His Harbor Girl [MultiFormat]
Click on image to enlarge.
eBook by Rekha Ambardar
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Hurt that Bryce Robertson, the man she loved, could not make a commitment to their relationship, Leanna Reed attempts to take control of her life by opening a gift shop in Pelican Harbor, Michigan, a sanctuary that will provide healing and a place to raise her daughter. But after an absence of five years, Bryce comes to the neighboring island to study wolves, and Leanna is forced to consider how she will deal with the fact that he is the father of her child, although he's unaware of this. Bryce finds more than his lost love. Who is the little girl rapidly stealing his heart? Meanwhile, Leanna has her own angst. Can she keep Bryce from finding out about their child until she's ready to tell him in her own way?
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: WHISKEY CREEK PRESS, 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2005
9 Reader Ratings:
A jeans-clad figure filled the doorway. Only one man in the whole universe looked like that, stood like that, and regarded Leanna in that half-rakish, half-respectful way. And only one person had broken her heart.
Leanna steadied herself by pressing her palms flat on the glass surface of the case. If she were lucky, she'd still be able to conceal how the sight of him affected her. So many times she'd wondered what she'd do if he wandered through the door. Now, here he stood at The Tug, where a new inventory of quartz pendants on black silk cord kept her busy this morning.
"What are you doing here, of all places?" She kept her voice low and steady, and even managed a smile, as if to say "no hard feelings." They were two civilized people. At least, one of them was. She should be able to handle five years' absence since the last time they had been together.
He moved closer for a second then stepped back. His glance took in her face and her cotton skirt and the near-transparent beige peasant blouse. Leanna flushed under his gaze.
"I'm here to do a study of wolves on Benedict Island. Have you forgotten what I do for a living?"
No, she hadn't. She'd just never expected him to show up here.
He looked around the combination gift-and-supplies store with interest. Leanna concealed a grin as she took in what he saw. The pilothouse portion of it jutted out onto the lake, reminding amazed customers like him that this extraordinary structure was actually a boat. Its other end stood grounded in the sands with cement pads poured around it, the sides enveloped in walls so that it was still possible to see a clear line where they met the wall.
"Doesn't seem high enough for a boat."
"That's because we had the bottom cut off with a commercial torch." Leanna smiled at his disbelief. "The whole thing is just separate metal slabs welded together. You can cut off as many pieces of it as you want."
She watched him absorb the whiff of fresh paint that still lingered and dart a glance at the red-and-white inside that gave the whole structure a merry ambience. The boat's anchor hung on the wall adjacent to the door, like a huge dangling pendant on a dowager's necklace. Behind the counter on the wall, a miniature oil painting depicted The Tug in its previous lifetime as a boat in more somber colors--gray and dark green--serenely at anchor on a placid Lake Superior.
Bryce let out a subdued breath. "Isn't this just like you to open a store on a boat? In all the time I knew you, I never knew what you'd surprise me with next." He stared at an arrangement of a stylized fishing net and shells hanging on another wall, and a telescope, set up on a stand in front of the window, was angled toward the lake.
"The idea wasn't mine. It was Dad's. He was captain of this boat. When he retired, The Tug retired with him."
He looked around. "Small and compact." He strolled to the far side of the store, where an addition had been built, and peered into the inner recesses.
"It extends to a studio apartment my father constructed." She hung back and studied the man he'd become. The lanky, bleary-eyed student she'd loved had done a chameleon-like change into a muscular, well-built man. He was tanned from the outdoors and a red cotton bandana encircled his strong neck. His blond hair swept back from his forehead like an eagle's wings in repose, and the deep tan of his lean features set off his light gray eyes. Now he'd walked back into her life. "Why here, Bryce?"
He made a sharp half-turn at her question. "I beg your pardon?"
"Out of all the places you could have gone to, why did you come here?" She busied herself with folding tissue paper at the counter. She had to calm her nerves, and at the same time, appear unconcerned.
"You still manage to make your point. I'll give you that." He sounded amused. "To answer your question, I'm here for very professional reasons. We're doing an ongoing study of wolves on Benedict Island. There's been a decline in the population."
"And you didn't know I was here."
"No, that's not quite true." Bryce traced the lines of a wooden, white-painted seagull set on one of the shelves alongside of him.
Leanna looked at his hands, transfixed. Strong, gentle hands, she remembered.
"I thought you might be here but wasn't sure. You could have married. Did you?"
The only man she'd ever wanted to marry stood in her store. But she couldn't let herself fall for his charms a second time. Leanna toyed with one of several replies she could give as she came from behind the counter and leaned against it.
She folded her arms and let a few seconds go by before replying. "No, I'm not. And you?"
"Me?" He stared down at the floor. For the first time since he came in, he avoided looking her in the eye. "I'm not married. Since you ran away without a word, there was no one who could fill your shoes. And it wasn't for want of trying, believe me!"
