Cottage by the sea, p.1
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       Cottage by the Sea, p.1

           Debbie Macomber
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Cottage by the Sea


  Summer 2018

  Dear Friends,

  It actually happened. Without warning or any indication of what was about to take place, an entire hillside collapsed near Oso, Washington. The March 22, 2014, mudslide took with it forty-nine homes and claimed forty-three lives. The Oso mudslide is part of history now, but the tragedy will long be remembered in the Pacific Northwest. The suddenness of it, the shock that such a thing could happen.

  As a writer, I couldn’t help wondering about family members who weren’t at home at the time—those who escaped death only to be left behind. In this germ of an idea the plot premise for Cottage by the Sea was born. My heroine lost her entire family and is now alone in the world, seeking out a place she can call home. And isn’t that what we are all searching for—home?

  I work with a remarkable group of publishing professionals. My editors, Shauna Summers and Jennifer Hershey, strive to bring out the best in me as an author. Although I’d like to think every word that flows from my computer keys is perfect in every way, it’s not. There are rewrites and edits, more rewrites and more edits. I am blessed every single day for the privilege of being their author.

  As always, hearing from my readers is vitally important to me. I look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, and corrections. Yes, even after several reads by any number of people, mistakes still sometimes get through. Don’t ever be shy about letting me know. And of course you can tell me how much you enjoyed the book, too. That’s always appreciated. You can reach me at debbiemacomber.com or write me at P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, WA 98366. You can also find me on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, etc.

  Warmest regards,

  Cottage by the Sea is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2018 by Debbie Macomber

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Hardback ISBN 9780399181252

  Ebook ISBN 9780399181269

  randomhousebooks.com

  Book design by Dana Leigh Blanchette, adapted for ebook

  Cover design: Belina Huey

  Cover illustration: Alan Ayers

  v5.3.1

  ep

  Contents

  Cover

  Author's Note

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Epilogue

  Dedication

  Ballantine Books by Debbie Macomber

  About the Author

  PROLOGUE

  Thirteen years earlier

  Keaton had noticed the beautiful teenage girl on the beach earlier in the week. Once he saw her playing volleyball with a group of other teens, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. Her family had rented the Munson cottage and arrived Saturday morning. As soon as the car was unpacked, the girl and her older brother had made their way to the beach. They’d been there every day, laughing, swimming, and making friends. The girl was vivacious and full of life, and her laugh carried with the wind and made him smile every time he heard it. She couldn’t be more than fourteen or fifteen years old, and her brother was a year or two older. Keaton noticed how people were naturally drawn to her and wanted to be around her. He felt it himself, even though he watched from afar.

  Oceanside was a small, out-of-the-way town, but when summer arrived all the hotel rooms and rentals were filled. The shops were busy with tourists, eager to spend their vacation dollars. The scent of the ocean mingled with that of fried clams and fish and chips. Children jockeyed at the window of the candy shop for a view to watch Mr. Buster pull saltwater taffy or pour fudge onto large cookie sheets. The kite shop was a favorite to both the locals and tourists. The sky was filled with every imaginable shape, with children and adults alike running up and down the beach. It was like this every summer.

  The beach was crowded, bustling with activity, and yet this one girl had caught Keaton’s attention to the point he found himself looking for even a glimpse of her.

  From the moment she arrived in Oceanside, Keaton found it hard not to think about her. He liked her hair, which was auburn, tinted by the sun, and long. She wore it in a single braid that bounced against her back as she raced down the beach, her bare feet kicking up the sand. She didn’t lack for attention, he noticed; he could tell plenty of boys were interested in her. Keaton couldn’t blame them.

  More than anything, he wanted to talk to her. The problem was that he didn’t know how to approach her, or what to say when he did. He didn’t know how to tell her that he thought she was pretty. On the best of days, he rarely spoke. Girls left him tongue-tied and red in the face. His heart pounded so hard he felt his pulse in his head every time he thought about approaching the girl on the beach. For the first time in his life, Keaton thought about ways to overcome his aversion to speaking just so he could talk to her. He never had been good with words, and being naturally shy worked against him. Preston, his best friend, encouraged him to try to meet this girl who had taken up so much of his thoughts.

  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Preston had advised.

  Keaton wanted to throw those words right back at him; after all, Preston had had a thing for Mellie Johnson all through high school, and despite being nearly lovesick over the girl, Preston hadn’t done more than greet her in the halls for four years. Not that it would have done him any good—Mellie had run off with some guy she’d met in Aberdeen the day after graduation. No one had seen or heard from her since.

