First in the charming series from the author and TV producer whose credits include Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and HGTV’s House Hunters.Home is where the heart fits . . .
Summer Murray is ready to shake things up. She doesn’t want to work in risk management. She doesn’t want to live in Hartford, Connecticut. So she plans a grand adventure: she’s going to throw out all the stuff she doesn’t want and travel the country in her very own tiny house shaped like a train caboose. Just Summer, her chihuahua-dachshund Shortie, and 220 square feet of freedom.
Then her take-no-prisoners grandmother calls to demand Summer head home to the Pacific Northwest to save the family bakery. Summer has her reasons for not wanting to return home, but she’ll just park her caboose, fix things, and then be on her way. But when she gets to Cat’s Paw, Washington, she’s shocked by her grandmother’s strange behavior and reunited with a few people she’d hoped to avoid. If Summer is going to make a fresh start, she’ll have to face the past she’s been running from all along . . .
Praise for Celia Bonaduce and her novels
“Celia Bonaduce writes well rounded, real life characters straight from the heart. I loved this book!”—Phyliss Miranda, New York Times bestselling author
“The Merchant of Venice Beach has a fresh, heartwarming voice that will keep readers smiling as they dance through this charming story by Celia Bonaduce.”—Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author
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Summer Murray stared at the three large boxes marked KEEP, GIVEAWAY, and TRASH.
This is useless, she thought, frowning at the overflowing KEEP box. I'm supposed to be getting rid of stuff.
Summer was moving. She had to downsize. Overwhelmed with the prospect, she'd read article after online article on the subject. All the experts seemed to agree the "three-box" method would make it easier to get organized. But getting organized and downsizing appeared to be two distinctly different beasts.
She hugged a black wool coat to her chest, and took in a deep breath. The coat was an unfortunate impulse buy — a waistcoat worthy of the U.S. Calvary, circa 1865. She slipped her arms into the sleeves. The coat was from China, a country that really did not understand the concept of American breasts. At least, it didn't understand the concept of Summer's breasts.
The coat had three strikes against it: It didn't fit, she had not worn it in a year (she'd not worn it ever), and it had been out of style for almost 150 years. Summer, at 28, was still barely young enough to go the costume route should she so choose, but costumes really weren't her thing.
I will give this away, Summer willed herself, shrugging out of the too-tight coat. I. Will. Give. This. Away.
She stuffed the coat into the GIVEAWAY box. She looked down at it. The coat's coal-black buttons stared back at her as forlorn as a baby seal adrift on an ice flow.
Summer rescued the coat and dumped it into the KEEP box. After all, she lived on the East Coast, where it was certainly cold enough to need a wool coat, even with global warming. Perhaps she could take it to a tailor and get the bust-line let out. She wondered if there could possibly be eight inches of extra fabric in those seams.
Summer had first moved in to her riverfront two-bedroom, two-bath apartment four years ago, after graduating with her master's and landing a job with a big insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. She had originally set up the smaller bedroom as a home office. But after three months at her job downtown in a cubicle, the last thing she wanted to do was spend any more time in an office — home or otherwise. Especially one with overhead lighting. She'd read an article online about turning an unused room into a closet, and hired a handsome carpenter named Hans to build her a dream storage space. Summer tried to engage him in conversation, but Hans only seemed interested in his job and sports — neither of which Summer understood. By the time he'd finished working for her, Summer had bookcases along one wall for shoes, purses, scarves, hats, and various other accessories; double-hung poles for shorter pieces along another and a strong support for longer items along the third wall. She took pictures of his handiwork and showed them to her colleagues at work.
All her friends said it was the most spectacular closet they'd ever seen. They also took a great interest in Hans. Except for Aiden on Sex and the City, none of them had ever heard of such a skilled handyman. And even in the insurance capital of the world, eligible men in their late twenties and early thirties seemed to be in shorter and shorter supply.
