Growing up, Elli Eversol spent nearly every summer in Sand Dollar Cove at her grandparents’ beach house, working at their shops on the old fishing pier. After a hurricane and a Nor’easter damage the pier and the shops nearly beyond repair, Elli returns to town to help rebuild. She even launches the Buy-A-Board campaign to raise funds for the plight. Holden Moore is back in Sand Dollar Cove, too. He broke Elli’s heart years ago, but he’s pulling every Romeo trick in the book to win her back now. Yet there’s more to Holden’s agenda, and it doesn’t include saving the pier.
Brody Rankin is eager to scout the location for his company’s new mega-warehouse near a quaint North Carolina beach town. The online request for handyman assistance for the Buy-A-Board campaign in Sand Dollar Cove gives him the perfect reason to head to the east coast, check out the area, and contribute to a good cause. He’d only have to leave half of his playboy-surfer lifestyle behind for a little while—there are plenty of waves in the Atlantic. But when he meets Elli Eversol, she really gets the surf up, and he’s tempted to toss his playboy ways out with the tide.
As soon as Elli Eversol pushed her toes into the gritty sand on the beach, wonderful memories swept away the stress she’d carried on the five-hour drive from Charlotte. Temperatures were already hovering in the sixties, unseasonably warm for March on the North Carolina coast, especially for this early in the morning. With her shoes and socks in hand, she walked down to the pier, her footsteps leaving clear imprints in the crusted top layer of sand.
Filling her lungs with ocean air, the only thing missing from her memories of the beach was the scent of suntan lotion, but summer was just a few months away.
Sand Dollar Cove still held a special place in her heart. Every summer for as long as she could remember, she’d stayed here with Nana and Pops at their beach house. The Sol~Mate had been her home away from home on summer breaks until she’d gone away to college. Her plan had been to move here once she graduated, but Dad had made her promise that she’d work in a city for two years before making a decision to settle in Sand Dollar Cove. He’d grown up here and, according to Nana and Pops, Daddy couldn’t wait to get out of the small beach town. She’d never understood it, but he must’ve been onto something: Even though she’d moved to Charlotte with the plan to get some experience under her belt just to make him happy, she’d been there ever since. Two years turned into five, and she stayed so busy she hadn’t even had the time to think about moving since.
Waves crashed against the pier, filling the air with a misty spray. The seagulls above seemed to laugh at some inside joke between them. At least at this time of the year the sand was cool. In the summer there were days you were forced to use your towel and shirt as stepping stones to get back to the parking lot or else burn your feet. After a winter of closed-toe shoes, it sure felt good to walk the beach again.
A young couple stood under the pier. The water lapped at their ankles as the guy leaned in, probably promising her the world. She’d been that girl once. The crash of the waves dulling her sensibilities and drowning out her voice of reason. It was a long time ago, but her chest ached at the memory of the heartbreak of that summer.
Elli silently wished the girl under the pier better luck than she’d had. Between those broken promises and then losing Pops just a few weeks later, that summer had been the worst of her life. Maybe work wasn’t the only reason her trips back to Sand Dollar Cove had become more infrequent over the years. Maybe these memories had a little to do with it too.
As she got closer to the pier, the No Trespassing signs and yellow caution tape caught her off-guard. The insurance company probably demanded they mark it to keep from being held liable, should someone try to fish before the repairs were complete. But still, it was unsettling.
The recent nor’easter had done even more damage to the pier, sweeping a huge gap right out of the center of the remaining pilings. Seeing it for the first time in person, it was a lot worse than she’d realized. The pier looked like a snaggle-toothed jack-o’-lantern about two weeks after Halloween. A swirl of concern swept through her. If the town didn’t get busy on repairs they could miss one of the biggest moneymakers of the summer tourist season, Memorial Day weekend.
