Building A New Start
Chelsea Barnes never expected to see her high school rival, golden boy Paul Barrett, again. But when Paul applies for a loan to renovate his family's historic mill, it's Chelsea who the bank sends to her tiny hometown to assess the propertyand Paul. It's her chance to prove herself to her boss, and Chelsea won't let Paul stand in her way. Paul would do anything to restore the mill for his ailing grandfather. Even allow the lovely Chelsea to help. Together, they just might build something beautiful a happily-ever-after.
Barrett's Mill: In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a family legacy leads to love.
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Chelsea Barnes really hated Mondays.
Especially Mondays like this, when the July sunshine and warm breeze tempted her to stay home from work and enjoy the beautiful summer day. But her father had taught her that people who played hooky never amounted to anything, so she refocused on the narrow two-lane road. Following it as it meandered under the leafy canopy of oaks, she kept an eye out for the turnoff she needed. Around a bend, she located the weathered sign dangling from one rusty hook: Barrett's Sawmill, est. 1866.
She drove slowly down the pitted track, avoiding the largest ruts and hoping the pinging gravel didn't take too much paint off her darling convertible. At the other end, she pulled up alongside a beat-up red pickup with the sawmill's faded logo stenciled on the driver's door. It was so old she wouldn't be surprised to discover it had rolled off the assembly line when Henry Ford was still in charge.
Seeing it here was odd, she thought as she stepped from her car. While reading through the loan application file, she'd gotten the impression the property had been abandoned since the Barretts closed down their bankrupt company ten years ago. She surveyed the place with a glance but didn't notice anyone. What she did see was the millhouse, stubbornly clinging to the bank of the creek that once powered its waterwheel and looking every minute of its considerable age.
Deciding it was best to get this over with quickly, she shouted, "Hello? Is anyone here?"
Her greeting unleashed an unmistakable baying, and a huge red bloodhound came bounding from a nearby grove of trees, ears flapping as he made a beeline for Chelsea.
He wasn't snarling or showing his teeth, but she'd rather not find out the hard way that he wasn't friendly. Keeping her eyes fixed on him, she retreated to her car and fumbled behind her for the door handle.
Unable to locate it, she scrambled onto the hood. "Hello? A little help out here!"
No one appeared, but a commanding voice boomed from inside. "Boyd, that's enough!"
Instantly, he dropped to a sitting position, wagging his tail on the ground while his tongue lolled from his mouth in a sloppy welcome. Reassured, Chelsea eased herself to the ground and looked up to find the dog's owner strolling down the rickety porch steps toward the driveway. No, she groaned inwardly. She hadn't seen him in ages, but she instantly recognized that cocky walk, those long, powerful legs and impossibly broad shoulders.
Paul Barrett. Valedictorian, captain of any team he played on, dream date of every cheerleader at Barrett's Mill High School. In other words, the bane of her teenage existence.
What on earth was he doing here? Last she knew, he was in Kansas somewhere, doing whatever appealed to him at the time. It had never occurred to her that when her father had said his bank was doing a favor for the Barretts, Paul would be involved. Arrogant and unpredictable as a summer storm, here he was, smiling at her as though they were old friends. Which, of course, they weren't.
But standing here in front of the rustic building, surrounded by acres of trees, she grudgingly admitted he'd gotten better looking over the years. When he smiled, that opinion only deepened. Then he started talking.
"Chelsea Lynn Barnes," he drawled, his dark eyes crinkling as he squinted into the sun. "What's a classy girl like you doin' out here in the sticks?"
Just like that, her earlier annoyance returned, and she had to bite her tongue to keep back a sharp response. The fact that she'd been wondering the exact same thing had nothing whatsoever to do with her reaction. While her father had framed this trip as a personal favor to him, she couldn't quite shake the suspicion that she'd drawn this assignment for no reason other than that she was the only one on his staff who knew how to get to this map-dot town buried in Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains. Taking a calming breath, she reminded herself this was business and she had to maintain a professional demeanor. Even if it killed her.
Sliding a business card from the outside pocket of her slim briefcase, she replied, "I'm a commercial loan officer for Shenandoah Bank and Trust in Roanoke. I'm doing the property appraisal for the loan you requested."
Next time, she vowed silently, she'd read a prospective client's file more carefully. If she'd done that this morning, she could've braced herself to see Paul instead of getting blindsided like this.
He took the card and eyed her skeptically, then grinned.
"What's the punch line?"
People frequently did this to her, assuming she was too young to handle so much responsibility. With anyone else, she'd have taken the slight in stride. But Paul had rubbed her the wrong way from the day they'd been tossed into the same kindergarten class, seeming to delight in pushing her buttons.
