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"So this is how you honor the memory of our parents."
Dylan Walker didn't bother to look up from the melting ice cube floating in the glass of amber liquid he held. Nobody but his sister talked to him that way. Because she was eleven months older than him, she thought she had the right. He usually disagreed, but at that moment, he didn't care.
"Nice of you to drop by, Erin."
The sound of her boot heels on the old linoleum kitchen floor grew closer. "I had a feeling it had come to this," she said.
He detected a note of sadness in her voice, but ignored it. "It's no big deal to have a drink, now and then."
"It is when now and then becomes every day."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"I do know. You and I have been running from the same devil for all these years. It's time to stop."
Slamming the glass down on the table in front of him, he got to his feet. Although he was a little unsteady, he wasn't going to let it stop him from saying what he needed to say. "I got through it this year, Erin. I stayed here and rode it out."
In the pale glow from the yard light outside the window, he saw her nod. "I know. Luke told me. But look at yourself now. Just what kind of victory was it?"
The truth was almost more than he could take. He wanted to sit down, but he knew that if he did, she'd win. "One step at a time," he said, without trying to hide the belligerence in his voice.
She shook her head. "You've taken one step forward and two steps back."
"I'm better!" His voice seemed to bounce off the walls of the old house, taunting him, but he wouldn't give in.
"Saying it doesn't make it so."
Squeezing his eyes shut, he prayed his temper wouldn't get the best of him. When he felt more in control, he opened them to find his sister standing next to him. He towered over her more than a foot, but he knew from the stubborn glint in her eyes that she wasn't going to put up with any of his excuses.
Her gaze bored a hole in him as she tipped her head back to look up at him. "You've got to let it go, Dylan. You were a kid. You can't keep blaming yourself for the accident."
He'd never forget the day his parents died. "They were on their way to town because of me."
A strange look flashed over her face, and he thought he saw a slight shake of her head. "It doesn't matter. That was then. This is now."
"But it does"
"Here's what you're going to do," she continued, leaving no room for argument. "You're going to clean yourself up and fix up this house."
He managed a shrug. "A shower and some paint will do that."
She didn't even blink an eye. "Since I can't count on you to do even that, I've hired someone who'll be here in a few days to do what needs to be done."
He wouldn't let her get away with this. "And what if I refuse?"
The silence in the room was almost unbearable as she stared at him. "If you think I'm joking about this, Dylan, go ahead and try me. But here's what's going to happen if you don't agree. I'll put the house up for sale, and you can go do whatever it is you want to do with your life, even if it's nothing. You just won't be doing it here."
He couldn't believe it. "You're kidding."
"If that's what you think, you're more out of touch than I thought. You can either stay here during the renovations that will make this house become something we can all be proud of again, or you can start looking for another place to live. I'm not going to let the memory of our parents become nothing but a run-down old house."
"You wouldn't throw me out."
Her eyes were hard and unforgiving, and her mouth was set in an angry, thin line. "I wouldn't try testing that if I were you."
Before he could think of some kind of stinging response, she'd turned to walk out the kitchen door and into the night.
"She wouldn't dare," he said, sinking to his chair. At least he didn't think so.
But by the next morning, he wasn't so sure Erin wouldn't do exactly what she'd said she would. His sister had a mean streak that rarely showed itself, but he'd seen it last night. He hadn't been at his mental best then, but now that he was thinking more clearly, he knew better than to take her threat lightly. And all he could do was wonder and wait for whoever it was she'd hired to show up.
He hadn't noticed a vehicle driving into the yard the next morning, but he heard a knock on the door of the screened-in porch off the kitchen as he sat drinking his morning coffee. "It's open," he called out.
He looked up at the sound of the female voice to find a pretty blonde woman he hadn't seen since high school standing in his doorway. Clearing his throat, he stood and searched for something to say. "Yeah, it's me" was the only thing that came to mind.
"And looking just the same as you did in high school," she said, with a smile he'd never forgotten. "You need to bottle your secret."
