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The Perfect Hope ib-3, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  “Well?” Hope scanned her friend’s face. “Everything good?”

  “Yeah. Good. We got back just a few minutes ago. Beckett …” She glanced over her shoulder. “He’s driving around to the back of the bakery. He’s got his tools.”

  “Okay.” Mildly concerned, Hope laid a hand on Clare’s arm. “Honey, you had the sonogram, right?”



  “Oh. Let’s walk up to Vesta. I’ll tell you and Avery at the same time. Beckett’s going to call his mother, tell his brothers. I need to call my parents.”

  “The baby’s all right?”

  “Absolutely.” She patted her purse as they walked. “I have pictures.”

  “I have to see!”

  “I’ll be showing them off for days. Weeks. It’s amazing.”

  Avery popped out the front door of the restaurant, a white bib apron covering capris and a T-shirt. She bounced on purple Crocs. The sun speared into her Scot’s warrior-queen hair, sent the short ends to glimmering.

  “Are we thinking pink?”

  “Are you opening alone?” Clare countered.

  “Yeah, it’s just me. Fran’s not due in for twenty. Are you okay? Is everything okay?”

  “Everything’s absolutely perfectly wonderfully okay. But I want to sit down.”

  With her friends exchanging looks behind her back, Clare walked in and went straight to the counter, then dropped onto a stool. Sighed. “It’s the first time I’ve been pregnant with three boys fresh out of school for the summer. It’s challenging.”

  “You’re a little pale,” Avery commented.

  “Just tired.”

  “Want something cold?”

  “With my entire being.”

  As Avery went to the cooler, Hope sat down, narrowed her eyes at Clare’s face. “You’re stalling. If nothing’s wrong—”

  “Nothing’s wrong, and maybe I’m stalling a little. It’s a big announcement.” She laughed to herself, took the chilled ginger ale Avery offered.

  “So here I am, with my two closest friends, in Avery’s pretty restaurant that already smells of pizza sauce.”

  “You’ll have this in a pizzeria.” Avery passed Hope a bottle of water. Then she crossed her arms, scanned Clare’s face. “It’s a girl. Ballet shoes and hair ribbons!”

  Clare shook her head. “I appear to specialize in boys. Make that baseball gloves and action figures.”

  “A boy?” Hope leaned over, touched Avery’s hand. “Are you disappointed?”

  “Not even the tiniest bit.” She opened her purse. “Want to see?”

  “Are you kidding?” Avery made a grab, but Clare snatched the envelope out of reach. “Does he look like you? Like Beck? Like a fish? No offense, but they always look like a fish to me.”

  “Which one?”

  “Which one what?”

  “There are two.”

  “Two?” Hope nearly bobbled the water. “Twins? You’re having twins?”

  “Two?” Avery echoed. “You have two fish?”

  “Two boys. Look at my beautiful boys.” Clare pulled out the sonogram printout, then burst into tears. “Good tears,” she managed. “Hormones, but good ones. Oh, God. Look at my babies!”

  “They’re gorgeous!”

  Clare swiped at tears as she grinned at Avery. “You don’t see them.”

  “No, but they’re gorgeous. Twins. That’s five. You did the math, right? You’re going to have five boys.”

  “We did the math, but it’s still sinking in. We didn’t expect—we never thought—maybe I should have. I’m bigger than I’ve ever been this early. But when the doctor told us … Beckett went white.”

  She laughed, even as tears poured. “Sheet white. I thought he was going to pass out. Then we just stared at each other. And then we started to laugh. We laughed like lunatics. I think maybe we were both a little hysterical. Five. Oh, sweet Jesus. Five boys.”

  “You’ll be great. All of you,” Hope told her.

  “We will. I know it. I’m so dazzled, so happy, so stunned. I don’t know how Beckett drove home. I couldn’t tell you if we drove back from Hagerstown or from California. I was in some sort of shock, I think. Twins.”

  She laid her hands on her belly. “Do you know how there are moments in your life when you think, this is it. I’ll never be happier or more excited. I’ll never feel more than I do right now. Just exactly now. This is one of those moments for me.”

