. Serenity. And a Touch of Magic. The Seascape Inn.
Marketing executive Maggie Wright and artist T.J. MacGregor are linked by a mysterious car accident that killed Maggie's cousin, Carolyn, T.J.'s fiancee. When Maggie arrives on the Maine coast determined to get answers from T.J., she discovers a tortured man who is bound to the Seascape Inn by supernatural forces. Despite the tragedy that stands between them, Maggie and T.J. begin to fall in love, seeking answers and a healing spirit they may never achieve.
"…a terrific tale as two wounded warriors begin to move on passed the tragedy that brought them together… Fans of paranormal romance will want to stay at the spiritual healing Maine B&B with Vicki Hinze as their innkeeper." -- Klausner’s Bookshelf
"I read this book in one breath. It was a unique story filled with romance, mystery and paranormal elements...I look forward to reading the other two novels in the Seascape series." -- Aleksandar Petkovski, GoodReads
"…a wonderful change of reading from typical romance novels." -- Angela Wonder, Barnes & Noble Customer Review
"Lots of weird things are happening at Seascape Inn now and in the past. Charming town is full of characters to get to know." -- Rhonda Laney, Readalot
"[A] clever fusion of humor, mystery and romance." -- Publisher's Weekly
"Powerful and uplifting." -- Literary Times
T.J. MacGregor tried to
leave Seascape Inn, but every time he crossed the property’s boundary line, he
For nine months now, he had
attempted to find out why. Yet, after all this time, he stood alone on the
misty shore, his feet wedged into crevices in the jagged rocks, without so much
as a weak hypothesis.
Hoping for a miracle but
fearing he’d used his ration of them long ago, he looked to the horizon. A wall
of fog headed inland, rolling over the white-capped Atlantic. The frigid November
wind soon would carry it onto the cliffs and it, too, would enshroud him. That
had new resentment heaping onto the old and burning in his stomach. There had
to be a reasonable explanation for this. Why couldn’t he find it?
Angry waves crashed against
the sea-jutting rocks forming the coastal barrier and the narrow strip of sandy
beach below. The smell of salt spray filled his nose. It tingled from the cold,
as his nerves did from tension, and he looked down at his hands. They were red
and raw and trembling. He rubbed warmth into his numb fingers, setting them to
stinging and him to cursing at not having gloves. If he’d expected to winter in
Sea Haven Village, Maine, he’d have had gloves. But he’d expected to be at home
in New Orleans. He’d expected to be painting.
The resentment burned
deeper, welled in his throat. His eyes stung and teared. He blinked, then
turned away from the ocean, letting his gaze dart past the dead grass, brown
and bent and broken under the weight of blade-clinging ice. Feeling equally
burdened, he looked on toward the nest of firs and the hints of rooftops
beneath the steely gray clouds in the sleepy village to the south, then up the
western path leading back to the house that once had seemed to heal and now had
become his prison.
Across the road and atop a
little hill, it looked so... ordinary. Just three floors of
gray Victorian clapboard with stark, white shutters. A widow’s walk. A wide
porch strewn with rockers and a swing. A north tower stretching up into the
Yet no one knew better than
Tyler James MacGregor that Seascape Inn was anything but ordinary.
During his time here, most
guests had attributed Seascape’s "special” assets to its caretaker, Miss
Hattie, an angel if ever one walked the earth. But some had claimed Seascape
itself the haven: a wonderful old house with seemingly magical, soothing powers
where a person could come broken-bodied, or broken-spirited, gaze out upon the
star-spangled sea, and heal.
On departing, three guests had
seemed disturbed, though they’d refused to disclose their reasons, which could
have been entirely unrelated to the inn. But the majority of the guests had
said nothing out of the ordinary and had radiated silent contentment. A rare
two guests, however, actually had called Seascape "The Healing House.” With
those particular two, T.J. closely identified. Though cynical now, he’d felt
that same way years ago, on his first visit here.
Miss Hattie swore that
during her lifetime Seascape had seen more than its fair share of miracles, and
everyone in the village considered her word bankable. Forced to agree with
them, T.J. rubbed at his neck. Pure and simple, the woman could never lie. But
she could be a victim of distorted perception.
