“Best get going then.” She gave him a playful shove, then snagged him a flashlight from a kitchen drawer. “Just in case.”
The living room was dim, and Bear was hauling himself to the edge of his lounger, trying to get up. “Wait,” he grunted. “I got this.”
Billy went to him, leaning down to give him a hand. “Let’s go take a look.”
The older man flinched back, angry. “I’m not an invalid. It’s my house, and I’ll take care of it.”
“Of course. So how about I come with, in case you need me to hold the flashlight?” Someone could be waiting out there, and he wasn’t about to risk Bear getting jumped in the dark.
The man shot him a suspicious glare, and as Billy watched him struggle from the chair, a puzzle piece clicked into place. Sorrow’s father had been raised to be a man’s man, spending his youth hunting for fun and logging for pay. That his body no longer cooperated had to be a blow to his ego and his manhood.
He might’ve been moving more slowly, but the man wasn’t dead yet. It seemed somebody needed to apprise him of that fact.
Billy stood in front of the chair, blocking Bear’s path. “Permission to speak frankly, sir?”
“Stop sirring me.” Sorrow’s dad teetered for a moment, getting his balance.
Billy bit back a smile. “Permission to speak frankly, you old hard-ass?”
Bear laughed at that. “I been waiting for you to speak frankly. Because I can’t figure you out.”
That wasn’t the response he’d expected. “There’s nothing to figure,” he said, surprised. “What you see is what you get. I like your daughter, and I’m not going away anytime soon. At least, not if I have anything to say about it.”
“I don’t know how I feel about her breaking it off with that Simmons boy,” Bear said, and he suspected the old man was testing him. “The kid practically prints money at that job of his.”
The man wanted to be contrary. Fine. It was his right. But it didn’t mean Billy would take the bait. “Damien has money, that’s easy to see. Doesn’t mean he’s the right guy for Sorrow.”
“Sometimes I wonder if the girl would know the right thing if it came up and bit her on the rump.” Her father shrugged, wearing an expression of mild distaste. “So, this is you speaking frankly?”
“No. This is me speaking frankly: you need to stop being such a nasty old coot. Hollering at the women in your life doesn’t make you a better man, it just gives us all a headache. I know your body isn’t what it was, and I’m sorry for that. But, Bear, last I checked, getting old sure as hell beats the alternative.”
Bear scowled hard at the word old, but Billy pressed on. “You want to be powerful again? You put that daughter of yours up on your shoulders. You support her, make sure she’s set up to fly higher than you ever did. Now there’s a weight that only a real man can handle.”
Bear’s features went utterly still, but whether it was anger or attentiveness had yet to be seen. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying, you need to let your girl spread her wings.”
The man frowned. “Last time she spread her wings, she almost set the tavern on fire.”
Billy’s response was instant. “I don’t believe that was her fault.”
“You would say that. New sheriff and all. We pay you to be suspicious.”
“Look, Bear. Think what you like. But if you were to share more of the decision making, things would get better around here. If Sorrow wants to have more say in the tavern, give her a shot—what the hell, right? I’d bet good money Sully would welcome the help. Maybe it’d even prevent incidents like that fire.”
“Girl’s got no time for all that,” Bear said.
“That brings up my next point.”
“How many points you got, Sheriff?”
Billy ignored the gibe and pressed on, “Sorrow could use some help around the place. An assistant maybe.” Bear’s eyes goggled at that, but Billy refused to give him a chance to interrupt. “She runs around like a one-armed paperhanger. The girl is in her twenties, and as far as I can see, her closest friends are a bunch of retirees.”
“Laura’s back in town,” Bear protested. “She’s been helping.” His tone was firm, but it sounded to Billy like the man was beginning to lose steam.
“You need to hire someone,” Billy insisted. “In addition to dealing with things like repairs, and budget, and reservations, you’ve got Sorrow on room-cleaning duty. For God’s sake, Bear. If you hired someone, if you had more help around the place, you could handle more business. You’d eventually bring in more tourists. Think on it.”
“You done?” The man’s expression no longer made him look like he’d swallowed a box of nails.
