All is Bright by RaeAnne Thayne
HQN Books (September 20, 2022)
Holiday Romance/SmallTown Romance
Return to Hope’s Crossing this Christmas in New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne’s latest heartwarming story of matchmaking at the holidays!
Sage McKnight is an ambitious young architect working at her father’s firm who takes on her most challenging client in Mason Tucker. The former pro baseball player is still healing from the physical and emotional scars after a plane crash left him a wheelchair-using single dad, and he’s determined not to let anyone breach his emotional defenses. Sage knows her work on Mason’s new home in Hope’s Crossing is her best work yet, and she won’t let her grumpy client prevent her from showcasing her work personally.
With Sage’s gift for taking broken things and making them better, the matchmaking talent of the quirky locals and a generous sprinkling of Christmas cheer, Mason doesn’t stand a chance against the power of this magical holiday season.
I have not read any other books in the Hope’s Crossing series. While it reads fine as a standalone, many of the secondary characters most likely were featured in their own book in the series and that probably would’ve made more of an impact knowing their background – not a necessity, but I’m the kind of reader that likes to read an entire series. Plenty of background of those characters were given so I still enjoyed their part of the storyline. Dual POV’s with a secondary couple also featured. I thought the town residents were charming and loved how they rally around those that need help. I adored grumpy Mason and the spunky and compassionate Sage. I really enjoyed this story.
Reviewed by Comfy Chair Books/Lisa Reigel (September 12, 2022)
ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley
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About the Author
New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
Facebook: RaeAnne Thayne
“We’re now walking into the home theater,” she spoke to her outstretched camera, “one of the more challenging rooms of the renovation. Prior to this update, the room had a series of steps leading to the different levels of recliners. Obviously, that would no longer work for the homeowner, so we chose to remove the steps completely, instead building a gradual slope with room to maneuver around each level of seating. Beyond featuring state-of-the-art electronics that will be easily upgradeable, everything in here—from the blackout window shades to the sound system to the recliners themselves—can be controlled through a single smart home phone app.”
She turned the camera to face her. “Doesn’t this look like a wonderfully cozy place to watch a movie or catch your favorite sporting event?”
She smiled into the phone camera, then moved back into the wide hallway leading to the library/office, her own favorite spot in the house.
“You can see here we have sliding pocket doors that open and close with the push of a button. We chose to replace the traditional doors in many of the spaces with these pocket doors, which gives more room for the homeowner to navigate, and we also…”
Her words trailed off as she heard a sound behind her and turned to see a large, dark-haired man using a wheelchair, framed in the doorway.
He frowned, an expression she had become all too used to seeing there, during their few in-person interactions and their more frequent video conferences.
“What are you doing?” he demanded. “You’re not filming this, are you?”
Sage dropped her phone with an inward wince and stopped recording. Technically, this was still her job site, which meant she had full permission to check on the progress of the work until they handed the finished home over to the owner, who happened to be this man, former professional baseball player Mason Tucker.
With effort, she forced herself not to show any of her dismay. Out of all the clients she had worked with during her career thus far, Mason Tucker was the only one who made her palms sweat and her stomach feel knotted with stress.
“Mr. Tucker. Um, hi.” She forced a smile, feeling awkward as hell and wishing she had waited until the contractor would be here to take a tour.
“I haven’t been here in weeks and wanted to document the progress that has been made since I visited last. I didn’t see any vehicles outside and assumed everybody was gone for the day.”
“I’m parked in the garage of the guesthouse.”
“I didn’t even know you were in town. Have you been here long?”
The last she knew, Mason had been living in Portland, where he had once played for the same baseball team as another town resident, Spencer Gregory, who was married to Sage’s friend Charlotte. Sage knew Spence and Mason had remained friends, despite life circumstances that had led to both of them retiring.
For a moment, she wasn’t sure Mason would reply, then he finally shrugged. “I wanted to be close as we started to wrap things up so I can keep an eye on things and be on hand if there are any questions or problems. My daughter and I moved into the guesthouse a month ago.”
Why hadn’t her dad or Sam Delgado told her Mason was already living in Hope’s Crossing?
