Carol Award finalist
Love Inspired, ©2013, ISBN 978-0373878185
After almost three years, cop-turned-naturalist Clint Nolan is beginning to think of Starfish Bay in northern California as home. The tiny town is a world away from the tragedy he left behind in the East, and his demons and self-recriminations are subsiding. He might even consider a new romantic relationship if the right woman comes along. But Kristen Fletcher isn’t that woman. New to town, the concierge at the upscale Inn at The Point reminds him too much of his former love. He can tolerate her as a tenant, but he intends to walk a wide circle around her personally. Yet those plans change when Kristen is unexpectedly reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption at birth. As her world spins out of control, Clint finds himself being pulled into her life—and wondering if she might be the very woman God intended for him all along.
What had she gotten herself into?
Kristen Andrews eyed the leaden skies over the gray Pacific Ocean as she maneuvered her rental car around yet another curve on cliff-hugging Highway 101. Wasn’t California supposed to be sunny and warm? Or did that description only apply to the southern part of the state?
She checked the outside temperature gauge on the dash. Forty-eight degrees on April 2. Hardly spring weather. Northern California must play by different rules—unless the cold was an aberration.
Otherwise, she was going to start having serious second thoughts about trading in the tropical warmth of Maui for Starfish Bay.
Cranking the heater up another notch, she checked the map on the seat beside her. Less than five miles to go. Maybe her new home would make up in charm what it lacked in warmth.
But ten minutes later, as she took inventory of the five-block-long stretch of 101 that comprised Starfish Bay’s straggling main street, her spirits sank. A biker bar and the cheesy-looking Orchid Café and Motel bookended assorted shops and small businesses, including a general mercantile store, post office and dentist. An art gallery was the only bright spot. If she didn’t have to spend the next few nights at the motel, she’d get a good laugh out of the gaudy sign in front that featured a huge purple orchid.
She was in no mood for mirth, however.
What in the world had the president of Mattson Properties seen in this place to merit spending millions of dollars on an upscale destination resort?
But a few minutes later, she had her answer. After pulling into the resort entrance and following a winding road through a spruce and hemlock forest, she emerged onto a windswept headland that soared above the ocean.
The view alone would bring people in.
In the far distance, a slight haze softened the line where sea and sky met. To the right and left, other headlands jutted into the blue water along the irregular coast, their steeply sloping rock faces sporting forested or barren tops, some of them wrapped in horizontal tendrils of cloud. Offshore from the tiny beaches and cliff bases, jagged boulders thrust through the surface of the water, aiming for the sky as the surf churned around them.
The resort was none too shabby, either. Not that she’d expected it to be. Louis Mattson didn’t do things on the cheap. The low-slung two-story structure, constructed of wood and stone and huge expanses of glass, hugged the sloping headland, blending perfectly into the landscape and reeking of understated elegance.
Her anxiety dissipated a smidgen. It didn’t have palm trees or tropical breezes, but Inn at The Point would be a pleasant place to work until she was asked to move on again. And when that time came, she’d leave with no regrets—and no strings. Like always.
A sudden pang of melancholy tugged at her heart, and she tightened her grip on the wheel.
Focus on the future, Kristen, not the past. Once you get settled in here, your mood will improve. It always does.
Fortified by her little pep talk, she followed the curving drive that led to the main entrance. The front door opened to disgorge some of the construction workers, and she stopped to let them pass. Painters, judging by their white pants and shirts. Too bad the place wouldn’t be ready for occupancy for another month. She’d much rather spend the next few nights here than at the Orchid Motel. But at least she’d get a tour tomorrow, when she met with Mark Stephens, the general manager.
In the meantime, she might as well check in at the motel. And maybe she could find a slicker at the Mercantile. Given the ominous sky, chilly temperature and puddles of water on the inn’s drive, she was going to need one.
She rounded the circle drive and accelerated back toward 101, groping in her purse for her lipstick. After her dash through the rain to the rental car at the Arcata/Eureka airport, she could imagine the state of her makeup. The repairs she’d made in San Francisco between plane changes had probably been washed away long ago.
Keeping one hand on the wheel, she set the lipstick in her lap, adjusted the rearview mirror and checked out her appearance. Not great. The shadows under her eyes from the long trans-Pacific flight made her look older than her thirty-one years, and her blush and lipstick had faded. A quick touch up before…
“Hey! Watch it!”
The muffled shout jerked her attention back to the road. Somehow she’d drifted toward the shoulder—and in another two seconds she was going to sideswipe a compact pickup truck that hadn’t been there when she’d arrived.
Heart hammering, she wrenched the wheel to the left…and sent a spray of water from a puddle all over the guy who’d yelled at her.
Once clear of the truck, she jammed on the brakes, closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Then another. Whew. That had been a close…
A loud tap sounded on her window, a few inches from her ear, and she jerked again.
Clenching the wheel, she turned her head to find a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark brown hair, piercing blue eyes and an angry glare giving her the evil eye. Fresh mud was splattered across his sweatshirt and jeans.
What she noticed most, though, was the ax in his hands. A big ax. Like the kind in the stories about Paul Bunyan.
When she remained frozen, he motioned for her to roll down her window.
Double-checking that her car doors were locked, she pried her fingers off the wheel and cracked the window two inches.
“Sorry about that.” Her apology came out shaky.
His gaze flicked to the lipstick in her lap and he narrowed his eyes. “In the future, I’d suggest you focus on your driving instead of your appearance.”
Warmth stole onto her cheeks, and irritation steadied—and sharpened— her voice. “You don’t have to be rude about it. I said I was sorry.”
Instead of responding, he gave her a once-over. Not the appreciative kind she was accustomed to from men, but one fraught with disapproval.
“This is private property. Didn’t you see the sign at the entrance?”
Her hackles rose. Who was this guy to question her? He didn’t look as if he belonged here, either. He wasn’t even close to the main job site, and his casual, rugged clothing didn’t match the white attire of the painters she’d seen coming out the front door.
“I happen to work for Mattson Properties. And you are?”
He gave her another appraising perusal. “You’re not a construction worker, and the only staff on site so far is Mark Stephens.”
Okay, so he knew the manager’s name. Maybe he was legit. “I’m the concierge.”
One side of his mouth quirked up in a humorless smile. “I can buy that. You look the type.”
She had no idea what that was supposed to mean—but his tone wasn’t positive. “You never told me who you were.”
As drops of rain began leaving dark splotches on his denim shirt, he scanned the sky and hoisted the ax over his shoulder. “Mark knows I’m here. So does Mattson. And put the lipstick away before you venture onto 101. The highway curves are a lot less forgiving.”
With that, he turned and marched toward the woods.
Fingers still trembling, Kristin watched him in the rearview mirror as she put the car back in gear. He hadn’t told her who he was.
But that was fine.
Because if she was lucky, their paths would never cross again.