The Next Always:The Inn at Boonsboro Trilogy Book One

By: Nora Roberts


The song and the silence in the heart,

That in part are prophecies, and in part

Are longings wild and vain.




—LONGFELLOW





CHAPTER ONE





THE STONE WALLS STOOD AS THEY HAD FOR MORE THAN two centuries, simple, sturdy, and strong. Mined from the hills and the valleys, they rose in testament to man’s inherent desire to leave his mark, to build and create.

Over those two centuries man married the stone with brick, with wood and glass, enlarging, transforming, enhancing to suit the needs, the times, the whims. Throughout, the building on the crossroads watched as the settlement became a town, as more buildings sprang up.

The dirt road became asphalt; horse and carriage gave way to cars. Fashions flickered by in the blink of an eye. Still it stood, rising on its corner of The Square, an enduring landmark in the cycle of change.

It knew war, heard the echo of gunfire, the cries of the wounded, the prayers of the fearful. It knew blood and tears, joy and fury. Birth and death.

It thrived in good times, endured the hard times. It changed hands and purpose, yet the stone walls stood.

In time, the wood of its graceful double porches began to sag. Glass broke; mortar cracked and crumbled. Some who stopped at the light on the town square might glance over to see pigeons flutter in and out of broken windows and wonder what the old building had been in its day. Then the light turned green, and they drove on.

Beckett knew.

He stood on the opposite corner of The Square, thumbs tucked into the pockets of his jeans. Thick with summer, the air held still. With the road empty, he could have crossed Main Street against the light, but he continued to wait. Opaque blue tarps draped the building from roof to street level, curtaining the front of the building. Over the winter it had served to hold the heat in for the crew. Now it helped block the beat of the sun—and the view.

But he knew—how it looked at that moment, and how it would look when the rehab was complete. After all, he’d designed it—he, his two brothers, his mother. But the blueprints bore his name as architect, his primary function as a partner in Montgomery Family Contractors.

He crossed over, his tennis shoes nearly silent on the road in the breathless hush of three a. m. He walked under the scaffolding, along the side of the building, down St. Paul, pleased to see in the glow of the streetlight how well the stone and brick had cleaned up.

It looked old—it was old, he thought, and that was part of its beauty and appeal. But now, for the first time in his memory, it looked tended.

He rounded the back, walked over the sunbaked dirt, through the construction rubble scattered over what would be a courtyard. Here the porches that spanned both the second and third stories ran straight and true. Custom-made pickets—designed to replicate those from old photographs of the building, and the remnants found during excavation—hung freshly primed and drying on a length of wire.

He knew his eldest brother, Ryder, in his role as head contractor, had the rails and pickets scheduled for install.

He knew because Owen, the middle of the three Montgomery brothers, plagued them all over schedules, calendars, projections, and ledgers—and kept Beckett informed of every nail hammered.

Whether he wanted to be or not.

In this case, he supposed as he dug out his key, he wanted to be—usually. The old hotel had become a family obsession.

It had him by the throat, he admitted as he opened the unfinished and temporary door to what would be The Lobby. And by the heart—and hell, it had him by the balls. No other project they’d ever worked on had ever gotten its hooks in him, in all of them, like this. He suspected none ever would again.

He hit the switch, and the work light dangling from the ceiling flashed on to illuminate bare concrete floors, roughed-in walls, tools, tarps, material.

It smelled of wood and concrete dust and, faintly, of the grilled onions someone must have ordered for lunch.

He’d do a more thorough inspection of the first and second floors in the morning when he had better light. Stupid to have come over at this hour anyway, when he couldn’t really see crap, and was dog tired. But he couldn’t resist it.

By the balls, he thought again, passing under a wide archway, its edges of stone still rough and exposed. Then, flipping on his flashlight, he headed toward the front and the work steps that led up.