After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed The Hideaway to her and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering her grandmother’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.
Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid drywall dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.
Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed her grandmother’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.
When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans
Praise for The Hideaway:
“A story both powerful and enchanting: a don’t-miss novel in the greatest southern traditions of storytelling.”—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author
“Two endearing heroines and their poignant storylines of love lost and found make this the perfect book for an afternoon on the back porch with a glass of sweet tea.”—Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
- USA TODAY and Amazon Charts bestseller
- Full-length Southern Women’s Fiction
- Includes Discussion Questions for Book Clubs
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Lauren K. Denton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2017 Lauren K. Denton
All rights reserved.
Sunsets in Sweet Bay have always made me feel a little like a child. I think it's all that vast, open water. I expect something to come rising out of the deep at the last minute, something huge and unexpected. I'm always waiting, anticipating. But each night is like the one before — a frenzy of color, the disappearance of the sun, the dusk settling in like an old friend getting comfortable.
Earlier this evening, when I left the house to come out here to the garden, Dot was standing by the microwave waiting for her popcorn while Bert washed his cast-iron skillet with just the right amount of gentleness. Business as usual. We'd had a pleasant dinner — good food, lively conversation — but everyone knows after dinner is my time in the garden. They stopped asking me long ago to join them in their nightly routines — a television drama, a jigsaw puzzle, Glory laying out her quilt squares. Late evenings belong to me and my memories.
I sit here on my old bench, made by hands that once held mine. The bench isn't much, just cedar planks and peeling paint, but it's been a friend, a companion, for almost as long as I've lived in this house. My fingers curl under the edge of the bench, a habit formed over the years. I close my eyes and breathe in deep. So much has happened. Sometimes it hurts to think on it all. Other nights, like this one, the memories are sweet.
Next to me is the latest issue of Southern Living that came in the mail today. Sara and her shop are featured on page 50. I like having her photo close. This way, I can pretend she's sitting here next to me. Just as I'm about to open the magazine, I get that hitch in my chest again. A tightness, like a little fist squeezing closed, then a fluttering. Then it's gone.
I reach down and pull off my shoes so I can feel the dirt under my toes. That always makes me feel better. My doctor suggested I wear these ridiculous white orthopedic walkers even though I much prefer my old rubber boots. Good Lord, I loved those things. They were practical, hardworking. Same with the waders and hats. You can't fix a busted boat motor or change the oil in a truck wearing a fussy dress and teetering heels. My Jenny never seemed to mind my getups — she felt right at home in our unconventional life — but Sara was a different story. I saw how she looked at me, like she wondered how in the world her grandmother, not to mention a house as grand as The Hideaway, could have turned out so strange.
I've wondered from time to time whether I should sit Sara down and tell her my story. By the time she moved in with me, she was already at that tender point in every young girl's life where friends' opinions mean more than anything else, and I knew my existence in her life didn't help her climb the ladder of popularity. But I always wished I could find a way to help her see The Hideaway, and me, in a different light.
Truth be told, I think she's a stronger woman now because of who I turned out to be. If I'd remained under my parents' thumbs, always worrying about how others perceived me, I would have been a wispy shadow of a real woman. And I have to think that somehow my refusal to bow to the norms helped shape Sara — even if she hasn't consciously realized it.
Maybe the time is now. She's no longer a fickle teenager but a grown woman. And a smart one too. She'd do well to know my story, know how it changed me from quiet to bold. Weak to strong. I'll tell her. I'll sit her down and tell her everything. One of these days.CHAPTER 2
I love the smell of New Orleans in the morning. Even now. The city's detractors say it smells like last night's trash or the murky water dripping into the sewer drains, but I know better. It's the smell of fish straight from the Gulf — not stinky, but briny and fresh. It's the aroma of just-baked French bread wafting through the Quarter from Frenchmen Street. It's the powdered sugar riding the breeze from Café du Monde. Sure, there's the tang of beer and smoke and all the sin of Bourbon Street, but when you mix it up together, the scent is exhilarating.
I walked out the front door of my loft at nine fifteen and inhaled the crisp air. It was April, which in New Orleans — and anywhere else in the Deep South — could mean anything from eighty degrees to forty, depending on the whims of God and the Gulf jet stream. This day had dawned cool and bright.
Instead of slipping into my Audi, I walked to the corner of Canal and Magazine to catch the bus to my shop. It was more of a walk than I preferred to do in wedge heels, but Allyn was always telling me I needed to break out of my routine and "do something unexpected." I smiled. He'd be proud of me for ignoring the time — and my feet — and enjoying the morning. After all, no one would mind if we opened up a little later than usual.
In the Big Easy, businesses were always opening late or closing early for one reason or another. It wasn't the way I preferred to operate, but it was the way of life here, and I'd gotten used to it.
"Hey there, pretty lady," a deep tenor voice called out from the shady depths of Three Georges Jewelers. This George was always trying to hawk CZ jewels and faux baubles to unwitting tourists. I never bought into George's ploys, but I couldn't avoid him. He was too charming.
