Publisher: Ballantine Books (July 25, 2006)
A supportive wife and mother, Tracy Potter always played by the rules and maintained a perfect home. But after her husband's sudden death, she learns the devastating truth: all she believed in–from their wealth to their marriage vows-–was a perfect lie. Forced to start over, Tracy puts everything into resurrecting the Heartbreak Hotel, a long-abandoned turn-of-the-century inn overlooking the Pacific Ocean. She's determined to never again believe in anyone but herself–until the night mysterious loner Wade MacAllister checks in. Intrigued by the secret disillusionment in his eyes–one that mirrors her own–Tracy finds that a growing desire challenges her at every turn.
The Heartbreak Hotel is a perfect place for Wade to hide not only from his notoriety as an author, but the shocking events in his past. Drawn to Tracy and her struggle to succeed, he is quickly compelled to risk the anonymity on which his survival depends. By the time Tracy discovers the handsome stranger's true identity, there's more than ever at stake. She is not only forced to risk another broken heart and learn to trust again, but she must fight to make Wade believe in their love.
Along California's sparkling blue coastline and amid its mist-shrouded nights, Heartbreak Hotel unfolds a suspenseful and yet tender story of second chances against all odds, of families lost and regained . . . and of the ways unexpected love can make even the most disillusioned hearts believe.
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Wade MacAllister had spent most of his life wishing he had more of everything-more luck, more talent, more money.
He had money now. More money than he'd ever imagined. If he'd been blessed with real talent, maybe his luck wouldn't have run out.
Steering his Harley into a scenic turnout with a view of the Pacific, he killed the engine and set the kickstand. The heavy black and chrome bike listed to one side, poised above the pavement, heat radiating off of the pipes. Though silent now, the growl of the engine still hummed in his ears.
Beyond the lookout, the ocean rose and fell, its rough surface surging in every direction, pulled by the ride, the wind, and the swells. Gathering twilight made it harder to see. Wind gusts off the water matched the rhythm of the waves. The chill in the air cut through his leather jacket. reminding him that he could still feel. That he was still alive.
The night was moonless and melancholy. Restless like him.
"Make up your goddamned mind." The mumbled words were quickly swept away, carried off on the wind, drowned by the roar of the waves. "If you're going to do it, get it over with."
He glanced up and down the highway. There were no cars in sight. He was ever conscious of the gun in his saddlebag, a classic Colt .45, Gold Cup Trophy model he had picked up from a dealer in Phoenix. He'd practiced at a firing range to make sure he knew how to use it, though for his purposes, a good aim wasn't important.
Tonight, like every other night, his fertile mind conjured up memories of things best forgotten. He tried, God knew he'd tried, but there was no way he could ever forget the twelve women murdered in unspeakable ways. Lovely young women who had died violent, heinous deaths. Acts spawned by a sick and twisted mind.
His sick and twisted mind.
Do it right now. Right here. Get it over with.
But there was more than a whisper of daylight left. His mind spun out the what-ifs. What if an unsuspecting driver pulled over? What if a car full of people drove by, saw his body lying there? What if there were kids in the- car? What then?
He needed to go somewhere off the beaten track, somewhere lonely and solitary. A secluded place more in keeping with the way he'd always lived his life.
He'd know it when he saw it and when he did, maybe then he'd find the courage to put an end to everything.
The twelve women. The constant moving. The disguises. He'd find the right place and then maybe he'd find the courage to bring the story of his life to a close.
After dark, the lobby of the Heartbreak Hotel seemed to expand, like the, walls of a carnival fun house. At night, the persistent pounding of the waves against the shoreline filled the rooms like the amplified beat of a solitary heart. Except for an occasional passing car, there was no competition for the echo of the waves.
Loneliness filled the rooms in the evenings, too. Tracy Potter didn't notice it as much during the day when she was running in all directions. But at night, after the workmen left, the sun had set, and her nine-year-old son, Matthew, was tucked in bed, she would struggle with an ache so deep, so raw, that it took everything she had to convince herself that circumstances change – that life was bound to take a turn for the better.
She still found it hard to believe that in a couple more weeks, her husband. Glenn, would have been gone six months.
The word made it sound as if he had just stepped out to meet a client and would be back any minute.
Her footsteps echoed against the scuffed hardwood floors of the wide-open lobby, falling silent whenever she paused to pick up a sticky wad of used masking tape or carefully sidestep a pile of drop cloths the workmen had left on the floor.
Six months ago, if anyone would have told her that she'd be a widow at thirty-three, or that she'd be renovating the Heartbreak Hotel, let alone living in it, she would have laughed and called them crazy.
A few days after Glenn's death, when his accountant, David Sylvester, informed her that Glenn had been deep in debt, she thought he'd been joking. But David had been dead serious and the joke was on her.
It was a morning she'd never forget, sitting there in David's office, listening as the accountant outlined the bleak details.
