The July Guy (Men of Lakeside)

Chapter One

“I can’t believe you’re doing this!”

Word traveled fast in a small town. The space behind the counter of Colburn and Sons Salvage normally felt roomy to Noah Colburn, but not at this moment. And being a foot taller and eighty pounds heavier didn’t seem to matter at all when his mother, Donna Colburn, got up in his face. “What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking someone needed to step up and do something.”

“But mayor?”

Noah crossed his arms. “Some mothers would be proud for their son to be elected mayor.”

“I would if you wanted to get involved in politics. But I know my oldest son. You don’t want to run for mayor.”

“Someone has to go up against Ethan Bradford and his entitled cronies. You taught me it’s our responsibility to step in wherever we’re needed.” Mom and Pop had always made it clear he was expected to step in.

“But we need you here.” His parents had started the salvage business before he was born. It was pretty much their life. It had kept a roof over their heads and put his brothers through college. Noah had gradually taken over more and more of the responsibilities of running the family business. Now that Pop couldn’t, it was up to him. The oldest child got stuck with everything.

Not that he was stuck. Of course not. He was happy to do it. Really.

“You don’t have time to be mayor,” his mom went on.

“Isn’t your favorite saying that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person?”

His mom narrowed her eyes. “Someone asked you to run. Who was it?”

Oh no, he wasn’t going there. “It doesn’t matter. Henry Brown had his heart attack. Ethan threw his hat into the ring almost before the word was out that Henry was stepping down. We can’t let him take over the office without a fight.”

“You’ve always been the calm and steady one of my boys. Carter and Beckett were the scrappers. I’ve never known you to fight.”

“Noah! Did you see Facebook this morning?” His cousin, Ginny, burst out of the back, her phone in hand. “Your candidacy declaration is up to three hundred likes!”

“You posted it to Facebook?”

“To the village page, yeah. How else will anyone know you’re taking on Ethan Bradford?”

“You mean I don’t have to have posters printed and go door-to-door?” he asked wryly. “I only have to type a few lines on Facebook?”

“You have to do it all. Do you need a campaign manager? I can manage your campaign. I’d be good at it.”

He hadn’t even thought about it yet. Ginny handled the website and advertising for the business. She’d probably do a great job. “Sure. Go ahead.”

His mother rolled her eyes.

“I’m taking a small crew out to the old Packard property, Mom. I won’t let this mayoral thing affect the business. But maybe you’d want to see if those scrappers of yours could help out a little more with the business end and not only with the fun stuff.”

The fun stuff. Noah didn’t get out to the job sites as often as he would like to anymore. It would feel good to swing a hammer or heave on a crowbar today. He’d never planned on spending so much time in the office. But Pop’s stroke meant Noah had even more weight on his shoulders. Colburn and Sons Salvage had to keep roofs over more heads, pay for more college educations, including his two daughters’. It was up to him to make sure the business continued to thrive.

If the other mayoral candidate had his way, village policies would soon be favoring the property owners wealthy enough to afford the expensive lakefront homes, most of whom were only summer residents. And Ethan Bradford was already promising to tighten the regulations for many of the small businesses, like service stations and salvage yards, that didn’t fit in with the elite, classy vibe he thought their village should project.

Noah strode through the workshop, where a couple of their guys were cutting some boards they’d rescued from an old Victorian home in Buffalo. The gorgeous oak would soon be part of a coffee table he’d designed. They’d display it in the showroom, and he was sure it would sell quickly. Wiry hair stuck out in bunches beneath Jimmy’s protective eye and hearing gear. Sawdust clung to the sweat on Pete’s bald head.

No one ever said the salvage business was glamorous. Or classy.

They paused as he approached, the whine of the saw dying. He nodded to them on his way out back. “Looking good, guys.”

They flashed thumbs-up to him before the screech of the saw resumed.

Louis and Todd jumped into the cab of the truck with him. They were both in their early twenties, and some days he felt ancient when they worked rings around him. Louis had worked for them since Noah got out of high school. Todd was a new hire and still needed guidance. Normally, the job ahead would be at the forefront of Noah’s mind as he drove to a job site, but today, the enormity of what he’d agreed to take on overshadowed the salvage plan for the day. His mom was right. He really didn’t want to take on this campaign.

What did he know about running for public office? Nothing. But while he dreaded the networking and all the ways he might have to try to drum up support, there was a tiny part of him that was excited. All his life, he’d been one of the Colburn sons. He’d been a husband and then an ex. He was the father of two wonderful daughters.

