Her Picture-Perfect Family

Her Picture-Perfect Family

A Sea View House Novel - Book 2
In the coastal town of Pilgrim Cove, strangers are welcomed, and everyone else takes a front row seat to watch a love story unfold.

Kindergarten teacher Joy MacKenzie trusts everyone and loves her life in Pilgrim Cove. Hidden beneath her outgoing veneer, however, Joy knows true happiness will never be hers. She is unable to have children of her own. Her dreams of marriage and a family are over.

Once a foster child, photojournalist Logan Nash is back in the states after embedding with U.S. troops. A loner by choice, he trusts no one, not even himself, as he tries to become a dad to his newly adopted war dog, Ajax.

Needing a place with privacy, Logan rents the big house on the beach. Except he wasn’t expecting an upstairs neighbor…

Logan is left with little choice but to deal with exuberant Joy who creates havoc in his carefully ordered world. Joy will do almost anything to unlock Logan’s secrets and reveal the caring person behind the solitary man.

The magic of Sea View House draws them together, but only by letting go of the past can they truly find a new beginning.

"The characters in Pilgrim's Cove are so well written that you can see them in your mind's eye. I can picture the town and all of its inhabitants. This book is a mix of romance, real problems that people face and the human spirit to overcome all obstacles."

Reviewed by reader mcgelo on Amazon.com

"The Sea View stories continue to delight - wonderful characters you care about set in a community by the sea. Just a delight!"

Reviewed by reader R. R. Belsha on Amazon.com

Chapter One

When he heard the quick footsteps heading toward his office, Bartholomew Quinn rose from his comfortable leather chair, eager to meet his visitor. His knee ached with the effort. “Don’t have time for the arthritis,” he mumbled, limping across the room, “no matter how many years behind me. And blast this weather for causing it.” Opening the door, he glanced at the petite young woman on the threshold. He grinned with delight and forgot about his pain.

Rain dripped from the hood of her bright red jacket. A red umbrella— closed and dry—hung from her wrist next to a large, colorful tote bag. His gaze drifted lower. She wore sandals; her feet were soaked. “Ach, lassie, come in, come in. You’re wet through and through.”

“But I’m right on time,” she announced, cocking her head. “Aren’t I?”

Quinn’s laughter fed his soul while filling the room. “That you are, my girl. That you are.” The kindergarten teacher had become a favorite of everyone in Pilgrim Cove. Quite an accomplishment in only two years. From the beginning, Bart thought she seemed barely older than her young charges. He wasn’t alone in that, but she had the knack of the classroom, of making each child feel special, which, in his opinion, was the secret of her success.

“You’re not only on time, Joyful MacKenzie, but a sight for sore eyes, too. So, let’s get you dry.”

She hung her jacket over a hook on the coat stand and shook out her hair. Short, blonde, and feathery. “Will winter come early, I wonder? It’s almost Labor Day, and school’s starting within the week. We simply cannot build snow people before we pick apples in the orchard. Well…I suppose we can, but that’s topsy-turvy.”

Bart understood that by “we,” she meant her class. If there was an adventure to be had for the children, Joy was in the middle of it. The parents loved her for it and helped out.

“Always autumn before winter. That’s the way of it,” said Bart. “You’ll pick those apples soon.” He gestured to the visitor’s chair in front of his desk. “Make yourself comfortable.” He watched as she tucked one foot under her bottom and sat.

In his own chair now, he leaned forward. “So how can Quinn Real Estate and Property Management help you?”

She dug into her tote bag. “It’s the strangest thing,” she said, pulling out an envelope. “I’ve been evicted. Thrown out. Mrs. Williams needs my apartment for her newly married daughter.” She handed the letter to him.

He perused the correspondence. It didn’t take long. “The note’s dated a month ago. Why didn’t…? Ahh—now I remember. You’ve been away visiting your family on Cape Cod.”

For one fraction of a second, her blue eyes darkened; a shadow hovered. “That’s right. I was on vacation. In Provincetown. I forgot to forward the mail, and it…I don’t know…I guess it just piled up.”

