Beside a Dreamswept Sea

Beside a Dreamswept Sea
Vicki Hinze

December 2011   $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-085-5

The Final Book of the Seascape Trilogy
Our PriceUS$15.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Welcome to the third book of the Seascape Trilogy, three mystical romance-mystery novels by bestselling author Vicki Hinze.

New love isn't on the agenda for widower Bryce Richards, who comes to the peaceful Seascape Inn with his three children, hoping the ethereal setting will help them recover from the death of their mother. Likewise, fellow inn guest Cally isn't looking for romance either; she's recovering from an emotionally abusive marriage. It will take all the matchmaking skills of innkeeper Hattie Stillman and her ghostly assistant to bring Bryce and Cally together.

Vicki Hinze is the award-winning author of 24 novels, 4 nonfiction books, and hundreds of articles, publishing in as many as sixty-three countries. She is recognized by Who's Who in the World as an author and as an educator. For more information, please visit her website.

You can visit Vicki here:
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"…a whimsical engaging tale as the paranormal matchmaker and his human partner must do much more than just work their magic on the commitment phobic couple." -- Klausner’s Bookshelf – Midwest Book Reviews

"…offers readers characters to care about, a setting with strong sensory and emotional appeal, and a touch of the paranormal…if you like your romances tender, your setting significant, and your paranormal light, you will find much to enjoy…" -- Janice Rholetter, Just Janga Blog

"…has a perfect mix of drama, romance, humour, mystery and paranormal. I loved reading about the children's antics! I enjoyed the trilogy and wish it was an ongoing series." -- Joanne Hanson


Chapter 1

The child was going to drown.

The truth slammed into Tony Freeport with the force of a sledge. A stunning truth, considering she lay tucked safely in bed in the Shell Room of Seascape Inn and, in his fifty years as a ghost working with his beloved Hattie in assisting others here to heal, he’d never before seen anyone come to harm under the inn’s roof. But in Suzie Richards’s dream, all the signs of real-life drowning were evident: panic, an inability to breathe, and fear. So much fear...

Dream or reality, if Tony didn’t do something quickly, the nine-year-old daughter of Bryce Richards and the deceased photojournalist, Meriam, was going to drown.

What could Tony do? What should he do? Suzie taking on the burdens of family no child should ever have to carry had been the catalyst insisting he intercede this far. But to intercede into her dreams? Did he dare?

This had to be a near-miss warning. Had to be.

He looked through the closed bedroom door, out into the upstairs hallway. The paneled walls deepened the night’s shadows and the only light was that seeping through the bank of mullioned windows centered inside a small vaulted alcove at the far end of the hall. Tall hand-carved mahogany bookshelves flanked those windows. Tony couldn’t clearly see the books in them, but he didn’t have to see them to know each book’s title, to know each spine stood straight. Nor did he need to see the pillows on the thick cushions of the window seat nestled between those shelves to know they’d been fluffed. Hattie Stillman nurtured everything in her care, which included all of Seascape Inn, most of Sea Haven Village, and, at one time, him.

He scanned the polished plank-wood floor from the far end of the hallway back toward the end where he stood. On the left, facing the Atlantic Ocean, was the master bedroom, dubbed the Great White Room years ago, and the bath. On the right, the L-shaped staircase leading down to the first floor, and the Cove Room where Bryce Richards should have been sleeping but wasn’t. Instead, the man dozed slumped on the hallway floor, his head lolled back against the paneled wall, his slippered foot rumpling the edge of the white Berber rug that stretched from the stairway’s landing nearly all the way down to the Shell Room, about a yard from Tony’s feet.

Bryce was a man on a mission. Two sets of his friends from New Orleans, T.J. and Maggie MacGregor and John and Bess Mystic, had found "magic” at Seascape Inn, and Bryce had come here with doubts but hopes that enough magic remained to grant his daughter peace from the emotional demons haunting her sleep since her mother’s death two years ago. But even in sleep, Bryce was despairing; Tony sensed it. Despairing that, though armed with its angelic innkeeper, Miss Hattie, the charming old inn couldn’t holdthat much magic and, without it—God knew Bryce had tried everything else—Suzie’s nightmares would be an endless source of her suffering.

And Bryce despaired that she’d dream and, asleep in the Cove Room across the hallway, he’d not hear her cries, not know to come and comfort her. For reasons of his own, he had forsaken sleeping in the comfortable stuffed chair in her room or in the luxury of a soft king-size bed and had chosen to stand guard on the hallway’s oak floor outside her door, listening, waiting, and praying he wouldn’t be needed.

The agony of the situation had broken Tony’s heart, and he’d aided the quiet of the house in lulling the reluctant Bryce to sleep, agreeing with his darling Hattie’s assessment that Bryce was worn to a frazzle. But who wouldn’t be? Worried sick about his three children overall, Suzie and her nightmares in particular; fighting a constant battle of wills with that dour-faced Mrs. Wiggins, whom Bryce’s wife had hired to care for the children when Jeremy had been born four years ago; and then—right on the heels of the narrow-miss divorce between John and Bess Mystic—that blasted Tate divorce case. It was a wonder Bryce Richards was still upright!

In the days since their arrival at Seascape Inn, Hattie had mumbled repeatedly that no more a devoted father than Bryce ever had graced the earth, and Tony wholeheartedly agreed with his beloved on that appraisal, too. Bryce was a fine father, a fine man, and a fine attorney.

Yet that hadn’t spared him from challenges.

As if he hadn’t had enough on his plate already, he’d been tossed a moral dilemma on the Tate divorce case that would have brought even the most avid believer, the most confident man in the world, to his knees. A shame he had represented Gregory Tate. Not only disagreeable, the man had proven himself unscrupulous and coldly calculating. Though the divorce had been granted and the case was behind Bryce now, it had left him weary, his opinion even more jaded about the odds for successful, happy marriages—and it’d left him admittedly curious about the mysterious Mrs. Tate.

So was Tony. He leaned against the doorjamb, propped the toe of his shoe against the floor, then rubbed at his neck. Why had the woman never once appeared in court? Never once attended the attorney/client meetings with Bryce, Gregory, and her own attorney? Her behavior was curious.