But who was Noah Colburn, the man? It was pretty sad that he was approaching forty-five and he still didn’t know.

Maybe he was a crusader. A spokesman for the common man. A protector of life as he knew it.

With his mind taken up with thoughts of a mayoral crusade, he didn’t notice the little red convertible barreling toward him until it was too late. He’d already started to turn the box truck left onto the lower lake road, heading for the job site. The brakes of the oncoming Mini squealed, and the driver lay on the horn as the car stopped inches from the truck’s rear wheels.

“Sorry!” Noah shouted out the window. His stomach dropped. That had been stupid. He wasn’t normally stupid. He had to keep his mind on what he was doing. No more distractions.

The convertible turned and followed him down the narrow road. From the side mirror, he could see a woman was driving, her long, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and streaming behind her. He couldn’t make out her expression, but she kept right on his tail. He hoped this wasn’t going to turn into some kind of road-rage incident.

They drove past dozens of houses, some that had been there over a hundred years. Some were ostentatious, some cozy and humble. He slowed as they reached their destination, a neglected lake cottage with ornate porch railings and some beautiful moldings, windows, and light fixtures. Today, he and his crew were going to get them out of there before demolition started.

He pulled the truck into the drive and noticed the red convertible pulled into the driveway of the Swanson house next door. Noah jumped out of the cab and met Louis and Todd at the back of the truck. He grabbed the chainsaw, and the guys pulled out the tool belts. Before he got any farther, Todd looked past him. “Um, boss?”

Noah turned, and the breath whooshed from his lungs.

Gorgeous dark eyes snapped in a breathtaking face. Long legs ate up the few hundred feet of pavement between driveways. The Mini’s driver had a polish about her, even with the windblown hair that had been torn from the ponytail. The strands flying around her face made him think of wild sex on twisted sheets. She wore loose purple pants and a soft white shirt that highlighted all that was wonderful about a woman’s body. Long silver earrings caught the sunlight.

Her eyes met his in a steady gaze, and one corner of her lips lifted slightly as if she was used to men being struck dumb when they laid eyes on her for the first time. He wanted to reach out and run his fingers along the crinkles at the corners of her eyes. She stopped only inches in front of him on the gravel driveway.

She didn’t lay into him. In fact, she didn’t look angry at all. She looked amazing.

“Boss?”

Noah blinked. Snap out of it. How long had they been standing there staring at each other? Her laugh lines and knowing gaze made him think she might be in her forties, like he was. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about turning in front of your car. My mind was on something else. And that’s a terrible excuse, I know.”

She glanced down to the chainsaw in his hand and lifted a brow. “I hope you pay more attention when you’re driving that thing.”

He chuckled.

There was that slight smile again. “Luckily, my mind was on what I was doing. My heart’s still pounding, though.”

His was still pounding, too, and it had nothing to do with their close call on the road.

“I apologize again.”

“Apology accepted.” She stepped to the side to read the logo on the truck. “So are you Colburn or one of the sons?”

He set down the chainsaw and wiped his palms on his jeans before offering his hand. “One of the sons. Noah Colburn.”

“And he’s running for mayor now, too,” Todd blurted.

Noah rolled his eyes. Todd was like a big puppy dog, always trying to please but not often succeeding.

“A future mayor. I’m impressed.” She lifted a brow and slipped her hand in his. Firm. Warm. “Anita Delgado.”

Louis cleared his throat, and Noah dropped her hand, suddenly aware of how long he’d been holding it. “We’ll take the tools inside and get started,” Louis told him.

Noah dragged his gaze away and glanced at the guys. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“I’ll let you get to work. Just wanted you to know there were no hard feelings.” Anita Delgado took a step away. “It was nice meeting you. Good luck with your mayoral campaign.”

He didn’t want to let her go yet. He let his gaze bounce to her car sitting in the driveway next door. “Did you know Aggie Swanson?”

“Not at all.” After a small sigh, she added, “She was my grandmother.”

“I liked Aggie.” She’d been rude and prickly, but he’d enjoyed her dry sense of humor. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

A shadow ghosted over her face. “Yeah, well.” She glanced at the truck again. “Do you know Carter Colburn? He’s an attorney?”

“That’s my brother.” Carter had gotten his law degree and opened a practice in Lakeside. He still helped with the family business when he could, which wasn’t all that often.

