Zane and Honor (Cliffside Bay, Book 3)
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“This series has been a great read. Tess Thompson creates characters that everyone is going to love. This book made me seriously swoon.” —Lindsey Kramer, Shakespeare's Wench Book Blog
“I am seriously blown away by this entire series! They just keep getting better and better! Tess Thompson has a way of making the reader feel like family to this group of friends from Cliffside Bay!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“…a delightful contemporary romance! The [Cliffside Bay series] follows a group of longtime friends and the women who make their lives complete also forming friendships of their own and coming together thru their own personal tragedies and struggles! If you are looking for a great summer romance series…this is it!” —Stephanie, Little Book Page
“Jaded is the third book in Tess Thompson’s Cliffside Bay series. If you haven’t read the other two, no worries, she keeps you informed on what has gone on in previous books, but you will fall in love with the characters and want to go and read the ones you have missed. Ms. Thompson is known for developing rich characters in her novels. You will feel like best friends or members of the family when you are finished with her books…If you have already read Traded and Deleted, you will find all of your favorite characters in Jaded and get an update on what is happening in their lives. At the end of the book you will likely want to look for the hidden town of Cliffside Bay live in this beautiful well-loved coastal town.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“Jaded is an emotional charged yet very beautiful read. Hang onto your tissues for what is in stored for Zane and Honor's story. All the Dogs are back and the ladies they love. This is such a strong group of men and ladies. I love each and every one of them for the fact no matter what is going on they are there for each other giving their support. We finally learn more about Honor and by the time you get through this story your heart just aches for her. I love how everyone rallies around her through everything. We finally see Zane heal from his issues and fall fully in love. I love everything about Zane and Honor together. They are so similar in many ways. As you read this one you will find out and fall for them too…I want to say so much more about this whole book because it is phenomenal but I so want you all to read this for yourself especially if you are familiar with the Cliffside Bay series. I so can't wait for Kyle, Lance and Violet to find the love that is waiting for them. I just love this series.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“I just cannot get enough of the Cliffside Bay series. These books all simply blow me away. I don’t know how Tess Thompson does it, but every single book she writes I feel like I am right there in the room with the characters. And it is no different with Honor and Zane’s story. These two shared a night together a while ago, and have been hesitant friends since. They each have feelings for one another but they are both too nervous to act on them. Twists, turns, ups, downs, Jaded has it all. Highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series. All of the characters are the best of friends, and they are all a significant part of the book. Amazing read!!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“Just finished reading Jaded. This book was absolutely amazing…Love this series.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“I have read the previous books in the Cliffside Bay series, and did not think any other couples would tug at my heart. I was so wrong. Zane and Honor captivated me from page 1. Their love story both frustrated and inspired me. Tess weaves "the dogs" and the ladies they love into every book like magic. New layers of each relationship are exposed and make me fall in love even more. I literally could not put this book down. These characters make me want to move to Cliffside Bay just to be their friend. Pull up a chair, pour a good glass of wine and prepare to be amazed!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“The romance is like a wild crazy rollercoaster ride, with unexpected stops and interruptions. Every time you think they get on the right direction here comes the past with all its reasons and doubts. These two had so much in their past drowning any type of future together. The strength and security these two characters needs is mind blowing but, the trust they have to place in each other that covers it all. Amazing story, looking forward to the next.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“This was, hands down, my favorite book in the Cliffside Bay series. I LOVED the characters! [The] storyline was fast moving, engaging and heartwarming, and left me wanting MORE. It's a perfect summer read. I love this little beach community that Tess Thompson has created and I can't wait until her next book!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“This is one of the very best series I have ever read. Each book is told from a couple’s view…This book was so full of emotion…I loved it from start to finish. Thank you, Tess Thompson for writing this series, this book especially. It touched my heart in so many ways. Now I can’t wait for the next book in this sweet, heartfelt series.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“I am in awe at how good this series is! I am totally involved in the lives of the characters in these stories. I want to know what's going to happen to each of them and how their [happily ever after] comes about.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“With each of Tess Thompson’s Cliffside Bay books, I feel that ‘surely, this one can’t be topped!’ But Thompson proves me wrong time and time again as each book I read becomes my favorite! So is the case with Jaded: Zane and Honor (Cliffside Bay, Book 3). The depth of these characters makes them so real to me. I wish I could be a member of their sacred friendship circle! This book has intrigue and dreamy romance. I cannot wait for the next book in this series!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
Chapter 1: Zane
Zane Shaw hadn’t planned on becoming a stalker at age thirty. He’d set out to be a hero like his dad, not the bad guy. His life’s intention had been as simple and clear as the constancy of the ocean waves that lulled him to sleep every night. I will be my father’s son. A good man.
Yet, here he stood at his front windows watching Honor Sullivan’s house like the antagonist in a crime novel. He blamed the stupid angle of his building. Who constructed a dwelling in a beach town with a view of the hillside rather than the sea? His front windows looked directly into the hill above the main street of Cliffside Bay. Dense with homes, porch lights peppered the gradual slope, and at the very top, Honor’s house perched like a lighthouse to a lonely sailor. Watch me. Come home to me.
One couldn’t always steer the trajectory of life in the direction of their choice. He hadn’t planned on being left at the altar by Natalie before the wedding that wasn’t a wedding. He hadn’t foreseen his father’s rapid decline into dementia or the need to take over the family bar and grill. He most certainly had not planned on falling in love with Honor Sullivan.
