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Love Came Calling

By C. A. Popovich

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 C. A. Popovich

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Love Came Calling

When Kelly Newton decided at the last minute to join her friends for a two week getaway, all she expected was time away from the stress of her job, a hot tub, and hiking trails by the water. She didn’t count on her powerful attraction to Josie Harlow, the charismatic and totally unavailable owner of the lesbian resort in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

 

Josie Harlow knows from past experience that happily ever after is a fairytale. When she meets Kelly, her desire is instantaneous, but a beautiful distraction is the last thing she needs as she works to make the resort a success, withstand the pressure to sell her land and hunt down the hooligans damaging her property. When her grandmother is no longer able to care for herself, Josie has to figure out how to support her Elder and deal with her growing feelings for Kelly too.

 

Can a romantic looking for a long term, committed relationship and a jaded cynic too busy for love conquer life’s struggles and find their way to what matters most?

Love Came Calling

© 2018 By C. A. Popovich. All Rights Reserved.

 

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-206-5

 

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

 

First Edition: May 2018

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

 

Credits

Editors: Victoria Villasenor and Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design by Tammy Seidick

By the Author

Edge of Awareness

 

The Courage to Try

 

Imperfect Truth

 

Love Came Calling

Acknowledgments

I’d like to gratefully acknowledge all the hardworking folks at Bold Strokes Books who help me give my books a home and fulfill my dream of writing. Victoria Villasenor and Cindy Cresap, editors extraordinaire, thank you for helping me make this work so much better. I especially want to thank Victoria for her extra push and encouragement with this manuscript. She guided me to “dig deeper” and “make it matter.” Painful but necessary lessons.

 

Thank you to my friend and retired English teacher, Fran, for her invaluable feedback and suggestions. And to her wonderful book club members who never fail to offer their beneficial thoughts and ideas. To Carsen Taite, awesome BSB author, I thank you for taking time to answer my legal questions. Thank you to my friends and fellow BSB authors Friz and Kris, for your listening ear and helpful suggestions. Thank you, my friend Chris, for allowing me to bounce ideas off you. And thank you to Sandi for your support and recommendations. I’m grateful for all the ways you’re in my life.

 

Finally, thanks to all the readers of lesbian romance. Your support means everything.

To Sandi.

Thank you for calling.

Chapter One

Joslyn Harlow sat on the wooden rocker facing the snow-covered ice and appreciated the partial view of the Ice Bridge to Canada. She enjoyed watching the snowmobilers follow the tree-lined pathway she’d helped create, and it usually marked the busiest part of the winter season for her cabin rentals. The snow sparkled in the sunlit expanse, and the peaceful scene strengthened her resolve to keep the cabins she’d inherited on Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The three acres of waterfront property had grown in value after falling drastically during the recession and forcing her father to remortgage. It was hers now, and she had plans for the place. If she could keep the cabins rented for a couple more months, she could refinance the existing high-interest loan. Just two more months and she could finally put her business degree to use for the birth of her lesbian resort, Harlow’s by the Bay. Her dream. She stood, dusted the snow off the steps, and headed to her office to review her finances. Half an hour later, her concentration was interrupted by the jingling of the bell on the lobby door.

“Hello. Anyone here?”

Joslyn looked up from her desk toward the sound of a male voice. She shoved her ledger into a drawer and locked it before moving to the front counter. She didn’t recognize the burly man wearing a black snowmobile suit. “Hello. Can I help you?” She smiled, wondering about his confused look.

“Yeah. I wanna know where Jack is?”

She tried not to squirm under his glare. “I’m not sure who this Jack is you’re looking for, but I’m Joslyn Harlow, the owner of these cabins, but please call me Josie.” She waited hoping he’d elaborate.

“The owner, eh? I don’t think so. I know the owner, and he ain’t you.” He looked side to side, examining the room.

“Could I ask your name, sir?” Josie figured being polite would get her further than revealing her annoyance.

“I’m Abe Bernstein. Jack and I were huntin’ buddies, but I’ve been downstate takin’ care of some business. I’m back now, and I want to talk to Jack about buyin’ this place.” He stomped some snow from his boots and wandered to the wall covered in pictures. “Yeah. I remember this.” He pointed a stubby finger at one of the photos.

“I’m sorry, Abe, but I’m not sure who Jack is. Those pictures are of my grandfather when he built this place. They’re my cabins now, and I’m not interested in selling them, but if you want to leave your name and number, I promise to contact you first if I ever do sell.”

Abe turned back to her and narrowed his eyes. “Your grandpa, huh?”

“Yes. My grandfather, Harold Patterson.”

“I’ll be in touch. Don’t you worry.” He turned, pushed the door open, and banged it shut before hopping onto a snowmobile and riding away.

Josie sighed and went back to her office to finish updating her books and figure out her next move, but first she opened her wall safe and took out the deed to the property. It was there in black and white. Her father had left everything to her in his will, and she’d had the deed recorded and title transferred. The property was legally hers. Abe was an odd guy, and gruff, but he seemed puzzled and frustrated at not finding whoever Jack was, not really threatening. Still, she noted the time and date of Abe’s appearance on her calendar and an hour later, pushed aside any uneasiness as she locked her office and outer door.

 

* * *

 

Josie tossed the pile of towels, the final load for the day, into the oversized washing machine. The group of Canadian guests had been a welcome surprise when they’d pulled into the parking lot right after sunup with three trailers full of snowmobiles. She’d finished plowing the twenty-by-twenty-foot parking lot merely half an hour before their arrival. The first week in February generally began the busiest time during the winter, but this lucky group found her with two cabins available. It didn’t matter why they were there, or why they hadn’t bothered to make reservations, because it meant she’d be able to pay the tax bill easily next month.