“I have an appointment with him in…” She glanced at a fancy watch hidden among a stack of silver bangles. “Less than an hour. To get the keys.”

“If you need help with anything, we’ll be working over here all day. Just ask.”

Her eyes widened. “Is her house in that bad a shape?”

Noah had no idea. He’d love to get in there to take a look. “Did you know it’s one of the oldest houses in Lakeside? It could be an amazing house again with a little bit of work.” He’d love to get his hands on it. “Are you going to live here?”

Just because he wondered didn’t mean the question should have been spoken out loud.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Well, I’ll be here for the month. To do what needs to be done before I can sell it.”

She was going to sell it.

And why the hell did a wave of sorrow almost knock him off his feet? As if he’d missed out on something he didn’t even know he’d wanted. Maybe the best thing he’d never have.

This is ridiculous.

A quick glance at her left hand showed a bare ring finger, but she could still have a man waiting for her at home. Probably had a man waiting for her wherever home was. How could a woman like this not have men falling all over themselves for her attention?

And none of that was the point of this conversation. Get a grip! He didn’t want her to sell the house. At least, not yet. Not in the shape it was in now. Could he convince her to let him restore it? He’d hate to see it go the way of the house they were salvaging today.

But standing on the side of the road was not the time to have that conversation.

She walked around the truck to look at the Packard house. Her hips swayed in a way that made his body stir. Her sharp scent wound around him as he followed in her wake. What was going on? He hadn’t been affected so strongly by a stranger in…well…ever.

“What are you doing with that house?”

“We’re a salvage company. We’re getting out as many architectural details as we can before the house is demolished. Saving them for future use.”

“It’s a shame it’s going to be torn down.”

Noah shrugged, but he agreed. Ethan Bradford was buying up properties left and right. He was tearing down the old houses and building new ones few of the locals could afford. Noah was grateful Colburn and Sons was able to get in there and save what they could, but he sure didn’t want someone with the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new philosophy controlling their village for the next four years.

“The new owner wants something up-to-date. Something bigger. It happens all the time. The best we can do is save as much of the good stuff as we can.”

“I think that’s wonderful,” Anita told him. “There was so much care put into old construction. So much craftsmanship. Those leaded glass windows. Gingerbread. We don’t often see much of that pride in new construction these days, do we?”

She had a musical cadence to her voice that made him want to listen to her all day long. And when had he ever given much thought to someone’s voice before? But he’d keep her talking as long as he could. To build a rapport, that’s all.

“You sound like you know your way around architecture.”

She shrugged. “I studied a little back in college. I’m an art professor in Philadelphia.”

She taught at a university, and all he had was a high school diploma. He’d been up to his ears in the family business by the time he graduated from Lakeside High. His brothers were the ones who’d gotten to go to college.

“What do you do with the things you salvage?”

“Sell them. Luckily, there are plenty of people who do respect the old details and incorporate them into their new builds and remodels. And what we don’t sell as is, we repurpose and put in our showroom.”

“I’ll have to check it out while I’m here.”

She sounded as if she appreciated old houses and their history. That was promising. Surely she’d want her grandmother’s house to be polished to perfection before she sold it. And maybe when she saw how beautiful it could be, she’d want to keep it.

“Boss?” Noah held back the groan that came with a flash of irritation. It was Todd again. The kid sounded like a broken record. He couldn’t do anything on his own yet.

Noah would have liked to spend more time out here talking. “I’ve got to get to work. It was nice meeting you, Anita Delgado.” He pulled a card out of his pocket. “Our address is on there if you want to stop by the showroom. My number’s on there, too, if you need anything. I’m pretty good with my hands.” He choked and his face grew warm. “And I usually think before I speak.”

“Thinking first is overrated.” She had a throaty laugh that made him want to hear it again. “It was nice meeting you, too. Noah.” Their fingers brushed as she took the card, and he felt like a teenager again, savoring the shock of that accidental touch. Their eyes met again with another kick to his senses before she turned back toward Aggie’s house.

Her house. Anita.

Noah watched her walk away. Her long ponytail swished in a gentle rhythm. His guys called for him again. He picked up the chainsaw and headed for the house, but he couldn’t resist glancing back for one more look at Anita Delgado.

Anita studied the two-story, white, clapboard house that was now hers. She could believe it was one of the oldest houses in the area. It needed a new coat of paint, at the very least. Some of the gingerbread needed repairing. The roof looked in good shape, even if it seemed to tilt a little. The landscaping could definitely use some help. Those were quick fixes and would surely add to the asking price.

