom. Could it be that God's plans for “Dr. Kate” don't align perfectly with her to-do list? And will Kate realize that the truest love she'll ever receive can only come from God?
Sabrina never intended to fall in love with Tucker, the man she serves coffee every morning at a Nantucket cafe—especially since he's unwittingly tied to a past she deeply regrets. When Tucker learns Sabrina is the research assistant for a local mystery writer, he asks Sabrina to help him with a little sleuthing of his own . . . locating an elusive woman he's fallen for online. If Sabrina accepts the job, she'll spend her evenings in close proximity to a man who can never be hers. If she turns him down, he'll hire someone else and discover her secret . . . that the person he's trying to find is her.
About the Author
Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 25 books, including A December Bride and The Convenient Groom, which have been adapted into original Hallmark Channel movies. She has won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader's Choice Award, The Carol Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist. When Denise isn't orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking green tea, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband are rapidly approaching an empty nest. To learn more about Denise, visit her website DeniseHunterBooks.com; Facebook: AuthorDeniseHunter; Twitter: @DeniseAHunter; Instagram: deniseahunter.
Read an Excerpt
By Denise Hunter
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Denise Hunter
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You can just drop me off, you know. I'm not a baby." Eleven-year-old Caden flipped her mom a look, then stared out the passenger window.
"I like watching you." Sam pulled the Ciera into the parking lot of the Boston Academy of Gymnastics and was about to expound on the thought, but Caden interrupted.
"The other moms don't stay."
It wasn't true, but Sam had a feeling this objection had less to do with Caden's assertion of independence and more to do with her.
"Did Bridget tell everyone about me?" Sam asked.
Caden crossed her arms, her warm-up suit rustling.
"If I didn't clean the gym, we wouldn't be able to afford lessons, Caden."
Though her daughter frowned, her jaw and shoulders rigid, Sam knew the stubborn front concealed a wounded little girl. Knew it because Caden was so much like her.
"They all know now. Bridget has such a big mouth. She thinks she's so hot just because her mom owns the gym."
Sam turned off the ignition and withdrew the keys, then glanced at Caden, who made no move to leave. The clock on the dashboard read 7:02. "Honey, let's finish this later. You're late for class."
"So you're staying?"
Sam's parental pride shrank two more sizes. "By the time I get home, I'd just have to turn around and come back. I promise to sit in the back and keep my hood up to conceal my identity." Sam regretted the sarcasm instantly.
Caden discharged her seat belt, and it sprang upward, clanging against the door frame. "Whatever," she said, then exited the car, not quite slamming the door.
Sam grabbed the day's mail from the dashboard and tucked it in her pocketbook. As she entered the gym, the familiar odor of sweaty little gymnasts assaulted her nostrils. She walked past the office and up the stairs to the balcony, where she found a seat in the back row. She smiled at a woman seated there, the mom of one of Caden's classmates. From her pantsuit and trendy heels, Sam guessed she didn't scrub bathrooms for a living or work a side job to afford her daughter's lessons.
On the floor below, a maze of mats and apparatus was spread across the blue carpet. Caden's class stretched, their legs straddled, leaning forward until their bellies touched the ground. Her daughter lay there, head resting against the carpet. The girl next to Caden whispered something to another girl and they laughed. Sam assumed the worst, and she wanted to give the girl's ear a swift tug.
Instead, she settled back into the chair and pulled the mail from her bag. Electric bill. Bank statement. Credit card bill. She'd open that one last. No sense ruining a perfectly good day. The last piece was addressed to her with a black pen. In the upper left-hand corner was a sticker with Miss Biddle's name and address.
Strange. Beyond the annual Christmas card, she rarely heard from Miss Biddle. And even when she did, she almost didn't want to open the envelope—as if doing so would open a door from her past she'd rather leave closed.
Curious, she turned the letter over and slid her finger under the flap. She withdrew a piece of notebook paper neatly creased in thirds. She unfolded the note.
I hope this letter finds you well. I would have preferred to call, but the number you're listed as having is disconnected. I'm afraid I have some bad news.
Just yesterday your stepfather had a heart attack at work. They tried to take him to the hospital, but he passed away in the ambulance and they were unable to resuscitate him. I know there was no love lost between the two of you, but still I hate to tell you this way.
A strange feeling swept over Sam like an unexpected wind on a still night. There was no sadness or grief, but rather an unexplained dread.
I contacted Judge Winslow (from the probate court), who will be handling Emmett's estate, and I learned Emmett had no will. Since you are his adopted child, and the only living relative, his cottage and belongings will pass to you. You might contact Judge Winslow down at the Town and County building. I'm sure they'll send you notification soon, but I thought it might be better to hear the news from me.
Sam stared at the letter, but the words blurred as her thoughts scrambled. Excitement overtook the dread. The cottage sat on the valuable Nantucket shore and was worth a fortune. It was small and old, but even the smallest shanty on the island neared a million dollars.
The thought of what she and Caden could do with that kind of money stirred something she hadn't felt in a long time.
