Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 22

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Christie was stunned to hear that the man Jean had loved with her whole heart and soul had conned her. That he'd left her pregnant. And alone.

Her tea had gone cold by the time she finally said, "That's why my bedroom is haunted, isn't it?"

Jean simply stood up to clear away the teapot and cups, neither confirming nor denying the ghost--or its cause.

But Christie knew.

She knew.

Her head spinning, she headed back to the inn. She was due to start her workday in an hour or so, but she wanted to go up to her bedroom first and look around. See if it looked different now that she knew for sure what had happened in that room to change everything.

Of course, now that she was waiting to feel the chill, to hear the horrible sounds, there was nothing.

Still, she found herself pulling a chair up to the window, the same window at which Jean had kept her vigil for three days, waiting and watching for Thomas to return. Despite all the signs to the contrary, Jean hadn't given up. Somehow, she had managed to survive--and push past--it all. Somehow, she had come out the other side able to skip rocks over the lake and laugh so freely in the maple forest.

Christie watched the cars move slowly along Main Street. She saw young mothers pushing their babies in strollers. Store owners unlocked their front doors and began the process of opening up for the day.

And suddenly, she knew that she couldn't give up either. She was going to fight the petition.

Her sense of purpose flooding back, Christie felt a million times better. How quickly she'd given up after hearing what Mr. Radin had to say. She'd thought she was changing, that she wasn't going to run scared anymore, but when put to the test, she'd crumbled like a dry ball of dirt in a child's fist.

Her excitement about the festival came rushing back as she compiled a list in her head of phone calls to make. She didn't know for sure if she could actually convince the Adirondack Preservation Council to give her festival another chance, but she sure as heck could give it everything she had.

*

Liam owed Christie. Big time.

She had thrown herself in front of an emotional bus for him last night at his parents' house. One way or another, he was determined to give her back her festival.

He was also becoming an expert on the ins and outs of the Adirondack Preservation Council. He'd spent most of the previous night after returning from dinner at his parents' house scouring the Internet for information about park policy. And, more important, its loopholes.

His chief legal counsel hadn't been surprised to hear from him this morning--they'd been on the phone constantly during the past few weeks as he'd sold his company--but this time Frank was caught off guard by the assignment Liam had given him.

Sure, Liam knew Christie would be all right if the festival didn't happen. But what mattered far more was that her natural sparkle had almost been extinguished yesterday after Mr. Radin had trampled all over her plans.

Liam had never cared about a woman's sparkle before. But even the cynicism he'd wrapped around himself like armor for the past twenty years couldn't make him immune to the power of Christie's smile. Seeing it fall, and watching the sparks go out of her eyes, was nothing short of heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking enough to make him wonder if he might still have a heart, after all.

*

An hour later, Christie's renewed excitement was on the verge of fizzling out. She'd spent the past sixty minutes hitting one brick wall after another.

For some crazy reason, the one person she wanted to talk to about it was Liam. He hadn't wanted her to work on the festival, initially, but hadn't he used the word we last night? Maybe he would be willing to brainstorm some ideas with her. Because she really didn't want to give up this time.

She called his room, but there was no answer, so she went downstairs to look for him. Alice was checking out a guest when Christie asked, "Have you seen Liam?"

Alice nodded in the direction of the front porch. "He's outside on the phone."

Christie's heart did a funny little flip before diving toward her stomach. She and Liam hadn't kissed last night, but there was an attraction between them that she could no longer deny. And every time she saw him, every time they spoke, that awareness, that attraction grew stronger.

Liam wasn't on the porch, but she could hear his voice coming from the rose garden off to the side. In the summer and early fall, the rose-covered arbor was a favorite place for brides to marry their true loves. In the thaw of spring, the vines and stalks were still bare, but Christie found the garden to be lovely just the same, with its promise of new growth and beauty.

He was standing beneath the arbor, looking out at the lake, and the sight of him standing in the exact spot where so many grooms had stood before had her breath catching in her throat.

