Welcome to Moonlight Harbor
By Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Once happily married, Jenna Jones is about to turn forty, and this year for her birthday—lucky her—she’s getting a divorce. She’s barely able to support herself and her teenage daughter, but now her deadbeat artist ex is hitting her up for spousal support…and then spending it on his “other” woman.
Still, as her mother always says, every storm brings a rainbow. And when she gets a very unexpected gift from her great-aunt Edie, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. Aging Aunt Edie is finding it difficult to keep up her business running The Driftwood Inn, so she invites Jenna to come live with her and run the place. It looks like Jenna’s financial problems are solved!
Or not. The town is a little more run-down than Jenna remembers, but that’s nothing compared to the ramshackle state of The Driftwood Inn. Aunt Edie is confident they can return it to its former glory, though Jenna feels like she’s jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the beach fire.
But who knows? With the help of her new friends and a couple of handsome citizens, perhaps that rainbow is on the horizon after all. Because, no matter what, life is always good at the beach.
WELCOME TO MOONLIGHT HARBOR
By Sheila Roberts
Condensed Excerpt from Chapter Three
The first Saturday in June found Jenna Jones and her daughter on their way to Moonlight Harbor, towing behind their car a tiny rented trailer filled with their most valued possessions—scrapbooks, crafting supplies, clothes, Sabrina’s bike and Jenna’s massage table and oils and other business necessities, just in case she needed to supplement their income from the motel. Or in case she got the itch to do massage, which was highly likely, since she loved what she did. Most of the furniture had been sold, and that had given her some extra cash. Her linens and the Wedgwood china Gram had given her had been stored in Mom’s basement, along with Sabrina’s bedroom set, after Jenna realized that would have been the final straw for her daughter.
Big clue: “My bed? You’re selling my bed?”
“Aunt Edie will have a bed for you,” Jenna had assured her.
“But it won’t be my bed,” she’d argued. “And what if we don’t like it there? We won’t have beds when we come home.”
“Honey, this is going to be our home.” At that, Sabrina had looked thunderous, and Jenna’s nervous tic had reappeared. “Okay, we won’t sell your bed.” No bed selling.
Taking Sabrina out of school early turned out to be the one thing Jenna had done right in her daughter’s eyes. Sabrina’s grades weren’t getting any better. Her teachers were all mean, and she hated school. Jenna hoped she’d be in a better frame of mind come fall.
Daddy didn’t bother to come see his daughter off. Instead, he’d texted her. Have fun at the beach. Keep an eye out for detritus for me. As always, all about him.
“She doesn’t want to go, you know,” he’d told Jenna when he’d dropped Sabrina off the week before, after a father-daughter run to Dairy Queen that Sabrina had instigated.
“She’ll like it once she’s there,” Jenna had insisted. If she kept saying it often enough surely it would become true. “And it will help the budget if we have a place to live rent free while I help my aunt run the motel.” She’d conveniently neglected to inform him that she was going to inherit said motel. She may have been stupid when she’d married him, but she wasn’t going to be stupid now that she was divorced from him.
“Well, at least that way you’ll have enough money to pay me what you owe me.”
Yep, all about him. “You mean I’ll have enough to pay you what you’re leeching off me,” she’d said, which had sent him roaring off in his truck while Jenna was left steaming.
Now, though, as they entered Harbor County, home of beachside towns, fishing ports and relaxation, the frustration and fury got left behind like unclaimed baggage. So what if the sky was gray and drizzly? The future was sunny. They crested the rise outside of Aberdeen and, in between the giant firs, caught sight of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
“There it is,” Jenna said, sounding like an Oklahoma land-rush pioneer pointing out the Promised Land.
Sabrina was plugged into her iPod and ignored her. So far her enthusiasm for their new adventure had been underwhelming. But wait till she saw the town.
Jenna could hardly wait. Other than one quick visit after her high school graduation and a honeymoon weekend with Damien, she’d been MIA since her sophomore year in high school. Her first real job, working at the local McDonald’s, had kept her away. Then came the friend with the house on Hood Canal, where there were boys galore, followed by a couple of boyfriends. Then, of course, along came Damien, who didn’t fall in love with Moonlight Harbor like she’d hoped. After they married it seemed as if every time she planned to visit her aunt something came up that prevented her. Damien demanded a lot of attention.
Actually, more than a lot. Looking back on her life, it seemed she’d married a psychic vampire. As their marriage progressed, he grew bigger and she grew smaller, an insignificant planet orbiting him.
