When life gives you lemons you make lemonade…
Well, Maddie’s making lemonade again. When her absentee ex-husband swoops in and invites their teenage daughter to live with him for the summer, robbing Maddie of possibly their last summer together, she decides to consider it an unexpected opportunity, and accepts the offer of her first solo photography show. Leaving Seattle and the safety of her job, she heads to Washington State’s Majestic Lake.
In a rustic cabin on the lake, Maddie finds the inspiration she needs, sets up her dark room and gets to work on the photographs for show.
A traumatic childhood has left her a loner – it’s always been safer that way – but maintaining her distance is almost impossible in a town like Fortune Bay. Slowly she begins to make new friends, her first real friends, and meets the man and family she’s always wished for but never thought she could have.
Her landlord, Jake Murphy, has been raising his six-year-old daughter in Fortune Bay with the help of his extended family ever since his wife left five years ago. Although he can’t take a chance on a relationship with a woman who is only in Fortune Bay for the summer, he soon finds himself breaking all of his rules.
Welcome to Fortune Bay
Read an excerpt.
Summer of Fortune
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.
My motto in life, thought Maddie Tedesco when her ex-husband’s name popped up on the caller display. But really, how much lemonade did one woman have to drink?
When she answered the phone, his greeting was brief. “Maddie.”
They didn’t spend much time on pleasantries anymore. He was Jenny’s father though so, when he asked to speak to their daughter, Maddie handed her the phone.
“Hi Dad…Everything’s great…No, nothing planned …” Jenny’s voice rose to a shrill crescendo. “I’d love to… Sure, we’ll talk.” She put down the phone with a satisfied smack.
Listening from her post at the kitchen sink, Maddie’s jaw clenched. How many times had Mark disappointed their daughter, making plans and then not showing up? If he did it again, she’d wring his neck.
Plastering the smile on her face that she’d perfected in the ten years she’d been divorced, she turned to her daughter.
“Mom. You’ll never guess what. Dad asked me to spend the summer with him and Kate.”
Maddie’s cheeks stiffened as the smile melted like a chalk drawing in the rain. Jenny would graduate from high school next spring and, thorny as it may be, this could be her last summer at home. By asking Jenny first, Mark had undermined Maddie’s veto again, swooped in like a fairy godfather and invited Jenny to Yuppiedom-by-the-sea.
Maddie leaned heavily on the counter. “Do you want to go?” Her voice sounded hoarse.
“Of course I do. Why would I spend the summer in this stifling attic when I can be in a mansion by the beach?”
Hardly a mansion, but Mark’s beautiful Seattle Craftsman-style home was right across the street from the beach, and a far cry from Maddie’s third floor walk-up.
“How about it, can I go?” Jenny asked.
“I don’t know. I have to think…”
“Come on. This is my chance to move up in the world. I don’t want to end up like you—living in an attic when I’m thirty-five. “
“Hey, it’s cozy.”
“And working at a job I hate.”
“I don’t hate my job,” Maddie objected. But Jenny had pretty well nailed it. Being a receptionist at an art gallery—or an administrative assistant, as Maddie preferred to call it—wasn’t her dream job, but it did pay the rent.
“You could have fooled me.” Jenny put her hands on her hips in a perfect imitation of Maddie. “You always say I can achieve whatever I want if I just put my mind to it. ‘Go after what you want,’ you say. Well, I want this. A chance for something better.”
Maddie stared at her daughter. Jenny stared boldly back, her long, straight, reddish-blonde bangs hanging in her eyes. Maddie’s hand itched to reach out and brush them aside but she resisted. Instead, she turned away, picked up a scrub pad and began scouring the sink. “We’ll see.”
As she sensed Jenny watching her from the door, her shoulders stiffened and her hand slowed in the sink.
“It’s clean enough Mom,” Jenny said softly. Then, like a wraith, she vanished into her room.
Maddie put her hands on the counter, dropped her head and sunk her weight into her arms. It was unnerving when Jenny caught her cleaning. And really, was cleaning so bad? Jenny seemed to think so but Maddie could think of things that were much worse.
