Review of HONOR BOUND by Hallee Bridgeman

This is high-octane romantic suspense centered around an obstetrician, Dr. Cynthia Myers, and the head of a special forces team, Captain Rick Norton. Cynthia is in Africa doing medical missions when a warlord threatens her and the entire village where she is practicing. One of Captain Norton’s missions is to safeguard Cynthia, so he does, killing various enemies in the process. Cynthia, a pacifist by nature, is torn up by the violence and does not understand why Rick has to kill people as part of his job. The action in this book is absolutely non-stop. I was a little put off by the three or so pages of military jargon in a glossary at the beginning of the book, but I did find referring to those acronyms useful more than once. This is a dynamic and riveting page turner, with a fast pace that never let up. Rick is coming to grips with his career, his failure to safeguard all of his men, and his growing feelings for Cynthia while Cynthia is in denial about her feelings for Rick and determined to forge a future without him. The story of their romance is a roller coaster ride of emotions. There is a great deal of depth to the story as the two separately explore their feelings and their faith in God. The plot was well-crafted and multi-layered with insightful looks into the lives of those in the spotlight and the warriors tasked to protect them. The character studies are fascinating and cleverly written to move the story along. With a unique perspective of military life and sacrifice, this book was enjoyable entertainment and a delightful story at the same time. I sincerely look forward to the next book in this series by the author.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Books via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Intense action but a clean Christian read
Hallee Bridgeman is the award winning and USA TODAY bestselling author of several action-packed romantic suspense books and series. An Army brat turned Floridian, Hallee settled with her husband in central Kentucky, where they have raised their three children. When she’s not writing, Hallee pursues her passion for cooking, coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Author photo and bio on website on Amazon at Amazon/Hallee Bridgeman

This is a new release for September! Purchase Links:

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Thrilled with great appreciation to Revell for introducing me to a new-to-me author who blew my socks off with her meticulous research and attention to detail!

Review of HER DARKEST SECRET by Jessica R. Patch

LIS is always an entertaining genre for me and this book was no exception. Having read and been enticed by the synopsis, I was thrilled to be chosen to read and review it, and it did not disappoint. There were some parts on the book in which I got bogged down in details that seemed superfluous, but overall the book was well written. It was filled with action and surprising twists that kept me guessing who the villain was. My favorite thing about the book was how well the author expressed the emotional turmoil of the characters as they raced to catch the killer. FBI Special Agent Fiona Kelly returns to her old team in Memphis because she has heard that the Nursery Rhyme Killer, known as NRK or just “Rhyme” is active again and is beckoning her there with messages just for her. Her history with him has her magnetically drawn to the scene and working on guessing what the clues mean and when and where he will strike again. Once in Memphis, Fiona has to also confront her ex Asa Kodak, the leader of the team who is currently involved with a police detective named Amanda. There are tons of characters in this book, but the way the author depicted each of them realistically helped me to keep them all straight. The plot was complicated but well-developed so that even when the racing train veered in a different direction, I was able to hold on to the straps and stay in my seat reading. The secondary characters are important to the action and unified to catch the killer. There was also an element of faith involved, especially since Asa is a new Christian and openly shares his faith. The intense action and the dynamic characters made this a book worth reading and worth looking for more in the series. Fans of high-octane romantic suspense will enjoy trying to solve the mystery along with the team.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Please note that this is NOT for all readers as it depicts extreme violence. The faith that is in this novel is like the faith of a new Christian and not firmly entrenched in the story. The characters express faith as well as doubts in the face of vicious evil. I would not encourage anyone to read this book who is not a mature reader. Rated M.
Author bio: Jessica R. Patch lives in the mid-south where she pens inspirational contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. You can find her watching way too much Netflix with her family, going on fun adventures (all in the name of research), and collecting recipes to amazing dishes she’ll probably never cook

This book is available for purchase now. Purchase Links:

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Many thanks to Harlequin and LIS for the ARC to read and review!

#JessicaRPatch, #HerDarkestSecret, #LoveInspired

Review of SUNBURST by Susan May Warren

Former SEAL Ranger Kingston is involved in a mission to rescue a group in Nigeria from Boko Haram. In fulfilling this mission, he meets Noemi Sutton for the second time and realizes that they may be destined to be together. With his brothers Dodge and Colt, Ranger runs toward danger and this book is chock full of action from page one all the way to the end. Set mostly in Nigeria but also in Alaska, the descriptions themselves make the book worth reading. The characters were take-charge and rough and ready kind of people. I especially loved Noemi’s family in Nigeria, particularly her Aunt Precious and Uncle Efe who loved her so much and wanted to take care of her. The celebration that they organized for her was sheer perfection to read and an education about customs in Nigeria. Ranger’s family in Alaska is a daring one, with a sky rescue service and the willingness to go wherever they were needed. So much was happening in this book at all times that I almost got whiplash from reading it! This was a fun, entertaining and edge-of-your-seat read that I had difficulty putting down. Each time I returned to it, I was so happy to see that the characters were all still alive because it was that realistic. I loved every minute that I spent engrossed in this book and I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series. Fans of romantic suspense, with the emphasis on thrilling suspense, will devour this book and clamor for more from this talented author.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

The intense action and events make this a PG-13. It is a clean Christian read.
With over 1 million books sold, critically acclaimed novelist Susan May Warren is the Christy, RITA and Carol award-winning author of over seventy-five novels with Revell, Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press. Known for her compelling plots and unforgettable characters, Susan has written contemporary and historical romances, romantic-suspense, thrillers, rom-com and Christmas novellas.
With books translated into eight languages, many of her novels have been ECPA and CBA bestsellers, were chosen as Top Picks by Romantic Times, and have won the RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice contest and the American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year award.
Of her books, Publisher’s Weekly has written, “Warren lays bare her characters’ human frailties, including fear, grief, and resentment, as openly as she details their virtues of love, devotion, and resiliency. She has crafted an engaging tale of romance, rivalry, and the power of forgiveness.”
And Library Journal adds, “Warren’s characters are well-developed and she knows how to create a first rate contemporary romance…”
Susan is also a nationally acclaimed writing coach, teaching at conferences around the nation and winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Mentor of the Year award. She loves to help people launch their writing careers and is the founder of Novel.Academy and http://www.LearnHowtoWriteaNovel.com, a writing website that helps authors get published and stay published. She’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. BIO and PHOTO from the author’s website on Amazon at Amazon

This book is available now and can be purchased wherever Christian books are sold. Here are purchase links:

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With sincere appreciation to Revell Reads Blogger Tour for introducing me to this author and this series. It is amazing!

My Steps Are Directed

bible.com/bible/113/pro.20.24.NIVUK

I don’t know how you all are feeling about life right now, but I have been buffeted by some heavy storms lately and I needed this reminder. I may not know what God is doing, but I can rest assured that He knows. He knows my heart is hurting because of what is happening with my grandson. We were told on Friday that his Bible that I had bought him to take to boot camp was stolen. He has no access to computers or the internet so that was his only access to God’s Word. I’m going to write him later today and tell him to ask the chaplain for a Bible and hope he can get a new one that way. My sister who has lived in the area (less than an hour from me) is moving to North Carolina today for health reasons. We share our love of books and will still be able to talk on the phone, but I cannot get to her easily if I want to because she will be almost four hours away. Finally, my daughter called and both of her dogs, the friendly faces that greet me when we go to visit, died this week. Her children are rightly upset which tears at this Nanna’s heart. Yes, they were old and they died peacefully, so there is that to be thankful for. It was just “one more thing.”

