Sorrow thought her vision might go red. “Wait right there. Let me clarify something. So, your version of letting you in actually means letting you tell me what to do? Like I need your advice.”
Laura gave her an evil look. “If the shoe fits…”
“Hey, thanks for being there for me,” Sorrow said, sarcasm thick in her voice. “This has been awesome.”
“Fine, forget the Damien-Billy thing. If you’re so in over your head, I see some things you could be doing better. My life hasn’t exactly been a fairy tale either, but I’ve got experience. You could actually try listening to me for once.”
Sorrow glared. “Oh, so I should let you take over? Just the easy things, though, like having Big Ideas. Stuff like shoveling snow, I can still hang around to do that. You know, actually, Dad would love that. He and Mom seem to love you unconditionally. Laura, Laura, Laura, she can do no wrong. Vice President Laura is soooo experienced.”
Laura sat bolt upright. “What? You’re the one Dad has running the show.”
“I’m hardly running the show. He has his nose in everything. Second-guesses everything. Unlike you, who can do no wrong.”
The phone rang, and Sorrow answered with a clipped “Hello?” It was Helen from the tavern calling. Their water heater had sprung a leak. “Of course it did,” Sorrow said, hearing the news.
“The water heater is leaking. It’s a commercial model. That means a very big leak.” Sorrow cradled her head in her hands, trying to think.
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“You should let me help. You’re just being stubborn.” Laura got up from the couch. “When you’re done butting heads, let me know. I’m here.”
Sorrow gave her a tired look. “Look, I appreciate the offer, all right? But when it comes down to it, you can’t really help unless you live here.”
“Fine. Whatever. Damien knows the place. You should call him.”
Sorrow stared at the phone in her lap, wishing everyone would stop pushing her toward Damien. “It seems like all I do lately is lean on him for help.”
Laura shrugged it off. “Eh, guys love swooping in on their white horses to give a lady a hand.”
She might not trust her sister with the lodge, but Laura sure knew men better than Sorrow did. Damien did seem to like helping. Besides, whatever their relationship was, he had a genuine affection for her family. Still, she hedged. “It’s taking advantage of him, calling so much.”
“Damien Simmons is not the kind of man who lets himself be taken advantage of.” Laura waggled her eyebrows. “Hey, I imagine if any advantage is taken, it’ll be when he cashes in on your gratitude later tonight.”
Maybe she was just being stubborn. Finally, she picked up the phone, hating the feel of Laura’s eyes on her as she dialed.
They had a quick conversation, and he rose to the occasion like he always did. Her boyfriend loved saving the day. He was great at saving the day. He did it all day long in his high-powered job at Simmons Timber. A broken water heater was just one more thing for Damien to triumph over.
She hung up and told her sister, “He said we should get a tankless heater to replace it. His plumber is coming out today. The guy owes Damien some favor, so he’s going to comp the labor.”
Laura gave her a wicked smile. “Like I said. Hot and rich.”
But Sorrow could only scowl at that, unable to shake the feeling that she and her problems were just more items on Damien’s list to conquer.
Sully wiped his forehead on his sleeve, and the stink of fry grease filled his head. He could probably boil that shirt in bleach, and still the stench would cling to it. He was sick of spending every day smelling like burgers.
He peeked through the window into the dining area. Folks had begun drifting in for lunch, and it’d be mostly burgers and fries for the next two hours.
But he had a job, and he did it. A man didn’t serve in the Army without learning a sense of duty and responsibility.
A wave of laughter swept in, and he scanned the room. He spotted Edith and her two daughters seated at a table. They hadn’t been the source of the merriment, that was for sure. They were showing Laura those old letters, but instead of it being a happy occasion, the tension was as heavy as the stink of fry grease.
Edith was acting clueless as ever, pretending it was all good. But he knew better—she really knew every single thing that went on in the lodge, and acting oblivious was her way of making everyone work out their own problems. Genius, if you asked him.
They’d pulled over a few extra chairs. Would Marlene be joining them? He tuned his ear to their conversation.
