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Authors: The Unintended Groom

Debra Ullrick (6 page)

BOOK: Debra Ullrick
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“Oh.” Her eyes lit up. “What you celebrating? Oh, wait.” She shook her head. “You said he’s your new business partner. This must mean that ornery old mayor and his little cronies gave you your license, then. Good. Cuz, if he didn’t, I was fixin’ to march down there and give that man a good tongue lashing, and let him know he’d get no more pie from me. That’d serve him right. Won’t have to now. Okay, what’ll you have?” She pulled a piece of paper and a nub of a pencil out of her apron pocket, chewed on the wood like a beaver gnawing on a log until more lead exposed itself, then she placed the dull point on the paper. Her friendly smile landed on him first, then Abby. “Now I’m ready.”

The woman reminded him of a hurricane, long-winded and unpredictable. He glanced at Abby. She winked at him and smiled before turning her attention to Lucy. “I’ll take the strawberry-rhubarb pie and tea.”

Lucy scribbled it down and turned to him.

Harrison couldn’t believe she needed to write their orders down. After all, the place was empty and it wasn’t like she had a ton of orders. Didn’t matter what she did or didn’t do, it wasn’t his place to decide how she did things. “I’ll have the same. Only make mine coffee instead of tea.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be right back with your orders.” She whirled around and within seconds her tiny form disappeared behind a swinging door.

He shook his head.

“You get used to her.”

“You do?”

Abby laughed. “Yes. You do. I promise. She’s really a very sweet woman. One who would give you her last bread crumb. Lucy gives more food away than she has paying customers. I have no idea how she even stays in business. But she does. And people love her.”

He settled his elbows on the arms of his chair and clasped his hands. “You come here often, then?”

Heat filled Abby’s cheeks. “Yes. Once you taste Lucy’s pie, you’ll understand why. But don’t tell Veronique.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.” His lips curled upward.

The swinging door leading to and from the kitchen squeaked, and out came Lucy advancing toward their table like a locomotive trying to make its destination on time. How the woman moved so fast holding a tray loaded with two filled cups, a cream pitcher, a sugar bowl and two large slices of pie, Harrison didn’t know. Not one drop had spilled, either.

“Here you go.” She set their orders in front of them, chattering like a wound-up parrot as she did.

Harrison had a hard time keeping up with her and finally gave up—thankful Abby occupied the woman. Well, thankful wasn’t quite the word. He wanted to visit with Abby without distractions, to talk about business so they could get the theater up and running as soon as possible. The sooner the better so he could get back home. In the next breath, the mayor’s stipulations ran through his mind.

As soon as Lucy left to tend to the three customers that had just walked in, Harrison turned his focus onto Abby, who had just forked a bite of pie and settled it into her mouth. He waited until she swallowed, then asked, “What did you think about the mayor’s stipulations?”

Abby took a drink of her tea and dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “What stipulations?”

“About maintaining a male business partner.”

“Oh. That.” She placed her napkin on her lap. “You and I already discussed that, remember?”

“I do. But what if he doesn’t approve of my being a long-distance partner? Then what will you do?”

“I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is, God will take care of it. He’s taken care of everything else up to this point, and He will finish what He started.” Her smile swelled with confidence. She continued to eat her pie, sighing contentedly with each bite.

Harrison wondered how she could be so certain God would take care of it. God had never done anything for him. Course, it had been years since he had asked Him to, and God hadn’t answered his prayer back then. Since then, he wanted nothing to do with God or church. In his experience, most people who prayed or went to church did it solely for show and for social reasons.

Every Sunday he and his father sat in the front row of the largest church in the city, listening to the minister go on and on about money and how much he needed for this project and that project. Father gave the greedy man what he needed. In front of the whole congregation filled with only society’s elite—poor folks weren’t allowed there—his father made a huge display of his donation.

Then all the way home and all day long, Harrison had to endure his father’s complaints about the money he’d just donated and about how God never did anything for him, and how everything he owned he worked hard for. It ended with the same warning that God couldn’t be depended on for anything. If He could be, then he wouldn’t have to give his money and his wife wouldn’t have died. That was the one thing Harrison and his father agreed on. Just why Abby thought she could depend on Him, Harrison had no idea, but in his curiosity, he wanted to find out. “What makes you so sure God will take care of this?”

