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Six on a Monday morning was too early for the tourist shops in Crested Butte to come to life, but Maddie Cramer couldn't sleep.
She slipped into Desert Sea Gifts and Marine Shop, the one-of-a-kind nautical gift store where she worked, nestled just off Sandy Bottom Reservoir-one of New Mexico's largest lakes, albeit man-made. Crested Butte lay three miles from the lake and a good twenty miles from an actual butte. However, several of the steep flat-topped hills could be seen in the distance, and added just enough mystique and beauty to the desert scenery.
Maddie headed straight to the back of the store, leaving the lights off and the closed sign on the door. In addition to the usual marina supplies of tackle, rods, reels and flotation devices, the store contained the lighthouses, ship wheels, diver-helmet clocks and other nautical trinkets that tourists might find in establishments along the coast, but Desert Sea wasn't one of those.
And the small sailboat regattas in which Maddie competed on Sandy Bottom didn't compare to the sailing her father did, racing with the world's top sailors in the wide-open ocean. Maddie had been born in the wrong time and place.
She'd met her biological father-legendary entrepreneur and sailor James Carroll McHenry-in person for the first time a week ago.
Everything made sense now.
She opened the door to the employee's-only office. Tossing her bag in the corner, she slumped into the captain's chair and closed her eyes. Instead of the stuffy office air, she could still smell the salty water, feel the ocean spray against her face, remember the crinkle around her father's eyes as he smiled.
He was a member of a rich man's yacht club and had raced in one of the most prestigious of races-the America's Cup. Only the wealthy and the world's best sailors could hope to compete. Meeting him, spending time with him, enjoying a passion they both shared had been like a dream. Maddie struggled to wrap her mind and heart around any of it. Worse, coming back to her home in a little desert town in south-central New Mexico, to her little lake and little races, felt anticlimactic.
"Wake up, Maddie!"
Startled, she toppled forward in the chair, almost losing her balance. "I wasn't asleep."
Maddie glanced at the clock. Eight o'clock already. After a night of tossing and turning, she'd finally fallen asleep, all right. For two hours!
Arching a brow, Lindy Singleton smiled as she set her monster-size bag and the cooler holding her lunch against the wall. She sucked through the straw of her drive-through soda. In her fifties, she and her husband, Jack, had moved to Crested Butte, New Mexico, ten years ago to be near his ailing parents who refused to leave. Lindy had opened the shop shortly after. Maddie, who had been in her early teens, had been enthralled and had frequented the place as often as possible. She'd made quick friends with Lindy so it was only natural that she turned to Lindy when she needed a job.
Yes, Maddie had attended college in Albuquerque and had received a general business degree, but the summers were hers on the lake, and she'd eagerly returned, even after the devastating news her parents had shared when she'd turned twenty-one.
Lindy turned to face her. "You're in early."
"Couldn't sleep." Maddie stood to offer the seat to Lindy. This was her business, her office, after all.
"You're fine. Sit down." Lindy took the seat in the corner, scraping a hand through her short-cropped auburn-dyed hair. "Tell me. How did it go?"
Unsure where to begin, Maddie shook her head. "You can't even imagine."
What was Maddie saying? Of course Lindy could imagine. Lindy came from the East Coast, from a sailing family. But she'd fallen in love with Jack, who'd moved her to Iowa where he worked for an insurance company. In New Mexico, he was just now getting involved in sailing.
"I'd like to hear just the same, if you're willing to share."
Maddie spent the next half hour regaling Lindy with her week away-the adventure of a lifetime. "And now I'm not sure if I'll ever look at the Crescent Moon the same."
Her J24 keelboat had been an eighteenth-birthday gift from her parents. Her very own sailboat for racing and years of sailing enjoyment. But that had been overshadowed when she'd turned twenty-one three years ago. She'd learned that Rick, the man she'd thought was her father, wasn't her birth father at all. No. Her biological father had given her up after he and her mother had divorced. When her mother had remarried, her birth father had allowed Rick to adopt Maddie, who was only two at the time, so she'd have a real family, he'd claimed. So she wouldn't be torn away on weekends like other kids with divorced families. Her mother probably wouldn't have told her had it not been for the trust fund that her biological father had set aside for her when she turned twenty-one.
