Available: Justin McMillian, real estate developer
Age: 32 (or 224 in dog years)
Justin McMillian has brown hair and blue eyes and he loves women. He's had just one previous owner, but we believe he can be trained. Currently, he is intent on tearing down the Broughton Inn, and he needs the right woman to refocus his energies. If you take Justin on, you will be richly rewarded with passionate kisses even if he thinks he's not yet ready for forever.
Stubborn artist Bailey Cole is interested in taking home this handsome stray but Justin plans to destroy the historic inn she adores. He could ruin her life's work in one fell swoop! We are optimistic that one special person can counteract Justin's temperamental issuesbut could that be Bailey?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The hourly chime of tower bells rang through the Piazza del Duomo. Bailey Cole raised her face to let the Florence sunshine kiss her cheeks.
Glong. Glong. D-ding-a-ting-glong.
Not bells from the famous tower, her cell phone ring tone.
Bailey opened her eyes. Not Italy. Home. Her home. Haley's Bay, Washington. She rubbed her face, trying to wake up. The phone kept ringing.
A glance at the digital clock made her blink: 5:45 a.m. Too early for a social call. Something must be
Flynn. Bailey's heart slammed against her chest. Air whooshed from her lungs. Her brother in the navy had mentioned going somewhere in his email last week.
Please let him be safe.
She reached for her phone on the nightstand, read "Grandma" and her phone number on the screen.
Bailey's chest sank with the weight of a flag-draped coffin. She fumbled for the talk button. "Grandma? Is everything okay?"
"Your aunt Ida Mae called. Told me the craziest thing. Said there's a construction crew set up in front of the Broughton Inn."
Not Flynn. Bailey released a breath. "Did you say a construction crew?"
"They've been moving things out of the inn and loading them into a big truck since late last night." The words flew out of Grandma's mouth faster than her homemade molasses cookies disappeared from the jar. "Equipment is parked on the street. A bulldozer and a crane with a wrecking ball."
Bailey sat straight, the covers falling to her waist.
"What's Floyd Jeffries trying to pull? I just saw him two days ago. He didn't mention any construction, and a wrecking ball sounds more like demolition. He knows owners can't touch a historic building without approval." She scrambled out of bed. "He practically wrote the preservation laws."
"Maybe he forgot."
"No way." She turned on the lamp, waited for her eyes to adjust to the light. "I took over the historical committee from him. He knows every single rule and regulation."
"He could be expanding the owner's apartment now that he's in a relationship."
"Floyd didn't mention his girlfriend moving here. She's half his age and most of their relationship has been online. Something's going on. I need to find out what. Fast."
Bailey pulled her nightshirt over her head and took a step. Her foot twisted, then slid, jamming into the bedpost.
A sledgehammer pain sliced through her big toe. She sucked in a breath. Tears stung her eyes. The phone slipped from her hand. She swore.
"Bailey?" Her grandmother's voice carried from wherever the phone had landed. Lilah Cole had been a widow for the past fifteen years, and her grandchildren had become her focus. "Are you okay?"
Hell, no. Bailey was naked, her mangled toe throbbing. She picked the phone off the bed. "I'm getting dressed. Trying not to panic over the twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of artwork inside the inn."
She hit the speakerphone button and placed the cell phone on the dresser. She opened the top drawer. Panties and bras. Second drawerpajamas. Third drawer, empty. She had been so into her new painting this week she hadn't done laundry.
She wiggled into a pair of underwear, then put on a bra, trying not to cry out and worry Grandma. "Floyd might be struck stupid by Cupid, but he loves the inn."
"So do you. I know you'll straighten him out."
"Gotta go. I'll call you later."
Bailey bunny-hopped on one leg to the bathroom. Clothes overflowed from the hamper. Paint-splattered white, long-sleeved coveralls hung on a hook. She gave the fabric the sniff test. The cotton smelled of paint and solvents. Oh, well, this was what she'd planned to wear today while she worked. She dressed.
Clean panties and bra. Dirty coveralls.
Could be worse, right? A glance in the mirror brought a tell-me-I'm-still-dreaming cringe. Nope. This was pretty bad.
She didn't look sleep-rumpled sexy. More like bizarre, deranged scarecrow. Her wild hair stuck up every which way. Bet she'd freak out folks around town if she carried a broom this morning.