“Because He always has.” She took another bite of her pie, and a patch of red juice clung to her lower lip.

Without thinking, Harrison picked up his napkin, reached across the table and brushed her lip with it.

She stopped chewing, and stared at him.

Harrison yanked his hand back. “Forgive me. I’m so used to wiping my sons’ mouths that I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing. It’s an automatic response, I suppose.”

She relaxed her fixed stare, finished chewing and swallowed. “Trust me. I understand.” Her eyes dimmed, and her gaze suddenly fell to his untouched pie. “Aren’t you going to eat your pie?”

Confused about the sadness in her eyes and the abrupt change of subject, it took him a second before he realized what she had asked. His attention drizzled to his full plate, then over to her empty one. “Why? You want it?”

She licked her lips, a gesture that lit a spark inside him. He yanked his focus onto his plate and suddenly became very interested in his pie, devouring it within minutes.

“I guess that means yes.” Her smiling eyes danced with amusement.

He couldn’t help but smile, too. He sat back in his chair and patted his flat stomach. Something so uncharacteristic of him to do, but Abby brought out the playful side of him, just like his Allison had.
Stop comparing her with Allison.
He cleared his throat. “Sure was.”

They finished their drinks, talking about the weather, the mountains and nothing else of consequence, and then they headed back to her place.

He pulled his buggy in front of her mansion and stopped. He jumped out and went around the side of the buggy to help her down. Their hands connected, and the spark flew into him again. This was going to be a long three months.

* * *

Abby ignored the heat that ran up her arm when Harrison’s hand clutched hers. Soon as her feet touched the ground, the man yanked his hand from hers and stepped back. His abrupt action shocked her, but she shrugged it off. No time to worry about what had just happened; she had a business to build. And nothing, not even the charming, handsome Harrison Kingsley would stop her. She hoped. “Would you like to come inside?”

His brows pulled together.

“To discuss business. The sooner we get started, the sooner I—we—can open.”

He removed his pocket fob watch and flipped the gold H K engraved cover open. After a quick glance at it, with a click he snapped the lid shut and nestled it back into his pocket. “I told my boys I’d take them to lunch today. It’s still early. So yes, we can do that.”

“Wonderful.”

Up the mansion stairs they went.

Zoé met them at the door and took Abby’s wrap and Harrison’s
chapeau.
They made their way to the parlor.

Before sitting down next to him on the settee, she retrieved her writing tablet containing all her notes, along with a fountain pen. “Would you care for something to drink?”

“No, thank you. But if you do, please go ahead.”

“I don’t care for anything, either.” She smiled at him and shifted her knees his direction, careful to not touch his. “First of all, we need to hire a carpenter. I had Colette put up an advertisement on the bulletin board, but someone took it from her. If we don’t hear from whoever that was today, I thought we could put up another ad and ask around town to see if anyone knew of someone who could get the job done in the next couple of months.” How strange it felt to keep saying
we.
It had always been
I
up until today. In an even stranger way, it sounded nice.

She never thought she would admit something like this to herself, but truth be told, she liked having a partner. Oh, not just any ol’ partner, of course, but one particular strong-figure-of-a-man sitting next to her. Close enough in fact that she could detect the scent of lemon spice and something entirely masculine.

Something about the man awakened her senses to a new height and made her want to...
No. No romantic thoughts allowed, Abigail.
That’s what she called herself when she needed a good talking to. She shook all thoughts of romance from her head and reminded herself that no man wanted a woman who couldn’t bear children. Besides, Harrison would be leaving soon. And she’d do well to remember that, too.

“You all right, Abby?”

Her gaze darted to his. She waved her hand. “Oh. Yes. Yes. I’m fine. Now, where were we?”

“We were discussing—” Harrison stopped talking; his attention was toward the door of the parlor.

Abby shifted in the settee to see what he was looking at.

“Forgive me for intruding,
mademoiselle.
But there is a gentleman here to see you,” Zoé said.

