The Buchanan sisters share everything—including their inherited Juniper Inn. But when their mother won’t let go of a decades-long feud with their Aunt Sassy to attend the inn’s grand re-opening, the sisters decide a family reunion is long overdue.
Youngest sister Rose is determined to put together an extravagant celebration. Only she needs to convince a certain surly hardware store owner to help finish the inn’s renovations.
After a heartbreaking end to her marriage, Dahlia and her kids are just starting to rebuild their lives. Dahlia’s even considering opening herself up to love again, but will that upset the stability she’s worked so hard to give her children?
Sassy McGrath has never stopped missing her sister, Lillian, and though they’ve both been too stubborn to reconcile, some shocking news might finally change everything. As family bonds are tested, will these two very different generations of women find the strength to believe in themselves and each other?
Release date: July 6, 2021
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 368
Reader says this book is...: entertaining story (1)
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The Summer Sisters
Don’t do this to me, Tony.” Rose Buchanan popped out of her chair and stepped around the antique desk that was three sizes too big for her cramped office, ready to fall on her knees and beg if she had to. “Please. Don’t walk away. We can work this out. I know we can.” Desperation flared in her chest, nearly squeezing out a panicked squeak. They had to work this out. She couldn’t lose him…
“Not this time.” Tony held his ground, arms crossed so tightly over his barrel chest that the shoulder seams of his plaid shirt separated. He widened his boots into a stubborn cowboy’s stance. “I told you, Rose. One more surprise and I’m outta here.” The man’s gray-green eyes had always had their own weather system, and right now they were downright stormy. “It’s too much. I’m done.”
“You can’t be done.” She cast a fleeting glance at the door. Six months ago, she might’ve had too much Southern pride to block him from leaving, but trying to renovate an old run-down resort in the Colorado mountains had shaken the decorum clean out of her.
Tony might be twenty years older than her. He might be gruff and moody. He might wear his jeans low enough to make you avert your eyes whenever he bent over, but he was still the contractor of her dreams, and she wasn’t about to let him walk out that door.
“I’ll double your pay.” She imagined her eyes were bulging as big as his were right now. Double his pay? Ha! Apparently, old habits die hard. That was something she would’ve said in her past life.
Back in Savannah, she could’ve tripled his pay without the subtle eye twitch she was experiencing now. Back in Savannah, she wouldn’t be two months behind on a renovation project that might break her. Back in Savannah, she’d likely be spending her entire summer hanging out by the country club pool, sipping on sweet tea while she gossiped with other high-society wives.
But she’d walked away from that life. She’d walked away from her future as Gregory Cunningham’s wife so she could transform Aunt Sassy’s quaint Juniper Inn into a mountain resort that actually made money instead of literally flushing it down a toilet with faulty plumbing.
Since the renovation on the Juniper Inn’s cabins had started, they had encountered every setback in the book—unstable foundations, rotted pipes, defective wiring. And now—the final straw for Tony—a leak in the roof of the cabin they’d finished working on two days ago.
Sweet Lord, this place had better make money soon, or both she and her sister Dahlia would have to resort to panning for gold in the river outside.
Rose peered up at Tony’s face. His frown had definitely started to budge. Money had a way of talking, but she couldn’t back up the promise. “What I meant to say was, I will pay you and your crew a generous bonus when this project is done.” That was the other thing renovating a mountain inn had done for her—it had made her an expert in backpedaling. She had yet to make one dime on this place, but she’d nearly spent their entire rehab budget already, and her sister was a single mom with two mouths to feed. There were others to consider too. Her other sister Magnolia and brother-in-law Eric had invested. And Colt, the man her aunt had helped raise since he was a teenager. They’d all put her in charge of this project. If she failed, she would let them all down. “We can negotiate a percentage based on the reservations that come in next month.” She couldn’t pay Tony more money until they made more money.
“This project will never be done,” Tony informed her. He could obviously read between the lines of her amended offer. “You’d be better off selling it right now, Rosie. The place is so old you’re gonna keep havin’ one issue after another. The land would be worth a whole lotta money.”
“I can’t sell.” That was the bottom line. She’d given up everything for this. So had her sister. Dahlia had moved her two children from Minnesota to help Rose manage the place. And what would Colt think if she gave up? When she’d first met him last Christmas, the man had treated her like she didn’t belong in Juniper Springs. He’d thought she was flighty and capricious. But spring had been lonely around here with Dally back in Minnesota, and Rose had found herself talking to the man more and more—seeking him out for his opinion on this design for the Mistletoe Cabin and that design on the Gingerbread Cabin. Before Colt left to accompany Sassy on her trip, she’d promised he would return to a beautiful new resort that was ready to open. She couldn’t let him down. “I’m not selling.”
