Seaside Haven (The Seaside Series)

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9781329015777: Seaside Haven (The Seaside Series)

After being injured in a paparazzi induced car accident, playboy Phoenix Chamberlain returns to the resort previously owned and operated by his grandfather to recuperate. There he meets resort manager, Sierra Ramstad, who is used to being the boss and not keen on taking orders from others, especially Phoenix. Not only did the accident change Phoenix physically, it also broke his spirit. His disgruntle attitude is a reflection of the unbearable pain he endures daily. But with the help of Sierra and his therapist, he decides he can overcome the doctor's grim prognosis and learn to enjoy life again. But to Sierra's surprise, Phoenix had his attorney draw up a severance package for her, with the thought that he would manage the day-to-day operations of the resort. Sierra realizes that the severance package was in place before her and Phoenix developed a personal relationship. She finds a way to forgive Phoenix and the two of them are finally in agreement about something.

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About the Author:

Sandra Widner Burch is a short story author, and award-winning poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in over a dozen venues, including Piker Press, Torrid Literature Journal, 8149, Best New Poems, and Room magazine. She is a member of Tallahassee Writer’s Association and Austin Poets International. Seaside Haven is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Thunder rolled overhead as rain spat like gunfire on Seaside’s sandy beachfront. Mother Nature’s fury, however, was no match for the emotions churning inside Sierra Ramstad. Unmindful of the storm, she continued to walk. In the pocket of the red raincoat she wore, she fisted her slender hand around the crumpled piece of paper and recalled its content.
Miss Ramstad:
I will be arriving home tomorrow for an extended stay. Please have my room ready.
- Phoenix Chamberlain
Two curt sentences that had her blood boiling.
Phoenix Chamberlain, III, heir to the Chamberlain fortune, was coming home, as he’d put it, to recuperate after the car accident he’d been involved in three months earlier.
If the news reports she’d read about his accident was even remotely accurate, then Sierra supposed she should feel sorry for him. Along with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, he’d broken his ankle and shattered the femur in his left leg. Three months out and the man was in the midst of a long and painful recovery. Even so she didn’t want him mending here, and possibly meddling in the day-to-day operations of Seaside Haven Resort.
Phoenix’s family had a large home outside of Atlanta, Georgia, as well as an assortment of plush real estate sprinkled around Europe. Why hadn’t he picked one of those places to recuperate? Surely they would be more accommodating to Phoenix’s entourage who enabled his larger-than-life existence.
Why choose Seaside Haven? This wasn’t his home. It was hers! While Phoenix had spent the past few years jet setting around Europe, living off a sizable trust fund and enjoying the life of the rich and famous, Sierra had been working to turn an old and nearly forgotten inn into a resort that offered five-star accommodations, panoramic views, and above all, excellent service.
Now Phoenix was returning and he wanted his room readied. It was Sierra’s understanding that he hadn’t visited the resort since his childhood. So she’d made the owner’s private room on the main floor her own, and turned the adjacent apartment into a luxury suite that commanded a substantial sum of money to occupy it.
Muttering words that were muffled by the wind, she stopped and looked back in the direction she had come. The cedar shingled resort stood four stories tall, given the pilings that raised it above sea level to protect it from flooding. Her gaze skimmed the balconies that stretched out from each room to maximize the view. Even though it was early afternoon, the lights burned brightly in the windows of guests waiting out the storm.
Home.
Phoenix might refer to it as such, but for Sierra it truly was her home. It was here she’d come after her nasty divorce. The warm sunshine and the sense of purpose had ushered her back from the brink of despair.
With a reluctant sigh, Sierra headed back. Other guests would be arriving soon and that meant she had a job to do. Right now, her priority was to see that all new arrivals were settled in their rooms. Once that task was completed, she’d figure out her own accommodations for the duration of Phoenix’s stay.
By the time she reached the resort, any part of her body that wasn’t covered by the raincoat was drenched. She had hoped to have enough time to change into dry clothes and do something with her hair before any guests arrived, but a pearl white Cadillac Escalade with dark tinted windows was pulling up at the main entrance as she came around the sand dune.
The driver hopped out, as did another man who came around from the passenger side. Both were big and robust. It wasn’t a surprise to see bodyguards as a lot of the resort’s guests were Hollywood A-listers or business moguls. Before either man could reach the handle, the rear driver side door swung open.
Sierra covered her mouth with the palm of her hand, but a gasp still escaped.
Phoenix Chamberlain, III.
She had never met him in person. They had exchanged emails a couple of times a month, and occasionally a phone call. But he’d never come for a visit. Now here he was. And he wasn’t at all what Sierra had expected.
