Hearts at Home, Heavenly Daze #5Hearts at Home, Heavenly Daze #5
Lori Copeland, Angela Hunt
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Edith is trying to lose weight in every way imaginable to get into a certain dress by the time Salt and Birdie's April wedding rolls around. Olympia dies suddenly, leaving her daughter Annie the beloved old house, which she can't afford to keep and maintain on her professor's salary. Leaving it would be cutting herself off from Heavenly Daze, and she can't bring herself to do that, although A.J. is urging her to move to New York to be near him. Plus, Caleb tells her he's being "transferred" at the end of the month! Annie has to learn how to find God's will . . . and open herself up to a new love that's been under her nose the entire time.

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Annie Cuvier clung to the ferry railing as the sea spat in her face.

"Come away from there, Annie girl," Captain Stroble called, his cheeks flaming above the scarf at his neck. "Come inside the cabin before you freeze your nose off"

Annie waited a moment longer—just to prove she was no off-islander who couldn’t handle the wind—then tucked the collar of her coat tighter around her throat and ducked inside the warmth of the cabin. She grinned at the stalwart seaman who ran the ferry eleven months of the year. "Thought you and Mazie were heading south for February."

"Ayuh, we are heading to Floridy," Stroble replied, settling one gloved hand on the steering wheel as the boat pushed its way out of Perkins Cove. "Tomorrow morning, if Mazie’s feeling better. She’s been a mite squamish the last couple of days, and wasn’t up to the drive."

Annie took a seat on the bench behind the captain. "Anything the doctor can do?"

"It’s just the usual stomach trouble whenever she thinks about leaving the house. No doubt a few days of sunshine will cure her."

Annie smothered a smile as she turned to look out at the gray sea. A psychologist might say Mazie Stroble’s legendary attachment to her home bordered on agoraphobia, but with her husband at sea every day and three sons in the navy, Mazie’s devotion to the little house on the hill overlooking Perkins Cove seemed downright sensible.

"What brings you home this weekend, Annie?"

She transferred her gaze to the captain. "Nothing special. Aunt Olympia called to say she’s planning a little Valentine’s party next weekend, so I thought I’d come down to help her get a few things together."

Ostensibly, the statement was true. But something more had drawn Annie home, an urgent feeling she couldn’t quite understand. Few of her friends would rush home if even a favorite aunt called with news of a piddling little party, but Olympia had acted as Annie’s guardian ever since her parents had died when she was seven years old. So she was coming home out of obligation. . . and concern.

She looked out at the ocean, where the water had turned the color of tarnished silver. Oddly enough, until last October she and Olympia had not been especially close—in fact, they usually yowled like two quarreling cats when they were thrust together. But last October Annie had come home to say farewell to Uncle Edmund, who died the following month, and since that time she had begun to catch glimpses of the island matriarch’s softer side. When Aunt Olympia called yesterday, Annie had felt the tug of responsibility.

One of Stroble’s bushy white brows rose. "Olympia de Cuvier, feeling sociable? In the dead of winter"

Annie rushed to her aunt’s defense. "It’s sort of a thank-you gesture." Because Olympia had been reared to be proper and cultured, outsiders often thought her chilly, but beneath that frail frame and shellacked veneer beat a vulnerable heart. "The island folk were so kind to her after Uncle Edmund passed, so she wanted to do something special for them. But December was too busy with Christmas, and last month was a nightmare—with the sickness and all. She thought the weekend before Valentine’s Day might be a fitttin’ time."

"Ayuh, so it is. Seems to me a Valentine is nothing but a gussiedup thank-you card to the folks who love us."

"I only hope she’s okay." Annie frowned out the window. "She was sick last month—along with Pastor Winslow, Floyd, and Stanley Bidderman—all on account of that horrible tomato hybrid I developed. Dr. Marc assured me everyone has recovered, but what if there are lingering side effects?"

Stroble sent a wink and a grin over his shoulder. "Don’t fret yourself, Annie. I heard they were right pretty tomatoes."

"But completely indigestible—and, regrettably, digestion is important when it comes to food plants." She sighed and crossed her arms. "Back to the drawing board, I guess. But I’m not sure if I should keep working with tomatoes or move on to another plant. I’ve been toying with the idea of a winter-hardy zucchini. . ."

She let her words trail away as the island of Heavenly Daze came into view. Even in the dead of winter, when the winds pushed the waves over the pounding rocks along the southwestern shore, the sight of the church steeple rising from the town center had the power to warm her heart. Seven of the town’s structures had been built in 1798, when sea captain Jacques de Cuvier and a few of his cronies had decided to establish a retirement home for pirates who’d seen the light—or decided thievery on the high seas was no longer worth the risk.