Egged on by her friends, Summer toyed with the idea of inviting Hans for dinner. She didn't really have much luck with the opposite sex. A few dates and her passion always cooled. She was the Goldilocks of the dating world, always looking for the one who was "just right." She suspected she and Hans had nothing in common, but standing in her beautiful closet, she thought perhaps she should throw caution to the wind and just take a chance. As she reached for her phone, she happened to look up at the beautiful chandelier and realized — even as gorgeous as it was — it was still overhead lighting. You can disguise something, but it's still what it is.
She never made the call.
Summer hadn't thought about Hans in months. She wouldn't miss him when she left Hartford, but she sure would miss this closet. She held a pair of black leather espadrilles in her hands. Last spring, she'd twisted her ankle in them. Surely she could part with them! She strode purposefully toward the GIVEAWAY box but stopped just inches short of tossing them in. Was it the shoes' fault she fell? Hadn't she learned her lesson and would be more careful next time? They were just so damned cute!
She stared at the paltry GIVEAWAY box. There was a T-shirt from a marathon she'd run five years ago, a pair of pajamas, and one pair of jeans that were too big. She'd bought them online and thought about taking them to a tailor but then decided it was a comfort knowing there was a pair of jeans not just in the universe, but in her actual closet, that swam on her.
In the KEEP pile were the jeans that were too small. Summer usually bought jeans when she'd been dieting. They usually fit for about a week before she'd gain her seven pounds back. But she made it a rule to never get rid of a pair of pants until she could fit into them again. The too-small jeans had been around so long they were out of style. But she worried if she gave in to chucking them, she'd never have incentive to lose the weight. She knew it was preposterous, but who was she to thumb her nose at this unfounded fear? Even superstition had some foundation in reality.
She stared at the jeans, then the espadrilles, then back to the jeans. Something had to give.
A knock at the door saved her from a decision.
"Hello?" came a familiar voice from the hallway.
It was her neighbor Mary-Lynn Laite. Mary-Lynn insisted that everyone call her Lynnie.
"Lynnie just sounds friendlier, you know?" Lynnie explained when Summer first moved in.
There was no denying it, Lynnie was fanatically friendly. Summer hadn't been in the building a week before Lynnie offered to keep a spare key in case of emergencies. "Emergencies" seemed to translate into "any time I want to get into your apartment."
"Hi, Lynnie," Summer called. "I'm in the closet."
If there was one person to whom she didn't need to explain the layout of her apartment, it was Lynnie.
Somewhere along the road of Lynnie's fifty-five years, she'd decided she was meant to be in the center of things. Lynnie knew everything about everybody in the building, and was happy to spread gossip among the tenants. After Summer had made her big decision to leave not only her job but the town of Hartford, Lynnie (and therefore everyone in the building) seemed to know about it before she'd even turned in her notice at work.
"How are you doing, sweet pea?" Lynnie said through her permanently sorrowful I'm-on-your-side-expression.
"Plugging along, I guess," Summer shrugged, espadrilles in hand.
"Want to take a break?" Lynnie asked, holding up a plate of cookies. "Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Gluten-free, of course! Pick your poison ..."
When Lynnie got her diagnosis and learned that wheat would have to be banished from her world, you would have thought her life was over. She'd thrown herself on Summer's couch, begging for help.
"I've got something called celiac disease," Lynnie said.
"So ...that's no flour, right?"
"It's worse than that," Lynnie said. "Did you hear me? It's a disease. Not just flour, but soy sauce, beer — all kinds of stuff. How am I supposed to live without bread?"
"There's gluten-free bread," Summer said. "I've seen it in the freezer at the market."
"How can you, of all people, think frozen bread is worth eating?" Lynnie whimpered. "It tastes like sawdust."
Summer wished she'd never mentioned that her grandparents owned a bakery.
"There has to be a decent gluten-free bread out there," Summer said.
"I think you should experiment with some of those gluten-free flours and see what you can come up with," Lynnie said.
