Authors: Nadia Nichols
“No,” he said. “It involves other people's weddings. I got that part. But this place'll grow on you, I guarantee it, and the fishing lodge will generate enough income to make you happy even if you're an absentee business partner living and working in Maine.”
He towered over her, his eyes intense. “We're only two weeks away from opening. I just need to find another fishing guide or two. At least think about keeping your grandfather's half. But know this,” he added. “If you decide to sell out, I'm not going to make it easy for you. I've worked my ass off to help make this place what it is. This is my future we're talking about, not to mention your grandfather's lifelong dream.”
Before Senna could respond, he strode away, leaving her standing on the dock staring after him.
Her life, up until this very day, had been fairly steady, safe and predictable, but suddenly she found herself in the middle of a whole bunch of unknownsâand in spite of the dubious circumstances, she found herself looking forward to exploring them, even if it was just for two weeks.
I am haunted by Labrador. I first saw this wild and lonely land in 1991, behind a team of Alaskan huskies while running the Labrador 400 sled dog race. The race began in a snowstorm that ended two days later and found my team and me lost in a kind of wilderness we'd never experienced before. This is a land of caribou and wolves, of Innu and Inuit, of savage shrieking winds that both humble and exult. This is a land of brilliant displays of northern lights, a land where the silenceâwhen the storm finally passesâis so still that it's loud to the ears.
We eventually found our way out of that wild place, thanks to a bush pilot my parents hired to find us, but we never found a way to escape the pull of it. That pull brought us back to race the following season, and the memories of those two journeys tugged at me throughout the years and caused endless discussions of “going there again” with my father, who had been equally taken by the truly wild character of the land. In fact, one of the last conversations I had with my dad was about Labrador and buying a cabin there. I bought a place in Labrador last year, on the first anniversary of his death. It's a remote cabin fifty odd miles from the nearest road, on the shores of the same wild lake that scrambled me and my team so badly in that first race. Wolves and caribou travel the gravel strand in front of the cabin, the wind blows free and the waves lap up against the shore. It's a beautiful, lonely spot, a place that heals the spirit and nourishes the soul.
This story is about two people from different worlds and different backgrounds being thrown together as business partners in this remote wilderness. How they adapt to this reluctant partnership and come to terms with each other and with the land itself is a tribute to their characters, and perhaps even more than that, it is a tribute to the healing power of nature and love's eternal optimism.
1043âACROSS A THOUSAND MILES
1209âA FULL HOUSE
This one's for you, Dad.
IKE MOST WEDDINGS
held at the Inn on Christmas Cove, this one had been in the works for well over a year, but unlike most weddings, this one had been under Senna McCallum's sole charge right from the start. She was personally handling this wedding because Sheila Payson, the bride's mother, had asked her to, and nobody said no to Sheila Payson, who was heir to the Payson dynasty and used to getting her own way in all things. Senna had been working at the inn her mother's sister owned for the past five years, her first two as a sales associate, learning the ropes, and then as head of the sales department, the person who oversaw each and every function and made sure everything down to the smallest detail was perfect. At twenty-nine, Senna had already garnered enough of a reputation to have attracted the attention of Mrs. Payson, which was quite an achievement for someone with a bachelor of science in wildlife biology.
The details had been endless, and the phone calls and visits from the bride and her mother had become more and more frequent, as many as two or three a week as the date drew near. Now that the big day had finally arrived, Senna was relieved. The weather, which was iffy in late June on the Maine coast, was bright and clear.
Fogs could shroud Christmas Cove, creating a damp gray mood not at all conducive to nuptial festivities, or it could be stormy and rainy. But luck was with them, and the dark, sparkling cove with its rugged granite ledge and wind-stunted evergreens had never looked more beautiful.
The ceremony itself was held beneath the arbor in the rose garden and had gone off without any problems. The first hour of the reception before the guests moved into the ballroom for dinner was in full swing to the accompaniment of a string quartet. The wait staff were passing crab cakes with rÃ©moulade, lobster salad in endive spears and chicken satay with peanut sauce. The first and second hors d'oeuvre stations were abundantly supplied with jumbo shrimp, Jonah crab claws, mahogany clams and oysters on the half shell. The reception was progressing more smoothly than Senna had dared hope when the inn's general manager took her aside.
“Senna? You have a call from your mother,” Linda Sherwood said, handing her the portable phone.
Senna thanked Linda and moved around the corner of the building for privacy. “Hi Mom, what's up?”
“I'm afraid I have some bad news,” her mother said. She sounded upset, and Senna's grip on the phone tightened. “Your grandfather passed away on Wednesday. His lawyer called a little while ago.”