Living here as a prisoner
for the last nine months had opened his eyes in a way only forced, constant
exposure can. What he’d known about the seaside inn back then hadn’t been the
entire picture, and the entire picture had him wondering. Was Seascape a haven
Still uncertain, he squinted
up at the thin rays of weak sunlight seeping through cracks in the early
morning haze. They slanted against the attic room window, and the glass
sparkled gold like a cocky, winking sentry, mocking him. His stomach churned
and, seething, he glared at the glass. How had he been so blind? So enraptured
with Seascape’s false sense of calm and peace back then that he’d convinced
himself the house held the ability to heal? How had he been so arrogant as to
truly believe it held magic and he’d captured that magic on canvas?
T.J. grunted. That was the
trouble. He had believed. God, had he believed. So much so he’d neglected to
remember something very basic in art, and in life: every object casts shadows.
He’d once experienced
Seascape’s light, its healing magic—the object. Now, he experienced its dark
side, its curse—its shadows. The light sucked a man in and blinded him to his
troubles. The shadows lured him, then tortured his mind and smothered him until
the man inside threatened to wither and die.
Forgetting that basic truth
had been a big mistake.
He kicked at a small stone
and watched it skid over the rocks then plunk down into the ocean. Why had he
forgotten it? He had no high-blown illusions about himself. He was an artist—in
a sense, an atypical one because he wasn’t atypical, just talented. No
overestimation of his worth, by any stretch of the imagination. Ten world-class
pros stood brush-in-hand right behind him, nipping at his professional heels
and, at any time, he could be replaced by an up-and-coming. He was rich and
made no bones about it. Why should he? Money was an accident of birth, useful
only for the good that could be done with it—no less, but certainly no more.
Only the way a man lived his life determined him a better or worse person than
any other man. He reeked conservative. Definitely not-flashy in manner or
appearance. He hated flash as much as he hated snobs, peach ice cream,
government interference, closed minds, and garden-variety fanatics. And he
never, never, used his personal clout to further his professional aims.
No, he shifted on the
granite cliff and stiffened against a strong gust of wind, he had no illusions.
In the physical sense, he was above average for a guy in his thirties, filling
out a good forty-four-long suit just about right. Big men seemed to attract
women and for that he felt grateful. He genuinely liked women. The way they
walked, thought, sounded, and felt fascinated him. On the emotional front,
well, he had a ways to go to get to average. But he loved those he loved, and
he never lied to those he didn’t. All things considered, he rubbed his jaw, he
was a guy with dreams and the desire to become a better human being who
happened to paint for a living just as other men happened to run corporations
or to work in mills. He played straight with everyone, personally and
professionally. Tried to live right. Hell, he’d never even stinted and squirmed
out of jury duty. So what had he done wrong?
Where had he failed?
This imprisonment had to be
punishment for something. But what? What had he done to warrant—whatever in
hell this was?
A lump of bitterness swelled
in his throat. He swallowed it. No, even if Seascape were magical, it couldn’t
heal him again. Though his friend, Bill Butler, disagreed, T.J. clearly had gone
too far for it to help him this time. Bill might be one of the best fishermen,
the most sensitive poets, devoted family men, and trusted friends a man could
have, but about T.J.’s situation the man was dead wrong.
Or was he?
The wind shivered through
the pines down to the tree line and lifted whorls of sand on the rocks below.
The tide was coming in, splashing higher and higher on the rocks, and the wind
was bouncing off them, gushing up and over T.J.’s skin and whistling in his
ears. Okay, there was logic in Bill’s argument. If T.J. believed his art had
caused him to become stuck here, then it did stand to reason that his art could
free him. But could the mystery playing out here be that simple? T.J.’s gut
instincts screamed that it couldn’t and, when Bill returned from New Orleans
with the painting and T.J. tried, and failed, to cross the boundary line and to
escape while holding it, Bill would see that this situation had nothing to do
with logic. Like everything else sweet that had soured in T.J.’s life, this had
to connect to his gift... somehow.
T.J. fisted his hands. Some gift.He never wanted to paint again. Why the hell would he want to paint again?
It had cost him everything. His parents. His fiancée, Carolyn. His freedom. And
now, he feared, his sanity.
His nerves were raw, his
muscles clenched into ropy knots. He squeezed his eyes shut. No. No, Bill hadto be right. This strange phenomenon had to be psychological. T.J.
couldn’t fight insanity, but he could fight psychological. He was not insane.
His attempts to leave here were not futile. He could fight.
