Timber creek, p.1
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       Timber Creek, p.1

         Part #2 of Sierra Falls series by Veronica Wolff
 
Timber Creek
Page 1

  One

  Laura’s eyes tracked up the ladder and came to rest full stop on one of the tightest posteriors she’d ever seen. Her mind blanked. She’d been so outraged. She’d mustered up an angry speech, repeating it with increasing gusto on the car drive over. But apparently all it took was this lone example of magnificent male tushery to make her go dumb.

  The ladder squeaked as the man shifted and looked down, and Laura caught sight of just whose ruggedly handsome face was attached to said magnificence.

  She felt every muscle in her body stiffen. It was a Jessup. She was allergic to Jessups. Eddie Jessup, to be precise. The worst and most allergenic of them all.

  He smiled broadly. “Can I help you?”

  Her morning hadn’t started bad like this. It’d started pretty great, actually, helping out with a bustling breakfast crowd. Her family’s business was booming—visitors to the Big Bear Lodge were up, which meant diners aplenty at the tavern, and she was riding high as the new manager overseeing it all.

  Over the past several months, she’d thrown herself into her work. When her sister discovered a cache of letters dating from the gold rush era, Laura had used her expertise and Bay Area contacts to capitalize on the find. They’d begun to get a little press, not to mention visits by some tweedy historical types. Which meant even more visitors and more success for their family lodge.

  But not if Eddie Jessup and his cursed Jessup Brothers Construction were doing what she’d heard they were doing.

  It was a clear June day, and she shielded her eyes against the glare, watching as he climbed down the ladder. She was definitely not noticing the way his white T-shirt clung in places under the hot sun.

  “You got something to say, or did you just come to ogle?”

  That broke her silence. “I’ve got better things to do than ogle you, Eddie Jessup. ”

  He laughed, and the easy confidence of it made her cheeks burn. She shot her eyes down, making like she needed to check a text on her cell phone.

  He jumped from the last few rungs, dusted off his hands, and faced her with a smile. “Well, darlin’? To what do I owe the honor?”

  This particular Jessup had been getting under her skin since high school, but she was past that now. Back then, she’d looked only ahead, longing for the day she could hightail it out of Sierra Falls. Somehow Eddie had sensed it, and he’d upped his torment, always coaxing, teasing, and challenging her. It was a habit he’d never gotten over.

  But she was over it. Big-time.

  In fact, she liked to consider herself Jessup-proof. She was a college-educated, formerly incredibly successful Silicon Valley marketing professional who’d moved back home as a full-grown woman simply to get some perspective. She wanted only a change of scenery. No men—Jessup or otherwise.

  She’d sworn off dating, just as she’d sworn off her old life in the city. She had an ex-fiancé she didn’t miss and an old job she’d pushed from her mind, and yet she’d once spent so much time chasing both. But why and for what?

  She’d come home to figure out the answers. To determine what it was she wanted from life, what made her happy. Because she’d learned the hard way that a man and a successful career didn’t always go together in harmony.

  She reminded herself that she was self-assured. Self-reliant. Self-made. She put her hands on her hips. “I’m not your darlin’. ”

  He gave her an assessing look. “More’s the pity. ”

  She resisted the urge to adjust her clothes under the intensity of that stare. “So don’t call me that. ”

  “Yes, ma’am. ” He’d said it with mock gravity, touching a finger to an imaginary hat. Before she could demand that he not ma’am her, either, he continued, “So what would bring a fine, not-your-darlin’ city girl like you to a construction site? Because I can see on that pretty face of yours—you’ve got something to say. ”

  Fine…pretty. She refused to register the comments. Eddie probably spoke like that to every female within a ten-mile radius. And what had she come to say? It was in her brain somewhere.

  It took a moment for the arguments she’d rehearsed in the car to shoot to the forefront of her mind, but then she demanded, “What are you doing here?”

  He got an innocent look on his face. “I’m fixing a storm drain. ”

  “I can see that. I mean, what are you doing?” She swept her arm, taking in the abandoned house and surrounding ranch property. “Here. ”

  “Ah. ” He met her eyes, and for once he looked serious. “You heard the news. ”

  “Yeah, I heard about your Golden Slumbers Ranchlandia. ”

  He laughed. “It’s Sleepy Hills Resort and Spa. ”

  “Whatever. ” She waved an impatient hand. “Sounds like a cemetery to me. Fitting, seeing as you’re about to bury the Bailey family business. ”

  “We have no intention of burying your business,” he said, his tone annoyingly kind. “It’ll be good for the whole town. Fairview Properties contracted the Jessups. We buy our supplies from Tom’s hardware store. Soon we’ll hire local workers. Workers who’ll then go eat at your tavern. An influx of money all around. ”

  She tapped a finger on her chin. “And hmm…let’s see. Who do you think the big winners are in this whole thing? Fairview, that’s who. Because apparently they can just go wherever they want and install their giant resorts, meanwhile mowing down whatever stands in their way. ” Mowing down her family’s lodge. “What’s next, another Trump Tower?”

