An absolutely gorgeous and heartwarming read about finding love where you least expect it, new beginnings, and how family is always with you, no matter where you are. Fans of Susan Mallery, Pamela Kelley, and Mary Alice Monroe will adore this romantic page-turner. When her gram passes away, Melanie Simpson feels utterly lost. But her grandmother’s will gives her a purpose: an inheritance to buy a crumbling house in Rosemary Bay. They used to visit the village every summer, sit by the sparkling water on a beach the color of pearl, and daydream about turning the place on the corner into a bed and breakfast. On her first night in her new hometown, Melanie meets local contractor and landowner Josh Claiborne, whose eyes match the dazzling sea. Melanie plans to restore the beach house to its original glory, and Josh is the perfect person to help renovate the wrap-around porch weathered by the coastal breeze and the peeling white paint faded by the sun. But hiding in a closet is a yellowing stack of letters that could change everything. The looping handwriting reveals the mystery of the rickety house—a buried history that touches everyone in Rosemary Bay. Will its secrets bring Melanie and Josh together or tear them apart? Readers absolutely love Jenny Hale: “ Wow!!! I couldn’t have enjoyed it more! Such a page-turner for me and I couldn’t put it down… Great job, Jenny!!!” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ I LOVED this book! I couldn’t put it down and read the entire thing in one day (laundry? What laundry?)!… Perfect! ” Orthodox Mom, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I absolutely loved this book. It immediately pulls you in to the sand and the surf. This is such a page-turner, I couldn’t put it down… The romance is as warm and toasty as the summer sun… I promise you will be hooked.” NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Awesome!!!… I absolutely loved this book.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ I fell in love with this book from the very first page… Simply beautiful and if you are a romance fan then this is one not to be missed. I loved it.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ WOW!… Wonderful… I was hooked to the story from the start. I fell in love… Amazing.” Simona’s Corner of Dreams, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Honestly the perfect summer beach read… I’m obsessed.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Oh, how I love this book, and I cannot say enough good things about it… It will leave you with a humongous smile on your heart! ” Kristin’s Novel Café, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Amazing… I blew through the pages… No spoilers but there was laughter and tears with the characters which is how I judge a book. If the character sheds a tear and I do then it is a WIN!… I loved this book! ” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Loved this book! I felt like I was actually on the beach! ” Reading Through the Looking Glass, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Perfect… I loved every minute of it! ” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: June 9, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Beach House
Her mother shrugged with an empathetic shake of her head from the other side of the table, over the bowl of M&M’s that Kathryn had been using as rewards to potty train her two-year-old son, Ryan. “I know.”
“I thought Gram would leave me her own house, and I’d live here in Spring Hill with you all—fix it up, make it my own… We’d talked about it before—” Her throat closed up with emotion and her eyes filled with tears as she tried to squeeze the image of Gram’s empty hospital bed from her mind. She’d never imagined that when they went into that room to pack up her grandmother’s things to go home, Gram wouldn’t be going with them.
Melanie ran her nails through her dark chestnut hair along her scalp, to tuck back the runaway strands that had escaped her ponytail. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done her hair or put makeup on, having spent the last three years taking care of Gram. Even now that she didn’t have to look after anyone anymore, she still couldn’t bring herself to do it. She could barely get out of bed in the morning.
“It could be a fresh start,” her mother said with forced positivity. “You’ve always loved that little village in Florida, and you’d still get to fix up a house.”
Melanie’s green eyes grew round. “Have you seen that house?” she said, new tears forming at the thought of the shambles of a building Gram was proposing that Melanie buy with her inheritance. They’d walked past it every year that they’d gone to the village of Rosemary Bay on vacation, but Melanie had never taken their musings about fixing it up seriously. “It’s a black hole financially. It might be cheaper just to level it.”
Kathryn’s eyebrows bounced. “That’s an idea,” she said, snagging an M&M and popping it into her mouth. Her sister scooted the bowl toward Melanie but she waved away the gesture with a teary smile.
Melanie’s gaze fell back on the words in the will: …provided you make the necessary repairs to the structure and maintain the intended style of the home.
“I told Gram once that I thought the house would be an amazing bed and breakfast. We’d daydreamed about what it would be like to own it, but I never thought in a million years that she’d actually want me to buy it.” Her lip wobbled.
