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“The queen of beach books” (The Star-Ledger) returns to the shores of Nantucket in a novel about one memorable summer when flirtations flourish, family dramas play out, and scandalous secrets surface.
Memorial Day weekend means that seasonal visitors have descended on the glamorous island of Nantucket. For year-round resident Darcy Cotterill, it means late-night stargazing in the backyard of the beautiful house she grew up in and inherited from her beloved grandmother. It’s also Darcy’s chance to hit the beach and meet her new summertime neighbors. But the last person the thirty-year-old librarian expects to see staying next door is her ex-husband, Boyz, along with his wife, Autumn, and stepdaughter, Willow.
Darcy must also navigate the highs and lows of a new romantic relationship with local carpenter Nash Forester even as she becomes smitten with handsome vacationer Clive Rush, a musicologist in town to write a book and visit family. And she finds herself pulled into the concerns of Boyz, Autumn, a charming elderly neighbor, and an at-risk teen.
As the season nears its end, Darcy must decide her next move: retreating to the comforts of her steady and secure island life, or risking it all for a chance at true happiness.
Praise for Nancy Thayer
The Island House
“A touching story about friendship, family, and the uncertainty of love.”—Bustle
“Quick-paced, thoroughly engaging, and heartwarming.”—The Insatiable Reader
The Guest Cottage
“A sweet book with romance, laughter, and love after loss . . . Thayer knows her Nantucket history, and it shines in this book.”—RT Book Reviews
“It’s a pleasant escape to a state of mind in which rebuilding a life is as simple as pitching an umbrella and spreading out a towel.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Thayer obviously knows her Nantucket, and the strong sense of place makes this the perfect escapist book for the summer, particularly for fans of Elin Hilderbrand.”—Booklist
“Thayer keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her dramatic story spanning the girls’ childhood to adulthood. This wonderful beach read packs a punch.”—Library Journal
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Secrets in Summer
It was completely by accident that Darcy Cotterill spied on her ex-husband. She didn’t want to see down into his backyard, or the yards of any of her neighbors, for that matter.
Really, it was the fault of the men who built these houses on Nantucket Island in the 1840s. Almost all the houses in the historic district, within walking distance to town, were built with an English basement, meaning the space was partly below ground but had large windows and its own door on the side of the house.
So, in order to walk in and out the front or back door of the main floor of the house, you had to climb a set of stairs at both the front and back doors.
That put the first floor, the main floor, ten feet above ground level, the perfect height for casually glancing into her neighbors’ yards as Darcy went about her day.
And how was she to know her ex-husband and his new family would rent the house behind hers for the summer? She had no warning. One moment she was relaxing in her garden, and the next moment, heart attack!
Darcy owned this gorgeous house in the center of the town because her beloved, if slightly eccentric, grandmother had left it to her in her will. From the age of ten, Darcy had lived here with Penny, who was the only person in Darcy’s dysfunctional family who stayed in one place long enough to take care of her. Darcy had adored Penny, and even now, every morning, she sent a prayer of gratitude to her grandmother.
Years ago, her grandmother had planted a hedge of spruce around the perimeter of the yard to form three tall thick walls with arched arbors on both sides of the house so friends could enter from the street. The backyard was private, and Darcy liked that. A narrow lane cut through on one side of her house, and she was glad the hedge concealed her yard. She had a public job, and she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate if people passing down the narrow lane saw her as she was on this hot summer day, wearing only her briefest bikini.
And she wanted to keep this job forever. It was the job she had always dreamed of. She was a librarian! Specifically, she was the assistant director of the children’s library of the Nantucket Atheneum. Her work was meaningful and pleasurable and involved lots of people. Still, she was glad when Sunday and Monday rolled around. These were her days off, her own special time to be alone to read and dream, especially in July and August when the island’s population exploded from sixteen thousand vigorous year-rounders to sixty thousand summer people.
On Sundays, Darcy joined a group of friends—some married, some with children, some single—for a lazy day of swimming and boating and cooking out. Monday was her day to run necessary errands and work in the garden or, on a rainy day, lie in bed reading, with her cat, Muffler, beside her.
Because July 4th was next Monday, work schedules were scrambled, so Darcy had today off from work. She had time to relax. She lay on a thick cushioned lounger, surrounded by flowers and birdsong, a wrought iron table nearby for her phone and iced tea.
She tilted her head back so the rays could touch her neck. Her face was protected with sunblock, and she felt as pale as a parsnip. Too many days working. Although, she remembered with a satisfied grin, during the nights she’d spent in bed with Nash Forester, he had liked her skin just fine.
Next Sunday, when the gang met at Fat Ladies Beach, she’d wear something with more coverage, but she enjoyed the thought of Nash seeing her with new tan lines. And that was the kind of thought she hadn’t had for a long while, if ever.
The sun beat down on her closed eyelids. Sweat began to bead up behind her neck, trickling down her shoulders. She remembered last Sunday with Nash, when she was in his arms and the waves rocked their bodies together while they floated in the blue Atlantic and—
Her thoughts were interrupted by the quiet growl of a car as it pulled into the driveway of the house behind her.
Of course. It was almost July. Her summer neighbors were coming—cue music from Jaws—to occupy the houses around her. Some were pleasant, some were loud hard-drinking partiers—as the joke went, “Summer people—some are not.” Some said hello when they saw her on the sidewalk in front of her house. Most ignored her. For them, she existed outside their summer fantasy bubble. It was all good with her. She was glad people could live here for a summer month or two. She had when she was younger, and she’d thought it was paradise.
It still was, even as, on the other side of the hedges, car doors opened and slammed shut. Her new backyard neighbors spilled out into the sun, all talking at once.