Leanna dropped her gaze and felt her stomach tighten. She could well believe that. There would have been hordes of women, given his charm; Bryce could turn it on. But she had to straighten out something first. "I had a good reason to leave." Her voice shook.
"And that's just what you did." His voice, deep and resonant, held the accusation of one who had been betrayed. "Without a word, or an address. I knew you'd be somewhere in Pelican Harbor or a town close-by."
Leanna stared at him. What would it take to make him understand the heartache of waiting endlessly for words that never came, moments stolen from a rival called work? She had made it easy for him, being there, a wife in every sense of the word, except in the legal one. "I wasn't lost, Bryce. You were. In your work."
"After you left, I wished you'd told me..."
"I did try to tell you, in so many ways. Only, you didn't want to listen, or see what was happening." She choked, making it difficult to get the words out. If only she could be anesthetized by some invisible power, instead of having to feel the pain.
"We had good times together. Have you forgotten?"
How could she forget? How they'd sit by the pond, her head on his shoulders. The warm night air as they walked down the arboretum filled with the fragrance of petunias. A shiver ran through her and she bit her lip. "Yes, there were good times. But beyond that, you hardly noticed my presence."
"Not notice your presence! That was hardly likely when every guy on campus tried to date you. Not that I blamed them, brunette beauty that you are. Keeping the guys at bay was a full time job." He took a step back and leaned against the opposite counter with the languid movements of a cougar.
A glow of satisfaction swept through her but she tried to ignore it. As if a compliment carelessly given would wipe out the emptiness of those years of bringing up Kai, now four years old.
The difficult questions Kai asked in her child's voice had hurt. Where was Daddy? Did he go to work? Would he come back with presents? Then the slow realization he wasn't ever coming back sank in. Finally, the questions stopped. In her happy, innocent way, she'd taken to talking to her stuffed toys.
Leanna picked up a duster and wiped the glass cases as the early morning light poured through the windows. She didn't want to have a customer walk in on a personal discussion between the owner and her former lover. Leanna shook her head; she didn't know how to classify him now, ex-boyfriend or husband material. A dull knock hammered in the pit of her stomach. What a laugh! Bryce as husband material.
Silence filled the empty space between them.
"You have a store to run. Since I came to buy supplies I'll pick up the things I need and get out of your way." He found what he wanted and returned to the counter.
Leanna rang up his items, put them in a white plastic bag and handed it to him.
On his way out, Bryce stopped at a shelf holding an array of ceramic creations.
Special water carafes, soap dishes, muffin plates and flower pots fired in blue glaze and inscribed with the store's name. "Very nice. Who makes these?"
"Local artisans." Why was he lingering? She clenched her teeth. It was just like Bryce to be obstinate. "If you'll excuse me."
"Of course. But I hope you and I will run into each other sometime."
Would he stay long? She steeled herself from asking, not giving him the satisfaction of seeing her curiosity.
"Are your parents well?" Interest marked Bryce's question.
"My mother died shortly after I came home."
A pause hung in the air as if waiting for a cue to vanish. Then he spoke. "I'm so very sorry."
"Thank you." Many times, over the years, she'd longed to run into his arms and be comforted. But then she had to remind herself why she'd left--he'd never been there for her when she needed him. She'd struggled to get over the double loss of her mother and Bryce, and she'd done it. She felt stronger for it now.
Leanna smiled. She wanted to part ways with him in good spirits. Whatever had happened in the past needn't make her weepy now. She was over him, and not even seeing him after all these years would destroy the peace she'd found. If her stomach tightened at the sight of him, and she felt her throat close with tension, then that was to be expected. Beyond that Bryce didn't have any power over her.
"With research you'll have your work cut out for you. And I have mine." A subtle hint like that should keep him away. She'd be all right. She'd keep to her side of the lake and he could bury himself on Benedict Island doing his study.
"I see that. You manage the store alone?"
"My dad helps me. He's gone into town on an errand at the moment." Her father had taken Kai into town to buy her a pair of beach sandals. Something prevented Leanna from mentioning Kai, a sort of vague superstition in her own mind.
She threw a surreptitious glance at him as he stopped to examine a copper artifact. Kai. How long would it take him to figure out she was his child? Their child? She was tall for her age, but then so were both her parents. Kai's hair was a rich brown, not the thick blond shock of hair Bryce kept pushing back sometimes in an impatient gesture. Nah, Leanna told herself, Kai was her own person, not a stamped variety of anyone. A sudden breath of relief escaped from her. She'd have to keep that realization in mind if ever the thought came galloping back to haunt her--whether Bryce would guess Kai was his daughter or not.
The rumble of a car drifted in from the parking lot. Leanna turned her head, hearing female chatter as car doors slammed.
As Bryce walked toward the door, it opened with the tinkle of a bell dangling above it.