Title: Sweet Horizons
Author: Jean C. Gordon
Genre: Sweet Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer: Naijla Quamber
Publisher: Upstate NY Romance
Editor: Jena O’Connor
Publication Date: May 23rd, 2019
There’s nothing like a wedding to bring people together, but family dynamics can be complicated, especially newly blended ones.
Sonja Cooper is thrilled that her daughter Lauren is marrying Jesse Brewster and giving her a ready-made granddaughter in the irrepressible 3-year old Shelley. The fact that Jesse is also Sonja’s business partner in the launching of the Morrison Mansion B&B is just a bonus.
Custom bike shop owner Jeff Brewster is also delighted that his son Jesse is marrying Lauren and building a new family. The one awkward aspect is the unexpected attraction he feels towards Sonja. For although Sonja feels the same spark, having been burned in her divorce from Lauren’s father, she’s determined never to be dependent on a man again.
Then the Indigo Bay Business Association pits Sonja and Jeff against each other by having their businesses compete for the coveted “New Business of the Year Award.” All’s fair in love and war, but hearts don’t always listen!
This is the 3rd novel in the Indigo Bay Second Chance Romances series, but all books can be read as standalones.
For Amazon Bestselling sweet and inspirational romance author Jean C. Gordon, writing is a natural extension of her love of reading. From that day in first grade when she realized t-h-e was the word “the,” she’s been reading everything she can put her hands on. She and her college-sweetheart husband tried the city life in Los Angeles, but quickly returned home to their native small-town Upstate New York, where she sets many of her books.
They share a 175-year-old farmhouse just south of Albany, NY, with their daughter and son-in-law, two grandchildren, and a menagerie of pets. Their son lives nearby. While Jean creates stories, her family grows organic fruits and vegetables and tends the livestock de jour.
A founding member of the Capital Region Romance Writers (Albany, NY), Jean currently serves as membership chair. She’s also a member of the Romance Writers of America and its Faith, Hope and Love Chapter, and Novelists, Inc.
Jean is currently working on a Christmas novella for the Small Town Christmas Wishes multi-author series, releasing this fall, and looking forward to writing a second book in the Sweet Promise Press No Brides Club series.
“A mechanic? Seriously, Sonja?”
Jeff Brewster stopped, drinks in hand, several feet away from Sonja Cooper and the man who was questioning her. Sonja’s ex-husband, he assumed. Although they hadn’t been formally introduced, the impeccably dressed man was around the right age and had been seated in the bride’s family pew at the wedding with Sonja, little Shelley, and Sonja’s cousin.
“I thought the whole purpose behind your ridiculous move to Indigo Bay was to be independent and better your situation.”
The man’s voice should have been dimmed by the hum of voices filling the ballroom of the soon-to-be open Morrison Mansion B&B, owned by Sonja and Jeff’s son Jesse. But it came through to Jeff loud and clear.
The guy continued, “I take time out of my work schedule to fly down here … and this is what I find. You should have remembered that the national sales conference is always around this time and how much work that means for me. I get here and find out she doesn’t want me to give her away or even participate in the ceremony.”
As uncomfortable as he felt eavesdropping, Jeff stayed rooted to the spot where he’d stopped. Sonja might need him.
“Can you blame her after the way you left us with no financial support to go start a new family?” Sonja said.
“And your solution to your and Lauren’s financial needs was to spend what money you did have to move nearly 900 miles away from everyone you knew and hook up with a guy who fixes motorcycles? ”
Sonja’s back went ramrod straight, and Jeff was surprised that her ex wasn’t pushed backward by the anger radiating from her. ‘That comment doesn’t deserve a response. I have not, nor do I ever plan to, get myself into a relationship where I’m depending on a man again for anything.”
Jeff’s gut clenched. He and Sonja weren’t anything more than in-laws, grandparents who shared his son’s daughter Shelley, possibly friends. But Sonja’s lack of words in his defense and her vehemence about not depending on a man laid open buried wounds about failing his deceased wife when she’d needed him most. Sonja’s ex was right about him not having anything to offer her. Everything he’d had had gone to his wife’s medical bills.
