on May 30th 2017
Sydney Bell was the daughter of a police officer, and she knew exactly how far was too far when it came to the law. But the lines between right and wrong could become blurry when it involved matters of the heart. Loss had been a big part of her early life, and she was desperate to hold on to her young family. At least that’s what she told herself after a devastating divorce separated her from her step children.
Heartbroken, she escapes to the small lake town of Maisonville, vowing never to understand men as she appears to pick up the pieces of her world and start over. Unfortunately, her past isn’t ready to let her go, and her new lake get-away begins to look more like her next disaster.
It starts with moving in next door to the frustrating Ryan Gentry.
Ryan was living his dream; the perfect job, a house on the lake and all the peace and quiet he’d ever wanted. At least he’d had it all until red-headed Sydney moved to town. She was emotional, and chaos trailed her wherever she went. He didn’t want to get involved, but it made him crazy to watch her struggle alone.
As Sydney tries to put her life back together and make sense of all the disloyalty, she’s reminded that a small town can heal your soul, sparring with your arrogant neighbor builds self-esteem and true friendship can make you a better person.
RYAN GENTRY SLOWLY DROVE the winding road around Maison-Lafitte Lake, taking in the cypress trees and live oaks that shaded the drive. These trees, with their knobby roots, called knees, and the ones with large winding branches, gave the area character and helped set the small water town apart from other vacation destinations nearby.
The small town of Maisonville had virtually gone unnoticed until the late sixties when a group of young professionals from the city started buying property and settling their wives and children there for the summer months. Some remodeled old homes, but many tore down existing structures and built houses to fit their needs.
It was then that Maisonville had its largest population, and covenants were quickly established to keep the town from growing any larger. Currently, there were four hundred permanent residents, many who spent their childhood vacations at the lake and then later brought their children for the summer months. The town was enjoying a sort of renaissance.
A large group of retirees lived there year round, and they were a social group, getting together as often as possible, which gave a boost to the downtown shops and restaurant. Most the retirees used the nickname Renaissance Lake for the area because living there felt like a new beginning. Things had never looked better as they refurbished their homes and spent endless hours perfecting their lawns and flower beds.
It was turning into a retirement haven, but that quaint and peaceful town also lured young adults looking for the same type of paradise, which was why Ryan Gentry called it home. Unlike other towns in the area and the large city on the other side of the lake, Maisonville only opened itself up by hosting a few distinct festivals and by allowing rentals exclusively during the months of June and July.
Maisonville was a beloved area, and outsiders were always curious to get a peek inside the extraordinary town.
It was rare for homes to be sold because they were passed down to family members or relatives of friends. Therefore, property was usually at a premium with newer homes and condominiums on the east side of town and older homes in need of restoration on the west side, split in half by a perfect little downtown. Running north and south was the large lake and the famous bridge that ran twenty miles over water into the bright lights of the city.
Ryan lived and worked on the west side of town. He owned a small company that specialized in old home rehabilitation, and after repairing a few places for others, he began slowly acquiring homes himself. He was becoming well known in town for single-handedly rebuilding Westside, the name given to the area by locals.
He loved Westside and spent most of his vacations there as a kid with his sister and their Uncle. They swam and played water sports all summer long, and he’d hoped he would end up living here.
He was especially happy at the moment because he’d finally talked the owner of his favorite property into selling to him. Tracey McHenry had inherited the large white house at the bend of the lake thirty years ago, but he left Louisiana after college to live in Maine and never returned. He swore he couldn’t take the heat, but he wouldn’t budge on the property until Ryan kept at him.
Ryan sent pictures of the pier falling into the water along with the vines that had overtaken the solarium. It was one of the oldest homes in town, and he dreamed of restoring it to its original stature. He couldn’t believe it was finally going to be his.
Well, it would be his when he sold his latest project house so that he could afford the steep asking price. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his sister’s face when he told her. Reagan had encouraged him to start his own company and had invested a considerable amount to get him started. He was excited to pay her investment off, several months ago, but understood his working capital was strapped until he sold another property. He needed a buyer to fall out of the sky that week so he could buy the house.