"Hi, George. Planning to cheat anyone out of their hard-earned dollars today?"
"All day long, my dear. One of these days, you'll have one of my beauties shining on your finger. Send your beaux my way and I'll set them up with something perfect."
"I'm sure you would, but there is no beau for me today."
"A pretty lady like you? I'm shocked!"
He called everyone a pretty lady. Even some of the men.
I wound my way through the Quarter to where the bus picked up shoppers and business owners and shuttled us to the middle of Magazine Street. Everyone I encountered was in a jovial mood, and I remembered why I fell in love with New Orleans.
As I twisted the key in the lock at Bits and Pieces, balancing a tall to-go cup of coffee in the crook of my elbow, Allyn roared into the driveway on his Harley.
"You're late." He gracefully dismounted the bike. "Pull an all-nighter like me?" His Hollywood starlet shades covered half his face. His hair was orange today.
"No, I didn't, thank you. You're one to talk — you're late too."
"Can't make an entrance if I'm always on time." He hopped up the front steps and grabbed my cup of coffee just before it slipped from my arm.
I pushed the door open and the welcome scent of gardenias drifted past us. We carried a line of hand-poured soy candles in the shop with such pleasing fragrances. Light, not overpowering. I designed Bits and Pieces to make people want to stay for a while. We even kept a Keurig in the back and pralines in a dish by the cash register.
I was in love with everything I'd tucked into the old shotgun house — from restored furniture to antique silver to vintage linen pillows embroidered with the ever-present fleur-delis. I'd found much of it at antique markets and estate sales. Even a few garage sales. I didn't limit myself to specializing in one particular type of item — that's why I named it Bits and Pieces. A little bit of everything.
Invigorated by the sunshine and the freshness of the spring air, I propped open the front door and we began the day. I set the music to Madeleine Peyroux while Allyn tinkered with one of the vignettes he'd set up in a side room. In deference to his constant harping that I needed to allow a bit of Southern Goth into the shop — to appeal to the legions of Anne Rice and voodoo fans in the city — I gave him some leeway.
I figured New Orleans had enough mix of high and low, uptown and downtown, that I needed to relax my rules a bit. However, I did draw the line at voodoo dolls. Instead, he scattered tiny white porcelain skulls throughout the shop. Several of my customers bought them to use as unconventional hostess gifts.
The day went on as it usually did. Being the middle of the week, most of the customers breezing in and out were locals. Weekends were for the tourists. A few regular clients had hired me to redecorate their houses, and one popped in to show me photos of sideboards she wanted me to look for the next time I went scavenging. A student from the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art brought by a selection of framed photographs for me to display. Allyn picked up sandwiches from Guy's Po-Boys.
As we neared closing time, Allyn ducked into the back office to check a few voice mails that had slipped in while the shop was busy earlier in the day. After a moment, he motioned to me from the hallway.
"Some lawyer called. He said he needs to talk to you about a Mrs. Van Buren?" He shrugged. "Asked you to call him as soon as you can."
It had been over a week since I'd talked to Mags. We usually talked on Sunday afternoons, but I'd missed our last call because of a water leak at the shop. Instead of hearing the latest Sweet Bay gossip, I'd spent the entire day with buckets, soaked towels, and a cranky repairman. By the time I made it back home and showered, it was too late to call. She left a message on my phone the next morning, but we had yet to catch up with each other.
My customer glanced at me, then at his watch. Not wanting to appear distracted, I shook my head. "I'll have to call him back a little later."
"Sure thing, Boss."
As the customer slowly circled the shop, scratching his chin and considering his purchase, I fought a strange urge to jump in my car and drive back to Sweet Bay to see Mags. I laughed under my breath at the impulsive idea. I couldn't just drop the strings holding my life together and take a break, but I still longed to hear her voice with a force that surprised me.
* * *
An hour later, after selling the circa-1896 dining table and packing it into the back of a truck, we finally closed for the day. All I could think about was calling the lawyer. Maybe Mags had gotten herself into hot water with someone in town. I smiled at the thought. It wasn't out of character for my grandmother, but wouldn't she want to tell me about it herself? Or, at the very least, Dot could have called to fill me in. Why would a lawyer call for something trivial?
Allyn and I stayed in the shop until seven checking the register, straightening furniture, and tidying up in preparation for the next day. I often didn't leave until much later, but I headed out early with him.
"Want a lift back to your place?" he asked when we paused in the driveway. "I have an extra helmet."
"Thanks, but I think I'll take my time getting home. I still have to call the lawyer back."
"Right. What was that all about?"
"It's Mags. Van Buren is her last name."
"Ah, Mags from Sweet Bay, Alabama." Allyn attempted an exaggerated Southern drawl. "Impressive last name for your eccentric little grandmother." He was quiet for a moment. "Lawyers don't usually call with good news, Boss." He fit his helmet over his head.
