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Steve Lindstrom liked getting to the job site before the rest of his crew. This first, solitary half hour gave him a chance to look around without someone bugging him with a question about building specs or material deliveries. He could savor the progress of something born of his vision, his investment and—in large part—by his own sweat.
He stood by his truck, sipping his coffee as he watched the streaky pink-and-gold sunrise fade quickly above the jagged ridge of the Cascade Mountains far to the east. Construction was always a gamble, but a hot market and his own growing reputation had enabled him to buy this piece of choice view property. On it rose a sprawling wooden skeleton that was slowly becoming his fanciest house yet, as well as his largest financial gamble to date. Nearby stood another house, nearly as grand and almost completed.
Since Steve had first begun working as a framer during summer vacations, the work had always given him a sense of accomplishment that was nearly as sweet as throwing a football into his receiver's waiting hands or acing a tough exam. Now he was the boss. The control, the decisions and the headaches connected with Lindstrom Construction were his responsibility.
From Admiralty Inlet, where sailboats dotted the choppy water, came a light breeze scented with salt and sunshine. Above a nearby stand of arrow-straight Douglas fir trees, an eagle soared. Its white head was easy to identify against the blue sky, its wingspan a sight to behold. For the moment, a sense of peace settled on the clearing with its ribbon of road and two new buildings.
Setting aside his empty mug, Steve grabbed a clipboard and scowled at his notes on material shipments and subcontractors' schedules. Juggling two projects was taking its toll. One late delivery, one installation problem, and his time frame would collapse like a row of dominoes.
Since he'd heard that Lily Mayfield was back in town, his concentration had been shot to hell when he needed it the most. The possibility of running into her nagged him like the dull throb of a bad tooth. Over the years, his memories of Lily had begun to fade, but the possibility of turning a corner and running into her again, of drowning in her sky-blue eyes and getting drunk on her scent, made him think of little else.
He kicked aside a fist-sized rock so that no one would trip on it, wishing he had an excuse to swing a sledgehammer and demolish something instead of making nice with his designer and soothing his nervous banker's nerves.
As Steve checked out the three-car garage that had been framed in yesterday, the sound of a truck engine cut into his concentration. He looked up to see his friend Wade Garrett's pickup coming down the long dirt driveway. Slowly, it bounced over the ruts to avoid raising dust. Wade had been bunking at Steve's house, but he hadn't found his way home last night.
Steve watched Wade park his rig and walk up the driveway. He was as tall as Steve, but leaner in his T-shirt and faded jeans. A baseball cap covered his cropped black hair. The grin on his angular face was that of a man who had recently rolled out of someone else's bed after a night of memorable sex.
Steve felt a twinge of envy. When was the last time he'd had terrific sex—or any sex at all? He could barely remember.
"I didn't expect you to be here today," Steve said as Wade joined him.
Wade worked for him part-time, but lately he'd been talking about returning to his former profession of investment broker.
"I'm not working today, old buddy. I'm celebrating." Wade slapped Steve's back enthusiastically. "If it wasn't so damned early, I'd buy you a beer."
Steve eyed his scruffy-jawed friend warily. "You just win the lottery or get laid by a high-priced hooker?" he drawled.
In the few months he'd known Wade, Steve couldn't remember ever seeing him so fired up. In fact, he'd been moping around since a recent breakup with his girlfriend, Pauline Mayfield, who just happened to be Lily's older sister.
"Hey, pal, what I'm high on is better than money," Wade replied with a laugh. "Way better."
"You've hooked up with someone," Steve guessed, propping his shoulder against a corner post. "Who's the lucky lady?"
Wade shook his head. "It's not what you think, but I did want you to be the first to hear my news."
"The guys will be here any minute now and you look ready to bust a gut, so you'd better spill," Steve replied. "What's up with you?"
Wade's cheeks were flushed and he practically twitched with excitement. "Pauline and I are back together." With a wild whoop that startled a crow off a nearby branch, he tossed his cap high into the air. "We're getting married."
