Amid the wildly beautiful beaches of Sunset Bay, Oregon, lies Sanctuary Ranch, a refuge for strays, both human and animal. A place where love and healing go hand-in-hand . . .
When journalist Jonathan Byers leaves L.A. with his career in tatters, he heads to Sanctuary Ranch, determined to settle some of his personal affairs by putting his aging father in a seniors’ home. But his father stubbornly refuses to leave his secluded retreat—and has even rallied Sanctuary Ranch’s beautiful gardener to his cause. Something about sexy, mysterious Abby Warren piques the rugged reporter’s investigative instincts—and his interest—luring Jonathan to stay a little longer . . .
Having found her own healing at Sanctuary Ranch, Abby knows Jonathan’s hard-headedness hides a wound that needs mending. Believing a time-out in nature will help father and son see eye-to-eye, she welcomes Jonathan into the only haven she has ever known. But Abby never expects to find herself so drawn to him—or that he will uncover devastating secrets she’d hoped to keep long buried. Will their deepening connection be enough to steer them through the darkness ahead, and toward a bright future for everyone?
An excerpt from Blackberry Cove by Roxanne Snopek
Even from a block away, the heavy bass beat coming from the club drummed in Abby Warren’s ears, echoing the thud of her heart. Above the wide door a flickering neon sign proclaiming it LADIES NITE was missing bulbs for the I and the E.
Lads night, all right.
It was the third place she’d been to in Eugene this evening. Surely Quinn would be here. People gravitated to the familiar, after all, especially in times of stress.
As if there was a time when they weren’t under stress.
She jogged across the parking lot, stepping wide over potholes filled with puddled water. Muscle cars and
patched-up pickups dominated the lot, giving her an idea of the customer base inside. Good old boys, looking for a good old time. Not too particular about where or with whom they might find it.
At the entrance to the nightclub stood a wide barn-door of a man, the classic image of a bouncer, black with a shiny shaved head, ripped arms crossed over his massive chest, and mirrored aviator sunglasses. “Looking for someone, miss?” he inquired.
Even though Abby couldn’t see his eyes, she felt them assessing her. She wore sneakers, a fleece hoodie, and jeans with mud stains on the knees, hardly an outfit designed for partying. It was an outfit to disappear in. Normally this suited her to a T, but tonight, she’d have to use a different tactic.
“Yes. My sister. Let me pass, please.”
“Twenty-dollar cover,” he said, without moving. “Payable here.”
She’d found that as the night progressed, the bouncers got increasingly more difficult, and her patience was already nearing the breaking point. The upside to being chronically underestimated was that she had the element of surprise on her side. “Listen, asshole.” She held up a picture of Quinn. “This girl is in trouble, underage, and I’m not the only one looking for her.”
At the word underage, he’d uncrossed his arms and started listening, as she knew he would.
“Everyone gets carded.”
“You idiot.” She was quaking inside, but didn’t let it show. “Ten bucks and a hand job gets you a fake ID. Now, I’ve been up and down Willamette already so that means the buck stops here. You going to let me get her myself ? Or should I call the cops?”
“Make it fast.” He stepped aside. “Mouthy bitch.”
“You have no idea,” she replied as she shouldered past him.
Ignoring the irritation of the patrons around her, Abby pushed her way inside. The music was almost deafening, and multicolored lights flashed on the black walls in time with the beat. People, everywhere. Dancing, laughing, yelling, drinking. The smells of alcohol, perfume, and body odor rushed over her in a heated wave.
The central floor was a crush of bodies, surrounded on two sides by high-top tables and booths. Women stood at the tables, long legs hip-cocked on high heels, looking her up and down with amusement as she approached.
“Look what fell off the turnip truck,” called a voice. She ignored the laughter, scanning the crowd for Quinn’s honey-colored hair.
“I think you took a wrong turn at Green Gables, honey,” said another woman, with a sneer.
Abby wanted to show them the photograph but doubted that any of them were in any condition to help her out, even if they were so inclined. Plus, the fresh-faced innocence that disarmed men didn’t work so well with women. Female weaponry required armor that she wasn’t equipped with.
Behind the DJ’s booth was another level, she noticed. Higher up, behind a low glass-paneled barrier. Instead of tables and booths, patrons lounged on upholstered furniture, men with their legs outstretched, women perched on the chair arms, or nestled into laps.
For a moment, she caught a glimpse of familiar scarlet fabric and Quinn’s golden hair. Then bodies closed in and she was gone. She was wearing the red dress again, Abby realized, the one their mother had left behind. Of course she’d have chosen it tonight. Abby should have thrown the damn thing out when she’d had the chance.
She grabbed the railing atop the glass fence and pulled herself up the stairs, winding between bodies, ducking under martini glasses held aloft, hoping not to cause a scene by spilling someone’s drink.
All she wanted was to get her sister and get out of here before someone figured out they were gone.
In snapshots, between bodies, Abby saw Quinn lolling on the lap of a scruffy-jawed man who looked to be in his thirties. His hand was on her thigh. Quinn’s blue eyes were vacant, her cheeks flushed, her hair matted and falling around her face, her neckline askew.
