Falling for Zoe

Falling for Zoe

Skye Taylor

April 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-730

Book 1 of The Cameron's of Tide's Way

Jake Cameron won’t risk hurting his best friend by admitting he loves her.

Little does he know . . . that’s what hurts her the most.


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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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Zoe Callahan, pregnant with the child her ex-boyfriend doesn’t want, adores her ramshackle new home in the seaside town of Tide’s Way, North Carolina. When she meets handsome Jake Cameron, her next-door neighbor who offers some fixer-upper help, her heart goes out to him instantly. He’s the doting dad to three daughters and the kind caretaker to a mom-in-law with early Alzheimer’s.

Jake is equally smitten with Zoe. But Jake, a contractor and volunteer firefighter from a close-knit family of brothers and a sister, won’t risk a romance that could disrupt his family after his ex-wife nearly destroyed it.

Despite Jake’s efforts to hide his feelings, he and Zoe quickly form an unbreakable bond. Zoe discovers love hasn’t given up on her, even if the father of her unborn child did. Now she just needs to figure out why Jake is so determined not to let the heady attraction that sizzles between them turn into something more than friendship.

Then disaster strikes, and Jake is Zoe’s rescuer. He already has her heart, but now, in spite of the rift that comes between them, she must trust him with her life and the life of her baby. And Jake must trust himself.

Skye Taylor began writing during her years as a Peace Corps volunteer. In 2012, her first novel, Whatever It Takes was published. She is thrilled to join the BelleBooks family and is currently working on a six-book contemporary romance series. Visit her website at Skye-Writer.com or on find her on Facebook.


"With a deft hand and engaging style, Skye Taylor creates a realistic story with a heart that captivates . . . if you keep your heart open, love heals the deepest wounds. Don't miss this book." -- Vicki Hinze, USA Today Bestselling Author




Chapter 1

JAKE CAMERON sorted through the stack of mail as he walked back up his driveway from the mailbox. With the afternoon sun of a perfect North Carolina spring day glaring off the white envelope, Jake shaded his eyes with one hand. As his eyes adjusted, he focused on the official court seal and hesitated, struck with a sudden sinking sensation. Then he flipped quickly past it, past two bills and a grocery store flyer, to a small pink envelope.

He plucked the pink envelope from the bundle and sniffed it. He studied the neat, unfamiliar handwriting. The return address was unfamiliar. A faint hint of perfume intrigued, yet puzzled. Jake had a houseful of females, but no one special who might send him scented notes. He gave up trying to figure it out and opened it.

Dear Mr. Cameron,the note began in the same neat feminine hand. You insisted you were just doing your job, but I had to write to tell you thank you again. Your courage, going back into that house when all appeared lost to bring my little dog out, means everything to me. Buttons is all I have left in this world and I would have been so lost without him. It’s reassuring to me to know there are men like you in the Tide’s Way Fire Department watching out for our safety. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart. Dorothy Ostringer

Jake slid the note back into the little envelope. Suddenly the name Ostringer flashed in his brain like a warning light on the dashboard of his car. His heart lurched as if he’d been punched in the solar plexus. Were they related? Couldn’t be. In spite of the uncommon name. It had to be a coincidence.

Karen Ostringer and her little boy lingered in his memories, the what-ifs playing out in his imagination far too often. Logically, he knew his accidental presence at the birth of that baby had not in any way been responsible for the frail little preemie’s failure to survive, but Jake couldn’t help wishing things had been different, and it haunted him. He felt honored to be part of the volunteer fire crew and found it satisfying and rewarding. But back then he’d been a raw recruit, off-duty and alone, and he wasn’t a trained EMT even now.

He shoved the pink envelope back into the pile. Then he glanced again the court seal on the large white envelope. He closed his eyes and tried to regain the sense of contentment he’d had before going out to retrieve the mail. He listened to the soft snap of his flag fluttering in the breeze and the cheerful chatter of his twins up in their tree house where they were engaged in some intense project involving beach shells and copious amounts of glue. Ava was in the kitchen fixing something new for dinner, and at least so far today, Celia hadn’t done anything dumb. It might not have been what he’d once dreamed of for himself, but it was a life he’d become comfortable with.

The rumble of a diesel engine and the grinding of gears caught his attention. He opened his eyes to see a red and white van with the familiar logo of a well-known Wilmington moving company. Thankful for any diversion to replace the unwanted melancholy, Jake tossed the stack of mail onto the bench inside the garage door and stepped back outside to watch the movers.

