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The only difference between Mirabelle and Adam Harding's life was that this island would be good as gold by Christmas. Maybe that's why there was nothing he liked better than a good, old-fashioned natural disastertornadoes, floods, hurricanes. As long as no lives had been lost in the happening.
He could fix roofs and replace windows, repair roads and replant trees, putting everything right again. It's what he did best. He fixed things. That's why the folks here on Mirabelle had hired him, to get their town, their businesses and their lives back on track.
As a gentle, late summer breeze laden with dust blew from the interior of the island out toward Lake Superior, Adam glanced up and down Main Street, taking note of his team's progress in cleaning up after the tornado that had ripped across this island. When he'd first arrived, shattered glass, crumbling bricks, torn shingles, shredded awnings and twisted lampposts, as well as the remnants of uprooted trees and broken branches, had been scattered this way and that across town. Unfortunately, there was still much to be done before any rebuilding could start.
"This cleanup isn't happening fast enough," Adam said, addressing his crew. He could mollycoddle with the best of them, but every once in a while a man needed a swift kick in the rear to make something happen. "Initial supplies are getting dropped off in the a.m. That means no one leaves tonight until this place is ready for the shipment. Understand?"
"It would've been a hell of a lot easier getting rid of all this debris if we'd brought a couple of our semiloaders over on a barge, and drove them right up that pier and onto the island," said Ray Worley, one of several operations foremen. "We'd have had this whole place cleaned up in a couple days."
"And in the process we'd have destroyed all of Mirabelle's cobblestone," Adam said, staring pointedly at his foreman as he referred to the street below his feet. He made eye contact with as many of his crew as he could. "Every job we've ever done has had its own special problems and opportunities," he said softly. "One of the objectives on this island is to do no more damage while we're here. Tread lightly. Be respectful of Mirabelle's history. Understand?"
The men nodded, most of them having been with him for years. They understood he took pride in making good on his promises, and that's why his company had one of the finest reputations in the country for restoring towns devastated by natural disasters.
"I've promised these people that we'll have their island up and running before Christmas, and they've put their lives in our hands. Let's get this done."
His cleanup crew dispersed, a small team, relatively speaking. In a couple days, the real work would start and his main construction crew would be crawling in full force all over this island.
"Ray," Adam called.
"In the past, you've disagreed on occasion with my messages to the men, and I've asked you to voice your objections in private," Adam said quietly. He didn't get angry, and he never raised his voice. He simply stated his expectations, and if those expectations weren't met then there would be consequences. "Contradict what I say one more time in front of anyone, and you're fired."
Adam turned away, felt the heat of the man's irate stare on his back and impassively headed to his trailer set up on the street bordering the city park. He'd positioned his mobile office in about as centrally located a position as he could get while still being able to survey most of main street Mirabelle on which he and his crew would be focusing their efforts. There'd been some minor damage out at the Rock Pointe Lodge resort, up on the golf course and at Mirabelle Stable and Livery, but the rest of the mayhem wrought by the tornado had been concentrated in the village center.
As he crossed the street, his personal assistant, Phyllis Pennick, came out of the trailer holding a stack of messages. Phyllis was in her mid-fifties and of medium height with short, salt-and-pepper hair. She was rail thin, no doubt from smokingoutside, he'd always insisteda pack of cigarettes a day. Some managers might begrudge the time she took away from her desk to appease her habit, but as far as Adam was concerned she more than made up for that one flaw with her organizational skills. Her husband had died almost a decade ago, so she had no problems traveling on the job, and, as with most good executive assistants, he didn't know what he'd do without her.
"Darwin called," she said. "His bus broke down somewhere in Iowa last night and they're waiting for a part. He figures they're going to be at least a day late."
That meant the initial supplies would be here tomorrow, but a big part of his crew wouldn't. It wasn't the firstand it certainly wouldn't be the lasttime that's ever happened. Although he tried to hire as much local labor as possible, knowing an area devastated by a tornado could usually use the inflow of employment dollars, he brought the majority of his construction workers, including several foremen and supervisors, along with him to every job.
"I'm going to get myself a sandwich while I can," she said. "You want one?"
"Sure." He reached the steps to his trailer office and noticed his kids' nanny, along with his daughter and son, coming down the hill from the house he was renting up in the residential section of the island. Carla had standing, strict orders to not bring Julia and Wyatt anywhere near his construction sites and had never once violated the rule in the three years she'd been working for him. This had to be something big.
As they neared Adam, Wyatt caught sight of him. "Daddy!" he called.
Adam waved. Carla quickly bent down to Wyatt's level and pointed at the play equipment. Then she let go of the four-year-old's hand, and he ran over to the play equipment without a second glance toward Adam. His seven-year-old daughter, Julia, on the other hand, never took her eyes off Adam's face.
"Hi, Daddy," Julia said, looking more than a little worried as she and her nanny approached him. "I know we're not supposed to come down to your work, but Carla said it was important."
"It's all right. I'm sure Carla had a good reason." The nanny's eyes were red and puffy as if she'd been crying. "Julia," he said. "Go play with your brother for a few minutes while I talk with Carla."
"Julia," he said calmly. His soft-spoken strategies in dealing with his employees worked just as well with his kids.
"What did I ask you to do?"
Crossing her spindly little arms, she frowned at him, but then headed over to Wyatt.
As soon as his daughter was out of earshot, he turned to Carla. "What's going on?"
"It's my mother," she said, her voice breaking. "I don't know if you remember, but she's been sick." He remembered. "They found lung cancer."
