His young daughter has already lost too much. Widower Joe Kincaid doesn't want her forming attachments that will break her heart. So he'd appreciate if his pretty new neighbor didn't charm the girl with hot chocolate, fun stories and big smiles. After all, Gillian Parker is from glittering Las Vegas--she won't last a month in their quiet Maine town. But Gillian isn't what he expected at all. And when her painful past catches up with her, Joe finds himself opening his door--and his heart--wider than he ever dreamed possible.
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December 31, 2009
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Excerpt from The Family Next Door by Barbara McMahon
Gillian Parker parked her rental car at the curb. Glancing around, she tried to absorb every sight immediately. The clapboard homes on the side street. The weathered fronts on the buildings closer to the ocean. The spaciousness of the main street. The flower designs painted on the old iron street lights.She was unabashedly charmed.Rocky Point, Maine, had only been a dot on the map before today. Now she sat in her car in the heart of the New England town.She stepped from the car and locked the door. Not that there was anything in the car itself. Her suitcase was in the trunk. But habits were habits.Walking to the front of the caf, she involuntarily smiled again noticing the quaint decor. Flower boxes lined the bottom of the large windows, with colorful blooms already spilling over the edge. The outside had been painted recently and gave a friendly feel of welcome to the establishment.She opened the door and walked in, her high heels rapping on the hardwood floors. The waitresses carried ladened trays weaving through the throng, their pinafore period costumes adding to the charm of the old-time dcor, which seemed to make the caf a top destination for lunch.Table for one? a waitress asked, pausing for a moment.Yes. As she passed Gillian felt the center of all eyes. Conversation seemed to diminish a bit, then regained the previous volume.She'd heard stories about small towns recognizing strangers when they arrived. Judging from the weekday work attire of the folks at the tables, her clothing would also signal something out of the ordinary. She'd just come from the funeral, where she had worn her only black suit. It was a bit dressy for a midweek afternoon.The waitress handed her the menu. Our special today is crab cakes. The sisters make the best in town.Gillian smiled and began to study the menu, wondering who the sisters were. Everything looked delicious. How to decide. Maybe she'd take the waitress's suggestion. The crab was undoubtedly fresh.Glancing around after she ordered, Gillian smiled at a couple of people when they met her eye. They smiled in return.She felt almost giddy with excitement. This was the first day in town, and if the Lord willed it, she'd be here until the day she died. Gillian prayed this would become her home. All things pointed to it.The crab cakes were fabulous. The fresh fruit compote that accompanied it was a delicious balance. She sipped the tea she'd ordered and wondered if she'd have difficulty finding the house she'd come to claim. From what she'd seen of the town so far, it was laid out in squares, neat and compact, and easily navigated.How's the lunch? A woman dressed in a costume similar to Gillian's waitress stopped by the table with a smile.Delicious, thanks.Glad to hear it. I'm Marcie Evans. I own this place.The food is wonderful, and I really like the decor and uniforms.Marcie smile broadened. So glad to hear that, too. You're not from around here.That obvious, huh? Gillian asked, almost laughing. She felt as out of place here as she would in a chorus line at a Vegas show.I was born and raised here, so I know everyone, Marcie said.I'm Gillian Parker, and no, I'm not from around here. I'm from Nevada.Related to Sophie?Gillian nodded.I'm so sorry about her death. I missed the funeral because of work. One of my waitresses is out sick today, so I have to fill in. Sophie was wonderful.Gillian smiled, trying to hide the pang that this young woman had known her great-grandmother when she herself had only learned of her existence after her death when the lawyer's call had told her she was the beneficiary of Sophie's estate.Do you know how to get to Sophie's house? I inherited it.There, she'd said it aloud. She had stopped by the lawyer's office briefly after she'd arrived in town. Not wanting to be late to the funeral, the visit had been brief. Julian Greene had promised to meet with her another day to review things. But now that lunch was over, Gillian was anxious to see the place she'd inherited. And to begin making plans to move to Maine.Better than that, Marcie said with a twinkle in her eye. Your next-door neighbor is eating lunch here as well. Came straight