Lily’s not the only one starting over.
Charismatic country-rock star Marshall Mason has hit rock bottom, hiding out from the press at the Fortune Bay Resort while he heals from a motorcycle accident that has cost him his career, and possibly his children. He spirals down into depression until one day, a woman knocks on the cottage door.
Lily is pretty well at rock bottom herself, fearing she lost her chance for a family when her fourteen-year marriage imploded. Until she figures out a new direction for her life, she’s helping her father at the resort.
By the time Lily puts two and two together and figures out who the mystery man in Cottage Four really is, she and the reclusive ‘Mr. Morris’ are linked together in ways neither saw coming.
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find your way back into the sun. Join Lily and Marshall, starting over.
Thanks for reading the Fortune Bay books.
Keep reading for the first chapters of Lily and Marshall’s story!
Marshall Mason slammed the motorcycle helmet on his head. The darn thing wouldn’t do up, so he ripped it off and looked at it under the dim garage light. The clasp was toast. Throwing the helmet aside, he pulled his knit cap down over his ears. He just wanted to ride, get out on the road and burn off some of the anger that, like the hot, acrid smoke of burning tires, had been roiling in his chest ever since he’d left the courtroom that afternoon.
Damn judge. What right did she have to give custody of his kids to his wife? Mign may be their mother, but for more than a year she’d been his wife in name only. And he’d only hung in that long because of the kids. He scowled as he swung his leg over the seat and kicked off the bike stand. Their time in court had raised doubts in his mind about the years before that, too.
But he didn’t even care about her infidelity now. He just wanted his kids. Or at the very least, equal access. Up until now, he would have called her a good mother, putting her career on hold while he worked on the road, but he couldn’t believe that keeping children away from their father was in their best interest. It was spiteful and mean, but like the beautiful ice queen she was, she’d laid him out in court as a disconnected father, living a dangerous lifestyle. A father not interested in his children.
Who did she think had worked his butt off making the money to keep them in this pretentious lifestyle she wanted? The house in the Hollywood Hills. The beach house in Malibu. All her idea. And those fancy private schools the kids went to, which, if he’d had his say, they would never have gone to in the first place. Public school had been good enough for him and it would have been good for them, too. Teach them real life skills they’d need to survive. Better than the artificial values they were learning now.
Straddling his bike, he hit the ignition and the powerful engine fired up. He’d never liked the house, but at least it was out of the city, above the smog of L.A. where the air was clean. He revved the motor and pushed a button on the handlebars. The garage door rose slowly on an icy scene of sleety rain. Unusual weather, but here in the hills they even got the occasional snowfall in the winter.
Easing the bike out of the garage, he drove cautiously down the steep drive, testing the brakes, adjusting for the road conditions. The raw wind stung his cheeks as it rushed by, sucking the anger and hurt out of his lungs.
At the end of the drive he turned uphill, leaning into the bends, first left, then right, soon leaving the rain behind. The sharp night air tasted like winter, with the promise of snow. At the sight of red tail lights up ahead, he touched the brake gently, pulling in behind the SUV that was crawling at a snail’s pace up the hill. On a straight, starlit stretch, he let her rip, cruising by the SUV as if it was standing still.
Oncoming headlights rounded the curve ahead and Marshall boosted his speed, ducking in front of the car he’d just passed. The curve came up fast and with no chance to slow he touched the brake and held tight to the hand grips. Leaning into the curve, low, then lower still, he was halfway around the bend when he hit black ice.
The bike skidded along the surface of the road dragging him with it, the friction shooting sparks into the dark night. The asphalt tore his glove to shreds and as his cheek scraped the harsh pavement it burned as if stabbed by a thousand needles. The faces of his children flashed through his mind. He couldn’t die here on this dark icy road. Not without a fight.
The bike crashed into the guard rail and the last thing he remembered was the sting of gravel peppering him like a spray of bullets as the car on his tail drove by. Then everything went dark.
Six months later.
Lily Brewster took the heavy suitcase out of Dorothy’s hands. “Let me help you,” she said. If she didn’t intervene, Dorothy might just try to carry it down the cabin steps all by herself.
