By Debbie Macomber
Arrow PB £5.99
Debbie Macomber is one of today’s most popular writers, with numerous fiction novels, cookbooks, children’s books and even a colouring book to her credit.
Today sees the publication of Sweet Tomorrows the final novel in her much loved Rose Harbour series.
To celebrate we’re giving one lucky reader the chance to win all five paperbacks in the Rose Harbour series. You’ll find details at the end of this page.
Meanwhile here’s a taster of the delights in store from Sweet Tomorrows … enjoy!
Nine months ago, Mark Taylor abruptly left Cedar Cove on a perilous mission to right a wrong from his past. Though Mark finally confessed his love for her, innkeeper Jo Marie Rose is unsure if he’s ever coming back.
Recovering from a twice-broken heart, Emily Gaffney, a young teacher, is staying at the inn while she looks for a home of her own.
The Rose Harbor Inn has always been a special place of healing. Can it work its magic again for Emily and Jo Marie …
Evenings were my favorite part of the day. Emily and I took turns cooking dinner. I will say it was a treat to have someone else cook a meal for me. Most of my guests were out in the evenings, as I didn’t provide meals beyond breakfast. My boarder proved to be an excellent cook. She used fresh ingredients and frowned upon processed food. I did, too, but when cooking for one it was often more expedient to toss a frozen entrée into the microwave. I didn’t want to put a lot of effort into dinner for just me. If it wasn’t a frozen entrée, I’d throw some lettuce together, but I grew bored with salads and had gotten into the habit of cardboard meals. With two of us there was more of a reason to make an effort to prepare real food.
After dinner Emily and I sat on the veranda, looking out over the cove. We were both silent, caught up in our individual thoughts. As always, despite my best efforts, my head was full of Mark. I didn’t want to think about him and had made a gallant effort to put him out of my mind, not that I’d succeeded, mind you. And now, after I’d gotten that postcard, the task had become a lost cause. The date on the card was weeks old. Reading between the lines seemed to suggest Ibrahim was injured. If not Ibrahim, then maybe one of his family members.
“If only I knew where Mark was.”
“Mark?” Emily asked, turning to study me. “Who’s Mark?” I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud. “Sorry . . .” It felt awkward dragging his name out of the blue like that. “He’s a friend,” I said, answering her question, and then immediately felt the need to correct myself. “Well, actually, he’s more than a friend.”
“He’s away?” she asked
“Are you in love with him?”
That, I suppose, was the next logical question. “In Iraq,” I said, without explanation.
“He used to be. He went back of his own accord to find a friend, an Iraqi national who worked with the Americans as an informant. Mark’s company was ordered out and . . .” I paused when I realized I was giving her far more information than necessary. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dump all this on you.”
“No, please, I’d like to hear what happened.”
And so I told her, condensing a lot of the story, giving her basic elements.
“Are you in love with him?” she asked.
Emily certainly didn’t have a problem getting to the heart of the matter. I had no clue that my feelings could so easily be read by a woman who barely knew me.
“Yes, I care about him . . . very much so. He’s been gone almost a year. A year,” I repeated, and my voice cracked. The longest year of my life. Even longer than when I’d waited to learn Paul’s fate.
“I don’t know if Mark is dead or alive,” I continued. “Just before you arrived I got a postcard that didn’t make sense and then it sort of did. Now I don’t know what to think.”
“What did the card say?”
I repeated it verbatim, having memorized the few short lines.
“ ‘Lost suitcase okay, but mine is badly damaged, making its way home,’ ” Emily repeated, and sipped her coffee, holding on to the mug with both hands. “In his handwriting?” “Yes . . . I think so, but it was jerky, as if he was writing
it while riding over a bumpy road.”
“Or weak?” she mumbled, carefully studying me.
“Mark is the one who is hurt”
“Or weak,” I repeated, and closed my eyes. I’d assumed that the damaged luggage referred to Ibrahim or Shatha . . . not Mark himself. How could I have been so blind? “It’s Mark,” I whispered as the truth hit me. “It must be him. He’s the one who is hurt. That’s . . . that’s why I had such trouble reading the card.” All at once it felt as if a concrete block was pressed against my chest, the weight of it nearly unbearable.
“Like you said, he could have been attempting to write while traveling,” Emily said, seeming to sense my anxiety. “Or it could be one of the other people you mentioned. Didn’t you say he would be traveling with an Iraqi man and his family?”
