“You’re wasting your time.”
Summer Monroe shifted her gaze from the weather-beaten House For Sale sign gripped in her hands to the owner of the deep voice. She bit down on her lower lip, determined not to let the stranger interrupt her latest adventure.
The man looked like a grouchy aftershave ad model. Stray locks of chestnut hair shifted in the damp April wind above penetrating brown eyes. His lips were pressed together in what looked to be a well-practiced frown.
He didn’t look threatening, only stiff and pompous, so Summer chose to ignore him. He didn’t belong next to her soon-to-be-pulled-up For Sale sign. She looked down, ready to try again to yank the weathered sign from the soft Kentucky soil. He laid his square hand across the opposite corner of the sign to stop her.
Cocking her head up at him she said, “You must have lost your way. The macho man contest isn’t here.”
The thick eyebrows arching across his eyes lowered. “I don’t need a contest for that.”
It sounded like a joke to Summer, but he wasn’t smiling.
“I’m here to buy this house. Name your price.”
Summer made a quick appraisal of his face before responding. His harsh expression contrasted with his classically handsome features. “Well, it’s not for sale anymore.” She glanced down. “That’s why I’m pulling this up.”
He released his hand from the sign but replaced it with his foot as he straightened to his full height. His square shoulders blocked much of her view. Summer watched in annoyed amazement as he slowly slipped a checkbook and gold pen from inside his long overcoat. He deliberately poised the pen above a check.
“I said,” he paused and peered down at her as if she were one more tiresome detail in his busy workday, “name your price.”
Summer considered the intimidating house looming behind her. “You had plenty of time to buy it. It was on the market for six months.”
“I was away on business.”
Summer stepped back from the sign. She’d take care of it tomorrow. “My aunt left it to me. I’m not selling it.”
“You don’t need this huge place.”
She turned around to look at the old house. With it’s peeling paint and rotting wood, it didn’t look like much, but it had a lot of potential. For her, it represented a new life. Something she needed desperately after the way the old one ended.
A light tapping sound reminded Summer that the dark statue of a man waited for her reply. For a split second her business side considered selling the place. Obviously, he was ready to pay a lot for it. That split second ended when he cleared his throat and tapped the pen again. She had never considered pragmatism much of a virtue and she wasn’t about to let this man bully her into changing her ways.
“You’re wasting your time,” she assured him, crossing her arms and challenging him with a steady gaze. “I’m going to relocate my wedding planning business here. This house will be a perfect location for my office, and I plan to hold ceremonies and receptions here, too.”
If it was possible, he stiffened even more. “You don’t understand.” He spoke plainly, and paused before finishing. “I’m Quentin Black.”
After announcing his name he waited, as though he assumed she’d instantly relent. When she merely raised her eyebrows in question he continued using the same formal tone, “This is my family home.”
He stood, waiting for her to agree to his demand.
Although the breeze remained cool, Summer felt the heat of his stare straight to her bones. She struggled to regain her mental footing. Something had her uncomfortably on edge and she didn’t like it.
She could easily understand him wanting his family home. She almost understood his attitude, if he was anxious about having lost it. What she could not understand was that he believed the only thing in question was the price. His stubborn arrogance rattled her.
Glancing over at the front porch, where she’d dropped her sleeping bag and suitcase, Summer gestured toward the house with an upturned palm. “I own the house, you don’t.” She started to step away, but his resolute voice halted her.
“Have you been inside the house?”
She looked back and saw him slide the checkbook and pen into his pocket and then fold his arms.
“I don’t see what difference that makes,” she answered, stepping back from his inquiring eyes and slow, deliberate actions. “I’ve read a description. It sounds wonderful.” As she backed away, Summer expected him to follow. When he didn’t she felt annoyed, and unexpectedly disappointed.
Her irritation grew when he simply stood watching her. The mocking reflection in his eyes told her he saw her movement as a retreat, rather than an end to the conversation. In one fluid motion, he shifted his weight to set down his raised foot.
She turned her steps so by the time she reached the front porch, he was out of view. Earlier, when she’d dropped her things onto it, she hadn’t noticed how deeply the boards sagged, or how little paint remained on the tired wooden planks.
So the house needed some work. She already knew that.
Still feeling his gaze narrowed on her back, she lifted her chin and reached for the tarnished brass knob. Why hadn’t he come after her? Had he given up that easily? The two questions danced through her mind as she turned her wrist, ready to gain access to her new home and office.
A clunk sounded from the other side of the door as the inside doorknob fell. The outside half came off in her hand. The only access she gained was the view through the hole where the knob had been.
Holding the useless metal in her palm, Summer spun to face the man. He hadn’t moved an inch. With his square shoulders and handsome dark features, he looked like a lawn ornament specially ordered by a lonely woman. Unfortunately, he lived and breathed, and Summer felt his disdain weighing down on her.