“Well then, you’re gonna hafta find another contractor.” Tony took a lumbering step in the direction of the door. “I’m already behind on three other projects because of this disaster. I can’t keep putting off my other clients.” He made it out the door in two fast steps. “See ya later, Rose.”
“Wait!” She fled after him, stumbling through the living room of her aunt’s house, and finally caught up to him on the expansive front porch. “Just give me one more week. You can send some of the crew over to the other jobs, and I’ll pitch in on the roof work.”
That stopped the man midstride. He shifted to face her, amusement written all over his face. “You? Rose Buchanan is going to climb herself up onto a ladder and repair a roof?” He eyed her white eyelet capri pants and the Jimmy Choo wedge sandals she wore on her feet.
Was it her fault she hadn’t found the time or money to invest in a new, mountain-appropriate summer wardrobe?
“Yes.” Rose set her chin. “I will personally climb up on that ladder and repair the roof myself.” She straightened her backbone and met his eyes with a look that dared him to laugh like he obviously wanted to. Gumption might be all she had left of her Southern roots, but that was all she needed to save the Juniper Inn. Okay, well, gumption and maybe a few miracles.
“One week,” she repeated. They had to have the cabins done by then anyway. Next week, they were supposed to welcome their first guests with a grand reopening celebration that would also coincide with Aunt Sassy’s seventieth birthday.
The Cleary family had been coming to the Juniper Inn for three generations before the place had fallen into disrepair, and the family had wanted to be the first to stay at the new and improved resort, so they had rented out the cabins for their children and grandchildren, and there would even be a few great grandchildren.
Everything was set. Deposits for the cabins were already made—that was the only thing keeping them afloat right now. She wouldn’t be able to pay back the money, even if they weren’t able to open their doors in time.
The familiar stress knot pulled tighter in her stomach. “Seven days. That’s all I’m asking. You tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” She would roll in a mud puddle like a hog in her white capris if that’s what it took.
“Fine.” The word came out in a thundering sigh. Tony pointed a stubby finger at her. “Seven days. That’s it. And half my crew is going to start on the upgrades to the town hall, so you’d best be ready to work hard.”
“I’m ready.” She’d been working hard ever since she’d returned to Juniper Springs last Christmas. This would only add a little more grit and grime to her daily routine.
“And do yourself a favor,” Tony added, trudging down the porch steps. “Get a pair of jeans. None of them fancy things with the glitter or whatever the hell they put on them, either. A pair of real jeans.”
“Will do,” Rose called cheerfully to his retreating back. She held her smile in place until Tony drove away in a cloud of dust, and then she let her posture wilt. For her, gumption tended to come in waves, and this one had quickly receded.
Leaning her forearms against the porch railing, she drew in a deep breath while she gazed out at the land that had provided a backdrop for her most cherished memories. There was no place in the whole world quite like the Juniper Inn. The facilities themselves weren’t much to look at—though Tony and his crew had managed to spruce up the log exteriors of each of the eight small cabins scattered around the property. But it was the clusters of aspen and juniper trees, the sparkling pond down at the bottom of the hill, and the glimpses of the mountain peaks still dusted with snow even in July that made this place special.
She and her sisters, Dahlia and Magnolia, had grown up coming here in the summers and then again for long trips at Christmas, before their mother had a falling-out with Aunt Sassy. After that, the sisters hadn’t spoken to their aunt in nearly eighteen years. Then out of the blue, Sassy had invited the three of them to spend Christmas here last year, and they’d all jumped at the invitation. It’s like Sassy had known—the sisters needed an escape; they needed the Juniper Inn.
Rose had been as shocked as her sisters when Sassy told them she wanted to give them the resort. At first, she had assumed they’d simply have to sell it. But the more time she’d spent here, the more she’d wandered the land and laughed with her sisters and sipped hot cocoa from the same mugs as she had when she was young, the more she’d realized how deeply this place was a part of her—more a part of her than any home she’d ever lived in. She couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
But her brain cells must’ve been compromised by the high-altitude air, because sitting by the pool in Savannah was sounding a lot better than experiencing failure after failure at the moment.
