Summer at Firefly Beach
"This novel is honestly the perfect summer beach read… positive and uplifting… Also, Hallie and Ben? I’m obsessed. I loved their chemistry so much , I could not put the book down because I just HAD to know if they were going to end up together or not!"Goodreads Reviewer
A totally emotional, gripping page-turner from the bestselling author of The Summer House about the importance of family, re-discovering who you are, and the magic of finding true love under the summer sun. Perfect for fans of Mary Alice Monroe, Nancy Thayer and Susan Mallery.
Hallie Flynn’s favorite place in the world is her great Aunt Clara ’s beautiful beachside house, with its inviting wraparound porch and enchanting views across the sparkling turquoise ocean. For Hallie, going to Firefly Beach, filled with magical memories, feels like coming home, but in one moment Hallie is left broken-hearted when her adored Aunt Clara passes away…
As always, Aunt Clara has thought of everything. In her last letter she included a bucket list Hallie wrote as a child, for Hallie to complete. Leaving her dead-end job and predictable schedule, Hallie returns to Firefly beach and embraces Aunt Clara’s words. All the time her childhood best friend Ben Murray, with his golden charm and infuriating ability to be right all the time, is by her side.
Spending the summer with Ben, as they enjoy drinks on the pier and endless talks stretched out in the soft sand, Hallie begins to remember the things that matter most to her. But following the bucket list isn’t an easy journey. It forces her to face the pain of her past as she starts to fall for the person who has been there for her all along...
Just as her heart is healing, an encounter with a newcomer to the beach town, wealthy and talented photographer Gavin Wilson, leaves her questioning her future and shows her she has to make a difficult decision that could mean losing everything.
Will Hallie be able to fulfill Aunt Clara’s last wish and change her life? Or will a secret she’s been keeping destroy her new beginning—and the chance to experience true love?
Release date: June 17, 2019
Print pages: 284
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Summer at Firefly Beach
If there was anything Hallie Flynn should have learned over the years, it was to listen to her best friend Ben Murray. But she never did. And today was no different.
At fourteen, she hadn’t listened when he’d advised against her eating the entire triple-decker strawberry sundae at Milly’s Ice Cream. She’d insisted she could eat it all, but spent the rest of the evening lying on the sofa, unable to move, shooing away her mother’s dinner offers. Or the time he’d promised her that she looked better as a natural brunette rather than a platinum blonde, but she’d bleached her hair anyway.
And now, in the face of grief, he was by her side again, and she knew she needed to listen to his advice even though she wasn’t sure she would.
The news article her mother had kept on the counter for the last few months was burned in her memory: Firefly Beach resident, locally loved and nationally known designer Clara Abigail Flynn-Eubanks, of the much-admired Starlight Cottage, passed away after battling a heart tumor, surrounded by family, at 9:07 p.m. Tuesday…
Ben had been a strong emotional support for her through Aunt Clara’s funeral six months ago, and today he was there to do the same.
“Let me take a look at the list again,” Ben said, stepping over from the edge of her mama’s driveway, his blue eyes just as concerned now as they had been when she’d first told him about Aunt Clara’s final and very personal letter to her, and the list she’d included within it.
A prolific letter-writer, Aunt Clara had started writing to everyone she knew the moment she’d heard that she wasn’t going to beat the tumor. Her family had all gotten hand-written words from her, with her wishes for them and what she was leaving behind as a gift to each one of them, but only Hallie’s had a stipulation to go along with it.
Hallie retrieved her great aunt’s crumpled letter from her pocket and held it in her fist. She’d carried it around since she’d gotten it, trying to make sense of it. Aunt Clara had given her a list to complete before she could receive her inheritance, but the list was one Hallie had written herself when she was only twelve years old. And if that wasn’t perplexing enough, the additional piece of the puzzle was the fact that her inheritance was a mystery, sealed in a second envelope and locked away in the family safe.
She held it out to Ben and then leaned over his shoulder as he read it.
