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Coral Celebration (Coral Cottage #5)

Coral Celebration (Coral Cottage #5)

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A joyful summer celebration... but old rivalries erupt in Summer Beach

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Book Description

Book 5, Coral Cottage Series

A small beach town's centennial celebration erupts in this captivating tale of love, laughter, and the enduring power of family.

Marina and her sister Kai, entrusted with managing Summer Beach's one-hundred-year celebration, navigate treacherous waters. Age-old grudges and family secrets soon resurface. Their grandmother's hidden past casts a shadow, forcing them to confront dangerous truths.

While Marina's daughter Heather grapples with boyfriend troubles, she discovers her new husband Jack is harboring secrets of his own. As tensions rise and love is tested, the bonds of family and friendship will be stretched to their limits.

Will Summer Beach's celebration transform the family? Find out in this riveting saga of love, loss, and redemption in a beloved beach town. Don't miss the season's must-read story!

From USA Today bestselling author Jan Moran, Coral Celebration is the fifth novel in the Summer Beach: Coral Cottage series. In ebook, audiobook, paperback, hardcover, and large print.

Read A Sample

“Order up,” Marina called to her daughter, who was waiting tables on the sunny patio with the beach view.
She added a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette to the spinach salads she had prepared with scoops of berries, sprinkles of feta cheese, and glazed walnuts. This dish had become a popular summer special at the Coral Cafe.
Heather sailed into the kitchen to pick up the order.

“Sounds like the centennial celebration is out of control. There’s a mutiny going on at table five.”
Marina gave her a warning look. “What did I tell you about gossiping?”

“I call it being well informed,” Heather said, winking at Cruise, who was flipping turkey burgers on the cooktop.

Marina glanced up from her open-air kitchen workspace, concerned about the important Summer Beach event, which was the major tourist event of the summer this year. The small town had been incorporated a hundred years ago, and residents were eager to celebrate.

Peering out onto the dining patio, Marina saw volunteers huddled around a table under a broad coral umbrella.

“What’s going on out there?”

“The committee is voting to replace Rhoda, who didn’t show up to today’s meeting,” Heather replied, lowering her voice. “Or the last one. I heard them say she has barely organized the parade. But no one else wants to take on that responsibility.”

“Rhoda’s mind is probably elsewhere.” Marina had heard that Rhoda’s mother was having health challenges. That had to be weighing on the poor woman, but she didn’t strike Marina as well organized anyway.

“I’m sure they’ll sort it out.”
Heather picked up the salads.

“You’d have that organized in no time, Mom. Look what you’ve done with this place.”

“I offered to bring the food truck. I’ll reach out again after our trip.”
Marina was also growing concerned for the community and the event. She had left messages for Rhoda expressing interest in bringing her Coral Cafe food truck to the event, but the other woman hadn’t returned her calls. Neither had she been in touch with other restaurants. They would all need time to arrange staffing, menus, and supplies, and the event was only a few weeks away now.
No wonder people were growing nervous.

The Summer Beach Centennial promotions were running all over Southern California, and a sizable number of visitors were expected. All the inns had been fully booked for weeks.
Marina would certainly be prepared at the cafe, but she had hoped to bring her food truck to the event venue at the beach.

She clicked her tongue, wondering who they would find to oversee efforts on such short notice.
She would mention that to Ginger, she decided. Her grandmother knew everyone in town.
As for Marina, she had other things on her mind.

Jack was at home packing the VW van for the short getaway they had planned. This was her first break since the spring rush kicked off the busy tourist season. They were leaving early in the morning and would only be gone a couple of nights, but it would be well worth it.

She turned to Cruise, who was placing fresh sweet potato fries into sizzling hot oil. With his tattoos and sun-bleached hair wound into a man-bun at the nap of his neck, he was young and had plenty of energy.
“I left a checklist in the prep area for you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Cruise slapped more turkey patties on the grill for the popular sliders.
“I’m sure you do, but I’d still like for you to review it,” she said evenly.
Cruise was talented, but sometimes he made assumptions or took shortcuts she had to correct. Still, she liked him well enough, and so did Heather. He was here only for the summer, working part-time for her and surfing as much as he could.
Her sister Brooke would wait tables, and their grandmother Ginger would greet customers and oversee the cafe, but still, Marina worried. Although the cafe was going well, one slip-up could tarnish its reputation and damage the business.

