The Season of Silver Linings
Barnes & Noble
Published by: Lake Union
Release Date: July 17, 2018
She can’t change what’s come before. But letting go could bring healing—and the rare love that comes once in a lifetime.
When Ohio pastry chef Jada Brooks and her two best friends restored the glorious Wayfair Inn, it was a boon to Sweet Lake—and to their own lives. Now Linnie and Cat are focused on private matters: one engaged, the other swept up in newlywed bliss. Jada has also begun looking to the future by dating widower Philip Kettering and forging a sudden, sweet bond with his six-year-old daughter.
But the past isn’t finished with Jada. When a curious guest checks into the Wayfair, her delving questions stir Jada’s guilt about the heartbreaking events that scarred the town seven years ago. The risks Jada must take by revealing the truth will test every assumption she’s made about the meaning of family and the magic of enduring love.
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Finalist: 2019 Booksellers' Best Award, Long Contemporary Romance, Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America
Finalist Fiction: Chick Lit/Women's Lit, 2018 Best Book Awards
Recommended by Harlequin Junkie
“An enchanting, impossible-to-put down novel that explores the truth of family. This heartwarming story nourishes the soul, and reminds us that love is what keeps hope alive.”
—USA Today bestselling author Bette Lee Crosby
“Charming and sincere, Jada’s journey to reconcile the past left me with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. The idyllic setting only adds to the joy of reading this heartwarming tale of past mistakes and glorious futures.”
—Heather Burch, bestselling author of In the Light of the Garden
“In The Season of Silver Linings we see love on every page. Each novel in the Sweet Lake series offers a special experience for the reader, and the third book may be your favorite yet.”
—Grace Greene, USA Today bestselling author
“Nolfi has a unique way with words that I found both humorous and sincere. This third installment in the bestselling series offers a bit of romance and a hint of suspense. The women known to the Sweet Lake townsfolk as Sirens add elements of intrigue and eccentricity to this cast of charming characters. This is one you won’t want to put down.”
—Ashley Farley, bestselling author of the Sweeney Sisters Series
“Christine Nolfi joins the illustrious tribe of women’s fiction writers that have portrayed the powers and value of female friendships with grace, charm, and talent. This third book in her Sweet Lake series digs deeper into the heartbreak of protected secrets and the power of love. Guaranteed to delight both new readers and fans.”
—Peggy Lampman, bestselling author of The Promise Kitchen
Tilda Lyons rushed into the Wayfair’s kitchen. “I have wonderful news!”
An unlikely prospect. Jada Brooks muffled a groan. This morning there wasn’t time for interruptions by the Sweet Lake Sirens. The members of the eccentric women’s group were needed upstairs. All manner of chaos had seized a corner suite of the historic Wayfair Inn.
Jada placed a swirl of icing on the chocolate cake she’d baked for the dinner menu. “Tell me Linnie has made a decision on her wedding gown. It’s the only kind of ‘wonderful’ I’m looking for this morning.”
“Not yet,” Tilda said.
“Is she close?”
The pint-size Realtor put her excitement in lockdown. “Do you want the truth?”
“No, Tilda. Lie to me.”
“She told the Sirens that only a woman with a deathly allergy to carbs and aerobics could enjoy an experience this hellish.”
“No decision then.” Jada rolled her aching neck. The gesture did nothing to alleviate the tension brewing in her muscles. “Do me a favor, Tilda. Save your news for a happier day.”
“Don’t be such a party pooper. This can’t wait.” Recovering her excitement, Tilda shimmied her shoulders with the energy of an overly caffeinated elf. Her cinnamon-colored locks were still swinging as she added, “You’ll love this. We began comparing notes while we were upstairs helping with the gowns and—bingo!—we deciphered the meaning, at long last.”
“Is this about another dream?” Jada asked, thinking, Go away, please.
The Sweet Lake Sirens believed their dreams were prophetic. Jada didn’t know why they insisted on adding her into their REM sleep. Why didn’t they pick on Linnie Wayfair instead? Given her upcoming wedding, she’d become the craziest white girl in three counties.
An opinion not worth sharing as Tilda said, “Last night, four of the Sirens had nearly identical dreams about you.”
“Copycat dreams? That’s hard to believe.”
“Well, they did. We made a comparison and stumbled upon the meaning. I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to work it out.” Tilda paused a dramatic beat. “Are you ready?”
“Don’t be frightened. We’re here to help you.”
“That’s what scares me.” Jada wasn’t sure why the Sirens were dreaming about her lately. Chances were, they’d now arrived at a silly solution for a problem she didn’t have.