She’d been crushed when he’d found another woman. Now she couldn’t help but wonder if Aurora had actually done her a favor and set her free, allowing her to come back to a place that had given her a happy childhood. Maybe it would give her a happy adulthood, too.
They drove through Aberdeen and then Quinault, a small town that had given up on logging and was working its way back to prosperity. “We’re almost there,” Jenna said to Sabrina after another few miles. “Beachcombing, whale watching, cute boys.”
That last item on the list made Sabrina smile, proof that she’d been able to hear her mother all along.
At last they reached their destination. There was the same white-rock gateway to the town that Jenna remembered, one of the first things to go up when the town was new.
Hmm. She didn’t remember the molehills rising like tiny mountains from the grass on both sides of the gateway. But there were flowers in the flower beds. Someone cared. And maybe they didn’t want to hurt the moles. She knew the many deer who roamed the town were a protected species, so why not the moles?
They turned in and started down the main road through town, Harbor Boulevard, named for the harbor that sat at the south end of town. Once a bustling harbor with a ferry service to Westhaven, a busy fishing town across the bay, it had gotten silted in over the years and was no longer viable for commercial use, although the pier was still there.
The town’s lifeblood was now tourism, and shops and restaurants abounded, with a couple of small, dated motels sandwiched in between. Many of the businesses were housed in buildings that had gone up in the sixties. But some new buildings had also sprung up, including an eye-catching group of cabana-style shops all painted in beachy colors of turquoise and mint green, yellow and an orange that made Jenna think of Creamsicles, offering everything from women’s clothing to kites.
In spite of the drizzle, people were out shopping. Many of them were seniors (hardly surprising, considering the fact that there was a large retirement community there), but Jenna saw a few young families and some couples, as well. Where were the cute boys?
As if reading her mind, Sabrina asked, “Where are the kids my age?”
“They’re here.” Somewhere.
Jenna stole a look at her daughter. She was assessing the town, and so far she didn’t look impressed.
Farther ahead, on the left, sat Good Times Ice Cream Parlor, one of Jenna’s favorite haunts when she was her daughter’s age. Right next to it was the Go-Go Carts go-cart track and the Paradise Fun-Plex, which consisted of a miniature golf course and an arcade. This should improve Sabrina’s mood.
Indeed it did. Her daughter was actually smiling.
“You ready for ice cream?” Jenna asked.
Sabrina nodded, and they pulled in. The parlor itself was housed in one-half of the square building, painted pink with white trim.
A couple of teenage girls and a boy with scraggly hair, wearing a Seahawks sweatshirt over baggy jeans, stood at the counter, selecting ice cream while the pimply-faced boy behind the counter waited for them to decide.
He caught sight of Sabrina, and his eyes widened in appreciation. She gave him a discouraging frown. His customers turned to see what he was staring at, and the other boy smiled at Sabrina. She smiled back, but the two girls gave her the stare of death, which of course brought back her frown.
Meanwhile, the woman with the squalling child and rambunctious boys had finished paying and left, leaving the woman behind the counter free to wait on Jenna and Sabrina.
She was in her sixties with a smile as wide as her girth. Her hair was almost all gray now, but Jenna would know that round, smiling face anywhere. Nora Singleton had been dishing out ice cream since Jenna was a kid.
“Hello, ladies, what will you have?” she asked.
“I’ll have a big order of sunshine,” Jenna said, quoting what she used to tell Nora whenever it was raining.
Nora squinted at her. “Jenna?”
Jenna nodded. “I’m back.”
“Well, welcome back. We haven’t seen you around here in ages.”
“It’s been too long,” Jenna agreed.
“Your aunt said you’d be coming to help her. I’m so glad. The poor thing’s been struggling ever since Ralph died.”
“This is my daughter, Sabrina,” Jenna said, and Sabrina murmured a polite, “Nice to meet you.”
“You are just as cute as your mom was at your age. You’ll have all the boys after you,” Nora predicted, making Sabrina blush. “What kind of ice cream would you like?”
Sabrina looked down the rows of tubs. “Bubble Gum?”
“And how about you, Jenna? No, wait, let me guess. One scoop of Sand Pebble for you.”
“Sand Pebble?” Sabrina scanned the tubs.
“Butter Brickle with peanuts.”
“What’s Butter Brickle?” Sabrina asked.
Nora rolled her eyes. “What have you been feeding this poor child?”