He was in the middle of the steepest curve around the lake when he suddenly slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting a car that had stopped on the road. It was late afternoon, and with the tree cover, the old beige colored Subaru wagon was difficult to see. He quickly turned on his flashers and ran back behind his truck to throw down three orange cones and a flashing light.
Damn tourists were going to get someone killed with their site-seeing.
“What the hell are you doing, stopped here in the middle of the road?” he yelled, trying to locate the driver.
“Just looking around,” said a woman standing on the other side of the car.
“A ninety-degree turn is a great spot to stop your car. I almost hit you,” he said sarcastically as he rounded the car to see a pretty redhead wearing a sleeveless blue sundress and sandals. She was peering over the slight drop off at the edge of the road. When she turned around, he could see she had black marks on her forehead and cheek where she must have wiped her dirty hands.
She blinked her brown eyes several times, and he immediately could see she was trying not to cry. He then noticed she had a flat tire and when he looked over the side of the road, he could see her spare tire had somehow rolled down the steep hill several feet.
“Stay here. I’ll be right back,” Ryan said and jumped down the incline to rescue her roll away spare. Without talking to her, he returned and began to change the tire.
“Thank you, but I know how to change a tire,” she said, and he stopped and stared at her. She stepped toward him, and he held up his hand.
“I got it,” he said.
He had it done in ten minutes and then when he lowered the car with the jack, her spare went flat, too. He shook his head and walked back to his truck to get an air compressor. “When you have your oil changed, you should always have them check the spare tire for air.”
“I just bought it, okay?”
“The car, genius.”
He looked at her and then at the car. He may not be a genius, but they didn’t match. She was wearing sandals that cost a fortune, and there was a purse on the seat of her car that cost more than the car. He knew because Reagan had the same bag and brand of shoes.
He held his hands up and then nodded at her. “You’re good to go now. I wouldn’t drive too far on that spare. It looks pretty old.”
She avoided his eyes but nodded as she headed for the driver’s door. She whispered “Thanks” before she got in and sped off.
He hated the city.
Sydney Bell hurried into the driveway of the small real estate office. It was just off the downtown area, and she was thankful it was easy to find. She shook her head and wiped the black soot off her face and hands. Of course, she would have a flat tire since she was already running late for the real estate agent.
Houses here didn’t last long, and she knew she might not get another chance for a place here for quite some time. Four months ago there had been a condo on the lake that went up for sale, but there was a bidding war, and she lost out to another buyer.
The house she was seeing today wasn’t on the market officially—yet. She’d been driving around the area and stopped in at a small diner for some coffee and overheard a waitress there talking about it. She didn’t care what it looked like but hoped she could afford it. She desperately needed out of the city and hoped to find a place in Maisonville. She’d sold her late father’s house and then her luxury car, the only thing she got in the divorce, and was ready.
Now she just needed to talk these people into selling to her.
She smoothed down her dress and plastered a smile on her face as she walked into the office to meet Will Fontenot.
It didn’t take long for her to win Will over. He was a nice older man and a sucker for a pretty face with a sob story. She’d told him that her father had passed away before he was able to retire in Maisonville, but it had always been his dream.
She was going to hell for lying and for using her dead father as a reason to earn sympathy. Then again, she was desperate and if she could have asked her father, she was certain he would have given her permission to do it.
She wiped her eyes lightly with a tissue as Will drove her around the lake and toward Oak Cove. “I know the owner personally. His uncle and I were best friends, and I’m certain he would approve of you,” Will said, making her smile.
The drive on the west side of the lake was mesmerizing. It was curvy like the other side, but the road was closer to the water. A canopy of beautiful trees with moss shaded the area while the rippling water sparkled nearby.
Will appeared just as excited to show Sydney the house as she was to see it.
“You should have seen the place before it was redone. It hadn’t been lived in for over twenty years, and had the same décor that it did when it was built in the early fifties,” Will explained, talking the entire way over to the house.