A lamp in her front window told him she was still awake. Honor always turned the lamp off before she went to bed, at least according to the last several weeks of data he’d collected in his new role as stalker extraordinaire.
The clock struck midnight. Downstairs in his bar and grill, The Oar, his sister would be in the office going through receipts.
Honor’s home safe. Now look away. Jackson and Maggie had dropped her home after a night at the bar. There was no reason to bore a hole into the side of her house. He watched out of concern, yes. This was true. Partly true. A little true. Fine. He could admit it to himself. The intense watching of her home was not completely altruistic. He hated himself for it, but he wanted to know she was alone. He needed to know.
Honor Sullivan, I’m so madly in love with you I can’t eat or sleep or think. I want you next to me, now and for the rest of my life.
There was a flash of headlights on the narrow road that led to Honor’s place. A car on her street after midnight? No, don’t turn into her driveway. The car made the hairpin turn. Red taillights mocked him as the car made its way up the steep, paved driveway to her house. Was it a man? A boyfriend? Had she called someone to meet her this late at night?
You know the answer. A man was pulling into her driveway after midnight. That meant only one thing. He clenched his teeth. The muscle in his cheek twitched. Why had he allowed it to come to this? If he could just admit his feelings, it might be him pulling into her driveway.
The car stopped in the parking space in front of her garage. Headlights went out, followed by taillights. Was someone getting out? It didn’t seem so. If only he could see better. He needed binoculars. No, he needed a telescope.
Wait. He had a telescope. It had been a gift from his father the Christmas before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis changed their worlds. Zane had tucked it away for a time when he could study the stars. During the past four years, he’d been too busy working to look at stars. Somehow, though, he’d found time to watch Honor’s house.
He ran across the room, almost slipping on the hardwood floor in his socks, and yanked open the closet door. The telescope was still in its box, neatly stacked on top of a few puzzles. Before he could think better of the decision, he pointed the invasive piece of metal directly at Honor Sullivan’s front door. He pressed his eye to the telescope’s lens. The car was still there, almost impossible to make out in the dark, except for the glow of a cellphone from the driver’s seat that cast light upon the figure behind the wheel. He supposed it was a man, given the bulky, thick shoulders and baseball cap. Why couldn’t it be a beefy woman? Why, why, why?
Why would this jerk just sit in the driveway and not get out of the car? Maybe Zane wasn’t the only one stalking Honor?
Or, maybe the guy was lost? Cliffside Bay was cursed with narrow, steep roads and small driveways. It was possible he turned into the wrong driveway and was now trying to find his way out by looking at the map on his phone.
Zane stared out the window. Should he call Honor and tell her someone was in her driveway? Or should he go up there and check it out himself? Get real. Who would be at her house that late unless it was one of her boyfriends? He was probably sitting in the driveway texting her that he’d arrived for his booty call. His stomach clenched. The thought of another man’s hands on her made him want to smash the telescope through the window.
The clock’s second hand moved in angry, little ticks. The car didn’t budge. That’s it. Zane would text Honor. No, he would call her. Less chance for her to misinterpret his meaning. No. You can’t call her, idiot. She’ll know you’re stalking her.
He called Maggie instead.
“Hello.” She sounded breathless.
“I know who it is. What do you want? I was in the middle of something.”
Maggie didn’t need to finish the sentence. He knew what that meant. She and Jackson were engaged and madly in love. “I, um, there’s a car in Honor’s driveway and it’s freaking me out.”
“I’m not going to ask how you know this.”
“I have a telescope pointing at her driveway,” he said.
“Zane. Seriously? You need help.”
“I know. But do you think she’s okay? Maybe this guy’s a stalker or something?”
“I think we know who the stalker is here, but if you’re so worried about it, why don’t you call her?”
“She’ll know I’m watching her house.”
There was silence from the other end of the phone for a few seconds before Maggie let out a noisy sigh. “True.” Another sigh.
“Fine, I’ll call and let her know.”
“No, wait. It’s all right. The car’s leaving.” It must have been someone lost. Nothing to worry about. Relief coursed through his body, leaving him depleted of all energy. “Sorry I bothered you.”
“Zane, I’m worried about you. For real,” she said.
“It’s no big deal.”
“It is a big deal. You’re making yourself sick when there’s a perfectly good solution.”
Was there, or was he just setting himself up for more heartbreak? “You’re right. I’m going to do it. Tomorrow,” he said.
“Yes.” He sank onto the arm of his sofa. “It’s gotten pretty bad when I have a telescope pointed at her house and feel murderous when I see a car pull into her driveway.”
“You said it, not me,” Maggie said. “We’ve been friends all our lives, right?”
“Yeah.” Here comes the lecture.
“I’ve never seen you like this about a woman.”
Other than about you when we were kids.
“Please, Zane, do yourself a favor and make a move. I guarantee you she feels the same way about you. She’s petrified too, but one of you must break the cycle. You’ve always been such a badass. I’ve never known you to be afraid of anything, until now. I don’t understand what the problem is here. And don’t tell me it’s the wedding that wasn’t a wedding. You had your heart broken. I get it. I know life has kicked you to the curb a few times, but it has everyone. Life’s hard a lot of the time. The key is to find that person who will be there to support you through the rough stuff. Someone who adores you, faults and all.”
“I know.” Like you and Jackson. Like Kara and Brody.
