BOOK 1 in the Frazier Bay (New Zealand) series
Tessa Callaghan is on a mission to save her home town. The bay has just been voted one of the dullest small towns in the country and she’s determined to do her bit to make it great again. She just hasn’t counted on brother-in-law Gabe McLeod coming back on to the scene – nor her growing feelings for the man who abandoned her when she needed him most.
An SOS call from the small town’s mayor has brought Gabe back home for the shortest time possible but it also brings him face-to-face with the secret he’s kept all these years. That he is in love with Tessa – and that she is the one woman he can never have. But when life in the Bay takes some unexpected turns, it becomes clear that he’s not going anywhere… and neither are his feelings for Tessa.
Set in a small New Zealand town, The Return of Gabe McLeod is a cosy romance that will make you laugh – and warm your heart.
Thanks to Judy who writes about “Gabe McLeod” – “Thank you for a very clean romance book that is fun to read. Exciting. Very well written. Enjoyable relaxing. I will be waiting and watching for your next book. We need more books like this.”
EXCERPT Chapter One
Tessa Callaghan was five minutes late for the meeting, but there hadn’t been a lot of choice. Jonas Piper’s injured hound couldn’t wait.
She locked the door on her pickup and took the steps to the council chambers two at a time. She’d learnt at the first meeting that the members of the newly convened Frazier Bay Restoration Society did not appreciate tardiness.
Inside, she glanced around and with a sinking feeling realized she was the last one there. The five members sat around the oval table with Mayor Bob Warrington presiding, the wall behind him depicting framed portraits of Frazier Bay mayors dating back to 1865. Pioneering settlers of this part of New Zealand’s South Island.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she apologized as she pulled out the nearest seat.
Bob nodded. “I heard you had an emergency with Jonas Piper’s hound. How’s that old coot doing?”
“Which old coot are you referring to?” Nessie Sweetman remarked.
Bob scratched his chin as he eyed Tessa. “So is that old dog going to live?”
“He’ll be fine although his leg is pretty bad. It looks like he jumped on some old wire. He’s comfortable for now. I’ll check on him in the morning and see how Jonas is getting on with giving him the antibiotics.”
She pushed her long, brown hair back behind her ears, took a folder from her satchel and as she glanced around the table of people old enough to be her grandparents she racked her brain to remember why she’d agreed to take part in this thing in the first place. The Restoration Society – or Operation Frazier Bay as they’d decreed it at their inaugural meeting – had been formed after some smart alec travel reporter from Auckland had named Frazier Bay one of the twenty worst small towns in New Zealand. In the short word space allocated to the Bay, she’d called it a relic of an age that should have never existed. Worse, the reporter had the month before run a series on the twenty best towns, and had included several within a hundred miles, something that had gotten everyone’s ire up. None more so than the people around this table who had given years of service to Frazier Bay and had each taken it as a personal slight on their ability to perform their civic duties.
Tessa flipped through the folder to find the notes she’d kept from the last meeting. No one else, she noticed, had made a move. Bob checked his watch and Nessie stared intently at the ceiling. Impatience was written across the faces of the remaining three.
“Maybe,” Tessa suggested, “we could start now?”
Bob took a while to meet her eyes. “We’re waiting on one more.”
Someone else was coming? Maybe, she thought with hope, she was off the hook. “What do you mean, ‘one more’?”
Nessie moved her head the barest fraction, her graying brown hair scarcely moving. For a second there was a flash of hesitancy in her eyes that sent Tessa’s back tight with warning. Nessie examined her fingernails. “We’ve got a new person. At least for the time he’s here. Kind of an expert on these matters.”
They’d hired someone? Tessa sat up straight. At the first meeting she’d suggested that if they were committed to raising Frazier Bay’s profile with tourists, they should bite the bullet and hire an expert who knew how to jazz up a small town’s profile. Considering it could be said they’d all got the Bay into this mess in the first place – not that she’d ever mention that within their hearing – she’d failed to see how the same people could get them out of it. She allowed herself a tiny smile of satisfaction. Who’d have thought they’d actually listened to her suggestion? And more to the point, who had they brought on board?
The door opened behind her. Anticipation bubbled inside her.
“It’s really good to see you.” Enthusiasm bounded off Bob as he rose to his feet in welcome.
“I’d like to say the same,” an amused and terribly familiar voice commented, “but I won’t jump the gun on that one just yet.”
It couldn’t be.
Tessa’s heart began to thunder, a floorboard creaked, and her fellow committee members eyed the figure behind her with a mix of approval and skepticism.
Bob remarked, “I’m sure you know everyone here.”
He came around the table, and finally Tessa remembered to breathe. Gabe McLeod. The man she’d loved like a brother. The man who’d told her he’d take care of her.
The man who days later had left town, having barely waited for her husband’s body to be lowered in to the ground.
Why now? Shock rendered her speechless. What was he thinking? What was he doing here? His gaze suddenly collided with hers and for a moment, the briefest moment, he went still. He stared at her with brown-black eyes, his hair longer than the short style she was used to. Then he broke the contact, and shook hands with Bob. There had been nothing in his eyes to answer her questions but that wasn’t anything new. Gabe had always been an expert at keeping his feelings close to his chest, had thrived on control, and in the three years he’d been away it appeared that hadn’t changed.
He pulled out the chair Bob gestured to. He’d be sitting right opposite her.
Slowly, he turned his eyes back to her.
“Tessa,” he stated. There was more resignation to his voice than any other emotion. It grated on her. I never did anything to you, Gabe. You’re the one that walked away. You’re the one who promised you’d stick around but couldn’t get out of here fast enough.
“Hi, Gabe.” Her voice sounded abnormally bright in that fake ‘I’m okay with this even though my nerves are shot’ way.
He sat down warily, nodded at Nessie, Jeb and Shona. “Evening,” he said. Then he looked straight back at Tessa. Bob banged his mallet on the table, and everyone jumped.
“I’ll call this meeting to order.”
Tessa looked away from Gabe and stared at her blank pad. She didn’t have a hope of concentrating now. Not with Gabe sitting opposite her. It might have been three years since she’d last seen him but it felt like a very long forever. Her fingers clenched around her pen.
“I’m going to pass out copies of the report this so called-” Bob waggled his fingers into quote marks “-journalist said about Frazier Bay. Gabe hasn’t seen it and it won’t hurt for us all to be reminded.”
“Can’t blame the woman for speaking the truth,” Nessie cut in.
Bob’s mouth tightened as he handed the photocopies around. Tessa watched Gabe. He took one, passed the rest on, and stared straight at her. A second later, he broke the contact.
“It used to be folks liked to stop by Frazier Bay if they were heading further south,” Bob began.
“Back in the Depression.” Nessie folded her arms across her ample girth and launched into a spiel about how they were all letting the town go to hell in a hand basket.
Tessa let the words wash over her. How could she concentrate with Gabe sitting across the table? Even now, she felt that familiar pull in her chest, that ache, that feeling of sadness.
Let it go, she ordered herself.
She took a deep breath. Letting it go was easier said than done when he’d left her at the very moment she needed him like the brother he’d become. Needed him to make her feel it was all going to be okay even though she couldn’t possibly see how her life could ever be remotely happy again.
He’d just packed up and skipped town.
And worst of all, he hadn’t had the decency to tell her why.