The gravel road that wound its way up to the old lighthouse was in dire need of a grading job. The heavy storm that had blown through the town two days ago had washed major ruts into the road, and the early morning darkness was making driving difficult. Matthew Porter shifted the truck into a lower gear and tried not to spill his hot coffee all down the front of him. He wanted the caffeine in his stomach, not poured all over the crotch of his jeans.
Matt knew this particular road like his own driveway. He had traveled it while riding anything from a broken-down old bike when he was eight to a Honda motorcycle he had driven for two years back when he had been in his early twenties. He had spent many an hour sitting up on Carrie's Hill watching the sun come up and drinking his first cup of coffee. There was nothing more beautiful or spectacular than a Maine sunrise. It helped put the world into a perspective he could understand.
In the predawn light he steered his truck over the last rise in the road and frowned. A fancy red SUV was parked in front of Misty Harbor's lighthouse. He never ran into anyone at the lighthouse at dawn, except once in a while one of the deputies patroling the area or catching a catnap. This morning was different.
Nothing different ever happened in Misty Harbor, especially to him. His life was as predictable as the sun rising in the east.
Matt parked his truck and glanced across the mist-shrouded grass to the small rise that was known by the locals as Carrie's Hill. In the ever-increasing light he saw a woman sitting on a blanket cradling a cup between her hands and looking back at him. A child was asleep next to her on the blanket. The woman didn't appear to be lost.
For one fanciful moment he wondered if she was waiting for him. All his dreams were spread out before him, being lightened by the rising sun. It was as if he had stepped into an alternative reality and he had been granted his every wish: the lighthouse, the beautiful woman, and even the child.
Matt shook his head to clear away those uncharacteristic whimsical thoughts and returned to reality. He was about as fanciful as an NFL linebacker. He blamed his active imagination on the lack of coffee. It was payback for leaving his place without the first cup of caffeine flowing through his blood stream. But he had been in a hurry to watch the sun crest the horizon.
He held his still-filled cup of coffee in one hand, reached for the Thermos with the other, and got out of the truck. He could either go find another peaceful, quiet spot to enjoy the sunrise, or he could go make nice with the tourist. The woman wasn't from around there. He knew every female within ten miles between the ages of twenty and forty.
People who got up before the crack of dawn just to see the sunrise interested him. All three of his brothers usually got up while it was still dark out, but not a one of them made time to appreciate the beauty of the new day's arrival. His brothers were always too busy getting ready for work and to start their day.
He was curious as to what had made the woman and child leave their beds and head for Carrie's Hill, and who had told them this was the best spot in town to watch the sun rise above the horizon. It wasn't like the lighthouse was the town's hot spot.
Misty Harbor didn't have a hot spot, just a couple of warm ones, depending on who you were and what you were looking to do. The Catch of the Day restaurant was the place to go if you were in the mood for a great meal that wasn't served with french fries or in a bag. Tourists flocked to Lawrence Blake's Whale Watching Boat Tours like lemmings off a cliff, paying a nice chunk of change to hopefully spot one of the many whales that fed off the Maine coast during the warm summer months. For those of less discernable taste there was the One-Eyed Squid north of town. There, one could always find a cold beer, a challenging game of pool, or a barroom brawl, depending on one's mood.
While all the town's brochures mentioned the lighthouse and its 180-year history, none of them raved about the beauty of the sunrise. The tourists flocked to Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island to catch the first glimpse of the rising sun, not Carrie's Hill. Carrie's Hill was his secret.
So who's been spreading his secret to the summer migration? He headed for the woman huddled in her pale pink hooded sweatshirt.
He was a couple feet away from the quilt when he saw the wariness in her expression. For the first time he realized her vulnerable position. She was a lone woman, with a small child on a deserted cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with a strange man approaching. He watched as one of her slender hands slipped into the front pocket of the sweatshirt.
He stopped. “Part of me is hoping you're smart enough to be carrying a can of pepper spray or something that would help you out if you were in trouble.” He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “The other part of me is praying you're not one of those people who shoots first and asks questions later.”
