WELCOME TO MOONLIGHT HARBOR by Sheila Roberts, Women’s Fiction, 400 pp., $7.99 (Paperback) $6.99
|Welcome to Moonlight Harbor|
Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Still, Jenna is determined follow her mother’s philosophy – 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 remembered, 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.
It was going to take a while for her to get as jovial as the others (like about a million years) considering what she’d just gotten for her birthday. A divorce.
“Here’s to being free of rotten scum-sucking, cheating husbands,” toasted Celeste, sister of the guest of honor. She was thirty-five, single, and always in a party mood.
The birthday girl, Jenna Jones, formerly Jenna Petit, took another sip of her mojito. She could get completely sloshed if she wanted. She wasn’t driving and she didn’t have to worry about setting a good example for her daughter, Sabrina, who was spending the night with Grandma. Later, if they could still work their cell phones, the gang would be calling Uber and getting driven home and poured into their houses or, in the case of sister Celeste, apartments, so there was no need to worry about driving drunk. But Jenna wasn’t a big drinker, even when she was in a party mood, and tonight she was as far from that as a woman could get.
What was there to party about when you were getting divorced and turning (ick!) forty? Still, that mojito was going down pretty easily. And she was inhaling the chips and salsa. At the rate she was going she’d be getting five extra pounds for her birthday as well as a divorce.
“Just think, you can make a whole new start,” said her best friend Brittany. Brittany was happily married with three kids. What did she know about new starts? Still, she was trying to put a positive spin on things.
“And who knows? Maybe the second time around you’ll meet a business tycoon” said Jenna’s other bestie, Vanita.
“Or someone who works at Amazon and owns lots of stock,” put in Celeste.
“I’d take the stock in a heartbeat,” Jenna said, “but I’m so over men.” She’d given up on love. Maybe, judging from the chewed fingernails and grown-out highlights in her hair, she’d given up on herself, too. She felt shipwrecked. What was the point of building a rescue fire? The next ship to come along would probably also flounder.
“No, you’re over man,” Brittany corrected. “You can’t give up on the whole species because of one loser. You don’t want to go through the rest of your life celibate.” She shuddered as if celibacy was akin to leprosy.
“Anyway, there’s some good ones out there somewhere,” said Vanita, who, at thirty-six, was still single and looking. “They’re just hiding,” she added with a guffaw, and took another drink of her Margarita.
“That’s for sure,” Celeste agreed, who was also looking now that This-is-it Relationship Number Three had died. With her green eyes, platinum hair, pouty lips and perfect body, it probably wouldn’t take her long to find a replacement. “Men. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t …” Her brows furrowed. “Live with ‘em.”
Jenna hadn’t been able to live with hers, that was for sure, not once she learned Mr. Sensitive Artist had another muse on the side – a redhead who painted murals and was equally sensitive. And had big boobs. That had nothing to do with why they were together, Damien had insisted. They were soul mates.
Funny, he’d said the same thing to Jenna once. It looked like some souls could have as many mates as they wanted.
Damien Petit, handsome, charming… rat. When they first got together Jenna had thought he was brilliant. They’d met at a club in the U District. He’d been the darling of the University of Washington Art Department. He’d looked like a work of art, himself, with brooding eyes and the perfectly chiseled features of a marble statue. She’d been going to school to become a massage therapist. She, who had never gotten beyond painting tiles and decorating cakes, had been in awe. A real artist. His medium was un-recyclable detritus. Junk.
Too bad she hadn’t seen the symbolism in that back when they first got together. All she’d seen was his creativity.
She was seeing that in full bloom now. Damien had certainly found a creative way to support himself and his new woman – on spousal support from Jenna.
Seriously? She’d barely be able to support herself and Sabrina once the dust settled.
Nonetheless, the court had deemed that she had been the main support of the family and poor, struggling artist Damien needed transitional help while he readied himself to get out there in the big, bad world and earn money on his own. Her reward for being the responsible one in the marriage was to support the irresponsible one. So now, he was living in the basement of his parent’s house, cozy as a cockroach with the new woman, and Jenna was footing the bill for their art supplies. Was this fair? Was this right? Was this any way to start off her fortieth year?
Her sister nudged her. “Hey, smile. We’re having fun here.”
Jenna forced a smile. “Fun.”
“You can’t keep brooding about the junk jerk.”
“I’m not,” Jenna lied.
“Yeah, you are. I can see it in your eyes.”
“I know it’s not fair you have to pay him money,” put in Brittany, “but that’s how things work today. You know, women’s rights and all. If men can pay us spousal support we can pay them, too.”
“Since when does women’s rights give your ex the right to skip off like a fifteen-year old with his new bimbo and you pay for the fun?” Jenna demanded.
