A Cricket Creek Novel
Cricket Creek, Kentucky, is a sweet river town known for its theater, shopping, and cuisine. But tough times are affecting the residents of the local retirement community—until a handsome hero shows up…
Savannah Perry loves her job as social director of Whisper’s Edge, a retirement community on the picturesque waterfront of Cricket Creek. Raised in foster care, twenty-nine-year-old Savannah feels treasured and loved by the retired residents, who treat her as their adopted granddaughter and rotate having her over for dinner. But the community is struggling to stay afloat financially—until Tristan McMillan swoops into town, rescues a dog, and, well, saves the day…
Business-minded Tristan bought Whisper’s Edge from his estranged grandfather to prove his worth to the curmudgeon and to turn a quick profit. He never expected to fall for the charms of a village of crafty retirees—or to fall hard for a small town girl like Savannah. Suddenly the man who knows all about making money finds himself needing lessons in love and what really matters in life…
"Willie! no! don’t jump!” the loud, desperate plea frightened social director Savannah Perry into sprinting toward the pool at Whisper’s Edge. Willie’s dangerous plunge attempts had been happening all too often. “Oh baby, please don’t! It isn’t worth it!” Although the tearful wail had Savannah picking up her already swift pace she did manage to notice a sleek sports car parked in front of the main office. The sun glinting off the silver hood piqued Savannah’s curious nature but a splash followed by another wail of distress kept her placing one flowered flip flop in front of the other. The thongs adorned with daisies were the result of last Wednesday’s craft workshop but were not very good for running shoes. “Doggone it!” Savannah nearly tripped as she hopped over the curb but she refused to slow down. Willie was not a strong swimmer. Breathing hard, Savannah pushed open the gate that should have been latched and looked past umbrella tables and lounge chairs. “On no!” She spotted eighty year old Patty Parsons teetering precariously close to the edge of the water at the deep end of the pool. “Please back up,” Savannah warned, but hard of hearing Miss Patty was further hampered by the pink bathing cap covering her ears.
“I’ll rescue Willie!” Savannah tried again, but Miss Patty’s attention remained focused on her sinking dog.
“Oh, Willie, swim harder!” Miss Patty wrung her hands together as she watched her beloved basset hound trying to capture a yellow tennis ball that bobbed just past his nose. Willie’s ears fanned out over the surface of the water and, although he doggypaddled at a furious pace, his short legs and rotund body were no match for gravity. He sunk a little lower.
“Baby, forget about the danged ball! I’ll buy you a dozen!” Miss Patty wailed but Willie was on a mission and paid his master no heed. Then, to Savannah’s horror, the spry little lady pointed her hands over her capped head and bent her body toward the glistening water. “I’m coming for ya!” she promised, but although Miss Patty was in great shape for her advanced age, Savannah knew from experience that without her flotation noodle she’d sink like a stone.
Savannah was about to have quite a situation on her hands. She cupped her fingers at the corners of her mouth and shouted at the top of her lungs, “For the love of God, don’t dive in, Miss Patty! I’ll save Willie!”
God must have been listening because Miss Patty suddenly straightened up and looked at Savannah across the width of the pool. With wide eyes she put a hand to her chest. “Oh, praise the lord! Child, pul-ease save my Willie!”
Savannah kicked off her flip flops, losing a hot glued daisy in the process. “I will,” she promised and, while holding her nose, she jumped fully dressed into the pool. Although she’d cranked up the heat for afternoon water aerobics, the sudden plunge still felt shockingly cold. Ignoring the discomfort, Savannah bobbed to the surface. She lunged for Willie and managed to wrap her arm around his midsection.
“You got him,” Miss Patty shouted, but her glee was short lived. Although Savannah kicked with all her might, she and her canine buddy sank beneath the water. Willie, apparently sensing doggy death by drowning, wiggled away. With a gurgled protest, Savannah followed in swift pursuit but Willie swam like a manatee while under water. He didn’t, however, manage to paddle his way back up to the surface and started sinking closer to the bottom.
Although her lungs protested, Savannah knew her only hope was to get beneath Willie and push him upward. She lunged forward and gave his furry rump a huge heave ho, repeating the action while using her legs as a springboard off the bottom. The old, Olympic sized pool was deep and Savannah was short so by the time she and Willie reached the side of the pool Savannah was struggling. Her lungs burned but she somehow managed to give Willie one last hard shove closer to where Miss Patty was bent over paddling the water as if that would somehow help.