In spite of (or maybe because of) all of these events, I have been weepy and more that a little discouraged. I pray, I worship, I read and I write. Then, on Thursday, I ended up at my doctor’s office because I was having difficulty breathing. The usual for me..sinus infection and bronchitis with prescriptions for steroids and antibiotics. The good news is that our planned trip to Maryland and Pennsylvania to visit our children and grandchildren can still happen. I just have to take my nebulizer along and use it regularly. Was this part of my plan? No, of course not! None of the above circumstances were part of what I would plan for me. But God is in control and the final word is that I trust Him, completely and without reservation. He has the road map and I only have a small part of it that He shows me as He needs me to know. All of my crying and dismay is not for nothing because I have been pouring my heart out to my Heavenly Father, getting closer to the Only One who can lead me through all of this. He knows what is going on and He has comforted me and sent me words of hope and encouragement like those above. Meanwhile, I would appreciate prayers from each of my friends online for strength and for renewal of my spirit. I appreciate you all more than words can say because I know that wherever you are, you will pray for me and my little road bumps. I will go on in fellowship with God, believing that He is working all things out for my ultimate good.

May God bless you with a straight path that you can walk in victory.

The Way of Love

Growing up, I used to hear an old saying in my house a lot. “Your actions are speaking so loud that I can’ t hear what you’re saying.” Well, the grammar was poor (should be loudly), but the sentiment of the sentence is spot on and even Biblical in a way. We can’t just go around saying the Good News; we have to live it in front of others.

Do you remember a game I played as a child called “Follow the Leader”? Whatever the leader did, we were supposed to do and you were out of the game if you failed to follow. The Christian life with Jesus is not a game, but we are all definitely called to follow our leader and do whatever He would do and nothing that He would not do. The movement a couple of decades ago called WWJD (What would Jesus do) is based on a Scripture verse that encourages believers to imitate Christ.

Just as our children imitate us as they are growing up and learning the ways of the world, we are told to be like children and to imitate Christ. What did Jesus do? He loved…always loved. He rebuked sin and stood firmly for righteousness, but He personified love even in His stern rebukes of the rampant sins of the day. He empathized with those who were hurting and who needed a touch from Him to be made whole. He loved! Can we do any less? When we see someone in need, are we content to say, “I’ll pray for you” or do we get into the trenches with that person and try to meet their needs, just as Jesus did? I’m talking to myself as much as to you. Oftentimes, more often than not, I am not as bothered by the plight of people as I should be, so I just give them an over my shoulder as I walk away blessing and prayer and continue on my way. How many lives could we touch for Jesus if we took the time to really look at others and their needs and to meet the ones that we are able to? To me, that is walking in love. You walk, you see someone in need, you help fulfill the need and then you walk on and find the next person in need. I think that it is in meeting the needs of those we encounter on a daily basis that we show them the heart of Jesus. Once we have met the physical needs, these people will be much more willing to hear our words about the sacrifice that Jesus made for them.

Our actions then need to match our words. If we say we love Jesus, then we need to imitate Him, follow His example and be lovers of His people, the lost sheep who are perishing without the hope that only He can give. Telling people that I’m a Christian has not brought a single person to the foot of the cross, but showing people what actually following Jesus means is evangelism in action.

Have a blessed day and may you be aware that as you follow Jesus, others are looking to see if you are really imitating Him and walking in love.

Review of THE WRONG VICTIM by Allison Brennan

Starting with an explosion on board a charter cruise ship, this book maintains its high-octane energy until the very end. When the Mobile Response Team headed by Matt Costa is called to a small town off the coast of Washington to investigate the explosion, the action ramps up between the townspeople, the MRT and among the members of the MRT. I have read the other books in the series, but I did not see the conflict coming between Catherine and Kara Quinn. Kara is having a not-so-secret relationship with Matt and Catherine warns her away in a totally unfriendly, butt-into-your-life kind of way. The tension within the team is palpable and very realistically portrayed. There is a lot of information about the backstories of some of the team members which was absorbing and helped me to understand why they were on the team and their contributions there. All of the characters were fleshed out and I particularly enjoyed the characters of Ryder, the computer geek, and Michael, the former SEAL who performs heroics like it’s a natural part of his life. In the town, there were the families of the victims, including a widow who was a sympathetic character to me from the beginning. The plot was tightly woven together with clues throughout about who the perpetrator was and the motive behind the killings. There is a sub-plot about unsolved cold cases that one of the victims was investigating and was a possible reason for the bombing. I enjoyed the determination and the dedication of the MRT and loved feeling as though I were enjoying an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds as I enjoyed the details of the investigation. This can be read as a standalone, but I do think readers will enjoy this one more if they start from the beginning and get the background of Matt’s championing the unit and then heading it up. Fans of suspense thrillers will enjoy this book that has plenty of chilling moments and a touch of romance.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Rated a hard PG-13 because of content.
ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets.
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Author website: https://www.allisonbrennan.com/
Facebook: @AllisonBrennan
Twitter: @Allison_Brennan
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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/52527.Allison_Brennan

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

A killer walked among the peaceful community of Friday Harbor and retired FBI Agent Neil Devereaux couldn’t do one damn thing about it because he had no evidence.

Most cops had at least one case that haunted them long after the day they turned in their badge and retired. For Neil, that obsession was a cold case that his former law enforcement colleagues believed was closed. Not only closed, but not a double homicide at all—simply a tragic accident.

Neil knew they’d got it wrong; he just couldn’t prove it. He hadn’t been able to prove it thirteen years ago, and he couldn’t prove it now.

But he was close.

He knew that the two college boys didn’t drown “by accident;” they were murdered. He had a suspect and he’d even figured out why the boys had been targeted.

Knowing who and why meant nothing. He needed hard evidence. Hell, he’d settle for any evidence. All his theory got him was the FBI file on the deaths sent by an old friend, and the ear of a detective on the mainland who would be willing to investigate if Neil found more.

“I can’t open a closed death investigation without evidence, buddy.”

He would have said the same thing if he was in the same position.

Confronting the suspected killer would be dangerous, even for an experienced investigator like him. This wasn’t an Agatha Christie novel like his mother used to read, where he could bring the suspect and others into a room and run through the facts—only to have the killer jump up and confess.

Neil couldn’t stand to think that anyone might get away with such a brazen murder spree, sparked by revenge and deep bitterness. It’s why he couldn’t let it go, and why he felt for the first time that he was close…close to hard evidence that would compel a new investigation.

He was tired of being placated by the people he used to work with.

He’d spent so long following dead ends that he’d lost valuable time—and with time, the detailed memories of those who might still remember something about that fateful weekend. It was only the last year that Neil had turned his attention to other students at the university and realized the most likely suspect was living here, on San Juan Island, right under his nose.

All this was on his mind when he boarded the Water Lily, his favorite yacht in the West End Charter fleet. He went through his safety checklist, wondering why Cal McKinnon, the deckhand assigned to this sunset cruise, wasn’t already there.

If he wasn’t preoccupied with murder and irritated at Cal, Neil may have noticed the small hole in the bow of the ship, right above the water line, with fishing line coming out of it, taut in the water.

*

“I’m sorry. It’s last minute, I know,” Cal said to Kyle Richards in the clubhouse of West End Charter. “But I really need to talk to Jamie right away.”

“It’s that serious?” asked his longtime friend Kyle.

“I cannot lose her over this. I just can’t. I love her. We’re getting married.”