Tony grimaced. Now, because he had given Bryce this brief but much-needed respite of sleep, Suzie fought the fiendish nightmare alone. Tony shouldn’t intercede further—dream intervention was expressly forbidden—but she was suffering uncomforted, and that was his fault. He couldn’t deny responsibility and condemn her to this. Hattie would never forgive him. Worse, he’d never forgive himself.

Protocol be damned. Tony shoved away from the wall. Rules and regulations, too. What more could be done to him? Already he lived in the house with his beloved Hattie and yet he couldn’t talk directly with her, couldn’t hold her, couldn’t love her as a man should love a woman—as he would have loved her had he been given the chance. What could be more challenging? And a child’s life hung in the balance. Likely her father’s, too—if anything should happen to her.

Theoretically, people didn’t actually die just because they died in their dreams. But what if Suzie did? In Tony’s experience, dreamers always had awakened prior to actual dream-state death. So why wasn’t Suzie awakening? Soaring heart rate. Gasping something fierce. She might not drown, but she could have a heart attack. Drowning or a massive coronary, dead was dead.

He tried several tactics to nudge her into awakening.

Nothing worked.

Now what?

Having no idea, Tony scowled, feeling inept and agitated. The bottom line was Bryce Richards had little more left to lose. Tony had to intercede.

He stepped into Suzie’s nightmare, into a raging storm.

The wind stung, bitingly cold, whistling through crisp brown leaves that had fallen from the poplars and oaks near the shore. Familiar poplars and oaks. Familiar low stone wall running along the rocky ground to the pond. And familiar white wrought-iron bench, north of a familiar, freshly painted gazebo.

Criminy, Suzie was in the pond behind Seascape Inn!

Did she realize this yet? That her recurring dream actually took place here?

Odd. Before three days ago, Suzie never had seen Seascape Inn or its pond, and yet she’d suffered this same nightmare for the past two years.

Agitated by the blustery wind, Tony squinted against the darkness and glimpsed the shadow of a little rowboat—the very boat he himself with his lifelong friends, Hatch and Vic, had fished from as boys. Rocking on turbulent waves, the boat dipped low, took on water. And—sweet heaven, it was empty.

"Suzie?” Where was she? "Suzie?” The wind tossed Tony’s words back to him. Nearing the water’s edge, he called out again and stumbled over a giant oak’s gnarled roots.

His foot stung.

Startled, he winced. Physical pain? How peculiar. It’d been half a century since he’d felt physical pain...

He frantically scanned the dark water. Later, he’d think about the pain. He had to find Suzie now—before it was too late.

Midway across the pond, something flashed white. Her nightgown? No. No, it wasn’t. Just froth from a wave. Fear seeped deeper, into his soul. Where was she?

Straining harder, skimming, probing, he spotted her. Near the bow of the boat, floundering in the water, arms flailing, head bobbing between the waves.

Oh, God, she really was going to drown. Unlike her other dreams, this one wasn’t a near-miss warning!

He cupped his hands at his mouth. "Suzie! Hold on to the boat. I’m coming. Just hold on to the boat!”

"I can’t!” she shouted back. Swallowing in a great gulp of water, she choked.

The sound grated at his ears, tore at his heart. Why in the name of everything holy did she feel it vital to hold on to the oars? Though wooden, they wouldn’t offer enough stability in the turbulent water to keep her afloat. Still, she held them in a death grip.

He had to find out why. Though dangerous—fear of him, in addition to the fear and panic she was suffering already, could worsen her situation dramatically—to help her, he needed to understand her rationale.

She screamed. A shattering scream that pierced his ears and reverberated in his mind. A chiseled hollow in his chest ached. Whatever the risks, damn it, he had to take them.

Focusing, he tapped into the child’s thoughts.

You have to get both oars in the water and keep them there, Suzie.

Not her voice. A memory. Something she’d been told by a woman. Someone older—twenties or thirties maybe. And that accent—definitely not anyone from Sea Haven Village, or from Maine. Southern. Distinctly Southern.

The child took a wave full in the face, sputtered, then coughed.

He hurried toward her, resenting that in her dreams he obviously lacked his special gifts, his abilities and talents with the physical, that would allow him to fish her out without getting so much as a toe wet. In dreams, it appeared he was as weak or as strong as a normal man. And while at times he’d love to again be a normal man, when Suzie was clinging to life by an oar wasn’t one of them.

What did it all mean?

He returned his cupped hands to his mouth. "Suzie, let go of that oar right now and grab hold of the boat. Do it! Do you hear me? Do it!”

Her wet hair swept over her face and clung to her tiny cheek in a clump, her eyes wild with fear. "I’ve got to keep both oars in the water! I’ve got to, or I’m not gonna get better.”

This was new ground, and Tony waffled on what to do. His heart told him to go get her. His logic warned if he touched her, with her body temperature as low as it surely was already from the frigid water, the cold could result in pneumonia and she’d die. But if he didn’t physically get her out of the pond quickly, she’d die, too. Simply put, he was in a lose/lose situation here. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

He had years of experience. He just had to not panic. Had to think about this. He cleared his mind, then weighed the pros and cons, mentally searching for alternatives less risky to Suzie.

There were none.

He hated any but win/win situations, yet the core in this one rested right where it had before he’d begun his search: She had a fighting chance with pneumonia. She didn’t with drowning.

Tony dove in. Hit the frigid water that sucked out his breath, then stroked furiously toward her.

The lack of true physical exercise for too many years had him winded and tiring quickly. Soon, his arms and legs felt like lead and he couldn’t seem to get enough air to feed his starving lungs. They throbbed and ached, and the physical sensations of weight and gravity and oxygen deprivation had him sluggish, tired, moving about as quickly as a hypothyroid snail. Without his special gifts, could he get to her in time?

"Please, don’t let her die. Please, help me help her.” She was so close. So close... "Please!”

He dug deep, scraped the remnants of his reserves and pulled a mighty stroke.

His fingers snagged the collar of her nightgown.

He tugged, grabbed her more securely with his left hand, the boat with his right, then curled her tiny body to his and hugged her to him. She latched her arms around his neck, squeezed so hard he sensed she was trying to crawl into him. And then she began to cry. Deep, heart-wrenching sobs that jerked viciously at his heartstrings. "Shhh, it’s okay, little one. I’ve got you now. I’ve got you now.”

She breathed against his neck, her voice a rattled whimper of sound. "Promise?”

