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Natucket Rose

By CF Frizzell

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 CF Frizzell

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Nantucket Rose

Maggie Jordan can’t wait to convert an historic Nantucket home into a B&B and move on to her next project. However, her intention to flip it for a sizeable profit is something she must keep to herself if she hopes to win the acceptance of islanders and popularize the business. She can’t afford to grow attached to the house, or succumb to Nantucket’s quaint charms, and definitely must not fall in love.

But neither can Maggie resist the conundrum that is Ellis Chilton, a reserved, solitary islander and mariner since childhood. Seemingly content being attached only to her boat and the ocean, Ellis projects a refreshing air of independence, an aura of conviction and grit that tugs Maggie ever closer to a decision that will alter both their lives.

Nantucket Rose

© 2017 By CF Frizzell. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13:978-1-63555-056-6


This Electronic Original is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: November 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design by Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

By the Author

Stick McLaughlin: The Prohibition Years

Exchange

Night Voice

Nantucket Rose

Acknowledgments

For me, writing a novel set on the island of Nantucket brought back a myriad of fond memories. Commuting there from Hyannis Harbor, now many years ago, always had me marveling at the daunting Atlantic, enjoying the ferry rides as much as days spent working on the Grey Lady itself.

You can’t see the island from the dock in Hyannis, but beyond the horizon some thirty miles out sits a quaint, historic Massachusetts community once known around the world for the courage and success of its valiant whalers. The Atlantic Ocean is no less a part of daily island life today, but time does move on, and I’m grateful that generations of Nantucketters have persevered, protecting treasured elements of the past in the face of ever-changing times. There are no McDonald’s restaurants on Nantucket; camping is not allowed; bringing your car to the island costs a small fortune. But there’s that Charles Dickens feel to tree-lined Main Street, with its cobblestones and street lamps; shop owners selling the work of island artisans—who all know you by name; and a whole town’s worth of support for the high school varsity team. Treasured elements like individuality and community. A settlement that’s pushing four hundred years old knows what matters most.

I credit my late father for my love of the ocean, which led to writing Nantucket Rose. He was a sailor before, during, and after WWII and would have lived his entire life aboard any ship, if my mother had let him. How he gloried in our last excursion together, standing at the bow of the ferry Eagle as we crossed Nantucket Sound, silently adrift in his memories. I know he would be pleased to visit Nantucket again through this novel.

And I’m most thankful for my wife Kathy and her love, support, and creative inspiration. Writing a novel without her is inconceivable to me.

I’ve written a locale full of memories in Nantucket Rose, and appreciate every reader who comes aboard to visit. I hope you make fond memories here, too.

To Kathy

for making every dream come true

Chapter One

The ornery Atlantic Ocean landed another jab to the ferry’s ribs, determined to pound the ship back to the mainland. Maggie Jordan and fellow passengers swayed with the broadside blow, wincing like the audience in a prize fight as the hardy ship heaved to one side and absorbed the hit. She clamped both hands around her cardboard cup to keep it on the table. Gyroscopic, she thought, watching the scalding coffee remain perfectly level while the world tilted around it. Heat seared into her fingers and she withdrew them only slightly, and risked letting the cup sit unaided while the ferry hammered through the angry sea.

The clock on the lounge wall said she had another hour to go before reaching the island, reminding her she sat directly in the middle of busy Nantucket Sound where there was no land to be seen—if she could have seen anything through the sheets of rain outside.

She counted on the snack bar coffee to keep her queasiness in check. Her stomach rolled as much as the Steamship Authority’s beefy ferry, the M / V Eagle, and had never been this upset on previous trips to Nantucket. Wishing her appointment with the general contractor had fallen on a nicer day, Maggie marveled at how most passengers took this rough ride in stride. Granted, a few looked a little green, but most calmly sat, reading or chatting as children played in their seats and dogs on leashes slept soundly. For a moment, she envisioned her own dog, Retta, testing her patience, eager to play, and Maggie knew that challenge would come soon enough.

She returned to her iPad and details of the work ahead. The last phase of her biggest turnaround project to date beckoned loudly. She couldn’t wait to be hands-on and settled in to bring her vision of Nantucket’s newest B&B to life. Months of sketching and planning, hours of phone calls, mountains of regulations and forms, and too many hurried—and not always pleasant—trips to the island were all in their final stages now, and she itched like a child at Christmas to see them all to fruition.

She scrolled down the list of tasks yet to be done, noted their impact on her budget, and the timetable involved. She sighed and stared off into space, hoping the B&B’s opening was still on schedule. Less than three months to go. She nodded at her list. Still doable.

“Pardon me, dear. Would you mind terribly sharing your booth?” Wearing tweed blazer and slacks, a woman with an extraordinarily long silver braid stood holding a Bloody Mary and gripping the seat back for balance. “I don’t mean to disturb your work.” Her assorted bracelets jangled when she gestured to the table.

“Oh, no. Not at all.” Maggie quickly moved her things aside. “Please have a seat.”

The stranger put the cocktail down and folded her long camel hair coat into a neat bundle on the bench beside her. “A full house on the boat today.” She loosened the cashmere scarf at her throat and drew her drink close. “I’m Julia. What’s your name, dear?”

“Maggie Jordan.” She offered a smile, more intrigued than upset by the interruption. “Nice to meet you, Julia. Looks like we’ve picked a terrible day for a crossing.”

“Indeed. My travel itinerary forced me out of lovely South Carolinian sunshine yesterday and into a homecoming with this ghastly weather. What’s your excuse for enduring such a ride?”

“A business meeting, completing renovations on my B&B. I hope to open on Memorial Day weekend.”

“Oh, my. Now that’s exciting.” She drank heavily through a straw. “Are you local?”

“I’m a Philly girl, but I spend so much time working away from home, I probably qualify as a nomad.”

“You don’t say. And where is your B&B?”

Amused by the questions, Maggie handed her a business card from a leather portfolio, and Julia riffled through her huge straw tote bag until she produced reading glasses. “My Tuck’r Inn is the former Captain Joshua Pratt House on Davis Street.”