A distinctive woof! sounded from the woods on the other side of the pond and brought a smile back to Rose’s face. She watched her fluffy white rescue dog Marigold bound up the hill—all clumsy paws and disheveled fur and sloppy grin coming straight for her.
Rose braced herself for impact. She hadn’t quite figured out how to stop her dog from putting her paws on people’s shoulders and giving their faces a good lick to greet them properly. She had to admit she hadn’t tried too hard. Even when the dog had muddy paws, there was nothing better than big ol’ hug from Marigold.
Her dog licked her cheek about twenty times while Rose laughed. “I just saw you a half hour ago, you know.” But that didn’t matter to Mari. She was always this happy to be reunited, whether it had been ten minutes or four hours.
“Okay, okay.” Rose gently nudged the dog down. “I see you’ve been digging in the mud again.” Which meant she now had one paw print on each shoulder.
The dog peered up at her with a guilty grin, and Rose couldn’t scold her. “How do you always know to come running just when I need you the most?” She scratched behind the dog’s ears. There’d been a time Rose had been terrified of dogs, but last Christmas Marigold had wandered onto the property and into her heart. Maybe Marigold was what had started the avalanche of changes in her life in the first place. “Change is good,” she told the dog. “But it’s also hard and painful and terrifying.” Especially when she was trying to figure out who she was in the midst of this new life she found herself in.
The dog’s ears perked as though she sensed something. Rose heard it too: a car making its way down the drive.
Her sister’s Subaru rounded the bend, and Marigold took off again, heading to greet Dahlia, Maya, and Ollie—the sweetest nine-year-old niece and five-year-old nephew in the whole world. Not that she was biased.
Her sister got out of the car and hugged Marigold. Even though she’d only been in town about a month, Dahlia already looked the part of the elegant mountain inn owner, wearing a pair of sensible dark jeans and a blue T-shirt with exactly the right amount of lace trim. Her shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair had lightened over the summer, and her blue eyes seemed to shine a little brighter than Rose had remembered seeing them in a long time.
“My turn,” Ollie called, even though the dog was almost as big as he was.
“Auntie Rose!” Maya beelined straight up the porch steps. “Do you like my new cowgirl boots? I bought them with my own money.” Her niece lifted her foot off the ground and showed off all angles of the impractical red leather boots, the little fashionista. She was a girl after Rose’s own heart.
“I love them. Do they happen to have any in my size?”
Dahlia laughed as she made her way up the steps behind her daughter. “I’m pretty sure you already have a pair of red cowgirl boots in that massive closet of yours.”
“The stitching is different. I like yours better.” Rose planted a kiss on her niece’s cheek and winked at her sister. Dally had always had a much more practical sense of style. Maybe it came with being the oldest of three sisters. She’d always been like another mother to Rose, for better or worse.
Most days Rose envied her sister’s analytical and industrious approach to life. She used to want to be just like her older sister. If she was more like Dahlia, maybe the Juniper Inn project wouldn’t be over budget and still nowhere near finished. Rose hadn’t wanted to bother her sister with the details while she was in the process of moving and settling in, so she’d kept her updates generic, but she wasn’t sure how much longer she could protect Dally from the truth.
“I’m guessing neither of you will be wearing red cowboy boots come October when the snow is flying.” Her sister wore a playful frown. “But there was no convincing this one to get the sensible snow boots.”
“They were so ugly,” Maya lamented, every bit as dramatic as Rose would’ve been back in the day. “They looked like something you would wear to outer space.”
“I wanna go to outer space!” Ollie chimed in from where he was throwing a stick for Marigold. “That would be awesome.”
“You can’t go to outer space, silly,” Maya insisted in her big-sister-knows-all tone. Rose had heard that same melody many a time growing up. She might be a fashionista, but Maya still had traces of Dally’s practicality.
“I don’t know.” Rose smiled at Ollie, unwilling to let his sister dim his creativity. “I’ll bet you could find a way to get to outer space someday.” Even if it was only in his imagination. “But first, why don’t you two go into the kitchen and help yourself to some muffins?” So she could talk to Dally about more pressing matters.
Ollie dropped the stick on the ground, his mouth pulled into a grimace. “Where did you get the muffins?” he asked as though he was afraid she’d made them again.
