Fallling for the Prodigal Son (4 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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Today was the first day of the first session of camp. The first group of kids were here, the new counselors were here and everyone was getting to know each other. Lucy felt the tension of her morning lifting as she came into view of the camp. Douglas and the counselors were helping the campers set up lunch at the long wooden picnic tables.

"Room for one more?" Lucy called out.

"Hey, it's our favorite honorary camper," Douglas said. A dozen heads turned to look at Lucy. She smiled and waved.

"So who has the most bug bites so far?" she asked as she took a seat in the middle of the table.

"Hah," said Alyssa, one of the campers. "That would be Luis. He's as sweet as candy to the mosquitoes."

"But not to the girls!" someone called out, to laughter all around the table.

As Lucy watched the kids eat their crabcakes and french fries, bantering with each other as though they'd known each other for years instead of hours, she wondered whether John Matthew knew what his son was planning to do. His conversation last night had seemed to indicate otherwise. If the resort was in financial straits, surely there were ways to fix that without getting rid of the camp. The camp itself had few costs associated with it that weren't covered by donors or grants. Lucy had been very successful in getting government and foundation grants, something John Matthew had never considered until she arrived.

After lunch, the kids cleaned up the lunch tables. Lucy balled up the rest of her sandwich and tossed it into the trash bag. She wasn't hungry.

"Meet at the pier in ten minutes," Douglas called out to the kids, who were quickly dispersing. "I have the results of this morning's swim tests."

Watching the kids amble away to chat with new best friends, Lucy felt a determination take hold in her heart. The Kids Kamp was not going away, not on her watch. She'd come up with a marketing plan that would generate so much additional revenue, the camp wouldn't have to be touched. She wasn't sure how she was going to do that, but she'd come up with something. She had to. There was no way she was going to allow Sterling Matthew to destroy the camp. Not after all these years, all these kids, all the good the camp had accomplished.

Lucy touched Douglas' arm. "Do you have a minute?" she asked.

"For you, of course."

Lucy and Douglas had both been campers that summer long ago, but they hadn't really known each other back then. Douglas was from Philadelphia and his street smart cockiness had intimidated country girl Lucy. When Lucy started working at the Inn, neither she nor Douglas remembered each other. They quickly bonded over their mutual commitment to the camp, and had been close friends ever since. Lucy no longer felt like a bumpkin kid and Douglas' cockiness had given way to the tanned, rugged athleticism of someone who spent most of his time on the water. His hair was bleached from the sun and salt air, and his upper body was finely honed from the many hours he spent paddling in his kayak.

"So. Has he been down here?" Lucy asked, cryptically.

"He?"

"Sterling Matthew."

"Oh, right. Him. No, he hasn't."

"So you haven't met him yet? What about his consultant?" Lucy made air quotes as she said "consultant."

Douglas laughed. "I saw her the other day. From the expression on her face, I'd say her shoes were two sizes too small. But I haven't met either of them. He
ard plenty of rumors, though."

"Like what?" Lucy wanted to know whether Douglas knew of Sterling's plans for the camp, but she didn't want to be the one to tell him if he didn't.

"Oh everyone says he's prepping the resort to be sold next year."

"Do you think that's true?"

Douglas shrugged. "I guess it's not out of the realm of possibility, these days. Companies get sold left and right, it seems."

Lucy sighed. "I'm ready to go back on vacation."

Douglas wrapped his arms around her in a big friendly hug. "Let's have dinner tonight and you can tell me all about your trip to Chicago. Meet me at the Blue Crab at seven?"

Lucy disentangled herself from Douglas' arms. Lucy and Douglas had tried dating for awhile, but no chemistry had ever taken hold between them. There were days when she wished things had worked out between the two of them. Douglas was damn near a perfect specimen of man—why couldn't there be more than just a friendly attraction? Maybe Josh had so thoroughly broken her heart that she was simply incapable of falling in love again.

"You bet," Lucy replied to Douglas. "And we can reminisce about the soon-to-be good old days at the Inn."

What if the Inn really did get sold, Lucy wondered as she trudged back up the walking path to her office. What would she do then? It wasn't as though there were dozens of marketing jobs in St. Caroline. She'd have to move. And she didn't want to move away from St. Caroline.

The village wasn't a place she had consciously set out to live in. She'd never even been back to St. Caroline after her summer at camp until Josh made reservations for them to celebrate their third wedding anniversary at the Chesapeake Inn. The night before they were scheduled to drive to St. Caroline, Josh told Lucy he wanted a divorce. He'd fallen in love with a coworker. Lucy had been blindsided, unaware that anything had even been wrong with their marriage. After three years, she still felt like a newlywed. Had their entire marriage been a lie? At what point had Josh stopped loving her? How long had he been merely pretending? Lucy still didn't have those answers. She supposed she never would.

She had decided to come to the Inn anyway that weekend, by herself. The reservations were made, no point in them going to waste. And she had really needed to get away. Really did not want to have to watch Josh pack up his things, drop his keys on the table and walk out.

John Matthew had approached her one evening as she ate dinner by herself in the Inn's most formal restaurant, Evangeline's. He inquired as to the quality of her stay thus far. Lucy burst into sudden tears.

John sat down. "Well, our service isn't usually that bad," he said.

Lucy shook her head, eventually getting enough of a grip on her emotions to explain about the aborted anniversary weekend. John asked her what she did back in Washington. When he learned that she worked in marketing for the Marriott hotel chain, he mentioned that he was looking for a new marketing director himself. If she was interested, he'd be happy to discuss it with her the next morning.

