Book 1 in the Summer Resort Series
Book 1 in the Summer Resort Series
One summer, two sisters and a chance to start over…
Before the burglary that shattered her confidence, Phoenix Rose had a fiancé, a successful store and a busy, happy existence. After months spent adrift, she takes a job at the lakeside resort of Cooper’s Charm. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, friendly colleagues and a charismatic, widowed boss, Phoenix is slowly inching her way back into the world.
Visiting Cooper’s Charm to check up on her little sister, Ridley Rose impulsively agrees to fill in as housekeeper. Still reeling from an ego-bruising divorce, she finds satisfaction in a job well done—and in the attention of the resort’s handsome scuba instructor.
For Phoenix and Ridley, Cooper’s Charm is supposed to be merely temporary. But this detour may lead to the place they most need to be, where the future is as satisfying as it is surprising…
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Reviews of Cooper’s Charm
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"A cadre of engaging supporting characters and an important secondary romance... make the quirky resort community spring to life, while sinister doings add a touch of danger. VERDICT: A beautifully matched pair find each other despite their misgivings (and their baggage) in a steamy romance laced with mystery and suspense that is a pure delight."
— Library Journal
"Cooper’s Charm is a bubbly summer escape, and beyond that, a heartwarming look at the healing power of family — both the ones we are given and those we create.”
“A beautifully matched pair find each other despite their misgivings (and their baggage) in a steamy romance laced with mystery and suspense that is a pure delight.”
— Publishers Weekly
is Book 1 in the Summer Resort Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: Cooper’s Charm
- Book 2: Sisters of Summer’s End
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The sun shone brightly on that early mid-May morning. The crisp, cool air smelled of damp leaves-an appealing, earthy scent. A mist from the nearby lake blanketed the ground, swirling around her sneaker-covered feet.
Phoenix Rose stood at the high entrance to the resort and looked down at the neat, winding rows of RVs and fifth wheels in various sizes, as well as the numerous log cabins and the rustic tent grounds. All was quiet, as if no one had yet awakened.
She could have parked in the lower lot, closer to her destination, but she wanted the time to take it in.
Besides, after driving for a few hours, she’d enjoy stretching her legs.
Breathing deeply, she filled her lungs with fresh air, also filling her heart with hope.
It was such a beautiful morning that her clip-on sunglasses, worn over her regular glasses, only cut back the worst of the glare; she had to shade her eyes with a hand as she took in the many unique aspects of Cooper’s Charm RV Park and Resort.
Before submitting her resume to the online wanted ad, she’d scoured over all the info she could find. She’d also studied the map to familiarize herself with the design.
The website hadn’t done it justice.
It was more beautiful than she’d expected.
Dense woods bordered the property on one side and at the entrance, giving it a private, isolated feel. To the other side, a line of evergreens separated the park from an old-fashioned drive-in that offered nightly movies not only to the resort guests, but also to the residents in the surrounding small town of Woodbine, Ohio.
At the very back of the resort, a large lake—created from a quarry—wound in and around the land before fading into the sun-kissed mist, making it impossible to see the full size. Currently, large inflated slides and trampolines floated in and out of the mist, randomly catching the sunshine as they bobbed in the mostly placid water. Phoenix couldn’t imagine anyone getting into the frigid water today – or even this month – but the online brochure claimed the lake was already open, as was the heated inground pool.
She was to meet the owner near the lake, but she’d deliberately arrived fifteen minutes early, which gave her a chance to look around.
After six months in hotel rooms, and a month familiarizing herself with the park, Cooper’s Charm already felt like home. She could be at peace here and that meant a lot, because for too long now, peace of mind had remained an elusive thing.
Knowing her sister was waiting, Phoenix pulled out her phone and took a pic of the beautiful scenery, then texted it to Ridley, typing, Arrived.
Despite the early hour, Ridley immediately texted back, Are you sure about this?
Positive, Phoenix replied. She hadn’t been this certain in ages. Hope the interview goes well.
Loyal to the end, her sister sent back, He’ll take one look at you and fall in love.
Phoenix grinned even as she rolled her eyes. Ridley had the misguided notion that everyone else shared her skewed but adoring perception. I’ll settle for a job, thank you very much.
Keep me posted. Love you.