He stiffened his spine,
determined to regain control of his life. Despite the frigid chill in the air,
sweat trickled down his temples, between his shoulders, over his ribs, and down
his back. So many times he had attempted this challenge and every time he had
But this time he would
This time he would cross the
invisible boundary line and step off Seascape land. He would walk down the
cliff to the winding road and then on into the village. From there, he’d hitch
a ride with Jimmy Goodson, the mechanic, and drive up to Bangor, where he’d
catch the first flight out and go home to New Orleans. He’d leave Seascape Inn
and its mysteries to its caretaker, Miss Hattie, the soft-spoken, iron-willed,
and gold-hearted angel who for some unknown reason chose to spend her declining
years as she had spent the rest of her life: residing here among the demons.
This time, T.J. would leave. And he’d never look back.
Resolved, he opened his
eyes, scuffed the toe of his shoe into the boundary line. While dragging it,
lifting tiny stones and forming a ridge in the coarse, damp sand, he issued
himself his standard pre-attempt reminder: The sooner I get away from here,
accept my loss, and bury everything that’s happened here, the better off I’ll
Feeling an adrenaline rush,
a surge of fear chipped away at his certainty that this time would be
different, he lifted his foot and stepped over the line.
The temperature plummeted.
That familiar veil of
freezing mist blanketed him.
Those hated, icy fingers of
cold applied pressure to the hollow at his shoulder.
Dread punched into his
stomach and warning spots flashed before his eyes. Panic seized his mind and,
fighting the unseen demon for all he was worth, he swung his fists and
Clipping only air, he swung
again and again. His head grew lighter and lighter, his vision dimmer and
dimmer. His chest throbbed. Oxygen-starved, his lungs burned and ached. He
struggled to gasp, but couldn’t find air. Fought hard, then harder, but the
unseen demon wouldn’t let go.
His strength drained.
Helpless and weak, he crumbled onto the rocky ground, and despair settled in.
God help him, it was happening again.
And again there was nothing
he could do to stop it.
He ceased struggling.
two years in what
amounted to a self-imposed prison, Maggie Wright stepped off the riverfront
sidewalk and into Lakeview Gallery. A warm blast of heat welcomed her, and somewhere
in the back of the building a bell tinkled softly, announcing her arrival. It
wasn’t cold in New Orleans—it was rarely cold in New Orleans—but it was
raining, and she’d gotten wet hiking the three blocks from the closest
available parking space, which didn’t do wonders for her mood. At best, that
mood bordered on grouchy, and it hovered too close for her comfort at downright
Shoving aside the feeling
she was forgetting something—being mobile and responsible only for herself
again would take a little adjusting—she gave her shimmering teal raincoat a
gentle shake and wiped her matching, drenched heels on the carpet in front of
the glass doors. Why would anyone put white carpet in such a high-traffic area?
She looked around. The old
warehouse had been remodeled by someone with an appreciable taste and talent
that helped her recapture her confidence. She’d never been a wimpy woman—a flawher mother had warned her against from the cradle. Maggie, you’ve got to
be less sure of yourself, hon. If you’re too independent, you’ll never snatch
up the gold ring, much less the man dangling it.
Maggie grimaced at the
memory constant repetition had burned into her brain—not that she considered it
credible. In her book, feminine or eligible didn’t equate to helpless or
dependent, and, even if it did equate, she lacked the panache to fake it. Who’d
want a man who wanted a woman like that, anyway?
With a calmer eye, she
scanned the gallery. Muted white satin benches circled the bases of tall white
columns that stretched up to the high ceiling. The walls and ceiling, like the
floor, were painted soft white. So was the long linear desk near the far south
wall. In fact—she scanned the wide room—there was nothing present to detract
from the purpose here. And that purpose was art. Visitors had to focus on the
sculptures, on the paintings lining the walls, because there was nothing else
to focus upon. Yet, the place didn’t feel cold or distant. It
The marketing expert in her
appreciated the clever design and decor. Maybe the white carpet wasn’t so silly
after all. The aesthetic gain far outweighed the hassle of dealing with a
A black man stood across the
cavernous room. His hand shoved into his slacks pocket had his suit jacket
bunched up and pushed back at his hip. He had a kind, sensitive face, a tall,
graceful body—clearly a runner—and, from his expression, the painting on the
wall before him entranced him. He wasn’t a collector. While nice and
immaculately pressed, his suit wasn’t expensive, and collectors who acquired
art via Lakeview Gallery were notoriously as wealthy as the gallery was
prestigious. More likely, he was an employee. Hopefully, one who could give her
the answers to questions she’d pondered on, wanted, and waited two long years
to hear. Answers, now that the time had come, she half-feared.
Before she died, had Carolyn
changed? Had she been capable of change? Maggie’s mother insisted Carolyn had
but, disappointed once too often, Maggie remained cautious and held her doubts.