Not that he was about to offer Sonja anything but the drink he held. He forced his seemingly weighted feet into action and finished crossing the room to Sonja.
“Here’s that drink you wanted.”
She turned around. Her eyes narrowed.
Jeff halted. Did not depending on men include him delivering the drink he’d offered to get her? He was getting one for himself after all. He hesitated, the drink between them.
In a 180 turnaround, her face came to life, making her look far too young to have a twenty-eight-eight-year-old daughter. “Thanks, Jeff.”
He released his held breath and handed her the drink, sizing up the man standing across from Sonja. The guy was shorter than him and the tailored suit he wore didn’t quite hide the paunch in what may have once been an athletic physique. Jeff tightened his stomach muscles. One thing he could say about manual labor, it was a great workout.
“I don’t think you’ve met Tom Cooper, Lauren’s father,” Sonja said.
Lauren’s father, not her ex-husband. Interesting.
“Tom, this is Jeff Brewster, Jesse’s father.”
Again with the father stuff. But what did he expect? He was Jesse’s father. And Shelley’s grandfather. Why did that make him sound so old? Being a grandfather did not change the fact that he was only forty-seven.
Jeff accepted Tom’s offered hand, gripping it a shade too hard for the handshake and noticing the softness despite the guy’s tightening grip. “Nice to meet you,” Jeff said, feeling anything but nice. The guy’s soft hands and the casual, comfortable way he wore his suit, shouted money to Jeff. As for himself, it took all of his will power not to run his finger around the constricting collar of his tuxedo shirt when Tom released his hand. In the past when he’d had to dress up, he’d had his deceased wife, Shelley, to gently stop him from fiddling with his tie or collar button. He couldn’t expect Sonja to do the same. So why was he searching her face for help?
Sonja broke their eye contact. “I need to go check with the banquet coordinator. Thanks for the drink.”
“And I have a plane to catch,” Tom said.
Seriously? The man wasn’t even staying for his daughter’s wedding reception?
Sonja headed off in one direction and her ex in another direction, leaving Jeff in the middle of the room taking a swig of his beer and trying to figure out what had just happened.
Sonja slipped into the kitchen adjacent to the ballroom, clenching her hands. She could tell herself that she wasn’t running away from Jeff and Tom. But she didn’t lie, especially to herself. Not anymore. She should have prepared herself for Tom, known that he would bail on Lauren. He always did. Why would Lauren’s marriage celebration be any different? He hadn’t even RSVPed. Even though Lauren had said his presence didn’t matter, Sonja had broken down and called him a couple of weeks ago and gotten a noncommittal “I’m trying to work it in.” She had every right to be angry with Tom.
Jeff was another story. His ruggedly handsome face and the perplexed look on it when she’d made her getaway flashed in her mind. Her anger had spread over to him for no apparent reason except he was a man.
And a friend. Yes, he was a friend who had proven a great help renovating the manor and with baby Shelley. But she couldn’t let that friendship get in the way of her self sufficiency, of the success of the B&B. She could too easily see falling into a comfortable routine of relying on him, letting their relationship take over her life. Something that after Tom’s abandonment, she’d vowed to never get into again.
“Ms. Cooper, is something wrong?” the banquet coordinator asked.
Sonja swallowed the distaste in her mouth. She was already doing it, letting a man cloud her mind. “No, everything is lovely.” She pasted a smile on her face. “I came in to tell you that and ask you to let the DJ know there won’t be a father-daughter dance. Lauren’s father had to leave.”
“Here you are, Mom.” Lauren walked into the kitchen, saving Sonja from any awkwardness about sharing that the father of the bride had left.
“Yes,” Sonja said. “You know how I am about checking all the details. This is my only child’s wedding reception.” She bustled over and adjusted the skirt of Lauren’s dress before the swinging door closed on it.
Her daughter’s eyes twinkled. “And the first event at the Morrison Mansion B&B. It’s okay. Jesse and I have a stake in the success, too.”