"There's no easy way to put it, Tracy. You're broke. As far as I can tcll, there's enough left in your joint checking account to pay expenses for the next six months, if you're careful and if you're lucky."
She knew things had been tough. She'd confronted Glenn about the mounting bills. She'd wanted to go back to work, gladly offering to renew her real estate license. She would have done anything to help keep them from going under, but he'd been adamant. He wanted Matt to have a fulltime mom. There were listings about to close. Things were just tight right now. Things were going to change soon.
Still she'd worried, and with good reason. What the accountant told her after Glenn's death made that quite dear.
"Glenn refinanced the Canyon Club house to the limit," David explained. "There's no equity left. Your credit cards are maxed out, too. In fact, he made your last two house payments with his American Express card. And unfortunately, he was underinsured. You'll be able to cover the funeral expenses and, if there's anything left, I'd advise you to payoff your car, and Chelsea's."
Luckily, hers was free and clear.
Chelsea's wasn't. Chelsea was Glenn's daughter by his first marriage. Nineteen now. A freshman at the University of Southern California. Tracy had sat in Stunned silence, thinking of Chelsea, of the hefty tuition Glenn had been paying. What now?
"Sell the house," David had advised. "Get the bank off your back before they foreclose,"
The luxurious house had been Glenn's dream, part of an upscale development he'd spearheaded. Cabrillo Canyon Club was a gated community of sixty high-end homes scattered around a golf course designed by Rex Burrell, one of the West's premier course designers. They were well built but overpriced, even in a good market. The homes all sold eventually but not overnight,
"There is one bit of good news. I guess," David had quickly added, as if aware that she was quickly slipping into a self-induced coma. Anything to escape.
"And that would be?"
"That the IRS and the banks can't touch your inheritance from your grandparents. It's not much, but it'll help. And there's that old hotel on the, coast road. Glenn put the tide in Matt's name, with you as trustee."
"Matt? When? Why?" Matt was only nine. What had Glenn been thinking?
At first she couldn't even remember the place, and then it came to her. The Heartbreak Hotel. Perched on the coast off the old Route 1. Glenn had purchased the derelict, nineteenth-century hotel a handful of years ago, planning to tear it down and replace it with elegant condos. The project had quickly bogged down in California Coastal Commission hearings.
After the Twilight Cove Historical Society and the Central Coast Preservation League entered into the fray, he had tabled the project altogether her, too busy to spend time and money fighting them all.
She had left David's office that morning determined to sell the white elephant. But prospective buyers couldn't walk away fast enough once they learned that the hotel was to be registered as a historic landmark – thanks to the Twilight Cove Historical Preservation Society – and that the Coastal Commission had deemed the prime oceanfront land beneath it off limits to any new development.
She'd looked into renewing her real estate license, then realized that it might be months before her first escrow dosed, if and when she got a quick listing and actually sold something.
Forced to do the only thing she could under the circumstances, she'd taken a leap of faith, relied on her ability to see things the way they could be, not the way they were, and had used her inheritance from Grandma and Grandpa Melton to clean up the Heartbreak.
Now darkness was quickly gathering as she walked over to a bank of wall switches behind the desk, flipped on the lights, and surveyed the progress. Though the place would never be a five-scar hotel, it was finally coming along.
Six guest rooms were already completely finished, There were three left to paint and furnish. The painting was nearly finished in the lobby. The adjacent sitting room was no longer as dingy and derelict as it had been the day she took her first hard look around.
Even she, a consummate optimist, had been hard-pressed to envision possibilities for the place. If Matt hadn't been with her the first rime she walked through, she'd have been tempted to break down and bawl her eye out.
Old wallpaper had to be Stripped. Thankfully, the hardwood floors were still solid, but needed refinishing. An army of termites had taken up residence in the walls. She'd handled the damage with spot repair and fumigation. Basic cosmetic renovations and a race to open for the coming tourist season would never have been her first choice, bur she'd seen no quicker way our of her financial crisis.
Walking away from their home at Cabrillo Canyon Club, selling off almost everything, including the designer furnishings hand-chosen for the house, hadn't hurt anything but her pride. But then, she'd never really felt as attached to the Country Club house as Glenn. It had been his dream to live in an impressive showplace – one that left no doubt as to his success.
It wasn't like her to look back, so, counting on the future to bring change, she glanced out the wide bay window that curved around the entire front wall. It was gloomy out tonight. Not a single star brightened a heavy sky.
She was headed for the sunroom and small kitchen area off the lobby when she heard the deep-throated rumble of a motorcycle on the coast road. When the sound abruptly stopped, she froze.
Alone in the empty room, she was suddenly all too aware of how vulnerable she and Matt were living out on this deserted stretch of road. It was one thing to have considered running the Heartbreak all by herself, but the cold, stark reality of it chilled her blood. She held her breath, hoping to hear the motorcycle start up again.