She added bleach and soap to the washer and then headed to the woodshed. She wanted an ample supply of firewood in case her guests wanted to warm up and relax in the main lodge when they returned from their snowy ride. The tiny cottages had electric heaters, but the chilled snowmobilers found the main lodge with its massive stone fireplace ideal. She loaded the firewood rack and set up the forty-two-cup coffeemaker. She filled a second smaller one with water and set two baskets filled with hot chocolate packets next to it, along with a few stacks of Styrofoam cups. She circuited the large open room and shifted the leather couch and chairs to face the fireplace and made sure the worn wooden end tables were within easy reach for cups. She scanned the room a last time, assuring visibility of the large signs declaring the room alcohol-free. Her father had dealt with numerous drunken guests over the years and had demanded the visitors keep their booze in their cabins if they wanted to drink. Josie planned to keep that requirement and hoped she wasn’t naive to believe a group of lesbians would be respectful of it.

She interrupted her chores to pour herself a cup of hot chocolate and take a moment to reflect on her life since the death of her father four months ago. A twinge of guilt twisted her gut when she realized she’d let the time slip away without seeing Nooko. She smiled at the memory of the Ojibwe word for grandmother, nookomis, and how, as a child, she’d shortened it to nooko. Josie wasn’t full-blooded American Indian, but her nooko was an Ojibwe elder. She’d been fairly steady on her feet with the use of a cane while they stood greeting friends at the funeral, but when she’d talked to her since, she’d noticed a weakness in her voice she’d attributed to grief.

Her grandmother had hinted the last time they’d talked about the empty bedroom in her two-story bungalow located in the Lower Peninsula, and Josie knew her intimations were partly based on her progressing immobility. She wondered if Nooko would consider moving back to Drummond Island with her, once she got her renovated resort off the ground. Tomorrow she’d call and make a plan to visit her. Maybe she’d even get a chance to spend an evening at the local lesbian bar for a hookup. She’d been working to keep the cabins rented to the exclusion of any fun since her father’s death, and she missed the physical connection with a woman. She knew her prospects for a suitable bed partner were better downstate, so maybe she could find time to hook up with a beautiful lady and relieve some stress.

 

* * *

 

“Good morning, Nooko. It’s Joslyn.” Josie would have preferred to use her cell phone than be tethered to the corded landline, but she’d learned not to place much faith in the wireless connection from the island. She sat on her bed, leaned back against her headboard, and stretched out her legs as she watched the morning sun begin to brighten the eastern sky. Maybe being stuck by the window isn’t such a bad thing.

“Oh, it’s so good to hear your voice, honey. How are you?”

“I’m good. Everything’s going well here. I thought I’d give you a call before my guests get up. How’re you feeling?” Josie shifted her phone to her left ear and grabbed her coffee cup.

“I feel fine, dear. Do you have a full house this month?”

Her grandmother always referred to all the cabins being rented as a “full house.” “I do, Nooko. I just filled the last two yesterday. A group of snowmobilers, and they’re having a ball. How’s the weather there?”

“It’s cold and snowy.” She exhaled loudly. “I’m not even bothering to have the driveway plowed. I can’t drive anymore anyway. I don’t know what I’m going to do with your grandfather’s Jeep. Did I ask you if you wanted it? I can’t remember. I know your father didn’t want it.”

“I’ll take a look at it next time I’m there. I wanted to talk to you about when.” She worried about her nooko being trapped in the house in an emergency.

“You come anytime you want to, honey. You know you’re always welcome. I haven’t been upstairs…in a while. The extra bedroom may need a little dusting, but it’s yours whenever you want it.”

Josie hesitated, hearing the message beneath her words and the weakness in her voice. She made an instant decision. “I’m thinking of wrapping up the season at the end of this month. Fishing doesn’t get going until April, so how does March sound for me to come visit?” She set her coffee cup on her nightstand and stood to gaze out the window, already beginning to plan ahead.

“Oh, yes, that would be lovely! I’ll plan on it.”

“Sounds good. My lodgers are up now, so I better go get the coffeemaker started. I’ll give you a call tomorrow, and we can plan some more.” Josie didn’t mention her calls would continue to be daily until she could figure out a way to keep her nooko safe.

She quickly set up the coffeepot she kept in the lodge and went to her office to review her schedule. She had no bookings for April despite the excellent fishing that time of year, so she calculated that she could afford to spend the time with Nooko if necessary. She had one group booked for the beginning of March, and reservations for her first lesbian group weren’t until May. She looked forward to reconnecting with her nooko before beginning her new endeavor in earnest.

Chapter Two

“Come on, Kelly. It’ll be fun, and we could all use a relaxing getaway.” Debby leaned back in her chair. Her brown eyes sparkled.

Kelly Newton took a bite of her sandwich and considered what her friend and coworker had told her about a newly opened lesbian resort located on an island in northern Michigan. The owner advertised it with furnished cabins, private decks, and a huge fireplace and hot tub in the main lodge. The latter nearly made her decide on the spot as she tipped her head from side to side to stretch her neck. She needed a vacation to clear her mind and help with her decision to change jobs. She gazed about the lunch area where they sat at one of the small round tables. Getting away for a while would be heaven. She began a mental list of preparations before turning to face Debby. “I don’t know, Deb. I’ll think about it. You and Alex are going for sure, huh?”

“Yep. I’ve put in for a two-week vacation starting the end of May, and I’ve convinced Kristen and Jaylin to come along. Jaylin said she might be able to get Maria and Dana to join us, too. We’re almost ready to confirm our reservations. We’re going to sit by the water, or the fireplace, depending on the weather, and unwind.” Debby speared a piece of chicken from her salad and popped it into her mouth.

“I’d like to support this lesbian-owned place. She just opened, huh?”

“Yes. We’ll be her first lesbian group.” Debby grinned.

Kelly took a deep breath and exhaled to release the tension in her shoulders. “I could sure use a holiday. We’re stressed to the max around here.” She pictured herself sitting in a peaceful cabin on a remote island until the cabin picture morphed into a wooden shack with drafty windows, leaky roof, and a moldy bathroom. “It’s new, though, right?”