Sonja flushed. “Right. End of business talk for the day.”
“Except for wedding business,” Lauren said, turning to the banquet coordinator. “We’re ready for dinner to be served any time now.”
“Everything’s set. I’ll have the servers bring out the salads.”
Sonja held the door for Lauren and then stepped into the ballroom herself.
“I changed the head table seating so that Jeff is beside you, rather than him being on the being on the other side of Jesse,” Lauren said
Sonja released the door and it snapped shut. She’d be fine with Jeff on the other side of Jesse—or on the other side of the room, so she wouldn’t be tempted by her attraction to him. “That’s fine.” It wasn’t as if she couldn’t have a friendly conversation with him.
“And I moved Aunt Sari to the head table on your other side, since she’s the only relative here from our family and doesn’t know anyone she was seated with. I figured we didn’t need a seat there for Dad, so why not.”
“You know he left?”
Sonja touched her daughter’s arm. “I’m sorry about that, hon.”
“It’s no more or less than I expected of him, and you have no reason to apologize.”
“You’re right. Old habits.” And not ones she was about to fall back into.
When they reached the head table, Sonja eyed the three empty seats and the place cards, while her new son-in-law Jesse pulled out Lauren’s chair for her.
Hmm, I could switch my card with Sari’s. Then it would be me, then Sari, then Jeff. Jeff and Sari would get along. And she could avoid any inadvertent physical contact with Jeff during dinner. Staring at the cards, Sonja asked, “Where is Sari?”
“She and Dad went to get some hors d’oeuvres,” Jesse answered.
Sonja glanced at the food table and saw Jeff and Sari heading toward her. He solicitously balanced both of their plates in one hand and gripped Sari’s left elbow while Sari maneuvered her cane with her right hand. Sari had commented this morning how glad she was that her progressing MS symptoms had stayed in remission so she only needed her cane to get around. Sonja’s chest burned and she dropped her head. What was with her? She couldn’t be jealous. She and Sari were more like sisters than cousins. Sari deserved to enjoy herself with Jeff or whoever.
Sonja rearranged the cards so that Jeff was seated between her and Sari and moved her chair to put some space between her and Jeff. During dinner, he platonically divided his attention between her and Sari. Sonja relaxed. She’d let the confrontation with her ex unsettle her. There was nothing between her and Jeff. Sonja’s heart swelled as she watched Lauren and Jesse step out onto the dance floor for the first dance. She hugged her granddaughter Shelley on her lap.
“Now, will the bride’s and groom’s parents join them?”
Sonja stiffened. Lauren hadn’t instructed the DJ to skip that? Her eyes narrowed at the smile her daughter gave her from the dance floor. Or was Lauren matchmaking?
“That’s us.” Jeff stood and reached for the back of her chair.
“I’ll take Shelley,” Sari said as if sensing her reluctance and the excuse on her lips.
Sonja rose as Jeff pulled her chair out. She placed Shelley in Sari’s outstretched hands. It was only a dance.
“Grammy and Papa are going to dance,” Sari said. “We’ll watch them.”
Sonja waited while Shelley grabbed a chocolate from the dish Jeff had moved out of her reach in front of Sari and settled in with no protest.
“Daddy Jesse and Ren dance,” the three-year-old said, pointing at her father and stepmother.
“Yep, we’ll watch them, too.”
Warmth poured through Sonja at the child’s solemn nod. The little darling had adapted surprisingly well to her mother’s death and her abrupt transition to the father she hadn’t known—a father who hadn’t even known she existed.
Jeff took Sonja’s hand to lead her onto the dance floor. The corresponding tingle up her arm had nothing to do with his slightly rough working man’s hand wrapped firmly around hers. No, Shelley leaning against her arm must have made it go to sleep.
“Here they are,” the DJ said. “Let’s have a hand for Sonja Cooper and Jeff Brewster.”