This crisis, she’d weathered. This time, she’d survived. Awash in gratitude and relief, he swallowed hard. "I promise.”

Water swirled, tugging at his clothes. Awareness stole into him and he recalled stubbing his toe on the gnarled oak’s root. His foot actually had stung. And now, more awareness of the physical dragged at him. Her moist, warm breath at his shoulder. Cold as she was from the frigid water, the warmth of her tiny body. The feel of her fingers digging into his neck. His own need for oxygen, for rest. The weight of his uniform. Sensations.

Lifelike... sensations.

His hands began to shake. Awed, humbled, he shook all over. He’d not felt any physical sensations since he’d returned home from the battlefield for burial back in World War II and, because he hadn’t, now he couldn’t be sure which of them, he or Suzie, groped with greater emotional turmoil.

She was alive.

And, for the first time in half a century, he was feeling the actual touch of another human being.

His eyes stung and a tear—a tear—slid onto his cheek.

An uneasy niggle nagged at him. He’d been in many situations in the past fifty years and had felt nothing physical. So why now? True, he’d never before entered anyone’s dreams—and he fully expected to pay a steep penalty for trespassing into Suzie’s now—but there had to be some deeper reason for this. His sixth sense screamed it. And it screamed that something about these particular "special guests” made this intercession, and their situation, different from the hundreds of other special guests he and Hattie had assisted at Seascape Inn.

Suzie wheezed. Feeling the rattle against his chest, he prayed Seascape would protect her from almost certain pneumonia. Over the years, many had called the inn the Healing House, and how fervently he hoped its reputation proved prophetic for Suzie.

These special guests are different. A woman’s voice echoed through his mind.This situation is different.

She sounded urgent, yet calm and dispassionate. Who was she?

Who I am doesn’t matter. My message is what is important, Tony.


You’ll have to find the answer to that yourself, I’m afraid.

I see.

No, you don’t. That’s part of the problem. But you will, Tony. I’m rather, er, persistent.

Just what he needed. Another stubborn woman to contend with. Well, I’ll have to figure it out later. Right now, I need to get Suzie out of this water and wind before she freezes to death.

Ah, I’m encouraged. The woman sighed.

Excuse me? Kicking his feet, he steered toward the shore, holding on to Suzie and the boat for fear his strength would fizzle.

You’re mired in a quandary yet still putting Suzie’s needs first. I’m encouraged by that. And, yes, I expect you will figure it out—eventually.

Terrific. Stubborn and snooty. A barrel of sunshine. I’m encouraged that you’re encouraged.

Save your sarcasm, Tony. The woman laughed, soft and melodious. You’re going to need your energy.

He wanted to kick something. Actually, he wanted to kick "Sunshine.” Wicked of him, but did she have to be right about the energy bit, too? His muscles were in distress; he didn’t have the energy for this verbal sparring—or the time for it. Not right now. Suzie had stopped crying, but she still clung to him as if she feared he’d forget and let go of her. He’d promised, but promises didn’t hold much value to Suzie Richards; that much was evident. At least not those aside from her father’s. In the chaos of what had been their family life, Bryce somehow had retained his children’s trust. That in itself, considering the circumstances, was a miracle.

To reassure her, Tony smoothed her frail back until her shudders eased. When they subsided, though vain, a sense of satisfaction joined those of relief and gratitude inside him. He’d catch hell for breaking protocol, but feeling Suzie inhaling and exhaling breath made whatever price he had to pay worth it. The last thing she needed was more tragedy in her life. It wouldn’t do Bryce any good, either. The man had suffered his share of challenges and then some.

Unfortunately, from all appearances, he was fated to suffer a few more, but at least those challenges wouldn’t include the death of his oldest daughter.

They might, Sunshine commented.

Tony’s skin crawled. Not if there’s any way in the world for me to stop it.

You might want to recant that statement, Anthony Freeport.

No way.

We’ll see.

A shiver rippled up his backbone. Images raced through his mind. Images of Suzie again in the little boat, trying to do something with the paddles and falling into the pond. Images of her in the water during a storm, gasping. Drowning. And images of Tony standing alone on the shore, his hands hanging loosely at his sides, his shoulders slumped, watching and yet powerless to help her.

Powerless? Shock streaked through him. But he’d never before been powerless here. Never...

Until now.

Sunshine’s softly spoken warning thundered through his mind. His knees collapsed. He locked them, stumbling and shuddering hard. God help them all.

This wasn’t an ordinary dream.


Chapter 2

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sitting on the sun-dappled ground in a Biloxi, Mississippi, cemetery, Caline Tate swept that thought from her mind, her hair back from her shoulder, and looked at the weathered headstone of Mary Beth Ladner, the stranger buried next to her grandmother.

Mary Beth didn’t feel like a stranger to Caline. For as long as she could remember, after Sunday services at First Baptist Church, she had visited here with her father. And nearly as long ago—the winter she turned seven—it had dawned on Caline that Mary Beth Ladner’s grave never had flowers on it. Not on Christmas. Not on Memorial Day. Not on any day. And why it remained barren perplexed Caline as much now as it had the first day she’d noticed.

Someone once had loved Mary Beth. Someone once had mourned losing her. They had to have mourned losing her to have had chiseled into the stone: She was the sunshine of our home. Where had they gone that they couldn’t bring a woman so special to them so much as an occasional flower?

Biting her lip, Caline placed one of two yellow carnations near the base of the stone. Years ago, the florist had told her carnations meant joy and, considering it only right that a woman who’d brought joy in life should have joy brought to her in death, Caline had made a tradition of bringing Mary Beth a carnation every Sunday and pausing to whisper a few kind words over her grave. Before she’d realized it, those pauses had grown to visits, and those few kind words had lengthened to chats. And, somewhere along the way, those chats had become her refuge, her safe haven to discuss her hopes and dreams, and her troubles. Troubles far too private to discuss with her parents or even her best friend.

Now that Caline was thirty-two, married and recently divorced, little had changed. She still came to Mary Beth’s grave to talk through her troubles.

"Life’s funny, isn’t it, Mary Beth? We set our sights on what we want and we make all our decisions with our wants in mind, and just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, life slips us a curve ball and—wham!—we end up with everything we never wanted. Why is that?”

Caline stared off into the branches of the winter-barren oaks, the twisted pines that were a familiar sight in hurricane country. "I just don’t get it. I knew what I wanted the first time I saw your headstone. I wanted to be the sunshine of my own home. And I thought I’d have that with Gregory, eventually, but...”

