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Book 4: Christmas at the Cove (Five Island Cove)

Book 4: Christmas at the Cove (Five Island Cove)

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Take a vacation any time of year in the seaside town of Five Island Cove!

Meet five best friends as they reunite after years apart and rekindle their strong bond with one another, weather storms, and uncover secrets that have been lying dormant for decades...

About CHRISTMAS AT THE COVE: Secrets are never discovered during the holidays, right? That's what these five best friends are banking on as they gather once again to Five Island Cove for what they hope will be a Christmas to remember. Gather for the holidays with these five best friends as they celebrate Christmas at the cove, continue to find themselves and their future, and support each other through thick and thin.

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Sample Chapter 1 Now!

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AJ Proctor took off the red and white striped sweater with a muttered, “This makes you look like a chubby candy cane.” She’d put on a few pounds since she’d quit her job at the sports network a couple of weeks ago.

Perhaps she’d left the station a month ago, but she really had only gained about five pounds. She was happier than she’d been in a long time, and she knew it was because of a trifecta of things all combining together to increase her overall mood.

One, she was now seriously dating Matt Hymas. Yes, he still lived in Five Island Cove, and she still lived in New York, but he came to see her every chance he got, and she’d been back to the cove several times in the past few months since they’d reconnected. 

Two, AJ had started seeing a therapist. She wasn’t sure why she’d been so resistant to meeting with a mental health professional, only that she’d once believed that admitting she needed help was the worst form of weakness she could exhibit.

She now knew her father was wrong. All of the coaches she’d had over the years were wrong. She herself had been wrong. There was nothing wrong with getting the help she needed to be the best, most whole, and healthiest version of herself that she could be.

It was Dr. Genosie that had kept AJ in New York, actually. If not for the progress AJ had been making with her therapist, she strongly suspected she’d have already made the move back to the cove.

At the same time, AJ did not really want to move back to Five Island Cove. That was the topic of today’s therapy session, and AJ pulled off her sweater and tossed it on her bed. She needed to make the right decisions for her about Five Island Cove, not because Matt lived there and she’d already fallen for him all over again. 

He was precisely the kind of man she’d always wanted to look her way. Had she known he would respect her, show up on time, and hold her when she was uncertain, only providing suggestions if she asked for them, she’d have answered his telephone calls in the months following her departure from the cove.

Matt had gone to college too—right here in New York City—and he’d tried calling her in Miami a few times. She’d had her roommate screen those calls, because she’d been running from the first eighteen years of her life. She didn’t know how sick she was. She truly didn’t believe anyone could love her.

Sometimes she still felt like she was running and still trying to believe she had any worth to anyone.

AJ peered into her closet, which in the apartment she rented, was about the size of a kitchen cabinet and couldn’t be called a closet at all, trying to find something else to wear. She reached for the same black, floral blouse she’d been wearing everywhere lately and tugged it over her head.

It at least lay so it wasn’t obvious that she’d gained a few pounds. She needed to stop eating so much pasta, but she lived above The Noodle Factory, and it was so easy to stop there on her way back from the gym in the morning, and even easier at night when she finished writing her columns in the shared workspace she rented on the next block over.

That was the third reason she was so blissfully happy—her new career as a freelance sports columnist. She could finally get credit for all the contacts she had, all the stories she dug up, and all the knowledge of sports she’d acquired over the years. She’d had no problem selling her columns; as it was, she was booked out for the next three months, as the basketball regular season had just begun, and all football fans everywhere were gearing up for bowl games on the collegiate level, and then the Superbowl in just six weeks.

Everyone wanted to know everything about their favorite athlete’s training schedule, and what they did to stay mentally strong through playoffs and stressful games, and their personal habits to rejuvenate in their off-season downtime.

AJ hadn’t had to call in any personal favors yet, and she was making twice as much as she had writing the stories for the on-air talent at her network. 

It’s also a job you can do from the cove, she thought as she quickly stepped into her boots and reached for her coat. She wasn’t sure why the thought was there; she had never wanted to return to the cove permanently. Just eight months ago, she’d only gone for Joel’s funeral out of sheer obligation. 

So much had changed since April, and AJ wasn’t sorry about any of it. Down on the street, her stomach lurched as she lifted her arm to get a cab. She’d forgotten to eat again, but she reassured herself that Wendy, the woman who sat next to AJ in the shared workspace, would have snacks on her desk. She never minded sharing, and she even brought in the dried apricot and mango that AJ had sampled once and really enjoyed just to offer it to AJ.

She’d head to the creative commons after her session, and she’d be able to eat then. She watched the city go by, seeing images of her life on the windows and walls of the tall buildings. College, which had been one big disappointment, though she’d graduated.

Her failure to make the Olympic track team. Her decline into more men for a year, until she cleaned herself up and got a job in sports broadcasting. 

