Life has mistreated Angie Cavanaugh almost as badly as her ex-husband. At 40, she has no job, no money, no man. But a little voice whispers there’s still hope…and Angie listens. The tiny bungalow by the sea is run down, but for a woman taking the first step toward a whole new existence, it’s a little slice of heaven. And the people she meets in the charming little village of Harmony Falls are as wonderful as they are wacky. Could anyone dispense sweeter sticky buns, or a warmer welcome than Latin-born Elena? Does silver-haired innkeeper Lenore always know in advance when strangers are going to arrive at her door. And can handsome Ross Costello possibly be as good as he looks. For once, Angie’s going to follow her instincts and learn…
Law of Attraction
The Love Secret, Book 1
Read an Excerpt
“Gregg, you’ve got to stop calling! You’re tying up the hospice lines.”
“But I’ve gotta see you again! Baby, we were so good together, and you know it!”
Angie Cavanaugh hunkered down behind the reception counter, thankful no one sat in the waiting room to witness her rising anxiety . . . hoping none of the nurses came by before she got her ex off the line. “It’s history, Gregg. Over. You’ve got to get it through your head that I’m not coming—”
“But when we’re together—when nobody else is calling your shots—”
Angie hung up. Her pulse was pounding toward a headache and all her nerves jangled and she just wanted out. Six months ago when their divorce had become final, she knew Gregg Dysart wouldn’t take it well, but this!
She focused on the computer screen again, sucking in a deep breath. Not even nine in the morning, and already the day was spiraling downward into the hell she’d known for most of her ten years with this man. Couldn’t take “no” for an answer, or understand why she meant it. Couldn’t see his obsessive need to control her as abnormal or abusive. He’d been so sweet and loving when they’d dated . . . when she’d first married him.
Her cell vibrated against her belt. She didn’t have to check the incoming number: the constriction of her chest told her he had nothing better to do than toy with her today. Angie opened her phone. “Gregg, the restraining order means—”
“But I apologized for all that! We agreed to be friends, remember?” he crooned. “Do you think I can just stop loving you, like flipping a light switch? I gotta see you—”
“Angie, will you come with me, please?”
Angie gasped and looked over her shoulder. Marilyn McCoy, the hospice administrator, stood beside her, wearing a smile as pale and professional as her lab coat. And what was Dorothy doing here? Her shift didn’t begin until two this afternoon. Feeling like a grade school girl being sent to the principal, she closed her phone. “I’m sorry, Marilyn. I’ve told Gregg not to call me here, but—”
“You’ve had a rough couple of months.” The slender blonde glanced around the empty reception area and sighed. “We all want the best for you, Angie, but we can’t let this continue. I’ve had complaints from two nurses and a doctor about lines being busy, and about your lack of concentration lately.”
Angie nodded, hanging her head.
“We want you to get counseling. And we want you to return when you’ve got this proverbial monkey off your back, because the patients and their families respond to your compassionate nature. When you’re yourself, you’re one of our best.” Marilyn smiled sadly. “Stop by the office for your check, hon. Call me when you’ve got things ironed out.”
Stop by the office for . . . Holy smokes, they had her check made out already, because they’d been planning to—and Dorothy came in early because—
The other receptionist glanced away, sorry to be a party to her dismissal. Everyone else had known she was being canned yet no one had given her a hint!
They’ve warned you about his calls three times this week. Angie fumbled for her purse, blinded by sudden tears. “I’m so—I never intended for this to—”
“Yeah, I know. I feel real bad about it,” Dorothy mumbled.
Angie’s throat got so tight she couldn’t talk. Leave now, before this scene gets any more humiliating.
Down the hall she hurried, past the office where her pay was waiting, and out the back door. Too mortified to collect her final check from Jan, her friend of several years. Too ready to explode, rather than face anyone right now.