As Captain Stroble cut the motor, Annie quirked a brow. Someday she ought to do a little research on old Jacques de Cuvier. As his only direct descendant still living on the island, Aunt Olympia would enjoy learning more about him.

Annie stood, then braced herself for the cushioned impact of the boat against the rubber on the dock. A breath of freezing wind nipped at her nose as the captain flung the cabin door open and stepped outside. Once he had tossed heavy lines around the mooring posts, he turned and tucked his gloved hands beneath his armpits.

"Have yourself a nice bit of neighborin’ then." Stroble smiled her off the boat. "And give your aunt a hello from me and Mazie."

"Have yourself a nice time in Florida," Annie countered, pausing at the railing. "By the way, who’s going to run the ferry while you and Mazie are getting suntans?"

Stroble grinned. "The boat’s going in for maintenance—time to get the hull scraped and a new coat of paint slapped on. But Crazy Odell will be at your service. . . whenever he’s of a mind to take his boat out. Better call his granddaughter before you make plans, just to make sure he’s running."

Annie laughed. "And still breathing."

Crazy Odell Butcher, who would take any customer out to Heavenly Daze for the right price, was ninety-two if he was a day. His granddaughter tried to keep him ashore, but he and his boat, the Sally, had helped many a desperate traveler cross to Heavenly Daze when the ferry wasn’t running. Last Christmas Annie had been grateful for the old daredevil because he got her home in time for Christmas Eve. . . and inadvertently reunited her with A. J. Hayes, the current love of her life.

"Thanks, Captain." She waved goodbye, then crossed the gangplank and hurried down the wooden dock. Across the way, the lights of Frenchman’s Fairest gleamed like gold, welcoming her home.

* * * * *

Dr. Marcus Hayes rapped on the back door of Frenchman’s Fairest, startling the old butler who stood at the kitchen counter. Caleb Smith squinted to peer through the lace draperies over the window in the door, then smiled and waved the doctor in.

"Sorry to bother you," Marc said, glad he had stamped the mud from his shoes on the stoop. Caleb’s kitchen gleamed as if he expected company.

Marc sniffed the rich aroma of coffee. "That’s a good brew."

"You want a cup?" Caleb reached toward the cabinet where he kept the mugs. "We’ve plenty to spare. Missy had me brew a pot special for Annie, even though I kept telling her the girl prefers my cocoa."

"I’d love a cup." Marc dropped into the chair nearest the door, then peered around the corner that led into the hall. "Olympia around?"

"She’s upstairs, sprucin’ herself up for Annie’s arrival." The old butler moved slowly, his hands trembling with the palsy of the aged. Noticing the tremor, Marc frowned. During his tenure as Heavenly Daze physician, not once had Caleb Smith been sick. . . in fact, if Marc had not known better, he’d think the Smith name had some value as preventative medicine. Out of the six men surnamed Smith on the island, not one of them had ever visited his clinic. Though Micah rasped occasionally after a full day of singing, Abner worried about his weight, and Elezar professed an allergy to cats, none of them had ever required medical treatment.

He tilted his head as Caleb set a steaming mug of coffee before him. "You feeling okay, friend?"

A gentle curve touched the old man’s lips. "I’m fine, Doc, thanks for asking. We’re all happy, you know, because Annie’s coming home."

"I’m sure you are. That girl is a gem."

Stepping back, Caleb eyed the doctor with an uplifted brow. "How are she and your son getting along? She doesn’t talk much about her love life when I speak to her on the phone."

Marc laughed softly. "Alex doesn’t volunteer much information, either—I suppose it’s not cool for a thirty-two-year-old man to confide in his father about the woman he’s seeing. But from what I can tell, they’re still dating steadily . . . whenever Alex has free time. Unfortunately, surgeons have a fuller schedule than most doctors."

He felt his smile fade as he stirred a teaspoon of sugar into his coffee. He’d worked hard to get Annie and Alex together, dropping broad hints that at first offended Annie and infuriated Alex. But he’d done it because from the first moment he saw Annie Cuvier, he knew the woman was something special. His son would be a fool to let her slip away.

Yet, if the truth be told, sometimes he worried about Annie dating his son. Life as a doctor’s wife wasn’t easy. His own wife had been as patient as Job, God rest her soul, but the early days had been hard for her. She’d been busy raising a baby while he was out trying to save the world one patient at a time. Only by the grace of God did they manage to renew their relationship before she died.

He would hate to see Annie endure the heartache his wife had known. She seemed to crave peace, and as much as he’d love to have her as part of his family, he wasn’t sure she could cope with Alex’s hectic New York life. As much as he loved his son, he wasn’t certain Alex could appreciate the sweet and simple nature of Annie’s island-bred soul.

