Thunder Point Book #9
September 14, 2020
MIRA Paperback, eBook, audio
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River series, Robyn Carr, rediscover the charming coastal town of Thunder Point, where hard work and determination are all it takes to make dreams come true.
Blake Smiley searched the country for just the right place to call home. The professional triathlete has traveled the world, but Thunder Point has what he needs to put down the roots he’s never had. In the quiet town, he can focus on his training without distractions. Until he meets his new neighbors and everything changes.
Lin Su Simmons and her teenage son, Charlie, are fixtures at Winnie Banks’s house as Lin Su nurses Winnie through the realities of ALS. A single mother, Lin Su is proud of taking charge and never showing weakness. But she has her hands full coping with a job, debt and Charlie’s health issues. And Charlie is asking questions about his family history—questions she doesn’t want to answer.
When Charlie enlists Blake’s help to escape his overprotective mother, Lin Su resents the interference in her life. But Blake is certain he can break through her barriers and be the man she and Charlie need. When faced with a terrible situation, Blake comes to the rescue, and Lin Su realizes he just might be the man of her dreams. Together, they recognize that family is who you choose it to be.
Originally pulished August 2015 in mass market paperback and eBook.
It was the third week of August, the house next to Winnie’s was complete inside and out, and a moving truck had finally backed up to the garage. Charlie had seen the new owner back when he’d first looked at the house. He’d ridden across the beach road on a cycle—a very expensive looking, professional cycle. He’d visited with Cooper on the deck that faced the bay. They went into the house together and didn’t come back out, at least on the beach side. Cooper had later reported the guy with the cycle was interested and made an offer.
When the moving truck pulled up and began to unload, Charlie went out front to have a look. All the houses along this ridge backed up to the Pacific, the perfect view from their decks and living rooms, but their front doors and garages faced the road at the top of the hill. Charlie saw it was Cooper talking to the movers, so he waited patiently until Cooper was done discussing.
“Just be sure that gym equipment gets downstairs—it’s heavy. He’s making the game room on the lower level his workout room. Living quarters on this level. You should be able to identify the master bedroom, kitchen, living room, bath, et cetera, on this floor for everything else. I’ll be down at the bar when you’re ready for me to sign off on delivery.”
When Cooper was walking back to the bar, he passed right by Charlie. “Who’s moving in, Cooper? The guy with the million dollar bike?”
Cooper grinned. “The same. He’s out of town right now.”
“In a cycle race?” Charlie asked.
“Triathlon in Australia.”
“Holy smokes,” Charlie said. “He’s an Ironman!”
Cooper laughed. “He is.”
“What’s his name?” Charlie asked.
“Blake Smiley. You going to look him up?”
“It’s what I do, Cooper. You want me to fill you in?”
“I think I have enough information, but thanks.”
“You ever want to compete in a triathlon, Cooper?”
“Absolutely never,” he said, clearly amused. “Not that I don’t admire the folks that can do that …”
“When’s he going to be here?”
“I’m not sure. Any day now, I guess.”
“I’m going to track the race. Do you know where in Australia?”
“Can there be a lot of them?” Cooper asked. “No, I don’t know where.”
But Charlie got on it. He got out his laptop and looked the guy up. This was what Charlie had been doing for a long time—finding information and learning on his laptop, because he didn’t have a lot of friends and couldn’t run and play like the other kids. Charlie had suffered from some serious allergies and asthma as a little kid and was therefore confined to a quieter life. He believed it was his frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia when he was younger that resulted in him being a little undersized for his age. Either that or some Vietnamese roots through his mother’s side of the family. But then one day someone passed on an old laptop, showed him how to use it, and all those indoor days had resulted in a smarter than average fourteen year old.
Charlie’s mother, Lin Su, was Amerasian. Since Charlie’s biological father was white American, he supposed that made him Amer-amerasian. He could see Vietnam in his black hair and dark eyes.