Every photograph she had seen of him on social media showed a handsome young man with wavy, black hair, deep set dark brown eyes, a carefree smile and a body toned to perfection under the capable tutelage of a well-paid professional trainer.
Meanwhile, the man trying to exit the SUV’s rear seat was thin and fragile. The dark smudges under his eyes made it clear that he hadn’t been getting much sleep despite many hours spent in bed. And his rigid posture and pinched features indicated he was far from carefree.
“I’ll get the wheelchair, Mr. Chamberlain,” said the man who’d come around from the front passenger side.
“No! I’ll walk,” he snapped in an angry rasp that carried over the howling wind.
“But, Mr. Chamberlain...” the driver began, only to be shouted down.
“I said I’ll walk, Tommy! I’m not an invalid!”
Phoenix had to use his hands to manipulate his left leg over the threshold. He swung his right leg out the door without much effort. Then, lowering himself to the running board, he eased his feet to the ground. He held a cane in one hand and used the other to grip the door frame. Unfortunately, neither support was enough. A mere second after both of his feet were on the pavement, his left knee buckled. The man he’d called Tommy caught Phoenix under his arms before he hit the pavement. Loud cursing followed. The other man rushed forward, as did Sierra, determined to help.
“Who are you?” Phoenix barked, shaking off the hand that she had placed on his arm.
She pushed back the hood of the raincoat and offered what she hoped was a pleasant and professional smile. Despite the raincoat’s hood, her golden blond hair was damp and her bangs were plastered against her forehead. As for makeup, she doubted what she’d applied that morning still lingered on her eyes and cheeks now. Her feet were bare and spattered with wet sand. It was hardly the image she’d planned to portray when she first met him.
“I’m Sierra Ramstad.”
Phoenix continued to stare at her as if she were something to be studied under a microscope.
“We’ve spoken on the phone and via email for several years now. I manage Seaside Haven.”
“Of course you do.” His gaze flickered down in seeming dismissal. Although he said it under his breath, she heard him when he added, “I had you pegged right.”
So, he had preconceived notions of her, did he? That didn’t come as a surprise. She had entertained plenty of her own where he was concerned. Still, it made her mad that, after a glance, he could marginalize her personally and probably professionally.
Sierra cleared her throat and drew herself up to her full height of five foot five. Since Phoenix was hunched over, it put them at eye level. When their eyes met she didn’t as much as blink. Using her most professional tone, she told him, “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“I changed my mind.”
“That’s obvious!”
“I was in Atlanta visiting my mom...” His words trailed off and his expression hardened. “I’m here now. I trust that is not a problem, Miss Ramstad.”
“No problem,” she assured him with a stiff smile. “I just need to explain that your room isn’t ready.”
“Am I to wait out here until it is?” he questioned irritably.
Standing under the portico, they were protected from the worst of the storm, but the wind blew sideways splattering them with rain every now and again.
“Oh, of course not,” she replied as heat crept into her face. She turned on her heel and walked toward the lobby entrance, calling over her left shoulder, “Right this way, gentlemen.”
Phoenix allowed Tommy and Adam to assist him in the direction of the door. Another time, he would have felt bad about the way he’d talked to her. But unfortunately for her, both his usual good humor and his playboy charm was like his leg; fractured beyond repair. Or so the physicians said. But they were wrong. They had to be. He couldn’t spend the rest of his life this way.
The doors opened announcing their arrival. The lobby looked different than he remembered from the last time Phoenix had been to Seaside Haven. Varying shades of blue and yellow dominated the color scheme, accentuated with white and a shade of tan that reminded Phoenix of sand. The glow of the table lamps gave the room a warm, welcoming ambiance despite the storm that raged outside.
He exhaled slowly and some of the tension left his neck and shoulders. He was a long way from relaxed but Phoenix knew he had made the right decision to come here.
He glanced around the room again. “This is really nice,” he said to no one in particular.
“The remodeling was completed this spring. All of the rooms have been updated in a similar color scheme.” Sierra cleared her throat. Her tone was almost defensive when she added, “I emailed you numerous photographs.”
Truth be known, he probably hadn’t opened the email attachments. He was too busy spending his trust fund to care, he thought with a mental grimace.
“Well, the photographs didn’t do it justice,” he exclaimed.
Nor, Phoenix admitted to himself, had the image he’d had of Sierra done her justice.
For the past few years, he’d signed her paychecks, skimmed over the monthly reports, and approved her capital investments all the while offering minimal input. He’d never laid eyes on the woman he’d entrusted his resort to. Until now.
Sierra had shed the raincoat and stood in front of the reception desk wearing a blue polo shirt adorned with the resort’s logo and a pair of white shorts that stopped mid-thigh. Her legs were tanned and toned. Phoenix’s gaze lifted to her small waist before rising to her breasts, which were just the right size to fill his hands.
He tore his gaze away from her, surprised he was gawking the woman as if he were a sex-crazed frat boy on spring break. At the same time, he was relieved by his reaction, as he’d felt dead for far too long.