Her bright mood faded. Pops had built those shops on the pier nearly fifty years ago. When the hurricane damaged them, Elli had started an online fundraiser to repair them. The Buy A Board campaign had been more successful than she’d ever dreamed; the donations more than doubling her initial goal in only a few weeks. For a $250 donation, donors could opt to have their names displayed on one of the boards used to make the repairs. That had been the most popular option, and the smaller donations had added up quickly too.
When Nana mentioned that she hadn’t been able to renew her license for the shops, Elli had assumed Nana just hadn’t gotten around to it. Now she wondered if perhaps the town was stalling on issuing them because they’d fallen behind on this project. Fallen behind was being kind. It looked like no one had done a thing.
She glanced at her watch. Right now she was due at the Carolina By The Sea Resort and Spa. Breaking into a jog, she got back to her car and used her socks to swat the damp sand off her feet, then put her shoes back on.
It was a short ride to the spa from here. Elli pulled her car into the last parking spot at the far end of the resort near the restaurant.
March could be desolate, and many of the businesses chose to shut down completely until Memorial Day. But Pam seemed to be doing a big business, if the parking lot was any indication.
Inside, the place was bustling. Filled nearly to capacity in the shoulder seasons, pre- and post-summer, was a big deal in a small beach town such as this.
“You made good time,” Pam said, rushing to Elli and pulling her into a big hug.
“It’s so good to see you.” Elli pulled back from the hug. She still thought of Pam as her teenaged beach buddy. Practically twins, except Pam had dark hair and brown eyes, so whenever they got together and Pam was pulled together, all business, it always took her by surprise. “You look great.”
Pam struck a pose. “Spa living suits me.”
“Apparently. I could hardly sleep last night knowing I’d be seeing you today.”
“Some things never change. Welcome back.” Pam motioned her to follow. “You should have just driven down last night.”
They settled in a corner booth, and a waiter dropped off menus and took their drink orders. “True, but I’d promised Bob I’d take care of some things before I left town. We’ve got a big open house today. So I did all the prep for that last night.”
“Y’all staying busy?”
“Very busy,” Elli said. “Bob and I are a good team. We have different specialties, so between us we have a steady workload no matter what the economy is doing. That’s a blessing in the real estate market right now.”
“And there’s still nothing between you two? I swear if I had a Realtor as good-looking as he is, I might never settle on a house to buy. I’d just look and look and look.”
“He is cute, but no. He’s so not my type. Nothing but business between the two of us.” Elli thanked the waiter for her cup of tea and glanced over the menu as she spoke. “And frankly, that’s good for business. Besides, now that I know him so well I can see that I’d never be his type either. He likes those high-maintenance girls who stroke his ego day and night. Not exactly my style if you know what I mean.”
“I know the type. But hey, as long as he’s selling houses it’s all good, right?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Every once in a while a customer will talk about buying a place here. Are you still licensed to sell here in the cove?”
Elli took a sip of her tea. “Sure am. I’ve kept that up to date. Never know when it’ll come in handy.”
“Next time someone goes all gaga for Sand Dollar Cove, I’ll give them your name.”
“That would be great. It would give me a reason to come more often too.” She closed the menu and set it aside. “I’ve got to be better about that. Nana is not getting any younger, and I feel so awful for letting so much time slip by between visits. I don’t know how I let that happen.”
“Well, you’re here now.”
“It was good timing. That pier is looking right pitiful.”
“Yeah. It’s not good. I’m so glad you were able to raise money to help fix the shops,” Pam said. “They’re part of the tradition around here.”
“One quick mention on social media that I needed someone good with a router to help engrave the planks in exchange for room and board here, I had no less than half a dozen responses.”
“I’m not surprised. I’m using social media for a big part of my marketing campaign for the resort, and it’s paying off big time.”
“I thought I’d end up with someone local, but the guy who is coming is from California. He’ll be here this week to start personalizing the boards in exchange for room and board at Sol~Mate.”
“Your grandmother will be in seventh heaven with someone to dote on.”
“Nana loves fussing over people.”
