Calvin wanted so badly to take her in his arms, wanted to hold her and tell her that if anyone understood what she was going through, he did. But he couldn't.
Once they'd been best friends. Lovers. But now they were little better than strangers.
And despite every wall he'd put up, despite every time he'd sworn he was fine, that he was completely over her, it broke his heart all over again.
Sarah had come here tonight planning to tell Calvin all about the condos. She had the initial drawings and plans ready to pull out of her bag, but that was before things crossed over into memories, into emotions that she'd sworn were gone and buried.
Now, it didn't feel right to turn the conversation over to business. Plus, the truth was that she had only just realized--or rather, let herself acknowledge--how starved she'd been for information about him. She'd never let herself do an Internet search on him, had heard only that he was mayor through her mother and grandmother.
And then there was the fact that she'd wanted to throw herself into his arms and sob her eyes out about her father. But she couldn't. All she could do was sit here and try to pretend that she'd moved on the way he had.
"Good thing I've had plenty of work to bury myself in this year," she said, once she'd finally regained her composure.
"You're a management consultant, right?"
It was the perfect lead-in. But she couldn't shake off a premonition that this whole condo on Summer Lake thing was a bad idea--that it had been a bad idea from the moment the words I know the perfect place had burst from her mouth at the meeting on Wednesday.
"I am, but we don't have to talk about my job. Not tonight." Her boss was going to kill her, but she needed more time, needed things to be more comfortable, more normal--and way less emotional--with Calvin before she launched into her sales pitch.
"I've wondered about what you've been doing for ten years." His voice held an intensity she couldn't ignore. Not just curiosity, not just simple interest in her and her life. No, what had her breath coming in fits and starts was the fact that he was looking at her as though he cared. Really and truly cared. Despite what he'd said just minutes ago about how great his life was without her in it. "Tell me about what you do, Sarah. Tell me what you're so passionate about."
Her breath caught in her throat at his admission that he'd been wondering about her from a distance the same way she had about him. But also because she was seeing something in his eyes she hadn't thought she'd ever see again. Heat that mirrored the flames that had burst inside of her from the moment he'd taken her hand outside the knitting store.
"I've worked with my client, the Klein Group, for a couple of years," she began slowly. "They're great with their employees, both in terms of benefits and corporate culture; plus, they're almost completely green."
"And here I was thinking all big companies cared about was ripping off the little guy."
She thought he was teasing, was almost sure of it, but all of her sensors were off tonight, spinning around wildly inside her brain. Her body. And especially her heart. "Not all of them," she tried to joke back.
Now. She had to tell him about the condos now; otherwise, it would be like lying to him.
She reached into her bag, her hands sweating against the soft leather as she fumbled for her proposal. "Actually, I have something I want to show you." She pulled out the papers, slid them across the table. "My client, the Klein Group, would like to build beautiful new residences here, where the old carousel sits."
Everything about the moment--the way Calvin stared unblinkingly at the plans, the fact that she could hear each and every one of her breaths over the music playing on the jukebox, the erratic beating of her heart--told her she had just said the wrong thing the wrong way.
Nothing about today had gone as it should have. Her grandmother shouldn't have been coughing. Sarah shouldn't have spent the day running Lakeside Stitch & Knit. And she and Calvin definitely shouldn't have been sitting in the Tavern with a huge black cloud of memories hanging over them while irrepressible attraction shot through her, head to toe.
Unfortunately, now that she had opened this door, it was too late to shut it. Way too late to go back to that moment when he'd been looking at her like she still meant something to him.
Trying not to let her hand shake, she moved a finger across a drawing. "They'd also like to put in a new public baunch loat." Oh God, what had she just said? "I mean a new public boat launch." As Calvin remained dangerously silent, she had to use every ounce of poise to continue her pitch. "These are only preliminary sketches. I plan to work closely with their architects and designers to make sure everything fits in smoothly with the classic Adirondack architectural styles and the surrounding buildings on Main Street."