“No, it’s Mark who’s injured,” I said with certainty. “It has to be Mark.” I pressed my fingertips to my mouth. In that instant I knew beyond a doubt it was him. He’d been gravely hurt and . . . this was his way of telling me he was in bad shape. He’d mailed the card in order to make sure I’d follow through on my promise.
Emily reached across the space between our two chairs and gave my arm a gentle squeeze. “Tell me about him.”
It took me a few moments to pull myself out of the dread that weighed down my heart. I couldn’t think of Mark injured and in terrible pain, otherwise I’d quietly go insane.
“What do you want to know?” I asked, still struggling within myself.
“What would you like to tell me?”
I had to think how best to describe our relationship, and I briefly closed my eyes. “Do you remember the first day you arrived and I told you the inn was a place of healing?”
I heard the hesitation in her voice, as if she expected me to pry into her personal life. That wasn’t my intention.
“I know this from personal experience. I believe I told you I purchased the inn only a few months after my husband was killed in Afghanistan.”
“It must have been a terrible time for you.”
“It was. I know it sounds theatrical to say Paul spoke to me that first night. Shortly after I’d hired Mark to build me the sign for the inn. I don’t mind telling you he was a real pain, cantankerous and unfriendly. As time progressed, he became important to me for more than all the projects I’d hired him to do. Little by little, we found ourselves spending time together, becoming friends, although we often butted heads.”
“I’d been trapped in fear”
Emily nodded, as if she understood the route our awkward relationship had taken.
“I believe Paul sent him to me in the same way he did Rover.”
My rescue dog was never far from my side. On hearing his name, Rover raised his head. I leaned over and scratched his ears.
“What happened?” Emily asked. “What made Mark decide to return to Iraq?”
I explained as best I could, and when I finished I added, “When Mark left me without giving me any details, I decided to consider him dead. For my own sanity, I had to.” I explained that I’d been left in limbo for a year before Paul’s remains were found and identified. I refused to put myself through the hell of not knowing again.
Emily continued to study me. “There’s got to be more to Mark getting into Iraq than you’re telling me.”
Amazingly, I’d never asked myself that question. “How do you mean?”
“Well, for one thing, Mark can’t simply bring Ibrahim and his family into the States without some sort of visa. that would need to have been arranged long before he left.”
“You’re right.” It shocked me that I hadn’t considered this earlier. I don’t know where my head was. What Emily said only made sense; I’d been trapped in fear and hadn’t allowed myself to think beyond the consequences of Mark risking his life.
“One or more government agencies must have been involved, whether he went rogue or not,” Emily continued. I sat there stunned, wanting to slap myself for not considering this sooner. Clearly my emotions had clouded my thinking.
“Mark left the country of his own volition,” I explained.
That was my understanding, although now that I thought about it, no one had specifically told me that. “As far as I know, the army didn’t sanction any part of this.”
“They must know about it,” Emily insisted. “Come on, Jo Marie, think this through. Someone knows something. The army? The CIA? Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Of course, Mark had help”
Was that really possible? This was one of those epiphany moments. Of course, Mark had help. While he might have gone into Iraq completely alone, surely he’d gotten some form of government assistance.
Emily set her mug aside and leaned forward, bracing her elbows on her knees. “I can almost see your mind churning. What are you thinking?”
“I . . . I don’t know what to think.”
“Isn’t there someone you can ask? Some connection with the military. Your husband was army, right?”
“Airborne Ranger.” The first person to come to mind was Paul’s commanding officer: Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Milford. Paul didn’t have any family to speak of. His parents had divorced when he was young and Paul had seen his father only twice in his entire life. His mother had died young, when Paul was in his twenties. Paul’s father lived in Australia and they had never been close. As a result, Paul had looked up to his commanding officer as both mentor and friend. The lieutenant colonel might be able to answer my questions. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to ask.
“Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” I said aloud, although I didn’t expect a response.
“Love does that to us,” Emily told me in soft tones. “It clouds our thoughts, messes with our heads, makes us think and do irrational things.”
It sounded as if she was speaking from personal experience. “Thank you,” I whispered.
She shrugged as if it was nothing. “Don’t mention it.”
What happens next … Sweet Tomorrows is available at Amazon and all good bookshops. But we’re giving one lucky reader the chance to win all five paperbacks in the Rose Harbour series! To enter this super giveaway, simply send your details on an email marked ROSE HARBOUR to email@example.com. We’ll pick the lucky winner on Thursday, August 18 at 10am. Good luck!
Meanwhile, enjoy more super short stories from My Weekly