Her return to college, this time with an emphasis on broadcasting and journalism. Her graduation. Her long relationships that led to dead-ends.

Robin. Alice, Eloise. Kelli. The women who never truly left her, and who’d always accepted her for exactly who she was.

A smile touched her face, and AJ blinked. The images disappeared, and the city became just the city again. 

“Lexington Building,” the cab driver said, and AJ quickly tapped her watch to pay for the ride. Outside, she zipped her coat to her chin and started down the cleared sidewalk. Mother Nature had not been kind this first week of December, and she often felt like an insect bustling through paths with high walls of snow on either side.

Heat greeted her upon opening the door, bursting into her face with the scent of flames and vanilla. The receptionist at the front desk always burned candles, and AJ had started to purchase some of the brand for herself. They were all hand-created, with creative names and scents, from a female-owned business out of California. 

“What’s this variety?” she asked Raymond as she signed into the building.

“Take a chill,” he said. “Vanilla bean ice cream, long naps, and marshmallow dreams.” He grinned at her as he turned the jar toward her.

AJ read the same description, a smile crossing her face too. “I got the Boyfriend’s Sweater one. I love it.”

“Darby loves that one too,” Ray said, taking the check-in clipboard and pressing the button to let her into the building. 

AJ didn’t immediately move toward the door, though if she didn’t pass through it in the next sixty seconds, Ray would have to open it for her again. “She does, huh? And you two are…? Engaged yet?”

“I’m working on it,” Ray said, not meeting AJ’s eye. 

“Are you?” AJ had loved getting to know Ray, and he made it very easy to do that, as he could talk the ear off a deaf man. “What’s the hold-up?” She was at least a decade older than Ray and his girlfriend, but she’d heard a lot about the two of them in the past three months since she’d been coming to the Lexington Building to meet with Dr. Genosie. 

“The hold-up is Darby said she’s not sure she wants to get married.” Ray looked up then, and AJ’s heart tore for him.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Get on out here and hug me.” 

Ray shook his head, a small smile on his face as he did what AJ said. He was a sharp dresser, his hair always combed just-so. She’d thought him a good catch for someone lucky enough to find him, and she couldn’t fathom why his girlfriend didn’t want to marry him.

She wasn’t going to be like Robin, though, and ask. A question did bounce through her mind, but she kept it silent. She’d been on the wrong end of it before, and she would not put another person through the emotional turmoil of wondering if Darby didn’t want to get married in general, or if she simply didn’t want to marry Raymond.

Nathan hadn’t wanted to marry AJ, and that had been a painful, painful realization that she’d already worked through with her therapist. 

“Thanks, AJ,” Ray said, his voice muted and so unlike his own. He stepped back and kept his face turned away from hers as he returned to his desk. “Go on, so I don’t have to open the door again.”

“Okay,” AJ said, stepping toward the door. She didn’t move very fast, adding, “Ray, call me if you need to, okay?”

“Yep,” he said, already back in his seat. AJ went through the door to the bank of elevators that led up to at least a dozen medical offices, knowing Ray wouldn’t call her. They were friendly, and they had exchanged numbers, but she saw him once a week. She didn’t really know him.

AJ thought about the people who she did know, and who knew her. If she needed help, she didn’t need to call Ray or Wendy. She’d call Kelli first, who’d probably alert Eloise or Robin, and the entire Seafaring Girls group would know within minutes.

She swiped on her phone as the elevator took her to the sixteenth floor and checked the group text string the five of them had started months ago. Nothing new, and Eloise’s message about how the inn would be ready for her holiday guests was the last one.

AJ had read it an hour ago, when it had come in, and she hadn’t wanted to be the first to respond. Since no one else had either, she assumed she wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to be the first to confirm they’d be in the cove for Christmas and that she couldn’t wait to see The Cliffside Inn in all its glory.

She had no hesitation about going; her plane ticket was already booked, and she’d already made several plans with Matt. She’d love to gush over the inn, too. 

Last time the five of them had gotten together over the summer, they’d assigned meals and planned activities together. Someone would need to spearhead all of that, and it shouldn’t have to be Eloise just because they would gather at the inn for a night or two. Or Alice, because she owned that huge house on Rocky Ridge.

AJ could see herself doing it, because her articles for the college bowl games were already outlined. All she had to do was wait to see who won, get a couple of quotes, make some minor adjustments, and they’d be done. 

As the elevator dinged her arrival, she quickly sent, Thank you, El. I’ll put together a meal schedule, okay? Unless anyone has any objections, I can do activities too, since Matt and I already looked into everything happening around the cove during the holidays.  

She’d barely given her name and sat down to wait before a flurry of texts arrived. Thanks, AJ, Alice had said. With the upcoming move, I’m so scattered.

No objections, Kelli had said. We’ll be a day early to see the inn, Eloise, if that’s okay.

