Saturday Excerpt: Herons Landing by JoAnn Ross
Are you looking for something to read this weekend? Featuring unforgettable characters and small town romance, Herons Landing is the perfect book for anyone looking to sit back, relax and get absolutely sucked in to a great story.
About Herons Landing:
There’s no place to fall in love like the place you left your heart
Welcome to Honeymoon Harbor, the brand-new, long-awaited series by beloved New York Times bestselling author JoAnn Ross, where unforgettable characters come face-to-face with the kind of love that grabs your heart and never lets go.
Working as a Las Vegas concierge, Brianna Mannion is an expert at making other people’s wishes come true. It’s satisfying work, but a visit home to scenic Honeymoon Harbor turns into a permanent stay when she’s reminded of everything she’s missing: the idyllic small-town charm; the old Victorian house she’d always coveted; and Seth Harper, her best friend’s widower and the neighborhood boy she once crushed on—hard. After years spent serving others, maybe Brianna’s finally ready to chase dreams of her own.
Since losing his wife, Seth has kept busy running the Harper family’s renovation business and flying way under the social radar. But when Brianna hires him to convert her aging dream home into a romantic B and B, working together presents a heart-stopping temptation Seth never saw coming. With guilt and grief his only companions for so long, he’ll have to step out of the past long enough to recognize the beautiful life Brianna and he could build together.
Seth harper was spending a Sunday spring afternoon detailing his wife’s Rallye Red Honda Civic when he learned that she’d been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
Despite the Pacific Northwest’s reputation for unrelenting rain, the sun was shining so brightly that the Army notification officers—a man and a woman in dark blue uniforms and black shoes spit-shined to a mirror gloss—had been wearing shades. Or maybe, Seth considered, as they’d approached the driveway in what appeared to be slow motion, they would’ve worn them anyway. Like armor, providing emotional distance from the poor bastard whose life they were about to blow to smithereens.
At the one survivor grief meeting he’d later attended (only to get his fretting mother off his back), he’d heard stories from other spouses who’d experienced a sudden, painful jolt of loss before their official notice. Seth hadn’t received any advance warning. Which was why, at first, the officers’ words had been an incomprehensible buzz in his ears. Like distant radio static.
Zoe couldn’t be dead. His wife wasn’t a combat soldier. She was an Army surgical nurse, working in a heavily protected military base hospital, who’d be returning to civilian life in two weeks. Seth still had a bunch of stuff on his homecoming punch list to do.
After buffing the wax off the Civic’s hood and shining up the chrome wheels, his next project was to paint the walls white in the nursery he’d added on to their Folk Victorian cottage for the baby they’d be making.
She’d begun talking a lot about baby stuff early in her deployment. Although Seth was as clueless as the average guy about a woman’s mind, it didn’t take Dr. Phil to realize that she was using the plan to start a family as a touchstone. Something to hang on to during their separation.
In hours of Skype calls between Honeymoon Harbor and Kabul, they’d discussed the pros and cons of the various names on a list that had grown longer each time they’d talked. While the names remained up in the air, she had decided that whatever their baby’s gender, the nursery should be a bright white to counter the Olympic Peninsula’s gray skies.
She’d also sent him links that he’d dutifully followed to Pinterest pages showing bright crib bedding, mobiles and wooden name letters in primary crayon shades of blue, green, yellow and red. Even as Seth had lobbied for Seattle Seahawk navy and action green, he’d known that he’d end up giving his wife whatever she wanted.
The same as he’d been doing since the day he fell head over heels in love with her back in middle school. Meanwhile, planning to get started on that baby making as soon as she got back to Honeymoon Harbor, he’d built the nursery as a welcome-home surprise. Then Zoe had arrived at Sea-Tac airport in a flag-draped casket.
And two years after the worst day of his life, the room remained unpainted behind a closed door Seth had never opened since.
Mannion’S pub & brewery was located on the street floor of a faded redbrick building next to Honeymoon Harbor’s ferry landing. The former salmon cannery had been one of many buildings constructed after the devastating 1893 fire that had swept along the water- front, burning down the original wood buildings. One of Seth’s ancestors, Jacob Harper, had built the replacement in 1894 for the town’s mayor and pub owner, Finn Mannion. Despite the inability of Washington authorities to keep Canadian alcohol from flooding into the state, the pub had been shuttered during Prohibition in the 1930s, effectively putting the Mannions out of the pub business until Quinn Mannion had returned home from Seattle and hired Harper Construction to reclaim the abandoned space.
