Seabreeze Gala Book Excerpt | Author Jan Moran
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.

Seabreeze Gala Book Excerpt

Seabreeze Gala Book Excerpt

Carrying a vintage orange crate from the garage, Ivy opened the kitchen door with her sneaker, taking care to navigate around little Daisy, who was now crawling across the kitchen floor toward a shaft of sunlight on the linoleum.

Her sister Shelly was a relaxed beach mom who thought germs were a necessary part of life. Fortunately, they had just mopped.

Ivy plopped the box on the counter and rolled up her sleeves. “I found more decorations we might use for the fundraiser.” She removed the dusty muslin fabric covering the former owner’s party treasures they’d found.

Her younger sister and their niece traded a quick guilty glance.

Ivy knew that look. She waggled a finger between them. “What’s up with you two?”

“Why do you always think that?” Shelly shot back. “Hey, slow down, Daisy-cakes.” She swept back her tumbling chestnut hair, then scooped up her daughter and pointed her in a new direction away from the stove.

Ivy rubbed her neck, slightly exasperated at whatever secret they were keeping. “If there’s something I should know, don’t hold back. This gala will decide the fate of the Seabreeze Inn.”

Poppy raised her brow. “Aunt Ivy, we think the event should be grand enough for wealthy donors to feel compelled to contribute to the restoration fund, but…”

“Not too spectacular,” Shelly finished. “Or they’ll think we don’t need their help. Maybe we should let a few cracks in the façade show.”

“No shortage of those.” Grinning, Ivy pushed her hair from her forehead. “We could share photos of our antiquated plumbing and electrical systems. Better yet, let’s put buckets under the leaky ceilings. Decorated, of course.”

“That would be novel,” Shelly said, chuckling. “But Viola might have a fit.”

Ivy hooked her thumbs in the pockets of her workday blue jeans. “Look, anyone who’s ever owned a home knows you can’t patch and paint forever—especially a property of this age. Still, I want people to see what a magnificent historical property this is—and how much better it could be. It’s for all of Summer Beach now, not only us.”

For the past few years, she had been keeping the old beach house together with a combination of luck, fortitude, and quick fixes. But that recipe for marginal success wouldn’t stretch much farther in a house now a hundred years old.

When Ivy arrived in Summer Beach, her goal had been to make the rooms comfortable enough to rent for income. Yet, the more she learned about the historical home, the more she felt drawn to restore the inn to its former glory as a centerpiece of the community.

“Wow, would you look at this?” Poppy unwrapped a slightly dented silver serving dish blackened with age. “This place might be a little downtrodden, but I suppose guests from San Francisco and the Bay Area will expect an elegant affair. This piece should polish up well.”

“That’s what people say about us—right, Ives?” Shelly laughed and plucked a purple feather boa from a different box. “Don’t worry; fancy is my middle name. I have to wear this.”

Ivy swatted her sister on the shoulder. “I’m serious. This is an ultra-black-tie fundraiser. You saw the invitations.” They were creamy ivory with gold embossing that read: The Las Brisas del Mar Historical Preservation Gala at the Seabreeze Inn.

“How’s this?” Shelly looped the long, fluffy strand around her neck.

“Don’t you dare.” They might not have a large budget, but Ivy was determined to welcome guests to the most glamorous beachside gala they could muster.

Guests would have to imagine how the old structure would look once renovated, but the inn had to shine with sparkling possibility. After all, that’s what the fundraiser was for.

Ivy was incredibly grateful to Viola Standish for seeding the event with her generous donation. The auction of Amelia Erickson’s newly discovered Victorian diamond necklace would be the highlight of the evening.

Nearby, Daisy gurgled with laughter. With surprising speed, she crawled in wide-eyed wonder toward twin turquoise refrigerators humming like a Pied Piper. She stared, fixated, on the lower grate, which concealed all sorts of dangers.

“Watch out, Daisy alert,” Poppy called out.