At least he hoped they were still getting married. Two months ago Jamie finally set a wedding date for the last Saturday in September—the fifth anniversary of their first date. And now this whole thing was a mess, and if Cal didn’t fix it now, he’d never be able to fix it.

You already blew it. You blew it five years ago. You should have told her the truth then!

“Alright then, go,” Kyle said. “I’ll take the cruise. I need the extra money, anyway. But you owe me—it’s Friday night. I had a date.”

Cal clapped Kyle on the back. “I definitely owe you, I’ll take your next crappy shift.”

“Better, give me your next corporate party boat.” Corporate parties on the largest yacht in their fleet had automatic eighteen percent tips added to the bill, which was split between a typical four-man crew in addition to salary. Plus, high-end parties often paid extra. Drunk rich people could become very generous with their pocket cash.

“You got it—it’s next Saturday night, the Fourth of July—so we good?”

Kyle gave him a high five, then left for the dock.

Cal clocked out and started for home. He passed a group of sign-carrying protesters and rolled his eyes.

West End Charter: Profit Over Protection

Protect Fish Not Profits!

Hey Hey Ho Ho Ted Colfax has to go!

Jeez, when would these people just stop? West End Charter had done nearly everything they wanted over the last two years—and then some—but it was never good enough.

Fortunately, the large crowds of protesters that started after the West End accident had dwindled over the last two years from hundreds to a half dozen. Maybe because they got bored, or maybe because West End fixed the problem with their older fleet, Cal didn’t know. But these few remaining were truly radical, and Cal hoped they didn’t cause any problems for the company over the lucrative Fourth of July holiday weekend.

He drove around them and headed home. He had more important things to deal with than this group of misfits.

Cal lived just outside of Friday Harbor with Jamie and their daughter. It was a small house, but all his, his savings covering the down payment after he left the Coast Guard six years ago. But it was Jamie who made the two-bedroom cottage a real home. She’d made curtains for the windows; put up cheery pictures that brightened even the grayest Washington day; and most recently, she’d framed some of Hazel’s colorful artwork for the kitchen nook he’d added on with Kyle’s help last summer.

He’d wanted to put Jamie on the deed when she moved in with him, but she wanted to go slower than that. He wanted to marry her, but she’d had a bad breakup with her longtime boyfriend before they met and was still struggling with the mind games her ex used to play on her. If that bastard ever set foot back on the island, Cal would beat him senseless.

But the ex was far out of the picture, living down in California, and Cal loved Jamie, so he respected her wishes not to pressure her into marriage. When she found out she was pregnant, he asked her to marry him again—she said yes but wanted to wait.

“There’s no rush. I love you, Cal, but I don’t want to get married just because I’m pregnant.”

He would move heaven and earth for Jamie and Hazel—why didn’t she know that?

That’s why when she finally settled on a date, confirmed it with invitations and an announcement in the San Juan Island newspaper, that he thought it would be smooth sailing.

And then she left.

As soon as he got home, he packed an overnight bag while trying to reach Jamie. She didn’t answer her cell phone. More than likely, there was no reception. Service was sketchy on the west side of the island.

He left another message.

“Jamie, we need to talk. I’m sorry, believe me I’m sorry. I love you. I love Hazel. I just want to talk and work this out. I’m coming to see you tonight, okay? Please call me.”

He was so frustrated. Not at Jamie—well, maybe a little because she’d taken off this morning for her dad’s place without even telling him. Just left him a note on the bathroom mirror.

Cal,

I need time to think. Give me a couple days, okay? I love you, but right now I just need a little perspective.

Jamie.

Cal didn’t like the “but” part. What was there to think about? He loved her. They had a life together. Jamie and their little girl Hazel meant everything to him. They were getting married in three months!

He’d given her all day to think and now they needed to talk. Jamie had a bad habit of remaining silent when she was upset, thanks to that prick she’d dated before Cal. Cal much preferred her to get angry, to yell at him, to say exactly how she felt, then they could move on.

He jumped in his old pickup truck and headed west, praying he could salvage his family, the only thing he truly cared about. Failure was not an option.

*

That night Kyle clocked in and told the staff supervisor, Gloria, that Cal was sick, and he was taking the sunset cruise for him.

“Are you lying to me?” Gloria asked, looking over the top of her glasses at him.

“No, well, I mean, he’s not sick sick.” Dammit, Kyle had always been a piss-poor liar. “But he and Jamie had a fight, I guess, and he wants to fix it.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to Cal tomorrow. Don’t you go lying for him.”

“Don’t get him in trouble, Gloria.”

She sighed, took off her large glasses and cleaned them on her cotton shirt. “I like Cal as much as everyone, I’m not going to jam him up, but he should have come to me. I’ll bet he gave you his slot on the Fourth, didn’t he?”

Kyle grinned. Gloria had worked for West End longer than Kyle had been alive. They couldn’t operate without her.

“Eight people total. A party of four and two parties of two.” Gloria handed him the clipboard with the information of those who had registered for tonight’s sunset cruise. “Four bottles of champagne, a case of water, and cheese and fruit trays are onboard. You have one minute.”

“Thanks Gloria!” He ran down the dock to the Water Lily. He texted his boyfriend as he ran.

Hey, taking Cal’s shift, docking at 10—want to meet up then?

He sent the message and almost ran into a group who were already standing at the docks. Two men, two women, drinks in hand from the West End Club bar, in to-go cups.

“Can we board?” the tallest of the four asked.

“Give me one minute. What group are you with?”

“Nava Software.”

Kyle looked at his watch. Technically boarding started in five minutes; they’d be pushing off in twenty.

“I need to get approval from the captain.” He smiled and jumped over the gate. He found Neil Devereaux on the bridge, reading weather reports.

“You’re late,” Neil said without looking up.

“Sorry, Skipper. Cal called in sick.”

Neil looked at him. “Oh, Kyle, I didn’t know it was you. I was expecting Cal.”

“He called out. Everything okay?” Neil didn’t look like his usual chipper self.

“I had a rough day.”

Rough day? Neil was a retired federal agent and got to pick any shift he wanted. Everyone liked him. If he didn’t want to work, he didn’t. He had a pension and didn’t even have to work but said once that he’d be bored if he didn’t have something to do. He spent most of his free time fishing or hanging out at the Fish & Brew. Kyle thought he was pretty cool for a Boomer.

“Your kids okay?” he asked.

Neil looked surprised at the question. “Yes, of course. Why?”

“You said you had a rough day—I just remember you talking about how one of your kids was deployed or something.”

He nodded with a half smile. “Good memory. Jill is doing great. She’s on base in Japan, a mechanic. She loves it. And Eric is good, just works too much at the hospital. Thanks for asking.”

“Four guests are waiting to board—is it okay?”

“There’s always someone early, isn’t there?”

“Better early than late,” Kyle said, parroting something that Neil often said to the crew.

Neil laughed, and Kyle was glad he was able to take the skipper’s mind off whatever was bothering him.

“Go ahead, let them on—rear deck only. Check the lines, supplies, and emergency gear, okay? No food or drink until we pass the marker.”

“Got it.”

Kyle slid down the ladder as his phone vibrated. It was Adam.

F&B only place open that late—meet at the club and we’ll walk over, k?

He responded with a thumbs-up emoji and a heart, then smiled at the group of four. “Come aboard!”

*

Madelyn Jeffries sat on the toilet—not because she had to pee, but because she didn’t want to go on this cruise, not even for only three hours. She didn’t want to smile and play nice with Tina Marshall just because Pierce wanted to discuss business with Tina’s husband Vince.

