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COMING FRIDAY 7 PM PST. DEE ERNST ~ AUTHOR OF: A SAFE PLACE TO LAND (See excerpts)
COMING FRIDAY 7 PM PST.
Jenna Ferris always thought that her ex-husband, Sam, was still her best friend. Sure, their marriage hadn’t worked out, but that was mostly because of their twenty-plus age difference. But after Sam’s death, Jenna finds out that Sam had a secret that he never shared—a son, who is on his way to claim his inheritance, which includes the house that she and Sam had bought years ago. The same house that Jenna has always called home, and has no intention of sharing it with anyone, especially some snot-nosed kid from the big city.
But Craig Ferris isn’t some kid. He is a grown man, the product of Sam’s youthful affair. Craig arrives with his three daughters after hastily leaving Chicago behind. Craig has no intention of staying in the small town of Cape Edwards. He needs to find a job and place to start a new life for himself and his girls after the death of his wife the year before.
Jenna grudgingly makes room in her home—and her life— for Sam and his girls, while fighting a growing physical attraction to the man who reminds her so much of her lost love. But the more time she spends with Craig, the more she realizes he is nothing at all like his father. And lust is slowly turning to something else as she begins to know and understand the man who told her, from the very beginning, that he has no intention of staying in Cape Edwards.
Will the small-town magic of the Eastern Shore convince Craig that this is the best place for his new family? And can he believe that Jenna loves him for himself, rather than as a substitute for the larger-than-life Sam? A Safe Place to Land is about two cautious people slowly trying to find room for each other in the most treacherous landscape of all, the human heart.
Jenna tries to make an offer to Craig Ferris to purchase his half of the house but learns instead that Craig is in Cape Edwards, at Ellis Summer’s office, and has the key to the house. Her house. She leaves work as soon as she gets, word.
There was a battered gray Suburban parked in front of my house. The windows were all open, and as I drove up, I could hear singing.
I wasn’t much into kids’ movies, but even I knew the soundtrack from Frozen when I heard it.
Finn and Bit were sitting diligently on the front stoop. Chloe was sitting directly in front of the Suburban. All three pricked their ears when they saw me coming around the curve, and by the time I’d parked, they were all on my side of the Jeep, jumping and barking. At least today they had something to bark about.
I got out of the Jeep, scooped up Bit, and bent to give Chloe and Finn a few appreciative pats. Chloe may have been toothless, but she was big and had a deep, scary bark. Finn yapped but looked pretty aggressive. I told them both to hush, then walked around the Jeep to confront Sam Ferris’ son, who thought he could just waltz in and take over half of my house, some snotty kid from the big city…
My only defense is that I’d never been good at math, plus, the shock of Sam’s death and his having a son I never knew about obviously had me not thinking quite straight. Ellis said that Sam had a relationship with Kelly Laslow when he was young. So he probably fathered his son when he was in his, what, early twenties? Maybe even his late teens. When he met me, he was forty.
So that made Craig Ferris about my age. Almost the same age Sam had been when we first met. And Craig Ferris looked so much like his father I almost stopped breathing.
He got out of the Suburban slowly. He was built like Sam, slope-shouldered but with a broad, muscular chest. His dark blond hair was already starting to thin on top, just like Sam’s had, and he had big brown eyes and a wide, lazy mouth. He held out his hand, and I shook it automatically, still staring at his face. Those were Sam’s cheekbones, all right, and the same jaw…good God, was that really a dimple in his chin deep enough to take a warm bubble bath in?
“I’m Craig. Pleased to meet you, Jenna. This is awkward. I’m sorry.”
I withdrew my hand and took a breath. “You look just like him,” I whispered.
He shrugged. “Yeah. Kinda weird, I guess.” He looked down at Chloe, sitting at my side, her upper lip curled and a low rumble in her throat. “Will your dogs eat any of my kids?” he asked.
“What? No. She has no teeth. And Finn here will just grab the cuff of your jeans and tug until you play with him.”
I looked past him into the Suburban. A young girl got out, tall and skinny, maybe twelve or thirteen. And out of the back poured two little girls, with identical faces, both wearing jeans and plain red t-shirts.
