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Zinnia Colby doesn’t like keeping secrets from her close knit family, but an exciting new job gives her no choice. The last thing Hart Land guest David Ingram expects is a conflict of interest with his client and the General’s granddaughter. When scandal rocks Zinnia’s world, David might be the only one who can set things right again. A heartwarming feel-good romance!
“You can’t go wrong with a Chris Keniston book!” RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author of the Haven Point series.
More on Hart Land Lakeside Inn:
Come and stay in one of the quaint and cozy cottages at Hart Land—but be warned, once you meet the family and delightful cast of characters, you may never want to leave.
Fiona Hart is the devoted matriarch. Elegant, wise, and arts patron, but despite all her efforts, she has yet to find her own artistic outlet. Lucy isn’t just a housekeeper, she’s part of the family. She also fancies herself a real life Dolly Levy, except she’s much better at cooking up trouble than the perfect match. Innkeeper and retired general Harold Hart believes in hard work, discipline, and whatever his beloved wife wants. Katie O’Leary runs the One Stop, makes the best Irish soda bread this side of the Blarney Stone, and no one is quite sure if it’s more than her baking that has the magic touch. Did we mention the Harts have nine granddaughters?
Having grown up spending summers together on the lake, the cousins are as close as sisters—closer. Each woman knows there’s no place like Hart Land. They can always count on their grandfather’s gruff, their grandmother’s sage advise, Lucy’s fresh baked cookies, Katie’s inspiration, the calming scent of fresh air—and each other.
Follow along with friends, family, neighbors, and guests as the Harts maneuver life’s curves, and just maybe find love along the way.
"Small town, big family, and mismatches that will steal your heart! Delightful!" Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author of the Dogfather Series.
Look for more books in the Hart Land Lakeside Inn series:
Heather - book one
Lily - book two
Violet - book three
Iris - book four
Hyacinth - book five
Rose - book six
Callytrix - book seven
Zinnia - book eight
Poppy - book nine
Release date: July 29, 2020
Publisher: Indie House Publishing
Print pages: 156
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“The law moves slowly.”
“That’s justice. The plan is solid. We’re golden.”
“Are you sure?”
“Seven for seven. What could possibly go wrong?”
“So help me if that phone rings one more time, I’m throwing it out the window.” Zinnia Colby glanced at the business line’s caller ID and sighed. “Grams, I’d better call you back.”
“Very well, dear, maybe I’ll know more of the upcoming schedules by the time I hear from you.” As her grandmother cut off the call, Zinnia wished she could be at the lake helping prep for her cousin Heather’s wedding instead of at her desk fielding phone calls and juggling schedules. From organizing political dinners to buying and moving prized artwork, she loved the excitement and diversity of her new career—most days. Today was not one of them. Today she wanted to be at the lake dodging Lucy’s matchmaking efforts and oohing and aahing over some ill-fated craft effort of Grams, and most of all, enjoying the cousins she loved as much as her own sister, Iris.
Reaching for the landline, she did her best to plaster on a smile that no one would see, and hoped that she could project some sense of Zen to her over-eager caller. “Hello?”
“It’s not here,” a frantic male voice blurted out.
“Did you not get the tracking link I sent you?”
“Yes. It’s supposed to be here today.”
Quickly, Zinnia followed the link she’d sent her boss Sam’s public relations guru. “It’s out for delivery.”
“The mailman already came by.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose and breathing deeply, let her cousin Violet’s ever calm voice encouraging tranquility play in the back of her mind. Zinnia’s lungs might be full of New York City oxygen, but her Zen was nowhere to be found. “It’s not coming regular mail. Silvianna’s assistant assured me courier service was the best way for the garment to be there by tomorrow’s shoot.”
In order to arrange for this photo shoot of her boss, a respected businessman and philanthropist from one of Connecticut’s oldest families, spending a casual weekend at the Hamptons home of a retired and well-loved politician, while hanging about in the never-before-seen outfit from the hottest new designer for the movers and shakers of the country, by the current popular photographer de jour, Zinnia had promised and horse traded with no fewer than half a dozen people. All it would take for the whole plan to fall to pieces was for one link in the chain to break loose. As it was, they only had two hours to pull it all off since both her boss and his host had other pressing appointments. Crafting the illusion of a new and upcoming rat pack with two respected powerhouses, hanging out by the relaxing seashore took a hell of a lot of time and coordination. And it was that last quality for which Zinnia had her grandfather to thank. No one maneuvered complex situations like the United States Marine Corps.