He looked up Blake Smiley. The man had been racing for fifteen years. He went to college on a scholarship and was thirty-seven years old. Smiley was a world champion many times over, having scored his first gold in Oahu; he held a couple of records, had a degree in biology and physiology and was sponsored by a few corporations and even made a commercial for a fancy a juice mixer. A juice mixer? Charlie wondered. Never married, he had concentrated on his sport for the past ten years, and it had been an excellent ten years, medal-wise. Smiley was also a coach, consultant and sometimes motivational speaker. Charlie was in love with Ted Talks; he’d love to be smart enough or experienced enough to teach or inspire people with his accomplishments. “He’s a god,” Charlie muttered to himself. And then there was his size. He was five-ten and 150 pounds. Not huge. Charlie found that encouraging.
He’d seen the guy. He looked so strong. So ripped. He saw him ride his bike down the beach road, pick it up and jog up two flights of stairs to meet Cooper on the deck of that house he bought. But as pro athletes go, he was medium sized.
The second thing to intrigue him —Smiley had to teach himself to swim. He gave speeches about how he built his athletic career on survival instincts and practice.
Charlie couldn’t swim. His mother freaked out if he even ran, and he sure hadn’t had a pool in the back yard. He wanted to swim. He’d spent the summer hanging out here on the beach, watching the older kids paddle boarding and lately, wind surfing. He’d had a ride on a paddleboard with someone else paddling. And he’d been wearing a life vest….
Charlie closed the laptop and went to Winnie’s bedroom. He knocked lightly on the door. There was no telling what was going on in there. It could be bathing, primping, reading, or maybe Winnie was sleeping. “Come in,” his mother said.
He pushed open the door and saw that his mother had been giving Winnie a manicure. Winnie loved manicures. Winnie had become a good friend; they spent a lot of time on their laptops together, talking, figuring things out.
“You are never going to believe this,” he said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “The new guy next door? He’s an Ironman!”
He was creaky and stiff. His body had become a little less responsive in the last few years. Things like pre-race training and international travel were beginning to take its toll. And it was odd going home to his own house. It was his first. People wouldn’t guess that. He was thirty-seven and had never owned a home. Not even a condo or townhouse. He’d given the location a great deal of thought. He wanted to be near the ocean; he liked the cold of the Pacific. As a workout it was more taxing than warm water; the unforgiving nature of the ocean was more realistic than a tame lake or pool for training. He needed altitude training and he had that in Oregon. Everywhere he looked, mountains. He had seriously considered Boulder or Truckee, but at the end of the day he liked this little spot. When he wasn’t racing he was training. and when he wasn’t training, he was living. He could get his training done here. And while he might keep up with the training for life, he wasn’t going to race professionally forever. For living he wanted a quiet place like this that wasn’t overrun by professional athletes and Olympians. Shake a tree in Boulder or Truckee. and ten Olympic contenders fell out.
He spent his first day unpacking, arranging his gym, a short work out to keep from stiffening up after a seventeen hour plane ride. Then he drove into a larger town to the grocery, rounding up his food. He stuck to mostly organic vegetables, legumes and grains, including quinoa. He ordered his supplements online. He wasn’t a vegetarian. For his purposes he found it served him best if he mixed up a little poultry and beef to add to his vegetables, kale and quinoa. Cooper had tipped him off that if he got friendly with Cliff, who owned the seafood restaurant at the marina, he could get fresh fish, crab and other shell fish.
When he was training, which was almost year round, he avoided or at least limited his favorite things—cheese, simple starchy carbs, the most flavorful fats, like butter and cream. He limited his alcohol to the occasional beer. But when he was off season and his training was moderate, when he was relaxing for a little while, he indulged. Not too much, of course, because no one was more disciplined. But a good, greasy pizza was the best thing in the world as far as he was concerned. And yes, he could make his own vegetarian with a gluten-free crust, but if he was indulging that wouldn’t get it. The way he grew up, he still longed for those things he couldn’t have. and pizza and beer were a couple of those things.
His second day home he woke up too early, blended up one of his special drinks, stretched out, dragged on a wet suit and hit the bay. It was eight thirty, but the sun wasn’t quite up, given all that sea fog, and the water was icy. He didn’t know the exact distance across the bay, but after a fifty-minute swim he’d have an idea. He had already measured a couple of bike and running routes before making an offer on the house.
