Read 1 A High-End Finish Online

Authors: Kate Carlisle

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1 A High-End Finish (3 page)

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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Back in the olden days, the teacups were of such poor quality that they were liable to crack when hot tea was poured into them. Therefore, milk was added first. These days, the quality of the cups was no longer an issue.

Additionally, there were so many types of tea on the market today that it was important to look at the tea in the cup to determine how dark and strong it was. Only then could you gauge the proper amount of milk to add in order to suit your own taste.

Emily, despite her delicate looks and kindhearted smile, was a hardheaded Scotswoman through and through. She was very strict about such things, and there was no way I would ever argue with her. The same couldn’t be said for some of her other customers, though. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that wars had been fought over this very sticky issue.

I took my first sip and sighed with pleasure. It wasn’t coffee, but it was strong and good and I was happy to be here with my closest friends. I set the empty teapot at the side of the table. “What’s going on with the rest of you? Marigold? How are you?”

“I’m dandy. Thanks,” Marigold said, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand. “We’re more worried about you, though, so don’t try to wiggle off the topic.”

I exchanged glances with the other girls. Marigold had a natural reserve that made her opinions seem all the more vital since she only voiced them occasionally. She was close to my age of thirty, but she hadn’t grown up around here. She had been raised in rural Pennsylvania in an Amish community. When she was twenty, she left her family and quit the life to join her free-spirited aunt Daisy out here in Lighthouse Cove.

The first thing Daisy had done to honor her niece’s courageous decision was to suggest that she change her staid Amish name of Mary to the more quirky and pretty name of Marigold. Together they owned the beautiful Crafts and Quilts shop a few doors down on the square. Many of the exquisite goods in the shop were handmade by Marigold’s Amish family and friends back home in Pennsylvania. It was her way of staying in touch and supporting her people, even though she had eschewed their lifestyle.

Today she wore an artsy sweater made of chunky, colorful strands of different types of yarn and fabric. Her long, thick strawberry blond hair was woven into a braid straight down her back and tied with a bit of filmy blue ribbon. She sold the sweaters and fabrics and ribbons in her shop, along with other types of clothing and quilts, and all sorts of carved wooden toys, boxes, and knickknacks. Wearing her own inventory was the best advertisement she could make.

“Tell us what happened,” Marigold urged.

“All right, all right,” I said with a sigh, and rubbed my stomach. “I’ll tell you everything once I’ve had something to eat.”

“Perfect timing,” Emily said, carrying a heavily laden tray to our table. She unloaded a fresh pot of tea and a three-tiered tray of yummy-looking miniature pastries and sandwiches.

“Can you join us?” I asked.

She picked up the empty teapot and glanced toward the doorway that led to the main tearoom. “Julia’s working today, so I might manage to pop in and out.”

“Good.”

“Relax and enjoy,” she urged, patting my arm. “I’ll be back.”

“Thanks, Emily.” I smiled as she walked back into the main room. She was 100 percent Scotswoman, and yet to look around her shop, you would think she was a raving royalist. The shelves near the front of the store were filled with all sorts of interesting Scottish items, such as haggis in a can and spiced eggs. But scattered throughout the charming rooms were also plenty of English delicacies along with displays of English bone-china cups and dishes that sported pictures of the queen, Prince William and his duchess, and the royal grandbaby. A flat-screen TV monitor in the corner of the main room silently screened BBC News all day long.

Emily had arrived in Lighthouse Cove fifteen years ago with her boyfriend, an American fisherman who had gone into business with one of our local fishermen. Her boyfriend died in a tragic boating accident a few years later, just days before Emily was scheduled to open her tea shop.

Her friends were afraid that his untimely death would cause her to leave and go back to Scotland. But the tea shop had sustained her through her bereavement and now she had a thriving business and a good life here.

I had consumed three little triangular sandwiches, two tiny almond scones, and my fourth pastry (in my defense, they were all
teensy
) when Jane turned to me. “You’ve eaten enough, so take a breath and tell us what happened.”

“I can talk and eat,” I muttered, slightly miffed that she’d called me out for stuffing my face. With a sigh, I pushed my plate away and told them everything about my evening with Jerry. Starting with the friendly dinner, I described the nice walk afterward on the beach and ended with details of Jerry’s awkward assault. As an afterthought I mentioned the ridiculous applause coming from the looky-loos standing on the pier. When I was finished, the girls were silent.