from the funeral. You can follow him out to the house. It's on a bluff halfway around the cove. Once you know the road to take from town, you'll have no problem finding it. Let me bring Joe over and introduce the two of you.Marcie wove her way through the tables and went to a booth on the side. Gillian recognized the man Marcie spoke to as one of the pallbearers at the funeral. He had stood a head above the other men and was much younger. He glanced over at Gillian and she smiled politely.He frowned and looked back at Marcie.So much for neighborliness, she thought.Come on, Joe. It won't hurt a bit. Just have her follow you out of town and point out Sophie's place as you pass. You don't have to do more than meet her and say 'follow me,' Marcie said.I'm not interested in getting to know some come-and-go heiress who probably plans to sell before Sophie's in the ground good.It was a good thing no one could read minds. He knew better, but that didn't stop his interest. He'd seen her at the church, and then wobbling across the lawn in those high heels at the cemetery. He might have thought staying single was the way to go these days, but it didn't make him immune to the attractions of a beautiful woman. He just hoped he had better sense than to act on that attraction.She seems nice, Marcie said.Joe peered around her and met the gaze of the woman he'd noticed at the funeral and again after she'd walked into the caf. She was stunning. If this weren't Rocky Point, and if he didn't have a daughter to worry about, he might go over and find out if she were as nice as Marcie suggested.If she's Sophie's great-granddaughter, why didn't anyone know about her?I doubt Julian Greene would hand the keys to the house to someone he wasn't convinced was a relative. Better have her there than the house stand empty.We're going to miss Sophie. Her death hit Jenny especially hard.I'm sure. She was a good neighbor, and Jenny had the run of her house. Hard as it is to face, we all need to know life on earth is temporary. It's eternal life to look forward to.I knew Sophie all my life. My folks moved into the house next to hers before I was even born. It won't ever be the same.Marcie nodded. Still, she had a nice long life.Yes, she had a long life, but how nice it was is anyone's guess. Her husband died during the Depression, her only son died in the Korean War, her grandson disappeared one day after trying to gyp her out of all her money. And she had to work hard to keep going and keep up that house especially after she retired.She had lots of friends, her church work, and I know she thought of you and Jenny as family, Marcie said gently. You always treated her that way. And she had money enough to hire help when she really needed it.I'm going to miss her. It's difficult to imagine what it's going to be like without her next door, Joe said, glancing again at the stranger sitting alone at her table. His daughter, Jenny, had been devastated when she learned Sophie had died from a fall down her stairs likely caused by a stroke.With both Joe's parents dead, his wife long gone, Sophie had completed their small family.He studied the stranger for a moment, feeling that kick of interest ramp up a notch. It had been so long since he'd been this interested in someone, he didn't like it. For a moment he felt like he had when he'd been younger carefree, daring, a bit wild. Her red-gold hair was a riotous, flaming swirl around her head and shoulders. She was tall and slender with legs that seemed to go on forever. The sophisticated black suit was as out of place in Rocky Point as she was. And he wanted to get to know her. Find out what made her come out of the blue to Rocky Point. And was she planning to stay? She had arrived just as the service in the old church started. Sitting alone, she had not shed a tear, nor talked to anyone. Now she was claiming to be Sophie's great-granddaughter. In all the years he'd known Sophie, she'd never said a word about having a great-granddaughter.The black suit and black shoes should have had her looking like a glorious crow. Black was not her color. Still it highlighted her creamy complexion, made her blue eyes seem brighter than anyone's and provided a dramatic backdrop for that vibrant hair, which seemed to be a beacon of light capturing pure sunshine. Would it be flame hot or silky cool to the touch? Her blue eyes sparkled even at this distance.Joe was older and wiser now than he'd been when he married Pamela. Now his life was firmly centered in the Lord. He knew that stepping outside of the Lord's will would result in havoc. The years of his tumultuous marriage had proved that. He was content with his life, his work and his small family. But it didn't hurt to look at beauty, and yearn just a little bit.Okay, she can follow me home.Gee, be happy, why don't you? It's not as if you have to