Things I want to do before I die:
“I agree with you; it does sound crazy,” he said, scanning the list again. He passed it back to Hallie and she stuffed it into her pocket. “But what if the answer for why Clara asked you to do these things is so simple that you can’t see it?”
“Okay. Then what is it?”
He chuckled. “It’s so simple I can’t see it either.” But then he sobered, that familiar look of fondness washing over him. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to complete it. I think you should.”
Of course Ben thought she should. Hallie closed her eyes and filled her lungs with humid, sun-soaked air, aching to hear the gulls overhead and feel the rush of turquoise water around her ankles like she had so many summers. But even that wouldn’t soothe her this time.
Ben was suggesting that she could actually do this. Nothing she’d done in the last year had been a success, and this, she feared, would be no different.
“Remember when I was sixteen years old and you caught me dressing up in Mama’s wedding dress?” Hallie asked him, squinting to focus on him through the blazing Tennessee sunlight that only June could bring, Ben’s presence causing memories of her childhood to roll in like a gust of coastal wind.
“Yeah,” Ben said quietly as he stood in front of her, a calming presence in the midst of a chaotic day. He had his hands in his pockets, so relaxed that she was actually envious of the steadiness in his breath, the lack of tension in his shoulders. She wanted to know the feeling of it again, to have that kind of peace soak into her bones and heal her aching heart.
“As a girl, I never imagined not wearing that dress one day or having a family of my own.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, tears welling up as they did so often these days, and like a flash, Ben was at her side, rubbing the tops of her arms to comfort her. She squeezed her eyes shut until the wetness in them dissolved.
The hurrying around, and the noise from her family buzzing back and forth to the car all morning, had given Hallie a headache. The car was parked in front of Ben’s jeep, both vehicles packed to the brim with beach chairs, suitcases, bags of food… To anyone else, it would seem they were all going on a summer vacation full of laughs and long days in the salty spray of the ocean.
But that was far from the truth.
A memory of happier times at Starlight Cottage slipped into her consciousness despite her diligence to avoid thinking of it at all: Hallie and Ben were teenagers. Ben had chased her down the beach with a giant water-launcher as she dodged the pelting spray, her laughing slowing her down, Ben gaining on her while Aunt Clara and Uncle Hank hooted from the dock.
The recollection, however, was too difficult to manage now, after Aunt Clara’s death. Even as she pushed it out of her mind, snippets of other memories found their way through. Like the crunch of crushed shells under her feet as she ran down the seashell path, sketchpad in hand, to draw the sunset before it disappeared. Or the walkway leading to the grand front porch; the place she sat with Aunt Clara for hours talking about design, Hallie showing her the pictures she’d drawn of ideas for how to rearrange her bedroom.
If Hallie closed her eyes she could see the old ship’s rope that wrapped around the large posts lining the winding drive, or the lattice of the gazebo out back, painted white to match the other buildings on the grounds, the place she’d dreamed of getting married as a girl…
She ran her thumb around her now bare ring finger, its nakedness a glaring reminder of everything that had gone wrong over the last few months—the painful days, the even more excruciating discussions, the counselors… She was the third Flynn to have gambled on love and lost. But that was only the side of things that she’d shared with her family. She dared not say the rest out loud for fear nothing would ever be normal again.
“I still remember what you said about the dress.”
“What was that?” Ben asked, his gaze on her.
“You told me to take it off, that it didn’t look like me.”
The corner of Ben’s mouth twitched upward and she knew now that he remembered that day. Their shared moment was a welcome diversion from the life she’d been living recently. Just that tiny smile filled her with hope that things could get better, as if the whole ordeal was some sort of nightmare she could wake up from if she just stayed locked in Ben’s eyes. Yesterday, when he’d come over to help them pack, was the first time in four months that she’d seen him or even so much as gotten a text. Even when they’d moved away and attended different colleges, they’d called each other nearly every day. But recently, their lives had moved in different directions, and when they had, she’d felt disoriented.
