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F O R Y O U, F O R E V E R
(THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 7)
S O P H I E L O V E
#1 bestselling author Sophie Love is author of the romantic comedy series THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which includes eight books (and counting), and which begins with FOR NOW AND FOREVER (THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 1).
Sophie Love is also the author of the debut romantic comedy series, THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES, which begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 1).
Sophie would love to hear from you, so please visit www.sophieloveauthor.com to email her, to join the mailing list, to receive free ebooks, to hear the latest news, and to stay in touch!
Copyright © 2017 by Sophie Love. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright Ioana Catalina E, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY SOPHIE LOVE
THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR
FOR NOW AND FOREVER (Book #1)
FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (Book #2)
FOREVER, WITH YOU (Book #3)
IF ONLY FOREVER (Book #4)
FOREVER AND A DAY (Book #5)
FOREVER, PLUS ONE (Book #6)
FOR YOU, FOREVER (Book #7)
CHRISTMAS FOREVER (Book #8)
THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES
LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1)
LOVE LIKE THAT (Book #2)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
The windows in the nursery wide open, their lace curtains billowing in the breeze, Emily folded baby clothes, placing them neatly into the chest of drawers. She sighed with contentment. The beautiful weather—unseasonably warm for post–Labor Day—was most welcome.
Feeling a little tired, Emily sat in the nursing chair and rested a protective hand on her belly. Baby Charlotte was squirming around inside.
“Do you like the Indian summer?” Emily asked her. “Ninety degrees at this time of year isn’t the norm. You’ll have to get used to the cold at some point.”
Baby Charlotte was due in December, on the cusp of winter, in just three short months. Emily could hardly believe how quickly the pregnancy had gone, and how fast the time had flown by. The weather they were enjoying at the moment made winter seem very far away, and Emily certainly wanted to keep it that way. Because with each new season that dawned, Emily thought of her father, of the fact that it would be the last time he’d ever experience that particular season.
She’d tried very hard to keep his terminal illness from her mind. Every time she spoke to him—which was daily—he didn’t mention it, instead telling her of all the fun activities he had planned. And the letters were starting to stack up now. They’d promised to write each other a lifetime’s worth of correspondence. Roy wasn’t wallowing in his impending demise, so Emily wasn’t going to either.
The door flew open then and in waltzed Chantelle. She was carrying a packet of diapers in her arms.
“Where should I put these?” she asked.
“On the changing table, please,” Emily said, smiling at her sweet daughter.
She and Daniel were going out of their way to make Chantelle feel included. At the moment, that took the form of her buying a practical item of her choice from the grocery store on each trip. Today it was diapers. Yesterday had been binkies. She’d also purchased bottles, burp cloths, teething rings, and a rattle. Emily loved the way Chantelle found purpose in her task. She took it very seriously.
Chantelle walked over to the changing table and dumped the diapers down. Then she turned and faced Emily.
“Have we had any news yet?” she asked.
Emily knew Chantelle was referring to the island that she and Daniel had put in an offer on. She asked every day.
Emily checked her cell phone for what must have been the millionth time. She saw no missed calls or messages from the real estate agent.
She looked at Chantelle and shook her head. “Not yet.”
Chantelle pouted with disappointment. “When will we find out?” she asked. “Will it be before Charlotte arrives?”
Emily shrugged. “I don’t know, sweetie.” She stroked her soft, blond hair. “You do know we might not definitely get it, right?” She’d been preparing Chantelle for the worst from the get-go but the little girl had a tendency to get carried away at times. She talked about the island as though it were a definite, bringing up in conversation how great it would be once they could go and play on the island, or how pretty it would look once Daniel had finished the construction work there.
“I know,” Chantelle said, a little glumly.
Emily smiled brightly then, seeing that the child needed cheering up. “Come on, let’s go downstairs and have some lunch.”
Chantelle nodded and took her hand. They headed into the kitchen together.
