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The Lakeside Inn (Paperback)

The Lakeside Inn (Paperback)

Return to Sapphire Bay, BOOK 1

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 265 5-Star Reviews

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Penny Terry loves her job as a property development manager in one of Seattle’s biggest construction companies. When tragedy strikes, she returns to Sapphire Bay to say goodbye to her grandmother and comfort her parents.

The last thing Penny or her sisters expect is to inherit the house her grandma called home. But there’s a catch—and it could change their lives forever.

Wyatt Johnson didn’t move to Sapphire Bay to be harassed by four females and a large Golden Labrador. But when the Terry sisters become his neighbors, any chance of completing his latest collection of paintings disappears under a blast of plaster dust and never-ending banging.

When Penny needs his help to solve an old family mystery, they’re drawn into a web of secrets unlike anything Sapphire Bay has ever seen.

Chapter One Look Inside

Cold, unwelcome dread filled Penny Terry’s chest as she arrived at the hospital in Polson. Her sweet, adorable grandmother was dying. There were no drugs, no alternative therapies, nothing that could change what was going to happen. 

After a frantic call from her mom, Penny had caught a late flight into Kalispell, then driven to Polson. Flying into Montana was a bittersweet moment. She loved coming home, but knowing her grandma was so sick left her heart raw.

Gripping her jacket tighter, she looked around the entranceway of the hospital. Allan, her dad, rose from a black plastic chair. His smile of welcome was burdened with grief. 

Everyone in their family was close to her grandma. With her endless smiles, crazy sense of humor, and never-ending enthusiasm for life, she lit their darkest days with happiness and joy.

Rushing across the room, Penny threw herself into her dad’s open arms.

“It’s good to see you,” her dad said. “How was your flight?”

“It was okay. How’s Grandma?”

Tears filled her dad’s eyes. “She isn’t good, but she’s looking forward to seeing you.”

Taking a deep breath, Penny blinked back her own tears. “Can I visit her now?”

“Of course, you can. The palliative care unit doesn’t have any set visiting hours.” With their arms linked, they walked toward the elevators. “Betty’s more frail than the last time you saw her.”

Before Penny left Seattle, her mom, Mabel, had tried to prepare her for the changes that had happened over the last week. Her grandma couldn’t get out of bed anymore. She’d lost weight and the large doses of pain medication had caused other issues. 

But she was still alive. She was still the same woman who’d sung to Penny and her sisters as they’d danced around the kitchen. The same woman who told them stories of princesses and dragons as they’d sat around the fire. The same woman who’d looked after the roses in her garden as if they were her children.

The elevator doors opened and Penny stepped into the palliative care unit with her dad.

“Your grandma’s down here.” Allan pointed to a different corridor than the one they’d walked down a couple of weeks ago. “People who don’t have long to live are in this area,” he added softly.

Penny swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d always known her grandma would die someday. Now that the time was close, she couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing her again.

As if sensing her mounting distress, her dad wrapped his arm around her waist. “Betty has had a wonderful life. Hold that thought close to your heart when you see her.”

All she could do was nod.

As they walked down the corridor, she saw how much the hospital had tried to soften the clinical function of the ward. Carpet tiles replaced the usual vinyl flooring. They walked past small seating areas and colorful meeting rooms. There was also a small kitchen where people could make a cup of coffee and reheat food in a microwave. But nothing could disguise the antiseptic smell of the hospital; the reason everyone was here.

She glanced at two people walking toward them. The look they shared with her bonded them in grief. They understood. They were going through the same thing themselves.

“Here’s Grandma’s room.”

Penny’s heart pounded. The plain, gray door seemed so normal compared to what was going on behind it. “Were Diana, Katie, and Barbara able to catch earlier flights?” Her sisters were scattered like leaves across the country, each pursuing careers that were as different as their personalities. They’d all booked flights for this weekend but, with Grandma’s health deteriorating, their parents had asked them to come home earlier.

Her dad looked at his watch. “I can’t believe it’s after midnight. Diana’s flight arrives in seven hours, and Katie and Barbara will be here in the afternoon. Are you ready to see your grandma?”

Penny nodded and, with a trembling hand, she opened the door. 

Sitting upright in bed, her grandma’s frail, sunken body almost disappeared against the pale linens. But when she turned her head toward Penny, the light of her gentle, loving nature still shone from her eyes.

Penny had promised herself she wouldn’t cry in front of her grandma. So, instead of showing her how upset she was, she smiled and stepped toward the woman who made her life complete. “Hi, Grandma.”

“It’s so good to see you, honey. I’m sorry about all this fuss.”

A genuine smile pulled at the corner of Penny’s mouth. It was so like her grandma to put everyone else’s needs above her own. “I’m glad I’m here. How are you feeling?”

“A little tired.”

She gently hugged her grandma. Even though Penny knew her grandma had lost weight, she was still shocked by how little there was of her. “I should have brought a triple chocolate fudge brownie for you.”

“My favorite,” Betty whispered in Penny’s ear.

Her grandma’s raspy voice brought back memories of sitting around her kitchen table, talking nonstop as they enjoyed their marathon baking sessions. 

