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

           Robin Jones Gunn
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Cottage by the Sea

  “Gunn is adept at denuding light fiction of its usual tics and imbuing it with the hallmarks of literary fiction. The characters are multidimensional and ring true at nearly every turn.” —Publishers Weekly

  A daughter’s gift of time, a father’s silent wish

  Erin Bryce and her best friend, Sharlene, count the day they start their wedding planning business as a very happy day. So much so that they name their company The Happiest Day to reflect the fulfillment of their long-held dream as well as their clients’ longing for a wedding celebration to match the exhilaration of being in love. As a bonus, the two women utilize their business to help Erin’s son Jordan and his fiancée, Sierra, plan a grand wedding.

  But the two friends aren’t prepared for the cloud moving in to cover the sunny, successful start of their business. Erin’s father, who lives in a small coastal Oregon community with his brusque, downright odd second wife, Delores, develops a medical problem that puts him in the hospital. Erin responds by rushing from Southern California to her father’s—and oh, yeah, Delores’s—cottage by the sea.

  What greets Erin when she arrives sends her tumbling down a bewildering path to a different kind of happiest day. Her journey tosses her through highs and lows of hurt and healing, betrayal and renewal, wrong assumptions righted, and the brightest future one could ever hope for. All just around the corner, at the cottage by the sea.

  ROBIN JONES GUNN is the much-loved author of eighty books that have sold more than 4.5 million copies worldwide. Her popular Christy Miller series and Sisterchicks® series have won three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction and one was a Gold Medallion Award finalist. After living in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years, Robin and her husband now live in Hawaii, where she writes to the sound of tropical birds and swaying palm trees.

  Robin Jones Gunn





  “Robin’s tender heart and wisdom make every one of her books poignant and unforgettable.”

  —Karen Kingsbury, New York Times

  bestselling author of Like Dandelion Dust

  “Gunn is adept at denuding light fiction of its usual tics and imbuing it with the hallmarks of literary fiction. The characters are multidimensional and ring true at nearly every turn.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “One of the lionesses of Christian fiction, at the peak of her prowess, pens her most ambitious—and personal—tale to date.”

  —Jerry B. Jenkins, bestselling coauthor of the Left Behind Series

  and owner of Christian Writers Guild

  “Every once in a while, a novelist writes a book that transcends all her others—because this one isn’t merely a good story, it’s a story wrung from the novelist’s heart; every line squeezed from personal tears, pain, and struggle. Cottage by the Sea is that kind of book for my friend Robin Jones Gunn. I know her heart, and I know you will grow and be blessed by reading this book, her novel-from-the-heart.”

  —Angela Hunt, author of Five Miles South of Peculiar

  “Cottage by the Sea is a lyrical work of great joy, heartache, and triumph. Robin Gunn’s writing has never been stronger. The characters are vividly drawn, the challenges they face achingly real. Highly recommended.”

  —Davis Bunn, bestselling author

  “Cottage by the Sea made me feel right at home. As usual Robin Jones Gunn has shared a meaningful story that both encourages and enlightens—definitely a journey you won’t want to miss. I can still smell the salty air.”

  —Melody Carlson, award-winning author of River’s Song

  and the Four Lindas series

  “Robin writes with an honesty, heart, and skill that draw you deep into the center of her characters’ lives. Cottage by the Sea is some of the best work by one of our best writers.”

  —Bill Myers, author of The God Hater

  “In this tender story of letting go, Robin’s words will minister to those with a hurting heart as emotional entrapments of guilt and unresolved issues are delicately detangled. You will smile through the tears and long to experience more of God’s gentle grace in this Cottage by the Sea.”

  —Margaret McSweeney, author of

  Aftermath: Growing in Grace Through Grief

  Thank you for purchasing this Howard Books eBook.

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  Howard Books

  A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

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

  Copyright © 2012 by Robin Jones Gunn

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Howard Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Howard Books trade paperback edition July 2012

  HOWARD and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at

  Designed by Ruth Lee-Mui

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Gunn, Robin Jones.

  Cottage by the sea : a novel / Robin Jones Gunn. —1st Howard Books trade paperback ed.

  p. cm.

