If someone had told me, as little as two years ago, that I’d own and operate a bed-and-breakfast in this tiny berg of a town called Cedar Cove, I would have laughed my head off. But then I never expected to be a widow at the age of thirty-six, either. If I’ve learned anything—and, trust me, life has been filled with several painful lessons—it’s that the future doesn’t come with a printed guarantee.
So here I am in ninety-five-degree heat, stripping beds, scrubbing toilets, and baking cookies. An even greater surprise is that I’m loving it. Well, maybe not the toilet-scrubbing part, but just about every other aspect of this new life I have carved out for myself.
It’s been two full years now since I got the news that my husband is dead. And while I never thought it would be possible, there are times when I can smile again, feel again, even laugh. All three are surprises. When I got word that Paul had been killed in a helicopter crash on some unpronounceable mountainside in Afghanistan, it felt as if my entire world had imploded. I needed to hold on to something to keep from spiraling out of control, and that something turned out to be Rose Harbor Inn.
Nearly everyone advised against me buying the inn: my family, my friends, my employer. Again and again I heard that this was a drastic change, and I should wait a year. Give it twelve months, I was lectured. That’s the proverbial wisdom, and while I politely listened, I silently went about making my own plans. It was either do something different—all right, drastic—or slowly go insane.
Has it been easy? Hardly. Eking out a living by renting rooms, doing a good majority of the work myself, hasn’t helped build up my investment portfolio. I have yet to see a penny in profit, but I’m not going under, either. For the most part I’ve invested every cent back into the inn.
After I purchased the inn, I changed the name and had a new sign constructed and installed. I’d decided to call my new home Rose Harbor Inn. Rose is my surname, Paul’s name, and Harbor because I needed to find a protected environment in order to heal. And my sign hung proudly in front of the inn with my name, Jo Marie Rose, etched below.
In addition to the new sign, there were certain necessary repairs, some cosmetic and others unavoidable. Thankfully, friends introduced me to Mark Taylor, the local handyman.
What an enigma he was. I’ve seen him nearly every day for the past year, sometimes two and three times a day, and I still know hardly anything about him other than his name and address. Okay, so he’s a great carpenter and he craves my peanut-butter cookies. Not knowing more felt like a pesky bug bite with a constant itch. My imagination ran wild. I wanted to uncover Mark’s secrets, conjuring up a dozen reasons he refused to talk about himself. Some of those scenarios were outrageous, and there were a few scary ones lurking in the back of my mind as well.
I’ve been on a mission to pry some small bit of personal information out of him. So far I’ve had little to no success. I might as well try chiseling marble with a marshmallow. The man is as tight-lipped as they come.
The washing machine beeped, indicating that the cycle had ended.
The Hendersons, who’d recently checked out, had been in town visiting their son, who was stationed at the Bremerton Navy base. He’d recently become engaged to a local woman, and the couple had flown in from Texas to meet their future daughter-in-law. Lois and Michael were a delightful couple and I’d enjoyed hosting them.
I had two names on the books for the upcoming weekend. Both would arrive sometime Friday afternoon. After a while, names become a blur in my memory. People come and go, but for whatever reason, I specifically remembered both parties who had booked this weekend.
The first was Eleanor Reynolds, and she’d sounded quite proper when we’d first spoken. I’d guesstimated that she was either an accountant or a middle-aged librarian. Since that time I’d changed my mind. I’d spoken to Ellie twice—she asked that I call her that—since our original phone call. Once when she canceled and then a third time when she rebooked. The woman couldn’t seem to make up her mind. Seeing that I hadn’t heard from her in the last few weeks, I had to assume she would keep the reservation and arrive sometime this afternoon.
By contrast, Maggie Porter had been a breath of fresh air, chatting and happy. This was a getaway weekend she was planning with her husband, Roy. Right before the Fourth of July, Maggie’s in-laws, who had apparently heard what Maggie was planning, had called and paid for the weekend as an anniversary gift for the young couple. I looked forward to meeting Maggie and her husband.
Rover barked, which told me someone was coming up the front walkway. I glanced at my watch, fearing I’d let time get away from me. This happened more frequently than I cared to admit. Rover, my rescue dog and constant companion, raced to the door. I recognized Rover’s bark, which told me I had nothing to be anxious about. It wasn’t a guest arriving early; it was Mark Taylor.
Great. I’d been hoping it was him. I fully intended to drill him and this time I wasn’t going to let him sidetrack me or sidestep my questions.
