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CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 22

Photo by Gerson Repreza on Unsplash

When the contract papers arrive at my door via a board shorts-wearing courier on Friday, I tell myself it’s silly to be disappointed there’s no accompanying note from Jake. Had I expected it? After spending the week together in Tomahawk Hill, it had felt strange to have no contact with him.

I’d told myself that I could text Jake at any time. We’d established that we were friends, right? But because our friendship had begun with business and animosity, the thought of texting him merely to say, “hey” made me cringe. Plus, it wasn’t as though he’d reached out to me. Maybe now that we were back in LA, he saw how very different our lives were, how, even as a friend, I’d fit very awkwardly in his elite circle. 

Shaking my head free from this line of thinking, I open the heavy-duty envelope with the Hurst logo emblazoned in gold in the upper left-hand corner and walk toward the couch where my laptop is glowering at me—reminding me of unfinished work, unfulfilled writing contracts. If I never had to write another marketing email for real estate agents about the, “ten things that sell” or the “five pitfalls of selling by owner,” I think I might have enough creative energy left at the end of it to devote to writing my novel. My novel could be in my agent’s care, ready and waiting to fulfill its potential on some bigshot editor’s laptop. But that was a big maybe since I’d never really tried to devote myself to any kind of writing that didn’t guarantee pay.

I sink into my couch where a pool of sunshine beckons and begin to peruse the contract. I know my grandmother’s attorneys had received a copy of the paperwork via email this morning. Therese had already messaged, asking if we could set up a time to talk.

I gasp in surprise when my eyes wander to the dollar amount, the number of zeros causing me to reach for my phone without a second thought.

I think you’re missing a decimal point on the contract.

I have a feeling that he will respond right away if he’s free, so I wait a second before sending my next line. My heart flutters at the “ding!”

I don’t make mistakes.

This is some sort of bribe, right?

If it were, what do you think I would want in trade?

This conversation was beginning to feel mildly flirty but I squash the thought.

A ‘yes’ on everything you want to do in Tomahawk Hill?

Then YES! It’s definitely a bribe.

I don’t take bribes.

You’ll take this one.

A laugh escapes my lips. Before I can send another reply, Jake writes, I know this is generous, but I’d feel wrong buying at the bargain basement price when I know this project will make me millions in revenue. 

I bite my lip. For all the dreaming my grandfather and I had done, we’d never really thought of profits in the millions.

But how can you be sure? 

Rich had told me how lucky I was to have an offer at all. He’d seemed a bit skeptical about Jake’s interest in the first place, but had trouble seeing the downside to a quick sale. But what did I truly know about any of this? I had to stop treating Jake like an equal when it came to business, stop questioning him at every turn.

I have the projections. And my instincts are usually right.

I think about the tabloids I’d seen last month, the stories I’d read intimating that Jake had dated the daughter of some steel distributor as a ploy to clinch a deal. Following the article had been a photo montage of all the women Jake has been linked to over the years. Of course, it hadn’t surprised me that they all had a few things in common: polished, well-known socialites who looked as though they’d specifically been groomed for glossy magazine pages and entertainment headlines. None of them had lasted longer than a few months, although public opinion was that the last relationship might have stuck.

Before I think better of it, I send; except when it comes to women?

I twist a strand of hair between my fingers as I wait for his response. Why couldn’t I seem to restrain my words around Jake? My message was borderline offensive.

I guess you’re right. My gut told me you weren’t the kind of girl to believe everything she read.

 ***

Olivia’s message glows on my laptop screen. She said she’d come by the hotel first thing tomorrow after she’d spoken with Therese. The truth is, I had planned to walk to Olivia’s house with the contract until I’d thought better of it and sent the courier in my stead.

I had a company to run. Multimillion-dollar projects to manage. Still. It would have been good to see her face, fun to see her reaction to the dollar amount. Even if Olivia only worked part-time until she was retirement age; continued to live in LA, she would never want for anything. I wonder if she’s even thought that far ahead yet. 