  That didn’t stop Preston from hounding Keaton about the beach girl, though. It took Keaton nearly the entire week to find the nerve to approach her. It was now or never, but still, he fretted and stewed. His inability to carry a conversation was one problem, but then there was another bigger problem.

  His size.

  Keaton’s biggest fear was that she’d be intimidated or frightened by him the way most people were. The girls in school had avoided him because he came across as aggressive and mean. He didn’t intend to app
ear that way; it was simply the way he’d always looked, because he rarely smiled. The truth was there was little in Keaton’s life to smile about. If he had his way, he’d have been invisible, but his height and size made that impossible. He’d grown to six-six while a junior, and another two inches his senior year. His shoulders were broad to the point that he barely made it through a doorway. His hands and feet were huge. He’d become used to the names people called him, making fun of his size.

  Ox.

  Moose.

  These were only two of several commonly used to taunt him. He was an easy target because he chose to ignore the mocking and didn’t respond. The names had never really bothered him.

  With his heart pounding like a thunderbolt inside his massive chest, Keaton slowly approached the girl.

  “Hey, look, it’s the Jolly Green Giant,” one of the teenagers observed.

  Keaton ignored him, and smiled. “Hi,” he muttered, staring intently at her. Up close, she was even prettier than she was at a distance. Her eyes were a hazel/green and her thick braid lay across her bare shoulder. She wore a sundress with a pattern of red poppies and her swimsuit underneath it. He wanted in the worst way to reach out and touch her cheek, to make certain she wasn’t a figment of his imagination.

  “It’s the Abominable Snowman,” cried another teenage boy in mock horror.

  Keaton didn’t recognize him, and assumed he was a tourist.

  “No, it’s Sasquatch.”

  “It does have big feet.”

  “Yeah. He’s Big Foot.”

  “Stop it,” the girl said, whirling around and confronting the group of teens with her. She turned to Keaton, smiling back. “Hi,” she returned.

  “Come on, Annie,” her brother urged, grabbing her hand. “We need to get back.”

  Annie. Her name was Annie. Keaton ran it through his mind, liking the way it echoed there.

  She continued to focus on him, her eyes inquisitive, wide, and warm.

  “King Kong, you got something to say?” Devon Anderson taunted.

  Keaton knew Devon from high school. He was a jerk. It didn’t surprise him that Devon had noticed Annie and tried to get her attention.

  “Don’t call him that,” Annie charged angrily, confronting Devon.

  “He doesn’t talk.”

  “Well, he just did,” she countered, annoyed with Devon and not bothering to hide it. “He said ‘hi,’ in case you didn’t hear.”

  “Bet he won’t say anything else,” Devon challenged, glaring at Keaton with a know-it-all look.

  Annie waited expectantly, but for the life of him, Keaton couldn’t manage to get out a single word. He wanted to tell her she was pretty and that he’d noticed her running along the beach. It was on the tip of his tongue to mention how much he liked her braid and the color of her hair, but he couldn’t get that out, either.

  “See what I mean?” Devon taunted.

  “Don’t do that,” she snapped. “That’s mean.”

  Her brother jerked at her hand. “Come on, Annie, Mom and Dad are waiting.”

  “Sorry,” she told Keaton, her eyes becoming gentle as she spoke. “We have to go. It was nice meeting you.”

  Keaton nodded and attempted a smile, wanting to let her know he felt the same.

  “We’ll be back next summer,” she said, walking backward, with her brother pulling her along.

  A year. He could wait that long. By then, Keaton hoped, he’d find the words to tell her all the things he’d stored up in his head.

  Annie, though, never returned.

  Keaton waited, year after year, and never forgot the beautiful auburn-haired girl he’d seen on the beach that summer. The picture of Annie running along the sand stayed with him. Countless times he sketched scenes of the beach with her in them, using pencil and charcoal. Pictures no one saw. He carried on lengthy conversations with her in his head—just the thought of her brought him a rare taste of happiness.

  Maybe one day, he thought, looking over the ocean as the waves crashed against the shore.

  Maybe one day…

  CHAPTER 1

  Annie Marlow hated to disappoint her parents, but she simply wasn’t going to fly home to Seattle for Thanksgiving. She’d already made the arrangements for Christmas and it was too late to change everything now. She had plans.

  Working as a physician assistant, Annie didn’t get many four-day weekends, and Trevor was cooking a turkey and had invited her over for the day. Steph would be there, too, and they were both anxious to meet a cute young doctor who had recently joined the clinic at another site.