“Do it tomorrow,” Maggie said. “I mean it.”
“I will. Tomorrow I will ask her on a proper date.”
“She’s in love with you too,” Maggie said. “Everyone knows it.”
He heard Jackson’s voice in the background. “Tell him to go to bed.”
“Go to bed,” Maggie said.
He tossed his phone onto the couch. Jackson and Maggie were getting married in October. Pretty soon they’d have perfect little babies. Where would Zane be? Still alone. Still the third wheel. Maybe that was part of his obsession with Honor. He loved being miserable. Loved focusing on a woman he couldn’t have.
Back in high school, he kept his feelings for Maggie a secret from everyone. Not that it mattered. She’d loved Jackson Waller since they were six years old and walked to school with their lunch boxes stuffed into backpacks. Lunch boxes. He hadn’t thought of those in a long time. He could still remember what they looked like: a ballerina for Maggie, Superman for Jackson, and the Incredible Hulk for Zane. Maggie’s mother and Jackson’s mother had packed perfect lunches with all the food groups. He’d made his own because his father slept in the mornings. That’s what happened when you owned a bar. Your young son made his own breakfast and lunch. Dinner was in the kitchen of the restaurant with the cooks. He knew more dirty jokes than any boy in town. Not that he shared them with anyone. Jackson’s mother, Lily, would have shut that down fast.
Being secretly in love with Maggie had been a great source of fuel for his ambition. He held onto that anger all through high school. There were times he wanted to tear things apart with his bare hands just to release some of the rage. But it hadn’t really been about Maggie and Jackson. He knew that now. The anger came from this sense that life had wronged him. No mother. A father who worked like the devil to keep a small-town bar and grill afloat but didn’t have enough left over at the end of the month to buy him new tennis shoes. Poor Zane. It embarrassed him to remember what a brat he’d been.
If he could have one more day of those years left, he’d spend it all with his dad. He’d make sure his dad knew how proud he was of him.
The light went out in Honor’s front room. Good, she was going to bed. Alone. Thank you, God.
When they were growing up, he would never have thought he’d end up back in Cliffside Bay. His sole purpose once they graduated from high school was to get a degree that led to a lucrative job, so he could send most of it home to his dad. A big job in a big city would free them from the family curse of near poverty. His dad could sell the restaurant and retire, play golf with Jackson’s father and the other rich cats in town. He could go on the first vacation of his life. Zane had done it too. He’d gotten a business degree from USC. After graduation he’d landed a sales role in a big corporation and quickly became the number one sales person in the company. Unfortunately, every day killed a part of his soul. It was worth it, though, to send those checks home. His father had paid off the loan on this very building with that money. They owned the building and the restaurant free and clear. He’d be doing well if it weren’t for the astronomical costs of the memory care facility where his dad had to live now.
Almost four years ago Zane’s wedding that wasn’t a wedding and his father’s subsequent admittance to a memory care facility made a life in L.A. impossible. Zane had come home to Cliffside Bay, shattered and exhausted. The life he’d thought he’d wanted was no longer an option. He had to help his dad, but in a whole different way than he’d planned. The universe, or God, or however this stuff worked, had made sure of that.
He’d donated his suits to Goodwill, wiped the mildew off his surfboard, and moved home to the apartment above the restaurant. What surprised him was how right it felt to be back in Cliffside Bay and at the helm of The Oar—like he was supposed to be here, like destiny. Seeing his dad deteriorate wrenched his heart. It sucked bad, no two ways about it. However, and it was a big however, running the family bar and grill made him happy, even fulfilled. Dare he say, proud? Yes, proud to carry on with his father’s life work like a Shaw. No one told him what to do or how to do it. He’d changed the menu and added microbrews and updated the décor. He added Taco Tuesdays and live music on the weekends. After the first year, the bar and grill thrived. Locals had kept the place afloat over the years, but now tourists flocked to The Oar, much to the old-time residents’ horror. They hated strangers. Zane loved them, especially those with disposable income and a thirst for a good drink.
He’d renovated the apartment above the business with his own hands. Dark green carpets replaced by light maple wood floors and dingy tan walls painted Comfort Gray and Snowbound, along with new furniture in soft whites and yellows, had transformed his dad’s apartment into his oasis.
His best friends from college, the Dogs, all lived here now. There were days at the beach, garden barbeques, and weddings to look forward to. Soon, there would be babies to call him Uncle Zane.
Other than the fact he was now a stalker, he loved his life. Zane didn’t ask to notice her. He really didn’t want to notice her. Until Honor wriggled her way into his heart, he was an ordinary man. A little jaded, yes, what with the whole wedding that wasn’t a wedding betrayal, but still within the range of normal. One fleeting night with Honor and he was done, ruined. No other woman would do. Her golden hair and glowing skin and those chestnut brown eyes were just part of her charm. The brain that went with her pretty outsides did it for him in a way nothing else could.
Zane was in love with all five feet, two inches of her spirited, gutsy, smart, gorgeous self. He had a new intention for his life. Make Honor Sullivan my wife.
A key in the front door rattled and Sophie bounced into the living room. My little sister. He wasn’t entirely acclimated to the fact he had a sibling, especially a twenty-year-old sweetheart like Sophie. The sister he never knew existed had been the surprise of his life. Well, other than Maggie being alive.