“Listen to this part.” Laura waved one of the letters, and she was practically vibrating with excitement. “‘Sierra Falls is like a bit of gold sparkling in a dry creek bed.’” She slammed her hand down on the table. “See? We’re the ones who’ve struck gold. We make a Web site and pull some of these Buck Larsen quotes to—”
“That’s not a Buck Larsen quote,” Sorrow said, and Sully heard the steel in her voice. “That’s a Sorrow Crabtree quote. If you just read further”—Sorrow snatched the letter from her sister—“she writes, ‘I don’t understand how you don’t see the beauty. How you could ever leave such a place. How you could leave me.’ If anything, it sounds like he couldn’t get out of here fast enough.” She gave Laura a pointed look. “Sounds like some people I know.”
Laura waved it off. “It doesn’t matter. People will get the gist.”
“It doesn’t matter? How can you say that? We can’t rewrite history. It’s enough that Buck Larsen lived in Sierra Falls for a time and that he left an illegitimate child behind. We don’t need to make it some misty-eyed interpretation. In fact, I think the real truth is just as interesting as your version.”
Laura snatched the letter back again. “It’s not as interesting.”
“I know what marketing is, Laura. I’m not an idiot.”
Popping grease brought Sully’s attention back to where it should be, and he ducked back into the kitchen. It was just as he suspected—tensions were running high.
Growing up, the two Bailey girls had been near enough in age to be a nuisance to each other, yet far enough apart that their worlds didn’t intersect. By the time Laura got to high school, she naturally hadn’t wanted anything to do with her kid sister, and then she’d gone straight to college, and on to a high-powered job in San Francisco. She didn’t get home much, and the girls had never really gotten to know each other.
And now that they were adults, their surface differences kept them apart. But he knew, they weren’t so different in their hearts. If only they’d give themselves a chance to see it.
He quickly flipped his burgers and wandered back to the window just in time to see Laura snatching the letters back. He couldn’t help but smirk. Both girls had grown into strong, independent women, but this was turning into a childish squabble.
“Mom, tell her.” Laura turned in her chair to challenge Edith. “I majored in marketing. I have a degree in it.”
Edith gave her youngest a rueful look. “Honey, Laura is vice president of her company’s marketing department.”
Sorrow seemed ready to explode. “Well, I have a degree in running this lodge, which is just as real as her experience.”
It was silly, pure and simple. The lodge was falling down around their ears, and they had a real find in these historical letters. Why they wouldn’t just talk it out was beyond him. They were all nuts…just one big fruitcake sitting there, sipping their Diet Cokes.
The door opened, and Sully held his breath. It was Marlene’s entourage, Emerald, Pearl, and Ruby Kidd. The three grandes dames of Sierra Falls were a slow-moving barge of white hair, colorful clip-on earrings, and the scent of powder. And where Marlene’s aunts and mother went, she was never far behind.
He gave a quick check to the grill, and darted out from the kitchen to help usher them in. Flurries blew in on a gust of cold air, and he angled his body in the doorway to block it. It put him face-to-face with Marlene.
Hell, but she was a fine figure of a woman. Winter had finally settled in for good, but she didn’t frump up like some of the others did. Her down coat was white and sleek, and her sunglasses reminded him of something Jackie O would’ve worn. The lady was all class.
“Thank you, Tom,” she told him, and the sound of his Christian name on her tongue was good on his ears.
She pulled off her sunglasses, and the smile she gave him knocked his socks off. She hadn’t done any nonsense to her face like he’d seen with other women their age. The years were plain on her face, and she was the more beautiful for it.
“Looking lovely, Marlene. As ever.” Sully frowned. She deserved more than whoever that milksop was she’d met for drinks. Now he would know how to treat her right. Why shouldn’t he meet a woman like Marlene for drinks? Why not Marlene herself? Yet he couldn’t seem to get away from flipping Bear’s damned burgers.
“If you’re sweet talking me, why is it you look like you just sucked a lemon?”
He had nothing to say to that—although he was sure that, come midnight, a half dozen good responses would come to him. Cursing his lack of words, he could only grin at her, feeling like a fool.
She carefully folded her sunglasses and put them in her bag. Giving him a polite smile in return, she glided across the room to join the Bailey women.
Sully headed back to the kitchen, but when Edith popped out of her chair to get the women their teas and sodas, he saw his second chance. “You sit,” he told her. “I’ll get your drinks.”