Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1) (17 page)

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Lord—what should I do?” she whispered.

The word
popped into her mind.

Startled, Zoe sat up and leaned against the headboard. What did forgiveness have to do with her problem? A picture of her birth parents flashed in her mind and then the memory of Kyle and Tara standing side by side showing off her engagement ring.

She caught her breath, and sudden tears filled her eyes as clarity finally set in. She’d be running forever until she forgave them—all of them. They’d hurt her to the core of her being, but she felt strongly that God was asking her to do this. They didn’t deserve her forgiveness.

She was reminded of the image of Jesus with his arms stretched out on the cross.
Forgive as I have forgiven you.
Tears slid down her cheeks. She took a shuddering breath, pulled her knees up to her chest, her arms circled around them.

But they had hurt her. Parents weren’t supposed to do that. Best friends and fiancés weren’t supposed to do what they had done. How was she supposed to move past the hurt and let it go? She closed her eyes and rested her head on her knees. She’d learned long ago that the Bible said to turn hurts over to the Lord and He would heal the pain.

Zoe held her breath. Would He really take the pain away?
Lord I need your help here.

She suddenly remembered how Peter had denied he knew Jesus when he had been arrested. That must have hurt a lot considering how close they’d been. But He didn’t hold that against Peter. Her situations were different though.

But again, pain hurt, no matter how it was inflicted. If Jesus could forgive Peter and everyone else who hurt and betrayed Him, she could too. “Okay, I forgive them.” She meant the words. If this was what it would take to be free from the hurt, then it was worth the pain. She reached for a tissue and dried her eyes.

Taking a deep breath, she stood and realized that for the first time in years she felt free. Free from the hurt and pain. The clock on the bedside table read 5:50. Where had the time gone? It didn’t feel like she’d been in here for over an hour. She hustled into the bathroom and splashed cold water onto her face and freshened up her makeup. Her mom had brought her a sundress when she’d visited, and now seemed like the perfect time to wear it. She pulled out the sunny yellow dress and slipped it over her head then slid her feet into flip-flops.

Time to make an impression. Humming her favorite tune she left her room and headed for the yard.




last burger onto a bun and carried it to the table.

“Where’s Zoe, Uncle Nick?”

“I told her six o’clock. She’ll be here any minute.”

Mitch whistled softly. “Speaking of which.” He nodded toward the back door.

Nick looked toward the door and his adrenaline spiked. “Whoa,” he whispered.

Zoe approached them with an extra bounce in her step. “Sorry. I’m not late, am I?”

“Right on time.” Nick waited for her to sit then slid in beside her. “You look really nice. Is that a new dress?”

She nodded. “The burgers smell delicious.” She bowed her head for the blessing and then reached for the pitcher of ice water. “Did you have fun today, Aiden?”

“Yep. Guess what?”

“I can’t. You better tell me.” She grabbed a burger and squirted ketchup on it.

Nick shook his head. He needed to get his focus off Zoe before she realized he’d watched her every move since she’d stepped outside. What had come over him? He’d never behaved like this toward Jenna, and he’d loved his wife.

Mitch kicked him, and Nick’s attention darted across the table. He mouthed,

Mitch nodded toward Zoe.

He turned, and she was staring at him. “What? Did I miss something?”

She chuckled. “I’d say so.”

“You care to share?”

She shook her head. “You snooze, you lose.” She took a bite from her burger and winked at his nephew, who burst into giggles.

Mitch shot him a wide grin and dug into his burger as well. Clearly daydreaming in this crowd was dangerous. What had he missed? Based on the response, it must have been good. Though tempted to tease the information out of Zoe, he remained quiet. No sense in giving his brother any more ammo with which to torment him. “Did you hear the good news?”

“What’s that?” Zoe asked.

“Aiden is spending the week with us.”

Zoe shot his nephew and brother a look, and they all busted up laughing.

His neck heated. “I guess that’s been covered?”

Still chuckling, Zoe nodded and placed her hand over his. “Don’t worry, Nick. We all check out now and again.”

His hand tingled from her touch. He met her eyes, and she quickly removed the connection between them and placed her hand in her lap. Disappointment coursed through him. He missed her touch. He liked the feel of her palm against his skin.

