Safe in His Arms
Running away from her troubled city life, Lauren Foster never thought she'd find herself in small-town Maine. But Holiday Harbor is everything she's looking for. The townspeople are welcoming, her job at her friend's toy store is going well and, most important, she's safe. Meeting contractor Ben Thomas soon changes all that. With his good looks, easygoing nature and kind heart, he's turning her peaceful new life upside down. She's quickly falling for the local hero, but when her past catches up to her present, is she willing to face her fears for the future she's always dreamed of?
Holiday Harbor: Where love is just around the bend
About the Author
Mia Ross loves great stories. She enjoys reading about fascinating people, long-ago times, and exotic places. But only for a little while, because her reality is pretty sweet. A lifelong resident of Upstate New York, she's married and the proud mom of 2 amazing kids whose schedules keep her hopping. Busy as she is, she can't imagine trading her life for anyone else'sand she has a pretty good imagination. You can visit her online at www.miaross.com.
Read an Excerpt
Oh, no." Kneeling in front of the box she'd just opened full of stuffed animals, Lauren Foster groaned. "All these Easter bunnies are green."
"That's okay," her friend Julia Stanton assured her without looking over. "I ordered lots of green ones."
"This kind of green?" Lauren held up a little hopper that was completely adorable-except for the fact that he was the color of a lime highlighter.
Julia glanced down and shuddered. "Definitely not. There must be some kind of mix-up with the supplier. What does the shipping label say?"
Angling her head, Lauren read, "Toylane, 64 Main Street, Oakbridge, Maine."
"That's happened before. I guess I should have researched other toy stores in the area before picking the name Toyland," she added with a light laugh.
"Since I'm watching the store while you and Nick are on your honeymoon, I should probably learn how to handle things like this. What do you want me to do?"
In reply, Julia extended a graceful hand sporting the most gorgeous diamond setting Lauren had ever seen. She'd been in Holiday Harbor with her old friend all weekend, and seeing that ring on her left hand still astounded Lauren. Just last month, she'd been trying on jewelry like that, living in a luxury apartment overlooking Central Park and shopping her way from one upscale boutique to another.
What a difference a week makes, she thought bitterly.
When she realized Julia was still waiting for the invoice, Lauren slid it from its clear sleeve and handed it over. "Sorry. Blanked out there for a minute."
Julia gave her an understanding smile. "Running a toy store isn't as easy as it looks, so you're forgiven."
Lauren congratulated herself on evading the real reason she was so distracted. She hadn't told anyone why she left New York in such a hurry, and she wanted to keep it that way as long as humanly possible. Maybe forever.
When her text alert chimed, she glanced down to find a message from her mother.
Have a great day, sweetie-xo.
After texting back u 2, Lauren swiveled to look over at Julia. "I love my parents, but I wish they could remember I'm twenty-eight years old."
Julia laughed. "My parents used to be like that, too."
"How'd you get them to stop?"
"I came here and started my own business. Then I met Nick, and you know the rest."
Her dreamy smile clearly said she'd found someone to love for the rest of her life, and Lauren was ashamed to admit she was envious. Not that she begrudged Julia her happiness, but she wanted some of it for herself. Sadly, she was further from it now than she'd ever been. Personally and professionally, her life was in pieces, and she had no idea how to put it back together.
Shoving her negative attitude aside, she focused on Julia. They'd known each other since college, and she was the kind of friend who didn't ask Lauren why she needed to run away. Instead, she'd opened up her home and offered Lauren a job for as long as she wanted it.
"When you first sent me pictures of this place last summer," she said while she opened a box holding a fleet of cars and trucks, "I thought you were nuts to move up here so far from civilization. Now I see why you like it so much."
"It's out of the way, that's for sure, but that's what I like most about it." Looking away from the computer screen, she added a warm smile. "It's been so much fun having you here. How long has it been?"
After a moment, Lauren replied, "Five years ago, Mom and I met you and your mother in Paris for Fashion Week."
"Oh, I remember that. I still have the clothes I bought on that trip. They're a little outdated, but they're so beautiful I don't have the heart to get rid of them."
"If you just wait a few years, they'll come back in style."
They both laughed, and Julia said, "I should get in touch with this supplier to make sure the bunnies I actually ordered are on their way. I have the number in my office, so I'll call from there. Can you handle customers alone for a few minutes?"
"Sure," Lauren responded with more confidence than she felt. Then again, she thought, as she carried the box over to restock the vehicles section, these days she pretty much did everything with more bravado than she felt. When the rug got yanked out from under your life, you kept going as best you could.
The bells along the top of the entry door jingled, and she called out, "Be with you in a minute!"
"Take your time. I'm not in a hurry."