"Why should I experiment?" Summer asked. "I can eat wheat!"
"Bread is in your blood!" Lynnie said heatedly. "You come from a long line of bakers."
No matter how many times Summer told her that only her grandparents on her father's side of the family were bakers, Lynnie insisted on the long-line-of-bakers lineage for her.
Lynnie finally wore Summer down. Summer brought an automatic bread maker. Just the thought of her grandmother finding out that she had one terrified her. Still, in time, Summer crafted a sweet-enough, moist-enough, sort-of-flat-but-edible bread. She handed the bread maker and recipe to Lynnie and moved on. Lynnie had taken it from there, and now was turning out gluten-free treats on a weekly basis. Give a lady a loaf a gluten-free bread and she'll eat for a day. Give her a bread maker ...
Summer studied the cookies.
"Which one is better?" Summer asked, realizing how much she was going to miss these treats.
"I think the oatmeal raisin," Lynnie said. "Try one."
"Sure," Summer said, munching on the cookie.
She wasn't sure if she'd just gotten used to the heaviness in Lynnie's gluten-free offerings, but this one wasn't bad.
She gave Lynnie a thumbs up as she tossed the espadrilles in the GIVEAWAY box. Lynnie looked shocked.
"You've going to give away those darling shoes?" Lynnie asked. "If you are, I'll take them."
Lynnie had laid claim to just about everything in Summer's apartment — whether Summer was taking it or not.
"I haven't decided," Summer said, putting the shoes on a shelf and leading Lynnie and the cookie to the kitchen.
"I saw a big red truck in your parking space," Lynnie said. "You seeing somebody new?"
"No," Summer replied, hating herself for answering but knowing there was no point keeping anything from Lynnie. "It's mine."
"Wha ...?" Lynnie froze mid-bite.
"I'm going to need it." Summer shrugged, pleased that she'd caught her neighbor by surprise for once.
"Why'd you buy a big old truck?"
"To tow the house," Summer replied.
"I was hoping to hear you'd come to your senses," Lynnie sighed and put her half-eaten cookie down.
"That's very ... supportive of you," Summer said, hoping to end the conversation. Lynnie's lack of faith sometimes shook her to the core.
"I just don't want you to regret anything." Lynnie said, her "I'm on your side" expression going into overdrive. "I mean, you got a degree in risk management for a reason, right?"
"I guess so," Summer said, wondering if it really had ever been her goal to get a job in insurance. "But when I was choosing a major in college, risk management sounded a lot more exciting than it was. In the real world, it turns out to be too much management, and too little risk."
"Making felt purses to sell at craft fairs and dragging a tiny house behind a big truck?" Lynnie asked. "That's risk without the management, if you ask me."
I didn't ask you.
"I'm stuck in a job I don't want. Living a life I don't want. I just need to simplify things," Summer said. "And you're only young once, right?"
"Can't argue with that!" Lynnie sighed, looking around the half-packed apartment. "But I don't know how you're going to get all this stuff into 300 square feet."
"220 square feet," Summer said patiently. She'd explained all this before.
"Those tiny houses are just a fad, you know," Lynnie said. "If you want to live like a vagabond, the RV people have already figured everything out."
"Except how to make it feel like home," Summer said.
"I'm sure you could make an RV feel like home," Lynnie said. "You just don't want to put your mind to it because an RV is not trendy."
"Why are you defending RVs?"
"Why are you attacking them?"
"Just because I don't want to live in one doesn't mean I'm attacking them," Summer said, wondering why she was even having this conversation. "I just love the whole idea of living the life I choose, without crazy overhead, in a cute house."
"But 220 square feet!" Lynnie shuddered.
"It has two lofts."
"How is Shortie supposed to climb a ladder? Or does he only get to live on one floor?" Lynnie asked, a tinge of outrage in her voice for Summer's half Dachshund half Chihuahua companion.