She had promised herself she’d be a good role model for her daughter, the best mother ever. Fun yet patient, adventurous yet wise. Her daughter’s best friend. And it had worked, at first. But sometime during the last few years, their relationship had gone from BFFs to combatants. Mark could offer Jenny a life Maddie couldn’t hope to achieve. What if Jenny didn’t want to come back after the summer?
She glanced at the clock, six thirty, time for a family-fix.
In the living room she turned on the TV and the Family Ties opening scenes appeared on the screen. As always, the reassuring music was an anchor for her turbulent emotions. Turning up the volume, she went back to the kitchen to start dinner.
These were the families she’d grown up with: The Seavers, the Cosbys and her favorite, the Keatons. Elyse Keaton had been her dream mother, had taught her more about being a mother than her own mom ever had. Despite being an architect, Elyse always had time for the family.
Maddie longed to be part of a family like that and had tried to give Jenny the best home she could. But obviously her best wasn’t good enough or Jenny wouldn’t be so eager to go and live with her dad.
Elyse’s voice echoed in her head. “Of course Jenny wants to connect with her father. Don’t you remember what that was like?”
She remembered all right. The longing, the wondering, the ache in her chest. At least Jenny knew who her father was.
Maddie let out a sigh that left her hollow. The weight of inevitability settled on her shoulders. Of course Jenny should go to her dad’s. It was the right thing to do.
Go after what you want. She had said that—and meant it. Maybe in this case, being a good mother meant letting her daughter go.
Wiping her hands on a dish towel, Maddie called Jenny back into the kitchen. Maddie’s heart twinged when she recognized the suspicious look on her daughter’s face that pretty well epitomized their past year together.
She tried to smile but her cheeks felt like hard plastic. “I’ve made a decision. You can go to your dad’s for the summer.”
Jenny let out a whoop and threw her arms around her mother. The irony wasn’t lost on Maddie that this was the first spontaneous hug in so long, and all because she was letting her go.
Jenny rushed to her room to call her friends. Maddie took a deep breath and turned back to her magazine recipe. She’d splayed the chicken on a roasting pan—apparently it baked faster this way—and now crumbled the dried rosemary and thyme between her fingers, sprinkling the herbs over the bird. She added salt and pepper and, as the final notes of the Family Ties theme song died, slid the chicken into the oven.
Then she turned off the TV, grabbed a rag and started to scrub.
So bite me, she thought. It helps me to think.
Jenny was right about her job. What happened to her dream of being a photographer? When she and Mark had first married, she was just starting out. A creative fire had burned in her belly. Some interesting freelance assignments came her way that hinted at a promising career, but once she was married and a mother, Mark wanted her at home. She’d resisted at first, but somehow the jobs petered out until, without even a puff, they completely disappeared.
After the divorce, she’d been happy to get the job at the gallery, but ten years in, it felt like—settling.
The only bright spot that she could see in this whole situation was that now she could spend the summer working on her photography. Maddie’s boss Eileen had never supported her work as an artist, but there was another gallery owner, Tori at the Edge, who had expressed interest in her black and white darkroom art.
Maddie threw down the duster and pulled her portfolio out from behind the couch. If she was going to make lemonade, she might as well get started. She’d show Tori her photographs tomorrow.
* * *
The following evening, dusk had fallen and her boss Eileen was long gone when Maddie finally closed the heavy glass gallery door and turned the key in the lock. The neon signs of gallery row reflected in the wet pavement as she fought the stream of people hurrying home from work and headed to Pioneer Square. A historic district popular with tourists, it was a mecca for new galleries like the Edge.
Good name, the Edge. Tori had a knack for marketing. Maddie had never been able to get out there and flog her work. After ten years of putting her dreams on hold, it had only gotten harder as her faith in herself slowly ebbed away.
Time to make a change.
As the downtown hustle fell away and she entered the relative quiet of the streets around the Square, her boots sounded a determined rhythm on the pavement. The rain had eased to a heavy mist that fogged the streetlights and frizzed her hair. The trees showed a faint haze of green and she could smell spring in the air.
In a week the city would be in full bloom. Other years, she would have had her camera out and been snapping atmospheric nighttime shots as she walked. Lately though, the city had lost its magic, and tonight her mind was focused on her meeting with Tori.
Rounding a corner, Maddie’s heart lurched at the outline of a hunched figure on a dark storefront step. Tucked in out of the rain, a woman sat with an upturned hat on the ground in front of her.