“You also said that it’s impossible to have any fun in a dress like that. And after I changed, you took me by the hand and dragged me into the woods and made me climb that big oak tree that scared me to death, remember?”
Ben broke into a laugh then, and a content grin settled upon his lips. “Yep.”
“When we got to the top, we sat there on that thick branch we’d found, looking out over the hillside. We were up so high that I was shaking like a leaf, but you were totally relaxed. You pointed to the sky and that hot air balloon swung right over us. It felt like I could’ve reached up and touched the basket. It was so beautiful that it took my breath away.”
By the look on Ben’s face, the memory was clear. There was an undeniable fondness in his expression. She could always count on Ben when she was scared. He was that calm force in the storm inside her head. When he’d arrived this morning, she wanted to cling to him, to feel his arms around her to keep her safe from her troubling thoughts. But they’d had work to do to get ready for their trip, so instead, she’d simply stayed by his side, allowing the feeling of being with him, his composure and peaceful demeanor, to wash over her and cleanse her of the misery that plagued her.
“You said,” she continued, “‘See? You can have lots more fun when you aren’t in that old dress.’”
He’d been so right. And the last month, when things had gotten substantially worse, she felt like she couldn’t breathe without Ben’s support. It had been so long since she’d held his reassuring hand… When faced with her biggest fear, even her fiancé Jeff couldn’t fill the void, and by that point she and Jeff had lost most of the love they’d had for one another anyway. She’d wanted to hear Ben tell her it would all be okay, despite the fact that she knew it wouldn’t, because she trusted him with her life, and even if he was the only one who believed it, that would be enough.
“I should’ve listened to you way back then,” she admitted, swallowing to keep her emotions in check. She’d stopped the counselor appointments earlier than recommended, and she’d been struggling, but now she had even more to deal with. “It was true. And Jeff and I rushed into things. It’s as if we both noticed something wasn’t right as soon as he asked me to marry him.” She didn’t dare tell Ben the rest.
“What happened to finally end it?”
Her breath sped up and she felt lightheaded, scrambling to come up with something that wasn’t a lie but also hid the real truth. “I think the finality of an engagement made us take a hard look at one another, you know?”
“I realize now that I didn’t love Jeff the way I should love someone before jumping into a marriage, but in the early days of our relationship it felt so good to have that person there every day to rely on, you know?” She kicked at a stone on the pavement. “And now when I’m faced with this…” Hallie surveyed the packed car, its engine running on all cylinders to cool off the interior in the summer heat before they headed out. “I feel exposed, like I don’t have anyone to lean on,” she confessed.
“You can always lean on me,” Ben said.
After so much time away from her, his words almost brought her to tears again. She was so happy to hear him say that.
“Hallie?” Mama’s voice sailed between them.
Ben offered a knowing look. “I’ll help her,” he said, and headed inside the house to get the last few things when Hallie’s mother called again, like she had all morning.
To clear her heavy thoughts, Hallie closed her eyes and listened to the rustle of the trees against a single uncharacteristically strong breeze that blew through, cooling her skin briefly before disappearing to wherever all the air went during the summer months in Nashville. The stagnant warmth fell upon her once more. It was this feeling of dead heat that used to fill her with excitement when they packed for Firefly Beach, as she yearned for soft white sand under her bare feet, the continuous wind that rippled the light, gauzy sundress she liked to wear over her bikini, and the scent that only came from her family’s unique mixture of home cooking and coconut cocktails.
“I don’t know if we’ve packed the wine,” Mama said, rushing past Ben as he entered the house, her arms full. “Hallie?” She maneuvered around Hallie, threw it all in the backseat, and shut the car door again. “Did you get the wine from the fridge and put it in the cooler? I didn’t see anyone bring it out.” Mama thrust the paper with the article about Aunt Clara into Hallie’s hands. “Let’s take this to show Uncle Hank. I don’t know if he has a copy, and he might want to read these kind words.”
Hallie clutched the folded newspaper to her body. With the final preparations for their journey nearly complete, the weight in Hallie’s chest felt even more cumbersome than it had before.
