Authors: Kristin Miller
Tags: #Blue Lake Series, #Book 4
“Dad is tired of doing the work himself.” Joey shook his head. “And clearly he doesn’t think he can count on you to be there. He’s asked me to help later. We were supposed to head over at four o’clock.”
“That’ll give us a solid hour to fix the roof before we go out.” He grinned. “Plenty of time.”
“We can go out another day,” Lucy interjected.
“No, we’re going to do this tonight.” Dane’s voice softened as he addressed her. “The roof won’t take an hour to patch, especially if there are three of us doing it. Mind if we meet at the cavern so this guy doesn’t bust my gut about having to leave early? Just in case it takes longer than expected.”
Lucy didn’t miss Joey’s eye roll.
“That’s fine.” Tension rolled in her belly as she took out her cell and they exchanged numbers. “Call if something comes up.”
“Done deal.” Dane strode away, snatching a drink off the bar as he went.
Once Dane was out of listening range, Lucy grinned at Joey. “Told you hard-to-get works.”
“Yeah.” His lips pressed into a tight white line. “You really know how to get what you want.” He stared, his gaze giving away nothing. “I’m going to get a drink. Want one?”
“Can’t drink.” She shook her head. “Not while I’m working.”
He turned on his heel and headed to the bar.
She’d just gotten what she wanted: a date with the elusive Dane. Why, then, did she feel like she’d just soured something?
Although it proved difficult, Lucy pushed the upcoming date with Dane out of her mind. She had an event to run, a harvest to monitor, and a safety board meeting renting out the Executive Suite on the north side of the winery.
“The safety board meeting is on schedule,” Skylie said, sliding beside her. “I took them the tasting platters and three bottles of our finest red. Can I take my break now?”
What was it with teenagers? They acted like they worked just to get from break to break. Granted, Skylie was the most dependable eighteen-year-old Lucy had ever hired, but still. She’d been asking for breaks more today than ever before.
As Lucy scanned the dance floor at Janice’s birthday party, realization struck. “I completely forgot that you graduated from Blue Lake High last year. Do you know any of the people here?”
Skylie bounced on her toes excitedly, her stick-straight blond hair falling over her right eye. “Janice Brackett is my best friend.”
“Really?” Lucy asked, searching the crowd. “I didn’t know that.”
“So can I? Do you mind if I jump in?”
Oh, how easily she could switch from work to play. Lucy would’ve been lying if she said she wasn’t a little jealous.
“Sure. Take thirty.” Lucy stared out the windows over her vineyard and work yard, the wine in the canisters ever-present on her mind. Her winery manager had said there might be less wine than last year thanks to the drought. It had affected their grapes more than their initial projection. She tried not to worry about something that might not even happen, but the stress remained nonetheless. “Go have fun.”
As Skylie pocketed her name tag and skipped off to the dance floor, Lucy got a thrill watching her assistant push off her responsibility and join her friends. The music shifted from Jay-Z to Journey and the moshing crowd of high school kids separated. Dane emerged, sweaty and laughing, holding up his hands as they chanted for more.
He’d been in the middle of that pit the entire time?
She shook her head, laughing.
“He’ll never grow up,” a deep voice said from beside her. “It’s both his greatest and most limiting attribute.”
She turned. “Mr. Brackett.”
Joey and Dane’s father.
“The party is a hit! Are you having a good time?”
As he smiled, stress lines appeared beside his eyes and around his mouth. His physique showed that he took good care of himself, but the shadows and lines on his face proved he’d borne a heavy burden. It didn’t take much to determine the cause of his stress. Everyone in Blue Lake had heard what happened. His son and daughter-in-law had died in a house fire, much too early, and had left their daughter behind.
Parents weren’t supposed to bury their children. Lucy couldn’t fathom the kind of emptiness Mr. Brackett had felt over the last six years.
“What you’ve done here,” he said, circling a hand over his head to encompass the room, “is wonderful.”
“Thank you.” Her heart warmed. “That means a lot.”
“You captured Joey’s vision perfectly.”
“I didn’t work with Joey, actually. Cara Smith was the one who handled all the meetings with me. She had brilliant ideas about joining two rooms and making them a part of the same party. We’ve never done that before.”
“Mmm.” He nodded, though pursed his lips in disagreement. “Wouldn’t think a man could have ideas about something like a Sweet Sixteen. I get it. That’s too far out of the box to wrap your head around.”
“I’m”—was she missing something?—“sorry, but I’m not understanding.”
“All of this was Joey’s planning.” He lowered his voice. “His idea and his money, though he doesn’t go around blowing his own horn. Cara pulled her weight in making the appointments and securing the details, but Joey was the one willing to go the extra mile for that sweetie-pie over there. Look at her…she’s glowing.”
“That was”—incredibly sweet—“nice of him.”
Across the room, Dane and Brody stood fifteen feet apart, throwing grapes into each others’ gaping mouths. Each time the grape dropped in, they whooped and threw their arms in the air, and then took another step apart.
“I knew your parents,” Mr. Brackett said, keeping his eyes on his mischievous sons. “I came here once a month for business meetings, and my wife was in the Women’s Club with your mother. They were wonderful people.”
Lucy’s heart pinched. It’d been five years since their deaths, since they left her the winery, the debt, and the loneliness. Would it ever get easier hearing people talk about them?
She forced a smile. “Thank you.”
“You must’ve had a hard time piecing this place together after they died.”
“I did.” She nodded. “But things are looking up now. We’ve seen three seasons of profit, and with the amphitheater up and running, we should bring in crowds for the big-ticket acts.”
“I heard Cole Turner knocked it out of the park last year.” He folded his arms and tapped his foot as the sharp voices of the Village People blared through the room. “I wasn’t here to see the show, but everyone in Blue Lake couldn’t stop talking about it.”