She had worked hard to create systems that others could follow to ensure consistency.
Otherwise, she would have no life outside of work. She had little as it was.
Heather returned to the kitchen and clipped another order to the rotating rack.

“Those fries sure smell good, Cruise. Will you save some for me?”

“Always,” he replied with a grin.

“With my special garlic aioli.”
Heather beamed at him. “You’re the best.”
He puffed out his chest.

“I like to think so.”
Heather laughed and popped him with her dishtowel.

“Oh, listen to you.”
Chuckling, Cruise jumped back, hitting the handle of a hot skillet.

“Hey, you two,” Marina said. “Careful round fires and knives. We can’t afford any accidents.”

“Sorry, Mom.” Heather picked up an order and ducked from the kitchen, grinning back at Cruise.
This interaction caught Marina’s attention. Heather and Cruise had become good friends. That was all it was, she thought, although Heather hadn’t talked about seeing anyone else this summer. Usually, her daughter confided in her.
Marina blew a wisp of hair from her eyes. Maybe she worried too much, but it was a habit she’d developed after Stan’s death when she was raising her twins.

Now in her mid-forties with a new husband she adored, it was time to eliminate habits that no longer served her. By tomorrow morning, she would be on the open road with him and their children—except for Ethan, who was on the golf course with clients.
With Jack by her side and a new future ahead, it was time to open her heart and clear her mind. As she worked on another order, she smiled to herself. Two days in nature was just what she needed.

As Jack steered his retro VW van, Marina leaned back in her seat, taking in the ocean view. The day was sunny, so she’d worn denim shorts with a white T-shirt, and she felt almost like a kid again, shedding the stress she’d been under for months.
Heather and Leo were in the back seat with Scout stretched between them, his tail wagging as he pawed for belly rubs.
This was a short break they had all needed.

“Keep an eye on the ocean,” Jack said as he wound along the narrow beach access road.

“We might see some whales migrating.”
Leo pressed his hands to the window.

“What kind of whales, Dad?”
When Jack didn’t reply, Heather tousled her younger stepbrother’s shaggy hair.

“It’s summer, so that means finbacks and blue whales.”
Jack grinned. “I’m impressed.”

“So am I,” Marina said. “Where did you learn that?”
Heather shrugged off the compliments. “Just random facts I pick up at the cafe. You’d be surprised what you learn by listening. Like the centennial mutiny yesterday. I’m amazed that people still think the help can’t hear.”

“Why not?” Leo asked with the wide eyes of a pre-teen.

“You have ears.”
They all laughed at that, and Heather smiled at him. “It’s a saying, but it’s still true. People forget that servers can hear the secrets they share.”
Jack shot Marina a look of concern. “What’s this about a mutiny?”

“The committee voted to oust Rhoda,” Marina replied. “At the moment, no one is in charge of the centennial volunteer committee.”

“You and Ginger could sort that out,” Jack said.

“Not you, too.” Marina laughed as Heather poked her. As good as life was in Summer Beach, the summer season was a marathon at the cafe. She had to pace herself to avoid burnout.
She was glad to have her daughter helping at the cafe. Heather was on summer break from the university.

Last year, she had an internship, but this year, she’d opted to stay in Summer Beach, saying she wanted to spend a summer at home before she graduated and got a job that would probably take her elsewhere.
Once again, Marina would miss her.
After Marina’s news anchor position ended disastrously, she had closed her flat in San Francisco and moved to Summer Beach.

At the time, the twins were attending Duke University on the East Coast.
Ethan was there on a golf scholarship, yet he struggled academically due to dyslexia. After he left school and landed a job at a golf country club in San Diego, Heather no longer wanted to stay in North Carolina alone. With Ethan on the path to turn pro in golf, Heather joined the family in Summer Beach to finish school in San Diego.

Jack rotated his neck and drew a hand over it, winching.
“Need a break from driving?” Marina reached over to massage his neck and shoulders. “Wow, you have some ferocious knots.”

