Authors: Jacquie Biggar
All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
Ty Garrett knew this day was going to suck the moment he opened his eyes. The sun streaming in through his half closed curtains told him what he’d already guessed. He was late for work. He groaned and rolled over, covering his face with a cool pillow. He owned the company, but still held himself to the same standards he expected from his employees, and going to work with a massive hangover was not his idea of normal.
Dressed in the only clean clothes he had left, Ty stumbled down the hall of his rancher style home in search of coffee. He threw in a pod of Italian roast, grateful for the fancy machine Aunt Tess had bought him for a house-warming gift. While waiting for the water to heat he grimaced around a jaw-cracking yawn and leaned against the butcher-block countertop to survey the changes he’d made to the seventies-style kitchen.
Even though it wasn’t the main reason he’d bought the house, he liked the open plan design. A granite countertop separated the kitchen from the dining room with breakfast stools he’d lined up like little wooden soldiers. As soon as he moved in he’d replaced the avocado green appliances with state of the art stainless steel. A six burner stove with a built in barbecue flame broiler took pride of the place.
The hiss of the machine signaled that his thermal mug had finished filling. He scratched his flat belly and heaved a reluctant sigh. Time to face the music. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his job, he did. It was
job that was getting to him.
was getting to him.
Just the thought of her name was enough to set his already iffy stomach swirling. Why she had to have some big fancy wedding here in Tidal Falls when she lived in LA was beyond him. She had to make all kinds of dough in her high falutin’ career as a surgeon. She didn’t need to come back here and rub it in his face.
He knew her decision to get married in her hometown had nothing to do with him, but that didn’t make him any happier. She’d cut him out of her life a long time ago. Every bit as thoroughly as she cut into her patients chests.
Whatever he thought about their relationship, obviously it hadn’t meant diddlysquat to her. Fine. Lesson learned. It just really sucked to find out she was now his client; at least until he got the Twilight Theatre finished. Then he planned on a lo-ong fishing trip. Far away. There was no way in hell he was going to be in town while she tied the knot with some other twerp. He wasn’t a masochist. He’d only taken the job on because he couldn’t stand to see that graceful old building fall to ruin.
Ty jammed a Yankee’s ball cap on his head and grimaced at the pain. Why anyone ever got drunk when they had to wake up to this, he wasn’t sure. Keeping a death-grip on his coffee he trudged out the door to his pick-up, only to come to a sliding stop on the asphalt drive. No truck. Great. He’d forgotten that Jared gave him a ride home in the wee hours from Duke’s Bar. Now he really was going to be late. There was no sense calling the town’s taxi service either. Hell, it would be faster to walk.
Ty cursed life in general and alcohol in particular and gritted his teeth against the brightness of the sun. Every step he took was accentuated by the pounding in his head. It was going to take him a good fifteen minutes to make it downtown. Well, she’d just have to twiddle her thumbs. There wasn’t much he could do about it. The thought of having to see her this morning—after all these years—was the reason why he’d ended up drunk in the first place, so technically it was her own damn fault.
Just as he worked himself up to a good angry-at-the-world pace, Ty heard the sound of a diesel engine idling up behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see Jared pulling up to the curb in a great black beast.
“So, how’s the head?” A deep voice rumbled from within the cab.
“It’s just ducky. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” If he remembered right, though admittedly things were pretty foggy at the moment, Jared had asked him for a job last night.
“Yeah, well. I was there bright and early, just like the boss-man said, but there wasn’t anyone to tell me what to do, so I left.”
can tell you what to do.” Ty muttered, the noise of the truck reverberating inside his poor skull. “You here to give me a ride, or just chat it up?”
Jared had the audacity to laugh, before pulling a few feet ahead so Ty could climb gingerly inside. He was still trying to belt up when Jared punched the gas. The truck leapt forward, jerking him backward in his seat. Shooting Jared a fuck-off-and-die look Ty slowly raised his coffee to his lips, daring the asshole to try that again. Even best friends had their limits.
Jared grinned, his smile laced full of mischief. “Someone got out on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Or did you even make it to a bed?”
“Two words,” Ty leaned his head against the cool glass and sighed with relief. “You’re. Fired.”
In response Jared reached over and turned up the volume on the radio to a screeching noise reminiscent of a close encounter with a fire siren.
Katy wandered around the interior of her family’s old theatre reminiscing about the past when she should be attending to the hundred and one things on her list for today. The musty smell of rotted wood made her wrinkle her nose in disgust. She couldn’t understand how her parents let the gorgeous old building fall into such disrepair. It was depressing and only highlighted the broken status within the Fowler family dynamics.
