The Road Home
She’d try to do that, anyway. Likely Matt wouldn’t let her. He hadn’t let her keep her distance eight years ago, when she was 15 to his 17 and he should’ve known better. She’d had no defenses against him when he was a teenager with a grudge against the world, and she wasn’t sure the ones she’d built since would hold against the man he’d grown into.
The man who made her skin tingle. Stop that. “Well, welcome home, Matt. Heading right out to the island?”
“Anne, you know Samuel won’t be able to take Matt over until at least 5:30 when he finishes the regular run. Pull up your big girl panties and invite him to an early dinner.”
Matt lifted an eyebrow. Dinner in the middle of the afternoon, he seemed to ask. She lifted a shoulder. “Old people and little kids. Gotta feed them when they’re hungry.”
The corner of his mouth twitched, as if he were tempted to smile but couldn’t make it happen. “How about it, Anne? You inviting me to stay?”
Anne. Her name never sounded as sweet as when it came from his lips. Was he flirting or just reminding her of what they once had? She really couldn’t tell.
Emma tugged on her pants leg. “Sketti, sketti, sketti!”
She swung the toddler onto her hip. She was heavy for a two-year old, like a can of solid-packed pumpkin, but Emma figured nannying was good training for culinary school and the life of a chef. Being a chef was hellishly hectic, and so was watching Ethan and Emma. Still, it was good money and God knew she needed it. “By all means, let’s all eat spaghetti.”
A ghost of a smile curved Matt’s sculpted lips. Damn, but the man should be marked with huge warning signs. That barely-there smile cracked the wall she’d been shoring up around her heart since he’d left her so long ago.
Maybe he’d seen some loneliness and heartache, too.
“You’re a babysitter, huh?” Matt watched Anne get the kids settled at the table.
Anne shrugged. “A nanny. It’s good money. I like kids, so it made sense. The Turners—Ethan and Emma’s parents—are great, but they work long hours doing deep-sea fishing charters and harbor tours. I like helping out.”
“Always did,” Matt murmured, turning his attention to his plate. The sauce was thick and full of vegetables and spices. Beat the hell out of Corps chow. “This is the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.”
“Anne is practically a professional,” her grandmother said.
Libby Smith. He finally remembered the feisty old broad’s name. “That right?”
“She’s going to culinary school soon as she has the money.” There was a definite bite to the older woman’s tone. “Going to leave Old Derby and all of us behind. Right, Anne?”
Anne wiped sauce off Emma’s face. “Use your fork,” she reminded both kids. “Yes, Grams, I have aspirations beyond this.” She gestured to the mess the kids were making.
Matt felt a grin tugging at his mouth. Anne had been the best part of his incarceration here. He was fast recalling just why. “Gonna be a chef?”
“I hope to be.” She toyed with the food on her plate. “I know it’s a hard life, but cooking is my passion. Nothing else seems worth doing.”
Matt remembered her at 15, long legs slightly sunburned, light brown hair streaked gold by days spent on the water, saying, “There’s nothing I want to do but be with you.”
Even at 17, he’d known she should want more. He had no idea what he wanted from his life, what he’d do with it. Her mom’s family had been here almost as long as his dad’s. She belonged here. He didn’t belong here then and didn’t know if he wanted to now. “Lucky you, knowing what you want.”
“What plans do you have for Chadwick Island, Matt?” Libby asked.
He shrugged. “Look it over, to start. Uncle Dan was just short of 95 when he died; he couldn’t have been able to maintain things like he used to.”
During his last stay, Matt had helped Dan do dock maintenance, clear the brush and storm-downed limbs, pick up trash from the shoreline the bay brought in. He figured all that needed doing now. Probably a bunch of other stuff, too. Keeping even a fraction of 2,500 acres of Maine wilderness livable required more maintenance than a man in his 90s could handle.
“What Old Derby needs is more tourism,” Libby said. “You should team up with the Turners, Matthew. They have some wonderful ideas for the island.”
Anne groaned and rolled her eyes. “Grams, please, not again.”
The older woman pounded her fist on the scrubbed farmhouse table one plate-rattling time. Even the little kids stopped shoving pasta in their faces and looked at her. “It’s true! Anne, the Smiths have been here for centuries. Old Derby is yours as much as it is mine. We should all be concerned about its future. And the future is tourism.”
Matt had never thought about it much, but it made sense. “Besides lobster, Maine’s biggest commodity is its beauty.” He nodded. “Mind giving me the Turners’ contact info?”
Libby swatted his shoulder. Hard. “You may be a credit to your family yet.”
Anne glared at him. “Don’t encourage her, Matt. Next she’ll be telling you about the restaurant she thinks I should open here when I finish school.”
Matt remembered her glare. Same one she’d speared him with when he told her to forget him and find a nice local boy to love, because he was never coming back to Old Derby. But here he was. And here she was.
Suddenly this whole owning an island in Maine thing didn’t seem like such an albatross around his neck.
The island was in worse shape than Matt expected.
When he finally got in last night after the slow trip over on Samuel’s ferry, the light was fading and he couldn’t see much beyond the weather-beaten house. The morning light wasn’t doing the house or what he could see of the island any favors. The island had only rocky ribbons of beach, stands of evergreens and no recreational facilities at all. Made him even more curious about what plans John and Heather Turner could possibly have for it. He couldn’t imagine what they thought could be done here that tourists would want to see.
Libby had lost no time yesterday calling them and setting up a meeting. John was coming out this morning to lay the plans out for him.
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