Fallling for the Prodigal Son (3 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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Too late. She hadn't moved fast enough.

Chapter 3

 

 

Sterling looked up at the woman standing in his doorway. She was looking more than a little confused.
Ah, Lucy Lou.
That had been his pet name for her. Not that they'd done much talking as teenagers. Sterling couldn't imagine—still couldn't imagine—that they would have had much to talk about. In fact, he never did know much about her, not even her last name. The fact that she'd been a camper here meant she came from some screwed up background. That could mean almost anything. Parents in jail, on drugs, on the lam. Kids in reform school or on drugs or just general juvenile delinquency. He didn't know which category Lucy fell into. They'd had a physical attraction to each other, acted on it, and then she went home. If he ever thought of her after that, he couldn't remember now.

Nor did he know how she ended up working for his father. After the initial shock of recognition last night—the first girl he'd had sex with standing just across the room—wore off, he had wanted to ask his father how he had hired her but he was unable to come up with a plausible reason for why he'd remember one camp kid out of the hundreds who came through this place when he was a teenager. That kind of detail would probably sail right over his father's head but his mother would seize on it in a heartbeat. That saying "behind every successful man ..." certainly applied to his parent's marriage. His father had always been the personality of the Chesapeake Inn, the person who remembered guests' names year after year, remembered what sports their kids played and where they went to college, knew at the drop of a hat who had how many grandchildren and how old they'd be this year. But it was his mother who made things work behind the scenes. And it was his mother who had summoned him home.

One thing was for sure. Lucy Lou wasn't the scrawny little thing she used to be with those tiny nubs for breasts and that weird, chopped up hair she'd had. Her breasts had been too small for him to even cup in his hands, he remembered that. He hadn't thought her beautiful back then—it was doubtful anyone did—but she'd had a way of walking, a cocky sway to her hips, as if she fancied herself to be trouble with a capital T. She'd stood out among the other campers. She caught his eye the very first day, but it took him almost a week and a half to reach out and grab her hand as she walked past on the path. He hadn't known what he was going to do, probably nothing, then she reached up and pulled his face down to hers and kissed him. After that, they began meeting late at night. She snuck out of the cabins and met him at the boathouse on George Adams' property. The boathouse was far enough away from the Adams house that it was easy to slip in and out unnoticed after dark.

And now here she was, standing in his office after all these years, clutching her marketing plan so tightly that her knuckles had turned white.

"Ms. Wyndham? Did you want to discuss next year's marketing?"

He took in her body language. She was not a happy camper, clearly. Especially compared to last night when she'd been on the verge of tears in his father's library. And hanging on to that ridiculous old photo album like it was a life preserver. He knew in an instant that she was another of those people his father had rescued in some way. His father had always been like that, a sucker for strays and hard luck stories.

He hadn't the foggiest idea what she'd been wearing last night but this morning she was wearing slim white pants that stopped just above a pair of slender ankles and leather strappy sandals. A navy short-sleeved sweater skimmed tastefully over her torso, revealing a slim waist and high breasts. He liked to see a woman's figure as much as any red-blooded man but he didn't like second skin clothes on them. On a heavier woman, he reflected, this outfit might have come across as dowdy, old-fashioned. But Lucy Wyndham was managing to make it look both appropriately nautical for the resort and subtly sexy in an Audrey Hepburn/Grace Kelly kind of way. He watched as she nervously tucked back a wisp of hair that had escaped from her loosely-held ponytail. Yes, Lucy Lou had filled out nicely, he thought.

"Sit down, please," he gestured toward the chair on the opposite side of his father's desk. "Can I get you some coffee? I apologize if my arrival last night cut short your visit with my father."

She ignored his offer of coffee, instead turning immediately to the last section of the marketing plan. She waved one of the pages he had marked through with a black X. "Why is the Kids Kamp crossed out?" she demanded.

"I think it would be better if we started at the beginning and went through the plan section by section." He carefully restacked the spreadsheets he'd been looking at, then pulled a copy of Lucy's marketing plan from a file folder.

"Does this—"she jabbed a finger at the big black X—"mean that you are getting rid of the camp? "Is that what this means?" she added, for emphasis.

"There are going to be some changes made," he started slowly, stopping to take a sip of coffee from a mug. "We're all going to have to work together to put the resort back on sound financial footing. Right the ship, as it were." Damn his mother for making him do this! He'd never wanted to run this resort. That's why he left in the first place, gone abroad after college and not come back. And now his father was ailing and he'd been told by his mother that he could kiss any inheritance goodbye if he didn't return and take over the family business.

"The ship has been sailing just fine for years," Lucy replied.

"No," he said, a little more forcefully than he intended. "No, it hasn't been. The Chesapeake Inn and Resort has been losing money for years. And the current economy has made things worse. The bank is going to rescind our line of credit—which we use to maintain cash flow and make payroll, when needed—unless I can convince them otherwise this evening. Unless I can find a way to start bringing more money into the resort, a lot of people—that would include you, Ms. Wyndham—are going to lose their jobs. And this place will likely be gobbled up by some huge multinational hospitality conglomerate."

He waited around for this information to sink in as she looked around at his father's office.              

"What does that have to do with the kids camp?" she asked
at last.

"The camp, as I'm sure you've noticed, is on prime waterfront property. That real estate could be put to more profitable use."
             

"The camp is a tradition. It's been here for decades."

"Sometimes traditions outlive their usefulness."

"Usefulness to whom?" she sputtered. "You? It certainly hasn't outlived its usefulness to the kids. There are more kids who need that camp than we can serve as is."

