Not in Her Wildest Dreams(9)

By: Dani Collins

Paige’s pained smile told him she knew what he was refusing to say aloud.

“If Lyle doesn’t have a job, his support payments to Brit dry up. Dad cashing out means he could pay off some of his own debts, but then what? He needs something to live on. So, honestly? My reasons for encouraging him to sell or not to sell will have nothing to do with you. That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it?”

“No, I want to hear that you’ll sell.”

She smiled without teeth. “And you always get what you want, don’t you? I’ve always envied that.”

Chapter Three

I didn’t get you.

That’s what he should have said, Sterling thought, as he climbed into his rented SUV. Because he had wanted Paige back in the day. Badly. He just hadn’t let on because she had been The Wrong Girl.

And he was still feeling robbed because he didn’t have the reassurance he’d come for when he’d rearranged his schedule to make this trip. In fact, he could safely say he was doing more damage than good here. At this point, the best way to help his father get the company back would be to leave town as soon as possible.

He pulled out his phone to check messages— Oh, they had to be kidding.

His father had been home long enough to pick up his mother and they were headed to the factory. There was a security problem and they wanted him to meet them there.

Right. He sighed. So much for staying away from that black hole.

He took his time, reacquainting himself with the town in the gloom of late afternoon rain, admiring the way the clouds hung against the forested hills on the far side of the valley, and checking out the apple trees with their few unpicked fruits falling off their branches.

Eventually he caught up to his parents at the end of the short driveway onto the factory grounds. His father was locking the sliding gate and a van with a security company logo was pulling away.

“The gate wasn’t shut properly when they came by on their rounds.” Sterling’s mother, Evelyn, had her blue cardigan buttoned all the way to her neck. An invisible button twisted her lips into a pinch of importance. She held onto her looks, though. Minimal wrinkles marred her skin and if there were any gray hairs among her brunette permanent, only her hairdresser saw them. “They said it didn’t look like anyone had broken into the buildings so your father’s locking up.”

“You’re not going to check inside?” Sterling looked around the quiet yard. “Did they check everything?”

“Sometimes Lyle comes in to work when the machines are down, but I don’t see his truck. I’m sure it’s fine.”

His father was carrying more weight than he used to, edging toward unhealthy. His hands, as he tugged on the gate lock, looked shiny and pale. Old. It wasn’t just the signs of age that disturbed Sterling, though. It was the glumness hanging over him like the September sky. Not a strong advertisement for the joy to be found in running Roy Furnishings.

“I’ll check it if you want to take Mom home, Dad.”

“It’s not necessary. Your mother has supper on.”

“It’s in the slow cooker, Walt. It can wait. If Sterling is showing an interest in the factory, we should encourage him.”

Here we go, Sterling thought, while his father muttered, “It’s not clarinet lessons.”

“Take the keys,” his mother urged Sterling. Keep them.

“Fine. We’ll look around.” His father reopened the gate with a beleaguered sigh.

“You don’t look dressed for checking alarm doors, Mom. Do you want to wait in the car?”

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist visiting the factory. No, I’ll walk with you.”

She rode with him down the drive and he half-smiled as he walked to the entrance and held the door for her. “Did you sneak down here and unlock the gate yourself, so I’d have to walk through with Dad?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sterling.”

He didn’t think it was ridiculous. She’d been known to do worse in her effort to get him back here, but leading the life he had mapped out for himself was what this trip was supposed to be about. If he helped put the company back into his father’s hands, he could quit feeling guilty about refusing to fall into the trap of family tradition and expectation.

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