The Promise of Us (Sanctuary Sound #2) - Jamie Beck

Chapter One

Claire would rather stand naked in the middle of Sanctuary Sound’s town green to expose her scars than start this conversation with Steffi. She’d dismissed her father’s warnings about going into business with a friend, certain that she and Steffi could weather any dispute. After all, they’d managed a workable solution to the Peyton problem when Claire couldn’t have imagined anything more difficult. Apparently, her imagination hadn’t worked hard enough. This current mess, Steffi’s beloved 1940s bungalow that had exacerbated their remodeling company’s financial troubles, proved that a personal bond was exactly what made partnership conflicts so sticky.

Before taking her seat, she leaned Rosie—her worn rosewood-and-ivory cane—against a chair at the dining table. Overhead she heard Steffi’s boyfriend, Ryan—his heavy footfall on the bathroom tile, followed by the sound of the waterfall showerhead at full blast.

While Steffi poured them each a mug of hot chocolate, Claire inventoried the recently renovated interior for the millionth time. They’d tested six blends of “Espresso” and “Jacobean” stain before settling on the darkest one for all the floors. A gray glass-tile backsplash and white quartzite counters had been splurges. The assortment of modern lines and rustic, antique finishes might inspire a Town & Country feature, but that didn’t make the project any less fiscally irresponsible.

“Did you highlight your hair this morning?” Steffi grabbed a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator. “Strawberry blonde’s tres chic.”

“Thanks.” Claire threaded her fingers through the front of her hair self-consciously. The impulsive decision had more to do with Peyton’s impending return than with a desire to be stylish.

Peyton Prescott, the other part of the childhood triumvirate Steffi had named the Lilac Lane League. Peyton. For the past eighteen months, any mention of her name had nicked another piece of Claire’s heart. Bad enough that she’d swept through town and bewitched Claire’s then-boyfriend, Todd. Worse that Todd then ran off with Peyton on her travel-writing adventures. Betrayal by a man sucked. Betrayal by a man and a former bestie—although Peyton obviously hadn’t been a true friend—was excruciating.

In truth, Claire could admit Peyton wasn’t the only woman more venturesome than she. The lame hip and chronic pain from the bullet wound had put Claire’s high-adventure days in the rearview mirror since before she learned to drive. No more tennis. No hiking. No heels. Even dancing could be iffy, especially on dank nights. Her cane had become her most reliable companion, which was why she’d given it a name. And travel? Claire had put the worst of her PTSD behind her, but hypervigilance remained a family credo. No city or vacation destination was worth the risk of another life-altering event.

So be it. She was alive, which beat the alternative despite her limitations. But moving on didn’t mean rolling over, so Claire had declared good riddance to both Peyton and Todd, thankful she wouldn’t have to face them again.

She’d never dreamed Peyton would come home to live, even if only temporarily. Claire wasn’t dating anyone now, which meant the only thing left for Peyton to steal was her pride. Given Claire’s state of mind, it could happen. At the very least, Peyton’s return would stir up dust and make Claire the subject of more gossip. Unlike when she used to compete in the USTA New England’s district tournaments, Claire now hated being the center of attention almost as much as she hated brussels sprouts.

Peyton’s return would also bring her brother, Logan—the star of Claire’s teenage fantasies (and only real rival to her girlhood crush on then up-and-coming junior tennis champ Andy Roddick)—to town. He’d been different from other teen boys—more clever and creative. The last time she’d seen him, this past fall, she’d stammered and scampered away. That recollection made her hot—in a bad way.

She’d sworn to herself that the next time she saw either Prescott, she’d be prepared.

Determined to be on equal footing with her golden-haired rival, Claire had lightened her hair. Silly? Sure. But in the heat of the moment, it had made perfect sense. Then she’d remembered Peyton’s ongoing battle with breast cancer—and her probable lack of any hair—and prayed for forgiveness for such petty thoughts.

Claire smoothed one hand across the waxed surface of Steffi’s farmhouse table, her fingers tracing the ridge between two planks of wood. This bargain find—a benefit of having lived her entire adult life within a ten-mile radius of home and knowing every local craftsman—had been a coup. Claire smiled to herself, picturing Steffi, Ryan, and his daughter, Emmy, carving the holiday roast and blowing