Excerpt from MARRY ME IN GOOD HOPE

Chapter One

Hadley Newhouse normally didn’t eavesdrop. Still, the way she saw it, whatever went on in David Chapin’s life was very much her business.

At the moment, Hadley was the only one working in Blooms Bake Shop. After an early rush this morning, business had slowed to a trickle. For now, David and his mother, Lynn, were the only occupants in the dining area.

Hadley was busy restocking the bake case when the conversation between the mother and her adult son turned interesting.

“I can’t believe Camille would do something so impulsive.” Hadley’s hand froze on the pastry she was adding to the bakery case. Slowly, she added a kouign amann to the tray, then even more slowly reached for a Danish.

“She and Allen have been dating over a year, so getting married doesn’t really fall into the impulsive bucket.” David expelled a breath and sat back in his seat. “I just never expected her to marry him while they were on vacation. Or to quit without notice.”

Hadley inhaled sharply. Camille had been Brynn Chapin’s nanny since David and his now ex-wife had first moved to Good Hope.

Lynn, an attractive woman with silvery blond hair, set down her cup. David’s mother was a businesswoman and head of the Chapin banking empire. She was a person who identified problems and found solutions. “What are you going to do?”

It was the same question Hadley wanted to ask.

Through the bakery case glass, Hadley watched David’s brows pull together. She waited, barely breathing, for him to say he already had someone wonderful in mind. A special woman who would care for Brynn and make the child ridiculously happy.

That’s what Hadley wanted more than anything for Brynn. She wanted the girl happy. Losing her longtime nanny was another blow to a girl with a young, tender heart who’d already faced so much loss. First, her mother leaving. Then, the recent death of her best friend from cancer. Now, Camille.

“I got the call from her right before I left to meet you. I haven’t had time to formulate an action plan.” David raked a hand through his thick, dark hair. “It’s too bad there isn’t an agency on the peninsula that supplies nannies. But I’ll start by asking around. Unless you know someone?”

Lynn’s brows pulled together in thought. Then she slowly shook her head. “Does Brynn know Camille won’t be coming back?”

“Not yet.” David expelled a breath. “I asked Camille to let me tell her.”

Hadley frowned and added a cherry Danish to the case.

“This news will crush her.” Lynn’s voice thickened with emotion. She took a sip of the floral tea she preferred before continuing. “She’s been through so much since her mother left.”

Mother.

Hadley gritted her teeth at the word. David’s ex-wife had never been a mother to Brynn. From the moment Hadley had first set foot in Good Hope, she’d seen where Whitney Chapin’s priorities lay.

There were the numerous trips Whitney took, always with friends, rarely with her daughter and husband. Not to mention the programs at school and the Seedlings activities that Whitney had dismissed as mundane and not worthy of her time.

Hadley pulled her thoughts back to the present when she realized David was answering his mother.

“…and no.” He leaned back in his chair.

When his eyes flicked to the counter, Hadley dropped her gaze and busied herself shelving the rest of the pastries.

As if suddenly conscious of her presence, he lowered his voice. “It’s been a difficult year for Brynn.”

He obviously had more to say, and Hadley didn’t want to miss a single word. If she went into the back, listening would prove impossible. She couldn’t very well ask him to speak up.

Yet, she couldn’t stay crouched behind the bakery case without arousing further suspicion. After placing the last Danish on the lower shelf, she stood.

At five feet nine inches, Hadley towered a good foot and a half over the top of the case. Clad in a hot-pink T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Baking Up Some Love,” there was little hope of blending into the woodwork.

Lynn reached across the table and covered her son’s hand with hers. “I’ll do everything I can to help you find a suitable replacement for Camille.”

Hadley bought herself a few seconds by wiping the counter.

“All I want is for Brynn to be happy.”

Hadley refrained from glancing in their direction, but she heard the tears in Lynn’s voice.

“I know you do, Mom.” David’s voice held that comforting reassurance Hadley had often heard him use with Brynn. “We need to remember that, in the end, this will turn out best for everyone.”

Hadley forced herself to breathe. David was right. He’d find the perfect nanny, and everything would go back to normal. She reached the doorway leading to the commercial ovens just as the bell over the door jingled. Hadley swung around.