Senna closed her eyes with relief that her brothers were okay. “I'm sorry to hear that, Mom. I wish we'd been closer to him, butâ”
“Senna, I know you're busy so I won't beat around the bush,” her mother interrupted. “According to the lawyer, the admiral named you as his executor.”
Are you sure? Why not Billy or Bryce?”
Senna caught a glimpse of movement. The banquet director hovered nearby, an apologetic look on her face, and tapped the face of her wristwatch. It was time to move the wedding party into the ballroom. Senna nodded that she understood. “Mom, I'm sorry, but I have to go. We're right in the middle of a big wedding. I have tomorrow off so I'll come over right after I get out of work tonight and we can talk in the morning. Love you, and leave the porch light on for me.”
Senna stood for a few moments, collecting her thoughts before rejoining the wedding party. It had been five years since she'd last seen her grandfather. A lean, stern man, gruff to the point of being scary and used to being obeyed after a career in the Navy, Senna had always been more than a little afraid of him. Secretly she'd pitied her father, the only child of a man who had probably never dispensed a word of praise or a heartfelt hug in his entire life. Maybe that's why he'd turned out to be so aloof himself. With the admiral as a role model and a mother who'd died when he'd been a boy, what choice did he have? But why on earth would the admiral, a chauvinist to the core, have chosen her over one of his grandsons to settle his estate?
The banquet director sneaked another questioning peek around the corner of the building and Senna drew a deep breath. “I'm coming,” she said, and stepped out into the golden sunlight. The scents of rugosa roses, freshly mown grass and the salt air mingled with the tantalizing aroma of foods. Servers in black and white circulated among the guests, carrying silver champagne and hors d'oeuvre trays, and the strains of the string quartet gave the afternoon an elegant, romantic mood.
Senna's practiced eye took in the dynamics of the re
ception and was satisfied with what she saw. Everything was going exactly according to plan. She approached the bride, who was radiant in her satin Reem Acra gown, and touched her arm gently. “Excuse me, Sophia,” she said, “but we'll be moving into the ballroom shortly. It's time for everyone to be seated.”
IVE LONG HOURS LATER
, just after eleven, she arrived at her mother's house in Castine. The lights were on in the kitchen and her mother was up, waiting for her. She opened the door in her flannel nightgown and bathrobe, her hair plaited in a long braid over one shoulder. “You must be exhausted,” she said.
“It's been a long day,” Senna admitted, relishing the feeling of coming home. She no longer lived here and hadn't since she went away to college, but the old homestead had been in her mother's family for over two hundred years. There was something about the place that always made her feel comfortable and safe. The kitchen was just the way she remembered it as a young child, when Gram and Gramp were still alive. Her mother had kept the teakettle on the back of the wood cookstove, and she poured two cups. They sat at the table together and nibbled on gingersnap cookies.
“So, tell me everything you know,” Senna said.
Her mother sighed. “That's not much, I'm afraid. Your grandfather died in Labrador. He was living near a place called North West River. Apparently he was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and the doctors didn't expect him to live this long.”
Senna took a sip of tea and sighed, easing a cramp between her shoulder blades. “Labrador. You'd think he
would have named an executor who lived in the area, and one who was a little bit closer to him.”
“The funeral was held today and the admiral is being cremated, per his wishes. The lawyer would have called you directly with all of this information but the only phone number he had was this one.”
Senna took another sip of tea. It was strong and good. She was tired to the point of feeling dizzy. “I'll call him first thing Monday morning.”
“There's property that will have to be disposed of,” her mother said.
“What kind of property?”
“The lawyer mentioned a house, a vehicle, an airplane and a fishing camp.”
Senna frowned over the curl of steam that rose from her mug. “Maybe he'd sell it all for a consignment fee. He could mail or fax me all the legal forms I need to sign, I could notarize them and send them backâ¦.”
“You'd better go and look the situation over so you know exactly what the estate consists of before making any decisions,” her mother advised.
Senna shook her head. “Mom, I don't think I can get away from work. We're just getting into the busy season.”
“You haven't taken a vacation in several years,” her mother pointed out. “Labrador sounds like a wild place, and you like wild places, Senna. I'm sure your aunt would let you have some time off.”
“Yes, she would, but that wouldn't be much of a vacation. Are you
the admiral wasn't married?”
“Positive. He called it quits after wife number three. If you took two weeks off, you'd have time to explore some of the country and time to think about some im
portant things, like your future with Tim, and your job as sales director at the inn.”
Senna lifted her chin out of her palm and blinked the sleep from her eyes. “What makes you think I need to do that?”
“I'm your mother. I know how much you miss being a wildlife biologist, and I know you aren't in love with Tim Cromwell even though he's hopelessly in love with you and has been for years.”
