The innkeeper's gentle laundress-turned-cook, Grace Martin, is more than his employeeshe's his friend. So when the lovely widow needs a place to stay, Richard is happy to help. But the confirmed bachelor surprises even himself when he proposes marriage.
Grace has never considered marrying any man, even one as steadfast as Richard. But the chemistry that sparks between them belies a straightforward business arrangement. Could a mere marriage of convenience lead the way to a love match for life?
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About the Author
Lynn A. Coleman is an award winning and best-selling author. She is the founder of American Christian Fiction Writers Inc., and served as the group's first president for two years and two years on the Advisory Board. She makes her home in Keystone Heights, Florida, where her husband of 39 years serves as pastor of Friendship Bible Church. Together they are blessed with three children, 2 living and 1 in glory, and eight grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
St. Augustine, FL, 1871
You're fired!" Richard Arman's voice echoed through the alley as Grace Martin pulled up to the side door of the Seaside Inn with her handcart filled with fresh linens. Mr. Arman was one of her newer clients and she'd never heard such anger and exasperation from him before. He tended to keep conversations at a minimum. She wondered what had him riled.
A thunder of pots and pans tossed out the window caused Grace to stop short and wait until the commotion ended. Soon Mr. Arman's cook, Jorge, came out into the street stomping and muttering under his breath. He made no note of Grace's presence and headed in the opposite direction, tearing off his apron as he strode away from the shore toward town.
Grace paused and said a prayer. She needed to deliver the clean linens, but she also wanted Mr. Arman to have a moment to compose himself.
Another voice, female, split the air. "You are a " she shrieked in English, completing the sentence in Spanish with a string of expletives.
Having grown up in St. Augustine, Grace could hold her own with the Spanish tongue. Unfortunately, some of the earliest words she'd learned as a child were swearwords. And the language spewing from this woman at Mr. Arman was some of the vilest she'd heard in a long time.
"I quit!" Eva, Mr. Arman's chambermaid, exited the same side door as Jorge. Eva stood about Grace's own height of five feet five inches. The woman glared at Grace. "What are you looking at?"
Grace said nothing. Eva tended to be easily angered and sometimes even bullied the patrons. Eva cocked her head arrogantly and headed off in the same direction as Jorge.
Before Grace had time to think, the tall, thin frame of Richard Arman appeared in the back alley doorway. He stepped out and picked up the pots that had been tossed out. He glanced at Grace and mumbled, "Sorry."
Grace chose not to comment on what had transpired, smiled, lifted her handcart and took the last few steps to the door. "I have your order here. I'll set them in the linen closet, and you can pay me next week."
"Nonsense. You should not be burdened with a bad day just because I have had one. Give me a moment and I'll settle our account, Mrs. Martin."
"Thank you, Mr. Arman."
Grace picked up the first bundle of clean white sheets and walked through the kitchen to the back-room linen closet. The original house had been built around a hundred years before, with more recent additions dating from long before she'd been born. Placing the linens in the closet, she worked her way back to the kitchen and examined the mess the cook had left behind. A blob of some sort of stew dripped down the counter into a growing puddle on the floor.
Grace tried to ignore the mess and continue her work. She was the laundress and nothing more. She'd taken over the business from her good friend Mercy Hastings. Actually, she was Mercy Darling now, since she'd married a month ago and settled on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her new husband.
Grace thought back on the whirlwind romance that developed between Mercy and Wyatt. Their romance was nothing like hers and Micah's. Theirs had grown since she was thirteen and he was fourteen. She and Micah had loved each other all through their school days. And when he decided to go fight in sixty-four, they married and had only six weeks together before he left. She had written letters to him every day. Some he received, some he didn't. The worst letter she'd received had been the one announcing that Micah had died in battle. Grace's heart still ached just thinking about it.
She swept away the painful images and collected the rest of the linens. Now was not the time to get lost in the past. Once the linens were placed neatly in the cupboard, she closed the doors and entered the kitchen again. The mess on the floor needed to be cleaned up, and Richard Arman was nowhere in sight. Without much thought, she gathered some rags and a sponge to clean up the mess. After the majority of the spill was off the floor, she used a damp cloth to clean the rest. Working on her hands and knees, she wiped and rinsed the rag again and again.
"Mrs. Martin, that is not your position."
"I am well aware of that, Mr. Arman. But it seemed prudent to lend a hand. Which is precisely what I am doing."
"Forgive me," he sighed. "It has been one of those days."
Apparently. She held her tongue. "Thank you for your kindness."
"You are welcome."
He held out his hand, offering a small yellow envelope. "This should satisfy my debt. Did you gather the soiled linens?"