"There are stairs to the bedroom loft," Summer said. "I've seen smaller dogs than Shortie climb stairs."
"On that TV show about tiny houses," Summer tried not to sound defensive.
"He'll figure it out."
At the sound of his name, Shortie waddled into the room. Both women stared at him. He had the huge ears and eyes of a Chihuahua, and the body and two-inch inseam of a Dachshund. He did not look like a dog who was going to navigate a tricky staircase.
Summer looked defiantly at Lynnie, but Lynnie had already lost interest in the dog.
"I guess you won't be taking those two chairs by the fireplace," Lynnie said, switching gears.
"I guess I won't," Summer said, waiting for what always came next.
"I can take them off your hands if you'd like." Lynnie said. "I mean, anything that will help you simplify your life."
"I'm going to miss you," Lynnie said as she got up and dusted crumbs off her jeans. "I mean, you and me have been a regular Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern."
Summer nodded. If it weren't for TV Land and Hulu, she wouldn't understand half of Lynnie's references. Lynnie saw herself to the door, mercifully leaving the cookies behind. Summer grabbed one, scooped Shortie off the floor and plopped them both down on one of the now-claimed chairs.
"Are we crazy?" Summer asked Shortie, giving him a pinch of an oatmeal-raisin cookie.
Visits with Lynnie always left Summer questioning her decisions. Was she happy? Was she doing what she really wanted to do in life? Exactly what did she want to do in life?
It was while she was asking herself the hard questions one day while folding laundry that she held up a sweater that she recognized by the pattern was hers, but by the size of it, it belonged to the toddler down the hall. She realized she'd washed and dried her favorite cashmere sweater on hot.
She raced to the computer and looked up how to un-shrink a cashmere sweater. Even the Internet, with its trove of false promises, gave her no hope. But a DIY video showed her how to turn it into a funky purse. She hauled out her hand-me-down sewing machine and followed the video's instructions. The purse came out a little lumpy, but she had to admit, it was pretty cute. Everyone at work wanted one. A tiny seed was planted that this might be something to explore.
It wasn't until she was at a viewing party for a colleague who had participated in a home renovation TV show that her new life plan materialized. Previews for the program Traveling in a Tiny House had everyone discussing the pros and cons of living this new vagabond existence. That night, Summer went home and started following several tiny travelers on Instagram. Within a week, she'd flown to Cobb, Kentucky, where the Internet said she'd find the perfect home. She met with Bale Barrett, who used to sell real estate and was now making small homes on wheels at Bale's Tiny Dreams. Bale was a startlingly large man to be selling tiny houses. His shoulders took up the entire width of the front door — a fact Summer pretended not to notice. She also pretended not to notice his green eyes, long legs, sun-flecked hair, or his calloused workman's hands. She was a sucker for a man whose hands felt like they knew how to earn a living. She sure wasn't going to meet anyone like that in the lunchroom at work. But there was more to Bale than his looks. He was a man following his dream! Inspired, she picked out a tiny house shaped like a caboose — if she was going to make a statement, she was going to make a statement. Summer wrote Bale a check and promised she'd be back to pick up her house on wheels in a month. She was ready to put her plan into action.
"If you change your mind," Bale said, covering her hand with both of his. "You call me. This is a big decision and I want you to be happy."
As she sat in the airport for her flight home, giddy with possibilities, she worried the Bale-ness of the situation might have gone to her head. She took a deep breath and fired up her computer. Typing in "Buyer's Remorse" with her manicured nails, she read article after article. According to the Internet, she had two choices: continuing with the purchase or renouncing the purchase. She looked at the situation as an impartial observer: assessing the risks, the rewards, and the financial burden. All her professional instinct said to cancel the check. But she remembered the sandpapery texture of Bale's big hands and flew back to Hartford to detonate her life.
Excerpted from "Tiny House on the Hill"
Copyright © 2017 Celia Bonaduce.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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