“What will you and Aiden do while he’s visiting?” Zoe asked.

“I’m not sure.” What had he been thinking agreeing to keep his nephew for the week, while Mitch did a job in Seattle? The boy’s mother would pick him up next weekend.

“Well, we know he enjoys playing in the water.”

Aiden grinned wide. “Yep and TV and games and—”

“We get the idea, son. You are easily entertained.” Mitch caught Nick’s eye. “You sure you don’t mind him staying? I could reschedule the job.”

“It’s fine.” It wouldn’t be easy, but between himself, Zoe and Rachel he imagined they’d manage to keep his nephew entertained. Then again, he was assuming the women would help. What if they wouldn’t? No, they both seemed to enjoy Aiden, so he couldn’t imagine they’d take issue with assisting him.

Mitch disengaged himself from the bench and stood. “I should get this little guy in the shower. I have to leave on the first ferry in the morning, so it’s early to bed for us.”

“Ah, Dad. Can’t I stay up late?”

“No can do. Shower, then story time.”

Aiden climbed off the bench and shuffled into the house beside his dad.

Zoe sighed.

“Do you want kids someday?” As soon as the words left his lips he wanted to snatch them back, but too late now.

Zoe swung a leg over the bench and stood. “I’ve never thought about it. I don’t know. Maybe. What about you? Why didn’t you and your wife have any children?”

“She didn’t want them.”

Zoe nodded and began to stack the dirty plates. “Dinner was good. You make a mean burger. Did I taste jalapenos?”

He slid off the bench and stood. “Yes, and chopped bacon.” He gathered the glasses. “Do you mind that Aiden will be here all week?”

“It’ll be a lot of work having a five-year-old underfoot, but I imagine we’ll survive.” She scooped up the dirty plates, hummed off-tune, and breezed toward the house.

He watched until she disappeared inside.
Hmm, what’s gotten into her?
She looked especially pretty this evening. A peacefulness he’d never noticed hovered around her. What had caused the change? Whatever it was, he was determined to find out.



table playing Memory with Aiden while a few guests served themselves afternoon tea. He could hear Zoe humming in the kitchen and wished she’d tone it down. How could anyone hum so loudly?

Aiden wrinkled his nose and cupped his hands around his mouth. “She sounds like an airplane.”

Laughter burst from Nick’s lips, startling a guest so much he splashed hot water onto the table.

“Sorry,” the man said.

Nick stood. “No problem. Be right back with a towel.” He strode into the kitchen where Zoe sat at the counter flipping through a magazine. “Towel?”

She looked up and tossed him one.

“Thanks.” He darted back into the dining room and mopped up the spill—never a dull moment.

“It’s your turn, Uncle Nick.”

Nick ran the wet towel back to the kitchen then parked at the table. He flipped over a card and grinned when he remembered where the corresponding match was and flipped it over next. He sensed someone behind him and looked over his shoulder.

Zoe stood there hugging the magazine to her chest. “You mind if I take a walk?”

“Not at all. You don’t need to ask.”

“I know, but you’re extra busy this week, and I didn’t want to leave you in the lurch.”

He made a quick change of plans. Though he had wanted to give his nephew a chance to win, Zoe had presented him with an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. “Hold on a sec, Zoe.” He quickly finished up the game and counted his matching cards.

“Aww. You always win, Uncle Nick.”

“Sorry, buddy.” He stood and spoke softly to Zoe so Aiden wouldn’t hear. “You mind if Aiden and I join you on your walk? I want to ask you about something.” Ever since Saturday Zoe had been a transformed person and he had to know why. Did it have anything to do with the prayer he’d overheard a week or so ago?

“Sure. I was going to head down to the water, so grab the life vest for Aiden.”

Nick let his nephew in on their plans then set the reception phone to forward to his cell. “That should do it.”

“You going to lock up?”

He grabbed the life vest from behind the reception desk where he stored it for easy access. “Probably a good idea. The guests all have the key code to come and go as they please, but I don’t want just anyone wandering in.” He left a note on the door, and locked it behind them.

Aiden slipped on the vest and ran ahead.

“Don’t go too far. If you can’t see me, you need to turn around.”