He looked at the indignation on Lucy Wyndham's face, and felt suddenly very tired. When he returned, he knew there was going to be resistance to what had to be done from lots of people in town. St. Caroline was not a place that suffered change gladly. And he knew there were people who resented him for staying away so long, for not rushing straight back home after college to join the family business. He'd had his reasons, though.

But he hadn't been expecting pushback from the marketing director. He'd felt confident that any marketing person worth their salt would jump at the opportunity to do more creative initiatives than the Chesapeake Inn normally did. His father had never wanted to spend more money on marketing than was needed to maintain the status quo. The status quo was no longer enough.

Of course, that was before he saw who the marketing director was. The one thing that absolutely had to be done—getting rid of that damned summer camp—was the one thing his marketing director was personally attached to.

His father, naive optimist that he was, had assured him that the Inn's employees were "unwaveringly dedicated" and would move heaven and earth to help him. In fact, what he was finding was exactly what Elle warned him everyone finds in this kind of situation.

"People won't want to change. Change is uncomfortable, it brings uncertainty," she'd counseled him. "They won't trust your motives, no matter what you do or say. It's nothing personal."

Here's what he wanted to say to this woman sitting across from him, looking expectantly at him, waiting for his response—what he wanted to say to everyone in the whole damn town.
I don't want to be doing this either. I liked the Chesapeake Inn the way it was too—on the other side of the world and completely out of my life. If you want to blame someone for all the changes that are about to rain down on your heads, blame John Matthew for not retiring when his energies and mental faculties began to wane. Blame Sarah Matthew for spending years in denial over it.

Of course, no one would ever blame John and Sarah Matthew. His parents walked on water in St. Caroline. While he, their son, would end up with all the blame and reprobation heaped upon his head. When this was over, he'd have to leave town under cover of darkness.

All right. Enough pity party for now, he thought. He had a dozen other department heads to meet with today; right now he had to dispatch his marketing director back to her office with a clear understanding of her marching orders. The very marketing director who, right now, was leaning back into her chair, her arms folded across her chest and with an expression on her face that was mustering up both confidence and challenge as he watched.

And that was when it happened. When that hot cord of desire began unfurling in his chest, that old forked devil's tail snaking its way around his spine, through the pit of his stomach.  He had to ignore it, he told himself. This was not the time. He did not have the leisure to take up with a woman right now. This was not the place. He was doing what his mother needed him to do, as soon as he could do it and then leaving St. Caroline for good. And this was not the woman. Not an employee, a direct report no less.

Down boy
.
Send her back to her office with work to do. You have plenty to do yourself.

"The kids camp is not part of your job anymore, Ms. Wyndham. It's your job now to come up with a new marketing plan that generates more revenue next year."

Take it or leave it.

Chapter
4

 

 

Lucy spent the rest of the morning in her office, researching what other luxury resorts were doing in marketing and special events, working her professional network for ideas, and fuming. Mostly fuming. Getting rid of the camp was unthinkable. It had been part of the resort—part of the Matthew family—for decades.

But at least Sterling hadn't recognized her. Although he still had the same unnervingly intense eyes—hooded and dark—he'd had as a teenager. Eyes that took in everything around him.
Lucy had watched Sterling Matthew's serious gaze from the safety of the Kids Kamp, all those years ago. The teenaged Sterling was always seen lurking around the edges of the camp, watching the campers or just staring out across the bay, into the distance. He'd been the gorgeous, aloof guy all the girls had a crush on from afar—like some teen magazine movie star.

After she started working at the Inn, it crossed her mind that she might see him again. But years passed and he made no appearance in St. Caroline. After awhile, she stopped even associating him with John and Sarah. He was an abstraction, her mysterious, abstract schoolgirl infatuation.

The man sitting behind John Matthew's desk today was certainly no abstraction. He exuded a cool masculinity and a calm, no-nonsense air of business.

By lunchtime, Lucy was badly in need of fresh air and a few moments to clear her head. Even though her vacation had ended just yesterday, it felt like a distant memory already. It was obvious, from the flurry of emails piling up in her inbox, that the Inn's entire staff was in a tizzy from Sterling Matthew's reappearance—and his beautiful henchman handing out "assignments" right and left. Lucy grabbed a sandwich and a to-go cup of iced tea from the Inn's Tilghman Caf
é and headed for the walking path that led to the shoreline and the kids camp.

The village of St. Caroline was a summer playground for the wealthy and the powerful—executives, politicians, even a former vice president had a waterfront compound here. It was internationally renowned for its sailing waters and its seafood. Despite all that, the town itself had a low-key vibe about it. St. Caroline was a place where powerful people came to escape the pressures and anxieties of their normal lives. People who wielded more power than ninety-nine percent of the world's population could stroll along a pier, pop into a shop and buy a gift, or enjoy a leisurely al fresco lunch without anyone fawning over them or pressing a business card into their palm.

St. Caroline was also a place where children whose families had no power and often not even two nickels to rub together could spend a few summer weeks escaping the pressures and anxieties of their altogether different world. The camp was what made summer Lucy's favorite season at the Inn. Every day at the camp was filled with new experiences and new lessons for the kids—sailing, fishing, crabbing, meeting oystermen, touring local farms, exploring art with the many painters and sculptors who had taken up residence in the area. For some of the kids, their weeks at the Inn were the first time they'd set foot outside their inner city neighborhood—and yet, they were often wise beyond their years. Lucy never ceased to be amazed at how perceptive they were, how quickly they sized up people and situations. For kids who had seen so little of the world, they managed to see everything that happened around them.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
5.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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