Her brother was gone off fighting someone else’s war, who knows where, and her father had traveled halfway across the country chasing his youth with some woman just a few years older than she was herself. And then there was her mom.
Katy’s mother gave a new term to the word perfectionist. Never a hair out of place or a crease in her thousand dollar power suits, she ran the board of directors at Katy’s hospital with an iron fist. Her colleagues called her Foul Fowler behind her back, not that it mattered. She was what she was and made no apologies. Took pride in it, in fact. And that’s what she wanted for her only daughter, power with a capital P.
It didn’t matter what Katy wanted. It never had.
Shaking off the past, she peeked behind the big tan tarp blocking the main room from the entry, and gasped. It’d been completely torn apart. How did they plan to have this restored in the month and a half that was left before her wedding day? Katy’s father had hired the company for the job, saying over the phone it was the least he could do since he couldn’t make it home until the week before the wedding. She hoped he’d done some research before hiring whoever this was, because at the moment it looked as if he’d been scammed. The owner of the company couldn’t even be counted on to be on time for a consultation, much less anything else, although she did see a couple of guys by the stage stripping the stairs.
She was contemplating the best way down there without ruining her Louboutin’s or smudging her white dress when a rumbling engine pulled up outside. Maybe he thought being late would take her mind off the fact they were seriously behind on the restoration. It hadn’t. He was about to find out why she was her mother’s daughter.
She stomped out the front door and was halted by the blinding reflection bouncing off the windshield of a ginormous truck. It idled noisily as puffs of black carbon monoxide escaped the tailpipe.
Whoever was inside shut the environmental disaster down, letting it die with a harsh choke and cough. There was a weird static charge in the air around her, the driver’s door swung open, and a tall hunk of handsome stepped out with a smile that had probably scared the father of every girl within a thousand miles of here.
She’d know that swagger anywhere. With a squeal of delight she flew down the stairs and launched herself into his tattooed arms, suddenly seventeen again instead of a twenty-seven year old interning cardiac surgeon.
“Well, would you look at who’s all grown up?” Jared grinned as he swung her around before giving her a smacking kiss on the mouth. “About time you brought that pretty little backside of yours home.”
“You’re one to talk, Mr. World Traveler. Kyle tells me about you all the time. I heard your team had a super-hero complex,” she teased, happy to see a friendly face.
“How is that butt-ugly brother of yours anyway? Last time I saw him he was fending off a group of Asian girls. And loving every minute of it.”
“He’s good. I think. We don’t have news of him very often, and see him even less. He’s supposed to get time off for the wedding, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Giving him a playful shove—which moved him not one inch—she glanced at the theatre doors. “Guess you heard the news then? I’m getting hitched in a couple of months. Can you believe it?”
Jared lifted her hand and inspected the solitaire nestled on her finger. “Well, the guy’s got taste, and I’m not talking about the ring.”
Katy pulled her hand away and tucked it behind her back. She’d argued with Jeff over the size of the stone, not that it did her any good. Turning away she changed the subject. “I’ve wanted to fix this old girl up for a long time.” Her gaze ran over his familiar, yet different, face. “How about you, Jared? What’s brought you back?”
The smile remained on his lips but disappeared from his eyes, and it was though a dark cloud passed before the sun. “It’s hotter than Hades in Vegas this time of year. I decided to come home and make some peace with my past.” He rubbed a work-roughened hand down her arm. “Maybe it’s time you do the same?”
And that’s when she knew. The hairs on the back of her neck and arms lifted. With an intuition she didn’t know she had, Katy looked past Jared at his monster truck. Sure enough, the passenger door was open and a man had slid out while she’d been greeting her friend.
He’d always been larger than life, with his sky blue eyes glinting under a ragged ball cap, and hair the color of the finest champagne. She could see the stubble covering the lower half of his face and remembered how soft and yet bristly it felt against her breast.
Angry with herself for letting him get to her, she turned back to Jared with a grimace, “You could have warned me.”
He shrugged uncomfortably, and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I gotta get to work. I heard the boss is a real hardass.”
Jared flashed a warning look at the grimly silent man still standing near the truck. He hesitated, then gave her arm an awkward pat before striding into the building.
Leaving her alone.
With Ty Garrett.
On the steps of the theatre stood an angel gilded in white and gold. Her hair glittered like spun silk in the morning sun, while the filmy white dress she wore made him think of all kinds of sin. For once in his life, Ty Garrett was struck silent. He knew seeing Katy again would be hard, he just hadn’t realized how cruel fate could be.
“Ty. I should have guessed.”
