Beach House Reunion (Beach House #5)

Beach House Reunion (Beach House #5)

Mary Alice Monroe

To Kathie Bennett, with great love and gratitude.

Chapter One

In the spring, mature loggerhead females steadfastly swim thousands of miles through the Atlantic to nest in the region of their birth. The females repeat this journey every two to three years.

ALL ROADS LEAD home. That thought mingled with the soothing sound of Debussy as Cara descended from the majestic highlands of Tennessee toward the sultry lowcountry of South Carolina. Her brand-new red station wagon wound its way past racing rivers and creeks that flowed south to the ocean, past billboards advertising fireworks, fruit stands, deserted gas stations, and tumbledown antiques shops. Signs of spring—yellow jasmine blooms against lush greens—dotted the countryside. From time to time a flock of birds would fill the sky, and she would crane her neck to watch them migrating north. A short laugh escaped her lips. We are all heading home to nest, Cara thought.

She stretched her long legs as best she could while driving in skinny jeans. The cuff of her white cotton shirt was stained with coffee from a quick swerve. Everything had been too fast in the past few weeks as she scrambled to pack up and move home—too many fast decisions and too much fast food. And here she was, journeying the same stretch of road again. Going home never seemed to get easier. She glanced into the rearview mirror as the passing years flashed in her mind. How many times had she made this journey back to the Isle of Palms?

At forty, she’d driven back from the chilly North to seek refuge at her mother’s beach house in the sultry South, as listless as a rudderless ship. Primrose Cottage had been her sanctuary, as it had been her mother’s before her. A special place by the sea to recharge one’s batteries and find renewed purpose. At fifty, she’d buried the past and left again, looking for a fresh start. Now, three years later, like the loggerhead sea turtle she was named for, Caretta was returning to the only place she’d ever considered home.

She leaned slightly to the right to glance in the rearview mirror again. Her dark eyes were smudged with fatigue and had a few more lines around the corners. She wasn’t a child any longer, or even a young woman. Each decision she made now had rippling consequences. Cara felt her resolve stir. She needed to be home now, more than ever.

LINNEA WAS SO done with the four-lane I-26. She’d sped along that endless stretch of highway from the University of South Carolina in Columbia to her home in Charleston so many times in the past four years that she could drive it in her sleep. And there were some trips that had come dangerously close to that. Red Bull could only do so much. This was her last one, however. She’d graduated at last, and after a final round of parties, she’d crammed everything she could into her blue convertible Mini Cooper and headed home.

At last she exited in Charleston. If she’d been a tourist, she would have followed the main road and got caught in the horrid logjams on East Bay, Meeting, and King Streets. Every time she came home, there was another hotel going up in the city. Traffic was a nightmare. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and swore the whole peninsula was going to sink in the next flood.

But, having been born and raised in Charleston, Linnea was no stranger to the city. She made a sharp right, then shot down Broad Street toward the water, ducking down narrow alleys only locals knew about—bumpy cobblestone roads lined with parked cars. After two more turns, she veered sharply into their driveway on Tradd Street, then slammed on the brakes. Panting and clutching the wheel, she stared at the imposing black iron gate and exhaled in relief that she hadn’t hit it. Her father would have tanned her hide if she’d damaged that elaborately curved and exorbitantly expensive ironwork.

“Oh, Mama . . .” she muttered as she collected her wits. Her mother had complained for years about how the tourists brazenly peeked into their walled garden or even through the windows. While gardening one Sunday morning a few months ago, her mother had turned her head to see a strange man standing inside their enclosed garden taking pictures as free as he pleased—including one of her bent over pulling weeds. She’d screamed at him, but he’d only laughed and strolled away. Her first call was to the police and the next to an ironsmith. Of course, being Tradd Street, it had to be a skilled craftsman who could create an elaborate, Charleston-worthy gate in the style of Philip Simmons. Daddy’d had a fit when he saw the bill.

“Hell, Julia,” he’d argued, “that fella just took a picture of your best side.”

Mama had won the argument, of course, as she had with each improvement of the grand house on Tradd.

Linnea had completely forgotten about this when she turned into the driveway. Staring at it now, she had to admit that it was imposing, if annoying.

She dug through her purse and pulled out the slip of paper with the combination her mother had e-mailed to her. She raised her sunglasses, then carefully punched in the numbers, and with a gratifying click, the great gate smoothly split open. Linnea felt pretentious driving through and wondered if that was exactly the effect her mother had hoped for. After all, she did love panache.

Linnea parked in front of the stately cream stucco house and tapped the horn twice in announcement of her arrival. Manicured ivy climbed the walls of the garage along trellises—her mother wouldn’t allow an untidy mess—and flowers exuberantly tumbled from classic Charleston window boxes. Linnea was always proud to bring her friends to her house near the famous Charleston Battery in the golden perimeter known as South of Broad. The handsome Greek revival never failed to impress with its gracious three-story piazza. But, in the end, it was just home.

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