“Oh, Ben! You’re a doll!” Mama hurried over to Ben and planted a kiss on his cheek after he returned with her two bottles of chardonnay. He handed them over. “Hallie, where’s your sister?” Grasping the wine, her mother wiped the perspiration from her forehead with her wrist, and then placed the bottles into the cooler wedged between two suitcases in the open trunk. Then she ran back inside without waiting for an answer.
She’d been going a hundred miles an hour all morning—Hallie knew it was her way of handling her emotions. When she was more herself, Mama had a lively personality with a laugh that could make anyone happy.
“You’ve got this,” Ben whispered into her ear, standing behind Hallie, his gentle but strong hands on her shoulders, pulling her in tentatively, as if he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to embrace her like he used to. Things had changed so much over the last four months, but that shouldn’t have changed at all. He was her best friend. She leaned in to him to let him know that.
Ben could always assess the situation and offer kind, caring suggestions that never failed her. But even his words couldn’t break through the grief that kept ebbing and flowing since she’d heard about Aunt Clara. She tucked the paper under her arm, her palms sweaty from nerves, her hands shaking.
Mustering strength from the bottom of her empty shell of a body, Hallie turned around to face him. “Do I have this?” She noticed then that her voice sounded withered and exhausted, the tears just waiting to spill over like they had the other times she’d allowed herself to think about life without Aunt Clara. Her favorite aunt, who was known for her impeccable timing, had left Hallie at her very lowest and because of that, there were times when Hallie wasn’t sure if her shattered heart could make it through this.
Ben wrapped his arms around her and let Hallie bury her head in his chest. The familiar scent of clean cotton and the mix of mint, sandalwood, and vanilla had filled her lungs more times than she could count. She closed her eyes to keep from sobbing. As if he could detect her swell of sadness, he squeezed her tighter like he was holding her together. And in a sense, he was.
“Thank you for being here,” she said into his shirt, her words broken but his embrace making her feel a little better for the moment. Hallie pulled back. “I hate that it was this situation that brought us back together, but I’m glad it did. We haven’t seen each other in months. That’s not like us.” She’d wanted to hear his voice so many times over those months, but in every instance that she’d considered calling him she hadn’t, because she thought she should be strong enough to deal with her own problems. But even when she’d decided not to tell him what was going on, she ached to have her best friend there to talk to. She’d think about it in the middle of the night, but couldn’t call then… “Why did we let time get away from us?”
Ben took a step back, and she let go of him.
He looked over the car, to somewhere in the distance. “Life, you know?” he said, his face full of thoughts.
Suddenly, the words tumbled out like they’d been waiting to erupt from her heart this whole time. “I wish we could spend time together with nothing hanging over us.” She longed for the days when they were young, when they had their whole lives ahead of them. “I love being with you because you don’t want anything more than what we have, and it makes me feel safe.”
Ben held her gaze. He didn’t have to say anything because after all their years together, she knew he understood.
“Hey, baby girl. You doin’ okay?” Hallie’s older sister Sydney said from behind them. She stepped up next to Hallie and rubbed her back, her consoling eyes having met a few tears this morning as well.
Hallie took in a jagged breath and gave her sister a sympathetic half-smile. They would get through this, she told herself, although she wasn’t sure she believed it. Hallie piled her long hair onto her head to combat the sweltering weather. The heat was so strong today that she could see it as it danced off the long winding asphalt drive, rising into the sky in hazy waves and disappearing amidst the view of the surrounding hills.
“Ben! I want to ride with you!”
Sydney’s seven-year-old son Robby came running out, hopping excitedly in front of Ben. Like Hallie, he’d been by Ben’s side all day, until Sydney had made him sit down for breakfast before they got on the road. Ben took him by the hands and spun him around, Robby’s feet flying, his laughter floating into the air, the sound like angels singing in the hollows of Hallie’s mind. When Ben set him down again, Robby wrapped his arms around his waist.
“I think you’re gonna go with your mom,” Ben told him. “But we’re all heading to the same place.”