To Emily’s delight, Amy sat at the kitchen island. She’d been in Sunset Harbor for weeks now, staying with her new boyfriend, Harry, dipping her toes in the water of domesticity. Emily loved having her nearby, and Amy was certainly making the most by dropping around whenever she had time between conference calls and remotely managing her business. She was drinking coffee and chatting with Daniel, who was busy putting away the last of the groceries. He kissed Emily as she entered.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he murmured, fix one of his intense looks of love on her.
Emily smiled and stroked a finger along his firm jaw line. She murmured, “Hey.”
Just then, Amy coughed. Emily tore her gaze from Daniel and looked over her shoulder.
“Hi, Ames,” she added to her friend, rolling her eyes jovially.
It still felt unusual for Emily to have Amy so readily accessible. Her temporary move to Sunset Harbor had been wonderful for them both, bringing back the easy friendship they’d shared before Emily disappeared from New York City without telling her. And Amy’s organizational skills were certainly useful when it came to planning the logistics of Charlotte’s birth.
“I didn’t know you were coming over today,” Emily said to her friend.
“I just came to speak to Dan about the checklist,” Amy replied.
Emily took a seat opposite her, frowning with curiosity. “What checklist?”
“Of baby things,” Amy said in a tone that suggested it should have been obvious. “You need your night bag ready for the hospital, a plan for how to get there, where to park, who to call. We’ve written a communication hierarchy, where Dan calls me and I’m responsible for passing it on to Harry, Jayne, your mom, and Lois. Harry does the announcements for Sunset Harbor folk, Lois tells the rest of the staff at the inn, et cetera. Honestly, Emily, I’m shocked you haven’t gotten this stuff down yet.”
Emily laughed. “In my defense, I’m not due for three months!”
“You have to be prepared,” Amy said, knowingly. “If Charlotte felt like coming tomorrow, that’s a very real possibility.”
Chantelle’s eyes widened. “She could come tomorrow?” she asked, looking thrilled at the prospect. “I could have a sister tomorrow?”
Emily touched her stomach protectively, a nagging worry growing in the back of her mind. “I hope not.”
Daniel came and sat next to them. “Don’t give Emily nightmare scenarios to worry about,” he said to Amy. “And don’t get Chantelle’s hopes up, either. She’s desperate to meet her little sister.” He turned to Chantelle. “Charlotte will stay in Mom’s tummy until December. There’s only a very, very small chance she’ll come sooner than that.”
“So you mean she could come on my birthday?” Chantelle asked, grinning from ear to ear at the prospect.
Daniel laughed and shook his head. “Halloween and two birthdays?” he joked. “I don’t think so!”
“It would make it easy to remember,” Amy said with a chuckle.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Emily said, wanting a distraction from the thought of Baby Charlotte being born prematurely.
Out in the foyer, the inn was a flurry of activity. The busy summer period was over but there was always plenty to organize, especially now that the dining room served three meals a day and the speakeasy was open every night. Once the restaurant and spa opened they would never get a moment’s peace, Emily thought.
She hurried past Lois and Marnie, who were busy at the reception desk, then opened the door. A smartly dressed gentleman stood there. He looked to be around fifty years of age, with salt and pepper hair and a smattering of laugh lines around his eyes.
“Paul Knowlson,” he said confidently, holding his hand out for Emily to shake like their meeting was some kind of business transaction.
She took it and shook. “I’m sorry, Paul, I don’t think I know you,” she said.
“I’ve booked an apartment,” he said, pulling a slip of paper from his inner suit jacket pocket. “In Trevor’s House,” he said, reading off it.
“Oh!” Emily exclaimed. He was their first guest in the new apartments! “That’s in the house across the lawn,” she said. “Here, I’ll lead the way.”
“Fantastic,” Paul replied.
Emily led him along the pathway. She felt a thrill of excitement knowing this would be the first time of many she’d be doing this. It was wonderful to see all their hard work on Trevor’s House come to fruition, and to know the gift he’d left them was being utilized rather than left to languish.
“Now, I think I heard a hint of a New York City accent,” Paul said as they walked. “Is that where you’re from?”