Her heart swelled. Through thick and thin, Ridley was her backup, her support system, and the person she trusted most in the whole world. Her parents were great too, very attentive and protective, but it was her sister who best understood her. It didn’t matter that Ridley lived a very different lifestyle, or that their goals in life were so different.
Phoenix loved working with her hands, staying busy, and took satisfaction from a job well done.
Ridley enjoyed seeing the world, traveling nearly non-stop to posh destinations, had an exquisite flair for the latest fashions, and detested being messy in any way.
Different, but still best friends through and through.
Phoenix signed off in her usual way. Love you, too. Byeeeee…
She knew Ridley was still worried, and that bothered her. Much as she appreciated her sister’s dedication, she wanted to portray an air of confidence and independence…just as she once had.
She didn’t like being weak, and she didn’t like allowing others to impact her life, yet both had happened. This was her chance to get back to being a strong, capable woman.
If all went well, today would be a start toward reaching that goal.
Taking her time, Phoenix strode through the grounds, familiarizing herself on her way to the lake. She really wanted to explore the woods, and the small, quaint cabins where she would live.
More than that, though, she wanted to be at the lake when Cooper Cochran arrived. She wouldn’t be late, wouldn’t be nervous, and wouldn’t screw up her fresh start.
Unfortunately, just as she rounded a play area filled with swings and slides, she saw the lone figure standing along the sandy shore, a fishing rod in hand.
Was that Cochran?
Good Lord, he was big, and impressively built, too, with wide, hard shoulders and muscular thighs. She hated to admit it, but that could be a problem for her.
After all, she’d learned the hard way, on a very basic level, that big men were also powerful men.
Pausing to stare, she pressed a hand to her stomach to quell the nervous butterflies taking flight at the sight of him.
The sunrise gilded his messy, sandy brown hair. As he reeled in his line, then cast it out again, muscles flexed beneath a dark pullover with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, showing taut forearms and thick wrists dusted with hair. Worn denim hugged his long legs.
He seemed to stand nearly a half-foot taller than her 5ꞌ4”. God, how she’d prayed he’d be a smaller, less…imposing man.
Finding information on the resort had been easy. Finding information on Cooper Cochran…not so much.
She stood frozen on the spot, trying to convince her feet to move, doing her best to conquer her irrational reservations, but she was suddenly, painfully aware that they were all alone on the shore. Logically, she knew it wasn’t a problem. Plenty of people were around, though in their RVs or cabins, so there was no reason to be afraid.
Not here, not now.
Lately though, fear had been a fickle thing, often re-emerging out of nowhere. She’d always been able to hide that fear from her parents, but Ridley was a different matter. Her sister would take one look at her and understand.
But Ridley wasn’t here now, and this job was important…
As if he’d known she was there all along, he glanced over his shoulder at her. Reflective sunglasses hid his eyes, and yet she felt his scrutiny and a touch of surprise. She knew his gaze was burning over her and it caused her to shift with nervous awareness.
She guessed him to be in his mid-thirties, maybe nine or ten years older than her. No one would call him a classically handsome man. His features were as bold as his body, including a strong jaw, masculine nose and harshly carved cheekbones.
Not typical good looks, but he certainly wouldn’t be ignored.
She could see that he hadn’t yet shaved this morning, and she wasn’t sure if he’d combed his hair. The breeze and fog off the lake might have played with it, leaving it a little wavier than usual.
She couldn’t look away, couldn’t even blink.
His scrutiny kept her pinned in place with a strange stirring of her senses, unpleasant only in its unfamiliarity.
Releasing her by turning back to the lake, he said, “Ms. Rose?”
The words seemed to carry on the quiet, cool air.
Phoenix swallowed. “Yes.” She watched as he cast out yet again. It almost seemed that he gave her time to get herself together. Of course, he couldn’t know why she was so reserved. Still, his patience, his apparent lack of interest, finally helped her to move forward.
She watched the way his large hands deftly, slowly, reeled in the line.
Her feet sank in the soft, damp sand. “Mr. Cochran?”
“You can call me Coop.”
He had a deep, mellow voice that should have put her at ease but instead sharpened her awareness of him as a large man.
“I like to fish in the morning before everyone crowds the lake. Are you an early bird, Ms. Rose?”
