At last, we’re approaching the release date for The New Shore, the third book in the Little Sister Island series! This book was a joy to write. I loved returning to Little Sister, getting to catch up with the characters, even if some of them were going through some hard times. I’m aiming for a release date of 23 September 2022.
Here’s the blurb:
Life on Little Sister Island is idyllic. Until it isn’t.
Now that the island will have its own teacher for the first time in decades, Rebecca Ahearn is tasked with making financial arrangements to build a new school room. While on the mainland, she barges straight into her first—and only—love, a woman she hasn’t seen in over forty years. Suddenly, the choices she has made for her life seem empty, and she begins to wonder if it was worth the sacrifice.
For Kathleen Halloran, distance and limited communication have been the keys to maintaining a tolerable relationship with her parents. She’d like to keep it that way, but when her father needs her help to take care of her mother—the woman she knows never loved her—she’s forced to confront the pain and resentment she can’t seem to let go of.
Kathleen’s mate, Molly Cooper, galvanizes the islanders to pitch in and help Kathleen and Rebecca weather the stormy seas ahead. The question is, can wounds that deep ever truly heal? Perhaps the magic of Little Sister Island can do what humans cannot—and make the impossible possible after all.
The New Shore is the third book in the Little Sister Island series.
For those who like to read an excerpt (I know not everyone does), here’s Chapter 1:
Blossom lay tightly curled in his bed, his tail covering all of his face save one eye that opened every time Kathleen shifted to look out the window or got up to stride into the dining room, only to return a few seconds later.
Outside, the wind howled, screeching a little as it found tiny chinks in the seals around windows and doors, despite Molly’s best efforts to weatherproof the old bungalow. Though it was only midday, the heavy clouds and driving snow had turned everything into a perpetual dusk. If it weren’t for the gentle ticking of the mantel clock and its soft chimes every thirty minutes, it would have been impossible to tell morning from evening.
Kathleen tried to go back to her book, leaning a little toward the window for the extra bit of light it gave, but after a few minutes, she snapped the book shut and stood. Warily, she went to the dining room, where her laptop sat closed on the table. She glared at it as if it had done something to insult her. She pulled out a chair and sat for a few seconds, then started to lift the lid to wake the computer, but almost immediately shut it and stood.
“I’m going out to shovel again,” she announced. “You coming?”
Blossom was instantly alert, dancing impatiently in the foyer while she sat to lace up her boots, tucking her jeans into the gaiters and cinching them tightly. She wrapped a scarf three times around her neck, arranging one loop so it could function as a balaclava to pull over her nose and mouth. After zipping up her down jacket, she jammed a knit hat on her head and opened the door.
Blossom sprinted through and launched himself off the porch, where he promptly disappeared into the snow, so that only the tip of his tail was visible. He hopped, leaving Blossom-sized depressions in the snow as he made for the sheltering pine trees where the snow underneath was not as deep, and he could do his business.
In the time since Kathleen had last shoveled, less than two hours earlier, nearly a foot more snow had covered the walk, drifting against the porch stairs. She cleared them, making the mistake of throwing the first shovelful of snow into the wind, where it was promptly tossed back at her to coat her glasses. Half-blind, she tried to adjust her scarf over the lower half of her face. The snow already caking her gloves scratched her nose, but at least she could breathe. Slowly, she worked her way to where the Toyota was parked, Kathleen’s Nissan nearly buried beside it. They wouldn’t be driving anywhere anytime soon, but Molly could park the snowmobile on the protected side of the SUV when she got home and at least see a path to the porch.
By the time she’d dug her way out to the cars, the path she’d just cleared behind her was nothing more than a depression in the rest of the snow. Muttering behind her scarf, where her lips were rapidly becoming numb, she shoveled her way back to the cottage, where Blossom waited for her up on the porch. Gauging the drifts, she decided she needed to do the same for him or she’d never find him the next time he had to go out. She cleared a path to the pines, pausing under them to catch her breath and listen, certain she’d heard the rumble of a snowmobile.
Peering through her iced-up glasses, she caught the gleam of a single headlight piercing through the murk. Her heart leapt when the beam swept in her direction as the snowmobile turned into the drive. She plowed back the way she’d come to meet Molly, who was stiffly swinging her leg over the seat. Her goggles and balaclava were almost completely covered in snow, with an icy layer blanketing the hood and back of her jacket.