Something was amiss. Sooner or later, Bart would find out what—he took pride in keeping up with all of Pilgrim Cove’s residents—but the wee gal needed help now. And he was the one who could solve her problem.

“Rent or buy?” he asked.

“Oh…I wish I could buy. I love this town so much, I’d live here forever. But even I know what’s possible and impossible.” She leaned over the desk. “Mr. Quinn, a teacher doesn’t earn a king’s ransom, but I love my work so much I sometimes wonder if I should pay the school board instead of them paying me for being with the children.”

“Joy Mackenzie!” he exclaimed, banging his fist on the desk. “Loving your profession is no small thing. We need more like you in our schools. Not that Pilgrim Cove has bad schools, no sirree. High school scores are soaring since Rachel Levine came back to town.”

Joy nodded. “We have a pretty strong staff on all levels.” She took his hand. “My folks would love me to move back to Provincetown. They’re getting more vocal about it, especially since this eviction came up. So can you work some magic and find me a home right away?”

He didn’t know much about her folks, some artsy people, he’d heard, but it seemed Joy would certainly rather stay put in Pilgrim Cove.

“So, it’s magic you want? Well, not to worry. The house I’m thinking of comes with its own built-in magic. But it’s only temporary, mind you, until we find you a new place to hang your hat.”

“With school starting next week, I just need some breathing room. A couple of months will be fine. So where will it be?”

“You’ll have a view of the ocean, the cry of the gulls, and a beachfront you can’t normally afford. Sea View House is the place for you. The upstairs apartment is available, and the price is right.”

He named a low figure, and her mouth fell open. “It’s part of the William Adams Foundation,” he explained. “He was a cousin of John Adams, our second president, you know. And it’s leased on a sliding scale. Perhaps you can save some money while you’re there…?” Hint. Hint. He wondered at the lack of financial literacy with some young people.

She beamed. “Great idea. Thank you very much. I know where it is, on Beach Street. Everyone in Pilgrim Cove knows about Sea View House.”

“But no one knows exactly how it operates, except for the ROMEOs. And we don’t talk.”

She put both feet down and leaned back in her chair. A smile broke out. “Ahh—Mr. Quinn, the ROMEOs. Retired Old Men Eating Out. However, you’re not retired or old. But you’re a man for sure. And with your daughters in the restaurant business, you probably do eat out a lot. For that, I don’t blame you. Not at all.”

Clever. Clever. His band of brothers couldn’t have been described more succinctly than Joyful MacKenzie had done. Right on the money, too.

“I count myself lucky to be your tenant,” said Joy.

“Good. Good. There’s just one more thing.”

Her brow furrowed for a second. “Whatever it is, I can handle it.”

“While you’re living in the Crow’s Nest upstairs, there will be another tenant downstairs in the Captain’s Quarters. Separate entrances, of course.”

Her quick smile returned. “That’s even better. I’ll enjoy the company. My mom says I’ve never met a person I didn’t like. So what’s her name?”

“Not her. Him. His name is Logan Nash. He’s already moved in.” Quinn’s thoughts spun like scenes in a kaleidoscope. He hadn’t planned this one in advance, but he’d take advantage of what fell into his lap. He had an oversupply of those gut feelings people talked about. And those feelings were bubbling up right now. Joy MacKenzie would be perfect for the troubled photographer.

He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Autumn was about to begin in Pilgrim Cove. He knew the magic would begin again, too.

##

Logan Nash stood at the water’s edge, face lifted to the ominous gray sky. “Come on, come on! Open up and let ’er rip.”

The saturated clouds responded to his plea, and his laughter ping-ponged through the heavy drops. Alone on the beach, Logan spread his arms wide, shook his head, his shaggy mane now soaked through to his scalp. Cool and wet rain—he loved it. Such a relief from the hot, dry winds of Iraq and the heat of the Afghan summer. He’d been embedded with the U.S. military twice, and twice was enough.

