IT HAD TO BE YOU
Maggie Fitzgerald loved Jake West from their first teenage kiss, when he vowed to make her his wife. But Jake left town, and Maggie made a life for herself and two orphaned nieces without him. When Jake appears at her remote inn, pledging to make amends, can Maggie dare believe again in happily-ever-after?
ALL OUR TOMORROWS
After losing her fiancé, reporter Caroline James sought solace in home and family. But it's guilt she feels when she starts to fall for the brother he left behind. David Sloan has always secretly cared for Caroline, but can they get past their mutual loss and to learn to live and love again?
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Give it up.
The word's echoed in Jake's mind as the swirling Maine mist wrapped itself around his small rental car, effectively obscuring everything beyond a thirty-foot radius. He frowned and eased his foot off the accelerator. Should he continue the short distance to Castine or play it safe and pull in somewhere for the night?
A sign appeared to his right, and he squinted, trying to make out the words. Blue Hill. He glanced at the map on the seat beside him. Castine was less than twenty miles away, he calculated. But he suspected that these narrow, windingand unfamiliarroads weren't too forgiving, and dusk was descending rapidly. Not a good combination, he decided. Besides, he was tired. He'd driven up from Boston, then spent what remained of the day exploring the back roads and small towns of the Blue Hill peninsula. If he wanted to feel rested and fresh for his interview at the Maine Maritime Academy tomorrow, it was time to call it a day.
As if to validate his decision, a sign bearing the words Whispering Sails B&B providentially loomed out of the mist. Talk about perfect timing! he mused. He pulled into the gravel driveway and carefully followed the gradual incline until he reached a tiny parking area, where one empty space remained. Hopefully, the space was a good sign.
Jake eased his six-foot frame out of the compact car and reached into the back seat for his suit bag, slinging it effortlessly over his shoulder. As he made his way up the stone path, he peered at the house, barely discernible through the heavy mist. The large Queen Anne-style structure of weathered gray clapboard was somewhat intimidating in size, its dull color offset by the welcome, golden light spilling from the windows and the overflowing flower boxes hugging the porch rail. Definitely a haven for a weary traveler, he decided.
Jake climbed the porch steps, read the welcome sign on the door and entered, as it instructed. A bell jangled somewhere in the back of the house, and he paused in the foyer, glancing around as he waited for someone to appear. The house was tastefully decorated, he noted appreciatively, with none of the "fussiness" often associated with this style of architecture. In fact, the clean, contemporary lines of the furnishings set off the ornate woodwork beautifully, and he found the subtle blending of old and new eminently pleasing. A soft, warm color palette gave the house a homey feelno small accomplishment for high-ceilinged rooms of such grand proportion. Clearly the house had been decorated by someone with an eye for design and color.
His gaze lingered on the ample fireplace topped by a marble mantel, which took up much of one wall, and he was sorry the month was July instead of January. He wouldn't mind settling into the large overstuffed chair beside it with a good book on a cold night. There was something restful about the room that strongly appealed to him.
As Jake completed his survey, a door swung open at the back of the foyer and a young woman who looked to be about twenty hurried through.
"I thought I heard the bell," she greeted him breathlessly, her smile apologetic. "I was on the back porch changing a light bulb. Sorry to keep you waiting."
He returned the smile. "Not at all. I was hoping you might have a room for the night. I was trying to make it to Castine, but the weather isn't cooperating."
She made a wry face and nodded. "Not exactly Maine at its best," she concurred sympathetically as she slipped behind a wooden counter that was half-hidden by the curving stairway. "You're in luck for a room, though. We're always booked solid in the summer, but we just received a cancellation." The young woman smiled and handed him a pen. "If you'll just fill out this card, I'll help you with your bags."
"No need. I just have a suit bag. But thanks."
He provided the requested information quickly, then waited while the young woman selected a key and joined him on the other side of the desk.
"I'll show you to your room. It has a private bath and a great view of the bay-well, it's a great view on a clear day," she amended with a rueful grin over her shoulder as she led the way up the steps. "Maybe by tomorrow morning it will be clear," she added hopefully. "Anyway, breakfast is between eight and nine in the dining room, which is next to the drawing room. Checkout is eleven. My name's Allison, and I'll be on duty till ten if you need anything. Just ring the bell on the desk." She paused before a second-floor door at the front of the house and inserted the key, then pushed the door open and stepped aside to let him enter.
