Initially, I’m angry.
Not for myself, but for Therese Weiss, who looks so dismayed that I want to gather her up in my arms as I would my grandmother. I try to give Olivia the benefit of the doubt –-tell myself that there must be a reasonable explanation for her decision. But the way she dropped the news on her grandmother in front of me, a total stranger, is utterly inexcusable in my mind.
What is going on with you? That’s all I can think as I look into Olivia Weiss’s stormy green eyes, note the tremble in her shoulders. I want to place my hands on either side of her face and force her to tell me the truth about why she is doing this. Hadn’t all of this been her idea in the first place?
A beeping sound pierces the quiet, mobilizing Therese. She dabs her eyes before turning toward the oven. “Well,” she says, as though her granddaughter had not recently doomed us to awkward silences and stilted conversation for the rest of the night. “Looks like dinner is ready. Why don’t you two take a seat in the dining room? I’ll bring it right out.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Like, talk some sense into your granddaughter?
Oliva’s eyes flash at me before she turns away. “I’ll grab more wine from the bar.” Which must be in another part of the house because she disappears.
I study Therese’s straight back. Her hands are on either side of the dish she took out of the oven, but she hasn’t moved.
“I should have told you about the situation before you flew all the way here, Jake. The truth about the real estate I mean.”
When she turns to face me, I give her a smile that I hope is encouraging. I’d only just met her, but I feel an affinity for this elegant woman.
“When Olivia was the one to suggest this project to me, I thought the news about her inheritance would make her happy. I thought I was clever, asking her to come here to help me with you, only to tell her she had the freedom to do what she wished, that the property was hers. And if she was unfavorable to the idea, I thought you could be here to convince her that she should. But… It’s clear now that I’ve wasted your time. I am sorry for that.”
A noise from the dining room tells me that Olivia has returned. She glances at us, sits and works on uncorking then pouring wine into the glasses already on the table. The way she holds herself, perfectly straight and still, reminds me so much of Therese, I feel a jolt of optimism. Despite the tension I’d felt between them all night, I realize that the love and affection these women have for each other has been evident through this whole process.
This night is far from over. On impulse, I lean over and take the perfectly plated roast from Therese, the aroma of garlic and onions making my mouth water. I kiss her on the cheek and whisper, “I haven’t even begun to convince her yet.” Which has the desired effect. The light returns to her eyes. A smile plays on her lips.
As I take my seat across from Olivia, a plan has solidified in my mind. The goal is simple. I won’t leave Tomahawk Hill without the deed to all the real estate Olivia Weiss owned. I didn’t know what she did for a living, but her life was clearly in LA, not in Tomahawk Hill. Olivia’s reasons for not selling had to be personal, and I was going to find out what those were and then make them disappear.
My mind made up; I smile at Olivia even as she glares, her chin jutting out ever so slightly. She wasn’t going to make it easy, but that was okay. What she’d quickly learn about me was that once I made up my mind, I didn’t stop until I got it. I’d heard an influential man once say that he always assumed that the universe was conspiring for him rather than against him and I couldn’t agree more. The universe was for me, and so was Therese. Olivia didn’t have a chance.
What is it about Jake that gets under my skin so much? When he smiles at me, setting the serving dish down on the table as though it’s his dining room, his dinner party, I feel an irrational desire to stick my tongue out at him and ask him, what are you so happy about? After all, wasn’t I the one with all the power here? Hadn’t I told him that there was no way he was getting what he wanted? I was incredulous that he had decided to stay for dinner. Had it been me, I would have made excuses and gone.
“Everything looks and smells delicious, Therese,” he says, taking the bowl of mashed potatoes she has begun passing around the table.
“Thank you,” she says, taking a sip of her wine. “You’ll have to try the green beans. I always ask Olivia to make them when she visits. They have toasted pecans, and this sauce that is just…what is the sauce, Livy?”
She looks at me so expectantly, with none of the coolness or injury I would have expected from everyone else in my life, that the resolve I had felt to punish her (with a prick of conscience I know this is what I had been trying to do), dissolve.
Despite my rudeness, Therese was trying to give me a way out of the trap I’d set for myself. I look at Jake, whose steady gaze reveals none of his thoughts and give my answer. “It’s a maple glaze that I make from scratch.”
When he grins at me as though I’d just given him the recipe for making a trillion dollars on his next venture, I wonder if I have him ‘figured out’ after all.
“So, you remove all the nutritional value of eating greens by rolling it around in brown sugar? I like it.”
My grandmother giggles and looks at me. “I hadn’t thought of that. Livy does prefer her food brown, artificially yellow, white, or chocolate.”
“Hey!” I cry, surprised by their joint attack. “Are gummy vitamins worthless because they taste like Gummi Bears? No.” I gesture to my green beans, “they also retain their nutritional value.”
“Not a bad argument there, Pennybags,” Jake says, “but how much more harm is that maple sauce doing you, than the vitamins from the beans, giving you?”
I tilt my head with a smirk. “That’s Rich Uncle Pennybags to you.” So, the guy liked playing monopoly. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising since he was a hotelier, but it was hard for me to imagine him sitting still enough to play the game.
“I’m sorry for being rude earlier,” I say, feeling the need to clear the air a little. “It was wrong of me to blurt my intentions that way.” I reach for my grandmother’s hand and am gratified to see her smile. “I’m sorry."
Jake clears his throat. "I'm sure a simple apology is enough for your grandmother." And the teasing light in his eyes elicits a smile from me that I tell myself to tone down. He was so irritating and yet…!
“But nothing says, ‘I’m sorry’ quite like you, showing me around town tomorrow.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Why? If you’re not developing here, why would you want to learn any more about it?”
Jake shrugs his shoulders, “There’s a reason your grandfather never gave-up on his vision for Tomahawk Hill. Understanding why a resort town of the scale I want to build would work here will go a long way in helping me locate someplace better.”
I can’t help but glare at him when he says, “someplace better.” Good luck! Is the first thought that comes to mind. He’d have better luck building from scratch—making a Disneyland Resort type town in the desert than finding a place like Tomahawk Hill in another geographic location.
I study him. The set of his jaw, those classic features set under a thick head of dark blond hair, the steady eyes that I realize are more hazel than brown under the dining room lights. Spend all day with this guy? The thought of it makes me anxious, but I hear myself agree. I had been a royal jerk since I’d opened the door to him and agreeing to help him was the least I could do as an apology to my grandmother.
“Fine. But just one day.”
“Ten to seven,” he says.
“Nine hours?” I scoff, annoyed. “Gee, thanks for the lunch break, boss.”
He grins. “Of course.”