“Right there, thanks for that,” he replied, softly squeezing her knee. “When we find a place to stop, we’ll have that picnic you packed. Just a little longer.”
She placed her hand on his. Marina was growing more comfortable with Jack every day, and she enjoyed the small touches and conversations that made up their daily lives. Their first anniversary was coming up soon.
In their first year, they both had to adjust to new routines. Initially, Jack had been shocked when Leo landed in his life. He’d gone from being single, living in New York City, and working as an investigative reporter to being a new, inexperienced father in a quiet, Southern California beach town.

While Jack had adapted, he also confided in Marina about the weight of his new role and responsibilities to his son, who would soon enter middle school in the sixth grade. This was a critical time for a young boy, and Jack didn’t want to make any more mistakes than he already had.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Jack stifle a yawn. Add a first marriage in his forties to the mix, and Marina understood why Jack had trouble sleeping.

“We should stop soon,” she said. “No need to push on.”

“Okay. As soon as I find a good spot.’ He rubbed his eyes and stared ahead.
“How are your illustrations for the new book coming along?” she asked, making conversation to keep him alert. Jack had been working hard on a set of illustrations for her grandmother’s surprisingly popular children’s book series.

“Pretty well,” he replied. “Ginger is an excellent collaborator. Bringing her stories to life is a nice change from the big city grind.”

“That article seems to be taking longer than you expected.”
He shook his head. “One lead often leads to five. I need to follow them all.”
Jack was also writing a lengthy investigative article for his former editor in New York. Having won a Pulitzer Prize, Jack was well respected in his field. He had taken on new assignments because he was concerned about the cost of Leo’s education.

Marina understood his need to meet the new challenges of fatherhood. He had also bought the beach bungalow he’d been renting. She shared the expenses with her earnings from the cafe.
Marina was proud of Jack, and he was equally pleased about her cafe and food truck, though finding time for each other was challenging. Hence, this short getaway for their new blended family.
Suddenly, something caught Marina’s attention.

“Slow down,” she cried in alarm, peering out the window. “Something washed up on the beach. We need to turn around.”
Jack grimaced. “Is it dead or alive?”

“Oh, wait. I see it, Mom.” Heather flipped her wavy, dark blond ponytail and twisted in her seat. “Looks sort of lumpy.”

“I think it’s a fishing net,” Marina said, squinting against the sun. “But it’s moving. An animal might be trapped in it.”

“Like a dolphin?” Leo asked, looking worried.
At that, Heather leaned forward and tapped Jack. “We really need to stop.”

“Will do.” Jack looked back at Leo.

“Hey, son. Will you keep an eye on Scout? We don’t need him barking at whatever creature is in trouble while we check it out. Can you manage that?”

“Sure, Dad.” Leo ran his hand over the yellow Labrador retriever, and Scout nudged him with his snout, his mouth stretched into a panting grin.
With his thick dark hair and bright blue eyes, Leo was a younger replica of his father. At eleven, Leo was becoming more responsible, and Marina was pleased that he’d accepted his father’s marriage—and her as his stepmother. Ethan was also coaching the young boy in golf while he worked toward his dream of turning pro.
While her children liked Jack, he seemed a little unsure of his role with Heather and Ethan. Getting married was one thing. Becoming a family was another.
Jack waited for a car to pass before executing a U-turn.

“Where exactly is this sea creature from the depths of the ocean?”

“On the other side of that outcropping of rocks.” Marina pointed at a spot near the shoreline. “See it now?”

“Yeah, I do.” He pulled to the shoulder of the road. “I’ve got a knife in the back. I can try to free whatever it is.” He flipped on the emergency flashers.

“Could be another nosy dog. Leo, put the leash on Scout and keep a strong grip on him.”
“I’ll help him,” Heather said, sliding on her flip-flops.
They got out of the van and walked cautiously toward the shifting mound of heavy netting by the water’s edge.
When Marina saw what it was, her heart leapt.

“They’re young sea lions. More than one.”
“Are you sure they’re not seals?” Jack asked, approaching them.
Marina stood near the bundle, careful to keep her distance.

“See their flippers and how they can walk on them? Plus, they have snouts like dogs.”
She knew humans shouldn’t touch marine mammals unless they knew what they were doing, and she certainly didn’t.