The effort sent Savannah sinking backward but she pushed off the bottom and stroked as quickly as her tired arms would allow. Savannah broke surface and took a huge gasp of much needed air. Wet hair obscuring her vision, she dipped under the water to slick the long dark red tresses back from her forehead. Just as she raised her head above water another splash had her cringing. Not again! Savannah was flailing around in a circle trying to get a bead on where Willie landed when, to her surprise, a strong arm snaked around her waist and pulled her against a hard body.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got you,” the owner of the hard body said next to her ear. Savannah tried to twist to see his face but his firm grip prevented her from budging. “Stay calm and put your arms around my neck. I’ll get you over to the edge.”
Savannah obeyed but then felt silly. The words I’m not drowning formed in her head but the exertion, coupled with the lack of oxygen, scrambled Savannah’s brain. She attempted to talk once more but unfortunately only a breathy drowning got past her lips.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you,” her knight in soggy clothing promised in a whiskey smooth voice laced with a touch of the South. Savannah loved accents because they represented a sense of home, and roots, something she’d never had until landing the job at Whisper’s Edge. “Hang on and you’ll be just fine.”
“Okay,” Savannah managed. She tightened her hold, forgetting that she didn’t really need assistance.
“We’re almost there.” His warm breath near her ear sent a delicious tingle down her spine, and when he tilted his head back Savannah was able to see his tanned face. “Don’t worry.” He gave Savannah a reassuring smile that was utterly gorgeous. In that brief moment when their eyes met, Savannah felt an unexpected flash of longing she couldn’t quite explain. He must have felt something similar because his gaze dropped to her mouth and lingered. Time felt suspended and unfolded like one of those slow motion movie moments that needed Maroon 5 music in the background. Savannah tilted her face slightly closer but before she could do something incredibly insane like lean in and kiss a perfect stranger, he turned his head and started swimming toward the ladder. “Thank God . . .” Damn . . . didn’t mean to utter that out loud.
“Almost there,” he assured her in a soothing tone of voice.
Savannah could see the hot pink silk zinnias adorning the top of Miss Patty’s flip flops. Several of the ladies had squabbled over favorite flowers during craft time, and Savannah had had to make them draw straws.
“Here you go.” With firm hands circling her waist he gently guided Savannah to the rungs of the ladder. She could feel the heat of his body pressing against her back and the urge to lean against him was almost too strong to resist. Luckily, Willie’s deep bark startled some sense back into Savannah’s befuddled brain. With a quick intake of breath she gripped the metal handrails and hoisted herself up while hoping that her wet sweatpants clinging to her body didn’t make her butt look big. Belatedly, Savannah realized she wore a swimsuit beneath her clothing and wished she had taken the time to shed it before rescuing Willie. Too late now ...
Trying not to think about her butt, Savannah sloshed her way up the ladder but when she tried to stand, her shaky legs gave her trouble. To her acute embarrassment she stumbled sideways like a drunken sailor.
“Whoa there.” Her handsome hero placed a steadying arm about her waist. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Her voice, which had a low timbre to begin with, came out sounding like a croak. Could this possibly get any worse? It wasn’t until she pushed her wet hair from her eyes that Savannah realized that they had quickly drawn a small crowd of elderly lady onlookers, most of whom were dressed in swimsuits and clutching colorful foam noodles for water aerobics.
Apparently, her day could indeed get worse.
“She’s fine,” her lifeguard assured them, earning a collective sigh of relief, but then turned to her. “Aren’t you?”
Savannah, who didn’t trust her voice, opted for a smile at him and a wimpy little wave at the class. After an awkward moment of silence Savannah searched for what to say. Thanks, but I wasn’t really drowning. Sorry that you’re sopping wet. Who are you, anyway? None of those thoughts seemed appropriate for the current situation so she was going to go with a simple thank you when Willie sat back on his haunches and barked.
“Just hush. You’ve caused enough trouble now, don’t ya know?” Miss Patty wagged a finger and Willie had the decency to hang his head.
Savannah wanted to be angry with Willie but his sad basset hound face melted her heart every time his rump landed in trouble. When his big brown eyes rounded upward and gazed sorrowfully at Savannah she barely refrained from reaching out and patting his head.
“Thank you both so much,” Miss Patty tearfully told them. She started clapping and then glanced back at the water aerobic class who stood behind her in a neat row. Most of them had color coordinated their bathing caps, foam noodles, and flowered flip flops. “Ladies?” At Miss Patty’s nod they joined her applause by clapping their hands against their noodles, causing a low thumping sound that Savannah found funny. She snuck a sideways glance at her hero but her smile faded when she noticed that he wore a watch and most likely had a wallet and cell phone in the pocket of his khaki pants. A dark blue polo shirt molded to a very nice chest and clung to wide shoulders and impressive biceps. The only thing he managed to shed before his plunge was expensive looking leather loafers lying on their sides near the grass. Savannah swallowed hard. Oh boy . . .
