Fallling for the Prodigal Son (8 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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"Smoke and fire, my dear. Smoke and fire."

Elizabeth had little to say after that, but the mimosas had loosened up James' tongue, a situation Lucy decided to take advantage of. The waitstaff were pouring coffee and tea, table by table. A dessert station had been set up, a long table with a cheery yellow tablecloth, black-eyed Susans in vases, and at least a dozen different sweet treats.

"I'm going to survey the desserts. Can I get anyone anything?"

"One of each, dear," Elizabeth replied.

Lucy quirked an eyebrow at her. "Don't dare me."

"Oh, I'm not daring you. I really mean it. I want one of each."

"In that case, you'll need some help," James said and pushed back his chair. Lucy had known he'd take the chance to go with her. She'd grown suspicious recently that Sarah was filling James' ear with notions of asking Lucy out. James was recently divorced and a nice enough guy, if a little bland. Lucy wasn't interested, but she also wasn't above taking advantage of the situation.

"So how are things going with the bankers?" Lucy asked as they strolled toward the desserts. "Sterling said he thought things went well the other evening at the Blue Crab." Lucy was taking a calculated gamble here. Sterling had said no such thing to her, but James might not know that. Lucy was known to be close to the Matthew family.
 

"Yeah, it did go well." James and the mimosas took the bait. "They want more information, though, so Sterling and I are going up to New York on Wednesday for anothe
r meeting."

"Oh? Flying or taking the train?" Lucy didn't care one way or the other but she wanted the conversation to sound innocuous.

"Oh, the train. The Acela. Definitely more civilized than flying these days, don't you think?"

"Especially mid-week," Lucy added. "You don't have all the weekend travelers."

The dessert table looked like a scrumptious, pastel painting. It was a masterpiece of Gina's culinary handiwork. Petit fours, tiny lemon-blueberry tartlets, creme brulee, white chocolate mousse, raspberry-amaretto angel food, espresso macarons, strawberries and cream. At the other end of the long table, Elle placed three strawberries (no cream) and one tartlet on her plate.

Lucy was too slow in looking away
. Sterling managed to catch her eye at the last moment. He nodded at her, his expression neutral. But those eyes. Dark and inscrutable.

The effect on Lucy was anything but neutral, and it annoyed her. She had slept with Sterling once—once!—as a teenager. And, being teenagers, the sex hadn't exactly been mind-blowing. They'd known what to put where, but that had been about it. There'd been no exquisite teasing, no long torturous caresses, no toe curling kisses. The two of them had been all fast and furious lust and no finesse. So why did her body respond as though there had been? Why was the skin on her arms aching for him to touch it?

I'm just starved for male attention. That has to be it. Maybe I do need to go out with James, just to reset myself.

Lucy and James piled up four plates with every dessert on the table.

"Why don't you stuff your pockets?" Sterling asked, suddenly right between Lucy and James. Lucy was so startled she nearly dropped her plates. Sterling took hold of her elbow to steady her. A lick of heat shot straight up to her shoulder.

"Your Aunt Elizabeth asked for the sampler," James explained.

"I see. Well, knowing Aunt Elizabeth, you best hadn't keep her waiting." Sterling flagged down a waiter. "George, help James take these over to my Aunt Elizabeth." He deftly transferred the plates from Lucy's hands to George's. Lucy had to admire the smoothness with which he dismissed James. She doubted James even knew what had just transpired.

Lucy picked up another plate, this time for herself, and added a slice of the angel food cake to it. She needed something in her hands, to keep them steady.

"Delicious, isn't it?" Sterling said. "The pastry chef at the Inn is amazing."

"I know. She's a friend of mine," Lucy said curtly.

"Right." He didn't mean to antagonize her every time they met. But she seemed to charge the air around her with some sort of crackling force field. Every time he said something, he got stung by her static electricity. He watched as she gracefully scooped up a mouthful of cake with her fork and slipped it between her lips. He willed himself to keep his eyes on her plate and not follow her bare arms up to her shoulders or across the deeply scooped neck of her dress. She'd taken off that big yellow hat, revealing more of her soft hair. He forced himself back to thoughts of business.

"Liked the Cotillion idea," he said. "My mother would love to do something like that, I'm sure. And she's going to need something to keep her busy after ..." His voice trailed off.

"Is John okay?"

"Tired. He needed to go rest. This was too much of an event for him today." Sterling wasn't especially happy with his mother at the moment. If the brunch had been for his father's benefit, he thought, it had been a bad idea. Not that he was about to tell his mother that. He wasn't here to get into spats with her. He was here to shore up the Inn, no pun intended, so they could hire a real replacement for his father. Then he would be on the next flight back to Europe.

A bee hovered over Lucy's bare shoulder. Instinctively, he reached out and shooed it away. He let his hand hover over her bare skin a moment longer than was strictly necessary. He could feel the warmth of her body quivering in the inch between his hand and her shoulder. It took all his willpower not to let his palm drop and spread over her skin.

Maybe Elle's idea had some merit. There were worse things to do in business than seducing a beautiful woman. He was practically prostituting himself to the bankers anyway. If he had managed to pull it off at the silly age of sixteen, surely he could pull it off now.

Chapter 11

 

 

"First thing I want is to see that new pier," Derrick Jones said as he and Lucy walked from the parking lot and Derrick's shiny black Mercedes SUV.