I held the door open for Mark. He’d broken his leg last May and it’d healed nicely. I couldn’t detect even a trace of a limp. I’d been upset with him for how long it’d taken him to plant my rose garden. What should have taken only a matter of a few days had stretched into weeks and weeks.
As you might have guessed, patience isn’t my strong suit. To be fair, his injured leg didn’t exactly speed up the process. When the rose garden was in and blooming I was less irritated. Next on my agenda was the gazebo, which I wanted Mark to build. I’d given him a photo of exactly what I envisioned, but that had been weeks ago.
I longed for that gazebo. In my mind, I pictured Rover sitting with me while I sipped coffee or tea at sunset, watching the sun casting a net of pink and orange shadows across the sky as it slowly went down behind the Olympic Mountain Range. I could get the same view from the deck in the back of the house, but I liked to reserve that spot for my guests. It was a picture of the sunset that graced my brochure. Mark took that photo. Actually, he’s quite good at photography, although he brushes away my praise as if receiving a compliment embarrasses him.
Mark came into the inn and paused long enough to look down at Rover. He muttered something about the dog being nothing but a worthless mutt.
I bit down on my tongue to keep from defending Rover. Mark was like that. He’d make a comment just to get a rise out of me, but I was onto his game and I wasn’t falling for it.
“You got a minute?” he asked.
“Sure. What’s up?”
He didn’t answer me directly. Instead, he went into the breakfast room where I served my guests and placed a rolled-up piece of drafting paper on the tabletop. “I’ve finished the plans for the gazebo.”
This was a surprise. I’d expected it would take another five or six months for him to get around to that. From the first, he’d let it be known that he had other jobs that took priority over mine. This was something else he did, I suspected, hoping to irritate me. To my way of thinking, my money was just as good as anyone else’s, or so one would think. Despite my best efforts, I had yet to figure out how Mark established his priority system. Not that it mattered. However he calculated it, my projects were generally placed near the bottom.
“That’s great,” I said, and hoped to sound encouraging, but not overly so. I didn’t want to be disappointed when it took far longer than I wanted for him to start the project.
He unrolled the sheet of paper and anchored it with the salt and pepper shakers on opposite corners. The free corners curled up slightly.
I glanced down and immediately liked what I saw. “When did you draw this up?” I asked.
“A few weeks ago.”
And he was only showing it to me now?
“Do you like it or not?”
I wasn’t the only one who struggled with patience.
“I do,” I assured him, “but I have a few questions.”
“What’s it going to cost me?”
He rolled his eyes as if I’d made an unreasonable request. “You want an estimate?”
“That’s generally how it works,” I reminded him.
He sighed as if insulted. “I would have thought by now that you’d trust me to be fair.”
“I do trust you, but building a gazebo can’t be cheap, and I may need to budget for it. I don’t suppose you take payments?”
He shrugged. “Nope.”
“That’s what I thought.” As it was, he preferred to be paid in cash.
“Okay, fine, I’ll get you an estimate but if you complain about delays, then you have no one to blame but yourself.”
“Can you give me a general idea?” I pressed. To this point, the cost of everything Mark had built for me had been more than reasonable.
In response, he took out a small spiral pad he kept in his shirt pocket and riffled through several pages. He studied the sheet, then frowned and closed his eyes as if mentally tallying up the final estimation. When he opened his eyes, he named a figure I could live with.
“Sounds good,” I said, trying to disguise how pleased I was.
“It’s a go?”
I studied the design once more. It was basically a carbon copy of the picture I’d cut out of a magazine and handed him months ago. As far as I could see, it was perfect and would add a great deal of curb appeal to the inn.
“It’s a go.” I rubbed my palms together. I was excited now, and I didn’t care if Mark knew it. Rover wagged his tail as if he, too, was pleased.
“Good.” He replaced the salt and pepper shakers to the middle of the table, collected the paper, rolled it back up, and secured it with a rubber band.
Mark wrinkled his nose. “You baked cookies this morning?” he asked, and then frowned. “In this heat?”
“It was early.”
I tend to be an early riser, always have been. My friends, before they married and had children, often slept until ten or eleven on weekends. Try as I might, I rarely made it past seven. Eight at the very latest.
Mark shook his head and grimaced as if he’d unexpectedly tasted something sour. “Too early for me.”
“Is it too early for a taste test?” It went without saying that he was looking for me to make the offer.
“I could be persuaded.”
Excerpted from Love Letters by Debbie Macomber. Copyright © 2014 by Debbie Macomber. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.