Shore Lights (Paradise Point, Book No. 1)
There's nothing more dangerous to a woman's heart than a man who is single, straight, loves his kid, and doesn't kiss and tell . . .
Maddy Bainbridge left her Jersey Shore home town right after high school, determined to put as many miles as possible between herself and her many meddling relatives.
Now she's back in Paradise Point -- an unemployed single mother whose only option is to accept her mother Rose's offer of a job and a place to live. But it doesn't take Maddy long to discover that the things about your mother that made you crazy at 17 make you even crazier at 32. Rose's critical comments bring out Maddy's inner teenager and by the beginning of December, the end is in sight. Maddy would stay there at the Candlelight Inn, her mother's popular B&B, through Christmas for her daughter Hannah's sake, but once the New Year rolled around …
And then fate, in the form of an online auction battle over a Russian samovar that looks like Aladdin's lamp, brings home-town hero Aidan O'Malley into her life and suddenly Maddy begins to believe anything is possible.
A child's dreams, an old woman's memories, the joys and heartaches that come with being part of a family, the thrill of new love and the deep comfort of love that stood the test of time -- it all comes together that one special holiday season when even the most battered hearts open just wide enough to let a miracle or two slip through.
USA Today bestselling author Barbara Bretton has been hailed as a "monumental talent" (Affaire de Coeur) and now she delves deeply into the mysteries of family and shows us that even the most independent woman is still a daughter at heart.
Home: it's where your story starts.
Seattle, Washington - late summer
Once upon a time in the Emerald City there lived a woman named Maddy Bainbridge who believed she could move back home with her mother and not lose her mind.
Now, Maddy was old enough to know that the things that drove you crazy when you were seventeen would probably drive you even crazier when you reached thirty-two, but her mother's offer came at a moment when her defenses were down and her options extremely limited.
"I need help and God knows you need a job," Rose said during the fateful phone call that changed their lives. "The inn is doing turn-away business and I'd rather share the profits with my daughter than a perfect stranger."
"I appreciate the thought, Mother, but I'm just going through a dry spell here." An eight-month dry spell but Maddy wasn't about to put too fine a point to it. "I'm sure the voice-over work will pick up any day now."
"You're an accountant, Madelyn. You have a degree. You can do much better than voiceover work for a used car dealership."
"I was an accountant," she reminded her mother. "Not much call for bean-counters when there aren't any beans left to count." The great Dot.Com collapse of a few years ago had littered the landscape with the fallen careers of fellow accountants from Washington down to Baja.
"Be that as it may, you have a child to take care of and no husband to help you out. You need a chance to get back on your feet and I need someone I can trust to help me with the business. Give me one good reason why this isn't the perfect solution for both of us and I'll never broach the topic again."
Are you listening, God? Just one good reason . . .
On any other day, Maddy could've given her twenty, but that evening she couldn't come up with a single one.
"Hannah has a brand new dog," she said finally, knowing her mother's negative stance on anything furry or four-legged. She had spent part of her childhood wishing she could turn Rose into an Irish Setter. "Her name is Priscilla and she has a few issues."
"What kind of dog?"
Oh, how she longed for something large and prone to drooling. Bulldog! St. Bernard! Irish Wolfhound with an overbite!
"A poodle," she mumbled, praying it sounded like Bull mastiff on Rose's end of the line.
"Did you say poodle?"
"Yes," said Maddy. "A poodle."
"How big a poodle?" Rose sounded amused.
Maddy glanced down at the tiny bundle of curly fur asleep in her lap. Sometimes the truth was a royal pain. "Too soon to tell," she said, "but her paws are gigantic." For a stuffed toy. There was always the chance Priscilla might make it to a whopping five pounds if she pigged out on Purina.
"No problem," Rose said calmly. "Just so long as she doesn't piddle in the common areas."
Was this her my-way-or-the-highway mother talking, the woman revered in three counties as the undisputed Queen of Clean? Rose had been known to change her sheets after a fifteen-minute nap. "Okay," Maddy said, "now I get it. My real mother is trapped in a pod in the basement behind the washer and dryer."
Rose's answer was a surprisingly long span of silence. No snappy comeback. No withering maternal observation. Just enough silence to unnerve her only child.
Maddy would have liked to match her mother silence for silence, but Rose had thirty years on her and she had no doubt her mother could stretch that silence until Christmas if she felt like it. "I was making a joke, Mother. You were supposed to laugh, not take me seriously."
Rose cleared her throat. "Quite frankly, I don't see what's holding you there in Seattle now that Tom has . . . moved away."
"He didn't just move away. You can say it. I promise I won't fall apart. Tom married somebody else. I've made my peace with it." Which, of course, was a big enough lie to grow her nose to a size worthy of the men of Mount Rushmore.
"Maybe you have," Rose said, "but Hannah certainly hasn't. She's the one you should be thinking about."
