Joelle Gordon is leaving Chicago and her cheating husband to head for her hometown of Landon, Minnesota. There, she returns to the Shore Leave Café, the lakeside diner the Davis women have run for decades. Joelle's family, including her three teenaged daughters, Camille, Tish, and Ruthann, is made up of strong women who have long believed in a curse upon them - a curse that robs them of the men they love. This summer has plenty in store for Joelle. Finding herself confronted with the reality of single motherhood, the last thing she expects is gorgeous, passionate Blythe Tilson, a summer employee at Shore Leave, with an uncertain past. Can Joelle resist the temptation of a younger man, and does she dare to consider loving someone again, or will the Davis family curse prove all too true? A story about heartbreak, blame, family, destiny, and the difficulties of returning home, Summer at the Shore Leave Café is the first book in the Shore Leave series.
About the Author
Abbie Williams' love of the outdoors, changing seasons, and steamy romance is exactly why she is addicted to writing a saga about the lives and loves of a family of women who live on a Minnesota lake. When not curled over her keyboard, you can find her listening to bluegrass music and hanging out lakeside near her home of Rochester MN.
Read an Excerpt
Summer at the Shore Leave Café
A Shore Leave Café Novel
By Abbie Williams
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2016 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved.
Landon, MN - May, 2003
Five long and shitty months later, I drove northwest on I-94, angling into Wisconsin as the sun skimmed the surface of the sky, melting to a golden dusk. The girls, released a good ten days early from their private schools at my rather desperate insistence, chattered to each other, alternately fighting over the radio station and coming up with new and inventive ways to entertain themselves with sights available through the car windows. For a spell they played the alphabet game, using billboards and license plates to earn points; then, as we entered dairy country, moved to Hey Cow, a ridiculously simple game that involved yelling the phrase to any cows we happened to pass. The "winner" of the game was the girl at whom the most cows glanced. I was utterly grateful when they at last drifted to sleep, somewhere near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. At that point, the temptation to get us a hotel gnawed at me, but we were so close to Landon that I couldn't bear not to get there tonight. Just a few more hours ...
The last mile hummed away at long last and I took the final turn into Landon, whose population now totaled three hundred seventy, plus four. Jackie and I brought the girls here to visit of course, every summer of their lives, but there was something about the potential permanence of this trip that quickened my blood and sent pin-prickles of emotion through my limbs. The girls remained blessedly asleep, but I murmured, "Here we are," as the most deeply familiar street of my life rolled beneath the tires. The geography of a hometown, whether beloved or loathed, is nonetheless engraved on a person's soul.
I drove slowly, both hands hanging at the top of the steering wheel, leaning forward, the better to gaze at everything, hungry for the sights. The towering, ancient pines at the southern edge of town gave way to Fisherman's Street, Landon's main drag; at the northern-most end, Flickertail Lake was visible from the moment the sun rose, its rocky beach a brief walk and subsequent twelve-step descent from any downtown business. The beach itself curved like a clamshell, widening into soft, pale sand as it met the water of the lake a good twenty feet out.
To my right stood the Angler's Inn, the only hotel in town, with a private balcony for each of the rooms on the second floor. Jilly and I always called those "prostitute perches," then laughed hysterically whenever we spied a female guest standing upon one to admire our little hometown. The boardwalks were quiet now at such a late hour, though the windows of Eddie's Bar, a longtime fixture in Landon, just across the street from Angler's, glowed in welcome behind the Moosehead Beer light and a faded wooden shingle, painted by Eddie Sorenson decades ago, inviting COME IN ALREADY.
A handful of the vehicles that graced my childhood memories waited at the curb, patient as old dogs and as familiar to me as their aging owners bellied up to the bar inside. There was the immaculate red '76 Charger driven by Daniel "Dodge" Miller, who ran the filling station on Flickertail and took care of the heavy work at Shore Leave for Mom and Aunt Ellen; beside the Charger sat the once-blue, well-used '74 Ford pickup owned by my daughters' great-uncle, Nels Gordon (Jackie's only remaining relative in Landon, as his own folks passed away before Camille turned thirteen). I spied Jim Olson's rimless, rusted-out Chevy Celebrity, and our high-school shop teacher Del Christianson's pecanbrown, speed-boat sized LTD.
The last vehicle I idled past proved the newest of the bunch, Dodge's son Justin Miller's sporty silver Dakota truck. Justin graduated with Jackie and me back in 1985, and since suffered through a lengthy marriage to and subsequent messy divorce from Aubrey Pritchard. Messy in that Aubrey, lovely Homecoming Queen of Jilly's class and Justin's longtime sweetheart, cheated after Justin sustained a disfiguring injury working in his and Dodge's service garage. I didn't know the details of the divorce, mostly because Jilly hadn't known, but she did tell me about how Justin's face and neck sustained burns all along the right side. This happened five summers ago, but somehow I had not come across Justin since then. My stomach tightened with sympathy; I suppressed the perverse desire to make my way inside the warm, familiar space and see the damage for myself. Once, Justin was like a brother to Jilly and me — in summers of old, Dodge often carted Justin and Justin's little sister, Liz, to Shore Leave when he came to help out.