An empty ache seized her chest and a lump swelled and blocked her throat. He’d made promises to her. Sacred vows. And he’d broken them all.

Why had he done that? Why?

Tears gathered on Caline’s lashes and the oak limbs distorted and blurred. "I loved him, Mary Beth. I might have been a terrible wife—God knows he told me I was often enough that I have no choice but to believe him—but I did love him with all my heart. My love just wasn’t... enough.”

A squirrel scampered up the trunk of the oak then leapt from one barren branch to another. The time had come for her to leap, too.

"I came to tell you I’m going away for a while,” she said, rummaging through her purse for a tissue. "The divorce is final now and I need to decide what to do with my life.”

Pulling a crumpled tissue free from the clasp on her wallet, she stiffened her shoulders then swiped at her eyes. "I’m going to drive up to a friend’s cabin in Nova Scotia and stay there for a few months. My parents think the change of scenery might do some good. I’m hoping they’re right. I’m about as scared as scared can get, Mary Beth. I never thought I’d be starting over at thirty-two with nothing I ever wanted.”

Gregory had given her no choice. He’d given her even less. Sometimes she hated him for that. Sometimes she hated herself for it.

A streak of hopelessness snaked through her stomach. Fighting it, Caline stood up, then brushed angrily at the blades of dead grass clinging to her skirt. "Dad will bring your carnation on Sunday when he visits Grandma Freemont’s grave. I didn’t have to ask him. He knows it’s important to me that you know you’re not forgotten.” Tears again welled, and Caline traced the edge of the worn stone with her fingertips. "You’ll never be forgotten.”

She shouldn’t say it. Shouldn’t even think it. But she couldn’t hold back from Mary Beth. Caline never had. "This trip is kind of a pilgrimage. The truth is, I’m sorely lacking courage and a whole lot more right now. With the divorce final and Gregory already remarried to that woman, I’m thinking that for fourteen years I let him rob me of the things that make me who I am. All except one. I don’t want to lose it, too. It’s weak. Just a flicker of a spark. But it’s still there. And I’m not sure if I’ve got the guts to nurture it. I can’t hurt like this again, Mary Beth. I just can’t.”

Caline drew in a deep, steadying breath. "That’s why I need the courage. Because that tiny spark inside me still craves being what you were—the sunshine of my home.” The tears shimmering in her eyes splashed onto her cheeks. "And I don’t know if I’m strong enough anymore to go after it.”

She dabbed at her eyes and sniffed, irritated with herself for soggying up yet again. "I know I have to try. If I don’t, I’ll hate myself. I really don’t want to hate myself, Mary Beth. So if you’ve got any pull up there, I’d really appreciate some help.”

What he wouldn’t do for a little help here.

Leaning against a small desk, Tony raked a hand through his hair, took one last look through the window at the gardens outside the inn and the forest beyond them, then glanced back over his shoulder across the Shell Room to Suzie. Sitting Indian-style on the spool bed and surrounded by plump, ruffled pillows, she brushed at her hair in long, smooth strokes. Nearly dry, it gleamed glossy brown. She’d refused to lie down until it had—she’d catch pneumonia, she’d said—but she had compromised and tucked to the knees beneath Hattie’s colorful patchwork quilt.

Suzie liked the Shell Room. The hodgepodge decor appealed to Tony, too. Old and new blended with the painted white antique dresser, chest, and desk that somewhere along the way had been stenciled around the edges in blue. Suzie liked blue best.

Tony didn’t like much of anything right now. Hattie would give him hell for his attitude, but he was in the same royal snit he got into every year as Thanksgiving inched closer. And this year, considering Suzie’s situation, his snit could be even worse because, no matter how much he’d prefer to think it, Suzie’s couldn’t be an ordinary dream.

Wet hair from a dream? Him feeling lifelike sensations? Her drowning, and him powerless? It had to be a premonition.

He glanced at her reflection in the window to the left of the bed. Through a copse of wind-blown trees, lights from Sea Haven Village winked in the distance. Could he countermand a premonition? Were his special skills and talents enough? His physical gifts didn’t exist in dreams, yet that’s where her troubles resided. How could he help her without his special gifts?

She sighed, and he sensed more than heard the weak rattle in her chest. Hopefully by morning the pneumonia scare would pass. Not that he could do anything more about it. He couldn’t.


Shivering, he let his gaze slide back out the window into the night.


Recognizing Sunshine’s voice, he again wondered who she was and why she was here. He could ask, but she’d already said her identity didn’t matter and innately he knew she wouldn’t answer. She might even take off again. Yes?

Hasn’t it occurred to you yet that I’m here because this challenge isn’t just about these special guests?

The thought has crossed my mind. His feeling physical sensations proved something was different. The question was, What? So why are you here?

To bring you a message.

A message? That too was odd. Not unprecedented, but unusual enough to give him the willies. Okay. I’m all ears.

Actually, you’re about eighty percent attitude. I’m just hoping I can lasso the other twenty percent long enough to do my job here so I can go home.

I didn’t ask for your help.

No, Tony. You didn’t. But you need it. Is that what’s grating at you? That you need my help?

It was, but he wouldn’t admit it. He could blame it on the Thanksgiving thing, but the truth was it was a matter of pride. Seascape Inn was his domain, his and Hattie’s, and Sunshine was an interloping trespasser. He didn’t like it, would be lying if he said he did, so he said nothing.

The message is that your challenge in this case isn’t only with the emotional demon haunting Suzie’s sleep and with Bryce’s trials, though you must assist with both of those, of course. Your challenge is with you.

Thanksgiving is always a challenging time for me. Tony looked down to the floor where it met the white baseboard, fearing this had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but figuring it was worth a shot to not have to admit that, either.

True, but I’m afraid that isn’t the challenge.

He’d known, and yet he’d foolishly hoped she’d let him slide by with it. He stuffed a hand into his pocket. It’s about me fearing and doubting my ability to help Suzie alter her personal history—if in fact her nightmare is a premonition of her personal history.

In a sense, yes, it is about fear and doubt. But you’ll have to dig deeper, Tony. Otherwise, you’re in major trouble here.

Why am I getting the feeling that if I fail myself, I’ll also fail Suzie and Bryce?