He loved the house. He’d looked at a hundred of them, at least, in a lot of places, including Hawaii. Hawaii was tempting; the lifestyle was alluring. But he thought most of his future work would be in the US, and while he didn’t mind travel, he’d like to be able to have a base less than ten hours away. If work took him to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles he could get home to Thunder Point in six hours or less. Boulder, being in the center of the U.S., was practical but wasn’t as tempting as this unpretentious little fishing village on the ocean. There was a house on Cape Cod he liked. but the east coast beyond the cape wasn’t as peaceful or traffic friendly as Oregon. He remembered asking Cooper, “Doesn’t anyone know about this place yet?” The freeways weren’t clogged, the air was clean, there were some wide open spaces … When he was ten years old, the idea that he could live wherever he wished had never occurred to him. But then, when he was ten his most urgent concern was eating and staying warm.
He set the timer on his watch, walked in, dove, swam out past the haystack rocks and began swimming from end to end across the bay. When the timer went off, he’d made seven trips across the bay—he judged the distance across the beach as slightly more than a quarter of a mile. Maybe four-tenths of a mile. He had a laser measuring tool, and later he’d check to see how close he’d been, but even those devices weren’t perfect. By the time he exited the water, the sun was shining. He’d ride for a few hours today, tomorrow he’d take a run. He’d do one test triathlon before the next competition, only one.
There was a kid sitting on the beach stairs to the house next door to his. He had a laptop balanced on his knees and wore black framed glasses. Blake shook off the excess water and pulled off his hood and goggles. He walked up to the kid. “Hey,” he said, a little breathless.
“Hey,” the kid said. “You came in second in Sydney.”
Blake smiled. I had a good race.”
“Your times were good, but McGill beat you. He beats you pretty regular.”
“You stalking me, kid?”
“Nah, just looked you up. So—what made it a good race?”
“First, what’s your name? Since you know mine.”
“I’m Charlie,” he said, sticking out a hand. And with one finger on the other hand he pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“Nice to meet you, Charlie. I guess you know me already.”
“I asked Cooper who you were, and he said you were in Australia, and I looked you up.” He gave a shrug. “You have a pretty good record.”
“Thanks,” Blake said, lifting a brow in question. In fact, he had a great record. “What else did you find out about me?”
“Well … you had to teach yourself to swim.”
“How’d you do that?”
“The same way I learned almost everything—survival. I fell in a pool. Or maybe I got pushed in, I can’t remember. And I couldn’t swim. Went down like a rock.”
“Did you have to get rescued?”
“Nope. It was in college, and I was at a pool party. I don’t think anyone was paying attention. I held my breath and walked out. My lungs just about exploded.”
“You walked out?” Charlie asked, astonished.
“That was my only option at the time. I was an expert on depth, because I couldn’t swim. Every time I was near a pool I made sure I knew where the shallow and deep ends where. I fell in the middle, eyeballed the shallow end and walked. It was slow. Nobody knows the depth and contour of a pool like a kid who can’t swim. Then I taught myself to swim, because walking out in water over your head isn’t a good experience. I read about swimming, practiced it real carefully. I watched some video of little kids taking lessons.”
“That pool you walked out of wasn’t that big, I guess.”
“Any pool when you’re in over your head is big. After that I learned to tread water real fast, and then since I knew nothing, teaching me to swim was kind of easy—there were no bad habits to unlearn.”
“They start you out with a safety jacket?” Charlie asked.
“Nah, that’s not the best way to learn to swim. Best way to stay alive if you have an accident, though. Even experienced swimmers will wear flotation jackets under certain circumstances. The best way is to learn to respect the water, learn the moves, breathe right, understand buoyancy. They teach babies, you know. They don’t use any flotation devices, they teach them to hold their breath, fan the water, to kick, to roll over on their backs to breathe, to … Hey, you swim, right?”
Charlie shook his head.
“You live on a beach and don’t swim?”
He shook his head again. “I don’t live here. My mom works for Mrs. Banks. Since I come with her to work every day, I’m going to go to school here in town, but we live … we live a few miles away.”
“And you don’t swim,” Blake said again.
Charlie shook his head. “That never came up before.”
Blake laughed. He understood that completely. “So, what’s up with Mrs. Banks?”
“ALS. She’s doing good. She’s not end stage,” Charlie said, as if he understood such things. “She still walks a little bit but never alone, and my mom is optimistic. But she needs a nurse, and it’s not my mom’s first ALS patient. I’m really sorry she has ALS, but I think I’m going to like the school …. Well, for as long as my mom works for Mrs. Banks.”
