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The Men Of Thorne Island
By Cynthia Thomason
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSara Crawford entered her office at precisely eight-thirty on Monday morning, walked halfway across the plum-colored carpet and stopped dead. "Whatever that is, it can't be good," she muttered. "Especially this close to tax deadline." The red-and-white Federal Express envelope on top of her desk had all the appeal of a hurricane warning flag on a Fort Lauderdale beach.
Tossing her purse and briefcase on a chair, she headed for the chrome credenza lining one wall. Before she could even think about tackling the contents of the package, she needed to deal with the coffee machine.
A crusty brown stain in the bottom of the glass pot did more to irritate her than her assistant being late again. Sara carried the pot into her bathroom, dribbled a few drops of detergent over the burned-on mess and filled the pot with steaming hot water.
Then she sat at her desk and picked up the cardboard envelope addressed to Sara Crawford, CPA. It wasn't particularly thick, so maybe it didn't contain a late-filing client's tax records. Nor was the return address familiar: Herbert Adams, Attorney, Cleveland, Ohio. Puzzled but relieved, she reached for her letter opener.
"Oh, hell! Look at the time."
Candy Applebaum's oath came from the reception room just before the administrative assistant stuck her head in Sara's office. Her red hair was piled on top of her head, secured by a bright orange elastic band that did nothing to prevent over-moussed strands from sticking out in all directions. "I'm so sorry I'm late, Sara," Candy said. "I almost made it on time, except I had one catastrophe after another this morning. My cat climbed on the table and swatted at the birdcage. The feed tray fell out of the rungs and all the bird seed went everywhere, and I had to ..."
Sara smiled. "It's all right, Candy. I just got here myself."
Candy glanced at the credenza and grimaced. "I did it again, didn't I? Forgot to turn off the coffeepot. Was it really gross?"
"Well, it -"
"No problem. I'll take care of it." Candy headed for the bathroom, but stopped at Sara's desk and dropped a crumpled sack onto the cluttered surface.
"Before I forget, this just came for you. Mr. Papalardo delivered it personally." She sighed as she went into the bathroom. "He's the sweetest man."
Sara set down the FedEx envelope and stared in horror at the brown paper bag. He'd done it again. After she'd warned him repeatedly, he pulled the same trick every year. She could just picture the world's "sweetest man" waiting on the sidewalk until she'd entered the building and then slinking inside. The security guard would greet him cheerfully. The janitor would wave hello. After all, everyone loved Tony Papalardo.
A dull ache centered itself behind Sara's eyes. She picked up the bag and turned it over, foolishly hoping it would be different this year. It wasn't. Bundles of paper loosely bound with rubber bands and paper clips scattered onto her desktop. Some scraps were actually identified with official Pappy's Pizzeria stationery. Most of them were barely legible receipts smudged with tomato sauce or memos scratched on chianti-stained napkins. Sara put her head between her hands.
"Something wrong, Sara?"
A rhetorical question. "Candy, do you think Mr. Papalardo has any idea that he's not my only client and today is April twelfth? Only three days to the deadline."
Glancing over her shoulder at the mess on Sara's desk, Candy said, "Oh, not again. Don't worry. I'll help you."
"Thanks." Sara glanced toward a pewter mirror across the room. She could almost visualize herself tugging every pin from her French twist and pulling out each strand of blond hair by the root. But she didn't have time. Instead, she picked up Tony Papalardo's paper bag and crushed it in her hands. "I'm going on vacation with my friends in five days, Candy," she said. "Nothing is going to stop me from getting on that plane to Aruba. I'm really leaving."
Candy grinned with delight. "Well, of course you are, Sara. And you'll have a wonderful time. Isn't that new guy you've been dating part of the group?"
Sara answered with caution, knowing where the question was leading. Candy was always trying to secure a happily-ever-after for her boss. "Yes, Donald is going, but don't jump to conclusions. We've only had four dates."
"Okay, but when you two stroll along those moonlit beaches, who knows what will happen?"
Sara shook her head and laughed. "You're incorrigible."
The phone rang in the outer office, and Candy scurried to answer it while Sara picked through the pile of pizzeria flotsam. She was interrupted when her intercom buzzed. "Yes, Candy."
"It's for you, Sara. A Mr. Herbert Adams from Cleveland. He said you'd be expecting his call."
Cleveland? Of course. the envelope. Sara reached for the FedEx package with one hand and grabbed the phone with the other. "Hello, Mr. Adams? This is Sara Crawford. I'm sorry. I haven't had a chance to open what you sent. I have it right here, though."
The voice on the other end was crisp and competent. "Miss Crawford, I was Millicent Thorne's attorney."
It took a moment for the name to register, but when it did, Sara smiled. She hadn't seen her mother's Aunt Millie for fifteen years, since the summer she'd turned fourteen - the summer her mother died. But she remembered the disciplined woman with her sensible shoes and pearl-buttoned cardigan sweaters. "Of course," she said. "How is Aunt Millie?"
There was a pause. "You don't know?"
"Miss Thorne passed away five days ago."
Sara had only seen Millicent Thorne a half-dozen times in her life. Millie traveled a great deal, and Sara had been busy with school activities. Still, the news of her death sent a wave of sadness through her. Mr. Adams, a stranger, called to tell her that a member of her family had died, a woman she barely knew. There ought to be a sin covering this kind of situation. The sin of missed opportunities because at this moment Sara did indeed feel as if she'd let some part of her life slip away, and there was no way to get it back. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"I'm aware that you and Miss Thorne were never close."
"How did she die, Mr. Adams?"
"Peacefully in her sleep, and she wanted for nothing. Your aunt lived comfortably, thanks to a lawsuit she won a few years ago. Her last years were spent in relative luxury."
"I'm glad of that, at least."
"She had a sizable estate," Mr. Adams said, "and a will that clearly stipulated her wishes. She had a good many friends and helpful neighbors, whom she remembered in her will. And she remembered you, Miss Crawford."
"Me? Why me? I hardly knew her." Sara's headache intensified. "I can't accept an inheritance, Mr. Adams. If it's money, perhaps you could arrange for one of Miss Thorne's charities -"
"It's not money, Miss Crawford. It's Thorne-family property, and Miss Thorne very definitely wanted you to have it. She said she remembered you as a levelheaded girl. She thought you could manage it quite well."
Excerpted from The Men Of Thorne Island by Cynthia Thomason Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.