Left with only an old guestbook as her guide–a curious book full of letters, recipes, and glimpses into her family history–Lily is determined to embrace her newfound independence and recreate herself, one page at a time. With the help of the quirky island residents she has befriended, she slowly finds the strength to seek out happiness on her own terms. But as soon as she has sworn off men and is standing on her own two feet, Lily meets Ian, the alluring artist who lives next door, and her new life is suddenly thrown off course. The last thing she wants to do right now is to open her heart to another man.
Ultimately, Lily must decide if it’s worth giving up her soul for security or risking everything to follow her heart. This book weaves together the heart of Nicholas Sparks, the romance of Nora Roberts, and the charm of Debbie Macomber.
Lily was in her element. Her sparkling stainless steel kitchen boasted simmering pots releasing an herby aroma complemented by the yeasty smell of fresh bread. She kicked off her shoes and let her stocking-covered feet take a break. The pungent smell of garlic flooded the room, soothing her frayed nerves.
She glanced at the clock; Brad’s new client would arrive in about an hour. Steadying herself with a deep breath, she prepared the second appetizer tray of crab-stuffed portabella mushrooms.
A knock at the kitchen door startled her. Her neighbor, Roma, popped her head in. “May I have permission to enter your revered domain?”
Lily wiped her hands on a dishtowel and drew Roma into a hug. “Couldn’t be happier to see you.”
“Need a taster?” Roma leaned over a simmering pot, inhaling deeply.
Lily held up a spoon. “Sure, try this Bolognese and let me know if it needs anything.”
Roma moaned. “Divine, as always.”
Roma took a seat at the breakfast bar. She pointed to Lily’s bare feet and patted the stool next to her. “Come, sit down. You’re the hostess, not the maid here.”
“Tell Brad that, would you? He has me on a tight schedule tonight.” Lily drizzled the endive and calamari salad with black truffle oil.
“That man,” Roma continued. “I suppose he picked out the too-tight dress under your apron as well.”
“I don’t think my jeans and sweatshirt would have gone over too well tonight,” Lily answered.
Brad leaned his head through the kitchen door. “Lots of talking going on in here with you girls, any cooking?” He placed his briefcase down on the table and walked over to the stove.
Lily turned her back to him and continued cooking.
He hovered over her shoulder then proceeded to move through the aromatic kitchen like a general inspecting the appetizer trays, considering wine choices.
“Do your best,” he whispered in her ear.
She looked up into his chestnut eyes. How they used to melt her down. “Of course, Brad.”
He kissed her cheek. “Did you remember the Dom Perignon I asked you to pick up?”
Lily caught her breath. She rarely forgot anything he requested, but lately it was difficult just to remember what she was doing next.
“No, Brad, I forgot, but we have plenty of excellent champagne in the cellar.”
His voice rose. “I told you specifically this client only drinks that label.”
“So what do you want me to do, leave the dinner on the stove and go pick some up?”
“Never mind, I’ll go,” he said, grabbing his keys off the hook by the back door and stamping out.
“Looks like you’re in trouble,” Roma said with a nervous wink. “Think I’ll head home and order take-out.”
Lily leaned over the sink, feeling sick. In the beginning, Brad had been so charming and self-assured. The promises and compliments never seemed to end. She could still hear his words: “Lily, I will take care of you and give you everything you could ever want.” Love and security were dangled in front her, a twenty-two-year-old girl starved for affection.
She should have left that fantasy in the fairytale books where it belongs.
A chiming sound resonated from the direction of the table. Lily went over to investigate and found Brad’s iPhone lit up next to his briefcase. “Text Message from Ashley” flashed across the screen. “Missed Call from Ashley” was indicated below it.
Lily tapped the screen and the message lit up: “Brad, what time do you think you will be able to get away tonight? xoxo Ashley.”
She laid the phone back on the table. That was strange. She stirred the soup, trying not to turn back to the phone.
Perhaps she should take a peek at the second message? She wandered back to the table and turned the iPhone over in her hand. It was not her style to go through his things, but… She pressed the power button and the IMs popped up. A statuesque woman smiled out at her. She looked like she just stepped out of the pages of Vogue: white-blonde hair accented high cheekbones and kohl-lined sapphire eyes. Not a day over twenty-five, Lily thought, studying the black suede boots and body-hugging sweater. Two fingers were raised to her lips, as if to send a kiss.