Julia’s head popped up, eyes wide and crinkled with focus. “I’ve always loved the Pratt House, and now you own it? Or, should I say,” she glanced at the card, “Valentin Enterprises owns it?”

“Yes.” Maggie smiled at Julia’s innocent mispronunciation. “I am Valenteen Enterprises. My grandfather was a Slovak, my biggest supporter growing up, so I named my one-woman corporation after him. I like to think he brings me luck.” She stopped short of revealing that Valentin’s luck had extended for the past nine years—and included no less than eleven turnaround projects like Tuck’r.

“Lucky to land the Pratt House, truly,” Julia said. “A prestigious home in its day. Such a tragedy, I must say, that it fell to foreclosure some years ago and didn’t stay in the family.”

Glad it hadn’t, Maggie nodded. “I was fortunate to buy it as soon as it went back on the market, and couldn’t bypass the opportunity to name it myself.”

“You’re not using the Pratt name. You’re calling it Tuck’r Inn?”

“Well, the Pratt name, literally, has been missing from the building for some time now. Besides, I’ve had the Tuck’r name in mind from the moment I decided on Nantucket. There’ll be plenty of history inside, of course, but that name was just too perfect.”

“So.” Julia sighed. “Valentin will be adding to our island’s charming attractions.” She drank absently, but the keen look in her eyes said the observation begged for more detail.

Maggie took a guarded approach to the subject of her work, ever since locals violently opposed her Lake Tahoe condo turnaround several years ago. That fire and rebuild cost her far more than insurance covered and set her back eighteen months before she could secure a buyer. The siphoning of her bankroll jeopardized her entire business and cast a long shadow over her future, and the unexpected level of opposition left a deep emotional scar. Could she win a community’s approval? Must she choose this site and stir up such dangerous negativity? Did she dare appreciate her opponents’ position? Confident she always did her best to accommodate, she countered her personal and professional doubts with a show of faith in herself—and a vow not to disclose Valentin’s renovate-and-sell mission.

And Nantucketters, in particular, as she’d learned at the start of this project, didn’t warm easily to outsiders tampering with their territory or their history. “I hope Tuck’r will become part of the community, make a statement for many years to come,” Maggie offered, “and that islanders as well as visitors will cherish it.”

“I see. Well, I’ll grant you that the Pratt House deserves to flourish.” She set her empty plastic glass down with finality. “I’m sure the task has made you a veteran traveler by now.”

Maggie sent her a skeptical eye as she rose from the table. “Thank you, but I’m not too sure I’m—”

As if on cue, the Eagle tilted so far off-center, Maggie slapped a palm to the wall to avoid toppling against it. Her view out the rain-lashed window swung from sky to ocean, both nearly identical in color and demeanor, and she wondered if Julia had conjured a taste of nature’s wrath to discourage her. Just as quickly, the ship leveled off, in time to be slammed by another robust wave. Everything shuddered, and Maggie grabbed the fiberglass tabletop for stability.

“Frankly, I can’t imagine ever getting used to this.” She gulped the remains of her coffee, eyeing the trash bin at the end of her aisle of booths. Hand extended, ready to grip anything secure en route, she staggered along the rolling deck to the trash, deposited her cup, and staggered back to where Julia now sat reading, remarkably oblivious to the ride. Maggie dropped into her seat in time to stop her iPad from sliding off the table.

“So you think I’ll get used to this?”

“Yes, dear.” Julia didn’t look up and Maggie couldn’t tell if Julia simply took these two-hour mini-cruises for granted or no longer cared to prolong their conversation.

“Well, this is my worst trip so far. They do stop runs to the island at some point, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do, when the sea gets too rough.”

Maggie almost laughed. At the far end of the lounge, a businessman with a hand to his mouth hurried into the rest room. The ship rolled again and a toddler crawling across a bench banged his head on the seat back. He cried loudly, disrupting nearby readers.

“Rougher than this will get messy,” Maggie said. “Does it have to be a hurricane before the Steamship Authority cancels trips?”

“Are you afraid?” Julia frowned over her tinted lenses. “This isn’t uncommon for the Authority, and certainly nothing a stout and sturdy ship like the Eagle hasn’t handled a thousand times.” She closed her novel and leveled her gaze, as steely gray as the clouds and ocean Maggie tried to ignore. “I’m sure you’re aware, hurricanes come in summer and fall. This time of year, it would be a blizzard.”

“Lovely thought.”

“Might you be entertaining regrets about your project?” The wistful lilt in Julia’s question sounded like a challenge or hope. “This is part of New England’s island life,” Julia added, “a part to which you’ll become accustomed—rather quickly, I trust.”

Maggie hardly saw herself becoming much of an islander in just the short time required to sell the property. In fact, with luck, she might be off the island by the time hurricane season picked up in August.

“No regrets. Actually, I couldn’t be more excited. I think Nantucket is enchanting.” Julia took the compliment with a gracious smile. “You’re a native islander?”

“Oh, no, dear. We retired here almost twenty years ago, but my husband and I are as integrated into the life as we can be. Are you married?” She immediately held up a hand. “No. Pardon me for—”

“It’s okay,” Maggie said. The subject wasn’t as painful as it was last summer when she and Stephanie parted ways. “I’m single. I’ve created quite the demanding job for myself.” And that’s my top priority.

The Eagle rocked again and Maggie slid her iPad back from the table’s edge. “I do love being up in New England. I enjoy the antiquity, the success so many of the towns have had preserving their character.”

Already, Maggie could see herself and Retta, headed north to this full-time adventure in early May. The ocean would be considerably more agreeable than today; she’d really rather not confront the Atlantic’s March madness again.

“Sounds like you’re determined to succeed.” Julia removed her glasses and sat back. “Your appreciation of history and aesthetics should serve you well here.”

“That’s very nice of you to say. Thank you. I have a feeling the hardest work is ahead of me, though.”

“Whatever made you choose to settle on Nantucket?”

“The charm won me over. It’s so unique and teeming with history. A temptation I just couldn’t resist.”