"No, sir. I didn't see any in the basket."
Richard Arman inhaled deeply then let it out slowly. "If you have a moment, I shall gather them for you."
Grace nodded. Richard Arman was a handsome man with his brown hair, green-blue eyes and a not-too-square chin, yet not overly rounded or pointy, either. Today she saw a hardness in him she'd never seen before. No, that wasn't it exactly. It was more like a stiffness, an uncertainty in his actions. He was upset, and his posture showed it. She sent another prayer heavenward on behalf of Mr. Arman. She had no idea what had transpired between his employees and himself, but whatever it was, it had a tremendous impact. Obviously, losing both the cook and the chambermaid would have a profound effect on the inn.
She finished wiping up the floor and counter then rinsed the rags out for him. She could add those to her load, as well.
Richard Arman slipped through the open door with a bundle of sheets and towels. "Forgive me for the delay to your schedule, Mrs. Martin."
"It is not a problem." She wouldn't be set back more than thirty minutes, leaving plenty of time to do the laundry before dinner. He handed her the bundle. "Shall I carry it outside for you?"
"Thank you, but I'll manage. God's blessings, Mr. Arman. I'll be praying for you."
"Thank you, I'll need your prayers," Richard grumbled. "Forgive me, I am in a rather sour disposition this morning." He turned and left the kitchen, presumably to go back to his office.
Grace realized he would need to perform the duties of the chambermaid and the cook. Although, if she remembered correctly, the inn only supplied a morning fare for the boarders. Grace shrugged and went on her way. She had plenty of work to do, and there was no sense in lollygagging.
Richard watched Grace Martin load her handcart and begin rolling it down the alley back to the street in front of the house. She was a fine-looking young woman, with blond hair and the most wonderful pair of chocolate-brown eyes he'd ever seen. As best as he'd been able to figure out, she was a widow and frustrated living with her parents. Her laundry business kept her busy and gainfully employed, but he wondered if she truly earned enough to be on her own with a yard and barn big enough to dry the sheets and towels for her clients.
She did fine work. He never had a complaint unlike Eva and Jorge. Those two had needed to be fired. He had tried working with them, but today was the last straw. He suspected Jorge had been stealing from him, but to find him actually making a lamb stew in Richard's own kitchen and selling it behind his back, that was too much. Eva seemed to be a part of it, as well. He still wasn't certain how she was involved, but her quitting didn't make much difference. Now he needed to hire two more employees. He could handle the morning breakfast for a while. Cleaning chamber pots, on the other hand, making beds, cleaning the rooms they were not his favorite part of the job. He could do the tasks just not as efficiently as he would like.
The bell over the front door jangled. Richard glanced at the clock. It was nearly 11 a.m., and he was behind. He closed his eyes, fired off a prayer and thanked the Lord for Grace's prayers on his behalf. He entered the front parlor. A sailor with burly shoulders faced him, his feet spread apart, signifying that slight difference that spoke volumes about a person who spent more time on the sea than on dry land. "How may I help you?"
"Heard you rent rooms to sailors."
"Yes, sir. I have a room available. I charge a dollar a night and another if you would like breakfast in the morning."
"Just the night. I won't be needing breakfast."
"Very well. Would you sign here, please?" Richard pointed to the guest register on the counter. The register was an addition he added when he started working for his grandmother. It gave the inn a more professional air, as opposed to the feel of spare rooms rented from a private home. In fact, the Seaside Inn had a wing with six rooms on the top floor and six rooms on the bottom. At one time, a section of the house had been strictly reserved for his grandparents' family. Now Richard rented some of those rooms, as well.
The young sailor pulled off his cap, brushed his hair back and signed the book with his left hand. Richard glanced at the name. "Pleasure to have you with us, Mr.
"Pleasure's mine. If you don't mind, I'd like to dump my gear and see if I can pick up another job and sail out in the morning."
"I understand. Up the stairs, second door on your right."
"Thank you." He hefted his duffel bag up over his shoulder and took the stairs two at a time.
Richard scanned the layer of dust collecting on the tables. He had his work cut out for him. Why had he ever considered running this inn to begin with? He had come to help his grandmother when she was beginning to fail and his personal life was in shambles. And, truth be told, he enjoyed working the inn and meeting people. His grandparents ran the inn for forty years. The last year of her life, Grandma Arman was in declining health, and he had stepped in to handle the boarders. He glanced out the front bay window and scanned the harbor. He loved the view. It brought back many memories as a kid spending his summer vacations with his grandparents.
The thundering steps of Mr. Davis rattled down the stairway. "Excuse me, but word on the docks is that a sailor was beaten and had his entire life savings stolen a few months back. Did the sheriff catch the culprit?"