His gaze darted from her eyes to her hands and deliberately back up. One corner of his full mouth lifted, but dropped before she could be sure his lips had actually moved. She tried to calm the tingling sensation growing in the pit of her stomach as he turned his back on her and strolled across what he undoubtedly thought should be his lawn.
Unable to control her urge to watch him, Summer’s gaze followed his swaying shoulders and long unhurried stride as he moved through the overgrown trees framing the front yard. A fluttering awareness crept up, tightening her throat and flushing her cheeks. He’s so arrogant, he probably thinks I’m watching him.
She sighed. I am watching him.
Turning back to her newly acquired front door, she tried to shake the image of Quentin Black from her mind. He was the kind of man who really got under her skin; too stiff, too arrogant, too–just too much.
If the rest of the house needed as much work as what she’d seen so far, she had more urgent things to do than stand around bothering herself with Mr. Black and his annoying attitude.
Summer bent down to peek through the small opening left by the handle. Admittedly, it was a strange thing to do after making such a scene about the house being hers, but she stood alone now and somehow not quite ready to go inside.
From her waist level spy hole, she saw the large area designed to be a grand entrance hall. Tipping her head to the side she took in as much as she could. The base of a wide staircase directly in front of the door lead up to the left. To the right was open space covered by dusty, peeling, wood floors.
Behind her, overgrown shrub branches rustled together in the breeze. The sun’s rays, weakened by the late afternoon angle, no longer offered warmth. She’d freeze to death if she stayed outside.
She lifted her sleeping bag, tucked it under one arm and picked up her duffel bag. She had the odd feeling someone was watching her. Of course that was ridiculous.
It was probably just a reaction to the ghost story she’d heard about the house. Something about a pair of star-crossed lovers who died mysteriously the night before their wedding. Supposedly, they still haunted the house. The whole thing was very romantic, which was fine for other people.
Feeling silly but unable to stop herself, she glanced over her shoulder just to be sure she really was alone then pushed the heavy door aside.
The cockeyed view she’d gotten from the porch hadn’t prepared her for the real thing. The wide stairway managed to be elegant and sturdy at the same time. Immediately, her imagination got the best of her.
In her mind’s eye a small round version of the dark man she’d met outside came charging down the steps two at a time. He called out to her in boyish excitement, and she smiled at his eagerness. Gripped in his fists were freshly cut lilacs. Summer mentally shooed him away just after the sweet springtime scent drifted under her nose.
Instead of ascending the stairs, Summer turned to the right toward the slanting sun coming through long windows. The sitting area was unusually big for such an old house. Summer remembered someone in town talking about how much the Black’s loved to entertain. The large area could easily accommodate two dozen or so chatting guests.
The spot would make an excellent waiting area. The remainder of the house continued to be one pleasant surprise after another. The library faced a bricked patio area and an overgrown garden. Eastern facing windows lined the wall of the breakfast nook. The huge kitchen matched the size of her apartment.
Summer decided to go upstairs next and save the ballroom for last. The wide steps creaked in protest as she made her way up. The extensive view from the landing thrilled Summer. It was an excellent spot point for the bridal bouquet toss.
Although each of the smaller bedrooms had character of their own, one in particular held Summer captive. She stepped in and crossed to one of the windows.
A majestic tree, now shadowed in darkness, reached toward the house with its bare branches. Perhaps this was the room of the young bride-to-be and her lover had climbed the tree at night. Even a hundred years ago, the branches would have brought him near enough to exchange whispered plans for their future.
Summer sighed at the thought of such sweet, innocent love. She’d seen total devotion in some of the couples who came to her. Those special couples, the ones who had that forever kind of love, made her heart soar and ache at the same time.
She’d longed for that kind of love and had been foolish enough to think she’d found it with Richard. After their engagement became official, he’d talked so often about their future together that she’d believed him when he said they’d always be together.
Now that their engagement was over, all the talk didn’t matter. Only the pain of his rejection lingered.
She had to face the truth, romance wasn’t in the cards for her. Her shining knight had ridden off to another girl’s castle.
Trying to keep her love life failures from ruining her mood, Summer left the room to see the rest of the house. The big empty place was hers to enjoy and she intended to do just that. Maybe bringing it back to life would help revive her broken spirit.
The ballroom at the back of the house adjacent to the brick patio was the final room on her self-guided tour. Although the only sound she heard was the shuffling of her shoes her imagination took her away again, and her ears caught the sounds of a jazzy big band mixed with laughter and clinking glasses.
The high ceiling, accentuated by the windows that started a few inches from the floor and ran almost to its top, held three dust-coated chandeliers, a large center one, flanked by two smaller ones.
As she had with the rest of the house, Summer only saw its beauty and potential. Peeling paint, cracked wood, missing fixtures and more surrounded her, but she saw none of it. The things that would have sent most new home owners running out the front door, brought a satisfied grin to her face.
Her aunt must have felt the same way. The older woman always did have the knack for finding the beauty in things no one else wanted part of.