He hadn’t expected her to jump into his arms—though she’d seemed quite happy to do just that with Jared—but would it kill her to at least pretend she was glad to see him?
Apparently it would.
“Well you know me, sugar. Laggard that I am, getting up before noon is something of a stretch.” If she wanted to think the worst, he didn’t mind playing along.
“It’s been a long time, Ty. You look… older.” She brushed an impenetrable glance over him, rubbing at already raw emotions.
“You don’t. You look like the same spoiled teenage brat you were the last time you stood on those stairs.”
No way in hell was he going to admit seeing her again affected him. He’d learned his lesson. Give her an inch, and she’d take a mile.
Katy smiled—a Cheshire cat kind of smile—as though she knew anyway. “Well, now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries over with, do you suppose we could get to work? I have appointments to keep, even if you don’t.”
Yep, that was his Katy all right. Straight for the jugular. Except she wasn’t his anymore, was she? He’d better remember that fact. Like he could possibly forget.
Tidal Falls’ golden girl, voted most likely to succeed in the high school yearbook. And she hadn’t proved them wrong. He’d received updates throughout the years on her academic prowess, and her subsequent appointment to one of California’s premier cardiac hospitals. He was proud of her. Had never doubted her. Wish he could say she felt the same about him, but he knew better.
“Well, we’d best be moving inside then. I wouldn’t want to mess up your precious schedule or anything,” he growled, breathing in her peaches and cream scent as he shifted past her to hold the door open. Not that he needed a reminder; it already lived on in his memories.
Ty knew he was being an ass but couldn’t seem to do anything to stop it. He’d only taken the job because he thought he’d be working with her old man to get the theatre ready for the precious wedding. His restoration business was just getting off the ground and a job like this wasn’t one he could afford to pass up. Then he’d gotten the phone call from Mr. Fowler that Katy would be coming to town to handle the details. He’d come close to terminating the contract. The only thing that stopped him was the fact she’d know. She’d know she still affected him, controlled his actions. No way in hell’s green acres was he admitting that to her. So here he was, hangover and all.
Katy opened her mouth to say something, then, shaking her head, strode past him into the cool interior of the old building. He needed to get his game face on. Pronto. He trailed behind, trying not to notice how her dress outlined her luscious bottom before tapering down to slender thighs. Her legs were as perfectly shaped as he remembered. His gaze dropped to feet encased in four-inch-kill-him-now shiny black heels with blood red soles, surely meant to stop a guy’s heart.
And they worked.
He needed more coffee.
“I don’t see how you’re going to get this done in time. The place is a disaster zone. Do you want to explain why you’re so far behind schedule?” She kept her back turned, her strawberry blond hair brushing her shoulders as she gazed around.
Ty also looked at the concession booth and entry ticket area. Where she saw incomplete walls and half-built counters, he envisioned the finished room in all its refurbished glory. For anyone who didn’t understand the restoration business, it probably did look as though they’d never get finished. But for him it was like a work of art, each part coming together to form a piece of perfection. He’d get it done in time. What she didn’t understand was this project meant as much, or more, to him as it did to her.
The Twilight Theatre.
The place where he’d fallen in love for the first, and last, time. His attachment to the old building began while he was still a scrawny kid sneaking in through the propped open back door to catch the last half of whichever Disney movie was playing on the matinee. Then, when he got a little older, it became the place to hang out with his friends on a Saturday night. They’d always sat in the back row, a bunch of kids, chucking buttery popcorn at the giggling girls a few seats down.
In junior high he’d taken his dates there with plans to hit first base. The wide velvet-lined seats were perfect for groping hands in the dark. Amusement lifted one corner of his mouth. He remembered the many times he’d been caught in somewhat compromising positions by Mr. Fowler and his trusty flashlight.
It was on one such night that he first laid eyes on Katy Fowler. Her father had just found him and Melissa Foster making out in the middle row while Lethal Weapon played out on the big screen. With the flashlight aimed straight at them on high beam, he’d started his lecture on sins of the flesh. A young girl appeared at his side. Huge eyes, the color of spring, glinted from the shadows, and a flash of humor lit their depths at the predicament he was in. The little witch.
“Dad,” her melodious voice was ripe with laughter. “Kyle says there’s a problem with the projector and he needs you right away.”
Obviously torn between finishing his speech and helping his son, he’d wavered for a moment until a flicker in the running film made his decision. He turned off the light, but only after a finger wag at the two of them, and took off through the curtains blocking the screen room from the front end.
After the drama had ended, Ty let loose a chuckle and leaned over Melissa’s bodacious bod, holding out his hand. “Thanks. That was a little awkward.”
