Set in the beautiful coastal town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, ‘Summer at Rose Cottage’ explores two love stories—one lost in time and the other flourishing in the present. McKenzie (Mack) Harper needs to get away and the small cottage just outside of Cape Elizabeth is the perfect location to unwind and bond with her six-year-old nephew, Lucas. It’s here at this quaint summer rental that Mack discovers a diary dated March 4th, 1947, which pulls her into a world of love and heartache.
Each entry into the diary is brought to life through the words written by nineteen-year-old, Rose Degan, who falls in love with a man her parents disapprove of. Her heart knows what and whom it wants, Jacob Evans, a fire fighter in Cape Elizabeth. He hasn’t been in town long when they meet on the cliffs while she watches the rescue of a crew from a collier ship that went aground during a fierce storm.
Back in the present, Mack discovers that Jacob is still alive and tries to find him. She leaves a message that falls into the hands of Jacob’s grandson, Dean Evans. With his curiosity piqued, Dean decides that the mystery woman, along with her diary, is an excellent excuse to slip away from home, earning a break from his mother’s matchmaking shenanigans—a grandchild being her sole focus.
All these characters come together in a story of love and friendship. It shows that love and family can transcend time.
Cover Design by Robin Harper, Wicked by Design
“Auntie Mack, are we there yet?”
Mack smiled, and glancing through the rear view mirror saw how bored her nephew, Lucas, was. He hadn’t even lasted thirty minutes before the ‘are we there yet’ questions had started. “Not yet, but it won’t take us long. I promise.”
With a dramatic sigh, he turned and stared out of the car window.
Mack hid her amusement while her heart filled with love for him. He’d been in her heart from the moment her sister had given birth to him, and now he was a mischievous six year old. His parents, Melinda and Daniel, were scheduled to fly to Europe later in the day, which was why Lucas was spending time with her in Cape Elizabeth.
For the first time in her working life, Mack had splurged on a summer rental—Rose Cottage. Being a teacher worked out well because it made it easier for her to take the summer out of the city.
It would certainly be a change from her matchmaking parents who wanted to see her married with a child of her own. She was only in her twenties and had no idea what the rush was all about.
Another heavy sigh from the backseat brought her thoughts back to Lucas. She knew what was coming…
Three… Two… One…
“Are you sure we’re not there yet?” Lucas asked again, fidgeting in the backseat.
Her lips twitched with amusement, as she replied, “Lucas, we’ll be there soon. Why don’t you read one of your books?”
“Auntie Mack, my books are boring. Can I read one of yours?” He bounced up and down in his seat full of excitement at the thought.
“My books are for adults and they have no pictures in them.” Thank goodness her books were packed in the trunk so Lucas couldn’t go rooting around for them.
“But Daddy told Mommy that she would learn a lot if she read the type of books you read, instead of her boring magazines. I like to learn,” Lucas replied with his ‘cute’ face.
Her eyes filled with amusement because Lucas knew that his Auntie Mack had never been able to withhold anything from him when he gave her that look. He obviously hoped she would give in and let him have a rummage around in the box of her things. The more she thought on it, she started to blush, wondering what type of books Daniel thought she read. “They’re still adult-only books, Lucas. If you’re bored with yours, why don’t I buy you some new ones when we get there?”
“As soon as we get there? You promise?” Lucas tossed his current books onto the spare seat beside him.
“We’ll check the stores out in a day or two.” With a quick glance through the mirror, she saw that Lucas’s face had started to fall, so she added, “But if you’re good until then, I’ll buy you that atlas you wanted, then you can keep track of where your parents are staying in Europe.”
Lucas thought about what she’d said and smiled in agreement. “That would be cool.”
“Now that’s the end of that. Why don’t you have a nap? I’ll wake you when we get there. That way, the time will pass super quick.”
Five minutes later, Lucas was fast asleep, and then over an hour later, Mack pulled up outside of Rose Cottage, cutting the engine. The quiet and stillness must have woken Lucas because he shot up in his seat, hitting the side of his head against the window with a dull thump. “You all right, Lucas?”
He rubbed his head. “I think so. Are we there yet?”
“Yes, we are, thank goodness… Let’s stretch our legs.” She peered across the yard and spotted a man walking toward them at a leisurely pace. He was of medium height, slight build with short dark grey hair. As he moved closer, she could see that his bronzed face was weathered from the wind and sun. “In fact, I think I can see Mr. Degan on his way to the cottage.” Mack pointed to the left, assuming he was the landlord for the summer.
She climbed out of the car and opened the back door for Lucas. He jumped out and ran around her in excitement before he ran to greet the owner of Rose Cottage.
As she watched him dash toward Mr. Degan, she suddenly thought better of it as there was no telling what would come out of Lucas’s mouth, so she jogged over to them. “Mr. Degan?” Mack questioned, holding her hand out. “I’m Mackenzie Harper, and this is my nephew, Lucas Cartwright.”