She didn’t want to get into it any further. Besides, it wasn’t appropriate, not with a stranger. Self-examination, airing her dreams and desires were things she once shared with Steph, and sometimes with her sister Rachel over many glasses of wine. And launching herself into this project had required considerable calculation and introspection.

Maybe she did it because it took her thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod and removed her from everything routine, or maybe it was the prospect of a big-money payoff, or the experience of island living and a summer on the beach, or the triumph of scoring a historic whaling captain’s home. She couldn’t pinpoint the reason but knew this job had her more emotionally invested than any challenge she’d met. In less than two months, she would sublet her condo in Philadelphia and take up island residence to establish a saleable property. With a prospective buyer already awaiting her finished product, it wouldn’t be a drawn-out process, and then she’d be free to move on to a new challenge.

The ship dipped and heaved, and Maggie’s stomach protested. She pressed a hand to the wall again. Julia braced herself on the seat and didn’t miss a beat.

“Residents—particularly the native islanders—they take immense pride in that history,” Julia stated. “The few islanders left now are madly protective of their heritage.” She tapped a bejeweled finger on the table. “No doubt you’ve encountered our extreme building restrictions with your renovation work.”

“Oh, I certainly have.” Maggie nearly winced, remembering the endless budget revisions she’d made to accommodate Nantucket’s demanding building code.

“Well, that’s just one example of how highly we value preservation.” She again dove into her tote bag and pulled out a change purse. “I hate to impose, but would you be a love and get me another Bloody Mary?”

The Eagle rolled again just as Maggie stood. Stumbling, she grabbed the table, swiped at the passing iPad and missed, and watched it hit the floor.

“Damn.” One hand still clinging to the table, she edged into the aisle and stooped to retrieve it.

“Got it.” A long arm in charcoal gray canvas reached the iPad first, and Maggie straightened just inches from a uniformed Eagle crewman. Woman. Their proximity briefly unnerved her, and she froze in the grip of bright, electric blue eyes beneath the brim of the sailor’s ball cap, the austere expression across slim lips and angular jaw.

Wow. Do you light up the night with those eyes? An extra beat passed before she realized the sailor held up her iPad.

“Oh. Thank you.” A few inches taller than Maggie, the woman stood formidable and thickset around the shoulders of her jacket, athletic and steady.

“Y’welcome,” she said, her voice just above a mumble.

Then the ship ducked out from under Maggie’s feet and her knees buckled. Instantly, the sailor cupped her elbow, the hold expansive and firm, and Maggie regained her posture just as the boat shuddered again.

“Whoa,” she gasped. “Thank you. Again.”

The sailor stepped back, assumed a slightly spread stance, unfazed by the Eagle’s motion. “Best to stay seated.”

Maggie sat quickly.

“Ah, y-yes. You’re right.”

The seaman touched a finger to her cap and spun away. Maggie watched her stride the length of the deck to the stairwell, grip the railings in each hand, and swing down, out of sight.

How have I never noticed you before?

* * *

The overcast afternoon made Ellis Chilton shrug deeper into her jacket as she walked up to Main Street from the waterfront. So typical of Nantucket, the westerly breezes had shifted to northerly, pushing the April morning’s pleasant temperature down to chilly, and she was tempted to turn around and spend the rest of her day off at home with a good book.

It had been a long while since she’d given herself a “free day.” Home renovations were always her main focus, hard labor alone, which she preferred, and time-consuming, especially when she had precious little to spare. After several years of part-time Steamship Authority service, the promotion to chief mate four years ago commandeered the bulk of her waking hours; work at home ate up the rest—and she liked it that way. Today, with renovations nearly complete, she treated herself to this escape.

She paused on the corner and looked up the length of Main at its centuries-old intersections with other cobblestone streets, the brick sidewalks and their benches, the rugged oaks whose long reaches promised shelter once buds blossomed. The setting, its character and atmosphere, could be traced back to Nantucket’s glory days of whaling, and nostalgia and respect for that era always drew Ellis to a stop.

The historic horse trough that centered the street lacked its seasonal floral display at the moment, but she looked forward to seeing it overflow with flowers when Nantucket’s annual Daffodil Festival began next weekend. She warmed at the prospect of sunny, colorful planters and window boxes again lining every street, insistent in their brilliance and brightening everyone’s spirit. She knew boatloads of tourists and seemingly every resident would descend on this quaint downtown district to celebrate spring with parades, exhibits, and picnics. Ferry work would double, and pushy off-islanders would irritate her, but the festival had been putting smiles on faces for nearly fifty years. Distinctively Nantucket, it drew residents out of hibernation, sent the green light to tourists, and basically opened the isolated community’s windows to another refreshing season. Ellis counted on that optimism as much as the island did.

Her friend Jeannie, a dispatcher for the Authority, trotted across the street, waving. “I’m amazed you actually showed,” she said as they turned down South Water Street. “It’s about time you took some R&R.”

Ellis couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent a Sunday afternoon in a bar with a friend. Jeannie probably couldn’t either, bubbling like the occasional tourist she was. Shorter than Ellis and hefty in build, she beamed up at her from behind unnecessary black sunglasses. Ellis shortened her stride so Jeannie could keep up.

“I figured I’d take the afternoon. I have to hit the supermarket later, anyway.”

“Right. Best not to food shop on an empty stomach, so we’ll get lunch. I love the massive sandwiches at Dell’s, and we can sample a bunch of their microbrews. Not bad for a little place on the wharf.”

At the real estate office ahead, an older woman working on a window box paused at their approach and pushed up the sleeves of her bulky sweater. She waved an empty flowerpot at them. “Ellis Chilton. When’s this weather going to turn?” She pointed to the sky. “Afternoon’s turned into November, for heaven’s sake. How can I put my arrangements out here in this?”

“Your shop will be gorgeous as always, Abbey,” Ellis said as they passed, “and I’m sure you’ll win this year. Just don’t put the snow shovel away yet.”

“Oh, pooh!” Abbey tossed a hand at her and returned to work.

“The forecast is calling for a sunny weekend, at least,” Jeannie said, and they turned the corner toward the waterfront.

