She checked her watch. “I’m sure I won’t be all right if I’m late to our monthly meeting.”
He ushered her into her seat, a true gentleman. “Meeting?”
“Of course,” he said. “The Spring Fling women. The last festival happened just before I moved into town. Can’t wait to go to my first—your BBQ cook-off is the stuff of legend.”
“If there even is a festival,” she grumbled. He raised his brows, waiting for more explanation, so she continued, “We’re broke. I swear, sometimes it feels like the town’s dying. We can hold bake sales and bingo nights till the cows come home, and it won’t be enough to cover our expenses.”
He leaned against the open door, looking thoughtful. “Well, if there’s any way to save the tradition, my money’s on you ladies to find it.”
Marlene smiled as she drove off. Money or no money, the festival budget needed to include one of those strength testers—she bet their new sheriff would be one of the few who’d be able to pick up the sledgehammer and ring that bell.
Sorrow sat on one of the attic trunks, ignoring the flurry of activity around her. She’d been sneaking peeks at the letters all morning, reading snatches of lines here and there. She couldn’t wait to dig in that night. The one she was reading looked like a love letter, written to someone who’d left her ancestor behind.
She could certainly relate to that—her siblings and just about everyone she’d gone to school with had left town, abandoning her in Sierra Falls.
Scooting her feet out of the way of one of the roofers, she flipped through the stack. Were they all love letters? It was so frustrating—all she wanted to do was curl up with a cup of tea to read them, but she was stuck with a bunch of careless construction guys instead.
A horrible slam tore her from her reading. She flew up, scuttling across the attic, hunching so as not to hit her head on the low sloping ceiling. “No! I mean…please. Oh! Watch the dollhouse.”
The guys had shown up like bats out of hell, Jack Jessup’s crew more interested in getting the job done than in having a care with any of the Bailey family possessions. She stood protectively in front of the dollhouse from her childhood. “I’d just like to move some things aside, if you don’t mind.”
Apparently the men did mind, as they continued to barrel up and down the stairs, managing to tromp gritty, blackened snow throughout the place. They’d cut away the damaged portion of the roof, and big wet clumps of snow had fallen straight into an opened trunk. So much for her careful piles—between the swirling wind and all the activity, her neat stacks were in shambles.
Tucking the letters inside her jeans at the small of her back, she grabbed an armful of what looked to be vintage dresses and hustled them to her room and out of harm’s way. There was still a trunk she hadn’t gone through, and she was wrestling it to the far corner when Damien’s head appeared at the top of the attic stairs.
“Bailey,” he greeted her, but his eyes went straight to the roof and widened. “Holy crap, you weren’t lying. The roof caved in.”
“It didn’t cave in,” she snapped. “A dead branch crashed through. And your guys are doing a bang-up job at destroying the rest of it.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” He practically leapt up the remaining stairs, his fit body effortlessly closing the distance between them to pull her in his arms. “Easy, babe. What do you need? You want me to help clear this stuff out of the way?”
Sorrow let herself sink into him, her body shuddering in a big sigh. She should hold her tongue—Damien was there to help. She nodded.
Keeping one firm arm around her, he shouted at the crew to haul every single trunk, suitcase, and box downstairs. He pulled her out of the way as they jumped into action. Naturally, the place cleared before her eyes.
She put a hand on his chest, pushing away to look up at him. “Thank you.”
He pinched her chin. “Anything for a lovely lady in distress. And they’re not my guys,” he added with a laugh. “They’re Jack’s guys, and they’re doing me a favor. They want to patch it up and get out of here as fast as you do.”
He hugged her close, then pushed back again, snaking his hand up the back of her sweater. “Whatcha hiding?”
She playfully swatted his arm away, self-conscious about Jack’s crewmen looking on. “Come downstairs. I’ll put on a pot of coffee and show you.”
The Bailey family kitchen was sunny and warm, heated by an old woodburning stove that probably broke all manner of environmental laws. The yellow walls and gingham curtains had the feel of something that was in need of a modern renovation, but it was Sorrow’s favorite room in the house, and if anyone wanted to touch it, they’d have to go through her first. Good thing her dad didn’t like change.