The boy waved and galloped on.

Zoe giggled. “He’s cute.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure how much time we’ll have to ourselves, so I’m going to come right out with it. I’ve noticed a change in you lately, and I was wondering if it has anything to do with a prayer I overheard in the garden a while back.”

Zoe’s forehead wrinkled. “You were listening to me pray?”

“Not intentionally.” His heart rate increased. “I was coming to find you because I was concerned about you. I overheard a little before I turned and left you to your privacy.” He winced. He wouldn’t blame her for being angry.

“I see.” A shy smile covered her face.

“You’re not mad?”

She shook her head and looped her arm through his as they meandered onto the stone-covered beach. Aiden splashed in the shallow water along the shore.

Nick admired her profile. “What’s changed in you, Zoe?”

“Let’s sit. This is a long story.” They plopped down onto an old log. “The short version is that I finally let go of my past and forgave some people who hurt me.” She gave him a sideways look. “You sure you want to hear this?”

He nodded.

She went on to tell him about her parents and their violent past and then started in on a story that shocked him even though she’d mentioned her ex-fiancé once before.

“So you came here to escape your fiancé and best friend?”


He kept his attention on Aiden. “Do you still have feelings for him?” He held his breath.

“Absolutely not! I can’t believe I actually thought I was going to marry him, and that I am already over him. He wasn’t the right man for me.”

He had the sudden urge to pump his fist, but refrained. “Okay, that explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain the change I see.” He studied her profile. Her pert nose and freckles were cute and in direct contrast to her gorgeous hair. But the woman was far more than good looking on the outside—she had depth in spite of being bamboozled by her ex.

“Autumn, the girl who stopped by that day you saw me praying, suggested I talk to God about some things. Ever since then I’ve been praying and reading a Bible I found on the bookshelf in the sitting room. Saturday afternoon while I was praying, it became clear to me that I needed to forgive several people and let go of the hurt. Believe me, it wasn’t easy, but I worked through it and forgave all of them. That’s not to say any of them are welcome in my life, but I realized I was only hurting myself by hanging onto my anger and hurt.”

“So that’s what’s different?” he asked softly. He’d neglected his relationship with God for some time now.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, maybe you could use your own God moment.”

His shoulders tensed. He minded her saying so, very much. It wasn’t her place to judge. She didn’t understand his situation. An internal battle waged as he mulled over her words. He glanced her way and saw the tender sincerity in her eyes, and his ire melted. Clearly her intent hadn’t been judgment. He needed to calm down. He took a breath and let it out slowly. “I’ll think about it. Thanks for sharing.”

Aiden raced toward them and ran full throttle into Nick, knocking him backward. They landed in a heap on the backside of the log.

Zoe stood over them laughing and offered him a hand.

Aiden clambered up, dusting off his palms. “I’m hungry.”

Nick took Zoe’s hand and pulled up.

She smiled. “How about this little guy and I go back to the house, and you take your time out here?”

He nodded, understanding her silent gift of time. “Thanks.” Although he hadn’t appreciated Zoe’s suggestion, he knew she was right. He’d felt empty inside for a long time and hadn’t put two and two together until Zoe bluntly told him he needed his own God moment. He’d never thought about it in such terms, but it was time. He was tired. The guilt and loneliness had gone on long enough. It was time to talk with the Lord. He waited until Aiden and Zoe were out of sight, then he sat on the log and stared out over the water.

Never one to pray out loud he prayed in his head. He poured his heart out to God about everything—Jenna, his practice, the B&B, Zoe, even Aiden.
I don’t know what I’m doing, Lord. I’m taking things one day at a time, but I need You. Thanks for sending Zoe here. I’m sorry for what she’s gone through, but I’m thankful she’s here.
He sat there for a long time, staring across the water. Kayakers and boaters passed by; some waved while others didn’t seem to notice him. His backside began to ache, and he shifted. Pain shot down his leg. Clearly he’d been sitting too long.

Footfalls on the stones caused him to turn. The sun glistened behind Zoe, creating an angelic halo around her. His stomach lurched and his heart nearly stopped. He loved her, and he hadn’t even been aware it was happening. He cleared his throat. “Hey, there. Where’s Aiden?”

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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