She finished the letter, skimming over the funeral information.
A million dollars. She could pay off her credit cards, get out of their crummy apartment, buy Caden some decent clothes, pay for gymnastic lessons. Heck, she could send Caden to a private school if she wanted. And college. Caden could become anything she wanted to be.
Even Sam could go to college. It was a thought she hadn't allowed since she got pregnant with Caden. Even now, she tamped down the thought, too afraid to hope in case this was all a dream.
But the flimsy white paper in her hands was real enough. Emmett's name scrawled in black sobered her. Memories raced through her mind at the speed of light, none of them good. The feeling of being trapped, overpowered, and abandoned all at the same time made her squirm in her chair as if to make sure she wasn't restrained.
The realization that she would have to go back there stole her breath and jarred her mind to a sudden halt. The house would have to be cleaned out. Furniture and personal belongings would have to be sorted through. The cottage would need to be readied for sale. The flower beds, if they still existed, would need tending.
How long would it take, and would Patty let her off work that long? Sam hadn't had a vacation or sick day in—well, she couldn't even remember. They'd just lost an office building to Murphy's Maids the week before, so the schedule was lighter, and Gina had been asking for extra hours.
Still, the thought of going back to the island made Sam's soul shrivel like a sun-scorched bloom. There was a reason she hadn't gone back. A reason she'd left in the first place, and nothing had changed.
Except that going back was now worth a million dollars.
Sam lifted her eyes from the letter and found Caden's class across the gym at the foam pit. Caden sprang forward into a round-off and two back handsprings, then finished with a backflip into the foam squares. The spotter never touched her. It was her first unassisted backflip. When she came out of the pit, she looked toward the balcony to see if Sam had caught the moment. Before she could give her daughter a thumbs-up, Caden looked away. When she walked by Bridget and her new cronies, they turned, an obvious snub.
Sam wanted to thump them all. They were doing it because of her, and the guilt that descended on her was as heavy as a lead blanket.
Could a million dollars buy her and Caden a new life? Sam was suddenly sure it could. And she was equally sure she could face any demon from her past for the chance to make it happen.
Chapter TwoThis isn't happening. All Sam's bravado from two weeks before sank like a boulder in the Atlantic as she clutched the ferry's railing, watching Nantucket Harbor creep closer. Dozens of boats dotted the water, their empty masts poking the sky like skinny white fingers. Beyond them, gray-washed stores and cottages lined the piers and step-stoned up the hillside.
Caden leaned against the rail, the wind tugging at her hair. On her other side, a man pointed his digital camera toward the high tower of the First Congregational Church and snapped the picture.
Caden would probably enjoy the view from the church's bell tower. It supposedly offered a beautiful view of Nantucket, but Sam had never been up there. Hadn't stepped foot in a church in years and had no desire to do so now. Her dad always said Nantucket was a great place to find God. But God had taken her dad from Nantucket and then He'd taken her mom, too. The only thing Sam ever found on Nantucket was unanswered prayers.
With every inch of the ferry's progress, fear clawed up Sam's throat. She kept her eyes trained to the east side of the ferry, not ready to see what lay to the west. How would she face the Reeds? A heavy cloud rolled over the sun, casting a shadow over the town and turning the water black.
"It looks small," Caden said.
It was the first thing she'd said since they boarded the ferry. But the silence beat all the complaining she'd done before that. Why do we have to go? I'll get behind the other girls at the gym. I don't want to leave my friends. Why can't we go someplace exciting? My life is so boring! If she only knew that Nantucket was the last place Sam wanted to go. If Caden knew about the money the sale of the house would bring, she might have worried less, but Sam wasn't ready to handle requests for designer jeans and salon haircuts.
"It is small." Her gaze scrolled past the marina and yacht club, but an overwhelming curiosity drew it back. People mingled on the multitiered decks, sipping drinks, and a couple played on the tennis courts, slamming the ball back and forth in low drives that scarcely cleared the net. Sam had taught tennis there three years straight, but thinking of the club always dredged up that last unfortunate summer.
Her eyes landed on the lighthouse that squatted on the boulders at Brant Point. "See the lighthouse? Its original structure was built in 1746 and was the second lighthouse built in America. It's called Brant Point Light." She rattled off the tidbit like an old-timer.
Sam was rewarded with silence.
The ferry began docking, and she hated the way her hands trembled. She wanted to stay on board and sail back to the mainland. The urge to escape Nantucket was still rooted as deeply as the thick oak that grew outside her Boston apartment window, and the urge to stay away was just as strong.
Moments later, they debarked and lugged their suitcases down the cement dock and across the busy cobblestone street. When she spotted a taxi, she lengthened her steps, urging Caden along. As the driver loaded their suitcases, Sam gave him the address, then slid into the car.
Caden glanced out the window. "Are those summer people?" she asked, referring to the clusters of pedestrians crossing streets and disappearing into bustling shops.
"Mainly they're tourists. The summer people come in July."
"At least there are stores. What's with all the bikes?"
"One of the perks of a small island. Bikes are the main mode of transportation."