Ryder Goodhue, owner of the Daily Grind, a coffee shop that featured pastries and desserts baked at Blooms Bake Shop, covered the short distance to her in long, confident strides. Though summer was in full swing on the Door County peninsula, Ryder was dressed in his customary black. Black jeans. Black T-shirt. Black high-tops.

Hair and eyes the color of walnut completed the picture.

Hadley offered him an easy smile. “You only needed to call if you needed more pastries.”

Ami Cross, the owner of Blooms Bake Shop, had secured several outlets for the shop’s pastries and baked goods. While it would be unusual for Ryder to have run out of product so early in the day, because of the high influx of tourists at this time of year, anything was possible.

“We got hit hard this morning, but after upping our order last week, we’re in good shape.” Ryder halted in front of the bake case. “Is Ami available?”

“She’s at Muddy Boots today.” Hadley gestured with one hand in the direction of the café Ami and her husband owned. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Though Hadley didn’t have a formal title, she functioned as Ami’s second-in-command. Once her boss had become a mother, Hadley had assumed even more administrative responsibilities.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hadley saw Lynn push back her chair and watched David stand.

Though Hadley wanted to listen to any last comments, she forced herself to concentrate on Ryder. “Or, if you need to speak with Ami now, I can reach her on her cell.”

“I’ll stop by Muddy Boots.” Ryder cocked his head and studied her. “Are you working at the Crane tonight?”

Hadley nodded. “I’m there every weekend.”

Despite Ami giving her a substantial pay increase, along with the extra responsibilities, Hadley had held on to her second job at the popular waterfront bar.

“I’ll see you tonight, then.” The wink he shot her on his way out of the shop left her puzzled.

Reaching the door several steps ahead of Lynn, Ryder held it open for her. The two stepped out into the sunshine. David resumed his seat at the table.

Lines of fatigue edged his eyes and sadness filled the gray depths, leaving Hadley to wonder if his confident assertion that he’d find the perfect nanny had been merely an act.

+

David decided he should have left with his mother instead of brooding over a cup of now lukewarm coffee. Right now, he didn’t have the energy to get up. Between his work as a partner in an architectural firm and trying to be both father and mother to a distraught child, his stores were depleted.

Damn Whitney.

His lips pressed together as he thought of his ex-wife. If she didn’t love him anymore, so be it. But to run out on her daughter…

David knew the demons that haunted Whitney and the fear that was ever present in her life. But Whitney had made her choice. Right now, she was living it up in Boca. The popular South Florida hot spot north of Miami had been a favorite haunt of his ex and her friends.

His ex-wife could take care of herself. It was Brynn’s welfare that concerned him. He and Whitney had adopted the child as a newborn. For him, it had been love at first sight. The day they’d signed the private adoption papers in the Chicago attorney’s office had been the happiest of his life.

Initially, Whitney had appeared equally enamored of the baby with sweet features and wisps of blond hair. She’d purchased loads of clothes and paraded the baby before her friends. When the teething started, Whitney had tired of the child.

“Care for a refill?”

David’s head jerked up.

Hadley stood beside the table, coffeepot in hand.

“Thanks.”

She refilled his mug in silence. It was a welcome change from the servers at Bayside Pizza, Brynn’s favorite place to eat. The servers there talked nonstop to the patrons.

Hadley, on the other hand, exuded a calm, restful presence. It was no wonder Brynn adored her.

“Did I hear you say you were working at the Flying Crane tonight?” The second the words left his mouth, David wished he could pull them back. That had been a private conversation between her and Ryder.

Still, she had a voice that carried, and it had carried right over to where he sat.

“I’m there every Friday and Saturday night.” She flashed a bright smile. “Stop by. I’ll give you a free plate of nachos.”

David wondered if she offered free nachos to everyone. He hadn’t heard her mention anything about nachos to Ryder.

“Of course, you’ll probably be home with Brynn.” Two bright patches of pink appeared on her cheeks when the silence extended. “I just thought—”

“Actually, Brynn is spending the night with Lia, one of her friends from the Seedlings.” He paused. “The Seedlings are a scouting organization—”

Hadley laughed. “Oh, I may not have grown up here, but I know all about the Seedlings.”