She’d lost everything to take care of Gram. It was as if her life were split into two parts and if she tried really hard, she could just about remember the girl who’d run off to live in the city to work at Starcross Creative, a trendy marketing firm with lounge-style offices and direct access to the rooftop bar above them.
She and her fiancé Adam had lived in a swanky high rise not too far away, in an upscale area of Nashville. Melanie’s father had been killed in a car crash when Melanie was three, and her grieving mother had always prayed for her girls to find lasting love, so Mama had been delighted when Adam popped the question after a year of dating. It was laughable now; Melanie remembered her and Adam’s heartfelt conversations about starting a family, but how they didn’t even have time with their schedules to care for a dog. They were busy professionals on their way to their own happy ending.
And then Gram got sick, and everything changed.
“This inheritance will be barely enough to cover repairs on that house,” Melanie said on an inhale, rubbing her temples.
The Ellis house, as the locals in the quaint Florida village of Rosemary Bay knew it, was supposedly haunted. And it looked that way. On the market for decades, it sat in ruins off the beaten path, just waiting for some developer to knock it down, and superstition loomed. She’d read a Halloween article about it once that claimed dark figures were seen behind the windows, and the chandelier in the parlor would swing out of nowhere.
Melanie remembered that chandelier. Despite the local legend, it took her back to happier times.
“Come here.” Gram had beckoned Melanie over to the window of the old house, her hand pressed against the murky glass to shield her eyes from the sun.
Skittish, Melanie had crept across the wiry, overgrown weeds of the yard, coming up behind her grandmother, glancing over her shoulder for any apparitions that wanted to terrify the daylights out of her. She put her hands against the window, a shiver running through her as she peered into the old parlor.
“Isn’t that chandelier just divine?” Gram said, her voice a dreamy whisper.
Melanie peered at the enormous fixture of beaded glass that dripped from the ceiling, like a ghostly Titanic version of Gatsby’s mansion. “It’s so pretty,” she said, losing her breath at both the grandeur of the room and the decay of it. “If you like ghosts,” she added quietly.
“Boo!” Gram shocked her with two hands on her shoulders, causing her to let out a blood-curdling scream that could probably be heard by the sailboats out on the turquoise gulf that lapped onto the shore behind the house. “Sorry,” Gram said, falling into a fit of laughter. “I couldn’t resist.”
After she’d settled back down, Melanie playfully cut her eyes at Gram. “Do you believe in ghosts?” she’d asked.
Gram lifted her large sunglasses to make eye contact and, turning her attention back to the house, her grin sliding into a serious expression, she nodded. “Ghosts are whispers of the past,” she said thoughtfully. “They only stick around when they want to tell us something that we need to know.”
“Think so?” Melanie put her hands on her hips and took in the chipped shingles, the missing siding, and the broken railings. “I read that a loner named Alfred Ellis owned this house. Is that true?”
“Mm hm.” Gram pursed her lips while she pressed a loose window molding back into place.
“He lived all by himself his whole life, apparently, clouded in secrets, dying here alone.”
“That’s what I hear,” Gram said.
“They say that he came from a wealthy family with a large inheritance from his grandfather’s success in the shipping industry.”
“Did you know him, growing up?”
“He moved into town and built this after your granddaddy and I got married. We’d already moved away by then.”
Melanie considered this as she peeked into another window. The hallway was empty and full of dust. “Think he haunts it?”
Gram smacked her hands together to get the dirt off them. “Perhaps. If he has something to say.” Her gaze roamed the house as if she were looking for evidence that he did.
“Melanie?” Her sister’s waving hand came into focus in front of her face, pulling Melanie from the memory. “I know it’s not a lot of money, but we wanted to tell you that if you decide to follow Gram’s wishes and buy the house, we’ll give you whatever’s left from selling Gram’s rancher after we’ve settled her debts. You can use it to open the bed and breakfast.”
“Thank you,” she said, grateful for her little family. They always had her back.
“Does that thank you mean you are going to buy the Ellis house?” her mother asked. “A bed and breakfast is a great way to get back out there, Melanie,” she said. “And the way you are with people, you’d be amazing at it.”
Melanie sat, quietly thoughtful. She gazed out the window into the Tennessee sunshine. Kathryn’s husband Toby had taken their toddler outside to give them time to talk. He chased Ryan around the yard while the little boy’s giggles floated into the air like feathers.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” her mother continued. “The house isn’t the only reason we’ve brought you here today.”