Take it away, AJ! Robin had said, ever the cheerleader of the group.

AJ smiled at all of them, wondering why no one wanted to text first. She couldn’t quite pinpoint why she hadn’t wanted to either, and she looked up, trying to examine her feelings and make sense of them. 

“AJ,” Dr. Genosie said, and she looked toward the door where the woman stood. “I’m ready for you.”

AJ smiled back at her, ready to do this too. She needed to determine whether or not she could return to the cove the way her other friends had, and if that was in her best interest and not because she felt left out.

* * *

A week later, AJ disembarked from the plane and hustled through the wind to get inside the airport on Diamond Island. At least it’s not raining, she thought, because she’d been in the slanted, sideways rain that plagued Five Island Cove in the winter, and it wasn’t pleasant. It could be as sharp as needles and as cold as ice, and a booming clap of thunder filled the sky as she stepped inside the airport.

Cries rose up, and AJ suspected the people in the waiting areas had been there for a while—and would be staying a little longer. Planes didn’t take off in the driving rainstorms, and it was cold enough today to produce snow.

Sure enough, when she arrived at baggage claim, an announcement sounded through the whole airport. “All planes have been grounded for the next ninety minutes,” a male voice said. He continued to talk over the groans of those who wanted to leave the cove, and the relieved conversations of those who’d made it in.

AJ wasn’t sure how to feel. She’d come to the cove two weeks early, and not for a reason she wanted anyone to know about. She’d seen Dr. Genosie yesterday, but she’d already changed her plane ticket and packed her bag at that point. Meeting with the therapist had only confirmed what AJ knew to be right.

She hadn’t told a single person she was coming today, not even the man she’d come to see. Her pulse fluttered in her throat, not strong enough to choke her. She’d been through that debilitating feeling of losing everything already, and it was time to do something about it.

After lifting her own bags from the belt, she went toward the RideShare line, hoping that wouldn’t be too delayed, though she knew it would be. 

Her mind raced, as it had been doing for the past three days, since she’d learned of her condition. She’d been working through so much since then. Flight changes. Laundry. Submitting a couple of articles early and pulling others. Packing. Flying. 

“Ma’am,” the attendant said, and she clued in. The man already stood at the back door of a sedan, waiting for her to take the RideShare.

“Thanks,” she said.

He helped her with the bags, and gratitude filled AJ. She didn’t want to lift them into the trunk, and she hoped the driver could help her once she arrived at her destination.

A woman sat behind the wheel, and AJ’s hopes withered slightly. “Where to?” the driver asked, a pretty smile on her face. She eased away from the curb before AJ could comprehend the question.

“Oh, uh, seventy-four Hillshire Drive,” she said, her stomach and chest rioting against what she was doing. 

But it had to be done. 

The drive didn’t take long—or maybe AJ had zoned out again. She didn’t need to take her luggage to the door, but she didn’t have anywhere else to store it. She probably should’ve gone to the hotel first, but she hadn’t allowed herself to even think of it. If she didn’t just tell him, she was worried she’d chicken out.

The driver did help her with the bags, and then AJ faced the simple yet stylish house that sat only two blocks from the beach. The rain had definitely driven Matt indoors, and he’d told her once that he didn’t stay at the clubhouse if he didn’t have to.

“He’ll be home,” she whispered to herself as she towed her suitcases up his front sidewalk. She’d just stepped under the protection of the eaves when the rain started. She tugged her biggest suitcase out of the way and reached to knock.

He’d tried to replace the doorbell a month or so ago, but he’d ended up shorting out the whole assembly and hadn’t gotten back to it yet, so she knew she couldn’t press the button and get any results.

AJ’s knuckles against the door sounded like gunshots to her own ears, and she only rapped four times. With all the rain and thunder, perhaps Matt wouldn’t hear her.

Her fingers shook, as did her chin, and she told herself it was just because of the cold temperatures in Five Island Cove. 

Matt didn’t answer, and AJ’s thoughts scattered again. She’d tried, right? She could just go get warm in the hotel now. 

“No.” She shook her head and knocked again. 

Only a few seconds later, the door opened, and Matt stood there. Handsome, tall, refined, mature Matthew Hymas. “AJ,” he said, clearly surprised. A smile touched his mouth as he stepped back. “Come in out of the rain. Come in.”

He didn’t ask what she was doing there. He reached to help her with her luggage. He closed the door behind her and drew her into a tight embrace, the fabric of his polo soft and slick against her skin. 

“What a great surprise.” His voice was soft and tender in her ear, his voice rumbling from his chest to hers. All of her fears evaporated, because he was so perfect. He could handle what she needed to tell him. “What are you doing here?” 

AJ drew in a breath, realizing how shakily it entered her lungs. “I have to tell you something,” she said. She stepped back, because she needed to see his face when she told him. All of her worries returned, because she and Matt had already spoken about this topic, and his desires were crystal clear.

