Nurse Practitioner Sage Patterson is accustomed to giving her time and resources to others—and she wouldn’t want it any other way. But when someone she thought she could trust puts her reputation on the line, she can’t find the strength to move past the embarrassment and hurt. To make matters worse, she must now sell her mother’s beloved beach house.
Sage, along with her loyal rescue dog, Molly, head to picturesque Ocean Isle Beach where she finds refuge in watching the work of an unknown painter in the evenings. This tranquility is exactly what she needs to decompress… And then she meets real estate attorney Jacob Gable. He doesn’t just turn her world upside down; he steals her heart, too. But will Sage’s anger and fear of betrayal get in the way of everything Jacob has to offer? Or will they, together with God, be able to move on from past hurts to embark on a journey of forgiveness and love?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Smith Lowe lives in Asheboro, North Carolina with her husband of twenty years, Brian, and their son, Jake. She is the proud owner of a very spoiled blue tick hound dog. Michelle is a Registered Nurse as well as a Certified Multiple Sclerosis Nurse. She has always loved to write and wishes to thank God most of all for her ability to write fiction. Her hobbies include searching for Native American arrowheads on her property and cooking for her family.
Take a peek at Chapter 1
Sage Patterson’s heart thudded against her chest as she read the message on her phone:
I’d really like to talk to you. How long are you going to avoid me?
She had known this day would come, and she quickly loaded the small suitcase into the back of her SUV. Nothing was forcing her to talk to him, or ever see him, again. Nonetheless, her back tensed at the brand-new sense of urgency to make the inevitable trip to Ocean Isle Beach; the very trip she had been avoiding for over a year. Willing her mind to ignore the message, she slid her phone into her purse.
“Come on, Molly. It’s time to go, girl,” Sage called.
Molly was at her side in an instant, wagging her tail at the prospect of a new adventure. After the dog climbed into the passenger seat, Sage shut the door and started the engine. The quicker she could get away from Asheboro, the better. For the past year, a visit from him hadn’t been possible, but now that he was free to do as he pleased, the idea of a face-to-face encounter caused an uneasiness to settle in the pit of her stomach. She pulled from the driveway of her townhome, taking in a deep breath and steeling herself for the three-and-a-half-hour trip to Ocean Isle.
She purposely planned to leave early in the afternoon to avoid rush hour commuters, and fortunately, traffic was light as she drove along, listening to her favorite songs, trying desperately to rid her mind of the messages she hadn’t responded to. Although she loved her home, and her work at the clinic, relief flooded over her at the thought of leaving all the hurt, embarrassment, and humiliation behind.
Molly slept most of the way, and every now and then, Sage would look over at her, smiling at the way her nose twitched in her sleep. Tawny rays of sunlight streamed through the windshield, illuminating her deep caramel-colored coat that was perfectly offset by a black muzzle. The majestic Belgian Malinois probably looked formidable, even scary, to some people, but Sage knew very well the dog’s meek disposition.
The drive, mostly on the interstate, was uneventful, and as they finally reached the bridge heading into Ocean Isle, Sage’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. As always, the first glimpse of the ocean nearly took her breath away, its beauty leaving her completely awestruck. She rolled down the window to savor the characteristic salty air. On either side of her sat the inlet waterway with its glassy emerald ripples and boats of all sizes that called the channel their temporary home. How she had loved to watch the fishing boats come in as a child! A chorus of seagulls warbled overhead, awakening her curious traveling companion.
“We’re here,” Sage reached over to pet the top of Molly’s head.
Before long, they reached the last stoplight before the roundabout leading to the street parallel to the ocean and beautiful waterfront homes there.
Suddenly, Molly sat up erect in the passenger seat, looking straight ahead and with pinpoint precision through the windshield. Then, she began a ferocious-sounding bark that nearly rattled the windows.
Sage chuckled seeing what had captivated the dog’s attention. A pod of pelicans flew overhead, and although Molly was used to seeing birds, these huge birds were different. They glided along clumsily, much different than the small, fluttering birds she was used to seeing at home.
“Shhh… They’re pelicans, girl. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Sage spoke soothingly as she tried to quiet the sixty-pound dog beside her.
But Sage loved seeing the pelicans, too, and she could hardly pull her attention away from them. The memories were certainly flooding back, just as she had known they would. She reached to roll her window up in an attempt to subdue Molly’s incessant barking, still watching the big birds when a voice from nearby jolted her back to reality.
“Umm… Excuse me, but the light is green.”
Sage turned to see a man wearing a business suit standing at the crosswalk. He was only two feet or so away from her window, holding a paper coffee cup in his hand and carrying a thin briefcase. Warmth washed over her face as one of the cars behind her abruptly honked the horn.