He couldn't believe he was having a conversation with Glory Caldwell. Or Glory Caldwell Andrews, he quickly corrected. The most popular girl in school, who'd been head cheerleader, Prom Queen and so many other things, actually remembered him. And he'd been well, he'd been nobody special and never thought she knew he existed.
"What is it you have there?" She stepped inside the kitchen and picked up the paint samples he'd grabbed at Mercer's Hardware the day before. "Paint chips?"
It was the reminder he needed to come to his senses. When he did, it was clear to him why Glory was standing in his house. "You're the one Erin hired?"
Glory nodded. "Did she tell you how excited I am to have this opportunity? I've always loved your house. It's so big and grand"
"You remember it?" He couldn't think of any reason she would.
Her cornflower-blue eyes widened. "Anybody who's been around Desperation for very long knows the Walker place. Besides, you and I went all through school together. It isn't as if we're strangers."
He wasn't quite sure how to take that. As far as he knew, they might as well have been strangers. But he couldn't very well tell her that.
"You don't believe me, do you?"
His answer was a shrug. He'd forgotten as much of his childhood as he could. "I really don't remember."
"I do. I remember watching you play baseball from the time we were kids."
She did? He had a hard time believing it, but he'd never thought she was someone who said things just so people would like her.
"And you were good. Don't you forget that, Dylan Walker."
"Thanks." But he didn't mention that he hadn't had a glove on his hand or thrown a ball for fifteen years. Nor would he ever again.
She pointed at the paint chips. "You understand that I can do much more than brush on a little paint, don't you?"
He looked at the Creamy Ivory and Oyster samples, and all he saw was white.
"There's so much you can do these days with color," she said when he didn't answer.
"Is that so?"
"Oh, yes!" She ducked her head as her cheeks turned a soft pink. "I'm sorry," she said, looking up at him from under her lashes. "It's just that, well, I'm so excited to have the job of redecorating your home."
"Yeah? So you have some ideas?"
"Maybe a few."
He thought about it. She'd probably do a good job, but he had a bad feeling about the whole thing. He just couldn't put his finger on what it was or why. "I'll be honest here, Glory," he said, trying to think of the best way to tell her he didn't want her there. "None of this was my idea."
Seconds ticked by before she spoke. "I understand." Reaching into the big bag that hung from her shoulder, she frowned and shook her head. "I have a Ah, here it is," she said, pulling out a card. Instead of handing it to him, she walked around the table to where he stood. Smiling, she stuck the card in his shirt pocket. "Just let me know when I can start."
He watched her turn and walk out the door. He didn't want Glory Andrews in his house and should have told her not to bother coming back. But her arrival proved to him that his sister would stick by her word. He really didn't have a choice. He would have to let Glory do whatever it was his sister had hired her to do.
After picking up his cup and taking another drink of coffee, he pulled out the card she'd put in his pocket and looked at it.
Glory Be Antiques and Decorating.
Glory stood at the window of the shop, looking out at the town she'd left behind almost fifteen years before. Things had changed more than she'd expected them to, but from what she could tell since returning to town two weeks ago, it was still the Desperation she remembered.
It wasn't only the town that she was thinking about, but her encounter with Dylan Walker four days earlier. Never, never had she ever used feminine tricks to lure anyoneespecially a maninto doing something she wanted. But it couldn't be helped. She'd promised his sister, who had warned her that he wouldn't be receptive, that she would find a way to get Dylan to agree to let her restore and redecorate the house where Erin and her two brothers had grown up. Erin had explained that it needed some updating, but she didn't trust Dylan to do it, much less do it right.
She hadn't heard anything from Dylan since then, and she was beginning to worry. Erin was counting on herand had paid her a hefty retainer she desperately needed. Even so, she didn't feel right about barging into the house and taking over without his approval. And she sure hadn't gotten that.
The sound of footsteps coming down the old wooden stairs that led to the upper floor of the building dragged her back to the present. Pushing her apprehension about the job aside, she hoped she didn't appear worried.