“Just remember, you promised a Silvianna exclusive,” Sam had stated, as if there was any chance she would have forgotten.
Nor would she forget all the other promises that had to be made to procure the right house from the right power broker and the right designer. And who knew it mattered where the chocolate-dipped fruit came from or that the quinoa balls and shrimp bruschetta on the Tiffany—had to be Tiffany—silver platter, that no one was going to have time to taste anyhow, would have to be gluten free. “Everything will be fine.” And if she repeated that enough times, she might believe it herself.
Barefoot, with faded jeans, no shirt, and dark wavy hair spiked out in every direction, her boss padded into the room. “Morning.”
“Morning,” she muttered back at him before returning to the PR guy’s call. “I’ll follow up on that delivery and let you know if there’s any delay. Otherwise, we’ll see everyone on Saturday.”
“PR?” Sam asked.
Zinnia nodded. “You’d think the man had never coordinated a lead article for a major popular magazine in his life.”
“That’s probably why he’s been at the top of his business for so long.”
“Maybe.” She wasn’t convinced. This was her first time orchestrating the back end of a major branding effort and no one saw her falling apart at the seams.
Collapsing onto the sofa as if he hadn’t just rolled out of bed at three o’clock in the afternoon, Sam took a long swig from the mug in his hand. “I’m heading home tonight.”
That was not what Zinnia wanted to hear. “We have the shoot the day after tomorrow. It’s a long drive from here. I thought you were going home after that?”
He drained the last of his coffee and shook his head. “Something’s come up.”
“Something?” It wasn’t like him to be so vague. Not with her. Nor was it like him to take off after having worked so hard to build his position in the community.
“Nothing serious. At least I hope not. A few things to straighten out for my mom.”
“I hope everything works out for your mother. She’s a nice lady.” The whole family was pretty nice considering they were dripping with money. Besides his three vacation homes in the Caribbean, the south of France and the west coast, he kept this penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park, and a suburban home in Connecticut. The latter two worlds as different as night and day. She’d only had the privilege of viewing the Connecticut cottage—all six thousand square feet of it—before Sam and his family had moved in. Tasked with what she did best, liaise between Sam and whoever had been contracted for whatever job, she’d coordinated with the interior decorator and done a last minute walk through and punch list just before Sam had unpacked his bags. To this day he had no idea the master bedroom had ever been painted the wrong color, the beam for the open concept had been replaced—twice—or that if the designer had had her way, there’d have been a nine foot wall of mirrors in the bedroom.
“I’ll be back here Friday night. Plenty of time to get to the Hamptons on Saturday.” Tipping his head in her direction, he winked. “Couldn’t let my best girl down.”
There was no point in rolling her eyes at him. The charm oozed from him as organically as sir or ma’am slid from the lips of an enlisted man. Besides, she’d grown used to his attitude over time and understood there was no disrespect intended. She blamed the attitude on the apartment. The trappings of a flashy New York penthouse without the signs of a loving family in the burbs brought out the carefree teen hidden in every middle-aged man.
“I’ve decided,” he sat up, resting his arms on his knees, “that after the shoot, I’m taking time off until the meeting in Albany.”
Zinnia felt her brows press high on her forehead. “That’s almost four weeks.” What was the point of all the push if he was going to pull back?
The lazy grin he was so famous for when doing live interviews took over his face. “I know.”
“You want me to cancel everything on the schedule?”
He shook his head. “I’ll do the audio interviews, but nothing that involves driving into Manhattan. I’ve already told the rest of my team I’m out for the duration.”
“Okay.” The rest of the team being his campaign manager, strategist, publicist, and most likely hair stylist and driver. For Zinnia, this was a first. From day one after she’d been hired on as his personal project manager, a glorified title for general all-around keeper and coffeemaker, she’d been running at full speed practically twenty-four seven, forcing her to step back from her other high-profile clients. What the heck was going on?
“Since I won’t be setting foot here or at the office, you can work from wherever you want.”
“Wherever?” Her voice rose to match the raising of her brows again.
Sam chuckled. “Yes. Wherever. Even your country lake.”
“Now you’re talking!” It took her a split second to grab her phone and tap out the familiar number.