“Are those your goats?” asked one.
“What’s your dog’s name?” asked the other
“Can we fish here?”
“Do you have a pony?”
“Do we have to go to school?”
“Is there a bus?”
“Can we get a boat?”
“Girls?” Craig called out. “Manners.”
One of the twins came up to me. “I’m Maddie. This is Larissa. You can tell us apart because I have a freckle on my nose and she doesn’t. Can I pet your dog? Please?”
I held Bit out to her. The little girl leaned over close enough for their noses to touch. Bit started to wriggle with happiness, so I pushed her into Maddie’s arms. “That’s Bit. She likes you. But be careful, she’ll steal the food right off your plate.”
The two girls were tiny and had big brown eyes like their father, cute pug noses and pink rosebud lips, and long, blondish hair in matching pigtails. Seriously? They couldn’t have mean expressions and really bad teeth? They couldn’t be animal haters? They had to be adorable urchins?
The older girl came around the Suburban and stuck out her hand. “Amanda. Hi.” Her face was thin and sad, her eyes small with dark smudges beneath.
I shook her hand. “Jenna Ferris.”
“Are you our grandma?” Larissa asked. She’d come up beside her sister, and Bit was frantically licking the side of her face.
“No,” I said, rather too loudly. “I am nobody’s grandma.”
“But,” she went on reasonably, “you were married to Grandpa Sam.”
“True,” I said. “But I had nothing to do with your dad, here. In fact,” I said, looking straight into Craig’s big brown eyes, “I didn’t even know he existed.”
Craig cleared his throat. “Do you think, maybe, we could go inside?”
Plan A had been, if he asked that question, to say no. That was before he was tall and drop-dead gorgeous with twin cherubs and a teen with such sad eyes. I pushed my way past him and unlocked the front door.
The dogs all rushed in from behind me, and Larissa and Maddie ran all the way from the front door to the big picture window overlooking the Bay. Craig let out a low whistle.
“That’s some view,” he said.
I nodded. “Yep. I get some amazing sunsets. Uh, listen, I really didn’t expect you to just show up here.”
I looked up at him. He was obviously uncomfortable. “Yeah. Well, we left Chicago in sort of a hurry.”
Larissa had wandered into the kitchen, Maddie right behind her. I tried to remember if I’d let any food on the counter or dishes in the sink…
“Grandpa Rob was coming after us,” Amanda said, sinking into the couch and stretching her legs out, propping her feet on the coffee table.
“Feet off the table,” Craig said immediately. She threw him a look of absolute disgust and dropped her feet to the floor.
I put my feet up there all the time but knew this wasn’t the time to mention that. “Coming after you?”
Craig ran his fingers through his hair and then tugged at the ends. A Sam move. “It’s complicated. The thing is, we’re here because we have no place else to live, and my girls need a roof over their heads. This house is huge, so I’m sure there are a few rooms we can move into until we get a more, ah, formal arrangement.”
Craig Ferris looked so much like his father had looked when we first married that all sorts of long, forgotten feelings came rushing back. I hadn’t been a virgin when I first met Sam, but compared to the boys I’d slept with before, he’d been a revelation. Sex between us had been so hot that we stayed together for that reason alone, long after everything else we thought we shared had fallen apart. And looking at Craig, those shoulders, the strength in his arms, well…whatever. I was thrown off balance. Big time.
But he wasn’t. Looking at me obviously didn’t evoke anything, and he was all business.
“Sure,” I said. “Come on this way.”
Maddie and Larissa had already made their way to the far side of the house and were in the room with the twin beds. Maddie was jumping on one, and Larissa was looking into the closet critically.
“Stop,” Craig said, and Maddie immediately hopped off the bed. If nothing else, he had them well trained.
“So, I guess this could belong to the two of you,” I said. “What do you think?” I hadn’t been in any of these rooms in a while and had almost forgotten what they looked like. This one was pretty grim. The color of the walls looked like wrinkled elephant skin and the carpet seemed to be growing stuff out of it.
