Book 3 in the Serenity Cove Series
Maggie did a quick dance step as she closed the door of her red convertible, still singing along to a favorite tune. She waved to Catylen, the manager of the new Serenity Artisan Gallery, next door to Magnolia Antiques.
“Hi.” Catylen, tossed her a smile, then returned to helping a man unload what looked to be artwork from the back of an SUV.
Awareness startled Maggie’s breathing—there was something about the man. The way he moved, the way he tilted his head, the way he laughed. She knew that laugh. No. It couldn’t be.
He turned, as though feeling her eyes on him. She couldn’t see the color of his eyes, yet she knew. She remembered the warm golden-brown eyes that now held hers, with the same recognition that had her holding her breath. This man who had once captured her heart jogged over and swept her up in his arms. Every nerve in her body seemed to go numb with his warm embrace.
“It is you.” His sexy baritone voice slid flutters down her spine, as his gaze moved over her in appreciation.
“Nick.” She stepped back, resisting the temptation to see if her lips still fit his, perfectly. “What’re you doing here?” She fought the urge to brush strands of dark hair from his brow and run her fingers— Stop it.
He motioned to the artisan shop, where Catylen watched with a confused look on her face. “Samantha has agreed to display my photography on consignment.”
“The gallery only exhibits local artists.” With his magnetic charm, he could have easily convinced Sam to showcase his work. Even in college, he was brilliant behind a camera.
“I live about five miles up the coast.” He pointed in the direction of Maggie’s seaside Victorian.
“You bought the Walker’s place?” The property bordered the same eight-mile strip of private beach that several homes, including Maggie’s, shared. Even in her darkest grief, she’d never allowed herself to believe she would see Nick again, and now they were neighbors.
“That’s the one.” He tilted his head with that irresistible boyish grin of his. “Can I interest you in dinner?” The band of his sleeves wrapped around his muscular arms and his jeans—
Maggie shook her head to clear unwanted memories. She pushed her hand into her pocket and clutched the solitaire ring she’d place there earlier for safekeeping, although it had little to do with her hesitation. “Don’t think so.”
“Not curious?” He fingered one of her coppery curls.
She had curiosity. But even old scars could be painful. She’d once fought for their relationship. Now every neuron she possessed alerted her to keep her distance. “We had this conversation—years ago.”
“Things change.” Nick leaned in and kissed her cheek, then sauntered back to his SUV.
Maggie touched the heat radiating from the imprint of his lips, and followed him with her eyes. With effort, she pried her-self away and unlocked the door of her shop.
Back doors were no longer left opened during business hours. The criminals who wreaked havoc on the town had been apprehended; still, the SCPD insisted the shop owners take security precautions. One experience with being robbed and tied up had convinced her—adhering to the crime prevention program rated a high-priority status.
Inside, Wolf wagged his tail with excitement. Maggie hugged the huge dog. “Were you a good boy for Linda?” Her voice took on the happy affect and high-pitched tones of sweet baby talk. Then she smiled at her shop assistant. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Not a problem.” Linda removed her smock. “See you tomorrow.”
“Have a great afternoon.” Maggie straightened the jewelry on the front counter, playing the thoughts gone wild game. Why had she allowed Nick to awaken every desire she possessed? She sighed when the ship bell sounded over the front door, thankful for the interruption.
“It’s overcast and chilly.” Samantha rubbed her arms. She wasn’t short, but appeared so, standing next to the woman who’d come in with her. “Maggie, this is Catrina Bailey, our newest shop owner on Main Street.” Samantha released Goldie, her hearing dog, so the small sheltie could play with Wolf.
“It’s great meeting you, Catrina.”
Catrina clasped Maggie’s offered hand. “Please, call me Cat.” Her gaze swept through the antiques shop. “I love your store. I’m looking for a couple of pieces for Crafty Cat’s.”
Maggie’s face lit with pride. “The cuppa table is always ready for a nice chat between friends.”
“I look forward to it. Sorry, I have to run. I’m meeting with my contractor.” Catrina checked her cell phone. “Oops. I’m late.” With an exchange of nice meeting you and see you later, she quickened her steps out the door and gave a quick wave through the window.
Maggie nodded. “I like her. She’ll make a nice addition to Main Street.”
“When I decided to rent the upstairs of the gallery, finding a compatible business concerned me. A craft shop fits well. Speaking of the gallery, I hear you know our newest artist—he’s a talented photographer.” Samantha grinned like the Cheshire cat.
“That didn’t take long.”
“Perils of small-town life.” Samantha fluffed her golden blond hair with her fingers and slipped her shoes off under Maggie’s lace-draped cuppa table. Samantha grinned at Wolf and Goldie, sharing homemade dog treats Maggie had given them before sitting across from her.
Maggie served tea from a blue patterned porcelain teapot. Samantha mattered to her on several levels. A best friend, a sister-in-law, and she also owned the gallery next door. Maggie tugged the floral wing chair closer to the table. “The guy I told you about—the one I dated in college?”
Samantha leaned forward, her azure eyes wide open. Along with lip reading, her sister-in-law watched every nuance of expressions and body language—often with keener insight than a person hearing words. “Nick Callahan. He’s your college sweetheart?”
Maggie reached in her pocket, plopped a diamond ring on the table and waited for a response.
“You and Nick are engaged?” Samantha picked up the ring and twirled it in her fingers. She still had that newlywed radiance, and according to her, everyone should be in love.
“What? No-o.” Maggie dragged out the o and mixed it with sign language. “Pastor Jim proposed.”
“I sense a problem here. Nick seemed extremely excited about seeing an old friend.” Samantha dropped the ring in Maggie’s upturned palm.
Maggie turned the diamond as it sparkled in the ribbon of light streaming through the window. “And besides, I said no. He insisted I keep the ring and think about it.”
“You’ve been seeing Pastor Jim for a while.”
“Marrying him doesn’t feel right. And now—”
“Is the and now because of Nick?”
“I have no interest in rekindling the past. And if I ever make that commitment, which I’m not eager to do, I want what you and my brother have.”
Samantha’s smile twinkled in her eyes. “Can’t argue with you there.”
“Why is marriage—or even a relationship—necessary? I’m happy with my life.”
“You haven’t found the right person.” Samantha stood and motioned for Goldie. “I have an artist bringing their work in for me to see. Lunch tomorrow?”
“More interrogation?” Maggie chuckled, then smiled since Samantha couldn’t hear her light laughter. “Can’t. I’ll be at the church, revamping the flower beds for spring.”
“Let’s do it soon.” Samantha hugged her sister-in-law before sailing out the door with Goldie. Even her steps held a spry happiness.
Maggie stared out the window. She and Pastor Jim were great friends and could have a comfortable life together—but how about passion? Why didn’t she feel the overpowering urge to fit her lips to his? She couldn’t even bring herself to call him, Jim. As he’d so often requested.