Closed until June 13
Michael Hunter stared at the hand-lettered sign on the Gull Motel office, expelled a breath, and raked his fingers through his hair.
Not the welcome he'd been expecting after a mind-numbing thirty-six-hour cross-country drive to the Oregon coast.
And where was he supposed to stay for the next three weeks, until the place opened again?
Reining in the urge to kick the door, he leaned close to the glass and peered into the dim, deserted office. Rattled the rigid knob. Scanned the small, empty parking lot.
The sign hadn't lied. This place was out of commission.
He swiveled toward the marina down the hill, where boats bobbed in the gentle swells. The motel might be a bust, but at least Hope Harbor was as picturesque as promised. Planters overﬂowing with colorful ﬂowers served as a bu er between the sidewalk and the sloping pile of boulders that led to the water. Across the wide street from the marina, quaint storefronts faced the sea. A white gazebo occupied a small park where the two-block-long, crescent-shaped frontage road dead-ended at a river. More shops lined the next street back, many adorned with bright awnings and ﬂower boxes.
The town was exactly what he'd expected.
But with the only motel closed, it didn't appear he'd be calling it home during his stay in the area.
A prick of anger penetrated his fatigue. Why had the clerk let him book a room if the motel was going to shut down for several weeks? And why hadn't someone corrected the mistake in the thirty days since he'd put down his deposit?
If shoddy business practices like this were indicative of the much-touted laid-back Pacific Northwest lifestyle, the locals could have it—especially since such sloppiness meant he was now going to have to find another place to rest his very weary head.
He reached for the phone on his belt, frowning when his fingers met air. Oh, right. He'd taken it o as he'd rolled out of Chicago two days ago—a very deliberate strategy to make a clean break from work. Wasn't that the point of a leave of absence, after all?
But the cell was close at hand.
Back at his car, he opened the trunk, rooted around in the
smaller of his two bags, and pulled it out.
Three messages popped up once he powered on, all from the Gull Motel.
He played the first one back, from a woman named Madeline who identified herself as the manager.
"Mr. Hunter, I'm afraid we've had an electrical fire and will be closing for about three weeks for repairs. Please call me at your earliest convenience so we can help you find other lodging." She recited her number.
The second and third messages were similar.
So the shutdown had been unexpected, and someone had tried to call him.
Slowly he inhaled a lungful of the fresh sea air, forcing the taut muscles in his shoulders to relax. Driving for fifteen hours two days in a row and getting up at the crack of dawn this morning to finish the trip must have done a number on his tolerance. Giving people the benefit of the doubt was much more his style. Besides, he was used to operating on the ﬂy, finding creative solutions to problems. Glitches never phased him. His ability to roll with the punches was one of the things Julie had loved about him.
His view of the harbor blurred around the edges, and he clenched his teeth.
Let it go, Hunter. Self-pity won't change a thing. Move on. Get your life back.
It was the same advice he'd been giving himself for months— and he intended to follow it.
As soon as he figured out how.
Fighting o a wave of melancholy, he tapped in the number the woman had provided, his index finger less than steady on the keypad. For a moment he examined the tremors, then shoved his hand in his pocket. He was tired, that's all. He needed food and sleep, in that order. The sooner the better. Things would seem brighter tomorrow.
They had to.
If this trip didn't help him sort out his life, he was out of options.
While the phone rang, he looked toward the harbor again, past the long jetty on the left and the pair of rocky islands on the right that tamed the turbulent waves and protected the boats in the marina. His gaze skimmed across the placid surface of the sea, moving all the way to the horizon where cobalt water met deep blue sky. From his perch on the hill, the scene appeared to be picture perfect.
But it wasn't. Nothing was. Not up close. That was the illusion of distance. It softened edges, masked ﬂaws, obscured messy detail.
It also changed perspective.
If he was lucky, this trip would do all those things for him—and more.
"Mr. Hunter? This is Madeline King. I've been trying to reach you."
He shifted away from the peaceful panorama and adjusted the phone against his ear. "I've been traveling cross-country and my cell was o . I'm at the motel now. What can you suggest as an alternative?"
"Unfortunately, there aren't many options in Hope Harbor. But there are a number of very nice places in Coos Bay or Bandon."
As she began to rattle o the names of hotels, he stiﬂed a sigh. He hadn't driven all the way out here to stay in either of those towns. He'd come to spend time in Hope Harbor.
"Isn't there anything closer?"
At his abrupt interruption, the woman stopped speaking.
"Um . . . not anything I'd recommend. I could probably find you a B&B that's closer, but those are on the pricey side. Most people book them for a night or two at most, and I believe you intended to stay for several weeks. Plus, B&Bs tend to be geared to couples."
Good point. A cozy inn would only remind him how alone he was.
"Okay . . . why don't you line me up with someplace for a few nights while I decide what I want to do. Bandon would be my preference, since it's closer."
"I'll get right on it."
"Don't rush." He inspected the two-block-long business district, such as it was. "I'm going to wander around town for a while and grab a bite to eat."
"Sounds like a plan. And again, I'm sorry for the inconvenience."
Once they said their good-byes, he grabbed a jacket from the backseat and locked the car. The midday sun was warm, but the breeze was cool—by his standards, anyway. Perhaps a slight nip in the air was normal for Oregon in the third week of May, though.
Stomach growling, he started down the hill. If he weren't famished, he'd head the opposite direction and check out the big, empty beach at the base of the blu s on the outskirts of town that he'd spotted as he drove in. A walk on the sand past the sea stacks arrayed o shore would be far more enjoyable than wandering along—he glanced at the street sign as he arrived at the bottom of the hill—Dockside Drive.
The two-block waterfront street didn't take long to traverse, and by the time he was halfway down the second block it was clear his food options were limited to a bakery and a bait-and-tackle shop with a sign advertising takeout sandwiches for the fishing crowd.
All the real restaurants must be in the business district, one street removed from the marina.
Just as he was about to retrace his steps, a spicy, appetizing scent wafted his way. He squinted toward the end of the block, where a white truck with a serving window on one side was perched at the edge of the tiny waterside park with the gazebo. Charley's, according to the colorful lettering above the window where a couple of people were giving orders to a guy with a weathered face and long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Another whi of an enticing aroma set o a loud clamor in his stomach.
Sold. Whatever they were cooking, he was eating.
With a quick change of direction, he stepped o the sidewalk to cross the street.
"Hey! Watch it!"