She stalked across the parking lot, clicking her key fob. As she slipped inside her red Grand Prix the sobs began, and she gripped the wheel to hold herself together. Her attorney and Reverend Speers had warned her Gregg would manipulate her this way, but he had been her husband for ten years. When he was good, he could be so sweet and wonderful. Said all the right things, especially after her parents’ deaths last year.
But when he was bad . . . it was a side of him she hadn’t seen until the first time she’d crossed him. By then she was his wife. Couldn’t admit to herself or her family that she’d made a huge mistake, falling for Gregg’s bad-boy swagger and the way he defied authority like she’d never had the guts to do. Deep down, she’d been a little afraid of Gregg, but as she’d approached thirty she’d been more afraid she’d never have a man. A family of her own.
“Angie. I knew you’d come to me, sweetheart.”
Her throat tightened around a scream. In the rear view mirror, she watched her ex unfold from the floor behind her seat. When Gregg’s eyes met hers with a triumphant sparkle, something died inside her. Why hadn’t she guessed he was calling from right here, in the parking lot? And why hadn’t she figured he’d long ago copied her car key? “Gregg, please—damn it, you just got me fired—”
“No, baby, I set you free! Those hospice people never appreciated you the way I—”
She stiffened, afraid to confront him yet terrified not to. “Get out of my car, Gregg. Now.”
He pressed his chest to the back of her seat, clasping her shoulders. She caught the scent of whiskey as his hot, rapid breath raised the hairs on her neck. “But if we could just talk about this, you know we could work it all out!”
“It’s over! Get out! I—”
Little white dots blinded her when Gregg grabbed her around the neck. Her mind blanked from terror and lack of air as he squeezed harder. “Never could take a hint, could you?” he rasped. “Never gave me a chance to—”
Her desperate gaze swam past the security booth, and somehow she jabbed the alarm button on her key fob. When the horn blared repeatedly, Jim, the uniformed officer, stepped outside. Her ex cursed and then the car rocked with the slam of his door. While Gregg dashed through the hedge and out of sight, the sweet old guard she’d known since she’d started here trundled toward her.
She jammed her key in the ignition. Couldn’t face Jim, either. Couldn’t go through the story about her Jekyll-and-Hyde ex for yet another person who wanted only the best for her. As Angie shot past him, she waved weakly. Aimed for a blank space in the midmorning Seattle traffic. Tromped the brake at a red light and then gasped for air, trying to regain rational thought.
Don’t go to the apartment. He’s copied that key, too. Just take your money and run.
Angie sucked in a breath. Focused on the familiar grocery stores, strip malls, and gas stations . . . steered into the bank’s parking lot. Didn’t care where she went, but she had to leave town. Had to go somewhere Gregg would never find her.
She pulled up to the ATM and stuck her card in the slot, praying Gregg hadn’t followed her. Entered her PIN. Just breathe. You can do this.
ACCOUNT CLOSED. DO YOU WANT ANOTHER TRANSACTION?
Angie scowled, her finger poised to enter an amount. What the hell did that mean, account closed? She’d gotten paid just last week.
She hit the Cancel button. Swiped her card again and entered the wrong PIN, so had clear everything and start over.
ACCOUNT CLOSED. DO YOU WANT ANOTHER TRANSACTION?
“I want my money!” she whimpered. “I just want out of this—”
Should’ve changed your PIN. Should’ve known he’d play this game.
With a sob, Angie pulled forward. Somehow slipped her car into the flow without getting hit. Gripped the wheel, cried, and just drove for a few blocks.
What could she do? Where could she go that Gregg wouldn’t harass her? She had her purse, her cell, and the clothes on her back. That was it. Her neck throbbed as though his beefy machinist’s hands still encircled it. At the next red light she stared ahead, numb and disoriented. Who could’ve dreamed it would come to this?
CONDOS WITH OCEAN VIEWS, STARTING IN THE LOW 300’s, a billboard mocked her. Three hundred thousand dollars? She didn’t have three hundred dollars!
But the ocean! The beach! You could go to the Oregon shore, just like when you were a kid!