It was sick and wrong. She’d carried him for years, working as a massage therapist while he dabbled away, selling a piece of art here and there. They’d lived on her salary supplemented by an annual check at Christmas from his folks, who wanted to encourage him to pursue his dream of artistic success, and grocery care packages from her mom, who worked as a checker at the local Safeway. And the grandparents, God bless them, had always given her a nice, fat check for her birthday. Shocking how quickly those fat checks always shrank. Damien drank up money like a thirsty plant, investing it in his art … and certain substances to help him with his creative process.
Maybe everyone shouldn’t have helped them so much. Maybe they should have let Damien become a starving artist, literally. Then he might have grown up and manned up and gotten a job.
They’d had more than one discussion about that. “And when,” he’d demanded, “am I supposed to do my art?”
He’d looked heavenward and shaken his head. “As if you can just turn on creativity like a faucet.”
One of Jenna’s clients was an aspiring writer with a family, who worked thirty hours a week. She managed to turn on the faucet every Saturday morning.
There was obviously something wrong with Damien’s pipes. “I need time to think, time for things to come together.”
Something had come together all right. With Aurora Ansel, whose mother had obviously watched one too many Disney movies.
Jenna probably should have packed it in long before Aurora came slinking along, admitted what she’d known after only a couple of years into the marriage that it had been a mistake. But after she’d gotten pregnant she’d wanted desperately to make things work, so she’d kept her head down and kept ploughing forward through rough waters.
Now she and Damien were through and it still didn’t look like clear sailing ahead. Sigh.
“Game time,” Celeste announced. We are going to see who can wish the worst fate on the scum-sucking cheater. I have a prize for the winner.” She dug in her capacious Michael Kors purse and pulled out a Seattle Chocolates chocolate bar and everyone, including the birthday girl let out an “ooh.”
“Okay, I’ll go first,” Brittany said. “May he fall in a dumpster looking for junk and not be able to climb out.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Jenna said, and did.
“Oh, that’s lame,” scoffed Vanita.
“So, you think you can do better?” Brittany challenged.
“Absolutely,” she said, flipping her long, black hair. “May he wind up in the Museum of Bad Art.”
“There is such a thing?” Jenna asked.
“Oh, yeah.” Vanita grinned.
“Ha!” Celeste crowed. “That would serve him right.”
Jenna shook her head. “That will never be happen. To be fair, he is good.”
“Good at being a cheating scum sucker,” Celeste said and took a drink.
Vanita tried again. “Okay, then, how about this one? May a thousand camels spit on his work.”
“Or a thousand first-graders,” added Celeste, who taught first grade.
“How about this one? May the ghost of Van Gogh haunt him and cut off his ear,” Brittany offered.
Vanita made a face and set down the chip she was about to bite into. “Eeew.”
“Eew is right,” Jenna agreed. “But I’m feeling bloodthirsty tonight so I’ll drink to that. I think that one’s your winner,” she said to her sister.
Celeste shook her head. “Oh, no. I can do better than that.”
“Go for it,” urged Brittany.
Celeste’s smile turned wicked. “May his ‘paint brush’ shrivel and fall off.”
“And to think you teach children,” Jenna said, rolling her eyes.
Nonetheless, the double entendre had them all laughing uproariously.
“Okay, I win the chocolate,” Celeste said.
“You haven’t given Jenna a chance,” pointed out Brittany.
“Go ahead, try and beat that,” Celeste said, waving the chocolate bar in front of Jenna.
“I can’t. It’s yours.”
Their waiter, a cute twenty-something Latino, came over. “Are you ladies ready for another drink?”
“We’d better eat,” Jenna said. Her mojito was going to her head.
Celeste overrode her. “We’ve got plenty of night left. Bring us more drinks,” she told the waiter. “And more chips.” She held up the empty bowl.
“Anything you ladies want,” he said, and smiled at Jenna.
Celeste nudged her as he walked away. “Did you hear that? Anything you want.”
“Not in the market,” Jenna said firmly, shaking her head and making the sombrero wobble. Tonight she hated men.
But, she decided, she did like mojitos, and her second one went down just fine.
So did the third. Olé.
Saturday morning, she woke up with gremlins sandblasting her brain and her mouth tasting like she’d feasted on cat litter instead of enchiladas. She rolled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom where she tried to silence the gremlins with aspirin and a huge glass of water. Then she made the mistake of looking in the mirror.
Ugh. Who was that woman with the ratty, long, blond-gone hair? Her bloodshot eyes were more red than blue and the circles under them made her look a decade older than what she’d just turned. Well, she felt a decade older than what she’d just turned.
