Summer on Lovers’ Island

 Summer on Lovers’ Island

  Jewell Cove #3

  May 2015

Amazon/Barnes and Noble/ Kobo / Indiebound / iBooks

What happens when a seasonal fling turns into the love of a lifetime?

Lizzie Howard’s life has always been adrenaline-charged. Top of her class at Harvard Med and now a gifted trauma doctor, Lizzie’s medical career has always come before rest, relaxation, and especially romance. But when one careless mistake brings her future to a screeching halt, Lizzie’s only chance at reviving it is to temporarily take over a friend’s practice in Jewell Cove. The sleepy Maine coast, a world away from the bustling emergency room Lizzie knows and loves, leaves her feeling more lost than ever—until she meets widowed doctor Joshua Collins, and her heart starts beating a little bit faster…

Coming home to Jewell Cove was Josh’s salvation after his wife died. Looking for peace among the familiar faces of friends and family, he’s grateful to work in the town’s small medical clinic by day and spend his nights trying to forget everything he’s lost. Lizzie’s big-city sensibilities are a brash reminder of the world he’s pushed away, but he can’t deny that together they’ve sparked a flame that crackles higher and brighter every day. Maybe love is the best medicine after all …

“Wonderful romance, packed with family drama, a sexy hero, an incredible old house.  You’ll fall in love from the very first page.”—Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author on The House on Blackberry Hill

 

CHAPTER ONE

As punishments went, Lizzie Howard could have done a lot worse.

The “recommendation” was for her to get out of town for a few days, and she’d chosen to visit her best friend, Charlie, in Jewell Cove. The story Lizzie’d given Charlie was that they could spend the weekend celebrating Lizzie’s thirtieth birthday. That sounded much better than the truth, which was that she was slinking away from Springfield with her tail tucked firmly between her legs.

Thirty. Her career was supposed to be taking off instead of stalled in its tracks. How the hell had this happened?

The wind was cool even for spring in New England as Lizzie’s convertible wound around the scenic road that led to her best friend’s house. Charlie lived with her husband, Dave, a few miles from town limits. Their home was nestled along a curve in the road, its cedar deck overlooking the shimmering waters of Penobscot Bay—the perfect retreat for Lizzie to clear her head.

With each mile separating her from Massachusetts, she could feel her tension ease a little. Maybe Maine wouldn’t be so bad after all, she thought, pulling in the gravel driveway in front of the little cottage Charlie now called home. Gray shingle siding and white-trimmed dormer windows gave it a cozy, worn-in look. The trees and lilacs were budding, unfurling their new spring-green leaves to the sun, and at a small white picket gate hung a quaint little sign that read: Seashell Cottage.

Lizzie loved it immediately. It was like something off a postcard.

As she got out of her car, she realized that the walkway to the door was lined with shells and she let out a soft laugh. Her best friend was living in an idyllic world far away from the high-class Boston neighborhood where she’d been brought up.

Lizzie breathed in the sweet-scented air and smiled to herself, thinking of the shell-studded candles she had in her bag as a delayed housewarming present. Her only regret was that she hadn’t come sooner. She hadn’t actually seen her friend since Charlie and Dave’s destination wedding on a Jamaican beach in January.

At least she wasn’t completely out of touch where her best friend was concerned. Lizzie knew Charlie had always wanted a home like this. Nothing big or ostentatious, but a little corner of the world that she could call her own and an adoring husband across the breakfast table. A few babies with brown eyes and dimples to call her “Mama.”

Lizzie wanted more. She’d been working her ass off in Springfield, determined to fill Ian Fortnam’s shoes as Chief of Emergency Medicine. It was what her father wanted for her and she would do him proud even though he wasn’t here to see it. The fact that Ian had been the one to ask her to take a leave of absence—a strong suggestion that Lizzie equated to a suspension—annoyed the hell out of her.