Debby sipped her water before answering. “Right. The woman’s family has owned the cabins for years, so they’re not new, new, but she’s remodeled them. She’s a descendant of the Ojibwe American Indians. She grew up on Drummond Island and wants to make a go of the place. It’s called Harlow’s by the Bay. Look it up. She’s got a website with great pictures.”

“Thanks. I’ll check it out and let you know what I decide. I’ve got to get back to work. See you later.” Kelly dropped off her used tray and lunch dishes in the kitchen and wrenched her thoughts from lounging in a hot tub to juggling the nurse’s schedules to cover the new patients arriving. She’d only been back at her desk moments before she was dealing with another staffing issue.

“But I worked a twelve-hour shift yesterday.” Megan, one of the new registered nurses, leaned on the counter opposite Kelly and tapped on the schedule. “I’m only staying until five today.” She glared a challenge at her.

“When you hired in last week, I reviewed the schedule thoroughly with you. Our influx of patients requires all of us to put in a few extra shifts. At least for a while. I need you to work twelve hours today. You’ll get tomorrow morning off, and Rachael will fill in. We have two new aides starting tomorrow, too. I’m sorry, but there are three new residents who need to be checked in, reviewed, and have treatment protocols set up.”

Kelly pinched the bridge of her nose and turned away from Megan to face her computer screen, hoping she’d take the hint. She heard her huff as she stomped away. If this kept up, her decision to leave the nursing home would come sooner rather than later. The thought reminded her she hadn’t heard back from the VNAA, Visiting Nurses Association of America, regarding her application. It didn’t sound ideal, carrying a bag and working out of her car, but she couldn’t stay in the stressful environment of the nursing home much longer. She’d been with Serenity Care for twenty of her twenty-five years as a nurse, and she’d seen it change as healthcare changed. The number of patients had grown throughout the years, and the facility had developed a reputation for being one of the best in the state. The aging population, growing number of seniors needing care, and the increasing number of people obtaining health insurance had resulted in more patients than healthcare workers to care for them. Janis Smith, the administrator, did an excellent job of managing the nursing home, but it had become increasingly difficult for her to find the required staff to care for the residents. Her nurses were overworked and in danger of burning out, and Kelly was thinking of walking away after twenty years. What did that say about the situation? Kelly shut down her computer and headed to check on their newest patient. She’d just finished taking the ninety-year-old’s vitals when one of the aides poked her head in the door.

“Hey, Kelly. Janis asked me to let you know she wants to see you in her office when you’re done here.”

“Thanks, Jean. I’m almost done.” Kelly frowned, wondering why the administrator wanted to see her. She hoped she wouldn’t tell her there were more residents being admitted. They were out of room. She recorded the patient’s critical information into her laptop before heading to Janis’s office.

“Thanks for coming, Kelly. Please sit for a minute.” Janis indicated the empty chair opposite her desk. “I have something I need to discuss.” She leaned back in her desk chair and rolled her shoulders before continuing. “As you’re aware, we’ve taken in quite a few new residents this year. You’ve been with me since the beginning, and I value your experience and opinions.” Janis shifted in her seat and leaned forward before continuing. “A few of our aides told me they’ve had to constantly alter their patients’ bath schedule because the nurses insist their tasks are a priority.”

Kelly blew out a breath and shook her head. “I’ve talked to every new nurse about scheduled vital checks and medication distribution. I thought they all understood. Why didn’t the aides come to me about this?”

“I believe it’s because you’re the nursing supervisor. They figure you don’t have time…I don’t know. I just know we need everyone to be as efficient as possible with our budget constraints, understaffing, and all these new patients.”

“I’m sorry you had to get involved with this, Jan. I’ll call a staff meeting this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, or both if needed, and make sure everyone can work together to make the best use of time.” Kelly forced herself to shut the door gently as she left the office. She went directly to her station, sent out an email regarding a staff meeting, and made a note to remind herself to contact VNAA about her application first thing in the morning.

 

* * *

 

“No openings in the area at all?” Kelly paced from one end of her kitchen counter to the other and switched her phone to the other ear as if she’d hear something different from the other one. “So where do you have openings? Illinois? But I live in Michigan. Is there any chance of something opening up anytime soon? I see. Thank you.” She turned off her phone and flopped onto her couch. She had a hard time believing the only spot available with the Visiting Nurses Association turned out to be in Illinois. She leaned her head on the back of the sofa and squeezed her eyes shut. For a fleeting moment, she considered taking the out-of-state position and pondered the feasibility of the daily drive. Perhaps it would be less stressful than what she was dealing with now. She stood, grabbed the eggs from the refrigerator, and took out her frustration by scrambling them.

Kelly finished eating her breakfast before going to her barn to feed her horse. “Hey, boy. It looks as if I’m not changing jobs anytime soon.” She filled his grain bucket and tossed a couple of flakes of hay into the feeding corner of his stall. She picked out a pile of droppings and flung it onto the manure pile before double-checking his water bin and heading back to the house. She took a few minutes to wash up, finish a cup of coffee, and reflect on her conversation with the VNAA representative. Maybe she’d just have to make the best of the nursing home. Maybe it’ll get better once the new employees settle in. One thing she knew for sure, she’d join her friends on a vacation getaway. She sighed and grabbed her briefcase before leaving for work.

Chapter Three

Josie slogged through the foot of snow leading to her grandmother’s front door and brushed the heavy late winter snowflakes from the doorbell. She made a mental note to find someone to keep the driveway clear as she pressed the button.

“I’m coming.” Ruth Patterson peeked through the curtain before opening the door. “I didn’t expect you until tomorrow. Come in, honey.”