I realized that I'd come to a full stop in front of Eddie's and sat watching the door, while in the background my girls breathed with the soft sighs of exhaustion, both physical and emotional. After a moment, perhaps wakened by the absence of movement, Camille, with Ruthann's head on her lap, stirred from the back seat and murmured, "Mom, are we there?"
I turned to look back at my oldest daughter, whose head rested on the pillow she'd braced against the window back in Illinois. My heart, as always, tightened with the ache of a love so powerful it overrode any other in my world; I vowed I would stay strong for my girls — no matter how difficult this vow sometimes proved.
"No, sweetie, not quite," I whispered in response, letting my bare foot ease off the brake. The car rolled smoothly forward, but enough that Tish, strapped into the passenger seat beside me, snorted and began rubbing her eyes.
"Mo-om," she complained in a whisper. "My head hurts."
"I'm sorry, honey," I responded automatically, and accelerated to twenty miles an hour — much faster at this hour and I'd risk a ticket from the local patrol cop, Charlie Evans. I assured, "We'll be there shortly. Look, it's the lake." I gestured out into the glimmering starry night as I made a left and angled around Flickertail, where a mile up the lake road, known locally as Flicker Trail, the Shore Leave Cafe waited.
Tish, fortunately, fell for the distraction and lowered her window, allowing the sweet scent of an early spring evening into the car. The smell of the lake, so deeply ingrained in my consciousness, as familiar to me as my children's skin, was musky and welcoming. I could hear it lapping the shore to our right as the tires crunched over gravel and the headlights illuminated walls of sharp spruce and towering oaks, lacy maples and dense grapevine, decked in new emerald leaves and smelling of childhood and remembered happiness. My thoughts centered on Jackie, against my will; so often I'd driven this road with him, tucked against his strong side, my hand caressing his leg, both of us laughing ...
I squelched these memories with real effort; it was like pressing on a bruise. No, more like cramming a couple of fingers into an open wound. I bit the insides of my cheeks, feeling the sleek wetness of tears on my eyeballs, glad that the darkness hid any evidence. I would not cry in front of my children again; I promised myself, fiercely, before we left Chicago for Minnesota.
"What was that?" Camille asked from the backseat, her voice startled.
"A loon," I said, listening as it wailed again from somewhere out on the lake. It was a haunting, ululating cry, almost human in its emotional intensity. "Don't worry, that's just how they keep in contact with other loons on the lake." The second I said it, another responded, farther out on the dark water.
"It gives me the shivers. They sound so lonesome, like they're lost or something. I always forget that until we're back," Camille said, and Tish cackled a laugh, twisting around to give her big sister a skeptical look.
"It's awesome," Tish said. "You're such a chicken."
Camille playfully kicked a bare foot at Tish, jostling twelve-year-old Ruthann, who made a sound of protest.
"C'mon, you guys, knock it off," my youngest mumbled. "I'm sleeping."
"And I'm carsick," Tish chimed in, helpfully. I angled a long-suffering gaze at her, and she scrunched down in her seat as if to visibly prove her claim. Tish, unlike her sisters, kept her thick curly hair cut short; the subsequent face-frame made her striking blue eyes appear even larger and more sincere. I knew her well enough to see through any of her attempts at manipulation, but people less familiar to her wiles proved easily captivated by those stunning eyes and pointy pixie chin. Her father, especially, which was the reason our fifteen-year-old sported double-pierced ears.
"Here it is," I said, immeasurably thankful, as the gravel widened and became the pitted blacktop lot of my family's longtime business. Two vehicles were parked beneath the lone streetlight at this late hour, one belonging to Rich Mayes, an elderly man I loved like a father, and who'd cooked at the cafe since my childhood; next to Rich's car sat an old black truck I didn't recognize. I thought, Dammit. There's still a customer here.
The cafe was a long, narrow structure, shaped vaguely like the letter L, with two porches, both angled to take full advantage of the gorgeous lake view, each porch constructed of wide cedar planks, now the gray of ashes from years of sun and wet feet. The cafe received a fresh coat of white paint every other June; Jilly and her son Clint took care of that now. Long ago, the task belonged to Jilly and me; I admired Jackie for the first time while painting the side of Shore Leave, around age twelve. He'd come in with his family for lunch, all those Junes ago ...