She pulled herself up to her full height and gave him her coolest look. "I assure you, I'm well qualified to make financial recommendations to the bank."
"Daddy's bank." Plunging grease-stained hands into the front pockets of jeans that had seen better days, he rocked back on the heels of his battered work boots. "How do you like working for him?"
No one had ever asked her that, probably because they assumed her current position was a cakewalk. Having known Theo Barnes all her life, she was better acquainted with his impossibly high standards than anyone. There were days when she wondered if she'd ever meet them, as either his daughter or his employee.
Shunting that grim thought aside, she said simply, "It's going well." Of course, her answer depended on which day you asked her. Today, for instance, she wasn't all that crazy about it, but there was no way she was sharing that with Paul.
He gave her a long, assessing look that told her absolutely nothing about what was going through his mind. Not that she cared on a personal level, of course. It would just be nice to know so she could plan her next move and keep ahead of him. That was the mistake she'd made all through high school, she'd realized over the years. She'd never had the upper hand, and he'd beaten her out of more awardstwelve, to be precisethan he should have.
While they stared at each other, the wind ruffled his unruly brown hair, and she couldn't help noticing the lighter streaks running through it. Judging by his tanned face, he still spent a lot of time outside, and he probably felt totally at home in these untamed acres of woods surrounding the mill. While she preferred well-groomed men with a sense of style, she couldn't deny that Paul had his own raw appeal.
For other women, she amended quickly, yanking her errant thoughts back from where they had no business going. "Are you the new owner of the property?"
He offered nothing more, and she decided that in the interest of preserving her sanity, it would be best to move things along. "Shall we get started outside?"
Humor twinkled in his eyes, joined by an aggravating smirk. "Yes, we shall."
She picked up on his mocking tone and did her best to ignore the dig as he motioned her ahead of him. An hour, tops, and she was out of here. Then she'd stamp his loan request denied in bright red ink. Maybe she'd do it more than once, just to make a point.
Her father's distinctive ringtone sounded in her bag, and she bit back a sigh before answering. "Hi, Dad. No, I didn't get lost. In fact, I'm standing in front of the mill now." She felt uncertainty beginning to creep in. She was twenty-seven, but having him check up on her this way made her feel ten again. "Of course. He's right here."
Something aggravatingly close to sympathy softened Paul's rugged features as he took the phone from her. "Good morning, Theo. What can I do for you?" He listened, then replied, "This arrangement works fine for me. I've got no doubt Chelsea can handle whatever needs doing."
The unexpected show of confidence meant a lot to her, and she mouthed, "Thank you."
Winking at her, he waited for her father to finish whatever he was saying. "My family and I appreciate you giving us a shot. Take care."
Thumbing the disconnect button, he handed the handset back to her. He didn't say anything while she muted it and returned it to her bag. Embarrassed by her father's call, she took out her camera and busied herself with the clasp on its case.
"So," Paul began in a tone edged with sarcasm. "Your father hasn't changed much."
He'd put her exact thought into words, and she was torn between agreeing and scolding him. When she caught the humor in his eyes, she said, "I guess not."
"Is he always that tough on you?"
"He's tough on everyone," she snapped. "I can't expect special treatment because I'm the boss's daughter."
Paul held up his hands as if to fend off her temper. "I didn't mean anything by it. It just surprises me that he doesn't have more faith in you, is all. You'd think he'd know better than anyone how smart you are."
She responded with a sharp, very unprofessional laugh. "Tell him that, would you?"
"Gimme your phone and I will."
Judging by his somber expression, he was deadly serious. Despite their old rivalry, she was touched by the gesture, and she rewarded him with the genuine smile she rarely used during business hours. "That's sweet of you, but I was only kidding."
Bit by bit, that maddening grin returned. "Be honest now. Back in high school, did you ever think someday you'd be saying I was sweet?"
"Not in a million years."
She admired how he'd shifted from kindness to teasing, clearly attempting to make her feel more at ease. As they smiled at each other, she recalled that he'd always had a way with people. Young, old, male, female, popular or not so much, it didn't matter. Back then she'd envied him that skill, and now she recognized that her envy had tainted her memories of him. Standing in the warm sunshine with him, she appreciated his generosity more than she could say.
Before she could blurt out something she'd probably regret, she recentered her mind on work. That strategy had worked well throughout her career, and she gladly retreated into it now. "I need to document the condition of the property for your application. What's first?"