She closed her eyes for a moment, gathering herself.
"Do you know what you want to do yet?" he asked softly, bracing for the worst. The only thing he'd ever been able to count on in the construction business is that he couldn't count on anything. He'd deal with this problem the way he dealt with everything else.
"I have to go home to take care of her."
"How long will you be gone?"
"Could be two months. Could be a year. I don't know. I'll be staying as long as she needs me. I think it's best for the children if you find another nanny."
Something bad happened without fail on every single one of his jobs. This was the construction business, and what he did, moving from town to town, rebuilding after disasters, had more than its fair share of plans going awry. Last time they'd been to Arkansas, his roofing crew had been late by more than a week. In east Texas, one of his foremen, a good friend of Ray Worley's, had shown up on the job site in the morning still drunk from the previous night of partying and Adam had had to fire him. In Oklahoma, they'd had another tornado come through not a month into the job, forcing them to start almost from scratch. He'd gotten used to problems, had accepted them as par for the course. But this? This was different. This impacted his kids.
Carla had been his children's nanny ever since Bethever since his wife had died three years ago. Carla had been the only constant in their ever-changing landscape. Wyatt, too young to understand much of anything, went about playing on the park equipment as if nothing was amiss. But Julia?
She was watching him. Always, she watched him. no child should have to grow up so fast.
"The children." Tears streamed down Carla's face. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Harding."
"It's all right, Carla. We'll survive."
One way or another, they always did, but he was getting a very bad feeling about this Mirabelle project.
"Men." Marin Camden glanced at the group of construction workers eyeingno, more like oglingher as she and her mother took a ferry across the choppy surface of Lake Superior to Mirabelle Island. "They're all pigs."
"I imagine Artie and Max might just take issue with that very generalized opinion." Marin's mother, Angelica Camden, chuckled softly. "Your brothersmy sons, mind youare definitely not cut from the same cloth as those crude strangers. Or, for that matter, Colin."
At the mention of her ex-fiancé, Marin turned around and gripped the ferry's railing. "That's what you want to think, but how do you really know? Men hide their affairs very well these days, and Artie and Max would hardly spill to either one of us."
"Well, I know this isn't what you want to hear, but affairs are just one of the many ways men break their vows," Marin's mother said, frowning as she adjusted her dark sunglasses. "Sometimes the most subtle infractions can be the most painful."
There was a great deal of truth to that statement. Discovering Colin had been screwing around behind Marin's back almost since the day they'd started dating more than six years ago hadn't been quite as shocking or cutting as discovering the identity of his lover when she'd returned home early from a work conference and found them in bed together. This, on the same day she'd discovered the top management at the
Wall Street firm she worked for were under investigation for ethics violations and had decided to quit her job.
She still wasn't entirely sure what to think. Was Colin's betrayal her fault? Had she been just too assertive and demanding? not sexy or sensual enough?
"Still," Angelica continued, "I refuse to believe that there are no men worthy of love and commitment."
Marin shot a glance in her mother's direction. She'd known her mother and father had been having a few spats of late, but when her mom had asked if she could tag along in Marin's escape from the media frenzy surrounding her breakup with Colin, she'd assumed it had been nothing out of the ordinary. Now she wasn't so sure.
"Forget about me and Colin," Marin said. "What's going on with you and Dad? Did he do something? Something serious or subtle?"
Her mother looked away. "I'm sorry, Marin. He's your father. I don't want to say anything that might color your opinion of him."
"Oh, come on." Marin shook her head. "How many times have I told you to divorce the arrogant, self-absorbed asshole? Have you finally decided to do it this time?"
Only silence from her mother.
"Mom?" Marin felt her eyes widen. "Did you actually file for a divorce?"
"I saw an attorney last week."
Holy hell. This from her patient, calm, always loving and forgiving mother. What had happened to the sermon about how a person doesn't throw away thirty-five years of marriage on a whim? Anyone can get a divorce. Making a marriage work? That's the hard part.
"Well, this probably doesn't help much." Marin wrapped her arm around her mother. "But I would've left him decades ago." Of course, Marin never would've married the opinionated, sexist, controlling United States senator in the first place. She loved Arthur Camden as a father, but she'd never liked him as a man. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not just now," Angelica said, smiling slightly. "Suffice it to say, I needed a little time away. Thanks for letting me tag along with you."
But then the quaint and quiet Mirabelle Island with its Victorian bed-and-breakfasts, cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages wouldn't have been Marin's first destination pick. She would've much preferred a month at an adults-only resort on St. Barts in the Caribbean. Sand, surf and ice-cold drinksSex on the Beachwould've done wonders for her frame of mind.
Then again, hanging with her sister, Melissa, after she'd estranged herself from the family all these years held a certain appeal. It'd be nice getting to know her again and her new world. Although Marin would venture to guess that her husband, Jonas, was as much an ass as the rest of his sex.
"You know I've never been off on my own like this away from your father," her mother whispered. "For more than a weekend here or there."
"Then you were long past due."
"A month on Mirabelle. What in the world are we going to do all day long?"
"Unwind and relax."
Easier said than done. Marin might have a multimillion dollar trust fund inherited from her famous Camden grandfather sitting at a bank, making quitting her job financially feasible, but she'd also inherited her grandfather's work ethic. Other than to pay Harvard tuition and buy her Manhattan apartment, she'd never relied on that trust money for support. Until now. It didn't sit particularly well, but Marin was going to attempt to give lazy a good go for the first time in her life.