Ian insisted it was because he cared and the time off was for her own good, but she wasn’t so sure. Yes, she’d screwed up, with devastating results. She’d admitted that. And she had been working too hard. She admitted that, too. But the biggest mistake she’d made was having an affair with Ian in the first place. They’d remained “friends” when it ended, as they both knew it would, but she hated that he was in a position to influence the career she’d worked so hard to build. Mixing her personal life with her professional one was a mistake she wouldn’t repeat again. Ever.

So now here she was, standing in the dappled afternoon sunlight, miles from home and hospital. Lizzie shouldered her travel bag and blew out a breath, determined that she wouldn’t be dragged down again. She’d make the most of the days ahead and recharge her batteries. This was only a weekend, after all. Didn’t she deserve that much of a break?

When Lizzie returned to Springfield it would be time enough to fight to get her position back. This forced leave was utter nonsense. If there was a lawsuit, it would be settled, just as they always were. She was a good doctor. Everyone would move on. . . .

She was halfway up the shell-lined path when the screen door slammed open and Charlie was there, bouncing on her toes and with one hand on her slightly rounded belly. “You’re here! You’re finally here! At my house!”

“Yes, I’m here.” Lizzie laughed, her dark thoughts banished by Charlie’s enthusiastic greeting. “I promised, and here I am.”

Charlie came down the stone steps and drew Lizzie into a hug.  “Gosh, it’s good to see you.”

Lizzie felt Charlie’s strong arms around her and closed her eyes. It wasn’t one of those polite, restrained hugs full of pretension between casual friends and colleagues. This was big, hearty, and full of affection. After all the weeks of being so very alone, it felt wonderful. She could feel the firm baby bump against her own tummy and laughed, drawing back and framing the gentle roundness with her hands.

“My God, look at you. You’re beautiful.” Tears pricked Lizzie’s eyelids and she laughed self-consciously.  “And showing already.”

Charlie laughed, too, wiping her eyes, then tucked her dark hair behind her ears.  “Dave says future linebacker in the making. I’m not due until September.”

“He could be right.”

Lizzie straightened, looked at her best friend, and couldn’t stop smiling. No unwanted pregnancy here, no angst or uncertainty. This was, Lizzie realized, exactly how it should be. “You’re glowing, Charlie. God, I’m so happy for you.”

Charlie sniffled and beamed even as she flapped her hands at her tears.  “You see?  This is why you needed to come! It’s going to be good for you.  You’re skin and bones, Liz. I’m going to stuff you full of yumminess all weekend.”

“Hey, I eat.”

“Peanut butter doesn’t count.”

Lizzie couldn’t help but laugh.  Charlie was the closest thing to a sister she’d ever had, and they’d definitely gone through starving student days when peanut butter sandwiches kept them going, especially during long days of labs and hospital shifts. In an emergency they’d forgotten about the bread and just gone for a spoon.

“Come on in. Dave will be home later this afternoon and he promised to cook us dinner. We can sit on the deck and catch up.”

Lizzie followed Charlie into the house.  The inside was as charming as the outside, filled with sun-strewn windows whose light bounced off walls the color of the sand on the beach below. The flooring was wide plank hardwood, stained a gorgeous shade of oak. White country cupboards filled the walls in the kitchen and a stunning butcher block held a bowl of lilacs, bringing the fragrance in from outside.

“This is your room,” Charlie said, opening a door. The walls were the same sandy taupe, but splashes of aqua at the windows and on the duvet brought it to life.

“It’s beautiful, Charlie. Just beautiful.”

“Get yourself settled, then come find me,” Charlie offered, stepping out to give Lizzie a moment of privacy.

Lizzie put down her bag and went to the windows. The room overlooked the ocean, the sun glinting almost painfully off the constantly shifting surface. She knew why she was here and it had little to do with her birthday or even a suggested leave of absence. She was running from her grief and running from her problems, pure and simple.

A lone sail bobbed on the water, skimming parallel with the shoreline. She squared her shoulders. Not running, she corrected. Regrouping. There was a difference.

