Fallling for the Prodigal Son (18 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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Sterling threw up his hands in exasperated mock-surrender. "I get it, Lucy. I get the social good of it."

"Yes! You get the social good of it—in some grand, philanthropic let-me-distribute-my-largesse-to-the-little-people way." Lucy was good and angry now. Any concern she might have had about Sterling dunking in the bay was gone. "But you don't get the social bad of it. The social ills these kids have to fight through every day of their childhoods. You could never get it because you haven't lived anything even remotely close to it."

"You seem to understand me and my life though, don't you?"

"No. No, I don't. I'm the first person to admit that I have no idea what it's like to never have to worry about anything, to have complete control over one's life, to get to do whatever one likes. I have no idea what that's like."

Sterling looked at her with a stunned look on his face. "Lucy, how do you think I spent my summers as a child? Let me tell you, it wasn't fishing or swimming or learning how to sail. Who do you think was going to take me fishing? Hmm? My father who worked 24-7? I think my Uncle Frederick took me fishing once. Once. I grew up in a family that owned plenty of boats but guess when I learned to sail? In college. I would have loved to take art lessons from the local artists or learn how to tie knots from the fishermen at the docks like the campers do. But I wasn't allowed. And complete control over my life? If I got to do whatever I liked, I wouldn't be here in St. Caroline trying to rescue a struggling resort."

My god
, thought Lucy. This is personal to him. He doesn't want to get rid of the camp because that land isn't making enough money right now. He wants to get rid of it because he resents it. Because he never got to do those things as a kid.
No wonder
I couldn't come up with a plan he would accept.
An image of a teenaged Sterling popped into her head—his lanky form leaning against that grand old tree at the top of the hill. To all the girls at camp, he'd been the local James Dean. Aloof. Mysterious. The gorgeous loner. Now Lucy realized he hadn't been a loner. He'd simply been lonely.

Sterling didn't want a plan to make the Inn more profitable, he wanted a plan that did away with the camp. A plan that would erase his memories of a childhood spent alone, looking at an outside world through a window of money.

"I want to give this property," she gestured at the house, "to the Inn, to be used for the Kids Kamp. That way, you can develop the other property more ...," she paused, "profitably."

"Then where will you live?"

"I'm probably not staying in St. Caroline. There's nothing for me to do here. There aren't many jobs here that would allow me to even pay the property taxes on this place. I appreciate your father giving me the property, but I'd have to sell it anyway. I suspect your father didn't count on me losing my job here when he wrote the will."

Sterling didn't respond to Lucy's dig about her job. Instead, he got up and looked out the front window, pushing aside the lacy yellow curtains. For a minute, Lucy thought he was going to walk out onto the porch and she moved to the edge of the sofa cushion, ready to leap up and stop him before he could. The last thing she needed was for someone to see Sterling Matthew on her porch, in a bathrobe.

After a minute, though, he let the curtains fall from his fingers and turned back to Lucy. "It's too far from the rest of the Inn. It's not close to the kitchen or the nurse's office or the supply rooms. It wouldn't work."

"So the camp as it exists now is too close to the Inn. But this location is too far from the Inn. There is no right distance, is there?"

Sterling slumped back into the armchair, his legs splayed out in front of him. Lucy tried not to look there. The terrycloth fabric of the robe had fallen between his thighs, exposing his well-muscled calves and the dark hair that shadowed his skin. Lucy forced herself to look at a spot on the wall behind his head.

He
rubbed his eyes, ran a hand through his still wet hair. "Give it a rest, Lucy. Please. You know, if the Inn goes under, there will be no Kids Kamp then either. And I guarantee you that if we have to sell it, no buyer is going to continue the camp. No matter how many NFL players or famous singers turned their lives around there."

A key scratched in the lock of Lucy's door. Sterling shot her a puzzled look. But there was no time for Lucy to explain before the door open
ed and Douglas stepped inside.

"Lucy? I thought you'd be out on the water by now. I was just dropping off ..." He held up a white bakery bag.

Douglas looked at Sterling reclining in the chair, barely dressed. The bakery bag fell to the floor. Then all hell broke loose. Douglas lunged for Sterling and got in a good punch to his jaw before Sterling had a chance to realize what Douglas was about to do. Lucy leapt up from the sofa and pulled at Douglas' shoulders.

"Stop!" she shouted.

"Should have done this years ago," grunted Douglas as he swung at Sterling again.

Sterling shoved him backward, which caused Douglas' punch to swing wildly. His fist caught Lucy square on the shoulder. She lost her footing and tumbled to the floor. She cried out in pain and both men stopped and looked at her. Douglas shoved Sterling out of the way and helped Lucy to her feet.

Lucy looked from one man to the other. She knew how this must look in Douglas' eyes.

Douglas beat her to the punch. "You're letting him wear my clothes?" If the look of betrayal on his face hadn't broken Lucy's heart, the note of hurt in his voice certainly would.

"He fell in ..." Lucy started to explain. "His clothes got wet ..."

This time, Sterling stepped in to rescue her. "I came over to tell Lucy that my father left her this house in his will. She was out on the water and I stupidly went out too. I fell in. My clothes are in the dryer."

Douglas looked at the two of them with an unmistakable
you must think I'm an idiot
expression on his face.

Lucy stepped over to him, and placed her arm gently on his. "Douglas, just go home," she said softly. "I'll call you later. Okay?"

