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"Bitney, Kentucky? What the hell is in Bitney, Kentucky?" Kieran stared down at the bus ticket, shaking his head.
He and his three brothers had gathered in Cameron's office after a meeting with their grandfather. And they were all still trying to wrap their heads around what had just gone down. They'd suspected that Martin Quinn was thinking about retiring and turning over the control of the family yacht-building business to one of his four grandsons. But not one of them had expected this.
"So, let me get this straight," Dermot said. "We're supposed to walk away from everything here in Seattle for six weeks and find a new life for ourselves? In some strange place?"
Ronan nodded. "This is crazy. The old man has lost his mind. How the hell is he going to run this place without us?"
Kieran chuckled. "Don't worry about that. He knows every job in the place. I swear, he could fire us all and the business would thrive."
Quinn yachtworks had been started in the early sixties as a small fishing-boat repair business in Seattle. Their grandfather had gradually built it into the finest custom sailing yacht producer on the West Coast, known for its sleek, state-of-the-art designs.
Martin's only son, Jamie, had worked in the business until he and his wife, Suzanne, had been lost at sea.
It seemed as if every bit of happiness had leaked out of the young Quinns' lives on the day they buried that empty coffin. The things that made them a family had changed. There wasn't a lot of affection or laughter in the house. Instead, the boys worked and worked and worked, pushing aside their emotions and their loss.
There had been some good moments, Kieran recalled. The four brothers had built a boat all on their own and he, Dermot and Cameron had spent an entire summer sailing it around Puget Sound, much to the dismay of Ronan, who refused to step on board. But the dreams they'd had for themselves as kids had been replaced by responsibility to their grandfather. Martin Quinn had taken them in when they needed a home. It was their family duty to repay him.
They all attended college locally and continued to work at Quinn Yachtworks, helping to expand the business even more. At first, they'd worked simple jobs around the shop and then, as they got older, they'd taken on more important positions. Cameron ran the design end and Dermot handled sales. Kieran served as chief financial officer and Ronan enjoyed supervising the shop, spending his days working side by side with the builders and craftsmen.
Yes, they'd all put aside their childhood dreams to help out after their parents' death. But it was silly to think any of them could go chasing after those dreams now. "Where are you going?" Kieran asked Dermot.
"Mapleton, Wisconsin." Dermot held up his phone, a tiny map on the screen. "It's not anywhere near water. Except for this little lake."
"Look up Bitney, Kentucky," Kieran asked.
"That's an easy one," Cameron said. "He's sending you to racing country. Remember how crazy you were about horses? You used to have all those plastic ponies lined up on your bedroom shelf. And you were always bugging Grandda to tell you about the horse he had when he was a kid. You even asked Da for riding lessons for your tenth birthday."
Kieran ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. "I barely remember that. I'd almost forgotten about Ma buying me those plastic ones all the time. She'd put them in my lunch box." He smiled at the memory. His mother had always been thoughtful like that. She'd loved playing with his horse collection as much as he did.
"Whatever happened to those ponies?" Dermot wondered.
"He wrapped them up and put them in the coffin," Cameron said.
"Right," Kieran replied. "I didn't think I'd ever want to play with them again. They reminded me too much of Ma."
A long silence grew between them.
"What time do you leave?" Ronan asked.
"Eleven-thirty tonight," Kieran replied. "I've got two and a half days on a bus. I can't imagine how much fun that's going to be."
Dermot chuckled. "You can catch up on your reading. Hey, it might be kind of cool. Who knows? I'm trying to keep an open mind. And a forced vacation isn't such a bad deal."
"Yeah, let's see if you feel that way after you've been stuck inside a bus for sixty hours," Kieran said. "Or you come back six weeks later to find your office buried in paperwork."
"Sixty hours? Look at mine," Ronan said. "Sib-leyville, Maine. That's about as far away from Seattle as a guy can get. Three and a half days. That's one day more than any of you guys have."
Dermot held up his phone. "At least you'll be near water. Maybe you'll be able to find a decent job doing something you know about."
"What am I supposed to do in Vulture Creek, New Mexico?" Cameron asked.
"Well, at least that makes sense. Dinosaur bones. Remember? After you saw Jurassic Park, you started digging up the garden. Dinosaurs were all you ever talked about. And then you found that bone and Da told you it was from a pork chop."
They all started laughing. Kiernan and his brothers had teased Cam for weeks about that adventure, but their mother had shushed them all, insisting that Cam should do whatever he dreamed of doing.
"Listen, I have to get home and pack," Kieran said. "I'm the first off. You guys don't leave until tomorrow." He looked at the envelope of cash they'd each been given for the trip. "Are you guys going to take some extra money?"
"Grandda said we had to stick with what he gave us," Cam said. "I figure we ought to play by the rules, don't you?"
"Yeah, but I've got an extra day on the bus," Ronan said.