He smiled, imagining explaining all this to a stranger. It would take a novel to tell the details, but the elevator pitch was simple.
My dad and my best friend Maggie’s mom had an affair, thus making Sophie. We didn’t know about her until a few months ago. We all thought Maggie was dead, but her father faked her death.
“What’re you doing awake?” Sophie asked. “You weren’t waiting up to see how things went downstairs were you?”
“No. I wasn’t tired yet. How did it go tonight?” This was only Sophie’s second shift as the solo manager of The Oar. His sister moving in with him to learn the family business still felt like a dream. A good dream.
“It went awesome, other than a couple of the guys in the back giving me a hard time.”
“What kind of hard time?” He’d beat the living crap out of anyone who laid a hand on his baby sister.
“Just acting like I was a child type of thing.” She took her long blond hair out of a ponytail. “Gosh, that feels good. My head starts to hurt after a long night.”
“I’ll straighten the guys out tomorrow,” Zane said.
“No, don’t. I need to do this on my own. I can’t have my big brother rescuing me.”
“I’m proud of you.”
She ducked her head and flashed him one of her sweet smiles that reminded him so much of his dad. “I’m pretty psyched to be here.”
“I bought you some new towels and sheets for your bed this morning. Pink.”
“Pink?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Don’t girls like pink?” he asked.
“You are little.”
She grinned. “I’m almost as tall as you.”
Sophie was a tall girl, but she had a few inches to go before she reached his six-foot stature.
“Do you not like pink? They’re more of a blush,” he said.
“I love that you got them for me. Totally unnecessary.”
“I want this to feel like your home too. We can return them and get whatever you want.”
“I’ll let you know. And I do like having a big brother looking out for me.”
“Even though you don’t need one?”
“That just makes it better.” She yawned. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed now.”
She stopped at the windows. “What’s with the telescope?”
Heat rushed through him, until he felt swollen with shame. “That? I just thought it’d be fun to look at the stars. Dad bought it for me years ago.”
She leaned over to look through the lens. “I don’t see any stars, just houses.”
“Must have slid down a bit,” he said.
“Or you have it pointed right at Honor’s house.”
He rested his forehead against the cool glass of the window. “Maybe.”
“It’s sad, you know that?” Sophie asked.
“I know. I do know,” he said.
“She was only there tonight to see you. Only pride’s keeping her from just asking you out.”
“No way.” That wasn’t true. All the Dogs, other than Brody, were there, along with Kara and Maggie. The whole gang, basically. Just a regular Friday night.
“All I know is that the minute you left, so did she.” Sophie stepped away from the window. “I know it’s hard to put yourself out there, but she’s into you. It’s so obvious you guys are in love.” She put her hands on her hips. “You’ve got to seize the day.” So much like Maggie. It was becoming more obvious by the day how similar the two sisters’ personalities were. She looked like Zane and his dad, but she had the same nurturing, fun spirit as her sister.
“You’re magic, you know that?” he asked.
“Go to bed. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh my gosh, you’re so funny. Now, you go to bed too. You need your beauty sleep if you’re going to ask Honor out tomorrow.”
“I’m doing it. You’ll see.”
She disappeared down the hallway to her bedroom.
He followed his own orders and headed to his room. In the master bathroom, he took inventory of his appearance as he brushed his teeth. Hair bleached to the color of straw. Tanned skin with unusual blue-green eyes. Straight teeth, thanks to his dad’s sacrifices to pay for braces. Surfing kept him in shape. He was okay looking. If only he had money to go with it.
What was Honor doing right now? Getting into bed? Soft pajamas or a nightgown? Did she brush her hair before she slipped under the covers?
He spit his mouth full of toothpaste suds into the sink. Being this possessive and jealous was not cool. He hadn’t been like this with his fiancée, Natalie. Then again, she called off the wedding and ran off with her bridesmaid’s husband, so what did he know? Nothing. That’s what. Not one single thing about women.
The main problem was that Honor was too good for him. Whip smart and sophisticated, she looked like she stepped out of a Vogue magazine. She hung out with jet-setters she met working for his best friend Brody, who happened to be the most famous football player in the country. Every damn week she met actors, Hollywood executives, guys who invented apps for phones and crap like that. Not a bar owner in a small town.
Could he keep a woman like Honor satisfied? She might give her body to him temporarily, but what about her heart? This was exactly what got him into trouble. Too much thinking. Tomorrow he would ask her out. End of story.
He tossed the tube of toothpaste across the bathroom. The white paste spattered all over the glass door of his shower. He didn’t bother to clean it up. Tomorrow would come soon enough.
Fog hovered over the beach as the sun rose above the eastern hills. Zane dropped his surfboard into the trunk of his new SUV. His old truck had finally given out and he’d been forced to join the modern age of keyless cars and leather seats. Other than the payments, he hated to admit how much he loved his new shiny car. The surf had been good that morning, even though he’d slept until ten. Usually the best waves were in the early mornings, but he’d vowed to Jackson and Maggie to take better care of himself, which meant getting more sleep. Now that Sophie was helping to run The Oar, he could do that, as well as take a few weekends off like a normal person.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good thing. Before Sophie, he was too busy working to ever think about what Honor was doing. No, not entirely true. She did cross his mind once or twice—okay, maybe four dozen times a night. What was she doing, who was she with? Now that his sister was taking some of the night shifts at the bar, he was home in the evenings with too much time on his hands.
And a telescope.