Summer lifted her hand to wave hello and offer thanks to a woman she’d miss desperately. She’d do her best to change the house into something they both could be proud of. In the process, she’d get over her most recent romantic failure and try to find a way to put her fantasies behind her where they belonged.
The next thing to do was call her mother and reassure her she’d gotten settled in. After digging her cell phone out of her purse, she dialed the number and waited for her mom to answer.
Her mother didn’t waste a second asking how the house looked. Summer grinned. “It’s perfect.”
“Are you sure honey? Your father saw it and said it’s a wreck.”
“It does need a little work.”
“I’m coming over tomorrow.”
“No, Mom. You promised to wait until the publicity wedding.” Summer could imagine the thoughtful look on her mother’s face. Knowing her mom, she was trying to come up with a way to back out on her promise. “I’m safe Mom.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
Silence hummed across the line. Summer really didn’t want to mention her recent break up with Richard, but if it was the only way to get the space she needed, she had no choice.
“I love you for worrying about me, but really am okay. Besides, I could use this time to myself.”
Summer agreed to call back in the morning, then quickly said goodbye and hung up.
Quentin shifted his legs, trying to get comfortable in the seat of his pick-up truck. He’d stared at the house much longer than he’d planned.
That skimpy, red-haired nymph had no business in a house that big. She belonged in a tiny white clapboard cottage with wild flowers for a lawn.
He kept his gaze trained on the front door, hoping to see her come running out, bags in hand. If the inside looked anything like the outside, it was a disaster.
What was she doing in there?
The vision of her standing on the front porch holding the broken doorknob, her small frame poised defiantly, seeped into his mind. He tried to ignore the memory of her delicate curves and pretty face flushed with challenge.
He had to. She owned his house and was in his way.
Besides, he had no use for her or any other woman.
He looked away from the door to study the rest of the house. Simply put, it was a wreck.
Awful, seething emotions twisted his guts. He tried to blame the feelings on the hazy-eyed daydreamer who’d inherited his home, but he knew it wasn’t that simple. He groaned. If only it were.
Guilt, sorrow, and inadequacy swam through him, gnawing away the last of his strength. The devastation he felt seeing his childhood home in such a obvious state of neglect weighed heavily on him. It was his fault.
When he’d left the house the day after his eighteenth birthday, pride had been his reason going. Now, fifteen years later, parked at the exact spot where he’d mumbled a quick goodbye, pride again took center stage, only this time it didn’t feel so good.
He wasn’t eighteen anymore. Now, he had a little girl depending on him.
The image of little Natalie’s deep brown eyes, misty with tears at her mother’s funeral, was etched into Quentin’s brain. “Will we live in one of your apartments, Uncle Quentin?”
Her question, so innocently asked, forced him to realize his lifestyle was not what the little girl needed. He’d been so busy building his business over the past decade he never stayed in the same city for more than a few months. That had to change. Being a father was a full time job, and he wouldn’t let the little girl down. He was all she had.
He wouldn’t let his sister Catherine down either. For some reason, she’d trusted and respected him enough to name him in her will as the guardian of her only child. That puzzled Quentin.
After all, he’d barely made any contact with her since their parents passed away just after Natalie was born. Perhaps the friendship they’d developed as children had been strong enough to withstand the distance he’d put between them.
Although Catherine had been the only parent Natalie had known, his niece’s life had been stable and filled with love. Quentin knew he could never replace a mother’s love, but he could provide a proper home filled with security.
Despite the fact that he’d left the house all those years ago, feeling unsettled there and in the way, he knew it was the kind of place a child could grow up happy. He’d decided that he and Natalie would move there.
But the news that the house was up for auction because Catherine hadn’t been able to keep up the taxes came too late.
He should have sent Catherine money to pay the taxes. Why hadn’t he thought of it? He knew the answer, but couldn’t accept it. He’d been too busy building his huge business even bigger. Trying to prove something. Whatever it was, it had seemed really important all those years ago.
The irony of the situation was that his business, Black Renovations, was the largest and among the most sought after of all the companies that specialized in renovating historic buildings. If he had a sense of humor, Quentin might have laughed at that.
Instead he thought about Summer Monroe. She obviously had no idea what she’d gotten herself into. His mother had been that way; all fun and games with no head for serious matters. He shifted restlessly again when he thought of Miss Monroe holding wedding ceremonies and receptions in his house.
As a boy, his parents’ endless parties and barbecues had driven him off to his room or to the secluded sections of the gardens. Catherine had loved the constant flow of people. Quentin hated it. When the house was his again, it would be a place of solitude and calm. The proper place for a little girl to grow up.
First, he had to do something about Miss Monroe.
Quentin turned the ignition and pulled his gaze away from the front door to the road. He conceded that she’d settled herself inside. At least for the night. Gravel shifted under the wide tires as he pulled out onto the road and headed for his hotel room.
He’d think of some way to get back what was rightfully his.
Note: Samples should not be read as models. They are provided for discussion.