She found Charlie in the kitchen heating the kettle. “Tea,” Lizzie said with a smile. A plate held several cookies. “And shortbread. Did you read my mind?”

“It’s not my shortbread, are you kidding? There’s a bakery on Main that is amazing. I’ll take you there tomorrow.” She handed over a square and poured water into the mugs. “I still haven’t learned to cook very well. Oh well. No one’s perfect, right? Dave cooks and if all else fails there’s takeout. Or frozen pizza.”

Lizzie took a nibble of the cookie and sighed happily.  “It’s yummy.”

“It’s orange spice. Told you it was amazing. Jewell Cove has all sorts of treasures and I’m going to show you them tomorrow. We’re going to hit all the shops along the waterfront.”

“You wouldn’t still happen to be trying to sell me on covering your mat leave, would you?”

Two weeks ago, just before Lizzie was ordered to take her “break,” Charlie had called asking if she wanted to cover her maternity leave. Leaving Springfield right now wasn’t an option, not when what Lizzie really needed to do was get her act together. She had a job, a reputation, at stake. Responsibilities. Like proving to Ian and the rest of the administration that she was worthy of the faith they’d placed in her. Proving to herself that she hadn’t lost her edge. Physicians lost patients; it came with the job. They had to deal with it.

Besides, family medicine in a small town would bore her to death, even for a few months.

Charlie handed over the mug, a saucy grin lighting her lips. “Shamelessly.  Is it working?”

Lizzie had to admit, the pretty drive and idyllic setting had already eased some of her tension. But this was a weekend, not months. And she figured she’d only last a few days in a small town before going stir-crazy. “Let’s go outside,” she suggested, changing the subject. “I need to hear the ocean.”

They settled into Adirondack chairs and Lizzie closed her eyes, let the sun bathe her face as she listened to the shushing sound of the waves hitting the shore below and the gulls shrieking as they circled.  The spring breeze was fresh and chilly; Lizzie pulled her knees in and rested her feet on the edge of the seat. Charlie said nothing.  She always seemed to know when Lizzie needed quiet and when she needed to talk. After a few minutes Lizzie opened one eye and squinted to look at her friend. Charlie was taking a sip of tea, completely comfortable to just be. One hand rubbed the curve of her belly. Lizzie would bet any money that the action was one of sheer habit, and she took a moment to appreciate the picture that was Charlie, burgeoning with motherhood.

Lizzie didn’t know exactly how to explain how she felt. Adrift, maybe. Definitely alone. Her mom and dad had been her guiding stars. Losing her mom to Alzheimer’s bit by bit was terrible, and visiting her now was bittersweet, never knowing what state of mind Rosemary would be in. But losing her dad . . . they’d been so close.  Going through the last months without his wisdom was horrible. She’d put every ounce of energy into work, and she didn’t even have that now. She had no idea how to explain it all to her best friend, but she desperately wanted to.

“I needed this,” she said simply. “So thank you.”

Charlie reached over and took her hand. With anyone but Charlie it would have been awkward. But they’d been through a lot together, since the beginning when Lizzie had walked into her dorm room to find Charlie on one of the beds.  The two made an unlikely pair, but from the first moment they’d been there for each other. Just like they were now.

“Everything’s out of control, Charlie.  Just everything.” She swallowed against the lump in her throat. “For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do.” She felt her lip wobble. “I don’t know what to do,” she whispered.

“Oh, honey,” Charlie said, squeezing Lizzie’s fingers. “I know it’s been so hard. I should have been there for you more. . . . I’m really sorry about that. I suck as a friend.”

“You had enough on your plate, with the pregnancy and planning the wedding and everything.” Lizzie tried a watery smile. “And look at you. You were always so shy, so reserved. Dave’s been so good for you. He really brought you out of your shell.”

Charlie’s gaze softened. “He is pretty wonderful.  But that doesn’t make it all right that I neglected you.”

“Well, I’m here now. Just what the doctor ordered.”