“People can be a little impatient,” the man said loudly, apparently wanting to be sure she heard him. He offered her a warm smile and something that resembled a casual wink.
Sage could only imagine how inept she must look. How long had she sat there after the light turned green? At least Molly was no longer barking; she was also looking at the man who had interrupted their thoughts, wagging her tail, and now standing in the seat.
Sage returned a half wave and winked to thank the man. Oh, that was so stupid! Winking back! What in the world has gotten into me? She was certain her face was only turning a deeper shade of red. She stepped on the gas a little harder than she meant to, the wheels of her SUV making a peeling sound against the pavement. She tried not to glance back through her rearview mirror, but she couldn’t help it. The man was smiling broadly as he crossed the street.
“Gracious, Molly. What a way to start off our… your first… visit to Ocean Isle,” she said to the dog now sitting calmly beside her. If only she could possess the same carefree demeanor of her sidekick, who could easily move on to the next thing with little to no dwelling on events that occurred in the past.
They were not too far from her mother’s beach house now, and Sage silently demanded herself to get her thoughts together. She was normally very focused, and she prided herself on behaving professionally—her job required it—but she imagined she looked anything but professional while back at the stoplight. She took in another deep breath, filling her lungs with the salty air, letting it out slowly through pursed lips, a technique she frequently taught others who were under stress.
When she eventually turned onto Sand Dollar Lane, she found that the nostalgia she had experienced only moments earlier was waning. Every single muscle in her body was suddenly tense. As she made her way to the end of the cul-de-sac that she knew like the back of her hand, her heart practically sank to her feet.
Her mother’s tiny pink A-frame came into view, sitting before her, looking more than weathered—almost beaten—by the sun. All but forgotten. Neglected. Abandoned. Her heart sinking further, she thought of an old saying about how a house deteriorates when no one lives in it. That sentiment was certainly true in this case, and although she had tried to prepare herself for the trip, nothing had prepared her for the heartbreak she felt when seeing the run-down little cottage. The obvious neglect was only a reminder of how terribly wrong things had gone.
The small structure sat on half an acre, squeezed between the much larger, million-dollar vacation homes that had grown up around it practically overnight. Though the house sat on a prime piece of real estate, or so she had been told, the structure looked antiquated, its peeling, blush-colored paint having surrendered to years of relentless heat and sunshine. And the shrubbery and plants her mother had once cared for so tenderly were now overgrown and withered, too. The cottage, for its new owner, would require a lot of work, a complete overhaul.
Sage turned slowly onto the pebble drive and turned off the engine. She had promised herself she wouldn’t cry— she’d had too many tears shed over the last few years—but that proved an impossible promise to keep, and tears slowly trickled down her cheek as memories of her mom came rushing back. Molly, ever so sharp at sensing her owner’s feelings, sighed softly in the seat beside her, laying her head in Sage’s lap and looking up at her with golden eyes that spoke volumes of concern.
“It’s okay, girl.” Sage stroked the dog’s soft fur. “I tried to prepare for this, but I guess I wasn’t expecting mom’s house to be in such poor condition. And that’s my fault. I should have come back before now,” she explained through tears, as if Molly fully understood. Sometimes, she thought Molly did understand everything she said.
It hurt her deeply to see the house in its current state but also confirmed to her that coming to Ocean Isle to sell her mother’s beloved beach house was the right thing to do. In addition to the financial aspect, she just wasn’t able to keep up two places all by herself. She had buried herself in her work at the clinic as of lately and had her own townhouse back in Asheboro to maintain.
She had been putting off the inevitable for too long, and unfortunately, she realized with a pang of guilt, she should have addressed the matter much sooner. Thankfully, Vanessa had finally talked her into taking some time off from work to take care of selling the property. And the timing couldn’t be better, since he was now back in full commission. The fact that he had called her three times already that morning was worrisome.
She opened her car door, not wanting to put the task at hand off any longer. “Let’s get this over with,” she said as Molly barreled out of the SUV behind her.
They walked up the steps to the tiny A-frame, and Sage retrieved the key from her purse. The key she had used as a teenager was still on her keyring.
When she opened the door, a wave of childhood memories cascaded over her—the many meals her mother had served at the wicker glass-topped table and the late evenings they played board games with the double doors open, a beach breeze spilling into the room, making everything feel clean and fresh.
The large, open rooms were warm and welcoming, and everything was just as her mother had left it. The inside of the cottage was much better preserved than its exterior, thanks to the friend who came by regularly to turn on the air during the summer and to keep the heat on very low during the winters. The cost she paid for heating and air had been well worth it. Everything looked the same, decorated in her mom’s decor of soft blues and taupes, her seashell collection adorning the coffee and end tables.