David mentally kicked himself. Of course, he didn’t need to explain the Seedlings to Hadley. He remembered how excited Brynn had been last year when Hadley had helped the leaders with a rock-climbing unit held at the YMCA.

“Yes, well, it’s a great organization.” David shifted in his seat, wondering just why he felt so awkward. “I was planning to stay home tonight and finish up a project.”

Her eyes lit with interest. “Another hospital? Or a surgical facility?”

It surprised him that Hadley knew his firm specialized in designs of healthcare facilities, until he recalled a brief conversation they’d had last year. He’d mentioned that an emergency department he designed for a hospital in Queens had won an AIA/AAH Healthcare Design Award.

Even if she didn’t recall that specific conversation—and why would she?—everyone in town was aware he’d designed the Good Hope Living Center. The retirement community project, financed by the Chapin Foundation, focused on independent living for seniors.

“C’mon, what is it this time?”

He flashed a smile, and the awkward feeling vanished. “Another emergency room, this time in Spokane.”

“I’m sure it will be both lovely and functional.” She waited for half a beat as if truly interested.

David knew he’d been mistaken when she turned and headed back to the counter. He took a deep gulp of coffee, tossed a five on the table as a tip and stood.

Before Hadley reached the counter, she bent to pick up a napkin from the floor.

He couldn’t help admiring her toned backside. Hadley had the whole package. Brains, body and personality.

Then he remembered that was what he’d once thought about Whitney.

David swallowed the words he’d been about to utter, the ones that would have committed him to stopping by the Flying Crane that evening.

Instead, he paused when he reached the door and called out the inane, “Have a nice day,” before strolling out of the shop.

 

Chapter Two

David stood outside the Flying Crane. Why had he come? His college days were so far in the past they seemed to be another lifetime. He was a single father with many responsibilities.

He was also lonely. Tonight, in the beautiful house he’d designed, the walls had begun to close in…

It wasn’t that the house reminded him of Whitney. His wife, his ex-wife, had spent very little time under the multi-gabled roof of the house he’d designed for them on the stretch of road facing the beautiful waters of Green Bay. The same went for the town of Good Hope. Despite voicing early in their marriage that she wanted to be part of a community, she’d made little to no effort to get acquainted.

No, it wasn’t reminders of dreams unrealized that had driven him out on this late July evening.

“Are you going to stare at that door all night or open it?”

David turned and gazed into the amused eyes of Beckett Cross.

Beck’s wife, Ami, gave her husband a poke in the ribs. “Be nice.”

David smiled. He liked the attorney-turned-café-owner who’d relocated to Good Hope several years earlier.

“I’m surprised to see you here tonight.” Seeing their confused expressions, David hurried on without giving them a chance to speak. “I mean, with having a little one at home.”

“Prim and Max are watching Sarah Rose this evening,” Ami said, referring to her sister and brother-in-law. “The Giving Tree holds a special place in my heart, so I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to help raise money for it. Plus, it’s nice every once in a while to spend an evening out with my husband.”

Ami gave her hand a swing, and David noticed she and her husband held hands. He couldn’t recall the last time he and Whitney had held hands. Perhaps if they had…

David shoved the thought aside. Water under the bridge.

Beck reached around him and opened the door.

“Are you meeting someone?” Ami raised her voice over the sound of heavy bass spilling from the doorway.

David shook his head and stepped inside. It had been so long since he’d been here, it was as if he was seeing the place for the first time.

The high tin ceiling added a vintage vibe, while the scarred wooden floor contrasted with the gleaming mahogany of the curved bar. The large mirror behind the bar made the room look double the size.

Music blasted from the back of the room, where the band was set up. David winced. The large open space and hard walls made for horrible acoustics. He briefly wondered if the owner had looked into a sound-absorption system. Even a couple bass traps and sound baffles would help immensely.

“Welcome to the Flying Crane. There’s a ten-dollar cover charge tonight.”

The comment snapped David’s attention from the noise to Izzie Deshler. Tonight, the local artist with massive talent and even more massive hair, wore a black shirt with a red crane in flight.

Izzie stuck out a jar filled with bills. “We’ve got a band from Chicago playing tonight. Five dollars of the ten will go toward the Giving Tree.”

The Giving Tree was unique to Good Hope. Not a charity, but a fund for helping neighbors who’d fallen on hard times.