“Gotcha.” Shelly swooped down to lift Daisy, now a chubby hands-width from another potential disaster. “Relax, I’ve got this, Ives. With this fabulous bit of finery and a black sundress, I’m ready for anything.” Daisy grabbed the feather boa with glee.

Ivy wasn’t so sure. “We must be at the top of our game, or Viola will be extremely disappointed. She committed to inviting her friends, who all have very high standards. You are not wearing a faded old sundress—with or without that tragic purple thing.”

Shelly grinned. “Don’t worry. I’ll find a sparkly dress. We still need to figure out what we’re wearing. How about Thrifty Threads? That will fit into our budgets.”

“It will have to.” Ivy laughed, but she liked that idea. “It’s just one evening anyway.”

She’d been so busy tending to the gala preparations that she hadn’t had time to think about a dress. Viola would expect her and Shelly to be properly attired to greet her guests.

Viola had strict standards.

A few months ago, Ivy and Bennett’s honeymoon flight was delayed in San Francisco. They sought out the old Erickson home and met the current owner, Viola Standish, and her niece, Meredith. The Pacific Heights house was spectacular. Amelia Erickson had engaged the same architect to build her summer home, Las Brisas del Mar, which Ivy had christened the Seabreeze Inn. Both properties carried historical designations.

Viola referred to Ivy and herself as custodians of history. The Seabreeze Inn had become more than an inn; it was a frequent gathering place for Summer Beach residents. Everyone was welcome to roam art shows on the grounds and attend the annual holiday festivities. The inn also hosted book clubs, and music students visited to practice and perform. The old beach house inn buzzed with locals and guests alike.

Considering all this, Viola’s nonprofit organization and her advisor helped Ivy apply for a combination of grants, tax credits, and other creative options to provide funds for repairs. Viola’s standards for historical preservation were high.

Shelly tickled Daisy’s face with the feathers. “I can do high standards all day long. I made about a billion floral arrangements for bridezillas and charity mavens in New York. For this event, I envision a glamorous, vintage seafaring theme of aquamarine blue and seafoam green with silver accents. Let’s play up the old beach house angle.”

“We could check with Arthur at Antique Times,” Poppy said. “Maybe he would lend us the old ship’s wheel and buoys in the window for the event.”

Shelly’s eyes brightened. “Great idea. The old ballroom will sparkle with treasures, I promise.”

“It has to.” Ivy opened another box. “This is it. If we don’t raise enough money to repair everything here, we’ll be looking for other jobs.” At least the ballroom was in reasonably good shape with its vintage chandeliers, comfortably worn parquet floors, and an enormous fireplace. Low lights would soften the imperfections.

Still, a growing construction list loomed in Ivy’s mind. The old grand dame by the sea needed repairs or replacements to the roof, windows, insulation, electrical, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning.

If Ivy had extra funds, she would continue restoring the hardwood floors and other interior features. The only part that didn’t need substantial work was the surrounding garden. Shelly had already worked her horticultural magic on the grounds, though Ivy suspected Shelly had a wish list, too.

Poppy hefted another old orange crate to the counter. “This is the last of the decorations. I hope there’s a lot we can repurpose. Wow, lots of old seashells in here.” She wrinkled her brow at the gaudy feather boa. “But maybe not that thing, Aunt Shelly. Surely you can do better than that.”

“I’ll consider that a throwdown. And I can use all those shells. We can’t take them from the beach anymore.” Shelly unwound the boa, plucking purple feathers from her shoulders and Daisy’s soft blond curls.

They all laughed. Her sister was creative; Ivy would give her that. They had both inherited that trait from their mother, who was somewhere on the other side of the world sailing the high seas with their father. Even in their seventies, their parents were out living their best lives and showed few signs of slowing down, physically or mentally. Goals, Ivy thought, smiling to herself.

She was figuring out how to live her best life, too. Memories of her honeymoon with Bennett in Mallorca floated to mind. Her mother had been right about that being an essential trip for them. It was the most time they’d ever spent together, just the two of them. Ivy would cherish those recollections as long as she lived.

She leaned on the countertop, surveying the assortment of glittery decorations. “I could sure use Mom’s advice right now. Remember all the parties she and Dad used to throw?”