  What her mother really wanted, Annie realized, was a family photo for the Christmas card her parents routinely sent out each year. For all she cared, they could photoshop her in. There wasn’t any need for her to change her plans, especially now, less than a week before Thanksgiving.

  Gabby, her cousin, was flying to Los Angeles to join them. Giving up time with Gabby for a Christmas-card photo? Not happening. Besides, Annie had a new pair of four-inch designer heels and a dress she intended to use for a girls’ night out on the town.

  Her mother tried again, laying on the guilt. “Annie, please?”

  “Mom, you can’t change everything at the last minute like this.” She glanced at the time and inwardly groaned. Much more of this conversation and she’d be late meeting Steph for their yoga class.

  “Your brother is coming with Kelly and the baby.”

  This was her mom’s best inducement? Her brother? The favored son? She had already seen Mike and his family twice this year. “He was planning to be there for Christmas, too, remember.” Mike was the one who needed to change everything around. It was unfair that she should rearrange her entire life to suit her brother’s schedule.

  “We haven’t been together as a family since August.”

  Pressing the phone to her ear, Annie became impatient as her mother continued speaking.

  “You haven’t seen the baby in a while. Did you know Bella is walking already?”

  “I’ll see Bella when I drive up this Christmas. I’ll make sure to stop in Portland on my way through,” Annie protested. “Mom, please. We’ve been through this already.”

  Her phone dinged, indicating she had a text message. Putting her phone on speaker, she checked the text to see that Steph had sent her a selfie. Her friend was gorgeous, with her purple-tinged hair. She’d made a pouty face and looked like she was kissing through the phone.

  Annie laughed.

  “Annie? Are you laughing at me?”

  “No, sorry, Mom,” she said, squelching her amusement. “Steph just sent me a text.”

  “I’d so hoped you would change your mind.”

  “Sorry, Mom, really I wish I could, but I simply can’t.” Well, she could, but not without ruining her own plans. “You won’t miss me,” she said, trying to soothe her mother’s disappointment. “You’ll be involved with Kelly and the baby, and Dad will spend all of his time with Mike.” Bella would command all their attention; they cherished this first grandchild. To be fair, Bella was adorable. It was hard to believe she was walking already.

  “Promise me you won’t change your mind about Christmas, then, will you?” her mother asked. Annie had been given the chance to work last Christmas, and with money so tight, she’d jumped at the chance at double-time. Her parents had no idea what the cost of living was like in southern California, and how hard it was to make ends meet.

  “I’ll be home for Christmas, Mom, I promise.” She hated it when her mother doubted her. One time, one measly time when she didn’t get home for the holidays, and her mother refused to forgive her.

  “I’m sorry to harp on you,” her mother said. “It’s a disappointment is all.”

  “I know. I’m sorry, too, but Gabby and I have the entire weekend planned. If I’d known soo
ner I could have made other arrangements, but it’s too late now. It’s only a few weeks and I’ll be home for Christmas. I have my own life, you know.”

  Her mother’s frustrated sigh came through the line. “Don’t be like that, honey.”

  “Like what?”

  “Stubborn,” her mother countered. “Family is what’s important. I know you have a lot going on, but your father and I are getting up in age. We won’t be around forever, you know.”

  Annie couldn’t believe her mother. This was a new low when it came to making her feel bad, reminding Annie that at some point in the future her parents would die. It was ridiculous, seeing that they were both healthy and in the prime of their lives. Biting down on her lower lip, she resisted the urge to tell her mom that she was being absurd.

  Her mother seemed to sense that she’d gone too far with the guilt. “I have an idea,” she quickly rebounded. “Invite Trevor.”

  What her mother didn’t understand was that she wasn’t romantically interested in Trevor. She’d happened to mention his name a time or two, and she had yet to hear the end of it ever since then. Inviting him to Seattle would only perpetuate the idea that they were involved. He was a friend, and besides, Steph had set her sights on him. There’d never been any sparks between him and Annie. She liked him, though, and he was fun to hang out with. It didn’t hurt that he was a terrific dancer and being on the floor with him generated her a lot of attention.

  “You like him, right?”

  “He’s a friend, Mom, nothing more. Besides, you’re forgetting about Gabby. She’s already purchased her ticket. I’m picking her up at LAX early Wednesday afternoon.” Annie had already mentioned her cousin’s visit a dozen times or more.

 

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