Sage set her purse on one of the nautical striped sofas. She made her way across the room and pulled back the curtains from the sliding glass doors, letting in rays of soft afternoon sunshine. The ramp was still there.
Nearing the end of her battle with Multiple Sclerosis, the disease had made it very difficult for her mom to maneuver the steps, so the ramp leading out to the dock overlooking the waterway was built to make the place she loved to sit more accessible. Recalling some of those last, more difficult times always threw a fresh punch to Sage’s permanently bruised heart, and sometimes she wondered if she’d ever recover. Even with her experience, she hadn’t been able to do anything to postpone her mother’s decline.
The modest beach house had been her mother’s place of refuge, and Sage was thankful for the memories of their good times together. Physically pulling herself and her thoughts away from the ramp, she made an effort to put all things of a negative nature behind her. She needed to get started on the daunting task before her. She wanted to check out the bedrooms that were on either side of the main room.
But first, Molly needed a drink of water. Sage hadn’t yet brought in any of her luggage or bags, except for her purse, so she went to the cabinet and brought down a bowl, seeing her mom’s dainty seashell china. Certain things she wouldn’t be able to part with, special things that she’d pack up and take back home—and the pastel blue and white china was one of them.
As she turned on the faucet to get Molly’s water, the outdated spigot made a sputtering sound and sprayed both her and Molly with beads of cool water. Although the sound startled them both at first, Sage giggled. A little cold shower was the least of her problems. Molly, being a good sport too, shook it off and wagged her tail, then lapped up the water from the bowl Sage placed on the floor.
“Now, for a tour,” Sage said, wiping the water from her face with a towel she found in one of the kitchen drawers. She was anxious to see her old bedroom. With Molly in tow, Sage headed to her childhood room.
Her old bedroom looked essentially the same. The painting hanging directly over the bed of two girls in wide-brimmed hats picking up seashells along the shore brought an instant smile to her face. She loved that picture as a child, staring up at it many nights before drifting off to peaceful sleep.
She picked up a framed picture of her, along with her mom and dad. The photo reminded her of her high school years. She couldn’t recall how many times she had been told she looked just like her mom. She had the same dark auburn hair with lighter undertones that would almost turn copper whenever she spent time in the sun. She had inherited her father’s slight cleft chin and his hazel-green eyes. She set the picture back down on the dresser.
Her parents’ bedroom was directly to the other side of the main room and looked just as she remembered, too, decorated in deeper hues of navy and periwinkle blue. Her mother had been especially skillful at combining the beach motif with a country flare inspired by their main home back in rural Asheboro, NC, and her personal stamp was on everything in the small cottage. Sage observed longingly the artificial blue hydrangeas that were placed throughout the rooms in alabaster vases. The last thing she wanted to do was to sell her mother’s beach house, but no other options were feasible; for many months now, she had gone over it and over it in her mind.
For the entire drive to Ocean Isle, she’d refused to allow her thoughts to turn to her dad, but now she faced the uncomfortable reality head on. After all, memories of her father sitting at the table with them, too, playing board games or having dinner, were right there before her. And before she was old enough to drive, he was the one who had taken her to watch the fishing boats come in with their prizes. Of course, her mother’s diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis wasn’t his fault. But the fact she was here now and was forced into selling the beach house was partly his fault.
He hadn’t been able to help her with expenses over the last few years, and he would certainly be in no position to help out now. Besides, she wouldn’t have taken any help from him, even if he had offered. Again, the muscles in her jaw tightened a bit, as they did so easily whenever she thought of her dad.
Her vow to think only of the positive was short-lived. She wasn’t sure she would ever be able to forgive the man she had once looked up to and admired. And she would never be able to forget the embarrassment and the seemingly inescapable position he had left her in.
At least her mother hadn’t witnessed the wreck he had made of their lives, that was a small consolation. With memories of her loving mother at every turn, and thoughts of her dad as well, her emotions were suddenly on a roller coaster.
“How about a walk on the beach?” she asked Molly. Promptly perked ears answered her question.
Sage couldn’t wait to get out by the water. The smell of the ocean and waves surging in beautiful rhythm had a unique way of calming the senses. Her appointment with the real estate attorney from Gable and Vasquez wasn’t until eleven a.m. the next morning. She would have plenty of time to start packing up the things she wanted to save and get the house in order for a buyer.
She tucked the house key into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone from her purse. She had missed yet another call from him. She erased the voicemail without listening to it, anger seething under her skin.
“Come on, Molly,” she said, calling the faithful dog who trotted right away to her command.
She fastened Molly’s leash, and they left the little A-frame. Sage closed the door harder than she meant to, causing her heart to hurt even more. Her thoughts were as heavy and as leaden as the deep ocean that stretched before them.