She hated Tina. That woman would do anything to make her miserable. All because Pierce had fallen in love with her, Madelyn Cordell, a smart girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Tacoma.

Pierce didn’t understand. He tried, God bless him, but he didn’t. He was from another generation. He understood sex and chivalry and generosity and respect. He was the sweetest man she’d ever met. But he didn’t understand female interactions.

“I know you and Tina had somewhat of a rivalry when we met. But sweetheart, I fell in love with you. There’s no reason for you to be insecure.”

She wasn’t insecure. She and Pierce had something special, something that no one else could understand. Even she didn’t completely understand how she fell so head over heels for a man older than her deadbeat father. Oh, there was probably some psychologist out there who had any number of theories, but all Madelyn knew was that she and Pierce were right.

But Tina made her see red.

Tina, on top of this pregnancy—a pregnancy Madelyn had wanted to keep quiet, between her and Pierce, until she was showing. But somehow Pierce’s kids had found out last week, and they went ballistic.

They were the reason she and Pierce decided to get away for a long weekend. Last night had been wonderful and romantic and exactly what she needed. Then at brunch this morning they ran into Tina and Vince who were on a “vacation” after their honeymoon.

Madelyn didn’t doubt that Tina had found out she was here and planned this. There was no doubt in her mind that Tina had come to put a wedge between her and Pierce. After five years, why couldn’t she just leave her alone?

Just seeing Tina brought back the fearful, insecure girl Madelyn used to be, and she didn’t want that. She loved her life, she loved her husband, and above all she loved the baby inside her.

She flushed the toilet and stepped out of the stall.

Tina stood there by the sink, lips freshly coated with bloodred.

Madelyn stepped around her and washed her hands.

“Vince took me to Paris for our honeymoon for two glorious weeks,” said Tina.

Madelyn didn’t respond.

“I heard that you went to Montana.” Tina giggled a fake, frivolous laugh.

It was true. They’d spent a month in the Centennial Valley for their honeymoon, in a beautiful lodge owned by Pierce. They went horseback riding, hiking, had picnics, and she even learned how to fish—Pierce wanted to teach her, and she found that she enjoyed it. Fishing was relaxing and wholesome, something she’d never considered before. It had been the best month of her life.

But she wasn’t sharing that with Madelyn. Her time with Pierce was private. It was sacred.

She dried her hands and said, “Excuse me.”

“You think you’ve changed, but you haven’t. You’re still the little bug-eyed girl who followed me around for years. I taught you how to walk, I taught you how to attract men, I taught you how to dress and talk and act like you were somebody. If it wasn’t for me, you would never have met Pierce Jeffries. And you took him from me.”

“The boat leaves in five minutes.” Madelyn desperately wanted to get away from Tina.

“Vince and Pierce are going into business together. We’ll be spending a lot of time together, you and me. You would do well to drop the holier-than-thou act and accept the fact that I am back in your life and I’m not going anywhere.”

Madelyn stared at Tina. Once she’d been in awe of the girl, a year older than she was, who always seemed to get what she wanted. Tina was bold, she was beautiful, she was driven.

But she would never be satisfied. Did she even love Vince Marshall? Or had she married him because of the money and status he could give her?

Madelyn hated that when she first met Pierce she had thought he was her ticket out of poverty and menial jobs. She hated that she had followed Tina’s advice on how to seduce an older man.

Madelyn had fallen in love with Pierce, not because he was rich or powerful or for what he could give her. She loved him because he was kind and compassionate. She loved him because he saw her as she was and loved her anyway. But when he proposed to her, she’d fallen apart. She’d told him that she loved him, but she could never marry him because everything she was had been built on a lie—how she got her job at the country club, now they first met, how she had targeted him because he was wealthy and single. She would never forgive herself; how could he? His marriage proposal had been romantic and beautiful—he’d taken her to the bench where they first had a conversation, along the water of Puget Sound. But she ran away, ashamed.

He’d found her, she’d told him everything, the entire truth about who she was—a poor girl from a poor neighborhood who pretended to be worldly and sophisticated to attract men.

He said he loved her even more.

“I knew, Madelyn, from the beginning. But more, I see you, inside and out, and that’s the woman I love.”

Madelyn stared at her onetime friend. “Tina, you would do well to mind your p’s and q’s, because if I tell Pierce to back off, he’ll back off.”

She sounded a lot more confident than she felt. When it came to business, Pierce would listen to her, but he deferred to his oldest son, who worked closely with him. And Madelyn had never given him an ultimatum. She’d never told him what to do about business. She’d never have considered it, except for Tina.

Tina scowled.

Madelyn passed by her, then snipped, “By the way, nice boob job.”

She left, the confrontation draining her. She didn’t want to do this cruise. She didn’t want to go head-to-head with Tina for the next three hours.

She didn’t want to use the baby as an excuse…but desperate times and all that.

Pierce was waiting for her on the dock, talking to Vince Marshall.

“Would you excuse us for one moment, Vince?” she said politely.

“Of course, I’ll catch up with Tina and meet you on the boat.”

She smiled and nodded as he walked back to the harbormaster’s building.

“What is it, love?” Concerned, worried, about her.

“I thought morning sickness was only in the morning. I’m sorry—I fear if I get on that boat, I’ll be ill again. I don’t want to embarrass you.”

“Nonsense,” he said. He took her hand, kissed it. “You will never embarrass me.” He put their joined hands on her stomach. The warmth and affection in his eyes made her fall in love with him again. She felt like she loved Pierce a little more every day. “I can meet with Vince tomorrow. I’ll go back to the house with you.”

“This business meeting is important to you, isn’t it?”

“It might be.”

“Then go. Enjoy it. I can get home myself. Isn’t that what Ubers are for?”

“A sunset is not as pretty without the woman I love holding my hand.”

She wanted him home with her, but this was best. They had separate lives, at least in business; she didn’t want to pressure him in any way, just because she detested Tina. “I will wait up for you.”

He leaned over and kissed her. Gently. As if she would break. “Take good care of the woman I love, Bump,” he said to her stomach.

She melted, kissed him again, then turned and walked back down the dock, fighting an overwhelming urge to go back and ask Pierce to come home with her.

But she wouldn’t do it. It was silly and childish. Instead, she would go home, read a good book, and prepare a light meal for when Pierce came home. Then she would make love to her husband and put her past—and that hideous leech Tina Marshall—firmly out of her mind.

*

Jamie already regretted leaving Friday Harbor.

She listened to Cal’s message twice, then deleted it and cleaned up after dinner. Hazel was watching her half hour of PAW Patrol before bath, books, and bed.

Her dad’s remote house near Rogue Harbor was on the opposite side of the island from where they lived. Peaceful, quiet, what she thought she needed, especially since her dad wasn’t here. He was an airline pilot and had a condo in Seattle that he lived in more often than not, coming up here only when he had more than two days off in a row.

She left because she was hurt. She had every right to be hurt, dammit! But now that she was here, she wondered if she’d made a mistake.

Cal hadn’t technically cheated on her. But he also hadn’t told her that his ex-girlfriend was living on the island, not until the woman befriended her. She wouldn’t have thought twice about it except for the fact that Cal had hidden it from her.

She had a bad habit of running away from any hint of approaching drama. She hated conflict and would avoid it at all costs. Her mother was drama personified. How many times had young Jamie run to her dad’s house to get away from her mother’s bullshit? Finally when she was fifteen she permanently moved in with her dad, changed schools, and her mother didn’t say squat.

“You should have stayed and talked it out,” she mumbled to herself as she dried the dishes. The only bad thing about her dad’s place was that there was no dishwasher.