Pam nodded. “You know she’s been canceling some of her hair appointments. I’m not complaining, but it’s not like her. It’s probably good that you’re here to check in on her.”
“That really isn’t like her. Thanks for mentioning that.” As if she didn’t already feel guilty for being away so long, if something were wrong with Nana, she’d never forgive herself. “That worries me.”
“She seems fine when she comes. Maybe she’s just slowing down,” Pam said. “How old is she?”
“Seventy-five. It’s hard to believe though. She’s so active I never think of her as getting old.” She had to do a better job of making the time in her schedule to come visit.
“We’re all getting older.”
“Yeah, so let’s quit talking about age. That’s just depressing.”
“Women fighting the battle against aging keep my spa full. I’m not ever going to complain about getting older.”
Joy filled Elli’s heart at her friend’s success. No college. Just great business sense. The girl could make anything work. “Good point. I’m thinking that the beach and pedicures is a real money-making racket too. One quick walk on the beach on my way here and I pretty much ruined mine.”
“Well, you and Nana should come Monday. My treat.”
“That’ll be great. We’ll take you up on that if Nana doesn’t have plans.”
“Good.” Pam pulled out her phone, and her fingers swept across the screen “All set. Gosh, Elli, it’s really good to see you. I’ve really missed you. I’d been counting the days to your visit next month. It’s such a treat to have you here sooner. I was surprised when I got your text.”
“Brody, my California volunteer, said he had to be out on this coast for something else, and if I’d move up the date he’d cover his own travel. So instead of next month, he’s coming this week.”
“Exactly. Now I can use that money for some other upgrade. That Buy A Board campaign was an awesome idea. We’ll be able to get those shops in shipshape. Thank you so much for coming up with that idea. Your ideas always come through.” The waiter filled Elli’s cup with tea. “Thank you.” Pam lifted her glass to Elli’s, and they giggled as though they were sixteen again.
High school. That was when Elli met Pam, over summer break while Elli was staying with her grandparents at Sol~Mate. They hit it off and looked forward to every summer break and family visit after that.
When Elli had taken up her grandparents' offer to use part of their shop on the pier to start a summer business, it was Pam who’d helped Elli put the plan to paper for her homemade ice pop business. She’d made enough money that first summer to pay for her books and classes for two semesters. Her parents had been so pleased that they’d matched her penny for penny. It had made it a no-brainer to focus just on studies, then take each summer off to replenish her funds. Besides, she’d always loved this town, and hanging out on the beach in the sun was good work if you could get it. Working here was like play.
Elli said, “I was thinking maybe I could take you and Jack down to Nags Head to get those crab cakes we love. Think he could get an afternoon off while I’m in town?”
“About that.” Pam took a long swig of her mimosa. Her expression stilled and grew serious.
Elli sat back. “What? You’re giving me a bad vibe.”
“You’re what?” Elli put her teacup down. “What happened? Y’all were perfect together. Are you kidding me?”
Elli’s throat tightened. “What did he do? Are you okay?”
“Nothing. Relax. We just started moving in different directions.”
“When did this happen?” She felt suddenly very left out. “Doesn’t the maid of honor have some kind of right to be in the loop on this kind of stuff?”
“It’s not that big of a deal. Things here at the spa are finally really taking off. His career is too. Only that meant a promotion that would relocate him to Texas. I didn’t want to hold him back, and he didn’t want to ask me to give up the spa. Besides, closing Carolina By The Sea would be very bad for this town. You know we don’t have that many businesses here to start with. It’s my hometown. I want to do my part, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. Really it’s for the best.”
“And it’s amicable?”
“Completely. That’s why it seemed so weird to call and say, ‘Hey, Elli, guess what, I’m getting a divorce.’ There wasn’t anything anybody you or anyone else could do.”
“You’re not sad at all?”
She shrugged. “Not really. Things were good, but they were mostly comfortable. It’s for the best.”
“If you say so.” Sadness swept over Elli. For some reason Jack and Pam not making it felt like less hope for her to find a lasting relationship.