Shelly plucked another feather from her T-shirt and tickled Daisy’s nose. The little girl laughed and clapped her hands. “They loved to entertain. I remember sneaking out of bed to watch the grownups and snitch all the desserts I could carry back to my room.”

“We all did.” Ivy smiled. “Won’t be long before Daisy is doing that, too.”

Her tiny niece had started crawling with gusto and pulling up to stand. She was babbling nearly nonstop. Soon, she’d be walking and forming coherent words. It seemed like only yesterday that her daughters were that age. Those days flew by in a seemingly endless whirlwind of laundry, dishes, and sleepless nights.

Her daughters were grown now. Sunny was poised to graduate from university this year. Misty worked as an actress in Los Angeles, steadily paying her dues with commercials, audiobooks, theater, and small television parts. Ivy knew her break would come soon.

Intrigued by the finery on the counters, Daisy tried to squirm out of Shelly’s arms.

“Daisy is going to be outrunning us soon. We’ll need to keep up.” Ivy was closer to being a grandmother than a young mother again. That thought shocked her. She had been Misty’s age when her first child was born.

The house phone trilled, banishing that thought, and Ivy picked up the extension in the kitchen. “It’s a sunny day at the Seabreeze Inn. How may I help you?”

A strong, authoritative voice burst through the receiver. “This is Mrs. Hampshire. I’m calling to make a reservation for Viola Standish’s charity gala.”

Ivy shook her head. She wished she could conjure more rooms. “I’m sorry, but we’re fully booked. You could try the Seal Cove Inn or a hotel in a neighboring town.”

“Would you recheck your reservations? I can assure you that I will make it worth your while. I’m sure your rates will be much higher, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t need to check, and we haven’t raised our rates for that week.”

Mrs. Hampshire let out a labored sigh. “I will offer you a bonus of five thousand dollars. You don’t have to tell your boss about it. Simply cancel someone else’s reservation. But not Viola or Meredith, of course. Tell the other guest you had a plumbing leak or something. And I want the room next to Viola.”

The woman spoke so loudly that her voice reverberated through the kitchen. Shelly gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Pressing her lips together, Ivy shook her head. “Ma’am, I am the boss, and we’re still fully reserved. However, I am happy to add your name to the waiting list.”

Shelly smacked a hand to her forehead and rolled her eyes.

Mrs. Hampshire continued, “I could buy that place, you know.”

Some had tried; Ivy bit back a comment. “I wish I could accommodate you, truly I do. We have a limited number of rooms.” She jotted the woman’s contact information on a notepad by the phone. “I look forward to seeing you at the gala.”

After she hung up, Shelly made a face. “She was right. I don’t know why we’re not charging a premium for rooms that week. Still, it’s a good thing I didn’t take that call. On that last suggestion, I would have told her where to—”

Poppy cut in, “It’s a good thing Aunt Ivy is diplomatic.”

Shelly feigned innocence. “Where to find another lodging, I meant to say. Why do you two think I always give attitude?”

“Because you do.” Even though Shelly’s sharp banter had gotten them in trouble on more than one occasion, Ivy loved her sister.

Poppy held up a strand of seashells and a pair of long silver tassels. “We could use these in the ballroom.”

“They’d look great on the mantle.” Ivy brought out another pair.

“You’re not even listening to me,” Shelly said. “We could have doubled our rates for that week. Maybe we still could.”

Ivy narrowed her eyes in warning. “It’s too late now. We should have thought about that before the first reservation came in.”

The first person to reserve a room was Lea Martin from Europe. She had made her reservation within minutes of the press release going out. Ivy assumed she was a friend of Viola’s, but the woman didn’t know her.

“They have to stay somewhere, and this is the prime place.” Shelly wasn’t letting up. “But seriously, where do you think people stayed back when Amelia threw her grand parties in the ballroom?”

“I never thought about that,” Ivy replied. “Maybe they drove from Los Angeles or San Diego.”

“Or had their chauffeurs do the driving,” Poppy added.

