Wishes at Willow Lake


  • Author: Mary Manners
Mason Donovan has a secret: he's spent years overcoming dyslexia. Through school, he was viewed as the proverbial kid with all brawn and no brain. He wanted nothing more than to be included with the other guys in his high school class--and to have a date with Josie Parker. His longing leads to...


Mason Donovan has a secret: he's spent years overcoming dyslexia. Through school, he was viewed as the proverbial kid with all brawn and no brain. He wanted nothing more than to be included with the other guys in his high school class--and to have a date with Josie Parker. His longing leads to a reckless escapade at Willow Lake and the death of an innocent child.

Josie Parker loves reading so much that she decides to open a bookstore/café. Among the pages, she finds relief from a childhood marred by the remorse that she never quite measured up to her mother's expectations. Business is booming, so when she needs an expansion to the facilities, she calls the best builder in the South, Mason Donovan. She doesn't expect him to return to Willow Lake so quickly--or to look so good.

Is it possible for a bookworm and a builder to find love, and healing, among the romance shelves?



“There’s just not enough room in here, Ali.” Josie Parker dropped a carton of books on the floor and straightened with a sigh as she blew a wisp of cropped sable hair from her eyes. Not one sliver of the tile she’d polished to a gleaming shine the night before peeked from beneath boxes stacked three-high. “I feel like an elephant in a teacup. I’ll never find space to display all this week’s inventory.”
“That’s not exactly a bad problem to have, is it?” Ali Hawkins jostled her son Rory on one hip as she sipped a double-shot espresso. Her blonde hair, tugged into a sleek ponytail, shimmered beneath the shop lights as Rory worked a tiny thumb into his mouth and began to suckle. “Maybe it’s time to expand Posts and Pages. You’ve talked about growing the bookstore for more than a year now.”
“I know.” Josie nudged another unopened carton that lay scattered among an army strewn across the cluttered floor. She lifted wire-rimmed reading glasses from her nose and propped them on her head. “And I’ve burrowed away more than enough savings over the past few years, since I opened this place. I just need a builder who’s willing to take on the job. Last I checked, Willow Lake has slim pickings in that department.”
“True…unless you want to hire John Larder’s cousin and pay double for half of the work—shoddy to boot.” Ali frowned. “He seems to have a huge corner of the market—not surprising since John’s on the town council now and oversees construction permits inside Willow Lake’s city limits.”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to throw my hard-earned cash into a money pit just to appease John Larder—or his overbearing cousin.” Stewart Simms had been coming around Posts and Pages a little too often lately, dropping hints about how he’d find a way to cut her a design and construction deal if she’d only “work with him.” Josie shivered. She’d rather have her eye teeth yanked out with pliers than spend one hour alone in Stewart’s presence. “I’ll just have to decrease stock—or get rid of the coffee bar.”
“Bite your tongue.” Ali shuddered and clutched the espresso cup to her chest. “And disappoint all your loyal customers—like me?”
“Do you have any other ideas?”
“Who says the builder has to come from Willow Lake? Perhaps there’s a way to circumvent Stewart Simms. Look there.” Ali motioned toward a stack of Homes Today magazines piled high on the coffee bar. “I think I may have found the perfect solution to your problem.”
Josie glanced in the direction Ali pointed and gasped as her gaze captured the glossy image on the magazine’s cover. Her breath whooshed out as her belly fluttered. “Oh, my.”
“Oh my, is right.” Ali chuckled, nestling Rory to her side as she navigated a path through the littered floor. “Mason Donovan has made his mark in the world.”
“Mason Donovan…” Josie bent to retrieve a copy of the magazine. Her pulse raced as she drank in the image of him clad in faded Levi’s and a flannel shirt, sleeves rolled to expose sinuous muscles along his forearms. A hardhat and scuffed work boots only served to improve his rugged good looks, and the tool belt slung low along his hips kicked her pulse into next week. “Is that really him?”
“In the flesh…well, sort of.” Ali laughed. “Kind of takes you back in time, doesn’t it?”
“I can’t believe…” Josie flipped through the pages, quickly scanning a generous article strategically placed at the core of the magazine. “It says he’s working out of Atlanta.”
“Not too far from here…not too far at all.” Ali winked, her laughing green eyes full of mischief. “You know, Josie, he always had a thing for you.”