Billy breathed a sigh of relief to see it. “All done,” he told him with a decisive nod. He suspected he’d gotten through, just a bit.
Bear was the one person around here who could use some standing up to, and yet not many people did. His kids knew how to rebel against him, maybe. But rebelling against the man and challenging him were two different things.
“Then if you’re finished flapping your jaw, let’s go see what happened to my power.” The man was proud; he wouldn’t admit anything, but hopefully an attitude adjustment was in their future.
Billy clapped him on the back. “Lead the way.”
They huddled in the dimness of the garage, with Bear flicking the fuses on and off. Billy tipped the flashlight, illuminating a tangle of frayed wires under the circuit breaker panel. “It’s all chewed up.”
“Maybe.” Billy peered closer, certain that what he was looking at wasn’t the work of any animal. Raccoons just weren’t interested in fuse boxes. “Either way, you’ll need to call an electrician.”
Bear creaked to standing. “That’ll cost a pretty penny.” His lip twitched as he considered this news. He didn’t look pleased. “Nothing for it, though. I’ll get Eddie on the phone.”
Just a couple of hours later, and it was all patched up. Eddie Jessup had come straight over—one half of Jessup Brothers Construction, his schedule had been miraculously open.
“You’re all set,” Eddie said, joining everyone in the living room.
“Bear Bailey. When I say ‘all set,’ I mean all set.”
Bear harrumphed, admitting under his breath, “I guess we didn’t need Damien after all.”
Billy looked over the man’s shoulder to catch Sorrow’s eye. They shared a smile. “I guess we didn’t,” he said expansively.
Suppressing a giggle, Sorrow stood and handed Eddie a foil-wrapped bunch of fresh-baked cookies. “I made these before the power went out. Spice molasses.”
Eddie took them eagerly. “I’d have done the work for free if I’d known I was going to get some of your cookies. I swear they get better every time.”
“It’s to thank you for getting here so fast. We have some guests arriving tonight, and the last thing we need is a power outage.”
“No trouble fitting you in,” Eddie said. “I had a hole in my schedule.”
Billy grinned. “I’ll bet.” It wasn’t hard to guess why his schedule had a hole in it. “I saw those skis tossed in the back of your pickup.”
Eddie laughed, and it was an easy, rolling sound. The guy lived and breathed outdoor sports, and had the snow-tan and premature smile and squint lines to prove it. He was the type to veer off the side of the road whenever he spotted a hill that looked dangerous enough to be interesting, hikeable enough to climb, and snowy enough to ski back down.
“You caught me,” Eddie said. “What can I say? It snowed last night. Not much, but just enough for some fresh tracks out east of the falls.”
Bear was staring at the cookies in Eddie’s hands, apparently stuck on the concept that he might’ve somehow wrangled the electrical work for free. “That mean you’re not going to charge extra for coming early?”
“Bear. I’m offended. But”—Eddie put down his toolbox and pulled on his jacket—“I will accept partial payment at the tavern in the form of something tall and cold.” His smile froze as Laura walked into the room. His eyes tracked her, and Billy heard him mumble, “Speaking of tall and cold…”
The guy was looking slack-jawed, and no surprise there. Clad in only a pair of short shorts and a see-through mesh top over her jog bra, Laura was dressed—barely—for a workout.
“You can shut your mouth now,” she said, not meeting Eddie’s eyes.
That brought the guy out of it. A huge smile split his face. “Well, well, well. The Big Bad Bailey Sister is still here. Whatcha running from on that treadmill, little girl?”
Laura tossed a towel over the monitor and climbed onto the machine. Billy could’ve sworn she was blushing. “It’s an elliptical trainer,” she said primly.
Billy read her mind and began backing out of the room. “Well then. You all look like you’ve got it under control here.”
“Yeah,” Sorrow was quick to add. “I told Billy I’d help him with…a thing.” Catching his eye, she jerked her head toward the door. The moment they were safe in his SUV, she said, “That was…”
“…something else,” Billy finished for her. When their laughing died down, he said, “At least I seem to have risen in your dad’s estimation. I’ve gone from accused to merely a person of interest.”
Billy was thoughtful for a minute, then asked, “Was he that curmudgeonly before his stroke?”