Larissa opened one of the dresser drawers. I could see old shelf paper, faded and browned. “We need another dresser,” she said. “And the closet needs, fixed. And the walls?” She looked up at Craig. “Pink?”
He nodded and ruffled her hair. “Whatever color you want.”
He peeked into the hall bathroom. Entirely beige. “At least there’s a tub,” he muttered. The next bedroom was brighter and had a small, private bath attached. “Amanda,” he said. The final bedroom was dark and narrow, no curtains or a bedspread.
“Guess you don’t really use these rooms much, do you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. I live pretty much on the other side. Sam had wanted a big house because he always thought there’d be a ton of kids living here.” I stopped. I guess now there were.
Craig walked back and called to his girls. I sat and watched as they carried in suitcases. Maddie made a second trip for a clothes basket full of stuffed animals.
Bit followed her down the hall. Finn jumped up on my lap and looked confused. “Yeah, buddy, I know,” I told him. “We have something of a roommate conundrum.”
He whimpered and tried to snuggle in closer.
“No, I don’t know how long they’ll be here.”
Chloe came up and put her giant head on my knee.
“Yes, Bit is acting like a traitor, but you know how he feels about shiny new things.”
I felt Ghost jump up behind me. My family watched as Sam’s family carried more things into the house.
I kept repeating, this is not his fault, this is not his fault. This man had absolutely nothing to do with the situation we were both in. He was obviously under pressure to find a safe place for his kids, and I was sure that once things calmed down, we would reach a nice, sensible agreement, and he would get the hell out of my house.
Finally, Craig came into the living room. He stared down at me, and I thought how I must have looked at him, in wrinkled scrubs, my hair pulled up and looking like a rats nest, surrounded by animals.
“No reflection on your housekeeping skills, but is there a vacuum cleaner we could use?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“Good. And some spray cleaner? And lots of paper towels?”
I should have felt embarrassed, but I didn’t. If he was going to just move into a person’s home with no warning, then he could do his own cleanup.
“We should probably go to the grocery store,” he said. “They’re going to be hungry pretty soon.”
I took a breath. “Well, you’re going to hit traffic right now. I have juice in the fridge, a rotisserie chicken, frozen green beans, and an apple pie if you think that can hold them until tomorrow. I only work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so I’ll be happy to show you around tomorrow. I guess you have to get them, in school?”
I sighed. “I really don’t want you here, Craig. I can’t even imagine how this is going to work. But until we figure something else out, I can’t throw you and your girls out in the street. In fact, even if I could, I probably wouldn’t.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Well, at least you’re honest. Yeah, this sucks for me, too. I wouldn’t be here if I had another choice.” He narrowed his eyes. “I thought you’d be way older. You know, Sam’s wife.”
I smiled back. “And I thought you’d be younger. Sam’s kid.”
“He was something else, my dad.”
“I thought I knew him. I thought he was my friend.”
“He was my father.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds.
“Well,” I finally said, “it looked like he lied to us both.”
“That’s one thing we have in common, I guess.”
We looked at each other for a bit more, then he shrugged and left.
Chris Polittano wants to start her life over after caring for her ailing mother. Her friend and ex-roommate, Terri Coburn, convinces her that Cape Edwards is perfect: the beach, the bars, and what about all those hot men? She even swears she has found Chris the ideal home. Sure, it needs work, but Terri has already lined up the perfect team to help with the renovations, the McCann brothers. two of Cape Edwards’ most eligible bachelors.
When Chris arrives she finds that at least half of Terri’s promises are true: the McCann brothers are, in fact, hot. But her new house doesn’t just need simple renovations…there isn’t even a floor. Terri has an answer for that too—she is convinced that the two of them would make an ideal show for the HGTV network, flipping trash to treasure!
Chris steps up to the task, undeterred by heat, the tourists, even the appearance of her old boyfriend. Terri has her sights set on Steve McCann, which suits Chris just fine. The older Mike, with his good-old-boy persona and twinkling blue eyes, might be just what the doctor ordered. But Steve has other ideas, Mike’s ex-wife swoops into town, and Chris is finding that her do-it-yourself talents are sorely lacking.