“It was no big deal,” he said smoothly. When he glanced at Savannah she looked down at her toes. She wondered if his demeanor would change if he knew that his heroic efforts weren’t actually needed and then decided that there was no real reason to clue him in on that particular detail. “I’m just glad that I was here to help.”
Before she could come up with a reply, all the bathing capped heads turned in the direction of Clyde and Clovis Camden entering the area. The seventy eight year old identical twin brothers who resembled George Hamilton in both looks and demeanor were the resident hotties. The brothers were blessed with full heads of salt and pepper hair, a rare sight at Whisper’s Edge, and their arrival sent an audible feminine flutter through the row of bathing beauties.
The dapper duo had donned old school white tennis shorts and matching polo shirts. Orange headbands and wristbands added a shot of color, and gold rope chain necklaces glinted against tanned skin. Savannah wondered if dressing the same ever got old but they seemed to enjoy fooling people with typical twin gags. Miss Patty, however, didn’t seem at all happy to see them. She pointed to a yellow tennis ball that Clovis clutched in his hand. The only way Savannah knew it was Clovis was that he had a slightly crooked nose that must have once been broken. Miss Patty narrowed her eyes.“Once again, y’all almost caused the demise of my dear Willie.”
“Now, Miss Patty, we can’t help that the tennis courts are next to the pool,” Clyde countered smoothly. “My wicked backhand sometimes sends balls sailing over the fence.” He flexed a muscle, causing more swooning.
Miss Patty pursed her lips and then raised her chin. “I fully understand the close proximity to the pool, but it’s the fact that after you sashay over here to retrieve your balls you fail to close the gate after your departure, putting my dear Willie in danger! To him an open gate is an open invitation. Willie simply cannot resist jumping into the pool when an enticing tennis ball comes sailing over the fence! It happened yet again!”
Clovis arched one eyebrow. “Perhaps you should have Willie on a leash. I do believe it’s in the rules.”
“He has a point, Patty,” Joy Potter piped up and was rewarded with a slight smile from Clovis. Joy returned the gesture with a coy eye flutter.
Miss Patty silenced Joy with an I can’t believe you’re siding with them glare and then turned her attention back to the twins. “A leash chokes Willie. Per my request he has been exempted from the resident leash law.” She looked at Savannah, who quickly nodded her agreement. Although Willie’s non-leash exemption slid through the Whisper’s Edge council by a narrow margin, a free Willie was indeed legal. “Under normal circumstances Willie remains obediently by my side.”
“Then, may I suggest taking a different route?” Clyde asked.
“You may not!” Miss Patty clearly did not like Clyde’s suggestion. She narrowed her eyes. “Closing and latching the gate would solve the problem. It’s clearly stated in the pool rules.” Miss Patty pointed to the sign posted on the far wall and then looked to her lady friends for support but they all dipped their colorful capped heads downward as if in a synchronized swim move. At Miss Patty’s audible intake of breath most of the ladies remained staring at the flowers on their flip flips, clearly not willing to rant against the Camden brothers. “Well, I’ll be . . .”
If Savannah hadn’t been in her soggy state of embarrassment with the handsome stranger dripping at her side she would have jumped in with some sort of compromise.
At the continued silence Miss Patty finally sighed, and then rolled her eyes. “And if that’s not bad enough Savannah had to rescue Willie again. Not to mention that her water aerobics class is going to start late, running into lunch!” She waved her hand in an arc in front of the twins. “See what your negligence has caused?”
Savannah felt her silent hero nudge her arm. “You can swim?”
Oh no ...busted.
After a sideways glance at his incredulous expression Savannah gave him a slight nod followed by a tiny smile.
His brown eyes widened further. “Wait. So I jumped into the pool fully clothed for nothing?”
“It was a nice gesture,” Savannah said softly but felt heat creep up her neck. “Truly . . .”
“A nice gesture? I thought I was saving your life,” he muttered darkly.
Savannah looked up at his face, which remained arrestingly handsome despite his stormy expression. “I’m sorry,” she added lamely, but when his expression failed to change, she quickly added, “Although . . . your heroic rescue will make for a funny story, right?” Savannah looked over at the line of ladies for colorful head bobs but they clutched their noodles and blinked back as if not quite sure what the protocol was for this kind of situation. At least the bickering between the Camden brothers and Miss Patty had died down, so that was something. “Sure to get a laugh, don’t you think?” She raised her eyebrows with hope.
