Revell, ©2018, ISBN 978-0800728809
A crumbling lighthouse is not part of the inheritance Army doctor Ben Garrison expects to claim when he journeys to Hope Harbor. Fresh out of the service, he wants only to unload the tower of bricks, decompress from years of treating battlefield trauma, and prepare to launch his civilian career. Hope Harbor Herald editor Marci Weber has other ideas. She may not be a Hope Harbor native, but the small Oregon seaside town has become home—and she’s determined to save the Pelican Point landmark. Sparks fly as the two go head to head over the fate of the lighthouse. But when they start to cooperate, a different kind of fire ignites. Can Hope Harbor heal the hearts of these two romance-wary souls?
Come home to Hope Harbor—
Where hearts heal…and love blooms.
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He’d inherited a lighthouse?
Ben Garrison stared at the dark-haired attorney, inhaled a lungful of the tangy, salt-laced air drifting in through the open window, and wiped a hand down his face.
Skip wouldn’t do that to him.
It must be jet lag playing tricks on him. After all the flights he’d taken through multiple time zones to reach the Oregon coast, he was definitely in zombie land. And frequent changes in air pressure could mess with a person’s ears, distort words.
At least he hoped that was the explanation.
Otherwise, this say-goodbye-and-take-a-few-weeks-to-decompress trip was going to turn into one gigantic headache.
Gripping his mug of coffee, he gave the view from the window a sweep. Usually the peaceful scene of bobbing boats in Hope Harbor’s protected marina had a calming effect.
Bracing, he refocused on the man across from him. “Tell me you didn’t say lighthouse.”
“Sorry.” Eric Nash folded his hands on the round conference table and gave him a commiserating grimace. “I wish I could.”
He closed his eyes and stifled a groan.
“I take it you weren’t aware of this…unique…asset in your grandfather’s estate.”
“No.” Ben took a long slug of his coffee, willing the caffeine to kick in.
Too bad this brew wasn’t as potent as the stuff they chugged in the forward operating base hospitals where he’d spent his days for the past seven years. He could have used a high-octane boost about now.
“It’s the one on Pelican Point." The man motioned toward the north. “You might remember it from your visits. Your grandfather said the two of you used to walk up there in the evening.”
An image of the fifty-foot-high weather-beaten lighthouse dating back to 1872 flashed through his mind—and despite the ache beginning to pulse in his temples, the corners of his lips rose.
Yeah, he remembered those walks. They’d been a nightly ritual during the summer visits of his youth. Fair skies or foul, they’d trekked from Skip’s small house in town up the winding, rocky path to the lighthouse after dinner. The view was amazing, and the stories Skip had told about shipwrecks and danger and the steady beacon of light that guided frightened sailors home on stormy nights had stirred his youthful imagination.
But his grandfather hadn’t owned the place.
And in the almost two decades since his last summer-break stay at age sixteen, Ben couldn’t recall Skip ever mentioning it. Nor had the subject come up during any of his whirlwind visits through the years.
So what was going on?
“I have clear memories of the lighthouse—but how did he end up owning it?” Ben held tight to the ceramic mug, letting the warmth seep into his fingers.
“After it was deactivated and decommissioned by the Coast Guard three years ago, the government offered it to Hope Harbor. But the cost of restoring and maintaining the property was too high and the town declined. In the end, it was put up for auction.”
Ben knew where this was heading. Skip had loved that lighthouse—and all it symbolized. Light in the darkness. Guidance through turbulent waters. Salvation for the floundering. Hope for lost souls.
“I’m assuming my grandfather offered the highest bid.”
“He offered the only bid. It’s been his baby for the past two years. The price was reasonable—as lighthouses go—and from what I gathered, restoring it was a labor of love. However, it was also a money suck. I’m afraid there isn’t much of an estate left, other than his house and personal possessions.”