“Good news, Grams. Have Lucy clean up Mom’s cottage.”
She rambled on without waiting for her grandmother’s thought. “I’m coming to the lake on Sunday and staying till the wedding!”
“That’s almost four weeks.”
For the next few minutes all she could hear was Lucy squealing along with what sounded like Poppy or maybe Lily in the background. Already the sound of home lifted her spirits. Life didn’t get any better than this.
“If I never get another group text on faculty meetings in my lifetime, it will be too soon.”
“One of those days?” David Ingram’s grandfather chuckled into the phone. “There’s a reason law school professors, or any educator for that matter, get summers off. It’s the only way to prevent the entire faculty from being arrested for murdering their department heads.”
“I believe it.”
“Next time I get the bright idea to help the dean out by teaching summer school, feel free to lock me in a closet somewhere until I come to my senses.”
That last line had his grandfather laughing literally out loud. “At least you have a choice. I pretty much had to do whatever Uncle Sam wanted.”
And Uncle Sam’s travel agent wasn’t always the kindest. The thought doused David’s complaints. There were worse things in life than dealing with overwhelmed first year law students who, like their teacher, would rather be anywhere else than locked in four concrete walls all day long. “I don’t know how you did it.”
“It was easy. I loved it. Most of the time.”
That’s the answer his grandfather always gave. He had a handful of old cronies from his West Point days who had either kept in touch, or had reconnected recently at a reunion. To hear his grandfather talk about his friends and their careers, anyone would think their lives had been one big frat party instead of the hell it often was.
“When does the semester end?”
“Thank heaven, this is finals week. But I’m still going to have to sequester myself long enough to get a promised article for the University Law Journal on paper.”
“You could write those with your eyes closed and you know it.”
“Usually I’d agree with you, but this one is worse than pulling stubborn teeth.”
“What you need is sun and fresh air.”
“What I need is a muse.”
“Okay, sun, fresh air and a muse,” his grandfather deadpanned. “And I know just the place.”
“Oh, I don’t like the sound of that.”
“How can you not like it when I haven’t said anything?”
“I recognize the tone. It was the same one that said I would enjoy a summer at teenage boot camp.”
“I’ve vanquished that name from my vocabulary.”
“You’re crazy. That’s a great summer camp for boys.”
“You mean for little Marines.”
His grandfather harrumphed.
“I’m not kidding, Gramps. I know full grown Marines who would have cried at the morning calisthenics. Ten year olds are not supposed to be able to do chin ups.”
“You were eleven.”
“Barely.” David couldn’t believe he was laughing at the memory. At the time he thought it was hell. Up before the dawn, making their own bunks until you could bounce a quarter on the sheets, and a morning obstacle course—all before breakfast. The mere thought of it still made him cringe. Though he would never admit to the old man that he loved the archery, the victory tower, and crew. Just not enough to grow up and follow his grandfather’s career in the military.
“Doesn’t change that you need a little R&R and I happen to know just the right place.”
He really wouldn’t mind getting out of Dodge for a bit, and reservations on short notice never bode well. “How right?”
“Harold, General Hart, has cottages for rent by a beautiful, tranquil lake. I happen to know they have empty cabins. I was thinking of dropping anchor for a few weeks but your grandmother wants to go visit her sister instead.”
“Don’t make it sound like I said Attila the Hun. He’s retired and taking life easy.”
Somehow the words general and easy seemed to go together about as well as oil and water. “I don’t know.”
“There’s nothing to lose. If you don’t like the peace and quiet then you can always leave and write your paper in that stuffy apartment you call home.”
“It’s not stuffy.” It wasn’t his fault that his Manhattan apartment building had been around since before the Brooklyn Bridge. Still, his grandfather’s suggestion did hold some appeal. He hadn’t been in the mountains since college.
“Harold’s granddaughter owns the Pastry Stop.”
“The bakery?” Open less than a year, the Pastry Stop had managed to build a reputation that stretched from the small mountain town all the way to big city Boston and had made its way onto the popular must try eateries lists for the northeast.
“The one and only.”
His grandfather was right. What did he stand to lose? “Empty cabin?”
“Yours for the taking.”
“Okay. Thank you.” An easy rap on the door reminded him that he was still working and not quite ready for a mountain escape. “I have to go, Gramps. Talk to you before next week. Give my love to Gramma.”