Luckily, the magic of the Eastern Shore is not just about the sunlight on the water and the call of the gulls. With new friends, new self-confidence, and maybe a new love, Chris is finding all the materials she needs for building a home.
Chris Polittano has moved to Cape Edwards and is renovating a house with the help of her friend, Terri Coburn, and the professional assistance of Mike and Steve McCann. Her interest in Mike McCann has grown way past the professional level, and she’s asked him to spend the day with her.
But first, she’s spent the day trying to help out with the renovation.
I spent all day with Spackle. Spackle, or mud, if you really want to know, is what’s used in filling all the little dents in the drywall, caused by the drywall screws anchoring the drywall to the two-by-fours that were the walls to my house. Apparently, you needed about six thousand screws per sheet of drywall. Okay, maybe not that many, but it sure seemed like that many. The seams between the sheets of drywall also had to be filled and smoothed, but it was obvious that my skill set was nowhere near where it needed to be for that particular task. So I stuck the corner of my flipper into the mud, filled the dent, turned the flipper over, and applied enough pressure to remove all the mud except just the amount needed to create a smooth surface.
I did not wear my overalls, didn’t cover my hair, and didn’t wear my workbooks. So at the end of the day, there were flecks of white all over my nice cotton shorts—and my legs— as well as in my hair, on my arms, and down the front of my t-shirt. Don’t ask. I also stubbed eight out of ten toes against various bits of lumber, various ladders, large buckets of mud…
Needless to say, I completely blew off all Friday night activities and soaked in a tub for almost an hour before falling asleep on the couch, my head still wrapped in a towel, by eight-thirty.
Terri was nice enough to help me to bed when she came in from the pier.
When I woke up, muscles I never knew I had were screaming at me, asking what the hell was I doing to them after fifty years of devoted service, and begging, please, don’t ever do it again.
“I swear, all I did was stand and Spackle,” I muttered to Terri as I washed down Aleve with very sweet coffee.
“And when was the last time you did that?” she asked, arching her eyebrows over the rim of her mug.
“Never,” I muttered. “Just you wait ’til you spend your vacation over there. I’m betting you’ll be hurting. God, when did we get old?”
“This has nothing to do with age,” she said with conviction. “It has everything to do with your body being completely used to manual labor. If you’d been alive two hundred years ago, and spent all your days hauling wood and washing clothes in a river, you wouldn’t feel a twinge.”
“If I’d been alive two hundred years ago,” I muttered, “I know I would have been one of those people the settlers would have happily traded to the Indians. Hauling wood my ass.”
She burst out laughing. “I have to go to breakfast. Enjoy your day, and remember, tomorrow when I get back from church we’re going to look at that house.”
“I remember. Wait, what’s that look on your face?”
She raised her eyebrows innocently. “Why, nothing. I just left a message for Steve McCann to meet us there, and if he could, you know, to give us a professional opinion of what needs to be done.”
“Why, Terri, you sly dog. Good work. Mike didn’t want to come and take a look?”
She gave me a look. “I didn’t ask him.”
“Well, I might ask him myself,” I said, although there were a whole list of other things I’d rather be asking him to do…
“Okay, tell all the ladies I said hello, and one of these Saturdays I’m going to join you all.”
She trotted out, and I finished my cereal, drank more coffee, and waited until the Aleve started to work, then got dressed and ready to meet Mike. He picked me up in a two-seater, a tiny convertible sports car that looked like it belonged in a 1960’s spy movie.
“What kind of car is this?” I asked as I buckled myself in.
“Austin Healey Sprite,” he said. “My baby.”
“I can’t help but notice there’s no back seat or trunk space. If we want to buy something, there’s no way to get it home.”
He grinned. “Exactly.”
I had to hold my hat on my head the whole drive up, but it was worth it to feel the breeze on my face. Driving in a top-down convertible wasn’t very conducive to conversation. After a few attempts of shouting over the road noise, I just sighed happily and looked at the scenery. We arrived in Onancock just before noon, and Mike parked on a side street.
“Eat then walk?” He asked.
I nodded. “Mike, if you spend any time with me at all, you’ll know that if there’s a choice between eating and anything else, eating comes first.”