“I didn’t expect a lot, even without the lighthouse expenses.” No one who spent his life mining the sea for Dungeness crabs got rich—except the big operators. And if the cost of restoring and maintaining the structure was too high for a town, it was surprising Skip had anything left at all.
Other than the lighthouse.
An albatross that now belonged to him.
The throbbing in his temples intensified, giving the pounding bass beat of a rock band serious competition.
What in tarnation was he supposed to do with the thing?
“I’m afraid the lighthouse isn’t in the best shape, either—despite your grandfather’s efforts to restore it. After his knee issues began, he wasn’t able to do much physical labor, and contractors charge a lot for that kind of work. Some people in town lent a hand on occasion, but progress was slow.”
Tucking away the bad news that the lighthouse might be crumbling, Ben homed in on the other piece of information the man had shared. “What knee issues?”
The attorney cocked his head. “You didn’t know?”
“No. In his emails, he always said everything was fine. We didn’t often talk by phone, but whenever we did he was upbeat.”
“Maybe he didn’t want you to worry, given the demands of your job.”
Yeah. That sounded like Skip. His grandfather knew army surgeons working near the front lines had a high-stress, high-adrenaline, fast-paced lifestyle. They’d discussed it often. And Ned Garrison had never been the type to burden other people with his problems.
But Ben wasn’t other people.
He was family.
And he owed Skip. Big time. Without those summer visits to look forward to after the acrimonious divorce that had rocked his childhood, who knew how he’d have ended up?
There was nothing he wouldn’t have done for the man who’d been his lifeline.
Ben took another sip of the cooling coffee, buying himself a few moments to rein in his wobbling emotions. “Tell me about the knee issues.”
“Your grandfather wasn’t one to dwell on unpleasant subjects, but I understand he had bad arthritis and opted for a knee replacement not long after he acquired the lighthouse. An infection set in, requiring revision surgery. When that didn’t work, a third surgery was done to insert a metal rod—which left him with a permanent limp and hampered his physical activities. He couldn’t do much on the lighthouse anymore, so four months ago he decided to sell.”
“Who was his surgeon?” Ben’s jaw tightened. If someone had botched this job, they were going to be held accountable.
And why hadn’t Skip taken advantage of his expertise? No, he hadn’t done many battlefield knee replacements—but he was an orthopedic surgeon, for crying out loud. He could have consulted on the case, vetted the specialist his grandfather had chosen.
Eric riffled through the papers in front of him and extracted a sheet. “Jonathan Allen in Coos Bay. I don’t see a primary care doctor listed for your grandfather. He must have done what most of the locals do and simply visited the urgent care clinic in town for everyday medical needs. They may have recommended Dr. Allen.”
“Thanks.” Ben jotted down the man’s name. Before he left Oregon, he intended to pay the doctor a visit and review his grandfather’s medical records.
But it wasn’t likely the knee procedure had anything to do with the massive heart attack that had felled him.
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he shifted gears. “If my grandfather put the lighthouse on the open market, I’m assuming the town still doesn’t want to buy it.”
“Correct. A few residents tried to stir up some interest, but the effort petered out. Even if the structure was in pristine condition, Oregon has an abundance of lighthouses already—many much more impressive than ours—so it’s not as if it would draw tourists who might contribute to the local economy.”
Hard to argue with that logic—or fault the town for passing on the purchase.
“So a private buyer is the answer.”
“If you can find one.” The attorney didn’t sound any more confident than Ben felt. “Your grandfather listed it with an agent, but I don’t believe there have been any inquiries.”
Of course not.
That would be too easy.
“I’ll go up and look it over after I arrange the memorial service for my grandfather. Is there anyone in town who might be able to do a structural assessment?”
“My wife’s an architect and runs a local construction firm.” Eric rose, crossed to his desk, and extracted a business card from a drawer. “She went out before your grandfather bought it to give him her thoughts. She won’t mind running up there again to reevaluate it.” He returned to his seat at the table and handed over the card.