The big van negotiated the sharp turn between the crumbling old brick gateposts guarding their little cul-de-sac and eased around the grassy little island in the center. Jake whistled in mild astonishment as it pulled to a stop in front of the once elegant Jolee homestead that squatted firmly on the rise between the road and the tidal marsh beyond. The real estate market was still agonizingly sluggish, and the neglected building had been vacant ever since the former owner had passed away. The nineteenth century homes with antiquated everything just seemed to sit forever waiting for buyers with an interest in the unique and historic, or for investors on the lookout for cheap properties they could fix and flip.

A battered Toyota pickup truck swung around the van and pulled onto the crushed shell drive. Jake started across his lawn, intending to be neighborly and welcome the new guy on the block, whatever his plan for the place.

The person who slid out of the driver’s seat took him by surprise. She had a wild mane of reddish-gold curls and a figure to grab any man’s instant attention. Jake hesitated, waiting for a husband to appear from the passenger seat, but none did. The woman turned, saw Jake, and flashed him a friendly smile.

"Hi!” the woman called in an engagingly musical voice. "Are you my new neighbor?”

Jake yanked himself out of his momentary confusion and finished covering the distance to the drive. He held out his hand. "If you’re moving into this place, then that would be a yes. Name’s Jake Cameron.”

"Nice to meet you, Jake.” Her eyes traveled down over his paint-stained T-shirt and frayed khaki shorts and came back to his face with a curious sparkle in their greenish-brown depths that made him wonder if he’d left his fly down. "I’m Zoe Callahan.”

"Sorry, I’m kind of a mess. Been painting.” He forced himself not to check the status of his zipper as he shook her hand briefly before jamming his hands into his pockets.

She wasn’t as young as he’d first thought. Late twenties maybe, or early thirties. She was attractive in a fresh-faced, girl-next-door sort of way. What, he wondered, could have induced this engaging young woman to buy a house that was going to need an army to put it to rights?

"This time next week, I’ll be the one apologizing.” Zoe jerked her head in the direction of the house. "Everything will need painting inside and out, I’m afraid.”

"It’ll take a lot more than a coat of paint to get this place ready to put back on the market.” Jake studied the peeling paint and derelict railings more closely, reflecting on how really bad it had gotten over the months the house had been vacant.

"Oh, I don’t plan to sell it.” Zoe’s hazel eyes widened in exaggerated enthusiasm. "I’m here to stay.”

"Is... is there a Mr. Callahan?”

"Nope! Just me and the menagerie.”

"The menagerie?” Jake felt buffeted by the level of cheerful energy radiating off the woman.

Zoe waved her hand in the direction of the pickup truck. "Yup. Three dogs, two cats, and Polly. And the fish, of course. The dogs are mine. I inherited the rest when my siblings moved out and left them behind. All except Polly. She was Michael’s, but his wife refused to have her around after they were married.”

Jake felt like taking a step backwards. "Wow!” he said weakly, trying to imagine the chaotic atmosphere her menageriebrought with them. Was Polly what it sounded like? He gestured vaguely in the direction of the run-down mansion. "So, you made of money, or what?”

Zoe frowned. "Made of money?”

Jake belatedly realized that his comment was both rude and intrusive, although he hadn’t meant it that way. "Just... it’s going to take a ton of money to fix this place up. If there’s no Mr. Callahan...”

Zoe’s finely arched brows peaked into a challenge.

Now he was being politically incorrect. Nice way to impress the new neighbor, Cameron!

"You think just because I’m a woman, I can’t handle it?”

"Well, no, ma’am. I...” Jake fumbled. If he was honest, that was exactly what he’d been thinking. It was a beautiful place. Old, rambling, and unique, but it had been left untended for far too long. "It’s just that it needs a lot of work.”

"You sound like my father.” Zoe flipped her hand dismissively.

Sounding like Zoe’s father was clearly not a compliment.

"Sorry,” Jake muttered, mentally chastising himself. The woman definitely had spunk. "It’s really a grand old place. Lots of history. Solidly built. Back when houses were built to last for generations. Here—” He reached for his wallet and dug out a business card. "Maybe you’re already in the business, but if not, I’m in construction. I’d be glad to check it out for you. Give you some estimates. Make sure there aren’t any serious problems you’ll need to address right off. I can steer you in the direction of some good craftsmen. Might even be able help out myself on some of the stuff.”

That’s nice! Really nice. Like I don’t have enough to keep me busy as it is? Yet, even as the warning flashed into his head, his fingers relinquished the card.