He wriggled out of his wet suit and donned a sweatshirt, then laid a towel on the seat of his car. No reason to damage the leather with his wet shorts. His dad had taught him to keep his cars neat. Have pride in your possessions, son. You’ll never regret taking care of your things.
A car pulled up beside him. Chris Hollingsworth nodded at him from the driver’s seat. Back in the day, Mr. Hollingsworth owned the feed store. Now in his eighties, he still owned the land but had closed the store at least ten years ago. There was no need for a feed store when most of the farms had been absorbed by towns.
Mr. Hollingsworth got out of his car and hobbled over to him. “Zane, good to see you.” He held out a bony hand and they shook. “Sophie said you were down here this morning.”
The old man looked out to the ocean and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans. They hung loose, like his skin. “The missus and I are moving into one of those old folks’ homes. She broke her hip last month and our daughters are having fits—want us to be sensible and all. I’ve been against it, but Rachel’s convinced me it’s time. I hate to leave my home, you know.”
“But I remembered how you said you’d be interested in the property should I ever decide to sell.” Mr. Hollingsworth’s voice trembled. Was it from old age or emotion? “I guess I’m ready.”
Zane leaned against his car and crossed his arms over his chest. It was a coveted piece of land, just outside of the main part of town. “I’m still interested, but I don’t know if I could get the money together. My dad’s memory care facility eats up most of my profits.” Back to where they started—broke bar owners.
“Sure. I imagine it does. Such a shame about Hugh. No one I respected more in this town. Raising you like he did.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Truth is, I need the money from the land to buy a cell in this assisted living place.”
Zane’s mind spun with ideas. For several years now, he’d dreamed of opening a brewery. He imagined it with expansive lawns for community activities and picnics—the cornerstone of the community while still making a decent profit.
Could he come up with the money? Maybe. If he found some investors. Not Brody and Kyle. But outsiders who would remain silent partners. God knew he didn’t want a boss.
“Don’t count me out,” Zane said. “I might be able to come up with something.”
“Will do. Let me know in the next day or so. That Kyle Hick’s been sniffing around out there. I know he’d love to get his hands on it. I mean no harm. I know he’s a friend of yours, but he’s not one of us. But that property’s the only thing I ever had that was worth anything. I want it to be part of the community again. I want you to have it.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Communities need small businesses. Broke my heart when I had to close up shop—put fifteen people out of work. I sure like your idea of making it a community gathering place too. Young people need to play outside instead of having their heads in those phones. My grandsons never look up from those godforsaken gadgets. Fresh air. That’s what young people need.”
“You look at your finances, and we can talk some more,” Mr. Hollingsworth said.
“I’ll get back to you in a few days.”
“Will do.” The older man patted him on the arm. “You say hello to your dad for me.”
“Yes, I will.”
He would, but it wouldn’t matter. Hugh Shaw wouldn’t have any recollection of his old friend. Zane turned away and got into his car, so Mr. Hollingsworth wouldn’t see the tears well in his eyes.
Chapter 2: Honor
Honor Sullivan’s phone buzzed at the exact moment a black crow landed on the potted orange tree just outside her kitchen patio doors. She rose from the table and pounded on the window. “Go away.” The crow stared at her with its beady black eye, unmoved. How she loathed crows! First, they had planning skills unnatural for a creature with a brain the size of a walnut. She’d seen them trick a guileless squirrel out of a nut too many times to count. Second, their prehistoric beaks and shiny black feathers reminded her of the grim reaper.
“I’ll be back for you later.” She returned to the table and picked up her phone. After this call, she would squirt the grim reaper with the garden hose. That would teach the nasty creature to stare her down on a warm August morning with its claws in the tender branch of her orange tree.
Who was calling this early? Probably Brody. Who else would call before eight on a Saturday morning? She’d sent him an endorsement contract last night and he probably had questions. Brody Mullen was the most successful professional quarterback in the country, but the man couldn’t read a contract to save his life.
She glanced at the number. Her pulse quickened when she saw the area code: 615. A call from Tennessee. Someone from the past.
Honor cursed under her breath. Don’t panic. She would not let this upset her. It was nothing. Probably a sales call that had no connection whatsoever to her youth.
The phone continued to buzz. How long before it went to voicemail? Should she ignore it and let the caller leave a message? The crow tilted his head and stared at her through the window. His evil black feathers glistened under the August sky. It was as if his sole purpose was to taunt her with his presence. She shivered. Fine. She’d answer it.
“Hello. This is Honor Sullivan.”
“Hi, Honor. It’s Cloe McNeil. Do you remember me?”
“Yes.” Cloe McNeil from the D.A.’s office. A stone of dread dropped into her stomach.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve talked.” McNeil’s Tennessee accent hadn’t lessened any since she was a young attorney.
“I was ten, so yeah,” Honor said.
“I’m sorry to bother you.”
“How did you get my number?” Honor asked.
“You don’t want to know,” McNeil said. Honor detected a sad smile even over the phone. “I called to give you an update on Stanley Gorham.”
Honor’s stomach lurched at the sound of his name.
“They released him last week,” McNeil said.
Released him. How was that possible?
“It’s nothing to worry over,” McNeil said. “I just thought you should know.” Honor recalled her intelligent, sensitive eyes. She’d given Honor a doll to play with and gently coaxed her to tell her what Doctor Gorham had done to her.