Senna gazed at her, amazed. “As a matter of fact, Tim and I broke up a few weeks ago. We're still friends and probably always will be, but you're right. I wasn't in love with him.”
Her mother's eyebrows raised. “How did Tim feel about that?”
“He took it pretty hard. He still thinks I'll eventually realize that he's the man for me. Tim's a good guy and he deserves to have a woman who's crazy about him. He'll be a lot better off without me. And yes, I miss being a biologist, but I like working at the inn. I've learned a lot, and the pay is a lot better than what I was making working for the state.”
Her mother wisely refrained from commenting. She took a sip of tea and continued, “The lawyer told me your grandfather's been living in Labrador ever since he retired from the Navy shortly after your father died.”
“Apparently he was big into fishing, and the fishing's quite good there.”
“Fishing.” Senna dropped her chin back into her palm with a sigh. “That figures. The old sea wolf couldn't stay away from the water.”
Her mother stirred another dollop of honey into her
tea. “Senna, the admiral's last request was that you handle his estate, and I think you should honor it. You
a McCallum, after all.”
HE JOURNEY FROM
to Labrador was a circuitous one at best, and expensive to boot. From Bangor, Senna flew to Quebec City, from Quebec City to Wabush, from Wabush to Goose Bay. It didn't seem too difficult to connect the dots, but flights to Goose Bay weren't like flights to Boston. One didn't have many choices, so she had to lay over a night in Quebec before catching the flights to Wabush and Goose Bay. Arriving at 2:00 p.m., she immediately phoned the lawyer to find out where her grandfather's house was located. There was no point in racking up more expenses at a hotel if she could stay there while she got his affairs in order. Two weeks was two weeks, though with any luck she'd have everything done in half that time.
“Well, m'dear,” the lawyer, an older-sounding gentleman whose name was Lindo Granville, said upon hearing her out. “The thing is, your grandfather's house isn't exactly in Goose Bay, y'see?”
Senna tried to place the accent, which sounded very Celtic. “Well, if you could tell me how to get there, I could stop by your office for the key.”
“Key? I doubt the place is locked up, m'dear. Do you have a car? I'd be happy to drive you over if you don't.”
“I've already rented one, thank you. I'm at the airport now. I thought I'd stop by your office first, if that's all right. I'd like to start settling my grandfather's estate as soon as possible.”
Lindo Granville was as pleasant in person as he'd been on the phone. He was a ruddy-faced man in his late
sixties who looked as if he'd spent much of his life out of doors, not ensconced in an office pushing papers around his desk. He invited Senna in, poured her a cup of strong, black tea, finally found what he was looking for on his cluttered desk, and handed her the admiral's last will and testament. “It's up to date, he was in town just last week,” Granville said. “We had lunch together and he made a few amendments prior to that.”
“He must have known he was going to die soon,” Senna said, steeling herself as she looked down at the legal papers.
“Yes.” Granville nodded. “Didn't feel the least bit sorry for himself, though. He was more worried about his business partner.”
“Business partner?” Senna glanced up. This was a new twist.
“John Hanson. They were good friends. Hanson stayed with him 'til the very end, so's the admiral could die at the lake house. He didn't want to die in a hospital, y'see, and I don't blame him one bit for that, but he needed a lot of care towards the end. You'll meet John Hanson by and by, if he survived your grandfather's wake. The last time I saw him he was full of screech and dancing with my sister, Goody.”
“Screech is Labrador's own brand of hooch. Rum. Powerful stuff, and he'd drunk a powerful dose, y'see.”
Senna pictured a drunken old man clasping a drunken old woman at a classic Irish wake and inwardly winced. “What kind of business did they share?”
“A fishing lodge. Outfitting and guiding,” Granville said. “They were just getting started when the admiral
was stricken. If you read the will, you'll see that he left everything to you.”
The lawyer's words struck like a bolt of lightning.
“Yes, m'dear. Everything. A word of caution, there's very little remaining in his bank account, the lodge's construction costs took the most of it, and there are some liens that need to be paid, but the properties are worth a considerable sum.”
Senna scanned the words rapidly. Sure enough, there it was, in black and white. Admiral Stuart McCallum had left all his worldly possessions to her. Senna sat back in her chair, dumbfounded. “May I take a copy of the will with me? I can read it more closely tonight.”
“Of course, m'dear, and as soon as you're ready, I'll help you through the probate procedures. You'll need to be legally appointed as his executor and we can start that process right now if you want to sign a few papers. Because we're dealing with international paperwork, everything will take a little more time, I'm afraid. Do you have a lawyer you'd like me to work with on your end?”
Senna nodded and handed him the business card of the firm who had handled her father's affairs. “I'd like to fast-track this process and I'd appreciate your help. I'm hoping to sell his share of the business as soon as possible.”