Hannah Matthews is undeniably tough--a single mom, a top-tier PR exec, a breast cancer survivor. On the job and in her family she prides herself on being go-to Hannah, who can handle any crisis. But with her eighty-five-year-old grandmother balking at going into a retirement home, her twenty-year-old daughter unexpectedly pregnant and an old flame suddenly underfoot, Hannah is facing a few crises of her own. And being back home on Seaview Key is most definitely adding to the stress. Luke Stevens has some serious issues, as well. While he was serving in Iraq, his wife dumped him for his best friend, his kids are furious because he left them, and he shared his medical practice with the man who's now sleeping with his wife. Seaview Key, where he grew up, seems like the perfect place to hide out until he makes some decisions and gets his life back on track. The last thing he expects is to fall in love...with his old hometown and with Hannah. Sometimes, though, the unexpected is just what it takes to start over...and to heal the heart.
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April 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Seaview Inn by Sherryl Woods
Hannah Matthews prided herself on being sensible and responsible. A single mom and a public relations executive handling several very demanding but fascinating clients, she was the person to turn to in any crisis. She claimed there wasn't a superstitious bone in her body, but she was beginning to wonder if there wasn't something to the old adage that things happened in threes, especially bad things. She was also losing her faith that God never gave a person more than they could handle, because she was definitely on overload.
Not quite three months past her final chemo treatment for breast cancer and less than a month after her mother's death from the very same disease, here she was back in a town she hadn't been able to flee fast enough, standing in front of the bed-and-breakfast that had once been her much-despised home. Worse, she was facing the arduous prospect of trying to convince her stubborn eighty-five-year-old grandmother that it was time to move into an assisted-living community and sell Seaview Inn. Life couldn't get much more stressful than this, or if it could, she didn't want to find out how.
"Hannah, why are you just standing out there daydreaming?" her grandmother demanded from behind the inn's screen door, her tone every bit as querulous and demanding as Hannah remembered from her last visit home. "As hot as it is, leaving this front door wide open is a waste of air-conditioning. And why weren't you here this morning? You told me you'd be here this morning. I've been sitting on the porch watching for you most of the day. The heat finally drove me inside."
Hannah bit back a sigh and grabbed the handle of her suitcase to pull it along behind her. "My flight was delayed, Gran. Remember, I called you from the airport in New York to let you know?"
Her grandmother's faded hazel eyes filled with confusion, yet another recent change from her once astute demeanor. "You did? Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, Gran, but it doesn't matter now. I'm here."
"And about time, too," her grandmother added with a little humph.
Hannah placed an arm around her grandmother's frail shoulders and gave her a peck on the cheek. "You look good, Gran. Are you feeling okay?"
Truthfully, her grandmother looked as if a strong wind would blow her away. She'd lost weight she could ill afford to lose. Her face, filled with eighty-five years of lines and wrinkles, was sallow. Losing her only child, Hannah's mother, had taken a lot out of her. Her friends in town had called Hannah to let her know that Jenny had rarely left the house since the funeral. She'd been skipping the meetings of her quilting circle and, more telling, Sunday services at church. They were worried about her.
"She's just going to fade away, die of a broken heart all alone, if you ask me," Rachel Morrison had said when she'd called.
Hannah hadn't missed the critical note in Rachel's voice, the unmistakable hint that Hannah had been irresponsible to run off right after her mother's burial and leave her grandmother to cope with her grief and Seaview Inn all on her own.
Though her family knew what she was struggling with, Hannah had been unwilling to share her own cancer crisis with any of these well-meaning neighbors. She'd been unable to defend her actions in any way that might have satisfied them. How could she possibly tell them that seeing her mom's quick decline and painful death while in the middle of her own treatment had left her terrified? She hadn't been able to get away from Seaview and the memories of her mother's final days fast enough. She believed that a positive attitude was an essential ingredient for surviving cancer, but it was almost impossible to maintain that attitude in the face of her mother's death from a recurrence that had come less than two years after she'd first been diagnosed.