“Thank you, Zoé. Send him in, please.”

“Very well.” Zoé left.

Abby twisted back in her chair. “I wonder who that could be. Hopefully the mayor didn’t change his mind again.” Abby tugged on her lip with her fingertips.

“In here, if you would, please, sir.”

Abby turned in time to see Zoé make a motioning gesture with her hand.

In stepped a man she’d never seen before.

She and Harrison stood at the same time.

“Miss Abby. This is Mr. Fletcher Martin.” Zoé presented him to her.

The man strode over to Abby. He towered over her by at least a foot. “Ma’am.” He extended his hand.

Abby accepted the gesture. Rough calluses met her hand when she did. With a sweep of her hand toward Harrison, Abby introduced him. “This is Mr. Kingsley. Harrison Kingsley.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kingsley,” Mr. Martin said.

Two large, very masculine hands met in between them.

From the corner of her eye, Abby noticed Zoé standing by the door with her hands clasped in front of her, looking around uncomfortably. “Thank you, Zoé. You can go now.” She sent her a smile, one filled with appreciation.

Zoé relaxed and smiled. She turned and left the room with a scurry in her step.

Abby shifted her focus back to the stranger. “What can I do for you, Mr. Martin?”

He removed a slip of paper very similar to the one she’d given Colette to post on the bulletin board from his shirt pocket and unfolded it. “I’ve come about your advertisement.”

“Please, won’t you sit down?” She motioned to the empty chair across from her, and then sat down. Harrison did also.

Mr. Martin lowered his tall, broad-shouldered frame into the chair across from them. Dark brown eyes trailed to her. Fletcher Martin was an extremely handsome man, but not as handsome as Harrison. He had many more edges to him, and most of them looked quite rugged.

She stopped in midthought. Why was she comparing him to Harrison? Ridiculous. That’s what it was. Just plain ridiculous.

Drawing on her business persona to get her mind where it needed to be, she slogged forward. “Mr. Kingsley and I are looking for someone to not only repair this place—” her arms made a wide arc of the room “—but also someone to build a theater stage and props.”

“I can do that.”

Her insides danced with the prospect of having found a carpenter so soon.

“What kind of experience do you have, Mr. Martin?” Harrison asked.

Now why hadn’t she thought to ask him that?

Mr. Martin looked at Abby, then at Harrison.

“Mr. Kingsley and I are business partners.”

“Oh.” He gave a quick nod. “I see.” He reached inside his pocket again, pulled out another slip of paper and unfolded it. “Here’s a list of references.” He stood and handed the list to Harrison.

Something about that bugged her. She was in charge here, not Harrison. Of course, Mr. Martin didn’t know that. At that moment, she realized she’d better get used to it. They were partners, after all.

Harrison studied the paper as she sat with her hands in her lap patiently waiting while he did.

Finally, Harrison nodded. “That’s quite an impressive list, Mr. Fletcher.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Do you mind if we keep this? We’d like to check your work before we consider hiring you.”

How sweet of him to include her.

In a million years, she never thought she would like someone taking over the charge of her business affairs, but something about the way Harrison did it was so attractive and so alluring and so like the heroes in her romance novels.

Stop thinking like that.
She reset her gaze on the carpenter across the way, determined to keep her notions—romantic and otherwise—under wraps.

“Not at all.” Mr. Martin stood. “If you would like to see some of my work, you can head over to the town hall. My crew and I built that building. We made most of the furniture in it, too.”

“Oh. You make furniture?” Abby’s interest and excitement piqued.

“Yes. We do.” His attention gravitated from Harrison to her.

“What kind do you make? Do you have any pieces for sale?”

“Yes. I have a storehouse outside of town full of furniture.”

Her eyes widened in hope and surprise. “You do?”

“Yes, ma’am. When things are slow, especially during the winter months here, we build furniture. Not to boast or anything, ma’am, but some of our items have shipped as far east as New York, even.”

“Wonderful. I’d love to come see what you have. I need to fill this place with furniture. What you can’t supply me with, I can have shipped from catalogs.” She stopped and gazed over at Harrison. “That is, if it’s all right with you.”

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