Authors: Susan Donovan
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF SUSAN DONOVAN
“Ms. Donovan knows how to tell a story that will make your heart melt.”
—Night Owl Reviews
“Impossible to put down. . . . Susan Donovan is an absolute riot.”
“Goofy comedy, white-hot sex, and ticking-bomb pacing.”
“Donovan proves that she will have serious star power in the years to come.”
—Romance Reader at Heart
Also by Susan Donovan
Sea of Love
The Sweetest Summer
Published by New American Library,
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of New American Library.
First Printing, September 2015
Copyright © Susan Donovan, 2015
Sea of Love
copyright © Susan Donovan, 2013
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
for whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.
—e. e. cummings
This book is dedicated to Grace Burrowes—author, attorney, friend, banker, twenty-four-hour airport chauffeur, dog rescuer, moving company, and all-purpose fairy godmother. Thank you for everything. You have been a blessing.
The mermaid legend of Bayberry Island has managed to survive in a world hostile to myth and magic. As the tale goes, the mermaid has kept a vigil over her small Massachusetts island—halfway between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard—for well over a century. Believers say that from her perch three blocks from the water’s edge, she gently nudges inhabitants and visitors on their journeys toward the most elusive of all human needs: love.
The Great Mermaid’s bronze form rises from a fountain and hovers sixteen feet in the air. From there she can observe a bustling Main Street, watch the busy marina, and gaze out to sea. From this lookout she has welcomed thousands upon thousands of sunrises, witnessed an equal number of evening shadows fall across the shops and houses, and shared in the joys and heartaches of the mortals below.
For those who believe, the question is not whether the mermaid is able to intervene in the affairs of the human heart. The only mystery is how, where, why, and for whom she extends her favor.
The Mermaid of Bayberry Island
, a documentary film by Nathaniel
t was a recent June evening on Bayberry Island. Shop lights flickered. The old-fashioned gas streetlamps cast a warm glow over the bricks of Fountain Square. A crescent moon peeked over the horizon. And right on schedule, the last passenger ferry of the day made its unhurried approach toward the public dock.
Suddenly, the front door of the tavern flew open, spilling light, music, and laughter onto the boardwalk. A voice carried on the breeze.
“Get outta here, you bunch of good-for-nothings, or I’ll call the police! I’ll call the mayor, too!”
The mayor of Bayberry Island ignored the empty threat and lurched toward the door of the Rusty Scupper Tavern. At his elbow was his son, the off-duty police chief.
“Go right ahead!” Frasier Flynn made eye contact with most of the crowded barroom. “This place is a dive, anyway! You’ll be hard-pressed to ever find me here again!” When the mayor tried to swat at a piece of party streamer snagged in his thick white hair, he only smacked himself in the eye. The regulars roared with laughter. “All right, then. See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks for putting up with us, Rusty.” Police Chief Clancy Flynn looked over his shoulder while stuffing his father’s large body through the exit.
“It was an honor.” The bartender smiled at Clancy and wiped confetti off the bar. “It’s not every year the big kahuna turns seventy. Am I right?”
“I told you no one’s allowed to use that word!” Frasier’s head might have been out the door, but his ears were keen, and his bellow carried back into the noisy establishment. “And that includes any variation of ‘seven’ or ‘tee
’ I don’t even want to hear that you’ve got a seven a.m. tee time!’”
“’Night, Rusty.” Ashton Louis Wallace III smiled politely and placed a large tip on the bar. It was no mystery why he looked rumpled that evening. Not only had Rusty poured him half a dozen Sam Adams Summer Ales in the span of two hours, but Ash was a proud papa of a baby not yet sleeping through the night and was long overdue for a boys’ night out. His wife, Rowan, had no complaints—in fact, she’d coordinated her father’s birthday outing.
Nat Ravelle was the last of the four-man entourage to make his exit. The California ex-pat and husband of Rowan’s best friend, Annie, gulped down what was left of his fourth martini before he passed through the door with his good friends. “Later, dudes!”
The group began a slow stroll along the waterfront, heading south toward Main Street. Frasier held his face into the sea breeze and gazed out over the boat slips.
“Nothing better than a night out with the finest young men on Bayberry Island.”
“Thank you, Frasier.” Even alcohol couldn’t dull Ash’s finely tuned manners. As Clancy had learned the last
couple of years, his brother-in-law might have come from Boston Brahmin money, but he was as down-to-earth as anyone he’d ever known.
“We’re short one man, however. And that’s just not right.”
Clancy braced himself, aware that his father was preparing to orate about his prodigal son, Clancy’s older brother, Duncan. Before Frasier got started, he nearly tripped stepping onto the boardwalk. Clancy grabbed him. “How about we get you home in one piece, Da?”