Charlie nodded. “Hey, don’t worry. I know you. You’re like a rubber ball; you always bounce back. You’ll figure it out; I know you will.” The confidence in her voice was clear.

But Lizzie shook her head. “I don’t know this time. I don’t know who I am, or what I want. . . . The one thing holding me together was work.” She squeezed Charlie’s fingers back before letting them go.

“You’ve been grieving so hard, Liz. I know it’s been eating away at you. You’re here now, and that’s what matters. You did the right thing taking some time off.”

Lizzie smiled but felt herself crumbling inside. How could she admit that her vacation wasn’t voluntary? Charlie was under the impression that this weekend was just that—a weekend. Lizzie’s smile wobbled and she took a deep breath, promising herself she wouldn’t cry.  “I wasn’t ready to talk about it before. Didn’t want to.” She swallowed, hard. “Couldn’t.”

“But you want to now?”

She took a sip of tea, the hot brew restorative, warming her belly, giving her strength to say the painful words. “I’m falling apart, Charlie. Seriously falling apart.” Her voice broke on the last syllable.

Charlie turned in her chair, tucking her legs beneath her. “What is it? Can I help? Are you sick?”

Lizzie shook her head. “Nothing that sleep won’t cure. But I’m not sleeping. I’ve been working extra shifts just to keep busy and keep myself occupied.” Mistake number one.

“And burning yourself out.”

Bingo. “What else am I supposed to do?”

Charlie didn’t answer but waited patiently. Lizzie thought that Charlie would make a very good mother. She was logical and tolerant and always thought things through. Marriage, too, had given her a new kind of serenity that Lizzie envied. Lizzie didn’t have that kind of patience. She didn’t wait for things; she went after them. Always moving forward and not backward. There were so many other things she wanted to do before having kids . . . if ever.

She struggled to speak past the tightness in her throat. This was so unlike her! She was a doctor, for God’s sake.  She handled tough decisions every day. She spoke to family members and delivered bad news and it wasn’t easy, but she always kept it together. But it was different when it was her own life. Her own feelings. She couldn’t look at Charlie or the sympathy she knew would be in her best friend’s eyes. She looked out over the sparkling ocean and whispered, “I didn’t know that when I lost him I’d lose everything. I haven’t even brought myself to put the house on the market. I don’t want it, but I can’t bear the thought of someone else there. It’s like it’s waiting for him to come home and say it was all a mistake.”

Charlie wisely stayed put in her chair.  Lizzie didn’t think she could handle any more hand-holding or hugging. She was feeling pretty fragile, ready to break apart at any moment. It was as if Charlie sensed it and after a few seconds of stunned silence she regrouped.

“Your dad’s not coming back, Liz.”

“I know that. And then I go to visit my mom, and–” She was mortified to realize that tears were slipping down her cheeks and she scrubbed them away with her hands. “She asks where he is. She doesn’t remember that he died. Or she’ll say he’s been to visit her when that’s impossible, and it’s like ripping open a wound again.”

“Sweetie,” Charlie said, and her thumb rubbed reassuringly over the top of Lizzie’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Liz. I wish I could make things better.”

But Charlie couldn’t, not really. Though simply being here helped.

“I can’t put things off any longer. Everything is such an unholy mess and somehow I have to fix it. I’m so angry!” Liz admitted the dark truth with a burst of frustration, relief sliding through her as she finally said the words. She was angry at a disease she couldn’t do anything about, turning her mother into a stranger. She was angry at the suddenness of the stroke that had taken her father, a cruel irony for a man who’d dedicated his life to saving others. And she was angry at herself for slipping up and the devastating consequences that followed.

“Your dad loved you. You know that.” Charlie ran a hand over the swell of her belly, the action making Lizzie feel suddenly left out. “Your mom adores you, too. Of course it’s going to take some time for you to grieve. You just shouldn’t be going through this alone. I wish you had someone . . . the way that I have Dave.” A wistful smile touched her lips.