  I. Title.

  PS3557.U4866C68 2012

  813'.54—dc23 2011025726

  ISBN 978-1-4165-8345-5

  ISBN 978-1-4391-0090-5 (ebook)

  Unless specified otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

  For my dad, who taught in the Irvine School District from 1959 to 1989. And for my mom, who lovingly and faithfully cared for him at home for five and a half years after he suffered a stroke in 1996 that paralyzed his right side and took his speech. I can’t wait to see you again in heaven, Daddy.

  I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.



  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
r />   Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  From the Author’s Notes

  Readers Club Guide

  A Conversation with Robin Jones Gunn


  May you always have work for your hands to do.

  May your pockets hold always a coin or two.

  May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.

  May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.

  May the hand of a friend always be near you.

  And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

  Erin Bryce pulled up her russet-colored hair in a clip and followed her husband out to the driveway of their Southern California, ranch-style home. For as many years as she could remember this had been their Monday morning routine. She would give him a kiss, and he would respond with an affectionate pat on her narrow backside. Mike would then put on his sunglasses and drive off to work in Irvine while Erin went for a brisk walk around the lake that centered their neighborhood like a well-set opal.

  This Monday, however, instead of walking shoes Erin’s feet flaunted their new kitten-heeled sandals. In place of her workout clothes she wore her favorite floral sundress with a matching spring green sweater that turned her eyes the shade of clover.

  “Big day for you,” Mike said as he climbed into his car.

  “Yes. Yes, it is.”

  “You and Sharlene have waited a long time for this.”

  “Yes, we have.” Erin leaned over and gave Mike another kiss.

  “Go get ’em, Tiger.” His grin infused her with just the right amount of confidence to quell the flutters in her stomach.

  “Love you.”

  “Love you, too.”

  Erin waved as Mike drove off, and then she turned to face her own front door. Drawing back her shoulders, as her mother had always told her to do, Erin strode forward. She liked the sound of her heels clicking on the front walkway. She liked even more that the moment she stepped inside she would be at work. No more morning commute. Her new home office was now open for business.

  I should find some ribbon and loop it across the entry. That way, when Sharlene arrives, we can have a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

  Erin went on a quick search through the box of gift wrap in the hall closet. The best she came up with was a few feet of red-and-gold-plaid ribbon left over from Christmas. Not exactly what she had in mind. Before she managed to stuff the box of gift wrap and bows back into the closet, the cell phone she had left on her new desk in the front bedroom rang. Her heart did a little jig.

  This is it! Our first call! I wish Sharlene were here for this.

  Erin hurried to the bedroom that had been transformed into her new home office and picked up the call on the third ring. “Good morning. The Happiest Day, this is Erin.”

  A booming female voice came through the line. “Do you have patio umbrellas?”

  Erin pulled the phone away from her ear and switched it to speaker. “Ah, well, we work with a number of companies that can provide canopies.”

  “Canopies? No. I’m looking for an umbrella. A patio umbrella.”

  “Actually, most of the wedding locations in the area recommend canopies as a better solution—”

  “Wedding locations? Who said anything about a wedding? I’m trying to find an umbrella for my dog.”

  “For your dog?”

  “You know, for when he’s outside.” The voice on the other end paused a moment and then asked, “This is Patio Galaxy, isn’t it?”

  Erin lowered herself into the desk chair. “No, this is not Patio Galaxy. This is The Happiest Day. We assist with wedding planning.”

  “Well, that’s not what I’m looking for.” The confused caller paused. “Unless . . . do you also have one of those services that matches folks up with their soul mate?”

  “No, we don’t offer that sort of service.”

  The doorbell rang just as the disgruntled woman hung up.

  Erin hurried back to the front door and opened it to see her business partner up to her chin with a stack of boxes. Petite Sharlene wore her jet-black hair short and feathery around her face. She always reminded Erin of a ruffled bird, ready to flit off somewhere. Sharlene had somehow managed to balance two grande lattes on the very top box.

  “Quick! Grab the coffee.” Sharlene looked up at Erin over the top of her stylish blue-and-green-rimmed glasses. “The one on the right is yours.”

  Erin took both lattes and with her foot kept the door open for Sharlene.

  “Guess what we have?” Sharlene sang out, as she made a beeline for the office.

  “I hope it’s our brochures.”

  “You guessed it. But these are not just our brochures, Erin. These are our beee-u-ti-ful brochures. Look!”

