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A Safe Place To Land
SERIES: The Eastern Shore Romances, Book 1
GENRE: Second Chance/Divorced/Widows, Small Town
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: 45,000 to 59,999 (small book)
HERO’S AGE: 40-49
HEROINE’S AGE: 40-49
HEAT LEVEL: Steamy (Talk Dirty To Me)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Some (The occasional “F” bomb, lots of smack talk, some explicit sex)
Jenna Ferris always thought that her ex-husband, Sam, was her best friend. Sure, their marriage hadn’t worked out, but that was mostly because of their twenty-plus age difference. But after Sam’s death, Jenna finds out that Sam had a secret that he never shared—a son, who is on his way to claim his inheritance, which includes the house that she and Sam had bought years ago. The same house that Jenna has always called home, and has no intention of sharing it with anyone, especially some snot-nosed kid from the big city.
But Craig Ferris isn’t some kid. He is a grown man, the product of Sam’s youthful affair. Craig arrives with his three daughters after hastily leaving Chicago behind. Craig has no intention of staying in the small town of Cape Edwards. He needs to find a job and a place for starting a new life for himself and his girls after the death of his wife the year before.
Jenna grudgingly makes room in her home—and her life— for Sam and his girls, while fighting a growing physical attraction to the man who reminds her so much of her lost love. But the more time she spends with Craig, the more she realizes he is nothing at all like his father. And lust is slowly turning to something else as she begins to know and understand the man who told her, from the very beginning, that he has no intention of staying in Cape Edwards.
Will the small-town magic of the Eastern Shore convince Craig that this is the best place for his new family? And can he believe that Jenna loves him for himself, rather than as a substitute for the larger-than-life Sam? A Safe Place to Land is about two cautious people slowly trying to find room for each other in the most treacherous landscape of all, the human heart.
READ AN EXCERPT
There was a battered gray Suburban parked in front of my house. The windows were all open, and as I drove up, I could hear singing.
I wasn’t much into kids’ movies, but even I knew the soundtrack from Frozen when I heard it.
Finn and Bit were sitting diligently on the front stoop. Chloe was sitting directly in front of the Suburban. All three pricked their ears when they saw me coming around the curve, and by the time I’d parked, they were all on my side of the Jeep, jumping and barking. At least today they had something to bark about.
I got out of the Jeep, scooped up Bit, and bent to give Chloe and Finn a few appreciative pats. Chloe may have been toothless, but she was big and had a deep, scary bark. Finn yapped, but looked pretty aggressive. I told them both to hush, then walked around the Jeep to confront Sam Ferris’ son, who though he could just waltz in and take over half of my house, some snotty kid from the big city…
My only defense is that I’d never been good at math, plus, the shock of Sam’s death and his having a son I never knew about obviously had me not thinking quite straight. Ellis said that Sam had a relationship with Kelly Laslow when he was young. So he probably fathered his son when he was in his, what, early twenties? Maybe even his late teens. When he met me, he was forty.
So that made Craig Ferris about my age. Almost the same age Sam had been when we first met. And Craig Ferris looked so much like his father I almost stopped breathing.
He got out of the Suburban slowly. He was built like Sam, slope-shouldered but with a broad, muscular chest. His dark blond hair was already starting to thin on top, just like Sam’s had, and he had big brown eyes and a wide, lazy mouth. He held out his hand, and I shook it automatically, still staring at his face. Those were Sam’s cheekbones, all right, and the same jaw…good God, was that really a dimple in his chin deep enough to take a warm bubble bath in?
“I’m Craig. Pleased to meet you, Jenna. This is awkward. I’m sorry.”
I withdrew my hand and took a breath. “You look just like him,” I whispered.
He shrugged. “Yeah. Kinda weird, I guess.” He looked down at Chloe, sitting at my side, her upper lip curled and a low rumble in her throat. “Will your dogs eat any of my kids?” he asked.
“What? No. She has no teeth. And Finn here will just grab the cuff of your jeans and tug until you play with him.”
I looked past him into the Suburban. A young girl got out, tall and skinny, maybe twelve or thirteen. And out of the back poured two little girls, with identical faces, both wearing jeans and plain red t-shirts.