“You’re right,” Emily replied, smiling. “Born and bred. Do you know it well?”
Paul nodded. “Yes, I grew up there. But I’m based in Florida now.”
“And you’re in business?” she added.
Paul laughed, gesturing to his expensive-looking suit. “What gave it away?”
They reached Trevor’s House and Emily led him inside. The main area downstairs was now completely open plan, with just a hip-high glass partition between the brand new, sparkling restaurant and the route to the staircase that led up to the apartments. The restaurant hadn’t yet opened its doors but it wouldn’t be long now until that happened, Emily thought with excitement.
“You’re in apartment four,” Emily said, gesturing toward the stairs. “It’s got a lovely balcony looking over the ocean.”
“Sounds perfect,” Paul replied.
Emily led him up the stairs to the mezzanine floor, then gestured to a Parisian-style wrought iron gate with a sign in gold reading Guests Only. She showed him the large key that opened the gate, and then they headed along the corridor and stopped outside apartment four.
Emily remembered the excitement she’d felt the first time she’d looked around the new apartments. They’d been masterfully designed by the Erik & Sons triplets. She hoped that Paul would be as impressed on first sight of the apartment as she had been.
She unlocked the door and pushed it open, then gestured for Paul to enter.
“This is fantastic,” Paul said with a nod.
He seemed like a nice man, but Emily could get the sense of a business-savvy sharpness about him. It was the same quality that Amy had, an almost hawk-like ability to sniff out money and quality, to assess one’s surroundings and make an instantaneous judgment. It was a huge compliment that someone like that would want to even book into her humble inn!
Emily handed him the key. “Meals are served in the main house at the moment,” she explained. “So please join us whenever you wish. The restaurant downstairs isn’t open yet so everything will be very quiet.”
They said goodbye and Emily headed back out toward the main house. She caught up with Lois in the foyer.
“I forgot we had a guest in Trevor’s,” she said. “Is everything arranged for him? Clean bedding, bath robe, coffee pods for the machine?”
Lois nodded seriously. “Yes,” she said, sounding a touch insulted by the insinuation she might have forgotten something.
Emily blushed. “Sorry, of course you’re on it.”
It wasn’t always easy for Emily to remember that Lois wasn’t the flustered, over-emotional scatterbrain she’d once been. She’d really flourished recently, probably due in part to her promotion and pay raise, and Emily knew she could trust her to run the inn perfectly. She’d even taken well to dealing with the suppliers and putting in grocery and goods orders. In fact, Emily realized, she could probably leave the country for a month and entrust the inn to Lois’s capable hands; something she’d once have never thought possible!
Emily went back into the kitchen. Daniel, Amy, and Chantelle were still sitting around the kitchen table, chatting animatedly. No doubt Amy was using her business brain to force Daniel into planning every last detail of Charlotte’s birth down to a tee, employing the sort of organized precision that babies paid little heed to.
“There she is.” Daniel beamed when he saw her enter. “I’ve got some news.”
“You do?” Emily said, taking a seat. “But I was only gone a minute.”
“Jack called,” Daniel said, referring to his boss at the carpentry workshop where he’d been working for the last year.
“Oh? And what did he say?” Emily asked, curiously.
“It’s his back again,” Daniel said. Jack had injured himself at work not that long ago and hadn’t been back to normal since. “You know how it gives him problems. Well, his wife has finally managed to convince him to reduce his hours at work. She’s inherited some money and wants them to take an early retirement, cruise around the Caribbean, that sort of thing.”
Emily frowned. “Your exciting news is that Jack and his wife are going on a cruise?”
Daniel laughed. “Yes!”
“I don’t get it,” she added, looking with bemusement at Chantelle’s and Amy’s excited expressions. “What’s the joke? What am I missing?”
Daniel continued. “Think about it,” he encouraged her. “He’ll need someone to run the wood store in his absence. Someone to deal with the shop.”
Emily gasped. “You mean… you?”
Chantelle couldn’t contain it anymore. She burst out her joyful exclamation. “Daddy’s getting promoted!”