When Lucy awoke the next morning, she thought, "Why not?" Why not take a new job at this venerable old inn in this quaint shoreside town? After what Josh had done to her, she needed a change of scenery, a chance to pick up her life and set it down somewhere else for awhile. That had been five years ago. And while Lucy's romantic entanglements had been few and far between in St. Caroline—not for any lack of effort on Sarah Matthew's part—she was happy here. Content. Life in St. Caroline was perfect. The Chesapeake Inn was perfect, just the way it was.

Chapter 5

 

 

This is el primo real estate,
Sterling thought as he strolled down to the water. What could be built here? A restaurant? Sailing school? Luxury cottages with private concierge service? There was a lot of money being left on these shores.

He stopped and leaned against an old oak tree. At the sound of children's laughter and shouts floating along the shoreline, memories of his own childhood came flooding back, slamming into him like a surprise wave. He closed his eyes to try and ward them off, but he couldn't. Evening after evening spent eating dinner in the kitchen with the chef and the wait staff because his parents were working. Asking the guest services director to help him with his homework because his parents were away on a business trip. Going to the Inn's nurse for band-aids or an ice pack when he'd twisted an ankle or gotten stung by a bee.

He'd had a lonely, solitary childhood—surrounded by the thousands of guests who came to the Inn every year. But his parents—in particular, his father—had worked all the time. As an adult, he understood that. The hospitality industry was not a 9 to 5 job, especially when you promised the level of service that the Chesapeake Inn did. But as a child, he had resented the Inn and resented being neglected by his father in favor of it.

He opened his eyes and looked out over the sparkling water of the bay. How many hours had he stood behind this same damn tree, watching the campers? He used to stand right here, watching the other kids swim and fish and play kickball. Every summer, he made a new attempt to join in but once the other kids found out who he was—the rich kid, the boy whose father owned this place—they would freeze him out. One summer, the counselors pulled him aside and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't welcome. He was "ruining the experience" for the real campers.

He'd been nine years old.

His parents sent him away to boarding school in New England when he was thirteen, but summers he spent in St. Caroline. Long, boring summers stuck working with his father, summers without even the diversion of school chums. Sterling had no friends in St. Caroline. Now he was stuck, once more, in St. Caroline, stuck doing his father's job, stuck watching these kids have the kind of summer he never had as a child. The kind of summer money couldn't buy him back then—and the kind of summer the bankers had made him see he was paying through the nose for now.

And to be held hostage by his inheritance! He thought back to the phone call from his mother, three weeks ago. Run the resort or be written out of her will. Oh everyone thought Sarah Matthew was a lovely, gracious woman—and she was—but she also had a backbone of steel. Sarah was like a lot of southern-raised women. She got exactly what she wanted while managing to make you think it was your idea. But Sterling knew his mother better than most people did. He knew she wouldn't hesitate to cut him out of her will.

He watched as the campers began to congregate on the pier, in twos and threes and fours. They were laughing and pushing each other around playfully. The pier looked recently rebuilt, its wooden planks still smooth and clean. He'd have to look through the books later and see how much that cost. See, that's what he hadn't been able to make Lucy Wyndham understand. No matter how feel-good the Kids Kamp was, it didn't make any sense at all to rebuild a pier just for their use. How many rooms had to be booked to cover the cost of a new pier? He bet his father had never even considered that. Wait until Elle saw the pier.
She'll go ballistic.
He hoped she wouldn't notice it before the meeting with the bankers tonight.

Speaking of Lucy, there she was now. It figured she'd be down here. Just what he needed. The person in charge of marketing the resort, of bringing in the money, was a bleeding heart charity case. She probably ran straight here to sound the alarm. Heartless Sterling Matthew was killing the Kids Kamp!

She was speaking to the camp director, Douglas. Her face wore a serious expression.
She's probably giving him the news right now.
He watched as she reached out and grazed Douglas' arm, gently. There was an intimacy between the two of then, he recognized, with a note of surprise. Perfect, he thought. Absolutely freaking perfect. Lucy was dating the camp's director. Just what I need. As if on cue, Sterling watched as the other man embraced her, and she leaned her body comfortably into his. Sterling took note of the rippling muscles on Douglas' arms. He certainly didn't look like the wimpy, hippie camp directors his father had hired years ago. This one looked like he'd grown up sailing, his family maybe splitting their time between Annapolis and Newport or Bar Harbor and the Caribbean.

Well, good for him, Sterling thought as he let his eyes graze over Lucy Wyndham's figure, her trim waist and shapely ass. He hadn't made a habit out of sleeping with campers, back when he was a teenager. Lucy Lou had been the only one. He hadn't trusted his own ability to keep that secret from his parents. Nor had he been any sort of great Romeo. The opportunity had presented itself with Lucy and he had seized it.

He leaned against the tree and tried to recall those evenings with her in the boathouse, all those years ago. He cringed as the memories began surfacing. The way he'd kissed her too hard, too eagerly, his teeth pressing against her lips. His complete inability to unclasp her bra. After several tries, Lucy had reached back and unhooked it herself. And then the way he'd been unable to manage that fine line between caressing her skin and tickling her. They both had been so worried about getting caught, and Lucy's thin, nervous laughter had set their nerves even more on edge. He tried to shove those humiliating memories back into the recesses of his brain.

That was the problem, wasn't it? It wasn't just that he had once slept with his marketing director. That he could handle. It was that he had slept with her when they were teenagers, fumbling inexperienced
kids
. Every time she looked at him, that's what was going through her mind—an image of a skinny, nervous boy trying in vain to unhook her bra.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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