A shower would help. Maybe.
Or maybe not. She still didn’t look so hot, even after she’d blown out her hair and put on some make-up. But oh, well. At least the gremlins had taken a lunch break.
She got in her ten-year-old Toyota (thank God they made those cars to run forever – this one would have to) and drove to her mother’s house to pick up her daughter.
She found her mother stretched out on the couch with a romance novel. Unlike her daughter, she looked rested, refreshed, and ready for a new day. In her early sixties, she was still an attractive woman, slender with a youthful face and the gray hairs well hidden under a sandy brown that was only slightly lighter than her original color.
“Hello, birthday girl,” Mom greeted her. “Did you have fun last night?”
As the night wore on she’d been distracted from her misery. That probably counted as fun, so she said, “Yes.”
“Looks like you could use some coffee,” Mom said, and led her into the kitchen.
“How’s my baby?” Jenna asked.
“She’s good. She just got in the shower. We stayed up late last night.”
Jenna settled at the kitchen table. “What did she think of your taste in movies?”
“She was impressed, naturally. Every girl should have to watch Pretty in Pink and Jane Eyre.”
“And?” Jenna prompted.
“Okay, so I showed her Grease. It’s a classic.”
“About hoods and ho’s.”
“I don’t know how you can say that about an iconic movie,” Mom said. “Anyway, I explained a few things to her, so it came with a moral.”
“What? You, too, can look like Olivia Newton John?”
Mom shrugged. “Something like that. Now, tell me. What all did you girls do?”
“Not much. We just went out for dinner.”
“Dinner is nice,” Mom said, and set a cup of coffee in front of Jenna. She pulled a bottle of Jenna’s favorite caramel flavored creamer from the fridge and set it on the table and watched while Jenna poured in a generous slosh. “I know this is going to be the beginning of a wonderful new year for you.”
“I have no way to go but up.”
“That’s right. And you know…”
“Every storm brings a rainbow,” Jenna finished with her.
“I firmly believe that.”
And Mom should know. She’d had her share of storms. “I don’t know how you did it,” Jenna said. “Surviving losing dad when we were so young, raising us single-handedly.”
“Hardly single-handedly. I had Gram and Gramps and Grandma and Grandpa Jones, as well. Yes, we each have to fight our own fight, but God always puts someone in our corner to help us.”
“I’m glad you’re in my corner,” Jenna said. “You’re my hero.”
Jenna had been almost five and Celeste a baby when their father had been killed in a car accident. Sudden, no chance for her mom to say good-bye. There was little that Jenna remembered about her father beyond sitting on his shoulders when they milled with the crowd at the Puyallup Fair or stood watching the Seafair parade in downtown Seattle, that and the scrape of his five o’clock shadow when he kissed her goodnight.
What stuck in her mind most was her mom, holding her on her lap, sitting at this very kitchen table and saying to Gram, “He was my everything.”
That read well in books, but maybe in real life it wasn’t good to make a man your everything. Even the good ones left you.
At least her dad hadn’t left voluntarily. Her mom had chosen a good man. So had Gram, whose husband was also gone now. Both women had picked wisely and knew what good looked like.
Too bad Jenna hadn’t listened to them when they tried to warn her about Damien. “Honey, there’s no hurry,” Mom had said.
Yes, there was. She’d wanted to be with him NOW.
“Are you sure he’s what you really want?” Gram had asked. “He seems a little…”
“What?” Jenna had prompted.
“Egotistical,” Gram had ventured.
“He’s confident,” Jenna had replied. “There’s a difference.”
“Yes, there is,” Gram had said. “Are you sure you know what it is?” she’d added, making Jenna scowl.
“I’m just not sure he’s the right man for you,” Mom had worried.
“Of course, he is,” Jenna had insisted, because at twenty-three she knew it all. And Damien had been so glamorous, so exciting. Look how well their names went together – Damien and Jenna, Jenna and Damien. Oh, yes, perfect.
And so it was for a time… until she began to see the flaws. Gram had been right, he was egotistical. Narcissistic. Irresponsible. Those flaws she could live with. Those she did live with. But then came the one flaw she couldn’t accept. Unfaithful.
Not that he’d asked her to accept it. Not that he’d asked her to keep him. Or even to forgive him. “I can’t help how I feel,” he’d said.
That was it. Harsh reality came in like a strong wind and blew away the last of the fantasy.
But, here was Mom, living proof that a woman could survive the loss of her love, could climb out of the rubble after all her dreams collapsed and rebuild. She’d worked hard at a job that kept her on her feet all day and had still managed to make PTA meetings. She’d hosted tea parties when her girls were little and sleepovers when they became teenagers. And, in between all that, she’d managed to make time for herself, starting a book club with some of the neighbors. That book club still met every month. And Mom still found time for sleepovers, now with her granddaughter.