“That’s more likely.” Ivy could imagine that. After all, she lived in the Erickson’s old chauffeur’s quarters above the garage. “Wasn’t there a photo of the chauffeurs playing cards while they waited in one of those old photo journals we found?”

Poppy snapped her fingers. “We should check out the old photos to see how Amelia decorated for parties back then.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ivy said.

“I’ll get the photo albums.” Poppy hurried from the kitchen.

Easing onto a stool at the counter, Ivy faced her sister. “Come on, Shells. We’ve got to make sure everything runs smoothly for this event. No antagonizing or fleecing the guests, please. You know how much this means to all of us.”

Shelly tousled Daisy’s curls. “Just chill, Ives. I’ll behave, I promise. I do know how.”

“You just choose not to.”

“Where’s the fun in doing what’s expected of you all the time?” She flung the boa around her shoulders, tucked Daisy under her arms, and flounced from the kitchen, throwing back an excuse. “Have to change Daisy’s diaper now.”

Ivy passed a hand over her forehead, though she couldn’t help but smile. Her sister always did things her way. Ivy had been accused of that, too.

That wasn’t surprising, though; they were both their mother’s daughters.

Just then, the rear door opened, and her husband stepped inside. With his broad shoulders and closely cropped, sun-streaked hair, Bennett could still make her heart race. “You’re home early.”

“I had some business in town and finished early.” He took her in his arms and kissed her. “Still up for our date night?”

Although a dozen things still needed to be done around the inn, Ivy nodded. Having date nights was one of the pledges they’d made to each other on their honeymoon. Decoration plans could wait, but spending promised time with her husband couldn’t.

To that end, she had delegated the cleaning of rooms to a part-time housekeeper and the accounting to a bookkeeper. Getting the inn up and running had required enormous effort and sacrifice, but now that the occupancy level had increased, she could ease off a little. The last few years had been an emotional rollercoaster filled with challenges. Now, she was trying to pace herself and lead a more balanced life.

However, like Shelly, life didn’t always oblige. “Did you have anything in mind for tonight?”

Bennett thought for a moment. “We could put the top down on the old Chevy and cruise the beach. Maybe stop for takeout and watch the moon come up.”

“Only if you bring your guitar.” She knew her daughter was studying late with a friend, and Poppy had told her she had a date with a new man she’d met. Ivy and Shelly were dying to know more, but Poppy wouldn’t give up details.

“I’ll put it in the car right now. I know just the spot.”

Poppy reappeared with an old photo album they had found in the house. She held it open to a spread of sepia photographs. “They sure knew how to dress back then. Amelia’s parties look amazing.”

“We were working on the gala decorations,” Ivy said to Bennett, sweeping a hand across the colorful mess.

Bennett glanced around the kitchen. “I can see that.”

Poppy placed the old photo album on the kitchen table, and they gathered around. “Amelia decorated the mantle like we were talking about. But look at these slinky evening gowns.” She squinted at them. “They could be in style today. Elena’s fashion designer friend Fianna Fitzgerald created similar styles in her current collection.”

“And the jewelry is incredible.” Ivy cradled her chin, wondering if their attendees would turn up in such finery. Poppy’s cousin, Elena, a successful jewelry designer in Los Angeles, was her older sister Honey’s daughter. Poppy still helped Elena and Fianna with marketing campaigns.

Poppy tilted her head. “Viola did put black-tie on the invitation.”

“What do you plan on wearing?” Bennett asked Ivy.

“Shelly and I are going shopping.” She shrugged, happy to make the best of their limited budget. “Nothing that glamorous, though. We’re basically the help.”

Bennett’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re a business owner, the hostess, and the mayor’s wife, don’t forget.”

“I won’t embarrass you, darling.” Ivy smoothed a hand over Bennett’s shoulder. “But I can’t compete with Viola’s old money friends. Besides, the whole point is to raise funds for the inn. If we look like we don’t need assistance, what kind of message will that send?”

Poppy twisted her lips to one side. “But you don’t have to look shabby, Aunt Ivy.”

