Fallling for the Prodigal Son (6 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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"I noticed the new pier at the camp today," he said. "Any idea what that cost?"

"The pier was donated to the Inn."

"Donated?" Sterling gave her a skeptical look. "That's a lot of money to donate to a charity camp."

"The camp has some influential friends. Surprised you don't know that."

Sterling cocked his head back toward the dining room. "They'll have to be more influential than those 'friends' out there."

"They might be."

challenging me, he thought. But he'd call her bluff eventually. There was n way the camp's friends were more important—or held more sway over the Inn's future—than the bankers waiting for him in the private dining room right that very minute.

"You'll have your revised marketing plan on Friday, as agreed." Lucy stepped to the side to go around him. "Now if you'll excuse me."

He reached out and grasped her arm. She stopped, then gracefully pulled her arm away.

"I look forward to reading it," he said and stepped aside to let her pass.




Lucy attached the revised marketing plan to an email and hit send. It was Friday evening. She'd stayed late to meet Sterling Matthew's deadline. It had been an intense three days of talking to colleagues and former coworkers in the hospitality industry, of comparing the offerings of other luxury resorts, and brainstorming with the Inn's department heads. But she had made the deadline—and she was certain the plan was good.

There were more special weekends for couples, equestrian and sailing camps for affluent kids, and—at Gina's suggestion—pastry competitions for both adults and teenagers. Winter, which had always been a slower season for the Inn, was going to hum with indoor activities—painting seminars, cooking classes, spa retreats. She even revived the 50th anniversary celebration, an idea John Matthew had dismissed as too pretentious and self-serving.

Lucy had beefed up the usual advertising plans with more tv and direct mail, and recommended upgrading the existing Inn newsletter to a slick, PDF magazine. She added more outreach to wedding planners and bridal magazines. When she ran the projections, both bookings and revenue should increase. Sterling ought to be happy with that.

What he wasn't going to be happy about, however, was that Lucy had kept the Kids Kamp. In past years, the marketing plan didn't go into much detail about the camp. John had never needed it; he understood the outreach, publicity and fundraising efforts that were conducted for the camp. There had been no need to explain that every year. But clearly, Sterling was a different matter. So Lucy had spent hours carefully detailing what was done on behalf of the camp, who did it and how much it cost. Because, frankly, most of the work was done for free by the Episcopal Church in St. Caroline. The church's minister had years ago offered to work his ministry connections to get the word out about the camp.

Lucy also had a list of churches, schools and social workers she emailed periodically to remind them of the camp and the deadlines for applying—that didn't cost anything. In December of each year, she mailed past guests of the resort a winter events calendar with a note asking them to remember the Kids Kamp in their end-of-year tax planning. That always triggered a flurry of checks. Each spring, she sent packets of camp counselor applications to east coast colleges. The jobs didn't pay well but there were always just enough college students who wanted to spend the summer in a place like St. Caroline.

And for the past three years, Derrick Jones, a Washington Post reporter who had been a camper himself at the Inn, wrote an annual article about the camp and the camp fund. That brought in thousands of dollars in contributions every year. That reminded Lucy; she needed to call Derrick and find out when he was visiting the camp this year.

We'll see what he says
she thought as she shut down her computer. Then she texted a dinner order to Mike, the bartender at Skipjack's, turned off her office light and closed the door.

Skipjack's was busy tonight
. Lucy waved her way past the hostess and headed toward the bar.

"Five more minutes," Mike said and slid a mug of steaming coffee across the bar to her. "You're working late. Thought you'd be down at the Friday night bonfire." Lucy spent every Friday at the camp, eating, listening to the campers' stories, helping the counselors pass out awards, and dancing around the fire.

She took a sip of coffee, willing the caffeine to zing straight to her brain. "No, I'm here tonight. The new boss wanted a revised marketing plan. The Inn isn't making enough money apparently."

Mike lifted his head to look out over the dining room. "Well, we're hopping tonight."

Lucy followed Mike's gaze. "Yeah, the middle of June with schools barely out of session and we're fully booked. I just don't see what has to be changed."

Tonight, even though it was the beginning of the summer season, every table was occupied. Couples were tucking into the large surf-and-turf specials. Families were munching on crabcakes and fish and chip platters. In front of every child stood one of Mike's special nonalcoholic kids' cocktails—colorful concoctions of juices and soda topped with plastic sharks and paper umbrellas.

"What did you name the kids' drinks this year?" Lucy asked Mike.

"This year we've got the Monster Claw, the Haunted Skipjack and the Crabby Lady."

Lucy laughed. "Hope the inspiration for the Crabby Lady isn't anyone I know."

"Well it could have been inspired by that consultant lady. You know, the redhead." Mike disappeared to the other end of the bar suddenly, to wait on a customer.

When he returned, Lucy asked, "What is she making you do?"

"Oh, she's not bothering the bar too much. She quizzed me on the drinks I know how to mix but—" Mike laughed—"I'm up on the latest drinks in New York and LA. She doesn't know anything about running a bar. But she does want to redecorate the restaurant."

"You're kidding! Next we know she'll have Chef Ramsay in here, putting us on the next episode of worst kitchens in the universe."

A waitress skittered up to the bar. "Table seven sends their compliments on the Haunted Skipjack."

