Return to Magnolia Harbor - Hope Ramsay


I was warned, before I started work on this story, that writing a Beauty and the Beast trope might be harder than I thought. I ignored this sage advice and ended up mired in a mess of my own making. And so I must acknowledge all of those who pulled me out of the quicksand, starting with the anonymous blogger at You Call Yourself a Film Critic ( whose wonderful blog about Beauty and the Beast finally helped me realize that my main character was a great deal more like Fiona from Shrek than Belle from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.

Also, many thanks to my longtime editor, Alex Logan, who had to read the first draft of this story, an experience that was probably quite painful for her, and stuck with me until we had fixed the problems. She once again helped me figure it all out as only she can do. Her advice is nothing short of brilliant.

I’d also like to thank my good friends and critique partners J. Keely Thrall and Carol Hayes for their thoughts about the hero as this project was first coming together and my writing pal Jamie Beck for listening to the whole plot line during a three-hour drive from New York to Vermont and for helping me brainstorm the ending.

Finally, my heartfelt thanks go to Elizabeth Turner Stokes for capturing my vision of a lighthouse and giving Return to Magnolia Harbor the best cover ever.

Chapter One

Jessica Blackwood patted down her hair, hoping the humidity hadn’t frizzed it too much. Granny would probably comment on it anyway, even if she’d managed to smooth it into the most perfect pageboy in the universe.

She stood on the sidewalk outside Granny’s house in the historic district of Magnolia Harbor. Built in the mid-1800s in the Georgian style, the house was a study in geometry and symmetry. The plants in the garden were set out in careful rows too. Granny would have it no other way.

Jessica hurried up the brick walk, fixing a proper Southern-lady mask on her face. She rang the doorbell and waited.

It was funny, she’d once called this house home, but now it felt more like the scene of a crime, where her parents had abandoned her and disbelieved her and then sent her away.

So she didn’t love the house because she’d never been loved here. And yet, like a good girl, she came back every Saturday out of obligation. Granny lived alone now that Momma and Daddy had died.

When Granny finally opened the door, Jessica drew some comfort from the fact that, like her own hair, Granny’s looked like a frizzy nimbus around her thin face. But that didn’t stop Granny from frowning. The fold in the middle of her forehead could intimidate anyone, and frequently did. Granny had spent a lifetime frowning and had worn that groove deep.

“Darling,” Granny said in a slow drawl, “you’re late.” And then the old woman inspected Jess. “Why do you insist on wearing that dress? The color isn’t good on you.”

The dress in question had been purchased at Daffy Down Dilly, the boutique that occupied the retail space below Jessica’s brand-new office. It had a border of roses along the hemline in shades ranging from pastel to hot pink. Jessica loved the dress, but Granny had a thing about pink. Jessica should have remembered and worn something else.

Jessica said nothing because Granny didn’t expect explanations or apologies. Instead the old woman turned away, and Jessica dutifully followed into the front parlor, which was furnished with Victorian antiques that had never been comfortable.

As if to punctuate the point, Granny’s sister, Donna Cuthbert, who was about a hundred pounds heavier than Granny, perched precariously on the edge of the balloon-backed sofa. Aunt Donna looked as if she might slide right off that thing at any moment, and her purple jungle-print blouse clashed horribly with the sofa’s red damask upholstery.

Granny gave her older sister one of her disapproving looks, with the eyebrow lowered just so. “Donna dropped in unannounced,” she said. “I had to put another cup on the tray.”

As if putting another cup on the tray was a major trial. Granny could complain about anything, even an unexpected visit from a member of her much-diminished family.

“Hey, darlin’,” Donna said, hopping up from her unsteady seat and giving Jessica a big, warm hug.

“What brings you to tea?” Jessica asked, sitting down in one of the side chairs.

Granny took a seat beside Donna. There was a faint family resemblance