But Cal was coming to see her tonight. He didn’t run away from conflict. She wanted to fix this but didn’t know how because she was hurt. But he had to work, so she figured she had a few hours to think everything through. To know the right thing to do.

“Just tell him. Tell him how you feel.”

Her phone buzzed and at first she thought it was an Amber Alert, because it was an odd sound.

Instead, it was an emergency alert from the San Juan Island Sheriff’s Office.

19:07 SJSO ALERT! VESSEL EXPLOSION ONE MILE OUT FROM FRIDAY HARBOR, INJURIES UNKNOWN. ALL VESSELS AVOID FRIDAY HARBOR UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

Her stomach flipped and she grabbed the counter when a wave of dizziness washed over her.

She turned on the small television in the kitchen and switched to the local news. She watched in horror as the news anchor reported that a West End Charter yacht had exploded after leaving for a sunset cruise. He confirmed that it was the Water Lily and did not know at this time if there were survivors. Search and rescue crews were already out on the water, and authorities advised all vessels to dock immediately.

Cal had been scheduled to work the Water Lily tonight.

Hazel laughed at something silly on PAW Patrol. Jamie caught her breath, then suddenly tears fell. How could—? No. Not Cal. She loved him and even if they had problems, he loved Hazel more than anything in the world. He was the best father she could have hoped for. Hazel wasn’t planned, but she was loved so much, and Cal had made it clear that he was sticking, from the very beginning. How could she forget that? How could she have forgotten that Cal had never made her feel inadequate, he’d never hurt her, he always told her she could do anything she wanted? He was always there for her…when she was bedridden with Hazel for two months. When she broke her wrist and Hazel was still nursing, he held the baby to her breast every four hours. Changed every diaper. He sang to Hazel, read her books, giggled with her in makeshift blanket forts when thunder scared her.

And now he was gone.

There could be survivors. You have to go.

She couldn’t bring Hazel to the dock. The search, the sirens, the fear that filled the town. It would terrify the three-year-old.

But she couldn’t stay here. Cal needed her—injured or not, he needed her and she loved him. It was as simple as that. Rena would watch Hazel so Jamie could find Cal, make sure he was okay.

“Hazel, we’re going home.”

“I wanna sleep at Grandpa’s!”

“I forgot to feed Tabby.” Tabby was a stray cat who had adopted their carport on cold or rainy nights. He wouldn’t come into the house, and only on rare occasions would let Jamie pet him, but she’d started feeding him. Hazel had of course named him after a cat on her favorite show.

“Oh, Mommy! We gotta go rescue Tabby!”

And just like that, Hazel was ready.

Please, God, please please please please make Cal okay.

*

Ashley Dunlap didn’t like lying to her sister, but Whitney couldn’t keep a secret to save her life, and if Whitney said one word to their dad about Ashley’s involvement with Island Protectors, she’d be grounded until she graduated—and maybe even longer.

“We’re going to be late,” Whitney said.

“Dad will understand,” Ashley said, looking through the long lens of her camera at the West End Charter boat leaving port. She snapped a couple pictures, though they were too far away to see anything.

She was just one of several monitors who were keeping close tabs on West End boats in the hopes that they would catch them breaking the law. West End may have been able to convince most people in town that they had cleaned up their act, and some even believed their claims that the leakage two years ago was an accident, but as the founder of IP Donna Bell said time and time again, companies always put profit over people. And just because they hadn’t caught them breaking the law didn’t mean that they weren’t breaking the law. It was IP who documented the faulty fuel tanks two years ago that leaked their nasty fuel all over the coast. Who knows how many fish died because of their crimes? How long it would take the ecosystem to recover?

“Ash, Dad said not a minute past eight, and it’s already seven thirty. It’s going to take us thirty minutes just to dock and secure the boat.”

“It’s a beautiful evening,” Ashley said, turning her camera away from the Water Lily and toward the shore. Another boat was preparing to leave, but the largest yacht in the fleet—The Tempest—was already out with a group of fifty whale watching west of the island in the Haro Strait. Bobby and his brother were out that way, monitoring The Tempest.

Ashley was frustrated. They just didn’t have people who cared enough to take the time to monitor West End. There were only about eight or nine of them who were willing to spend all their free time standing up to West End, tracking their boats, making sure they were obeying the rules.

Everyone else just took West End’s word for it.

Whitney sighed. “I could tell Dad the sail snagged.”

“You can’t lie to save your life, sis,” Ashley said. “We’ll just tell him the truth. It’s a beautiful night and we got distracted by the beauty of the islands.”

Whitney laughed, then smiled. “It is pretty, isn’t it? Think those pictures are going to turn out? It’s getting a little choppy.”

“Some of them might,” she said.

Ashley turned her camera back to the Water Lily. The charter was still going only five knots as they left the harbor. She snapped a few pictures, saw that Neil Devereaux was piloting today. She liked Neil—he spent a lot of time at the Fish & Brew talking to her dad and anyone else who came in. He’d only lived here for a couple years, but he seemed like a native of the small community. She’d talked to him about the pollution problem from West End, and he kept saying that West End fixed the problem with the old tanks and he’d seen nothing to suggest that they had other problems or cut corners on the repairs. He told her he would look around, and if anything was wrong, he’d bring it to the Colfax family’s attention.

But could she believe him? Did he really care or was he just trying to get her to go away and leave West End alone?

Neil looked over at their sailboat, and both she and Whitney waved. He blew the horn and waved back.

A breeze rattled the sail, and Whitney grabbed the beam. “Shit!” she said.

Ashley put her camera back in its case and caught the rope dangling from the mast. “You good, Whit?”

“Yeah, it just slipped. Beautiful scenery is distracting. I got it.”

Whitney bent down to secure the line, and Ashley turned back toward the Water Lily as it passed the one-mile marker and picked up speed.

The bow shook so hard she thought they might have hit something, then a fireball erupted, shot into the air along with wood and—oh, God, people!—bright orange, then black smoke billowed from the Water Lily. The stern kept moving forward, the boat in two pieces—the front destroyed, the back collapsing.

Whitney screamed and Ashley stared. She saw a body in the water among the debris. The flames went out almost immediately, but the smoke filled the area.

“We have to help them,” Ashley said. “Whitney—”

Then a second explosion sent a shock wave toward their sailboat and it was all they could do to keep from going under themselves. Sirens on the shore sounded the alarm, and Ashley and Whitney headed back to the harbor as the sheriff’s rescue boats went toward the disaster.

Taking a final look back, Ashley pulled out her camera and took more pictures. If West End was to blame for this, Ashley would make sure they paid. Neil was a friend, a good man, like a grandfather to her. He…he couldn’t have survived. Could he?

She stared at the smoking boat, split in two.

No. She didn’t see how anyone survived that.

Tears streamed down her face and as soon as she and Whitney were docked, she hugged her sister tight.

I’ll get them, Neil. I promise you, I’ll prove that West End cut corners and killed you and everyone else.

Excerpted from The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2022 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

Available on 4-26 (tomorrow!) Purchase Links:

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Many thanks to HTP Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!
A wonderful opportunity to meet the author is available for those of you in the Scottsdale AZ area!