I took the opportunity to pop another mini cheese Danish into my mouth.

Jane looked grief stricken. “He could’ve hurt you badly. You’re lucky you didn’t end up in the hospital.”

I agreed, but didn’t say it out loud for fear of alarming Lizzie any more than she already had been. “I’m fine now. I should’ve gone to the police last night and I still intend to, but—”

“You must,” Lizzie insisted. “I’ll go with you.”

I gazed around the table. “I really appreciate you all being here for me.”

“We love you,” Marigold said fervently, then frowned. “I would’ve hugged you earlier, but you’ve clearly been out jogging. So, you know, there’s sweat.”

“Yeah, that’s my excuse, too,” Jane said, laughing. “Lizzie had no choice. She was forced to hug you because she’s guilt ridden.”

“I am!” Lizzie wailed, then made a show of brushing off her clothing. “But she really does work up a sweat.”

Everyone laughed, including me. Emily came back to pour more tea and sit for a few minutes. I gave her a brief recap of what had happened the night before.

There was a break and Marigold spoke. “I know another woman who went out with that man.”

We all stared at her.

“Well?” I said. “What happened?”

She pressed her lips together. “I don’t believe it went smoothly.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lizzie said.

Marigold blinked at her. “You never asked.”

“Do we know her?” I asked.

“No. She visits twice a year to shop and go wine tasting.”

I leaned forward. “I would really like to talk to her.”

“I don’t know her too well,” Marigold explained, “but she’s a good customer. She comes in early autumn and late spring every year and always orders a new quilt. The last time she was in the store, she seemed more nervous than I’ve ever seen her. I asked if she was all right and she ignored the question, but then asked me if I knew someone named Jerry Saxton. I told her I’d never heard of him, so she didn’t go into much detail, and I didn’t want to pry.”

No, Marigold wouldn’t pry,
I thought. But I wished she had, just a little.

“I was concerned,” she continued, “because she wouldn’t take off her dark glasses. I could see a bruise on the side of her face and she looked terribly pale and downcast. At the time I considered going to the police, but then I must’ve gotten busy and forgot all about it.”

Marigold sipped her tea and glanced around the table. “To be honest, her behavior and the bruise might have nothing to do with Jerry, but given Shannon’s experience, I thought I ought to mention it.”

We all contemplated that silently for a few minutes, and a short while later the party broke up. It was just as well, because Marigold’s story had depressed us all.

I spent the rest of the day avoiding people while trying to forget the blind date from hell. I did some touch-up sanding at Jane’s place, then ran by two of my construction sites to check on the progress. At both stops, I was encouraged to hear my guys’ outrage over the ugly incident on the beach. I assured them all that I was fine and that yes, I’d delivered a good, swift kick to Jerry Saxton, just as they’d all instructed me to do at one time or another.

Apparently the rumor mill had already spread the news that I had kicked Jerry exactly where my neighbor Jesse had bet I would. I didn’t have the heart to mention to the guys that my kick had missed its mark by a few important inches. It would’ve disappointed them.

On the way home, I stopped at the bank to get some money. I was a silent partner in several of my friends’ businesses and had promised to drop off some cash to one of them to expand the holiday inventory. I didn’t like leaving a paper trail—which sounded shifty but really wasn’t—so I always gave them the dollars instead of writing a check.

While I was waiting in line, a well-dressed, friendly-looking woman with a short cap of blond hair walked up to me. “You’re Shannon Hammer, aren’t you?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Penelope Wells, the bank’s new loan agent. But call me Penny, please.”

“Nice to meet you, Penny.” I hesitated, then said, “I’m just here to withdraw some cash.”

She grinned. “I know you’re not here to see me. I just wanted to introduce myself because I’m looking for a contractor to renovate the kitchen in the house I just bought. You were highly recommended by several people.”

I beamed at her. “That’s so nice to hear.” We arranged to meet at her house the following day around noon. After exchanging business cards, we shook hands and she went back to her office.

