Sanctuary Island is the latest book by Louisa Edwards writing under the name Lily Everett. It’s a fabulous story set on an island of the East Coast. We’re excited to share with you an excerpt of the book.
Ella backed against her car door as the horse paced closer. She willed her gaze not to dart around searching for Merry—no need to draw attention to her sister, who might or might not be baring her behind to the breeze at this very moment.
The man made a soft clucking noise in the back of his throat, and the horse stopped walking.
“Are you lost?”
The man’s voice was as rough as his stubbled cheeks, low and deep in a way that reached into Ella’s chest and messed with her breathing.
He was big. Broad through the chest and shoulders, with powerful thighs that gripped his mount’s flanks, effortlessly controlling the huge, snorting animal he rode. Most of his face was shadowed by the brim of a battered white baseball cap, the fringe of hair spiking out from under it dark gold, like antique coins.
Ella flinched when the horse stomped one massive hoof and blew out a loud breath. Large animals made her nervous. Heck, big men who appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, made her nervous.
Falling back on her tried-and-true method of dealing with nerves, Ella swept the man with a swift, assessing gaze, sizing him up in a single glance.
She couldn’t get much of a read on his expression under the cap, but his honeyed southern drawl had sounded…carefully neutral. Not particularly friendly, but not threatening, either. His body language was noticeably loose and relaxed, especially considering he was sitting on top of two thousand pounds of raw-boned muscle.
So he was comfortable in his skin, comfortable in the outdoors—but even as she thought that, she noticed the way his leather-glove-clad hands were clenched tightly around the horse’s reins.
Interesting. Maybe he wasn’t as comfortable as he seemed. But that was a mystery she didn’t have time to solve.
Shooting for a sunny smile, Ella found it best to appeal to the manners hopefully ingrained in this Virginia gentleman since he was a much littler boy.
“As a matter of fact, I’m a bit turned around. If you could point me in the right direction, I’d be so grateful. And then you can get back to your ride.”
He crossed his arms casually and leaned forward over the horse’s heaving neck. The morning light caught a gleam in his shadowed gaze that sent a shiver of awareness down Ella’s spine.
“Well, ma’am, I surely do appreciate you giving me permission to keep riding on this land, but I’m not the one that needs it.”
Ella blinked at the edge in his tone. Wow, it had been a while since she misread someone so completely. “Needs what?”
“Permission. Fact of the matter is, you’re trespassing.”
The rustling sound from the bushes behind her had Ella stiffening. Willing Merry to have the sense not to come charging into this tense little standoff, Ella said, “I’m just passing through.”
A slight sneer twisted his mouth, drawing Ella’s attention to the sensual, masculine curve of his lips. “Is that right?”
He sat up tall in the saddle once more, his gaze moving to something over Ella’s shoulder as he went on, voice bland as butter. “That’s not what I heard. Jo Ellen said you and your sister were coming to stay a while. Get to know the island. And her.”
This man knew their mother. The knowledge struck Ella like a blow to the head.
As if he could read the complex stab of emotion under Ella’s ribs, he shrugged and sat back in the saddle. “Then again, maybe I heard wrong. And maybe that’s a good thing. God knows, Jo doesn’t need any more trouble than she’s already got.”
He was sending out waves of disapproval strong enough to nearly knock Ella off her feet. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Just a friend of your mother’s. And I have to tell you, darlin’…” The tip of one leather-gloved finger tipped up the brim of his ball cap, and for the first time, Ella got a glimpse of his handsome, hard-jawed face and burning blue-gray eyes.
Those eyes skewered her, pinning her in place as he told her, “You look like big trouble to me.”
“Well, hello, gorgeous!” Merry’s delighted voice shattered the tense, shocked silence as she sidled up next to Ella, her lips parted in a happy grin.
The man’s dark gold brows winged up, a maddening smirk twisting his lips. Ella clenched her fingers against the itch to slap that mocking half-smile off his face.
“She’s talking to your horse,” Ella said in the most withering tone she could muster.
“I am,” Merry agreed, with stars in her eyes, all her attention zoomed in on the big, dark reddish-brown horse. “What a beauty. Not that you aren’t nice-looking, too, mister.”