Review of SUMMER ON THE ISLAND by Brenda Novak

Romance, a little mystery, family drama and a theme of forgiveness and moving forward…this book has everything that lovers of contemporary women’s fiction could want. Marlow returns home to Teach Island for the summer, bringing her friends Claire and Aida with her. Marlow wants to get away from being a divorce lawyer and all of the bad karma that comes from listening to people whose lives have imploded. Aida is recently divorced and Claire lost her yoga studio and her home to the wildfires. Enough drama yet? This is just the introduction! The story is a little complicated and extremely engaging. There are a few twists and plenty of romance, some of it steamier than I like, but I just skimmed over those parts without really losing anything from the central story. I really enjoyed the beach setting and the family beach house named Seaclusion. Perfect! I’m a big fan of believable characters who put their vulnerability out there and aren’t afraid to try to pursue the gold at the end of the rainbow. This book had characters that were easy to love, easy to hate and even a few that I’m still not sure whether I really could ever be friends with them or not. But Marlow became my bestie as I read this book and cheered her own through the devastating personal loss and her finding someone she could trust with her future. The plot was well-paced, with enough action in each chapter to keep me reading long into the night. Since I am a big fan of mysteries, I especially liked that there was something hidden about Marlow’s past that was revealed slowly and at just the right time in the book. Fans of romance and tropical settings will enjoy this book and want to read more about some of the characters. I know I would love to read more about each of the characters and how they are faring in their new lives.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
Additional Disclosure: I won an online contest by participating in Brenda Novak’s book challenge, so this book is actually dedicated to me. This fact did not in any way influence my opinions about the book, but it certainly made me eager to get my hands on a copy!

I would rate this book PG-13 because of the romantic interludes between the characters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a five-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Bookbuyer’s Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.

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Goodreads

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Teach Island looked exactly the same as Marlow Madsen remembered it. Since the entire world had been disrupted by the pandemic, the comfort and familiarity of this place nearly brought tears to her eyes. Part of that was how strongly she associated it with her father. John “Tiller” Madsen, who’d gotten his nickname because of his love for sailing, had died a month ago. But the island had long been his escape from the rat race of Washington, DC, where he’d served as a United States senator for thirty years.

“I can’t believe I’m back. Finally,” Marlow said as she rolled down the passenger window to let in some fresh air.

Part of the archipelago of forty-five hundred islands off the coast of Florida, Teach was only seven square miles. Marlow loved its homey, small-town atmosphere. She also loved its white sand beaches and its motley collection of bars, restaurants, bait-and-tackle stores and gift shops, most of which, at least in the older section where they were now, had kitschy decor. Because the island was named after Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, one of the most famous pirates to operate in this part of the world in the early eighteenth century, there was pirate stuff all over. A black skull-and-crossbones flag hung on a pole in front of the most popular bar, which was made to look like a colonial-era tavern and was named Queen Anne’s Revenge after Blackbeard’s ship.

In addition to the Blackbeard memorabilia, there was the regular sea-themed stuff—large anchors or ship’s wheels stuck in the ground here and there, fishing nets draped from the eaves of stores and cafés, and lobsters, crabs and other ocean creatures painted on wooden or corrugated metal sides. Her parents had a house in Georgia, a true Southern mansion, as well as their condo in Virginia for when her father had to be in Washington. But this was where they’d always spent the summers.

Now that Tiller was gone, her mother was talking about selling the other residences and moving here permanently. Marlow hated the sense of loss that inspired the forever change, but since Seaclusion—her father’s name for the beach house—had always been her favorite of their homes, she was also relieved that her mother planned to keep it. This was the property she hoped to inherit one day; she couldn’t imagine it ever being out of the family. And after what so many people had experienced with the fires in California, where she’d been living since she graduated college, and all the hurricanes in recent years that had plagued Florida, she had reason to be grateful the house was still standing.

“Sounds like you’ve missed the place.” Reese Cantwell, who’d been sent to pick up her and her two friends, had grown even taller since Marlow had seen him last. His hands and feet no longer looked disproportionate to the rest of his body. She remembered that his older brother, Walker, had also reminded her of a pup who hadn’t quite grown into his large paws and wondered what Walker was doing these days.

“It’s a welcome sight for all three of us,” Aida Trahan piped up from the back. “Three months by the sea should change everything.”

Claire Fernandez was also in the back seat, both of them buried beneath the luggage that wouldn’t fit in the trunk. They’d met at LAX and flown into Miami together. “Here’s hoping,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t, I’m looking forward to putting my toes in the water and my butt in the sand.”

“You’ll get plenty of opportunities for that here,” Reese said.

Claire needed the peace and tranquility and a chance to heal. She’d lost her home in the fires that’d ravaged Malibu last August. To say nothing of the other dramas that’d plagued her this past year.

Marlow looked over at their driver. Apparently, since her father’s death, Reese had been helping out around the estate, in addition to teaching tennis at the club. His mother, Rosemary, had been their housekeeper since well before he was born—since before Marlow was even born. Marlow was grateful for the many years of service and loyalty Rosemary had given the family, especially now that Tiller had died. It was wonderful to have someone she trusted watch out for her mother. Eileen had multiple sclerosis, which sometimes made it difficult for her to get around.

“Looks as casual as I was hoping it would be.” Claire also lowered her window as Reese brought them to the far side of the island and closer to the house. Situated on the water, Seaclusion had its own private beach, as well as a three-bedroom guesthouse and a smaller apartment over the garage where Rosemary had lived before moving into the main house after Tiller died so she could be available if Eileen needed anything during the night.

“There are some upscale shops and restaurants where we’re going, if you’re in the mood for spending money,” Marlow told them.

“When have I not been in the mood to shop?” Aida joked.

“You don’t have access to Dutton’s money anymore,” Claire pointed out. “You need to be careful.”

Claire had lost almost everything. She had reason to be cautious. Aida wasn’t in the best situation, either, and yet she shrugged off the concern. “I’ll be okay. I didn’t walk away empty-handed, thanks to my amazing divorce attorney.”

Marlow always felt uncomfortable when Dutton came up, and sometimes couldn’t believe it wasn’t more uncomfortable for them. The way Claire and Aida had met was remarkable, to say the least. It was even more remarkable that they’d managed to become friends. But Marlow twisted around and smiled as though she didn’t feel the sudden tension so she could acknowledge Aida’s compliment. Although Marlow was only thirty-four, she’d been a practicing attorney for ten years. She’d jumped ahead two grades when she was seven, which had enabled her to finish high school early and start college at sixteen. A knack for difficult negotiations had led her to a law degree and from there she’d gone into family law, something that had worked out well for her. Her practice had grown so fast she’d considered hiring another attorney to help with the caseload.

She probably would’ve done that, if not for the pandemic, which had shut down every aspect of her life except work, making her realize that becoming one of the best divorce attorneys in Los Angeles wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. No matter how much money she made, she didn’t enjoy dealing with people who were so deeply upset, and the richer, more famous the client, the more acrimonious the divorce. She hoped she’d never have to wade through another one. If a marriage worked, it could be wonderful. Her parents had proved that. But after what she’d witnessed with other people since passing the bar, she was beginning to believe Tiller and Eileen were the exception.

“All I did was make Dutton play fair,” Marlow said. “But at least you have some money you can use to get by while you decide what to do from here.”

“I liked being a trophy wife,” Aida grumbled. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for anything else.”

Like so many in LA, she’d been an aspiring actress at one time, but her career had never taken off. After she’d married Dutton, she’d spent more time at the tennis club, where she and Marlow had met, than trying out for any auditions.

“Don’t say that,” Marlow told her. “You can do a lot more than look pretty.”

Claire remained conspicuously quiet. She’d been subdued since they left, so subdued that Marlow was beginning to wonder if something was wrong.

“We’ll see.” Aida shrugged off the compliment as readily as she had the warning. “But before I have to make the really hard decisions, I deserve a break. So where’s the expensive part of the island again?”

