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Summer with the Carpenter

Summer with the Carpenter

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♥A Christmas in July Romance♥She inherited a Bed & Breakfast. He’s the contractor hired to fix up the old building. They can’t stand each other, but they have to get married or lose the Inn.

Includes a town map and a story-inspired recipe!

  • Small town Christmas in July festival
  • Fourth of July
  • Hate to love
  • Opposites attract
  • Arranged marriage
  • Ticking clock


♥A Christmas in July Romance♥She inherited a Bed & Breakfast. He’s the contractor hired to fix up the old building. They can’t stand each other, but they have to get married or lose the Inn.

Ruby Rossi found an unexpected friend in the late Sandy Leblanc, owner of the Sandy Shore Inn who left it to her after passing away. She’s determined to prove herself worthy of the legacy. However, she’s not too fond of the carpenter Sandy appointed in her will to do repairs.

Trent Cabot was estranged from his grandmother and is shocked when he learns of her passing. Even more surprising is the fact that she left her inn to a stranger but stipulated he remodel the place. The new owner is as stubborn as she is pretty, but he’s not the kind to settle down.

However, Sandy’s will also requires the two get married by Christmas in July, a major event in the small town, or the Inn will be sold and the money donated to a resort investment firm that threatens Blue Bay Beach.

Will Ruby and Trent make the arranged marriage work and get married in time to save the Inn?

This is book 5 in the Blue Bay Beach Reads Romance series. Each story stands alone but reading them in order provides a deeper, richer experience. It is a sweet, small town, “clean and wholesome” romance, is faith-friendly, and contains a happily ever after.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1: Ruby

It felt wrong for the sun to shine on the day of Sandy Leblanc’s funeral.

“Sandy, you wouldn’t have had it any other way. Would you?”

Ruby knew it was strange to be talking to a dead person, but maybe that was because she didn’t want to believe the woman who had become like a grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, and best friend all rolled into one was gone.

Tears brimmed in Ruby’s eyes as she zipped up the side of her black dress. But the tears didn’t fall. She already missed Sandy with the kind of ferocity that occasionally came to the hideaway South Florida beach town between the months of August and November.

Hurricane season. It was only July. But the storm was already on its way.

She kept up the dialog with Sandy to keep what felt like inclement weather at bay. In a fragile state, Ruby reasoned that if she continued her days as they’d always been she could ignore the rumble of thunder in the distance and the way the rustling wind showed the underside of the leaves.

Mercifully, the sun shone through the massive windows at the front of the Inn as Ruby made her way downstairs on the morning of the funeral.

Sandy had been gone a week, and the Inn was empty, but Ruby still rang the bell to indicate breakfast was available, brewed the coffee, and set out the newspapers.

She wanted nothing more than to proceed with “business as usual,” co-managing the Sandy Shore Inn with the usual morning coffee meeting, addressing everything to be done that day, reviewing meals, activities, and the particular needs of their guests whom they made to feel at home at the quaint bed and breakfast.

But Ruby was alone in the stately old Victorian-style house that had been converted to a B&B.

“I’ll add creamer to the list for the market. And we’re nearly out of birthday candles. Best to stock up on those.” She took a sip of coffee, drinking it black but with sugar like Sandy always had.

The particular taste had grown on her like the woman herself. Sandy was salty and sweet, weathered from so many summers in south Florida with the sun, humidity, and hurricanes but as kind and big-hearted as they came. Sandy liked to say that she wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but she’d never met anyone who turned down her famous kettle corn.

She was just as irresistible, at least once you got to know her. Spunky yet kind, no one ever dared to disagree with her.

“I know you’ve been wanting to get a website made. I’ll add a note to the comments box after booking a reservation for guests to designate if they’re celebrating anything special like a birthday or anniversary,” Ruby said out loud.

Sandy had successfully run the place for almost fifty years before succumbing to kidney disease. Everything was done old school, over the phone, and it was the personalized little touches that had kept guests coming back. But Ruby had gone over the books, and the numbers had dwindled to nearly nothing. It didn’t help that the Inn was closed for the week after Sandy’s passing, but Ruby had a funeral to plan.

Of course, they had their seasonal regulars, but new people couldn’t visit the Inn if they didn’t know it existed. The Sandy Shore Inn business name online had remained unclaimed. Getting the website up and running was but one of the many things that needed doing.

Ruby had been there for almost five years. Looking back, the last few were less about tending to things at the Inn and more about taking care of Sandy. She was glad to do it.

The woman didn’t have any family to speak of, and Ruby could think of little worse than being alone.

But now she was.

She had her own family, but their betrayal was what landed her in Blue Bay Beach. Sandy knew the entire story. She’d said it was a blessing in disguise and that someday she’d see that. She also got Ruby going to church regularly, and if she didn’t get a move on, she’d be late for the funeral service.

The floor creaked in all the same places as usual when Ruby walked to the kitchen.

The air smelled as it always did—fresh salt air mixed with coffee and the sweet undercurrent of baked goods.

The two women found their footing over a shared love of all things butter, sugar, and flour.