Melanie tossed her tissue into the kitchen trashcan and turned to her family. “What is it?”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d be ready to hear from her just yet,” her mother began, looking uneasily at Kathryn. Melanie’s sister offered an encouraging nod. “Gram wrote you a letter. We found it in her things at the hospital.” Her mother pulled the letter from her purse and slid it across the table.
Melanie’s vision blurred with tears at the sight of Gram’s swooping lettering spelling out her name.
“Wait to read it if you aren’t ready,” her mother said, reaching out and patting Melanie’s hand, her face clouded in worry for her daughter.
Melanie swallowed, trying to keep herself from falling apart. She set down the page of Gram’s will she’d been holding, the paper crumpled from her tight grip, and picked up the envelope.
“Like Mom said, don’t feel like you have to read it now,” Kathryn told her. “Unless you want us here for support. I know how hard this is for you.”
Melanie ran her finger over the seal of the envelope. “For three years, I spent every single moment with her. I endured her endless chattering about her garden and her worries that this was the year the fruitworms were going to totally take over her tomato plants.”
Her mother let out a little chuckle and grabbed a tissue from the box on the windowsill.
“I know she kept her favorite cookies to the right of the breadbox,” Melanie continued, her voice breaking, “and that, by her bedside, she had a jar of ten-dollar bills that she added to every month in the hopes of one day going on a cruise, because she’d never been on one. I find myself still calling out, ‘Do you need any help to get to the kitchen?’ right at noon when she usually has her lunch.”
“I thought it might be too soon,” her mother said under her breath to her sister.
Melanie looked up from the envelope. “I’m okay,” she assured them, wiping another tear with the back of her hand. “What I’m saying is that, after three years of it, the silence is deafening.” She picked up the letter. “It’ll be comforting to hear her voice again—even if it’s in my head.”
Her mother gave her hand an encouraging squeeze.
Melanie opened the envelope, her movements slow to prolong the moment, knowing that when she’d read the final word of this letter, the silence would stretch on for an eternity. She cast her eyes lovingly over the opening line and then began to read:
My dear Melanie,
I’ll bet you thought you’d finally shut me up. You’re wondering what more I could possibly have to say that I haven’t already told you, during the three years we lived together…
She tipped her head back and laughed through her tears. That was so Gram.
Well, there is something. I wanted to tell you that you did a good thing, taking care of me through my cancer and helping me hang in there. I’ve had a long life, and you’re to thank for the last three years of it. But I’ve watched that vibrant girl that showed up with her moving boxes three years ago wither into a reserved, contemplative person, and that risk-taker has been slowly stripped away. I worry that I robbed you of who you are. I need you to figure out how to get back to that firecracker you were when you got here. Remember what I told you about ghosts? If you don’t take life by the horns, and swing it around, I’m gonna drive you crazy until you do.
“Oh, Gram. I hope you do,” Melanie said, swallowing the lump in her throat.
Life is all about risks, Melanie. Playing it safe doesn’t get you anywhere but where you are now. Go. Find that life that’s floating around the universe just waiting for you to grab it and never let go. And if I have any say in heaven, I’ll be right there, pushing it toward you the whole way.
I love you, baby girl. Catch ya on the other side!
Melanie folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope, tears now spilling over the puffy rims of her eyes. Her mother handed her a new tissue, all of them sniffling.
“So whatcha gonna do, sugar bean?” her mom asked, clearly trying to keep the mood as light as possible.
Melanie pushed a big smile across her face. “I’m gonna move to Rosemary Bay and buy the Ellis house.”
Gram always knew best, and if she thought that there might be life for Melanie in the village where they had so many fond memories together, then that was exactly where she’d go. It was time for a change.
Miss Andrews, as she was known in the village, dragged her dainty fingertips along the back of the bench at Willow Pier, overlooking the sparkling Gulf of Mexico, and sat down beside the handsome sailor in uniform. She crossed her legs at the ankle and ran her hands down her pencil skirt to straighten it across her thighs.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, trying not to swallow him with her gaze. After spending the summer together, she’d decided that he was everything she’d ever dreamed of in a man.
“You,” he replied, and then he smiled that smile she’d become so fond of, his affection for her undeniable.
