Carol Award finalist
Booksellers’ Best Award finalist
Revell, ©2020, ISBN 978-0800736149
A year ago, ex–Delta Force operator Steven Roark left the rigors of combat behind to run fishing charters in Hope Harbor, decompress, and talk some sense into his kid brother. Business is good—but making peace with his past is more challenging than he expected. First-grade teacher Holly Miller leads a low-profile existence—until she’s recruited to advocate for a cause that’s dear to her heart. When she solicits Steven’s assistance, sparks fly—especially after they find themselves on opposite sides of an issue that disrupts their placid seaside community. As these two seemingly incompatible souls wrestle with their differences, might they discover more common ground than they expect—and a future filled with promise?
Come home to Hope Harbor—
where hearts heal…and love blooms.
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“Multifaceted...Fans will be overjoyed by this complex, stirring tale.”—Publishers Weekly
“A pitch-perfect contemporary romance novel by a gifted author who is a complete master of the genre.”—Midwest Book Review
“An incredible story of finding healing and forgiveness and even life in the town of Hope Harbor. If you love contemporary romance that deals with overcoming hard life issues in the fight for love and community, you’ll love Starfish Pier.”—Relz Reviewz
“There aren't any words to convey all the awesomeness within the pages of all the Hope Harbor books. Love the way the author has created so many memorable characters in a town so aptly named because it's brimming with hope. I finished Starfish Pier feeling buoyed up. Hopeful. Comforted. Encouraged…The perfect message for these uncertain times. My heart is full.”—Best Reads 2010-2020
Maybe coming back to Oregon had been a mistake.
Expelling a breath, Steven Roark moved to the stern of the twenty-two-foot fishing boat where he spent his days and double-checked the cleat hitch knot on the mooring line.
Which was more than he could say for his place in the world—or in Hope Harbor.
He ducked into the foldaway canvas enclosure that offered a modicum of protection to charter clients on blustery, cold days—like this late March Saturday—and dropped into a deck chair, massaging his forehead.
From a business standpoint, the day had been productive. For this early in the spring, steelheads had been running better than usual on the river at the north end of town, and his customers had left satisfied with their catches. One of them had even hooked a twenty-pounder.
On the personal front, however, the day was a total bust.
Steven leaned forward, flipped the latch on a storage compartment, and retrieved the envelope he’d found in his mailbox yesterday, the address penned in Cindy’s fluid, curvy handwriting.
He pulled out the card, reread the printed verse, and skimmed the best wishes jotted inside by his sister-in-law under a crudely drawn smile icon that had to be his nephew’s handiwork.
His brother hadn’t bothered to sign his own name. Cindy had done the honors for both of them.
Stomach kinking, Steven shoved the card back in the envelope and hunched forward, elbows on knees.
No one but fish, a couple of pesky seagulls, and three taciturn customers for company. No cake or festive dinner shared with friends or family. No recognition of the day by his kid brother—nor any progress in their relationship.
And if he hadn’t made any inroads with Patrick after almost a year, there wasn’t much chance his sibling would come around in the future unless the status quo changed.
While mustering out of the army had seemed like the right decision twelve months ago after Cindy’s disturbing letter arrived in the Middle East, in hindsight—
“Hello? Is anyone on board?”
Steven jerked upright and squinted through the isinglass window.
A slender, thirtysomething woman stood on the dock beside his boat, a folder clutched against her chest. As the gusty wind whipped strands of her longish, light brown hair across her face, she brushed them aside and peered into the deck enclosure.
Given the shadowed interior on this gray day—plus the fog that had rolled in—she might not be able to make out his form.
That left him two options.
He could sink lower and ignore her . . . or give himself a birthday treat and chat with an attractive woman for a few minutes.
No contest, in light of the solitary evening that loomed ahead—providing she wasn’t here on some sort of bothersome business.
He set the card down, pushed aside the canvas that covered the opening, and emerged into the stern.
The woman hugged the folder tighter and gave him a wary once-over.
Understandable, given his disheveled state after a full day on the water and the coarse stubble that would be darkening his jaw by now.
“Can I help you?” Taking into account her poised-to-flee posture, he remained where he was.
“My name is Holly Miller. May I speak with you for a few minutes?”
Faint creases dented her brow. “On what?”
“On the reason for your visit. I’m not in the mood for a sales pitch.”
“I’m not selling anything.”
“Then we can talk.” For as long as she liked, since he had nothing more exciting to do.
How pathetic that the bright spot of his birthday was a visit from a nervous woman who looked as if she couldn’t wait to escape.
But it beat going home to an empty apartment.
“Um . . .” She surveyed the marina. “Could we sit somewhere? Like . . . back there?” She motioned toward crescent-shaped Dockside Drive, where benches and planters were placed along the sidewalk at the top of the sloping pile of boulders that led to the water.
“I have a few chores to finish here before I leave. Why don’t you come on board?”
She gave the craft a dubious sweep. “My sea legs aren’t the best.”
“There isn’t much motion in the marina.” Extending a hand, he moved toward her, toning down his usual take-charge manner. Based on her rigid stance, that sort of approach could frighten her off. “She’s easy to board, and we can sit there.” He indicated the unprotected bench seats along the edge of the stern.
It would be warmer—and far less windy—inside the portable enclosure he’d erected for today’s charter trip, but despite the windows it was safer to stay in the open. With all the misconduct allegations flying around these days, why take chances?
“Okay.” She swallowed . . . grasped his hand . . . and eased one foot onto the gunwale.
The craft gave an almost imperceptible bob as she transferred her weight, and she gasped. Tightened her grip.