•   •   •

Saturday at noon, I arrived at Penny Wells’s charming one-story Victorian just as she pulled up in a sporty little Miata. She was on her lunch hour, so she gave me a fast tour of her kitchen and explained what she had in mind for the redo. I took lots of notes and we flipped through some kitchen-design books for ideas on ways to finish the room. I checked for load-bearing walls and inspected the attic for any surprises, like termites or holes in the insulation or weird wiring.

“It’s an old house, but it’s in good shape,” I said when I got back to the kitchen. Pointing at the books, I asked, “Did you see anything you like in there?”

“Oh, tons of things. Can I keep these for a while?”

“Sure. Just put yellow stickies on the pages you want to show me. I assume you’re going to interview a few more contractors?”

“No,” she said, shrugging. “I want you.”

“Oh.” I was pleasantly taken aback. “Okay, great. But if you change your mind, it’s fine. Always good to get a second opinion.”

“Your reputation precedes you. Both in construction and in personal-defense skills.” She chuckled. “They’re calling you the Emasculator down at the Cozy Cove Diner.”

My mouth fell open. “Oh no. But I didn’t—”

“I think it’s great,” she interrupted with a laugh, but it faded quickly. “That jerk deserved what you gave him and a lot more.”

“You know him?”

Her lips were pinched together. “We’ve had a few interactions. My bank handles some of the home financing for his buyers.”

There was something in her eyes that told me maybe she’d had an encounter with Jerry, too. Boy, the guy really got around.

“I see,” I said. “Well, I hope he’s nicer in business than he is in his personal dealings.”

“He’s very charming. But it’s all an act.”

I sighed. “I can’t believe they’re calling me the Emasculator. It sounds like the name of some perverted superhero.”

She chuckled. “It suits you.”

“Thanks a lot.” I started to laugh.

“So, you’re hired. When do we start?”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence. I’ll write up an estimate and get it to you in the next few days. Once you’re ready to go, I’ll start looking for materials and my guys can move forward on the demo.”

“Perfect. I’ve got to get back to work.” She grabbed her purse and briefcase. We walked outside, shook hands, and parted ways.

I was proud of myself for making it through the rest of the day without once thinking about my role as the Emasculator
.
Especially since a part of me really liked the nickname. I mean, I hadn’t allowed Jerry to hurt me too badly. I’d stood up and defended myself, and that felt good. Still, living in a small town where people thrived on rumors and chitchat, I’d do best to keep a low profile. I worked hard the rest of the day and didn’t talk to anyone but my guys.

•   •   •

Early Sunday morning I was able to spend a few hours in my garden, weeding and pruning and babying my plants. Robbie and Tiger joined me outside, playing and sniffing and weaving up and down the narrow walkways between the raised beds of vegetables and flowers. When they grew tired of all that fun, they slept in the sun up on the patio.

The garden had been created by my mother, Ella, who was a botany professor and renowned horticulturist. She had expanded the garden until it filled every inch of our large backyard, right up to the fence where she experimented with espaliered apple and peach trees.

She taught us how to start a worm farm and grow string beans on a kid-sized teepee. I still remembered the sound of her laughter as she tried to teach my sister and me the Latin names of plants. She died when I was ten years old, and after that the garden became overgrown and weed infested.

It wasn’t until I broke up with Tommy years later that I rediscovered some of the joy she’d inspired in me. It had started as a way to keep busy so I wouldn’t go crazy, but I spent hours every day that summer cleaning, weeding, cultivating, and expanding the flower beds and adding herbs and more vegetables around the perimeter. Gardening became my solace. I cleaned out the old equipment shed and turned it into a garden room, where I would hang herb cuttings and dry flowers. I made potpourri and experimented with tinctures. I canned green beans and tomatoes in thick jars with basil and rosemary sprigs. I steeped herbs in oils and vinegars and gave them away as gifts.

I worked like a dog every day and went to bed exhausted every night. I did whatever it took to avoid staring at the sudden gaping hole that was my life. My mother’s garden saved my sanity.

To tell the truth, it hadn’t taken me long to get over Tommy’s betrayal because, hey, karma was a bitch named Whitney and he was stuck with her. Besides, once I went off to college and met other guys, I realized I could no longer blame Tommy for much of anything. No, my problems with men were all my own fault. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I’d done something horrible to irritate the dating gods.

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
3.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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