David reached into his pocket, pulled out a twenty and stuffed it in the jar. “Keep the change.”

He didn’t notice what Beck gave, but knew it must have been substantial by Izzie’s squeal of delight. David shifted his gaze to the bar, searching for an empty stool.

“Fin and Jeremy have a table on the deck.” Ami’s fingers touched his arm. “We have an extra seat and would love to have you join us.”

“It’ll be quieter out there.” Beck gestured with his head toward the doors leading to a raised deck overlooking the water.

David was well-acquainted with the entire Bloom family and with Jeremy Rakes, the town’s mayor. Not only had he and his siblings grown up with them, his mother was dating Steve Bloom, Ami and Fin’s father.

“Sure.” David spoke quickly, then qualified, “If you’re certain I won’t be intruding.”

“Not at all,” Ami assured him. Unexpectedly, her smile widened. “Hadley. Hello.”

Hadley looked even more, well, beautiful was the only word that came to David’s mind. She wore a short black skirt and a curve-hugging black tee with the crane logo. Her hair, instead of being pulled back as it had been at the bakery, hung in thick golden curls past her shoulders.

“Your family is out on the deck.” Hadley’s tone might have been upbeat, but David saw the fatigue edging her eyes.

“Which is where we’re headed.” Ami stepped aside to let a couple get past. “I’m afraid we’re causing a logjam.”

“I have your table, so I can get your drinks now, if you know what you want.” Hadley’s smile appeared directed straight at David.

He felt the punch. It really had been too long since he’d been out if he could react so strongly to a simple smile from a pretty woman. “Dos Equis with a lime.”

“Whatever beer you have on tap.” Beck slipped an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Club soda?”

“You know me well,” Ami responded with the easy familiarity of a couple in perfect sync.

“And a lime for the club soda,” Beck quickly added. “Almost forgot that part.”

“Coming right up.”

When Hadley brushed past him, David caught the scent of cinnamon, vanilla and sugar. “She smells like a cinnamon roll.”

He realized he’d spoken aloud when Ami chuckled.

“Occupational hazard.” Ami smiled. “When you bake a lot, those aromas get under your skin.”

“I find them incredibly potent.” Beck’s soft Southern drawl added a nice emphasis to the words.

Ami shot her husband a wink. “Potent is a good word.”

The interplay and the fact Ami wasn’t drinking alcohol made David wonder if she was pregnant. From what his mother had said, because Beck and Ami had gotten started late on building their family, they were determined not to wait long before working on baby number two.

What would it be like to share a pregnancy with your wife? Because of Whitney’s family history, he’d known when he married her they would never share that experience. That had been okay.

What hadn’t been okay was—

“David.” Jeremy rose from the table and extended a hand.

Good Hope’s mayor was blond, with the body of a surfer and a keen intellect. He was also one of the most good-natured guys David knew.

Delphinium—Fin—Rakes, the mayor’s wife, had the polished look of a woman he’d expect to see dancing the night away in a trendy nightclub.

Her look reminded him of Whitney, with one exception. David was sure Whitney had never looked at him the way Fin looked at Jeremy with so much love in her eyes.

Fin aimed a friendly smile at David. “How nice you could join us.”

“Thanks for asking.” Sensing someone behind him, David whirled and nearly knocked the tray out of Hadley’s hands.

Automatically, he reached out, steadying her. For several seconds, his gaze locked with hers.

As if conscious of everyone’s stares, she gave a little laugh. “That could have been disastrous. My boss says if I drop one more tray, I’m outta here.”

A look of distress crossed Ami’s face. “Lyle wouldn’t really fire you, would he?”

“Lyle is gone. All the servers report to Jeff now. The owner brought him in from Milwaukee.” Hadley’s lips pressed together. “He’s a real piece of work. I’d quit, but with the bakery closing, I need the income.”

Startled, David shot a gaze at Ami then back to Hadley. “Blooms Bake Shop is closing?”

“I’ll let Ami tell you all about it.” Hadley glanced nervously over her shoulder where a thin man with slicked-back dark hair stood staring. “Jeff doesn’t like it if we talk too long with the customers.”

Once the drinks—and another plate of nachos—were on the table, Hadley hurried off. Marigold, the youngest Bloom sister, arrived with her husband, Cade, the local sheriff.