Josie stepped inside and enfolded her grandmother in a hug, surprised at how frail she felt in her arms. “I decided there’d be less traffic on Sunday, so I came today.” She stepped back and held her grandmother’s shoulders. “Do you feel as good as you look, Nooko?” Josie hadn’t known what to expect when she’d locked up her cabins and packed to head south to her grandmother’s, but her bright smile encouraged her.

“I’m fine, dear. I was on antibiotics for a few days, but I’m done now. Come, take your coat off. I’ll make us some hot tea.”

Josie watched her shuffle to her walker next to her couch. She grabbed the handles and smoothly moved toward the kitchen. She obviously felt more secure with the walker than her cane. This evident decline in her mobility in only a few months concerned her. Josie removed her boots and pushed aside what seemed to be a lifetime of her grandfather’s and Nooko’s coats, sweaters, and boots to stow her own winter garb. She’d bring her suitcase in later after she had a chance to assess her situation. She wandered through the living room noting the dust. The carpet hadn’t been vacuumed in a while, and dankness indicated the windows hadn’t been opened in a long time. She sighed deeply, realizing her nooko looked good, but probably couldn’t be left alone much longer.

“I’ll get the cups while you tell me why you were on antibiotics.” Josie retrieved two mugs and a box of tea bags from the cabinet and set them next to the stove, where her grandmother had put a kettle on to boil.

“Thank you, dear. I had a cough that wouldn’t go away. The doctor wanted to be careful because of my age, I guess. I spent a few days in bed, but I’m fine now.”

“How’d you get to the doctor?” She took a deep breath, trying to dispel the remorse for not even knowing her nooko had been sick, let alone not being there to help.

“My neighbor, Nancy, from across the street took me. She has the Meals on Wheels route here, so she checks on me every day.” She patted Josie’s hand as she spoke.

Josie watched her grandmother plop into one of the kitchen chairs. At least she has someone looking in on her. “You sit. I’ll pour the tea. I’d like to talk about some things.” She set the mugs on the table, considering her next words. “I have some plans for the cabins, Nooko.” She waited for a response, but her grandmother just sipped her tea and watched her expectantly. “I’ve renamed the place Harlow’s by the Bay, and I’ve advertised it as a lesbian resort. I’ve already got it booked for two weeks after Memorial Day.” Josie stopped talking and waited. Her grandmother set her cup down before speaking.

“I always knew you were smart.” Nooko smiled and regarded her for a long moment. “Your father never liked change. He worried about disappointing your mother and grandfather. When he and your mom took over the land, he promised to do his best to keep it up and keep it in the family. Your grandfather wouldn’t have cared if he had to sell the place. Harold and I had a good life here.” She gazed at the wall seemingly lost in memories. “He built this place, too, you know.”

“I remember him being a hard-working man. I miss him, too.” Josie sat quietly for a moment, not wanting to intrude on her grandmother’s thoughts. “You probably know Dad took a loan out on the property about nine years ago. I’ve just about got it paid off now.” Josie took her nooko’s hands in hers and squeezed gently. “I can make this work. I know I can.”

“I know you can, too, honey.”

Josie blinked back tears, allowing herself to feel the love and support from her nooko. She took a deep breath and realized how apprehensive she’d been to tell her about her plans. Any misgivings she had about her nooko’s support vanished. Now she had to make sure she kept her safe.

 

* * *

 

Josie leaned on the plastic snow shovel and appraised the previously snow-covered driveway. She felt good about opening up her grandmother’s world by assuring her a clear pathway out of her house, but a nagging feeling warned her she wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it. She bent to stretch her back, realizing she’d gotten used to her snowplow and hadn’t had to shovel in years. She put the shovel in the garage and swiped off a dust-covered side window of Nooko’s twenty-year-old Jeep with her gloved hand. She peered inside, admiring the condition of the interior, but doubted it would run since it’d been sitting idle for the ten years since her grandfather’s death.

“Nooko?” The warm air of the house was welcome, and Josie went in search of her grandmother. She’d left her sitting at the kitchen table with hot tea and toast and instructions to call her if she needed to get up. She frowned at the walker unmoved from where she’d left it within easy reach. Her chest constricted as she hurried through the living room toward the bedroom. She stopped short when she passed the bathroom and heard a groan. “Nooko!” She knelt on the tile floor next to her grandmother, who was wedged between the toilet and sink cabinet, the toilet paper holder the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor. She rushed to the bedroom and grabbed all the pillows from the bed. Her grandmother whimpered, and Josie shoved the pillows beneath her for support and wrapped her arms around her waist. She gently pulled her up and pivoted to sit her on the toilet seat. “Do you hurt anywhere? Are you dizzy?” She checked her arms and legs, but a growing bruise on her wrist appeared to be her only injury.

Nooko shifted on the closed toilet seat and shook her head. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t feel dizzy at all. I just lost my balance somehow when I twisted to flush the toilet. I can walk.” She reached for the counter to push herself up.

“Just stay right there, Nooko. Don’t try to get up yet. I’m going to get your walker.” Josie sprinted to the kitchen to retrieve the walker. Not good. She’d have to rethink leaving her nooko alone, even briefly.

Josie settled her on her couch with ice on her wrist. “How does it feel?”

“I’m fine. Quit fussing over me.”

“Nooko. You fell in the bathroom. What would’ve happened if I hadn’t been here?” Her throat went dry imagining her nooko lying on the floor for days.

She merely sighed, her eyes tear-filled and her lip trembling.

“I’m not comfortable leaving you alone here anymore. Especially since I’m hours away. I’ve got Dad’s bedroom cleaned out and we’ll move all your things in there.” Josie paced the length of Nooko’s couch and ran her fingers through her hair.

“Honey. I’m not going anywhere. Harold and I lived in this house for forty years. All my memories are here.” Nooko swiped away her tears and crossed her arms in front of her as if protecting herself from Josie’s insistence.

“You fell. Remember?”

“I told you Nancy is right across the street. I have her number taped to the wall next to the phone, and this fall was just an accident. I reached too far. I’ll be more careful, I promise.”