While they toured the exterior, she began to worry there was nothing worth saving. The cobblestone bridge leading to the back entrance seemed fairly solid, but instinct warned her it would never pass a modern engineering inspection.
When she said as much, his answer surprised her. "Oh, that's all solid steel underneath, and only twelve years old. I had it inspected last week, and it's plenty strong enough for modern trucks to come in and out. The river rock's just cemented on for looks."
Impressed by his foresight, Chelsea made a note in the condition column. "I'll need a copy of that report."
The mill itself was post-and-beam construction, built of oak from the nearby forest. But the roof appeared to be suspect, and everywhere she looked, significant pieces of the structure were either sagging or missing completely. Alongside the damaged areas hung fresh boards, which stood out from the weathered siding like hopeful signs of improvement.
Once they'd finished their circuit, Paul turned to her with an expectant look. "Whattya think?"
"I think you need a bulldozer and some condos right over there."
When she pointed to the low hill overlooking Sterling Creek, for some reason he chuckled. "Not so fast. You haven't seen the inside yet."
She couldn't imagine it would make a bit of difference in her assessment, but out of fairness, she tamped down her impatience to get back to civilization. "All right. Let's have a look."
The boards on the wide stairs were weathered gray and rocked under her designer heels with each step. The handrail wasn't much help, but considering her odd reaction to seeing him again, she didn't want to get too close by steadying herself on Paul's shoulder. His dog rumbled past them, nearly knocking her down. When Paul reached out a hand to help her, she pulled out of range. "I'm fine, thank you."
"Stubborn as ever," he muttered, adding something she didn't quite catch. It was probably better that way.
The interior of the building was in slightly better shape, but not by much. On closer inspection, she noticed some of the belts on the antique equipment had been replaced, and the smell of oil and sawdust hung in the air. To the right of the door was what used to be a seating area. Now it was filled with a jumble of filthy equipment in various stages of repair.
On the other side was an office with a half door that stood open to the entryway. Inside she noticed a scarred but sturdy-looking table, a couple of mismatched chairs and an old settee covered in what she assumed was bloodhound fur. There wasn't a hint of a computer, which didn't surprise her in the least, but along the far wall stood a dusty row of filing cabinets that probably contained paperwork decades older than she was. In the corner near the window was a small woodstove that held an old boom box playing a mellow rock tune she recognized from high school dances.
When she spotted the air mattress and sleeping bag, she turned to Paul in amazement. "How long have you been living here?"
"About a month, off and on. I'm officially staying in town with my grandparents, but when I'm working late, Boyd and I crash here."
The million-dollar question, she thought, was why? Since they'd never see each other again after today, she decided to ask. "Your father shut this place down ten years ago. Why are you trying to bring it back now?"
His expression dimmed a little, even though the sun was still shining gamely through the grimy paned windows. After a moment, he answered. "It's for Granddad. He wants to see it up and running again, and that's reason enough for me."
The flicker of sadness in his eyes told her there was more to it than that, but she didn't want to pry. She remembered Will Barrett as a kindhearted man who'd inherited an archaic family business rooted in another century. When it failed, she hadn't been surprised, or even particularly sorry. But now she felt the very thing her father had warned her about before coming out here: sympathy.
In her memory, she heard him reminding her that sentiment had no place in the banking industry. She was here to do a job, not get wrapped up in someone else's family problems. The bankand more precisely, her fatherwas counting on her honest, objective appraisal before approving or rejecting this loan request. More than anything, she wanted to prove to him that she was capable of taking over the helm when he was ready to step down. That was what he'd planned for her all her life, and as his only child, she was determined to make it happen.
That meant playing the game by his rules, which didn't include financing a business so far off the beaten path it couldn't help but fail again. In spite of her personal opinion, she was touched by Paul's willingness to take on a hopeless cause for his grandfather. Not for himself, or for money, but because Will had asked him to. Few people got through the composed demeanor she'd cultivated, but Paul's direct, heartfelt explanation had come uncomfortably close to doing just that. What that meant she couldn't say, but it was a disturbing feeling, and she fought it with every disciplined bone in her body.
"It looks like you've been making progress with the equipment." Some things looked completely worn-out, but others were clearly fresh out of the box. "Is this what you wanted to show me?"