Something about Ms. Zoe Callahan had grabbed his attention the moment she’d slid from the truck and wouldn’t let go. She wasn’t beautiful, at least not in the classic sense. Nor did she appear to be the kind of siren who would be all over his brand new return to bachelorhood. Maybe it was the way her lips turned up at the corners as if she found life amusing and dared everyone else to join her. Or perhaps it was the challenge in her peaked brows, when Jake had questioned her intentions for the classic old home.

What was he thinking? Didn’t he already have a houseful of women who tested his peace and sanity? On a daily basis! Had he really just volunteered to add another?

Zoe studied the card then stuck it in her pocket. "Thanks. I just might have to take you up on it. I’m new at the whole homeowner thing.”

"Hey! Ms. Callahan! You need to get inside and tell the guys where you want things put.” The driver of the van approached with a clipboard in one hand. "And I need your check for the balance due, ma’am.”

Before Zoe could turn away, Jake opened his mouth. "You have any plans for supper? You haven’t even unpacked yet, and you probably haven’t shopped for any groceries, and you’re bound to be hungry.” He was babbling, and he must sound like an idiot. But her kitchen wouldn’t be ready to cook in until sometime tomorrow at the earliest. There was always room for one more at his table.

Zoe’s mouth stretched into an engaging smile that warmed him right down to his toes and rewarded him for his impulsive offer. "That would be wonderful.” Then she looked at her watch. "What time?”

"Sixish sound okay?” Jake would have to warn Ava that there would be a guest for supper.

"Six is great. Any meal I don’t have to prepare myself sounds heavenly.” Zoe flashed him another captivating grin and turned back to the van driver.

What have I done?Jake shook his head in disbelief. The last thing I need is another female in my already crazy life no matter how cute she is. I can’t believe I just gave her an open invitation to add her projects to the demands on my time and energy. That place is going to need a mountain of fixing up. He had the sudden, uneasy conviction that Zoe Callahan’s arrival in his life was going to turn out to be even more unsettling than the arrival of the divorce decree.



Chapter 2

ZOE WROTE THE check out and handed it to the driver, then took the clipboard and signed the delivery receipt. When the man walked back to the cab of his truck, Zoe glanced over to the spot where Jake had stood just moments before, but it was empty. Suddenly, the bubbly feeling his warm welcome had induced fizzled away.

She heard childish voices coming from a tree house perched in an ancient live oak growing just beyond the fence that separated the two yards. She noted three bikes, two small and one larger parked neatly in a wooden rack by the garage door. Of course, he’s married. What was she thinking? All the good ones were, and even when they weren’t, none of the ones worth having ever seemed interested in anything permanent with her. Good old Zoe! A man’s best friend when he needed something. But never the woman he couldn’t live without.

Not even Porter. Not that she’d wanted anything permanent with Porter either, but once she’d found herself pregnant, she’d resigned herself. In the cultural circles she’d grown up in, an unexpected pregnancy generally precipitated a hurried wedding. Zoe wondered if things might have been different if her mother were still alive. But she wasn’t and they weren’t.

Zoe banished the unmourned Porter from her mind and thought about what Jake had said about her new house. A sudden jolt of anxiety lanced through her. Had she bitten off more than she could chew? It was old. Really old. And it was big. A lot bigger than she really needed. But it had captivated her imagination—from the elaborately scrolled trim beneath the eaves of the porch out front to the view of the inland waterway from the second story balcony off the master bedroom. And it had history and a ton of charm.

"Where to, ma’am?”

As he hefted his end of the old but serviceable futon her sister had passed along, the younger of the two movers jerked his head in the direction of the house and pulled Zoe’s attention back to the task at hand. For the next hour and a half, she didn’t have time to dwell on the unknown problems homeownership might have in store for her, or the sexy guy who lived next door. She and the movers hauled all her possessions from the van and stacked them in her new home. She directed the two men lugging the furniture where to put each piece and toted a lot of the boxes herself.

When the van finally pulled away from the house, she opened the passenger door of the truck and invited the dogs to get out. They took their time sniffing their new surroundings before finding a place to relieve themselves. While the dogs rooted about in the shrubs, Zoe gazed up at the place she now called home. With her new neighbor’s remarks echoing in her head, the peeling paint on all that trim seemed suddenly more ominous than it had when she’d eagerly signed the purchase agreement.

Just needs a coat of paint, she’d assured herself, having fallen in love with the stately old home full of southern coastal charm. The rockers on the wraparound porch made it feel like a beach house even on this side of the Intracoastal Waterway. She could so easily picture herself sitting there on a lazy afternoon with a tall, sweaty glass of sweet tea, breathing in the salt-tinged air while her baby girl played nearby. The pillars framing the front door gave the house a touch of elegant colonial hospitality, and the beautiful wood-paneled, old-fashioned study had tipped the balance. Zoe had fallen in love with everything, from the tattered flag in a bracket by the front entrance to the afternoon sunlight spilling in the dusty second floor windows from which, on a clear day, you could see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Whatever Jolee ancestor had built this place, he’d picked the perfect spot.

