Fallling for the Prodigal Son (2 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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"How is he?"

"He looks tired. So does Sarah." Lucy paged through the photo album as she chatted, stopping every once in a while to squint at a blurry photograph. She sighed. "I'm having trouble actually believing it. He's always been so ... I don't know. Vital. Alive."

"He seems to have gone downhill so quickly," Gina said. She paused, then broached the Topic. "Have you heard the rumor?" Gina asked.

"I think I met the rumor," Lucy replied. "You mean John and Sarah's son? He was at their house this evening. With his girlfriend or wife, I guess."

"Hah. Definitely not wife. She's also been installed as a management consultant." Lucy could hear the air quotes in Gina's comment.

"At the Inn?"

"You got it. She's ruffled a few feathers already."

"She seemed nice enough to me. Nicer than he was anyway. Why, has she ruffled your feathers?"

"Oh, I get the impression there are going to be some changes made around the Inn. Change or get changed, I guess."

"Change is not necessarily a bad thing."

Gina laughed. "When was the last time something changed in St. Caroline?"

I changed,
Lucy thought.
I changed in St. Caroline.


Lucy reheated her tea in the microwave, then returned to the photo album. She made a mental note to ask Douglas how many boxes of photos John gave him. The photos really should be scanned and stored digitally. The oldest of the photos in the album dated back to the seventies, based on the clothing the kids were wearing. Even so, some were showing signs of fading. Some had water damage, corners were dogeared. These need to be preserved, she thought. And if they were scanned, then she and Douglas could use them on the camp alumni web site the two of them were developing.

She flipped a few more pages, then stopped short. She carefully peeled back the yellowing plastic protector and pulled off a photo. She walked into the kitchen where there was better light. It was a group photo. Lucy counted thirty kids. There was Douglas in the back row, already taller and more developed than half the counselors. He was making rabbit ears behind another camper's head.

Maybe she had missed ... no, wait. Second row, on the end. There she was. All arms and legs, bony knees and chopped hair. Lucy shook her head at the image of her sixteen-year-old self in cutoff shorts, bared midriff top and torn black chucks. That week at camp had been the end of her old life and the beginning of a new one. 

She had told Gina nearly everything about her life, told her years ago. About Josh and her marriage, her poverty-stricken childhood in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, her father's abandonment. All things that Lucy, as a rule, didn't tell people. She didn't need anyone's pity. But there was one thing, one very important life thing, she hadn't told Gina. Hadn't told anyone—not even Josh—and certainly could never tell anyone in St. Caroline. She'd lost her virginity to a rich kid one summer at camp. A rich kid named Sterling Matthew.

Chapter 2



When Lucy awoke the next morning, it was easy to believe the night before had been merely a dream. Had she really seen Sterling Matthew again? Had he really been at John and Sarah's house? It just didn't seem possible. In the five years Lucy had lived in St. Caroline, Sterling had never come home‚ not even once, to visit his parents. Not at Christmas, not at Thanksgiving, not on their birthdays.

Lucy wanted to believe it was a dream.
I mean, how embarrassing is that? I lost my virginity to someone when I was a teenager and now he's my boss?
Maybe he wouldn't remember her, she told herself. After all, a man as handsome and rich as Sterling could easily have an endless parade of beautiful women in his life. All of them better lovers than mousy, teenaged Lucy Wyndham had been.

By the time she got to her office, Lucy had convinced herself that there was no way on earth Sterling Matthew would ever remember her or the three evenings they had snuck off to a boathouse after lights out at the camp. She grabbed a coffee from the employee lounge and settled in front of her computer to begin wading through the hundreds of emails that had piled up in her inbox while she was on vacation. She was almost finished when, at 9 am sharp, she heard a tap on the doorframe, a tap that managed to be both light and authoritative at the same time. It was the redhead from last night, Elle Scott-Thomas.

Okay, so I didn't dream last night at John and Sarah's.

Ms. Scott-Thomas was as perfectly pulled together this morning as she had been last night. She wore a slim navy suit with a gold cuff around each wrist, her red hair pulled back into a sleek, glossy ponytail. She was overdressed for St. Caroline by at least a factor of ten. And something in her demeanor was not as open or soft as she had appeared to Lucy last night.

"Can I help you?" Lucy asked.

Elle Scott-Thomas strode into Lucy's office, making no effort to hide the fact that she was assessing every inch of it. Lucy was suddenly self-conscious about its decor, or lack thereof. The Chesapeake Inn was exquisitely decorated but most of the offices were hidden from guests so Lucy had never taken much time to spruce up hers. A row of overgrown spider plants lined the deep windowsill. At least Gina had been watering them. A worn Persian rug that Lucy had rescued from the lobby redecoration two years ago covered the wide-plank wooden floor. The walls were painted the same cheery yellow they'd been the day Lucy was hired. She imagined how unsophisticated that color looked to the elegant woman who had just taken a seat on the other side of Lucy's desk. She extended a cool, dry hand to Lucy.

"We met briefly last night. Elle Scott-Thomas," she said.

"Yes, I remember," Lucy replied. "It's nice to see you again."

Elle skipped right over any Monday morning chit chat and got straight to the heart of the matter.

"I'm working as a consultant to Mr. Matthew. He and I have gone over the marketing plan you completed for the current year." She spoke with the crisp, clipped accent of private schools and summers spent in Europe. "We've made some notes to help guide you in developing next year's plan."

