With the high summer season underway at the Seabreeze Inn, Ivy Bay faces new challenges. She has just one season to make the inn a success to pay the tax bill her late husband left behind. And her neighbor’s lawsuit could mean an end to the Seabreeze Inn. Yet her daughter Sunny’s arrival in Summer Beach is also a chance to renew their strained relationship.
While the mayor, Bennett Dylan, develops deeper feelings for Ivy, new trials weigh on their romantic relationship. Sensing Ivy’s sadness over her sister Shelly’s departure, Bennett encourages Mitch, the Java Beach owner, to contact Shelly. And Sunny fears Bennett might be a replacement for her father.
Amid the turmoil, Ivy discovers another clue from the old house’s original owner. The woman’s story makes Ivy reflect on what the house means to her and all of Summer Beach.
Seabreeze Sunset is a sweet summer beach read. This third novel in the Summer Beach series concludes this trilogy. Book your reservation in this small beachside town of intriguing characters now.
Release date: February 11, 2020
Publisher: Sunny Palms Press
Print pages: 385
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Summer Beach, California
Ivy bolted awake at a crack of thunder, her heart racing at the late summer storm’s intensity, while the sprawling old house shuddered at nature’s wrath. She sat up, bracing herself against the onslaught. A few seconds later, a jagged shard of lightning flared outside her window, illuminating her room—and a shadowy reflection in the antique vanity mirror.
Blinking, Ivy drew back against her pillows, her throat constricting in alarm. Am I dreaming?
Within a few seconds, another clap of thunder shook the house. Fat raindrops splashed against vintage, wavy glass panes and obscured the outside world. Unnerved, she squinted at the mirror, but the vision had vanished.
Ivy snatched her robe and flung it on, and she was at her bedroom door before she remembered.
Shelly is gone.
Gripping the knob, Ivy leaned against the door. It had been weeks since her sister had left, heartbroken over her relationship with Mitch, the owner of Java Beach.
Ivy still couldn’t believe that Shelly meant to stay in New York, even though she had texted to say her former boss had rehired her. But then, Shelly had always been more adventurous, given to quick decisions.
Leaning her head against the door, Ivy breathed in the fresh scent of rain and the earthy aroma it unleashed from the surrounding gardens and warm sand on the beach. She didn’t understand her sister. Hadn’t Shelly been anxious to change her life? Hadn’t she insisted that they check out the old house Ivy had inherited in Summer Beach? Ivy had wanted nothing to do with this house at the time—except to sell it as quickly as she could.
Change wasn’t easy, even when life forced change upon you.
Ivy drew her robe sash around her waist and tied it. When her husband had died—now more than a year ago—he’d left this historic old beach house to her. He’d spent every penny of their retirement savings on it.
Without her knowledge.
Another burst of lightning, bright as the flashbulb pop of an old camera, lit the room. And again, Ivy glimpsed the shadowy silhouette, now suspended in the corner.
A woman, gazing upward.
Ivy drew flat against the wall, but in an instant, the hazy figure vanished. She wagged her head. The light had to be playing tricks on her to make her imagine the former owner.
Before she could collect herself again, thunder ripped open the sky, gripping the house in its angry clutch as rain pounded the terra cotta, barrel-tiled roof overhead.
As thunder rumbled through the old structure, Ivy pressed her hands against the solid wood door. This house had stood for decades. Surely it would withstand nature’s latest assault.
Poppy. Ivy flung open the door and rushed through the hallway to check on her niece. After Shelly left, Poppy moved back into Shelly’s room. She’d been staying in the maid’s quarters behind the house that Jamir had helped renovate before he started his pre-med summer school studies at the university. Now, one family occupied those rooms, which they called the sunset suites. The parents had two rowdy teenagers, a baby, and a nanny in tow. Poppy was happy to move into the main house for two weeks.
As Ivy turned a corner in the hall, she collided with Poppy, whose eyes were round as lollipops with fright. Her niece’s honey-blond hair stuck out of a messy topknot.
“Did that wake you, too?” Ivy whispered, sliding her arms around Poppy’s slender, shivering shoulders. The soft, midnight rain must have been the leading edge of the rapacious storm.