Emily clapped a hand over her mouth. “That’s amazing!” she cried. “You deserve it.”
She couldn’t believe the good fortune and hopped off her stool, going around behind Daniel and hugging him tightly.
Daniel blushed shyly. He wasn’t one to readily take compliments.
“He’s going to give me a raise and a new title. It will mean longer hours though,” he added, sounding very serious. “I’ll need to be the first in to open up and I’ll need to be the last there at night to lock everything up properly. There’s expensive equipment and products in there and Jack never lets anyone else lock up, so it’s kind of a big deal for him to release the reins on that front. My shift pattern will be really odd as a result. Jack never minded driving to and from the woodshop at all hours, but now that I’ll be expected to do the same it will be an adjustment.”
Emily didn’t want to think about any of the possible downsides to the good news yet. Long shifts, extra responsibility over safety and security, and the inevitable stress that would cause him were all things she would deal with at the time. Right now, she wanted to ride the high of the good news.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said, pressing a kiss into the crown of his head.
“You should do something to celebrate,” Amy said from the other side of the breakfast bar.
“Definitely,” Emily agreed.
“I think we should go down to the beach!” Chantelle suggested.
“Well, while the weather’s like this, I don’t see why not,” Emily said. “We shouldn’t waste it.”
Chantelle punched the air. She loved the beach, the outside in general. Any opportunity to run and sprint in nature she took greedily.
“Amy?” Emily asked. “Are you joining us?”
Amy consulted her watch. “Actually, I’m supposed to be meeting Harry soon so I won’t have time.”
Emily couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard an undertone in her friend’s voice, a kind of exasperation. She wondered if there was an issue between her and Harry.
But there was no time to discuss it now. The Morey family was in full action mode, Chantelle hurrying off in search of the dogs’ leashes, Daniel flinging open cupboards and pulling out bags, juice boxes, and snacks.
Emily touched Amy’s hand across the counter. “We’ll talk later,” she said.
Amy nodded, her expression a little downcast. Then Emily was swept up in the chaos of her family, like a tornado spinning around her pulling her in.
“Let’s go! To the beach!”
The beach was stunningly beautiful in the sunshine. Emily could hardly believe it was so sunny at this time of year. It was as warm and bright as any summer day.
They strolled along together, letting both the dogs off their leashes so they could run ahead and bark at the breaking waves.
Once they’d found a good spot to settle, Daniel helped Emily down to the ground. She sat crossed-legged, her pregnant bump nestled comfortably within her legs. Chantelle bounded off, filled with exuberance for what felt like their last chance to enjoy the beach this year.
Daniel reached over for Emily’s hand and stroked it tenderly.
“How do you feel about my promotion?” he asked. “Are you worried about the extra hours taking me away from home?”
“Well, how much time are we talking?” Emily asked. She was ready now to know more of the intricacies, to consider the challenges that they may face.
“Jack opens the store at eight,” he began. “That’s not the issue, really. I’m used to early starts and it will fit in with the school run. It’s the woodworking shop that’s the bigger issue. There are times when we get a big order and not a lot of time to do it. Before, when I was just a worker, I’d be one among many and at most it would add an extra hour or two to each work day. We could share the burden. But since I’ll be the one supervising the equipment use and be solely responsible for quality assurance, I’m going to need to be on site through each order, seeing everything through to completion, just like Jack used to. You know how long the hours could get anyway. Well, now I won’t be part of the shift pattern anymore. I’ll be in charge of it, and expected to be there during the busy periods.”
The more Daniel spoke about it, the more Emily could feel her anxiety increasing. The promotion was pretty bad timing. The thought of Daniel not being there when she went into labor worried her. And what about paternity leave? Would he even be able to get any?
But more than her anxiety, she was bursting with happiness for him. She was also extremely proud of Daniel and didn’t want to bring down his mood in any way. He had achieved so much since she’d known him. And besides, she had Amy there to catch the slack.
“I’m just so happy for you,” she said. “You deserve it, after all your hard work.”
