Chapter Nine

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He thought maybe she'd gone to the bedroom they'd been shown upon arrival, so he checked there first. Her purse was on the massive bed, and beside it was a red folder, but she was nowhere in sight.

Curious, Beckett tipped up the cover of the folder to see what it was.

The title page read:

The Subconscious Consumer Attraction

to the (Un)Common Core of a Family-Owned and Operated Business

By Danielle Mayberry

Jesus, he thought. He'd shoot himself if had to write about stuff like that.

Still, he would admit to being intrigued. Danielle had a rich and regimented mind and he didn't doubt that whatever she'd written had been insightful. So he flipped to the next page, feeling sneaky for it.

Twenty minutes later he emerged from the room amazed, rereading the final page as he walked down a series of hallways.

She'd written a paper about his family, about his pub. And largely about him. He had no idea she saw him like that—as part of the nucleus of their town, providing something important to the patrons of Stonebridge—beyond pints and pub fries. He had no idea she saw him as successful.

Honestly, he hadn't really given the concept of success much consideration. He and Abigail and Ben now had enough money to eat, to live, to keep the business afloat, so for him, that had covered the bases. He'd never wanted to build companies like Liam Wyatt, had never wanted to go to law school like Declan Fitzgerald, had no inclination to write mystery novels like Kara Keaton. And now, for some crazy reason, fate had brought these people into his family and he loved it. His brother and sister would never go hungry, they'd never wonder if they'd have a roof over their heads. And for Beckett Roberts, that mattered a great deal more than personal aspirations.

He stopped, turned a circle, noted that nothing looked familiar. How the hell had he gotten so lost?

Following the maze of hallways toward where he hoped might be a door to the outside, he ended up in a sitting nook—sans an outside door. No problem, there was more than one way to exit a castle. He tossed Danielle's report onto a table, then shoved open the wide stretch of window.

Climbing out, feeling like a medieval thief on the run, he skidded down the hard stone of the castle. Beckett decided he could get used to living in a place like this. Though it certainly wasn't his style—too grand, too drafty—it would be fun as hell to explore.

As his feet hit the ground and he brushed off his hands, he heard the distant hoot of a loon on the lake. Without pause, he headed toward the call.

He knew Danielle enough to know that when she processed something important, when she studied for exams or thought through ideas, she needed silence and space away. And sitting lakeside was a good place to think.

Sure enough, he thought as he rounded the edge of stone, there she was at the end of the wooden dock that stretched out onto the small private lake. She looked lovely, stoic, and like she could topple into the water at any moment from the weighted thoughts in her head.

While he could only guess what filled her mind, he could enjoy the view just the same. In front of her, the water reflected the sun and sky in golds and blues that skimmed the quiet surface. It was a damn fine picture, he decided, lust punching up before he could stop himself.

As he approached—proud he'd found her on instinct—he wondered what it was that he had to say. He operated largely on instinct and intuition, and he knew only that he wanted to be near her, with her.

Being surrounded by family, hearing that his sister was pregnant and starting her own family, inspired him to want to wrap his arms around Danielle and not let go. She was, as his brother had told him many months ago, family. He'd disagreed with the point at the time, but he'd been wrong. She had become family, and to his mind, family stuck together.

But, he thought now, hearing the echo of Gennie's words from his morning visit to the Rolling Pin bakery, it was possible he hadn't shared with Danielle that he considered her family.

Of course it wasn't just possible, it was definite that he hadn't shared that with her, he corrected. He'd just realized it himself.

He really needed to get better at this whole love thing if it was going to work out how he wanted it to.    

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