The words weren't the least bit threatening, but the unfamiliar male voice froze her midstep. Although her brain knew perfectly well she was protected behind the tall shelves, her heart thudded to a stop, and icy fear slithered up her spine. Pulling in a ragged breath, she reminded herself that no one but her parents knew she was in Northern Maine with Julia.
You're safe now, a tiny voice in her mind whispered. Closing her eyes, she took another, calmer breath and braced herself to face her very first customer. She plastered a smile on her face and walked out from behind the shelves. "May I help you?"
He flashed her a bright grin that made her feel as if he'd been waiting all morning to meet her. "You must be Julia's friend Lauren, from New York City. Last time I was in, she told me you were coming to help out with the shop." Offering his hand, he added, "I'm Ben Thomas. Welcome to Holiday Harbor."
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place it. Dressed in washed-out jeans and work boots, he stood a full head taller than her, and Lauren had to tilt her head up to get a full view of him. With windblown blond hair and a ruddy complexion, he looked like he'd just stepped off one of the fishing boats docked down at the wharf. Then it occurred to her where she knew that name from, and she looked down at the top of the antique glass-front case Julia used as a checkout stand. Like the rest of the wood in the shop, from display racks to molding, it was a rich, dark walnut, obviously hand-carved with care a long time ago.
A shiny brass nameplate mounted near the front of the cabinet read "Restored with pride by Ben Thomas," and she tapped it with her fingertip. "Is this you?"
"Yeah. When Julia was gutting this place, we found it upstairs in a corner, in a dozen pieces and covered with-well, you get the picture."
He smiled again, and she couldn't help noticing that the faded blue T-shirt he wore paled in comparison to his eyes. The color of a flawless summer sky, they made her think of sunshine. There hadn't been much of that for her recently, and even though she'd just met him, she sensed herself being drawn to the warmth he projected. As the pause continued, she realized he was expecting some kind of response from her.
Nodding, she said, "I think so."
"Anyway, she had a vision for this place, wanted to restore it to the way it used to be. It was built as a general store, and I dug up old blueprints and photos to make sure we got it right. I thought using the original counter would be a nice way to keep the old character in her new shop. It took a while, and when I was done, she insisted I get credit for it. Thanks to her, I've gotten some jobs restoring antiques for other folks in town."
A man who saw value in old, broken-down things and enjoyed resurrecting them, she thought with a little smile. It was quite a departure from the bulldoze-the-past mentality so many people had these days. "So you're not just a contractor. You're a craftsman."
"I'd like to be. There's tons of old places along the East Coast that need to be saved. Bringing them back to life would be the best job ever."
"Why don't you do it?"
Annoyance clouded his expression, but blew away as quickly as it had surfaced. "Thomas and Sons is just me and my dad these days. Kitchens and roofs aren't my idea of exciting, but they pay the bills. Without me-"
He shrugged, but she got the drift. He was staying here, forgoing his own dreams to help his father. It was a sweet, considerate thing to do, and she smiled in spite of herself. "That's really great of you, staying to make sure his business keeps running well."
"That's what family's all about, but thanks."
His gaze warmed with the kind of male admiration she used to crave, but now it sent her skittering back from the counter. Lauren had learned the hard way that people weren't always what they seem. Sometimes their true natures were buried beneath layers of deception, and by the time you dug deep enough to discover the truth, it was almost impossible to claw your way back out.
Determined not to repeat her mistakes, Lauren resolved to be pleasant to Ben but keep a respectable distance. "So, what can I help you with?"
Either he didn't notice her sudden backpedaling routine, or he didn't care. Whatever the reason, he sailed along without skipping a beat. "Julia called to say the puzzles I ordered for my niece's birthday are here. I came to add a card so she can ship them to Detroit for me."
"Ben!" Hurrying out front, Julia set the phone on the counter near the register and embraced him with enthusiasm. "I haven't seen you in ages. How are things?"
"Fine. How 'bout you?"
"Crazy, with Easter next week and the wedding a month away." Laughing as if chaos was her normal mode, she added, "Your gift is in the back, wrapped and ready to go. You two chat while I get it."
"I can-" Lauren's protest was lost in a graceful pirouette that sent her friend toward the storeroom. Stranded with Ben, she did her best to shrug it off.
"She's the boss."
"Yeah, that's what her fiancé says, too." He chuckled. "Never figured he'd let someone take over his life that way, but he seems really happy."
"So does Julia," Lauren said. Not long ago, she'd been adept at mingling and making small talk with people she'd just met. Now, though, it terrified her to even try. Just one more thing she had to overcome, she groused silently.