Show me where he touched you.
McNeil continued, her voice too casual, too sure. “He has a parole officer, obviously, and he’s not allowed out of the state of Tennessee, so you should be fine. Regardless, be extra alert.”
“I’m always alert,” Honor said.
“I imagine you are.”
“Thanks for letting me know.”
“Truly, it’s nothing to worry about,” McNeil said.
Then why did you call?
“Call me if you need anything.” McNeil said. “This is my cell number.”
“Thanks. I will.”
She hung up and pushed the phone away. Gorham was out. How could they let that monster out?
The taste of metal settled in her mouth. The taste of fear. The taste of her childhood.
No reason to panic. He wouldn’t know how to find her. Anyway, there was a parole officer keeping a close watch over him. The system had failed her many times, but not this time. She was an adult now with money and a beautiful home and friends who were like family—not a child at the mercy of the foster care system.
Her hands shook. Dammit. Such a sign of weakness. She moved to the sink and wrapped her fingers around the white ceramic rim and closed her eyes. You’re safe in this town. This is your home. No one can enter without your permission. Remember that.
Every choice, every labor, for one purpose—safety. I won’t ever be weak again. Money equaled safety. Everyone knew that. Unless you’re sick. Which she wasn’t. Not now. Not ever again.
This was merely another Saturday. No reason to think anything of the past.
She walked back to the kitchen table, fully intent on enjoying a lazy morning with a cup of coffee and a magazine. Another curse word exploded from her mouth. That evil crow was still there. He spotted her looking at him and stuck his long, black beak in the air. It reminded her of an arrogant man’s nose. She yanked open the double doors that led to her patio and headed for the hose. But there was no need. The foul bird took off with a caw that rang out like an accidental minor note in an otherwise pleasant melody. She looked around for something to throw after him to underscore her authority, but her patio was bare, other than her potted orange tree and outdoor furniture.
Instead, she shouted, “Don’t come back.” Like it cared. The bird was a black smudge on the landscape by then.
She leaned against the railing of her patio. Her house sat at the top of the hillside. The westward facing view faced the sea. Today her briny friend was a thin line of blue. She breathed in the scents of the sea and oranges ripening on the tree. Be here in the moment. No day would ever be wasted if she had anything to do with it.
Surviving cancer at eighteen does that to a person.
She moved to the other side of the patio and looked toward town. From this angle, she had a view of the other houses on the opposite hill and a glimpse of the main street of town. She could see the top portion of Zane’s building quite well. Too well. She was turning into a voyeur, always gaping at those windows. Over the past few months, she’d spent too much time staring at that stupid roof and wishing Zane would call her. Willing him with her thoughts to call her. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the magical power of thought control. Sometimes at night she watched from her upstairs bedroom. What did she expect to see? Morse code communicated by blinking lights? How many blinks meant I love you, I want you, Come to me?
At this moment the windows sparkled in the sunlight, like they were calling to her. Zane Shaw. What in the world was she to do about Zane? She adored him, admired him, wished she could wrap her arms around him and never let him go. His essence was like the sunshine and the sea—beauty and power combined. Never in her life had she been in love, but from observing others and reading a lot of romances under the covers at the girls’ home, she felt certain she was in love with Zane Shaw.
She left her perch and snatched an orange from her tree. With no yard to speak of other than her expansive patio, the nursery had advised her to buy a dwarf tree she could keep in a pot. Petite like her, she’d joked. For five years, she babied that tree. During the winter, she paid men to move her inside so the tree would believe it lived in the warmth of Florida, not the chilly, damp winter of Northern California. Oranges had not only appeared but ripened for the first time this summer. It had thrilled her to grow a sapling into an actual fruit-bearing tree.
She picked two more oranges. They were tiny, no bigger than her own small fist, with skin so thin it was nearly impossible to peel. Because of this, they were perfect for juice. Inside, she rolled them on the counter to soften them. Then, she sliced them in halves and stuck them into the electric juicer. The zesty smell filled the kitchen.
The oranges made a small glass of juice. She drank it down in three gulps, like a greedy child. She’d never tasted the likes of it before this summer. Life-giving, that’s what—so sweet and tangy—able to quench the deepest thirst and cure any ailment. Right now, she imagined how it strengthened the blood coursing through her veins. Cancer was no match for this juice. Bad cells could not possibly return if she drank the nectar of this extraordinary fruit. This was false. She knew that. But she let herself have it anyway. Once you’ve had cancer, you’re always afraid of its return, even though they gave her a full hysterectomy at the time. Nothing was left of the cancerous cells, they assured her. Nothing was left to make a family either.
No one in her life knew she’d had ovarian cancer when she was eighteen. She wouldn’t have them looking at her with those eyes, watchful like she might be contagious or like she might get it again and die on them.
And there it was, full circle back to Zane. He didn’t know the truth of her brokenness. There would be no fat babies if he were to choose her. Would he be able to get past that? Could she ever be vulnerable enough to tell him the truth? He would have to know, if they were ever to have a real relationship.
Fueled by her juice, she paced between the table and sink. Made for large gatherings, the farm-style table had benches instead of chairs. After the empty years with an empty stomach, she’d used the first of her money to make this house a sanctuary. Farmhouse chic, she’d told the decorator. Who knew what in her past caused her to favor this style? It wasn’t like she had any fond memories of living on the farm with foster family number three, or anywhere else for that matter. Those days on the farm were gray days filled with housework and sullen looks from her foster mother. The only spots of color were when she was at school. Intelligent, clever and hardworking, the teacher had written on her sixth-grade report card. From then on, she’d carried that around like a tattoo on the back of her hand.