  Hope folded her into a hug, and Avery folded them both.

  “I’m so happy for you,” Hope murmured. “Happy, dazzled, and excited right along with you.”

  “The kids are going to get such a kick out of this.” Avery drew back. “Right?”

  “Yeah. And since Liam already made it clear if I had a girl he wouldn’t stoop so low as to play with her, I think he’ll be especially pleased.”

  “What about your due date?” Hope asked. “Earlier with twins?”

  “A little. They told me November twenty-first. So, Thanksgiving babies instead of Christmas, New Year’s.”

  “Gobble, gobble,” Avery said and made Clare laugh again.

  “You have to let us help set up the nursery,” Hope began. Planning was in her blood.

  “I’m counting on it. I don’t have a thing. I gave away all the baby things after Murphy. I never thought I’d fall in love again, or marry again, or have more children.”

  “Can we say baby shower? A double-the-fun theme,” Hope decided. “Or what comes in pairs, sets of two. Something like that. I’ll work on it. We should schedule it in early October, just to be safe.”

  “Baby shower.” Clare sighed. “More and more real. I need to call my parents, and I need to tell the girls,” she added, referring to her bookstore staff. She levered herself up. “November babies,” she said again. “I should have shed the baby weight by May and the wedding.”

  “Oh yeah, I’m getting married.” Avery held out her hand, admired the diamond that replaced the bubblegum-machine ring Owen had put on her finger. Twice.

  “Getting married, and opening a second restaurant, and helping plan a baby shower, and redecorating the current single guy’s master suite into a couple’s master suite.” Hope poked Avery in the arm. “We have a lot of planning to do.”

  “I can take some time tomorrow.”

  “Good.” Hope took a moment to flip through her mental list, rearrange tasks, gauge the timing. “One o’clock. I can clear the time. Can you make that?” she asked Clare. “I can fix us a little lunch and we can get some of the planning worked out before I have checkins.”

  “One o’clock tomorrow.” Clare patted her belly. “We’ll be there.”

  “I’ll be over,” Avery promised. “If I’m a little later, we had a good lunch rush. But I’ll get over.”

  Hope walked out with Clare, grabbed another hug before separating. And imagined Clare telling her parents the happy news. Imagined, too, Avery texting Owen. And Beckett slipping off to check on Clare during the day, or just stealing a few minutes to bask with her.

  For a moment she wished she had someone to call or text, or slip away to, someone to share the lovely news with.

  Instead she went around the back of the inn, up the outside stairs. She let herself in on the third floor, listening as she walked down to her apartment.

  Yes, she thought, she could just hear Carolee’s voice, and the excitement in it. No doubt Justine Montgomery had already called her sister to share the news about the twins.

  Hope closed herself into her apartment. She’d spend a couple hours in the quiet, she decided, researching their resident ghost, and the man named Billy she waited for.


  HIS MOTHER WAS DRIVING HIM CRAZY. IF SHE POPPED UP with another project before he finished one of the half dozen currently on his plate, he might just take his dog and move to Barbados.

  He could build himself a nice little beach house. Maybe a lanai. He had the skills.

pulled his truck into the lot behind the inn, major project, finished—thank God—but never really done because there was always something. The inn shared that lot with what would be, according to the ever-plotting Justine Montgomery, a pretty, clever, state-of-the-art fitness center.

  Right now it was an ugly, green, flat-roofed, leaky lump. And that was just the outside. Inside currently boasted a rabbit warren of rooms, a basement full of water, staircases out of a horror movie, and falling-down ceilings. Not to mention the abysmal state of the wiring and plumbing, which he wouldn’t since they’d just gut the whole fucking mess.

  Part of him wanted to sneak in some night on a giant machine and bulldoze the whole fugly building. But he knew better, and could admit he enjoyed a challenge.

  He had one.

  Still, as the always reliable Owen had texted him the demo permit was in, at least they could start tearing in.