His body clenched. His lids shut tight. Forget about it. Not your problem anymore. His goal right now was to rest and recover. An R and R just like real soldiers needed. An easy prescription to write, but not so easy to implement. Although he’d produced good stories during the past two years, he wanted to forget everything else about that time. He needed to focus on the future.

He was relieved to be on his own now. Pilgrim Cove, a peninsula snuggled between the Atlantic Ocean and Pilgrim Bay, provided an environment completely different from the one he’d left behind in the Mideast. Renting a house at the beach seemed a good choice, especially since he’d sub-let his small condo in Boston.

And Sea View House had elbow room! Plenty of privacy, too. He’d be able to doodle and noodle and play around with a bunch of ideas for new projects. Looking ahead was the key.

Lightning flashed, and he started jogging toward the big gray house. His wet shirt clung to his skin; his khaki shorts would need days to dry. When thunder boomed, his heart lurched; his muscles tensed. He forced himself not to drop in place to the ground. Instead, he sprinted toward the house. After reaching the back porch, he collapsed onto a redwood chair. He trembled, from head to foot, inside and out.

“Idiot! No bombs. No landmines. Just Thor with his bowling balls.” Yeah. Yeah. That’s all. A story. Relax.

“Thor? Why, I love Greek mythology, too.”

He jumped and twirled. The voice came from another wooden chair not five feet away. From a child in a red raincoat, the hood framing a sweet face. He kept his distance.

“Are you lost? Does your mother know you’re here?” His raspy voice reminded him that he’d barely spoken all day. No phone calls. No people in his face. Just the way he liked it. He cleared his throat.

“M-my mother? Lost?” The girl grinned and then laughed as though he’d told a very good joke. “I’m sorry, Mr. Nash, but I seem to have the advantage.” She rose and walked closer, arm extended. “I’m your new upstairs neighbor, Joy MacKenzie.”

He stood but ignored her gesture. “Quinn didn’t say anything about renting out the Crow’s Nest.”

She looked at her empty hand, tilted her head back until her eyes met his. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Her meaning was obvious, but he wasn’t worried about etiquette, niceties, or putting on a show. He wanted his privacy. Which was why he’d jumped at renting Sea View House. No neighbors on either side after the season, which ended this weekend on Labor Day. And Bart Quinn had said the apartment upstairs was empty.

“Any time would be a bad time. You should find somewhere else to live.” He headed into the house. “I’ve got to make a call.”

He found Bart’s business card, actually a ROMEO business card, listing all the names, numbers, professional skills, and services of Bart’s buddies. The old man was at the top of the list, and he answered on the first ring.

“So you’ve met the wee lass, have ya? Good, good. She needs a place right now, with school starting in a week and her apartment gone.”

“I don’t need a neighbor.”

“Ach, my boy. You don’t know that at all, do you? But I can tell you this: in Pilgrim Cove, we take care of our own…”

He was screwed. The girl must be a native.

“…and now that includes you. So be nice to the wee gal, Logan Nash. At least until I find her a new home.”

In a small town like Pilgrim Cove, how many places could there be? “So, not too long then, Mr. Quinn?”

“As long as it takes. It’s got to be just right. She’s special. Just like you.” The old man rang off, and Logan stared at his quiet cell phone. Just like you? More than simply leasing Sea View House to him, Quinn viewed Logan as part of the entire community—whether he wanted to be or not.

Screwed again.

##

The rain had lessened by the time Logan returned outside. The girl was gone, however, and he rolled his shoulders, feeling the tightness ease. A reprieve.

Until he heard a door slam and a female voice call, “Sorry.” He walked to the far end of the porch, leaned over the rail, and turned toward the noise. Halfway down the side of the building was another door, which he’d ignored in the three days he’d been there. Ignored until now. When he’d come here with Bart Quinn, the man had mentioned a second entrance leading to the vacant upstairs apartment. An unimportant fact to Logan at the time.