“Thanks.” Ben pocketed it. “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”
“No. Your grandfather’s estate was in order. Transitioning the assets will be simple. You have the keys to his house and car, and the paperwork’s been signed. You’re set.” Eric pushed an envelope across the table. “This is the key to the lighthouse.”
For a fraction of a second, Ben hesitated.
But there was no avoiding the truth.
He owned a lighthouse.
One that apparently no one wanted.
Heaving a resigned sigh, he picked up the envelope and rose.
Eric stood, too, and extended his hand. “My condolences again on your loss. Your grandfather was a wonderful man—and an asset to this town.”
“Thanks.” He returned the attorney’s firm clasp.
“If I can be of any other assistance while you’re here, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
“I appreciate that. But I don’t plan to stay long.” Or he hadn’t, until he’d inherited a lighthouse. “Thank you for delaying our meeting a few hours.”
“No problem. I know how hard it can be to maintain a schedule on travel days. With all the ground you’ve covered, you must be operating on fumes.”
“I am.” Hard to believe he’d been in the Middle East thirty-six sleepless hours ago. “I’m going to crash at my grandfather’s house for a while until I feel more human.”
“Sounds like a plan. The Myrtle Café is open if you want to grab an early dinner first. Or you could swing by Charley’s on the wharf. You might have gone there with your grandfather as a kid.”
“I did. Often.” His mouth watered just thinking about the savory fish tacos the man concocted. A visit to Charley’s was on his Hope Harbor must-do list—but not until he got some z’s. He needed sleep more than food.
The attorney walked him to the door, and Ben exited into a steady drizzle typical of the Oregon coast in mid-April—or any month.
Tucking the paperwork the man had given him under his jacket, he hit the remote and jogged toward his rental car.
Fifteen seconds later, he put the key in the ignition. Tapped the wheel.
Should he drive up to Pelican Point and pay Skip’s folly a quick visit, or save that disagreeable task for later?
He was fading fast—and the lighthouse wasn’t going anywhere.
After checking for traffic, he pulled onto Dockside Drive. Maybe, as with the prophets of old, a solution to his dilemma would come to him in a dream.
And if it didn’t?
He was going to be beating the bushes to find a buyer for his unexpected—and unwanted—legacy.
* * *
At the sudden peal of her doorbell, Marci Weber’s fingers tightened on the tube of toothpaste, sending a minty-striped squirt arcing toward the mirror over her bathroom sink.
Who could be on her front porch at this hour of the night? No one in Hope Harbor came calling after eight o’clock, let alone ten-fifteen.
Pulse accelerating, she dropped the tube onto the vanity, ignoring the sinuous line of goo draped over her faucet and coiled in her sink.
Rubbing her palms down her sleep shirt, she crept into the hall, sidled up to the window in her dark bedroom, and peered down into the night.
The tiny arched roof over her small front porch hid the caller from her sight, despite the dusk-to-dawn lights flanking the front door.
And the notion of going downstairs to get a better view from one of the front windows goosed the speed of the blender in her stomach from stir to puree.
No surprise there, given her history.
The bell pealed again, jolting her into action. She scurried over to the nightstand, snatched her pepper gel out of the drawer, and yanked her cell from the charger. Finger poised to tap in 911, she tiptoed back to the window, heart banging against her ribs.
Breathe, Marci. This is Hope Harbor. Bad stuff rarely happens here. They caught that teenage vandal who was getting his jollies destroying other people’s property, and there haven’t been any serious incidents since. You’re overreacting.
Nevertheless, she kept a tight grip on the phone while she waited for her visitor to vacate the porch and walk away.
But if he or she didn’t leave…if her uninvited caller did have malice in mind…she had a first-rate alarm system that was already armed for the night, the Hope Harbor police would be here in minutes, and a faceful of pepper gel would stop anyone in their tracks.
She’d be fine.
Still…why couldn’t Great Aunt Edith have chosen to live in the middle of town rather than on the fringes? The Pelican Point cottage might be charming, but the old saying was true.
There was safety in numbers.