Cold gusts off the ocean roared up Broad Street, and Ellis and Jeannie dipped their heads into the wind. They made room on the sidewalk for a well-dressed couple strolling in the opposite direction.

The man nodded at Ellis and she nodded back. “Mr. and Mrs. Bergstrom.”

Four paces later, Jeannie spoke. “He didn’t seem too friendly.”

“Decent guy. Banker.”

“Ah.”

She said no more, and Ellis knew Jeannie was putting together pieces Ellis didn’t care to discuss. Ellis’s past experiences with the bank hadn’t been pleasant and, Nantucket being a small, close-knit community, everyone knew it but never broached the subject with her. Those painful times had led her to find work with the Authority and turn her life around. As much as Jeannie loved to gab, she knew not to pry, and Ellis was grateful, but that didn’t mean Jeannie fell silent for any length of time.

“I don’t think I could’ve hung around here all my life like you. Everyone on this rock knows you. I’d have been a paranoid, claustrophobic basket case by high school.”

Ellis snickered. “High school just got in my way. I never wanted to come off the ocean to sit in a room all day, but you do what you’re told.”

“But you did leave for college.”

“Dad always said it was Mom’s dream for me to go, plus, I figured it would benefit the business.” She shrugged. “I picked Suffolk in Boston on purpose, spent as much time racing back here as I did in classes.”

“For your dad.”

“Yeah. He’d only hire a helper when he absolutely had to, and made me crazy, worrying.”

They crossed to Dell’s bar on Easy Street and Ellis looked ahead, down Steamship Wharf to the sea beyond. They’d had a good thing going, she and her father, running freight to and from the mainland and the Vineyard, rugged but exhilarating work that had been in her blood since she was a little girl. Generations of salt water, not blood in their veins, Dad always said.

Jeannie nudged her as they entered the small, softly lit bar. “I still can’t believe I got you to join me here.” She removed her sunglasses and led them to a pair of stools opposite the television hanging behind the bar. “Yankees are in town,” she said, studying the screen. “When’s the last time you went to Fenway?”

“Two thousand four,” Ellis promptly answered, knowing Jeannie would be surprised.

“When they broke the curse?” Incredulous, Jeannie made the bartender wait for her order. “No way.”

“Twice. Regular season and playoffs.” Ellis ordered a beer and a pastrami sandwich as Jeannie continued to stare at her. “Order, will you?”

Jeannie rattled off what she wanted and spun back to her. “You, who never leaves your precious Gray Lady, the land of foggy bliss? How’d that happen?”

“The tickets were gifts from a friend.”

“I went just last year. My luck, the Royals kicked our ass.”

A patron two stools away leaned in their direction. “At least you both got to see Big Papi play.”

Ellis and Jeannie turned and agreed readily, but beyond him, an attractive woman paying for a takeout order at the end of the bar caught Ellis’s eye. Dressed in a fitted forest green leather blazer, jeans, and knee-high cowhide boots, she slung her bag over her shoulder and laughed with the bartender as she prepared to leave. Her bright, sincere sound easily carried over Jeannie’s conversation with the man nearby. A sense of familiarity struck Ellis, especially when the woman turned toward the door, a small wheeled suitcase in tow.

The wind no doubt had mussed those auburn waves free of their clip and brought a rosiness to her cheeks, and those dark eyes seemed to dance beneath slim, slightly arched brows. Ellis tried not to stare as she struggled to recall if they’d ever met.

The woman walked with a poised authority that commanded the door to open, but of course it didn’t. With food in one hand, she released her luggage to shove the door open, then grabbed the suitcase handle again and tried to slip out before the door closed.

Ellis suddenly found herself holding the door open, close enough to see exasperation turn to surprise on the woman’s face, just before a blast of ocean air made them both blink.

“Thanks so much.” The woman hauled her suitcase across the threshold.

“Y’welcome. You had your hands full.”

“I should’ve backed out.” She let go of the handle to swipe hair from her face. “I wasn’t”—she looked directly at Ellis and her eyes widened—“thinking. Hello.”

The chilly wind found its way inside Ellis’s collar, and she blamed it for the tremor in her chest and completely forgot she still held the door. Delivered softly with a warm smile, the single word carried a hint of recognition, but as much as Ellis wanted to solve the mystery, she was too lost in the winsome face before her.

“Hello,” she managed.

A patron inside yelled at her. “Hey, shut the door, will ya?”

Jolted from her haze, Ellis stepped out to let the door swing shut and inadvertently closed the distance between them.

The attractive stranger edged back, fumbling for her luggage handle.

“Sorry to keep you,” she said and promptly moved out to the sidewalk. “Thank you for the assist. Again. It was nice seeing you.” She flashed a smile and walked away.

Ellis stared after her, taken by the definitive, feminine lines of her jacket, the way they hugged her shoulders and back, the way the wind tossed her hair. She walked confidently, as if daring the bricks and cobblestones to twist an ankle. The suitcase bobbled along behind her and drew Ellis’s attention to the slight sway of her hips. She could only shake her head. So we have met.

Jeannie banged through the door and stopped short when she found Ellis still looking down the street. “You let her leave? Shit, El. When are you going to stop gawking at them and make a move?” She punched her arm playfully. “Jeez, she was hot.” Ellis looked at her blankly as a memory fought to take shape. Jeannie tugged her back inside. “Come on. The Sox have bases loaded with no outs.”

Chapter Two

“Retta, no!” Maggie flung aside her copy of Coastal Living and sprinted after the ever-ready athlete that was her chocolate Labrador retriever. “Retta, come!” Retta and her selective hearing were on a mission: a toddler’s pink rubber baseball rolled up the ferry deck’s main aisle.

But then the door to the snack bar opened into that aisle and hit the ball back. It bounced over Retta’s head and she jumped for it, oblivious to forward momentum that sent all her sixty-two pounds into the legs of the sailor who’d just emerged. Both seaman and dog tumbled to the deck.

“Oh, my God! I’m so sorry!” Maggie snatched up Retta’s rainbow-colored leash and urged her back, away from licking the sailor’s face. “Retta, behave.” Recognition suddenly made it difficult to speak. As if I need to keep bumping into you. “This is so embarrassing.” Did I just say that out loud? “Um…Hello. Again. Are you all right? Really, I’m awfully sorry.”