“Are those your goats?” asked one.
“What’s your dog’s name?” asked the other.
“Can we fish here?”
“Do you have a pony?”
“Do we have to go to school?”
“Is there a bus?”
“Can we get a boat?”
“Girls?” Craig called out. “Manners.”
One of the twins came up to me. “I’m Maddie. This is Larissa. You can tell us apart because I have a freckle on my nose and she doesn’t. Can I pet your dog? Please?”
I held Bit out to her. The little girl leaned over close enough for their noses to touch. Bit started to wriggle with happiness, so I pushed her into Maddie’s arms. “That’s Bit. She likes you. But be careful, she’ll steal the food right off your plate.”
The two girls were tiny and had big brown eyes like their father, cute pug noses and pink rosebud lips, and long, blondish hair in matching pigtails. Seriously? They couldn’t have mean expressions and really bad teeth? They couldn’t be animal haters? They had to be adorable urchins?
The older girl came around the Suburban and stuck out her hand. “Amanda. Hi.” Her face was thin and sad, her eyes small with dark smudges beneath.
I shook her hand. “Jenna Ferris.”
“Are you our grandma?” Larissa asked. She’d come up beside her sister, and Bit was frantically licking the side of her face.
“No,” I said, rather too loudly. “I am nobody’s grandma.”
“But,” she went on reasonably, “you were married to Grandpa Sam.”
“True,” I said. “But I had nothing to do with your dad, here. In fact,” I said, looking straight into Craig’s big brown eyes, “I didn’t even know he existed.”
Craig cleared his throat. “Do you think, maybe, we could go inside?”
Plan A had been, if he asked that question, to say no. That was before he was tall and drop-dead gorgeous with twin cherubs and a teen with such sad eyes. I pushed my way past him and unlocked the front door.
The dogs all rushed in from behind me, and Larissa and Maddie ran all the way from the front door to the big picture window overlooking the Bay. Craig let out a low whistle.
“That’s some view,” he said.
I nodded. “Yep. I get some amazing sunsets. Uh, listen, I really didn’t expect you to just show up here.”
I looked up at him. He was obviously uncomfortable. “Yeah. Well, we left Chicago in sort of a hurry.”
Larissa had wandered into the kitchen, Maddie right behind her. I tried to remember if I’d let any food on the counter or dishes in the sink…
“Grandpa Rob was coming after us,” Amanda said, sinking into the couch and stretching her legs out, propping her feet on the coffee table.
“Feet off the table,” Craig said immediately. She threw him a look of absolute disgust and dropped her feet to the floor.
I put my feet up there all the time but knew this wasn’t the time to mention that. “Coming after you?”
Craig ran his fingers through his hair and then tugged at the ends. A Sam move. “It’s complicated. The thing is, we’re here because we have no place else to live, and my girls need a roof over their heads. This house is huge, so I’m sure there are a few rooms we can move into until we get a more, ah, formal arrangement.”
Craig Ferris looked so much like his father had looked when we first married that all sorts of long, forgotten feelings came rushing back. I hadn’t been a virgin when I first met Sam, but compared to the boys I’d slept with before, he’d been a revelation. Sex between us had been so hot that we stayed together for that reason alone, long after everything else we thought we shared had fallen apart. And looking at Craig, those shoulders, the strength in his arms, well…whatever. I was thrown off balance. Big time.
But he wasn’t. Looking at me obviously didn’t evoke anything, and he was all business.
“Sure,” I said. “Come on this way.”
Maddie and Larissa had already made their way to the far side of the house and were in the room with the twin beds. Maddie was jumping on one, and Larissa was looking into the closet critically.
“Stop,” Craig said, and Maddie immediately hopped off the bed. If nothing else, he had them well trained.
“So, I guess this could belong to the two of you,” I said. “What do you think?” I hadn’t been in any of these rooms in a while and had almost forgotten what they looked like. This one was pretty grim. The color of the walls looked like wrinkled elephant skin and the carpet seemed to be growing stuff out of it.