Instant guilt, supersized with fries. This was no pod person; this was her mother.
"Hannah is the main reason I'm staying in Seattle. This is the only home she knows." She paused, waiting for a response from her mother. Rose, however, remained silent. Rose had never been one to play silence to such advantage. "Besides, Hannah will be starting pre-school in a few weeks."
"We have schools here in New Jersey."
"All of her friends are here."
"She's four years old, Madelyn. She'll make new ones."
"Seattle's our home."
"Home is where your family is. What Hannah needs right now is to be surrounded by people who love her." People who won't leave her. Oh, Rose didn't say those words but then she didn't have to. She had already wheeled out the heavy artillery and aimed it straight at Maddy's heart.
Oh God, Mother, you're right . . . of course you're right . . . I can't argue the point with you . . . was this how you felt when Daddy went back to Oregon . . . did you lie awake every night and stare up at the ceiling and worry about me the way I worry about Hannah . . . it's been so long since I heard her laugh . . . I can't even remember how long it's been . . . I don't go to church any more but maybe I should because I'm beginning to think it will take a miracle to make Hannah happy again.
But she didn't say any of it. The words were trapped behind all the years they'd spent away from each other, all of their differences both large and small. The ghost of the lonely little girl she once was rose up between them and she wouldn't go away. Only this time, the little girl looked like Hannah.
How Hannah adored her father! Her world had revolved around their Sunday brunches, their excursions to the Space Needle and Mariners games, strolls along the waterfront where he taught her how to eat crab. The loss of those weekly visits had turned her happy child into a sad-eyed little girl Maddy barely recognized. How did you tell the child you loved more than life that not every man was cut out to be a 24/7 father?
"This wasn't part of the plan," Tom Lawlor had said the day Maddy told him she was pregnant. It hadn't been part of her plan either but sometimes life handed a woman a miracle and trusted her to do the rest. Tom's children had children of their own and he had been eagerly anticipating retirement from the company he owned and a life that didn't include potty training and the Tooth Fairy.
Not that Maddy had been ready to punch her ticket on the Baby Express herself. Children had been out there somewhere in the shadowy future, a concept to be dealt with at a later date. She had never doubted that somehow, some day, Tom would warm to the idea of another child but until then she was quite content with the life they shared. She took her birth control pills religiously, popping one each morning with her orange juice, trusting her future to God and country and modern pharmaceuticals.
A fierce bout with the flu - and one tossed pill - had shown her the folly of her ways.
The easy carefree relationship she and Tom had enjoyed before her pregnancy was soon nothing more than a memory. He still cared for her and she knew he loved Hannah, but sometimes it seemed to Maddy that he loved their daughter the way you would love a Golden Retriever you had to send to college. A part of his heart remained distant and not even the sheer wonder of their little girl had been able to change that fact.
Why didn't they tell you the truth when they handed you that squalling, slippery, precious newborn? They congratulated you and wished you well. They gave you coupons for disposable diapers and baby wipes but they didn't so much as whisper about the things that really mattered. Why didn't they tell you that the feeding and diapering were the easy part; a baby cried when she was hungry and she fussed when she was wet. Even the newest of new mothers could figure that out without too much trouble. If only someone, somewhere, could tell you what to do for a little girl with a broken heart.
"Promise me you'll think about the idea," Rose urged as they said goodbye.
"I'll think about it," Maddy told her mother and then she did her level best to put the entire idea from her mind.
But a strange thing happened. The more Maddy tried not to think about Rose, the more often her thoughts turned to her mother. Twice in the next few days she found herself reaching for the phone, only to catch herself mid-dial. What on earth would she say? It wasn't like she and Rose were friends. They didn't share the same tastes in books or movies. Their child-rearing methods were poles apart. Rose was a realist who believed only in what she could see and hear and touch. Maddy believed in those things too but she knew there was more to this world than met the eye.
The first time Maddy brought home an invisible friend, Rose put the entire family into group therapy so she could figure out where they had gone wrong.
When Hannah showed up with her first invisible friend, Maddy set an extra place for supper.
Still this odd yearning for her mother lingered. Rose was the last thing she thought about at night and her first thought in the morning. So much time had passed since they had last lived together under the same roof. So many things had changed. Maybe the idea of moving back home again wasn't quite as crazy as it sounded.
"Leave Seattle for Jersey?" her cousin Denise emailed her when she first got wind of Rose's offer. "Are you nuts?" What woman in her right mind would trade life in the Emerald City for a one-way ticket back to the Garden State. Crazy didn't begin to cover it.
"DON'T DO IT!" Her cousin Gina's warning practically leaped off the computer screen. "You're the only one of us to make it west of the Delaware River. Don't blow it now!"
The senior members of the clan also weighed in with their opinions.