“Not especially,” her reluctant hero answered in a clipped tone that put Savannah’s teeth on edge. Okay, so he was wet. It wasn’t the end of the world.
“Hey, I didn’t ask you to jump into the pool,” Savannah said a bit tightly.
“That’s the thanks I get for attempting to save your life?”
“Thank you,” she primly replied.
“Look.” Savannah put her hands on her hips. “I’m sorry I didn’t need to be saved. So sue me!”
His lips twitched at her comment. “You could have mentioned that little detail.”
“I tried.” Savannah remembered her instant attraction and felt the heat go from her neck to her cheeks. “I was out of breath from saving Willie. Besides, you had already jumped in so it really wouldn’t have mattered, now would it?” Savannah prided herself on being pretty levelheaded but he was getting under her skin in more ways than one. “Look, I’m very sorry that you got wet but are you made of sugar?”
He shook his head. “Ah . . . no.”
“Then you’re not going to melt.”
“Well, true, but I have an important meeting to attend in a little over an hour.” He raked his fingers through his dark, wet hair and grimaced. “And I’m not exactly presentable.”
“Oh, look, I truly am sorry for the confusion.” Savannah felt her anger evaporate but then frowned when she recalled the sleek sports car parked in front of the office. Her heart suddenly started to thud. “Excuse me, but may I ask . . . who are you?”
A dark eyebrow shot up. “Tristan McMillan.”
Oh no... “related to Maxwell McMillan?” Although she had never met the man, it was the name signed on her paychecks. rumor had it that Whisper’s Edge was struggling and without a buyer would be sold on the courthouse steps. Her heart pounded. Was he here to deliver bad news?
“As most of you know, my grandfather has retired to Florida for . . . uh, health reasons. I’ve purchased the property from him.”
Savannah’s eyes widened and she heard a ripple of excitement go through the crowd. Bathing capped heads bobbed like floating balloons and the Camden brothers stopped bouncing tennis balls. Even Willie seemed to sit up and take notice. The fact that Whisper’s Edge was for sale wasn’t a secret. But although no one really talked about it, the residents lived in silent fear that the retirement community might close down if a buyer wasn’t found.
Miss Patty’s face broke into a wide smile. “Well then, young Mr. McMillan, it appears as if you truly are a hero!” When she started applauding, everyone joined in, including Savannah. But when Savannah looked up at Tristan she noticed that, although he smiled back, something flickered in his brown eyes that gave her pause. A cold shot of fear slithered down her spine but when she saw the radiant faces of the senior ladies whom she dearly loved, Savannah decided she was being overly cautious. Whisper’s Edge had a buyer! Her prayers had been answered and it was time to celebrate! Savannah turned to her new boss and smiled. “Congratulations, Mr. McMillan. Whisper’s Edge is a wonderful community. I haven’t had the, um, pleasure of meeting him but I’m sure your grandfather is proud and happy that you’re keeping Whisper’s Edge in the family.”
“I was more than happy to do it,” Tristan answered but there was a wry tone to his voice that Savannah didn’t miss. She’d also heard stories about Max McMillan, and not all of them were good. “While I grew up in the northern part of Kentucky near Cincinnati, I spent some time here as a kid.”
“Well, we’re grateful,” Miss Patty said. “No disrespect, but your grandpappy has been an absentee owner for quite some time now. His signature is about all we ever see of him.”
“I intend to make some major improvements. In fact—”
“Hear, hear!” shouted Clovis, raising his tennis racket skyward. Clyde joined him and was quickly followed by the women raising their noodles. Somebody started singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and the crowd joined in, ending with more applause.
Savannah noticed that Tristan seemed a bit flustered by the cheers. He shifted his weight from one wet socked foot to the other and said, “Please, applause isn’t necessary.”
“On the contrary,” Miss Patty announced and got nods of approval. “We’ve been worried that we’d soon be out of house and home. This is really grand news! We can’t thank you enough, Mr. McMillan.”
“No, really . . .” Tristan raised his hands while giving them a shake of his head.
Savannah thought his humbleness was rather sweet, and silently acknowledged that she had misjudged him. “Mr. McMillan, allow me to formerly introduce myself.” She extended her hand and beamed at him. “I’m Savannah Perry, social director and Girl Friday to Kate Winston, whom I’m sure you’ve already met. I do my best to schedule fun events and help keep daily operations running smoothly.” She squeezed his hand. “I’d like to give you a warm . . . instead of wet, welcome!”
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