Abby Donavan came to the small beach community of Crystal Cove to start over. After a painful affair broke her heart and derailed her burgeoning career, taking over management for the just-opened bed-and-breakfast was the safe choice. In this sleepy town, Abby figured she could bury her memories and forget the pain.
When the chance to have her own hotel falls into her lap, though, she can’t resist the temptation. Making the old Riverside Inn into the showplace she’s always dreamed of running offers the second chance she never expected.
Abby didn’t expect another kind of second chance to land on her doorstep at the same time. Ryland Kent wants to help her bring the Riverside back to life, and his passion for restoration is irresistible. But as much as she wants to ignore it, she can’t help seeing another spark in his eyes . . . one that offers to reignite her own flame.
Sometimes the path to a happily-ever-after is anything but smooth.
She was gorgeous.
And I was in love.
I could always tell right away. Love at first sight was something I believed in, just like I believed in the magic of Christmas, the existence of angels and the hope of a World Series win for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
It usually happened for me within the first few minutes. I didn’t have to hear a word; I could just take her in, watch her and feel the hum of possibilities. I loved that giddy sense of hope that filled me during the early days, when everything was potential and dreams, before reality came crashing in and we had to deal with problems and snafus. Before my eyes were forced to see that beneath the beauty lay brokenness and decay.
But for now, all I could see was the future, like a vision spread out before me. She was both the vision and the future. Yeah, there was no doubt in my mind.
The Riverside Inn was a dream come true.
“So you gonna stand there and drool all day, or you gonna get to work?” Lincoln punched me in the shoulder, grinning.
“Yeah, I might. Drool, I mean.” I slid my gaze to his. “She’s pretty damn drool-worthy.”
“Oh, hell, Ry. No way. This one?” Linc glanced at the sprawling building, disbelief in his eyes. “Aw, dammit. You got the look. I see it on your face. You got the look, and that means you’re attached already.”
I laughed. “Pretty sad that you know me that well. Yeah, she’s a go. I signed the papers day before yesterday.”
“Shit, man.” Linc shook his head. “This one is . . . it’s bad, buddy. I saw the reports. Most of the main building’s structurally unsound. Tearing her down to the stud’s a given, but we may have to go father than that.”
“I know.” I’d read the same reports. The old hotel had been empty for years, sitting on this huge chunk of land on the outskirts of Crystal Cove, Florida. One owner and then another had made plans, only to abandon them. That was okay, because I knew she’d been waiting for me all along.
“You know, yet you sign the contract. You commit to this building. To this project. And you don’t only commit yourself, you commit me and the rest of the company, too. Did you think to ask me what I thought before you put your John Hancock down on those papers? Why’d you bother asking me to come up here if you’d already made up your mind?”
I shrugged. “Linc, I gave you a chance at partnership three years ago, and then again early this year. You turned me down both times. I value your opinion, and I try to listen, but if you want a real say in the projects we choose, then you’ve got to be a partner. Because right now, I’m where the buck stops. So you have to trust that if I said yes, I know how we can make it work. And I wanted you to see her because I know this project will start percolating in the back of your mind now. You’ll call me at midnight in a few days with ideas.” I elbowed my friend in the ribs. “Besides, have we ever failed yet?”
“Came damn close in San Francisco.” Linc muttered the words darkly, and I tried not to wince.
“Yeah, but it all worked out in the end.” The old house we’d agreed to turn into a bar and restaurant for a couple in California had seemed like an easy job when I took it. We’d been a solid two weeks into the rehab when one of the guys discovered extensive structural damage, probably from one of the earthquakes. It was too late to turn around, too late to back out, and I was damned glad I had enough capital saved to cover the extra manpower and work hours, not to mention the supplies. We’d eeked it out, barely breaking even . . . but we did it. And now that trendy little bar was getting rave reviews from all the fancy-schmancy food critics on the West Coast.
“Barely.” Linc shook his head. “Well, nothing we can do about this now. You committed us, so we’re all in, for better or for worse. I’m heading back down to Vero, finish up the details and the punch out on the salon. Then if it’s cool with you, I thought I might swing over to Mont Devlin for a little while.”
I kept my face expressionless as I nodded. “Sure. Of course it is. Gonna check in, see the kids a little?”
“Yeah, thought I might.” His mouth pinched together, and I could see his jaw tighten under the thin layer of his beard. “For whatever time they’ll give me, anyway.”
There wasn’t anything I could say to him. Nothing could change the past or make this situation any less painful. So I didn’t insult him with stupid meaningless words. Instead, I gave him a light punch to the shoulder. Linc understood; his lips twisted into what passed for a grim smile, and he shrugged.
“You take what you need, you know that.” I leveled my gaze at him, making sure he understood me. “When you’re ready, come on back here. I’ll put you to work.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He took one step away, toward where I assumed his truck was waiting, before pausing to glance at me over his shoulder. “You got a place to crash here yet, or you still got to find something?”