Okay, maybe not, but she would likely scare them, broom or not.
She combed her fingers through the tangles and twisted her hair into a messy bun. A slight improvement, but getting to the Broughton Inn was more important than looking good. So what if she ended up being tonight's gossip at the Crow's Nest, the local dive bar? Wouldn't be the first time or the last. Bailey took a step.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch." She stared at her aching foot turning blue. Her toe was swollen. Not bee-sting swollenhot-air-balloon swollen.
Forget regular shoes. Her monster toe would never fit inside. Her oversize fuzzy slippers would have to do.
She shoved on the right slipper, then maneuvered her aching left foot inside the other. A jagged pain sliced through her toe, zigzagged up her foot.
Bailey hopped to her desk, using the wall and doorways for support. She grabbed the Broughton Inn files in case Floyd wanted to argue about what he could do to the inn, shoved them and her purse into a yellow recyclable shopping bag covered with multicolored polka dots. The colors matched the paint splatters on her coveralls. The newest trend in low fashion. Yeah, right.
Bailey hobbled to the door, walking on the heel of her bad foot. Not easy, but she had to get to the inn. Driving was her only option. She rehearsed a quick strategy.
Don't burst in, acting as if she owned the place.
Most of all, don't piss off Floyd.
Logic and common sense, not to mention laws, would prevail. But she was prepared to do battle. No one was touching the Broughton Inn or the artwork inside.
Bailey was a Cole. Stubborn, unrelenting, ready to fight.
Early Thursday morning, Justin McMillian stood outside the Broughton Inn, McMillian Resorts' newest acquisition. Slivers of sunlight appeared in the dawn sky like fingers poking up from the horizon, wanting a piece of the night. He wanted to take what was his today.
This past winter's remodeling fiasco in Seaside on the Oregon coast had destroyed his parents' confidence in Justin and his two sisters' ability to take over the family company. The project had gone over schedule and over budget due to hidden foundation issues. His parents had blamed Justin, Paigeone of the company's attorneysand Rainey, an interior designer, when two different inspectors hadn't seen the problem. That fact hadn't stopped his parents from threatening to sell to the highest bidder and firing their three children if the next project didn't run smoothly.
But today, Justin's mouth watered with the taste of success. His parents would be apologizing long before the new Broughton Inn opened next year. This project would be different from the Seaside one. His parents would see how capable he and his sisters were, and McMillian Resorts would show Haley's Bay what luxury and first-class service were about. Something his family had perfected over the years with both small and large properties.
"Loaded and ready to go, boss." Greg, Justin's driver, motioned to the semitruck parked on the street in front. "Never seen so much junk. Loads of outdated furniture and way too much artwork for such a small inn."
"Floyd Jeffries didn't have a clue how to run a boutique hotel."
"Good thing we do."
We. McMillian Resorts. Unless his parents followed through on their threat. That was not. Going. To. Happen. "Text me when you reach the warehouse."
"Should take me three hours or so to reach Lincoln City, depending on traffic."
"Drive carefully. I don't want the artwork broken. We can sell the better stuff to local galleries."
Greg adjusted the brim of his Seattle Mariners cap.
"Raw eggs could be loose in the cab and wouldn't break when I'm driving."
"Let's not test that theory."
Greg stared at the old inn. "Quaint place. Suz and I honeymooned here."
"Cozy, maybe, but a dinosaur. With those million-dollar views, the new inn will be the crown jewel in our hotel portfolio."
"Hope so." Greg took a picture of the inn with his cell phone. "Better hit the road."
Greg glanced at the inn again, then he headed to his truck.
Interesting. Justin had never known the driver to be sentimental.
Wyatt, the site foreman, walked up, adjusted his gloves. "We're ready. Say the word and we'll fire up the engines."
"It's time." Nothing beat the first morning on a new job, except the last day. Justin rubbed his hands together. "Tear her down, boys."
With whoops and hollers, his crew jogged to their equipment. Engines revved, filling the early morning air with noise. The crane hopped the curb and headed for the inn. Next came the bulldozer.
Finally. Over the past year, Justin had spent every free moment developing plans for a new Broughton Inn, even though he'd been unsure whether Paige could pull off the deal with Floyd Jeffries. They'd approached him last year with an offer that Floyd turned down. But Paige had achieved the impossible by not giving up and closing the deal.