Beyond that, she suddenly thought, how in the world was he making the guesthouse work? That place wasn’t at all wheelchair accessible, with three steps leading into the place, narrow hallways and no accessible bathroom like those she had designed for this main house.
Renovating the guesthouse was part of the master plan but not until all the work was finished on Wolf Ridge itself.
“That place is a mess. How are you getting around?”
“I’m managing,” he said, his voice curt. “I can still get around on crutches, as long as I don’t have to go far.”
“You shouldn’t have to go far, from one end of the guesthouse to the other. It’s tiny.” She imagined a man Mason’s size would make the space shrink to almost nothing.
“It works fine for me and Grace. It’s only a few more weeks anyway, right?”
Sam Delgado had assured her when they spoke earlier that the renovations to Wolf Ridge would be finished shortly before Christmas.
Sage had to admit, she wouldn’t be sorry to put the job behind her.
While she was thrilled with the way her designs had transformed the mountain estate, working with Mason Tucker himself was another story.
She tried to be compassionate. Whenever she grew frustrated with him, she would remind herself that Mason had endured the sort of tragedy that would have completely destroyed someone without his resilience. While she was only charged with renovating this house, Mason had to completely rebuild his life.
He had every right to be surly and uncooperative.
While she might know that intellectually, it was difficult to remember when she was dealing with yet another last-minute change order.
Still, he had superb taste and basically unlimited financial resources. In a few more weeks, when the job was finished, Wolf Ridge would meet his needs now and long into the future.
The home now featured a new indoor pool, spa and high-tech exercise room on the bottom level, two new elevators at either end of the house and heated floors throughout. Wolf Ridge also featured a kitchen that worked for people of any mobility level and wheelchair accessible bathrooms on each level, including the extensive owner’s suite on the second floor.
Sage loved everything about this house, from the skylights to the beams her dad had mentioned to the wider doorways and hallways. It was warm, luxurious, comfortable.
She wanted to show off her work to the world. The only trick would be convincing the intensely private Mason Tucker.
Faced with his glower now, Sage felt as if she faced a Herculean task.
She had to try, though, didn’t she?
Her fledgling internet show had exploded in popularity over the past year, allowing her foundation and personal pet project to help far more deserving people than she had ever envisioned.
Sage could only imagine the vast number of views—and thus ad revenue—a video featuring Wolf Ridge would bring in. People would love a glimpse inside the house redesigned for the reclusive and private Mason Tucker.
The public still clamored to know everything it could about the former professional athlete who had endured so much physical and emotional pain.
If she could showcase Wolf Ridge on the Homes for All internet channel, she would also bring awareness to some of the issues and obstacles noninclusive design presented to those with mobility challenges.
She drew in a breath, not sure where to start. Yes, he would likely slap her down but she wouldn’t know unless she asked, right?
“The progress while I’ve been overseas is amazing. I can’t believe how different everything looks, with the finish work and the new flooring.”
“Sam and his subs have put in some long hours.”
“It shows. And Jean-Paul tells me he’s going to have nearly all the furnishings ready to go in a few more weeks, except for a few custom pieces.”
“That’s what he tells me.”
“I can’t see any reason you and Grace can’t move in before Christmas. How exciting!”
A shrug was his only response, which she supposed was about as eloquent as Mason Tucker could be.
She stuck her hands into the pockets of her wool coat.
He was going to say no. She knew it and braced herself for it.
“There’s no easy way for me to ask you this so I’m going to come straight out with it.” She drew in a breath. “For the past year, I’ve hosted a YouTube channel, Homes for All, which features projects with the kind of innovative universal design elements we have tried to incorporate here at Wolf Ridge.”
He raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“While it’s called Homes for All, we feature commercial as well as residential projects. I hope to continue raising awareness of how limiting and even discriminatory some design practices can be for those who are, er, differently abled.”
He again said nothing, only continued to look at her out of those hard blue eyes that concealed his emotions completely.
“I have poured so much energy into Wolf Ridge, and I’m absolutely thrilled with the way the house has turned out. It’s everything I dreamed and more. I feel like more people should see it. Don’t you? I would absolutely love to feature your home on my channel.”
She held her breath, hands curled inside her pockets.
As she might have predicted, he didn’t leave her waiting long for his answer.