Dorothy held tight to the bag. “Thank you, but I can manage.”
Lily lowered her head, letting her hair fall forward to hide her smile. “I know, but I’ll take it from here. Why don’t you get your purse and then you’ll be ready to go?” Lily had grown very fond of the old dear this past month, but now that Dottie and Harold were finally moving out of the cabin, she couldn’t wait to have it to herself.
The suitcase was outrageously heavy, so once she’d wrestled it down the stairs, she set it on the ground and tried to pull it along the driveway. The tiny wheels caught on every rut and stone, and stifling a groan, she hoisted the bag off the ground with both hands and stumbled the rest of the way to the car.
Howard, Dorothy’s octogenarian beau, stood by the open trunk of the old Lincoln. Thick carpeting covered the floor of the enormous baggage compartment, which was almost as spacious as the apartment Dorothy and Howard were moving into at The Manor, the senior’s residence in nearby Majestic.
Together, Lily and Howard muscled Dorothy’s suitcase into the trunk, then Lily went back to find Dorothy standing on the cabin porch, pink purse over her arm, gazing out at the water. Majestic Lake was at its spring-glorious best on this sunny morning, the rim of the far shore beginning to glow white as dogwood blossoms burst into bloom, a bright frill on the hem of the dark cloak of evergreens that climbed the mountainside to the bare rocky peak across the lake.
A spark of excitement shot through Lily at the thought that in a matter of minutes, the cabin and its magnificent view would be all hers. At least for a while. A month ago, when she had arrived in Fortune Bay, her father had exceeded her expectations and welcomed her into his home, and for that Lily would forever be grateful. But she and her dad hadn’t been close in years, and although they were making strides to remedy that, they soon began to feel cramped in the log house where he currently lived.
Then two weeks ago, her dad’s girlfriend Stephanie had offered to rent Lily the cabin on the lake across the road from the log farmhouse. A nice gesture, prompted, Lily suspected, by the older couple’s need for more privacy. But when Stephanie had taken Lily and her dad Max across the road to see the supposedly empty cabin, they found Stephanie’s mother Dorothy and her beau Harold had moved in.
As Dotty put it, they were “on the run, like Bonnie and Clyde,” running from the threat of being “put in a home” by Stephanie’s sister. And obviously enjoying every minute of the adventure. Fortunately, in their minds, the senior’s residence in Majestic didn’t fall into that same category as the home, and they were thrilled with the prospect of their new apartment, the pickle ball court and the swimming pool, and the availability of meals upon request. Lily had to admit, The Manor sounded more like a resort than an old-folks home.
Stephanie, still a statuesque beauty at sixty, stepped out the front door to join her mother on the porch. “Time to say good bye.”
Dorothy closed her eyes and swayed slightly. Her smile softened and for a moment her aged face took on a youthful glow. Her lips moved and although Lily couldn’t hear what she said, she knew Dorothy was talking to her sister, Augusta, whose spirit Dorothy believed still resided in the cabin. Then she opened her eyes. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Stephanie took her mother’s arm and helped her navigate the four steps to the ground.
“You and Howard can come by for a visit whenever you want,” Lily said.
Stephanie’s eyes bulged slightly in warning, but the invitation was out. Lily didn’t mind. After years of feeling bereft of all family except her mother, it was nice to have a new grandmother in her life, even if she was a few steps removed.
“It’s been nice to reconnect with Augusta,” Dorothy said. “I would love to come by for a chat sometime.”
Lily wasn’t sure if Dorothy meant a chat with her or a chat with Augusta. She cast an appraising glance at the cabin. That was the one kind-of-freaky thing about her new home – the Murphy family all agreed that it was haunted. Everyone who had lived there said so, but they all agreed that Aunt Augusta was a benign, even friendly spirit. Dorothy obviously believed it – Lily had witnessed her talking to and apparently receiving messages from Augusta more than once – but Lily wasn’t sure she believed the stories.
“Any time, Dotty.” She kissed the old lady on the cheek. “You too Howard.” She gave the old man a hug and his cheeks flushed with pleasure.