“You’re early,” she said warmly, working hard to keep her fondness from bubbling up, for fear that acknowledging it would tear her heart out when he left.
The sailor whom she’d come to know as the dashing Alfred Ellis turned her way, his chiseled features dropping with his sultry stare, his dark brown eyes making her feel like she could see his soul right through them. “I didn’t want to miss a minute with you.” He took her hand from her lap and laced his fingers in hers, causing her breathing to become shallow.
The woman ran her other hand unsteadily over the light brown curls of her soft bob that she’d gotten styled just today so she could look her best for him. She’d powdered her face to a milky white, her red lips lined in a fashionable pout. “How long before you deploy?” she asked, cutting right to the chase to prepare herself for the ache she would inevitably feel the minute he walked off the pier.
“Thirty minutes,” he said, his voice breaking.
He swallowed, and she wondered if his reaction had been due to leaving her or nerves about heading off to his next destination. He stood up and took her other hand, pulling her to a standing position. “I adore you,” he blurted, sending a burst of excitement through her. “Let’s spend our last moments together in each other’s arms. And then, when I come back, marry me.”
Her mother had warned her about the men passing through town, coming in for a whirlwind getaway, then leaving as quickly as they came, never to return. It was one of the downsides of living in a tropical destination. While her heart told her otherwise, she had to adhere to the expectations of being a lady. But she knew in her heart that all she’d have to do was ask and Alfred would come back for her.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said, staring into his eyes with purpose, just the sight of him filling her with a kind of joy she’d never felt before. “Send me a letter after you’re gone and tell me again that you’ll marry me, and I’ll wait for you. If you still want to be with me after months at sea, then it’s meant to be.”
“I want to kiss you now. I love you,” he whispered.
But she shook her head. “It will make it all the sweeter when you return,” she said, kissing her finger and placing it on his lips, causing his eyes to flutter closed.
He looked back down at her. “I’ve completely fallen for you,” he said, taking in a breath as if he could breathe her in. “How long are you going to make me wait to send you the letter? I’ll do it tomorrow.”
She smiled. “Two months. Send a letter in two months and I’ll wait an eternity.”
“Will you be attending that girls’ school in the fall?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve decided not to go.”
He gazed into her eyes. “Not because of me, I hope. I’ll wait if that’s what you want to do. I’ll wait forever.”
She put her hand on his face, his eyes closing. “It’s my own decision, I promise.”
“If I’d only known I’d meet you,” he said, shaking his head in frustration, “I would never have signed up for this tour in California. I can hardly stand being across the country from you.”
“Love always finds its way home,” she said.
He kissed her forehead. They sat back down together on the bench as the sun went down, casting an orange and pink glow in the sky, and talked about everything and nothing until he had to say goodbye. And when she had to let him go, she didn’t know how she’d ever manage those two whole months without him.
“Promise me you’ll wait for me,” he said, clearly biting back his emotions, his square jaw tightening.
She put her hands on the arms of his crisp uniform. “Promise you’ll come back.”
And Miss Andrews knew in that instant, that when he boarded the ship, he was taking her heart with him.
“Is there anything for me?” the woman asked Gabby, their housemaid, as she flipped through the mail she’d retrieved from the letterbox.
“No, ma’am,” Gabby replied, fumbling with the stack of mail, wobbling the duster and cleaning rag in her hand. “All of it is addressed to your daddy, Miss Andrews.”
It had been four months and she had gotten no word from Alfred. She’d given him double the time. While she didn’t want to believe that their time together had been only a fling, he’d left her with no other explanation. She wanted to kick herself for falling so hard for him. Now she had to deal with the emptiness and pain swallowing her whole.
Their summer together went through her mind on a loop as she tried to analyze it to find some indication that he hadn’t really felt anything for her, but every time, she came up blank. She closed her eyes to recall the way he’d laughed at something funny she’d said, his arm around her as they sat together above the world on the Ferris wheel at the town fair. She could still feel the movement of his hands on her body as they’d danced on the old wood floor at Barney’s in town, the way his gaze followed her as if he needed the view to breathe. And then there was that ice cream shop in a neighboring village where he’d named that brand new flavor for her. They’d had vanilla with blackberry crumble over it, and he’d called it the Lovebird Special. Love. Had she misread it all?