“Oh no, one of them looks hurt,” Heather said, pressing a hand to her chest. “We can’t release them like that. They need help.”

“There might be a mammal rescue group in the vicinity.” Marina looked at her phone, and her heart sank. “I don’t have a signal.”
Suddenly, a loud, strangled bark erupted behind them.
Marina whipped around. Judging from the distress in the animal’s voice, she said, “I think that’s the mother. Or father. We should stay back.”

“Poor Mama,” Heather said. “I wish we could give her babies back right now.”
“Hold onto Scout,” Jack said, backing away.
The larger sea lion seemed to sense they meant no harm, but it continued to pace in distress. Marina breathed out a guarded sigh of relief.
As they were retreating from the net, Heather cried, “I have a signal.”

“Quick, search for a number for ocean mammal rescue,” Marina said. “And don’t move from that spot.”
Heather tapped the screen a few times. “I think I’ve got it. But I don’t know where we are.”
“Tap the arrow on a map,” Leo said, his arms wrapped around Scout. “That locates you.”

“How do you know that?” Jack asked, clearly impressed.
Leo grinned. “I saw it on a video.”
Heather handed the phone to Marina. “Mom, would you talk to them?”

“Sure.” Marina looked at the screen. Heather had pulled up a hotline number for a marine mammal rescue.

“Jack, would you keep an eye on the mother and the pups?”

“Here goes.” Marina tapped the number and told the person who answered where they were and what they’d found.
After she hung up, Jack asked, “How soon can they come?”

“They’re about ten minutes away,” Marina replied.

“They said not to approach or try to help them. With one of the pups injured, it could make the mother angry. They’re usually not dangerous, but sea lions will defend their young.”
They waited, keeping watch over the young sea lion family. Soon, a blue, four-wheel-drive truck emblazoned with a bright yellow logo pulled onto the beach.

A team of several women and men jumped out. The tallest one, a good-looking young man with closely cropped hair and a good physique, seemed to be in charge.
He had an easy, genuine smile that Marina immediately liked.

“I’m Blake Hayes,” he said.

“We appreciate your call. We see this more than we’d like. My team can cut the net, but since one is injured, we’ll take them all to our center for observation.”

“What do you think happened?” Heather asked.
Blake glanced at his team, who were assessing the situation.

“Sea lions and others get caught in fishing nets, and the tide washes them in. That’s probably the mother over there. She must have followed her pups, trying to save them. She looks exhausted, too. It’s a good thing you called.”
Heather tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Well, actually, it was my mom.”

“But Heather insisted we stop,” Marina said.
A smile touched Blake’s face. “I’m glad you did. Heather, it’s nice to meet you.”
One of Blake’s colleagues raised a hand. “Hey, Dr. Blake, you need to look at this little guy.”
“Excuse me,” he said to Heather.

“It’s nice to meet you and your family.”

“Should we stay?” Heather asked.
“You don’t have to, but you can.” Blake reached into his pocket. “If you see any other stranded marine mammals, here’s my card. Do you live around here?”

“In Summer Beach,” Heather replied.

“Nice village.” Blake smiled. “This won’t take long.” He trotted toward his team.
Scout strained against Leo, and Jack took over.

“Thanks, sport. I got him now.”
Marina put her arm around Heather. “You did a good thing by asking Jack to pull over. That shows your kind heart.”
Watching Blake and his team, Heather shrugged. “Wouldn’t anyone do that?”

“You’d be surprised.” Marina stood with her family, and they continued watching the team work to free the family of sea lions.
After inspecting the injured pup and administering first aid, Blake helped the team load the young sea lion into the truck. Shortly, another vehicle pulled up.

Blake walked back to Marina and the others. “I wanted to thank you again. We’ll take them all in for treatment, but they’ll probably be fit to release soon. If you hadn’t called, they might have perished. This is a lonely stretch of the beach, especially during the week.”

He looked at Heather. “Do you want me to let you know when we release them?”
“I’d like that,” Heather said shyly.

“You can find me at the Coral Cafe in Summer Beach. It’s my mom’s restaurant.”
“Actually, I’ve been there,” Blake said, raising his brow. “It’s very good.”