“And our guests.” Poppy nodded toward a glimmer of light under a nearby door to a guestroom. “Gilda’s awake.”
“Pixie must be a nervous wreck. Fairly early for them.” Gilda’s Chihuahua often suffered from anxiety. Gilda, who wrote articles for magazines, usually worked late into the night. The Ridgetop Fire had demolished her house, which would take months to rebuild.
Ivy rubbed the back of her neck. She still had an odd, prickly sensation she couldn’t explain. The sound of the rain intensified, and Ivy gazed up at the ceiling. “We should watch for leaks. This is the first torrential downpour we’ve had.”
Summer Beach rarely had rain in the summer, so sunshine was practically a guarantee for their guests. Yet, Ivy recalled from her childhood that late August rains weren’t unusual in Southern California. Heavy summer rain often spurred flocks of doves and ducks and other migratory birds toward Mexico for winter. Nature, like life, had its seasons.
“We should have umbrellas for guests,” Poppy said. “May I spend petty cash today? I can get a few cheap ones.”
“No need to skimp,” Ivy replied. “Get good quality.” Poppy knew their budget constraints, but the cost of a few umbrellas wouldn’t sink them. She glanced up again. “Considering this old structure, we’d better get buckets and towels ready.”
Ivy hurried to her room to change clothes. After flinging off her short summer gown, she shimmied into a loose, cotton beach dress. With the rain, the muggy air felt damp on her neck. This weather was more like the east coast summers that she’d grown accustomed to these last few decades.
Glancing from her window, she saw a light flick on in Bennett’s apartment over the garage. She exhaled a sigh of relief. Just knowing he was awake and nearby was comforting. Bennett was always up early for a run on the beach before reporting in at City Hall. She glanced at the clock. Six a.m. Guests would be up early today.
As Ivy pulled her hair into a ponytail, thunder rolled across the beach, and lightning exploded almost instantaneously. Overhead, the lights blinked.
Once, twice, three times.
Ivy paused, holding her breath. The storm was right upon them, carrying with it even more subtropical humidity from Mexico. She slid her feet in flip-flops and grabbed a flashlight she kept by the bed.
Before Shelly left, they had purchased flashlights for every guest room in case of emergencies. Poppy had created a fire-and-earthquake exit plan and laminated it to hang on the back of each door. Though she hoped guests wouldn’t need to follow the precautions, Ivy was glad they’d provided them.
Hesitating, she raised her eyes to the spot near the ceiling where some sort of shadow—not that she believed in spirits—had appeared. She flipped her ponytail to one side. Merely a trick of the light. Shelly might believe in ghosts, but Ivy certainly did not.
She paused, listening.
The steady drip, drip, drip was not her imagination. There in the corner near the window, water splashed onto the intricate, parquet wood floor.
Ivy lifted a large antique water basin from a dresser and placed it under the leak. Drops tinkled against the white porcelain festooned with delicate pink roses.
“That will have to do for now,” Ivy said to herself, craning her neck toward the ceiling. Her heart sank as she stared above. Repairing a roof of this size wouldn’t be cheap.
Considering that reservations for the autumn season were already slacking off, she worried about paying the overdue tax bill that Jeremy had let lapse. Unless she paid it soon, authorities would auction the house for back taxes. From her careful calculations, she’d figured she could scrape together the money, but just barely. Less the cost of a few umbrellas to keep the paying guests dry.
How she missed Shelly. Her sister would have laughed and dreamed up another idea to bring in funds.
And now, Ivy could hardly get through to her.
Kneeling, she mopped up water splashes around the porcelain bowl with an old white towel before tucking it around the perimeter. Taking the flashlight, she padded through the upstairs hallway, checking for leaks. Most guests were still resting—or trying to. She heard an occasional murmur float from the rooms that lined the hall.
Gilda cracked open her door. In one hand, she gripped the collar of a pink robe that matched her swirl of cotton-candy hair, and in the other, she held the quivering Pixie. “What a storm, huh?”
“We can always use the rain,” Ivy said, trying to sound upbeat.
“Going to delay construction.”