It was Wednesday, the day of Sterling's meeting in New York with the bankers. Lucy had called Derrick on her drive home from the Matthew family brunch to tell him that Wednesday would be an excellent day to visit the camp. Derrick was a Washington Post reporter and former camper. He wrote a story about the camp every summer and every summer it lent an important boost to Lucy and Douglas' fundraising efforts. But Sterling didn't know that, and Lucy didn't see any reason why he should begin to now.

Even setting aside Sterling's convenient absence from St. Caroline, today was a great day for Derrick's visit. The sun was out, and nary a cloud marred the spectacular blue sky over the bay. There was a skipjack race scheduled that morning, a perfect opportunity for the camp kids to try out their newfound photography skills. St. Caroline was in postcard-perfect form today.

"Oh, the new pier is beautiful. And much safer for the kids than the old one." Lucy had to walk double-time to keep up with Derrick's long athletic gait and his reporter's no-nonsense attitude.

"When I saw the condition of the old one last year, I was afraid it was going to collapse any day," Derrick said, not even breathing hard at his pace. "I told Shawn Whitney I'd take some pictures of the new one for him."

"Maybe we can get the kids to pose on it."

"He would love that, for sure. To hear him talk, his two weeks at camp were like college, Disneyland and a honeymoon all rolled into one."

Shawn Whitney was a pro football player, Heisman Trophy winner and  Chesapeake Inn Kids Kamp alum. He'd even met his future wife at the camp. Today, the Whitneys owned a summer home near St. Caroline and were major benefactors of the camp. They were the "friends" who had paid to rebuild the pier.

Derrick seemed so excited to be at the camp, it made Lucy's heart ache, knowing she was going to have to break the news to him. When they reached the top of the pine needle-covered path that led to the camp, she stopped and placed a hand on Derrick's arm.

He looked at her quizzically.

"Derrick, there's something I need to tell you." Lucy hesitated, then plunged right in. "This year's story will have to be a little different."

A part of her hoped that he had already heard through some extended camp grapevine, that she wouldn't have to be the one to tell him. This was so difficult, she thought, and how many more people would she and Douglas be forced to have this conversation with? There were more people who cared about the camp than Sterling seemed to realize. If there weren't, the camp would never have survived all these years.

She went on. "You may have heard that John Matthew is ill."

Derrick nodded. "I have heard that, yes."

"His son has come home from Europe to take over for John."

"Pretty boy?" Derrick shook his head incredulously. "Damn. I still remember how all the girls were always looking to see if he was around. Always had to put on their makeup after swimming, just in case. They were at camp, for heaven's sake! We guys were ready to pound him."

Lucy threw back her head and laughed. She hadn't realized that "pretty boy" had been Sterling's nickname with the male campers. "That's what Douglas said. I think he's still disappointed that they never got the chance."

"Well, if he's back in town there's still time, right? I'm sure he did something all those years ago to deserve a good beat-down. Though I'm probably not in as fine a shape as I was back then. Has he grown a spare tire and gone bald?" Derrick asked, hopefully.

"Unfortunately, no." Lucy grew quiet and serious again. "Though you may want to pound him after what I'm about to tell you. Apparently, the Inn is not doing well financially and Sterling Matthew has been charged with fixing that. And he is convinced that he needs to get rid of the camp to do that. He believes that land can be put to more profitable use."

Derrick was speechless. Lucy watched as the gamut of emotions played across his  face. Surprise, disbelief, anger, sadness. He looked down toward the new pier, off which kids were taking flying leaps into the water. He turned back to Lucy, his forehead creased with anguish.

"He's getting rid of the camp? But ... the camp has been here forever. He can't just get rid of it."

"That was my first reaction. But he seems determined to do so. I presented a marketing plan for next year that increases bookings and revenues, but that wasn't enough. He still wants to get rid of it."

"A lot of people are not going to be happy about that."

"He doesn't seem to care."

Derrick threw a punch into the air. "No, no, no." He danced around like the amateur boxer he used to be.

"Getting ready for a fight?"

"Douglas! My man. Yeah, cruisin' for a bruisin'. Maybe."

"I take it our fair Lucy has told you the news," Douglas said.

"Unbelievable. The nerve. The unmitigated gall," Derrick orated like the weekend theater actor he still was.

"Speaking of unmitigated gall, I've got a bunch of kids waiting for your arrival. They're hoping for a few photojournalism pointers before the skipjack race begins."

"Skipjack races. You can't get more Eastern Shore than that."

Douglas introduced Derrick to the campers, who were milling about the picnic tables, passing digital cameras back and forth between them, snapping practice shots of each other. A local art gallery had loaned them half a dozen cameras for the week. Behind them, the crests of whitecaps dotted the bay's water.

One by one, the campers came forward to shake Derrick's hand. Lucy recognized the expression most of them shared. It was a mix of feigned indifference and unabashed awe. They were too cool to show they were impressed, but impressed they were. A reporter was someone they saw on television or whose name they knew from the newspaper, if they were fortunate enough to have a teacher who made them read the paper in class. Derrick Jones also had the lifestyle accoutrements they all coveted: the expensive car, nice clothes, newest cellphone. And he'd been a camper himself, to boot.

Derrick's annual visits had a twofold benefit. The avalanche of checks that his articles always generated was nice, to say the least, but this right here was probably even more important. His live, in-the-flesh appearance was a real, tangible example to the kids that they could be more than people expected them to be. They were not stuck where they had started in life. Lucy only wished Derrick's schedule permitted him to visit the camp every week. But life wasn't fair, even at camp. Only one session's campers got to meet Derrick Jones each summer.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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