He disconnected the call and turned to the door. “Come in.”
“Professor Ingram?” A slender young man in need of a haircut inched his way into the small office.
“How can I help you?”
The kid shoved his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and momentarily pressed his lips between his teeth.
Anyone would think that the kid was facing Genghis Khan and not a mere law professor. Regardless of his credentials.
“I was wondering if there was any way I could take the final, uh, early?”
“Early?” That was a new one on him. Most kids would prefer to put off an exam for as long as possible. David scrambled through his memory banks of the two classes he was teaching, but with a couple of hundred kids per lecture hall, there was no way he could pinpoint which class this young man was in. “You’re in…”
“Constitutional law.” The kid straightened and looked almost proud. There was clearly a story here. “I’m Jason Baker.”
“Have a seat, Jason.” No sense in making the poor guy stand at attention like a new recruit shaking in his boots. Turning to his computer, David hit a few keys and pulled up Jason’s record. He was in both of the classes David taught and doing quite well. It took a few more strokes to see the kid’s academic history. No red flags of any kind. “Tell me why you want to take the test early.”
“I have a …personal conflict on the scheduled date. And I’d rather get it over with sooner than try and push it off until after… well, after.”
One of the perks of practicing and teaching law for as long as he had was that he’d become very good at recognizing a stellar performance. This kid was as sincere as they came, and troubled. “Maybe you should fill me in on some of the details?”
Jason swallowed slow and hard. For a moment, David thought the kid might be fighting tears. “Since my dad died when I was in high school, it’s been just my mom and my two little sisters.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” The words always seemed so empty but silence was worse.
The kid nodded. “Anyhow, Mom’s going to need surgery. Right away.”
That never sounded good.
“The doctors scheduled it for the same day as the Constitutional law final. If it were just me I could take it since I’d only be in the hospital waiting anyhow, but my youngest sister is pretty scared.”
“And you want to be with your sister?”
He certainly couldn’t fault his student for that. As a matter of fact, for someone as young as Jason, having so much concern for his little sister was quite admirable. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
Relief washed over the young man’s face and David had to fight not to pull him into a hug and let him know everything was going to be just fine. Twenty-two might be the age of legal adulthood, but it was awfully young to be responsible for two younger sisters and an infirmed mother.
“Thank you.” Jason ran his hands along the sides of his jeans.
David had worked with enough students to interpret some of their body language outside the classroom. This kid was itching for someone to talk to. “How is your mom?”
“Strong. She’s strong.”
It sounded like Jason was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. “If it’s not too intrusive, what is she going in for?”
No wonder they were all worried. Cancer was a terrifying word for most people. Especially when the word mother came on its heels. “I’m sure the doctor has explained the positive survival rate with most uterine cancers?”
He nodded. “Averages eighty percent.”
“Most are better.” His family history with cancer had given him hours of fact finding he’d never forgotten.
Jason nodded again, but didn’t make an effort to move or speak.
How had David missed the pain in the kid’s eyes? The question was where to start, how to ease the fear. Heaving a sigh, it was time to break the cardinal rule and get personal. “When I was in college my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. By the time she’d gone to the doctor it had spread to her lymph nodes.”
The way Jason’s eyes rounded wide, David knew he understood the gravity of the situation.
“If you’re any good at math, no need to mention that was a very long time ago. The doctors weren’t as optimistic as we’d have liked.” Jason blinked quickly and David hurried on. “Dad took her to Hawaii last month for her birthday.”
The light of hope sparked in Jason’s eyes.
“Your mom has way better odds. And with kids who care about her as much as you obviously do, she has plenty of motivation to do as the doctors tell her.”
“That’s what the doctor said, but,” his gaze lifted to the nearby window, “it’s nice to hear from someone else. Someone who knows how it feels.”
David pulled out a card from his desk, turned it over and scribbled his cell phone number on the back before extending it to the student. “Take this. It has my cell phone number on the back. Feel free to call me any time you want to talk. Day or night.”
“I want you to promise me.” He remembered all too well how scared he’d been of losing his mom, and he’d still had a dad and grandparents to reassure him.
“I mean it.”
A few more words, and a scheduled test time, and David watched the young man walk out the door and down the hall. Never had he been so thankful for whoever invented cell phones. Now if only the kid would use it.
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