Still, she’d promised her mother she’d solve the mysteries surrounding
Carolyn’s death and find out what really had happened to her. After all her
mother had been through, Maggie hadn’t the heart to refuse her, and Carolyn,
for all her faults, had been family. That alone, without the promise, made
uncovering the possibly ugly, surely embarrassing, truth Maggie’s
responsibility. It helped that she wasn’t going into this blind to Carolyn’s
flaws. Hoping for the better but prepared for the worst, she would keep the
deathbed promise her mother had made to Carolyn’s mother when Maggie had been
twelve. And now that her mother had recovered well enough to again be on her
own, Maggie would do her family duty.
To Carolyn’s credit, she had
been a master manipulator but never a thief. The police had insisted she’d
stolen the Seascape painting, but it had to have been that MacGregor man. He
was the hotshot famous artist with the world-class connections. Carolyn had
just loved him. She’d been about to marry him. And if not for him, why would
she have gone to Maine? From her address book and personal correspondence, she
hadn’t known a soul in Maine.
Questions tumbled through
Maggie’s mind. She couldn’t answer them any more now than when Carolyn had been
killed two years ago. A traffic accident, they’d said. But had it been?
Maggie didn’t know, but she
intended to find out. The painting was here. Carolyn had worked here. Tyler
James MacGregor’s work was sold here. And Maggie’s answers would come, starting
Trembling inside, she
steeled herself then walked over to the man who still stared at the painting.
He turned, looking dazed,
and smiled, as if a little embarrassed at having been caught dreaming. "Hello.”
"I’m Maggie Wright.” She
hitched her purse strap up on her shoulder and extended her hand. "Carolyn
Conners was my cousin.”
He looked surprised, but
clasped hands with her. "Bill Butler.”
"I’d like to ask you some
questions about her, Mr. Butler. Actually, about her and Tyler James.”
"Tyler James?” Bill Butler
cocked his head, looking even more surprised and now a little suspicious. She
nodded, and he added, "I’m afraid I don’t know much about the artist, other
than information that’s common knowledge.”
"It isn’t the artist I’m
particularly interested in,” she confessed. "I’m more concerned with T.J.
MacGregor, the man.” It was a calculated response. One meant to let Bill Butler
know she knew of the artist, but also of the man who in the art world dropped
the use of his surname. Hopefully, that insider tidbit would encourage Bill
Butler to open up to her—without forcing her to open the family closet door and
expose skeletons she’d really rather keep hidden.
A flicker of recognition
shone in his brown eyes. He lowered his lashes and glanced down at the floor.
"I know a little about him.”
"I understand your
reluctance to discuss one of your artists, Mr. Butler. Especially one of T.J.’s
fame and reputation, but, I assure you, my interest is strictly personal. I’m
not sure if you know it, but T.J. and Carolyn had been engaged.”
"Yes, I was aware of that.”
"Then you know she died two
years ago.” A droplet of rain dislodged from Maggie’s hair and trickled down
her cheek. She brushed at it. "A few of the circumstances surrounding her death
are, well, frankly mysterious.”
"Mysterious?” He arched a
brow. "Then why have you waited so long to check them out?”
Valid question. And one,
thank goodness, she’d anticipated. Still, something in his stance warned her to
be honest. She gave him another once-over. Did she dare to ditch her rehearsed
"Until now I wasn’t free to
investigate.” The truth. Another gut-instinct-based, calculated risk. One she
prayed she wouldn’t regret. "My mother suffered an injury right at the time
Carolyn died, Mr. Butler. A severe injury that required extensive therapy. If
you couldn’t be in two places at once, wouldn’t you give priority to the
Had she blown it already?
Her palms grew sweaty. She dragged them down her soggy raincoat and let him see
the concern in her eyes. "Please, I just want . . . I need to know what
happened to her.”
"I heard it was an auto
He wasn’t going to help her.
Maggie’s stomach muscles constricted, and her determination compressed with
them. "I heard that, too. I also heard a painting was in her car.” Squeezing
her purse strap, she lifted her chin. "Carolyn was burned beyond recognition
and the car exploded, but that painting wasn’t damaged in the least. Doesn’t
that strike you as odd?”
He didn’t look at her, but
shrugged. "It’s a big world out there, Miss Wright. Strange things happen in
Stepping back, he sat down
on the bench and slid her a compassionate glance, then propped his elbows on
his knees and laced his fingers together. "I’m sorry about your cousin, but I
get the feeling you think T.J. was somehow involved with her death.”