“Can’t imagine it will last too long,” Ivy said. Gilda was comfortable at the inn, but she’d told Ivy she was eager to get her high-strung Chihuahua back in familiar surroundings. The fire that raced along the ridge overlooking the village of Summer Beach had damaged and destroyed many homes a few months ago. Along with Gilda, other ridgeline residents, including Bennett, Imani, and Jamir, had taken rooms at the inn.
Ivy scratched Pixie behind the ears, and the little dog licked her hand. “A flashlight is in the nightstand drawer in case we lose power. Any leaks in there?”
“I’ll check and let you know.” Gilda stifled a yawn.
“Appreciate that.” Ivy smiled. “Try to get some rest.”
Ivy descended the stairs to the first level. Poppy was in the ballroom tucking towels against the base of a door that faced the south, where the strongest winds were pummeling the side of the house. Rainwater was pooling under the arched Palladian doors.
“Let me help you,” Ivy said, sinking to her knees beside Poppy.
“Thanks, but I’ve got this, Aunt Ivy,” Poppy said. “Maybe check the kitchen?”
Ivy hurried through the spacious ballroom where they’d hosted a celebrity-studded wedding last month. And last week she’d rented out the space for a beach-front fundraiser for the local children’s hospital one afternoon and a lavish quinceañera for a teenaged girl and dozens of her friends and family the next evening.
A knot formed in Ivy’s throat. She recalled the artistic floral arrangements Shelly had created for the wedding and thought how her sister would have loved decorating those last two events. As it was, Ivy had engaged one of Imani’s acquaintances for floral designs. While the arrangements were pretty, they didn’t have the memorable panache of Shelly’s designs.
Shelly had even been absent from her video channel on gardening and design. She had repurposed video footage from the inn’s garden, not that anyone but Ivy and Poppy would know.
As Ivy approached the kitchen, she heard a low hum. Pushing open the door to the 1950s vintage kitchen, she saw Bennett hosing up a puddle with a wet vacuum.
Glancing over his shoulder, he said, “Morning, Ivy. Figured you might need help. Seems water blew in under the door.”
From the deep tenor of his slightly gravelly voice, Ivy could tell he’d just rolled out of bed. His voice sent a tremor through her.
A biological, physiological reaction. A little dopamine on the brain, that’s all.
At the sight of Bennett working in the kitchen, memories of her late husband flashed through her mind. Jeremy would never stoop to manual labor—his words, not hers. Jeremy would have stepped over the puddle in his polished Gucci loafers and told her to call a handyman. As soon as Jeremy left for the office, Ivy would simply do what was needed if she could. After a while, she’d become quite proficient.
Watching Bennett, she thought how nice it was to have someone who took action without being asked.
Bennett didn’t have an ego to stop him from helping. That’s why he was an effective mayor. Summer Beach was lucky to have him.
So am I, she mused.
“How did you know to look for this leak?” she asked, skirting the damp floor.
“A real estate agent has to watch vacant properties. The property manager was good, though.”
Bennett turned off the machine and swept a dry cloth across the tile floor. As he worked, Ivy could see his muscles through his thin T-shirt. He kept fit, and she liked that.
Not that it should matter to her, of course.
Still, she appreciated how he always thought ahead. “Is your apartment leaking?” He was staying in the old chauffeur’s quarters above the garages behind the main house.
“No, that roof is sound.”
“Not in my room.”
He jerked his head up and leaned back, putting his hands on his thighs. “You have a leak?”
“I put a big porcelain bowl under it.”
“Something’s not right,” he said, rising. “We inspected this house before the transfer. Let’s have a look.” He wound the hose around the vacuum canister and rolled it to one side.
“I sure appreciate what you do around here,” Ivy said. “With Shelly gone, there’s so much more to take care of.”
“Hey, it’s what I do.” Bennett put his hands on her shoulders and gazed at her, a half-smile tugging at his lips. “You’re quite capable, Ivy. Everyone knows that. But it’s okay to ask for help.”
“I just miss Shelly,” she said, sidestepping the topic. Heat from his hands coursed through her, his touch warming her, comforting her. She had to be careful not to shift her emotional dependence from Shelly to Bennett. Because that’s what this feeling is, right?
Thunder cracked around them, splintering the pre-dawn sky with a flash of lightning. Ivy cried out, and Bennett slid his arms around her. Outside, the downpour sluiced across the glass panes and pelted the veranda.