Robby pulled away and pretended to pout, but his face brightened right up involuntarily around Ben. “Will you show me the new fishing pole you bought?”
“Of course I will! I was planning to have you fish with it.” He lunged toward him with his fingers in the Tickle Monster position, the way he always did with Robby, making Robby dart out of the way with a giggle, the boy’s light brown hair fanning across his forehead with the movement.
“And can we play football?” Robby asked, still snickering as he ducked Ben’s arm.
Robby maneuvered around them and climbed through the last open door of Mama’s car, wriggling into a comfortable position in the backseat next to a blow-up donut and a bag of sand toys. He pulled the seatbelt out and attempted to fasten it, his little hands sweaty in the heat, causing him to struggle to secure it. Ben walked over and helped him.
“Will you ride with us, Ben? Please?” Robby asked.
“If I ride with you, then that means Hallie will have to drive my jeep, and you remember what it was like when she tried to take it to the store that one night?”
“That was a whole year ago,” Hallie said, having nothing better to retort, glad for the lighter conversation, the pain shifting to the back of her mind for just a moment, giving her much-needed relief.
“And how many stick shifts have you driven since then? You need me!” He winked at her.
Yes. She certainly did.
“If you want me to get there, Robby, I have to drive.”
Hallie made a face at him, but she knew he was only teasing her to make Robby smile.
“Honey, did Nana seem like she was about finished inside?” Sydney asked.
“I’ll go check on her,” Sydney said.
They’d all finished packing, but Mama had kept going back in, announcing things they “needed,” but sooner or later, Mama too would have to face the road ahead. They were all just letting her prepare herself to do that in her own way.
Sydney went into the house and brought Mama outside onto the porch. Beau barked from Ben’s jeep. Ben had taken the top off of his vehicle, and the lab-spaniel mix had been waiting patiently in the back most of the time. Ben walked over to him and petted the top of his head.
“Almost time, boy,” he said, checking that the bowl of water he’d set in the backseat was still full.
Beau looked at Ben with those big trusting brown eyes, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Hallie could almost swear she could make out a smile on the dog’s face. A faithful companion, Beau never left Ben, trusting Ben’s every move. Hallie could understand that kind of devotion completely because, growing up, Ben had been that type of person for her too.
“Anything else we need?” Mama asked from the open front door. She tried to fluff her short, disheveled hair, the few graying strands she had nestled in the crop of dark brown catching the light, making her look older than her face would suggest.
There was nothing more they could possibly pack. When no one spoke, she locked up behind her.
“I guess we’re as ready as we’ll ever be,” Sydney said.
“Has anyone texted Uncle Hank?” Mama worried aloud.
Ben raised his phone. “I did. I told him we’ll see him in about nine hours.”
Robby leaned out of the car, oblivious to the emotions they’d all been keeping from the seven-year-old for his benefit. He’d put on his sunglasses. With a grin, he said, “Firefly Beach, here we come!”
“How many have we found so far?” Ben asked, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel as he counted. “I’ve got three, right?”
Hallie rode beside Ben in the metallic sierra blue vintage jeep he’d treated himself to, using the first earnings he’d made after opening his own production company on Music Row in Nashville. One of his newest bands, Sylvan Park, was playing loudly over the jeep’s speakers and had been since they’d emerged off of Interstate 65, heading south, the melody as carefree as any summer day should be.
Hallie looked down at the sheet of paper that had been waiting for her in the passenger seat along with an ink pen when she got in. It was one of their road-trip games: every time they took the nine-hour drive to Firefly Beach, Ben made a list of things they had to find on the way down, and the person who found the most bought the other their first drink when they got there. Hallie was always amazed at how they’d played this every trip and he managed never to repeat the items from year to year. This list had been the most challenging of them all.
“You’ve got a Virginia license plate, a baseball cap…” Hallie ran her finger down the long list of items in search of the third spot where she’d put his initials. “And—”
“Teddy bear!” he cut her. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...