Kathleen reached for her hand to lead her to the porch, but Molly paused, shielding her face with her gloved hand to peer at their roof, where a small wind-turbine whirled madly. Apparently satisfied, she followed Kathleen to the cottage where they both stomped their boots and swept each other’s backs free of most of the snow.
Inside, Molly dropped to the bench and worked her hands free from her gloves. Kathleen knelt to wrestle with the frozen laces of Molly’s boots and pull them off.
“Let me see your hands,” she commanded.
Molly held out one, the fingers almost blue. With her other hand, she pushed her hood back and tugged her icy balaclava over her head, her black hair sticking up every which way. Kathleen helped her out of her jacket and snow pants.
“Go upstairs now and change. I’ll have hot tea ready when you come down.”
Wearily, Molly stomped up the steps in her socks and thermals. Kathleen wrestled with her own icy zipper to get her jacket off. She hung their jackets and scarves up on pegs to drip and dry over the mat on the floor. All of the gloves and hats she arranged along the warm cast-iron radiator that sat below the front windows.
She padded into the kitchen in her slippers and turned on the burner under the kettle. By the time the kettle was screaming, Molly had come back downstairs in sweatpants and a heavy wool sweater. She dropped into a kitchen chair. A single oil lamp burned on the table.
“You look exhausted.” Kathleen poured two steaming mugs and set them on the table with a plate of molasses cookies.
Molly stuffed a whole cookie into her mouth, dunking her teabag up and down with her other hand. “This is the heaviest snow we’ve had in years,” she mumbled, spraying a few cookie crumbs. “Half the wind turbines on the houses have frozen. Thank goodness the big ones are churning, cause most of the islanders’ solar batteries are down to nothing after three days of this. Dad and Joey and I had to make sure the island’s generators were topped off and working okay.”
Kathleen nodded toward the counter. “I’ve been reserving all of our power for the essentials—the slow cooker and the fridge. The oven if we need it.”
Molly cradled her mug in her hands. “Thanks. One less thing to fix.” Blossom laid his head in her lap. She smiled down at him and played with his ears. “Times like this, I wish we could pick this island up and move it a few hundred miles south.”
“Tropical sounds good about now,” Kathleen agreed. “I’m so glad Miss Louisa isn’t alone in this.”
“I know. If Aidan and Meredith and her folks weren’t living there now, I’d’ve had to sling her across the back of the snowmobile and drag her home with me.”
“Along with her dad and sister’s ashes.”
She watched Molly’s eyes, half-closed as she sipped her tea. Kathleen stood and pulled her to her feet. “The soup will be ready in about an hour. You go rest in your recliner. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”
Molly went without argument, stretching all the way back in her recliner, a heavy woven throw pulled up to her chin. Kathleen kissed her lightly, tucking the throw under her shoulders. It seemed Molly was asleep within seconds, her breathing deep and slow.
Kathleen, drawn back to the dining room, sat at the table and faced the laptop again. This time, she opened it. The screen woke to the email she’d received earlier.
Kathleen, we missed you at Thanksgiving. It was quiet, just your mother and I. I think you should come home for Christmas. We miss you and would love to see you if you can arrange to get offisland. Think about it, Dad
She stared out the window at the swirling snow, driven sideways by the continued wind. How long had it been since she’d seen them? She had to think back. Her first birthday after returning to Little Sister, her tar abháile, her homecoming. A year and a half. Probably the best year and a half of her life. Even now, she could see the wraithlike expression on her mother’s face as they’d gathered in the island’s ancient stone circle to perform the ceremony that would link Kathleen to Little Sister forever. While everyone else had celebrated Kathleen Halloran’s life, Kathleen had seen in her mother’s cold eyes that she only wished it had been Kathleen’s brother, Bryan, standing there.
That day had marked twenty-five years since Bryan’s drowning, but it had done nothing to diminish Christine’s resentment that her beloved son was dead, while Kathleen had felt more alive than she had since Bryan died.
And now, they want to pretend that we’re a happy family for Christmas?
She jabbed at the Delete key and closed the laptop with a snap.
* * *
Louisa woke and listened for a moment, expecting to hear the continued howls and moans of the blizzard, but all was quiet. She rose and went to the window. The sky, just going from pink to pale blue, was cloudless.
A few minutes later, wearing her favorite fuzzy slippers and her heavy robe, she got the coffee started. While she waited, she hastily twisted her silver hair into its usual bun, secured with a few bobby pins. The others would be down soon. Jasper got up from his warm, padded bed—one of several scattered around the house to cushion and warm his old bones. He stretched, his tail wagging when Louisa bent to give him a rub.