“Actually, yes.” A white gull swooped down, skimmed the water, and took flight again. Ripples fanned out across the surface. By the minute, the mist evaporated, giving way to the warmth of the sun. “You know I had my own landscaping business.” She’d told him that much in their email correspondence concerning her application. “In the summer especially, it was more comfortable to start as early as possible. I’ve gotten in the habit of being up and about by six.”
“You won’t need to be that early here.”
“Okay.” She wasn’t sure what else to say. “The lake is beautiful.”
“And peaceful.” This time when he reeled in the line, he had a small bass attached. “Do you fish?”
He hadn’t faced her again and that made it easier to converse. “When I was younger, my sister and I would visit our grandparents for the weekend and we’d fish in their pond. That was years ago, though.” This was the strangest interview she’d ever had. It was also less stressful than she’d anticipated.
Had Cooper Cochran planned it that way-or did he just love to fish?
“You don’t fish with them anymore?”
“They passed away just before I turned twenty. Granddad first, and my Grandma not long after.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Sounds like you made good memories with them, though.”
“Yes.” Fascinated, she watched as he worked the hook easily from the fish’s mouth, then he bent and placed it gently back in the water before rinsing his hands. “Too small to keep?”
“I rarely keep what I catch.” He gestured toward a picnic table. “Let’s talk.”
Until then, she hadn’t noticed the tackle box and towel on the summer-bleached wooden table.
She followed Cochran, then out of habit waited until he’d chosen a spot so she could take the side opposite him-a habit she’d gotten into with men. These days she preferred as much distance as she could manage.
He stepped over the bench, dropped the towel, pushed up his sunglasses, and seated himself.
Golden brown eyes took her by surprise. They were a stark contrast to his heavy brows and the blunt angles of his face.
She realized she was staring, that he merely stared back with one brow lifted, and she quickly looked away. Thankfully, she still wore the clip-on sunglasses, giving her a hint of concealment.
She retreated behind idle chitchat. “I studied the map online and feel like I know my way around. The lake is more impressive than I’d realized. The photos don’t do it justice.”
“I’ve been meaning to update the website,” he said. “It’s been busy though. We lost our grounds keeper and housekeeper at the same time.”
“Someone had both positions?”
He smiled with some private amusement. “No. Either position is a fulltime job. But without any of us noticing, the two of them fell in love, married, and then headed to Florida to retire.”
“Oh.” She expected to find many things at the resort, but love wasn’t on the list. Love wasn’t even in her universe.
“You said you checked out the map online?”
“Actually, I researched everything I could about the place, including the surrounding grounds, and I’m sure I’d be a good fit for the job.”
When he looked past her, she quickly turned her head to find a woman approaching with a metal coffee pot in one hand, the handles of two mugs hooked through the fingers of the other.
Cooper stood. “Perfect timing, Maris.”
The woman’s smile was easy and friendly. “I was watching.” Long dark blonde hair, caught in a high ponytail, swung behind her with every step. Soft brown eyes glanced at Phoenix. “Good morning.”
“Coffee?” She set one mug in front of Cooper and filled it.
Phoenix nodded. “Yes, please.”
Maris filled the second mug, then dug creamer cups and sugar packets from a sturdy apron pocket, along with a spoon wrapped in a napkin. “Coop drinks his black, but I wasn’t sure about you.”
Anyone who presented her with coffee on a cool morning instantly earned her admiration. “I’ll take it any way I can get it, but I prefer a little cream and sugar, so thank you.”
Cooper reseated himself. “Maris Kennedy, meet Phoenix Rose. Maris runs the camp store. Phoenix is here about the position for grounds keeper.”
Slim brows went up. “Really? I was assuming housekeeper.”
Cooper’s smile did amazing things to his rugged face, and disastrous things to her concentration.
He explained to Phoenix, “We’ve never had a woman tend the grounds.” Then to Maris, he said, “Ms. Rose used to run her own landscaping company. She’s more than qualified and we’d be lucky to get her.”
Phoenix perked up. Did that mean he’d already made up his mind to hire her?
“Especially now.” Maris leaned a hip against the end of the table. “I don’t know if Coop told you, but we’re starting this season short-handed. We were all taking turns with the grounds and the housekeeping, so everyone will be thrilled to take one thing off their list.”
Still unsure if she had the job or not, Phoenix said, “It’d be my pleasure to make things easier. If I’m hired, I can start right away.” She glanced at Cooper and added, “Today even.”
Maris straightened. “Seriously?”