“We could certainly do with the raise,” Daniel replied, his spare hand touching Emily’s stomach gently. “Since we’ll soon have more mouths to feed.”
Emily smiled and sighed with contentment. Despite the hardships she was facing, she was still looking forward to the future, to meeting Baby Charlotte.
When Daniel spoke again he sounded a little melancholy. “More responsibility means more stress. I hope I still have enough energy to spend time with the kids.”
“You’ll do amazingly,” Emily encouraged him. “I know you will.”
Though able to play the role of supportive spouse on the outside, Emily was still quite anxious about Daniel’s changing role. He had a tendency to let stress affect him, or to feel weighed down by perceived expectation. It was something she admired in him. But it could also be to the detriment of the family, because sometimes it felt like he’d put everything else in the world first before them. It wasn’t always easy for Emily to remind herself that the very reason he sometimes put other things first was for them—for her, and Chantelle, the inn, and of course, Baby Charlotte.
“I do wonder why Jack didn’t promote one of the others,” Daniel wondered aloud. “I’m relatively new there compared to some of the old hats.”
“Probably because you’re young,” Emily said. “Because you’ll work hard for your family. Or maybe because he knows that you have the talent to make it on your own.”
Daniel frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you could easily open your own wood shop. It’s not like we don’t have the space for one on site somewhere. We could convert one of the barns, after all. And now you have tons of expertise with making furniture. I mean, you made the crib for Charlotte in your spare time and it’s phenomenal! People would pay loads for something like that, a unique crib for their baby. You only have to look at the price tag on my nursing stool to see that!” She laughed, remembering the thousands of dollars Amy had splashed out on the rocking armchair and footstool for her.
Daniel, on the other hand, was quiet. His expression was sort of dreamy and far away.
“What are you thinking?” Emily asked him.
He snapped back to attention. “I’m just thinking that you might be right about Jack promoting me to keep me there instead of losing me.”
“Might be right?” Emily joked. “I’m definitely right! You could run a bespoke kids’ furniture business. Or you could even make boats if you want. You have the talent to do anything you put your mind to.”
It was so obvious to Emily but Daniel looked stunned, as though the thought had never crossed his mind.
“I never really thought about it that way,” he said. “It’s just a job to me, you know.”
“Just a job! You’re too humble for your own good sometimes,” Emily continued. “How many people do you really think have that kind of skill? You have a talent, Daniel. You just have to think bigger sometimes.”
Instead of her words encouraging him, Daniel seemed to retreat then.
“I do think big,” he mumbled, defensively. “I’m just not as good as you seem to think I am.”
“It’s not just me,” Emily told him, gently. “Jack clearly thinks so, too.”
She hadn’t meant to push so hard. She’d only meant for Daniel to understand he had a talent and that it could take him far. But he seemed to be shrinking, deflating under the weight of her perception.
Quietly, he turned his face down to the sand, picking pebbles up and throwing them across the beach.
Just then Emily’s cell phone began to ring. She sighed, on one hand relieved to have been saved by the bell but on the other frustrated to be robbed of the chance to get to the bottom of Daniel’s apparent mood change.
She rummaged in her purse and plucked her cell phone out. With surprise, she saw that the caller ID was the real estate agent for the island. It flashed at her like a beacon.
“It’s them!” she exclaimed aloud, feeling excitement warble in her chest.
Daniel looked up sharply from where he’d been flinging pebbles. From the shoreline, Chantelle turned at the sound of Emily’s voice.
“It’s the broker!” Emily called across the beach to Chantelle.
The two dogs mirrored Chantelle’s movements, all three pelting across the beach toward Emily, kicking up clouds of sand behind them.
Once Chantelle reached Emily, she skidded to a halt, and the dogs ran around them in circles, salty sea water clinging to their fur, yapping with their instinctive understanding that something exciting was about to happen.
With uneven breath, Emily answered the call and put it straight onto speakerphone. The family crowded forward, looking down at the cell phone expectantly. It was as if the little block of plastic held their entire futures in its power.