Apparently, her discomfort was pretty obvious, because Ben leaned across the counter with a sympathetic expression. "This map-dot town's not exactly what you're used to, huh?"
Thankful that he hadn't guessed the true source of her shyness, she shook her head. "It's nice, though. It was so pretty driving in past the lighthouse and seeing the village spread out over the coast that way. With all these old buildings and houses, it feels like it's been here forever."
"Founded on Christmas Day, 1820," he confirmed. "That's where the name came from, and some of the original families are still here. I imagine they'll still be around a hundred years from now."
She caught a hint of disapproval in his tone, and the light in his eyes dimmed slightly. "You make that sound like a bad thing."
"When you stay in one place too long, you stagnate, like a pond. Life needs to move from one place to another like the tide, to keep things interesting."
Just then, Julia returned with Ben's package, wrapped in festive birthday paper and topped with a poufy pink bow.
"Looks great. Thanks."
Taking it from her, he handed over his credit card and easily shifted to a conversation about her upcoming wedding. He politely included Lauren, but she was only half listening. Instead, her mind was churning around his very down-to-earth philosophy on how to avoid a stagnant life. Maybe that was what she needed, Lauren mused while she rang up his purchase. A fresh start, with a few waves for variety.
The problem was, while it sounded appealing, she knew she wasn't ready for anything quite that ambitious yet. Right now, she needed a safe harbor. Eventually, once she regained all the parts of her she'd lost over the past year, she could think about venturing a little farther from shore.
A voice came from the phone, and Julia cradled it against her shoulder. "T-oy-l-a-n-d," she spelled in the perfect diction Lauren had always admired. "The label says, T-oy-l-a-n-e. Yes, I'll hold."
Rolling her eyes, she smiled at him. "I hope your niece likes them."
"Yeah, me, too." He winked at Lauren as she returned his card. "You know how girls are. They say they want one thing when they really want something else."
She knew he was joking, but the comment struck her the wrong way, and she glared up at him. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Her scolding had no effect on him whatsoever, and he gave her a maddening grin. "My mistake."
The other line rang, and Lauren picked up the handset. "Toyland, this is Lauren. May I help you?" After a moment, she said, "Okay. We'll be there in a few minutes."
Still on hold, Julia gave her a questioning look.
"The sandwich and cookie trays you ordered for the Easter egg coloring party are ready at the bakery. They're taking up a lot of space in the cooler, so they'd like us to get them ASAP."
"Oh, no! I forgot all about them. The first set of kids and their parents will be here in half an hour." Julia cast a pleading look at Ben. "The platters aren't heavy, but there's three of them, and they're huge. Could you possibly help us out?"
Us? Considering the inexplicable reaction she'd had to him earlier, Lauren knew she shouldn't spend any more time with the friendly contractor than absolutely necessary. "I can manage, Julia. It's not that far, so I'll just make an extra trip."
"No need for that," he assured her with a you-can-count-on-me grin. "I'm always glad to lend a pretty lady a hand."
His open admiration of her was both flattering and terrifying, and Lauren swallowed hard to get control of both emotions before she blurted out something inappropriate. "All right, thanks."
Lame but safe, she decided as they headed for the door. Outside on the sidewalk, he paused between the two large display windows she'd rearranged that morning. "Very nice," he approved with a nod. "If I was a kid, they'd make me want to go inside and see what else is in there."
"That was the idea."
Clearly surprised, he turned to look at her. "Wait, you did this?"
"The Stantons are in London," she explained, "and they called early this morning to talk to Julia about the wedding. She likes to redo the windows every Monday but wasn't going to have time. Since she was busy, I thought I'd take a shot at decorating."
His unexpected praise settled nicely over Lauren's badly bruised ego, and she took a minute to admire her handiwork. One window held all manner of Easter things: baskets, stuffed animals and a sampling of the unique toys the shop kept in stock. The other window framed a miniature version of Holiday Harbor, complete with early nineteenth-century buildings and gardens. In the model town square, tiny children held even tinier baskets filled with packing pellets that resembled eggs.
Even in still life, it was so charming, Lauren easily understood why Julia had chosen to settle here. Maybe someday, she thought wistfully, she'd find a place like this where she could restart her life.
"You okay?" Ben asked, hauling her back to reality.
"Sure." To prove it, she met his concerned gaze with a steady one of her own. With his solid frame and weathered appearance, he made her think of a tree sturdy enough to weather a good old-fashioned hurricane. Pushing the fanciful impression aside, she asked,
"You sighed." As if he'd just caught on, he gave her a wry grin. "You want to handle this errand yourself, don't you? So Julia will know you can manage running the shop while she's gone?"
That wasn't quite it, but she'd just met him and confessing that he made her irrationally nervous didn't seem like the right way to go. "No, it's fine. Really," she added with a smile to smooth out the creases in his forehead.