I can’t answer that.

Can’t, or won’t? He asked, but wasn’t at all sure he really wanted the answer.


Suzie’s dream has to be a premonition, doesn’t it?

That, too, you must determine. This is your turf. I’m just a... temporary guest.

She knew his feelings about her being here. And, while she might prove persistent and/or contrary, she’d been gracious; he had to give her credit for that. Though he’d be wasting his time asking, he had to do it anyway. What exactly is your mission?

You’d best focus on your own challenges, hmm?

Whatever her mission was, it couldn’t be as vital as Suzie and Bryce, and Tony did have troubles enough of his own to resolve without worrying about Sunshine’s, too. Okay, consider your message delivered.

Very well, Tony. Good-bye.

Thoughtful, he rubbed at his lip with his forefinger and thumb. If Suzie’s nightmare wasn’t a premonition, he didn’t have a clue what it was, or what it’d take to help her. And that sorry truth would scare the socks off a saint, much less him, a mere ghost.

He should be asking Suzie questions, gaining her insight on the background material he already had about her family, but he couldn’t make himself do it. Not yet. Though children readily accept oddities—and as much as Tony hated to admit it, he was an oddity—in Suzie’s current state, he just couldn’t take the risk she’d wonder how he’d gotten into her dream, and then wonder who he was, which inevitably would lead to that godawful question he most hated: What are you?

"You didn’t lie.” Suzie looked up at him, her eyes wide and curious but no longer riddled with the fear they’d held in the dream.

He paused pacing near the foot of her bed. "I won’t ever lie to you, Suzie.”

She wanted to believe him; it radiated from her. But she couldn’t let herself. Not yet. She reached over to the nightstand beside the bed and set down her hairbrush. "What’s your name?”

Resilient. A damn shame she’d had to be resilient to survive this long. Feeling tender, he smiled down at her. "Tony.”

"I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” She looked at his Army uniform, at his jacket’s shiny brass buttons, then focused on the carnation at his lapel. "You were the man at Uncle T.J. and Aunt Maggie’s art gallery. I saw you when I looked at the picture of that house.”

"That’s right.”

"Did you come here for vacation, too?”

"Not exactly.”

"We did. Daddy says me and him and Jeremy and Lyssie, my baby brother and sister, need quality time together. I think Daddy mostly needs a nap.”

"I think you’re probably right.” Tony chuckled. "I live here all the time.”

"Seascape Inn looks like the house in Uncle T.J.’s painting.”

A test, pure and simple, to see if Tony would tell her the truth. "That’s because it is the same house. Your uncle T.J. has visited here a couple of times.”

"He likes it here. He tells Daddy so all the time.” Looking pleased by the truth, she grabbed up the covers bunched at her knees, then lay back against the pillow. Soft light from the bedside lamp slanted over her feet. "I do, too.”

"I’m glad.” Would she keep on liking it here? Once she realized the pond was the one in her dream, she’d probably hate it. And the thought of anyone hating his beloved home turned Tony’s stomach.

"I like you, too. You help me here. At home, I’m by myself.” She dipped her chin, again focusing on the flower at his lapel. "I don’t like being by myself in the water, Tony.”

"I know.” His insides twisted. "But I’m here now. That’s a promise.”

She had that look in her eye; the Doubting Thomasette in her had reared its ugly head. With a we’ll-see lift of her brow, she half covered her mouth with her hand, then yawned. "Nobody except me could see you then—at Uncle T.J.’s. How come?”

Surprise streaked up Tony’s back. Evidently, even after her harrowing experience, she was more ready than he for questions and answers. "I’m... different. That scares some people.”

"I don’t like being scared.”

"I doubt anyone does.”

"Do you get lonely?”

Tony thought of Hattie. Of seeing her day in and out and yet never getting to really live with her, of the lifetime of love and memories they would have shared, of the Christmas wedding they’d planned that never had come to pass. And he thought of the children, the blessings they’d dreamed of raising together which destiny had denied them. Oh, they’d reconciled themselves and compensated as best they could—and he was grateful for all they did share. Yet, at times, and especially now when feeling the physical, he ached for all he’d lost. And a part of him hurt even more deeply for Hattie because he now knew she had suffered these physical pains he’d been spared until today each and every day of her life. "Yes, Suzie.” His voice cracked. "Sometimes I get so lonely I don’t think I can stand it.”

"Me, too,” she confessed in a whisper. "But taking care of Jeremy and Lyssie and Daddy makes me feel better.” Solemn and serious, she looked up at his eyes. "Do you take care of anybody—besides me?”

Caring. His salvation. Hattie’s, too. A touch of serenity returned and a smile skimmed over his lips. "Yes, I do. I call them special guests.” When he saw the question in her eyes, he went on to explain. "Sometimes people who are hurt inside come to visit Seascape Inn and Miss Hattie and I try to help them. That makes us feel better—like you with your family.”

"Does Miss Hattie see you too, then?”

His heart plunged to his stomach like a hollow rock. "No. I’m afraid that would just make us both sad.”

"You loved her.”

Gazing at Suzie’s fuzzy pink slippers beside the bed, Tony looked up.

"My daddy is sad.” Suzie shrugged. "He loved Meriam and she died.”

Meriam. Not Mom, or Mother. Meriam. Was Suzie still that angry at her mother for dying? It would explain the nightmare—if it were a nightmare and not a premonition.

Tony picked up Suzie’s brush then moved it to the dresser. Its hard bristles grating against his thumb felt good. He’d loved Hattie Stillman heart and soul for sixty years. "You’re very observant.”

"I’m nine.”

Despite feeling depressed to his toenails, he grinned, then turned to face Suzie. "Only you can see me—at least for a while.”

She mulled that over, then cocked her head. "Why?”

He leaned back against the dresser, crossed his legs at his ankles, then rubbed at his temple with his forefinger. "That’s kind of hard to answer.”

"My friend Selena says difficult stuff is always hard to answer—she’s a grown-up—but I don’t think it is. I think you just have to say the truth. If you lie, stuff’s hard, but the truth is easy.”

Out of the mouths of babes. "I agree. But sometimes people have the devil’s own time accepting the truth, especially if they don’t understand it.”

Weak winter moonlight slanted in through the window and over Suzie’s face. Her lips weren’t blue and her teeth weren’t chattering anymore. He was glad to see it. He straightened up, walked over, then tucked the quilts up under her chin. "And on that fine note, I think it’s time for you to go to sleep.”