“He did not. We were just…sort of friends.” Josie shrugged, though the very idea sent a flush of warmth through her belly. She’d longed for more with Mason—had dreamed of it on starlit nights while she lounged in bed, watching light from the moon cascade across the sky through her bedroom window. But she was gawky—a nerdy bookworm, all elbows and knees in glasses and braces—and Mason was strong and agile and so…completely masculine that she was convinced he’d never given her a second look for anything other than her brain. So much for dreaming. “Besides, that was more than a decade ago. We were kids.”
“I saw the way he cast sideward glances at you during English class. There’s no mistaking those kinds of looks.”
“Well, he never acted on it.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “If he felt anything at all, it was nothing more than some school-boy crush—and a desire to make a passing grade in English—that’s surely long-forgotten.”
“I thought the same thing about Ryder, and look where that got us.” Ali dipped her head to kiss Rory’s dark crown, his hair a mirror image of his daddy’s. “This precious little guy.”
“He’s beautiful.” Josie smoothed a hand over Rory’s soft cheek, her heart quickening. Ali had everything Josie longed for—a husband who adored her, a sweet baby, and a business that boomed despite the economic dive. She tamped down a bite of envy, sighing as she mentally scolded herself. Ali had certainly seen her share of hard times before finding her way to happiness with Ryder. “You’ve sure been blessed.”
“I have.” Ali nodded. “And blessings are waiting in the wings for you, as well. You just have to be willing to accept them.”
“But it’s winter, and this recent cold snap is more frigid than the inside of a deep freeze.” Josie motioned to the boulevard beyond the front display window. Willow branches danced in a stiff breeze beneath clouds ripe with snow. They’d most likely have at least a dusting of the white stuff by dinnertime. “Nobody starts a building project in the dead of winter.”
“Then Mason ought to be smack dab in the middle of his slow season. All the better to get him here to help you plan.” Ali smiled. “In a few months, Willow Lake will be crawling with tourists, and you’ll want to be ready for the boon. Besides, the almanac is predicting an early spring once February blows in—perfect weather for construction.”
“Well, February is only a week away.” Josie toed a small pallet of magazines with her boot, easing it against the wall. “I guess I could give Mason a call and ask for his help. Or, at the least, request some suggestions on how to rein in the chaos around here. Business is really starting to suffer when customers can’t even squeeze between the shelves.”
“I agree. Posts and Pages has morphed from a cozy little bookstore/coffee shop into a full-blown battleground. If you don’t captain this ship, it’s going to be swept into a tidal wave. You really have to strategize and come up with a plan for expansion—and soon, Jo. From the looks of that article, Mason has plenty of experience to help with that.”
“You’re right. I’ll give it a shot. I guess the worst Mason can say is no.” Josie smoothed a hand through Rory’s downy hair as he cooed, his lips pursing into a tiny grin. Her heart melted. “But, I haven’t talked to him in forever. He probably doesn’t even remember me.”
“Oh, he’ll remember you.” Ali handed her the cordless phone from the counter. “Trust me on this. Call him. I dare you.”
“Dare me? Good grief! What are we…in high school again?” Josie tucked a lock of hair behind one ear and then swept her fingers whimsically over the phone’s buttons. “You really think I should do this? Really?”
“I do…unless you want to line John Larder’s—and his cousin’s—pockets with wads of your hard-earned cash.” Ali took the magazine from Josie and handed her Rory in exchange. She sidestepped cartons to refill her coffee cup with fresh brew from a polished silver urn on the counter. One sip had her smacking her lips. “Ahh…this coffee is the best in Willow Lake—in all of East Tennessee. And, you offer the largest selection of books and up-to-date periodicals. But you’re bursting at the seams here. You need something more—fast.”
“I can’t stand the thought of Stewart Simms—or anyone related to Larder—getting their hands on my shop. I’ve worked too hard—sacrificed too much. But, to ask Mason…I never imagined.” Josie’s pulse jolted as she reached for another copy of Homes Today. She drank in Mason’s dark-chocolate eyes and the slight, lopsided grin that had made her pulse race on more than one occasion when he’d walked her way during their high school years. “He hasn’t changed a bit…”
“At least on the outside. But I think you have your answer.” Ali drained her cup, took Rory back, and motioned to the phone in Josie’s hand. “There’s only one way to find out. I saw a number listed in the footnote of that article. Maybe he’s available…in more ways than one.”

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