“Morning, old man.” She let him out the back door, where he stood on the porch and looked over his shoulder in disgust. “You go on down. I know the snow’s deep, but there’s nothing else for it.”
He gingerly picked his way down the porch steps, lifted a leg, and immediately trotted back into the kitchen to eat.
“Morning, Daddy. Morning, Ollie.” She shifted two wooden boxes to a windowsill where they sat in the weak sunlight.
As much as she’d looked forward to the Turners’ return to Little Sister to live with her, the reality of their arrival three weeks ago—their houses in Oregon sold and their vehicles loaded to the max with their remaining possessions—had been more of a shock than Louisa had expected. Unbeknownst to her, she’d become accustomed to having a quiet start to her day. A couple of cups of coffee over breakfast, maybe reading or sitting in her rocker on the front porch if the fall chill wasn’t too much. But with Irene and Roy now occupying Mama and Daddy’s old room, and Meredith sharing the spare room with Aidan Cooper—only he isn’t a Cooper anymore, is he? At least not for much longer. They’ll all be Woodhouses soon.
Louisa knew Aidan’s decision to become a Woodhouse must have been a bit of a blow to his parents. Jenny and Joe still had Molly and Joey and Matty to carry on the Cooper line, and men who bonded into families on this island had always taken the woman’s name if they weren’t from here, but still.
She sat at the table with her coffee and a piece of toast spread with some of last summer’s strawberry jam. Her quiet lasted only a few minutes before Irene and Roy’s voices reached her. They descended the stairs, apparently continuing a discussion they’d begun earlier.
“I told you, you can’t ask her that,” came Irene’s voice.
“Why not?” asked Roy.
“Because we just got here. We’re still practically guests.”
The voices hushed as they neared the kitchen. Louisa glanced up with a smile.
“You’re not guests, and what did you want to ask?”
Irene flushed in embarrassment at having been overheard, but Roy poured a cup of coffee and joined Louisa at the table.
“Would you mind if we had a satellite dish installed?”
Louisa stared blankly. “A satellite.” Her mind churned, picturing orbiting spaceships firing down at them like in the science fiction movies.
“A dish,” Roy clarified, “To receive an internet signal. So we can use our computers.”
“Oh.” Louisa nodded. “I don’t mind at all, but I don’t think it can happen until the weather warms. We don’t get many repairmen from the mainland until the ferry runs more than once a month.”
“Oh.” Roy’s shoulders slumped. “Hadn’t thought of that.”
“Wilma and Nels don’t have any guests at the hotel now,” Louisa said. “I’m sure they’d be willing to share their internet with you.”
Roy brightened. “That’s a great idea. I’ll gladly pay.”
Louisa waved a dismissive hand. “I’m sure you’ll work something out. You talk to Wilma when you get a chance.”
“I’ll do that.” Roy got up and busied himself making more toast while Irene fried up some bacon and eggs.
“You don’t have to do that,” Louisa protested when Irene slid an egg and a couple of slices of bacon onto her plate.
“You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive,” Irene scolded gently. “A strong wind could blow you away.”
Louisa chuckled. “That’s what Ollie always said.”
“Wish we could have known her,” Irene said wistfully.
“Wish she could have met you.” But Louisa’s eyes stung at the thought. She could almost hear Ollie say, “And whose fault is it we never met?”
The floorboards overhead creaked, followed by footsteps on the stairs as Meredith and Aidan came down. They entered the kitchen, hand in hand. Louisa hid a smile at the dreamy look in Aidan’s eyes. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was drinking himself silly nearly every night, trying to erase the memory of Bryan Halloran’s death when they were teenagers—the death Aidan had blamed himself for. Even now, Louisa caught him brooding every so often, but those moments were becoming rarer now that he’d found Meredith.
“Good morning, everyone.” Meredith poured two cups with the last of the coffee in the pot, handed one to Aidan, and began making a fresh pot while Aidan cracked another half-dozen eggs into the frying pan for the two of them.
“I’m going to talk to Wilma about using their internet until we can get a dish installed here,” Roy announced.
“That’s a good idea.” Meredith gazed out the window. “Not sure that’s happening today, though.”
When the eggs were over easy, Aidan slid them onto plates, and Meredith added the toast.