“We’re all here,” Emily explained. “On tenterhooks. So, what’s the news?”
Ever since they’d put the offer in, Emily had prepared herself for the worst. In fact, she’d pretty much convinced herself that it wouldn’t come to fruition, that they wouldn’t get the island. It just wasn’t the sort of thing that happened to normal people. But despite telling herself over and over that it just wasn’t going to happen, she’d been unable to dampen the small glimmer of excitement inside of her, that sliver of hope that challenged the pessimistic part of her mind with the simple mantra, what if…
The broker spoke, her voice coming through the line in crackles.
“It’s good news,” she said. “Your offer was accepted. The island is yours!”
Emily couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. Had static on the line made her hear what she wanted? But when she looked up into Daniel’s eyes, she saw them sparkling with surprise and elation. When Chantelle leapt up in the air and jumped up and down, waving her arms, Emily knew there was no doubt.
The dogs began barking at Chantelle’s commotion, leaping up with soggy paws, making wet sand marks all over her clothes.
“Really?” Emily stammered, straining to hear the crackly line through the din. “We really got it?”
“You really did,” the broker replied. Emily could hear the smile in her voice. “Of course there’s still some paperwork to sign and file. But you’re very welcome to go and visit in the meantime.” She finished with a chuckle.
Emily was so stunned she couldn’t find her voice. Daniel took over, leaning closer to the cell phone between them.
“You mean we can actually go there now?” he asked, his gaze fixed on Emily rather than on the phone. “As the official owners?”
From the speaker, the broker’s voice came, tinny and robotic, “You can indeed.”
Chantelle crouched down then and threw her arms around her father’s neck, so exuberant she almost knocked him clean to the ground.
“We’re going to the island now?” she cried in his ear.
Daniel winced, but he was grinning broadly. Chantelle’s arms were wrapped around his neck like an octopus’s tentacles and he brought his hands up to loosen her grip as he raised his eyebrows at Emily.
“What do you think? Shall we go and look at it through the eyes of its owners?”
Emily touched her stomach, feeling Baby Charlotte’s form inside. She was growing increasingly protective as the weeks passed, not wanting to subject her growing child to any unpleasantness. But the sea was calm today, and she felt certain that she wouldn’t experience any seasickness on the ride over.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
Chantelle screamed with joy.
Daniel leaned down to the phone, almost yelling now over the noise of dogs and children, straining as Chantelle yanked him roughly around with her excitement.
“You’ve made us extremely happy,” he said to the broker. “Thanks for everything.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Morey,” the broker replied.
They ended the call and Emily and Daniel sat back with matching stunned expressions, both looking as dazed as the other as their new reality began to sink in. Chantelle whizzed around, throwing their things haphazardly into a bag, moving as though on fast forward.
“Come on,” she cried. “Let’s go!”
Daniel snapped into action, standing and helping Emily to her feet. The harbor was a short walk away but Emily knew she’d have to take it slowly. Chantelle ran on ahead with the dogs, stopping periodically to hurry back, effectively doubling the distance she was covering in comparison to Daniel and Emily.
On the way they passed Cynthia and Jeremy out on a bike ride.
“We bought an island!” Chantelle called out to them as they passed, waving.
Cynthia frowned. “It sounded like you said an island?” she called back.
“I did!” Chantelle cried, jumping up and down.
Emily laughed. No one was going to believe what they’d done, that they’d bought themselves an island off the coast of Maine! She could hardly believe it herself.
“Look, it’s Amy and Harry!” Chantelle cried then.
Emily squinted ahead and saw that the loved up couple were sitting together on a bench at the harbor’s edge, deep in conversation. It looked as though it might be somewhat intense, with Amy leaning in and gesticulating widely, Harry shaking his head emphatically with what looked like a stern expression on his face. Emily wondered again what was going on with the pair. It really looked to her like they were arguing.
“Do you think they’ll want to come and see our island?” Chantelle asked.