Zoe squared her shoulders and called to the dogs as she mounted the shallow front stairs with a cat carrier in each hand. It was a great house and she loved it, even if it was going to need some work. Or even a lot of work.

She went back to the truck for Polly, who was muttering unhappily under the sheet draped over her cage. One last trip for the aquarium that held a plastic bag filled with murky water and two frustrated goldfish. She parked the glass cube on the counter in the kitchen and took a moment to gaze out at the overgrown back yard. Beyond the tangle of roses that had been lovingly nurtured who-knew-how-many- generations-back, a glimmer of sunlight bounced off the very blue stretch of the inland waterway. She loved everything about the house!

Reluctantly she turned away from the view to search for the box with water bowls and pet food. Then she noticed a fruit basket sitting in the middle of the kitchen island, almost hidden by the stack of boxes one of the movers had left there. Zoe smiled as she grabbed the card stapled to the cellophane wrapper.

Welcome Home,the card said in Zoe’s best friend’s sprawling script.

"Oh, Bree,” Zoe whispered, sinking onto a stool. "You’re the best.”

Zoe peeled the cellophane away from the display, removed a fat strawberry, and popped it into her mouth. Then she propped the card between two bananas and took a third one to eat.

As she peeled the banana, Zoe reflected on the events that had brought her to this place in her life. She took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. The goldfish glared at her with reproach as they hung motionlessly in their temporary confinement, waiting for her to fill their tank with fresh water and set them free. "You’ll last a few more minutes, guys,” she told them, and then took another bite of her banana.

When all the rest of her friends were being teenagers, Zoe had been mothering six younger siblings. She hadn’t had time for hanging out at the mall, or dating, or basketball games, or any of the things most girls her age were doing, but with all except the youngest of her siblings finally out on their own, an unfamiliar sense of freedom had begun to fill Zoe’s daydreams. Then, before she could decide where those dreams might take her, she’d gotten careless and ended up pregnant. Porter, the man her father had introduced her to and had clearly hoped would one day become his son-in-law, had turned his back on her when she refused to get an abortion. Even her father had thrown his hands up in disgust because Zoe wouldn’t listen to his arguments in favor of placing her baby for adoption as he thought any properly-brought-up young woman should.

Only Bree believed Zoe was doing the right thing—keeping her baby and creating a new life for the two of them. Bree, who’d been Zoe’s best friend since they were toddlers; who had stuck by Zoe when the rest of their peers had been out chasing boys and deciding on colleges.

And it was Bree who’d first shown Zoe this house. Bree worked at Kett’s Hotel where she’d met the grandson who’d inherited the property from a man he’d barely known. Bree’s friendly interest had elicited the information that the grandson was eager to sell the house quickly and return to his life on the west coast.

Zoe had been looking at condos and had been on the verge of making an offer for a unit in the same complex Bree lived in. The quaint little village of Tide’s Way was close enough to Wilmington so Zoe would still be close to family. Her commute might be a tad longer, but with a lot less traffic. It was just the sort of old-fashioned small town Zoe had always liked—the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else, and there’s never a shortage of busybodies eager to share the latest gossip or advice.

Bree had set up a meeting with the grandson and his realtor and told Zoe it couldn’t hurt to just look. Zoe hadn’t even waited for a home inspection. She’d dug into her purse and written the man a check while they were still standing in this very kitchen.

A home of my own. Zoe sighed in happy satisfaction, then looked at her watch and jumped to her feet. She tossed her banana peel into the sink until she could locate the kitchen wastebasket. Then she carried the fish tank to the sink and began to fill it. She had an invite for supper, and she didn’t want to meet Jake’s wife stinking of sweat and covered in dust. She dropped the plastic bag with Cleo and Titus still sulking into the freshly filled tank and headed out to the truck for her suitcase.

As she stood under the spray of the shower, she was glad she’d stopped by after the closing yesterday to turn on the hot water heater. The pelting water felt good drumming against her tired muscles. Better get used to sore muscles, she told herself.

Even here in the shower, evidence of the mountain of work ahead of her presented itself in the cracks between the grout. She let her hand glide over the slightly rounded curve of her stomach. Her baby wasn’t due until the end of September. That gave her almost five months to get the most urgent projects completed. Of course, she could do this.

Couldn’t she?



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