"You'll make your mother so happy," Aunt Lucy IM'd her then surrendered the keyboard to Aunt Connie who added, "I don't know why you moved out there in the first place. We have coffee in New Jersey too, Madelyn."
Every morning Maddy woke up to an inbox stuffed with emails with subject headers like "Come Home Maddy" and "Don't Do It!!!" until she began to feel like she was being spammed by her own family.
The weeks passed and she was still no closer to making a decision than she had been the day Rose made the offer.
The day before Hannah started pre-school, Maddy was rummaging through a huge trunk of old clothes that she'd stashed in the condo's storage area when she came across the beautiful fisherman's sweater Rose had knitted for her when she started grade school. The thick cream-colored wool was still supple and lustrous and smelled only faintly from Woolite and mothballs. Large bone buttons marched smartly down the front, fitting neatly into the beautifully finished buttonholes. Rose was a perfectionist and her needlework showed it. Every stitch, every seam was meticulously crafted and designed to last. Only the pockets showed serious signs of wear, faint ghostly outlines of small fists jammed deep inside, of crayons and candy bars and half-eaten PBJs.
That sweater was probably the last gift Rose ever gave Maddy that didn't come with strings attached. Even the presents for the baby had come with warnings about the perfidy of men, about the impermanence of love, about how if Maddy had half a brain she would stop wishing on lucky stars and start pumping up her 401K. All the things her nine-months-pregnant daughter hadn't wanted to hear.
All the things that had turned out to be painfully true.
September waned and she continued to duck Rose's demand for an answer, but the yearning for something more than they had shared before, lingered and grew stronger. In early October she packed Hannah and Priscilla into the Mustang and drove down to Oregon for her father's seventieth birthday party. He knew all about Rose's offer and Maddy's reluctance, and his take on things surprised her.
"It's time you went home," Bill Bainbridge said as they watched Hannah pretend to have fun with his neighbor's children. "You need your mother. You both do."
Maddy pondered his statement. Was that possible? She was a grown woman, the single mother of a small child. She was long past needing anyone. She was the one who wiped away Hannah's tears, the one who lingered at the bedroom door, listening to the holy sound of a sleeping child. Rose hadn't done any of those things for Maddy when she was growing up. At least not that Maddy could remember. Rose had been too busy selling pricey real estate to people with more money than brains, sure that the example she was setting for her daughter would put Maddy on course for success.
Nothing had prepared Rose for the rebellious under-achiever who sprang from her womb with a mind of her own.
"It's not that I don't love Rose," she told her father as they wiped away the remnants of cake and ice cream from every surface in his kitchen. "I just think we do much better with a continent between us."
"She's reaching out to you," Bill said as he tossed a used paper towel into the trash.
"The way I reached out to her when I was pregnant with Hannah. She didn't even show up for the birth." Nothing Rose had ever done hurt Maddy more than that.
"Did you ever ask her why?"
"I don't care why. There's nothing she could say that could explain not being here."
"People act in strange ways sometimes, Maddy. Sometimes they're just not thinking clearly."
"How come you always take her side?"
"I'm not taking sides. I'm just saying maybe it's time you gave her another chance."
"Easy for you to say," Maddy grumbled as her father pulled her into a clumsy hug. She was desperate to change the subject. "You were only married to her. I'm her daughter: I'm doing life."
They both laughed but Maddy sensed Bill's heart wasn't in it. She wanted to kick herself for making such a thoughtless remark. It was no secret that her father had never quite managed to get over his first wife. He had gone on to make a successful second marriage that had ended with the death of his beloved Irma, but there was little doubt that the love of his life was the fiercely independent redhead from New Jersey who didn't believe happily-ever-after existed anywhere but in the movies.
"We don't get a lot of second chances in this life," Tom said when he kissed her goodbye. "Go home, Maddy. Give it a try for Hannah's sake if not your own. You won't regret it."
"Hannah and I could move in with you," she said, only half-kidding. "I'm a pretty good cook and Hannah's great company."
He smiled and shook his head. "You know your old man's hitting the road next week. I promised Irma I'd make that trip we'd been planning and it's a promise I intend to keep." Oregon to Florida and back again, with scores of stops along the way. Irma had been working on the last of the itinerary when she lost her long battle with breast cancer.
Maddy's eyes filled with tears at the memory of her stepmother. "Has it gotten any easier?"
"Nope." He glanced away toward the curb where her Mustang idled loudly. "Didn't expect it to."
"You'll stop by and see us in Seattle during your travels, won't you?"
He grinned and tugged on a lock of her hair. "Not if you're in New Jersey."
"Six months," he said as she hugged him goodbye. "Give your mother six months. What can you lose?"
"My sanity," Maddy said and they laughed, but the truth was out there and she couldn't take it back. She wanted one more chance to get things right because sometimes even the most independent woman was only a daughter at heart.