Too transparent! Fighting
the instinct to stare at his shoes to avoid his eyes, she held his gaze, but
she couldn’t make herself outright deny his suspicions. She’d never been good
at deception, and she’d been worse at half-truths. Had she been crazy to think
she could pull this off?
He pursed his lips,
thoughtful. "For whatever comfort it might be to you, my being here proves T.J.
Her heart pounded a strong,
hard beat that thumped in her temples. "I don’t understand.”
"No, you don’t.” He looked
away, back at the painting. "But I imagine you soon will.”
Confused, sensing sadness in
his tone, Maggie started to ask for an explanation, but her gaze drifted to the
painting he’d been studying. Her thoughts dissipated. A sense of calm and
serenity and peace she hadn’t known since she was little and became suspicious
at the goings-on at home seeped from the painting into her pores. Her insides
warmed and a sense of balance, of rightness, flooded her.
The painting was of a house
atop a hill near the shore. But not this shore. Nowhere in the South. The
painting’s shore was rugged and rockbound. She appreciated art, but never
before had she reacted so vividly or intensely to it and, though she couldn’t
begin to explain it, she sensed something special about this painting.
Something that whispered to her and lured. Something... magical.
She glanced down and read
the signature: Tyler James.
The discreet brass plate
attached to its frame: Seascape Inn.
"Oh God.” Her knees went
weak. "That’s it. That’s the painting.” Shaking, she leaned back against the
column for support and forced her gaze back to the man. "It’s in Maine, isn’t
Bill Butler sighed. He’d
seen her reaction before—everyone who lived in Sea Haven Village had seen one
like it at some time or another. Still, he didn’t know quite what to make of
She was pretty, about
thirty, he supposed, with shiny red hair that hugged her shoulders and green
eyes that at present pleaded with him. She was about as tall as his wife,
Leslie, who topped out at his shoulder and long ago had mastered that
tell-me-what-I-want-to-know look Maggie Wright leveled on him. She wanted
answers, but should he give them to her? She’d lied to him.
He’d known it the second
she’d said she wanted to know about T.J. the man. Her face had flushed red, she
hadn’t met Bill’s eyes, and the pulse in her throat had begun pounding against
her skin. Leslie’d had that same look thirteen years ago when she’d assured him
she wanted to move from California to Sea Haven Village so he could build the
Fisherman’s Co-Op and be close to his Uncle Mike.
Yes, Maggie Wright had lied.
And she radiated that hell-hath-no-fury glow he’d learned to respect all those
years ago. She suspected T.J. was involved in her cousin’s death, and proving
it was her bottom line.
If only she knew the truth.
Bill resisted shaking his
head. Ridiculous. If it weren’t, he’d be home fishing, not here doing T.J. a
favor. Well, doing T.J. a favor, plus being paid by T.J. to come. Bill would’ve
made the trip anyway, but with fish prices being down the extra money certainly
would come in handy—which, he supposed, was why T.J. insisted on paying for the
favor. A man capable of that kind of caring wouldn’t be involved in anything
shady. Would he?
He might. T.J. was in
trouble. But what world-class artist who couldn’t paint wouldn’t be in trouble?
Carolyn’s death was tied up with that somehow, though Bill couldn’t peg
the connection—other than as a side-effect of T.J. having lost his fiancée.
Loss could do terrible things to a man’s mind. And the way T.J. was living up
at Seascape wasn’t helping either. Keeping himself locked in the Carriage
House, sitting on the cliffs and staring at the ocean for hours on end...
Well, the man might be
suffering from guilt, but guilt at having something to do with Carolyn’s wreck?
Ridiculous. And, yet, if T.J. somehow had been involved, even indirectly, that
would explain his guilt feelings... and his blacking-out
Bill grimaced, feeling like
a traitor. How could he even fleetingly doubt T.J.’s innocence? "T.J. didn’t
have anything to do with your cousin’s death, Miss Wright.”
"How do you know that?”
know.” How could he not know? He’d watched the man suffer and struggle for
nearly a year, trying to come to terms with his losses. Difficult to tell what
all went on in T.J.’s mind—he held his feelings close to his chest—but Bill
strongly suspected, and Leslie agreed, that Carolyn was but one of the losses that
had sent the man into a tailspin. Bill also maintained the opinion that it
would take a professional to help T.J. untangle his emotions and get him back
to flying straight. A professional, or a miracle.