She’d never met anyone like Alfred before. He’d made her laugh, he’d challenged her, and yet he was tender and one of the kindest people she’d ever known. Even though she’d only known him for six months, it felt as if she’d known him for years. Stupid woman, she told herself, realizing that she was no different than the girls her mother had told her about. She’d seen them—all standing at the dock, crying and waving as the sailors steamed away in their ships. Meanwhile, the men aboard went back to life as usual, clapping each other on the back for another successful off-duty jaunt.
“That boy Samuel was here today looking for you again, Miss Andrews,” Gabby said, still fiddling with the mail, getting it into some sort of order.
She tried to smile through her heartbreak. She would’ve married Alfred if he’d asked her, there was no doubt about it. She was torn between complete sadness and frustration.
“I think he’s smitten with you, miss,” Gabby said, pulling her back into the present.
“Do you think so?” she asked absentmindedly.
“Mm hm.” Gabby set the letters down on the hall table. “He’s been by three times this week. He wanted to take you to the picture show.”
“He’s a very nice man,” she said, but her mind was still on Alfred.
“Yes, he is. And he’s from a good family too.”
She considered the idea that poor Samuel was popping by to see her and she wasn’t emotionally available because of some sailor who hadn’t thought twice about her. She’d never considered Alfred as just some sailor before now. The idea filled her eyes with tears. Her lip wobbled as she blinked them away. Well, he’d taught her a hard lesson, and she was glad that her mother had warned her about men like him.
“If Samuel stops by again, would you come and get me?” she asked, still feeling hollow. She needed to move on even if she didn’t feel like she could right now. It wasn’t healthy to keep obsessing over someone who clearly wasn’t the person she thought he was. “I’m going to go to my room for a while.”
As she made her way up the large staircase leading to her room, her mother bustled in, chatting to Gabby. “Oh my goodness, Gabby, look,” her mother said when the young woman had rounded the hallway upstairs. “You accidentally dropped an envelope. It almost went down into the draining vent.”
Miss Andrews stopped, her hearing perking up, her heart racing.
“Good thing I caught it,” her mother continued, “it’s from the electric company. Can you imagine if we were late on our remittance?”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Andrews…”
Her daughter came rushing down the stairs and dropped to the floor, lifting the slatted vent plate out of the hardwood that had been put in to drain floodwater from the house in the event of a storm.
“Good Lord, child, what are you doing?” her mother asked.
The young woman peered into the dark hole in the floor and then plunged her hand down into it, feeling around to see if perhaps her own letter had fallen in. Her fingers reached out as far as they could go, her right pointer finger stretching until it hurt.
“What are you doing?” her mother asked again, disapprovingly.
“Just making sure no other letters have fallen,” she said, pulling her hand out.
“You’re going to get your dress all dirty. I’m sure there’s nothing down there.”
She reached in again, but she came up empty. Had she gone mad? An envelope wouldn’t have traveled that far into the draining vent…
Suddenly, she felt a hand around her arm, pulling her up. Her mother’s consoling eyes were on her, giving light to the girl’s desperation. “There’s nothing in there. Perhaps you should wash up and make yourself look more respectable. You’re so pretty,” she said, brushing a curl out of her daughter’s face. “You wouldn’t want Samuel to come by when you’re not at your best.”
Gabby replaced the vent cover, closing the chapter on Alfred and the summer that she would no longer allow to haunt her.
“Yes, Mama.” She straightened her dress and went upstairs, feeling foolish for being so frantic. She closed her bedroom door, dropped onto her bed, and cried herself to sleep.
The old Victorian-style house at the end of Sandpiper Lane stood like a ghostly gray mammoth, poised between the road and the dazzling turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Its faded white paint had peeled and cracked from years of exposure to the beating coastal sun and unrelenting winds. A pair of lace curtains still hung in the dark upstairs window. Melanie stared at it, praying she wouldn’t see an apparition floating by. Just the idea gave her a shudder.
“Are you sure about this?” Kathryn asked, as they lugged Melanie’s suitcases past the mounds of moving boxes and over the wild overgrowth that had crawled across the battered front walk.
Melanie shielded her eyes from the sun, peering up at the structure. “Not really,” she said.
“If you’re doing this for Gram, she’s not here to enjoy it,” Kathryn said gently. “This is a big project, Mel.”
“It’s not like I had . . .
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