Ivy shivered in Bennett’s embrace. While the thunder and lightning didn’t scare her, the feeling of his arms encircling her was so soothing. As he stroked her back, she closed her eyes and rested her head against his chest, recalling the slow dance they’d shared on the beach late one evening and how right it had felt. Though the storm raged around them, here with him, she found a brief respite.
His arms were here for her now, but how long would that last? Her heart still ached from her husband’s death, and she had to consider what her daughters would think. Especially Sunny. And all that took time to overcome. When she was ready, would Bennett still be there for her?
Not too close yet, she told herself before taking a step back. “Gilda is awake, and I’m sure others will be soon,” she said, her words tumbling out. “I can’t imagine they’re sleeping through this.”
“Doubt it,” Bennett said. A trace of disappointment in his voice belied his usual patience. “At least the sun’s rising. Won’t need lanterns if the electricity goes out.” He took her hand and grinned. “I’ll help you look for leaks.”
Ivy led him back through the house, though she withdrew her hand as soon as she saw a new weekend guest on the stairs. The older woman wore rain boots and was folding a raincoat over her arm with brisk efficiency.
“Good morning, Mrs. Reed,” Ivy said, adopting her friendly, professional innkeeper demeanor. The woman was a retiree from the Los Angeles School District, where she’d taught high school science for years. “Sorry about the weather.”
Mrs. Reed shrugged off her comment. “I rather like the change. Too much sunshine creates complacency. Checked the weather before I came, so I’m prepared.”
“You’re not going out with the lightning, are you?”
“I’m watching the storm pattern. It’s moving past us at a reasonable rate,” the woman replied. “By the time I finish my coffee, I’ll be up for a stroll. Safe enough by then, I should say.”
“She’s right,” Bennett said.
“You’ll find coffee in the dining room.” Ivy could smell it brewing, and Poppy was hurrying into the kitchen for supplies, which she and Ivy took turns putting out every morning. Mitch would drop off fresh pastries soon. Although, without Shelly around, he was sending his assistant more often. “And breakfast is on its way.”
After leaving Mrs. Reed, Ivy led Bennett upstairs, where they continued their inspection. As Mrs. Reed had projected, the rain began lessening.
Walking through the hall, which smelled musty with the dampness in the air, Ivy asked, “Do you know if Mitch has talked to Shelly?”
“I stopped asking him,” Bennett said. “He’s broken up over her leaving, though he doesn’t let on. I can tell, though. His usual spark is dimmer now.”
“Same for many of us. But after Chief Clarkson cleared Mitch for the tiara disappearance, I thought Shelly would return.” Ivy ran a hand along his shoulder. “I never dreamed she’d go back to work in New York.” She hoped Shelly wasn’t seeing her old boyfriend, Ezzra.
Gilda’s door cracked open. “Everything okay?” she asked. Pixie was still shivering in her arms. “The lights are flickering.”
“Everything looks good up here,” Bennett said. “No sign of leaks.” He stopped to scratch Pixie’s head. “How’s our little kleptomaniac doing?”
Pixie’s tail wagged, and she licked Bennett’s hand.
“The thunder scares her,” Gilda said. “But she’s doing well in her obedience training. They’re teaching her to respect other people’s things. And return what she borrows,” she added, emphasizing the word to Pixie.
“I’ve noticed that,” Ivy said, wondering if Pixie grasped the concept. She had seen an improvement in Pixie’s behavior. At least they knew where to look for items that went missing now.
“Any water leaks in your room, Gilda?” Bennett asked.
“Nope. We’re cozy and dry, but let me know if you need to inspect. I can move to the parlor. I’m working on an article on autumn feasts and new ways to prepare pumpkin, squash, and yams.”
“Sounds yummy,” Ivy said. “I’ll ask the housekeeper to check your room.” A woman who lived nearby helped tidy guestrooms and manage mountains of laundry. Without Shelly, Ivy had to redistribute her work, and she quickly found that she and Poppy alone couldn’t handle it all. Besides, Poppy still had publicity clients in Los Angeles to serve.
“We have to go now,” Gilda said, waving Pixie’s paw. “Say goodbye to your friends.”
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