Series: Sweetbriar Cove #1
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Poppy Somerville believes in happily-ever-after. It’s the reason her romance novels have won devoted readers all over the world – and why she’s broken off her engagement just weeks before the wedding instead of settling for less than true love. Escaping to her aunt’s beach cottage in Sweetbriar Cove, Poppy is looking for inspiration to break her writer’s block and finish her new book. She just wasn’t counting on the handsome, gruff contractor making such a racket next door…
Cooper Nicholson doesn’t believe in soul-mates. He thought he’d found his forever once, and the world proved him wrong, so when the cute brunette comes storming over and demands he keep the noise down, romance is the last thing on his mind. But his new neighbor is full of surprises, and soon, their chemistry is too hot to ignore.
As they grow closer, they discover fiction has nothing on the plot twists life has in store. But will Cooper find a way to let go of the past and risk his heart again? And can Poppy find her happy ending – on and off the page?
Find out in the new sweet and sexy small-town romance from New York Times bestselling author, Melody Grace!
Poppy Somerville believed in soul-mates.
Call her crazy, or naïve, or hopelessly romantic if you want – she’d heard it all. But ever since she sneaked her first drugstore romance novel to read under the covers at night, she’d believed. That there was someone for everyone; a pot for every lid. A place her heart could find a home.
It’s what made her race through the works of Jane Austen by the time she was fifteen, and sing along with every love song on the radio, and sit up nights watching classic old windswept movies while her college friends were out drinking in the rowdy bars on State Street on a Friday night. It’s why, when she finally sat down to write her very own book, a love story was the only thing on her mind. Now, a few years and half-a-dozen novels later, she had millions of readers all over the world – because they wanted to believe, too.
Some people rolled their eyes, but Poppy didn’t care. She figured there was something brave about that kind of hope, especially with so much darkness in the world. Love was worth taking a risk on, no matter how easy it seemed just to play it safe and settle for something less than The One.
So why did she have a tight knot in the pit of her stomach just thinking about the wedding that should have been happening thirty thousand feet below her right now?
She could picture it perfectly – she’d selected every detail. She knew the music that would have been playing, the white roses decorating the chapel pews. It was her dream wedding from start to finish – and it was all still just a dream. Because she’d broken things off just two weeks before the ceremony. Now, instead of saying her vows and entering into holy wedded matrimony, she was squished into the coach section of a last-minute red-eye flight, trying to put as many miles as possible between her and the wedding-that-wasn’t.
“Don’t worry, it’s nearly over.”
Poppy snapped her head around.
The lady in the next seat paused her knitting and offered a sympathetic smile. “We’ll be landing soon. This is always a bumpy ride, those Atlantic winds.”
“Uh huh.” Poppy managed a faint reply. She was gripping the arm-rest so hard, her knuckles were turning white. Her stomach had been churning for an hour now, but she didn’t know if it was the choppy flight making her feel so uneasy – or regret she’d thrown away what could have been her one chance at happiness, someone to share her life with forever.
The plane lurched, and Poppy bit back a whimper.
It was the turbulence, she told herself. Definitely the flight.
“Do you want to try and take your mind off it?” The woman asked, friendly. “I have a book you can read, if you’d like.”
She rummaged in her purse, then pulled out a paperback. Poppy recognized the cover in an instant. It was her first book – the one that had propelled her from beavering away at a tiny cubicle at a temp job in the city, to… beavering away in a tiny office in her apartment, instead. Contrary to popular opinion, bestselling authors weren’t all jet-setting around the world to exotic locations. The advance on that book had barely paid off the last of her student loan, and bought a good bottle of wine to celebrate. But still, toasting the deal that night, she’d never been prouder. And even though her deals had grown along with her readership, Poppy knew that doing what she loved every day was the real prize.
And sharing her stories with readers around the world.
“Thanks.” She took the book and pretended to look over the jacket, even though she knew every word by heart. She’d bounced for joy when those first advance copies had arrived, holding it in her hand for the very first time. “Are you enjoying it?” she couldn’t help asking. She always loved to get reviews, no matter how hard she tried to stay away.
“Ooh yes,” the woman said promptly, and Poppy glowed with pride. “I love all her books,” she continued. “She has a way of writing, you really feel the passion of the relationship. I bet her husband’s one in a million, to make her write like this.”
Poppy came back down to earth with a bump that jolted more than the plane. She knew all her fans thought she was having breathless affairs, or settled with the man of her dreams, but woman in Seat 12B couldn’t have been further from the truth – especially now.
Luckily, before she could reply, the overhead announcement switched on. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready to make our descent into Boston International. Thank you for joining us, if you could stow all baggage…”
Poppy let out a sigh of relief. She could see the city lights spread out below them now, still dark before sunrise. She’d only been able to get a red-eye flight at the last minute, she’d been in such a hurry to get out of town.
“There you go.” her companion smiled. “You’ve almost made it! Just a few bumps and we’ll be back on solid ground.”