Although the old Victorian seaport town wouldn’t swing into full tourist mode until Memorial Day, nearly every table was filled when Seth dropped in at the end of the day. He’d no sooner slid onto a stool at the end of the long wooden bar when Quinn, who’d been wash- ing glasses in a sink, stuck a bottle of Shipwreck CDA in front of him.
“Double cheddar bacon or stuffed blue cheese?” he asked.
“Double cheddar bacon.” As he answered the question, it crossed Seth’s mind that his life—what little he had outside his work of restoring the town’s Victorian buildings constructed by an earlier generation of Harpers—had possibly slid downhill beyond routine to boringly predictable.
“And don’t bother boxing it up. I’ll be eating it here,” he added.
Quinn lifted a dark brow. “I didn’t see that coming.” Meaning that, by having dinner here at the pub six nights a week, the seventh being with Zoe’s parents—where they’d recount old memories, and look through scrapbooks of photos that continued to cause an ache deep in his heart—he’d undoubtedly landed in the predictable zone. So, what was wrong with that? Predict- ability was an underrated concept. By definition, it meant a lack of out-of-the-blue surprises that might destroy life as you knew it. Some people might like change. Seth was not one of them. Which was why he always ordered takeout with his first beer of the night. The second beer he drank at home with his burger and fries. While other guys in his position might have escaped reality by hitting the bottle, Seth always stuck to a limit of two bottles, beginning with that long, lonely dark night after burying his wife. Because, although he’d never had a problem with alcohol, he harbored a secret fear that if he gave in to the temptation to begin seriously drinking, he might never stop.
The same way if he ever gave in to the anger, the unfairness of what the hell had happened, he’d have to patch a lot more walls in his house than he had those first few months after the notification officers’ arrival.
There’d been times when he’d decided that someone in the Army had made a mistake. That Zoe hadn’t died at all. Maybe she’d been captured during a melee and no one knew enough to go out searching for her. Or perhaps she was lying in some other hospital bed, her face all bandaged, maybe with amnesia, or even in a coma, and some lab tech had mixed up blood samples with another soldier who’d died. That could happen, right? But as days slid into weeks, then weeks into months, he’d come to accept that his wife really was gone. Most of the time. Except when he’d see her, from behind, strolling down the street, window-shopping or walking onto the ferry, her dark curls blowing into a frothy tangle. He’d embarrassed himself a couple times by calling out her name. Now he never saw her at all. And worse yet, less and less in his memory. Zoe was fading away. Like that ghost who reputedly haunted Herons Landing, the old Victorian mansion up on the bluff overlooking the harbor.
“I’m having dinner with Mom tonight.” And had been dreading it all the damn day. Fortunately, his dad hadn’t heard about it yet. But since news traveled at the speed of sound in Honeymoon Harbor, he undoubtedly soon would.
“You sure you don’t want to wait to order until she gets here?”
“She’s not eating here. It’s a command-performance dinner,” he said. “To have dinner with her and the guy who may be her new boyfriend. Instead of eating at her new apartment, she decided that it’d be better to meet on neutral ground.”
“Meaning somewhere other than a brewpub owned and operated by a Mannion,” Quinn said. “Especially given the rumors that said new boyfriend just happens to be my uncle Mike.”
“That does make the situation stickier.” Seth took a long pull on the Cascadian Dark Ale and wished it was something stronger.
The feud between the Harpers and Mannions dated back to the early 1900s. After having experienced a boom during the end of the end of the nineteenth century, the once-bustling seaport town had fallen on hard times during a national financial depression.
Although the population declined drastically, those dreamers who’d remained were handed a stroke of luck in 1910 when the newlywed king and queen of Montacroix added the town to their honeymoon tour of America. The couple had learned of this lush green region from the king’s friend Theodore Roosevelt, who’d set aside national land for the Mount Olympus Monument.
As a way of honoring the royals, and hoping that the national and European press following them across the country might bring more attention to the town, residents had voted nearly unanimously to change the name to Honeymoon Harbor. Seth’s ancestor Nathaniel Harper had been the lone holdout, creating acrimony on both sides that continued to linger among some but not all of the citizens. Quinn’s father, after all, was a Mannion, his mother a Harper. But Ben Harper, Seth’s father, tended to nurse his grudges. Even century-old ones that had nothing to do with him. Or at least hadn’t.