"Good. I ain't got much, but what I have I aim to keep, ya know?"
"Yes, I do. Blessings on finding another ship."
The sailor tipped his hat and headed out the door. Richard went back to the kitchen and finished clearing the counters of the various food items left out by Jorge.
Richard still couldn't believe the man had been stealing food and selling it to others. After cleaning the kitchen, he readied all the rooms, made the beds, put out fresh towels then dusted the front parlor and other areas where his guests occasionally gathered. His normal customers were overnight guests who stayed in town for a day or two. Once in a while he'd have a customer who would stay for a week.
Then there was Manny. Manny had been living in the house for the past ten years. He paid ten dollars a month, required no chambermaid, took care of his own chamber pot, which Richard had never known him to use. The man went to the outhouse more times in one night than any other person Richard had ever known. And though Richard knew he should charge Manny more than he did, he couldn't do it. The old man didn't seem to work, although at some point, Manny had apparently been a sailor. These days he was a feature at the Seaside Inn. If Manny's tales were true, he was seventy-two years old and had lived a life of adventure. He even hinted at a time or two when he might have operated as a pirate. Those stories were a little hazy.
As evening approached, he realized his schedule was shot. Richard glanced over at the ledger on his desk and decided that could wait until morning. He finally settled in for the night with a good book and tried to ignore the position he'd been put in by Jorge and Eva. In truth, he needed a wife who could help run the inn so that he could concentrate on other things, like the refurbishing of his sailboat. The thirty-two-foot, single-mast sailboat was currently in his barn having the hull scraped, sanded and repainted. His goal was to have it ready for early spring. He'd been doing most of the work. But if he had to be the one to cook and clean at the inn, he didn't see any possibility of making his timeline.
A thunderous pounding on his bedroom door rousted Richard from a deep sleep. "Coming." He scrambled out of bed, grabbed for his robe and jammed his toe on the bedpost as he tried to get to the door. Pain surged through his foot up his leg. "Great," he mumbled through gritted teeth.
He opened the door, a plastered smile on his face. "How can I help you?"
A thin man with a scar on his right cheek stood there.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Backus. I'll have it ready for you in a moment."
Jim Backus nodded and stepped aside. Having all male customers, Richard decided to forgo changing and went straight to the kitchen. He fired up the woodstove with small chunks so they'd burn quickly but continue to give the low heat he'd need for French toast. He grabbed one of the bottles of fresh cane syrup that he had bottled earlier in the season. He always purchased the last of the bread from the bakery at the end of the day. Today's selection of bread included a cinnamon raisin, which would make a very tasty French toast. Strawberries were in season, and they made a great garnish for the plate. Fresh-squeezed orange juice filled out the menu. Thankfully, he had sliced the bacon last night so he could put it on the other skillet.
Richard bussed the food from the kitchen to the dining area. His limp became more pronounced as his toe throbbed. He'd have to tape it. How on earth was he going to get the work done around the place with a broken toe? The men seemed to enjoy their breakfast. Grateful, he limped back into the kitchen and stopped short. "Mrs. Martin!" he gasped, and tugged his robe tighter.
"Mr. Arman, my apologies." Her face flamed. "I had an early start to my day."
"Excuse me." He stumbled back to the dining room and toward the master bedroom on the same floor.
Manny stood up as Richard passed by. "I'll take care of her."
Great! Not only had Grace Martin seen him in his robe, now Manny was going to attempt to manage the inn. Richard scurried to his room. Making certain the door was locked, he removed his robe and nightclothes, freshened up at the washbasin and dressed for the day. Unfortunately, he couldn't get his boot on over his broken toe. He put on a pair of slippers and hobbled into the kitchen, his head swimming from the pain. He found Manny and Grace washing the breakfast dishes. Grace's blond hair, spun around in a soft yellow bun, made him catch his breath and close his eyes for a moment. He counted to three then opened them only to find the most intoxicating, compassionate pair of brown eyes. But the pain resurged, evaporating the moment.
"Mrs. Martin, I appreciate your thoughtfulness but I do not need your pity."
"Mr. Arman, Manny told me you hurt yourself, and to help you by washing some dishes seems the Christian thing to do. Don't you agree?" She placed her damp hands on her hips.
Richard turned his gaze back to the stove. He knew he was overreacting, perhaps because he had allowed his thoughts to go in the direction of how beautiful Grace was. But she was off-limits, as was any woman. "Yes, I suppose so. Please forgive me."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I like the characters and their prayers during trials. The marriage wasn't right away but their friendship had time to develop instead.
Really enjoyed this book. I'm going to hace to read more by this author