“Hell no,” he said with blunt finality, then turned away and started to roll back down the hall so abruptly she could only stare at him.
After a moment, she pursued him. This was too important to give up at the first obstacle. “Just like that? You don’t even want to hear the details?”
He paused and maneuvered to face her. “Why waste both our time? I don’t need to hear the details. Whatever you have to say doesn’t matter. My answer will remain a hard no.”
The man was impossible. Her grandfather Harry might have called him pigheaded, but Sage preferred the more diplomatic obstinate.
And yes, how could she blame him for that? Mason was trying to rebuild a life for himself and his daughter in Hope’s Crossing, away from the prying eyes of the tabloid press. She already knew he was an intensely private man. He had made her sign a nondisclosure agreement before even talking to her about what he wanted done at the house.
She might have been more surprised if he had agreed to let her feature his house on her channel.
Still, she had never been good at taking no for an answer. She could be every bit as pigheaded as Mason Tucker. She figured she had inherited that from Harry Lange himself.
“What I love most about your home is how seamlessly we have managed to integrate the new design into the existing structure without altering the basic style and grace of the home,” she said. “I’m sure you can agree that the changes will benefit everyone who lives here, not only you.”
“Sure,” he said after a moment. “You definitely know what you’re doing. The house is exactly what I wanted. That still doesn’t mean I want the whole world peering in at the transfer bars in the shower or the damn lift I need to use so I can get in and out of my spa.”
Sage was so caught up in the first part of what he said, the unexpected praise coming from her difficult client, that she almost missed the second part.
“That’s exactly what I try to showcase on my channel. When done right, universal design can blend with the overall style of a home or commercial property, small and sometimes barely noticeable changes but enough to make a huge difference to those who need them.”
“No,” he said again. “Judging by how seldom you’re here, you must have other projects. You can focus on those.”
“I have. You can watch the videos online. We have about thirty of them up now. But Wolf Ridge is the most ambitious residential renovation I’ve ever undertaken. Most people would never have poured the kind of resources you have into making such extensive changes to an existing structure. They would have sold the house as is and built a custom home somewhere else. Because of the location and the basic sound structure of the house, you chose to renovate instead. The results are beautiful, and I want the whole world to see it.”
“And I don’t,” he said bluntly. “I don’t need to give the whole damn world any more reasons to pity me.”
A muscle clenched along his jaw, and Sage felt immediately ashamed of herself for her selfishness at wanting to showcase her best work here.
Her motives weren’t completely selfish, she amended. Yes, she was proud of her work on Wolf Ridge. This project, more than any other she had been part of, might help her begin to emerge from her father’s huge and well-earned shadow.
It wasn’t easy being Jackson Lange’s daughter and trying to find her own way in the same field as one of the world’s most brilliant architectural minds.
That was the very reason she hadn’t taken Jack’s surname, even after they reconnected. She still went by Sage McKnight, the name she’d always had. She didn’t want to be known first as Jackson Lange’s daughter, with the weight of all those expectations on her. She wanted to succeed on her own.
Beyond that, she was doing good work with Homes for All. She knew she was making a difference in people’s lives, not only by changing minds about universal design but by changing lives.
Should she tell Jackson Lange that Homes for All was also the name of her foundation, funded by the ad revenue her videos generated online? The purpose was to help people who couldn’t otherwise afford to make necessary changes to their living spaces when age or health issues impacted mobility.
No. She didn’t want to guilt him into letting her invade his privacy by showcasing Wolf Ridge.
“Will you at least think about it?” she finally said. “You don’t have to decide anything right this moment.”
He shrugged. “I can think about it from now until Christmas. I won’t change my mind. My house, my decision. You can take all the pictures and video you want for your own personal use but if you post them online, I’ll sue your ass for breaking our nondisclosure agreement.”
He wheeled away without another word, leaving Sage to gaze after him with helpless frustration.
She hadn’t really expected any other answer, but she had hoped.
Her watch alarm dinged, and she glanced down at the reminder she had set. She was supposed to be at her mother’s bookstore and coffeehouse, Books & Brew, in ten minutes.
She quickly shot a few more images then walked back out into the December twilight.
Excerpted from All is Bright by RaeAnne Thayne. Copyright © 2022 by RaeAnne Thayne. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.