“Obviously, not enough ice cream,” Jenna said.
She refused to take Jenna’s money once she’d handed over the cones. “Consider it a welcome home gift.”
Back in the car, Jenna offered her cone to Sabrina to sample. “Good, isn’t it?”
Sabrina nodded. “I like Bubble Gum better.”
“I did, too, until I discovered Sand Pebble and Wild Huckleberry,” Jenna said, and started the car.
They continued down Harbor Boulevard past more shops and restaurants, many looking a little tired and in need of paint, and a place to rent bikes and mopeds. “Can we do that?” asked Sabrina.
“When you’re old enough to drive,” Jenna said, making her frown.
More tourist treats awaited them past the roundabout. “What’s that?” Sabrina asked, staring at the building with an entrance shaped like a giant gaping shark’s mouth.
“That’s Something Fishy. It’s a souvenir shop. They sell everything from saltwater taffy and postcards to preserved baby sharks in a tube.”
Sabrina made a face. “Ewww.”
“Yes, ewww to that, but they have a lot of fun things in there. Tomorrow I’ll take you in, and you can check it out. In fact, we’ll do a tour of the town. How’s that sound?”
Sabrina nodded. “Good.”
More motels began to appear—a Quality Inn, a Best Western with a restaurant sandwiched between, and a beautiful old Victorian B and B with a long front porch, complete with wicker chairs for lounging. It was painted white with blue trim. One word summed it up: charming.
Sabrina’s eyes lit up at the sight of it. “Is that our motel?”
“No. That’s the Oyster Inn. It’s gorgeous inside. I remember eating in their restaurant for Gram’s birthday one year when we were all down visiting. I was ten, and it was the first time I’d been in such a fancy place. Linens on the tables, fine crystal, my first ever crab cocktail. From what I hear the restaurant’s still as nice. We’ll have to go there and order you a crab cocktail.”
“Does our motel have a restaurant?” Sabrina asked.
“No, but there’s one next to it. And the motel has a pool.”
The two cars in front of them began to slow down. “Why’s everybody stopping?” Sabrina asked.
“Look,” Jenna said, pointing.
Farther ahead a deer and her fawn strolled across the road. A woman in the car ahead of them leaned out and snapped a picture with her phone.
“Wow,” Sabrina breathed, impressed.
Mama and baby made it to the other side and traffic—all three cars—began to move again.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Jenna said, and Sabrina nodded.
Good. Another favorable impression made.
Until they got to the end of Motel Row and finally came to the Driftwood Inn. Charming it was not. If not for the sign hanging askew and blowing in the wind Jenna would have thought she was at the wrong address. The roof covering the long string of twenty rooms was missing shingles, and one of the rooms had a board where there should have been a window. Once, the place had been the color of a cloudless sky. Now it was faded and the paint was peeling, and a blackish mold was forming colonies on the walls of the motel. As for the promised pool, she didn’t dare look. The chain-link fence around it was bent and sad. If there was water in that pool it was probably contaminated. A lone car, a gas hog from another era, brave enough to traverse the potholes in the parking lot, was camped at an end unit.
Sabrina looked around them in horror. “This place is a dump.”
It was. And the small, two-story gabled house next to it, Aunt Edie’s home, wasn’t in much better shape. Its paint, also once a cheery blue, was as faded and chipped as the motel’s. The long porch and its railing needed painting, and a couple of the steps were leaning at a slant like something in a carnival fun house. The trees and bushes had been taken over by some kind of hanging moss.
Sabrina had followed Jenna’s gaze. “That’s where we’re gonna live?”
Jenna’s right eye twitched. “Don’t worry. We’ll fix it up.”
Too young for a vote of confidence, Sabrina said, “I want to go home.”
I don't know about you but that excerpt has made me even more excited for this first book in Sheila Roberts' new Moonlight Harbor series!
Readers, have you ever moved to, or visited, someplace that was not what you expected?
What's your favorite flavor of ice cream? I'd like to try some Sand Pebble!
As the book blurb says, "Life is always good at the beach." Where's your happy place?
Sheila Roberts has generously offered three giveaways today. Two randomly chosen people who post a comment will each receive a copy of Welcome to Moonlight Harbor (winner's choice of print or digital - print to U.S./Canadian addresses only). One randomly chosen person leaving a comment will receive a fun Moonlight Harbor gift package put together by Sheila. (U.S./Canada only) Deadline to leave a comment for the giveaway is 11:00 PM (eastern), April 9, 2018.