"If you're sure." When she nodded, he motioned her ahead of him. "Then ladies first."
More than once, he'd referred to her as a lady. Not only that, she mused as she started walking, he actually made her feel like one. She couldn't recall the last time someone had done that for her, and despite her lingering misgivings, she had to admit she liked it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seaside Romance is another sweet and uplifting story from the Holiday Harbor series. Don’t worry if you have not read the other books, this one can stand alone nicely. The author has done a great job of creating a town up in Maine that is the idyllic little all-American community. She also does a great job of describing the quaintness of the village and the beauty of the ocean. I really liked the characters, Lauren Foster and Ben Thomas. These two people had issues going on in their lives that they needed to deal with. They also were both pretty convinced that love would never work out for them based on past experiences. I loved that Ben was a strong Christian and was constantly trying to get those he cared for to visit church with him and trying to help them get to know more about God. God’s love shone through him in the way he cared for his dad and helped anyone in town who needed it. It was very enjoyable to watch Lauren go from an afraid and lonely person, who questioned her self-worth, to a confident daughter of God. What a difference leaning on Him made. I really enjoyed Seaside Romance and definitely recommend it.
They say that once you visit Holiday Harbor you never want to leave. Well, I can say that I might leave, but I will definitely want to come back. This series has been the perfect vacation book for me (not in the sense that I'm on vacation). When I need a break from the booding males, the flirty females, and all the super hot sex scenes - this series is becoming my break. (Book two is a christmas one so I'll probably read that closer to the holiday). This book in the series was ever so slightly more preachy than the first, but it's still very subtle and not hitting you over the head with a bible. Lauren is a little fragile when she shows up in the small village looking for a place to find herself and figure out a new path in life. Ben is the perfect "good boy" to make make her feel comfortable and relax again for the first time in a long time. Their relationship unfolds over a length of time very naturally - I think that is one of the things I like best about this series so far. It's real life. They have a handful of communication break downs. They both have some baggage to deal with, but when you get down to it, it's two nice people falling in love. It's just the type of story you need sometimes. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*
“Seaside Romance” by Mia Ross is the third book in her 'Holiday Harbor' series and I hope that it isn't the last one for I saw where there could be another story which I know I would be a sucker for. We are back in Holiday Harbor, Maine for another wonderful, heart-wrenching and humorous story between Ben Thomas and Lauren Foster. What happened to Lauren to make her run away is never fully and with detail explained but there is no doubt what she is running from when the details come out. To watch what happens to Lauren throughout the story is heart lifting and encouraging that is for sure. She learns so much about people and herself as she works through the story that shows her tender heart and incredible strength. Ben is a man who is very observant that is for sure, responsible and honorable man. Ben seems to be one of those people who can pick up that something is not right by just how others react not by their words, and he adjusts how he interacts with others according because he just wants those around him comfortable. His life is not that smooth either for he has his own issues that he is dealing with or helping others deal with. I have to say that the story is so encouraging for so many reasons, but mostly because of Lauren. The encouragement also comes from a character that has been forced to turn their life around and start facing the devastating news that they have avoided for sometime. Also there is encouragement coming from when one character realizes that true strength and peace comes from above and through friendships. For the trouble from Lauren's past when it shows up (I don't feel as if I am giving anything away since it talks about this in the book description) I couldn't help myself but cheer on what happened. So many changes can be seen throughout the book but it is here where one can see the full changes, as well as seeing some more changes to come. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and really do hope that there is at least one more 'Holiday Harbor' series book maybe with a certain brother that has returned. I hope that all who read this book, enjoys it as much as I did.
Safe Haven in Holiday Harbor? Where do you go if you want to hide out from a controlling man? Lauren Foster chose a small town in Maine where a friend welcomes her with open arms and gives Lauren a job in her toy store. Much to Lauren’s surprise the town welcomes her and soon she starts to feel at home. When Lauren first meets Ben Thomas she finds him to be easy on the eyes and quite friendly. She does not trust him or any man for that matter so she keeps him at arms length. Trust once it is broken is hard to get back. Soon Lauren is feeling safe in Holiday Harbor and is able to let her guard down little by little. Will she be completely free from her past and be able to live a life without fear of Jeremy tracking her down? This was a cute delightful read. I loved how Lauren slowly starts to have faith in God again and how God directs her path. Fear is not of God and yet how many of us do have fears? All we need to do is let go and let God. This is the first book that I have read by author Mia Ross. I am looking forward to reading more of her books. I wish to thank Goodreads and Mia Ross for allowing me to read and review this delightful book. The opinions expressed are mine alone.