His father grumbled, throwing an arm over his boy’s shoulder as they strolled. “Now, let me tell you how things were back in the days of ol’ Rutherford Flynn, my great-grandfather, the brilliant immigrant entrepreneur who first tamed this wild and stormy island . . .” Frasier gestured grandly at the bistros, Internet cafés, and lobster-roll stands that surrounded the public dock. “Now, mind you, this was way before there were planes and diesel ferry boats and frozen custard on a damn
! Did you know that the men of Bayberry Island lived and worked as a single unit? By God, they were together on the fishing boats all day and in the pub together at night. It was a sacred brotherhood!”
“Wouldn’t want to be downwind from that bunch,” Nat said.
Ash chuckled. “That’s an awful lot of fishin’ ’n’ drinkin’. Bet their wives weren’t thrilled.”
Frasier raised a cautionary finger and scowled at his companions. “Bayberry men were rough around the edges, I’ll give you that, but they were civilized. There was always a hot bath waitin’ for ’em when they got home . . .” Frasier’s voice had grown progressively louder, and he now pointed skyward, a sure sign that he was
reaching a rhetorical climax of some sort. “And after a good scrub, they made certain their women thanked the Lord for being born!”
The wild pontificating had caused Frasier to list to port. Nat propped him up from the other side, and Clancy nodded his thanks to his friend.
“Let’s keep moving, Da. We’re almost there.”
“No. I need to say something.” Frasier planted his tree-trunk legs on the boardwalk and refused to budge. “We need to get together more often. I miss this. All of us together—it’s how it should be.”
Ash patted his father-in-law on the back. “We see you nearly every day, Frasier. And since your official birthday party isn’t for another week, there’s plenty more celebrating to come.”
“Oh, hell, Ash! You know what I mean.” Frasier sniffed as his gaze followed the movement of wispy night clouds. “Duncan should be here. He might be a Navy SEAL, but he is also one of us, a son of this island—
The group remained quiet for a moment, the younger men exchanging glances. Eventually, Clancy cleared his throat. “Duncan’s not ready for a pub crawl, Da. He’ll be home as soon as he’s discharged for outpatient therapy.”
“Nonsense.” Frasier leveled his gaze, his cheeks red from the alcohol and the oncoming rush of sentiment. “That boy is strong as a bull shark, and one day real soon he’ll be healthy enough to get himself shipped out to some far corner of the world, the way he always does. Dammit, we all know why Duncan didn’t come home in time for my birthday. For the last sixteen years that boy’s only come home a few days each year, always during
festival week, and never a day more. His absence tonight has nothing to do with his injuries!”
Though the annual Mermaid Festival was still two months away, a fair number of tourists strolled along the boardwalk on this breezy June night, and all of them had noticed a rather tipsy mayor holding court in front of Talbot’s Nautical Antiques Shoppe.
“Why don’t we talk about it at your place, Da?”
“This needs to be said right here, right now.” Frasier lowered his chin and scowled. “Duncan isn’t here tonight because this would be too messy for him. He doesn’t want anything holding him to Bayberry—no entanglements, no celebrations, not even his own damn family. He never has. And that’s the God’s truth.”
Since that was an accurate description of his big brother, Clancy didn’t disagree. He gently nudged his father forward.
“What makes a man put down roots?” Frasier stopped again, this time shaking off the assistance of both Clancy and Nat. It took him a moment to stabilize. “Come on now, boys. You know the answer to this one, so let’s hear it!”
“Family,” Clancy said.
“Ha!” Frasier slapped his son on the back. “For you, yes, because you are loyal to the bone. And it sure helped that your woman came to Bayberry to claim you, which was awfully nice of Evelyn, I must say, and I’ll have to remember to thank her when I see her tomorrow.”
Frasier directed his gaze to Ash, then Nat. “Come on, fellas. What’s the one thing that can make a man stay put no matter how determined he is to leave?”
When neither answered, Frasier let go with a belly
laugh. “By God, you two are the poster boys for this particular affliction, so spit it out!”
They glanced at each other, then said in tandem, “Love.”
“Aha! You got it!
makes a man stay. Love makes a man do all kinds of stuff he wouldn’t otherwise have half a mind to do.”
Frasier tapped a finger into Nat Ravelle’s chest. “Look at you, boyo. Three Christmases ago you flew in from Los Angeles with plans to produce a TV show. But you met Annie, quit your job, married her, and now you live here year-round.”
“Guilty as charged,” Nat said with a grin. “And marrying Annabeth Parker was the best thing I ever did.”
