The New Girl in Town
This book is dedicated to everyone
who has fought the fight against breast cancer with courage and strength—you are an inspiration. And to the memory of those who ultimately lost the battle—you are not forgotten.
With thanks to the researchers,
doctors and other health-care professionals who offer direction and hope.
Zoe Kozlowski definitely wasn’t in Manhattan anymore.
Years of living in the city had acclimated her to the sounds of traffic—the squeal of tires, the blare of horns, the scream of sirens. She would no doubt have slept through the pounding of a jackhammer six stories below her open bedroom window or the wail of a fire truck speeding past her apartment building, but the gentle trilling of sparrows shattered the cocoon of her slumber.
In time, she was certain she would get used to these sounds, too, but for now, they were new and enchanting enough that she didn’t mind being awakened at such an early hour. As she carried her cup of decaf chai tea out onto the back porch, she could hear not just the birds but the gentle breeze rustling the leaves and, in the distance, the barking of a dog.
She stepped over a broken board and settled onto the top step to survey her surroundings in the morning light. The colors were so vivid and bright it almost hurt to look at them—the brilliantly polished sapphire of the sky broken only by the occasional fluffy white cloud. And the trees—there were so many kinds, so many shades of green around the perimeter of the yard. Evergreens whose sweeping branches ranged in hue from deep emerald to silvery sage. Oaks and maples and poplars with leaves of various shapes and sizes and colors of yellow-green and dark green and every tone in between.
She found herself wondering how it would look in the fall—what glorious shades of gold and orange and rust and red would appear. And then in the winter, when the leaves had fallen to the ground and the trees were bare, the long branches glistening with frost or dusted with snow. And in the early spring, when the first buds began to unfurl and herald the arrival of the new season.
But now, edging toward the first days of summer, everything was green and fresh and beautiful. And while she appreciated the natural beauty of the present, she was already anticipating the changing of the seasons. Not wishing her life away, but looking to her future here and planning to enjoy every minute of it.
She knew the yard was in as serious need of work as the old house in which she’d spent the night, but as she took another look around, she was filled with a deep sense of peace and satisfaction that everything she saw was hers.
She’d get a porch swing, she decided suddenly, impulsively. Where she could sit to enjoy her first cup of tea every morning. She would put down roots here, just like those trees, dig deep into the soil and make this place her home.
It was strange that she’d lived in New York for almost ten years and never felt the same compelling need to put down roots there. Or maybe it just hadn’t occurred to her to do so in a city made up of mostly concrete and steel. Not that she hadn’t loved Manhattan. There was an aura about the city that still appealed to her, an excitement she’d never felt anywhere else. For a young photographer, it had been the place to be, and when Scott had suggested moving there after they were married, she’d jumped at the opportunity. They’d started out at a tiny little studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights, moved to a one-bedroom walk-up in Soho, then, finally, only four years ago, to a classic six on Park Avenue.
She’d never imagined leaving there, never imagined wanting to be anywhere else. Until a routine doctor’s appointment had turned out to be not-so-routine after all.
In the eighteen months that had passed since then, her life had taken a lot of unexpected turns. The most recent of which had brought her here, to Pinehurst, New York, to visit her friend Claire and—
The breath rushed out of her lungs and her mug went flying from her fingers as she was knocked onto her back by a furry beast that settled on her chest.
She would have gasped if she’d had any air left to expel. Instead, she struggled to draw in enough oxygen to scream. As she opened her mouth, a big wet tongue swept over her face.
She wasn’t sure if the hairy creature was licking her in a harmless show of affection or sampling her before it sank its teeth in. She sputtered and tried to push it away.
A shrill whistle sounded in the distance and the dog—at least, she thought it was a dog, although it didn’t look like any kind she’d ever seen before—lifted its head in response to the sound. Then the tongue was back, slobbering over her again.
The animal withdrew, just far enough to plant its substantial behind on top of her thighs, trapping them beneath its impressive weight.
Zoe eyed it warily as she pushed herself up onto her elbows, bracing herself for another attack. A movement at the edge of the woods caught her attention, and she turned her head to see a tall, broad-shouldered figure moving with long-legged strides across the yard.
She shoved at the beast again, ineffectually, and blew out a frustrated breath. “Can you get this darn thing off me?” she asked through gritted teeth.
“Sorry.” The man reached down to grab the animal by its collar. Zoe’s irritation was forgotten as her gaze swept over her rescuer.
His hair was dark, almost black, and cut short around a face that seemed to be chiseled out of granite. His forehead was broad, his cheekbones sharp, and his nose had a slight bump on the bridge as if it had been broken once or twice before. His jaw was dark with stubble, and his eyes—she couldn’t be sure of the color because his face was in shadow, but she could tell that they were dark—were narrowed on the beast. He wore an old Cornell University T-shirt over a pair of jeans that molded to the lean muscles of his long legs and a scuffed pair of sneakers.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his voice as warm and smooth as premium-aged whiskey.
“I’m fine. Or I will be when you get this thing away from me.”
“Rosie, off.” He spoke to her attacker now, the words accompanied by a sharp tug on the collar. The four-legged beast immediately removed its weight from her legs and plopped down on its butt beside the man, tongue hanging out of its mouth as it gazed at him adoringly.
Zoe figured the beast was female. She also figured the man was used to that kind of reaction from the women he met. She might have been inclined to drool herself except that a half-dozen years as a fashion photographer had immunized her against the impact of beautiful faces. Well, mostly, anyway. Because she couldn’t deny there was something about this man’s rugged good looks she found appealing enough to almost wish she had her camera in hand.