"Now the truth comes out." There was no longer any of the warmth that had crept into his voice, into his eyes. The breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding whooshed out of her as if he had sucker-punched her in the gut when he said, "I knew there had to be an ulterior motive here somewhere. Ten years have gone by, and you haven't wanted to catch up on old times. But you knew I could never say no to you." His jaw was tight, his eyes narrowed in anger. She knew that look, had never been able to forget it. How could she when it was her very last memory of Calvin, burned forever into the back of her mind? "Hell, you probably thought you were going to walk in here looking like that and charm me into rubber-stamping these plans, didn't you?"
"Looking like what?" She hadn't had time to go home and clean up, to get even the slightest bit pretty. She was covered head to toe in little threads of color from the yarn she'd been handling and brushing up against all day long. She couldn't have dressed less provocatively.
"You had to know that all of your curves on display in that dress, and those high heels that make your legs look a hundred miles long, would mess with my mind and distract me when you started saying you want to clear up things from the past--"
"I wasn't trying to distract you!"
"And then you hit me with--" He moved a large hand in the direction of the drawings, making them flutter and scatter across the old wooden table top. "--this garbage."
The word was a gauntlet that finally had her anger rising to meet his. "My project isn't garbage, Calvin." Each word came from between her teeth, but even though she was seeing red, she knew this wasn't the way to get him to see reason. She needed to calm down. They both did. "Look, why don't you take these with you tonight? We can talk more tomorrow after you've read through my entire plan."
He shot a disgusted glance at her presentation. "I've already seen enough." He threw some money down on the table as a tip. "Good to finally catch up on old times."
Forgetting all about the importance of never, ever touching him again if she wanted to hold on to what was left of her sanity, she grabbed his arm as he got up to leave. Heat scalded her palm. He stared down at her hand on his arm, a muscle jumping in his jaw.
"Please, at least hear me out. Just give me five more minutes." She was panting as if she'd just sprinted around a track. There just wasn't enough oxygen in the room anymore, barely enough to say, "Please just let me explain."
Her entire future felt as though it rested on the success of this project. She couldn't fail now, especially not with Calvin, not when her relationship with him was already her biggest failure to date.
Finally, thank God, he sat back down. "I'm listening."
Such powerful relief swept through her that she was thankful for seat beneath her to hold her up. "I was looking at some pictures my mom had sent on my phone when I realized just what an incredible spot the carousel is sitting in. No one even uses it anymore. But the land it's on is perfect for families who want their children to know what it's like to grow up playing on the beach and fishing in the lake. It's the perfect location for couples who are finally ready to relax and enjoy their retirement. That's why I pitched it to my client."
"Hold on a minute. Are you telling me this is completely
your idea? That the company didn't just bring you in because they knew you had ties here?"
The way he said "you had ties here" rankled. "That carousel is sitting on prime waterfront real estate. If it's not me coming in here with this company to build, it's going to be someone else. It might not be for a few years, but I guarantee you it's going to happen."
"There are plenty of other towns that would welcome this kind of development. Go there."
She couldn't tell him how close she'd been to being tossed out on her ass, couldn't tell him that failure was so close that she could almost taste it, couldn't tell him that she was only as good as her last deal. She might have been screwing up since her father's death, but she still knew how to read a client. She'd sold the hell out of Summer Lake, and now that was what they wanted, not some substitute lake town down Route 8.
"It had to be here." She tried to think rationally, tried not to be swamped by everything Calvin was making her feel. "Tell me your concerns, and I'll address them."
"I'm not one of your clients that you can wow with a spreadsheet, with a PowerPoint presentation." His words were hard, bitter. "You want to know what my biggest concern is?"
She didn't like the tone of his voice and knew she wouldn't like what was coming any better. But she was the one who'd insisted they talk about the project tonight, so she had to say, "Yes."
"You're not from here anymore." As she worked to process the shock, he hit her with, "Coming to me with this crap makes me think you were never from here."
Sarah felt as if he'd slapped her across the face and couldn't stop herself from lashing back at him. "Well, you're so stuck here that you don't see what could happen to this town. But I do. So if you don't mind my being just as blunt, if you're not careful, your antiquated rules and policies that even Henry was complaining about will drive companies out of Summer Lake. Businesses won't be able to survive here, not without a chance to make some money. I know the town has some pretty famous residents now, but no matter how much they might want to, they won't be able to keep the town afloat singlehandedly."