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Jonah Closky stared out the window and thought of money.
Great heaps of it.
He barely listened to Gary Murphy, his business partner, read over the contract. Most days he barely listened to Gary, but today Jonah was mentally counting the profit they'd make once Gary stopped reading and everyone got to the signing part.
The answer, of course, was a fortune. Plenty, for anyone else. But, for Jonah, for his plans, for Haven House, it wasn't quite enough.
It was never quite enough.
"Rick Ornus, seller, agrees to pay the cost of soil removal in the northwest corner of the property," Gary read from the sheath of papers in front of him.
Rick, who sat at the corner of the boardroom table, put up his hand, interrupting Gary. "About that," Rick said.
Jonah tuned in to the conversation with his whole body. The terms of this contract had already been hashed and rehashed. There should be no "about that's."
"Is that really necessary?" Rick asked. "That soil thing?"
"Well." Gary laid the papers down on the table, keeping his cool when Jonah knew his partner had to be having a heart attack. Gary wasn't much for "about that's," either.
"Considering the amount of arsenic in it, yes," Gary said. "It is. We will treat the rest of the property and retest, but that northwest corner needs to be dug out and all that soil replaced."
Rick looked over at Jonah and smiled. "Jonah," he said, holding out his hands, as though they were coconspirators. "Come on. Between us. You know that with the right amount of money Barringer will overlook that"
"I don't bribe city officials," Jonah said. "And I don't build on dirty land."
"What about your current site?" Rick asked. "I heard you were about to start building and the city just shut you down for poisoned soil."
"Where'd you hear that?" Gary asked and Jonah nearly hung his head at his partner's transparency. It was no wonder Gary couldn't play cardsa ten-year-old child had a better poker face.
"Everyone knows," Rick said. "Yesterday, I must have gotten seven calls from people telling me about it. It'll be all over the papers in no time."
Gary's worried gaze flicked to Jonah and Jonah held up a hand, trying to get his business partner to relax, to not fly off the handle like some freaked-out howler monkey.
"So," Rick continued, his eyes gleaming with a certain smug satisfaction. "Why don't you guys cut the righteous environmental act"
"Act?" Gary nearly squealed and Jonah rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, and we can get down to business," Rick said. "You guys have a good racket going pretending to clean up all this bad land, but obviously"
Well, crap, Jonah thought. Now I'm offended.
And the estimated revenue from this project that he'd just totaled in his head went back to zero.
"There will be no business," Jonah said, leaning forward.
"What do you mean?" Rick asked. "We're ready to sign the papers" Rick looked at Gary, who had seen this kind of scenario enough to know the ending. Gary simply leaned back and tossed the unsigned contract in the garbage.
"What are you doing?" Rick cried.
A long time ago Jonah had made the promise that he'd do whatever he had to do to get the job done, but he wouldn't explain himself and he wouldn't beg. And while he might have to do business with rats like Rick, he'd make sure the rats always knew he wasn't one of them.
"I'm not sure what the problem is here, gentlemen," Rick said, looking far less smug and a little more sweaty. "You need the land, I can sell it to you. And we can all make a bunch of money if you just forget this soil problem. It's not like you haven't done it before."
"We're done," Jonah said, standing so fast the chair spun backward and hit the floor-to-ceiling windows of his boardroom. "Get out."
"Come on, Jonah. I'm sure we can"
"We can't," Jonah said, striding to the door, opening it and nodding to Katie, who sat at the front desk. "Notify security," he told her.
"You know" Rick's face became bitter and Jonah crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the guy to hammer the nails in his own coffin "you're getting a pretty nasty reputation, Jonah. Between the number of real estate agents ready to stab you in the back and that failed soil test on your current site, pretty soon no one is going to be willing to sit down with you."
A week ago, Rat-faced Rick had been so relieved that Jonah wanted to buy the land with the arsenic problem, that Rick had agreed to Jonah's terms, including the soil removal.