"You know what it is," Cam said. "He came to this country with a hundred dollars in his pocket. I think he wants us to experience what that was like. It forces us to be creative."
Ronan cursed softly. "The old man is nuts. A hundred dollars went a lot further fifty years ago."
"I suppose we'll just have to use our wits rather than our wallets," Kieran said. "We're all smart lads. I'm sure we can figure something out. And he did give us the credit card in case of an emergency."
"What constitutes an emergency?" Dermot asked.
"Imminent death?" Ronan said. "Starvation? The pressing need for a shower and a shave?" He shook his head. "Three and a half days on a bus."
Kieran got to his feet. "I need a ride home."
"Why don't we all go out?" Cam suggested. "We can have a beer and give Kieran a decent send-off. We won't be seeing each other for six weeks. I think a drink or two is in order."
"O'Leary's?" Ronan asked.
"O'Leary's it is," Kieran said.
The bus had pulled into the station in Denver at precisely 6:45 a.m. Kieran glanced down at his watch through bleary eyes. His layover was just a little longer than two hours and he wasn't sure he could keep his eyes open long enough to make his transfer onto the next bus headed to Indianapolis.
After his first restless night on the way east from Seattle, he had actually been grateful to change buses in Missoula and Billings, using the opportunity to stretch his legs. But the trip was starting to wear a little thin now and he found himself getting crankier by the mile.
Over the past twenty-four hours, Kieran had managed to read both the books he'd brought with him. He'd tried to check his emails on his BlackBerry, only his grandfather had disconnected his internet access. And the scenery was only interesting when it changed, which happened every hour or so during the daylight hours.
With only a hundred dollars in his pocket, his budget didn't allow for new reading material, so he'd picked up leftover magazines and newspapers from his fellow passengers. He'd read a two-month-old Sports Illustrated and a current issue of InStyle from cover to cover before finding a copy of some silly tabloid with an alien baby on the cover.
Kieran glanced around at his surroundings. The station was bustling with travelers making their way onto morning buses. He grabbed his bag and walked over to the digital display to check on his departure time and noticed that his bus would start boarding in thirty minutes.
His stomach growled and Kieran reached into his pocket and withdrew his wallet. After careful budgeting, he still had about seventy dollars left as well as the credit card.
They'd been charged with finding a different life and living it for the next six weeks. So far, Kieran had been bored out of his mind with this new life. Though the bus ride had given him time to think about his future, he hadn't really found himself drawn to anything different. He liked his job. It was predictable and interesting and provided a decent living.
Whatever was waiting for him in Bitney, Kentucky would never match what he had in Seattle. Kieran adjusted his bag on his shoulder and headed to the food court at the far end of the station. He found a sandwich shop and ordered a turkey sub and a large Coke.
What he really could use was his usual breakfast of orange juice, oatmeal and an egg-white omelet. Everything seemed off without his routine.
The cashier totaled up his purchases and glanced up at him. "Ten-thirty," she said.
Kieran frowned. "For a sandwich and a Coke?"
The girl shrugged. "I don't set the prices. Tenthirty."
He reached into this pocket and grabbed the credit card, then handed it to her. Though it wasn't an emergency, he didn't want to waste any more of his cash. A few seconds later, she handed it back to him. "It was refused," she said in a bored voice.
"No, that can't be. It's a company card. Try it again."
She sighed dramatically and ran it through again. "Nope. Still refused. Do you have cash?"
Kieran looked at the sandwich and soda. At this rate, he wouldn't have enough to feed himself until he got to Bitney. He could wait until breakfast. "Never mind," he muttered.
"I'll get it," a soft voice said.
Kieran looked at the person standing behind him in line. There wasn't much he could see. She wore a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over her hair. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes. But when he glanced at her hands, he saw perfectly manicured nails and long, slender fingers clutching an armful of junk food. "That's not necessary," he said. "I have cash. I'm just not as hungry as I thought."
"No, take it," she replied. "I insist." When he refused, she sighed impatiently and gathered up his purchases then ordered a soda for herself, before giving the cashier two twenties. "That should cover it. Keep the change."
She turned and handed him the sandwich and Coke. "Thanks," Kieran said. "I can pay you back."
"No, I mean it. I have the cash." He followed after her and when she sat down in the lobby, he took a spot nearby, setting the sandwich and soda between them.
He watched as she unwrapped one of her candy bars and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully, then shook her head, setting it aside. "Those used to taste so much better." She ripped open a bag of BBQ potato chips and plucked one out. "I haven't had these in years."
She held out the bag and he shook his head. "No, thanks."
"Eat your sandwich," she said.
Kieran picked it up and started unwrapping it. "So, are you some kind of health-food nut?" he teased as she picked through the purchases on her lap.
"Breakfast of champions," he said, pointing to the pile of candy.