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The gas gauge on J.D. Carver's vintage Ford Mustang read "Empty" when he arrived in Star Lake, Washington, one day ahead of schedule. But then, it never read anything elsethe needle had been stuck there since he'd bought the car in '93. The car's trunk held a few of his favorite power tools, a tool chest, and a My loaded carpenter's belt. The backseat held two table saws. He also had an antique gold watch in his pocket, an old canvas army duffel containing everything else he owned in the world, and a raft of emotions he'd give a lot to deny sitting heavy in his gut.
His life back in Seattle had gone to hell. It was his own fault, but knowing that didn't help. His friend Butch he didn't even want to think about right now. And Bob Lankovich, the man who'd given him his start in construction-and through whose company's ranks J.D. had risen to become foremanwas in prison. J.D. didn't want to think about Bob, either. Or his idiot son, Robbie.
He was just tired of the whole freaking messthe threats, the being a pariah. In Rat City, for chrissake. How could anyone do anything bad enough to be a pariah in a neighborhood known as Rat City? His unexpected inheritance from Edwina Lawrence was nothing if not timely. It was an excellent time to get out of town.
He laughed without humor. Of course, Edwina was just another can of worms. He ought to open a damn bait shopbetween her, Butch, and the Lankovich mess, he was ass-deep in worms.
J.D. rubbed at the tension knotting the back of his neck. He was pretty much down to his last option. He'd given up his studio apartment, sold the tools he couldn't fit in the car,and cleaned out his bank account. There was nothing left for him in the city where he'd grown up, and nowhere to go if this didn't work out. So he planned to make it work, come hell or high water.
He pulled up in front of the fieldstone-and-timber lodge that he now had a half interest in, and parked the car. Then he simply sat there for a moment, breathing in the rich scent of evergreens and lake. Reaching into the watch pocket of his jeans, he stroked. a finger over Edwina's father's gold timepiece, which she had left him along with her share of the lodge.
The same watch she'd once accused him of stealing.
More than Robbie Lankovich's threats or J.D.'s disillusionment over Butch's collecting on a debt he'd always known would one day be collected, Edwina's ancient betrayal still had the ability to bother him.
He snorted softly. Bother. There was a nice, understated way of putting it.
It still had the power to twist his gut into a mass of knots, and that wouldn't do. Climbing out of the car, J.D. shouldered his duffel and stared up at the imposing shingle-roofed fieldstone porch that ran across the entire front of the inn.
It was bad enough that he still allowed a childhood injustice to color his life after all these years. But right now, he particularly needed to focus his concentration.
Because five would get you ten that he was about two minutes away from a no-holds-barred dog fight with Edwina's relatives over the share of this lodge that she'd bequeathed him.
Dru thanked the front-desk clerk and hung up the phone. Oh, God, he was here. She straightened in her chair, aware of her heart rate bumping up a notch. J.D. Carver was out in the lobby. He wasn't supposed to be here until tomorrow.
She'd believed she was fully reconciled to the new situation. She'd honestly thought she was prepared to meet Edwina's beneficiary and welcome him into both the business and the Lawrence clan. But if the sudden, apprehensive tripping of her pulse was anything to go by, she'd merely been fooling herself.
Standing, she checked to see that her sleeveless white polo shirt with its discreet lodge logo was neatly tacked into her walking shorts, then smoothed her hands over the crisp hunter-green material that skimmed her hips. She took a deep breath and blew it out. Okay, she was ready. She just wished he hadn't arrived early; it destroyed their plan to greet him as a family.
Dru squared her shoulders. Big deal; she'd just have to tough it out on her own. She'd been meeting and greeting people professionally since she was sixteen years old. Besides, Aunt Soph and Uncle Ben were just over at the cabin they'd reserved for Carver's use, putting. on a few finishing touches to make him feel at home, so she'd have backup shortly. Not that she'd need it. She headed for the lobby. Just think of him as a long-lost cousin.
Easier said than done, Dru decided a few moments later as she looked at the man squatting in front of the massive fieldstone fireplace. Even from the back, he didn't look like her idea of a cousin.
He appeared to be one supercharged mass of muscularityfrom. the spot where his dark hair brushed the tanned skin of his neck, right down to his workboot-clad feet. A pristine white T-shirt stretched across wide shoulders and clung to the narrowing wedge of his back until it disappeared into a worn pair of jeans that hugged his muscular thighs and butt. Her heartbeat inexplicably picked up
She cleared her throat. "Mr. Carver?"
He twisted to look at her over his shoulder. His dark eyebrows met over his nose, and for just a moment he seemed to still. But it must have been her...