Angie scowled. Where had that idea come from? While she and her parents had vacationed on the shore years ago, now was hardly the time for a leisurely trip to—
Those were wonderful days, weren’t they? With the lacy little waves licking at your bare toes while sun diamonds danced on the water . . . the surf that pulsed like an eternal heartbeat . . .
She swallowed hard. Felt her own pulse settling as her death grip on the wheel relaxed. Angie pulled ahead with the traffic, recalling the quaint towns along the coastal highway . . . ice cream drive-ins and motel rooms with kitchenettes—
And those beds that vibrated when you put a quarter in the slot.
She giggled. As a child she’d had no idea what those mechanical mattresses were for, but the memories came flooding back: Mom in her white cotton blouses with the criss-cross of her sunburn showing through . . . Daddy sitting with his feet on the rail, gazing out at the Pacific with his book open across his chest . . . sand castles of an afternoon washed away by morning. Walks on a sunlit beach that stretched into forever for a little girl padding along barefoot between her parents, clasping their hands.
As though life held only happiness. The sense that you’d be safe and loved forever.
Angie choked. Blinked back tears so she could maneuver into the turn lane for Interstate Five, southbound. They’d visited a lot of little coastal towns, but Harmony Falls had always been their favorite. She swore she heard the ocean and felt the beach breeze, even though it was the fan blowing from her dashboard.
So go to Harmony Falls! What do you have to lose?
Angie exhaled. She wasn’t sure where that voice was coming from, but it knew where she needed to be. So she kept driving, focused forward on the road that took her away from Gregg . . . inside herself . . . back to a better time and place . . .
Late afternoon found her at a scenic turnout on Highway 101, gazing at the rugged Oregon coast. Her heartbeat quickened as her eyes followed that line of beach cradled by the curve of the distant shoreline. Daddy had always stopped here to stretch his legs, where they’d caught this first glimpse of Harmony Falls in anticipation of a wonderful week. The view still stole her breath away. Angie drank in the mystical beauty of the pine forests and the hills . . . the rock formations that jutted out of the swirling waters . . . the ocean that still caught her pulse in its rhythm and softly called her name.
Angie, come home. You’re home, at last!
After five hours in the car, listening to that voice inside her head, she suddenly knew why she’d driven here. The surf had whispered its secrets to her as a child, and now she’d come to listen to its alluring promise again. Forever, this time.
“Hey! Stop! You can’t just end it all! Not on my shift!”
Angie strolled toward the rolling waves, mesmerized by their power as their pulse overtook her own. Cool mist caressed her face. Sun diamonds sparkled on the water despite the cloud cover, pricking her eyes with their brilliance. A line of bright light slashed the horizon where the ocean met the sky . . . a line that looked so damned easy to cross right now.
Why end your new life before it’s even begun? You’re no quitter! This is NOT what we talked about in the car!
Angie walked resolutely across the rugged stretch of beach. This voice had indeed whispered inside her mind the whole way from Seattle, prodding her toward a fresh start, but she’d had enough. “Stop it! You’re driving me nuts!” she muttered.
Got you where you needed to go.
“How’s that? I lost my job—”
Should’ve shut off your cell phone.
“—and everyone else at the hospice already knew I was fired!”
You gave Gregg openings instead of shutting him down. They tried to tell you that.
Angie glared up at the sky. The voice wasn’t judgmental but it wasn’t letting her off the hook, either. “Mom? Is that you?”
“Okay, fine! Don’t give me a straight answer!” Cold water swirled around her ankles as she stepped into the frothy waves.
The divorce was your first step toward recovery, Angie, and today you’ve taken another one. You’ll make it work now!
She exhaled a sob. “If you’re so tuned in to all this, why’d you let him hide in my car? And grab my neck, damn it!?”
You answered his obsessive calls. Chose to accept his abusive—
“I was married to him! I used to love him—or thought I did.” A wave hit her knees, nearly knocking her off-balance.