Fear slammed through her, made her pale cheeks pasty white. "I—I don’t want to sleep.”

When she slept, she dreamed. A tender knot hitched in his chest. Being alone in the dreams frightened her. "You don’t have to be afraid anymore, Suzie. I’m here to help you now, and you won’t be alone in any more nightmares—not at Seascape.”

She frowned up at him. "I was.”

"But you won’t be anymore.”

"How come?”

"Because I’m going to be with you. I didn’t know enough about your dream before, but now I do.” He debated, then went on. "Seascape is a healing house. That’s why you’re here. Your dad and Jeremy and Lyssie, too.”

"Seascape is magic,” Suzie said with the authority only a nine-year-old can muster. "Aunt Maggie said so, and Jimmy told me, too. But I didn’t think they meant it really was magic, but now I think it must be.”

She wanted to believe, yet, as with the promises, she feared being disappointed. "Who’s Jimmy?”

She reached down for a little yellow flowered quilt. One not quite big enough for a bed, but perfect for dragging on the floor behind tiny feet and cuddling, one clearly made by Hattie. Tony recognized her stitching, and the yellow carnation she’d appliquéd on its corner.

Suzie tugged it close. "Jimmy Goodson. Don’t you know him? Miss Hattie says Jimmy’s the bestest mechanic in the whole world, and Daddy says Jimmy’s kind of like Miss Hattie’s son. I helped him plant a yellow tea rose bush in the garden today. He showed me how to not cut my foot with the shovel.”

"Ah, I see. I wasn’t sure if you meant a Jimmy from home or from here.” Tony smiled. So the bulletin board bets on Seascape Inn’s special guests continued down at the Blue Moon Cafe, Jimmy continued to win them, and he had indeed bought Hattie the yellow tea rose bush with his winnings on the John and Bess Mystic bet, just as he’d planned. "Well, a girl nine, I would say, surely does need to know how to use a shovel.”

"Uh-huh.” More relaxed now, Suzie’s eyelids grew heavy. "Do you think Seascape is magic?”

"In a way, I suppose it is.”

"Daddy took me and Jeremy and Lyssie to the Blue Moon Cafe for ice cream and I asked Miss Lucy, the lady who works there, and she said Seascape is magic, too. She said it’s a place where people come to heal broken hearts or spirits or dreams because the lady who built it loved everybody so much, and love fixes broken stuff.”

Tony’s mother, Cecelia Freeport. A healer, she had loved well. And, yes, far stronger than death, love lingers. His very presence here proved that. "Lucy told you all this?” Tony rubbed at his neck. A born romantic, Lucy usually just went on and on about the legend, or tried to draw others into her family debate on whether angels were spiritual beings or humans passed on. Likely she’d spared Suzie both because of her tender age.

Suzie nodded.

"If Lucy Baker said so, then I guess it must be true.”

"That’s what Mr. Baker said. He said Miss Lucy can’t abide lying.” Suzie blinked slowly as if puzzling something out. "I’m not sure what ‘abide’ means but I guess it’s that she doesn’t like lying. No grown-ups do. Do you know Mr. Baker? He’s got a gold ring that looks like a lump. I asked what it was and he said a nugget. I’m not sure what that means, either, but it’s pretty.”

A scrape on the floor out in the hallway claimed Tony’s attention. Bryce had awakened. "We’ll talk more tomorrow. You need to rest.” Tony drifted his hand down over her face. "Sleep, little one.”

She clenched her jaw to resist, but by the time his fingertips touched her chin, her expression had gone lax and she slept peacefully.

Tony slipped into the hallway with a lengthy list of questions and too few answers, then tapped into Bryce’s mind. Generally men weren’t as sensitive as women to the intrusion. More often than not, they thought Tony’s comments or suggestions were their own consciences. But this time Tony’s invasion wasn’t to guide, it was to explore. Why was Suzie having this dream? Why was it always the same—her falling out of the boat, then drowning? And Bryce had been coping, so why now was he seemingly at wit’s end?

Wading through Bryce’s thoughts, Tony sensed intense frustration. Futility. Feelings of failure ran rampant through the man. He loved his children—that emotion burned deeper and stronger than all the others combined—and he wanted the best for them.

Tony opened himself further to the man’s pain, to his longings and desires. And, staggering from the intensity of Bryce’s inner conflicts and feelings, Tony concluded one simple truth: Bryce Richards believed heart and soul what he most needed was a mother for his children.

Tony agreed.

And disagreed.

Suzie, Jeremy, and Alyssa did need a mother—a special one who’d love them unconditionally. But, immersed in focusing on his children, Bryce didn’t realize he was also in dire need. Nor did he seem likely to realize it anytime soon. Meriam had been dead for two years, yet he still loved her as if she were alive—or thought he did.

Tony sighed. The man had yet to face some hard truths about their relationship. And those realizations, Tony well knew, wouldn’t come easily. Learning life’s lessons rarely did. But he and Hattie would do all they could to make the challenge easier.

A woman began crying.

Deep inside his own mind, Tony heard her clearly. Yet all the leaf-peepers had gone home. Bryce, his children, and Mrs. Wiggins were the only guests at the inn. Perplexed, Tony let his thoughts drift from Bryce toward the distant sound.

The vision hazy at first, he focused on a woman driving a rental car, a white Chevrolet Caprice. She was pretty, petite and blond, and crying. Not deep, racking sobs. Silent tears. Ones that sprang from a wound so deep inside her, just looking at her was painful. She was on a highway—Tony scanned the area—near Bangor. The map on the seat beside her had a snaky pink-highlighted path drawn to Nova Scotia—from New Orleans.

Bryce and the children were from New Orleans.

Tony tapped into her thoughts. Though scattered enough to make him dizzy, he soon pieced together that she was recently divorced and mourning someone. Not her ex-husband. Someone important to her, though. A yellow carnation was pinned to a floppy hat that lay on the passenger’s seat beside her and, for some inexplicable reason, a phrase ran through her mind time and again: She was the sunshine of our home.

It seemed associated to someone named Mary Beth. So close to the name of Tony’s own deceased sister, Mary Elizabeth. Was this Mary Beth the woman’s mother? The woman mourned?

Mary Beth.