Whatever the reason for her decorating taste, she didn’t care. She did as she pleased.
With names like egret white, passive gray, and silver strand, the paints in her rooms mimicked the Northern California seaside. White and gray furniture with splashes of sea blue calmed her as much as the beach itself. Every part of her house must be beautiful. That’s what she wanted. That’s what she’d always wanted. No one could take it from her, she told herself again, this time in a sterner voice, emphasizing each syllable. No one. Not even the memory of a monster.
Honor turned on the water in the sink and let it run cold over her hands for a good thirty seconds. When her fingers were numb, she splashed water on her face.
She’d been ten years old when she’d taken the witness stand. District Attorney O’Neil, skinny with acne scars and a suit that looked like it belonged to her older sister, had asked Honor to point at him. Point to the man who hurt you.
Him. Doctor Gorham. My foster dad.
She’d prayed someone would kill him in prison. Weren’t child molesters supposed to be targets? To learn he was free was unfair, maddening.
What did she need? What should she do to make this all go away, to chase the wicked thoughts from her mind?
Do normal Saturday stuff. Make coffee.
She made coffee in her French press, laboring over the details: half a cup of whole beans into the grinder for fifteen seconds, then into the press with four cups of hot water for four minutes. She used beans from the same company that Zane used at The Oar. She had to have them specially shipped from the Oregon coast, but it was worth every penny. It wasn’t that she associated the specific nutty aroma with Zane—no, really, that wasn’t it. Not all the way, anyway. The beans were superior to any coffee she’d ever had. Nuances of flavor mattered. Not just in food and beverages, but in everything. If you could afford the best, why not have it?
Gorham. Out of jail. When she tallied up the men from her childhood, she had a ranking system from one to ten. The first foster dad had been a fine. Nothing sexual. He had smacked her bare bottom with a pizza board for any infraction, all in the name of taming her wild ways and making her into a nice young lady. She shuddered, remembering the sound on her bare skin and the subsequent sting. They’d sent her away when they’d adopted a baby.
The Gorhams were next. Doctor Stanley Gorham had been a ten.
Then came her third and final family. The farmer and his sullen wife. She fell back in time, remembering.
Mr. and Mrs. Aker used fosters as workers on their farm. It was a business to them. They received money from the state and free labor. More children equaled more money. As the only girl in the group of six foster children, ranging from ages nine to seventeen, she was assigned housework. The boys were not so lucky. They built fences and fed livestock in the cold winters and bucked hay in the summers. The sticky heat of a Tennessee afternoon punched even the young and hearty. She snuck pitchers of cold water to the barn. They gathered around her smelling of hay and body odor and gasoline. Scratches irritated their skin. Sweat dampened their hair. They gulped ravenously from the mason jars. Most things were out of her control, but not this. She could present this one act of kindness that mattered to another human being. Humans who suffered as she did.
One boy she felt particularly sorry for was named Lavonne Wright—the most ironic of names. He wasn’t completely right in the head and had a slow way of speaking, like language was new to him. Light blue eyes that reminded her of those humid, hazy Tennessee summer skies often stared into space like he wanted to recollect something important but could not quite locate it. When someone moved too suddenly, he flinched. She knew why. He’d been hit too many times. On school days they walked together to the bus stop. She protected him from the older kids by deflecting attention away from him onto herself. She could take it. Even back then, she knew the older boys thought she was pretty, and she used it. She used whatever she could to survive.
Mr. Aker had sent her away when she was fifteen or so. She’d jumped on his back to stop him from pinning Lavonne against the wall of the barn with a pitchfork. So much for that family or that school. The rest of her childhood was spent in a group home for troubled girls. The house was run like a prison, which suited her just fine. As long as she could go to school, the rest didn’t matter.
Then, cancer. A hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Twelve more months of hell.
You’ll never have children, Miss Sullivan. I’m sorry.
At least I’m alive, right doc?
But then came the call about her great-aunt. A house in California. All yours.
Now, she cursed again under her breath. This phone call had her in a bad way. Recalling her past was not something she ever did. She never looked backward, only forward. Until today.
Zane. She wished Zane were here. She wished she could talk to him and tell him everything. The night they’d spent together hadn’t faded, even though it was six months ago already. If only she could will away the images of that night. His tanned body against his crisp, white sheets. His rough hands on her hot skin. The way he’d murmured her name.
Don’t think of him. There was no way she could have him in her life the way she wanted. Not if she told him the secret of her past, the one that could not be undone. Zane Shaw should have someone whole. Someone to give him a family. She couldn’t be that woman. As much as she wanted to be Zane’s everything, she was empty. There would be no real family for her. Not before, not now, not ever.
Around eleven, she headed out in her little red sports car. She had shaken herself out of her stupor and called Violet to see if she and her small son, Dakota, wanted to meet for a picnic and swimming down at the beach. Best way to get out of a funk was to spend time with Violet’s little guy. His chubby cheeks and big blue eyes melted all troubles from her mind. Violet was so lucky. No, none of that. Children are for other people. You can’t have everything.