The urchin grinned back. And when her slim fingers touched his, a little explosion traveled up his arm, fizzing like pop rocks in his chest.
“No problem. My dad seems to think he needs to teach everyone about the birds and the bees. You should see him when he gets on Kyle’s back about it.” As if she just realized she was talking to virtual strangers about sex, her face flamed a candy apple red. “I better go. It was nice meeting you.” She pulled away from his grip, turned, and sprinted up the aisle out of sight.
Ty had closed his fingers, capturing the residual warmth in his palm, and leaned back in his seat, oddly shaken by the whole encounter. He knew Kyle from school. Though a couple of years younger than Ty, they were on the same football team. He’d once mentioned he had a twin sister who drove him crazy. Ty could relate, he had two sisters and a brother of his own, all older and bossier. None that looked like Katy Fowler though.
“Wow, she’s something, isn’t she?” Came the amused, disdainful voice of his then girlfriend, Melissa.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “She really is.”
Ty was jerked back to the present by the sound of something crashing to the ground in the main gallery. Katy shared a startled look with him, and then they both raced for the curtained off area. Sweeping the tarpaulin aside, they were pelted by a big cloud of dust and debris. Choking on the haze, Ty motioned for Katy to stay put then worked his way down the aisle, cursing because he wasn’t able to see a thing.
“Jared. Are you guys okay?” He reached the area where a five tier Venetian chandelier had crashed to the floor, sending shards of glass in every direction. Now that the dust was settling he could see Jared holding his arm, blood seeping between his fingers. After verifying no one else was seriously injured, Ty checked the damage.
“What the hell happened?” He started in his friend’s direction, only to be shoved aside as Katy pushed by, disregarding both his stay back edict, and the precarious walkway.
“Let me see,” she said, and peeled Jared’s fingers back. He winced and she patted his shoulder. “Come on, tough guy. You can handle a little blood, can’t you?”
“Depends on what you call little, Nurse Nightingale,” Jared teased. “Where’s your bedside manner?”
Ty wanted to make him bleed harder.
Disgusted, he turned away from the little tableau and stomped over to his other men. “You two all right?” At their nods, he frowned and gazed up at the hole in his ceiling. “What the hell happened? That light’s been hanging there fine for fifty some-odd years, and suddenly it falls today?”
“I don’t know, boss. We were working on the stairs going up to the stage and heard this big crack. Next thing you know the whole thing let go, and we dove for cover.” Larry slapped his gloves against his thigh, dislodging a puff of dust from when he’d lunged out of the way. “We checked it just last week like you asked us. It was fine then—at least it seemed solid.” He glanced over at Brent. “There’s been some weird shit going on around here, lately.”
Ty raked frustrated fingers through his hair. “What kind of
? And why haven’t you mentioned it before now?” He sighed, “I can’t very well fix it if I don’t know about it.”
“Sorry, boss. We just figured it was kids playing pranks, is all.” Brent dabbed at a cut across the bridge of his nose. “It started out pretty harmless. We’d go for a break and our lunches would be gone, or we’d head for the can and get locked in. That kind of stuff. Then a couple of days ago, Larry left to grab some parts and you stepped out to check on another job. I started on that molding you wanted lifted and was making good headway when the lights suddenly went out. It’s some kind of fricken… beggin’ your pardon.” He nodded at Katy who’d come up beside Ty with Jared in tow. “Dark in here when those lights go out.”
“It wasn’t just a breaker?” Ty frowned, conscious of Katy’s interest.
“First thing I checked. We wired all the sidelights into one panel box like you said, and put this chandelier in the other. They were both tripped. Now how do you suppose that happened?”
“Could it have been the same kids?” Katy asked.
“No ma’am, I don’t see how. We have those panels in a locked room.”
“We’ll start keeping the entry doors secured at all times, see if that’ll help,” Ty said. “For now I’d better get Jared to the hospital. He’s looking a little peaked.” Then wished he’d kept quiet as everyone’s attention, including Katy’s, turned to Jared who looked anything but weak. More like badass, with his shirt wrapped around his forearm, and his sleeve of tats.
Jared raised his brow in a “seriously bro?” kind of way. In retaliation he looked at Katy and kind of wobbled. She, of course, raced over and tucked herself under his arm to hold him up, one hand resting on his flat stomach.
Then she sent Ty a disgusted glance, “Well if you noticed that he was weak, why didn’t you come and help him? He’s your friend.”
She shepherded her patient up the aisle. “Let’s go, Jared. My car is right outside, I’ll take you to the hospital. You’re going to need a few stitches for that cut.”
About halfway up, Jared glanced back—and winked.