“It’s okay. No harm done.” The seaman straightened her lanky frame, but not before Retta could lick her cheek one more time. The woman scruffed the fur between Retta’s ears good-naturedly and scooped her cap off the floor.

Maggie watched her resettle it over short coal-black hair, and took note of the name “Chilton” engraved on the brass name tag clipped to her uniform shirt, the very sharp, form-fitting uniform shirt. Damn. Now even more uncomfortable, she resorted to familiarity to ease the awkwardness of the moment.

“Hello again.”

“Good morning.”

“Um…This is on me, my bad. It’s Retta’s first Nantucket ferry, so she’s excited—plus she loves people and playing catch.” Chilton appeared to listen carefully, her steady look unreadable and dangerously consuming. “Well…I mean…” Maggie stumbled on, “she’d been good for the first half hour, but I should’ve known she wouldn’t contain that energy for the whole trip. I’m really sorry. I’ll be more careful.”

She held her breath, awaiting the response, truly apologetic and not wanting anything to spoil this big day. Until now, everything had gone according to her meticulously organized schedule, even this morning, when she’d awakened before dawn at her sister’s home in Hyannis to catch this first boat out. Her adventure had officially begun. She didn’t need this added excitement. Of all the crew members, at least Retta picked the hot one.

Retta pressed forward and Chilton stroked her head. “You have her on a leash and that’s good,” she said, her rich tone full of official directive, “because we have strict rules about pets on board.”

“Yes, I know. I’m very sorry.” God, you have such gorgeous eyes.

“And you know that leashes work best when someone’s on the other end.”

Excuse me?

“Oh. Well, of course—”

“Shipboard safety is paramount. It could have been a child, another passenger knocked to—”

“I’m quite aware, thank you.” Irritation flared, compounding the embarrassment of being scolded in front of dozens of passengers. Adding insult to injury, Retta insisted on getting closer to Chilton, eating up the attention to her ears. The damn dog’s eyes were closing in blissful contentment beneath the broad, deeply tanned hand.

“Please be cautious if you take her out for a stroll on the promenade deck. Labs love the water.”

I know my dog.

“Yes. We’re inside on this level for a reason.”

“Very good.” Chilton gently lifted Retta’s muzzle and spoke into attentive amber eyes. “Nice meeting you, Retta.” To Maggie, she added a simple, “Enjoy your trip,” before walking away.

Swell meeting you, too.

Retta stared after Chilton, squirming where she sat, her wet ultra-sensitive nose pulsing and tail relentlessly swishing.

“Come on, traitor. She could’ve been nicer to Mama, you know.” Maggie had to tug a bit, but Retta eventually followed her back to their seats, where she obediently sat at Maggie’s feet, still focused on the last spot she’d seen Chilton. “Hey. We’ll walk around in a little bit, but you have to behave for the next hour or so.” Maggie leaned down and whispered to the top of her head. “There’ll be other attractive women on Nantucket for you to swoon over, and hopefully they’ll be as friendly to your mama as they’ll be to you, but we’ve got to get there first.”

Retta spared a look over her shoulder, the pleading look with tilted eyebrows and half-moon eyes that said “But I want to play with her” and went back to studying Chilton’s exit. Maggie chuckled. You’re a sucker for a gentle touch, too. She’s certainly nice to look at, but not much personality. She scratched Retta’s head, winning only a two-stroke tail wag.

Maggie flipped the pages of her magazine, but the windows framing the main lounge drew her attention to the view and the miles of ocean that surrounded them. Hardly a trace of Hyannis Harbor remained now, and she looked ahead for a thickening of the horizon, where Nantucket magically rose from the hazy edge of the world.

Maggie knew her family still worried about her success at this venture, so removed from “civilization.” But this wasn’t escaping to a new life, as she’d told herself a thousand times. This wasn’t avoidance either, despite how her friends had lectured for the past year. This was all about a new beginning, leaving the past where it belonged, and concentrating on the future. Being single, successful, and moving forward.

Lost in the ocean view, Maggie hoped to find “civilization” far more real on the island, closer-knit, fundamental, and rejuvenating. She believed the ocean to be the key, predictably unpredictable, vital and ever-changing. She’d already learned that the ocean and the weather it carried ashore dictated practically every aspect of daily life, and had been gifted due respect from all islanders since the original Native Americans inhabited this place. She tried conveying such newly acquired revelations to family and friends, but doubted she’d been convincing. It’s my life, my dream, and I intend to keep at it.

Once again, everywhere around her, around the Eagle and its load of passengers, cars, and trucks, there was nothing but water, this time a mature, rich blue, majestic, imposing, and still damn cold in early May. The wind had been brisk when they boarded, and she now knew that “chilly and brisk” at the dock meant “cut through your jacket” out in Nantucket Sound. The millions of tiny white caps that randomly speckled the surface could just as easily be splashes of frost. Eyeing the promenade deck almost made her shiver.

After all those bitter, stomach-lurching trips of the past eight months, she yearned to lounge on the open deck, work on her tan a little, and enjoy summer breezes. There was a method to her madness in taking the Authority “slow boats” instead of the “fast ferry.” These two-hour trips provided just the right excuse to relax and think, luxuriate in the view, catch up on paperwork, even though foul weather sometimes tested her love of the ocean. She only reverted to the pricier hour-long catamaran ride—or the twenty-minute plane jump—when expediency warranted.

Today, spring was hard at work, battling to pull the Atlantic out of its notorious “off-season” mode, and Maggie found it hard to resist the temptation to join that effort, stroll the deck and withstand the buffeting chill. A blue-sky morning like this felt like a test she desperately wanted to pass. But she was a newcomer to this change-of-season stuff on the ocean, and doubted she’d ever achieve “veteran traveler” status like that held by islanders she’d come to know, like that Julia woman she’d met last month, like seamen aboard ferries like this.

