Excerpt from A Season to Remember

CHAPTER ONE

Northridge, Mid-May

 

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, Georgia MacKinnon thought as she stepped into the musty, oppressive heat of the dilapidated old building. But beggars couldn’t be choosers and all that.

She wrinkled her nose. The air smelled of rust, rotten wood, and something noxious like . . . poop. A sneeze tickled her nose and the back of her throat.

“Choo!”

A clatter erupted overhead, sending her heart racing to escape through her throat. “Jesus,” she gasped, hand to the organ now pounding like a jackhammer in her chest. Closing her eyes, she muttered, “It’s only a bird. It’s only a bird.”

The sound of scurrying in the near corner made her pause again and a shiver ran down her spine, from her highlighted hair to her Jimmy-Choo-clad feet. She didn’t even want to think about what that could be.

“Hello?” Her voice echoed in the dim cavernous space before fading, leaving only silence in its wake. “Okay then.” Glancing at her watch, she saw her prospective buyer still had two minutes until he was actually late for their appointment.

Clutching her tablet to her chest, she ventured further into what had once been a button mill, the sister building to the former cotton mill next door. That former cotton mill was now a thriving business with a dance studio, a retail store, and artist studios.

But this? This property was a far cry from the Hollywood mansions and Malibu beach houses she’d once sold as “Realtor to the Stars.” She snorted and thought about the resemblance this dilapidated old building had to her life.  

As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she studied her surroundings. Unlike the building next door, this one didn’t stand a second chance at life. The only thing in this building’s future was a wrecking ball—if a stiff breeze didn’t take it down first.

It hadn’t taken a wrecking ball to destroy her life—just a thieving jerk—but the resulting damage was the same. She only hoped that, unlike this building, she’d have a second chance at the life and success she desired.

Leaves, sticks, rusted nails, broken glass, bird poop, and who knows what else littered the old wood floor. Some of the floor boards were loose and warped, their ends jutting upward, making it hazardous to the unwary. Though its brick-and-mortar walls were still standing, what was left of the roof provided little protection from the elements.

She had done her research though, and even without the decrepit building, the five-acre parcel was a prime commercial location. The town of Northridge was growing in this direction and with the land’s commercial zoning, this could be the perfect spot for more boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops.

Across the street, the owner of the craft brewery Firehouse Brews had renovated the old nineteenth-century brick-and-mortar firehouse. On the opposite corner, The Secret Garden Nursery had a growing business where an old granary once stood. Yes, she could see this crossroads becoming Northridge’s next commercial development.

She groaned as a trickle of sweat rolled down her back, making her twitch in discomfort and frustration. Despite the broken and missing windows, the May heat in the building was stifling. She plucked at her St. John Knits dress, wincing at the cost of her next dry-cleaning bill.

“Where was this guy, anyway?” Her time was just as valuable as his, she thought with annoyance. And as much as she needed the commission from this sale, she had a good mind to tell him so. And as both the listing agent and the selling agent, it would be a nice commission.

A noise made her turn toward the erstwhile doors. Silhouetted against the sunlight stood a tall, well-built man, hands casually stuffed into his pants pockets as if he’d been standing there watching her. Finally!

Swallowing her irritation, she painted a smile on her face, and in the Southern drawl that had sold more property than she could count, she said as she approached him, “Mr. Dunbar. I do hope you didn’t have trouble finding the property.”

The man stepped into a shaft of light pouring through one of the roof’s many holes, and as she held out her hand to shake his, she blinked. What the . . . ?

Her knees went weak as she looked into the face of the last person she’d ever expected to see again.

*****

Liam Dunbar studied his wife’s ashen face now just as he’d studied her from the door: with an eye to solving a problem. And if ever there was a problem to be solved, it was Georgia MacKinnon-Dunbar.

Mouth agape, she glanced from his face to her tablet and back again to his face. “But—” Looking back down at the tablet, she shook her head. “Why are you here?” She looked behind him. “You need to leave. I’m meeting someone.”

“That someone would be me.”

“But . . . I don’t understand. I’m meeting a Mr. William Dunbar.”

He shrugged. “Liam is short for William.” Snorting, he shook his head, as it dawned on him. “You didn’t remember my last name, did you?”

Her previously pale face grew red, and a trickle of sweat rolled down her temple. It was hotter than hell in the building, but he didn’t think the heat was entirely to blame for her reaction.

She swallowed, licked her lips, and shook her head. “Of course I did.”

“It didn’t occur to you that William Dunbar might be me?”

Rubbing her temple, she stepped away and turned her back to him. “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening,” she muttered.

Despite the heat, Georgia looked as beautiful as she had the night he’d met her. Though she was a little more conservatively dressed now than she had been then, and her hair had been wavy and tousled that night.

He also remembered the way she’d looked when he’d last seen her—eyes dreamy and cheeks flushed with satisfaction, hair tousled from his hands, lips swollen from his kisses. He shook his head to clear the image. 

Then she’d run out on him. Left without a word.

Now she stood before him with straight blond hair, pulled back into a sleek ponytail. But what he remembered most were blue-green eyes that shamed the Mediterranean Sea, full lips that lifted at the corner an instant before she smiled, and a Southern accent that dripped moonlight and magnolias.   

The sleeveless sheath dress she wore, the color of a juicy tangerine, skimmed the subtle curves of her body, stopping just below the knee. And the flesh-colored stilettos that should have been ridiculous in the rough terrain of the property showed off her long legs.

Was it any wonder he’d been attracted to her?

He noted she wasn’t wearing the gold band he’d given her. But then again, why would she? It wasn’t as if they were in love or anything.

She spun on her heel to face him. “How’d you find me?”

He gave her a wry grin. “It’s an interesting story really—one you might expect to see in a novel or movie. There I was looking at listings for old mills for sale in the South, and imagine my surprise when the listing agent for one of those mills turned out to be my runaway wife. Or at least someone with the same name as my wife. A quick Google search confirmed the former,” he finished with a shrug.

Several emotions skittered across her face. Shock. Fear. Frustration. And something else . . . Disappointment?

“So you’re not here to see the property then?”

He almost laughed. He’d just ambushed her, and this was what concerned her? “I am here to see the property. But this way I kill two birds with one stone.”

“What—” The word came out breathy. She licked her lips and tried again. “What’s the other bird? I mean, the property is one. What’s the other?”

“I thought it would be obvious.”

Her brows furrowed in confusion and she gave a subtle shake of her head.

“A divorce.”