But then they'd failed that soil testand apparently the whole world knew about it, and Jonah's delicate balancing act was in jeopardy.
"Let me tell you what you've just done, Rick," Jonah said. "Not only is our deal over, but I am going to make sure that you will be unable to sell that disgusting property you're lying to everyone about. And you won't be able to make a land sale in New Jersey ever again."
Rick glanced over to Gary, who only shrugged. "You screwed yourself when you assumed we were like you, Rick," Gary told him point-blank, which was what Gary was good for.
Rick gaped like a fish and Gary sighed, coming to his feet. "Go, Rick," he said, "before Jonah decides to throw you out himself."
Rick glanced between them and finally, grabbing his twenty-year-old briefcase and equally ancient trench coat, he left, taking Jonah's profit margin on the condos with him.
"Someone else is going to get that land," Gary said, turning to stare out the window, across the river at the Manhattan skyline. He took off his glasses, cleaned them on the corner of his rumpled madras shirt then put them back on. "Someone who isn't going to deal with that arsenic problem. And they'll pay off Barringer and the inspectors and build a school there or something all because you couldn't control your temper with some scumbag." He sighed and Jonah felt bad, for Gary's sake. He took these things too hard.
"No," Jonah assured his partner of ten years. "They won't." He leaned out the door. "Katie, please get me David Printer at the Times." He needed to find out if the soil test results were going public. They needed to do as much financial damage control as possible.
Katie nodded and went to work on the phone. Jonah walked back into the boardroom, letting the door shut behind him.
"That soil test hurt us, Jonah. We've never failed one before," Gary said, running his hands through his haywire brown hair. "Thank God we hadn't started building yet. That would be a nightmare."
"We'll retreat the soil and retest in three weeks. We'll put out the press release and it will all blow over. We'll be building by the end of May." Barring any more disasters in the next two months.
"If this goes public" Gary looked at him from the corner of his eye.
"But if it does? Can you imagine the calls from tenants from other buildings wondering if their children are going to grow up infertile? Or if they are all going to get cancer." Gary rested his head against the glass. "We're going to lose the funding for Haven House, I know we are."
"No," Jonah said, perhaps a bit too stridently. A bit too surely. That fragile dream would be protected, at all costs. "We won't."
"I should have been a dentist. I don't know why I let you talk me out of that."
"Because dentists are boring," Jonah said, bored of this conversation. The conference-room phone buzzed and Jonah sat as he hit the intercom button.
"David," he said, "I don't know what you've heard"
"It's not David." His mother's voice crackled through the speakerphone and Jonah, who in deep, scary places he didn't acknowledge was worried Gary was right, felt the dark pallor of his conference room lift.
"Mom," he cried and picked up the handset as Gary grabbed his stuff and left the room to give Jonah some privacy. "I tried calling last night"
"I was at Sheila's," she said and Jonah could hear the weariness in her voice and wished he could throw it out the way he did Rick. Or absorb it right over the phone. Every heavy load and worry that crossed his mother's path he would gladly add to his own weight.
"How is Aunt Sheila?" His mother's best friend had earned the honorary title of aunt twenty-five years ago when she'd nursed him through the chicken pox.
"She's doing great. She had me over for dinner, a fancy thing she had catered in celebration of the doctor's clean bill of health."
Jonah sat back in his chair and smiled, feeling better than he had in weeks. "That's good news," he said. "Amazing news."
"Yes." He heard the smile in his mother's voice. "It is."
"We should all celebrate," he said, thinking of his schedule. "Maybe a trip at the end of the summer. South of France? We can lie on a beach"
"That sounds wonderful, honey, but I'm calling about something else."
Jonah spun his chair to face the window and lifted his boot up to rest on the corner of the table. "All right, what's up?"
Jonah knew his mother as well and as totally as any boy could know his mom and he read bad news in that sigh. "What's going on?" he asked. Jonah didn't fear much. He was reckless with his career, with his money, with his body, but he lived in fear of something happening to his mother.