“I’ve been through far worse already, haven’t I, sweetie?” She rubbed Retta’s side and then her belly when Retta lazily rolled over. “My good girl. I promise we’ll go to the beach later and you can check out how cold the water is. And, if you must, you can go swimming.”

That word set Retta on high alert, back on her feet in readiness, ears perked.

“Not now, Retta.” Maggie regretted uttering the “S” word. “Chill, baby. Later, I promise.” She found a chew toy in her hefty shoulder bag and grinned at Retta’s happy acceptance. A handful of treats and another chewy just might keep Retta content until they docked, as long as an excited voice or the whiff of something delicious or the appearance of a certain handsome sailor didn’t throw decorum overboard in an instant.

* * *

Shaking her head at Nantucket’s chilly air, Maggie blasted her heater and spared a glance into her rearview mirror. Retta looked every bit the sightseeing tourist, gawking out the Rav4’s open rear driver’s side window as they drove off the Eagle and onto Nantucket soil, a family of two. Hopefully, they’d be happy here for a while and make this work.

“Deadline’s in about a month, Retta. We’ll make it.” The car bounced over the cobblestones, and she smiled as she passed the Easy Street sign. “We have to work our butts off, but we’ve got four bookings already. Not bad, huh?” She glanced in the mirror again and watched Retta’s head turn with the passing of a German shepherd on the sidewalk. “He was a good-looking boy, I know, but listen. We’ll be at our new home in a few minutes, and you’ll have plenty to do.”

Retta looked back at Maggie in the mirror and readjusted her footing on the seat. She had her niche in the back, surrounded by boxes, bags, bins, suitcases, lamps, two chairs, and a small secretary’s desk. From front passenger seat to rear windshield, the car was full to the ceiling, as was the large carrier on the roof. Everything jiggled and creaked as they cautiously traversed the uneven, lumpy road, and Maggie rocked from side to side as much as Retta did.

“God, driving on these is evil. Imagine horses and wagon wheels dealing with this? Some are the size of footballs. How did they do it, way back then?” Maggie turned off Main Street, thankful to see asphalt ahead. “Almost there. See the hedges? Those are ours.” She pulled up in front of the ten-foot-tall privet hedge that shielded the property from the sidewalk, and stopped where the greenery arched over a tiny gate. “See, Retta? We’re home!”

Both of them stared through the white picket gate and up the narrow walkway, a herringbone pattern of dusty gray paving bricks that led to the slate patio and a wide, wooden screen door. Shoulder-high shrubs channeled the path, as ragged and unkempt as the battered weeds growing between the pavers, and Maggie mentally added yard maintenance to her already lengthy list of chores.

“Give me a minute, Retta,” she said, getting out. “I’ll be right back. You stay.”

Holding open the gate as she stood beneath the hedge arch, she took a moment to size up work done to the mid-nineteenth-century house in her absence, and nodded at the completion of the exterior project that had eaten a sizeable chunk of her budget. Totally re-shingled in unstained cedar from the ground to the second-story roof, the building stood welcoming and warm, a honey-brown in the morning sunshine, and she saw it as a house reborn, eager to match its weathered gray neighbors. The scent of fresh cedar on the salty breeze was invigorating. Tall grids of wooden lattice encased the four pillars that supported the porch roof, and she envisioned columns of pink roses offering a picturesque, aromatic greeting to guests.

She strolled the lengthy walkway and circled the house, inspecting the new windows and shutters, the sealing and painting of the foundation, so pleased with the finished work she didn’t mind the construction disaster in the yard. Scraps of lumber, strapping, paper and plastic labels, discarded coffee cups, and miscellaneous debris littered the grounds all around the house. Both narrow side yards, the compact backyard, and even the white shell lot that might accommodate three cars were a slum-like disaster all the way to the bordering hedges.

Nevertheless, Maggie smiled. Cleanup was the least of her worries. If the flowers and shrubs flourished the way she’d seen in old photos, the property would dazzle, and guests would marvel at the landscaping as they lounged in cozy little sitting areas throughout the yard.

She led Retta on a repeat of her stroll and pointed out the property boundaries, including the gated rear driveway area, and hoped Retta wouldn’t dig her way out to introduce herself to the neighborhood.

“You promised to be good, remember,” she said, as Retta stopped for the hundredth time to sniff hedges. “This backyard is for you to do your business. And this gate here is for cars to go through—not you. This is your yard now. And no digging.” She led them back to the front of the house. “Time to park the car. Let’s go.”

She curled the Rav4 around her privet hedge and down the narrow lane beyond, then jumped out to open the driveway gate at the rear of her property. Retta eyed her every move, excited when Maggie returned behind the wheel. She leaned out the window and looked down toward the foreign sound of tires crunching over seashells.

“Yup. We’re here, sweetie.” Maggie patted her head as she trotted back to close the gate. The span of white pickets complained and wobbled as it swung, and it, too, went on Maggie’s list of “eventual to-dos.” She dug house keys from her purse and opened Retta’s door. “We’re home, Retta. Check it out.”

Retta bounded from the car and romped across the sparse backyard lawn, picking up speed and racing in delirious ovals from side hedge to side hedge like an Indy car driver. Maggie stopped at the top of the four back steps and laughed. “Are you coming or what?”

Retta ran toward the car, stopped on a dime, and cautiously sniffed her way onto the seashells. Apparently satisfied they wouldn’t attack, she approached the Rav4’s front bumper and marked her territory with a sizable puddle.

“Good girl, Retta!” Maggie said brightly, hoping Retta made a habit of going on the driveway instead of ruining the lawn Maggie hoped to grow. Retta rocketed back across the yard and up the stairs, eager for the door to open to further exploration.

Maggie gave her a substantial hug. “Such a good girl. You ready?” Retta only briefly broke her stare at the door to send Maggie an answer. “Okay. Let’s go.”

She opened the storm door, unlocked the interior wooden one, and swung it wide. Retta loped in, nose to the floor, and was off, investigating.

Maggie crossed the little mudroom, entered the spacious kitchen, and her heart sank.