Time slowed and the ground felt like quick sand beneath Maddie’s feet. Please, no.
The woman turned to face her. It wasn’t her mother. The hand squeezing Maddie’s heart loosened its grip and she blew out a sharp breath. Taking a bill from her purse, she dropped it into the hat. “Get yourself something hot to eat,” she said gently, even though she knew the chance of that was virtually nil.
As she walked away, her shoulders twitched as she tried to shake off the adrenalin buzz. Now that her mother lived in the city, in the back of her mind Maddie was knew that Cindy could pop out anytime, anywhere, and turn Maddie’s world upside down.
Suddenly she was standing under Tori’s hand-carved gallery sign. Time to get back on track.
She prided herself on being fearless, most of the time. But this one-two punch of her two worst fears, meeting her mother by surprise and showing her photographs to a gallery, had turned her knees to mush. She forced the thoughts of her mother out of her mind—that wasn’t her, just a sad old woman—and pulled her thoughts back to the job ahead.
Showing her photographs always felt like she was stripped naked and flattened on the gallery wall. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. In, one, two. Out, one, two…
She’d read about this breathing technique in a magazine. It was designed to ease panic attacks and, she discovered while reading the article, apparently she had them.
By the time she reached ten, her heart rate had slowed. Pulling a tube of crimson lipstick out of her shoulder bag, she applied it with a sure hand. The ritual always gave her courage, allowing her to channel the kick-ass, take-no-prisoners femme fatales from the black and white movies she loved.
She rolled her shoulders. Showtime. Tugging open the wooden door, she climbed the steep gallery stairs, the envelope with her prints clutched in one clammy hand.
The smell of fresh paint rolled down to greet her and she stopped at the top of the stairs to admire the dark red paint, the color of borsht, that Tori had applied to the walls in preparation for the next show. “Wow.”
A muffled voice called out through an open door at the back of the room. “Somebody there?”
Shaking the raindrops off her jacket, Maddie crossed the gallery and peeked into the office. Tori’s ample rear end, sheathed in leopard-skin pants, stood in bold relief as she bent over a stack of paintings.
Maddie smiled. “Busy?”
Tori stood up and shook her head, her short pixie-cut hair sticking out in all directions, as usual. “Tuesday night is Art Walk and we’re going to be swamped. Not that I’m complaining.” Her gaze dropped to the envelope in Maddie’s hands and her face lit up. “For me?”
Nerves hit the panic button in Maddie’s brain and her fingers instinctively tightened on the envelope. Tori tugged it out of her hands with a wicked grin and spread the gritty eight-by-ten black and whites of the city and its people out on the table.
“These are fantastic. Great contrast. Your darkroom work adds so much drama; I just want to rub my finger over those velvety blacks. People are eager for black and whites again. They’re tired of photoshopped specials.”
Maddie’s shoulders relaxed. It was going to be fine.
Then Tori asked, “Weren’t these in your show last year?”
Maddie’s chin came up, her eyes widened. “You saw the show?” That venue had been more of a gift shop, not a real gallery at all.
“I read the article in The Caller and stopped by.”
Maddie nodded, her mind racing. “It brought in a lot of people. I only have a few pieces left. I was hoping you could put them up sometime.”
Tori shook her head. “I don’t know kiddo.” She tapped the prints on the table in front of her. “These are great, but they’re old work. I was hoping you’d bring me something new.”
Gritting her teeth, Maddie attempted to smile. That was a problem. She didn’t have any new work. Shortly after last winter’s show, somehow, somewhere, she’d lost her muse. The urban shots on which she’d built her reputation—such as it was—didn’t inspire her any more. The spark had died leaving her a gutted candle, a hollow puddle of wax. She had hoped getting a few pictures into a gallery would give her the push she needed to start moving in a fresh direction. Tori was right though. She couldn’t put up old work.
Maddie gathered the prints into a pile. “I understand.”
Tori fisted her hands on her sturdy hips. “I don’t think you do. You need to get your ass out from behind that counter at Eileen’s and get behind the camera where you belong. These are great, but it’s time you had your own show. Right here. My October artist just cancelled. Can I pencil you in?”