  Erin put the lattes on the desk and took one of the trifold brochures from the top box. “Oh, nice! Yes. This is exactly what we wanted. I love how you changed it and put the gazebo in the right corner. Very nice.” She unfolded the brochure and scanned all the text she had labored over for days. With each line she read, Erin bobbed her head. “Perfect. Just what we wanted.”

  “I’m thrilled with how they turned out.” Sharlene placed the boxes of brochures in the corner, stacking them neatly against the wall. “Did you stay up till midnight to see our website go live?”

  “No. I checked it when I woke up this morning. It looks great, too.”

  “I found a few glitches on the floral page. Two of the links didn’t click through. I already let Jim know. Everything else loaded beautifully.” Sharlene took a seat in the chair beside the desk and reached for her latte. “You know what this means, don’t you? We are official, Erin. This is it! We are open for business!”

  Erin picked up her latte and took the chair at the desk. “I tried to find a ribbon to drape across the front door before you got here.”


  “So we could have a ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

  Sharlene laughed. “How about a toast instead? Here’s to us and to all our hard work. May The Happiest Day be wildly successful.”

  “Yes and amen.” Erin lifted her latte, and the two friends toasted with a dull fwap of their waxed cardboard cups. Before taking a sip Erin added, “Wait. I have a blessing for us. I found this verse in my mom’s diary.” Erin reached for a tattered journal on the corner of the desk and removed the bookmark she had placed in it two days ago. “This is what my mom wrote on February 24, 1988.”

  “February 24? That was just a couple of days ago.”

  “I know. That’s why I marked it so I’d remember to read it to you. ‘May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17.’”

  “It’s our very own blessing.”

  “Exactly. That’s what I thought.” Erin lifted her coffee cup and repeated, “‘May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us’ and ‘establish the work of our hands.’”

  “Hear, hear! Cheers to that.” Sharlene took a quick sip. “Your mom would have been proud of you, of us, wouldn’t she? She would think what we’re doing is a good thing.”

  Erin smiled. “Yes. Absolutely. My mother would have been very proud of us. She also would have loved being a part of what we’re doing. I was missing her this morning when I was making breakfast. She always used to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter on our toast or pancakes on mornings that were special days like our birthdays. I was wishing I had a cookie cutter this morning to make some heart-shaped toast to celebrate.”

  “Why didn’t you use a knife? You could have cut out a heart in your toast with a knife.”

  “I suppose. It wouldn’t be the same, though.”

  Sharlene gave Erin a sympathetic gaze. “I’m sorry you lost your mom when you did. She left this earth too soon, that’s for sure. I wish I could have met her.”

  “I wish you could have met her, too.”

  The two women sipped th
eir coffees for a moment in quiet contemplation. Their first heart-to-heart conversation had taken place over lattes two and a half years ago. That meeting also was punctuated with comfortable moments of silence; something they both knew was unusual in a friendship, especially with someone you had just met.

  Their meeting happened while the two of them were sitting in neighboring chairs at a hair salon. An offhand comment led them to discover they were both working in the bridal industry and knew a lot of the same people. They had even heard of each other, but their paths hadn’t crossed. Sharlene supervised the alterations side of the dry-cleaning business she and her husband owned. Their Corona del Mar location had become known as the best place for quick, expert alterations for wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. The chain of four dry-cleaning stores had earned the reputation of being the best place to take a gown for cleaning and proper boxing after the big day.

  Erin, who worked as an assistant wedding coordinator at a hotel in Newport Beach, had often sent brides to Sharlene for both alterations and storage of their gowns.

  After chatting with ease during their hair appointment, Erin and Sharlene spontaneously decided to go next door to Café Kate. That wasn’t something Erin normally would do, but the charm of their friendship had become clear in the salon. They were two old friends who just hadn’t met yet. And they needed each other.

  Erin knew she had closed up parts of her life for almost a year since the death of her mother. She had lost her closest confidant and gentlest friend. Having a mom like that, who also happened to live close by, meant Erin had never invested a lot of time developing close friendships with other women. She hadn’t realized what a gap that would make in her adult life until her mother was gone.

  Sharlene arrived like a gust of fresh spring air, and Erin eagerly opened up the windows of her heart to let the friendship come in. Sharlene told Erin that she had been too busy for too many years to take time to cultivate a friendship. Now that her daughters were out of the house, she, too, was ready to embrace the next season of her life. She just didn’t realize how much she needed a close friend to join her on the journey.

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