"Yeah." Brightening, he strode past her to an old wooden lever. "I just finished this section, so I haven't tested it yet. You might wanna cover your ears."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love Mia Ross's writing style. It just makes the whole story sound so very real. Her characters seem like someone I could walk down the street and run into on any given day. Chelsea and Paul were bitter rivals to see who could be number one in high school and now that they are thrown together again, their rivalry may be renewed. They have very different ways of approaching problems and finding solutions. Listening to them bicker was very amusing and you could tell the whole town expected it of them. But once they move beyond the bickering stage and realize that they each have a skill set, that while very different from each other, works very well together. Soon they become closer than they ever have before, but parts of their past and their dreams may stand in the way of them having a future together. The city of Barrett's Mill was almost a character unto itself - with each citizen playing a vital role in its overall personality. I love when a place takes on such a presence in a story. I loved all the people and how they seemed to be working together towards goals even if they didn't realize it. Mia Ross has a great way of writing inspirational romance. It is very subtle and if you aren't paying attention you may miss it and consider them just a clean romance. I think that this is the best way to show the mysterious ways faith can impact a person's life.
“Blue Ridge Reunion” by Mia Ross is the first book of her “Barrett's Mill” series and I am already looking forward to the rest of the series. This is a story of growing up, not in the sense that this is Young Adult and those growing up pangs that all teenagers go through, but more of how people grow up from when they were in High School. Cheerleaders, Jocks, Bookworms and everyone in between grow up in different ways and this shows just how people do grow up. That message was so unique that I still smile when I think about it. Though there are a lot of noticeable changes that happens to people from High School years, sometimes it takes some unique circumstances to help people grow into who they were meant to be as well. Chelsea and Paul are rivals from High School and now they are forced to work with each other for the entire summer. Things are really interesting with their first meeting for there is some new discoveries, both good and bad, made on both ends and things don't get all that much easier as the story progresses. The only thing that does change, is how they work with each other which is interesting to watch change. Chelsea is a woman who is determined to do what is expected of her by her father. Though she is not sure exactly how she can make him happy with what he is wanting, she is willing to do it against her judgment because there is something more important that is on the line. To watch this uptight woman change into something else throughout the story was interesting and so believable for it was not an overnight change, but a slow and steady change. Paul is a man who seems to have a wandering foot and is back for a very special reason. It seems that Paul has always led a pretty carefree life but we see something different even from the beginning of the story. Paul is a man who might know how live in the moment there is something so much more to him. Paul is the type of man that would make for a wonderful friend and more for the right person, like Chelsea. To watch how both Paul and Chelsea somehow manage to work together in order to restore something so important to someone who is important to one of the characters, not to mention the whole town, was a wonderful thing. Yes there was tension between Paul and Chelsea but it was a different type of tension and when that tension started shift some what there was something special about it. It was a slow progression and I think that is what helped for there is no way it could have happened faster and it still being realistic. I hope all who read this book enjoys it as much as I did.
This is the first in the Barrett's Mill series and I can't wait to read the next one. In Blue Ridge Reunion, Paul needs to get a bank loan to restore his grandfather's mill. His high school rival, Chelsea works for her father's bank and is assigned to make sure the restoration happens without going over budget or defaulting in any way. Both believe in the project but have different ways to make success happen. In renovating the mill, they are also transformed. I loved how everyone in the small town looked out for each other and helped each other.
&real<_>anks || <br> Chief :: The leader of the pod. Usually the strongest male, but if no male is present, it can be a female position. <br> Hunters :: The main rank of the pod. They usually just hunt fish, but will sometimes get amphibians and crustaceans, and very rarely, eggs and other mammals. <br> Warriors :: They hunt when needed, but mostly fend off enemies. <br> Pups :: Pups have their ranks decided at birth and begin trainkng at the age of 8 moons. <p> &real<_>ules || <br> No godmodding or power playing. <br> Only 2 otters per RPer. <br> Training pups cannot have pups..... <br> Only river otters allowed. <br> Your rank is decided by your stature. If you are well-built and strong, you will most likely be a warrior. If you are slim and sleek with powerful legs, you will most likely be a hunter. <br> Warrior and hunters can become the chief. If you think you can be a better leader, you can challenge the current chief to a duel. The first one to give loses. Pups cannot challenge the chief... <br> Every pup is trained with the knowledge of herbs. There is no specific healer. If you see herbs, collect them, but they may not be used because of the pod's nomadic habit.
I enjoyed this book, the first in the Barrett's Mill series. Paul is desperate to get a bank loan to restore his grandfather's mill to working condition again. Chelsea has been sent by her father's bank to assess the property. These high school rivals haven't seen each other in 10 years, and now they have been thrown together for this project. It was fun to see the transformation that they go through, as they learn to compromise and work together for the success of the restoration. I am also looking forward to more stories from Barrett's Mill. It's a tight, small town, where everybody knows everybody's business because they care. I received this book from the author as a Goodreads first-reads winner, and have given an honest review.