“You like fishing?” Mr. Degan asked as he released her hand.
“Um, not really,” she replied. Her brows came together in confusion at the odd question. No welcome, just fishing. There was no way she was going anywhere near the bait…and pulling the fish from the water wasn’t appealing either.
“I wasn’t talking to you, young woman. I was talking to this here imp.” Mr. Degan pointed at Lucas.
Lucas was jumping up and down like an excited puppy. “I’ve never been fishing, but Daddy says you have to try everything once.”
“Mmm, there are some big suckers in the river. I thought I could use you as bait?”
Lucas looked confused while Mack’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Mr. Degan, I don’t . . .”
“Calm yourself. I’m only pulling your leg. Please, call me Thomas. I may be in my eighties, but hearing you say Mr. Degan makes me feel like my father.”
Mack smiled and decided it was probably a good idea to change the subject. “Do you have the keys?”
“No need,” Thomas replied. “The door’s open.” He walked to the cottage with Lucas, who seemed instantly at ease with the older man, slipping his hand into Mr. Degan’s. For her part, Mack didn’t really know how to take Mr. Thomas Degan.
Mack caught up to them in the kitchen. It wasn’t at all like she’d imagined when she’d read the description online. But it was a pleasant surprise. It was large and airy with white cabinets that looked to be older than she was but were still in good shape. The countertops looked to be a fairly new beech wood.
As Mack approached the stove for a closer inspection, she decided a bit of caution would be used before she so much as switched it on.
Turning back to Thomas, she asked, “Have you always lived around here?”
He scratched his chin, appearing to be deep in thought. “My parents settled in this country around 1924 after sailing over from Ireland. They went to New York first but moved here into Rose Cottage in 1927. Of course, back then, and as a child growing up, it was known as ‘Degan House’.”
“Perhaps you could spare some time and tell me more about your parents? Perhaps come over for coffee and homemade cake?” Mack hoped the food offering would tempt Thomas.
He took his cap off. “Hmm.”
Thomas seemed nice, especially since he didn’t seem to mind Lucas hovering. In fact, Lucas had made a new friend by the look of things.
“Thomas, I have pizza in the cooler and there’s plenty of it, too much for the two of us really, if you’d like to join us for dinner?”
The minute Thomas perched on the old kitchen stool, Lucas climbed up onto his lap. “Please stay, Mr. Degan.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Thomas answered, grinning at Mack. “I’ll keep this little jumping bean occupied while you unload, if you’d like.”
“That would be great, thanks. We don’t have too much with us, so it shouldn’t take that long.”
Standing outside, she looked around and took in the clear view of the ocean and the cliffs with the lighthouse perched on the edge of the headland.
The cottage was bordered by the vibrant colors of beautiful and fragrant plants, some even climbing the gazebo wall while others covered the ground in various displays of summer. It looked very pretty. She hoped there would be a bench inside the gazebo so she could sit sheltered from the sun to keep an eye on Lucas while he played and she read or relaxed with a cup of coffee.
Taking a deep breath of the fresh, salt air, she felt relief that she hadn’t inhaled a lungful of car fumes in the process, like she did most days in the city. Not only did everything smell fresh, it was also blissfully quiet. No car horns and no noisy neighbors. It was just the sound of the waves on the shore, the wind in the trees, and the birds singing around them. It was simply paradise to Mack.
So with a spring in her step, Mack began emptying the car, taking short trips back and forth, as she carted Lucas’s toys, their clothes, and books into the quaint cottage.
The last trip inside was with the food, and it was only after she’d put it away in the cupboards and refrigerator that it dawned on her how quiet the cottage was. Lucas was six—he didn’t do quiet.
Mack listened and heard voices upstairs.
With the lid snapped on the cooler, ready to be thrown back into the car, she collected a box of clothes from the bottom of the stairs and headed up. After quickly placing the box in what she presumed to be the master bedroom, Mack opened one of the doors and found them both sitting down on one of the twin beds in the bedroom. Thomas was reading what looked to be a very old comic to a grinning Lucas.
Thomas caught sight of Mack and waved the comic up in the air. “Lucas found it underneath the closet, along with some spiders.” He chuckled.
Mack looked nervously around her. “Spiders?” she questioned a laughing Thomas.
“I think I’ll leave you two alone for now. I’ll give you a shout when dinner’s ready.” She was still looking for spiders as she shut the door, hearing Thomas and Lucas laughing as she retreated downstairs.
She was such a wimp!
“Thomas! Lucas! Dinner is ready. Please wash up,” Mack shouted from the kitchen.
After fiddling about with the aging but clean oven, she finally produced a nicely warmed pizza.
Slicing it into small, evenly sized triangles, she arranged them on a serving plate. As Thomas and Lucas appeared, she placed the pizza alongside the potato salad on the table.
“Take a seat. What would you like to drink, Thomas?”
“Water’s fine,” he replied while helping himself to pizza and potato salad.
