The Memory House (Honey Ridge Series #1)

The Memory House (Honey Ridge Series #1)

by Linda Goodnight

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight welcomes you to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, and a house that's rich with secrets and brimming with sweet possibilities

Memories of motherhood and marriage are fresh for Julia Presley—though tragedy took away both years ago. Finding comfort in the routine of running the Peach Orchard Inn, she lets the historic, mysterious place fill the voids of love and family. No more pleasure of a man's gentle kiss. No more joy in hearing a child call her Mommy. Life is calm, unchanging…until a stranger with a young boy and soul-deep secrets shows up in her Tennessee town and disrupts the loneliness of her world.

Julia suspects there's more to Eli Donovan's past than his motherless son, Alex. There's a reason he's chasing redemption and bent on earning it with a new beginning in Honey Ridge. Offering the guarded man work renovating the inn, she glimpses someone who—like her—has a heart in need of restoration. But with the chance discovery of a dusty stack of love letters buried within the lining of an old trunk, the long-dead ghosts of a Civil War romance envelop Julia and Eli, connecting them to the inn's violent history and challenging them both to risk facing yesterday's darkness for a future bright with hope and healing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373779642
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/31/2015
Series: Honey Ridge Series , #1
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 600,362
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

New York Times and USA Today Bestseller, Linda Goodnight is the winner of the RITA and other highly acclaimed awards for her emotional fiction. Active in orphan ministry, this former nurse and teacher enjoys writing fiction that carries a message of hope and light in a sometimes dark world. A country girl, she lives in Oklahoma. Readers may contact her through her website: www.lindagoodnight.com

Read an Excerpt

Nashville, Tennessee

Freedom was its own kind of prison. These were the thoughts of Eli Donovan as he scraped drywall mud from his elbow and watched a familiar bronze Buick pull to the curb outside the remodel. With a tug in his gut, Eli tossed the trowel to the ground and straightened. What had he done now?

A man stepped out of the Buick and adjusted his blue tie before squinting toward the house. Their eyes met, held for a fraction of a second until Eli looked down. Once upon a time he would have challenged anyone in a staring contest. Hard time and maturity had changed him. He didn't want to fight anyone anymore. Certainly not his parole officer.

Saying nothing, Eli started across the greening lawn, past the scattered remains of lumber and construction junk. He was no longer arrogant and proud, but the jitter in his belly shamed him just the same.

"Eli." Mr. Clifford spoke first, broke the impasse. "How's it going?"

"Fine." He stopped two feet from the fortysomething officer of the court, taking in the slight sheen of sweat on the other man's balding head. Anxious, afraid of tripping himself up, he waited for Clifford to speak his business.

"I had a phone call this morning."

Still Eli waited, not knowing what to ask or say. If he misspoke, Clifford would get the wrong idea or ask questions Eli couldn't answer. There were always questions.

The parole officer pulled a paper from his pocket and pushed it toward him. "A woman name of Opal Kimble tracked you down through the warden. She wants to talk to you. Says she has something urgent to discuss. Mentioned the name Mindy."

Eli stared at the yellow Post-it note, the dread deepening. He licked dry lips, tasted drywall mud. "Mindy?"

"Is there anything I need to know? If you're into something—"

Eli interrupted. "I'm not. Mindy is an old friend. Did Opal say anything else?"

"No, she just left that number and insisted I contact you. I thought it might be important."

"Doubtful." Mindy was a sweet soul. She probably felt sorry for him and wanted to be sure he was all right. He refused to consider the other issue, certain she was better off not hearing from him.

"You could use a friend."

The comment took Eli aback. In the six months he'd known Pete Clifford, the man had shown him nothing but suspicion, as if he couldn't wait for the ex-con to step out of line so he could send him back to that stinking rat hole.

"I'm all right."

"Do you have a phone yet?"

"No."

Clifford extracted his from a belt holster. "Call her."

Eli considered only a moment before accepting the offer. No point in riling the man. He could make a call to an old woman he'd never met. Find out what she wanted and then get back to work. He needed the payday.

He took a moment to study the fancy cell phone. A lot had changed since he'd been gone. Technology marched on, as they said, and left the caged behind.

As he tapped in the numbers Eli was gratified when Clifford turned toward his vehicle. "I'll give you a minute."