“And you!” Frasier pointed at Ashton Louis Wallace III. “You blue-eyed, blue-blooded bastard! You showed up here with visions of bulldozers and dollar signs dancing in your Harvard head, and what happened? You met Rowan, stopped the island from being destroyed by development, and changed the course of Bayberry history—for the better. You’re a goddamned hero! And how did all that come about?”
A slow smile spread over Ash’s face. “I fell in love with your daughter.”
“Now we’re cookin’ with gas!”
“Come on, Da. It’s late.”
“It’s never too late.” With that cryptic comment, Frasier spun on his heels and marched off down the middle of Main Street. Clancy followed. Ash ran ahead.
“Hold up, Frasier.” Ash began a backward jog, stiff-arming his father-in-law. “You’ve had a lot to drink. Maybe it’s time to—”
“I’ve been holding my liquor since Kennedy was in
the White House. Now, step aside, son.” The mayor continued his charge, changing direction and heading directly toward Fountain Square. His loud arrival disturbed the couples canoodling on the benches surrounding the mermaid fountain. They all stared, clearly annoyed by the invasion.
One man stood up, placing a protective hand on his woman’s shoulder. “What’s the deal, Gramps? You’re ruining the mood.”
“As of right now, this attraction is closed.”
“Really?” The tourist couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, and he sure wasn’t going to miss a chance to impress his girlfriend. He took a few aggressive steps toward Frasier. “This is public property. You can’t just show up and—”
Clancy slipped between his father and the chest-puffer, pulling his badge from the pocket of his off-duty jeans. “I’m sorry, sir. The mayor is correct. This is official city business, but Fountain Square will be open again in a few moments. Thank you for your cooperation.”
They didn’t look happy about it, but the tourists shuffled away, some glancing over their shoulders with disdain. The girlfriend slapped her protector on the arm. “What were you thinking? That old man could have been a psycho killer!”
Clancy waited for the tourists to disappear beyond the hedge of bayberry shrubs and turned to ask his father what he was up to. But Frasier had already wandered off. He now stood with his back to the others, staring up at the bronze mermaid, his large hands gripping the edges of the engraved historical marker at her feet.
“What the hell’s he doing?” Nat whispered.
“I have no idea,” Clancy said.
“Is he all right?” Ash made a step toward Frasier, but Clancy touched his shoulder.
“Give him a minute.”
The men watched in disbelief as Frasier tentatively reached up, then cradled the mermaid’s hand in his own. They saw his wide shoulders soften. They heard him speak several sentences—but the combination of the fountain spray, faint music from town, and the ever-present hiss of the ocean drowned out most of his words. Clancy could have sworn he heard the name “Duncan,” however. And the name “Mona.”
“I thought Frasier hated the mermaid.”
Clancy shrugged in response to Ash’s comment. “I don’t know what he thinks of her. All I know is he hates Ma’s obsession with the Mermaid Society and claims the group was the main reason they separated. He’s always saying her friends are nut jobs, but as far as the mermaid herself goes, I can’t really say how he feels.”
Ash leaned closer to Clancy. “Does he . . . ? I mean, do you think it’s possible . . . ? Could your father believe in the legend?”
Clancy didn’t answer right away. Eventually, he shook his head. “I think the chances of that are mighty slim.”
“But he’s holding the mermaid’s hand,” Ash insisted, gesturing toward Frasier like Clancy couldn’t see for himself. “Is he asking to be guided to true love? Is he asking for himself or on behalf of someone else?”
“Like I said—I got no flippin’ idea.” Clancy abruptly turned to face his brother-in-law. “And what about you,
? Do you believe in the legend?”
“Me?” Ash touched his button-down shirt and laughed uncomfortably. “Of course not. There’s . . . Well, obviously, Rowan and I named Serena after the mermaid—
! What I meant to say was we named our daughter after your great-great-grandmother. And the statue was built in her image, right? I didn’t mean to imply Serena was an actual merrrr—” Ash squeezed his eyes tight for an instant, collecting himself. When he opened them again, his gaze shot toward Nat, who was frozen in an open-jawed stare.
“And you, Ravelle? Do you believe in the legend?”
Nat made a clicking sound with his tongue and rolled his eyes. “Dude. Seriously. Just because I met Annie by falling down in front of her shop doesn’t mean I believe in the mermaid. I mean, fate? Sure. Why not? But I think I’ll leave the mermaid legend for my documentary.” He tossed the question back to Clancy. “What about you? You’re a Flynn—do you believe?”
Just then Frasier let the mermaid’s hand slip from his, stepped back from the statue, and turned toward the group. His eyes held more than sentiment—Frasier looked stunned. His skin shimmered under the lights. Fountain spray had misted his hair and face, plastering the soggy paper streamer to the side of his neck. And for just a moment, Clancy wondered if his father had been crying.