Not that Jada didn’t have problems aplenty.
For nearly a decade, the historic Wayfair Inn had been on the edge of bankruptcy with little hope for survival. Those dark years were now a memory. The three women in charge—Jada included—were breathing life back into the golden sandstone mansion that stood on the highest hill in the area, with the town of Sweet Lake nestling at its feet. Once again, tourists from across the Midwest were arriving at the retreat in southern Ohio to enjoy the mineral-fed lake and the lush forest.
With the Wayfair’s newfound success, problems bred like alley cats in heat. Each day brought a whole litter of headaches. Usually they began raining down on Jada the moment she entered the lobby. Deliveries arrived late, or new waitstaff left entrées growing cold in the kitchen. New employees in Housekeeping forgot to replace bath towels in the guest suites, and the expanding kitchen staff was still learning the ropes. Most days, Jada felt like a drill sergeant whipping a group of dizzy recruits into shape.
“Why don’t we discuss this later?” she asked Tilda. “Thanks to the mayhem upstairs, I’m way behind schedule. Half of the desserts for the dinner menu aren’t finished, and I haven’t stepped foot in my office. I’ll need a snow shovel to dig through the paperwork on my desk.”
Penelope Riddle came into the kitchen. “Jada, hold on.” Behind thick eyeglasses, her watery eyes registered worry. “You need to hear us out.”
The gentle request pinged guilt through Jada. It was one thing to nix a conversation with a caffeinated elf. Penelope, however, possessed a chewy nougat center.
“Fine, Penelope,” she said, relenting. “Fire away.”
Permission had been granted, yet the elderly Siren went silent like the moon at midnight. Her attention flitted across the counter and the kitchen staff before dancing to the tall windows above the sink. The trees outside fluttered with spring’s first leaves.
The picturesque scene was lost on Penelope as she drew a tremulous breath.
Goose bumps sprouted on Jada’s arms. Whatever the Siren believed the dreams foretold, the prediction wasn’t good.
On her exhale, Penelope said, “You’re suffering beneath a psychic burden.”
“A psychic burden?”
That was the big reveal?
“One not of your making.”
“If I didn’t make the burden, who did?”
“Someone no longer in your life.”
Jada swiped at the curls escaping from beneath the bandanna on her head. This morning, there hadn’t been time to coil her curls or steam away the tension in her body with a long, leisurely hot shower. A short, utilitarian one was all she could manage. She was burdened, all right—from lack of sleep and the deprivation of anything resembling a social life. She was a black woman’s version of Atlas, carrying the world with flour-dusted cheeks―and seriously needing a visit to the salon.
“That’s your great insight?” she asked Penelope. “I am burdened, but mostly by the people in my life. Tell me something I don’t know.”
The kindhearted Siren missed the sarcasm. “All right,” she agreed, clasping her hands at her generous waist. “You won’t escape the burden until a stranger brings news from the past.”
“Why should I care about the past? Because, you know, it’s passed.”
“An event in the past created the burden,” Penelope said. “It has brought you regret.”
Jada sighed with exasperation. She didn’t need pointers on dealing with regret. A woman didn’t make it into her thirties without suffering the sting of missed opportunities or foolish choices. Live long enough and you discover that no one has a flawless track record. Assuming she bought into the dream interpretation—a proposition still up for grabs—Penelope wasn’t offering enough specifics to solve the mystery.
Jada zeroed in on the second part of the prediction. “The stranger who’ll bring news from the past . . . this isn’t a tall, dark, and handsome stranger, is it?” Along with their quirky ideas about spirituality, the Sirens liked to play matchmakers with the town’s unsuspecting residents. Usually this worked out. But, at times, they created romantic mayhem in Sweet Lake, Ohio. “Because if it is, cast your spell on someone else. I don’t have time to date. If I ever hang out my shingle, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Sending out good vibrations isn’t the same as casting a spell. Sirens aren’t witches, you know. We’re wise women. Our combined wisdom can help you.”
“Are we done here?” Jada pointed toward the confections lined up on the counter. “I’m nowhere near finishing the desserts.”
“Wait.” Penelope dug around in her purse. “Keep this with you. It will help resolve the burden.”
She withdrew a homemade sachet. The string knotted around the small bag boasted the familiar feathers and stones used to decorate Siren tokens. From beneath the colorful fabric, a sharp green scent perfumed the air.
Jada took another sniff, relishing the aroma. If accepting the gift would get Penelope and Tilda out of the kitchen, there was no harm in playing along. “Mind telling me why I should wear a sachet with rosemary inside?”
