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Just A Wish Away - Barbara Freethy
Flashback: Alexa and Braden have known each other since they were children, and they always spent their summers in Safe Harbor, WA. One day they find a bottle washed up on shore. When they open it, a strange mist appears. Always one with an overactive imagination, Alexa deems that the bottle will grant them a wish so she makes one – she wishes that Braden will fall in love with her. Things seem to be looking up when he gathers the courage to kiss her, but then everything changes. Alexa's parents get divorced and she's forced to move with her mother, never to return to Safe Harbor. Alexa and Braden try to keep in touch via frequent phone calls, then emails until eventually silence reigns.

Present: Alexa is now 27 years old and the once little girl with a big imagination and even bigger dreams leads a rather boring life, too busy buried in her job as an accountant. Her mother has remarried, as has her father, and she has rekindled the relationship with her father's side of the family. As for Braden, the last she ever heard about him was that he had gotten married and joined the Army. When she receives a phone call that her aunt Phoebe was attacked during a break-in at her antique shop, Alexa returns to Safe Harbor. She plans to get in, help out, then get out.

Braden is also back in Safe Harbor to recover from an injury and to deal with his divorce. When he's asked to put his investigative skills to use to find Phoebe's attacker, fate and a bit of meddling throw Alexa and Braden together again. Their sleuthing unearths a few interesting things – a drowned movie starlet 15 years ago that connects not only the man who had left aunt Phoebe a lot of valuable antiques, but perhaps also Alexa's father and the man running for mayor. Amidst the chaos are the two childhood friends who feel they have nothing to offer one another even though it's plain to see that they want it.

This story was really sweet with the added factor of a bit of mystery. They were adorable as kids, but I found them moreso as adults. Alexa wants to see the old Braden in the grown man, but she soon realizes that he's probably suffered as much as she has in their time apart. Braden is still drawn to Alexa, but he refuses to burden her with his emotional scars from a failed marriage and the secret surrounding his injury. Braden also seems to bear a grudge against her for never coming back all those years ago.

Alexa had daddy issues. She's afraid of falling in love with Braden with the possibility that he could walk away from her like her father had done. In her words, she wants him but doesn't like the idea of needing him. There were many tender moments between the two of them where the barriers came down long enough to give them the courage to move forward. The mystery part of the story wasn't really intriguing, and felt more like an episode of Murder She Wrote, but I think it served it's purpose of forcing Braden and Alexa to stick together, and it gave her the courage to demand some answers from her father. The unraveling of the mystery was quite simple, but I still picked the wrong culprit. It just dawned on me that almost every character mentioned was either divorced, widowed or deceased. Must be something in the water.

A very enjoyable read.