He took me to a building right on the water that had been a General Store, and I ate crab and scallops and sweet tea, and then we walked around town, stopping in a few art galleries before arriving at the Antique Market, which proved pleasant enough, and fairly safe, until we walked all the way through and came across a treasure trove of architectural salvage pieces. I stopped, mouth open, and sighed happily.
“Mike, would you look at all this stuff?”
He was grinning, his eyes twinkling. “I had a feeling this would be the place for you. Remember, we can’t bring anything home bigger than hinges or maybe a doorknob or two.
Actually, we brought home enough doorknobs for the entire house, as well as hooks (to hang bathroom towels) a rectangular piece of ironwork (to hang from the ceiling on the porch) and hinges (for the new screen door). He did manage to talk me out of a few items.
“Chris, I know this mantle is beautiful, but you don’t have a fireplace.”
“I know, but I could use it as a headboard in the guest room.”
“I thought those shutters you bought the other week were going to go on either side of the window, and that was where you were putting the bed?”
“Oh. Right. Well, how about this?”
“It’s a milk separator. You planning on making cheese?”
“But it’s so cool…”
The man saved me a fortune.
On the way back we stopped at Eyre Hall, one of my favorite places in the world, and we walked through the late afternoon sun to the creek, then sat, perfectly and happily quiet. I could hear other people in the gardens, and the sound of their voices mixed with the chirping of the birds and the quiet song of the creek.
“This was a good day,” he said at last.
“Yes, it was.” We were not touching. We weren’t even sitting that close, but I had never felt so aware of a man’s body before. He was leaning forward, his forearms resting on his thighs, hands clasped. I could see glints of silver and gray among the dark brown hairs on his arms, and, and the fabric of his knit shirt stretched across his shoulders. I was thinking that I could just run my fingers lightly across the top of his shoulders, and down the center of his broad back…
“So, listen, if you’re still interested in some kinda glass thing for your bathroom, Steve is looking at a probable tear-down this week. The house, what’s left of it, is pretty old, so I’ll ask him to keep an eye out.”
I cleared my throat. “That would be good. Thanks.”
He sat back and stretched his arm out along the back of the bench seat. If I, leaned far back enough, I could rest the base of my neck right along his bare arm…
“The doorknobs we got today? Now, they’re a real find. Gonna fit just fine. Lucky for you we saved all those old doors of yours because they were just about the only things in good shape. Can’t beat a solid pine door like that. We’ve already stripped ‘em down, and they have a nice stain on them. The knobs should be easy, and they’ll look just fine. The hinges, now, you’re gonna have to clean them up. It’s a dirty job. No, maybe just messy. You up for it?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked as I imagined leaning over and turning his face to mine. His lips looked soft. I bet they tasted just like…
“Well, I know how you city girls are about getting your manicures ruined.”
I sat up. “I do not get manicures,” I told him. “And that’s the second time you called me a city girl. Rehoboth is not exactly a metropolis, you know.”
“True, but compared to Cape Edwards, it may as well be the Big Apple.”
“You know, Mike,” I said, feeling a little annoyed, “You lived most of your adult life in Boston, which is not some trivial New England burg. When are you going to stop with the small-town B.S? You’re not fooling me, you know.”
“I told you, you can’t take Delmarva out of the man.”
I frowned. Just when I was thinking some pretty positive things about him, including how nice it would be to maybe feel those soft lips against mine, he had to go all “aw, shucks” on me, and he knew I knew it was all an act.
“And I have no problem with hard work and you know it. I spackled yesterday.”
He nodded. “Yep. Heard all about it. Tyler said you were pretty much covered from head to foot.”
“Yeah, well, it was my first time! I bet some of the first times you ever tried things, it wasn’t perfect.”
He turned to me, eyes twinkling. “Well, I hate to boast, but most of my first times are fairly spectacular.”
I had no reply. I’m fairly certain that my mouth was hanging open and I could feel the color rush to my face.
I didn’t know whether to kiss him or smack him upside the head.
I huffed, bolted off the bench, and headed back to the car