I close my laptop, lean back in my custom, navy blue Eames recliner, cross my ankles on the ottoman and regard Parker Cross, one of Hurst’s top architects and a close friend. He leans over my conference table, organizing the images I’d taken during my week in Tomahawk Hill.

He looks like hell in his rumpled button-down, his dark brown hair sticking up as though he’d been napping on the couch in his office. But I knew Parker rarely slept these days. “When’s the last time you took a good look at yourself in a mirror?”

He glares up at me, his brown eyes almost black. Since his wife Emily died, I rarely saw a light in them anymore. Not even when his little girl Emma came to the hotel for a visit, did he smile the way that he used to. “Will you stop mothering me already? I get enough of that from the in-laws.” Parker’s voice is almost a growl, but I shrug. I was used to his abrupt manner. He’d always been somewhat intense, but his grief had made him mercurial; angry.

When I’d moved Parker’s office into the hotel, away from the watchful eyes of everyone at Hurst headquarters downtown, I’d hoped Parker’s emotional state might improve. So far, it had only given him more of an excuse to isolate, and to work without the distraction of people popping in to say, “good morning!” or ask him out to happy hour. Assessing his bloodshot eyes, the purple beneath them, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake by moving his office here. I’d wanted to keep an eye on him, thinking a less strenuous environment might encourage him to slow down, spend some time with his daughter... but Parker had hardly taken a break over the last year. The one month I’d forced him to take time off, he’d practically become suicidal. 

I walk over to the conference table and watch as Parker sketches his ideas into his worn, leather brown journal. The man is a visionary, and I can tell he’s loving the chance to run with something brand new. I let my eyes fall on the photos I’d taken and feel an eagerness to return to Tomahawk Hill as soon as possible. The one I’d taken of Olivia as we stood in the field behind the diner is on the center of the table and I experience a small jolt, seeing those playful green eyes staring up at me. What was it about Olivia that made everything around her look like a distraction?

I take an involuntary step back when Parker’s head swivels unexpectedly toward me, the alignment of teeth and lips stretching across his face so unnatural for him these days that I nearly grimace in response.

“I want to design the whole town, not just the hotel” he says. “Would you trust me with it?”

If a project like this were what it took to bring Parker back to life, I’d create opportunities until there was nothing left to build. “I’d want no one else. Get your team together.”

Parker turns back to the photos, lets out a deep breath as though he’d worried I might say, “no”. He picks up the photo of Olivia and gazes at it. “You could make a living as a photographer if this whole hotel thing goes to hell. Is this the woman you’re buying the land from?”

“Yeah, it’s her.”

He turns to me, and I hear my old friend in his wary tones. “Maybe we shouldn’t date this one since she gets the final say on my design decisions.”

It’s my turn to shoot a scowl at Parker. “She’s in a serious relationship, my friend, and she’ll be here, in LA. Whereas you and I... we’ll be living the good life in the country for the next few years.”

Parker stills. He closes his journal. “I hadn’t thought about that yet. Emily and Emma...”

“Emma would love the adventure.”

He looks down at the floor as though all of his energy has left him. “But Emily...”

I place both my hands on Parker’s shoulders and squeeze them. I wouldn’t have dreamed of speaking this way to him a year ago, but he needed to hear it. “She’s in heaven, Parker. Her ashes are in her parent’s garden, but she’s not here, man.”

My hands slip off his shoulders as he turns stiffly to the table, opens his journal again. And just like that, I’ve lost him.

I walk outside to the balcony, slip on my sunglasses as I gaze at the city below. The afternoon sun saturates everything, making the town look lit by the strongest studio lights. Every view from my balcony is a perfectly lit picture — the ocean, the palm trees, the vibrant, dessert flowers hanging from fences and windows.

I turn, as I hear Parker walk through the already open doors. “What’s the deadline on this?”

“End of next week on the preliminary plans. 3-D mock-up the week after that. It’s all for the town to approve the bill of sale.”

“So... we could be heading out there as early as October?”

“Looks like it.” It was only three weeks, but time couldn’t pass by fast enough.

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 21