“I’ll have you know that I picked them up from the Sweet Tooth Bakery earlier this morning.” Rose had permanently given up on baking after Maya and Ollie had nearly broken their teeth on her last round of muffins. Her middle sister, Magnolia, was the baker in the family, but Mags lived down in Florida, where she was currently basking in the glow of her two-week-old son. Hopefully Mags and her husband, Eric, would make it up for Sassy’s celebration, but they hadn’t committed yet.
“I want a chocolate chip one!” Ollie sprinted up the steps as though trying to beat his sister through the door.
“No, I want the chocolate chip!” Maya scampered in after him.
“They’re all chocolate chip,” Rose called behind them. Chocolate chip was her favorite too.
“What’s wrong?” Dally asked the second the children’s voices faded.
Rose scratched behind Marigold’s scruffy ears while she contemplated her answer.
“Nothing’s wrong, per se.” Ever since they’d been little, Dally had always been the responsible one. She’d taken care of details and organization while Rose had let her right-dominant brain run wild. She hated that she was seen as the capricious one in the family, and she still wanted to prove this whole endeavor hadn’t been a terrible idea. “Tony needs to finish up the job within a week so he can move on to other jobs.” She could sugarcoat the truth with the best of them. “So we only have seven days to finish all the repairs.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Dally seemed to shrug it off. Probably because Rose hadn’t told her about the latest roof leak on the cabin that was supposed to be done.
“It’s kind of a bummer since we’d hoped to have everything done before Sassy got back, but we’ll figure it out,” her sister went on.
“We can still have everything done before she gets back,” Rose said quickly. The work had to be done. That was part of the surprise birthday party slash grand reopening of the Juniper Inn.
Dahlia reached down to pet Marigold. “You think we can have everything done by this afternoon?”
The stress-induced eye twitch she’d had earlier when she was discussing the money with Tony returned. “What do you mean, this afternoon?”
“Didn’t you see Sassy’s text this morning?” Dally pulled her phone out of her pocket and held it out so she could read. “She and Colt are coming home early.”
Colt was coming back early? Her heart rate spiked, but she couldn’t tell if it was anticipation or panic. Lately, she’d found herself thinking about him, looking back at the pictures he’d texted her from his travels. The images of him smiling and laughing and standing on the edges of cliffs had made her see him in a different light. He seemed so carefree and happy, it had made her smile too. When he left, she hadn’t realized she would miss him, but she had. She’d found herself picking up her phone to call and ask him if he could come over to help her pick out windows or tile or stain for the wood floors. For weeks, all she’d wanted was to see him, but now that he was coming home early she didn’t feel prepared.
Rose’s eyes glazed over, blurring the words on Dally’s phone. “I didn’t see any text.” She’d been too busy trying to retain their contractor so they could finish this project.
“Hi, you two,” her sister read. “Wanted to let you know we’re flying in today. I miss my mountains and my girls, so we’re coming home early.”
“Why would they come home early from an amazing vacation?” Rose would give anything to take a vacation right now. Especially if it meant she could take a break from worrying about the inn.
Her aunt and Colt had spent the last two months visiting some of the places on Sassy’s bucket list—Alaska, the Grand Canyon, New York City, Nova Scotia. It had been the perfect way to get the woman out of their hair while they revamped the cabins and planned her surprise party.
“I don’t know…” Dally looked around at the mountains surrounding them. “It’s pretty gorgeous here. I could kind of see why she would miss home.”
“Alaska’s beautiful. Nova Scotia too. The Grand Canyon? Amazing.” She didn’t mean to sound so grumbly, but…“How are we supposed to keep the grand reopening celebration a surprise while she’s here?” And how was she supposed to hide the lack of progress on the inn from Colt? He would probably take one look at their current situation and go right back to thinking she didn’t belong here.
“We can distract her.” Dahlia shifted into administrator mode. “I can help out more now that things are settling. I put the kids in a day camp program so they can meet some friends before school starts. That means I’ll have a lot more free time.”
“That would be great, actually.” Some of the weight Rose had been carrying around on her shoulders seemed to fall away. “If you’re going to help out, you might want to wear jeans.” She would spare Dally the rest of the details until she showed up tomorrow and they had to repair a roof.
“Okay. I’ll come by first thing tomorrow after I drop off the kids.” Her sister glanced at her watch. “Right now we have to head to the doctor.”
“Ohhhh. The doctor, huh?” Rose batted her eyelashes like a Southern belle. Last winter, Dahlia had made a special connection with the town’s lone MD, but lately Rose couldn’t get her sister to say anything about what was going on between her and the good doctor. “How is Ike, anyway?”