Josie sighed in frustration. She wasn’t convinced this was Nooko’s first fall. “Okay, Nooko. How about if we make it only for a little while. Consider it a trial period only until after my first group in my new Harlow’s by the Bay leaves.” She hoped she’d conveyed her seriousness.

“All right. If it’ll stop your worrying.” She relaxed back into the couch as if relieved. “But for how long?”

“They’ve booked two weeks starting the twenty-seventh of May. If you feel up to it, I’ll get you back here by the end of June.”

“I’ll try it, dear. For your sake.”

Later that evening, Josie activated the new GPS emergency call button she’d purchased and plugged it in to continue charging the battery overnight. She’d make sure her nooko wore it at all times. Josie felt better knowing she’d be close to her and could be monitored for a few weeks. The fact that she’d barely protested suggested she might be a little more frightened than she let on. And lonely. She’d see just how much care Nooko needed, and deal with her long-term care later if necessary.

She wrestled with images of Nooko falling before sinking into a restless sleep.

Chapter Four

Kelly pulled out her patient notes and nestled her briefcase under the desk at the nurses’ station. It looked like another long day with new patients to assess and nurses to train. She took a deep breath and headed to the tiny room that housed the staff coffeepot. She grabbed a warm blueberry bagel from the unexpected local bakery bag next to the coffeemaker. The day looked better.

“Good morning.” Megan stood next to Kelly’s chair with a cup of coffee in one hand and bagel in the other. “I brought the bagels this morning.” She grinned. “A peace offering. I’m sorry for my grumpiness yesterday. I appreciate you calling a staff meeting, because I didn’t mean to be difficult.”

“Thank you, Megan. I’m glad we’re all on the same page now. We’re getting so busy, we need to work together and communicate well.”

“I agree. I’m off to begin dispensing meds. Do you have time for lunch today?”

Kelly hesitated. A new friend would be nice. “Yeah. Sounds good. Stop by on your way to the cafeteria.”

“See you then.”

Kelly waved to Megan before checking her next patient’s chart and collecting the needed supplies.

“Good morning, Mrs. Grist. I’ve got your heart medications for you.” Kelly smiled and gently squeezed the eighty-year-old’s hand. Warm. That’s good. “How’re you feeling today?” She clipped the pulse oximeter on her finger waiting for a reply. Her patient merely turned to look at her and smiled. She’d stopped speaking a long time ago, though no one knew why. “You’re smiling. That’s a good thing. Your oxygen level is perfect.” She patted her arm and recorded her vital signs before making sure she swallowed her pills. “Your aide, Pat, will be in soon to help you to the bathroom. Make sure you push the call button if you need anything.” Kelly pointed to the button built into the bed railing and made sure Mrs. Grist could reach it before leaving for her next patient. She leaned against the wall outside the door to check her list. Only two more. Things may be settling down around here.

Her phone pinged and she glanced at the readout. Janis? Can you come to my office ASAP? Kelly said she’d be there after her next patient and slid her cell phone back into its case. Whatever Janis wanted must be important to interrupt her rounds.

Kelly knocked softly before entering Janis’s office. “Reporting as directed.” She grinned, expecting Janis to at least chuckle, but she frowned at her and indicated the chair opposite her desk.

“Have a seat. I know you’re busy, so I won’t keep you long, but this is important.” She toyed with her pen for a second before continuing. “As you know, we’ve been overcrowded and understaffed for a while now. I found out two days ago that the owners have finalized plans with a corporation to sell this place.” Janis paused, looking uncharacteristically uncertain.

“What is it, Jan? You look…spooked.”

“I’m sorry, Kelly, but we’ve been gobbled up by the growing move toward corporate ownership of healthcare facilities, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Our little nursing home is now part of a corporation buying nursing homes and assisted living places all over the state.” She leaned back into her desk chair and sighed.

Kelly sat quietly absorbing the news. “So, what’s it mean for us, specifically?”

“I don’t have all the details yet, but I’ve been put in the position of having to decide how to distribute our resources.”

“Of which I am one.” Kelly didn’t think her job was in jeopardy. They were filled to capacity with residents, and she had the most seniority of the nursing staff.

“Yes. You are.” Janis opened her laptop and typed for a minute before turning it around to show her a list of names. “This is a listing of places this company now owns. There are a few brand-new buildings they want operational by the end of this summer, and they need a senior staffing nurse to oversee the implementation for each one.” She pointed to one name on the list. “This one, Woodland Care Center, is scheduled to open in June. It’s the closest to your house, but still too long a distance to commute, so I’m assigning you to it with the condition they provide you lodging.”

“What?” Her stomach twisted, and she swallowed to dislodge the lump in her throat. “Jan, I have a house and a horse and a life here. I can’t just move to…where is this place?”

“It’s in the Upper Peninsula.”

“The Upper Peninsula? That’s a five-hour drive!”

“Six, actually. But it isn’t a permanent position, Kelly. I only need you to be there to get them up and running. We’ve worked together for twenty years and you’re valuable here. They’re willing to send several support staff to cover things here, if I’m willing to send my senior staffer to help get one of their other places ready. It’s a trade-off, and I don’t want to lose you, but I have to ask you to please take this assignment. It’s only for a few months. The place should be autonomous by October. Will you please think about it?”

Kelly stood, circled behind her chair, and leaned on the back. Her thoughts whirled, and she fought to calmly sort them out before speaking. “What about my vacation plans? I’m taking two weeks off in the beginning of June.” She thought about the lesbian resort located on Drummond Island, in the same location as her new job. It would give her a chance to check out the area.

“Not a problem. You can still take your vacation, but I do need an answer soon in case I have to find someone else.”

Kelly turned to leave the room without a good-bye, feeling like she’d been ambushed, but stopped with her hand on the doorknob. She’d wanted a change, and maybe her sister, Tory, would be excited to stay at her house and care for Pogo for a few months before beginning college in the fall. Maybe she could look at it as a creative challenge. “Fine. But if I have trouble making arrangements for my house, that will change things.”