If they’d had more time and been internet savvy, they could’ve had a successful food blog, which might have driven traffic to the Inn. However, there was always so much to do and little leftover in the coffers for extras.

Lately, Ruby didn’t have an appetite for anything. “I know, I know. I can’t just drink coffee for breakfast. But your scones and muffins were better than mine. I’m sorry I never admitted it to you before.” They also competed over whose baked goods were better. Sandy won by a mile.

Ruby picked at a cranberry orange scone she’d found in the freezer—one summer, during the annual Blue Bay Beach Christmas in July event, the Inn was at capacity, and the oven stopped working. It could have been a disaster, but they did their best to cater to the guests. Many stayed at the Sandy Shore Inn partly because it was renowned for serving all the delicious Christmas favorites—everything from fresh baked cookies to puddings to pie.

From that day on, they kept a backup supply of food in the freezer just in case.

In her grief, Ruby had been barely able to eat the food brought over by Betty, Billie, and several other local friends.

She suddenly stood up straight, having a flash of inspiration. “Okay, fine. It’s your idea. You always had good ones,” Ruby said.

Had Sandy still been alive, she’d be the one sending out warm dishes, casseroles, and baskets of baked goods to those awash in grief. Ruby went to the basement where several deep freezers held loads of food and hefted a few containers of baked yumminess upstairs to defrost. It made a strange kind of sense for Sandy’s amazing baked goods to be featured at her funeral. Like the sunshine that day, Ruby had a feeling the beloved woman wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Of course, she’d planned the funeral and Betty ensured that there would be food at the reception, but Sandy always erred on the side of the more the better—especially when it came to butter. She was never wrong. The proof was evident in the fact that everyone cleaned their plate when she served up a meal, tea, or dessert. She’d joke that it left her with less work to scrub the dishes.

Ruby had already set up everything else for the reception after the funeral—Sandy would’ve wanted it at the Inn, which was home to her and everyone who walked through the front door.

As Ruby stepped outside to walk over to the church, she fought the urge to call out be right back as she’d always done. She was afraid a passerby would hear her and think she’d walk straight off the end of the dock and into the Gulf of Mexico.

The problem was, there was still so much she wanted to say to Sandy. So much to learn from the woman who’d lived a relatively quiet life in Blue Bay Beach but had gleaned so much from everyone who’d stayed at the Inn over the years. And what of Sandy’s life before she ended up at the Inn? Ruby knew very little and she’d never find out.

At the end of the path leading to the white picket fence that surrounded the garden in front of the Inn, Ruby took a deep breath. They did everything there themselves, including tending to the bright pink pentas, periwinkle, and the bulbine lining the fence. The bougainvillea growing on the trellis overhead needed some trimming but was beautifully in bloom.

During Ruby’s first year as the resident assistant at the Inn, in her spare time, she set up an easel in the garden, took out her modest supply of paints, and replicated the Sandy Shore Inn in all its glory—complete with the window boxes overflowing with geraniums, the flag rippling in the wind, and the chimney with its crumbling brick. She’d gifted it to Sandy who hung it proudly in the front sitting room. Sandy then gifted Ruby back with a new set of paints and a space in one of the infrequently used upper storage rooms to set up her easel. Sandy was correct when she’d said, “Guests are going to want to buy that painting. Best to have a backup.”

The sales of the paintings were so successful, other businesses commissioned Ruby to paint their shopfronts. However, short on time because they were busy at the Inn, and then with Ruby caring for Sandy when she fell ill, she couldn’t do it.

As Ruby gazed at the bulbine, she snorted. She never quite captured the yellow-orange of the flower when mixing her paints. Sandy had said it was perfect, along with the portrait she’d insisted Ruby paint of her before she’d passed. Ruby never felt like her art measured up and like it was good enough. Story of her life.

Ruby glanced back at the Inn—it held up decently well year after year but was in great need of maintenance. Soon it probably wouldn’t be her problem. The Inn would likely be taken by the bank or whatever happened to estates that had no heirs.

She blinked a few times, regaining her composure as she gazed at her surroundings in Blue Bay Beach—at the soft blues and pastels, the sun-bleached shade of the sand in the near distance, and the bold pops of sun and sky.

As hard as that particular day was proving to be, warmth suddenly settled over Ruby.

Under her breath, she muttered, “Thanks for making me stay, Sandy.”

All those years ago, Ruby had thought she was just passing through. Instead, she’d found a new home. Blue Bay Beach was like that. Sandy had said,

“Once it captured your heart, it didn’t let go...and if you were lucky, you didn’t either.”

In the church, which was next door to the Sandy Shore Inn, Ruby joined Betty and Gus Lisle. Betty was Sandy’s longtime best friend, well, aside from Ruby.

Betty gripped Ruby’s hand throughout the service. Both offered readings and said a few words about their late friend. While Betty broke down in tears, Ruby kept her voice even, refusing to show anyone how she felt. She’d spent years practicing her pout, her smile, and looks of indifference—or as the bigs in the modeling industry had called it, the neutral look. That was the one where she didn’t reveal anything. She couldn’t let anyone see how much she hurt inside.