Caden was silent as they drove through town. Only when they eased onto quieter streets did she speak again. "Can I meet Landon? Does he know you're here?"
Caden's hope caught Sam off guard. She had been telling "Landon stories" to Caden since her daughter was old enough to talk. Lately, though, Caden wasn't interested in anything she had to say. "I don't think so," she said, choosing to let Caden interpret the answer however she wanted. Only Miss Biddle and Judge Winslow knew Sam was coming. Besides, she wasn't even sure Landon had returned to Nantucket after college, though he'd talked of nothing else those last years together.
When the driver turned onto her old street, she squeezed the edge of the seat with cold fingers. "It's down just a ways on the right," she told the driver.
"The ocean is in the backyard?" Caden stared through her window, a new light flickering in her face.
"Yep." Caden's curiosity encouraged Sam, and she wondered if leaving the city was just the prescription for her daughter.
"It's two drives down. Right there, the one with the rose trellis." Only eleven years had passed since Sam last saw the house, but she hardly recognized it. The shaker shingles were weathered to ash gray, and the white paint that trimmed out the windows and porch was faded and peeling.
The cabby turned into the gravel drive and pulled to a stop. Caden was out and standing in the overgrown yard before Sam touched her own door.
Sam finally emerged and took in the house while the driver set the luggage at her feet. The window boxes stood empty, the hedges were overgrown, and only weeds sprouted from the flower beds lining the front of the house. She could still see her mom bending over the orange lilies, pinching faded blooms from the plant. She could see her on her knees, pulling up weeds and throwing them in the gray five-gallon paint bucket.
Sam's racing heart flopped. It was going to take every moment of her vacation to get the place in shape for the market. If the inside was as neglected as the outside, she wasn't sure a month would be enough time.
Caden had grabbed her suitcase and pulled it close to the sidewalk.
After Sam paid the driver, she picked up her own bag. She hadn't given a thought to how she'd get in. Maybe Emmett still kept a key under the flowerpot on the back porch.
"Around back." Sam circled wide around the building, staring in morbid fascination like a driver passing an auto accident. There it was—the place she'd wanted to leave. The place she never wanted to return to. She reminded herself that she'd run from people, not the building. Emmett couldn't hurt her anymore; he was gone. It struck her as ironic that the man who'd never provided for her was now, in his death, providing her with a windfall.
She'd just have to wade through hell and back to get it.
The enclosed back porch was smaller than she remembered. They entered through the screen door, the squawk tugging her back to her childhood. The flowerpot was still there, empty except for a few inches of dry dirt. She pulled a key from underneath.
"Voilà," Sam said with more optimism than she felt.
She unlocked the door and shoved it open. A whiff of smoke and stale air greeted her.
"Ewww." Caden wrinkled her pert little nose.
Sam set their bags off to the side.
"He didn't, like, die here, did he?"
The ghost of his presence felt so real it was as if he hadn't died at all. Sam listened for the sound of his feet thumping across the floor. She shook away the sensation.
"The house has been closed up awhile. We'll open the windows and get some fresh air in."
Caden was already in the living room, only a few steps away. Sam looked at the old porcelain sink where she'd learned to wash dishes, and wash them right. In the rack beside it, two plates leaned at a cockeyed angle, and a few pieces of silverware poked upward. A shirt hung haphazardly over a kitchen chair. She wanted to remove it between two pinched fingers and toss it in the garbage. But Emmett's things were everywhere.
"Was this your room?"
Sam followed the sound of Caden's voice. The double bed had been stripped down to the faded floral mattress, and a layer of dust shrouded the bare furniture like a flannel sheet. Other than that, it looked the same. She didn't know if she could bring herself to sleep here.
She opened the window, fighting the stubborn sash. Fresh, salty air wafted in, billowing the gauzy curtains.
"Is this where I'm sleeping?"
Sam glanced around, taking in the gaping closet door, the dresser that had Scott Burnwell's initials carved into the side, the photo of her mom hanging on the wall.
"Sure," she said.
Sam left and went to air out the kitchen. Next, she entered Emmett's room, striding toward the window. On an inhale, her nostrils filled with the smell of him. Gasoline and Old Spice and Winstons all blended together in a stench that turned her stomach. She flung up the pane and left, shutting the door behind her.
What she'd give to be staying in a hotel! Such a luxury on the island would cost a fortune she didn't have. At least, not yet.
"I'm going outside." Caden whizzed past her and out the back, the porch's screen door slapping against the wooden frame. This was a different world for Caden, and Sam could tell, despite her daughter's feigned disinterest, that she was taken with it.
Sam looked around the house and tried to see it with a fresh, unjaded perspective. The wood-plank floor, dotted with rugs, and the painted white furniture had a certain charm that her apartment lacked. For the first time, she saw it was really a quaint little cottage, a place Caden might see as homey and cute. She hadn't expected that. She'd thought Caden would feel the same way about it that she did.
Excerpted from Surrender Bay by Denise Hunter Copyright © 2007 by Denise Hunter. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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