“See you tonight,” was all it said.
Lily scrolled back, amazed by the long list of previous messages from the same woman. Each was inviting; some thanked him for a great night, others promised favors to come. Her mind swirled as her heart picked up its beats. Mindlessly, she started to count the messages, twenty, thirty, fifty. When she reached over a hundred in less than a month, she stopped counting. She had seen enough. All these weeks with him never around, too busy to deal with her, judging every move she made. He must have been out with this woman.
She placed the phone back on the table. The marriage had been ending for a long time, she just hadn’t wanted to face it. But this still hurt, like being sliced open with one of her razor-sharp kitchen knives. One by one, she turned off the burners then washed her knives and placed them back in their cases.
The sound of Brad’s Porsche speeding up the front drive caused her to flinch. Lily slid into her shoes and threw off the apron.
Footsteps resounded in the hall before Brad rushed into the kitchen holding the champagne. “I only managed to find two bottles. If you had done what I asked—”
Lily held up his iPhone. “You have some messages.”
He snatched it from her hands and checked the screen.
“Too late, Brad, I’ve already read them,” she said.
“How dare you, Lily.”
“How dare you,” she said, holding her ground. She pointed to the half-cooked items on the stove and counter. “You better call your important client and arrange to take him out to dinner, because I won’t be catering your meals anymore.”
She watched his face morph from anger to bargaining. All she wanted was to get away from him before he saw her burst into tears. A hundred plus text messages. Why had she counted them all?
“Let me explain, Lily, you’re over-reacting, it’s nothing…”
“Save it, Brad,” she said, pushing past him, heading toward the front door.
“Wait,” he said, following behind. “Ashley is our new corporate attorney; we’re planning a merger.”
“I bet you are,” Lily said, beginning to laugh. “The xoxo merger, right? Either get out of my way or you leave.”
He put his arms out to her, his eyes pleading forgiveness. “It’s you I love, Lily, from the first day I saw you.”
“Right, the first day you saw me and realized what a moldable pawn I would make!”
“Alright,” he said, pulling out his keys. “Just know, this is your choice.”
Lily stood in the foyer and leaned against the wall to catch her breath. Hands freezing, body rigid, an unreal quality took over as she watched her husband walk out the front door and slam it behind him. The sound of Brad’s Porsche screeching out the driveway sent a quiver up her spine. Her legs gave way as she crumpled onto the cold marble floor. Immobile, she glared at the oversized carved wooden door. Another ostentatious, unattractive, overbearing piece of décor Brad had chosen. It had been alternately her fortress and her prison, keeping her in this false palace, barring both entrance and exit.
She ripped off her Dior heels and threw them at the door. “I hate these shoes, this house, this marriage…” The long-held tears shook her body. Every accusation Brad had dismissed as her “overreacting” was finally answered with the truth. Why hadn’t she trusted herself and left long ago? She let the tears flow.
A cool calmness filled her being. She was done here; the certainty of it swept through her body. She rose from the floor and hastened up the spiral staircase to her bedroom. Her red puffy face stared back at her from the mirror. It was streaked with mascara-colored tears from eye to chin. At least she recognized this person.
She yanked off the clingy dress and laid it neatly on the king-size bed. Beside it she draped the Cartier necklace. The imposing diamond wedding ring would be next to go. She stopped abruptly…this she would keep. It was the only thing of real value that Brad might consider ever truly belonging to her.
She leaned over her desk and unlocked the side drawer. It was right where she left it a few weeks ago. Grandma Maggie’s will. To my granddaughter, Lily Parkins, it read. Grandma hadn’t even known Lily’s married name, it had been that long. It continued: is the sole heir to the property known as Madrona Island Bed and Breakfast Inn.
She placed the will in her purse and took one last look around the room she had slept in with her husband for ten years. Reassured that there was nothing left that mattered, she proceeded down the staircase.
When not visiting local farmer’s markets or indulging her love for chocolate, ANDREA HURST is an author and literary agent. Her passion for books drives her to find and write stories that take readers on a journey to another place and leave them with an unforgettable impression. She is a developmental editor for publishers and authors, an instructor in creative writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and a webinar presenter for Writers Digest. She lives with her dachshunds in the Pacific Northwest, on an island much like the fictional Madrona, with all of its natural beauty and small town charm.