Maddie’s eyes widened. Her own show. Her work up on the walls. The chance of a lifetime. The star falls and breaks her leg and Maddie Tedesco steps in.
But October was only six months away. Could she possibly get a new body of work together by then while still working full time? Eileen would hit the ceiling…
But what about her resolution to be a better role model for Jenny? Wasn’t the best way to go after what she wanted, too?
Although Tori was several inches shorter than Maddie, she managed to put her arm around Maddie’s shoulders. “You know, sometimes to get the good things in life you have to take a leap of faith. Like I did last year when I opened this gallery.”
Maddie heard Elyse Keaton’s voice whisper in her ear. Time to make lemonade, dear.
Okay. She grabbed the last lemon and squeezed.
“I’ll take the show.”
“Good, I’ll pencil you in.”
“No. You can write it in pen. I’m not sure if I’m jumping or if I’ve been pushed, but I’m definitely taking the show.”
* * *
Elbows on the kitchen table, Maddie rested her head in her hands, the bass rhythm from the floor below beating a backbeat to her thoughts.
What was she thinking, accepting Tori’s offer? How could she take the show?
How could she not?
Even after she and Mark had split up, she had continued taking pictures. Preferring the compositional challenge of black and white, she had set up her darkroom in the bathroom, taking Jenny inside when she was too young to be left in the apartment alone.
But Jenny was almost grown now, taken care of for the summer, and this show—a solo show—had dropped in her lap. How could she pass it up? Especially with the long, lonely, rest-of-her-life looming ahead of her. This was her chance to get back in the game.
If she was being perfectly honest, she knew why she’d stayed working for Eileen for so long. It was safe. Secure. Didn’t demand she put herself on the line. Now, though, she was afraid she had traded that safety for her daughter’s respect, and lost her own creative spark along the way.
That was something Mark had never understood, that to her photography was like breathing. It was how she experienced the world and without it, she only felt half alive. She might as well just breath into the top half of her lungs, never feeling the satisfaction of filling them completely. Without her photography as an outlet, numbness had slowly crept into her extremities.
Outside her tiny kitchen window, the setting sun gilded the snowy mountain tops that peeked up from behind the downtown. She’d never been to the Olympic Peninsula before. Had never had the time or money for any kind of holiday. She needed something to jumpstart her creative juices though. And leaving the city and heading into the mountains? That would be different. That would be new. Surely then she would find her muse.
Take the summer off to work on the show? That was crazy. Wasn’t it? Could she afford it? Maybe just barely.
This would be something truly worthwhile to spend her nest egg on. An investment in herself, in her future. A fresh start.
If she was going to make the most of this chance, she couldn’t hold back. She had to be all in.
Three weeks later to the day, Maddie dropped Jenny at Mark’s house to finish the school year. Eileen had hit the gallery’s vaulted ceiling when Maddie told her she wanted to take the summer off to work on the show, but once Maddie found an art student to fill in for the season, things had tumbled into place. As if the universe was giving her a big thumbs-up. She just crossed her fingers that her job would be waiting for her when she got back.
As she pulled away from Mark’s house, father and daughter stood on the stone front steps, waving goodbye, Mark’s arm draped casually over Jenny’s shoulder. Maddie watched them recede in the rear view mirror and—oh, great—Mark’s new wife Kate joined them on the steps. The stone front steps of the beautiful heritage house they had lovingly restored. The perfect family in the perfect house. Maddie shook her head and dragged her eyes back to the road. How could she ever compete with that?
Two hours later, Maddie stood on the deck of the giant car ferry as it plowed across Puget Sound. Her Nikon digital to her eye, she zoomed in on the forested slopes of the Olympic Peninsula as sunlight caught the rugged, snowy peaks. She snapped a shot.
The salt air whipped around her, clearing away all doubt. This is why I came. This is what I am looking for. Her new muse was a forest nymph. She just knew it.
But she needed a cheap place to rent for four months, because she planned to be back in the city by Labor Day to work at the gallery and welcome Jenny home. Assuming her daughter wanted to come home after, as Jenny had put it, her “summer in paradise.”
That was what worried Maddie most, that Jenny would decide to live with her father. She had to win back her daughter’s respect and that meant making good on the show.