"Congratulations, man!" Steve exclaimed, happy for them both. He grasped Wade's outstretched hand and pulled him into a bear hug, slapping his back before releasing him.
No wonder Wade was acting like a crazy man. He had been nuts about Pauline since he first rented the apartment above her converted carriage house.
It would have been selfish of Steve to wish Wade could have fallen for someone else, just because of Steve and Lily's history. Just because she was back in town with a twelve-year-old son he knew nothing about, a boy who everyone said looked just like Steve.
"My God," he exclaimed after he'd let go ofWade,
"no wonder you're grinning like a damned idiot. You're marrying up in the world, that's for sure."
"True enough," Wade agreed as the throaty whine of a motorcycle signaled the imminent arrival of Steve's crew.
"Time for me to get to work," he told Wade, "but I'll buy the first round at the Crab Pot tonight. Bring Pauline so I can tell her what a poor choice she's made."
"I'll see what she says," Wade replied, sounding married already.
Carlos roared up on his Harley, followed by George in his faded red pickup.
"I've got a favor to ask," Wade told Steve as the men began unloading their gear. "Would you stand up with me at the wedding? It'll be toward the end of September and we're keeping it small."
Wade cleared his throat. "I know it's a lot to ask—" he added. So he'd noticed Steve's reaction to Lily's voice on the answering machine when she had left a message for Wade. Steve had been caught off guard, that was all, but Wade had obviously drawn his own conclusion.
Here's the opportunity to prove she's just a bad memory, whispered a voice in Steve's head. Now that Pauline and Lily had patched up their differences, his ex-girlfriend would no doubt be part of her sister's wedding and her life, but he wasn't about to let Lily's presence scare him away.
"Don't talk stupid," Steve said gruffly, ignoring the sudden tightness in his gut. "I'm honored that you asked me, okay?"
Wade's frown cleared. "Thanks, man."
"Hey, Frisco, you working today?" Carlos shouted, using the nickname he'd given Wade. "That means I can goof off, right, boss?"
"Wrong," Steve replied, slapping Wade's back.
"He's got better things to do than pound nails." He turned back to his friend. "Nice work. You've landed yourself a fantastic woman."
The rest of it, Steve wouldn't let it be a problem. He would deal. Lily was part of his past and that's where she was going to stay.
Lily Mayfield and her sister stood on the sidewalk in front of Pauline's cross-stitch shop, Uncommon Threads. It took up part of the ground floor of an old building in the historic business district in Crescent Cove.
"I still can't get over how much everything grew while I was gone." Lily looked down the busy street at the flower baskets and banners hanging from the ornate antique light poles. Half of the storefronts had been empty thirteen years ago.
"You've been home long enough to adjust to the changes," Pauline replied as she studied the display in her front window. "Did you think everything was going to stay frozen in time until you decided to come back?"
"No, of course not." Lily glanced at her watch. It was nearly time to pick up her son, Jordan, from his friend's house. "What do you think?" Pauline frowned at the window display. "Too busy? Too cutesy?"
Lily considered the plain clay pots that were arranged in front of a white picket fence. A round hoop framing an embroidered flower picture was stuck into each pot like a lollypop.
"It's clever," she decided. "If I wasn't all thumbs, I'd be tempted to buy a kit myself."
Pauline didn't appear convinced as she fiddled with a strand of streaky blond hair that was several shades darker than Lily's. "I hope you're right," she murmured. "With all the tour buses coming from Seattle and down from Canada, I'm really hoping to attract some new customers."
"I've got to get Jordan," Lily told her. "Don't forget to make some time in your schedule to plan your wedding. September will be here before we know it." On this bright July day, fall was hard to imagine.
Pauline gave a helpless shrug. "I thought a small backyard ceremony would be simple. If it rains, we'll move it inside."
Lily wanted to roll her eyes at her sister's naiveté. The living room of the old Victorian was huge, but the furnishings were getting shabby.
"Simple and yet elegant," Lily said with a grin.
"Don't worry. I'll help you." Planning Pauline's wedding together was something Lily wouldn't have dreamed possible two months ago, but now she was looking forward to it.