He sighed and gazed back toward the mighty Atlantic, now covered in a gray haze. The ocean had mesmerized and soothed him every day he’d been there. He’d listened to the waves hitting the shore one after the other in a rhythm that continued until the tide changed. The white noise had become an ever-present companion. The unique aroma of seaweed, salt, and ocean did the same. He’d inhaled until his lungs could hold no more. A delicious fragrance. All worth the inconvenience of a neighbor.

He wouldn’t leave the beach house. Certainly not on account of a “wee gal.” The Quinn guy was a character. A curmudgeon. Logan would assess the situation and handle it, his MO since he was a kid. Simply ignoring the girl might do the trick. Survival depended on sharp eyes, a sharp brain, great flexibility, and trusting no one.

The door slammed once more. The red raincoat appeared as the girl stepped outside.

“Sorry again for the noise. I’ll figure something else out by tomorrow…unless you want to be the door monitor…?” She grinned.

A nanosecond flew by.

“Oh, don’t look so grumpy,” she said. “I was only kidding. I’ll use a chair or carton—or something—when I bring my stuff.”

“You won’t have to,” he said, pointing to a spot on the siding. “If you insert the hook from the screen door into that eye, it will stay open for you. I imagine the inside door is not spring weighted. You won’t have a problem there.”

She stared at the simple arrangement and beamed up at him. “Isn’t that clever? I never noticed. Thanks.”

He turned to go.

“Oh, one more thing,” she said.

He pivoted.

“You’re not painting the place or anything, are you? I’ve got a parakeet, and the fumes would”—she took a step closer to him—“be lethal.” She whispered the final words as though the bird could hear and understand. Was she not playing with a full deck?

“Your parakeet’s safe. No plans to paint.”

Her smile almost blinded him. Talk about lethal. “That’s so good to know, Logan. Thanks. I want Happy to be safe in his new home.”

“Happy?”

“That’s his name. And it’s perfect. He’s a lovely bird; we talk all the time.”

That—he could believe. “You’re a good match. A magpie and a parakeet.”

She seemed to grow an inch taller. “I don’t insult easily, Logan Nash. Better a chirping magpie than a lone wolf howling at the night.”

Was that how she saw him? She was on to something but hadn’t gotten it quite right. Not a wolf but a German shepherd. Ajax was still part of the military’s K-9 Corps but ready to be retired. Tomorrow’s appointment at Hanscom Air Force Base had been set up almost a month ago. The shepherd would be coming home with him. Pets were welcome at Sea View House. He’d checked that out with Quinn before seeing the place.

Logan’s petite neighbor, however, had struck a chord. Lone wolf. “You know nothing about me, Ms. MacKenzie. Nor is there a need to know.”

Ajax was not her business. Inside Logan’s camera were dozens of pictures of Tommy Rutherford, the young Marine handler and his four-legged partner. Inseparable—except by death. And Logan had been there from the beginning, arriving at the overseas base the same day as Tommy and his dog.

He already had a dog bed in his SUV and at Sea View House. He had prepared a long checklist of medical topics to discuss with the military vet. He’d bought a leash and collar and a couple of “big dog” toys. Logan was ready to reunite with Ajax.

The magpie spoke up. “We’re sharing a house, Mr. Nash. It will be difficult to remain strangers.”

“We share a building, Ms. MacKenzie. That’s all it is. A big, gray, clapboard-sided building. With two separate doors for our two separate lives. Remaining apart won’t be difficult at all.”

He did an about-face and headed toward his kitchen, ignoring the laughter his last remark had provoked. The girl was clueless. A parakeet. A butterfly. Flitting here. Flying there. Depending on others to get her out of a jam. Bart had said something about school starting soon. Was she a teacher? Good Lord, the kids probably walked all over her.

He grabbed one of his Nikons and headed to the shoreline. What would a storm leave behind on the beach? With his camera in hand, he’d not only satisfy his curiosity but also find his equilibrium again. A little girl in a red raincoat was not going to throw him off balance.

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