Between the Lines (Paradise Bay Sweet Romance Book 1)

By: Ella Linden

Chapter One




Olivia turned her Jeep off of the highway and onto the dirt road she remembered so well from her childhood. Further down the road, she was just able to see the front of the little white cottage with its crisp red trim peeking through the swaying branches of a row of weeping willows. A red pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and, as she got closer, she saw a logo that said “Paradise Bay Animal Care” emblazoned on the side. She grinned. The only thing better than being here was being welcomed by her cousin, Jack.

She pulled into the driveway next to the truck and got out. As she slammed the driver’s side door, she saw Jack coming down the stairs of the cabin’s wide front porch.

“Cuz!” he shouted, and he came to her, arms open. She laughed and folded him into a hug, and he gave her one of his usual bear hugs. “Good to see you, Livi,” he said as he released her.

“Good to see you, too,” she told him. She looked him over. “You still look the same. Shouldn’t you have aged in the last few years or something?” she teased, and he shook his head. It was true. Jack still had the same unruly brown hair, the same stubbled jawline, and she swore there were still no lines around his dark brown eyes.

“Forget me. You look great,” he said, and she smiled. She didn’t have any siblings, but she and Jack had been close as kids, and he was the closest thing she had to a big brother. The few years they’d lost contact seemed to melt away immediately, and she felt even more sure of her decision to make the move to Paradise Bay.

Jack walked to the back of the Jeep and opened the gate. “You didn’t bring a lot,” he said, glancing at her.

“Well, I knew Aunt Daisy and Uncle Rob had this place stocked with furniture and dishes and all that.” The cabin was one that she’d spent childhood and teenage summers in, but her aunt and uncle had built a new one in an even prettier location and now rented this one out to tourists every summer. She’d lucked out and snagged a claim on it before tourist season started, and she was grateful she had.

“They wanted me to tell you they’re not taking any rent money from you,” Jack said, reaching into the back of the Jeep and pulling out one of the boxes.

“Oh, yes they are,” Olivia murmured. “Even if I have to force it into their hands myself.”

Jack paused and looked at her, and she glanced up at him. “I’m glad you left him, Livi. He never was good enough for you.”

Olivia felt the words wash over her, ignored the old impulse to defer, to act like Jon hadn’t been so bad. “It was time for a change. Many changes,” she added. “He just made it really easy for me to finally move forward.”

“You could see it, seeing you two together, even at the beginning,” he said. “It was like watching Wonder Woman dating Mole Man or something.” They carried the boxes to the front porch and set them in the small, bright living room of the cottage, then went back to the Jeep for another load.

“You’re crossing your universes again,” Olivia said with a laugh.

“Still true,” he shot back, and she shook her head.

She and Jack carried the rest of her boxes in, and she stood in the cottage, looking around. Everything was just as she remembered. The wide-plank oak floors gleamed in the mid-morning sunlight that slanted through the kitchen windows, and the white walls made everything feel clean and fresh. The furniture was newer, a kind of casual, shabby chic look to it all, painted wood tables and bookcases. A sleeping nook was tucked into one corner of the living room, a daybed that could be used as an extra bed if there wasn’t enough space in the sleeping loft upstairs. Out of the back of the house, through the kitchen window, Migisi Lake shimmered, the old gray wooden dock stretching out into it just as it always had.

“I can run into town with you if you want. I bought a few things for the kitchen. There’s tea, and milk and some sandwich stuff in the fridge. I wasn’t sure what else you’d want,” Jack said.

Olivia smiled up at him. “You didn’t have to do that.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal. I’m glad you’re here.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and she gave him a quick hug. Growing up, she and Jack had been inseparable during those all-too-short summers she’d spent here at the cabin just outside the town of Paradise Bay, and they’d kept in touch even as adults, though their contact became more sporadic in the past several years. Recently, that was mostly because being with Jon was, eventually, what she imagined it would be like to have a very loud, very needy toddler, except not nearly as cute and there was no hope of him ever growing up.