introduce her around or anything, just show her the house.I said all right.Then come and meet her. I have other things to do and don't want you taking off before you meet. She might actually be nice.Ha.Time you moved on, Joe. Get married again, have some more babies. Not every woman's like Pamela.I haven't even met the woman and you're matchmaking? he asked in astonishment. Had he given himself away? Not that he was interested in marriage or even a long-term relationship. He would settle for admitting to being curious about Gillian Parker. That was it.No. I just want you to open yourself up to the possibility. You need to find someone to fall in love with, someone who will bring you sunshine and joy. The Lord has the right person in mind, but you need to do your part, too.Joe looked at Marcie, amazed at her take on things. He found it ironic that she was passing on such advice. His brother had left her at the altar years ago. Joe didn't see any signs she was dating or about to marry. Joe was afraid Marcie was a one-man woman and that man had broken her heart. He'd known her since they'd been kids. She was pretty, fun and smart as a whip. His brother had been a fool to walk away from her.Romantic, he said, involuntarily flicking his glaze at the fiery sunshine of the stranger's hair.Cynic.Even after Zach, you have fairy dust in your eyes.No, I have my faith firmly planted. Remember Pamela wasn't the only woman in the world. Open yourself up to the possibilities that surround you.Like Polly Maynard?Marcie burst out laughing. Not Polly! Is she still chasing you?You'd think she'd get the hint, he grumbled. Polly had had a crush on him since high school. He had never even dated her, but she had made it clear she'd say yes if he ever asked.Marcie chuckled as she led Joe across the wide restaurant to the table where Gillian sat.Gillian watched the man rise and head toward her. He'd stand out in any crowd tall and broad shouldered, with dark hair just a bit longer than it should be. It looked rugged against his white shirt collar.By the look on his face, he was not thrilled to be meeting her. Maybe the restaurant owner had been a bit presumptuous in thinking he'd want to show her to her new inheritance. She didn't want to be a burden on anyone, especially not a new neighbor. And what a neighbor. He only improved as he got closer. The air seemed brighter, the colors more vibrant. His long lanky build put him well over six feet. Nice, since she was five ten herself. His dark hair gleamed beneath the artificial light. His tanned skin showed he spent a lot of time outdoors. And his slightly rugged build had her curious about what he might be doing in those out door hours fishing? Rocky Point's main industry was fishing.Joe Kincaid, meet Gillian Parker, Marcie introduced.Hello. Marcie said you could show me how to get to Sophie Parker's house. It's mine now, and I don't know where it is, except somewhere out on a road called Shoreline. Sophie was my great-grandmother, she said, her words rushing through before he could say anything. She stopped for breath. She should at least let him get a word in edgewise. Nerves shimmered as she stared into eyes that spoke volumes. Lord, help me here. I'm such a fish out of water.He didn't know her, but he didn't like her. She could tell. Or was it Sophie he hadn't liked and he'd transferred those feelings to her?I didn't know Sophie had a great-granddaughter, he said.She almost sighed. No one had. Except the attorney. That makes two of us. I was surprised when the attorney called two days ago to tell me she had died and I was her sole beneficiary. I never even knew about her.Surprised, then devastated to discover she'd had a living relative that she'd never known about, Gillian had wished Sophie Parker had contacted her. The attorney had no trouble locating her. If he knew about her, Sophie must have also. Why hadn't Sophie tried to contact her over the years?When Joe didn't reply, the sudden silence increased her nervousness. She glanced at Marcie and then took a deep breath, smiling brightly, covering her feelings of inadequacy as she had for so long. If you're busy, maybe you can just tell me how to get to the house. Sophie's attorney gave me the key.Stunned when she'd first learned of the legacy, Gillian was now anxious to see the house. To walk through the rooms and discover if she could learn more about this relative and perhaps uncover the facts as to why Sophie hadn't contacted her only great-grandchild while she'd been alive.Maybe she'd be able to discover more information about her own father while she was at it. Something that would help her understand the man she hadn't seen in two decades.Sophie's house is next door to mine. He said, still studying her as if he wasn't sure what to make of her. She wondered if she had crumbs around her mouth or something.