“Are you a sea lion doctor?” Leo asked.
Blake knelt to Leo’s height. “I’m an aquatic veterinarian. Ever since I was your age, I wanted to help animals that make their home in the sea.”

“That’s cool,” Leo said, eyeing the truck. “And you get to drive that?”
“Sure do,” Blake replied. “Come by the center sometime. I’ll give you a ride and show you around. We have a full medical facility for marine mammals. Around here, it’s mostly sea lions, seals, and turtles, but we help all sorts.”

Leo’s eyes widened. “Even whales?”
“You bet.” Blake chuckled. “I’ve treated whales and sent them back to live in the sea.”
After Blake and his team left, Jack led Scout to the car, and everyone piled in. They drove a short distance and stopped for their picnic. Marina opened the back of the VW, which had a small built-in kitchen. With Heather’s help, she began to assemble sandwiches.

“What an adventure that was,” Marina said. “I’m glad we could help.”
Heather gazed toward the ocean.

“I wonder what it’s like to spend your days working around animals?”

“I think it would take a compassionate soul to do that,” Marina replied.
Heather tore off crisp lettuce leaves for the sandwiches.

“Do you still need help for the anniversary party Ginger arranged this weekend?”

With her connections, Marina’s grandmother brought in a lot of business for the cafe and the food truck she’d added. Ginger’s friends had booked the food truck for a party at their beach house.

“If you’re available, I could use you.” Thinking about how Heather had looked at Blake, Marina wondered if she was interested in anyone. She hadn’t dated much since she’d returned from North Carolina, but Heather was naturally reserved. She had a history of anxiety about tests in school.

“But anytime you have a date, let me know. I can cover for you.”
Heather shrugged. “You have Jack and Leo to think about now.”

“Your life is important, too. I’m thinking of hiring another server.” She paused. “Dr. Blake seemed nice.”
A swift, shy smile crossed Heather’s face, giving her away.

“He’s older than I am.”
“Probably only a few years.” Once again, Marina had the sense that Heather was holding something back. “Have you met someone at school?”

“Nope, no one.”
Heather was quick to answer, Marina thought. But with Jack looking hungry and Leo racing toward them with Scout, she let it go for now.
As she was slicing the sandwiches, her phone buzzed in her pocket. Thinking it might be someone at the cafe, she asked Heather to finish and pulled out her phone.
Her hands were slippery, and she fumbled with the screen, jabbing at it with her knuckles.

“Marina, I’m so glad I caught you,” Rhoda said, sounding out of breath.
At once, Marina’s heart sank upon hearing Rhoda’s voice. Of all the people she’d met in Summer Beach, Rhoda was one of the more challenging locals.

Whenever she called, it was to ask for a personal favor or help with something. Once, she had asked Marina to comp a fancy lunch for thirty of her friends, supposedly to introduce them to the cafe.
However, Marina knew one of those friends who told her it was Rhoda’s birthday. Rhoda had been huffy when Marina declined, citing the inability to host such a large party for free. Otherwise, she’d be comping everyone’s birthday party in Summer Beach.

“Hi, Rhoda,” Marina said, trying to sound pleasantly rushed. “I’m not at the cafe today. Jack and I have taken the kids for a holiday, so I really can’t talk. But I hope your mother is feeling better.”

“A little, thanks. I need to talk to you, and this will only take a minute if you say yes.” Rhoda’s voice was edged with desperation. “I need you to step up for the centennial celebration.”

“Of course,” Marina said, wondering if Rhoda was still in charge. “I’m happy to bring the food truck downtown for the parade.”

“Okay, but I’m not calling about that. I’ve been trying to organize everything, but it’s too much for one person. Then I thought about you. How you manage the cafe is amazing. Why, I never thought you could make a go of it, but you’re still in business, even if you’re not making much money.”
Rhoda was also an expert at the back-handed compliment. Marina fought to maintain civility.

“While I appreciate your point of view—”
“Please hear me out,” Rhoda said, cutting her off.

“You’re the only person who hasn’t turned me down, so you’re my last hope. I thought I could do this myself, but no one is willing to step up to help.”