Sonja reached up and placed her left hand on Jeff’s shoulder and he folded his left hand around her right. Lauren had set them up. She snuck a glance at Jeff. A half-smile teased his lips. Or maybe they had set her up. She dismissed that thought as quickly as it came. Jeff was just better at going with the flow than she was.
As the clapping died down, the strains of the new song broke through.
“I’ll Always Love You” by Taylor Dayne. Bet this brings back memories,” the DJ yammered.
It did, and not good ones.
Maybe not good for him, either.
He tightened his hold on her hand and pulled her closer to him. “We … I danced to this at my wedding.”
His voice was so soft, Sonja wasn’t sure whether he was talking to her or his thoughts had simply escaped him.
Jeff’s heart appeared to still belong to his deceased wife. Sonja relaxed and allowed herself to enjoy dancing in the arms of a handsome man. Any attraction she’d imagined Jeff might have to her was just that—in her imagination. He circled her around, and she let her head rest for a moment on his warm, solid chest. Knowing that Jeff wasn’t looking for anything romantic from her would make it easy for her to keep her distance and quash the silly thoughts and fears she’d had earlier.
Easy once their dance was over, anyway.
Jeff escorted Sonja back to the table and made a beeline for the bar. What he didn’t know about women could fill Indigo Bay. The body-of-water bay. Maybe the Atlantic Ocean. Sweat trickled down his spine as if he’d just finished a marathon, rather than a slow dance. When he reached the bar, he changed directions. Fresh air would do him far more good than the shots of Jameson he’d been contemplating. He ducked out a side door into the summer evening, which wasn’t any cooler than the ballroom, but a lot quieter.
He jammed his fingers through his hair. Either he was crazy, or Sonja was sending him mixed signals that were driving him crazy. He had heard her tell her ex that she never wanted to be dependent on a man again, which had sounded like a keep-out sign to any man within hearing distance. A message that she had no interest in a relationship or dating or whatever it was consenting adults did these days. What did he know? He hadn’t been with anyone but his wife in thirty years.
But, then, he and Sonja had started dancing. He’d caught himself getting lost in the song and memories, pulling Sonja closer before he’d come to his senses. He’d checked himself and started to pull back, only to have her rest her cheek on his chest, lulling him into peaceful enjoyment. When the song had ended, she’d been out of his arms in a flash and headed back to the table. His first thought for avoiding the turmoil he was in was to keep his distance, avoid her as much as possible. Which as in-laws should be doable. Except he and Sonja were jointly caring for little Shelley while Jesse and Lauren were on their four-week honeymoon cruise.
A bolt of lightning streaked across the dusky sky followed by a clap of thunder. He’d better get back inside before the sky opened up on his rented tux.
“Papa, cake!” Shelley shouted when he got within sight of the head table.
He must have missed the cake cutting.
“I got you a piece,” Sari said.
“Thanks.” He took his seat and Shelley scrambled over from Sonja’s lap to his, but not before he caught Sonja’s glare. Was the cake cutting something the groom’s father was supposed to be present for? Or was the glare for Sari making sure he got a slice?
“Frosting.” Shelley dipped her finger in the frosting flower on his cake and stuck it in her mouth.
“Yep.” He kissed the top of his granddaughter’s head, while Sonja gently extracted Shelley’s finger and wiped it and her face with a napkin.
Their gazes connected. He smiled. Sonja frowned. What was a little frosting? Or maybe that wasn’t what had earned him the frown. Jeff concentrated on his cake and his granddaughter, glad that he only had one kid. These family weddings were murder on the nerves.
Jesse and Lauren finished making their rounds in preparation for leaving and returned to the head table. Jeff stood, hoisted Shelley to his hip, and placed his other hand on the back of Sonja’s chair to pull it out for her. Maybe he’d get a point for good manners. The five of them walked out of the ballroom into the hall.
“You guys are all set?” Jesse asked wrapping his arm around his wife’s waist.
“You have our itinerary and how to reach us if you need to?” Lauren asked.
“Yes,” Jeff assured them. “It’s not like we’re novices at this.”
“We’ll Skype when we can,” Lauren said.