She kept her hand in the pocket. “I'd be stupid to comment on what exactly is in my pocket, wouldn't I?”
“Someone taught you right.” Matt smiled at the touch of humor lightening her words. He could see her stunning face and the smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. It probably had been her husband, and the father of the child laying beside her, who had given her a can of mace and safety tips. With a yellow blanket tucked up to the child's chin, he couldn't tell if it was a boy, or a girl with really short hair.
He gave her another nonthreatening smile but didn't step closer. “Matthew Porter, born and raised in Misty Harbor. Anyone in town can vouch for me.”
“Sierra Morley, and the town's still tucked in their beds. It would be kind of hard to ask them.”
“So why aren't you?” He chuckled at the child. “Someone obviously is still visiting with Mr. Sandman.”
“My son, Austin.” Sierra placed the empty cup on the blanket next to her and then reached over to brush a lock of brown hair off her son's brow. “Half an hour ago he was wide awake and pleading to see the sunrise.”
Matt glanced over his shoulder at the pinkish-orange light filling the distant horizon. “Well, you might want to wake him up, then. The show is about to start.” He had never shared a sunrise with anyone before. “Want some company?”
Sierra looked hesitant. He didn't blame her. He couldn't imagine what her husband was thinking, allowing her to leave their bed without him. Some men didn't use the sense they were born with.
“Who's that, Mommy?” Austin sat up, rubbed his eyes, and stared up at him.
“Matt Porter.” He squatted so his height wouldn't look so intimidating to the small child. Six feet three inches was a long way for a child to look up. “I come here all the time to see the sunrise.”
Austin's eyes grew wider. “You do? Why?”
“Because it's the best part of the day.” Matt couldn't help but grin at the boy. Austin had a severe case of bed head. “Why did you want to see the sun come up?”
“Because my mommy said it looks like it rises right out of the ocean.”
“That it does.” Austin looked a little too young to grasp the concept of orbits and planetary movements. Matt pointed out to the horizon. “Keep your eye on that spot right there.”
“Where?” Austin pushed aside the blanket and stood up. “I don't see it.”
“That's because it's not up yet.” Matt positioned the boy in front of him and pointed again. “See where all the pink and orange is? Right where the ocean meets the sky.”
Austin squinted. “How come all the clouds are pink? The sun's yellow and clouds are post-to-be white.”
Sierra chuckled and stood up to stand next to her son. “That's his father coming out of him. Jake would question the devil himself.”
So much for that fantasy that Austin's father wasn't in the picture. The lighter it got, the more beautiful Sierra became. Her eyes were sea-tossed gray and she had a pair of legs on her that went halfway to heaven. Sierra Morley was five feet ten inches of willowy curves and an impossibly long blond ponytail.
Matt pulled his gaze off of Sierra's face and smiled at her son. “There's nothing wrong with having a good curiosity. Keep watching where all the pink and orange is. That's where the sun will rise.” He made sure the boy was looking in the right direction. “The clouds are all pink and orange because of the way the light is hitting them.”
“Why?” Austin didn't take his eyes off the distant horizon.
“Something about particles in the atmosphere.” Matt wasn't sure if that was exactly right. Tenth-grade science had been many years in his past, and he had been more interested in football and girls than in what the teacher had been lecturing.
Before Austin could question him further, the top of the sun rose above the misty horizon. With the light reflecting off the mist and the water, it did appear as if the sun was rising magically from the depths of the ocean.
“I see it, Mom!” Austin started to jump up and down and pointed out toward the sea. “Do you see it, Mom? Do you?”
“Yes, I see it.” Sierra was laughing at the sight of her son's excitement.
Matt hadn't seen a kid this excited since Christmas morning at his brother's place. His five-year-old nephew, Tyler, nearly wet himself when he saw all the presents Santa had left under their tree. “Easy there, Austin. The sun comes up this way every morning.”