“Now you sound like your grandmother,” Ivy said. Years of travel had honed Carlotta Reina Bay’s unique sense of style, whether she wore a flowing beach skirt or a chic ensemble for the opera.

Bennett put her arm around her. “Poppy has a point. Now, about that drive we were talking about…”

“Let’s look at these photos tomorrow,” Ivy said. “You can show me your favorites.”

Bennett kissed Ivy’s cheek. “I’ll get my guitar. Do you have your keys?”

Patting her pocket, she said, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

Ivy plucked a lightweight windbreaker from a hook beside the rear door and draped it around her shoulders. She walked to the garage to pull out the vintage, cherry-red Chevy that had once belonged to Amelia and Gustav. Bennett had restored it beautifully for her. She put the top down and smoothed her hand over the broad steering wheel, wondering about the adventures this old car had seen.

One incident came to mind.

While cleaning the attic, she and Shelly found a page torn from a journal that Amelia had written. The poor woman described her anger and dismay when she’d become lost on an outing in Summer Beach. She was turned around, heading up the coast toward Los Angeles instead of down the coast toward San Diego. She chastised herself, writing that she should have noticed the ocean was on the wrong side.

Ivy figured that was when her Alzheimer’s disease was becoming more apparent. Her driver insisted that he drive her from then on, but Amelia clearly loved and missed her independence.

When she heard the door to their apartment over the garage slam, she slid across the bench seat to the passenger side and flipped down the visor mirror to refresh her lip gloss.

Since she and Bennett had returned from their honeymoon in Mallorca, Ivy had been working on their marriage, putting themselves first as they’d promised each other. Even though they both had demanding work, they now made a point to take time for themselves. That might only be a walk on the beach after work, a glass of wine at sunset, or a late-night chat in their tree-sheltered balcony, but they were together.

Now that Poppy ran most of the afternoon wine and tea greetings for guests, Ivy used that time to paint. It was such a relief to escape for a couple of hours to work. The gallery owner in Sausalito had already sold some of her Summer Beach and Mallorca paintings she’d been able to finish.

While painting might be her true calling, she loved running the inn, too. She had come so close to selling it a few months ago and was glad she hadn’t. The old beach house provided her family with a home, income, and a steady stream of guests who kept life interesting.

Sometimes, Bennett would entertain in the evening by the firepit, strumming his guitar for guests for a little while. They always retired early, leaving their guests to chat for the rest of the night if they wished.

“Let’s hit the road.” Bennett placed his guitar case in the back seat before sliding behind the wheel. “I feel like we’re running away, but I love it. And I love you.” He kissed her cheek before starting the car.

She knew just how he felt. Old habits were hard to break. “We have a busy week ahead.”

Bennett started the car and pulled from the courtyard onto the road. “You have a good team.”

“Sunny seems busy, though.”

“How are her classes going?”

“She’s on track to graduate in May.” After Sunny’s mishap last semester, where her boyfriend stole and submitted her paper as his own, she’d been taking her schoolwork more seriously. “I think the threat of being expelled and losing her degree sank in, so she’s determined to graduate now.”

Bennett steered the car toward town. “I’ve noticed that, too. Handling the expulsion issue by herself gave Sunny a boost of confidence. She’s capable of solving problems.”

“That was an enormous step for her.” Sunny’s father had always rescued her, but admittedly, so had Ivy at times. Jeremy had simply thrown more money at her, but neither of them had done her any favors by doing that. Yet, when Sunny wailed and carried on, it was hard not to help her. Where did parents draw the line? There was no manual, no hard rules. What worked for one child was different for another.

“Thank goodness Sunny is finally growing up.” Ivy bit her lip, realizing the onus wasn’t only on her daughter. “I suppose we all are, except when you’re an adult, it’s called growing older and wiser. Do you think we are?”

Bennett chuckled as he parked in front of a new restaurant in town. “Older? That’s a privilege. Wiser? Sure hope so.”

“I haven’t tried this one yet,” Ivy said.