This project would prove he and his sisters could run the company as well as his parents. Better. The three of them had grown up living in hotels. They knew the business inside and out.
A dog barked.
Huh? Justin shouldn't be able to hear a dog. Except the equipment had stopped moving. Engines had been cut off.
"What the hell is going on?" he yelled.
Wyatt pointed to the inn's porch where someone stood by the front door, hands on hips and a pissed-off frown on her face. "That woman."
Was that a woman with a yellow shopping bag hanging from her shoulder or an escapee from the circus? She wore painter's coveralls, but the color splatters made her look as if she'd been caught in a paintball battle.
"Where'd she come from?" Justin asked.
"The woman must be some sort of nut job. A disturbed bag lady or a history fanatic. I'll see if she has demands."
"Demands?" Wyatt asked.
"A woman doesn't step in front of a wrecking ball unless she has a death wish, or wants something. Given the crazy way she's dressed, my money's on the latter. Call the police in case I'm wrong and she'd rather meet the Grim Reaper."
Justin walked toward the porch. He didn't want his crew near the woman.
"Stop. Don't come any closer." Her voice sounded more normal than he'd expected. "You can't tear down the inn."
Her hands moved from her hips to out in front of her, palms facing Justin, as if she could push him away using The Force.
Demands. Justin knew a few things about women, though his ex-wife might disagree. He kept walking. Given the crazy lady's appearance, he knew how to handle her. He flashed his most charming smile, the one that got him what he wanted most every time, whether for business or pleasure.
"Hello there." In two steps, Justin stood on the porch. He softened his voice. "Can I help you?"
A jade-green gaze locked on his. Wow. Talk about a gorgeous color. Her warm, expressive eyes made him think of springtime.
"I'm looking for Floyd." Her voice rose at the end; her words weren't a question but had a hint of uncertainty.
Hell. She must not know about Floyd selling out. Not Justin's problem. Eyes aside, he didn't know why he kept looking at her. Clothes, hair, demeanor. Not his type didn't begin to describe what was wrong with the woman.
A brown dog barked and ran figure-eight patterns around the bulldozer and crane. Where had the animal come from?
"Oh, no. That poor dog is so skinny." Her compassion surprised Justin. "Catch him. He looks like he's starving."
Oh, man. The guys still ribbed him for the time he shut down a demo for a missing ferret. Stupid thing took five and a half hours to find.
"Please," she said, her eyes clouding.
Demands and a plea. Tropical-storm-strength pressure built behind his forehead. Easy jobs must be handed to worthier men. "Have you seen the dog before?"
"No." Her gaze remained on the animal. The dog ran around and barked. "But I don't see a collar. Could be a stray. Or lost."
Justin wasn't about to chase the dog on open ground, but he couldn't have the thing running around the site inside the safety fencing. That would be too dangerous.
He glanced at Wyatt, who stood on the grass between the porch and the equipment. "Give the dog a leftover donut."
"No chocolate." The words exploded from her mouth like a cannonball. Worry reflected in her eyes. "That's bad for dogs."
Justin didn't know that. He'd never had a dog or any kind of pet. His parents allowed guests to bring dogs and cats to the hotels, but had never let their children have an animal, not even a goldfish.
"Fine. Nothing chocolate. A sandwich, maybe," he said to Wyatt. Justin wanted to get back to work. These stupid delays were killing him. "Then get the dog out of here."
While he got rid of the woman. A McMillian team effort. That was the way things got done at their company. Each person did his or her part. The effort led to success. But when one didn't do what was expected, like his ex-wife, the result was failure.
He faced the woman. "Where were we?"
"Floyd Jeffries. Do you know where I can find him?"
Her nose crinkled. "Floyd never mentioned a vacation."
"Floyd might not share his personal life with customers."
"I'm not a customer." She raised her chin. "I'm his partner in the gallery."
Gallery. Justin's headache ramped into a cyclone. That explained the artwork on its way to Oregon, the splattered coveralls and Green Eyes' odd smells. "You're an artist."
"Painter." She gave him a strange look. "If Floyd's away, what are you doing here?"
"I'm the inn's new owner."
She flinched as if his words punched her. No clown makeup was needed to make her eyes look bigger. Any larger and they would be twins to her gaping mouth. The caricature was complete. All she needed was a dialogue bubble over her head to star in her own comic strip.