"That house”—Maggie pointed
to the painting—"is in Maine, isn’t it?”
From her doubt-riddled
expression, the woman didn’t believe him. She’d already tried and convicted
T.J. Guilty. Bill chewed on his lip and considered his options. Never would he
be so foolish as to think he could tell any woman her opinion on anything.
There were things a person had to learn firsthand, and trust ranked among them.
Living with Leslie had taught him that too. But he could see to it that Maggie
had the opportunity to learn the truth.
He reached into his inner
coat pocket, pulled out his business card and a pen, then wrote Miss Hattie’s
name and phone number down on the back of it. "It’s in Maine.” He passed the
card to Maggie Wright. "The innkeeper’s name is on back. You’ll need to call
and let her know you’re coming.”
Maggie looked at him, her
eyes wide and round. "How did you know I intended to go to Seascape? I—I only
Bill shrugged. Her
bewildered look, he’d also seen before. "Just a hunch.”
his head aching like the devil,T.J. groaned and opened his eyes.
Something bright white
blinded him. He squinted and saw it was Miss Hattie’s hankie. She stood over
him, flapping the scrap of lace as if the cold wind whipping over the granite
cliffs weren’t strong enough to revive him without her personal assistance.
Bill Butler’s whopper-telling, tall, lanky, eleven-year-old, Aaron, stood next
to her, his breath fogging the air. They both looked worried.
"Hey, Mr. James.” Aaron
blinked, his eyes bright in his warm cocoa face. "Did ya fall and bust your
head on the rocks?”
This was not a dream.
He was still here in this godforsaken place.
Frustrated at yet another
failure, T.J. looked at Miss Hattie. Her apron showed in the gap of her
unbuttoned coat. It whipped around, molding with her dress to her plump calves.
A blueberry stain near the pocket looked wet. He’d interrupted her making her
morning muffins... again.
Miss Hattie stopped flapping
her hankie and pressed it into her coat pocket. "Are you all right, dear?”
Her kind green eyes looked
worried, and he hated seeing that, but he couldn’t do a thing to ease her
concern. He was plenty worried himself.
Reaching beneath his hip, he
pulled out a stone that was digging into his side. His head ached like hell. So
did his back. He pursed his mouth to tell her he was anything but all
right—and he would have told her—had he not been looking at her.
The wind teased her white
wispy curls that had come loose from her bun and sneaked out from under her
blue woolen scarf to frame her tender face. Round and soft and lined with
wisdom, it was chafed red by the wind and cold. A woman in her seventies had no
business being out in this damp breeze. Miss Hattie thought she was invincible
and if he’d reminded her that she wasn’t, she’d only scoff, so he didn’t. But
he couldn’t bellow at her either. It’d be like giving hell to Mary Poppins or
the good fairy.
"I’m fine.” Unfortunately,
he’d live. T.J. frowned and rubbed at the back of his head, pressing against a
lump the size of a goose egg. Pain shot through his skull, and he winced. "Just
"You don’t look fine. You
look a bit peaked. Doesn’t he look peaked, Aaron?”
Aaron twisted his mouth and
studied T.J. "Uh-huh, he surely does.” He squinted up at Miss Hattie. "He looks
just like Mrs. Johnson when Mr. Johnson dozes off in church.”
"That bad?” T.J. muttered.
If anything could be worse than dead, being equated to the stuffy,
social-climbing Lydia Johnson was it. She’d been bad enough as co-owner of The
Store, but when her husband, Horace, got elected mayor, the woman became a first-rate
snob—or tried to. Frankly, she never quite pulled it off. His shoulder stiff,
T.J. rolled it to loosen it up.
"Yes sir, you do—and that
ain’t no lie.”
"I happen to agree with the
boy, Tyler. You’re as pale as a ghost.”
Grunting, T.J. hauled himself
to his feet, careful that not so much as his big toe crossed over the boundary
line, off Seascape land. He’d already pushed fate far enough for one day. "I’m
fine, Miss Hattie. Really.” Dusting the sand and dead grass from his jeans, he
gave her a reassuring smile. "I just fell on the rocks, like Aaron said.”
Aaron grinned as if pleased
he’d been right. "Folks from away don’t know it, but you gotta watch those
rocks, Mr. James. They’re slicker than spit.”
"That’s a bit graphic, mmm?”
Miss Hattie patted the boy’s coat-padded shoulder. "What are you doing running
around up here anyway?”
"Mama sent me. She got a
message from Daddy. He said to tell Mr. James that he’s flying home with the
painting today. The man at the gallery said okay.”