Sydney was getting nervous as she listened to him talk about how old the property was and how terrible it looked. She wasn’t sure she would be able to afford the place already, but if she had to hire someone to do repairs, she would be in a lot more trouble.
They pulled onto the street, and she noticed a giant tree growing right in the middle of where the road should be, but instead, the road adjusted around it. Then at the end of the street, there was a circle, with two houses side by side. There was plenty of land on either side of the houses for more homes, but there were perfectly spaced trees everywhere. There was also a fountain on one side, and the grounds were enclosed by a white picket fence. It looked like a private park. She wrung her hands as she realized both of the houses looked very nice and really expensive.
“Are you sure that’s it?” Sydney asked as they pulled into the driveway on the left.
Will looked disappointed. “You don’t like it?”
“It’s beautiful, Mr. Fontenot. I just don’t think I can afford this place,” she said.
“The porches and garage make it look bigger. Come on. You’ll see. Besides, we can make a lower offer. You never know.”
Will turned off his car, and she followed behind him as he went to the front door and opened it. She paused to look at the details of the porch. It was beautiful. Someone had taken their time and hadn’t pinched pennies there. The spindles were painted white while the hand railing had been rubbed in a black stain to match the wide boards on the decking. It was stunning against the white house.
When she stepped inside, there was a small mud room with shelves to the left and a bench underneath. She slipped off her sandals and followed behind Will. Immediately, she noticed the open floor plan. She was standing in the kitchen but could see the dining room, then the living room, and large glass doors that looked out onto a beautiful deck, pier and the lake.
No way could she afford that house.
She exhaled and then bit her lip so she wouldn’t cry. All the time she spent worrying about the house selling too fast before she got there or it being in complete disrepair was a waste. She should have known that it would be out of her league. Most people wanted to live there. It’s why Drake insisted they spend their summer vacations at Maison-Lafitte Lake: it was expensive and exclusive.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fontenot. I’ve wasted your time,” she said, walking toward the front door.
He gently held out his hand to stop her. “Don’t you want to see the upstairs or go out on the back porch? It has an amazing view of the lake.” He smiled at her and gently led her to the staircase. “The owner is motivated and wants to sell this quickly.”
Sydney nodded and walked upstairs to see the spare bedroom with bathroom, laundry room and then the master bedroom with an attached bath. There was a smaller version of the downstairs glass doors on one side of the master bedroom, and it led out to a wide second story balcony.
Without speaking, she looked at the closets and checked out the attic, knowing the house was too much for her.
When they walked back downstairs, she followed Will out onto the deck and then pier and looked over to see the large boathouse next door. The house was for families, and she didn’t have one of those anymore. She wiped her eyes with tissue again, and this time the tears were for real. She turned her head so Will wouldn’t see her and was startled when he spoke standing closely behind her.
“Come now, Miss Bell. Let me go inside and make a call.”
She nodded and then watched as Will walked inside already on the phone with someone. He was gone for thirty minutes, and Sydney sat on the end of the pier with her feet hanging over the water. It was a beautiful place. If her boys could be here, they would already be in the lake, swimming and laughing. She wiped her face quickly and swallowed back the emotion. She shouldn’t have tears left, but she did. She had to toughen up and make a go of things. She was on her own. It was time. She had a plan, and she would find a way to make it happen.
She heard Will clear his throat, and she jumped up to meet him at the glass door. He had a strange look on his face, and she couldn’t tell if he was angry or sad. Something was wrong.
“You okay, Mr. Fontenot?” she asked, nervously.
He slapped a smile on his face and nodded at her. “He’s a hard-headed bastard.”
“The owner?” Sydney asked.
Will kept grinning, but she knew he was mad. “Yes. He’s home but won’t come meet you. He said to send him an offer.”
“Is that bad?”
“He does usually meet the prospective buyers, but don’t let that get to you. We’ll go straight to my office and see how eager he is to sell.”
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