Reese chuckled. “We’re almost there.”

“We’ll be able to play tennis, too,” Marlow told her. “The club’s only a mile from the house. And Reese is our resident pro.”

“No way! You play tennis?” Aida’s voice revealed her enthusiasm.

“Every day,” he replied.

“Can he beat you?” Aida asked Marlow.

“He was just a kid the last time we played, and he could take me about half the time even then. I doubt he’ll have any problem now.”

“I can see why you talked us out of renting a car,” Claire said, finally entering the conversation. “Considering the size of this place…”

“Like I told you before,” Marlow said, “most people walk or ride a bike.”

“You only need a car if you’re going off island,” Reese chimed in. He was driving them in Eileen’s Tesla.

Marlow was anxious to ask how her mother was doing but decided to hold off. If she questioned him while her friends were in the car, she’d probably get the standard “Fine.” But she wasn’t looking for a perfunctory answer. She wanted the truth. What he’d seen and heard recently. He was the one who’d been here. Marlow hadn’t been able to visit, not even when her father died. Thanks to the pandemic, they hadn’t been able to give him the funeral he deserved, either.

Reese glanced into the rearview mirror. “Are the three of you staying all summer?”

Marlow suspected he was hoping Aida, in particular, would be on the island for a while. Although Aida was thirty-six, fourteen years older than he was, she was a delicate blonde with big blue eyes. The way she dressed and accessorized, she turned heads, especially male heads, wherever she went.

“We are,” Aida said, and the subtle hint of flirtation in her voice told Marlow that she’d picked up on Reese’s interest.

“We have some big decisions to make in the coming months,” Marlow said, hoping to give Reese a hint that this wasn’t the opportunity he might think it was. Aida was on the rebound. She needed to put her life back together, not risk her heart on a summer fling.

“What kind of decisions?” he asked, naturally curious.

Claire answered for her. “Like what we’re going to do from here on. We’re all starting over.”

Reese’s eyebrows shot up as he looked at Marlow. “Meaning…what? You won’t be returning to LA?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I sold my condo and closed my practice before I left, just in case.”

His jaw dropped. “Really? But your mom said you’re one of the most highly sought-after attorneys in Los Angeles.”

No doubt her mother talked about her all the time. She’d heard a few things about Reese’s family, too, including the fact that he hadn’t finished school because he’d let partying come between him and a degree. But Marlow didn’t know Reese that well. She’d spent more time with his much older brother, Walker, when they were growing up. “It’s not that it wasn’t working out. It was. I’m just…done with divorce.”

He turned down the rap music he’d had playing since they got in. “Have you told your mother?”

“Not yet. I was afraid she’d try to talk me out of it. I know it’s sort of crazy to walk away from what I had going. Not many lawyers would do that. But after being quarantined for so long, working with people who almost always behaved their worst, I’m finished suffering through other people’s emotional turmoil.”

“Can’t say as I blame you,” Aida agreed. “I feel so bad about how Dutton treated you.”

Aida’s ex hadn’t just called Marlow names. He’d gotten her cell phone number from Aida, claiming he wanted to negotiate directly, and then proceeded to threaten her on more than one occasion. “We can all be glad Dutton’s out of our lives.”

“Amen,” Aida said, but again Claire said nothing.

They reached the gap in the shrubbery that signaled the beginning of her parents’ drive, and Reese turned into Seaclusion.

“Look at this!” Aida exclaimed. “It’s a whole compound.”

Reese parked in the detached four-car garage. “Welcome home,” he said with a grin.

Marlow had her carry-on with her, but when she went to the trunk to get the rest of her luggage, Reese insisted he’d bring it in.

She thanked him, put her bag down and, eager to see her mother, hurried to the house.

Rosemary was waiting on the stoop, where her mother would normally be. “It’s good to see you, Marlow.”

“Thanks, Rosemary. It’s good to see you, too. Is Mom okay?”

At fifty-five, Rosemary was five years younger than Eileen and tall and thin, like her two sons. They’d gotten their good looks from her—didn’t resemble their father at all, who wasn’t around anymore. Marlow could recall him showing up at the Atlanta house drunk and bellowing for Rosemary to “get her ass home.” It wasn’t any surprise to Marlow that the relationship hadn’t lasted. He’d abandoned the family when Reese was four or five.

“She’s fine. A little tired.” Although Rosemary smiled, she seemed anxious and uptight herself. Was it because of Eileen? Was she worse off than Marlow had been told?

“Is it anything to be concerned about?” Marlow pressed.

“No. She was so excited to see you that she couldn’t sleep last night. That’s all. She’s in her room resting if you want to go in.”

Anxious to reassure herself that nothing more serious was going on, Marlow introduced Aida and Claire to Rosemary, and while Rosemary led them to the guesthouse, where Reese was taking the luggage, Marlow went inside. “Mom?” she called as she moved through the living room.

“In here!” her mother called back.

Marlow’s stomach knotted as she reached the master bedroom and swung the door open wider. It was a beautiful day outside, not a cloud in the sky, yet the shades were drawn, making it dark and cool.

As soon as she reached the bed, she bent to kiss her mother’s paper-thin cheek. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

Eileen’s hands clutched her wrists. “Let me look at you. It’s been too long.”

“Who could’ve guessed a pandemic would come between us? That wasn’t something I even considered when I went so far from home.”

Once her eyes adjusted to the light, Marlow could see that the room hadn’t changed. Her father’s watch glimmered on the dresser, his slippers waited under the side chair and his clothes hung neatly in the closet as though he might walk through the door at any moment. Her mother hadn’t done anything with his personal property. That meant Marlow would have to deal with it, but she was actually grateful Eileen had waited. Touching his belongings was their only remaining connection to him, their only chance to say goodbye, and now they could do that together.

“Are you hungry?” her mother asked. “Rosemary made tea for you and your friends.”

Marlow sat on the edge of the bed. Eileen had thick dark hair and bottle green eyes—both of which Marlow had inherited—and looked good despite being so ill. But she was pale today and had lost significant weight. “That sounds wonderful,” Marlow said.

“I thought your friends might enjoy it. And I know how much you like clotted cream. When we were in London with your father several years ago, that was all you wanted to eat.”

The twinkle in Eileen’s eyes made Marlow feel slightly encouraged, until her mother winced as she adjusted her position. Eileen had to be feeling terrible, or she’d be up and around and asking to meet Aida and Claire.

“Are you having another attack?” Marlow asked. Her mother’s disease came in waves, or what they called “attacks.” Sometimes she grew worse for no clear reason—she didn’t do or eat anything different—and then she improved just as mysteriously. Although the steady decrease in her functionality attested to the fact that each attack took a little more from her…

“I must be. But don’t worry about me. It’s…more of the same. How was your flight?”

The lump that swelled in Marlow’s throat made it difficult to swallow. She’d already lost her beloved father. Was she going to lose her mother this year, too? The probability of Eileen’s dying had hung over their heads ever since she was diagnosed twenty-six years ago, so it’d come as a total shock that Tiller had died first. He’d never been sick a day in his life—until he got shingles. Then he’d spent five weeks in bed and simply didn’t wake up one morning. According to the autopsy, a blood clot had formed and traveled to his lungs.

“The flight was crowded and miserable,” she answered. “But aren’t all flights that way?”

“You should’ve come first class.”

Marlow thought about her decision to sell her place and close her practice but decided not to mention it until later. Eileen’s father had been a steel baron; she’d married into money, as well. She’d never known what it was like to struggle. Marlow hadn’t, either, but she was out in the world and much more cognizant of the difficulties faced by those who didn’t have quite as much. “I didn’t want to ask Aida and Claire to spend the extra money. You know what happened to Claire.”