"Thanks." The word was gravel on Eli's tongue but he was grateful. He didn't take acts of kindness lightly.

A woman's voice, stronger than he'd expected from the aunt Mindy had described as ancient, answered the call.

"Miss Kimble? Eli Donovan."

"About time you called, boy."

Her tone stiffened his spine but he remained silent. He focused elsewhere, as he'd learned to do in the difficult moments inside the big house, letting her talk while he only half listened. A pair of courting bluebirds caught Eli's eye as they dipped and flirted. He smiled a little, though the action felt stiff and unfamiliar. Since his release, he'd been mesmerized by nature. The rising sun, a fluttering butterfly, a dog sniffing tires. Nature brought a peace, a rightness to his tumultuous soul. In his despair and self-pity, he'd forgotten those simple gifts he'd once taken for granted.

In his ear, Opal said something that captured his attention. He tuned back in. "What did you say?"

"I said, Mindy left some things for you and I want you to come get them."

He frowned toward the horizon where a single gray cloud hovered like a promise of trouble. "Left things? Isn't she there?"

A beat of silence pulsed in his ear, tightened the knot in his chest.

When Opal spoke again, her tone softened. "I thought you knew. Mindy's gone."

"Gone where?" Not that he'd follow or make contact, but the woman was confusing him.

"Gone for good, Eli." Opal's voice cracked. "Mindy died."

2

Peach Orchard Inn Present Day

She'd kissed him goodbye that last morning. Julia was sure she had. Wasn't she? The action had been so ingrained in routine. Grab the backpack, stick the lunch box in his hand and kiss him, quick and sweet, before he galloped to the bus stop. She'd watched him get on the bus. She always did, though afterward she'd second-guessed a thousand times. If she'd driven him to school, or if she'd kept him home, because hadn't he been a sleepyhead that last wonderful, terrible morning?

Six years had passed and yet the horror and grief never left. It was the not knowing that drove Julia Presley quietly mad. In those moments of solitude, especially right before sleep and like now, upon waking, the thoughts would come in rapid-fire succession before she had a chance to block them. She'd become adept at blocking.

Most days she survived and some days she even thrived. But days like today were the worst. Michael's birthday. He was still alive. She had to believe that. Yet, wondering who had him and what was happening or had happened was too hard to bear. But bear it she did, for what choice did she have? Someday, somewhere, someone would spot him in a crowd or he would simply walk free of his captors and come home. Such miracles still happened, and those children once lost but now found gave Julia hope.

He would be fourteen today, no longer the wide-eyed little boy who hated baths and adored mud puddles. Was he tall and loose limbed like his father, and wouldn't he be heartbroken to know his mom and dad had unraveled within a year without him? That he was the glue holding their ragged marriage together and that in his absence, they'd been unable to comfort each other? They'd laid blame where none was due, such a stupid reaction to a heinous crime. The only person at fault was the evil being who'd snatched a happy little boy from a peaceful town where nothing bad ever happened. And yet, she felt responsible. Mikey was, after all, her child to guard and guide and she'd failed in that essential role of motherhood.

Dragging herself from beneath the ice-blue duvet, Julia reached first for the iPad on the nightstand. With a poke of a finger, she tapped open the Facebook page where Mikey's bright eight-year-old face smiled out at her next to a computer-aged photo. Would he really look like this today?

She trolled the comments, saw the handful of birthday wishes and closed the program with a sigh. No news. No sightings. Just like every day since she'd started the page with the help of a support group. Other mothers who waited for their children to come home. Most days she didn't visit the forums for idle conversation. They depressed her, and Lord knew she couldn't go back down that dark tunnel again.

With a breathed plea for strength to get through another day, Julia dressed and dabbed makeup on the shadowy half-moons beneath her eyes. Though dawn had yet to break, she had to get up and get moving. She had guests to attend, breakfast to cook and a myriad other tasks to address. Keeping busy was important, soothing therapy. Culinary therapy, she termed her cooking obsession. If she worked herself into exhaustion, she could sleep without the oppressive dreams.