“If you don’t mind, I need to get off of my feet, Miss Ramstad.” Pain turned his tone gruff.
“Yes, of course, Mr. Chamberlain.” She gave a curt nod. “Please, follow me.”
Pride demanded that he do so under his own power. No matter how slow that would make the going.
“Adam, help Tommy with my bags.”
Adam Vinateri had been his personal trainer, now he worked as his physical therapist. But he didn’t mind lending a hand when called on to do so. After all, he was paid well for little work since Phoenix regularly skipped his daily stretching and strengthening exercises.
Phoenix knew he needed to do the exercises. But knowing and doing them were two different things. Most days, he didn’t bother to get out of bed, because physician after physician offered such a grim prognosis.
He shifted his weight from his good leg to his bad one. The pain was excruciating and he bit back a groan, wondering if it had been wise to swear off the narcotics the doctor prescribed. The pain pills made him feel brain dead and he was afraid that the state of oblivion might prove to be addictive.
His progress was slow and his gait uneven but at least he was walking on his own. Sierra turned around once, concern obvious in her expression, but she didn’t offer any assistance. Apparently, his rude dismissal of her help had done the trick. And for that he was glad. Phoenix hated the way people treated him like an invalid.
Women had been among the worst offenders. That was one of the reasons he’d dissed the entourage of females that accompanied him at the chalet. As for his male friends, the number had dwindled substantially once it became obvious Phoenix no longer would be throwing any of the parties for which he had been known for.
Users, every last one of them. What did that say about him, Phoenix wondered? The only loyalty he commanded was among people such as Tommy and Adam and of course, Miss Ramstad, all of whom were on his payroll.
Behind the reception desk, a door led to a hallway. To the left were the business office and supply room. Phoenix remembered playing hide-and-seek in them when he visited his grandfather. The owner’s bedroom was on the right. The door was closed and the word PRIVATE was engraved on a plaque affixed just below the peephole. After Sierra pulled a key from her pocket and opened it, Phoenix stepped over the threshold, expecting to be assailed with memories of his grandfather, the one person in his life whose love had been unconditional. But as in the lobby, nothing was as he remembered. Given his emotional state, he wasn’t sure whether he was grateful for that or not.
The last time Phoenix had been inside of the room, the décor had been more masculine. It wasn’t only the pale shade of paint on the wall, and the furnishings that made it seem feminine, it was the smell. The scent that lingered in the air was not that of his grandfather’s Swisher Sweet cigars. Rather, it was a light and fresh scent. Her scent. He inhaled deeply, finding it comforting and arousing at the same time. He shoved the thought aside, only to have another take its place.
“Do you stay in here?”
Sierra frowned. “Yes, for the past few years. Room and board are one of the perks of the manager’s job.”
“I know that! But this room was my grandfathers. It is for the owner, Miss Ramstad.”
Her tone was as incredulous as her expression. “But I told you...”
Phoenix cut her off. “I thought there was an adjacent room to accommodate the manager.”
Sierra’s mouth puckered at his statement, drawing Phoenix’s attention to her plump lips that needed no added color to make them appealing.
“There is, or rather, there was. But since this room was empty all the time, I...that is, we decided it made more sense to turn the adjacent manager’s room into a luxurious suite that could accommodate guests for an extended stay.”
“We did?” Phoenix questioned.
Color rose in her cheeks. “I sent you several cost-benefit analysis reports and you said that you agreed with my suggestions.”
“I remember now.” Phoenix nodded, although he was damned if he could recall doing any such thing.
Every dime Sierra had invested in the resort had paid off, he decided. Whereas he had been reckless in the past, the risks she’d taken had been calculated and well planned. He might have approved her plans, but the ideas had been hers alone. Although Phoenix had a degree in Marketing and Management, one that he’d never had to use, he would be wise to learn from his very competent manager, Miss Ramstad.
“It’s been full ever since,” she chimed.
Which meant it was full now.
Phoenix appreciated her ability to turn unused space into a profitable one, but it did make for an awkward situation. He couldn’t hold out any longer. “Where are you going to sleep, Miss Ramstad?”
Where was she going to sleep?
Sierra gritted her teeth and offered what she hoped passed for an unconcerned smile.
“I’ll figure out something for the duration of your stay.” As unspecified as that might be.
Phoenix staggered to the sofa and dropped heavily onto the plush cushions, his face drawn with a grimace. Sheer will power had kept him upright, of that she was certain. She might have admired his tenacity if it weren’t accompanied by such a brusque disposition.
“Well, there must be at least one available guest room, right?” For the first time, he sounded more uncertain than he did ornery.
“No, we’re full.” She exhaled slowly. “Actually, we’re booked for the rest of the season barring any last-minute cancellations.” When Phoenix continued to gawk at her, she added, “It’s been an excellent summer so far. Revenues are up by...”
He cut her off abruptly. “Well, you can’t sleep in the lobby, Miss Ramstad!”
Sierra had made the same det...

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