“Oh, isn’t it lovely here! And the house looks as pretty as the pictures!” A woman, probably a wife and mother.
“Mom. All the houses are gray.” An adolescent girl, her tone a mix of sarcasm and tenderness.
“Come on, gang, grab a bag and let’s see what this old place is like on the inside.”
A man. Obviously the father. And something more, something impossible—it had been so long since Darcy had spoken with her ex-husband—surely it couldn’t be Boyz. But this particular male voice made her eyes snap open and the hair stand up on the back of her neck.
It couldn’t be Boyz. His family always went to Lake George for the summer. It was an unforgiveable sin not to go to Lake George for the summer.
“Willow, you can carry more than that. Take another bag of groceries.” The woman’s voice. The mother’s.
The woman Boyz had left her for had a daughter named Willow.
Could it be Boyz?
“Here, Willow, take the keys and unlock the front door. I’ll get the suitcases.”
The man’s voice had the same tone as Boyz’s, and Darcy was certain she heard just the slightest fake European accent all the Szwedas had. Their family had been American for generations, but they liked to claim an exiled Polish count as a relative, to explain their aristocratic (Darcy thought snotty) attitude.
The family headed toward the back door. Everyone talked at once. The voices receded as the group entered the house, but any minute now they’d be checking out the second floor, choosing bedrooms—looking out the window at the view.
She knew she could see all the adjoining backyards from her windows, which meant they could see her from their windows. She couldn’t lie here like a strip of undercooked bacon, yet she recoiled from the thought of running into the house like a frightened heroine from a Gothic romance.
But Darcy knew she wouldn’t be able to relax in the garden until she was certain that the man on the other side of the hedge was not Boyz Szweda. Even though it was impossible that it was Boyz, this was a pretty desperate case of seeing is believing.
She stood, picked up her book and her water bottle, and slowly, humming, she strolled through the garden to her house. Boyz wouldn’t recognize her from the back, after all, especially since she’d grown out her once-chic asymmetrically cut hair so long it fell in dark waves below her shoulders. She didn’t hurry. She even paused to check her Knock Out rosebush before climbing the steps to the back porch and stepping inside.
She shut the door gently, quietly. She put her gardening tools in their rack. She leaned against the door and drew in a few deep breaths.
This was ridiculous. This was so not her kind of behavior. She was no longer a divorced and lonely female sniveling herself to sleep at night. She held an important position in the town’s library. She had friends—she had a boyfriend, a carpenter, big and handsome and very good with his hands.
She should have Nash over for dinner tonight! She could throw something on the grill and they could open some beer and eat outdoors. She could change out of her gardening clothes and slip into a pretty sundress. . . .
Really? Were these thoughts really coming from her own mind? Clearly, she wasn’t plotting to seduce Nash. All she had to do was open the front door to seduce Nash. Obviously, she wanted to show off for Boyz who might not even be there.
Maddening. Here she was, an accomplished woman thinking like a love-scorned teenager.
The important thing was that Darcy was only thinking that way. Not acting that way. Yet.
She needed a distraction. She needed to get out of the house and away from this mood buzzing around her like a swarm of wasps.
So: Where was her cellphone? On the kitchen counter. Good. She hit Jordan’s number. Darcy had known Jordan for only three years, but with some people a friendship fit perfectly and immediately, like the rare times when the first dress you tried on was instant magic. She had first met Jordan at the library—always a good omen. Darcy had taken her bag lunch out to the garden to eat on a bench by the crab apple trees, and she’d heard the unmistakable sound of retching. Expecting to find some inexperienced drunken teenager, she discovered a pretty blond woman on her knees near the tulips.
“Are you okay?” Darcy asked. “How can I help you?”
Without looking up, the woman croaked, “My tote’s over there. I’ve got some saltines in a plastic bag and a can of 7Up. If you could bring it to me . . .”
“Of course. And I’ll get you some wet paper towels from the bathroom, so you can wipe your hands and face.”
“Oh, thank you. But please don’t tell the librarians that I barfed in their garden.”
“We’ll shovel some dirt over it. No one will know.”
By the time Darcy returned with the paper towels, the other woman had managed to move to a bench, where she sat very slowly chewing a tiny corner of a saltine.
“Thanks,” she said to Darcy. She carefully wiped her hands and face and a few strands of sticky hair. “I’m not drunk,” she announced. “I’m pregnant.”
“And I’m a librarian,” Darcy told her.
“I’m so sorry I barfed in your garden.”
“Better than if you’d barfed on the books,” Darcy said wryly.
The other woman managed a weak chuckle.
They sat on the bench for an hour, talking. For more than an hour, actually; Darcy went fifteen minutes over her lunch break, but she often came in early, so she figured she was allowed. She learned that Jordan was newly married to Lyle Morris, an island guy she’d known and adored all her life. They’d started kissing and making out when they were fourteen. They lost their virginity to each other when they were both sixteen, but it had been so quick and weird and they’d been so guilt ridden and afraid she’d gotten pregnant—she hadn’t—that they never dated after that. After high school, Lyle went into the army. Jordan had worked at her parents’ liquor store and tried going out with other guys, but it never worked. She missed Lyle. She started writing Lyle, cheerful, sex-free, letters. Four years later, when Lyle got out of the army, he walked into her parents’ store on Main Street, picked Jordan up in his powerful arms, carried her to his car, and drove to his apartment out on Surfside Road.
“I know how to do it right this time,” he’d told her.
Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of The Island House, The Guest Cottage,An Island Christmas, Nantucket Sisters,A Nantucket Christmas, Island Girls, Summer Breeze, Heat Wave, Beachcombers, Summer House, Moon Shell Beach, and The Hot Flash Club. She lives on Nantucket.