Lizzie couldn’t help the small smile. Charlie was head over heels in love with her new husband. “I knew this would come back to my love life eventually.”

“What love life?” Charlie raised an eyebrow.

“Exactly.” Lizzie focused on picking shortbread crumbs off her jeans, glad she’d gotten some things off her chest and very glad they’d changed the subject somewhat.

“Whatever happened to that doctor you were seeing at Christmas? The cute one with the reddish hair and big laugh?”

Lizzie felt her cheeks heat. “That’s over.”

“I can tell by your tone who ended it. I thought you were crazy about him?”

Lizzie shook her head. “Ian’s last act as my boss was to tell me to take a leave of absence. He’s not on my list of favorite people these days.”

Charlie shut her mouth. Picked at her shortbread. Took a sip of cold tea.

“Oh for God’s sake, say something,” Lizzie snapped, unable to take Charlie’s silence.

Charlie got up, picked up her chair, and moved it so she was sitting knee to knee with Lizzie. “He did you a gigantic favor in my opinion,” she said firmly. “Look, here’s what I know for sure. Russell Howard loved you. You loved him. No, hear me out. He was human, and you’re human, too.  If you’re angry, be angry. My question to you is, what do you want to do now? Because whatever you want to do, I’ll help you.”

Anxiety seemed to tumble around in Lizzie’s stomach.

“Everything feels so out of control, Charlie. I don’t know how to deal with it. And I haven’t been able to admit that to anyone before now.”

Charlie smiled softly. “If you had the answers you wouldn’t be finding this so difficult. And honey, you don’t need to decide today. I know that’s hard for you to accept, but it’s true. Stay the weekend and stop worrying. Look around. The offer is still open to take my place for a few months. I’m planning on starting my leave July first, as long as I can find someone to cover.”

Lizzie dropped her chin. “My head is so messed up. I can’t bring all that into the practice you’ve built.”

“Don’t worry about that. The other doctor is great. I’m already working reduced hours. It’d just be . . . backup.” She smiled encouragingly.

“Colds and ingrown toenails. Lovely.” But Lizzie’s lips twitched. Charlie was like a dog with a bone when she got an idea in her head. Nothing was going to make her give it up. “Besides, I’m sure the town is nice, but isn’t it a bit . . . dull?” Dull as in dead. There probably wasn’t a movie theater, or a martini bar, or decent restaurants.

“I know you’re impossible when you’re bored. But there is a lot to do here.” At Lizzie’s skeptical look she insisted, “There is! Including sleep. You look like hell, Liz. Besides, Portland isn’t far away if you need something more . . .  cultured. There’s more to Jewell Cove than you think. It’s only for a few months. It’s not like it’s forever or anything.”

Finally, Lizzie laughed. Charlie was better for her than any prescription. “Thank you, Charlie. For inviting me to visit.” At Charlie’s skeptical look, she capitulated, “For making me come. I didn’t know who else to turn to.”

“I’m always here; you know that.”

“But just because I’m on leave doesn’t mean I’m saying yes.”

“It ups the chances. And I’m not above using a little blackmail.”

“More shortbread?”

Charlie put her hands on Lizzie’s knees. “If you stayed the summer, it means that my best friend in the whole world would be with me when my baby was born.”

Lizzie’s nose stung and her bottom lip quivered.  It was no secret that Charlie’s mom and dad weren’t exactly the nurturing type. Lizzie couldn’t imagine them being doting grandparents, or Mrs. Yang sitting through the undignified process of childbirth, even though she’d gone through it once herself. “That’s playing so dirty,” Lizzie whispered.

“It’s true,” Charlie answered. “You need someone, Lizzie. And I need you.  You’re the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had. I want you to be our baby’s godmother.”

Lizzie felt herself slipping. But she had to be strong. She hadn’t even seen the town yet. Or met the other doctor. And where would she find a place to live this close to tourist season? Surely everything was rented in advance.

“I’ll think about it,” she replied. It was all she was able to commit to at the moment.

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