"I've already thought of that."
"Did she mention anything when you talked to her on Sunday?"
"I missed the call. I was here with Butch and the gaping hole in the roof, remember?" I pinched his elbow, and he pinched me back.
"I still don't understand why you don't go back to Sweet Bay more often. Or why not bring her here for a visit sometime? I make a killer White Russian. Don't old people like those?"
I laughed. "I have no idea if she likes White Russians. And I do visit. I told you all about my Christmas trip — Bert almost burned the tree down trying to decorate it with lit candles. Mags had to douse it with the fire extinguisher. It was total chaos as usual. Our Sunday phone calls work just fine."
"Maybe for you. I bet Mags would love to see your face more often. Who wouldn't?" He patted my cheek and slung one leg over the seat of his motorcycle. "It's not like you have to make a cross-country trip to get there."
I bit the inside of my cheek and glared at him, but he was right. I may have left Mags and my small hometown for the greener pastures of New Orleans, but Mags was my only family — I owed her more than I'd given her.
"Okay, okay, I'll shut up. Go ahead and make your phone call. I'll see you tomorrow." Allyn lifted his helmet to give me a quick kiss on the cheek, revved the engine a few times, and sped away.
Instead of heading for the bus to take me back to Canal, I took a left on Napoleon and walked toward St. Charles. On the way, I pulled out my cell and thumb-swiped to my voice mailbox. Five or six unanswered messages stared up at me from the bright screen, Mags included. She'd rambled on about nothing in particular so with the ongoing roof problem that week, I hadn't made time to return her call. I touched her name on the screen and the sound of her voice filled the air around me.
As I heard it a second time, the tone of her voice struck me as unusual. I must not have noticed it before because of the chaos surrounding the water leak, but she didn't sound as chipper as she usually did. Just after she gave me a rundown of the squirrels uprooting her geraniums and the bats in the chimney at The Hideaway, she paused and sighed.
"I know it's not a holiday, or even close to one, but I'd love to see you, dear. Sometimes, the sight of your face is all ... well." She cleared her throat and laughed a little. "Things are busy over there, I know. It's not like I'm going anywhere, so you just come whenever you can. Don't change your plans for me."
Her message finished just as I approached the handful of other folks waiting for the streetcar on St. Charles. I sat on a bench away from the group and fiddled with my phone, switching it from hand to hand. I wanted to call Mags — to check on her, to apologize for not calling earlier — but something compelled me to call the lawyer first. I pushed the button, and my stomach knotted as I waited.
"Ah, Ms. Jenkins. Thank you for calling me back. I was just about to walk out the door."
I heard him settling back down in his chair, then a file folder slapped the desk. "I'm Vernon Bains, Mrs. Van Buren's lawyer. Has anyone contacted you?"
"No. What is this about?" I asked, ignoring the gentle sadness in his voice.
"Your grandmother passed away this morning. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but Mrs. Ingram didn't feel she could handle speaking about it yet. She asked if I would break the news to you."
I closed my eyes and turned my back to the other people waiting for the streetcar, then covered my eyes with my free hand, pressing my temples until it hurt.
"You'll be happy to know she didn't suffer. She complained of some chest pain, so Dot brought her in to the doctor. They couldn't have known it before, but Mrs. Van Buren was at the beginning of what turned into a major heart attack. The doctor called for an ambulance, but she died on the way to the hospital. Dot said it looked like she just closed her eyes and fell asleep."
I thought of the streetcar rumbling down the tracks toward me as it picked up and deposited people at various points on the line. Three and a half more minutes and it would stop for me.
I cleared my throat and sat up straighter on the bench. "Thank you for calling, Mr. Bains. I appreciate you letting me know."
"We'll have a reading of the will on Friday afternoon here at my office."
"And where is that?"
"I'm in Mobile. Just across the Bay."CHAPTER 3
That night, I took a glass of wine into the courtyard. My building and several others on the block, all duplexes formed out of circa-1850 carriage houses, backed up to a small patio ringed by bougainvillea, sweet jasmine, and palms. Someone had stuck a wrought-iron table and a jumble of chairs in the middle, creating an open area in the lush oasis. On nights when the humidity wasn't 200 percent, a cluster of neighbors and friends of all ages and varying degrees of quirkiness congregated to toast the end of another day.
On this particular evening, Millie and Walt, the couple who lived in the other half of my duplex, were staring each other down across a chessboard. Everyone knew better than to disturb them until one — usually Millie — cried checkmate. I settled down onto a glider and took a slow sip of cabernet.
I had roughly forty hours before I needed to head east on I-10 toward Alabama. I'd have to start early the next morning to move appointments, make phone calls, and write notes for Allyn. He'd probably resent me for assuming he couldn't do my job alone for the week, but I couldn't help it. The shop was my baby, and I didn't take lightly leaving it even for just a few days.
Excerpted from The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton. Copyright © 2017 Lauren K. Denton. 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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