Stephanie gave Lily a quick hug, too. “Thanks for helping out. You sure you don’t need any help moving in?”
“No, thank you. I think I’m all set. I’m travelling light.” Pretty much on the run herself, Lily thought ruefully. Then she straightened her spine. Not running, taking a stand. But her bravado deflated when she remembered her husband Troy’s words – there’s someone else. What stand could she take if he didn’t want to be with her? So like every other time lately that thoughts of her crumbling marriage popped up, she pushed them out of her mind and waved goodbye as Stephanie climbed into her yellow hatchback and slowly followed the Lincoln down the bumpy drive, leaving Lily alone in the forest.
Wrapping her arms around her ribs, she turned to stare at the water. The wind off the lake rustled the branches of the evergreens that surrounded the cabin like a protective buffer against the outside world. A city girl all her life, she felt the absence of people like a vacuum. But, she reminded herself, coming to Fortune Bay and moving into the cabin had been her decision. She wanted a place where she could take some time to figure out what to do next – about Troy and the rest of her life.
The cabin was slightly ramshackle, with the peeling white paint and periwinkle-blue trim, but it was right on the lake and there was no denying that the view of the lake with the backdrop of snowcapped mountains in Olympic National Park was magnificent.
Ascending the steps to the front porch, she picked up the two suitcases that held everything she’d brought with her from Seattle. The night Troy had confronted her with his devastating declaration, she’d made a quick getaway, throwing whatever was at hand into her suitcases and heading for the ferry. Now, with one case in each hand, she pulled open the screen door with her foot. The solid-wood door stood open and inside, the doormat seemed to ka’phlump on the floor. Glancing down in surprise, she read the script on the mat through the glistening dust that sparkled in the air. “Welcome Home.”
Although she read the words silently, they seemed to whisper in the air. She froze for a moment, then glanced around the empty room.
“Thank you, Augusta,” she murmured under her breath. Then, suppressing a smile, she stepped inside, shaking her head at herself for talking to “the ghost” already.
She’d visited Dorothy and Howard a few times at the cabin, but it seemed different now that it was hers. A yellow Arborite table sat under the sunny window that looked across the porch to the lake. An old refrigerator flanked one end of the kitchen counter on the far-left wall, with a stove bracketing the other end. Not just any stove though, a turquoise stove with a row of push buttons along the back instead of knobs.
A staircase against the back wall led up to a trap door in the ceiling and next to the staircase, a blowsy flowered curtain covered a doorway to the bedroom. A wood stove stood in the far-right corner, and an overstuffed chair and sofa set, circa nineteen-forties, defined the living room area on the right. Cute. Shabby chic. Her friend Carmen who’d worked with her at the YWCA in Seattle was always looking for pieces like that.
She took her toiletry bag back outside and crossed to an inconspicuous door at the end of the porch. She was sure even Carmen would draw the line though at having to go outside to get to the bathroom.
But it wasn’t an outhouse. Far from it. The bathroom was outfitted with fairly-modern fixtures and, most importantly, a shower over the tub. It would do fine.
Stepping back outside onto the porch, she sank onto the faded chintz couch that faced the lake and breathed in the clean damp air. Just what she wanted. Room to breathe. No one to answer to, no one making decisions for her about her life. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that her dad actually seemed to need her help at the resort he’d just opened in town, she might feel a little too unencumbered, drifting like a rudderless boat on the lake.
She took another breath, shakier than the first. She felt a little rudderless right now. The thought of being on her own scared her a bit after being part of a couple for fourteen years. When she’d married Troy she’d thought the lonely years were over. Yet, here she was, right back at square one. And when she thought back over the past few years, she realized she’d been lonely for a long time.
As she and Troy had grown apart, she’d filled the void – a void that should have been filled with a loving husband and young family – with her counselling work at the Y and the after-work hours she spent volunteering on the teen crisis phone line. It was rewarding work, but no one could be one hundred percent successful in that line of work, and her one or two tragic failures had left her burnt out and in drastic need of a change.