But her father He'd given her up!
The news had capsized her world. She couldn't bring herself to touch the trust fund.
It had taken her a year to get over learning the truth. Another year before she'd had the nerve to contact her biological father. And then another year, a week ago, in fact, before she could face him. Understanding why her birth parents and her adoptive father had kept the truth from her would take a long time, if it ever happened.
Forgiveness, even longer.
Lindy leaned forward and squeezed Maddie's knee. "You know, kiddo, I wasn't expecting you in today. I think you should spend some time out on the water and get re-acquainted with sailing your keelboat."
"Oh, no. I couldn't do that to you. I'm here to work, if you need me."
"You have the Desert Sea Regatta in six weeks. The first regional we've had here. I know that race is important to you. A day out on the lake with your own baby, and your friends if they're around, will do you good. In fact, I insist."
"Thanks, Lindy. You're too good to me."
"No, I'm just keeping an eye on my investment." Maddie tilted her head.
Lindy winked. "As your employer, I've invested time and energy into you. I want you to be happy while you're here."
Oh. Maddie hadn't realized how she'd come across. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I plan to leave New Mexico. I love it here. I really do." But she'd had a few thoughts of moving out east to hang out with her father, especially after experiencing the sailing there. Her father's massive sailing yacht had definitely turned her head, not to mention the man, who had captured her heart.
"And I didn't mean to sound as though I'm only interested in what benefits me," Lindy said. "I care about you as a friend, and you're like a daughter to me." She headed out of the office to flip on the store's lights.
Maddie thought Lindy's voice sounded strained. Maybe she was uncomfortable admitting that. She hadn't shared much about why she and Jack had no children of their own.
As for Maddie's parents, they had moved to Idaho after revealing the truth about her father. They'd bought a bed-and-breakfast near Coeur d'Alene where they planned to retire early. Maybe they'd waited until they were able to tell Maddie the truth before making the move, she didn't know. But now she finally knew where her love of sailing came from, and it had been mostly genetic-it was in her blood. Nothing environmental about it, despite living near a lake.
Maddie stood and stretched, exhausted from not having slept all night. A picture of her standing next to her sailboat hung on the wall. Lindy was right. She should sail today. As grand as sailing with her father aboard his sleek fifty-foot yacht had been, there was something about being able to sail on her own boat by herself. Or even with a small crew like the one she'd need to sail the Desert Sea Regatta, which included two full days of races.
If they won this regional regatta, they'd head to the nationals. What timing that she'd met her yacht-racing, championship-winning father before this race-it was surreal.
Her five-person crew had practiced together until they were like a symphony on the high seas, only it was a lake in the middle of the desert. No matter. They were ready. Maddie's week off might have thrown their rhythm. Taylor, her bowman, had been especially upset with her for leaving. But then he went off mountain biking himself.
Maddie grabbed her bag from where she'd tossed it. Lindy appeared in the doorway.
"I think I'm going to take your advice and hit the water," Maddie said.
"Good girl." Lindy moved to allow Maddie by. "So, what about that father of yours? When do I get to meet him? I assume he's coming to watch you compete in the Desert Sea."
The thought made Maddie's heart race. "I don't know. I want him to be proud of me, but him watching me race is intimidating."
"Maddie, I'm sure he's already proud. Think about asking him, will you?"
"I have been." She strolled to the front door. "See you tomorrow."
Maddie pulled out her phone to text Taylor and ask him about getting the crew together for practice this evening. But she already had a text from Taylor.
In Colorado with broken leg. Call me.
* * *
The obnoxious sound dived into Grady Stone's dream.
Good thing. A shark had been trailing him in the waters off Malibu Beach.
So he survived the shark, only now he was being accosted by the incessant "God's Not Dead" Newsboys ringtone. He punched the soft down pillow over his face and ears. It was early, much too early. Had to be a wrong number. Why wouldn't it just stop?
Grady threw the pillow off and bolted upright. The alarm.
It wasn't his phone ringing. Bleary-eyed, he glanced at his cell phone for the time. He had a preliminary phone interview in half an hour. Staying up much too late to fill out online job applications, he'd overslept.
If he showered and shaved and dressed for the part, he'd make a better impression for this prescreening interview, even though it was by long-distance phone call. The next conversation would likely be via videoconferencing, if not in person.