Larissa opened one of the dresser drawers. I could see old shelf paper, faded and browned. “We need another dresser,” she said. “And the closet needs fixed. And the walls?” She looked up at Craig. “Pink?”
He nodded, and ruffled her hair. “Whatever color you want.”
He peeked into the hall bathroom. Entirely beige. “At least there’s a tub,” he muttered. The next bedroom was brighter, and had a small, private bath attached. “Amanda,” he said. The final bedroom was dark and narrow, no curtains or a bedspread.
“Guess you don’t really use these rooms much, do you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. I live pretty much on the other side. Sam had wanted a big house because he always thought there’d be a ton of kids living here.” I stopped. I guess now there were.
Craig walked back and called to his girls. I sat and watched as they carried in suitcases. Maddie made a second trip for a clothesbasket full of stuffed animals.
Bit followed her down the hall. Finn jumped up on my lap and looked confused. “Yeah, buddy, I know,” I told him. “We have something of a roommate conundrum.”
He whimpered and tried to snuggle in closer.
“No, I don’t know how long they’ll be here.”
Chloe, came up and put her giant head on my knee.
“Yes, Bit is acting like a traitor, but you know how he feels about shiny new things.”
I felt Ghost jump up behind me. My family watched as Sam’s family carried more things into the house.
I kept repeating, this is not his fault, this is not his fault. This man had absolutely nothing to do with the situation we were both in. He was obviously under pressure to find a safe place for his kids, and I was sure that once things calmed down, we would reach a nice, sensible agreement, and he would get the hell out of my house.
Finally, Craig came into the living room. He stared down at me, and I thought how I must have looked to him, in wrinkled scrubs, my hair pulled up and looking like a rats nest, surrounded by animals.
“No reflection on your housekeeping skills, but is there a vacuum cleaner we could use?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“Good. And some spray cleaner? And lots of paper towels?”
I should have felt embarrassed, but I didn’t. If he was going to just move into a person’s home with no warning, then he could do his own cleanup.
“We should probably go to the grocery store,” he said. “They’re going to be hungry pretty soon.”
I took a breath. “Well you’re going to hit traffic right now. I have juice in the fridge, a rotisserie chicken, frozen green beans, and an apple pie, if you think that can hold them until tomorrow. I only work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so I’ll be happy to show you around tomorrow. I guess you have to get them in school?”
I sighed. “I really don’t want you here, Craig. I can’t even imagine how this is going to work. But until we figure something else out, I can’t throw you and your girls out in the street. In fact, even if I could, I probably wouldn’t.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Well, at least you’re honest. Yeah, this sucks for me, too. I wouldn’t be here if I had another choice.” He narrowed his eyes. “I thought you’d be way older. You know, Sam’s wife.”
I smiled back. “And I thought you’d be younger. Sam’s kid.”
“He was something else, my dad.”
“I thought I knew him. I thought he was my friend.”
“He was my father.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds.
“Well,” I finally said, “it looked like he lied to us both.”
“That’s one thing we have in common, I guess.”
We looked at each other for a bit more, then he shrugged and left.
Meet Dee Ernst
Dee Ernst was born and raised in New Jersey, which explains a great deal about her attitude towards life. She loved reading at a very early age, and by the time she was ten she had decided to become a writer. It took a bit longer than she expected.
She went off to college, moved around a bit, had a job or two, a husband or two, and a daughter or two. It was the birth of her second daughter at the age of forty that got her thinking about what to do with the rest of her life. That was when she decided to give writing a real shot.
Dee loved chick-lit and romantic comedy, but hated the twenty-something heroines who couldn’t figure out how to go and get what they wanted. She began to write about women like herself — older, confident, and with a wealth of life experience to draw upon. She got an agent but no sales, and took the plunge into self-publishing in 2010.
In 2012, Better Off Without Him became an Amazon bestseller. She signed with Montlake Publishing, which went on to re-release Better Off Without Him and launch A Slight Change of Plan in 2013.
She has since written a few more novels, a series of cozy mysteries, and is now giving a romance series a serious shot.
She is still in New Jersey, where she writes full-time. She lives with husband #2, daughter #2, a few dogs and a lone cat. She loves sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a really cold martini.