Poppy wished it could be so simple. When they disembarked at the gate and she switched her phone back on, she found a dozen text messages waiting for her – all of them marked with the capital letters of increasing urgency.
Don’t look at your messages.
Seriously – DON’T LOOK
I’M BANNING YOU FROM FACEBOOK.
(call me, I love you)
Her best friend, Summer. Poppy knew she meant well, but now there was no way she wasn’t going to look. She stepped back from the scrum at the baggage carousel and took a deep breath, bracing herself before she clicked through to Facebook and saw the notifications waiting for her
Congratulations, Owen and Poppy!
Poppy felt a weird out-of-body sensation, like she was looking at herself in another life. Her inbox was full: best wishes from distant relatives and old co-workers and old grade school classmates she hadn’t seen in twenty years. ‘Best of luck for your life together’. ‘Here’s to a beautiful bride!’ In all the rush to cancel everything and make sure all their guests were notified, Poppy hadn’t thought to update her social media profile. It was just the same as it had been two weeks ago, with her engagement photo beaming out from the front page and a wall full of excited wedding countdowns from her family.
But the photo didn’t show the doubts whirling in her mind, even then. Or the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach every time she looked at her engagement ring, and picked out a wedding dress, and tasted cake samples with their moms cooing over every slice. It felt like the walls were closing in on her, crushing her with icy panic, until she’d woken up in a cold sweat and known without a doubt, she couldn’t go through with it. She didn’t love Owen, not the way she needed to if she was going to say those vows. And as much as she longed for a life with someone, building the kind of forever she wrote about every day, every instinct in her body was screaming at her, not this time.
Not this man.
She guessed her instincts were right, because now the sinking feeling was gone – replaced by an epic black hole of guilt. It still made her sick with shame, remembering the look on Owen’s face when she’d told him it was the end. Maybe he should have seen it coming, things had been distant and tense between them for months, but still, it didn’t make it any easier saying the words, ‘it’s over’ and ruining his life the way she did.
Aunt June would say she was being dramatic. She did, in fact, when she reached out and offered Poppy a lifeline: her beach cottage on Cape Cod.
“Trust me,” June had said down the phone line, in her usual no-nonsense tone. “If you stick around, you’ll let them talk you back into it. You need a nice change of scenery. And don’t you have that book that needs finishing?”
Poppy didn’t need reminding. Even now, hauling her bags off the conveyer, her deadline loomed large. Her ‘already pushed three times, editor leaving panicked voicemails, black cloud’ of a deadline. The final book in her series, the installment all her readers had been waiting for. She’d been avoiding that blank page for weeks now, so Aunt June’s offer couldn’t have come at a better time. She could shut herself away miles from all the drama, and focus on giving her readers the happily-ever-after they deserved.
Even if her own happily-ever-after seemed further away than ever before.
* * *
It was still dark by the time Poppy claimed her rental car (and an extra-large coffee) and hit the road. She was worn out from travel, and counting the minutes until she could collapse into Aunt June’s guest-room bed, but as the reassuring voice of GPS guided her down the wide freeway, she couldn’t help but feel her tension ease. The miles disappeared in no time and the sky was turning pink as she crossed the Sagamore Bridge. It was the unofficial gateway to the Cape, where the bicep of shoreline arced in a lazy curl against the mainland, and Poppy could almost feel the change in the air. Six lanes narrowed to just a sandy two-way road, and then suddenly, the sun lifted over the horizon, glinting through the lush green woods and glittering on the dark ocean. Even though she had the car heater blowing on full against the early-morning chill, Poppy wound down the windows to inhale a lungful of crisp, tangy sea air.
It tasted like summertime.
Melting ice-cream cones and sticky sunscreen, the shriek of cold water, plunging into the pond—the memories hit her in a rush, and just like that, she was ten years old again.
The last time she made this drive, she was curled in the backseat, her head in a book while her parents bickered upfront. They told her it would be an adventure, a whole summer at Aunt June’s, but she knew well enough they just wanted her out of the way so they could fight at full volume back home. As she stood on the porch and watched their car disappear back up the bumpy lane, she was surprised to hear June say, “Ten bucks says they’ll be divorced by the time they come pick you up again.”
Poppy had stared at her in shock. Of all the things they didn’t talk about those days, the D-word was the biggie, something they tip-toed around like an elephant slap-bang in the middle of the house.
June gave her a knowing look. “C’mon kid, you’re smarter than anyone, all those books you’ve been reading. It’ll be alright,” she added, patting Poppy on the shoulder. “Some things just aren’t meant to be.”
Poppy learned a lot of things that summer, like how to swing out over Blackbottom Pond to hit the water just right with the biggest splash, and the secret ingredient that made Aunt June’s sweet iced tea so sweet (a splash of maple syrup), but that one stuck with her the longest. Because if some things weren’t meant to be, then that meant there was plenty that was. True love existed, and maybe her parents hadn’t found it with each other the first time around, but she had to believe it was still out there, for everyone.