The carnation.

She was the sunshine of our home.

The divorce...

Criminy, this was Bryce’s mysterious Mrs. Tate! And she was here in Maine.

To meet Bryce? Was that why Tony had heard her crying?

As she drove, Tony checked the street signs. Sea Haven Highway. The road to Sea Haven Village from Bangor. Well, that clinched it. Where it’d lead, he hadn’t a clue—never before had he been lured like this to a potential special guest—but already he’d been warned these special guests were different, so he’d follow through and see to it that the mysterious Mrs. Tate would have the opportunity at least to come to the inn and meet Bryce Richards.

Concentrating hard, Tony urged her to turn, mentally luring her to the inn as he had so many others—and he met with surprisingly strong resistance.

Wonderful. Just wonderful. Not only mourning. Not only wounded from the divorce. Caline Tate faced even more challenges. Thanks to that ex-husband of hers—Bryce’s client, no less—the woman was sure to be reluctant if not in downright refusal mode. With Bryce’s realizations about his marriage to Meriam yet to come, and Cally’s own emotional demons to be confronted, this was going to be a doozy of a case. But, by gum, Tony and Hattie had faced challenges before, and Suzie was worth the extra effort. Bryce and Caline, and Jeremy and Lyssie, too. Tony just prayed his and Hattie’s guidance would be enough. Though they always tried their best to aid special guests, unfortunately, they weren’t always successful. And he couldn’t shake that image of himself from Suzie’s dream. The one of him as powerless.

"Tony?” Suzie called out. "Tony, are you here?”

The Doubting Thomasette had awakened. He paused a second longer, and glimpsed Caline Tate taking the turn to exit onto Sea Haven Highway. Ah, she had chosen to come to the inn. Good. Good. He could lure, encourage, but the special guests had to make their own decisions, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.


Smiling, he returned to Suzie. "I’m here.”

"I know Seascape has magic.” Sober-eyed, she nodded against her crisp white pillowslip.

Just this moment, he was happy to agree. "Why is that, little one?”

"Because I called and you came—and because I smell your carnation even though I see right through you.”

His smile fell to a frown and his skin knitted between his brows. "I won’t hurt you.”

"I know that.” She clicked her tongue to the roof of her mouth and rolled her gaze ceilingward. "You came to help me.”

Acceptance. Sweet acceptance. He savored it for a long moment and, when he answered her, his voice sounded unusually gruff. "Yes, I did.”

"Well, then, what I want to know is if you can get us a new mom. Selena says...”

Joy bubbled in his chest. God, but he loved children. A pang of longing, of wishing he and Hattie had had the chance to have their own, slid through him. He shunned it. Their situation wasn’t perfect, but at least he was here with his beloved—more or less. "Who’s Selena?” Suzie had mentioned her earlier.

"My grown-up friend. Uncle John’s little sister. Do you know John Mystic and my aunt, Bess?”

"Yes, I do.” Boy, had those special guests given Tony a run for his money. They’d narrowly escaped divorce. He and Hattie had been thrilled with the outcome of that case.

"Selena’s old. At least twenty-five—maybe more.”

Tony repressed a smile by the skin of his teeth. "Twenty-five. Well, that’s old, all right. So what does Selena say?”

"My dad says time makes things better. My doctor does, too. We talk and talk every week but I still keep having the dreams, anyway. That’s how I know time won’t work. They’re not lying though, just wrong.” Suzie fidgeted. The covers under and over her crinkled. "But Selena says the only way to get better is to get and keep both oars in the water. I think she’s right. If I can get Jeremy and Lyssie a new mom who’ll love them, then maybe that’ll fix things. Lucy Baker said love fixes broken stuff, and not having a mom is kind of being broken, don’t you think?”

Tony wanted to hug the child. To wash the hurt away. But he couldn’t. Yet he could help her to learn to live more constructively with the hurt. "I’d say it can be.”

"It is,” Suzie said. "I’m hoping Miss Lucy is right. I don’t know if she is or isn’t. But Jeremy’s four and Lyssie—Alyssa—is two. They’re little. Other people can love little kids easier than big kids, and they don’t even remember Meriam. She was kind of our mom but she didn’t like us calling her that so we called her Meriam. Well, me and Jeremy did. Lyssie was too little to talk when Meriam went to heaven.”

Suzie paused for breath, giving Tony time to mentally catch up, then pulled her quilt closer and rubbed her thumb over the appliquéd carnation’s petals. "Jeremy and Lyssie are little so they really need a mom. I don’t ‘cuz I’ve never really had a mom and I’m nine now, so it doesn’t matter to me—as long as she loves them.” With a telling shrug, Suzie stared at the ceiling, clearly seeing far beyond the swirls of white plaster. "But if she bakes peanut butter cookies like my friend Missy’s mom does, then I wouldn’t mind having one, though. Mrs. Wiggins won’t let us have cookies. Meriam told her not to—sugar rots your teeth—but Daddy does, sometimes. Mostly when Mrs. Wiggins isn’t home. She fusses, and he’s too tired to listen to it.”

A knot squared in Tony’s throat. Suzie wanted a mom more than anything in the world. He hadn’t missed that she’d been hurt at having to call her mother by name. Nor had he missed the tremor in her voice on admitting she’d never really had a mom, or her obvious distaste for Mrs. Wiggins, the old battleaxe of a nanny who’d arrived at the inn three days ago with Bryce and the children. Every morning over coffee Bryce read Wiggins’s list of Jeremy’s previous day’s infractions. He was just four, for pity’s sake.

Tony bent down beside Suzie’s bed then clasped her little hand in his big one. "We’ll have to wish really hard for a mom, then—for Jeremy and Lyssie.”

Suzie nodded. "How come your fingers are cold?”

He stared at them. What could he say? I have no life. And the absence of life renders the absence of warmth? Would she accept that?

"Tony? You promised never to lie.”

He tried, but he couldn’t make himself meet her eyes and maybe see her condemnation of him reflected there. "Being alive makes you warm, Suzie.”

"Outside.” She touched his jacket over his heart. "But you’re warm in here. That’s where it’s important—Selena said.”

To Suzie, Selena obviously was the ultimate authority. "She’s a wise woman.” And with the gift Suzie’d just given him, if he’d ever doubted it, Tony now had seen it proven true: Seascape was a magical place. And how he prayed he had the skills to bring Suzie a gift she’d treasure as much as he did her acknowledgment that he had heart: a new mom.