Her brain started playing tricks on her, changing the scene so that Liam wasn't wearing jeans and a button-down long-sleeved shirt anymore. He wasn't on the phone. It was no longer spring. Instead, she saw roses in full bloom all around him. He was wearing a tuxedo with a rose tucked into his lapel. And he was waiting for her to walk toward him in a beautiful, long white gown...looking at her with more love than she'd ever seen in anyone's eyes.

What was wrong with her brain? Why was it playing this trick on her--showing her a vision that seemed impossibly real? So real she could actually smell the roses in the air, when she knew darn well there wasn't a single flower petal in sight.

That was when a snippet of his conversation floated over to her.

"Will the entire council be there this afternoon?" After a short pause, he said, "Good, we'll be there at four o'clock." Hanging up, he turned around and found her standing there staring at him. "Christie." She swore his eyes lit up when he saw her. "I was just about to come look for you. We have a meeting with the Preservation Council this afternoon to present a counterpetition for your festival."

She was so grateful. Beyond grateful. But guilt was there too. Because now she knew for sure what she'd suspected from the start: Beneath Liam's walls, inside the barriers he'd erected all around himself, he was a good man. Truly good.

"I'm sorry for what I said yesterday. For saying I thought you'd be happy about the festival being off."

"You don't ever need to apologize for being honest, Christie. You were angry. I told you to pass off the festival to someone else more than once. You had every reason to assume I'd be happy about it. But honestly, I'd much rather wipe the smug smile off Radin's face."

*

Liam had made a lucrative career out of thinking things through--and never making mistakes. But somehow, Christie was changing everything.

Because he hadn't realized--nor had he wanted to accept--just how hard it would be for him to keep his focus on the job at hand when she was sitting so close in his car. Close enough for him to breathe in her sweet scent. Close enough that he could easily reach over and curl his fingers around hers as they cruised down a narrow back road on their way to the meeting.

"Tell me about growing up here, Liam."

He didn't like to think back on his childhood. And, perhaps, if she'd asked him another time, he wouldn't have told her anything at all, apart from generalizations. But he could tell she was nervous--something that affected him nearly as much as her fading smile. So he said, "Wesley and I used to sail every Saturday and Sunday during the summer races. Did he ever take you out in the Flying Scott?"

"Only once, but I'm afraid I'm not much of a sailor. After getting his instructions about the mast or the stern or whatever it is backward, it nearly hit him in the head and we ended up tipping over in the middle of the lake."

"You didn't go out and try again?"

"I should have. It just seemed easier not to, I guess. You know, that way Wesley could have a good sail without worrying about me."

Liam was on the verge of offering to take her sailing once the ice on the lake melted and the water warmed up. But since staying here until summer had never been

in his plans, he said instead, "Our father taught us to sail. To this day, he's still one of the best sailors I've ever met. Thirty knots coming at him and he doesn't even blink. He just grins and hikes out into the wind."

"I like Henry a lot."

He could hear the affection in her voice. "He's a good man," he agreed, his words gruffer than he intended.

"Why don't you go hiking or fishing with him, Liam? He wants so badly to spend time with you."

He should have been upset that she was poking into his private life, but he found that he was simply glad to have helped her forget about their meeting for a few minutes. And, truthfully, a part of him liked knowing that she cared.

He took a deep breath and blew it out. "My relationship with my father is complicated."

"He loves you. That's not complicated."

He knew what was coming next. She was going to ask about his mother. Thank God the Preservation Council building had just come into view. "We're here."

*

Two hours later, Christie felt like a limp dishrag as she and Liam walked back to his car. "I had no idea it would be like that." She slumped on the leather seat beside him. On the drive out earlier that afternoon, she'd been nervous about being in the small car with him. Now, she was too tired for nerves.

"Meetings like that call for one thing," he told her.

"A short rope and a tall tree to hang it from?"

Another time she would have appreciated his low chuckle as he clarified, "A stiff drink."

She wasn't big on booze, but if ever there was a time for alcohol, this was it. The council had allowed them to say their piece. They had taken the documentation she and Liam had put together. They had asked a zillion questions.


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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