“Don’t you have a committee of volunteers?”
“They’re no help.”
Marina suppressed a groan. She could have predicted this. Ever since the announcement of the centennial celebration parade and fireworks, the mayor had been looking for someone to take charge. Rhoda lobbied hard for it.

Marina suspected she liked feeling important, but her organizational skills were chaotic at best.
This was one mess Marina had to avoid. Jack and Heather were staring at her, listening to her side of the conversation. She owed it to them to stay out of this, too.
Marina faced the ocean breeze and ran a hand through her hair.

“Between the cafe and my family commitments, I hope you’ll understand that I have to decline.”
Rhoda seemed to pick up on Marina’s hesitation.

“You know, I’ve helped make your cafe the success that it is.”
Here she goes, Marina thought, bracing herself.

“Really? I don’t see you there much.” She refrained from adding that Rhoda had missed the last meeting at the cafe.
“Maybe not, but I’ve told hundreds, maybe thousands, of people about it. I’m practically a one-person PR firm for you. I won’t say you owe me—I’m too classy for that—but with you on board, the centennial will be a guaranteed success. This time, I won’t take no for an answer.” Rhoda paused, lowering her voice as if for dramatic effect. “I know you’re the person for the job. I even had a dream about it.”
This was far too much for Marina.

While the thought of volunteering for the centennial celebration was appealing, working closely with Rhoda was not. Maybe she meant well—and that was being generous—but she was a talkative whirlwind with little follow-through.
Still, Rhoda gossiped, and Marina didn’t need her to start spreading rumors about the cafe.
“What a shame my life is so busy right now,” Marina began, choosing her words carefully.

“While I can’t commit to helping you with planning and execution, I will bring my food truck to the event with a special menu. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Well, that’s something,” Rhoda finally said, sounding deflated. “But I still need your help. Think about it, and I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Marina’s gaze settled on Heather, who was finishing the lunch preparations. She thought of the life she had built in Summer Beach, and while she loved her community, working with Rhoda would be a disaster. And it sounded like the committee was replacing her anyway.

“You don’t need to do that,” Marina said, remaining firm in her decision. “I’m doing what I can for you. My food truck will be there. But you’ll need someone else to help you with the event.”

Rhoda heaved a sigh. “I’ve done a lot for you, but maybe you don’t realize it. I’ve even invited a food critic to the Coral Cafe for you. He’ll be showing up soon.” She paused for a dramatic sigh.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has said you’re the perfect person to help me. I would hate for them to think badly of you or the cafe for not being willing to help me when I needed you. So, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”


Marina hung up and threw up her hands. “I shouldn’t have taken that call.”
“Bravo for sticking to your principles,” Jack said, grinning. “She has some nerve. That last bit sounded like a mob boss. She tried every trick in the book.”

“Could you hear what she was saying?” Marina asked.
“She’s not shy, Mom.” Heather giggled. “And somehow, you turned on your speakerphone. I almost cracked up when she started in on the dream.”
Marina had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

“The funny thing is, if it weren’t for her, working on the centennial celebration sounds like a lot of fun.”
Heather put up the sandwiches, and Leo charged toward the lunch spread.
Jack scooped a sandwich onto a plate for Leo. “Let someone else take on that misery.”

“I agree,” Marina said as she wrapped the extra bread. “But I hope the centennial celebration won’t be one of Rhoda’s more memorable disasters. Summer Beach deserves better than that.”
Jack swept his arms around her and tapped her nose.

“You don’t have to solve other people’s problems. Let the mayor figure it out.”

Book Reviews

“A wonderful story… Will make you feel like the sea breeze is streaming through your hair.” – Laura Bradbury, Bestselling Author

“A novel that gives fans of romantic sagas a compelling voice to follow.” – Booklist 

“An entertaining beach read with multi-generational context and humor.” – InD’Tale Magazine
“Wonderful characters and a sweet story.” – Kellie Coates Gilbert, Bestselling Author
“A fun read that grabs you at the start.” – Tina Sloan, Author and Award-Winning Actress
“Jan Moran is the queen of the epic romance.” —Rebecca Forster, USA Today Bestselling Author

“The women are intelligent and strong. At the core is a strong, close-knit family.” — Betty’s Reviews

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