Miss Hattie gasped. "He’s
secured the loan of the painting, Tyler! Isn’t that wonderful?”
"Yeah, wonderful.” The
painting wouldn’t work, but it could get Bill and Miss Hattie past believing
that this situation was completely psychological. A little reassurance would be
welcome to T.J. too. Doubts about his sanity were eating him alive. Still,
being of two minds on the matter, he didn’t know what to hope. Half the time,
he wanted to believe that the problem rooted in his mind because dealing with
that seemed more comfortable than accepting any other cause. But the other half
of the time, he wanted an outside source to blame—even a bizarre one—because he
hated that possibility less than the idea that even his psyche had turned
"Aaron, you tell your mama
not to risk the drive to Bangor. I’ll phone Jimmy straight away.” Miss Hattie
looked at T.J. "Leslie’s from California, you know. She’s only been here
thirteen years. Not at all used to driving on snowy roads.”
Carolyn hadn’t been either.
T.J. nodded, solemn. Then what Miss Hattie had said hit him. Thirteen years?Well, this was Maine. Maybe in another generation or two, the Butlers
wouldn’t be considered from away.
"There’s something else
too.” Aaron scratched his dark head, as if it’d help him recall exactly what.
The boy’s glove was a little
large, frayed at the wrist, and bunched at his fingertips. But at least he hadgloves. T.J. grimaced.
Remembrance lit Aaron’s eyes
and, clearly pleased with himself, he looked at Miss Hattie. "A lady’s gonna be
calling, Daddy said. Maggie White. No, that ain’t right.” He grinned. "Maggie
Wright. That’s it. Maggie Wright.”
"Thank you, dear.” Miss
Hattie gave the boy a smile. "You’d best get home now and help your mother with
"Yes, ma’am.” Aaron turned
and started down the path to the road.
T.J. didn’t watch him.
Though he couldn’t put a finger on it, there was something odd about Miss
Hattie’s reaction to Aaron’s message. It gave T.J. a flicker of hope that the
painting would work, and that he hated. He’d be a fool to believe it for
a second. "Don’t get your hopes up, Miss Hattie.” He looked down at her, spoke
gently to not upset her. "Bringing the painting here won’t make any difference.
I’ll be a Seascape prisoner forever.”
Miss Hattie twisted her
lips, clearly disagreeing. "Something unusual is going on here, but I’m sure
it’s only temporary.”
"Nine months is stretching
the bounds of temporary,” T.J. countered. She’d said before she had no earthly
idea why he couldn’t leave, and he believed her. The situation was frustrating
for him and clearly perplexing to her. From her jerky movements, she didn’t
much care for feeling perplexed.
They started back toward the
house. The path was speckled with patches of ice, and he gently clasped her arm
to help support her. "I just wish I understood what was happening to me.” A
spark of fear threatened him. The wind had died down but the mist still clung
to the shore. "I don’t feel crazy.” He shoved his free hand into his coat
pocket. "Am I crazy?” Finally, he’d asked the question out loud.
"No, Tyler, of course not.”
She patted his forearm, linked with hers. "I wish I could explain this to you,
but I’m afraid I don’t understand it myself. Let’s just hope that the painting
works, mmm? We both feel it was spared from the fire for a reason. Maybe
helping you now was the reason.”
"I always believed that
about the painting, Miss Hattie, but my gut’s telling me I’m not the reason it
didn’t burn in Carolyn’s wreck. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. Still,
I’m desperate. I’ve got to try this. What else is there left to try?”
"Once you believed in the
magic of healing.”
"I know. And I know that you
think the healing magic I felt when painting Seascape will somehow help heal me now, but—”
"It is possible.”
Was it? No. But Miss Hattie
believed it, heart-and-soul. It’d been easier to send Bill to get the damn
painting and prove her wrong than to argue with her. She was a nurturer down to
her bones, pure and simple, but she was also Maine-stubborn.
Sidestepping a large stone,
T.J. returned to the path, feeling helpless and vulnerable. Both were feelings
he’d had and hated before. He still hated them. "As soon as I prove it won’t
work, I’m going to burn the damn thing. I’m going to burn everything that has
anything to do with my work.”
"Tyler, no!” Miss Hattie
gasped and squeezed his arm. "You can’t squander your gift. It isn’t—”
"It isn’t a gift. Painting
used to be . . . everything, but not anymore. Now, it’s my curse.”
"Tyler!” A strong, phantom
wind gust furled the end of her scarf like a flag.