  Ryder sat a moment with his homely and sweet-natured dog, Dumbass, beside him while Lady Gaga seduced the edge of glory. Chick was pretty weird, Ryder thought, but she sure had the pipes.

  Together Ryder and his dog studied the ugly green lump. He liked demo. Beating the shit out of walls never failed to satisfy. So that was something. And the work, transforming the ugly bastard, would be interesting.

  A fitness center. He didn’t understand people who plugged themselves into a machine and went nowhere. Why not do something constructive that made you sweat? A gym, yeah, he could see a gym with speed bags, a sparring ring, some serious weights. But fitness center said girly to him. Yoga and that Pilates stuff.

  And women in those snug little outfits, he reminded himself. Yeah, there was that. Like demo, who wouldn’t enjoy that?

  No point brooding about it anyway, he decided. It was a done deal.

  He got out of the truck, and D.A. hopped out faithfully beside him.

  He couldn’t figure out why he was in such a broody mood anyway. The bakery project was down to punch-out and paint, Avery’s MacT’s was coming right along—and he looked forward to sitting down on a bar stool in her new pub and having a beer.

  He had a kitchen remodel all but wrapped, and Owen was handling some built-ins for another client. A lot of work was better than no work. He could build a beach house in Barbados when he was old.

  Still, he felt edgy and annoyed, and couldn’t quite figure out why. Until he glanced over at the inn.

  Hope Beaumont. Yeah, that might account for some edgy.

  She did a good job, no question about that. The fact that she was anal, obsessively organized, and a chewer of details didn’t bother him especially. He’d lived and worked with that type all his life, in the form of his brother Owen.

  Just something about her got under his skin, and tended to burn there from time to time since they’d locked lips on New Year’s Eve.

  It had been an accident, he told himself. An impulse. An accidental impulse. He didn’t intend to repeat it.

  But he could wish she was a plump, homely, middle-aged woman with a couple of grandkids and a knitting hobby.

  “One day she could be,” he muttered to D.A., who obligingly thumped his tail.

  With a shrug, he walked down, crossed over, and opened the door of the future MacT’s Restaurant and Tap House for the crew.

  He liked the space, liked it particularly now that they’d rejoined the two buildings, opening the wall between with a wide doorway so the restaurant and bar patrons, and the staff, could move from one side to the other.

  Avery knew what she wanted, and how to make it happen, so he knew MacT’s would be a good place to eat and drink, to socialize if socializing was your thing. Good dining for grown-ups she called it, as opposed to the casual family style of Vesta.

  He had a soft spot for Vesta—and a softer one for their Warrior’s Pizza, but as Avery had been trying out recipes on them for months, he figured he’d be able to choke down a meal or two in her new place.

  He crossed over to the opening, studied the bar space. A lot of work yet, he judged, but he could envision it finished, with the long bar he and his brothers were building in place. Dark woods, strong colors, some brick on the walls. And all those beers on tap.

  Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt his feelings to spend some time there, and hoist a beer in satisfaction of a job well done.

  When it was done.

  He heard voices, crossed back over.

  Once he got the crew going, he walked down to the bakery to check on the men there. If he’d had a choice, he’d have strapped on his tool belt, gotten to the real work.

  But he had a morning meeting scheduled back at the new job site, and he was already running late.

  He started back around, saw both of his brothers’ trucks in the lot. He assumed Owen had picked up coffee and donuts as well as the demo permit. You could count on Owen in the everyday and in a nuclear holocaust.

  He thought of Beckett, married to Clare the Fair, instant father of three, and now the expectant father of twins.

  Jesus, twins.

  But maybe the thrill of upcoming twins would distract their mother from thinking up a new project.

  Probably not.

  He went through the open doors on St. Paul, smelled the coffee.

  Yeah, you could count on Owen.

  He plucked out the single go-cup left, the one with an R written with a Sharpie by his anal brother. Glugged even as he flipped up the lid on the donuts.

  His dog’s tail immediately sent out a tattoo on the floor.

  He heard his brothers’ voices, somewhere in the rabbit warren, but took his coffee and, after tossing D.A. a chunk of his jelly-filled donut, walked over to the plans spread out on the plywood and sawhorses.