So, instead of explaining, Hannah had succumbed to guilt and dutifully taken the remaining two weeks of leave she'd accumulated during years of ignoring vacation time and socking away sick days to come here. That two weeks was all that was left after the time taken for her mastectomy and then the chemo, which had knocked her for a loop despite her stubborn determination to pretend she was just fine. Her boss had grudgingly agreed to let her off, but he'd made it plain he wasn't one bit happy about the timing.
In less than twenty-four hours, she'd flown back to Florida, rented a car, driven for an hour, and then taken a ferry out to Seaview Key, a tiny island community of less than a thousand full-time residents just off Florida's west coast. Once there, she'd had to deal with traffic jams caused by winter tourists. All of which, given her current frame of mind, was trying, to say the least.
Worse, she had exactly fourteen days to convince her grandmother to sell the inn--which was also the family's longtime home--and move into a retirement community where she'd be well cared for. Since Grandma Jenny's parents had opened Seaview Inn when the island had been little more than a fishing village reached by boat, Hannah had a hunch her work was cut out for her. Her grandmother sometimes exhibited a tenacious streak of sentimentality that overrode common sense.
"I know it's only four o'clock, but we'll eat supper now," Grandma Jenny declared. "I missed lunch and I'm hungry. You can unpack your things later." She glanced at the suitcase Hannah had left at the bottom of the staircase that led up to the family's private quarters on the left and to the sprawling wing of guest rooms on the right. "Didn't bring much, did you? You having the rest of your things sent?"
Hannah stared at her blankly. "Why would I do that?"
"Because you're moving home, of course." Jenny's tone was matter-of-fact. "I've told everyone in town who's been asking that we'd have the inn up and running again in another week or two, a month at the outside. While your mother was sick, we let a few things slide, but with the two of us working that should give us enough time to get things shipshape, don't you think so? There's still a couple of good months of the winter season left, and we'll draw some folks from the mainland in April and May. Of course, a lot of our regulars had to make other arrangements, but they'll be back with us next year, I'm sure."
There were so many things wrong with her grandmother's assumptions, Hannah couldn't decide where to start. It didn't matter, anyway, because Grandma Jenny hadn't waited for a reply. She was already heading toward the kitchen at a clip that belied the reported evidence of her declining health. In fact, Hannah very much suspected that Grandma Jenny would outlive her and do it with gusto.
* * *
All during their early supper of broiled snapper and fresh tomatoes and strawberries from the local farmer's market, Grandma Jenny continued to bombard Hannah with her plans for reopening Seaview Inn as quickly as possible. She was as alert and strong-willed as ever.
"You can put that PR experience of yours to good use," she told Hannah. "Get some ads running up north. A lot of our regulars in Ohio and Michigan who come later in the season need to know our doors are open again. Maybe you can even do something on the Internet. I hear that's the best place to advertise these days. Or we can send postcards. I have the addresses for most of the customers who've stayed here in the past few years. Had 'em back to the beginning, but I figure those people are mostly dead and gone. What do you think?"
Hannah put down her fork and tried to find the right words to tell her grandmother that instead of spending time and money on advertising, they needed to be thinking about finding a good real estate agent. Then it occurred to her that a little renovating would give the place the kind of curb appeal needed to result in a quicker sale. Maybe she didn't have to discuss selling it just yet. She could wage that battle another day, when she wasn't quite so exhausted.
"I'll think about it," she said at last. "First thing tomorrow, you and I can take a look and see what needs to be done, okay?"
"Why wait?" Gran said, bouncing up, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "Daylight might be scarce at the end of January, but we've got an hour or so till the sun goes down. We can check out the exterior first. I've been thinking a new coat of paint should be the first order of business, something bright and cheerful, maybe a nice turquoise with white trim."
Hannah winced, envisioning a garish result that would rob the inn of whatever tiny scrap of class it had.
"Well, come on," her grandmother called back. "Daylight's wasting."
With a sigh, Hannah followed her outside.
Over the years, the inn had grown from the original sprawling, two-story beach house that had been built in the thirties as a private home. Because of its size and her great-grandparents'enthusiasm for meeting people, they'd opened their spare rooms to paying guests. That first experimental season had been so successful, they'd officially named it Seaview Inn and expanded over the next few years, adding one section in the early forties, another in the fifties, operating much like the bed-and-breakfasts that had come along later.