They were precious moments, and ones she’d always treasure. “Where did Mom go?”

“For a walk. She’s spent every waking hour in here since I arrived.” Betty licked her dry lips.

Reaching for the glass of water beside the bed, Penny held the end of the straw toward her grandma. “Would you like a sip of water?”

“That would be lovely.” After having a drink, Betty sighed. “Thank you. Tell me about the apartment building you’re working on. Is it finished?”

Six months ago, she’d shown her grandma the plans for a large, multi-story building. “It should be finished in five months. We’ve already sold half the apartments.”

“Your boss will be happy.”

“I hope so.” For the last three years, Penny had been working alongside the senior property development manager at Barclays, one of the largest construction companies in Seattle. With her colleague’s upcoming retirement, she’d applied for his job. 

Marketing and selling the apartments had been her primary focus even before the foundations were laid. If she sold the remaining apartments in the next few months, she’d have a much better chance of securing the promotion.

“Sit beside me,” Betty said slowly. “I have some things I need to tell you.”

Penny’s dad was sitting in a chair on the far side of the room. He stood and smiled at them. “I’ll grab a cup of coffee while you’re talking. Would either of you like one?”

“Not for me, Dad. I had something to drink on the way to the hospital.”

Betty shook her head. “Not for me, either.”

Allan turned his worried eyes toward Penny. “Call me if you need anything.”

“I will.” After her dad left, she pulled a chair close to the bed. She didn’t know what her grandma wanted to say, but there was an urgency in her voice that hadn’t been there before. “What did you want to tell me, Grandma?”

“I’m going to die soon, honey, and there are some things you need to know.”

She didn’t know whether it was her grandma’s matter-of-fact voice or her determined expression that worried her the most. 

Holding her grandma’s hand, she told herself not to be too dramatic. Their family didn’t have any secrets that were worth repeating. They were a normal family with a very normal life. 

Or so she’d always thought.

* * *

Wyatt lifted his arms above his head and stretched. After six solid hours of painting, he needed to get rid of the kinks in his back or he wouldn’t be able to move. 

He hadn’t painted for this long in months and it felt great.

With a critical eye, he studied the canvas that had kept him so focused. Most of his paintings were of landscapes: fields of corn, glowing golden brown in the late afternoon sun; seaside cottages on the shores of endless, sky-blue lakes; or towering mountain ranges stretching into forever.

This one was different. 

His friend Ethan had challenged him to explore what it meant to be human. Three years ago, he’d given up trying to understand anything about being human. After losing his wife in a car accident, all he wanted was to be left alone.

Ethan, in his wisdom as a counselor, made it clear that he needed to rejoin the world of the living and not hide in an overcrowded city.

So, with almost everything he owned packed into his truck and trailer, he’d driven from Chicago to Montana, and made his home in a small town called Sapphire Bay.

Walking across the room, he stared through a large window at the night sky. The stars were so bright that he felt as though he could reach up and touch them, hold them close, and make more wishes than were good for him. 

In the daylight, the view from the window was like looking at one of his paintings. Flathead Lake was every bit as grand as he’d imagined. With its glistening water and towering mountains, it was the perfect location to begin a new life.

Wyatt’s cell phone rang, making him frown. It was after midnight. His parents would be asleep in Los Angeles, and the only person he knew in Sapphire Bay wouldn’t be calling him at this time of the night.

When he read the caller display, he relaxed. It was Ethan. “Isn’t it a little late to be calling me?”

“I was driving past and saw your lights were on,” said the familiar voice. “I hope you aren’t painting.”

“I forgot about the time.”

“That must be a good sign.”

“Don’t read too much into it,” he muttered. “What are you doing awake, anyway? I thought you’d be enjoying your beauty sleep.” The silence on the end of the phone made him regret his words. “What’s happened?”

“I’ve just come back from Polson. I took a patient to the mental health crisis team.”

“Will they be okay?”

“I hope so.”  

Wyatt didn’t envy Ethan’s career choice. His friend had a big heart and even wider shoulders. He was always there for anyone who needed his help. But that willingness to be everyone’s sounding board came at an emotional cost.

“Where are you now?”

“On my way home.”

He leaned against the windowsill. “If you’d like some company, come and have a hot drink with me.”

“It’s too late. I know how grumpy you are when you don’t have a good night’s sleep. Are you still able to meet me at the tiny home village at nine o’clock?”

“Are you sure you want to? You’ve had a long day.”

“I’m only showing you around and introducing you to some of the residents. We can talk about the art project in the next few days.”

Wyatt was already regretting his decision to organize a community art project. As well as not knowing how many people would volunteer, he didn’t know if it would achieve what Ethan hoped it would.

“There’s another artist in Sapphire Bay who runs art classes at The Welcome Center. We could ask her if she has any ideas about how we can make the lessons more enjoyable.”

A smile pulled at Wyatt’s mouth. “Are you telling me my charming personality won’t be enough?”

“I’m not answering that question. Just remember to wear a clean shirt.” 