“Hey, don’t do me any favors,” he said, clearly amused.
Merry had worked her magic once again. Since they were kids, people had been drawn to Merry’s bubbly personality, the vivid, reckless sense of fun and life that beamed out of her bright blue eyes. Within moments of meeting most people, Merry had them eating out of her hand.
A thin sliver of something oddly like jealousy pierced Ella’s belly. Reminding herself she didn’t give two shakes if this unfriendly stranger fell all over himself for Merry, Ella turned determinedly away from him.
“We need to get going,” Ella told her sister. “Apparently, we’re trespassing on this man’s property.”
“I never said it was my property.”
“Then what, exactly, is your problem?” Ella couldn’t help the sharpness of her voice, even when it made the horse eye her nervously and prance in place.
“Shhh,” Merry cooed, before the man could respond. She held out one calm hand, green-tipped fingers curled under to let the horse bump its nose against her knuckles.
Ella fought the urge to snatch her sister’s hand away from the horse’s whuffling nostrils and big teeth. Merry had always loved animals. The horses on the island were a huge part of the draw for Merry in coming here, Ella knew. This was part of the plan—the sooner Merry got her fill of the horses, the sooner they could go back to D.C.
“You must be Merry. You’re good with him,” the man observed.
“Is he a gelding?” Merry was all eagerness, the unguarded innocence of her voice at odds with the sullen darkness of the makeup ringing her eyes, the streaks of punk-rock red highlighting her brown hair. “What’s his name?”
“Yep, he’s a gelding. I call him Voyager. Do you ride?”
Merry shook her head, hand still outstretched and that enchanted look turning her pixie-ish face soft and dreamy. “Never had the chance to learn.”
Ella squeezed an arm around her sister’s shoulders, a pang hitting her heart.
“It’s not too late,” the man observed, watching them. “I’m sure your mom would love to teach you. Or I could.”
Time to take control of this encounter. Sending the rider a frosty smile, Ella said, “Oh, I think we’ve taken up enough of your no-doubt valuable time. Just tell me how to get to Jo’s house, and we’ll be out of your hair.”
With a reluctant sigh, Merry gave the horse’s nose one last stroke and said, “Guess I’ll start the ten-minute process of squishing this blimp of a body back into the car. Nice to meet you and Voyager.”
Ella waited until Merry was in the car before whirling to face the unnamed stranger who felt he had the right to meddle in their relationship with their mother.
“Look. I understand you’re a friend of Jo Ellen’s,” Ella said, striving to keep her voice even. “But that doesn’t give you the right to pass judgment on me or to put ideas in Merry’s head about what this visit is going to be like. You don’t know us. You don’t know our family history, and frankly, it’s none of your business, anyway. So just tell me how to get out of here, and hopefully that will be the last we’ll see of each other.”
He studied her for an endless moment, the heat in his green eyes taking away the chill of the storm-washed morning air. There was something new on his face, an expression she couldn’t read, as he stared down at her.
A pulse of feminine awareness pulled at Ella’s consciousness, but she didn’t allow herself to break eye contact.
“You’re right,” he finally said, his drawl slow and rough as honey over gravel. “I don’t know you, but I do know your mother. And if you’re here to break her heart, then the only directions I’m going to give you are for how to get back to the mainland.”
When Ella’s sister decides to reunite with their estranged mother, Ella goes along for the ride—it’s always been the two Preston girls against the world. But Sanctuary Island, a tiny refuge for wild horses tucked off the Atlantic coast, is more inviting than she ever imagined. And it holds more than one last opportunity to repair their broken family—if Ella can open her carefully guarded heart, there is also the chance for new beginnings.
Grady Wilkes is a handyman who can fix anything…except the scars of his own past. When he accepts the task of showing Ella the simple beauties of the island that healed him, he discovers a deep sense of comfort he thought he’d lost. But now he must convince the woman who never intended to stay that on Sanctuary Island, anything is possible—forgiving past mistakes, rediscovering the simple joys of life, and maybe even falling in love.