  He’d seen them before, of course, but they knocked him out. Beckett’s concept gave their mother everything she wanted, and more. Yeah, he thought, better than bulldozing it. Better to gut what needed gutting and build on what could be built on.

  It didn’t look like a gym to Ryder—at least not the speed-bag, sweat-soaked locker room–type he might frequent, but it was a beauty.

  And enough work, enough complications to make him curse Beckett’s name for weeks, months. Possibly years.

  And still …

  Lifting and pitching the roof was practical as well as aesthetically pleasing. Taking the flat-roofed jut off the parking lot side and making it into a deck, also smart. Plenty of glass for plenty of light with new windows and doors. God knew the place needed them, even if it meant cutting into the cinder-block walls.

  Fancy locker rooms with steam rooms and saunas. His keep-it-basic mind balked at that, but he had to admit, he liked a good, long steam.

  He ate his donut, tossing bits to the tail-thumping D.A., while he studied the first floor, the second floor, the mechanicals.

  Beautiful work, he thought. Beckett had the talent and the vision, even if invariably some of the vision was a pain in the ass on a practical work level.

  He washed down the donut with coffee as his brothers walked out of the maze.

  “Demo permit.”

  “Check,” Owen said. “Good morning to you, too.” His sunglasses hung from the neck of his spotless white T-shirt. Since Beckett intended for him to join in the demo, the spotless wouldn’t last long.

  “You press those jeans, Sally?”

  “No.” Owen’s quiet blue eyes flicked toward the donuts before he broke a cruller in half. “They’re just clean. I have a couple meetings later.”

  “Uh-huh. Hey, Big Daddy.”

  Beckett grinned, raked fingers through his mop of chestnut brown hair. “The boys want to name them Logan and Luke.”

  “Wolverine and Skywalker.” Amused, Ryder considered. “Melding X-Men and Star Wars. Interesting choice.”

  “I like it. Clare laughed it off at first, then the idea got a hook in. They’re good names.”

  “Good enough for Wolverine and Skywalker.”

  “I think we’re going with them, which is cool. My ears keep ringing though.
You know, like they do after an explosion.”

  “Two’s just one more than one,” Owen pointed out. “It’s about planning and scheduling.”

  “Because you have so much experience with rug rats,” Ryder said with a snort.

  “Everything’s about planning and scheduling,” Owen countered. “Speaking of which, let’s check the plans and schedules.” He pulled his phone off his belt.

  Ryder decided on another donut, let the sugar and fat soothe him through the volley of details. Inspections, permits, material orders and deliveries, rough-ins, finals, shop work, site work.

  Ryder kept it all in his head as well, just maybe not as precisely columned and tallied as Owen. But he knew what had to be done and when, which men to assign to which job, and how long the steps should take. On the inside, and—given the vagaries of construction—the outside.

  “Mom’s looking at equipment,” Beckett put in when Owen paused. “You know, treadmills and cross-trainers and all that happy shit.”

  “I’m not going to think about that.” Ryder looked around. Crap walls, he thought, crap floors. Just crap. Cross-trainers and dumbbells and freaking yoga mats were a hell of a long way off.

  “We may want to think about the parking lot.”

  Now Ryder’s eyes narrowed on Owen. “What about the parking lot?”

  “Now that we’ve got it all, instead of patching we should tear the bitch up, level it, add drains, resurface.”

  “Hell.” He wanted to object, just on general principles, but they needed the damn drainage. “Fine. But I’m not thinking about that now either.”

  “What are you thinking about?”

  Rather than answer, Ryder just walked out.

  “Is he bitchier than usual?” Owen wondered.

  “Hard to tell.” Beckett looked down at the drawings again. “It’s going to be a pain in the ass—and mostly in his—but it’s going to work.”

  “Ugliest building in town.”

  “Yeah, it wins that prize. The good news is anything we do’s an improvement. As soon as the Dumpster gets here, we can—”

  He broke off as Ryder came in with a sledgehammer and a crowbar.