"Jonah, last winter, when I told you Sheila and I were on vacation, it wasn't really the truth. I was in New York at the Riverview Inn."
His gut went cold at the name. His brothers' inn. Where his father lived. The brothers he never knew. And the father he didn't want to know.
"And I'm going back. Today."
"What?" he asked, stunned. "Why?"
"Because it's time," she said. "It's time for both of us to deal with this."
"Mom, you tried to deal with it thirty years ago, remember?" he asked, cruelly reminding her of the situation with her husband in the hopes that it might change her mind. "You wrote to him twice. And twice Patrick told you he didn't want us."
"He didn't want me, Jonah. It had nothing to do with you. And he wants terribly to meet you now."
"Well, now is thirty years too late. I think I've made my feelings clear about this, Mom."
"I know, but"
He groaned and tipped his head against the high back of his chair. He'd made a promise with his first million dollarsa promise he'd actually made at the age of sixteen while he watched his mother clean houses and pretend to be happythat he'd never say no to her.
Whatever she asked for he would do.
And so, being his mother, she'd made a point of never asking for anything. But he had a sense that was all going to change.
"I am asking you to come, Jonah. I am asking you to meet your father. To give your brothers a chance."
He could financially destroy the competition. He could intimidate shady inspectors and city officials. He'd strong-armed the Mafia off his building sites.
But he couldn't say no to his mother.
"When?" He sighed.
"As soon as you can make it," she said, and he could hear her smile, her joyso fleetingflooding over the phone and he smiled wearily.
"I need a few days," he told her, thinking of his schedule. A few days and then he'd come face-to-face with the family that, sight unseen, he loathed.
Daphne Larson, the early spring sunshine in her eyes, pulled the boxes of herbs out of the bed of her truck and staggered to the kitchen door of the Riverview Inn.
She expected, any moment now, for the kitchen door to open and the men of the Riverview to flood out to help her.
The door stayed closed and the boxes just got heavier.
So, unable to open the door herself without dropping her load, she used her head to knock lightly on the window.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Alice Mitchell, executive chef of the inn, said, opening the door. She was married to Gabe Mitchell, the owner, and had, in the past year, become Daphne's closest friend. "Knocking with your head? What's wrong with you?"
"My delivery guy quit," Daphne explained, sliding the boxes onto the counter already crowded with bowls of fruits and vegetables ready to be used for the day's menus.
"Again," Daphne said, bending backward slightly to relieve the pinch in her lower back.
"Why don't you go in and see Delia," Alice said, referring to the massage therapist with the magic fingers who also happened to be dating Max Mitchell, Gabe's brother. "She doesn't have any bookings for the rest of the morning."
"I wish I could," Daphne said, brushing her long blond braid over her shoulder. "But you're my last delivery and we've got the first crop of asparagus coming up, so I should get back."
"Well, have some tea at least," Alice offered.
It smelled so good in the Riverview kitchen. Like delicious things baking and calories. Daphne swore she gained a pound just sitting next to one of Alice's pies.
"I'd love some tea," Daphne agreed, willing to risk some osmosis weight gain for the chance to sit. And perhaps to talk to Tim, Alice's assistant, if she could get him alone. "You don't know anyone looking for a job, do you? A kid from one of Max's after-school programs or something?"
Alice shook her head and stepped back to her spot at the counter rolling pastry dough.
"We're having the same problem." Tim brought her a glass of mint iced tea. She tried to catch his eyes, but he set down the glass on the counter next to her and was gone, back across the room to the peppers he was chopping. She had a highly uncomfortable question to ask him, and she needed an answer today. "Not enough staff," he said, studying the peppers as though he knew she was here to talk to him.
"Are you sure you should even be working?" Daphne asked Alice, settling in for some good kitchen chitchat. No one did kitchen chitchat like Alice. And maybe if Daphnes stayed lon enough, Tim would relax his guard and she'd catch him alone. "It's only been a month"