It had been years since she’d been on her own. It felt exhilarating—and weird like she had lost her anchor with no timeline to follow and no one to look after. Adrift and disoriented, she needed a home base and she needed it soon. With high hopes and a few apartment leads in her pocket, she drove her aging station wagon, fondly known as The Beast, off the ferry in Bremerton.
Two days later, still looking but starting worry, Maddie pulled into the lot of a fast food diner. None of the places she’d looked at were at all possible. All lacked any hint of inspiration and, in some cases, even basic hygiene. This was no closer to her forest nymph than Seattle.
Tapping an agitated rhythm on the Arborite tabletop, she studied the map. Roads circled the Olympic Peninsula close to the shore with a few smaller roads heading up the river valleys into the mountains.
Further inland was probably less expensive, an important consideration since in the end, unable to bear the thought of other people using their dishes and sleeping in their beds, she hadn’t sub-let the Seattle apartment. Online from home, she hadn’t see any inland rentals but maybe she could find a cottage somewhere. Nothing fancy, just a place to sleep, a small kitchen, and a bathroom where she could set up her darkroom.
She could see it in her mind’s eye—nestled in the forest, dripping with atmosphere.
A young waitress stopped at her table, pad in hand. “Road trip?”
“Sort of. If you could go anywhere on the peninsula for a holiday, where would you go?”
The girl chewed the end of her pencil, then stabbed a finger at a lake in the center of the map. “Fortune Bay on Majestic Lake. It’s beautiful, right in the mountains. My uncle has a hunting camp there and I go up sometimes in the summer. I love it. He’s right on the lake.”
Maddie ordered a burger and studied the map. Fortune Bay was a dot on the map at the end of the road running up one side the lake. Isolated, probably rustic and picturesque as all get out. As good a place to start as any.
She ate quickly, then climbed back into the Beast and headed west.
An hour later, she crested a ridge and pulled into a rest stop at the top of the pass. Majestic Lake hugged the curves of the valley below, surrounded by forested mountains, some still tipped in snow, that rolled out to the horizon. Pulse racing, she pulled out her camera, first taking wide-angle shots, then zooming in on the shore.
Goosebumps prickled on her arms. Something down there pulled her like a magnet.
Back in the car, she flew down the mountain and through the town of Majestic, following the signs toward Fortune Bay. Fifteen minutes later, all spent driving through a dark forest worthy of the Brothers Grimm, the lake winked at her again through the trees and, soon after that, a sign welcomed her to Fortune Bay.
Maddie drove slowly though the town; a handful of streets lined with faded, crayon-colored houses and, at the end, a general store. The road continued along the lake from there, in and out of forest and field until, a mile out of town, the trees opened up and a fallow field, bordered by tall evergreens, ran down to the lake.
A cabin peeked through the trees, the crumbling chimney stretching toward the sun as if preening for her attention. Maddie’s foot hit the brake and the Beast shuddered to a halt. She inched ahead to the spot where a lane disappeared into the trees, and pulled over to the side of the road. From here, the building was hidden in the forest but a hand-painted sign nailed to the trunk of a massive fir tree announced that the cabin was for rent. Someone had written a phone number across the bottom of the sign but, having been disappointed before, she decided it couldn’t hurt to take a peek before she called.
She jumped out of the car, ducked under the rope strung across the drive and headed down the lane. A gusty breeze swirled branches overhead and the air had the faintly medicinal tang of lake water and cedar.
At the end of the drive the cabin was waiting, with weathered white siding, an overgrown flowerbed and a porch facing the lake thirty feet away. The wind blew white caps out on the bay and rocked the limbs of the towering evergreens protecting the cabin. Maddie framed a shot of the porch in the viewfinder and clicked.
It was perfect. Charming and oozing with inspiration. She pressed her lips together in excitement. She had found her muse, but could she afford it?
Up on the porch, a sun-bleached couch stood under a picture window and, cupping her hands to the glass, she peered inside. The room was dark. Dead flies lined the sill. Definitely deserted and possibly right in her price range.
Then something moved at the back of the room. Something big.
Maddie stifled a scream and leaped back off the couch, landing on her butt on the wooden porch floor.
The inner door flew open and a man stood in the doorway.
“Looking for something?”
- * * * * * *
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