Maybe it was the low cloud cover this morning, but the ocean sounded so much louder today. She had a feeling it would be a brief stay the way the wind was whipping. The kids ran in circles at the shoreline, letting Denali chase them until he needed a break and ran to lie by her feet.
She got up and met them at the water with their pails. “Y’all ready to find some shells?”
They began scouring the sand. She knelt down and picked up a handful of tiny vibrant-colored shells. Most of them were broken, but a purple one caught her eye. She tucked it inside her pocket while the children quickly filled their pails with shells at every step until their buckets got heavy. When she looked up, she noticed they’d walked farther down the beach than they’d ever gone before.
“Let’s head back,” Amanda said.
Denali lay down in the sand.
“We can’t leave him,” Hailey whined.
“He’ll catch up.” At least she hoped so. There was no way she’d be able to carry him.
“Do you want to stop and go through your shells? Lighten the load by getting rid of a few?”
Jesse lugged his bucket with both hands. “Can’t. They’re treasures.”
“Let me help you with that.” She carried his pail the rest of the way to their beach towels, where the kids dropped to the sand and dumped their shells. “Do you think we need to keep all of these?”
Jesse pulled his shells closer. It was crystal clear he had no intention of letting any of his go.
“I don’t know.” Hailey scooped some shells into her hand. “Most of them looked prettier when I first found them.” She dropped a couple in the sand, then picked up one of them, a sparkle in her eye. “I already forgot I found this one.” She twisted the scallop shell in the air. “It’s like a ruffly potato chip.”
“Half of the fun is looking for them, right? If we collect all of them, there won’t be any for others to find. Maybe we should only keep a couple seashells each day. What do you think?”
Hailey’s eyes narrowed. “How many?”
“Pick out your very favorites, and then we’ll decide together.”
Hailey sorted through hers.
Jesse inched closer, pointing out the ones he liked best of hers, and then finally he moved a few broken fragments from his pile to her discards.
As the kids worked, they sipped on the juice boxes Amanda brought. She took the novel from her tote bag, not expecting to get through but a page or two, but as she’d been telling herself for two years, any progress is progress. And that seemed to apply in all cases.
She’d read straight through to the end of the chapter before the kids finished sorting shells.
“Should we throw the shells we’re not keeping back into the ocean?”
“That’s a great idea.”
They scooped up the discards and ran to the water’s edge, dumping them into one big pile, then raced back.
“Want to see my best shells?” Hailey asked.
“I do.” Amanda leaned over. Hailey had kept five: the big scallop shell, two twisty-looking shells, a pink one, and another that was black. “They are all pretty. I bet it was a hard decision.”
“How many did you save?” she asked Jesse.
“One.” He held up a finger.
“Where is it?”
He looked around, then brushed the sand with his hand.
“Oh no.” He pulled his arms up, making tight fists, and ran toward the water where they’d dumped the shells. Amanda jogged behind him. Bless his little heart.
He squatted, leaning over his knees to look through the pile. His lower lip protruded. He brushed his hand through the shells again. Amanda’s heart tugged as he searched in earnest. Finally, he lifted a shell in the air.
It was a pretty bluish color and twisty. “I love it.”
“Me too.” He blew her a kiss.
“All right, then. Let’s go home and eat some lunch.”
As they walked back over the dune, she looked toward Maeve’s house. Amanda was sorry Maeve hadn’t been there today to see the kids so excited about collecting shells. She had a feeling their new friend would have taken delight in it.
The three of them walked through the soft sand until Hailey stopped in the middle of the path.
“Mom, look!” Hailey dived for the large shell sitting right on top of the sand. She lifted it into the air. “It’s so heavy.”
Jesse ran to Hailey’s side. “Pretty.”
It was large and perfect. “Let me see,” Amanda said.
Hailey dusted the sand from the shell and handed it to her. “Look! There’s something written inside it.”
They walked this path every day. Amanda was surprised they hadn’t seen it before. Then again, they had never been looking for shells until now. The wind must have blown enough to uncover this one from the seagrass where it sat.
“What’s it say?” her daughter asked.
Amanda read the words to herself and then aloud: “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.—Havelock Ellis”
“Who is Have Lots?” A thoughtful look crossed Hailey’s face. “He must be really lucky.”
“Havelock Ellis. That’s the person who first said that.”
“Did he write it in our shell?” Hailey always had to have all the answers.
“No, I don’t think so.” The quote hung in her mind. Living lies? No, it wasn’t about living lies; it was about how the art of living was achieved. It was such a simple quote, but it grabbed her, provoking her. How was someone supposed to recognize what to let go of and what to hold on to?
She thought of Jack’s shirt still hanging on the back of her dressing-table chair as if he might grab it and put it on tomorrow. Some nights she still slipped it on before she climbed into bed. Certainly, after two years, any scent of him had to be long gone, but she swore she could smell him when she wore it. I couldn’t. Letting go of that meant letting go of Jack.
She tipped the shell up, reading it again.
Why am I taking this so personally? It’s a random find.
“Can we keep it, Mom?” Hailey asked.
“We sure can.” The quote rolled in her mind.
Trekking those last thirty feet over the dune was like crossing the finishing line of a marathon. The kids were dragging, but she felt the world brighten more every time she saw their house waiting for them. She opened the gate, and Denali ran through, followed by Jesse and then Hailey. More than a house. The latch clicked behind them. Home sweet home.
“Where should we put our keeper shells?” Amanda asked.
“Can we have them in our rooms tonight?” Hope hung in the air. “For a while,” Hailey begged. “Just until we get too many?”
It was hard to say no to them. “Yes. If you want to. That seems fair.” She had no intention of leaving hers outside either.
Jesse placed his on the corner of the flower box that Amanda had hung over the hose bib. “Mine.”
As they ran ahead to go inside, she took the purple shell from her pocket. Help me stay focused on the beauty around us.
Excerpted from The Shell Collector. Copyright © 2021 by Nancy Naigle. To be published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on May 11, 2021.
Two years after her husband’s death, Amanda Whittier has two children to raise alone, an abandoned dream of starting a business, and a fixer-upper cottage by the sea. She has no room in her life for anything else and little interest in moving on after losing the man she loved.
Paul Grant is a relative newcomer to the area, and his work with former military dogs needing rehabilitation has been good for the town. Though he loved once before, he’s convinced he’s not suited for romance and is determined to find meaning—alone—through his work and role in the community.
Widowed Maeve Lindsay was born and raised on Whelk’s Island. Spirited, kind, and a little mischievous, she pours her life into the town. But she carries a secret that shapes her every move.
Together, these three souls find encouragement in the most mysterious places and discover a love that’s bigger than their pain, healing their wounded hearts in ways none of them could have hoped for or expected.
Fiction Women’s Fiction [Waterbrook, On Sale: May 11, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 9780593193594 / eISBN: 9780593193600]
About Nancy Naigle
Nancy Naigle is a USA Today bestselling author whose many contemporary romance novels include the Adams Grove, Boot Creek, and Christmas in Evergreen series. Several of her novels have been adapted to the television screen, airing on the Hallmark Channel and on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, including the popular Christmas Joy and Hope at Christmas. Nancy makes her home in North Carolina.