Once she reached the main street of town, she pulled into the grocery store lot. She knew Violet was on a tight budget, so she’d offered to bring the picnic items. Lately her friend had looked thin and pinched. Honor knew what that meant. Money problems. For weeks Honor had tried to figure out a way to help without all out asking her if she needed to borrow some money. Violet was proud. As a single mother and small business owner, the odds were stacked against her.
This was a weird thing, but Honor loved the grocery store. The smell of stinky cheese, produce, even the chill of the frozen aisle, pleased her. She usually found an excuse to shop for some item or the other every day. A fresh loaf of bread, or a special goat cheese, or a ripe peach. She could buy anything she wanted. That fact still made her giddy with delight.
After almost a decade of living here, her breath still caught at the sight of the little town and the beach. When she was nineteen, a great-aunt she never even knew existed had left her a house in Cliffside Bay, California. She’d never been to California or seen the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after she’d arrived, she knew this would be her home. Finally, a forever home, even if she had to make it herself.
Life here had fallen into place so easily she didn’t trust it for a long time. Any day it would blow up. The house wasn’t really hers. She wouldn’t be able to find a job or go to college. But none of that had happened. Right away Hugh Shaw hired her to waitress for him at The Oar. Without rent, it was easy to put herself through college. After graduation, thanks to Hugh, she’d lucked into a position as Brody’s assistant. She figured she was due a little luck, and boy how she ran with it. Hard work makes a good life. Hugh Shaw had told her that.
Find a way to be useful to others. She’d taught herself that one. Over time she’d earned Brody’s trust with hard work and integrity. Brody was like her. Once you proved yourself to him, he trusted you like family. In less than a year, he’d fired his worthless manager and given her the job. Now she managed all his business affairs. He paid her a ridiculous salary to do so. She was indispensable to him, both professionally and personally. You’re the sister I never knew I wanted. He told her that often, always with that teasing lilt to his voice. She never tired of hearing it. Did he know how much those words meant to her? She suspected he did, even though she could never express it without choking up and running out the door.
Now, Honor turned the corner of the produce aisle and almost ran into Maggie. They squealed, then laughed, then hugged.
“I thought you were in the city today?” Honor asked.
“I am. I mean, I’m leaving now. I just stopped to grab something for the road.” A premade sandwich, a hunk of cheese, and a bottled water nestled in her basket. “Rhona asked me to bring some of the local cheese Micky likes so much.” Rhona and Micky, Sophie’s adoptive parents, lived in San Francisco. Micky ran a small recording label. He and Maggie were currently working on her first album.
“Kyle just called to tell me we can start finalizing paint colors and choosing furniture,” Maggie said. “With my recording contract, we can actually afford furniture.”
“I can’t wait to see what you choose.”
“Will you give me the name of the designer who did your house?” Maggie asked. “I love your place and Jackson and I are so busy right now with work and wedding planning and everything that we’re about to lose our minds.”
“Mattson and Associates. Trey Mattson lives here in town. He was recently divorced. Nasty from what I hear.”
“The name Trey Mattson sounds like a designer,” Maggie said.
“He’s sorta hot. All broody and artistic.”
“Can he work with a budget?” Maggie asked.
“That’s his specialty. Trey’s the sweetest guy in the world, despite his gruff exterior. I think he’s from somewhere in the Midwest. You know they’re always nice. Like Canadians.”
“Polite and respectful. Anyway, tell Trey I sent you and he’ll give you a deal.”
Another expression Honor couldn’t read crossed Maggie’s face. “Midwest, though. Interesting.”
“My best friend Lisa from New York grew up in the Midwest. She’s got a flair for decorating. She’s single. And, she’s from Iowa.”
“Matchmaking?” Honor wagged a finger in mock reproach. “You know that never works out.”
“It might, though, right? An image of Lisa flashed before my eyes when you mentioned him. Maybe it’s a sign or something.”
“Maybe. This town does seem to bring out the romantic side of people,” Honor said.
Maggie put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes. “Speaking of which, have you asked Zane out on a proper date yet?”
“No. I can’t. What if he says no? I’d die.” So much easier to pretend it was something as benign as fear of rejection than the truth.
“You need to do it. Be brave,” Maggie said. “He won’t say no.”
“He won’t even look at me half the time.”
“You guys seemed pretty cozy at Kara and Brody’s wedding.”
Honor let out a deep breath. What a night that had been. They’d danced for hours, but afterward Zane had taken her home and dropped her on the doorstep all polite and platonic—two things she didn’t want from him. “He didn’t seem interested when we got to my house.”
“He’s scared. You’re going to have to step up or you two are never going to get married.”
“Married? We can’t even figure out how to go on a date,” Honor said.
Maggie smiled and raised her eyebrows. “You can go out on a date and you will. I’m not worried.” She gave Honor a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’m off. Songs to sing.”
Honor watched as Maggie walked away, her narrow, former ballerina body graceful in a long skirt and linen blouse. Maggie’s fair skin burned with just the slightest moments of sun. She almost always wore long-sleeved shirts if she was going to be outside. That’s why she looked twenty instead of thirty.
In a couple months, Honor would watch Maggie walk down the aisle and marry her soulmate. Two out of the five Dogs would be married. The others would surely follow thereafter. Someday it would be Zane’s turn and she’d have to stand aside and watch that too. She would remain the watcher from the sidelines, pretending that others’ happiness didn’t fill her with pain and longing. Alone in the shadows. At least she was alive. There was that.