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The storm has passed, but the hard work is just beginning…

Gansett Island has withstood the fury of Hurricane Ethel, and now the cleanup is underway for many islanders, including McKenzie Martin, who barely escaped the storm with her life and that of her son, Jax. After Police Chief Blaine Taylor rescued them and brought them to his home, her island neighbor, Duke Sullivan, showed up with belongings he collected from the collapsed cottage she recently inherited from her grandmother. When Duke invites McKenzie to use his empty garage apartment while she figures out her next moves, McKenzie is thankful for his offer—and his friendship—as she navigates the complexities of rebuilding on an island.

Duke is smitten by his old friend Rosemary’s granddaughter, the loveliest woman he’s ever met. But what would she want with a long-haired, tattooed dude like him who’s nine years older than her and more than a little rough around the edges? Turns out, she’s quite enchanted by the man she refers to as a unicorn. Not only is he sexy, thoughtful and funny, he’s also kind, which is the most important quality to her after encountering too many selfish men who disappointed her, especially Jax’s father, who’s about to hear from McKenzie’s new lawyer, Kendall James, sister to Jared, Quinn and Cooper.

As the friendship between Duke and McKenzie deepens, other islanders are caught up in the search for two missing men, one of whom has deep ties to several longtime residents. Others are dealing with the emotional fallout from their close calls during the storm.

In good times and in bad, island residents come together to support each other and to rebuild their beloved community.

Bonus! Attend the wedding of two island favorites in a special short story at the end of RENEWAL AFTER DARK!






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Renewal After Dark

(Gansett Island Series, Book 27)

Chapter 1

Duke Sullivan waited more than a week to move the lovely McKenzie and her son, Jax, to the apartment at his place after the hurricane flattened her cabin next door. With Blaine working around the clock and Tiffany feeling poorly, McKenzie had offered to stay with the family that’d rescued them during the storm to help with their girls. Tiffany had gratefully accepted the offer, and Duke had his plans on hold until he got the text that McKenzie was ready to move to his place.

He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been so excited about anything as he was at having McKenzie and her adorable son come to stay at his garage apartment, which had been empty for years. After his last tenant moved out, he’d decided not to bother renting again because he usually preferred the solitude of having the property to himself.

It was just as well that their plans had been delayed, because his tattoo studio had been nonstop since the power came back last weekend, thankfully just in time for his friends Shannon and Victoria’s wedding to go off without a hitch. The tourists had returned for late-season fun in the sun and were keeping the tattoo studio booming, which was good news after six days with no power and no business.

The island had breathed a collective sigh of relief at the return to mostly normal after a tumultuous week. As far as he knew, only one island resident had been presumed lost in the storm—Billy Weyland, who owned the gym. He was a good guy, and Duke had considered him a friend. But no one could believe he’d decided to ride out the storm on board his sailboat in the Salt Pond.

After the storm, the boat had been found partially sunk with no sign of Billy.

The Coast Guard and local public safety were still looking for him, but no one expected to find him alive at this point, which was freaking sad. And so unnecessary. But what could you do? People made their own choices and had to live with the consequences.

Showered, beard groomed and as cleaned up as he ever got, Duke was about to leave on the most important errand of his life.

The dramatic thought had him laughing at his own foolishness as he stepped out of the shower and reached for one of the towels he’d washed after the power returned. Everything he owned had been washed, polished or swept for the first time in longer than he cared to acknowledge in preparation for his important guests. He was glad he’d gotten to vacuum when the power came back on.

Duke usually looked forward to the post-Labor Day time of year when things slowed down from the madness of the season. But after being shut down for a big chunk of September before and after the storm, everyone was hoping for one last burst of business before the island buttoned up for the winter.

Despite all the other things he needed think about, getting his guests settled had become a priority. He was probably a little too excited about them coming to stay.

Before the storm hit, he’d noticed someone staying at his late friend Rosemary’s cottage next door. He’d also noticed that the woman was young, stunning and caring for a baby. He’d meant to get over there to say hello but had been so busy preparing for the storm that he hadn’t gotten around to it.

Then Ethel flattened Rosemary’s cottage, which sent Duke into the storm to look for them. When there’d been no sign of them in the wrecked cottage, he’d gone to see Blaine Taylor at the police station. The chief told him he’d found them and taken them to his house to ride out the storm.

Duke had been unreasonably relieved to hear they were safe.

So much so, he’d gone next door to the cottage to retrieve what possessions he could find and had delivered clothes, a backpack with a laptop that hadn’t been damaged and other personal items to the Taylors. He’d learned McKenzie—her name was McKenzie—was one of Rosemary’s granddaughters, and the little guy was her son, Jax.

Then he’d spotted a teddy bear in the rubble, brought it home to clean it up and delivered that to her, too. That’s when he’d asked her if she might be interested in his garage apartment until she figured out what to do about the cottage.

Now, finally, the day that McKenzie and Jax would move into the apartment was upon him.

As he stared at his reflection, he tried to see himself the way McKenzie would. He was disappointed to realize that a gorgeous woman like her would probably have no use for a guy like him if he hadn’t been offering her a free place to stay after the storm rendered her homeless.