“Hell. I’ll take care of your house and your horse if you take this position.” Janis smiled weakly, but Kelly saw the spark of hope in her eyes.

 

* * *

 

Kelly saw Megan sitting at a corner table as soon as she walked into the cafeteria. She waved before going through the food line and wondered how much she should disclose about the reason for being late. Janis hadn’t said to keep anything a secret, and the staff would have to find out soon about the changes.

“Hi. I thought maybe the boss kidnapped you.” Megan smiled and pulled a chair out for her.

“No, she just wanted to let me know about some changes coming down the pike.”

“Ah. The corporate takeover?” Megan took a bite of her sandwich and looked at her expectantly.

“I guess you already know about it. I didn’t until Jan told me. It sounds as though this corporation’s taken over quite a few facilities.” She bristled at the news that Megan knew about this before she did.

“Hm. I know I’m glad to have gotten in here before the shake-up. One of my instructors at Eastern Michigan University recommended it. She knew I wanted a long term care facility position, and this one’s rated as one of the best in Michigan.”

Kelly took a bite of her salad, considering how much to tell the newly hired nurse. “Has Janis said anything to you about work assignments?”

“She just told me when I hired in that the owners were in talks regarding the possibility of a buyout by a corporation. She said it wouldn’t affect me much except with regard to who signs my paycheck.”

“I suppose it’ll be up to Janis to let everyone know what’s going on, but I’ve been reassigned for a few months to a new place in the Upper Peninsula. They need someone with experience to help train the staff.”

Megan looked thoughtful as she took a sip of her coffee. “You’ll be great at it.” She smiled and lifted her cup in a toast.

Kelly smiled back, glad to feel Megan’s support. “Thanks. It probably means you’ll be even busier than you are now, but Janis believes she can get extra help to make up for the loss.”

After lunch, Kelly started thinking ahead, a feeling of excitement bubbling deep inside. Janis had taken her by surprise with the request for a temporary transfer, but a small whisper of relief at the change settled some of her unrest. She found herself looking forward to undertaking the challenge. Her contribution could be consequential. She’d be a major contributor to the development of what would probably be a state-of-the-art facility, but first, she’d take a much needed break. “Hi, Debby. Have you got a minute?” Kelly opened the pharmacy door a crack to peek inside.

“Sure. Come on in.”

“I’m on my way back from lunch, but I wanted to double-check our vacation plans. Are we all set for the twenty-seventh?”

“Yep. You should probably call and verify you’ll be there, though. I’ve got the number here.” Debby pulled a piece of paper out of her desk and handed it to her. “The owner’s name is Joslyn Harlow. We confirmed our reservations last week. I was going to check with you tomorrow to see what you decided.”

“I’m getting the hell out of here for a couple of weeks, for sure. Thanks for the number.” She went back to her station to prepare for a long afternoon, but the afternoon was now filled with excitement for an upcoming, much needed break, and planning for the unanticipated changes.

Chapter Five

Josie parked in front of the lodge, troubled by the sight of the porch chairs turned upside down. What the hell? She jumped out to open the passenger door for Nooko. “Here we are.” She made sure she had her cane and was steady before leading her to the porch.

“I’m a little stiff from the ride, dear.” She took the few steps one at a time. “I’d forgotten how beautiful the view is from here. May I sit a minute?”

“Of course.” Josie uprighted the chairs, pulled two cushions from a bin against the wall, and nestled them on the rockers. “Here you go. You sit while I unload the car and turn the water pump on.”

Josie checked on her grandmother a couple of times in the half hour it took her to carry in their luggage and supplies. Nooko leaned back and rocked, gazing out at the water. Josie began to sit in the second rocker when she heard the phone. “I’ll be right back.” She glanced at Nooko, already beginning to doze in the chair, before hurrying to the front desk.

“Hello, Harlow’s by the Bay, may I help you?”

“Hello. My name’s Kelly Newton, and I want to confirm my reservation. Is this Joslyn Harlow?” Kelly’s mellow voice floated over the phone line, and Josie wanted to hear her say her name again.

“Yes, this is Joslyn. When is your reservation?”

“I’m hoping you have it. My friends confirmed theirs for the twenty-seventh of May through the tenth of June. I believe it’s under the name Debra Johnson.”

“Oh, yes. I’ve got a reservation for six confirmed and one maybe for those dates. Are you the maybe?” Josie hoped so. She looked forward to meeting the body behind the voice.

“I guess I am. Please count me in. I need a vacation.”

Josie’s breath caught when she heard Kelly laugh. She could listen to that all day. “You’re all set. You’ll be in cabin number four. And please, call me Josie. My grandmother is about the only one who calls me Joslyn anymore.”

“Josie it is. Thank you and I’ll see you on the twenty-seventh.”

“Sounds good.” She didn’t want to hang up and quickly thought of something else to say. “Oh…Kelly? One more thing. Are you bringing a dog?”

“A dog? No. Why?”

“Just checking. Your friends are bringing…let’s see…a dachshund, a border collie mix, and a lab mix, so if you were bringing one, I’d give you the spiel about leashes and cleaning up after them.”

“This ought to be fun. See you soon.”

Another laugh from Kelly and Josie hung up the phone, sure she was grinning like a fool. Yes, Kelly Newton. See you soon.

Josie returned to the porch and took the seat next to Nooko, who was awake and looked contented. “I just had another reservation confirmed for next week. We’ll have four of the six cabins full for two weeks, and the other two for one week. I’m going to make a cup of hot chocolate. You want one?”

“Oh, I’d love one. Thank you.”

