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Sitting in his pickup truck, Gabriel Logan stared at the 1908 Craftsman-style mansion - the stone-covered pillars, the multi-paned windows, the exposed beams, the wraparound porch and the three dormers jutting from the long-sloping, gabled roof. She was beautiful, all right. As his heart filled with regret, he tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
For years, he'd been dreaming, planning and saving for the day he would buy this house. Eighty-one-year old Miss Larabee had promised it to him until two months ago when she'd received another offer "too good to pass up." One she didn't even give him the opportunity to match.
He drummed his fingers against the leather-covered steering wheel. His dog, Frank, raised his head from the passenger's seat and groaned.
"Sorry, boy." Gabe scratched behind the giant mastiff's drooping ears. "It shouldn't matter. We're here, right? On time. Might as well get to work."
But Gabe made no move to get out of the truck.
Today he started work on his dream house. Not as the owner. As the contractor hired to turn it into a B and B. His grandfather must be rolling in his grave. This house was meant for a family - not tourists with a buzz after visiting one of Willamette Valley's award-winning wineries. Yet Gabe was about to do the dirty work for the mysterious F. S. Addison. He hadn't spoken with the new owner yet. A mutual friend, Henry Davenport, had made all the arrangements. He'd referred more business than Gabe and his crew could handle, and money continued pouring in.
Talk about ironic.
Bitterness coated his mouth. This was one job he didn't want. But Gabe didn't trust anyone else to remodel the house while preserving the character, the charm and the million other things that made it special. Things that made the house a home. What should have been his home.
The title company might not agree, but Gabe and his family had been calling it his house for years.
Frank tried to roll over and expose his belly for rubs, but there wasn't enough room in the king cab.
"Sorry, boy." Gabe patted the dog. "We both got screwed this time around. And not in a good way."
"I know the truck is cramped."
With sad eyes, the dog stared up at him. No doubt Frank missed his custom-built doghouse and the large, fenced yard where he'd had room to roam. Gabe missed them, too.
"But I can't leave you at Mom and Dad's during the day. As soon as I have time, I'll find us another house."
When Miss Larabee had told him she was moving to an assisted-living facility, he'd had no doubt her house would be his. So he'd made an offer, put his home up for sale, sold it the next day and moved into the studio above his parents' garage to wait until he could move into Miss Larabee's house. A good plan. If it had worked out.
Too bad none of his plans had worked out so far. Gabe had once thought he had it all figured out. At eighteen, he'd marry his high-school sweetheart, by the time he was thirty, he'd have a minivan full of kids and be living in the Larabee house. Instead he was thirty-two with no wife, no kids and no place to call home.
He stared at the house.
His grandfather had wanted to restore the house, too. Death had robbed him of his dream. And now F. S. Addison had robbed Gabe of his.
Frank pawed at the passenger door.
Reaching over two hundred pounds of tan fur, Gabe opened it. The dog poured himself out, lumbered up the walkway and front steps and plopped down on the shady porch. Even Frank acted as if the house was theirs.
Gabe slapped the steering wheel. This wasn't going to be easy, but he couldn't sit in the truck all day.
Time to get moving. The sooner this job was over, the sooner he could get on with his life. He slid out of the truck and sorted through the bucket of blueprints stored in the back of the cab.
Frank barked. Once, twice. A cat? A bloodcurdlingslasher-movie scream cut through the stillness of the summer morning. No, the scream was female, not feline. Gabe sprinted around the front of the truck.
The dog wasn't on the porch.
His deep woofs signaled his location like a beacon. Gabe ran toward the sound, around the front of the house to the side yard. He waded through weeds and too-tall grass to find Frank, with his tail wagging, straddling the trunk of an old maple tree. This was where Gabe had pictured his own kids climbing into a canopy of shade and picnicking beneath its dense branches.
"What kind of trouble did you get us into this time?" Gabe asked.
Frank looked up at the tree and panted.
Gabe peered up to see a jeans-clad bottom. A very feminine, round bottom. A white T-shirt was tucked into the waistband. A brown ponytail hung out the back of a navy baseball cap. Frank had chased lots of animals up trees, but this was a first.
"That's some hunting, boy," Gabe murmured. He didn't know whether to punish or praise the hound.
The dog moved ten feet away and lay on the grass. Frank kept his head low - his guilty look - and drool ran from the corners of his mouth and pooled on the ground.
A muffled sob floated down from above. "Are you okay, miss?"
"Is it gone?" a shaky voice asked.
"The monster attack d-dog with big teeth. I just wanted to see the front of the house and was walking by ..." Her voice was unsure, quiet. Scared.
With five sisters, he knew the sound well. From bugs to snakes to killer clowns, he'd dealt with it all. "You must not be from around here."
"How did you guess?"
First, he would have remembered that bottom. Second, most people in Berry Patch walked in the early evening after they were done with work and had time to chat with neighbors on the street. And third, she was up a tree. "Everyone in town knows Frank's bark is worse than his bite."
Excerpted from Blueprint For A Wedding by Melissa, McClone Copyright © 2005 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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