Mike waved at table seven and the set of triplets seated at it, enjoying their fizzy, bubbly drinks. The triplets' parents smiled and waved back, the entire family looking happy, relaxed and slightly sunburned. The remains of a demolished blooming onion lay in the center of the table.

That's what Sterling Matthew didn't understand, Lucy thought. Kids had always been important to the Chesapeake Inn. John Matthew had never treated them as an afterthought, as a nuisance to be accommodated at his upscale establishment. He understood the Inn's clientele—affluent parents who wanted to vacation somewhere nice with their children. The Inn was a place where families could spend the afternoon fishing and swimming together, then mom and dad could have a quiet, elegant dinner in Evangeline's while their children enjoyed a group cookout and movie night with other visiting kids. Or everyone could pile into Skipjack's, exhausted and sunburned from a day of sailing or cycling, for a leisurely dinner and shared desserts. Kids made friends for life at the Inn. More than a few had even come back to the Inn for their weddings—to each other—and now they bring their own families here every summer.

And John and Sarah had always made room at their little slice of paradise for the kids whose parents couldn't afford a vacation in St. Caroline. Or a vacation anywhere for that matter. Some of the camp kids hadn't even seen their parents in years. They lived with grandparents or aunts and uncles.

"Speaking of trouble," Mike said.

Lucy looked toward the restaurant entrance. Sterling Matthew and Elle Scott-Thomas were standing just inside the double captain's doors. Sterling was dressed in khakis and a pressed golf shirt. Elle Scott-Thomas was the epitome of New England prep in a short madras plaid skirt and white blouse, tan leather flats. At least they're not wearing business suits, Lucy thought. No one wore business suits at the Inn, not even John Matthew.

Sterling caught Lucy's eye and nodded his head. Lucy returned the gesture with a quick, professional smile. Elle Scott-Thomas methodically surveyed the restaurant; Lucy could tell she was counting heads at each table.

She turned back to Mike just as he laid her carefully wrapped dinner on the gleaming wooden bar. The bottles of wine and spirits behind him sparkled through the sudden veil of tears that filled her eyes. She swallowed quickly and blinked several times to dry the tears. She loved this place, loved the Inn, loved the people who worked here, loved her job. And now this man and his henchwoman were going to destroy all that.

Mike reached out and covered her hand with his. "It will all work out, Lucy. Things always do."

She smiled wanly at him. That hadn't really been her experience of life. Things didn't always work out. Her marriage, for starters. There had been no happy ever after there. "You're probably right," she said anyway and picked up her dinner.

"No dinner for two tonight?" Mike asked.

"No, just me." She smiled again at Mike. Now there was a good man. Too bad he was married to Gina.




Sterling surveyed his mother's setup for Sunday brunch. When she'd said that his aunt and uncle were sailing in from Annapolis for the day, he'd envisioned a small casual meal with family. He should have known better, of course. His mother did not entertain in a small way, ever. Unless the Matthew family had grown exponentially while he was in Europe, this was not a family-only affair today.

Good grief, he thought, as he strolled amongst the perfectly placed tables on the lawn—each topped with a starched white tablecloth and vase of fresh flowers. She'd even put name cards on the tables. He sighed. He wasn't feeling up to this level of socializing today. Needless to say, he'd had a tiring week. Between trying to appease the bankers and getting the Inn's staff on board with the need for change, he was working around the clock. This was not how he had planned to spend his summer.

"Hey, here's our table." Elle plucked a crisply folded name card from the tablecloth. Sterling walked around the table, surveying the other names his mother had chosen to seat him with.

"Oh no. I don't think so." He picked up the card with Lucy Wyndham's name on it and turned it around for Elle to see. "I am not sitting with her." He walked off with Lucy's  card and found a card with a distant cousin's name on it and switched the seats. Lucy would now be sitting next to one of the family's attorneys. Perhaps he could explain his parents' financial situation to her.

He and Elle had stayed up 'til three a.m. reviewing various staff plans for next year, including the marketing plan. God, Lucy Wyndham had chutzpah. He'd told her in no uncertain terms that the kids camp was ending this year and what had she done? Kept it in the plan, even explained in greater detail—which he did not need—how it cost so little to run.

He looked out toward the water and the Matthew family's small fleet of sailboats bobbing in the sun. She just didn't get it, he'd fumed to Elle last night. The cost of the camp wasn't the issue. It was the lost opportunity cost. That land was worth too much money to just give away every summer. Out of all the staff at the Inn, she was being the most obstinate.

"Why would your parents invite staff today?" Elle asked.

"Normally, they don't. But Lucy Wyndham is like a surrogate daughter to them, apparently. My mother talks about her quite often."

"So I guess you can't just fire her," Elle said.

Sterling let out a long, barely controlled sigh. "No, I can't fire her. My mother would have a fit. She'd probably hire her right back. And she seems to be popular with the other staff. If I fire her, I'll have problems with everyone else. And I can't afford that, if I want to turn this thing around and get out of here as soon as possible. I need people to cooperate with me."

"Then just sleep with her, Sterling." Elle laughed. "That'll change her mind. Women do whatever you want after you seduce them."

Sterling turned to look at Elle, in astonishment.

"Oh come on. I can't believe that's such a repugnant idea to you. She's cute enough, right? You've slept with worse, I'm sure."

Sterling picked up a stuffed cherry tomato and pretended to toss it at Elle before popping it into his mouth.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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