She was thankful every day for the rather inexplicable purchase four years ago of Peach Orchard Inn, this big, old oddity of a Southern mansion, now a guesthouse. There was something benevolent about the two-story structure that had survived a Civil War and the century and a half since. The day Valery had dragged her out here "just to look," the house had wrapped itself around her like a warm hug. Though cobwebs and dust had covered everything, her heart had leaped. For the first time in months—years—she'd felt something other than despair. This wonderful old bed-and-breakfast had, quite literally, saved her sanity. She'd yet to understand why. It simply had.

She'd clung to her former home on Sage Street—Mikey's home—too long, fearing her son would return and find her gone, but she was dying there. Depressed, barely able to get out of bed each morning, and some days she didn't get up at all. Since a dead mother was not what she wanted her son to come home to, at her family's urging Julia had sold the modern brick home and moved into a piece of history sorely in need of restoration. In that way, she and the house were the same.

Everyone in Honey Ridge knew about Mikey's disappearance, but most were Southern enough to speak of the loss only among themselves and never to her. She was left alone and they, along with her family, pretended that she was a normal person, an ordinary divorced businesswoman running a guest inn and clinging to history—her own and that of this antebellum house.

She was stuck in the past, both in the distant and the near. Stuck. In freeze-frame for six years, waiting, unable to move forward, unwilling to give up that gossamer thread of hope that one day she'd awaken and Mikey's disappearance would only have been a nightmare.

Bingo, the aging Australian shepherd, rose from his rug at the foot of her bed. When Julia paused to give his blue-merle head a rub, she spotted an object on the floor where he'd slept. At first she thought it was a rock and bent to pick it up, puzzling to discover another smooth, round child's marble. Not an ordinary, modern marble. This one was reddish in color, made of clay, a handmade antique like the others she'd discovered in the house.

"Did you bring this in here, Bingo?" He was forever bringing her little gifts. "Better than the dead snake you brought last time."

She rolled the child's toy in her palm, wondering. She and Valery had found a number of interesting and historic items during the ongoing remodel, each one adding another layer of mystery and history to the old inn. But the marbles were different. They showed up randomly, usually in a place she'd recently cleaned and always on a bad day. They spoke to her, comforted her, and wouldn't Mama have a fit to hear that her unbalanced daughter was now communing with marbles.

"She'd say I've lost my marbles." Maybe she had.

Grasping comfort where she could, Julia slipped the little clay ball into her pocket and started toward the kitchen.

Bingo trotted by her side past the wide stairs that led from floor to floor. Though not as grand as the one in Gone with the Wind, the staircase had captivated Julia on sight. She imagined a nineteenth-century bride sweeping down these now burgundy carpeted stairs, one gloved hand on the gleaming oak banister as her heart canted toward her true love waiting next to the enormous marble fireplace in the parlor below.

Fantasy, yes, like the comforting marbles, but a house like this allowed a certain imaginative license. Part of a Southern upbringing is to believe history lingers in walls and whispers from ancient oaks, and though she believed in so little these days, she believed that. This house was a living entity and Julia had carefully listened as she and Valery worked to create an inn worthy of a special trip to a small town in rural Tennessee. An inn where others might find peace even if the owner couldn't.

Sometimes, when she sat on the enormous wraparound porch, Julia thought she heard the rattle of carriages and horse hooves between the double row of old magnolias. She was careful to tell no one about the incidents. Nor of the time she'd felt a cool, soothing hand on her forehead after a screaming nightmare about Mikey; nor of the little boy's laughter she sometimes imagined in the upper hallway. A woman with a slender hold on sanity had to be careful about her wild imagination, for that is all it was. Julia didn't believe in ghosts or spirits or even much in God anymore.

She'd once made the mistake of sharing one of the episodes with Valery, a confession that had driven her sister to the liquor cabinet. That was a move Julia did not want to repeat. Valery and liquor were a troubling pair, especially since her sister's latest battles with Jed the jerk, the worst boyfriend in history.

Though she and Valery were close, Julia had learned to keep her thoughts and grief to herself. No one understood. They expected her to move on and forget she'd had a son, a husband, a family. To forget she'd had a happy, almost perfect life until that horrible October morning.

Rounding into the kitchen, a late addition to the house, Julia flipped on lights and went straight for the coffee and oven dials. She might never win any chef awards but she loved to feed people.

Though her specialty was peach tea made from scratch, her coffee was good, too, a unique blend she ground herself and served French press. Guests were known to linger for hours over coffee, so she started there. The breakfast menu varied but always included a peach dish, mostly with fruit from her orchard. People expected peaches from an inn with a name like Peach Orchard.