Jake strolled past her and gave the room a quick but thorough scrutiny. It seemed that the hand of a skilled decorator had been at work here, as well. The room was done in restful shades of blue. A large bay window at the front of the house would afford a panoramic view of the sea in clear weather, he suspected, and a cushioned window seat beckoned invitingly. A four-poster bed, antique writing desk, intricately carved wardrobe and comfortable-looking easy chair with ottoman completed the furnishing. His gaze paused on the fireplace, noting the candle sconces on the mantel, and again he wished it was cool enough for a fire.
"I hope this is all right," Allison said anxiously.
He turned to her with a smile. "Perfect. The room is very inviting."
Allison grinned. "My aunt has a way with color and such. Everybody says so. And she makes all the guests feel real welcome. That's why we have so many regulars. You know, you're really lucky to get this room. It's the most requested one. Especially with honeymooners."
Jake grinned. "I can see why. It's quite romantic."
Allison blushed and fumbled with the doorknob. "Well, if you need anything, just let me know. Have a pleasant evening, Mr. West."
As the door clicked shut, Jake drew a deep breath and stretched tiredly, flexing the tight muscles in his neck. He'd been on the road since early morning, but the time had been well spent. Before he decided to make this area his permanent home, he intended to check it out thoroughly.
He strolled over to the window and stared out thoughtfully into the gray mist. Home, he repeated silently. Surprisingly enough, the word had a nice sound. After twelve years of roaming the globe, his worldly possessions following him around in a few small boxes, the thought of having a home, a place to call his own, had a sudden, unexpected appeal. But he shouldn't be too surprised, he supposed. For the last couple of years he'd been plagued with a vague feeling of restlessness, of emptiness, a sense of "Is this all there is?" Even before his brother's phone call, the notion of "settling down" had crept into his thoughts, though he'd pushed it firmly aside. It wasn't something he'd seriously consideredor even wanted to considerfor a very long time. In fact, not since he was engaged to Maggie.
Jake frowned. Funny. He hadn't really thought much about Maggie these last few years. Purposely. During the early years after their breakup, she'd haunted his thoughts day and night, the guilt growing inside him with each passing month. It was only in the last three or four years that he had met with some success in his attempts to keep thoughts of her at bay. So why was he thinking of her now? he wondered, his frown deepening.
His gaze strayed to the chocolate-chip cookies, wrapped in clear paper and tied with a ribbon, resting between the pillows on the bed. He'd noticed them earlier, had been impressed by the thoughtful touch. Maybe they had triggered thoughts of the woman he'd once loved, he reflected. She used to bake him chocolate-chip cookieshis favoritehe recalled with a bittersweet smile.
But Maggie was only a memory now, he reminded himself with a sigh. He had no idea what had become of her. She'd moved less than a year after their parting, breaking all ties with the town which held such unhappy memories for her. Even his parents, to whom she had always been close, had no idea where she went. It was better that way, she'd told them. They understood. And he did, too. But though he'd initiated the breakup, he had nevertheless been filled with an odd sense of desolation to realize he no longer knew Maggie's whereabouts. He didn't understand why he felt that way. Didn't even try to. What good would it do? All he could do was hope she was happy.
Jake walked over to the bed and picked up the cookies, weighing them absently in his hand. Here he was, in the honeymoon suite, with only memories of a woman he'd once loved to warm his heart. For a moment, self-pity hovered threateningly. Which was ridiculous, he rebuked himself impatiently. His solitary state was purely his own doing. He'd known his share of women through the years, even met a few who made him fleetingly entertain the idea of marriage. But that's as far as it ever went. Because, bottom line, he'd never met anyone who touched his heart the way Maggie had.
He sat down in the chair and wearily let his head fall against the cushioned back. He'd never really admitted that before. But it was true. Maybe that was the legacy of a first love, he mused, that no one else ever measured up. Most people got over that, of course, moved on to meet someone new and fall in love again. He hadn't. As a result, he'd never regretted his decision to remain unmarried. Until now. Suddenly, as he contemplated a future that consisted of a more "normal" land-bound existence instead of the nomadic life he'd been living, the thought of a wife and family was appealing. For the first time in years, he felt ready to seriously consider marriageand fatherhood.
