Fallling for the Prodigal Son (5 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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The Blue Crab Bistro was in a small brick building tucked into an alleyway at the very end of Main Street in St. Caroline. The building itself had been built in 1674 and had always housed some sort of eating and drinking establishment. After 337 years, the Blue Crab Bistro was simply its present incarnation. Lucy never had trouble imagining the clatter of horses' hooves on the cobblestone alley or the click of buckled shoes as men in form-fitting breeches and powdered wigs strode purposefully across the wide-plank wooden floors inside.

The current owners had gone so far as to frame stock portraits of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the wall with mock quotes praising their dining experiences there.
Best oysters in the colonies! Your service is impeccable—and your waitress, Sally, is one sassy wench.

Douglas was already seated at their usual table when Lucy arrived. She leaned down and bussed him on the cheek.

"How's camp going so far?" she asked.

"Great. We've got a super bunch of kids this first session." Douglas pushed a tall glass of amber liquid toward her. "I took the liberty of ordering a drink for you. Sean just put the summer ale on tap."

The waitress ambled over but Lucy and Douglas waved her off with "the usual, Kelly." That meant the crabcakes for Douglas and for Lucy, the wild greens and organic chicken salad, all ingredients sourced from local Eastern Shore farms.

Douglas cocked his head toward the private dining room. "Look who's here."

Behind the windows of the Blue Crab's private dining room sat Sterling Matthew, Elle Scott-Thomas and three men wearing serious charcoal grey suits, stiff-collared white shirts and low-key blue silk ties. Lucy was a little shocked. His father would never have behaved this way. John Matthew would never have held a meeting with bankers in a restaurant, flaunting their presence in front of everyone in town. Lucy was surprised when Sterling quirked an eyebrow and caught her eye through the glass. She quickly turned back to Douglas.

"They're meeting with the bankers," she told Douglas.

Now it was Douglas' turn to lift an eyebrow. "And you know this ... how?"

"I h
ad a meeting with Sterling this morning. About the marketing plans for next year." Lucy was planning to tell Douglas about Sterling's plans—or lack of plans, actually—for the camp but she hadn't wanted to drop it on him right at the start. She needed to ease him into it.

"And ...," Douglas probed.

"Well ... he says the Inn is not doing well, financially. That's why they're meeting with the bankers."

"How can the Inn not being doing well? Bookings haven't been down this year, have they?"

Lucy shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "Bookings are as healthy as ever. But then again, I don't have access to all of the company's financials. The bookings aren't the only number that matters."

"I can't believe John would have mismanaged the business. The Matthew family has owned the Inn for decades," Douglas said.

Lucy turned toward the rest of the dining room when Kelly arrived with their entrees. She couldn't help taking a quick glance at the private dining room, where Elle was in deep discussion with the bankers. Sterling was looking straight at Lucy. Lucy felt her face and throat grow warm. Why was he looking at her? Was he angry that she was here, too? Or just trying to intimidate her? She gave him a quick smile, in acknowledgement. Sterling did not smile back. He simply continued to look across the room at her, his dark eyes boring right into her.

Lucy turned away. It was creeping her out, his looking at her like that. After Josh, Lucy stopped being attracted to overly intense men like that. It was a mask for something darker underneath.

"He just doesn't look like he'd be the progeny of John and Sarah Matthew," Douglas observed. Sterling's lean body was poured into a sleek, black suit, a pale green silk tie loosened insouciantly below his adam's apple.

Lucy laughed. "I thought the same thing! I ran into him at John and Sarah's house last night, and he was dressed in grungy shorts and a tee shirt. His hair looked like he'd just gotten out of bed. It's hard to reconcile that guy with the one sitting in there now."

"I'm finding it hard to reconcile what his girlfriend is doing with him."

"I'm not sure he's going to last here," she said to Douglas, with more confidence than she really felt. "Either he'll get tired of St. Caroline or he'll manage to piss off everyone who works at the Inn and John will have to send him back to Europe."

"We can only hope," Douglas agreed, taking a big bite of crab cake.

Lucy and Douglas chatted about the new crop of campers, her trip to Chicago, Gina's latest pastry creations for the Inn. Lucy studiously avoided looking at the private dining room, though she could still feel the heat of Sterling's gaze on her neck and cheek. She pulled the band out of her ponytail and let her long hair fall to her shoulders, giving her a shield of hair to hide behind.

Douglas made a mock-leering face at her. "Very sexy."

Lucy jabbed her fork in the air at him. Gina thought Lucy was crazy when she and Douglas stopped dating but continued to see each other as friends.

"Friends with benefits?" Gina had asked.

"Nope," Lucy had replied. "We never got that far."

"So you're just hanging out with him?"

"We like each other. There's just no chemistry. That's all."

Lucy and Douglas had tried to find the chemistry, had given it their best shot. They had even gotten as far as being naked and in bed together—and still it was nowhere to be found. That's when they called it quits, as they laughingly put their clothes back on, then ordered a pizza delivery. Sarah Matthew was still holding out hope that Lucy and Douglas might someday be a match.

Douglas shook his head suddenly. "I remember how all the girls at camp had such huge crushes on him. And all the guys swore that if he ever laid a hand on any of the girls, we'd pound him. We were so jealous of him, with his pretty boy looks and all that money." He shook his head again. "When I took this job here, it never even crossed my mind that he'd be running the place someday."