“You’re fine. I’ve got you. Just step down.”
She followed his instructions, but the maneuver was downright clumsy, and the instant both her feet were on the deck she groped for the seat and collapsed onto it in an awkward sprawl.
Pretty as his visitor was, she seemed to have been shortchanged in the gracefulness department.
And the pink hue that crept over her cheeks suggested she knew that.
He took a seat at the far end of the stern, leaving plenty of space between them. “You have the floor . . . or the deck.” He hiked up one side of his mouth. Holly Miller appeared to be wound up tight as the ubiquitous black turban snails that clung to the rocks on Oregon beaches. Perhaps a touch of humor would help her chill.
Her lips remained flat—and taut—as she set the folder in her lap, picked a speck of lint off her jeans, and zipped up her windbreaker as far as it would go. “Are you familiar with the Helping Hands volunteer organization here in town?”
“Well, I’m on a committee that’s putting together a dinner auction to raise funds for a new pro-life initiative. Everyone involved is soliciting auction items. Reverend Baker at Grace Christian mentioned you as a potential donor. That’s why I’m here.”
Steven stifled a groan.
This was the thanks he got for letting Cindy not only pressure him into helping with the holiday food drive at a church to which he didn’t even belong, but allowing her to drag him across the room for an introduction to the minister.
Proving the truth of the old adage that no good deed went unpunished.
Worse yet, of all the causes his visitor could be soliciting for, why did it have to be this one?
When the silence lengthened, she cleared her throat. “I was, uh, hoping you’d consider donating a charter fishing trip for two—or four, if possible. Everyone we’ve contacted has been very generous. I spoke this morning with the owner of the Seabird Inn B&B, and he offered a weekend romance package for one of his rooms.”
If she was hoping to guilt him into donating, it wasn’t going to work.
“What will the money you raise be used for?” He could guess, but the stall tactic would buy him a few seconds to figure out how to decline without coming across as a heartless jerk.
She opened the folder on her lap, withdrew a sheet of a paper, and held it out to him. “This explains the effort in detail, but topline, we’ll establish a fund to support efforts that protect life in all its stages. One example would be providing financial assistance to abortion alternatives, like paying expenses for women who agree to carry their babies to term and linking them with adoption agencies. We may also get involved in issues like capital punishment.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What’s your beef with capital punishment?”
She met his gaze square on. “Killing is killing.”
“Putting a guilty person to death is called justice. And it keeps that person from taking other innocent lives.”
“A lifetime prison sentence does too.”
“At a huge expense to taxpayers.”
“How do you put a price on a life?”
“There are practical considerations.”
“Also ethical ones.”
Squelching the temptation to continue the debate, he skimmed the sheet she’d handed him. This wasn’t a subject on which they were going to agree, so why argue on his birthday . . . or extend an encounter that was going south? This day had been depressing enough.
“Let me think about it.” He folded the sheet into a small square, tucked it in the pocket of his jacket, and stood.
She gave a slow blink at his abrupt dismissal—but after a slight hesitation she rose too.
And almost lost her balance.
He took her arm in a firm grip. “Steady.”
“Sorry. I’m a landlubber through and through.” She flashed him a shaky smile.
That could be true—but it didn’t explain her equilibrium issues.
The same kind Patrick had on occasion.
Yet this woman, with her clear hazel eyes, didn’t strike him as the type who would struggle with his brother’s problem.
Appearances could be deceiving, though. That’s why you had to fact find, then make decisions using the evidence you uncovered . . . always keeping the greater good in mind.
At least that’s how he’d justified some of his choices in the past.
As Holly tugged free of his hold and turned to disembark, he shifted gears. “Let me go first.”
Without waiting for a reply, he hopped onto the dock and held out a hand.
After a nanosecond hesitation, she took it and climbed up onto the seat. Swayed. Stabilized after he tightened his grip.
“One more step.” Steven gave a little pull, and she heaved herself up.
He maintained a firm grip until she was on the dock beside him and wiggled her fingers to free them.
Although the lady still didn’t appear to be all that sure-footed, he relinquished his hold—but stayed close.
She tucked the folder tight against her chest again. “I appreciate your time today. If you decide to donate, you can contact Helping Hands at the number on the sheet I gave you.”
“Could I call you instead?”
The instant the words spilled out, he frowned. Where in blazes had that come from? Why would he want to have any further contact with a woman who’d run the other direction if she knew his history?
Her raised eyebrows indicated she was as surprised by the query as he was. “I, uh, suppose I could give you my phone number and email.”
No backtracking now.
He pulled out his cell. “Ready whenever you are.”
As she recited them, he tapped in the phone digits and the professional rather than personal email address. “You work for the school district?”
She offered nothing more.
Fair enough. He was a stranger, and she was smart to be cautious.
But he was no threat to her.
Nor was there much chance she’d ever hear from him again. Willing as he was to support charitable causes, this particular endeavor didn’t fit with his history.
He motioned toward Dockside Drive. “I’ll walk you to solid ground.”
“No.” She edged away, leaving a faint, pleasing floral scent in her wake. “I’ve delayed you from your chores too long already.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Thank you, but I can manage on my own.” Her chin rose a notch. “I may not have perfect balance, but I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing on your boat.”
With that, she pivoted and wobbled down the dock toward Dockside Drive.
Steven folded his arms, reining in the urge to follow along behind her in case she started to tumble. The lady had made it clear she didn’t want an arm to hold.
All she wanted was a donation.
Too bad he couldn’t accommodate her.
But after everything he’d done, God might smite him with a bolt of lightning if he tried to contribute to a pro-life cause.