Spacious it should have been. Appliances she’d ordered months ago, an array she admittedly would like in her own home someday, sat still crated. They crowded the wide room, scattered over the torn and stained linoleum flooring. Refrigerator, dishwasher, freezer, washer and dryer, the stainless steel stove of her dreams, and the soapstone farmer’s sink were nowhere near ready for installation. The room itself sported new drywall and plumbing, but that was all.

So much for cooking our first meal here tonight. And why is no one working today?

“Damn it.” She pulled out her iPad and started making notes. All the big pieces seemed to be accounted for, she thought, checking crate labels for accuracy, but the refinished wood flooring, all the restored original cabinetry, the butcher block countertops…She sighed heavily and moved on, now leery of what she’d find.

Off the kitchen, the three small rooms she’d had converted to two for the proprietor’s residence glistened. Old hardwood flooring and trim glowed warmly, and the wall colors she’d selected proved ideal. Her bedroom set and a small table with chairs would fit perfectly, once the moving truck arrived on the midday ferry. And her little desk would be right at home in the sunny nook beneath the side window.

A small en suite bathroom had been completed as well, and she was never more thankful to find it ready. Stepping in, she flicked the light switch and nodded approvingly, then flushed the toilet and ran hot and cold water in the sink, tub, and shower.

“Thank God.”

She jerked around at the sound of the front screen door slapping shut. Retta rang her own doorbell, barking ferociously in another room.

Maggie hurried to the opposite end of the suite. “Retta?” She threw open the door and looked through an anteroom to the vast common room. “What—Oh. Hi, Bud.”

A short, chunky man in coveralls stood with his back against the screen door, looking from Retta to her as the barking persisted.

“Hi. She friendly?” He pointed at Retta.

“Yes. This is all pretty exciting for her—and me.” Maggie soothed Retta’s raised hackles with several long strokes of her palm. “You can say hi now, Retta. Bud’s a good guy. He’s in charge of all the work we need.” Retta approached him slowly, nose to his work boots. Her tail only began wagging when he gave a friendly rub to her head. “Come in, please. We just arrived, actually, but I’m really glad you’re here. There’s a lot to talk about.”

“That there is.” He stepped up beside her as she perused the room. “Under all this paper, the floors came out great,” he said, shuffling his feet. “And the built-ins, we just finished staining two days ago. Room’s pretty much ready to go. You check out your office?”

Maggie looked to the anteroom she’d rushed through moments earlier. “Not really.” She went back to the open Dutch door in the corner that separated the common room from what she’d planned as the office. Sunshine, despite the unwashed new window, lit the room brightly, and the woodwork glowed.

“It’s perfect.” She stepped in and turned around. “Plenty of room for a real desk and filing cabinets. Plus, I can see everything out to the front door—and access it from the residence, which is gorgeous, by the way.” She beamed at Bud, and a proud smile added more wrinkles to his weathered face.

“All this covering on the floor can come up now, I suppose,” he said, walking back out to the common room. “Your furniture still coming today?”

“It better be or I’ll be sleeping on the floor.”

He waved a dismissive hand. “Not to worry. Those guys are used to this. Deliver all over the island all the time. You can count on them.” He rubbed his chin as he surveyed the space. “Need a lot of stuff for this room. It’s the whole width of the house.”

“Well, I have enough for now, but I’ll add pieces as my budget permits.” She tipped her head toward the doorway that led back toward the kitchen. “There’s still a lot to be done, however.”

“The kitchen, yup. Sent my crew over to an emergency in ’Sconset this morning, but they’ll be here in about an hour. Every week, something messes up my Monday schedule. But your cabinets are already on the truck, and all the butcher block is due this afternoon, so we’re hoping to have the cabinets and countertops done today. It’ll go quick. You’ll see.”

“It has to, Bud. It seems I’ll be eating out for a while.”

“Well…yup. My floor guys should be done by the end of the week. The plumber will be finishing her thing, too, and we’ll get the backsplashes up. Hey, we could plug in the fridge for now, if you’d like.”

“I’d appreciate that.” She wandered to the large antique wood stove, now situated at the stone fireplace opposite the front door. “I know this was quite a project. It’s usable now, I hope? I just love it.”

“Yup.” A lock of his fluffy silver hair fell into his eyes when he nodded. He swiped it away. “A pretty big expense, but it’s a beauty.”

“I’m counting on not having to sleep in front of it tonight.”

He chuckled at that but shook his head. “No worries there. Heat works just fine. Furnace overhaul is good for another fifteen years, and the tank is new and full. Got your first oil delivery last Thursday.”

“Yes.” She grimaced. “The bill was emailed to me immediately. At least prices are better off-season.” Thankful she wouldn’t have to worry about those cold, raw months, she headed for the stairs at the far wall. “Okay, Bud. Now, take me through the progress up here.”

Happy to see a polished sheen on the old banister and a paper runner rising to the second floor, Maggie started up the newly stained steps, their edges rounded smooth from generations of use. Thoughts of previous residents’ foot traffic nearly distracted her, the history of the place so compelling, but a brush of Retta’s strong shoulder against her leg kept her on track.

“The downstairs was a picnic compared to up here,” Bud said, trailing after them. “Really old houses like this come with their own unique nightmares. Configuring nine rooms, plus two suites and ten baths took us since Christmas. Hell, it felt like Christmas when we finished.”

Maggie reached the landing with a bounce in her step and noted the refurbished hardwood floor also mostly covered by protective paper.

“It’s all done? Really? What I can see of the flooring looks amazing.”

“We had to match a board here and there, but overall they turned out great. So…let’s see. The plumber’s still waiting on a few more sink fixtures, I’m afraid, but the shipment of air conditioners came in. They’re at my place, and I can bring them over any time now. And the electrician finished putting up all the ceiling fans last week.”

Maggie couldn’t stop smiling as they checked the two suites at the front of the house, nor as they traveled the hallway back and stopped in the other rooms. It was easier than ever now to picture them with beds and furniture, curtains and scatter rugs, bathrooms with coordinated towels and shower curtains, fresh flowers in vases throughout…Her heart beat joyfully as her long-held vision began to materialize.

“You’ve done an incredible job, Bud. I’m so pleased.”