Summer Beach was attracting many new businesses to fill vacancies in the village. This was a result of Bennett’s campaign to attract new entrepreneurs and help others stay in the community and flourish. The town offered a package of free and subsidized services.

Bennett opened the door for Ivy, and she got out. “Ocean View Cafe. A fusion of fresh California and Pacific Rim cuisine. Something smells delicious.”

They stepped inside, and the owner acknowledged them with a friendly wave. “Your takeout is almost ready, Mayor.”

Bennett approached the young woman, who welcomed them with a dazzling smile. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Ivy. She runs the Seabreeze Inn.”

“And we have a lot of hungry guests,” Ivy added. “Everyone in town has been wondering what would go in this space.”

“We’re in our soft opening phase.” The proprietor, Hallie, showed them around the small restaurant, only a few doors from Java Beach, the coffee shop Shelly’s husband owned. “We’re training people and working out issues before our grand opening.”

Ivy gazed at the handwritten menu on a chalkboard and turned to Bennett. “Looks very good. What did you order?”

“An assortment of dumplings and sushi. I thought you’d like the crab and avocado specialties.”

She tucked her arm through his. “You know me pretty well.”

“Hey, you two.” A familiar voice rang out, and Ivy turned to see Megan and Josh, the documentary filmmakers who had bought a home in Summer Beach.

“We saw your car out front,” Megan said. “Wow, the menu here looks fabulous. Mango curry soup, fresh catch, and homemade raspberry chocolate ice cream. I can’t decide where to start.”

“I’ll bring samples,” Hallie said, and she disappeared into the kitchen.

“I can hardly wait to meet Viola Standish,” Megan said. “I hope she’ll consent to an interview.”

Ivy recalled her conversation with the older woman in San Francisco. “You’ll have to frame it as a service to Amelia’s works and history.”

Megan nodded thoughtfully. “Even if she refuses, I hope she can fill in the blanks in the Erickson’s timeline and history. As much work as I’ve done, I still feel like we’re missing parts of the puzzle, even after your discoveries in Mallorca.”

“We were surprised,” Ivy said. “If I hadn’t stopped in to talk to Teresa at Get Away Travel or a fellow passenger on the flight hadn’t acted up, we wouldn’t have discovered any of that.”

On the island, Ivy and Bennett had met a woman at a train station whose grandfather had known Amelia and her father in Berlin. Raquel shared a few details about how they managed to rescue important artwork otherwise condemned to burn. Still, the information was sparse.

Megan’s eyes flashed with excitement. “The art angle is excellent and follows your discoveries at the inn, but I want to know more about their humanitarian work. There’s a lot we still don’t know. If only we could find her complete journals.”

“Instead of page by page, right?” Amelia had often torn sheets from her journal and hidden them. But then, she had lived through tumultuous times, and with the onset of her illness, one had to forgive her eccentricities.

“I hope Voila is willing to talk to me this time,” Megan said.

Bennett inclined his head. “Once you get to know her, she’s quite the storyteller. You’ll probably find no better source on Amelia Erickson.”

Megan’s grin widened. “That’s what I’m counting on. I have so many questions; I want to ask her about all the loose ends you’ve found at the inn.”

As the filmmaker’s enthusiasm bubbled, Ivy’s curiosity swelled. Somehow, Amelia’s presence was still part of the old house, along with remnants of a life steeped in mystery and rich with untold stories.

As they spoke, Hallie brought out several tidbits for them to sample.

“This is heavenly; I have to order this.” Megan sipped the mango curry soup from a small sample cup.

“Let’s get an assortment,” her husband Josh said.

While he ordered, Megan turned to Ivy. “I’d love to peel back the layers of Amelia’s history. I know viewers will want to understand the woman who is as much a part of the inn as the weathered shingles and creaky floorboards.”

“So do I,” Ivy said. “Amelia is such an enigma. I’ve always wondered what drove her and what other secrets she kept locked away. Maybe we’ll never fully grasp the intricacies of her life, but it’s clear she loved her Las Brisas del Mar home.”

“And now you’ll carry it into a new era,” Megan said.