His face was pleasant enough, and he’d gotten enough compliments on his blue eyes to decide they were his best feature. They sure beat his beak of a nose, that was for sure. He’d taken the time to clean up his unruly beard, and as he ran a comb through long, dark blond hair, he wondered if it wasn’t time for a haircut.

Colorful ink decorated every inch of his torso, stopping just below his jawline.

He smiled when he thought about how Rosemary used to tell him to stop using himself like a coloring book and get a hobby. She’d been a delightful friend and neighbor, regularly baking her famous banana bread for him and the guys at the studio. Much of what he knew about life and adulthood had been learned one lesson at a time as she showed him what he needed to know. He’d looked forward to her arrival every spring and had missed her when she went home to the mainland for the winter.

She’d become “family” to him, not that she’d known that. When she died, he’d mourned her loss more than he ever had for a single other soul. His mother was still alive and living up by Boston, but she’d been in and out of his life so many times, he hardly thought of her as a parent. He’d spent most of his childhood in foster care while she was either in rehab or prison.

Rosemary had been the mother of his heart. He’d missed her tremendously in the two years since she’d passed and would be eternally thankful for her friendship, especially since that friendship had helped him convince her granddaughter to accept his offer of a place to stay. Without Rosemary’s stamp of approval, McKenzie probably would’ve been afraid to be the guest of a strange, long-haired, bearded, tattooed dude.

It’d taken hours of elbow grease to make the garage apartment livable. While he’d scrubbed the place, he’d aired out clean sheets, towels and blankets that had been in the closet for years. After the power returned, he’d washed anything that smelled funky and made her bed with clean, fresh-smelling sheets.

The power had continued to be spotty at times. He’d heard in town that one of the main conduits had been severely damaged and needed to be replaced. Apparently, the electric company was waiting on parts that had to be ordered and were hard to find, since the island’s grid was so outdated. In the meantime, island residents made do with what they had while hoping it wouldn’t go out again. Thankfully, the ferries were back to regular runs, bringing food and gas for generators that’d worked overtime all over the island. Everyone he knew had refilled their gas cans in case they lost power again.

As he’d finished up at the apartment, it occurred to him that she might want to borrow some sugar or something. That’d sent him into a cleaning frenzy in his own home. He sure as hell didn’t want her to think he was a slovenly bachelor who couldn’t take care of himself, even if he might seem that way at first glance.

And honestly, why did he care what she thought of him? She’d come to stay briefly, until her cottage was rebuilt, or she decided island life wasn’t for her. No sense making her arrival out to be the most important or exciting thing that’d happened in years, even if it was.

In a life marked by chaos, moving to Gansett Island had been the best thing he’d ever done for himself. He’d come for the first time with a friend from school, whose family had invited him for a weekend. He’d loved the place from the first second he stepped foot on the rugged, remote island as a sixteen-year-old.

After he’d aged out of the foster system, he’d come back to Gansett, willing to do whatever it took to make a home for himself there. In the ensuing eighteen years, he’d been a dockhand on the ferries and a bartender at the Rusty Scupper, among many other odd jobs. He was eventually hired at the tattoo studio in town, due to his ability to draw anything and everything.

They’d trained him in the trade, and when the owner retired, he’d turned over the shop to Duke, which was how he’d become a business owner at twenty-nine. Seven years later, the shop had grown beyond his wildest dreams and was providing him with a very decent living in-season. The off-season was much quieter, but he’d come to welcome the slower pace and had learned to save up for the slowdown.

On the island, he’d found the peace and quiet that’d eluded him for the first half of his life. Here, he’d found the home of his heart, a family of friends who loved and supported him like no one else ever had, especially Rosemary Enders, who’d shown him more about how to live than anyone else ever had.

His phone rang with a call from one of his close friends, Mick Jacobs from the gym.

“Hey, what’s shakin’?”

“Have you talked to Sturgil since the storm?”

“No, but that’s not unusual. I only say hi to him at the gym, and even that’s a stretch after the way he treated his ex-wife. Why?”

“No one’s heard from him since the storm, and his folks are pushing the panic button. They thought he was on the mainland, but no one has seen him over there either.”

“Is there any chance he was with Billy on the boat?”

“I suppose it’s not impossible. The two of them were friends back in high school. Billy was one of the few people who didn’t turn his back when Sturgil made a mess of things.”

“I was afraid you might say that. Don’t think much of the guy, but I don’t wish him dead.”

He glanced at the clock on the wall in the kitchen and saw it was inching closer to five. “I gotta run. Let me know if you hear anything.”

“You do the same.”

Damn, Duke thought. Sturgil might be missing. He wondered if his ex-wife, Tiffany Taylor, knew that and whether he ought to ask her about it when he picked up McKenzie.

Nah, he decided. Wasn’t his place to tell her, and besides, it wouldn’t take long for word to get out on Gansett that Sturgil might be missing.

“I didn’t think anything of it, you know?” Tiffany sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea McKenzie had made for her. “He missed his visit with Ashleigh last night, but that’s happened before. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even tell her he’s coming because I don’t want her to be disappointed when he doesn’t show.”