Emily was about to tell her to leave them be, but before she had a chance to reply, Chantelle had already hurried off. Chantelle was on a mission and Emily’s waddle was too slow to catch up to her.
She saw Chantelle reach them, and watched as they sprang apart, shocked by the interruption. She couldn’t hear anything from this distance, but she could see the false smiles on each of their faces, and the strained looks hidden in their expressions.
By the time she and Daniel made it to the trio, Chantelle had already broken the news. Amy turned and hugged Emily.
“You’re crazy, you know that?” her friend said. “An island?!”
“It’s an extension of the inn,” Emily tried to explain.
“But you only just fixed up Trevor’s House.” Amy laughed. “And there’s still the spa to open, and the restaurant.”
She gestured at Harry, who would be the manager of the new restaurant once it opened. They caught one another’s eyes, their smiles clearly put on, then Amy looked away again quickly. Not quick enough for Emily not to perceive it though. She knew her friend inside out. There was definitely something going on between her and Harry. The easiness that usually existed between them felt strained. She wondered what it might be.
Suddenly, Chantelle interrupted the conversation with impassioned cries of, “Come on, come on, come on!” She’d clearly lost patience for the adults’ “boring” conversation, and was tugging on Amy’s hand. “Please can we go to the island now?”
Daniel addressed Harry. “You’re both welcome to come along with us. Since you’re pretty much on the payroll now, it makes sense for you to be there!”
Harry grinned. “I can’t wait for the grand opening of Trevor’s,” he said. “I’m ready to sink my teeth in!”
“Glad to hear it,” Emily replied, beaming. “So what do you think? Island excursion?”
She wasn’t sure the invite would be welcome, especially since she’d deduced that they’d interrupted an argument, that Amy at the least was clearly not in the mood, but Harry spoke first, muting her before she had a chance to turn them down.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve got nothing else to do today, do we, Ames?”
Amy glanced quickly at Harry, and Emily saw the exasperation in her eyes over whatever it was that had been left unresolved between them.
“Sure,” Amy replied, her tone overly jovial, like she was acting happy for everyone else’s sake. She grinned at Emily, but couldn’t hide the trouble in her eyes from her best friend. Her smile faltered as though she’d realized she’d been caught faking. At least her happiness appeared genuine when she slung an arm around Chantelle’s shoulders, Emily thought. “May as well see what crazy thing you’ve gotten yourself into now!” She peered over Chantelle’s head at Emily.
“You okay?” Emily mouthed to Amy.
Amy nodded once, decisively, then mouthed back, “Talk later.”
Whatever atmosphere Emily had picked up on between Harry and Amy, she’d been right in thinking there was something wrong. She was concerned for her friend and determined to get Amy alone in order to get to the bottom of it.
But for the time being, Emily chose to focus on her own happy moment; a boat trip with friends and family to the island of their dreams.
The sun sparkled off the surface of the water as the boat cut through the small waves. They bobbed up and down, and Emily held onto her stomach protectively. Luckily, she didn’t feel seasick.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people in the boat before,” Chantelle remarked. “Four adults, one child, two dogs. And a baby in Mom’s tummy, of course.”
Emily laughed. “It’s quite the adventure,” she agreed.
Amy was quiet as they went, her arms crossed about her middle, her face turned out to the ocean. She wore an expression of deep contemplation. She was clearly lost in her thoughts, and Emily wondered again what they were. Being out on the ocean, Emily herself had discovered, invited quiet reflection at the best of times, and could easily lead the mind toward an existential crisis. She watched her friend anxiously.
Harry, on the other hand, either had nothing on his mind or was very good at hiding it. He was chatting openly with Daniel and Chantelle about the types of fish that could be caught in the ocean, about their plans for the island and boating in general.
“Now that we have a destination to boat to this will happen much more often,” Daniel was saying. “We’ll be ferrying people over here all the time, for parties and picnics.”
“Sounds awesome,” Harry said in his usual cheery manner.