Josie loved seeing the sparkle in her nooko’s eyes. Already, she looked brighter than she had when Josie had shown up at her place, and she knew she’d made the right decision bringing her here. She was also glad they’d stayed in Nooko’s house longer than she’d planned. It gave Nooko time to pack items important to her and Josie time to close up her house properly. “Be right back.” She filled two mugs with hot chocolate and delivered them before heading to check on the firewood. Everything looked as she’d left it. Her concern over the upended chairs lessened when she found the tarp over the wood rack secure. Could’ve been a windstorm. Or a critter. She continued surveying the circumference of the lodge and found nothing else amiss. She shook off her concerns and went back to join Nooko on the porch.

“Are all of your guests coming next week lesbians?”

“Yes. I’ve advertised as a lesbian resort, and I think I’ll do well. There’s only one other one I found on the west side of the state quite a few miles south. I want to show off our beautiful island and the Ojibwe history here.”

“I want to help. If you’re going to keep me hostage here, I get to do some work, too.”

“How ’bout if you get settled in first? We’ll get you unpacked, and then we can talk about what you might be up to doing.” Josie smiled, stood, and handed Nooko her cane. She followed her into the lodge, staying close enough to support her when she wobbled. She settled her on the couch facing the fireplace. “You relax for a minute. I’m going to get us a snack to go with some tea.”

“Thank you, dear. Everything looks wonderful in here.” Nooko gazed around the room smiling. “Can we have a fire in the fireplace?”

“I think that’s a great idea. I’ll get it started after I get our refreshments.” Josie put a kettle of water on the stove, sliced pieces of cheese onto a plate, and grabbed a box of crackers. She placed the cheese and crackers in front of Nooko on the coffee table and lit the fire in the fireplace before retrieving their tea and settling next to Nooko. “Comfortable?”

“Oh, yes. This is such a comfortable room. I remember Harold and me sitting together on this very couch. He built that fireplace, you know.” Nooko looked like she was struggling to keep her eyes open. They sat in companionable silence enjoying the soft glow of the flames and the occasional sputter of the burning wood.

“Grandpa did an excellent job. It’s a great fireplace. I know I’m pretty tired. You ready to head to bed?” Josie rested her hand gently on Nooko’s thigh.

“Yes, honey. I suppose we’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to get settled.” Nooko pushed off the couch and swayed slightly before steadying herself with her cane.

“We have over a week before our guests arrive. Like you say, plenty of time.” Josie led Nooko to her room and tucked her in bed before heading to finish unpacking.

Josie finished before dark and went to check on the cabins. She’d look closely at them in the morning, but she knew she wouldn’t sleep with her lingering trace of concern over the upset deck chairs. She walked through each cabin checking the window locks, bedrooms, kitchens, and heaters. She flushed the toilets and ran water in the sinks. She finished before midnight, and after looking in on her grandmother, fell into bed hoping for dreams of her maybe woman.

 

* * *

 

“What time are all your friends coming?” Nooko asked.

“They’re not my friends, Nooko. Only women who’ve made reservations to stay here.” Josie reviewed the placement of the tables she’d set up for games for the third time. “Do you think they look inviting? Maybe I ought to move them closer to the fireplace.”

Nooko sat in one of the leather chairs next to the fireplace in the spacious room, looking right at home. “Everything looks lovely, honey. They’re going to love it. What time are they arriving?”

“I told them check-in is any time after eleven. They’re coming from pretty far south, so I don’t expect them until afternoon.” She moved one of the tables aside and pulled the other leather chair to face her grandmother, glad for a chance to relax for a minute. She’d been working hard to make sure the place was perfect. “By the way, have you ever heard of a guy named Abe Bernstein? He came by in February looking for someone named Jack and wanting to buy this place.” She’d been unable to shake the creepy feeling he’d left her with, and now that she had a minute, she remembered to ask her grandmother.

Nooko frowned, clearly concentrating. “No, dear. The name doesn’t ring a bell. I can’t imagine who he is. Maybe he had the wrong place?”

“He recognized the pictures on the wall, so I thought maybe he was a friend. How about the name Jack? He referred to Jack as the owner.”

“No, again. I never heard Harold mention a Jack or an Abe, and I knew all of his buddies. You know how turned around people can get up here. He might’ve been lost. He said he wanted to buy the place, huh?”

“Yep. I know my dad never said anything about selling, so I don’t know what the guy was talking about.” Josie made a mental note to talk to the island’s conservation officers about Abe. It would give her a little peace of mind that someone besides her knew about this guy. “I guess I’ll just wait and see if he comes back. I’m going to the office to make sure everything’s in order.”

She pulled out her reservation book when she got to the front desk and put out a sign directing guests to ring the bell if she wasn’t at the counter. She made one more walk-through of each cabin before heading back to the lodge and waiting for her first lodgers at Harlow’s by the Bay. She stopped to stand on the porch for a moment and took a deep, settling breath. She gently ran her hand over the doorframe before taking a step inside to offer a silent thanks to her grandfather and parents, who afforded her this opportunity. Her dream was finally coming true.

 

* * *

 

“Welcome. I’m Joslyn Harlow, but please call me Josie.” She smiled at the couple as they walked through the door hand in hand. “No problem finding the place?”

“None at all. I’ve got a GPS in my car and we had no trouble.”

Josie checked off each name on the register as the women introduced themselves. The hazel-eyed woman smiled, and Josie relaxed in the presence of her serenity. Her partner stepped up to put her arm around her waist, and the gesture sent an unexpected flood of longing surging through Josie. She shook off the unusual feeling and continued checking them in. “Are the others on their way?” she asked.

“They’re right behind us. We all decided to drive separately, but we left pretty much at the same time.”

“Good. You’re all set. Kristen, Jaylin, and Railroad, you’ll be in cabin number two. I can show you where it is now, or you’re welcome to relax in the lodge if you want to wait for the others.”

“Relaxing in the lodge sounds good to me.” Kristen spoke and turned toward Jaylin, who nodded and smiled. “We’ll just take our dog for a short walk before we go in.”