Marc had come to Heavenly Daze to serve his fellow man and find rest for his weary soul. Over the last three years, in the intimacy of a small town and the power of the sea, he had found the reminders he needed to remember that he was only a servant, and God the Lord of all.

Aware that he had dropped his half of the conversation, he gave Caleb a guilty smile. "This is good coffee. Thanks."

A trace of unguarded tenderness lit the older man’s eyes. "Are you worried for your son?"

"I’m worried more for Annie." Marc spoke without thinking, then fumbled for words to explain the disloyal comment. "Long-distance relationships are difficult, and with Alex in New York and Annie in Portland, I. . . I just don’t want her to get hurt. And I know my son—

I know how busy he is, and how detached he can be at times. It’s something a doctor has to develop, this detachment, or we’d go a little crazy. Alex is a fine young man, don’t get me wrong, but when I think of all the times I begged him to make time for a visit and he never would, I. . . well, I worry for Annie. I don’t want her to be hurt."

Uncomfortable with what he’d just shared, he lowered his gaze to his cup, then took a sip. Delicious. Everything Caleb made was wonderful.

"You care deeply for Annie, don’t you?"

Marc lowered his mug. "Of course I do. How could anyone not adore a girl like that? I want her to have the wonderful life she deserves. If she can find happiness by marrying my son, I’ll be thrilled. I already love her like a daughter. Why wouldn’t I be happy to have her as a daughter-in-law?"

The butler’s eyes twinkled. "Why not, indeed?"

* * * * *

Half an hour later Annie sat at Olympia’s small kitchen table, her fingers laced around a cup of hot cocoa, her coat tossed across the desk against the wall. Caleb bustled at the counter, mixing a fresh batch of her favorite brownies, while Tallulah, Olympia’s terrier, squatted on the floor by Annie’s chair, her bright eyes begging for a treat. Olympia sat across from Annie, looking tired, but content.

"Thank you for coming," Olympia said for the third time. "I am simply out of unique ideas for this little party I’m planning, and I do want it to be nice. I’ve had Caleb cutting recipes out of magazines for days."

Annie sipped her cocoa, then smiled around the rim of her cup. Her aunt could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two about the proper way to host a party, and in more prosperous days she had hosted some of the most elegant affairs southeastern Maine had ever seen. Frenchman’s Fairest, though now showing its age, was a grand old house, rich in historical lore and stuffed with antiques. . . though every time Annie came home, she noticed one or two pieces were missing.

"EBay," Caleb had confided on her last visit when she had asked about a lovely oil lamp that had once stood in a niche by the stairs "The best place for quick cash. Mike Klackenbush has been helping Missy sell a few things."

Annie had learned that any mention of missing items was likely to strike a spark. The one thing Olympia would always possess was a sensitive pride.

She set down her cup and peered out the black window of the back door. "Where’d Dr. Marc run off to?"

"Back to his place, I should imagine." Olympia smoothed the lace at her throat, then gave Annie a frayed smile. "Caleb tells me he offered to run out and walk you home from the dock. That was kind—Caleb is getting too old to go out in this cold and windy weather.

"I keep telling her the cold doesn’t bother me." Caleb gave Annie a grin. "But you surprised us by coming in unescorted. I think Dr. Marc was looking forward to seeing you."

Annie lowered her gaze as a blush burned her cheekbones. The entire town must be talking about her romance with A.J., otherwise known as Dr. Alex Hayes, son of the town physician. Since October, Dr. Marc had been badgering Annie about meeting his son, and finally, on Christmas Eve, their paths had intersected at the ferry landing in Ogunquit. In the ensuing five weeks they had seen each other several times. . . when they could find time to be together. With Annie living in Maine and A.J. in Manhattan, they weren’t together often, but what were cell phones for, if not long-distance dating?

"How is A.J., dear?" Olympia lifted her teacup. "We haven’t seen him since Christmas."

"I haven’t seen him in two weeks." Annie shrugged. "We try to get together, but, you know, things happen. He has a medical emergency to attend to, his plane is at the mechanic, or something else comes up. But he’s fine. We’re fine. Everything’s fine."

She fell silent as a touch of the old awkwardness crept into the conversation. Not so long ago, she and Aunt Olympia could hardly exchange greetings without venturing onto minefields of sensitive issues, and now she felt the ground begin to shudder beneath her feet. If Aunt Olympia answered with one of her "That’s the trouble with young folks these days . . .

But she didn’t. Giving Caleb a smile, Olympia stood, her hair gleaming in the light from the overhead fixture. "Let’s adjourn to the parlor." She bent to pick up her teacup. "Caleb, will you serve the brownies when they’re ready? Annie, you may bring your cup, of course.

Excerpted from:
Hearts at Home by Lori Copeland and Angela Hunt, copyright 2003. Used by permission. All rights reserved.