McKenzie wished she knew what to say to Tiffany, who was trying to hold it together since the phone call she’d received from her former mother-in-law, asking if she’d heard from her ex-husband, Jim, since the storm. McKenzie had pieced together enough to realize the breakup had been ugly, and Tiffany didn’t know how she should feel about him possibly being missing.

“I mean, I’m sure he’s fine. He’s probably off somewhere, oblivious that anyone might be looking for him. Maybe he’s somewhere with no power.”

“I’m sure that’s all it is.”

“It’s such a weird feeling. I’ve secretly wished he’d go away and never come back so many times in the last few years, but hearing he might be missing was so…”

“It’s very upsetting.”

“It is, and I wouldn’t have thought I’d care, to be honest. He put me through hell.”

“I assume you spent a lot of years with him.”

Tiffany nodded. “From high school through to a couple of years ago.”

“At times like this, we tend to focus on the good times and not the bad.”

“That’s true. And here I thought my biggest issue this week was going to be figuring out what to do about my poor squished Bug.” A tree had fallen on her red Volkswagen Beetle during the storm.

“I’m so sorry about that. It was such a cute car.”

“Blaine says we’ll get another one, but that seems so trivial now that I’ve heard Jim is missing.”

She’d no sooner mentioned her husband than Blaine came bursting through the kitchen door, taking them by surprise. “I came as soon as I heard.”

Tiffany perked up considerably at the sight of her ridiculously handsome husband. She wiped a tear from her cheek. “I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t do that.”

“What am I doing?”

“Thinking you can’t be sad about Jim in front of me.”

As if a dam had broken, Tiffany dissolved into sobs.

Blaine wrapped his arms around her and lifted her right out of the chair to carry her from the room.


McKenzie fanned her face, feeling as if she’d witnessed a scene straight out of a romance novel. It was a revelation to her that men like Blaine actually existed. She’d certainly never met one like him. The ones she knew were all frogs, with nary a prince among them.

A soft knock sounded at the door.

She got up to greet Duke.

As she opened the door, she realized he’d seemed more… polished than he had during his earlier visits. Had he done that for her? She couldn’t help but notice that he was handsome in his own unique sort of way or that his blue eyes twinkled when he smiled.

“I didn’t want to wake the little guy if he’s napping.”

She couldn’t believe he’d thought of that. Most people didn’t. “That’s very kind of you. Come in. He should be awake any second.”

“Take your time. I’m in no rush.” He lowered his voice even further. “Does Tiffany know about the ex?”

McKenzie nodded. “Her former mother-in-law called.”

“Ah, okay. I know him from the gym. Got a call from a friend asking if I’d heard from him. Was sorta hoping I’d get here and find out he’d been in touch with his daughter.”

“They’ve had no word, and he missed a planned visit with her last night.”


“I guess that’s happened before, so Tiffany didn’t think anything of it.”

Ashleigh came into the kitchen. “Miss McKenzie, Jax is awake.”

“Thank you so much for letting me know, honey.”

“You’re welcome.”

After Ashleigh had skipped out of the room, Duke said, “She’s her mother all over again.”

“I know. She’s adorable.”

“I really hope for her sake that they find her father soon.”

“I hope so, too. Let me grab Jax and tell Tiffany we’re leaving. I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be here.”

She stopped and turned back to him. “I just want you to know… I appreciate your generosity so much. I’ll never be able to repay you.”

“You don’t have to. It’s my pleasure to help you out. It’s what Rosemary would’ve wanted me to do.”

He was so very sweet and adorable in a slightly awkward and endearing kind of way.

She’d no sooner had that thought than she stopped herself. You have no business finding any man adorable or endearing when you’re basically a homeless single mom to an infant with almost everything you own lost to the storm. You’ve got much more important things to think about than whether your new friend is adorable, so knock that off.

Upstairs, McKenzie retrieved Jax from the portable crib Tiffany had set up for him in the guest room and then broke down the crib to take it with her. Tiffany had told her to use it for as long as she needed. The Taylors wouldn’t be traveling for a while with a third baby due soon. Thankfully, Tiffany was feeling better after a week of intense nausea and heartburn that’d made her miserable.

McKenzie swallowed the huge lump of fear that landed in her throat as she collected the last of their meager belongings into the grocery bags Duke had used to deliver them. Thinking of him picking through the remains of the cottage to find their things made her heart do that wobbly thing again. It’d been a long time since anyone had been as kind to her as Duke, Tiffany and Blaine had been.

Jax let out a whine and reached for his bear, which had also been rescued by Duke.

“Oh, we can’t forget Mr. Bear.”

Jax gurgled with delight.

That sound filled her with unreasonable joy, which drowned out the fear. As long as she had him and he had her, they could get through whatever was ahead for them. Or so she hoped. The task of rebuilding her grandmother’s cabin was daunting. How did one even undertake such a thing on a remote island?

She’d managed to avoid having to deal with that over the last week while she helped Tiffany with the kids. Once she was at Duke’s, she’d have no choice but to finally confront the wreckage of the cabin where many happy memories had been made with her grandmother.

“One step at a time, MK. One step at a time.”

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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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