"It’s true. My artistic
ability has cost me everything that matters to me. Would a gift cost a man
everything that matters?”
"It hasn’t.” They’d arrived
at the road, at Main Street. Pausing, Miss Hattie looked up then down it, and,
on seeing the way was clear, she crossed and started up the fir-lined drive to
the house. "Your gift wasn’t responsible for your losses, and neither were
"Then why can’t I leave
here? Why do I land on my backside every single time I try leaving?”
"I don’t know.” Leaves crunched
under their feet. "Jimmy really needs to do some raking. Remind me to mention
it to him when I phone him about Bill, mmm? I’d be lost without Jimmy helping
me out around here, but I do so wish he’d find himself a good woman and settle
The swift subject switch had
been intentional. She knew more than she was telling him. "How long has
Seascape been an inn?”
"About twenty-six years.
"Twenty-six years. And I’m
supposed to believe that I’m the only guest who has ever run into this kind of
"Tyler, you sound like
Beaulah Favish. Are you going to start troubling the sheriff with nonsense of
weird happenings here too?”
"I’m not like your nosy
neighbor, and you know it. Have I told anyone about this?” People—including
Batty Beaulah—would think he’d slipped over the edge.
"No. I doubt you’d even have
told Bill Butler, if he hadn’t come upon you prone during one of your failed
T.J. wouldn’t have told
Bill. Or anyone else. "Regardless, something weird is happening. You can’t deny
Miss Hattie looked straight
ahead and said not a word.
His heart rate quickened.
She had her suspicions about exactly what that something weird was, all right.
When Aaron had relayed the message from his father, she’d gotten the strangest,
serene expression on her face. That worried T.J., and he prayed it didn’t
signal another matchmaking attempt in his immediate future. Though
well-meaning, he was about sick of her matchmaking attempts. But he wasn’t so
sure matchmaking schemes had prompted that expression. "You aren’t going to
tell me a thing, are you?”
"I can’t tell you what I
don’t know, dear.” She patted his arm. "Things will work out as they’re meant
to. When one has little else, one must believe in fate.”
"Fate.” He sighed. Looked as
if another attempt was inevitable, anyway. Irksome, but he’d nix it soon
"You’re listening but not
hearing, Tyler. You’ll come to understand. I will say, though, that soon there
might well be burning at Seascape. We agree on that. But, unlike you, I’ll
wager here and now that not a snippet of ash will be canvas.”
What did she mean by that?
T.J. looked up at the attic window. Something flickered, and his skin crawled.
Surprised at his reaction, he blinked and checked again, but saw nothing. A
trick of the light?
"Tyler?” Miss Hattie slid
him one of her helping-things-along looks he definitely recognized as a
pre-matchmaking signal. "I need for you to move into the main house.”
Here it came. Opening the
back door into the mud room, he paused. "Why?”
"The Carriage House needs a
new roof. I intended to get it done this fall, but you so enjoy your privacy in
its apartment, I didn’t want to disturb you. Yet I can’t wait any longer now.
Winter is here.” She stepped past him, shrugged out of her coat, then hung it
on a peg on the wall. "Do you mind?”
"Not really.” He minded a
lot. He pegged his coat and toed off his muddy shoes, glad to be out of the
biting wind and cold. "If the weather holds, I’ll move this afternoon.”
"I think Maggie Wright will
arrive this afternoon and I hate to welcome a new guest while we’re in turmoil.
This morning, mmm? After breakfast—which might well be late if my muffins have
He smiled. "They wouldn’t
She smiled back, then grew
serious. "You know, Tyler, your situation sincerely troubles me. This is the
first time in all my years at this house I’ve been uneasy. I sense you have
reservations, but I truly have no idea what is happening to you.” She stared up
at the ceiling as if miffed and speaking to someone else entirely, then added,
"And I don’t much like it.”
He didn’t like it either.
But what could he do about it that he hadn’t already done?
The smell of blueberry
muffins drifted on the air. His stomach growled and, without an answer, he
followed Miss Hattie into the toasty, warm kitchen.
The phone rang.
She walked over to the wall,
pulling her clip earring from her lobe, then lifted the receiver to her ear.
Miss Hattie listened,
smiled, then cupped her hand over the receiver and whispered to T.J., "Maggie
"Wonderful.” The matchmaking
queen was at it again.
"Just a moment, dear.” She
looked at T.J. "Go wash up, Tyler. Your help is on the way.”
His help? Did she
mean the painting? Or the woman?