Dally avoided looking her in the eyes. “I don’t know, honestly. Things have been so busy since the move, we haven’t seen much of each other.”
Rose doubted that was from Ike’s lack of trying. The man had been quite taken with her sister when they’d been visiting last Christmas, but she’d seen the hesitation in Dahlia since she’d moved here from Minnesota. It was like Dally never wanted to talk about him. “Well, maybe you should ask him out when you see him today. You know I’m happy to babysit anytime.” She wouldn’t allow her sister to use the kids an excuse.
“Maybe. We’ll see.” Her sister employed the same noncommittal tone she used whenever Ollie asked if he could swim across the pond. “We have to get over there.” As if hoping to avoid further discussion, Dally poked her head inside the house and called for the kids.
They both came bounding out, still munching on their muffins.
“Bye, Auntie Rose.” Ollie hugged her and then wrapped his arms around Marigold, who happily licked the crumbs off his face. “Thanks for the muffins.”
“They’re the best,” Maya added, following her brother down the steps.
“Glad you liked them.” She followed them to the car, still watching Dally. All of a sudden, her sister seemed flustered…nervous. “You two will have to come for a sleepover soon.” She couldn’t help but wonder how the kids would be with roof repairs. They might be looking at an all-hands-on-deck approach for the next week.
“Yes!” Ollie climbed into the backseat. “We could have a campout under the stars!”
“We’ll see,” Rose said, borrowing her sister’s favorite tactic. Camping out wasn’t really her thing unless there was a memory foam mattress and full bathroom involved. But again, let the kid dream.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.” Dahlia still wasn’t looking directly at her. Since Rose had brought up Ike, there had been a distinct change in her sister’s demeanor. What was that all about?
Mom, the speed limit is thirty.” Maya peered at the speedometer from the backseat, a frown of disapproval furrowing her pink sparkly lips. “You’re barely going twenty.”
“Am I?” Dahlia blinked the numbers on the dashboard back into focus. “It’s safer to go slower on Main Street.” Safer, and it would take them longer to reach Ike’s office. She wasn’t sure she was prepared to see the man.
Last Christmas, while she’d been staying at the Juniper Inn, Ike had reawakened every desire her divorce had suppressed, bringing romance back into her life. He’d made her dinner and had kissed her and had helped her see herself in a different light—as someone who could be desirable and fun. They’d stayed in touch through the spring, talking on the phone late into the night at least once a week. But now that she was back in Juniper Springs for good, she couldn’t seem to get up the courage to face him again. When she told Rose they hadn’t seen much of each other, what she really meant was they hadn’t seen each other at all.
Dahlia rolled to a stop and waved a group of pedestrians across the street.
“Go as slow as you want,” Ollie grumbled. “I don’t wanna get any shots.”
“You don’t have to get shots today. This is just a quick physical for your day camp.” Usually she didn’t wait until the day before a camp started to get the kids’ physicals done, but nothing in her life was usual at the moment. Maybe that’s why she kept responding to Ike’s phone messages with quick texts. Sorry, things are crazy! Gotta get the kids to bed! Making dinner, will try to call you later! Painting Ollie’s room right now. Let’s talk tomorrow! They hadn’t been lies, but she’d definitely used the heck out of every excuse she could find to avoid connecting with him.
The truth was, she didn’t know how to do this—how to be a mom and also date someone and maybe even fall in love again. After her husband had left her for another woman two years ago, she’d have been fine taking an oath of celibacy, keeping both her heart and her body safely isolated.
She hadn’t planned on the spark of attraction that had blindsided her when she’d met Ike last December. She hadn’t planned on going on dates with him or kissing him the way she had in front of his fireplace those few times. She hadn’t planned to take over ownership of her aunt’s inn and move her kids across three states to start a whole new life…
Maya sighed loudly. “I don’t see why we have to go to a stupid day camp anyway.”
“You’ll love it,” Dahlia assured her. “You’ll get to meet a lot of the kids who will be in school with you this fall.” This transition hadn’t been easy for any of them, but Maya seemed to be taking it the hardest.
“I’d rather be at my old school. I knew everyone there. I had a lot of friends.” Maya turned her head away to stare out the window, her shoulders slumped.
Dahlia let her daughter pout. She got it. She’d pouted a couple. . .
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