She pushed away the whisper of doubt in the back of her head, and focused on finding the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turning off the highway. She’d been traveling for hours, and exhaustion was hitting hard. She had to force herself to keep her eyes open as she wound her way down past clapboard houses and white picket fences, bright with hydrangeas in the early morning sun. When she finally found the blue-shingled beach cottage sitting squarely at the end of the lane, she could have cheered out loud.
Poppy parked out front and grabbed her purse from the front seat. She had a case in the trunk, but the only thing she needed right now was a soft mattress and sleep, so she fished the spare key from under the ceramic whale on the porch, let herself in, and crawled straight upstairs to collapse face-down on the nearest bed.
She kicked off her shoes, buried her face in the nearest cool pillow, and let out a sigh of satisfaction.
Then the hammering began.
What fresh hell was this?
Poppy dragged herself over to the window and squinted at the morning sun. From there, she could see out into the side yard, to Aunt June’s vegetable patch, and the riot of wildflowers trailing down to the shore — and the house next door.
Although, to be honest, calling it a house felt like an insult to other homes, ones with four solid walls and a roof. This was barely standing, stripped back to the frame and wide open to the elements. She could see into the back room, from the cords of raw wood stacked on the foundation, to a tangle of power cords and equipment. And she could definitely hear everything inside, too.
The banging got louder.
Please, she sent up a silent prayer. Just let me have an hour or two of sleep. And then, like the Gods of Slumber were smiling down on her, the banging stopped. Yes!
Poppy collapsed back into bed and closed her eyes to—
The high-pitched whine of a saw echoed through the window, followed by the screech of metal against metal. Every one of the hairs on Poppy’s skin stood on end.
She leapt out of bed. Enough! She stormed downstairs and out through the yard. “Excuse me!” she called, approaching the house next door. “Hey?”
The sawing cut out, and a moment later, a man strolled out onto the deck. “What’s all the racket?” he demanded, safety goggles pushed up over his head and a power drill in his hands.
Poppy stopped. Even through her sleep-deprived anger, she could still register cornflower blue eyes, and a strong jaw, and chiseled arms straining under that plain white T-shirt…
“Well?” he asked again, scowling impatiently. “I’m kind of busy here.”
“I know, I heard.” Poppy recovered. “Every last hammer, in excruciating detail. Do you know what time it is?” she added, plaintive.
The man glanced at his watch. “Seven oh three,” he drawled.
“On a Sunday morning!” Poppy exclaimed. “Aren’t there rules or regulations about this kind of thing? Some of us are trying to sleep.”
“Oh yeah, late night was it?” The man arched an eyebrow and gave her a head-to-toe smirk that made Poppy flush. She knew she must look a mess, in sweatpants and an old ball shirt with a stain from where the flight attendant had spilled cheap red wine during a bumpy patch.
She smoothed down her tangled hair and straightened up. “I just got in. I’m staying at my aunt’s, right next door.”
“June said something about that.” He hoisted some wood over to the workbench. “But then, you always did like to boss everyone around, right pipsqueak?”
Hearing her old nickname triggered a sense of déjà vu. There was only one person who’d ever called her that, even when it drove her crazy. Especially when it drove her crazy.
“Wait, Cooper?” she asked, blinking in disbelief.
“The one and only.” He gave her a lazy grin, and even with stubble on his jaw and a smudge of sawdust on his cheek, that smile still wiped all her anger from her mind.
“The last time I saw you, you were…. shorter.” She managed to recover in time. That was saying something. She remembered a gangly kid, constantly tormenting her with bugs and boogers and Lord knows what else.
Now, Cooper Nicholson was all man.
“How have you been?” she asked, still stunned. “What are you doing these days?”
“I’m good. I stayed around town, started a business fixing up old houses,” he replied, then gave her a look. “At least, when I don’t have nosy neighbors interrupting me.”
“I’m sorry,” Poppy exhaled. “I’ve just been traveling all night, and I’m so tired I could cry. Is there any chance you could keep it down, just for a couple of hours?
“OK, OK.” Cooper seemed to soften. “Wait here.”
He disappeared back into the house, and Poppy tried to catch her breath. Who knew Cooper, Spitball King of Sweetbriar Cove, would grow up to be so… So…
After a moment, Cooper emerged with something in his hand. “Sorry about the noise,” he flashed her a wide, easy smile. “This should take care of it.”
Poppy looked down.
The man had kept her up, taunted her, and now presented her with two tiny knobs of bright orange foam like that was any help at all.
“You’re not going to keep the noise down?” she asked, exhausted.
“Sorry, pipsqueak.” He said, sounding anything but apologetic. “Just count yourself lucky you got a lie-in today. Usually my crew starts at six!”
Before she could say anything, he turned back to his saw. The high-pitched whine started up, and Poppy turned on her heel and fled.
So much for small-town neighbor charm. It looked like she was on her own.
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