Across the dance floor, Dane threw his arms into a Y over his head and then an M, and toppled over trying to perform the C.
Stifling a laugh, Lucy moved into action. Before she got far, Mr. Brackett gently held her arm.
“Let him be,” he said, as they watched him regain his footing. “He’s always been the center of attention, and craves the spotlight. It’s all eyes on him from the second he enters the room. But the last thing he wants is someone to shadow him, helping him up when he falls.”
From the conversation she’d picked up between Dane and Joey, it sounded like Mr. Brackett was the one who picked Dane up when he tripped. If he’d given the store to Dane to run, why was Mr. Brackett still involved and asking Joey to help repair things?
Because Joey would help.
Without asking for anything in return.
She knew the answer without asking the question.
In the seconds that passed, Dane stood and continued leading the dance as if nothing had happened. The crowd of Janice’s friends adored him, and Lucy experienced a high school flashback. Dane had been the big man on campus, the homecoming king, and quarterback of the football team. Back in school, he’d date someone once or twice, and then the relationship would fizzle. He didn’t date anyone long term.
At the time, Lucy had thought it was strange, but now…she completely understood. She didn’t want that either. What would’ve made Dane decide that for himself at such a young age, though? He didn’t inherit the outdoor store until the last year or so.
“He means well,” Mr. Brackett said. “Janice said she wanted a party the entire school would talk about. This is his way of giving it to her. If it’s one thing that boy knows how to do, it’s have a good time.” Mr. Brackett laughed as Joey and Brody joined their brother at the front. “What about you?”
“Yeah. Blue Lake gossip isn’t always spot-on, but I hear you’re going out with my son tonight.”
Her gaze landed on Joey, dancing with Janice in the center of her friends. He twirled her round and round, as she closed her eyes and squealed. He looked happier than Lucy had ever seen him, beaming with light, and it radiated through the room. It was as if the heaviness that she often associated with him had lifted, if only for a moment.
“I think you’re mistaken,” she said, mesmerized by the perma-smile on Joey’s gorgeous face. “He’s never asked me out.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, judging from the disappointment in your voice,” he said, leaning closer. “But I was talking about Dane.”
“Yes, of course, I don’t know what I was thinking.” The words tumbled out of her mouth, fast and furious. “I have a date with Dane tonight. After you guys fix the roof,” she threw in.
Cheeks burning, Lucy met his gaze. His eyebrows shot to his balding hairline, and then he laughed from deep down in his belly.
“I like you, Lucy.” He threw his arm around her and pulled her into a hug. “I really do. If my son treats you wrong, you come tell me and I’ll wring his neck.”
“Wow,” she thought aloud, giggling. “Which son are you talking about?”
“Whichever one you are.” He released her and walked away, glancing back over his shoulder. “When you figure it out, be sure to let me know.”
A hole in the roof of the family store was a problem. A hole in the roof of the family store when it rained? Recipe for disaster.
Joey pulled up to Brackett Outdoor Sports just before four o’clock and stared through his rain-spotted windshield. The giant wood sign featuring a bear on one side and a badger on the other hung over the entrance. Joey had such fond memories here. Helping his dad sweep the store. Working the register late nights. The feeling of helping out family…it gave him a greater sense of satisfaction than he could express.
But the business had gone to Dane. The one who hadn’t really wanted it in the first place. Maybe that was why their father had given it to him—so he could learn responsibility.
Joey supposed he’d never know.
As he stepped out of his truck and into the pouring rain, Dane’s Ducati rumbled into the lot. He jumped his bike right over the curb and onto the sidewalk. He parked beneath the awning, just in front of the door, and dismounted. Their father’s Suburban bumbled into the lot a few seconds later, sounding as if it needed a tune-up.
“It’s a good thing the store’s closed on Sundays!” Joey said as he met Dane on the sidewalk. “How bad do you think it’s leaking?”
Dane shrugged and eyed their father as he approached. “How would I know? Wasn’t raining when I left.”
“Where’s the leak?”
“At least it’s not soaking your stock.”
Dane dug through the front pocket of his pants and came out with the keys. “We don’t know that yet.”
“You should’ve done this weeks ago.” Dad stomped through the puddle at the curb. “Hell, even last week! Didn’t I tell you we were expecting rain? Why do you wait until the storm hits to fix what needs fixing?”
Always the same words, the same story, the same push and pull. Dane’s failure, their father’s disappointment, and Joey forced to be in the middle.
Pretending that he hadn’t heard a word Dad said, Dane unlocked the front door and pushed it open wide. The plunking sound of water hitting floor echoed through the space.
“Damn it,” Dane mumbled.
He entered with an exasperated huff and weaved around racks of snow pants and parkas. Dad followed, cursing and shaking his head as thunder clapped somewhere in the skies above.
Joey had flown in storms like this—they were dangerous, with big, lumbering clouds and enough energy to spit a lightning bolt right through the wing of his Cessna.
even now, in the middle of the storm that he knew better than flying in, Joey’s hands burned to feel the yoke in his grasp. To twist and turn with the birds, leaving the burden of family drama beneath him.
Jerking himself back to the situation at hand, Joey looked around the store, noting how much had changed since Dane took over. He wound around racks of clothes, snowboard and ski racks, and bookshelves loaded heavy with travel guides. When their parents had owned the store, the focus had been more on cabin furnishings. They sold and rented out sports equipment, but the entire left side of the store had been reserved for mountain-themed kitchenware and bath items, candles and snowshoes, wooden towel racks and antique-looking benches. Dane had done away with all of that, much to their parents’ chagrin.
Joey stopped at a giant picture behind the register. It was of Dane, a flashlight mounted to his climbing helmet, the wide expanse of a cavern stretched behind him.