He and Hattie certainly would do everything possible, and they’d pray hard—more than hard, if he knew his beloved, and he certainly did—that the special guests did their part.



"I lied to you.” Suzie blinked furiously then forced her gaze up to his. Guilt radiated from her in pulsing waves. "I really do want a mom.”

"I know.” Understanding what that admission had cost her, he swallowed down a hard lump from his throat and stroked her sleep-tangled hair. "Sometimes when something’s really important to us, well, we all tell ourselves it isn’t important so it won’t hurt so much if we don’t get it.”

"Even you?”

"Even me.” He met her big brown eyes, thinking of Hattie. "But I’ll share a secret with you. If we wish really hard, you might just get a new mom.”

Remorse slithered through him. He shouldn’t have told Suzie that. He hadn’t meant to, but the longing in her had struck a chord in him, the same chord that reminded him of all those nevers between him and Hattie, and it had just slipped out.

Suzie’s eyes sparkled and her mouth dropped open into a big O. "Honest? You’re not just telling me that? Grown-ups do that sometimes. I don’t like it.”

How could he recant after that? "No, I’m not just saying it. It could happen, Suzie, but it could not happen, too. That’s why we have to wish hard. It all depends on your dad and, er, the lady who’s coming.”

"She’s coming here?” When he nodded, Suzie’s eyes stretched even wider. "But what if we don’t know it’s her? She could go away, and Jeremy and Lyssie—”

"You’ll know her. I promise.” Tony touched a finger to the flower at his lapel. "She’ll be wearing a yellow carnation, just like this one.”


"Shh, it’s time to sleep now. And, remember. No nightmares, not at Seascape.” He tucked the thick quilt up under her chin then tapped a fingertip to her nose. "Miss Hattie would pitch a fit.”

"Miss Hattie doesn’t do that.” Suzie giggled, then sobered. "Mrs. Wiggins might, though.”

Tony grunted. The battleaxe surely might. "I want you to listen carefully, Suzie. This is very important, okay?”


"We can’t interfere with your dad and the lady who’s coming here.” He dropped his voice to a soft whisper and spoke straight to the child’s soul. "But—and this is a promise—if only one has the courage to believe, miracles can happen beside a dreamswept sea.”

Suzie looked awestruck, then frowned, clearly worried. "But I don’t believe in miracles anymore. I even told Missy and Selena.”

The child had grasped the significance of his words to her; no doubt about it. "Then you’ve got to try to believe in them again. So you’ll heal.”

For a long moment, the child stared at his jacket buttons and worried her lip with her teeth. Then she looked back at his eyes, her own filled with resolve. "I can’t promise, but if you say it’s true, then I’ll try hard to believe it. I really will, Tony.”

Her leap of faith touched him. "Why?”

"Because you promised, and you didn’t lie.”

Her mother. It had been her broken promises, so many of them, which had taught Suzie skepticism and a fear of believing anyone but her father. Yet Tony couldn’t judge Meriam harshly for it; the poor woman had fought her emotional demons, too. How well Tony knew she had from her visit here. She’d, unfortunately, been one of his failures; too far gone before she arrived to trust in herself, to trust in him, and to heal. "Thank you, Suzie.” He placed a fatherly kiss to her soft brow, and whispered a silent prayer that he wouldn’t fail her as he had her mother. "Sleep peacefully now.”

He started to disappear, thought better of it, then walked toward the door.


Gripping the doorknob, he looked back over his shoulder at her. "Hmm?”

"A yellow carnation. I won’t forget.”

She wouldn’t. She’d be more attentive than Batty Beaulah Favish next door with her goofy binoculars. "Good girl.”

"Will it be soon—that my new mom will come?”

The longing in Suzie’s voice cut through him like a knife. "Very soon. But, remember now, she won’t know she might be your new mom. We don’t know for sure, either. We have to let her and your dad figure it out.”

"Why can’t I just tell them?”

"Won’t work, little one.” Tony had tried that often enough to know it for fact. "Some things grown-ups have to figure out for themselves. That’s how love operates. We can encourage, but they have to decide.”


Tony raised his brows.

"Well, sometimes grown-ups take too long.”

He supposed they did. "Then we’ll have to be patient.” He winked. "And wish hard that they hurry.”

Suzie squeezed her eyes shut and clamped her jaw, putting her heart into it. Tony grinned. If wishes alone could do the trick, this case already would be a done deal.

But with Bryce and Caline’s challenges, their healing enough to maybe find love would take far more than wishes; it’d take a fistful of miracles. And Tony only hoped they’d find them, and that this case would become a done deal. For Suzie, and Jeremy and Lyssie, but also for Bryce and Caline. Their odds weren’t the greatest, but then if they were, they wouldn’t be here. Both seriously need loving. Desperately needed loving. And just as desperately, they both needed to love.

Tony eased into the hallway. Slumped between wall and floor, Bryce shivered in his sleep. Eons ago, Tony had grown accustomed to his presence cooling temperatures, though, truthfully, it still rankled. He visualized Hattie’s crocheted afghan, draped it over Bryce, then stepped back to study him. If the man held his head at that weird angle long, he’d awaken with a heck of a crick in his neck. "Well, why not?” Tony thought. "In for an ounce, in for a gallon.” He visualized a pillow, too.

After situating it under Bryce’s head, Tony straightened up, then walked down the hallway. There was a consolation to him chilling rooms. As soon as Suzie spilled tonight’s events to Miss Hattie—which would most likely be at the crack of dawn—Tony figured his beloved would be glaring at the ceiling and railing, heating up his own ears plenty.

A smile curved his lips. Heading up the stairs to his attic bedroom, he rubbed his hands together, hardly able to wait. Few things held the appeal of a righteously indignant Hattie Stillman. Even if, in this instance, she had every right to be furious. He never should’ve told Suzie that "new mom” bit. Never should’ve interceded into her dream without first knowing the costs. Yet he’d had no other choice. None he could live with anyway. And again he wondered. What would be the penalty for interceding?

And who will be penalized? Sunshine asked in a phantom whisper.

Fear trickled down his spine. Tony came to a dead halt, clutched the banister in a death grip. Why hadn’t he considered that his actions could affect someone else? Could affect Hattie?


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