Tilda put in, “We do mind.” Beside her, Penelope nodded in solemn agreement. “Mostly because we don’t have the answer yet.”
“You don’t know why I should wear rosemary?”
“We know the herb is important,” Tilda said. “Every time we dream about you, we also dream about rosemary.”
“I’m a pastry chef. Why not put me in dreams with chocolate sprinkles or crème fraîche?”
“Would it matter if we did?”
From the corridor, a commingling of voices filtered in. The sixtyish Norah Webb swept into the room. Her graceful carriage was a remnant of the years of runway modeling during her youth. The much shorter Ruth Kenefsky marched in behind her.
The look on their faces sent Jada’s mood spiraling downward. Another disaster with Linnie upstairs?
Whatever the setback, she didn’t relish hearing the play-by-play.
A center island dominated the Wayfair’s kitchen. On the opposite side, three members of the morning staff inched toward the sink. A wise move. Norah gave them an imperious glance before setting her sights on Jada.
“You’re needed upstairs immediately, if not sooner.” Norah peered down her hawkish nose. “We have another problem.”
“I’ve already gone up twice.” Jada reached for the rolling pin. On the marble pastry board she’d chilled prior to her last sprint upstairs, the pie dough wept silently. Leave it much longer, and it would become soggy mush. “Can’t the rest of you deal with this? Narrow Linnie’s choices down to three wedding gowns. Once you do, I’ll go back upstairs.”
“She insists on hearing your opinion.”
“Norah, I can’t race upstairs every ten minutes to lend an opinion. Who made me an expert? I’ve never been married.”
“As if your sad excuse of a private life matters. She’s demanding you go up, ASAP.”
The remark about her private life was a low blow, but Jada let it slide. Summoning the last of her patience, she said, “Tell her to wait. I’m working with butter, which will melt. I’m not throwing away half a pound of the stuff because I’m forced to watch the fashion show.” She got in Norah’s face. “Am I making myself clear?”
“Like crystal.” Norah leaned into the stare-down. Then she invaded private space to tap impatient fingers on Jada’s head. “What’s with the bandanna? Don’t you own a silk scarf for bad-hair days?”
The attractive Siren had no patience for any breach in the fashion code, but Jada didn’t care. “Who has time to dig around for a silk scarf on a workday?” she countered.
Cutting in, Ruth Kenefsky unleashed her gravelly voice. “Norah, back off. Jada isn’t the problem. Who cares how she looks when she’s roosting in the kitchen with her pastries? Besides, her BFF doesn’t need help picking out what to wear when she gets hitched in April.”
“I’m sure I’ll regret asking.” Norah compressed her lips with impatience. Then she gave Ruth her full attention. “What do you think Linnie needs?”
“The girl needs a tranquilizer. Something that’ll take her down fast, like the sedatives used to tag big game.” Oddly girlish braids of stark white framed Ruth’s face. She flicked them off her shoulders as she drove the point home. “I say we keep Linnie on high doses. If she’s this nutso already, what guarantee do we have she’ll make it down the aisle?”
“You’re suggesting we drug the bride-to-be?” Norah sputtered.
“We need an insurance policy, or she’ll hightail it when the band strikes up ‘Here Comes the Bride.’ Why are you convinced she’ll carry through with the nuptials?”
“Because she’s in love. Why else?”
Ruth snorted. “As if a healthy sex drive is any guarantee of common sense. When doesn’t Linnie second-guess every decision? Why, she never makes up her mind until Jada does her King Solomon routine and walks her through the options.”
“Oh, please,” Jada put in, her patience fleeing for the exits. “I don’t do a wise man routine with Linnie . . . not all the time.”
“You do, and you’re needed upstairs,” Norah said, motioning impatiently toward the door. “Are you coming?”
Ruth stomped her foot. “Norah, why don’t you stick to fashion advice? You don’t know the first thing about human nature. Can’t you see we’re past the easy fixes? Let’s drug the bride.”
The women continued arguing, and Jada leaned heavily against the counter. There was no disputing Ruth’s dour opinion. Only a miracle would carry Linnie Wayfair through the prewedding jitters and deposit her safely on her wedding day, at the end of April. Her fear of making the wrong decision would never abate until Jada soothed her with commonsense solutions. The responsibility weighed heavily on Jada.
She pitched the pie dough into the garbage.
Coming to a decision, she said, “Lead the way, ladies. We’re going upstairs.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2018 by Christine Nolfi
All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union, Seattle