Of course, there was one little problem, he thought with a humorless smile. He hadn't met the right woman.
Then again, maybe he had, he acknowledged with a sudden, bittersweet pang of regret, his smile fading. But it was too late for regrets. To be specific, twelve years too late.
"I mean, this guy is gorgeous!"
Abby looked at her sister and grinned as she scrambled some eggs. "Are you sure you're not exaggerating?" she asked skeptically.
"Absolutely not." Allison peeked into the oven to check the blueberry muffins, then turned back to her twin. "Tall, handsome, dark hair, deep brown eyes. And you know what? I think he's single."
"Yeah?" Abby paused, her tone interested. "How old is he?"
Allison shrugged. "Old. Thirty-something, probably. But for an older guy, he's awesome."
"Let me serve him, okay?" Abby cajoled.
"Hey, I saw him first!" Allison protested.
"Yes, but you had your chance to talk to him last night. It's my turn. That's only fair, isn't it, Aunt Maggie?"
Maggie smiled and shook her head. "You two are getting awfully worked up about someone who will be checking out in an hour or two."
Allison sighed dramatically. "True. But we can dream, can't we? Maybe he's a rich tycoon. Or maybe he's lost his beloved wife and is retracing the route they traveled on their honeymoon. Or maybe he's a Hollywood producer scouting the area for a new movie. Or "
"Or maybe you better watch those muffins before they get too brown," Maggie reminded her with a nod toward the oven.
Allison sighed. "Oh, Aunt Maggie, you have no imagination when it comes to men."
"I have plenty of imagination. Fortunately, I also have a good dose of common sense."
"But common sense is so so boring," Allison complained.
"He just came in," Abby reported breathlessly, peering through a crack in the kitchen door. She grabbed the pot of coffee before Allison could get to it, and with a triumphant "My turn," sailed through the door.
Maggie smiled and shook her head. One thing for sure. There was never a dull moment with the twins. At eighteen, the world for them was just one big adventure waiting to happen. And she encouraged their "seize the moment" philosophywithin reason, of course. Because she knew that life would impose its own limitations soon enough.
When Abby reentered the kitchen a few minutes later, she shut the door and leaned against it, her face flushed.
"Well?" Allison prompted.
"See? Didn't I tell you? What's he wearing?" Allison asked eagerly.
"A dark gray suit with a white shirt and a maroon paisley tie."
"A suit? Nobody ever wears a suit here. He must be a business tycoon or something."
"Sorry to interrupt with such a mundane question, but what does he want for breakfast?" Maggie inquired wryly.
"Scrambled eggs, wheat toast and orange juice," Abby recited dreamily.
Maggie was beginning to regret that she'd missed this mysterious stranger's arrival. But the church council meeting had run late, and their unexpected guest had apparently retired for the night by the time she arrived home. It was unusual for a younger, apparently single, man to stay with them. Most of their guests were couples. Maybe she ought to check this guy out herself, she thought, as she placed two of the freshly baked blueberry muffins in a basket. Just for grins, of course. It would be interesting to see how she rated this "older guy" the twins were raving about.
Maggie picked up the basket of muffins and a glass of orange juice and headed for the door. "Okay, you two, now the mature woman of the world will give you her expert opinion."
The twins giggled.
"Oh, Aunt Maggie. You've never been anywhere but Missouri, Boston and Maine," Abby reminded her.
Maggie felt a sudden, unexpected pang, but she kept her smile firmly in place. "True. But that doesn't mean I haven't had my romantic adventures."
"When?" Allison demanded pertly.
When, indeed? There'd only been one romantic adventure in her life. And that had ended badly. But she'd never told the girls much about it. Only when they reached the age when boys suddenly became fascinating and they'd begun plying her with questions about her own romantic past had she even mentioned it. And then only in the vaguest terms. Yes, it had been serious, she'd told them. In fact, they'd been engaged. But it just hadn't worked out. And that was all they ever got out of her, despite their persistent questions. She never wanted them to know that it was because of their arrival in her life that her one romance had failed. They'd had a hard enough time adjusting to the loss of their parents; she never wanted to lay the guilt of her shattered romance on them, as well. And she wasn't about to start now. "I think I'll remain a woman of mystery," she declared over her shoulder as she pushed through the door to the sound of their giggles.