Unfortunately, there hadn't been much attention to architectural detail in the additions. Wings jutted out haphazardly, one on each side, angled so that the guest rooms on the right and the big formal dining room on the left, with its soaring windows and hodgepodge collection of antique tables and chairs, and the second-floor family quarters all had a view of the beach across the road. To Hannah's disapproving eye, it looked like a cross between a halfway decent home and a seedy motel. It would take more than a coat of paint, no matter the color, to fix it.
Her favorite part was the porch, which stretched across the front of the original house with a row of white rockers and a collection of antique wicker chairs with fading flowered cushions. In past years there had been hanging baskets of flowers, but this year neither her mother nor grandmother had had the time or energy to spare on such things.
As a child, Hannah had had tea parties with all her dolls on the porch. Sometimes her mom and her grandmother had joined her. Those afternoons had been the best. Later, as a teenager, the porch had been a place for sharing dreams and plans with her friends over sodas and snacks. Eventually her first kiss had been in the shadows on the porch.
Now, bathed in the light of a spectacular sunset, the inn didn't look as bad as it had at first glance. She could almost see its idiosyncratic charm and understand why her grandmother wanted to keep it open and in the family. The problem was that Grandma Jenny couldn't possibly do it alone and there was no one in the family to help her. Hannah didn't want to leave New York, especially with her team of physicians there, to say nothing of the demanding career she loved. Her twenty-year-old daughter, Kelsey, would probably wind up staying in California once she completed her studies at Stanford. Why keep the inn now, only to sell it to strangers in a few years, anyway? Her grandmother deserved to enjoy whatever years were left to her, not to spend them working her fingers to the bone waiting on strangers.
Hannah turned and caught her grandmother eyeing her speculatively.
"It's a good time of day, isn't it?" Grandma Jenny said quietly, her expression nostalgic. "Your grandfather and I spent many an evening out here watching the sunset with music drifting out the downstairs windows. And before that, my parents would spend their evenings doing the same thing. We didn't sit inside and stare at a TV screen the way folks do today. We talked, getting to know the people who stayed here. We enjoyed the beauty God gave us in this place." Her gaze met Hannah's. "You loved it, too, once. Do you remember that? There were nights we could hardly drag you home from the beach."
Suddenly Hannah remembered being maybe five or six and working all day on a sand castle, then being called inside. The next morning she'd rushed across the road to see her handiwork, only to discover that the tide had washed it away overnight. It had been her first hard lesson in the fact that some things simply didn't last, no matter how well built and solid they seemed. Sometimes it was the foundation that mattered, not the structure, and sand had a way of shifting underfoot, much as her own parents' marriage had crumbled a few years later.
As the years had passed and she'd developed more insights, there'd been little question in her mind that after the divorce her mother had felt trapped here by circumstances. What else could she do with a daughter not yet in her teens and no work experience beyond the family inn?
"I remember," she said at last, but it was said in a faintly bitter tone that drew a sharp glance from her grandmother.
"There were good times, Hannah, whether you choose to remember them that way or not."
"I wonder if Mom felt that way after Dad left. Wasn't there a time in her life when she dreamed of going away and doing something else? He got to run away from her and from all of his responsibilities, but she was stuck."
"What are you suggesting?" her grandmother asked indignantly. "That I kept her here when she wanted to go? Nothing could be further from the truth. She loved it here. She knew it was the best place to raise a child, surrounded by family and friends."
"Dad obviously didn't love it," Hannah said.
"Oh, Hannah, that's not so. Surely by now you've learned that relationships are complicated. Your parents were happy for a time, and then they weren't. It had nothing to do with Seaview Key or the inn."
Hannah didn't waste her breath trying to argue. How could she? She'd been so young, just on the verge of adolescence. It was entirely possible that she'd been totally oblivious to whatever rifts there had been in her parents' marriage. She relented now just to keep peace. "I suppose."
Her grandmother's shoulders seemed to sag. "I need to sit down," she said flatly, clutching the railing tightly as she climbed the steps to the porch. She sank into her favorite rocker as the sun slowly slid into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the sky painted with streaks of orange and gold.
"Gran, are you okay?"