In minutes, the ham-and-egg strata was ready for the oven, the peach-muffin batter spread among the tins, and the coffee sang its aromatic siren song. Taking a cup, Julia went out onto the front porch for her favorite time of day. With only the dog for company, she sat in one of four white wicker chairs to watch the sun break over the lawn and come sneaking through the waxy-leaved magnolias and fuchsia rhododendron. Last night's rain glistened like tiny crystals on the verdant grass while Old Glory hung limply from the white-board porch rail.

Julia made a frustrated sound in the back of her throat. Valery had forgotten to bring in the flag again last night, a clear breach of etiquette that would have the townspeople on the phone if anyone had driven past. Hopefully, no one had. Backed by woods, Peach Orchard Inn was off the main thoroughfare on the edge of town. Mikey would have loved this place. Room to run and explore and be a little boy in safety.

But safe was a relative term.

The house was shielded from the road by a thick stand of leafy trees, including the showy pink blooms of the peach orchard that ran to the right of the front lawn and down the north side. Sometimes she heard a car go by but mostly not. The small-town peace and quiet was one of the draws of her little guesthouse.

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The Memory House 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
RobinPatchen More than 1 year ago
I've read Linda Goodnight's books before, and I've always liked them. But this book is in a class by itself. Goodnight weaves rich, flawed, and memorable characters into a plot rich with twists and turns you never see coming. This is no weekend romance novel. The stories reflect the true, sacrificial love among parents and children and siblings and friends--not to mention men and women. This is one of the best books I've read in a long, long time.
indyjackie More than 1 year ago
Linda Goodnight has created one of her most stellar works to date in The Memory House which is a very poignant and at times heart-rending story of two families, one from the Civil War era and one from present day, who sustain horrific losses. Eli and Julia, and Charlotte and Will are fascinating couples who maintain their integrity despite their desperate circumstances. This book is one to keep and review again and again.
5643437 More than 1 year ago
Imagine losing your father in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers while also losing your memories of your father as well. This is what happened to Beck Holiday. As a police officer, Beck became hardened by life. But when she inherits a house in Florida from someone she can not even remember, her life begins to change. The characters in this book will pull you in and make you want to keep reading. The story is definitely one worth reading. This story does an amazing job of capturing the past and the present and weaving them into one spell-binding tale. So check out this book for yourself. I received a complimentary copy of this book for my fair and honest review.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Set in a small town in Tennessee in the sweetest inn - the Peach Orchard Inn and the owner Julia is still trying to put her life back together after her son goes missing. Her marriage dissolved after he went missing and she is trying to put all her effort into the inn. An interesting character ends up on her doorstep and she takes a chance and it changes her life. The above story is the main story, but there are some chapters interspersed that take this story to the next level. It is a historical storyline taking place in the same inn during the Civil War and a time when the house became a hospital and the habitants must try to survive the upheaval and the war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I became so involved with the characters in this book, hated for it to end.
Ariesgrl More than 1 year ago
Julia Presley’s heart is numb from the still unsolved disappearance of her son and the demise of her marriage. It doesn’t help that her family refuses to talk about the boy, who was ripped from her life. Julia decides to open a Bed and Breakfast in a charming, antebellum house in Honey Ridge, Tennessee. As she goes through the motions of each day, keeping her hands and mind busy, she can appear to be moving forward to the outside world. Eli Donovan has just learned he has a son and when his car breaks down in this new town, he stops by the Peach Orchard Inn desperate for work. Julia must decide whether she is willing to risk her heart in the company of this duo, in order to get the extra renovations completed and maybe discover some answers about this house’s mysterious history. This beautiful Southern Literature book mixes time periods and points-of-view to deliver a breathtaking tale of human growth. The author gives readers two stories delicately blending romance and mystery, in both a contemporary and historical setting. Though there are moments of slowness, readers will be engrossed in the storyline and they will be cheering for each of the characters. Fans of the Civil War time period will appreciate this story’s subplot. Overall, The Memory House is a very uplifting, poetic read that reminds us that even buildings have hearts. Notes: This review was written for Sasee Magazine and My Sister's Books. This review was posted on the Ariesgrl Book Reviews website.