  “Easy, Laura. I’m not the bad guy here. ”

  His soothing tone had the opposite effect on her—it always did—and she stabbed her finger into his chest. “How about we kick the Kidd sisters out of their house and turn it into a Holiday Inn?”

  “Nobody was kicked out. You know full well how those dot-com people abandoned this place for a swanky Sausalito condo years ago. It’ll be good to fix it up. ” He took and held her finger, giving it a soft squeeze. “Look, Laura. I run a small business. We’re working hard to get by, just like the rest of the town. We’ve got to take our jobs as we get them. ” Eddie’s hand was callused, and warm, and aggravatingly gentle.

  She pulled her finger free. “How about our business? The lodge will never be able to compete with this. ” She glared at the traditional ranch house. It was a rambling one-story affair, with several timber beams in need of patching, and electrical and plumbing systems that probably needed replacing. “It’s a dump, by the way. ”

  “Nothing the Jessup boys can’t fix. ”

  “I hope you get overrun by raccoons. ”

  “Don’t get any ideas. ” He stood behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders, staring at the property with her. “Look, you see the size of the place. It’s smaller than a regular hotel. The Fairview guys want it to be a boutique spa resort. High-end, aimed at people who like to think they hike but wouldn’t know a day pack from a day planner. ” He gave her shoulders a squeeze. “But you guys, your lodge is authentic. Tourists will always love it. You’ll be fine. ”

  She stiffened, stepping away before he had a chance to reach out and touch her again. The last time a man had told her you’ll be fine, she’d ended up losing her job. “Eternal Slumbers here could put us out of business, and you know it. ”

  Eddie’s face fell. His expression looked like he was genuinely considering it, and she didn’t trust it for an instant. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.

  “I want you to get back into that ridiculous vehicle of yours, and call Fairview, and send them back to wherever it is they came from. Then they can go menace some other small town instead, and you can slide back under whatever rock you crawled from. ”

  Instead of rising to the bait, he smiled an
exasperating smile. “Not a fan of the pickup, are you?”

  “You’re compensating. ”

  His expression softened. “Look, Laura. I’m sorry. I really am. But if we hadn’t been the ones hired for the job, it would’ve been someone else. Probably some out-of-town development company. ”

  “At least they would’ve needed a place to stay. ”

  “Mm-hm. ” He checked his watch, looking distracted.

  “Am I boring you?”

  His eyes shot up, and he gave her that cocky grin she hated. “Never you. I’ve gotta run, though. ”

  “Are the bars opening soon?”

  “You know me better than that,” he said, sounding oddly serious.

  “Well, what if I’m not done talking?”

  “Then we can take it up later,” he said suggestively.

  “You’re maddening. ” She stormed past him, back to her car. He probably had a mistress out there waiting for him. Some noontime booty call.

  “You can’t really be angry,” he said, following her.

  “Can’t I?” No matter how quickly she walked, his long strides kept up.

  “I really believe this’ll be good for the town. More rooms can accommodate more visitors. More visitors means more diners—”

  “Spare me. ” She hopped into a half jog, annoyed that he was following, and without so much as breaking a sweat. “I’m going to stop you. ”

  He slowed, and if she didn’t know his type better, she’d have thought she heard actual sympathy in his voice. “Come on, Laura. Let’s discuss this. ”

  She’d messed up a job before, and she wouldn’t fail again. She would show her family that she could be trusted with the business. Better than that, she’d be more successful than they’d ever dreamed. Which meant she needed to stop Fairview Properties from building a competing hotel. And it all began with Eddie.

  She flung open the door to her little BMW sedan. “Oh, I’ll be back all right. I’m about to become your worst nightmare. ”

  Two

  Eddie watched Laura drive away. When she’d first arrived, silently assessing him, he’d had a moment’s fantasy that maybe she’d come to see him. That maybe he could take her hand, haul her into the empty house, and have her in one of the many thousands of ways he’d fantasized about since their high school days.

 
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