Lucy took the document that Elle was holding out to her. "Okay. But it's June. We don't usually start work on next year's plans until September, after the high season is over."             

"Be that as it may, Mr. Matthew would like everyone to start work on next year's plans and budgets now. He has some new ideas for the business that may take additional time to implement."

She is one cool customer,
Lucy thought as she watched the other woman's neutral poker face. She and Sterling Matthew struck Lucy as an odd match. Slacker rich kid and buttoned-up businesswoman. Granted, a lot of money will smooth over a large assortment of differences but women who comported themselves the way Elle Scott-Thomas did usually wanted a man with a similar disposition. Last night, Sterling had looked like he'd gotten stuck in some grunge-era time warp.

"I will take a look at it," Lucy said. "When does Mr. Matthe
w want to see something back?"

"Week's end."


Lucy spent the next two hours reading the copious notes jotted in the margins of her marketing plan, the post-it notes slapped across pages, paragraphs circled with questions scribbled next to them.

Why no Christmas Eve dinner?

John Matthew had always believed people should spend Christmas Eve at home with family, Lucy mentally answered.

Why is January empty?
Cold and bleak that month. Not enough snow for winter sports.

The Valentine's Day weekend hasn't changed since I was a kid.
If it's not broke, don't fix it.

John Matthew had always had a vision of the Inn as a quiet, gracious place where the service was impeccable and the pace of life leisurely. It was a resort where people came to swim and sit in the shade and read away a lazy afternoon or play board games in the parlor on a rainy one. There were sailboats for families to take out onto the bay, and canoes, fishing poles and binoculars for exploring the inlets and wetlands. If the place seemed a little frozen in time, well, that was how John Matthew had wanted it. "This will never be the latest, trendiest tourist trap," he'd said to her during her job interview. "This is a little slice of New England WASP-iness for the Mid-Atlantic. From the linens on the beds to the liquor in the bar, we are about things that have stood the test of time. That's our brand."

Lucy leaned back in her chair to clear her mind and give her eyes a rest. There was nothing wrong with the ideas that Sterling had written into her plan—scheduling more special themed weekends, more aggressively promoting the Inn as a wedding site, booking more corporate retreats. Gina had long wanted to do couples cooking weekends. But it would make the Inn a different place, a busier place, a more adult place. Less of a family inn.

Lucy didn't relish the prospect of a more crowded resort, especially in the off-season, but she understood perfectly that it was a business—and a business that didn't belong to her, however proprietary her feelings for it were. If Sterling Matthew wanted to make some changes, it was her job to help him. If Lucy Wyndham was anything, she was a trooper, a team player, the sort of person who could be counted on to pitch in and do whatever was necessary. Her brain was already drifting into brainstorming mode as she casually flipped to the last section of the marketing plan.

The last page always detailed her outreach plans for the Kids Kamp, the Inn's summer program for underprivileged kids. The camp was a charitable activity for the Matthew family and as such didn't make any money, but Lucy was always looking for newer, creative ways to locate the kids who needed the camp the most. Burnout and turnover were high among the volunteers and social workers who were the primary source of the camp's referrals. So many kids needed this chance to get out of the city, away from the downward pull of an impoverished neighborhood—but they could be frustratingly elusive.

I know I was.
Lucy had been raised by a single mother in a run-down house in southwestern Virginia. Lucy's mother had tried her best but Lucy hadn't made it easy. When her school sent home a flyer about the Chesapeake Inn's summer camp, Lucy's mother—completely out of any other ideas to turn around her wayward daughter—called the toll-free number.

It was the best thing she could ever have done for Lucy. Lucy returned from camp a changed girl. She got serious about her studies. After her parent-teacher conference that fall, Lucy's mother wept in relief at her daughter's turnaround. The camp had shown her a world outside the hills and hollows of Lost Cave, Virginia, a world that was quiet and genteel ... and
she'd thought. She'd seen families together, relaxing, having fun, enjoying each other's company. That had been a revelation to Lucy. All of the adults she knew were stressed out all the time, and none seemed to much enjoy her company.

Lucy was hardly alone in the impact the camp had made in her life. The Kids Kamp did so much good for so many kids. When she wrote her annual fundraising appeal in the Inn's winter newsletter, it wasn't a stretch to say that the camp changed kids' lives. So when she turned to the Kids Kamp page in the marketing plan, it took a moment for her brain to register what her eyes were seeing, to pull back from the precipice of brainstorming and replant her feet firmly in reality. There was a thick black X scrawled across the entire page.

Lucy's heart started racing. She felt lightheaded. She uncrossed her legs to plant both feet firmly on the floor beneath her desk. She pressed her forearms onto her desk until the pressure hurt.

she commanded herself.
Just breathe.

When her shakiness subsided, she snatched up the marketing plan and bolted from her office. She stormed into John Matthew's office three minutes later, prepared to give his son a piece of her mind. And if that didn't work, she'd just give him hell. She was brought up short, though, by the sight of a neatly-dressed man in a crisp white button-down shirt and wire-rimmed glasses sitting behind John Matthew's desk. He was leaning on his elbows, poring over a stack of spreadsheets.

Lucy began to quietly back out of the office. She had assumed Sterling was using his father's office, but maybe not? This man looked like an accountant, not the slacker son she'd met last night.

"Can I help you?"

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
7.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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