Surely, if her mom could overcome the loss of her man, Jenna could overcome the loss of what she’d thought her man was.
Mom smiled at her and slid a card-sized envelope across the table. “Happy birthday.”
“You already gave me my birthday present,” Jenna said. Mom had given her a motivational book about new beginnings by Muriel Sterling with a fifty-dollar bill tucked inside. Jenna would read the book (once she was ready to face the fact that she did, indeed, have to make a new beginning) and she planned to hoard the fifty like a miser. You could buy a lot of lentils and beans with fifty bucks.
“This isn’t from me. It’s from your Aunt Edie.”
She hadn’t seen her great aunt in years, but she had fond memories of those childhood summer visits with her at Moonlight Harbor – beach combing for agates, baking cookies with Aunt Edie while her parrot Jolly Roger squawked all the silly things Uncle Ralph had taught him, listening to the waves crash as she lay in the old antique bed in the guest room at night with her sister. She remembered digging clams with Uncle Ralph, sitting next to her mother in front of a roaring beach fire, using her arm to shield her face from the heat of the flame as she roasted a hot dog. Those visits had been as golden as the sunsets.
But after getting together with Damien, life had filled with drama and responsibilities, and, after one quick visit, the beach town on the Washington Coast had faded into a memory. Maybe she’d spend that birthday money Mom had given her and go see Aunt Edie.
She pulled the card out of the envelope. All pastel flowers and birds, the outside read For a Lovely Niece. The inside had a sappy poem telling her she was special and wishing her joy in everything she did, and was signed, Love, Aunt Edie. No Uncle Ralph. He’d been gone for several years.
Aunt Edie had stuffed a letter inside the card. The writing was small, like her aunt. But firm, in spite of her age.
I know you’ve gone through some very hard times, but I also know that like all the women in our family, you are strong and you’ll come through just fine.
Your grandmother told me you could use a new start and I would like to give it to you. I want you to come to Moonlight Harbor and help me revamp and run The Driftwood Inn. Like me, it’s getting old and it needs some help. I plan to bequeath it to you on my death. The will is already drawn up, signed and witnessed, so I hope you won’t refuse my offer.
Of course, I know your cousin Winston would love to get his grubby mitts on it, but he won’t. The boy is useless. And besides, you know I’ve always had a soft spot for you in my heart. You’re a good girl who’s always been kind enough to send Christmas cards and homemade fudge for my birthday. Uncle Ralph loved you like a daughter. So do I, and since we never had children of our own you’re the closest thing I have to one. I know your mother and grandmother won’t mind sharing.
Please say you’ll come.
Love, Aunt Edie
Jenna hardly knew what to say. “She wants to leave me the motel.” She had to be misreading.
She checked again. No, there it was, in Aunt Edie’s tight little scrawl.
Mom smiled. “I think this could be your rainbow.”
Not just the rainbow, the pot of gold as well!
Sheila Roberts lives on the water in the Pacific Northwest. Her books have been printed in several different languages and have been chosen for book clubs such as Doubleday as well as for Readers Digest Condensed books. Her best-selling novel ON STRIKE FOR CHRISTMAS was made into a movie and appeared on the Lifetime Movie Network, and her novel THE NINE LIVES OF CHRISTMAS was made into a movie for the Hallmark Channel.When she’s not making public appearances or playing with her friends, she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.
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Review of Welcome to Moonlight Harbor
Review (5 Stars): Jenna feels as though her world is caving in. She is getting a divorce from her cheating ex-husband who has decided that he was going to move in with his younger muse and to top it off, she has to pay spousal support so he can pursue his “art.” Just when she is ready to drown her sorrows continually, she receives a letter from her Aunt Edie who gives her a chance to make a fresh start by coming down to Moonlight Harbor and help her run The Driftwood Inn. To Jenna, this is the perfect way to pick up the pieces and she can’t wait to head off on her new adventure. What she finds there is a teenage daughter, who is upset at leaving everything that she has ever known behind and hotel that needs more than just a little TLC. Jenna now has the opportunity to meet new friends, especially cute ones and a chance to finally feel like she is home, if she can just get past her doubts first.
Welcome to Moonlight Harbor was a wonderful second chance story and I was cheering for Jenna the entire time. She needed a place to start her life over after divorcing her jerk of an ex-husband and this was the perfect place to start. Aunt Edie was wonderful and I wish that each of us had someone like her in each of our lives to be there to support us when we needed it. This was a great story by an amazing author and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Sheila Roberts novel.