"Did I hear the door?"
Putting a smile on her face, Glory turned around. "It was me, Gram. I stepped out for a little fresh air." She hated having to tell a lie, but it couldn't be helped. She didn't want Gram to worry. "Did you find what you were looking for up there?"
Louise Gardner, wearing a pair of denim pants and an old shirt, appeared from behind a dusty curtain hiding the short hallway that led to the stairs. "No, but I found a lot of other things."
"Is that good or bad?"
Her grandmother smiled and touched her light-colored graying hair. "Oh, I suspect it's good. I'd forgotten your grandfather took to storing so much up there. Now that you've decided to open up an antiques shop along with your decorating, you won't have to go looking for nearly as much to fill it with."
"That is good news. If I don't have to go out hunting for items to resell, it'll save me time and money. So where do we start?"
"It's up to you," Louise said with a shrug. "We could go through what's upstairs and weed out what's good and what would be better thrown away."
Glory moved to stand by the wood-burning stove that had once been in her grandfather's workshop. Smiling at her grandmother, she said, "Maybe later."
Louise moved to stand beside her. "This old thing brings back such memories."
A stab of remorse cut through Glory for having once suggested they sell it, and she placed her hand on the old stove. "I don't think we should put a price tag on it after all. Maybe we can make it a focal point of the shop. Give the place an old general store feel, with a fire glowing in it in the winter and chairs nearby for customers to stop in to chat and put their feet up."
Her grandmother patted her shoulder. "And I'll bet you think a barrel of pickles would top it off perfectly."
"Or not," Glory said, laughing at the silliness.
Pulling up a chair that needed to be stripped of old paint and stained, Louise settled on it and looked up at Glory with a light of expectation in her eyes. "It's all going to come together, just you watch. You have what it takes to make a go of it. You always have."
Glory felt a warm glow at her grandmother's praise, and leaned down to put her arms around her shoulders. "Thank you, Gram."
"I can hardly wait to see who your first client will be."
"Our first client," Glory corrected. But she wasn't ready to mention that she already had a job lined up. Not until she was in the house and doing the work, just to be on the safe side. After all, if it hadn't been for her grandmother's building that had stood empty for several years, they wouldn't even be talking about clients.
They both turned when the tiny bell above the door announced a visitor. "Why, hello," Louise greeted, while giving Glory a questioning glance.
But Glory was too surprised to say anything.
"Afternoon, Miz Gardner," the visitor said, nodding briefly at Glory's grandmother as he touched the brim of his black cowboy hat.
"Why, Dylan Walker, I haven't see you around for a"
"Yes, what a surprise," Glory said, effectively cutting off the chitchat she suspected her grandmother would launch into without any encouragement. After that would come the invitation to Sunday dinner, and she certainly didn't want to go there. "Why don't we step into the office?"
But Louise didn't seem to hear. "Dylan, are you thinking of letting Glory work her magic on that wonderful old house of yours?"
Glory quickly spoke before he had a chance to answer her grandmother. "If you'll just come with me, Dylan "
He looked from one woman to the other, his attention finally settling on Glory. "I just have a couple of questions."
"I really think we'll be more comfortable in my office," she tried again. After a brief hesitation, he followed her. "You'll have to excuse everything. We haven't had a chance to do much with the building. In fact, we aren't officially open yet."
He removed his hat, revealing his dark hair, and continued to stand. "Nice desk."
It took a moment for her to realize what he'd said. "It was my grandfather's."
"I thought so." He turned and pointed to the door. "That old wood burner out there, too?"
"Why, yes." She knew she shouldn't be surprised that he remembered one or the other. Her grandfather's leather shop had been famous for miles in every direction. The workshop, where he'd done the leather work, still stood behind the building. It had been her favorite place to visit when she could escape from the pressures at home, but Gramps had been gone for many years, and she'd barely been able to step inside his workshop since he'd died.
"It's nice of you to remember, Dylan. He had to give up the leather shop when the palsy got too bad to work."