The Last Boyfriend(3)

By: Nora Roberts

Whatever, he decided, and backed out of the room.

He spent more than thirty minutes, moving from room to room, floor to floor, adding to his notes. A few times, the scent of honeysuckle returned, or a door opened.

Her presence—and he couldn’t deny it—seemed benign enough now. But he couldn’t deny the faint sense of relief either as he locked up for the night.

* * *

FROST CRUNCHED LIGHTLY under Owen’s boots as he juggled coffee and donuts. A half hour before sunrise, he let himself back into the inn, headed straight to the kitchen to set down the box of donuts, the tray of take-out coffee, and his briefcase. To brighten the mood, and because it was there, he moved to Reception, switched on the gas logs. Pleased by the heat and light, he stripped off his gloves, folded them into the pockets of his jacket.

Back in the kitchen, he opened his briefcase, took out his clipboard, and began to review—again—the agenda for the day. The phone on his belt beeped, signaling the time for the morning meeting.

He’d finished half a glazed donut by the time he heard Ryder’s truck pull in.

His brother wore a Montgomery Family Contractors cap, a thick, scarred work jacket, and his need-more-coffee scowl. Dumbass, Ryder’s dog, padded in, sniffed the air, then looked longingly at the second half of Owen’s donut.

Ryder grunted, reached for a cup.

“That’s Beck’s,” Owen told him with barely a glance. “As is clear by the B I wrote on the side.”

Ryder grunted again, took the cup marked R. After one long gulp he eyed the donuts, opted for a jelly-filled.

At the thump of D.A.’s tail, Ryder tossed him a chunk.

“Beck’s late,” Owen commented.

“You’re the one who decided we needed to meet up before dawn.” Ryder took a huge bite of donut, washed it down with coffee. He hadn’t shaved, so a dark stubble covered the hard planes of his face. But his gold-flecked green eyes lost some of their sleepy scowl thanks to the caffeine and sugar.

“Too many interruptions once the crew’s here. I looked around some on my way home last night. You had a good day.”

“Damn straight. We’ll finish punch-out on the third floor this morning. Some trim and crown molding, some lights and those damn heated towel racks still to go in a couple rooms on two. Luther’s moving on the rails and banisters.”

“So I saw. I’ve got some notes.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I’ll have more, I expect, when I finish going over two, and head up to three.”

“Why wait?” Ryder grabbed a second donut, started out. He tossed another chunk without bothering to glance at the dog, who trotted with him.

Dumbass fielded it with Golden Gloves precision.

“Beckett’s not here.”

“Dude’s got a woman,” Ryder pointed out, “and three kids. School morning. He’ll be here when he is, and can catch up.”

“There’s some paint needs touching up down here,” Owen began.

“I got eyes, too.”

“I’m going to have them come in, install the blinds throughout. If three gets punched out today, I can have them start on the window treatments by early next week.”

“The men cleaned up, but it’s construction clean. It needs a real cleaning, a polish. You need to get the innkeeper on that.”

“I’ll be talking to Hope this morning. I’m going to talk County into letting us start load-in.”

Ryder slanted a look at his brother. “We’ve got another two weeks, easy, and that’s not counting the holidays.”

But Owen, as usual, had a plan. “We can get three done, Ry, start working our way down. You think Mom and Carolee—not to mention Hope—aren’t going to be running around buying more stuff once we get things in place?”

“I do figure it. We don’t need them underfoot any more than they already are.”

They heard a door open from below as they rounded up to the third floor.

“On three,” Owen called down. “Coffee’s in the kitchen.”

“Thank you, Jesus.”

“Jesus didn’t buy the coffee.” Owen brushed his fingers over the oil-rubbed bronzed oval plaque engraved Innkeeper. “Classy touch.”