Renovating and selling her late husband's cabin is just the chance young widow Charity O'Clare needs. With the money from the sale, she and her daughter can move to the cityaway from her family! Of course, as soon as she gets to tiny Mt. Knott, South Carolina, Charity finds a whole new family stew. Jason "Lucky Dawg" Burdett may be the handsomest man she's ever seen, but his meddlesome relatives are the last thing she needs. Still, Charity didn't count on Jason becoming her daughter's heroor swaying her own heart. And now, she has to choose between old dreams of independence
and new dreams of love.
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Ten days to Heritage Days
Twin Cabins Lake
"You cannot run away from me. You can't keep hiding." Jason's heart pounded. He could hardly swallow. "I've been sent out here four times now and have come away empty-handed each time."
You're our hero. Josie's teasing remark from two weeks earlier echoed in his thoughts as he stood on the porch contemplating something foolhardy.
He turned the knob to the right forcefully. The old fixture wrenched every joint and muscle from his wrist to his shoulder. He let go and flexed his fingers, shaking his arm. "Okay, a locked door might slow me down, but it's hardly going to stop me."
Jason rubbed his shoulder and regrouped again. He could do this.
Slightly built and quick-footed, always wearing a red hoodie that kept his face in shadow, the kid seen out at the lake time and again hadn't harmed anyone or stolen anything, as far as anyone could tell. There were no outward signs of vandalism. Just an unsettling presence that needed to be sorted out.
Jason shifted his boots to get some traction on the slanting old porch. As if somehow he could dispense with the "unsettling presence" out here. He found everything about Twin Cabins Lake unsettling.
The place held too much history.
Too much grief.
Too many times he had driven out here, sat by these still waters and wished that things had been different. He wished that years ago when his friend Sean had come to him with the wild idea to buy this land and reinvent the old fishing cabins as a family tourist retreat that he had
Done what? To this day Jason couldn't say what would have been the right choice.
Jason looked out at the lake again. But what would it have cost them? Would their friendship have survived? Would they have ended up blaming and then resenting each other? Would things, ten years later, have really turned out so differently?
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends." The thirteenth verse from John 15 replayed in Jason's mind, as it often did when he thought of Sean O'Clare.
Lay down his life? Jason couldn't even lay down his lifestyle. Sean had needed him oncecounted on himand Jason had failed.
Failed as a friend. Failed as a man of faith. Failed as a hero.
And now some creep was messing around with Sean's land, or what was left of it. He eyed the old door again.
"Did you hear me? I'm giving you to the count of three to come out or I'm coming in." How hard could it be for the best college football player to ever come out of Mt. Knott to break down this rickety old door?
Even if that football player was now over thirty years old and mostly a desk jockey.
Jason took a moment to figure his odds of success in breaking down the door. The two large cabins facing one another across the still, deep waters were mirror images of one another. They had been built in the 1920s as a summer getaway for Northern city dwellers. Sean had managed to sublet them out to someone who kept them going until about three years ago. About the time his parents had said Sean had taken a turn for the worse with his life choices. No one had stayed here since then.
The wooden door frame looked shoddy. The hinges had begun to rust. If he had to, Jason could force his way in.
He held his breath and listened.
No response. Not even a shuffling of feet.
Maybe the kid had crawled out a back window and hightailed it to to where? He glanced behind him.
Jason himself had helped Sean clear away the brush and ground cover between the buildings and the tall Carolina pines trees that formed a wall of seclusion from the dirt road beyond. No one who had gone into that cabin could come back out without showing themselves.
Jason lowered his shoulder and aimed it at the door of the cabin using the skills that had earned him a football scholarship to the University of South Carolina. Fourteen years ago.
The door frame cracked, the hinges creaked and the door swung open. Jason felt every minute of those fourteen years in his muscles, nerves and tendons as he went tumbling forward, head down.
His eyes could not adjust fast enough to the darkness. A cobweb caught his arm and clung to his hair. A shaft of sunlight from the door slashed across but did not dispel the darkness. He pitched forward into that darkness, disoriented.
He landed in a full sprawl on the floor and bit his tongue. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring into a pair of dead eyes.
Dust from the red, green and tan braided rug hung in the air around his head, but as it cleared he reconsidered.
Not dead eyes, glass eyes. Glass eyes set in the biggest big-mouthed bass he had ever seen. A stuffed bass, mounted on a plaque, its impressive jaws gaping. And stuffed inside that big mouth of that stuffed big-mouthed bass? A full set of human dentures.
The fish did not offer so much as a "God bless you." Nor did anyone else.
"Kid must have gotten away," he grumbled to his newfound companion.
Another groan. His tongue hurt. His whole body hurt. His ego didn't exactly feel spiffy, either.
If he had been another kind of man, he probably would have cursed. Maybe picked up that plaque and turned that big-mouthed bass into a flying fish. But not Jason. He had a job to finish. He had to find that kid.
"Don't even think about it." A hiking boot came down on the back of his neck.
Cool, fresh, earthy-smelling mud smeared into his skin. It fell like moist cake crumbs into the blond hair that now hung over Jason's eyes.
"Stay right where you are." The low, growling voice quivered.
Jason's cheek chafed against the dirty rug. Kid didn't get away. Jason had to admire his grit. "Okay. Okay. Let's not get crazy here."
He could practically imagine the thought bubble over the head of the dentured old bass telling him, Too late. The crazy train pulled out of the station when you started talking to me.
"Look, mister, you better not try anything or I'll I'll " The speaker bent down and plucked up the fish.
"You'll what? Beat me with the carp?" He laughed not because it was funny but because he hoped it would throw the fish-swinger off guard. Or should he say, off balance?