“Why is this the first I’ve heard about you closing the bakery?” David felt very out of the loop. “Mom didn’t say a word about it this morning.”

Everyone must know but him, David realized, when the others at the table simply continued their conversations.

“We’re not closing, not in the way you think. We’re expanding.” Ami sipped her club soda and reached for a chip. “The space next to the bakery became available, and we jumped on it.”

David visualized the area. “You plan on making the dining area larger.”

Ami nodded, chewed and swallowed.

“Why not wait until winter?” David knew he had to be missing something. “Why close during the height of the tourist season?”

“Well, we hope to be pretty busy at home this winter.” Ami glanced at her husband, who grinned back at her. “And what we have planned for the bakery is major. We’re not just expanding the dining area, we’re adding additional commercial ovens, holding cabinets and packing tables. Kyle gave us a very competitive bid, but for his crew to do it, it has to fit between two other projects. Which means the renovation has to be done now.”

“Kyle Kendrick does good work.” David had been impressed by the man’s attention to detail, not only on the Good Hope Living Center, but on the theater renovation project. “You’re going to completely shut down?”

“The bakery will be gutted. We have a commercial oven at home, so Ami can still honor her contracts and accept special orders.” Beck sipped his beer, then slanted his wife a mischievous glance. “If she gets bored, I can keep her busy at Muddy Boots.”

Even before Beck and Ami were married, she’d started supplying his café with pastries in the morning and desserts for the lunch and dinner menus.

“You’re so thoughtful.” Ami returned her husband’s teasing smile. “But I believe I’ll keep busy enough supplying the café with desserts and the Daily Grind with their orders. Oh, and spending time with you and Sarah Rose.”

“The last is the most important.” Beck leaned over and kissed his wife gently on the lips.

David had to look away. The warm glow of emotion between the two only served to remind him just how cold his own marriage had been. His gaze landed on Hadley, who was serving drinks to a group of guys who looked barely old enough to drink.

She was laughing with them, flirting a little without letting things get out of hand. When one of them laid a hand on her ass as she bent over to pick up their empty glasses, David gritted his teeth and pushed back his chair.

Before he could stand, Hadley shot the guy a withering look that had him dropping his hand.

“We were out by your place today, David.”

David turned back to the table as Cade went on to talk about the house he and Marigold planned to eventually have built on land down the road from David’s property. The next thirty minutes flew by.

Cade had shifted his attention to his wife and her comment about the upcoming Founder’s Day celebration, when Ami shoved a chair in between her chair and David’s.

“There’s more than enough room.” Ami’s voice brooked no argument. “This is your break. Sit and relax. You’ve been running all evening.”

“If you insist.” Hadley dropped into the chair next to David.

The fit was tight. Ami had to pull out her chair for Hadley to get into hers. Though Hadley fit, her shoulder brushed David’s.

“Sorry.” She shot him an apologetic look.

“No worries.” He studied her for a long moment. “I don’t know how you do it.”

Hadley met his gaze, seeming oblivious to the conversation swirling around them. “Do what?”

“Get up when it’s dark to bake, work all day in the shop, then come here and be on your feet all evening.” He pointed the beer bottle toward her. “Not many people could handle that pace.”

“Women who have families often do all that and more.” She lifted one shoulder and let it drop. “All I have to worry about is me.”

David set down the bottle. “I still think you’re amazing.”

For an instant, something flickered in her cobalt-blue depths. Just when he worried he may have mistakenly given the impression he was flirting, she laughed and waved a dismissive hand. “That’s nice of you to say.”

Ami leaned close. “What are you two talking about?”

“Compliments.” Hadley didn’t miss a beat. “Sincere ones and some not so sincere. A woman told me she liked my shoes. I was feeling pretty good until she added I’d probably be able to get to my tables faster if I was wearing sneakers.”

Ami glanced around as if expecting the culprit to be standing in plain sight. “Is she someone I know?”

The look in Ami’s eyes told David that if it were, Ami might have a talk with her. While the bake shop owner might have the reputation for being sweet, she was loyal and fiercely protective of her friends.

“Tourist.” With a flick of her wrist, Hadley dismissed the episode. “She and her friends left about twenty minutes ago.”