“Excuse me,” Abby said, again and again. How much alcohol had Quinn drunk? Had someone given her drugs, too?
As she pushed past one person, then the next, she made it to the upper area. One after another, the men began noticing her.
She forced herself between a subset of couples, then climbed over a pair of legs and grabbed Quinn’s hand.
“Come on, Quinnie, let’s go.” She pulled hard but Quinn only laughed and fell back against the older man.
“Hey there, little lady.” He looked up at Abby and tightened his arm around Quinn. “This is a private party. Invitation only.”
“Then uninvite this one,” she snapped. “Come on, Quinn. Enough’s enough.” The man’s eyebrows went up. “Ooooh, hear that, boys? Bossy little thing, isn’t she?”
“That’s my sister.” Quinn’s words slurred together. “Miss Bossy Pants. Like Tina . . . whatshername . . . the funny lady.”
Her words trailed off.
Laughter went around the circle. It had an undercurrent Abby recognized and didn’t like. But she’d handled worse.
She leaned forward, resting her arms on the back of the couch, her hands on either side of the man’s shoulders. She looked him in the eye and gave him a slow smile.
“Listen, honey.” She used her throatiest voice and spoke low so his friends couldn’t listen in. “You don’t want me here any more than I want to be here. I’ve cut the nuts off bigger guys than you and fried them up with bacon, but I like your face, so I’m going to give you a chance to do the right thing. I just want to take my little sister home before someone gets hurt, so you’re going to let that happen. Okay?”
His eyes bored hard into hers as if unsure whether or not to take offense. He’d expected a shrinking violet. He was getting a Venus flytrap. “And what if she and I are having a good time?” he asked, apparently choosing to remain neutral for the moment.
Abby touched his jaw with the back of her knuckle and gave him her sweetest smile. “I apologize if I was unclear. My sister is seventeen years old. Take your fucking hands off her.”
He blinked as her words registered. Then his hands flew up, palms out. “Jesus. Shit. Go.”
He all but pushed Quinn off his lap and she would have slid onto the floor if Abby hadn’t grabbed her.
“I’m nineteen,” Quinn protested. “I’m not a kid.”
“Shut up and walk,” Abby said through gritted teeth. Holding Quinn was like holding a bag of water.
“You ruin all my fun.”
Somehow she managed to get them away from the roomful of men, down through the tables, past the dance floor, and outside into the night air. No one wanted jailbait, to Abby’s relief.
“Found her, huh?” said the bouncer, his face impassive. Abby stood in front of him, holding Quinn by the shoulders. “Take a look at this face, okay, big guy?”
Quinn’s head wobbled on her neck. “Yeah. Look at my face, big-eye.”
“From now on,” Abby said, giving her sister a shake, “she’s on the no-fly list. Or you’ll have me to deal with again. Got it?”
Abby might have lied about Quinn being under eighteen, the age of consent, but she hadn’t lied about her being below the legal drinking age. She wanted the man to remember that letting Quinn inside, no matter how old she got, wasn’t worth the hassle.
“Whatever.” The bouncer crossed his arms. “You two have a nice night.”
Abby tightened her arm around Quinn’s waist and dragged, pushed, and carried her back to the vehicle. She leaned the girl up against the door while she fumbled with her key, then shoved her onto the seat and fastened the belt over her hips.
“I’m tired of running, Abs.” Quinn rubbed her eyes, smearing her makeup. “I just want to be normal.”
Normal. Like that had ever been in the cards for them.
“I know. Me, too.” Abby reached across and adjusted the passenger seat. “Lie back and go to sleep, okay?”
“I just wanted to have some fun.” The petulant tone was gone from her voice. Now it was sad and small and lost. “I wish we could have stayed in L.A. I miss my friends. I miss Carly.”
“Stop it, Quinn.”
Sniffling sounded from the passenger seat. “I should have helped her.”
Not again. “There was nothing you could do.”
“You don’t know that.”
“We’ve been over this, Quinn. Carly begged you to leave it alone. You don’t even know what you saw.”
A sullen silence argued otherwise.
“Listen. If they figure out you were there that night, they’ll come after you. And not just you. Both of us. Do you understand? If Carly said it was nothing, then it was nothing. We move on with our lives.”
Quinn turned her face to the window and shut her eyes.
Abby gripped the steering wheel as waves of fatigue and relief washed over her. Her hands started shaking and tears filled her eyes. Eugene wasn’t working.
She had to find a new place, away from city life, where Quinn could find some peace.
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About Roxanne Snopek
USA TODAY bestselling author Roxanne Snopek writes contemporary romance both sexy and sweet, in small towns, big cities and secluded islands, with families and communities that will warm your heart. Her fictional heroes (like her own real-life hero) are swoon-worthy, uber-responsible, secretly vulnerable and occasionally dough-headed, but animals love them, which makes everything okay. Roxanne writes from British Columbia, Canada, where she is surrounded by flowers, wildlife and two adoring dogs. She does yoga to stay sane. It works, mostly.