Chantelle was looking up at her father with rapt attention. “Can we have Thanksgiving here?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“I doubt it,” Daniel replied. “It will take a long time to get the well installed, figure out the plumbing and the solar generators for power. It’s much more work than a few months, and the winter weather that’s coming soon won’t help. Sorry, kiddo, there’s just too much to do between now and Thanksgiving for it to be a possibility.”
Chantelle pouted, looking downcast.
“But we can definitely visit the island as much as the weather allows us,” Emily told her. “And since we won’t be sailing around in circles anymore, but have a place to head to, I think we’ll be able to come out more often than we used to.”
Chantelle pondered her words for a moment, then returned her expression back to happy.
Emily smiled at Daniel. He seemed relieved that she’d handled the situation so well and Emily felt a surge of pride. Her maternal instincts seemed to be sharpening as her due date grew closer.
After a while, they reached the island and the ancient jetty that was barely still standing. The faded sign that proclaimed the island was for sale was still there.
“You can start by kicking that down!” Emily told Chantelle.
Chantelle didn’t need telling twice. She leapt off the boat, ran at the sign, and yanked it out of the ground.
As he tethered the boat, Daniel gestured to a stack of old, rotting fishing crates. “Put it here. We can have a bonfire.”
The idea of a bonfire seemed to thrill Chantelle. She jumped up and down with excitement.
Emily stepped carefully from the boat onto terra firma, trying to absorb the strange reality that she now owned this island, that it was hers. Unlike the inn, which she’d inherited, and Trevor’s, which had come into her possession through his will, this was the first thing she’d truly ever bought, she and Daniel together. It was theirs, and the overwhelming relevance of that struck her even more deeply now that she was standing on its shoreline.
Behind her, Amy and Harry stepped off the boat. They were both wearing bemused expressions as they glanced about them at the scraggly, overgrown island, the strewn debris from years past. Amy in particular must have thought Emily had gone crazy buying this deserted plot of land, surrounded by ocean, filled with squirrels and birds. If she thought Sunset Harbor was uncivilized, what on earth must she think about the island?
“I know it’s not much to look at, at the moment,” Emily confessed. “But there’s so much potential.”
“Of course,” Amy said, looking perturbed as she stepped lightly along the uneven ground. Her high-fashion clothes looked more out of place here than usual.
“Do you guys want the tour?” Emily asked.
Harry nodded enthusiastically, but Amy made only a lackluster noise of confirmation.
“I’ll show you!” Chantelle cried.
She led the way, heading into the trees with Harry and Amy in tow. Their footsteps and noisy voices disrupted the black squirrels that inhabited the island, making them scurry up the trees.
As Emily trekked after them, slower because of her pregnant waddle, she could hear Chantelle excitedly making announcements.
“We’re going to have a tree house here,” Chantelle told them. “It will be a pirate ship for me and Charlotte to play in. And that will be where the magical fairy castle ballroom will be.”
Daniel, having finished securing the boat, came up beside Emily and helped her through the thickets. They drew up beside the others, Emily panting slightly from the effort and exhilaration she felt from being here.
Amy raised her eyebrows as they approached, surprised and interested.
“Are you doing all the work yourself?” she asked Daniel. “It sounds like there’s a lot to do. Too much for one man, especially a soon-to-be father.”
Emily smiled to herself; her friend always had her best interests at heart and knew how difficult Emily found it whenever Daniel was away from home.
“No!” Daniel exclaimed with a chuckle. “We have great contractors for it. Two kids, straight out of college. They’re desperate to add to their portfolio so we’re expecting really great things from them.”
“And other than pirate ships and magic castles,” Harry said, “where will the actual inn parts be?”
“Well, there will be a three-room cabin which we want to start as a sort of writer’s retreat. Tracy is also going to do some yoga workshops on the island, like day-long well-being retreats.”
“It sounds fantastic,” Harry said. “How much do you think you’ll get done over the winter?”
“Depends on the weather,” Daniel said. “It’s a shame it took so long to get the sale through, really. This Indian summer could have given us a head start, but I’m sure it will be over by the time we’ve organized all the machinery and materials.”