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Before I Knew (Cabot #1)
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Author Jamie Beck returns with an engrossing series about family, friendship, and starting over. In this first Cabot novel, a legacy of secrets tests old friends seeking a second chance at life and love.
On the second anniversary of her husband’s suicide, Colby Cabot-Baxter is ready to let go of her grief and the mistakes made during her turbulent marriage. Her fresh start comes in the form of A CertainTea, the restaurant she’s set to open along Lake Sandy, Oregon, with help from her family. But when her executive chef quits just weeks before the grand opening, Colby is pressured to hire old family friend Alec Morgan. His award-winning reputation could generate buzz, but their friendship has withered since her husband’s reckless dare cost Alec’s brother his life.
Distracted by guilty secrets concerning the tragedy that changed his and Colby’s lives, Alec self-destructed and lost his famed restaurant. With his career in tatters, he’s determined to use this opportunity to redeem his reputation and to help the woman he’s loved from afar find happiness again.
But secrets have a way of coming out. When Alec’s do, they might destroy the new life he and Colby have rebuilt together.
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Two Years Ago
Of all the dilemmas Colby Cabot-Baxter had faced in her twenty-nine years, none had tortured her like this one. It didn’t help that, unlike many spring mornings in Lake Sandy, Oregon, the sun peeked through the clouds now, causing the fine mist coating the grass to glitter. Normally she’d appreciate a reprieve from the dank air that settled beneath the skin, but today she would’ve welcomed its bite.
Although warm inside the car, Colby shivered. Through the passenger window, she watched the mourners entering the church. Heads bowed, shoulders hunched, looking as if the weight of their grief might tip them forward.
A fleeting image of Joe’s rugged face flashed—one from days earlier, just before he and her husband, Mark, had set off on a hike.
She’d grown up trading smiles with Joe across the backyard fence. His broad grin had showcased the gap between his front teeth. The gap he’d used to squirt water at her sometimes, just to be irksome. Her buddy—coconspirator, even—sneaking into the tree house their fathers had built in the nearby woods to spy on or torment their older brothers, depending on their moods.
Five years ago, Colby had been tickled when Joe welcomed her then-new husband into his circle. Of course, now she rather wished Joe hadn’t liked Mark so well.
Her eyes misted again, like the dew-covered earth, as her throat tightened.
Mark’s movement beside her snapped her back to the decision she couldn’t put off any longer.
“Wait.” She clutched Mark’s forearm as he prepared to open his door. “This is a mistake.”
“I need to pay my respects.” Mark’s baby blues widened in defiance beneath thick, straight eyebrows. Innocent-looking eyes that belied his often-convoluted thoughts. Thoughts that, when left unmedicated, had contributed to why they were here today.
“He was my friend, too.” She loosened her grip but left her hand resting on his arm. Her marriage might be running on fumes, but she wouldn’t compound his misery by arguing. At least not today. Gentling her voice, she added, “But maybe we shouldn’t add to his family’s grief by showing our faces.”
Mark’s jaw clenched. “You mean my face, don’t you?”
Reflexively, she shrugged, then wished she hadn’t. Mark’s eyes dimmed at the silent accusation.
“Mark,” she said, her voice barely audible, but then couldn’t think of what else to say.
Heavy silence, the kind weighted down by unspoken judgment, consumed the car. In the trees near the church, she noticed a black-headed grosbeak eating from a bird feeder, acting as if the world hadn’t been indelibly altered.
If only that were true.
“You can’t blame me more than I blame myself,” Mark finally muttered. “But it’s done. I dared, he jumped, and here we are. I can’t hide from it, and neither can you. I have to say goodbye to my friend, Colby, and I’d like your support.”
Tears welled in her eyes while she imagined Joe’s cocky grin just before he jumped off the cliff above Punch Bowl Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. Saying goodbye to him would be hard enough. But walking into that church to face Joe’s parents and his brother, Alec, seemed an impossible task. “My mother’s been the Morgans’ neighbor for thirty years, and even she feels awkward about coming.”
Last night at the funeral home, Alec had even kept his closest friend—Colby’s brother, Hunter—at arm’s length, so he surely wouldn’t welcome Mark or her today.
“I’m going. Wait here if you want.” He tugged his arm free and opened the door, letting the cool air rush inside.
Colby sighed. She exited the car, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin. Mark reached for her hand, which she grudgingly offered. Being dragged inside might be the only way she’d cross the threshold.
Alec and his family would resent the whole world today, and who could blame them? But she knew that deep down, they resented her husband most.
They’d barely stepped into the vestibule when Alec’s unerring gaze fell on Mark. Normally, Alec smiled at her, but today his mouth remained fixed in a grim line, and his green eyes mirrored the mossy color of Lake Sandy on a cloudy day. Grief had carved lines into his handsome face, giving more depth to his boyish good looks. His chestnut hair fell lopsidedly across his forehead thanks to the cowlick he could never quite tame.
She wrestled free of Mark’s grip when Alec began his approach. Words clogged her throat, making it tough to swallow, much less speak. She opened her arms to greet her old friend with a hug, but he brushed past her and walked straight up to Mark.
Alec stood at least two inches taller than her husband. His eyes, as intimidating as a wolf’s, glared down his finely chiseled nose at Mark. “Leave before my father sees you.”
His typically mellow voice held an edge today that scraped against her skin like rug burn.