Douglas hesitated and Lucy saw the skepticism in his face. "I'm fine," she added. "Honestly. Sterling was just about to get his clothes out of the dryer and leave too."

"Yeah. That's exactly what it looks like he was about to do."

"Douglas." Lucy looked up at him with a pleading look on her face. "I'll call you later."

"Don't bother. You two carry on." Douglas slammed the door as he left.

When Lucy turned around, Sterling had on his jeans and was buttoning his now-dry shirt. He slipped his feet into his running shoes.

"Just friends, eh? With a key to your house?"

"Out," Lucy commanded and pointed to the door.

Chapter 20

 

 

Lucy spent the next three days sitting at home and nursing a good old fashioned grudge against just about everyone. For starters, she was mad at Sterling. Why couldn't he have just sent James, the Matthew family lawyer, to tell her about the will? Why couldn't he have slipped it into her mailbox? There were a dozen other options he could have chosen that would have prevented Lucy from ending up with Sterling in her house in a bathrobe and Douglas walking through the door.

She was mad at Douglas for assuming the worst, that she and Sterling were sleeping together. And she was mad at herself because, well, the worst was true. She had slept with Sterling. Not last weekend when Douglas thought she had, of course. But they had done the deed in San Francisco. Twice. She didn't want to lose Douglas as a friend, and especially not over Sterling. Friends lasted longer than lovers. Or husbands, even, Lucy thought. She'd been friends with Douglas now for more years than she had been married to Josh.

But she didn't want to lose Sterling, either.

Lucy punched her fist into the sofa cushion.
She'd been angry with Sterling that morning, no question about it. She had blown her top, even yelled at him. But a part of her had been glad that he finally reached out to her. She had missed him since San Francisco, despite his firing her, despite everything. And she had been scared, too, when she heard the splash in the bay behind her and saw Sterling's head pop out of the water next to the capsized kayak. She had paddled over to him as fast as she could, faster than she'd ever paddled before, her heart nearly beating out of her chest. She hadn't known how fast her boat could travel through the water until Sunday.

She couldn't help it. The sight of Sterling sitting in that chair wearing nothing but a bathrobe—being that close to completely nude—well, of course, it had reminded her of San Francisco. Her hotel room. The sauna. If Douglas hadn't shown up, would Sterling have ... would she have been willing to ... yeah, probably.

If only she could chalk it up to just a swooning teenage crush. But it didn't feel like a crush. It didn't feel like love either, if what she'd had with Josh had been love. Was it merely lust? Lucy sighed. She was still as confused about boys as she'd been when she was sixteen.
You'd think I'd have it figured out by now.

It wasn't until Thursday evening that Lucy and Douglas spoke again. This time, Douglas simply knocked on her door.

"Hey Luce," Douglas said, trying to peer past Lucy and into her house. "Can we talk? Are you ... by yourself?"

Inside, he looked around Lucy's living room cautiously. Empty. Lucy took a seat on the sofa. Douglas
followed and sat next to her.

"I am so sorry about Sunday, Douglas ..."

"Don't worry about it. You're an adult. You can do what you want."

"But it's not like that," Lucy protested. "Sterling and I are not—"

Douglas put his hands up. "Honestly, I don't really want to hear about it. That's not why I'm here. I'm letting you know that we are meeting outside the gate tomorrow at six-thirty. The Hiptones come on at seven."

So Douglas was still upset about Sunday. She'd betrayed him. She'd been sleeping with the enemy, with the man who was ending what was Douglas' passion and booting him out of a job.

"I'm not sure I'm going," Lucy confessed.

"Why not? Sim
one Adkins comped us tickets."

"I'm tired."

Douglas laughed, bitterly. "What are you doing that's making you so tired?"

"I'm emotionally tired."

"You're wallowing. That's what you're doing. And it's not like you, "Douglas replied.

"I don't have a job. I'm going to have to move soon from the only place I've ever loved. I'm entitled to a little wallowing."

"I'm going to lose my job in another month, too. Maybe sooner."

"Well, I'll be happy to give you wallowing lessons. You're going to need them."

"What happened between you and Sterling?"

"Uh, he fired my ass."

"Lucy. I'm not dumb. What I walked into on Sunday was not someone sitting with her former boss. I mean, he's my boss too, and I have never wanted to see him in a bathrobe. My bathrobe, no less."

Lucy shrugged. What was there to say? Deny it and she'd be lying. But she also didn't want to admit to it. Because, really, what had happened between her and Sterling? She'd been trying to seduce him, use his attraction to her to gain some advantage. Clearly, that didn't work. Or it didn't work on Sterling, anyway. It seems to have worked on me, though, she thought. She had begun to think that he really was attracted to her—and not just scratching an itch while they were out of town together.

"I know you two slept together at camp."

Lucy looked at Dougl
as warily.

"I told you," Douglas continued. "We guys kept a close eye on Sterling. Everyone knew you were sneaking out to that boathouse to see him. That was no secret. I waited around the Adams property every night to make sure you got back to camp safely."

Lucy looked at him incredulously. "No, you didn't."

"Yes, ma'am, I did. And I have never once embarrassed you by bringing this up. So you owe me, and I am cashing in tonight. I need you to come to the concert tomorrow. I could use another chaperone."

 

The heat of summer softened into a warm Friday evening, perfect for a night of music and fun. When Lucy arrived at the gate of Memorial Park, the campers were a mass of barely contained energy. This would probably be the first concert any of them had attended. Lucy certainly hadn't been to a concert when she was their age.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
5.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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