“The main room is through there.” Josie pointed toward a door to her left. “Or you can just go in through the front doors on the porch. My grandmother is staying with me temporarily, so you’ll see her there.” Josie settled into her desk chair but didn’t wait long before the other couples arrived. “Dana, Maria, and Frankie, you’re in cabin number one, and Debby, Alex, and Abby, you’re in cabin number three. Jaylin and Kristen are waiting in the lodge for you. You can go through that door.” Josie smiled and indicated the same door she’d shown Kristen and Jaylin. So far, so good.

Josie leaned on the check-in desk and reminded herself that this was really happening. She now had three of her cabins occupied by her lodgers. Not her father’s or her grandfather’s, but hers. She stretched to her full height and allowed herself a moment of pride. She did this. She was making it work. One deep breath and she updated her record log, anticipating the arrival of Kelly Newton.

Chapter Six

It was close to six o’clock when Kelly pulled into the parking lot of Harlow’s by the Bay. She stepped out of the car and stretched before appraising the area and log building nestled among gigantic pine trees. She’d barely managed to catch the 5:10 p.m. ferryboat crossing, and the spectacular view of the island as it pulled into the dock took her by surprise. Her research of the island hadn’t prepared her for the reality of its natural beauty. Maybe this work assignment won’t be so bad. She’d been pleasantly surprised to find the new facility where she’d be working was on Drummond Island and only a few miles from Harlow’s by the Bay. She’d have time to scope it out before starting work there.

She dragged her suitcase out of the back seat of her car and headed toward a door with a wooden, handcrafted office sign above it. “Hello?” she called out before noticing the note next to a bell, so she hit the plunger twice and waited. She scanned the room, glancing over the pictures of what looked to be the original construction of the building. She admired the colorful Indian blanket tacked to the wall behind the counter with two large dream catchers on either side of it.

“Hello. You must be Kelly Newton,” a woman said as she emerged from another room. “Sorry, I was in the back getting some pamphlets for your group. I’m Josie.”

Kelly clutched the handle of her suitcase tightly at the unexpected urge to touch Josie’s beautifully smooth complexion. Her dark eyes shimmered like her black hair in the soft light. Then she smiled, and Kelly’s knees nearly buckled. She swallowed hard, willing her voice not to quiver. “No problem. I was just admiring your beautiful dream catchers. It’s nice to meet you. I’m not too late, I hope.”

“Oh, no. Not at all. I knew you were on your way. Your friends are all in the lodge waiting for you. Here’s your key to cabin four. Would you like me to show you where it is, or do you want to stop in the lodge first?”

“I guess I better go check in with everybody so they know I made it.” Kelly eased her grip and rolled her suitcase as she followed Josie. Geez, you’d think I’d never seen an attractive woman. She tried to focus and shake the feeling off.

She nearly stumbled when they entered the lodge, rendered speechless by the expansive room. “Oh my God. This is fantastic.” She parked her suitcase against the wall and hurried to stand in front of the huge blazing wood fireplace. She turned twice, allowing the warmth to radiate through her, chasing away some of the stress of her life. “This and a hot tub? I may never leave.” She turned again and found herself face-to-face with Josie. The warmth of the fire paled to the heat generated from her gaze. Kelly took a step back, surprised by her intense reaction to Josie.

“I’m glad you like it. And yes, the hot tub is through the doors in the back. There’s bottled water and towels on the shelf against the wall next to it. You can’t miss them.” Josie smiled again, and butterflies took up residence in Kelly’s belly.

“Hey, you,” Debby called from her chair at one of the game tables where she sat with her partner, Alex, and a couple Kelly didn’t recognize. Alex’s dog lay on the floor at her feet, nose to nose with a dachshund.

She waved to Debby before turning back to Josie. “Thanks, Josie. The hot tub will be my first stop after I drop off my suitcase. This lodge is beautiful, by the way.” She returned Josie’s smile, pleased by the flicker of interest reflected back.

“Thanks. My grandfather built it, as well as the cabins. My grandmother’s on the couch.” Josie motioned with her chin toward a regal looking elderly woman seated on one end of a well-worn leather couch. Her bright brown eyes reflected intelligence and her smooth skin, a shade darker than Josie’s, held a healthy glow. A cane leaned on the armrest next to her and Jaylin’s fluffy dog, Railroad, rested her head in her lap.

“It’s a good thing you allow dogs here.” Kelly chuckled. “I’m not sure any of my friends would’ve come if you didn’t.”

“You might be right. I’d say nine out of ten inquiries I get from callers is about my pet policy. I love dogs, so it’s all good. I just need to make sure they’re kept under control for the few people who dislike them. I’ve introduced my grandmother to everyone already. Do you want to meet her?”

“Sure.”

Josie led the way over. “Nooko, this is Kelly Newton. Kelly, this is my grandmother, Ruth Patterson.”

Kelly took her hand in hers, resisting the urge to check her pulse. It would take a while to unwind and leave work behind.

“It’s good to meet you, Kelly. I hope you have a wonderful stay here with us.”

“Thank you. I’m sure I will. I’m already enjoying the fireplace.” She turned to Josie. “Nooko?”

“Nookomis is the Ojibwe word for grandmother. I couldn’t pronounce it when I was a kid, so I called her Nooko. Still do.” Josie shrugged and smiled at Nooko, who smiled back at her with obvious affection.

“Ah. I used to call my grandmother Gram, most likely for the same reason. I’m going to drop my suitcase off and freshen up a bit. I’ll see you later, Ruth.” Kelly liked the woman’s gentle energy and easy smile. It would be nice to talk to her more during her stay.

“I’ll walk you to your cabin,” Josie said.

Kelly stopped to say hello to Debby and meet the other couple at the table before following Josie out the front door. Again, she was struck by the beauty of the area. “Wow. This is a gorgeous view. I love the way the sun sparkles on the water like diamonds.”


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