Of course, it had undergone some changes since she was a kid. The tavern was separate from the main lodge, and to keep up with codes, they’d needed to revamp the restaurant kitchen in the nineties.
Sorrow had been much younger then, but even as a teenager she’d seen her opportunity, and had convinced her dad to upgrade a few of the family’s appliances while they were working on the tavern. Their avocado-green Amana fridge became a nice GE one with ice and water in the door, and the ancient stove had become a decent model, with six burners and a griddle option.
It was her refuge.
She prepared Damien’s coffee the way he liked it—black, with just a splash of half-and-half—and brought it to him at the table. Loud crashing and scraping sounds came from above, and she gave his shoulder a distracted squeeze. “Can I get you something to go with that? I made my apple cinnamon bread.”
He took a sip and, putting his cup down, stood to embrace her. He nestled his face in her neck, his hand sweeping down to cup her backside. “I know what I need, and it’s not food.”
“Jeez, Damien.” She pushed away with a laugh. “You’re a machine.”
He pulled her back. “You know it.”
For some confusing, illogical reason, she pictured the sheriff again.
Unsettled, she stepped away. Needing something to do with her hands, she pulled the letters from where she’d tucked them. “I wanted to show you something.”
“I’ll show you something.” He reached for her again.
She flinched away, annoyed. She was feeling a total disconnect. They had a physical connection, and the sex was always good, but more and more it wasn’t as satisfying. There was just something missing. It made her feel ungrateful, because he really was a great guy. He was always there for her, especially lately.
Mustering her patience, she tried to make herself heard. “Please listen, Damien. For once, I’ve got something to think about besides the lodge.”
He traced a finger along her collarbone. “You know what I think about?”
“Be serious.” She walked to the counter and began slicing her bread.
“I am serious,” he said, and she felt him stand behind her. Looking over her shoulder, he spotted what she was doing. “Hey, I wasn’t kidding. No bread. I’ve been feeling loose in the cage.” He patted his already hard belly. “I’m cutting out bread and beer for the week.”
She put her knife down. “Loose in the cage? The only thing loose on you are a few screws.”
The guy was all discipline—except when it came to nookie. She turned and saw the hunger in his eyes, and scooted to avoid him. “Damien.” She attempted a playful laugh, but there was an edge to it. “I really want you to see this. I’m excited about it. Besides, you cannot expect me to get”—she lowered her voice—“you know, in the mood, with all this going on.” She pointed at the ceiling.
“What better time?” He fingered a slice of the bread, considering it, then shoved it away decisively. “All that hammering, babe. You could make all the noise you wanted, and nobody would even hear you.”
“I’m showing you what I found.” She sat at the table, effectively putting an end to his seduction, and settled the stack of letters before her.
Damien sighed and sat across from her. “Okay, Bailey—shoot. What’d you find?”
“Letters.” She untied the quaint rickrack and sifted through to find the one she was looking for.
He squinted at them in disbelief. “I’m being denied a booty call for a bunch of old letters? Come on, Bail.” He reached across to take her hand and swept his thumb in circles along her palm. “I’ve gotta get back soon. We’re wasting time.”
Normally, her blood would heat at that touch, but she had things on her mind. She tugged her hand free. “No, really. They’re not just any old letters. They’re from my great-great-great-grandmother, Sorrow Crabtree.”
“Poor woman,” he said, tapping his fingers on the table.
His tone drew her eyes up. “Huh?”
“Sorrow Crabtree…that’s some name.” There was a short bzz-bzz sound, and he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He considered it for a second before putting it on the table.
“No, listen. There’s a story behind it.” She’d heard it since birth. She guessed it was the consolation prize—she got a weird name but a good story. “There’s a reason behind the name. Her father had loved his wife so much, that when she died in childbirth, he named their child Sorrow.”
“Huh. Is that what’s in the letters?” Damien reached distractedly for them, and something about the gesture had her feeling protective.
“Wait,” she said, scooping up the stack before he did. She needed to make him understand the importance. She wanted somebody to get it—she’d tried to explain to her mom, but she hadn’t wanted to listen either. “Let me read a bit. Get this: it’s dated April 1851. Can you imagine?”
“Cool,” he said automatically, but it didn’t sound like he meant it.