“Oh, the trucks with plows will get out, start clearing everyone’s drives,” Louisa said, passing the butter and jam over to them. “Might not make it to us till tomorrow, but they’ll be here.”
“Do you contract with someone to do that?” Irene asked.
Louisa frowned for a moment. “You mean, pay? Heavens, no. Those who can help out, do. Then when we can do something for them, we do. Ollie and I always baked our orange-cranberry bread and gave a few jars of our preserves.”
“If you’re going to bake today, I’ll help,” Irene offered.
It lifted Louisa’s heart to think of baking with her daughter, even if they hadn’t established a real mother-daughter connection. Yet. It seemed too much to hope for, but a year ago, she’d never imagined she’d meet the baby she’d given up for adoption in 1960.
“Do you really have to leave today?” Meredith asked Aidan.
“Got to. I’ll boat over to Big Sister. Their ferry is due in today. Catch it back to the mainland and stay with my uncle for a week, till ours comes next week. We’ll be loaded down with everyone’s Christmas packages, so everyone on the island will be down to meet it. It’s a big deal here.” He shoveled the last of his eggs into his mouth. “Anyone need anything from Big Sister or the mainland while I’m there?”
Irene perked up. “Yes. I hadn’t planned well enough for the holidays. We weren’t sure how this worked with the ferry only coming once a month now for the winter.”
Aidan nodded. “With Big Sister’s running every two weeks, we can alternate well enough, but that boat ride over is colder than a witch’s—”
He broke off and cleared his throat.
“Aidan Ahearn Cooper,” Louisa chided. “Watch your language.”
“Sorry, Miss Louisa.”
Meredith laughed. “Anyway, I think you’ll have a shopping list to keep you busy.”
“That’s great.” Aidan gave her a forced smile, looking very sorry he’d offered.
* * *
Rebecca Ahearn stomped her snowy boots on the front porch of the library. The blizzard had blown snow across it, but mostly the snow had drifted against the west side of the building. She swept the porch free of the white stuff and went inside. Dropping her hat and scarf on one of the long tables, she took her down jacket off and draped it over the back of a chair. She went behind the librarian’s desk and let herself into the back room, where the island families’ genealogy books were kept, along with a few other antiquities.
With her hands on her hips, she stood where she could see both rooms. The main room, filled now with floor to ceiling bookshelves that held the island’s collection of books, used to be the island’s schoolroom. But when Maine had decided to “retire” Miss Louisa as the island’s teacher—and after all the failed attempts to attract a younger, certified teacher to live onisland—they’d turned this larger room into the main library, leaving the smaller back room to be hers. As Keeper of the Record for Little Sister, it fell to her to keep the family histories up to date, to perform other island rituals and ceremonies, such as recording the Passing of anyone descended from an island family who wanted to come and live here, as the Turners had done last summer.
Not that that decision had been without controversy—mostly from me, Rebecca had to admit. They’d never had anyone like Irene Turner. Woodhouse. Whatever. Given up for adoption, not raised on the island. She hadn’t even known about Little Sister until her and Meredith’s dreams had led them here. No matter how Rebecca had tried to justify that they didn’t belong, it seemed the island felt otherwise.
And now, the island council was going to have to consider Meredith’s proposal to let her teach here. As hard as the islanders had fought to get another teacher, just about all of the island families with children had since made the transition to schooling their kids on the mainland, some boarding at school, some living with friends or relatives. A few families home-schooled, but the kids got lonely with all of their friends gone except for the Yule and summer holidays. Most of the children were home now, having returned on the last ferry with the Turners. Little Sister always felt more complete when the children were here.
If they decided to bring school back to the island, they’d need a classroom. Rebecca didn’t want to get rid of the books. The Keeper needed to maintain control of the back room, and there were no empty houses, waiting to be put up for lottery. The island rules meant no new buildings, but she thought, perhaps, the islanders would be willing to grant permission to add on here.
She paced off the dimensions of the larger room, jotting them down. She’d call Molly and get her to help draw up a floor plan, with estimates for needed building materials. Then, they’d have to figure out how to pay for it.
In the back room, she went to a particular shelf and removed the large, leather-bound books sitting there. Behind them, she pressed on the back panel, and it sprung toward her to reveal a hidden compartment. She reached inside to retrieve another book, one passed down from the first Keeper in the 1770s to all the Keepers since. She closed the panel and replaced the larger books. Taking the Keeper’s book with her, she bundled up and trudged back to her cottage.
copyright Caren J. Werlinger 2022