If he even made it that far.
Chances were, he'd have to move in with Aunt Sheryl who lived in Ventura, California, so he could be available for interviews in person. Candidates who already lived in the vicinity were given greater consideration.
And Grady? He was just a small-town loser since he'd lost his boat-repair business.
He drowned the negative thoughts while he dressed and prepared his mind to think positive.
Waiting for the call, Grady sat at his desk in the office behind the repair garage. He lived in the apartment above the building. Hands shaking, he stared at the phone.
This was ridiculous. He drew in a breath. He could do this. If only he could make it through the obstacles. Though his boat-repair business had sunk with the lake, he knew all about boats; he could definitely see himself as a marine manufacturer's rep, but not in the middle of New Mexico.
He'd wasted four years in college getting a degree in technical writing that he'd yet to use, but then Grandpa had died and left him the boat-repair business. Grady had always had an entrepreneurial spirit so he had taken on the business he knew. He couldn't stand to let it go.
In the end, it looked as if he would have to abandon it anyway.
Grady had hung the for-sale sign on the front door of the shop last week.
"Sorry, Grandpa," he whispered under his breath.
He'd never met anyone else who'd put so much emphasis on honor. The man had his reasons, though-Henry Kirk had served in Vietnam and kept his word to his men, had saved their lives. He was a hero. Grady couldn't hope to fill the man's shoes, but he idolized his grandfather and took everything he'd told him to heart. Understood about what it meant to be loyal and follow through with your words.
And right now, without the business, that understanding, keeping his word, was all he had left, though he'd never be required to face death head-on in order to keep his promises like his grandfather had.
With Grandpa gone, Grady felt alone in his convictions. His grandpa had gone on and on about the kids these days. Grady did his best to uphold the standard Grandpa had set, but considering he'd somehow mismanaged the business until it could no longer function, he felt as if he'd let Grandpa down. Never mind that the lake's water level was so low the marinas had closed; Grandpa had kept the business going through the droughts of the past.
Where he had succeeded, Grady had failed.
And now he would take his failure a step further and sell the business Grandpa had built. Selling the property would keep him from starving, but until then, he needed income. He'd tried to start freelancing as a technical writer, but learned quickly enough that he'd have to gain the experience on-site first. The best opportunities resided in a tech hub. Ventura would have to do for now.
Except he didn't want to leave his home in New Mexico, the life he knew and loved. He didn't want to leave his boat, the Habanero. If he moved to California, he'd have to pay to move the boat and then pay to park it in a marina somewhere. He couldn't ask Aunt Sheryl for more than her hospitality until he secured employment.
Lord, I don't want to sell this business, but I need to sell this business.
The cell phone rang, signaling his interview call. His thoughts had been far from where they needed to be. Grady squeezed his eyes and sent up a silent prayer then answered the call.
Half an hour later, he stared at the closed cell phone resting on his desk. He had given what he thought were great answers, but he hadn't clicked with the guy on the other end of the phone. He hadn't heard laughter when he'd injected humor. And they had both tried to talk at the same time just once too often. The rhythm had been off.
His grandpa had loved sharing clichés and idioms and had used to tell him, "If your boss likes you, you can do no wrong. If he hates you, you can do no right."
The call had been a complete waste of time. His cell rang again.
Grady smiled, needing to hear from his friend. A friend who had once saved his life.
"Grady, how are you, bro? So glad I caught you."
"Hey. Where are you? Still in Colorado?" Grady and Taylor had been close since that day Taylor had pulled him out of the river five years ago. They had spent summers together sailing, that was, until the drought had taken the lake last year. After that, Taylor had begun sailing at Sandy Bottom near Crested Butte.
"Thought you'd be back in New Mexico by now training for the regatta. You made such a big deal about it." But then Grady knew why.
Taylor had a thing for a girl in Crested Butte. The guy had even gone so far as to lease a condo just so he could stay close and sail with her. He participated in sailboat races all over the country, but Maddie had caught his attention last summer and he'd stayed close.
Grady wondered what sort of girl she must be to hook Taylor like that, reel him in.
"About that. I need a favor."
Grady shifted forward in the chair. "All you have to do is ask."