“I have a place in town. The owners have a friend— Cooper Davis, he’s actually a carpenter, a woodworker. He’s going to do the decorative wood and the built-ins here on the Riverside. Anyway, I guess he just moved in with his girlfriend, and he’s got an apartment he doesn’t need at the moment. It’s furnished, close to the site and best of all, free. Cooper says he’s just happy to have me there to keep my eye on his shop at night.”
“Sweet.” Linc had regained a little of his calm. “I’ll get in touch when I’m back. Where’re you setting up the guys?” “Motel the next town over. It’s got restaurants, stores, bars . . . all the stuff they need to be happy while they’re here.” I considered briefly and shook my head. “And probably enough for them to get into trouble, unfortunately. But we’ll deal with that when it comes.”
“Sure. Although I’ve got a feeling this one’s going to keep them so busy, they may be too tired to cause problems after work.”
I grinned. “You could be right.”
Linc laughed and started walking again. “I’ll be in touch. Don’t have too much fun before I get here.”
“Fun doesn’t start ‘til you do, buddy.” I yelled at his departing back, trying to ignore the slump in his shoulders. I’d known Lincoln for over ten years. We’d met on one of my earliest jobs, when I’d just started out. I’d been an unhappy combination of cocky and homesick, carrying a giant chip on my shoulder to hide my terror that I might fail. He was a few years older than me, already married with a kid, and he’d taken me under his wing. When I’d launched my own company finally, offering Linc a partnership had been a given. But his life had changed radically by then, and he wasn’t ready for the added responsibility. Or so he claimed.
Still, we all knew Linc was as much a part of this company’s leadership as I was. He might not’ve had the title, but he put in the time and did the work. I just wished that it gave him some peace of mind, something that had been missing from my friend for far too long.
The sun was sinking lower in the sky, and I rubbed my jaw, thinking. I was tempted to go in and check out a few sections of the old hotel that I hadn’t gotten a chance to really explore during my short walk-through with Logan Holt a few days back. We had a rule at this stage in the game: nobody, no matter how experienced or careful, was supposed to be in the building alone. In these rehab projects, we couldn’t always predict when a supporting wall might decide to give way, or when a cracked foundation might shift. The guidelines I’d laid down myself stated that one person needed to be outside while at least two went in together. Breaking that rule was grounds for instant firing.
But hell, I was the boss. I knew my way around these old beauties, and I had an uncanny sense of where I might not be safe. Stepping inside a little ways wasn’t going to hurt anyway. I checked my cell and made sure I had both battery life and signal before ducking beneath the yellow caution tape.
The Riverside had been built over a hundred years ago, before Crystal Cove had even really existed. She’d been de- signed to cater to the river traffic; although the Cove was known for its beaches, they weren’t as popular a century before as they were now. Instead, the hotel had welcomed guests who were meandering down the waterways from Jacksonville to the interior of the state, which had still been largely wilderness in some places.
I imagined what she must’ve been like then; pretty and graceful, her two main wings sprawling over a large expanse of green lawn that went to the edge of the river. Wide verandas beckoned weary travelers, and the huge kitchens produced some of the best food south of Savannah. I could picture it, and I wanted it for her again. I knew I could make it happen.
Stepping carefully along the shadowed corridor, I paused, squatting to examine some partially-rotted molding. I pulled a small folding knife out of my pocket and carefully pried off a piece. I rubbed my thumb over the front and smiled. Oh, yeah. I could work with this. Wasn’t easy to find this kind of decorative trim anymore, but I’d taken a peek into Cooper Davis’s shop, and I was pretty damn sure he could replicate it. Might take some sweet talking, but he seemed like a good guy, and he was undoubtedly passionate about his work. Well, so was I, about mine. I’d make this happen.
Standing again, I moved into a large open space which I decided must’ve been either a dining room or some kind of reception hall. The windows here went nearly to the floor. It would’ve been something to see in its time, I mused, even though now not one pane of glass remained. There wasn’t even a decent frame left. That was okay. We’d bring them back.
A cool breeze blew through the room, and despite the stifling heat in the hotel, I felt goose flesh raise on my arms. I glanced out the gaping holes that had once been French doors leading to the side porch. For a moment, just a split second, I could’ve sworn I’d seen a movement, something more than just the swaying of the trees. But although I stood frozen for a while, I didn’t see anything again.
“Ghosties.” I muttered the word to myself, shaking my head. All of us who worked this job, who spent hours and days and weeks and months inside ancient buildings that wanted to come back to life, were familiar with the feeling that we weren’t always alone. It didn’t surprise me anymore; after all this time, I was now convinced that certain expe- riences, both traumatic and ecstatic, left an imprint on the walls of the building where they happened. I’d never seen a ghost or even suspected one might be haunting a house I was working on, but it didn’t mean I didn’t believe. It didn’t mean I thought they didn’t exist.
And right now, in this place, I had the distinct sense of being . . . observed. As though someone were keeping an eye on me, not yet sure whether I was here for harm or for help. I stuck my hands in the front pockets of my jeans and spoke out loud, not shouting but not whispering, either.
About the Author
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include YA paranormal, NA paranormal and contemporary romance, and adult contemporary and paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.