“I hope she at least gave you a big tip.” Marigold leaned across the table, telling David there were no private conversations here.

Hadley rolled her eyes. “What do you think?”

Though Hadley didn’t seem disturbed that she’d been stiffed, it had to sting. No one worked two jobs unless they needed the money.

“Have you had a chance to look at the plans?” Cade asked David, reaching for a nacho in the center of the table.

Several days ago, Cade had given him the house plans he and Marigold were considering. Though the sheriff had made it clear they couldn’t afford to build now, they wanted plans in place when they were ready.

“The house has curb appeal, and the floor plan utilizes the space effectively.” David had reviewed the plans as a friend, not as their architect, so he treaded carefully.

The sheriff, a trained observer, picked up on the unspoken but. “What issues do you see that might present a problem?”

“Your lot is good-sized, but I don’t believe it’s wide enough to do this particular plan justice.” David lifted his beer. “Now that you know the style you like, I suggest looking for one that contains the features you want, but different dimensions.”

“What about if we cut ten feet of width and made the house deeper?”

David wiped the condensation off the bottle with his finger. “That would change the exterior as well as the interior setup.”

“Maybe you could draw something up for us?” Cade glanced at his wife and received a nod. “We’d pay you, of course.”

“I specialize in healthcare design, not residential.” David saw the light in Marigold’s eyes fade and felt like a shmuck. “But I’ll be happy to draw something up for you. I should have time once I finish my current project.”

“We’re going to pay you.” Cade told him.

“You look at the plans. Then we’ll talk.” David’s tone made it clear the subject was closed.

Cade and Marigold were friends. Marigold’s dad was dating his mother. Heck, they were practically family.

Besides, neighbors helping neighbors was the Good Hope way. What better illustration than all the people who’d turned out this evening to support the Giving Tree?

+

Hadley’s fifteen-minute break was nearly over when Fin distracted Ami with a question about the Cherries’ plans for the upcoming Founder’s Day parade.

At the same moment, Marigold and Cade—who’d monopolized David for most of the evening—pushed back their chairs and headed inside to the dance floor.

Hadley shifted in her seat to face David. “There’s always something going on in Good Hope.”

“You’re right about that,” David agreed. “Once we got through the Fourth, the Cherries turned their attention to promoting the Founder’s Day events.”

The Cherries, originally known as the Women’s Events League, planned all the holiday celebrations. Their commitment to fun activities for families, as well as couples and singles, made Good Hope a prime tourist destination.

“From what I hear, there’s going to be lots of activities for children on Founder’s Day.” Hadley cocked her head. “Will your mother be attending with you and Brynn?”

A look of puzzlement furrowed David’s brow. “It’s a month away. We haven’t discussed plans for that night.”

“I would think a grandmother would want to enjoy the activities with her grandchild. Mine certainly would have.” The second the comment left her mouth, Hadley wished she could pull it back. The last thing she wanted to speak about was her family.

Interest sparked in David’s gray eyes. “You were close to them growing up?”

No more mistakes, Hadley told herself. She took a few seconds to corral her thoughts. “No.”

He studied her, his gaze sharp and assessing. “I believe Ami once mentioned your parents live in North Dakota.”

“My grandparents lived there. I mean, they used to live there.” After what had happened in Williston, North Dakota was on her do-not-visit, do-not-mention list.

David’s gaze turned curious. “They don’t live there now?”

Hadley gave a laugh, but it ended up too high-pitched to come across as casual. Still, she had to start digging out. Or bail. “My, how did this conversation get so off track?”

She didn’t wait for a response. Instead, Hadley pushed her chair back, scrapping it across the deck with such force it nearly toppled. “I’d love to stay and chat more, but duty calls.”

Hadley offered a brilliant smile to everyone at the table. “Thanks for letting me sit with you.”

With everyone protesting at once that she hadn’t stayed nearly long enough, there was no opportunity for David to ask further questions. Questions she had no intention of answering.

If she left now, there would be zero chance of her putting her foot in her mouth for what felt like the zillionth time.

She’d never been good at off-the-cuff conversation. She did better when her actions and comments were carefully considered.

Which was why, instead of saying something else she might regret, she gave Ami’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze and strolled off.

 

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