You thought you could fix him, too. Big mistake.
“Who are you? And what do you know about it?” She grimaced, trying not to cry. She was alone with the ocean and this—this irritating voice that sounded so sure of itself. “You rant like Daddy—”
Warmer. Getting warmer!
“—telling me I could’ve had better than Gregg! So now I can’t go home because he’ll be there to—”
You’re here now. A whole new life starts with your next breath, Angie. It always does, if you choose to believe that.
Angie closed her eyes. The voice in her mind was making sense. And damn it, she wasn’t a quitter! A final walk in the ocean had seemed like a way to wash off all the crap life was throwing at her, but it was only a pity party. Maybe she had left herself open to Gregg’s manipulation . . .
“Wait! Stop! Turn around!”
Had she heard this voice a moment ago? The guy sounded closer now, out of breath—and vaguely like Gregg. So Angie stepped faster toward the oncoming wave.
Your problems with Gregg are behind you. And so is something else! Look!
A few feet away, a black and white dog leaped to catch a Frisbee. The Border collie’s body quivered with excitement, the glee of keeping its prize away from a bouncy little mutt that ran alongside it. When the dogs splashed toward her, eager to play, Angie grinned. For the first time in weeks she laughed as she grabbed for the hot pink Frisbee.
The Border collie ducked its head to keep the toy just beyond her reach. The smaller dog latched onto the disc then, to start a tug-of-war. A piercing whistle made them prick up their ears and look toward–
The guy grabbed her before she could dodge him. While he wasn’t hurting her, he didn’t intend to let go, either—and one look into his steely-blue eyes told Angie she was in trouble. Trouble deeper than the ocean and more complicated than a death attempt. His wicked little beard shimmered when he grinned, and he slipped a determined arm around her waist. “I hollered, but you kept walking into—”
“I—I didn’t hear you! I was—”
“You sped up at the sound of my voice.” His sad smile almost made her cry. How could this stranger make her regret this final walk she was taking, as though he cared what happened to her? “No matter what’s gone wrong, sweetheart, we can fix it. Will you let me help?”
Angie turned within his embrace to face him. The breeze riffled his wavy black hair. He had such an open, friendly face with laugh lines framing his eyes, yet she sensed he had a sultry side, too. Even with the cold ocean swirling around her thighs, she felt sheltered and warm and—
You felt safe with Gregg at first, too, she reminded herself. If you had wised up, you wouldn’t have gone through the divorce from hell. Wouldn’t be walking into this sunset now. Right?
Angie sighed. This guy looked like he had all day to wait for her answer. “You must think I’m a real loser, to be—”
“I’ve never seen a sweeter face. Or more soulful eyes. Or strawberry blond hair that catches fire in the sunlight. Or . . . sorry,” he murmured. “I’m Ross Costello, by the way. Damn glad I was out for a run with my dogs.”
The Border collie and its curly-coated friend tussled with the Frisbee a few feet away, but she was too engrossed in watching this man talk to pay attention to them. Did his close-cropped Vandyke feel as feathery as it looked? “Angie Cavanaugh,” she rasped. “And honestly, I’m not usually the end-it-all type. But today—”
“Today your man pushed your buttons too hard.” Ross sighed. “You’re quivering like a tuning fork, sweetheart, because you almost went off the deep end for a bastard who isn’t fit to lick your sandals.”
Angie’s jaw dropped. How could this total stranger know what she’d suffered today? And why she’d come here? And if he realizes you were Gregg’s doormat, he’ll guess you’re too high-maintenance and too low-esteem. Guys rich enough to live on the coast have women coming at them from every direction.
Even so, he looked deeply into her eyes until the Border collie nudged him with the Frisbee. Effortlessly he sent the pink disc spinning through the air, and the dogs dashed after it. The larger one soared, snatched, and then landed with enviable grace before wiggling all over, so damned happy.
So happy, that voice in her head echoed. See how that looks?