I parked next to the unfamiliar truck and rolled my head slowly, first down and then back up, still hearing the rush of tires on the highway. Usually Jackie drove us to Minnesota for our annual summer visit; I reminded myself that I was determined not to think again of him for at least ten minutes. The Leinenkuegel, Moosehead, and Hamm's beer signs in the front window splashed warm tints into the night; technically Shore Leave was still open at this hour, but it was a weeknight and most of the locals retired to Eddie's. This early in the season, tourist traffic tended to remain light, but in less than two weeks that would change. From the direction of the boat landing, down the shore about twenty yards, came a yodeling cry, and I grinned in spite of myself.
"Mom, Aunt Ellen, everybody! They're here!" my little sister shrieked, and the girls began hooting and screaming in response, falling out of the car and running to hug Jillian. I climbed out more slowly, happy on the surface, where people could see. Fuck, it just sucked (there was no other way to put it) that I was coming home as the spurned woman, the jilted, separated wife, the girl who couldn't keep her husband in her own bed ... I was gritting my teeth and stopped myself instantly. And then I couldn't help but laugh as the girls and Jilly collided hard enough to send all four of them into a heap on the grass at the edge of the parking lot. My mother's golden labs loped down the porch steps, barking at the top of their range. The girls climbed all over Jilly, wrestling to get closer to her as one of the dogs grabbed the rear pocket of Tish's shorts and began tugging.
"Joelle!" My mother hurried out the front porch door, banging the screen we'd always been bitched at for banging, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. Aunt Ellen and Rich followed in her wake, waving and calling, and I jogged forward and into Mom's warm arms, resisting the urge to burrow against her, like a child seeking refuge. No matter how much time passed between my visits here, my mom always smelled exactly the same, of Prell shampoo and rose-scented lotion, just a hint of the fish-fry batter. She hugged me close and planted a kiss on my temple before turning me over to my auntie, whose plump, freckled arms, so much like Mom's, curled me tight and snug. Rich hugged me next, and then ruffled my hair, and his scent, tobacco and aftershave, was likewise comforting, blessedly familiar.
"Looks so pretty, long like that," Rich added, indicating my hair, grinning so that his bushy white eyebrows drew nearly together over his kind brown eyes. He was as dear and solid as ever, and I felt a momentary flash of gratitude that these people, my foundation, remained here, as unchanging as the summer stars. In my teenage years, they made me claustrophobic with their concerns, driving me out of my skin with constant advice and commentary; but now, seventeen years later, I sought this place, my true home, to regroup and lick my wounds. Never mind that Jackie should –
You weren't going to think about Jackie for ten minutes, remember?
"Hi, sweetie," Aunt Ellen said, gathering me against her side. "You look like you could use a drink."
"Or a bar," Mom added, meaning dessert.
"You want a sandwich, honey?" Rich asked, thumbing over his shoulder in the direction of his kitchen.
"Not just now," I told them, although a drink sounded fantastic. "But thanks."
In the next moment my sister bolted across the parking lot, shrieking with laughter as my kids and both dogs pursued her. I turned to catch her in a hug and we rocked together before being attacked by the mob.
"Look at these beautiful girls," Mom said, claiming her granddaughters for a round of hugs and kisses. "Camille, you look so grown-up, doesn't she, Ellen? Look at that face! And my Patricia, what have you done to your hair?"
Rich caught up Ruthann in a bear hug, and then bounced her on his arm. "Ain't you grown a bit since I saw you last," he observed, and Ruthann, my baby, grinned shyly. Rich and Dodge were the only grandfathers my girls had ever known.
"Aunt Jilly, where's Clint?" Tish asked, peering around as though her cousin and best friend in Landon was hiding in the woods, purposely avoiding her.
Jilly, small and deeply tanned, her hair cropped as short as Tish's, bleached platinum from long summer days outside, gave me a look I couldn't interpret (unheard of) and then neatly caught Tish in a light headlock, knuckling her scalp. She blustered, "Not here, punk. He must not care that you guys were coming."
Tish ducked away and fastidiously smoothed her hair, contradicting, "Whatever! Where is he?"
"Inside, sleeping, along with your great-gran," Aunt Ellen answered. "He was tuckered out from his ball game today. He waited and waited for you-all to get here and ended up falling asleep on table three. Rich hauled him home to bed."
The girls giggled. "What a baby," Tish felt compelled to add. "It's not even midnight!"
"Time for these bones to head out, though," Rich said, and pecked my cheek before taking his quiet leave. He added, "It does my heart good to see you, Joelle-honey. Joanie, tell the grandson I'll see him tomorrow."
"Will do, Rich," Mom agreed, as Aunt Ellen herded the girls inside for food and drink.
"G'night, Rich," I added, following Jilly up the porch steps. Mom walked Rich to his car and the girls were already in the cafe, no doubt being plied with sweets and possibly booze by Aunt Ellen. I paused before entering and instead leaned over the porch rail, my gaze absorbing sights as well-known to me as my own body. The lake, cloaked in warm, velvet May darkness, stretched back to Landon's little downtown, where the streetlamps shone like small golden stars in the blackness.