Already feeling a sense of purpose that had been missing for too long from her life, Phoenix nodded. “I’m anxious to get to work.”
Cooper put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Then consider yourself hired.”
Behind the glasses, her eyes widened. “Just like that?”
“You expected a different outcome?”
“Well, no, but—” She could barely contain her excitement. If she didn’t have an audience, she would have danced across the sandy shoreline.
“I bet you already packed, didn’t you?”
Heat rushed into her cheeks for being so presumptuous, but she admitted the truth with a grin. “My car is full.”
“Glad to hear it.” He took a drink of his coffee, then said, “You had a great résumé, so meeting was just a formality.”
More than a little dazed, Phoenix said, “Thank you.”
“So you accept?” Maris asked.
“Fantastic. So where are we putting her?”
With his gaze on his coffee, Cooper said, “I was thinking cabin 18.”
Maris paused, subdued a smile, and nodded. “Okay then. Give me thirty minutes and I’ll get it set up.”
“I can do it,” Phoenix quickly offered. “I don’t want to put you out.”
“It’s not a problem. I’m just glad you’re hired. Now hopefully Coop will find a housekeeper, too—hint, hint.” She looked up at the sky and pretended to pray.
Cooper shook his head. “You’re the queen of subtlety, Maris. As it happens, I’ll be interviewing a woman next week.”
In an aside to Phoenix, she said, “He interviews someone every week. Trust me, most don’t get hired so easily.” Then to Cooper, she added, “If she’s not a serial-killer, hire her.”
He snorted. “You’re going to make Ms. Rose think I’m a harsh boss. She’ll run off before she ever gets started.”
Maris rushed to say, “Coop is the bestboss. Working for him is a dream.”
Phoenix laughed. “You don’t need to sell me. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
“Just because you’re a positive person, meaning you’ll be fun to have around, I’ll make sure you get some extra towels and one of our better coffee makers.” With a wink, she headed off.
As Maris disappeared into her store, her words hung with Phoenix. If most people weren’t so easily hired, why was she? She knew she had good credentials, and she knew she could do the work. Was he so desperate to fill the position that a formal interview wasn’t necessary?
She wasn’t used to things going smoothly these days, but she wanted the job enough not to question it.
Silence dragged on. She was aware of Cooper intently watching her while he drank his coffee. It made her twitchy.
Determined, she turned to him. “I’m really looking forward to the job.” Damn it, she’d already said that—or something like it. She didn’t want to babble.
“Maris hasn’t given you second thoughts?”
Phoenix shook her head. “Actually, she seems really nice.”
“She is. I’m fortunate that everyone who works here gets along really well.”
Perfect. The last thing she wanted was drama in her life. She’d had enough of that. The plan now was to work hard enough to keep the demons at bay, and otherwise live peacefully. “They all live on-site?”
“Yep.” He stood. “Come on. I’ll show you around while Maris opens your cabin and gets fresh linen inside.” He paused. “You’re aware that the cabin is small, right?”
“Yes. It’s just me so I don’t need a lot of room.” In fact, it’d be nice to have less to take care of. Recent events had proven to her that material things were far less important than she’d thought.
“We have some premium cabins, and a few available rental campers, but I try to leave those open to guests.” He carried his tackle box, towel and rod as they walked. “Over there is the cabin you’ll be using. There aren’t any units around it, but it’s close to the lodge, so there’ll be a lot of foot traffic going by. We have quiet time from 11pm to 8am, so no one should disturb you during that span.”
She gazed at the small wood cabin that would be her home for the foreseeable future. Screens enclosed a front porch just big enough for a rocker. A lattice skirt circled the base of the cabin. She envisioned some colorful pots filled with flowers to brighten the all-wood exterior, maybe a wind chime or two and a floral wreath for the door.
Decorating it, making it her own, would be fun.
“You’re welcome to get your breakfast from the camp store, but you do have a full refrigerator and a small stove. Each cabin can sleep four, but since you’re alone, I assume you’ll use the loft bed without unfolding the couch. There’s only a small TV, but you have WiFi.”
She already knew all that from the brochures, so she only nodded.
Cooper paused, his light brown eyes staring down at her. “I know it’s not much—”
“I love it. It’s perfect.”
His gaze lingered. “I think you mean that.”
Every word. With a confidence she didn’t always feel, she said, “I intend to be very happy here.”