He shrugged modestly. “Can’t do the slap-it-together kind of work. It’s not how I do business. Around here, it’s done right. Expensive, I’ll grant you, but this is an island, and the town’s pretty darn fussy about everything.”

“Oh, believe me. I know everything’s pricey here and the Historic District Commission is ridiculously particular, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But competition for Nantucket accommodations is strong, and I intend to make Tuck’r Inn the cutest little sanctuary possible. Top-quality work is worth the investment. That’s how I do business. So I thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Hey, I got one more thing for you. Let’s go back downstairs.”

In the oversized closet in the common room, he stepped around Retta to pull a long, narrow object off the shelf. Maggie watched, curious, as he removed the bubble wrap and held out a piece of wood in both hands.

“I remembered the sketch you sent me, way back in the fall when we first hooked up,” he said, “how you wrote about having the Tuck’r Inn name on a quarter board someday, just like all Nantucket houses have. So…”

Maggie’s eyes had already gone wide. With plump clusters of roses etched into each end, the wood had been intricately carved, its entire outline routed, gilded in gold leaf, as were the letters, all against a background of dusky gray, the future accent color of the house. Displaying a ship’s quarter board bearing the house or family name was a Nantucket tradition, and Maggie couldn’t have felt more humbled, more honored, if she’d been planning to make Tuck’r her permanent home. The welcome was genuine and touching.

“Oh, Bud. It’s absolutely beautiful. I don’t believe you did this. Thank you so much.”

“The least I could do for you, trusting my outfit with a job this big.”

Maggie lifted the board from his hands and examined it from end to end, ran her fingers over the woodwork. Something about touching it lent more substance, more reality to her project, and she was surprised to feel so moved. Her eyes filled, and Retta wandered to her side and sat against her leg. Maggie acknowledged her with a stroke of her head and chuckled at herself. “This makes it official.”

“That’s for sure,” he said. “It’s mahogany, and sealed so it’ll last. Had a woodcarver friend do it. He’s got a shop on Straight Wharf.”

“I’ll look him up. This is just gorgeous, such incredible detail. Could you hang it for me?”

“Not till we’re done. I’m not superstitious about most things, but that I am. When your inn is ready, it’ll be the finishing touch. Should probably go between the second-floor windows. That’s where the old Pratt quarter board used to hang. Don’t know what happened to that, though. Maybe the Whaling Museum ended up with it when the bank took the house, back before your previous owners. Pratt was a big-time whaler.”

“My attorney’s given me a pile of title research to look at, once I have time, but she did tell me the basics.”

“Well, it’s yours now, Maggie. And you’ll be up and running in no time.”

“Thank you again. What a precious surprise.”

Maggie couldn’t believe her good fortune. What a day this turned out to be, she thought, how lucky she was to have hired Bud.

Tuck’r Inn would indeed open for business on Memorial Day weekend. Her timetable to receive her first guests still looked solid; even the prospect of the summer roses framing the entryway seemed realistic. Some three weeks remained to square away all the projects on Bud’s list, then dress up the place. Not for the first time, however, she prayed for the stamina to do the interior design and prep herself. And that would just be the beginning.

Chapter Three

Ellis tossed her hammer into the open toolbox and stretched her back, stiff and sore from the day’s work, but she was pleased with the outcome. The last item on her modifications list could be crossed off, and she considered celebrating. Finally, she had an interior wall separating her bedroom from her kitchen—actually, her forward berth from her galley. Chores at home always brought a satisfaction she seldom achieved elsewhere, and since her fifty-two-foot Nantucket Rose became “home” more than ten years ago, she often found herself thanking the boat as she would a friend.

“What would I do without you?” she mumbled and pulled a beer from a cooler in the galley before climbing the steps to the main deck. First week of May is never too chilly for a beer on the water, she mused, especially when you’ve worked up a sweat all day. She zipped a windbreaker over her sweater and drank greedily.

Several years of saving every last cent had rejuvenated the Rose, and now light shone on a future that had loomed dark for far too long. She knew she was back in decent financial shape at last, had a steady, albeit average income, and had a substantial roof over her head again.

“Lots of banging going on down there, Ellis. What’re you up to now?”

She squinted through the late afternoon sun to see the harbormaster standing on the dock alongside, hands in his jacket pockets, his head wagging at her in disbelief.

“Should have put up the partition way back when. Would’ve kept my electric bill down.”

“You’re one tough woman. Stubborn as your old man.”

She usually didn’t take well to comments about her father—his death at sea years ago still pained her—but this man had been his friend.

“You go and build a bulkhead,” he added, “and now you’ll roast in the summer.”

“Just a wall, Sam, and come summer, I usually sleep out here anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah. Pretty soon you’ll have condos and a pool on that old barge.”

Ellis offered a salute with her beer can as he strolled away. Only he, out of respect to her father, could tease her that way. A barge, the Rose obviously was not. The beefy, broad-beamed vessel, a sizeable fixture in this harbor even by Nantucket’s often glamorous standards, boasted a hard-worked history worthy of respect and envy. With tireless attention to duty, Ellis kept the Rose sparkling as brilliantly white above the royal blue hull as on that 1989 day her grandfather passed away and her father assumed ownership.

She dragged a deck chair astern and sank into it, relieved her weekends were free of ferry work and dealings with the general public and that she was free to enjoy her “yard.” The harbor’s flat sea and lack of activity presented a tranquil, soothing landscape, one she’d come to treasure. Only a quarter of the summer’s boats had arrived to date, and they sat dead calm at moorings, even fewer at slips like her Rose, and she appreciated the picturesque moment as only a native islander could. Several pleasure craft were put in today; more would arrive tomorrow and in weeks to come, but for now, the serenity and the few gulls swirling above were hers alone.

The silent arrival of Hank Tennon’s red trawler rounding Brant Point Light caught her eye, and she wondered if he’d had a successful run. Her father always said old Hank would stay out and starve before coming home “hollow as a hornpipe.” She looked harder to see how low the trawler was riding in the water and then nodded at the fisherman’s success. Good for you, Hank.


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