“Four-year-olds get excited easily.” Sierra was still laughing with her son.
“I have two nephews and two nieces. I've seen excitement before.”
“Oh, no children of your own?” Sierra grabbed the back of Austin's sweatshirt when he started to head down the hill toward the cliffs. “Austin, I told you before, you must stay up here with me. It's too dangerous near the edge.”
“Your mother's right, Austin. It's not safe.” He glanced at Sierra's left hand but didn't see a wedding band or an engagement ring. She was wearing a silver and turquoise ring on one of her other fingers, though. Interesting, but it didn't mean anything.
“I'm not married, so no children.” He wasn't about to tell her that his mother would wipe the floor with his sorry butt if he had gotten a woman pregnant and not married her. Peggy Porter was a force to be reckoned with when things didn't go her way. All four of her sons, and husband, made sure things went Peggy's way.
“It's getting bigger! It's getting bigger!” shouted Austin, almost breaking free of his mother's grip.
“Hey, take it easy. The sun's not going anywhere.” He glanced at the quilt still spread out on the ground. “Why don't we sit down on Carrie's Hill and watch it come all the way up?”
“Carrie's Hill?” Sierra looked intrigued, while her son still looked like he wanted to join the sun out in the middle of the ocean. Sierra gently guided her son to the blanket and made him sit next to her.
Matt sat on the edge of the faded quilt. There was no sense in getting the seat of his jeans damp. “We're sitting on it. This little rise is known by the locals as Carrie's Hill.”
“Who's Carrie?” Sierra asked.
Carrie.” Matt looked at Austin, but the boy wasn't paying him the least bit of attention. He was still fascinated by the fiery ball rising from the sea. The sun appeared to have molten gold dripping off of it and back into the ocean. “Carrie Porter was my great, great, I think another great is in there, grandmother. She was married to the first Horatio Porter.”
“How many Horatio Porters were there?” Sierra looked amused but was polite enough not to laugh at the name.
“Four.” He was still extremely thankful that his grandfather, Horatio the fourth, hated the name and had refused to carry on the family tradition of naming one of his sons Horatio. With a name like Horatio he would have had to learn how to fight at a lot younger age.
“Carrie's Horatio was a captain of a ship that transported lumber down the coast to the major cities, like Boston and New York. When his ship was due back she used to come up here so she would be the first to spot his ship. Even after the kids started to come, she used to haul them all up here to look for their dad.
“Rain, snow, or heat of summerâit didn't matter. Carrie had promised her husband she would be the first to spot his ship, and Horatio had promised to always return. Family legend has it that one of her mad buckboard dashes down to the harbor to greet his ship put her into early labor. By the time Horatio docked and was able to leave the ship, he had a new baby daughter waiting for him in the harbormaster's office. Since Carrie wouldn't break her promise, dear old great-great-Grandpop had to time his trips better after that. It had been a hard life back then.”
“Is this the part where you tell me she died here waiting for his ship, which was lost at sea, to return?” Sierra's expression said it all. She was waiting for a typical dismal Hollywood ending.
“Nope.” He grinned. “Carrie and Horatio had seven children and lived a good life well into their eighties.”
Sierra looked like she either wanted to hit him or laugh. “You did that on purpose, didn't you?”
He couldn't help but chuckle. “Did what?”
“Look, Mom,” cried Austin. “It's almost out.”
Sierra dutifully looked where her son was pointing. “It sure is, sweetie.” Seeing the excitement on Austin's face as the sun rose from the ocean made the cross-country trip to Maine worth it. The jet lag didn't bother her, but Austin's internal clock was all messed up. Nothing but her son could get her out of bed at this ungodly hour.
She glanced over at Matt Porter and thought about all the things that might get her
a bed. The handsomely rugged jean-clad man just might rank very high on that list. Usually it was total exhaustion that had her thinking about a nice soft mattress and a down comforter. This morning her hormones had decided to leave common sense behind when they went on their flight of fancy. Either that or there was something in Misty Harbor's water supply.