She took half a step back. "Floyd sold the inn?"
"We recently closed on the deal."
"Where's the artwork?" Her words shot out as if catapulted. "The textiles, paintings, sculptures?"
Her face morphed into a look of horror, a worst-news-ever-face. "Where?"
The raw emotion in the one word drew him forward. She looked desperate. Of course she was. Junk or not, the art pieces he'd seen must have taken hundreds of hours to make. If someone made off with a set of his blueprints that took half that long, he'd go ballistic. Ridiculing the woman no longer seemed cool. If anything, he wanted to give her a hug.
He forced himself not to step closer. He couldn't. She was a stranger, a nuisance. "The inn's contents were part of the purchase agreement."
She bit her lip. Trying to decide what to say, or buy time? For what, he didn't know. She blinked, then wiped her eyes.
She'd better not, not, not cry. His sisters always pulled that stunt. His ex-wife, too. Taryn had blamed him for their marriage failing, saying he loved his work more than her. She hadn't understood that his job paid for everything, including their house, her shopping sprees and the numerous trips she took to Portland and Seattle while he was away at a site.
His sympathy well was drained. Not a drop of compassion remained. No way would he let this woman manipulate him. Time to send overwrought clown lady on her way. He handed her his business card.
"Talk to Floyd. Call my office for his contact information." Justin's voice sounded distant, unemotional, as intended. "You need to leave now so we can get back to work."
She grabbed the porch rail, gave him a this-isn't-over look, then sat. "I'm not going anywhere." Of course not.
Justin should have known she wouldn't make this easy, but a one-person sit-in? "We have a schedule to keep. It's time for you to go."
"You can rephrase your request over and over again, but my answer will be the same. I'm not letting you touch the inn, let alone destroy the second-oldest building in Haley's Bay."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a wonderful romance story where trusting your heart to love someone, even in the face of adversity, will win out over any obstacle. Bailey and Justin go toe-to-toe over a historic inn. But, as they work together to find a solution, and a stray dog, they learn a lot about each other--against their lawyers' advice--and what's important, love and family! I recommend this story!
His Proposal, Their Forever by Melissa McClone is part of The Coles of Haley’s Bay series. Bailey Cole has lived in Haley’s Bay all her life. This little town and all it’s residents mean everything to Bailey. She is an artist, and is very passionate about her work. She is also very passionate about the Broughton Inn. It is an historic inn that has always been part of her life. She worked in the kitchen there as a teenager and now as an artist, she and other artists display their work there and she also teaches a class there. That is until early one morning she gets a call from her Grandmother that there is a construction crew out front of the building with a wrecking ball, getting ready to knock down her beloved inn. Where the Cole family always puts family first, the McMillian family’s only ties to one another is business. Without it, they wouldn’t have anything to connect them. Justin McMillian and his two siblings are desperately trying to prove to their parents that they are worthy to take over the family real estate development business. He sees success within his grasp as he is getting ready to knock down the Broughton Inn in order to build a fancy new resort hotel. That is until a crazy lady in paint spattered coveralls and purple slippers runs in front of the inn and stops all progress. Come to find out, both Justin’s family and Bailey’s family have been duped and now the ownership of the inn is in question. “McMillian Resorts would succeed. No matter what Justin had to do to make that happen, including charming the silly slippers off the mess of a woman standing in his way.” As Justin is forced to stay in Haley’s Bay to sort out these new problems, he and Bailey spend more time together and bonds begin to form. Justin finds himself caring about things he never gave any thought to before. One of which is a skinny, muddy stray brown dog that he and Bailey keep seeing around town. Bailey is determined to save the poor thing so together they take on the task. Justin never owned a pet as a child. But now, he oddly can think of nothing better than giving the poor guy a forever home. Deep down, maybe he is hoping that Bailey would be a part of that picture as well. This is a wonderful story of small town life, the love of family, and making the decision what is most important in life. Will Justin decide that proving to his parents he can be a ruthless business man is most important, or will he decide that having a woman he loves by his side is more important? The author, Melissa McClone is an active advocate of adopting shelter animals and I love the way she works this into her books. The dog in this story was so adorable and played such an important role in helping Justin and Bailey find their way. This, as all of Melissa’s books do, left me with a warm heart and a smile on my face.