“Yes. The poor thing. I’m so glad she had insurance to cover the rebuild. The fires in California have been awful. I’ve seen them on the news.” Eileen lifted her head to look toward the door. “Where are your friends?”

“Rosemary’s helping them get settled in the guesthouse.”

“I can’t wait to meet them.”

“They’re grateful to you for letting them come home with me. But with the way you’re feeling, maybe I should’ve come alone—”

“No, no,” she broke in. “They both needed a place to recoup, as you said. And having them here won’t hurt me. New friends might help fill the terrible void I’ve felt since Tiller…” Her voice cracked.

Marlow squeezed her hand, wondering if it was the emotional toll of losing Tiller that’d gotten the best of Eileen, rather than MS. “I miss him, too,” she whispered.

Her mother brought Marlow’s hand to her cheek. “It’ll be good to have you here for practical reasons, too. I think there’s something that has to be done with the estate.”

“What’s that?” Marlow asked in surprise.

“I don’t know. Samuel Lefebvre’s been calling me, trying to get me to come meet with him, but I told him you’re the one to talk to. I can’t face it.”

Sam was her father’s attorney and had been since Marlow could remember. He’d written her a character reference when she applied to Stanford, since he’d graduated from there himself, which was how she’d landed on the opposite coast. “I can handle it. It shouldn’t be hard. Most, if not all, of Dad’s estate will pass directly to you. Maybe he left me a few trinkets.”

“I’m sure he did. But Sam acts as though there’s business at hand, so he must need something.”

“You know Sam. He’s fastidious, always in a hurry to wrap things up. It won’t be a problem.”

A ghost of her mother’s former smile curved her lips. “You’re so capable. You’ve always been capable—just like your father.”

Marlow heard Rosemary come into the house with Aida and Claire. “Should I wait to introduce my friends to you until after we eat?”

“Maybe that would be best,” Eileen said. “It’ll give me the chance to rest a bit longer.”

“Of course. There’s no rush.”

“I can’t wait to spend more time with you. It’s comforting to know we have the whole summer.”

“It is.” Marlow hugged her mother, breathing in the welcome scent of her perfume before going out to join Aida and Claire in the dining room, where Rosemary had put a tea caddy filled with small sandwiches, crackers with herb spread, homemade scones and chocolate-covered strawberries. The clotted cream was in small dishes at the side of each plate.

“Looks delicious. I don’t think anyone in the UK could do it better.”

“Then I did it right,” Rosemary joked.

When Marlow sat down, she halfway expected Reese to join them, since she knew he was on the property, but he didn’t come in. As generously as her family had treated Rosemary and her boys, there’d always been a distinction between the family and the help. Marlow supposed that, in many situations like this, it was inevitable: there was a natural hierarchy when it came to employment.

“Reese has gotten so tall,” she remarked to Rosemary, helping herself to a cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwich.

“He’s a handsome man,” Aida said.

Marlow shot her friend a warning look but didn’t dare say anything in front of Reese’s mother, who seemed to take the compliment at face value. “He’s six-four, as tall as his brother now,” she said proudly.

“What’s Walker been doing these days?” Marlow asked.

Rosemary used a towel to hold the hot teapot with both hands. “He’s living here on the island now.”

Marlow paused, her sandwich halfway to her mouth. “He left Atlanta to come here permanently? When?”

“As soon as he heard about COVID. Poor guy’s always felt he needs to be there for me and Reese,” she said with an affectionate chuckle. “I guess it’s no wonder since, growing up, he had to be the man of the house.”

Eileen hadn’t mentioned that Walker had moved to Teach, but at thirty-six, he probably didn’t come to the house much. “What part of the island does he live on?” Marlow asked. “He’s not staying above the garage, is he?”

“No, Reese is there now. Walker bought the cottage down by the cove. It’s not very big, but the setting is magnificent. I’ve never seen prettier sunsets than the ones I see from his front porch.”

Marlow liked the cove, too. The beach there was small and completely cut off from the other beaches, so it was often overlooked by tourists, which made it feel almost as private as the beach her family owned. “What does he do for a living?”

“He’s the chief of police.”

Marlow sat taller. “The chief of police?”

Rosemary shrugged off her surprise. “It sounds loftier than it is. There are only two other officers on the force.”

“But…how’d that happen? Last I heard, he was a street cop in Atlanta.” She remembered someone telling her that a friend had talked him into going into the academy. That had been a while ago—probably a decade—but Walker’s ascent still seemed quick.

“This is your oldest son?” Claire interrupted.

“It is,” Rosemary replied before answering Marlow. “He didn’t want to be separated from me or his brother during the pandemic, so he kept checking for jobs on the island—and he found one.”

“The chief of police quit or was fired or something?” Claire asked.

“No, Walker got on as a regular officer first,” Rosemary clarified. “But when the chief retired, he took over.”

“Do you have a daughter-in-law, too?” Aida asked. “Or any grandbabies?”

“Not yet,” Rosemary replied. “I bug Walker about finding a wife all the time, but he just laughs it off and tells me you can’t hurry love.”

“Maybe Reese will be the one to give you grandbabies,” Aida said.

“He’s got some growing up to do first,” Rosemary said and headed into the kitchen.

Marlow and Claire both gave Aida a pointed stare.

“What?” she said, lifting her well-manicured hands as though she’d done nothing wrong. “He’s twenty-two. It’s not as though he’s underage.”

Rosemary reappeared before they could say anything further. “Walker’s here,” she announced. “I needed a few things for the soup I’m making for dinner tonight, and he said he’d grab them for me.”

A knock sounded on the door. After Rosemary opened it, Marlow could hear Walker say, “Here you go. You’ll find some of those dark chocolate–covered almonds you like in the bag, too.”

Marlow could see a slice of Rosemary as she accepted the sack he handed her. “Thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll see you later.”

“Walker?” his mother said, calling him back. “Marlow’s home if you’d like to come in and say hello.”

There was a slight pause, which indicated he wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Marlow could understand why. They hadn’t exactly been close, at least not during their teenage years. But he eventually said, “Fine. But just for a minute. I have to get back to work.”

Excerpted from Summer on the Island by Brenda Novak, Copyright © 2022 by Brenda Novak, Inc. Published by MIRA Books.

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Man Is Like A Breath

www.bible.com/1171/psa.144.3-4.mev

For well over a year now, God’s Spirit has been speaking to me to focus on what is important. Today puts a real point on this Scripture. It is my oldest grandson’s graduation day from high school. Isaac has always been a blessing, a shy creature who prefers solitude to company but who will gladly debate points in the Scripture about which he needs clarification. I got up at 4 this morning so that we can drive to his graduation, but before I could start getting ready, the Spirit spoke to me and told me to gather photos of his childhood. I know that many will have slide shows with all of the bells and whistles, but I’m using what I have and hope that these photos of how much he has been cherished will be enough. You see, Isaac is joining the USAF. He has excelled in school and could go to college on a scholarship. But what he wants most is freedom. He has worked hard and should be able to pursue whatever dreams he has. I am wishing him all the best, but mostly, I want him to know that life is short. Life is a shadow and God is eternity. Throughout his childhood and young adulthood, his grandfather and I have sowed those seeds. Now we want them to be brought to fruition in the best possible ways. I will miss the boy, the young man and now I will miss the young adult. But he will forever be in my heart, and I pray that I am in his.