Ivy hoped so, but after tallying the costs, the need was great. “As long as we raise enough for repairs and restoration.”

“I’m sure you will.” Excitement lit Megan’s face. “When we unravel and bring the past to life, people feel more connected to it.”

“More than that,” Ivy said. “Learning their stories is like touching a piece of our souls. The tapestry of our lives is woven from the threads of those who came before us.”

Megan’s eyes rounded, and she reached for her phone. “I have to capture that thought,” she said, tapping the screen. “Anything else to add?”

Ivy laughed. “Ask me later.” She had grown to feel a deep connection to Amelia, not only on the art level but also on the personal, human level.

Hallie slid a pair of bags across the counter toward Bennett. “Your order is ready. We put a little extra inside. I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure we will. Let me or my office know if you want to arrange a ribbon cutting and grand opening. Summer Beach residents are welcoming and supportive.”

“Except for a few,” Ivy said. “But don’t let them scare you. They’re actually good-hearted.”

“We’re counting on that,” Hallie said. “See, we’re starting over. My husband’s parents retired here from Seattle. After we lost everything in a hurricane in Houston, we wanted to be close to them and my folks. The community’s programs have already been a great help.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Bennett said.

Something in his voice struck Ivy as odd, but she let it go.

After leaving, Ivy tucked their takeout on the bench seat between them, and Bennett started the car. She brushed her hair back in the balmy ocean breeze, enjoying the fresh air. The ocean was calm tonight, and waves swept to shore with a mesmerizing rhythm.

“Where to, Mr. Mayor?”

“I thought we’d go up on the ridge. It’s clear, so the view should be amazing. We can watch the stars come out.”

“Lover’s Peak, you mean?” Ivy smiled. That took her back a few years.

Bennett laughed. “It’s a school night, so we’ll probably be alone.”

They drove the short distance in comfortable silence, passing Bennett’s house on the way. The lights were on, and through the living room window, they could see a young family dancing in front of the television.

Ivy remembered doing the same with her daughters at that age. “Looks like your new tenant has settled in.”

“I was lucky to find them.” He pulled to a stop at the end of the street. In the gathering twilight, the lights of Summer Beach twinkled to life. “This reminds me of the old drive-in theater that used to be in Summer Beach.”

Ivy liked that thought. “Only we’re watching the sunset.”

She opened the bags and spread the food between them. They talked as they ate, sharing the new dishes they liked. Simple as this date night was, Ivy loved being together, wherever they were.

They chatted about the upcoming gala as the sun sank toward the horizon, painting the sky with broad strokes of pink and gold. Their conversation was pleasant enough, yet she sensed something was weighing on her husband.

When Bennett finished his dumplings and sticky rice, Ivy cleared her throat. “Is there anything on your mind you’d like to talk about?”

“You know me too well.” Bennett paused to sip water from a bottle. “There are whispers in town that Wyatt Snowden plans to run against me.”

Ivy was surprised. “Is he a serious contender?”

“Apparently so. I didn’t think so, but he’s been railing against city programs designed to bring new small businesses to town, like Hallie’s new restaurant.”

“Surely people in Summer Beach support local businesses. He shouldn’t have a chance against you.”

Tilting his head back, Bennett stared up at the sky. “Maybe he does. He hasn’t officially entered the race, but he has a lot of family money behind him.”

“But he’s against everything you’re doing to keep Summer Beach as it is. He’s trying to keep people out.”

“Except for the big developers, it seems. As some residents move or pass on, the town needs the right growth and revitalization, not the kind large developers bring. Not to this community.”

Ivy folded her arms. “We’ll see. I don’t believe he can beat you.”

Bennett passed a hand over his face and turned to her. Taking her hand, he looked into her eyes. “Would you still love me even if I was voted out?”

“Like we talked about on our honeymoon, everything changes.” Yet, even as Ivy spoke, she had an unsettling feeling about Wyatt Snowden.

“Unfortunately, there is something else,” Bennett said slowly. “And I wanted you to hear it from me first.”

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