“Hopefully a long time,” Blake said.
“Yeah, for her sake, for sure. So what made it a good race? You got beat.”
“Gimme a break, will you? I came in second—that’s a damn good show. Like you said, McGill beats me regularly. This time, though, he announced his retirement next year.” Blake made a face. “Gonna really miss that guy.” Then he laughed. “Seriously, I had good times. I was close to my personal best swimming, and in case you haven’t figured it out, that’s not my easiest sport. But I run like the wind.”
Charlie just grinned at him.
“I guess I better come next door and introduce myself to Mrs. Banks, huh? After I clean up, of course. What’s her schedule like?”
“After her nap, right before dinner, everyone is usually around. And she’s downright perky.”
“Everyone?” Blake asked.
“Well, Mrs. Banks’ daughter, Grace and her husband, Troy, are there. And there’s Mikhail. He’s been hanging around ever since he found out Winnie has ALS. Mikhail used to be Grace’s coach. For like years. She’s a champion athlete, too. So you’re not the only one.”
“Is that so?” Blake asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Figure skating gold medalist,” Charlie said. “A while ago, though. She retired.”
Blake frowned. The name “Grace” didn’t sound familiar at all.
“I guess she used to be called Izzy when she was skating.”
“Oh Jesus, Izzy Banks?” he asked. “You’re kidding, right?”
“And her mother—Winnie Banks,” Charlie said. “Grace is like a second generation champion.”
Now what were the odds? Blake asked himself. Winnie and Izzy were a famous mother/daughter skating duo. Winnie quit skating to marry her coach, and they produced one of the best known women’s figure skating champions in the world. “Unreal. What’s she doing now?”
“Well, she owns the flower shop, and she’s having a baby,” Charlie said. “Troy is a high school teacher. And in that house there,” he said, pointing to the house between Winnie’s and Cooper’s, “Spencer and Devon live there. Spencer and Cooper have a son together.”
Blake’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that so? Two men …?”
Charlie laughed. “Not like that. One of them is the dad, and one is the stepdad or something like that, I can’t figure out which is which, but Austin’s mom died a couple of years ago. Now Spencer is married to Devon, and Cooper is married to Sarah. And Austin has two bedrooms.”
After all the house and community shopping Blake had done he managed to somehow land in a neighborhood where kids had moms, step moms, dads and step dads, missing dads and so on. Where he grew up in Baltimore it was like that, but usually someone in the family was in jail, and there sure weren’t any three-story houses on the beach or champion athletes hanging around. Just gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps. There were missing parents, dead parents and foster parents, kids raised by aunts, grandmothers and neighbors. Families of every creative invention, now that he thought of it. Back when he was a kid, you practically needed a chart to figure out who belonged with whom. He was always a little surprised when folks who could pay the rent had similar family trees.
No beach houses where he grew up, no sir. He was raised to the age of thirteen in an urban tenement slum in a city that got so freaking cold in the winter he hung out with vagrants who built fires in trash cans under the tracks and bridges. From thirteen to sixteen he bounced around a lot while his mother tried to get her life together, but at least he went to school regularly. That turned out to be critical. An education was the thing that ultimately got him out of a neighborhood where a lot of young men and women lost track of their lives.
“What do you do on that computer besides research your neighbors?” Blake asked Charlie.
“I look up everything. Anything I can get for you?” he asked. And then he grinned the cutest grin.
Blake had a real soft spot for kids. All kids. But he didn’t worry too much about this type, the kind of kid who grew up in places like brand new, pricey, three-story beach houses with famous retired athletes. He was more concerned about the kids who had tough, deprived childhoods. He’d been working on a project for the last several years meant to serve kids in need, and he was nearly ready to unveil it as soon as he had a couple more corporate sponsors on board.
He liked Charlie right away. He felt privileged that he’d be seeing him around. “There is something you can do for me. I have to get on the bike and do at least fifty miles. Then home and clean up.” He looked at his watch. “Any time after one o’clock that your mother thinks is okay to come over and meet my neighbors, could you let me know?”
“Could be closer to dinner time if you want to meet them all. Troy has been helping Grace at the shop.”
“I don’t want to impose on dinner—just a quick hello. I’m home the rest of the day,” Blake assured him.
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.