It was good to have her own place, though, to tide her over until she figured things out. However long that took. She’d taken a six-month leave of absence from work and although she expected to have things worked out with Troy long before then, she was not at all sure she wanted to go back to her old job or her taxing work at the crisis line. And she certainly didn’t want their marriage to go back to the wasteland it had been. She wasn’t quite ready to give up the fight, though. Not yet. She had too much invested in her marriage to just throw in the towel.
A twig snapped like the crack of a gunshot and she surged to her feet, her fight-or-flight reflexes on high alert. What was she thinking? She knew nothing about living in the forest, alone.
A shadow moved in the trees and a woman stepped into a patch of sunlight on the driveway. Hand to her chest, Lily blew out a breath and laughed. Frankie. Of course. Her neighbor. Lily’s father had taken her to a dinner party at Frankie’s house a few weeks before where she’d met a whole group of local people who, in some inextricable way, all appeared to be interconnected.
“Hi, neighbor,” Frankie said with a smile. “Just thought I’d come over and help you move in.” She was casually dressed, wearing a woven poncho over tee shirt and jeans, her honey brown hair swinging at her shoulders.
Lily laughed, patting her chest to the beat of her racing heart. “I thought you were a bear.”
Frankie laughed and joined her on the porch. “It’s not unheard of, but still a little early in the season for the mothers and cubs to come down to the lake. They’re probably still hiding out in the forest.”
“That makes me feel a lot better.”
Frankie waved off her concern. “You probably won’t see any. I’ve been here for five years and have yet to see one. So,” she peeked in through the open door. “Need any help?”
“Thanks for the offer but I don’t have much stuff to move in. I left Seattle in kind of a hurry and most of my things are still there.”
Frankie nodded, then raised her eyebrows. “How long are you staying?”
“I’m not sure.” About anything. The open look in Frankie’s soft, caramel-brown eyes was encouraging and Lily was surprised to hear herself continue. “My husband and I are separated. Not necessarily forever. I’m not sure yet.” She stopped herself, just short of blurting out the whole ugly story.
Frankie nodded sympathetically. “I hope you work it out. Good to have your own place, though.”
“No kidding. I was beginning to feel like a bit of a third wheel over at the farm. Would you like something to drink?” Lily walked into the cabin. “I don’t know if Dorothy left anything, but we can see.”
She put the kettle on the stove and punched in a button, hoping it still worked. In the cupboard, a tin of Constant Comment tea sat in the middle of the almost-empty shelf. As the kettle began to hiss, she pried up the lid of the tea, releasing the aroma of oranges and cloves.
“I really appreciated Dad taking me in like that. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade, he was always on the road, working. But after a couple of weeks of togetherness in the farmhouse, I think we’d both had enough. I need room to think, and he and Stephanie need some privacy.”
Frankie took a seat at the table. “Max is a great guy. My boyfriend Sean works for him at the resort.”
“I know Sean. I’m working at the resort myself. Just helping out. At first I thought maybe Dad just asked me to help because he didn’t know what else to do with me – he’s always been all business – but I really do feel like I’m being helpful. He used to be a troubleshooter for a hotel chain, moving around a lot, wherever he was needed. For the first few years of my life, until I started school, my mom and I travelled with him across the country, from one hotel or resort to another.”
“That must have been fun,” Frankie said as Lily put the mug of fragrant tea in front of her.
“I remembered those days in a kind of golden glow. It was the last time we spent any time together as a family. When I started school, my mother and I settled in Seattle and Dad continued on the road.” Lily frowned, remembering how, a few times a year, he’d stopped in for a week, and how as the years went by, the visits became increasingly awkward and the gifts for her increasingly inappropriate and juvenile as they lost touch. “So I’m glad to be able to help out. It gives us some common ground.”
“What are you doing at the resort?”
“Anything I can. I straightened out the bookkeeping. He’d been doing it himself during the building and hiring phases.” She laughed. “He really needed help with that.”
They took their tea back out to the porch and sat on the couch. The sweet smell of cloves drifted up from Lily’s mug and as a soft breeze played across her cheek she felt the strain of the past months slip away. The sun streamed in bringing with it a hint of spring in the air. Waves sparkled on the bay and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains rose startlingly white behind the hills across the lake.