"It's not a carp, mister, it's a "
Jason grabbed the kid's ankle and yanked. The floor shook from the impact when the kid's baggy jeans hit the dingy braided rug. More dust.
Jason knew to hold his breath.
The kid coughed then leaned forward, shoulders hunched, face hidden by the sweatshirt hood, gasping to get a deep breath.
Jason took advantage of the moment. He seized the kid's other ankle. One hard, sure twist and he flipped his assailant facedown with unexpected ease. Without stopping to think about that too much, Jason sat squarely on the pair of hiking boots, pinning the trespasser's lower body in place. He snagged first one wrist and then the other. He clamped them down in the small of the kid's back, which was smaller, he realized, than he had expected it to be.
An odd feeling sank like a stone in the pit of his stomach. "Let's not let this get out of hand, here. If you promise to stay calm and cooperative, I'll"
"Yes. I'll cooperate. Take anything." The rug muffled the voice but didn't slow the kid's words from pouring forth. "Take my money. Take my credit cards. Take my SUV. Only please, please don't"
"Take?" Jason sat back on his heels, still restraining the intruder but with much less enthusiasm than he had a moment earlier. "I'm not here to take anything. I came out here to prevent you from taking anything."
"Me? What business is it of yours what I take?" Like a fish out of water, the body on the floor thrashed to one side then the other. The hood went flopping backward. "I'm"
"You're a woman!"
"The owner of this cabin," she concluded.
"Mommy? Is it okay to come out of the closet now?" A tiny voice called out softly.
"And a mother!" In his mortification Jason leaped up so fast he actually went staggering backward into a wall.
In return the cabin itself punished him for his rash rudeness by raining mounted plaques of fish down on his head.
"Ow. Ooh. Ouch!" A rough-edged piece of wood bounced off his head.
He ducked the downfall the best he could, leaving his chest open for the woman's small hands to make contact and deliver a no-nonsense shove. "Who do you think you are barging into my house like that?"
"Your house? Not hardly!" He defended himself, sort of. She was so small he could hold her off by simply raising one of his hands, so that's what he did. "These cabins belong to a guy I played football with in college, Sean O'Clare. I"
"You knew my daddy?" The closet door swung open with a bang. In a flash a kid, a girl, with long, dark hair, wearing pink jeans and an oversize garnet and black USC sweatshirt, bounded into the room.
He didn't know enough about kids to guess her age, but he did know that he was looking square at Sean O'Clare's flesh and blood. He could see it in the freckles on her pug nose, the widow's peek in her dark hair and the way her eyes lit up just to meet someone who had known her dad.
"Well, did ya? Know my dad? How? When? Can you tell me something about him?" She talked so fast he had to concentrate to distinguish the tangle of words as actual questions.
"I, uh " Where could he begin? "I did. I knew your dad."
Jason shook his head. He'd known Sean had married and even heard he'd started a family, but hearing about it and having it look him in the face with a look of absolute adoration and anticipation?
He kicked his way out of the pile of fish plaques, buying time to think this through. He didn't dare say the wrong thing. What did this kid with Sean's features and wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater know about her father?
Not a whole lot, judging from the hunger in her eyes mixed with pride and awe.
It was that look that got to him, humbled him, left him at a loss for words. Finally, all he managed to say was, "It was a long time ago."
"But you did know him. You said you knew my dad." The girl came to Jason and tugged on his hand.
He'd never had a kid tug on his hand like that. He liked it, especially because it was Sean's kid.
He turned back to the kid and grinned, but not too big. "Sure, I knew your dad. We played ball together in college. He used to come to this place with me sometimes. That's how he got the idea to buy these cabins."
"You are Lucky Dawg Burdett?" The redhead took a step forward.
"Yeah, I reckon I am." He grinned, then dipped his head, putting his index finger to his lips, knowing full well he would look totally disarming and more than a little charming as he grinned and said, "But I like to keep the Lucky Dawg bit quiet these days."
"What? Why?" Her stance tensed. "You're from here, right? Why would youhow couldyou keep it quiet? Doesn't it have something to do with having brothers or wolves "
"Brothers or wolves? You saying there's a difference?" Jason chuckled.
She narrowed one eye at him.
He could practically see her fitting puzzle pieces together in her mind, testing the bits and pieces of Sean's stories about Jason to see if they fit with what she saw before her now. Was he distancing himself from the name to try to trick her? To pretend he was someone he wasn't? Basically, she was trying to decide if she could trust him or not.
"Lucky Dawg." She sounded it out slowly in a very un-Southern accent that made the familiar and despised name unfamiliar and almost likable. Luhkey D-augh-g.
He smiled and tried to commit the pronunciation to memory.
To say she was pretty would do her a great disservice. She was not pretty. She was fresh-faced and feisty, full of what older folks in these parts would call "gumption" but not the stuff of fashion magazines or the kind of women he seemed to always end up dating, only to end up not wanting to date.
This bright-eyed woman had a boldness about her that belied her size. She couldn't have stood more than five foot three, but she had an undeniable air of substance to herand of frailty.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was a great book i loved it!!!
I really loved the religious quote from John in this one. It resonated with me how friendship should be. The characters were warm, funny, kind and quirky. What nicknames, haha. The story wasn't what I expected, but it grew on me. And I'll never look at a mounted fish the same way again. I liked the daughter, wise beyond her years in some ways, such a typical kid in others. Very cute. The banter between the main characters was great. Who knew painting signs could be so fun? Meeting the rest of the family later ended up being a twist I didn't see coming. I was pleased how after all was said and done, Charity grew more mature and wise, finally learning something. The relationship with Jason's family was also one of fond amusement. What a bunch. What a good ending. And now I have a dinner idea. Turkey, potatoes and gravy. ;)