After she’d poured everyone a glass of water, Mack finally sat down, joining the two obviously hungry boys.
“So, you folks always lived in Boston?” Thomas asked around a mouth full of pizza.
“Yes. Born and bred there, Roslindale specifically.”
Lucas turned and grinned at his Auntie Mack before he turned back to Thomas. “She’s a schoolteacher and frightens all the kids in the class,” he blurted out.
“Lucas, don’t talk with your mouth full, please.”
“You and Mr. Degan just did,” Lucas replied indignantly with a cheeky smirk.
“Well, Mr. Degan and I are very naughty then, so you behave.” She chuckled.
“Is she always this bossy?” Thomas grinned at Mack.
Lucas shoveled in more food and said around a mouthful, “You really have no idea. You should be thankful she isn’t your auntie.”
“Hey, I can always take you back to Boston. You can stay with your grandparents,” Mack replied sternly, while trying not to laugh.
“No way. They are old and no fun. All they want to do all day is play cards.” When he noticed the frown on his Auntie Mack’s face, he added, “And strip poker.”
Mack choked on her drink. “They do no such thing, young man. Well, maybe cards.” She glanced across to Thomas, who was trying to eat without laughing.
Lucas was so funny with the things that came out of his mouth on occasion. She could see why Daniel always watched what he said around Lucas. Melinda probably wasn’t as careful, and Lucas’s grandmother, obviously, wasn’t careful at all.
The rest of the meal was eaten in comfortable silence, and before she knew it, Thomas had cleared the table and started to fill the sink with water and dishwashing liquid.
“Thomas, you don’t need to do that.” Mack stood to help.
“I know I don’t need to do this, but I want to. Why don’t you get some coffee going?” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Laughing, she turned to do his bidding. While Mack waited for the coffee to brew, she followed Lucas into the living room and switched the newly setup Wii on for him. He was allowed thirty minutes each evening before bed.
With the dishes all washed and dried, Mack joined Thomas at the kitchen table, hoping he wouldn’t mind telling her about his past. She really enjoyed hearing about people’s lives, especially before and just after the Second World War, and with Thomas, she already felt comfortable enough to ask him questions.
“Would you mind telling me something about your parents? What were they like? What did they do?” She grinned at Thomas, who looked as though he’d never been asked that before. “Sorry, I find family history rather interesting.” She blushed.
He frowned and gazed into his mug of coffee. “My parents, hmm. Well, my mother and father, Josephine and Thomas, were both born in Delgany in County Wicklow in 1899 and sailed for America in the early 1920’s on the RMS Mauretania from Southampton to New York.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland, but it would mean a rather long flight, and I don’t like to fly. Have you ever been, Thomas? You must still have family over there?”
“I think there is but I wouldn’t know them. I’ve never had any contact with them and I don’t think my father or mother stayed in touch with any family when they moved here.”
“What did your parents do for work?” Mack inquired.
“After they’d arrived, my father was offered a good position with a law firm in Portland. The firm paid well and, in 1927, they moved here. They rented this cottage first, and then bought it a few years later. My mother never worked, even during the Depression, and enjoyed visiting friends and drinking tea. My father worked all the time. He had one bad temper. He used to scare the crap out of me.”
They took a sip of their drinks.
“Were you their only child?” Mack asked, completely fascinated.
Thomas appeared lost in thought. “No. I had an older brother, Charlie. He died toward the end of the Second World War, and a sister…she died a few years later. My mother died of a heart condition in 1951, and my father in 1964. I hadn’t spoken to my father for years when he died, so I was surprised that he’d left everything to me. That’s when I changed the name of the cottage.” He sighed heavily, and Mack could tell that he’d had enough for one night.
“Thank you for telling me about your family. You have a very good memory for dates.”
“I’ve always been good with figures,” he replied. “I think I’ll call it a night.”
Mack watched Thomas and as he got to his feet, she asked, “Please join us for breakfast.”
His weathered face creased into a delighted smile. “I have breakfast plans, but I will call in on my way home.” Without another word he left and the silence was only broken when Lucas charged into the kitchen.
“I heard you invite Mr. Degan for breakfast, do you think I could sleep on the sofa tonight and wait for him to come back?”
With a soft laugh, Mack ushered him upstairs. “I think you’ll be up well before he arrives after breakfast so there is no need to sleep on the sofa.” In the bathroom she started to run his bath while she silently smiled at her nephew who currently leaned against the doorjamb.
He moaned and groaned and muttered to himself under the impression that his Auntie had no idea what he was saying. She heard everyone of his complaints about how grown ups were bossy.
Schooling her features she turned and grinned. “If you want to see Mr. Degan in the morning then I suggest you run and get your pajamas. We’ll put them on the heater so that they’re nice and warm for when you get out of the bath.” Her words ended up lost because Lucas had already run like a bullet to his room.
Hopefully he’d sleep after the fresh air of the coast.