“The water’s still really high,” Frankie commented. “There was a lot of snow last winter. It’ll take a while to melt. I always feel a nip in the air as long as I can see snow.”
Sounds of construction and the faint strains of country music radio drifted through the trees from Frankie’s house next door. Putting down her empty cup, Frankie sighed dramatically, but smiled. “I guess I’d better get back to work.”
“How’s the reno coming?” Lily asked. When she’d been there for the dinner a few weeks ago, she’d heard Frankie and Sean’s plans to enlarge Frankie’s bungalow to suit their newly formed family, which included Sean’s teenage daughter Amber.
“Sean hired part of the crew who were working on the resort to frame up the addition, so it’s gone up pretty quickly. Now on the weekends a bunch of the guys come over and they do what they can.” She grinned. “I’m just the gopher, but they keep me busy. When you get settled, you’ll have to come over and see.”
“I will,” Lily said standing up and watching her go. “Thanks for dropping by.” She lifted her hand to wave goodbye as Frankie disappeared on the path through the trees.
While Lily loved the wilderness, she had never lived all on her own before, and certainly not in a cabin in the forest, so the knowledge that people lived just beyond the fringe of trees was reassuring. Fortune Bay was a tight community. Frankie’s boyfriend Sean was one of Stephanie Murphy’s children, and even Lily’s dad Max had seemed to have found his niche in the sprawling Murphy family. But as an only child, Lily found big family gatherings a bit overwhelming. Everyone she had met here seemed very nice, though, and Fortune Bay seemed like as good a place as any to settle while she got her head, and her life, together.
She went back into the cabin and stopped at the foot of the attic stairs to study a black and white photograph on the wall of a young woman waving out the window of an old car with a split front windscreen. Somehow, she knew the woman was Augusta. A breeze whispered by her cheek carrying a sweet aroma like fresh baking. The thought crossed her mind that maybe she should call her Aunt Augusta, to be polite. Everyone, except Dottie, did.
Wait a minute. She reined in her thoughts. She wouldn’t be calling the so-called ghost anything!
Giving herself a shake, she opened the suitcases on the bed and, taking hangers off the rod that looked like an old broomstick, secured to the wall in the corner, began to unpack. As she hung up her clothes, an electronic disco melody sounded on her cell phone in the next room. It wasn’t her husband. Troy’s ring was a foreboding, descending, Duh, duh, duh.
She hurried to find her phone and was pleased to see her friend Carmen’s name displayed on the screen. Carmen was the only person in Seattle that Lily had been in contact with since she’d walked out of her apartment that cold, rainy night, all of her other so-called friends having decamped to Team Troy.
Refusing to play the forlorn refugee game, Lily put as much pep as she could into her voice. “Hi there.”
“So how did the move go?” Glasses clinked in the background. Carmen must be at a restaurant. Probably Sunday brunch with friends. Lily tried to push down the envy as she looked around the small bedroom – from the rod hanging from the ceiling to the time-speckled, oval mirror on the wall – and plunked herself down on a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. “Everything went smoothly. I don’t have very much to move at this point.”
“How’s the cabin?”
Lily hesitated a moment as she looked around the bedroom, searching for the right word. “Charming.” Standing up, she went out onto the porch and looked out at the lake. “Picturesque.” She glanced at the bathroom door. “And quirky.”
Lily smiled. Carmen saw the fun side of everything. “It will be fun, since I’m only here for a while.”
“Have you spoken to Troy?”
Lily grimaced. “Not since the first week. I have to admit, I’ve been ducking his calls since the first one when he wouldn’t agree to go for counselling.” She sighed. “I guess I’ll have to speak to him sooner or later. I’d just like to wait until I don’t feel like…” such a loser. “Until I have some kind of plan.”
Carmen’s voice softened. “Go easy on yourself. Give it time. You had the rug pulled out from under you. You’ll figure something out.”
“I know. I just hope it’s soon.”
* * * *