In the other direction, to my left, Flickertail curved around a slender bend before opening into a much wider surface area, where jet-skis and motor boats whined from dawn until early evening, dragging skiers and wake boarders. The farthest shore, not visible from our porch, was similarly busy in the daylight, where fishermen tarried for hours upon end, drinking and bullshitting and doing what they loved. Though fully dark, I could see the edges of the trees that ringed the lake, from memory; if I lifted my index finger I could trace the wavering line in the air. Jilly elbowed up beside me and I rested my head on her shoulder.
"You okay?" she murmured, and I lifted my head, and sighed.
"Rich's grandson?" I asked, wishing I held a burning cigarette between my fingers just now. Years had passed since my last one, but the moment I got home, on ancient turf, an insistent craving began until I either gave in, guilted the hell out of myself, or fell asleep. I elaborated, "He doesn't have any kids, does he?" At least, none that I knew of. And I'd known Rich for exactly as long as I'd been alive.
"Actually, it's his stepdaughter Christy's son," Jilly reminded me. "You remember her, don't you? Pam's daughter who lives in Oklahoma?"
"Yeah, I guess, vaguely." A memory flickered. "Teeny bikini and big hair, like 1978, right?"
"Yeah, that's her. She stayed with Rich and Pam that summer. It seems like a million years ago now." Jilly sighed, too. "Anyway, Christy had a kid, and now he's staying with Rich in his trailer, even though Pam's gone. Mom hired him to help in the kitchen this summer. He's actually here now, having a beer."
Excerpted from Summer at the Shore Leave Café by Abbie Williams. Copyright © 2016 Abbie Williams. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I fell in love with this book as well as the characters. I didn't want the story to end and I can't wait to read others from this author!
When Joelle Gordon discovers her husband has been cheating, she packs up her three girls and heads back home to Landon, Minnesota and her family's restaurant. There, with the support of her mother, aunt and sister, she hopes to figure out what she is going to do with her life now that what she had in Chicago is gone. I really liked Joelle. She was a woman who had followed her high school sweetheart to the big city and put his needs first while she stayed at home raising their girls. But even though her marriage feel apart, mostly because of Jackson's betrayal, she also knew that she played a big role in why he started looking outside the marriage for satisfaction. It didn't make the betrayal any easier, but she could see why he did it. She was a great mom. She wanted her daughters to be happy and not find themselves in the same spot she's in. Even when she discovered her oldest daughter starting down a path that was not going to end well, she didn't scream and order her around, but instead listened with a sympathetic ear making sure her daughter knew everything was going to be OK. And Joelle was a woman who just wanted to be loved for who she was. A single mom with three teenage daughters and a high school education. She found that with handsome, younger Blythe. But even though she found happiness in the stolen moments with Blythe, like most of us she questioned whether what she felt for a man thirteen years younger than he was right. She really struggled with her feelings and as a reader you were right there with her, hoping she would make the choice that would keep Blythe right by her side. I really enjoy the story and the characters in SUMMER AT THE SHORE LEAVE CAFE, but I hated the ending. Why? Because it was a total cliffhanger and I didn't like the way things were left with Blythe and Joelle. For that matter, what was going to happen with Camille and would Jackson finally get off his high horse. I'm hoping (my fingers are really crossed here) that there will be a sequel soon and I Joelle and Blythe can get their HEA. Definitely a great book to pick up, especially if you are longing for something that will remind you of summer.
When picking a book to read I look at the setting. I love this town of Landon, Minnesota. It is the small hometown setting that manages to pull me in. The neighbors, the local café, the family, and of course the town itself are all reasons I enjoyed this book. I love that they have Saturday Margarita Night, small town celebrations with fireworks, and that the town is positioned on a lake that they kids and adults use. Joelle leaves Chicago and runs home when she finds her husband cheating on her. Not just does she find out, she walks in on him in the act. I can’t say I blame her. I actually am proud of her for walking away and taking a path that she doesn’t know where it will lead instead of staying and living with a cheater. I like that she takes her 3 daughters and shows them that they can be okay being a separated family. She shows that she respects herself enough to not put up with the disrespect that Jackie, her husband, shows her when he chooses to cheat on her. The romance part is different. I am not sure that I felt the sparks at the beginning of their relationship. Both Joelle and Jilly are interested in men with difficult histories. While Joelle makes the decision to keep her relationship a secret, Jilly would like nothing more than to announce it to the world that she loves someone. As they spend time with their men I was able to understand and enjoy their relationships better. I liked that both women stayed true to themselves and didn’t give up on what they felt was right. Summer at the Shore Leave Café is the first book in this series by Abbie Williams. This one ended not with a cliffhanger but with a definite must keep reading the rest of the series ending. I am anxious to get my hands on book two.