“We’ll be fine,” Sonja said.
Jeff rubbed noses with Shelley. Finally, something he and Sonja agreed on.
Jesse held his arms out for his daughter. “Give Daddy and Lauren kisses and hugs. It’s time for us to go on our wedding trip. Remember, you’re going to stay with Grammy and Papa.”
Shelley nodded. “Stay with Grammy and Papa. Jesse Daddy and Ren go bye-bye.”
Jesse and Lauren enveloped the little girl in a three-way hug. When they broke apart, Jesse said, “We could stop by tomorrow morning early, before we have to be at the airport.”
“Two goodbyes may not be a good idea,” Sonja said, stepping forward to give Lauren a farewell hug while Jesse handed Shelley back to Jeff.
“You’re probably right,” Jesse said opening his arms to Sonja’s goodbye hug.
Jeff bounced Shelley and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He wasn’t a hugger. Jesse got that from his mother. “You guys have a great time. Don’t worry about anything.”
Jeff and Sonja and Shelley watched, waving until Jesse and Lauren disappeared into the front hall and out the main door.
“More cake?” Shelley asked pointing over Jeff’s shoulder toward the ballroom.
“Sure, we can go see what we can find,” he answered.
Sonja had opened her mouth at the same time as him and snapped it shut.
Jeff knew as well as Sonja did that Shelley didn’t need more cake. But the goodbyes had gone so well, he didn’t want to upset things over something as small as cake. He and Sonja could have trouble soon enough when Shelley realized that her sleepover with Grammy wasn’t the familiar one night. He was sort of prepared for that with a set of twenty-five blocks he’d made that had pictures of the places Jesse and Lauren would be visiting on the cruise. The blocks fit together into a little house. He’d figured them working on the house every day and talking about what her parents were doing might help and give her a sense of time until they got home.
Sonja had nothing to say on the short walk back to the ballroom, where Jeff wove around the tables with his granddaughter in search of cake, ending at the head table and Sonja
“No cake.” Shelley lifted her hands palms up and shook her head. “Time for stories.”
“Thank you, I see what you were doing now,” Sonja said, her praise warming him more than it should.
“Okay, we’ll go upstairs to Grammy’s and get your jammies on for stories.” Sonja held her arms out for Shelley.
Jeff stifled a sigh. He was more than ready to head down to the beach to his place, the mansion’s former caretaker’s cottage, lose the tux and unwind. The three of them retraced their steps to the stairway, where Sonja started up to her third-floor living area and he started toward the door.
“No, no, no!” Shelley said, straining to reach over the polished oak railing to Jess. “Papa, stories. Papa night-night at Grammy’s”
His gaze locked with Sonja’s and the indecision in her eyes matched his. She pressed her lips together and nodded almost unperceptively at the stairs. He took another step.
“Papa!” Shelley screamed, loud enough for the remaining guests to hear her in the ballroom.
With Jesse, he would have continued down the stairs, feeling he shouldn’t give in to a child’s demands. But this was his granddaughter, and he hadn’t had the greatest relationship with his son until the past few years, after his wife had died. Jeff looked over his shoulder to the little girl’s tear-stained face and Sonja’s weary looking one. He and Sonja were sharing the responsibility for Shelley. He shouldn’t dump it on Sonja and bolt.
“It’s okay, sweetie, Papa is just going downstairs to make sure the front door is locked.” Which he’d do so he wasn’t lying to the kid.
Shelley sniffled. “Okay. Then stories.”
“Definitely.” Jeff caught what he thought was relief in Sonja’s eyes and bounded to the door.
His ascent after locking the door was slower, his feet weighted by a churning in his gut. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been up to Sonja’s flat on the top floor of the mansion before, just the two of them. He’d installed her dishwasher, put in the programmable thermostats, and done other home maintenance. Stayed for lunch a couple of times. But overhearing her talking to her ex at the reception had made everything weird, like he was a guest, not a friend, not family.
He could ignore that, read Shelley a couple of stories, and leave. Of course he could.