Angie swiped at her eyes and her fingers came back black with mascara. Damn. A cute guy had just kept her from stepping over the edge and she looked like a drowned raccoon. She turned away, but felt Ross’s subtle strength as he took the Frisbee from the dog’s mouth to toss it again. His laughter rose above the whisper of the waves while the dogs rushed off in hot pursuit. His body quivered with a mirth she’d forgotten how to feel. When the Frisbee landed with a thunk between the Border collie’s teeth, the little mutt grabbed the other edge of it.
“Elvis and Celine are crazy for this game, so we play twice a day. Good thing we came when we did, eh?” he asked softly. “We’re firm believers in perfect timing. Call it divine order or synchronicity, if you want, but I think of it as destiny.”
Destiny, is it? Good-looking users love that word.
Angie blinked at this bitter thought, hoping it only applied to Gregg. She couldn’t help laughing then: the smaller dog had clamped on to the Frisbee and the Border collie was swinging so its paws left the ground. “Elvis and Celine?”
“Presley and Dion. They sing with the radio—yet give me dirty looks when I sing.” Ross shrugged, stretching his chambray jacket over broad shoulders. “They don’t like it so much when I play my trumpet, either, but they stick around. For the chow, I guess.”
Dimples winked on either side of his beard. Angie nipped her lip to keep from saying something stupid, yet Ross gazed patiently into her face, allowing her to process his look and his warmth and his words. He seemed unfazed by the cold waves that soaked their shoes and jeans.
Angie resisted the urge to blurt out her woes to this total stranger, a guy whose blue eyes looked so ethereal, so compelling, she could surely trust him with anything. “Not one of my better days, you know?” she remarked. “So . . . how’d you figure out my ex?”
He focused purposefully on her eyes. “The hand print around your neck’s pretty hard to miss, sweetheart.”
Angie’s fingers flew to her throat. She’d only seen herself from the cheeks up in her rear view mirror after she’d left Seattle in such a hurry. Was her life an open book for this guy? Would she keep no secrets—have no privacy—if she believed he was sincerely trying to help her?
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’ve embarrassed you. Scared you. Maybe because I remind you of your ex? And because you fall too easily for guys’ lines?”
Angie’s face flared. Her neck got hot where Gregg had grabbed her, as if Ross were branding her with his insightful words. What she didn’t need was another guy holding her hostage with her own bad habits.
“I’m messing this up.” He stepped away yet held tightly to her hand. “I live just around the bend, in Harmony Falls. I’ll take you to the lodge, if you want,” he added quickly. “Lenore’ll help you with whatever you need, Angie. Her housekeeper makes to-die-for cinnamon rolls, and she was pulling some out of the oven a few minutes ago. They’re the softest, sweetest, ooey-gooeyest—”
When Angie’s stomach rumbled they both laughed.
Ross widened his baby blues at her. “You haven’t eaten today, have you? No matter what you’ve come from or where you’re going, you cannot pass up this chance at heaven, tasting Elena’s cinnamon rolls. Beats drowning all to hell and back.” He cocked his head slightly, imploring her with those sexy eyes and dimples. “Please? I’d feel horrible if Elvis and Celine found your body washed up on the beach this evening.”
Her shoulders dropped. Angie’s tension and fear drained through her body to be washed away by the waves. This guy sounded so nice. He impressed her as a man whose compassion was sincere while his dark, blue-eyed beauty was more than skin deep.
What do you have to lose? You left Seattle so fast, all you have is your car and your cell and the clothes you wore to work.
There it was again, that still, small voice. It had guided her here, away from Gregg and to this secluded strip of beach where a kindhearted man felt she was worth saving. This was a strange, scary magic but she was willing to go with it.
You’re right where you’re supposed to be, Angie. Why stop now?
“A cinnamon roll sounds really good,” she murmured. “And—well, I don’t know how to thank you for—”
“That doesn’t matter.” He grinned and stepped toward dry land. “Come on, Angie. Let’s get you to the lodge.”