Lucy laughed. "You were going to pound him, huh? That would have put a quick end to your stay at camp."

"Yeah well, we didn't think the plan all the way through."

By the time Kelly gently set their dessert—tiramisu, two forks—and coffees down on the table, Lucy knew she couldn't put it off any longer. She had to tell Douglas. She took a sip of coffee, considering her words carefully.

"Douglas, there's something I need to tell you," she began. "When I met with Sterling Matthew this morning, to go over the marketing plans ... well ..." This was hard, she thought. This was going to break Douglas' heart. She felt her eyes well up with tears and she took another quick sip of coffee in the hope that Douglas wouldn't notice.

"He's getting rid of the camp, isn't he?"

Lucy nodded, without looking up.

"That bastard! Now I am going to pound him." Douglas slammed his fork down onto the table. "When? Right away?"

Lucy shook her head, finally able to look Douglas in the eye. "Next summer. He says there are more valuable ways to use that land."

"Depends on how you define the word valuable."

Lucy reached over and covered Douglas' hand with hers. "I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you. But I wanted you to know."

Douglas flipped his wrist around and grasped Lucy's hand. "It's not your fault, Luce."

"I'm thinking about just refusing to develop plans for that area," she offered.

Douglas shook his head. "You'll lose your job. You shouldn't sacrifice your own career for this."

"I'm not sure I care if I lose my job. Do I really want to work for a man like that? The Inn isn't going to be the same place without the camp. Or without John running it."

"Do John and Sarah know he's planning to axe the camp?" Douglas asked.

Lucy shrugged. "I don't know. I spent all afternoon picking up the phone to call Sarah, then chickening out."

"You probably shouldn't get in the middle of that, anyway. I can't imagine John would ever want the camp to be dissolved, but Sarah ... she did call Sterling back. She may have given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants to do."

"Gina pointed that out, too. We all think of Sterling as the son who abandoned his parents and refused to join the family business. But none of us really know how John and Sarah feel about that. He is still their son."

Douglas' phone pinged. He pulled it out of his pocket and checked the text. "I've got to get back to the camp."

Lucy reached for the check. "My treat tonight, for being the bearer of bad news."

Chapter 7



Sterling was standing in the long narrow corridor that led back to the Blue Crab's men's and women's lounges. He'd excused himself from Elle and the bankers by saying he needed to make an important phone call. Now he stood in the dim hallway, sheltered from view of most of the dining area, pretending to use his cell phone.

How long is she going to be in there?
he thought.

He'd been watching Lucy Wyndham all evening. He'd tried not to, but he hadn't been able to keep his eyes off her. Part of him was annoyed by this. He did not want to be attracted to Lucy Wyndham. That had been a teenage thing. He didn't want to be attracted to any woman, for that matter. Not at the moment. He had too much to do at the Inn and he wanted to do it post-haste so he could leave St. Caroline as soon as possible.

Yet, here he was, standing outside the ladies' room, waiting for her to come out so he could see her up close. Maybe she wouldn't look as fetching from this distance. Maybe her hair wouldn't look so soft and glossy. He'd nearly choked on his filet mignon when she reached back and pulled out the elastic band from her ponytail, allowing all that sexy hair to cascade down around her shoulders. And those shoulders. Maybe up close, they wouldn't appear quite so smooth and gleaming, wouldn't make his hands itch to touch her skin.

Ah, what was he doing here? Elle was going to be furious if he didn't get back to the table soon. He had enough people furious with him. He didn't need Elle mad at him, too. He tapped the touchscreen on his phone to "hang up" on his pretend call when the ladies' room door burst open. The next thing he knew, Lucy Wyndham was standing directly in front of him.

He regrouped quickly, nodding at her. "Ms. Wyndham."

"Good evening," Lucy replied and moved to step around Sterling.

He shuffled his feet to the left to block her path. "Good evening? That's all your boss gets?"

"Good evening,

"Your boyfriend left. Is everything okay? Do you need me to call a cab?"

Lucy laughed. "Were there cabs in St. Caroline when you were growing up?"

Sterling smiled sheepishly. "Not really, no. I forgot where I was for a moment. But is everything okay? When a man ditches a woman in a restaurant ..."

"Douglas is not my boyfriend. A. And B, everything is fine. He did not 'ditch me.' He had to get back to the camp."

He recognized the challenge in her eyes, but he was not taking that bait. "My mistake. The two of you looked pretty cozy."

"We are good friends. Not that it's any of your business," Lucy replied. Her blue eyes flashed at him. She pressed her lips tight, in a stern line. She was annoyed, and all he could think about was how much he wanted to kiss those luscious pink lips, tease them apart, see if he could make her respond the way she had back ... he had to stop that train of thought

"I suppose you told him he's losing his job at the end of the summer," he said.

Lucy shrugged. "I wasn't told not to. And it was not something I relished doing."

"No? My recollection of Inn employees is that they do relish gossip."

"This wasn't gossip. I have the information on very good authority." She stepped forward to leave, but he blocked her with his body. Now they were standing mere inches apart. It was all he could do not to reach out and place his hands on her bare shoulders.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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