“Uh, Matt, I don’t know how to say this, so I guess I’ll just say it.” She looked him right in the eye and exhaled, the air sort of sounding like a nearly-silent machine gun. “I’m pregnant, Matt. The baby is yours.”

A baby he’d told her he didn’t want.

When he just stood there, saying nothing, doing nothing—barely even breathing and blinking—extreme foolishness filled AJ. After all, she was forty-five years old, and she knew how to make sure this particular brand of unexpectedness didn’t happen. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, tears filling her eyes. Everything inside her broke, and she realized then that Dr. Genosie had been right to be cautious. AJ had somehow created a fantasy out of Matt’s reaction, and he hadn’t given her what she’d conjured in her mind. 

Her tears spilled down her face, and that was finally when Matt wrapped her up in his arms again and let her cry against his shoulder. He still didn’t say anything, though, and AJ really hated reality in that moment. 

Finally, he whispered, “Shh, AvaJane. Don’t be sorry,” and those were the best words AJ had ever heard in her entire life.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “This is about five friends that meet at the Cove for Christmas. They all have problems and issues. They all have secrets, but they are friends. I found this to be a great story. This is about holidays and friends and coming together. It was warm and fuzzy and I think we can all relate to having friends like these. HIghly recommend this book if you just want a warm feel good story.” CathLynn

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “I truly enjoyed catching up with these ladies and their lives. What a better time of year to do that than at Christmas. I look forward to the next book in the series. I don’t often read books more than once, but I love these women and have re-read these. Kudos to Jessie on another great installment!” ~Michele R.

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Take a vacation any time of year in the seaside town of Five Island Cove!

Meet five best friends as they reunite after years apart and rekindle their strong bond with one another, weather storms, and uncover secrets that have been lying dormant for decades...

This series is best read IN ORDER, as each book builds on the other and there are open storylines throughout. Each book features these amazing friends as they reunite and bring others into their fold, addresses the woman's journey later in life, and shows sweet, closed-door romance!

  • Book 1: The Lighthouse

    After the death of a childhood loved one, 5 best friends reunite in the small coastal town of Five Island Cove. One doesn't expect to find love with a high school crush. Another isn't prepared to find the strength she needs to take control of her life. And none of them are ready for the secrets they'll uncover at the lighthouse...

  • Book 2: The Summer Sand Pact

    Get ready for more secrets to come to light in Five Island Cove, and for these five women to show each other what it means to love and support someone through thick and thin.

  • Book 3: The Cliffside Inn

    With their different personalities and in their different states of mind, none of these best friends are prepared for the secret contained within the walls of The Cliffside Inn. They've survived tough situations before, but this might be the thing that tears them apart for good...

  • Book 4: Christmas at the Cove

    Secrets are never discovered during the holidays, right? That's what these five best friends are banking on as they gather once again to Five Island Cove for what they hope will be a Christmas to remember.

  • Book 5: The House on Seabreeze Shore

    Join best friends, old and new, Robin, Alice, Eloise, Kelli, Laurel, and AJ as they learn about themselves, strengthen their bonds of friendship, and learn what it truly means to thrive.

  • Book 6: Four Weddings and a Baby

    Four weddings and a baby are on their way to Five Island Cove! Join Alice, AJ, Kelli, Robin, Kristen, Eloise, and Laurel as they learn how strong they really are, and the great power they hold as women, and as friends, in any circumstance.

  • Book 7: The Seafaring Girls

    When someone returns to the Cove no one ever expected to see again, old wounds open just as they'd started to heal. This group of women will be tested again, both on land and at sea, just as they once were as teens.

  • Book 8: Rebuilding Friendship Inn

    A single phone call changes everything.

    Will these women in Five Island Cove rally around one another as they've been doing? Or will this finally be the thing that breaks them?

  • Book 9: The Glass Dolphin

    With fresh challenges and ever-deepening bonds, these incredible women remind each other, and themselves, of the enduring power of friendship, love, and the resilience of the human spirit. As the truth unravels, the limits of their courage and the strength of their sisterhood will be tested in ways they never imagined.

  • Book 10: The Bicycle Book Club

    When Tessa decides to look into the past to help shape the future, what she finds in the Five Island Cove library archives could bring them closer together…or splinter them forever.

Get more romance & women's fiction in Getaway Bay!

Join the wedding planners, billionaires, and hometown heroes that live in small-town Getaway Bay! It's the perfect blend of sun, sand, beaches, and sweet romance.

Read this series if you like:

✔ Beach reads

✔ Forced proximity

✔ Billionaires

✔ Military heroes

✔ Fake dating tropes

✔ Friends to lovers

✔ Rockstar romance

✔ Single dads

✔ Perfect small town beach settings

✔ Sweet & Steamy kisses