He looked down at his favorite paint-splattered T-shirt. “There’s nothing wrong with my clothes. At least the residents won’t mistake me for anyone other than an artist.”

“You’d be surprised,” Ethan said with a yawn. “I’m pulling into my driveway. I’ll see you later today.”

“Sounds good. Sleep well.”

“I will.”

After Ethan ended the call, Wyatt looked around his studio. In a few hours, he’d find out if the community project had any chance of working. He already knew that using art as therapy helped on many levels. His only concern was that creating a way for people to express themselves could lead to disaster. 

All he had to do was look at his own life to see how bad it could get.

* * *

Penny leaned forward, trying to catch each word her grandmother said. Picking up the glass of water, she held the straw close to her grandma’s mouth. “Try this. It might make it easier to speak.”

Betty took a sip of water and sighed. “Thank you. Where was I?”

“You were telling me about your house.” 

Her grandmother’s wistful smile touched something deep in Penny’s heart. 

“I love that house. Your granddad and I moved there with such high hopes for a happy retirement, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Four years after her grandparents bought the large, two-story property overlooking Flathead Lake, Penny’s granddad had died. “Mom and Dad have been looking after it for you.”

“It’s not the same as living there. When I die, I want you and your sisters to inherit the house.”

Penny’s eyes widened. “Mom and Dad—”

“I’ve already spoken to them. They’re happy living above the general store. When the time is right, there’s more than enough money in my estate for them to buy another house. I think you girls will enjoy living beside the lake. It’s special.”

She didn’t want to upset her grandma, but she’d forgotten that her granddaughters had jobs, friends, and careers hundreds of miles away from Sapphire Bay. From what her sisters had said, moving home was the last thing they wanted to do.

“Your granddad and I used to sit in the lovely oval sunroom and watch the sun set over the water. It’s such a peaceful home.” Betty’s blue gaze connected with Penny’s. “Look after your sisters. Diana’s as fragile as a piece of fine china. Barbara needs to relax. She doesn’t realize there’s more to life than getting people to spend money on things they don’t need. The lake will be good for her.”

Penny held back a smile. Barbara was the social media marketing manager for five of the largest companies in America.

“And watch Katie. She’s a dreamer—always flitting from one idea to the next. She needs to work out what she wants and how she’ll get there. Tell her from me that a little planning goes a long way in life.”

“Katie will be here tomorrow,” Penny said softly.

A sadness swept across her grandma’s face. “I might not be here, honey. Remember to tell your sisters to stick together. Life will throw hurdles and challenges at them. Goodness knows, Diana has already had her world tested. Look out for each other. Treat your sisters like they’re the most precious gifts the good Lord has given you.”

Penny wiped her eyes, wishing more than anything they weren’t having this conversation. 

Her grandma’s hand tightened on hers. “Before I go, I want you to promise you’ll do something for me.” She waited for Penny to nod before continuing. “I never knew my father. Momma always said he’d drowned when the steamboat he was on hit troubled waters. But no one found his body or talked about him after he was gone. Over the years, I’ve tried to piece together what happened, but nothing makes sense.”

Betty winced and reached for the button on her morphine drip. 

“Are you okay?”

“I will be in a few seconds.” Her grandma closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “There’s a chest in the attic. Look in there and see if you can figure out what happened to my father.”

“Has Mom looked for him?”

Her grandma nodded. “Mabel loves a good story as much as I do, but she was just as confused. Ask your mom about what she found.”

Penny was getting really worried about her grandma. The morphine looked as though it hadn’t helped the pain. “Do you want me to get a doctor?”

“Not yet. There’s one more thing. In the chest, there’s a small enamel box with a key inside. Momma always said as long as I have that, I’ll never need anything else. I wasn’t able to work out what the key unlocked. Keep it safe.”

Her grandma’s eyelids closed, then slowly opened. She sent Penny a tired smile. “Be happy, honey. I’m so proud of you.”

“I love you, Grandma.” 

“Love you, too.” 

Before Penny could push the emergency button, her grandma took one last shuddering breath. And with the same dignity and grace with which she’d lived her life, she began her next journey.

Fans of Netflix's Virgin River series and Sweet Magnolias will love this small-town, feel-good romance!

Penny Terry loves her job as a property development manager in one of Seattle’s biggest construction companies. When tragedy strikes, she returns to Sapphire Bay to say goodbye to her grandmother and comfort her parents.

The last thing Penny or her sisters expect is to inherit the house her grandma called home. But there’s a catch—and it could change their lives forever.

Wyatt Johnson didn’t move to Sapphire Bay to be harassed by four females and a large Golden Labrador. But when the Terry sisters become his neighbors, any chance of completing his latest collection of paintings disappears under a blast of plaster dust and never-ending banging.

When Penny needs his help to solve an old family mystery, they’re drawn into a web of secrets unlike anything Sapphire Bay has ever seen.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ " These stories are amazing! Great love stories, secrets, and mysteries in the family to unravel. Five stars!" — The Lakeside Inn Reviewer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "Lots of family secrets and mysteries. Perfect holiday reading!"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “All the books in this series had me holding my breath with each turn of a page. Five stars!”

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