Afterward, they went to the cemetery. It was the finality of that goodbye that pushed the tears to the front. That made Ruby’s lip tremble. Her body fought back a quaking sob.

Betty held her tight and whispered, “It’s okay to cry.”
But it wasn’t. At least not for anyone to see. She’d learned that lesson. So she held her emotions back along with the thought that her life was going to fall apart without Sandy there.

She also wasn’t sure where she’d go. She had a bit of money saved up, but the rentals in Blue Bay Beach were costly and few and far between. Returning to New York City wasn’t an option. But she couldn’t think about the future with so much hurt in the present.

After the burial, everyone slowly paid their respects, leaving Gus, Betty, and Ruby graveside.

“We should head over to the Inn,” Betty said softly. She wiped away a tear with a well-used tissue.

“I’ll be over in a minute. Everything is already set up.” Ruby’s voice threatened to crack. She needed a minute.
Billie was probably there at the Inn, welcoming everyone. Her uncle, whom she’d been close to, had passed and Billie had been one of the few people who seemed to understand how surreal the last week of Ruby’s life had been. Billie had been a quiet but kind presence, dropping off food, watering the flowers, and being helpful without needing to be asked but also not asking how Ruby was doing. There wasn’t yet a coherent answer.

Fine or good were lies. Billie must have known that. She was one of many amazing residents of Blue Bay Beach—it was that kind of community and Ruby was thankful she’d been able to call it home.

The minister at the funeral had said that Sandy was going home. That God had called her to Him, to His heavenly home.

But Ruby wasn’t ready for her to leave and felt like it wasn’t fair to take her so soon—she was only in her late seventies.

Their time together hadn’t been enough.

On one level, Ruby knew it was Sandy’s time, and she was in a better place and all the platitudes she was sure to hear at the reception. It was probably true and definitely well-meaning. But on another level, the ache was deep.

Almost selfish. She wanted more of Sandy’s salty-sweetness. Theirs was the maternal, mother and grandmother, relationship she’d never had.

The storm of sobs threatened to come in full force. Tears pierced the corners of Ruby’s eyes, her jaw trembled, and her chest felt like it might explode.
Just then, someone cleared their throat slightly, drawing her attention. For a slim second Ruby thought Sandy was going to tap her on the shoulder and say, “Just kidding. I’m still here.” Of course, no such thing happened.

A tall man dressed in black and with a beard shot with auburn stood nearby with his hands clasped, gazing at the ground.

Ruby didn’t recognize him but refused to let a stranger see her cry.

She paid her last respects and turned to go to the Inn.
Inside, it was full of friends and food, but nothing was the same without Sandy there.

She’d have been solemn, respectful, and then say something quietly that would make Ruby crack a smile.

Sandy had always said laughter was the best medicine even though some people saw her as prickly. They hadn’t gotten to know Sandy. That was the thing. She knew who she was and what she wanted...and didn’t apologize for it. She never let anyone take advantage of her or pull one over. She liked to say she was a straight shooter—possibly a term borrowed from her love of old Western films and books.

As guests helped themselves to food, they exchanged memories of Sandy, most notably her love for the annual Christmas in July Jubilee.

“I loved those kettle corn bags she’d make and trim the tree out front with,” said Sylvia, whose daughter owned the salon in town.

She was talking to the guy with the beard from the cemetery.

He must have been around Ruby’s age. Maybe a few years older. It was hard to tell with the facial hair. The corner of his lip lifted as if he too enjoyed the round bags of popcorn Sandy would fill, tie with a ribbon, and hang on the tree and sell to passersby for a dollar.

“They were called kettlecorn bells,” he said with a deep rumble of a voice that caused something in Ruby’s stomach to twitch.

The older woman shrugged off and walked to the banquet table to help herself to a blueberry lemon tart. The guy with the beard held a plate topped with pigs in a blanket, a scoop of macaroni salad, and some of Sandy’s pickled cucumbers.

“Actually,” Ruby started, addressing the unfamiliar man, “she called them kettle corn bulbs. Like Christmas bulbs that you hang on the tree.”

He shook his head as though to argue. “Bells,” he said. His hair was full and slightly darker than his beard. She imagined it was softer than his comment had been.

“Bulbs,” she countered.

“I’m quite sure she called them kettlecorn bells.” He took a bite of a pig in a blanket.

Ruby squished up her nose. “I don’t think so.”

“I know so,” he replied.

Her eyes narrowed as they met his. They were stormy, ocean eyes with flecks of blue and silver, slate, and cerulean. Paintable eyes. She erased the thought instantly. He had a slow, lazy smile that she wanted to wipe off his face. It was the kind that, during any other circumstance, would’ve brought a grin effortlessly, reflexively to her lips.

He was undeniably handsome, tearing Ruby from thoughts about Sandy and the funeral.

Yet, there was something about him that also reminded Ruby of her. She wanted to sit in her grief and not argue about whether the kettlecorn bulbs were called that or bells or gaze wistfully at the stranger with the firm muscles hidden beneath his black button-down shirt.

However, he didn’t give up, insisting they were kettlecorn bells.

She hated him instantly.

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