She needed to get as much money as she could for it.

How quickly her life had changed. As soon as she’d gotten the phone call from Carter Colburn, she’d altered her summer plans. She’d be spending July in Lakeside, New York, instead of the Greek Isles. The chance to be able to keep her mother in her current long-term memory care facility would make the sacrifice worth it.

Before she’d found out about her inheritance, she’d worried about having to dip into her vacation fund. Some might call her selfish for taking the trip each July, but it was how she filled her creative well. She did nothing but work eleven months out of the year. She needed her July.

She walked around the house to the lakefront. A wide wooden deck stretched the entire length of the house and overlooked the water. Lake Margaret, she’d discovered from her research. Her fingers already itched to capture the gorgeous view on canvas. Maybe it wasn’t as spectacular as Santorini, but the way the sun glittered on the surface of the water was breathtaking. The sailboats in the distance made her smile.

A million-dollar view? She doubted real estate around here commanded those prices, but she’d find out soon enough what she could expect.

Her art supplies were in the trunk. She hoped to get at least one new canvas completed before she had to get back to work, even if she had to deal with the house, too. And of course, she had to find her July guy. Her summer flings were what kept her going the rest of the year. When you only had a one-month fling, there wasn’t time to get disappointed or heartbroken. But there was plenty of time for fun.

Who would have thought she’d inherit a lake house in a small village in western New York from a grandmother she’d never met? The salvage man next door knew more about her grandmother than she did.

Mmm. The salvage man. Good with his hands. She had no doubt.

Had she found her July fling already? Her July men were usually creative souls, the kind to spout love poems or paint her portrait or write songs about her. She doubted Noah Colburn had ever written a poem in his life.

He was a man with his roots in his community. Mayor, for God’s sake. He wasn’t at all her type. But that’s what life was, or should be. An adventure. And once she made her mind up, what was the use of thinking about it? Jump in with both feet. That was her motto.

Those intense eyes. The silver threads running through his thick hair. The broad shoulders and callused grip. Tingles danced along her skin as she imagined those sure hands on her body. His masculine body pressing her into the mattress. Pillow talk might be interesting this summer. She had to make sure she saw him again. Soon.

She climbed the steps to the worn deck, but the drapes had been pulled across the wide expanse of windows. Glancing up, she saw large windows took advantage of the view from the second floor as well. She’d have to wait to get the keys before she could see what the inside of her mother’s mother’s house looked like.

Anita whirled away from the house and rushed to her car. It was time. She put the Mini into gear and shot gravel as she backed out of the driveway.

Carter Colburn’s law office was easy to find. It was located in one of several storefronts lining the main street in Lakeside. A small woman with spiky red hair and purple glasses looked up from a desk inside the door. Anita gave the woman her name, and she smiled.

“Yes, Ms. Delgado. He’s expecting you.” She stood up. Her head came up to Anita’s shoulder. “Right this way.”

Carter Colburn met her at the door to his office. His hair was a lighter golden brown and his shoulders not as broad as Noah’s, but the resemblance was there. The steady eyes. The easy smile. Carter filled out a suit as well as his brother did jeans and a T-shirt. When she shook his hand, there was no buzz of awareness that sent shocks up her arm and through her body. Not like she’d felt with Noah.

“Come right in. I have everything ready for you.”

She followed him into a tidy office dominated by a massive desk and a couple of leather chairs. Two nice waterfront prints hung on the walls. To postpone the awkward discussion about her grandmother and the property, Anita blurted, “I met your brother this morning.”

He didn’t look surprised. “Which one?”

So there were more than two Colburn sons? “Noah. He’s working at the house next door. I had a little extra time, so I stopped to take a look at the property before I came here.”

Carter rounded his desk and gestured to one of the chairs. “Have a seat, Ms. Delgado. What did you think of the house?”

“It’s a beautiful location. The house looks old, though. I hope it won’t take too much work to get it in condition to sell.”

“I can’t guarantee what shape it’s in. Aggie fell and broke her hip, then was in a nursing home for a while before she passed. Before that, she was pretty spry.” He toyed with the pen on his desk. “You don’t plan to keep it? Fix it up? It was a gorgeous house in its day.”

“I live and work in Philadelphia.”

“It would make a great vacation home.”

She never went to the same place twice for her summer vacations. “No. And I don’t have any attachment to the house.”

“If you’re interested in selling, I’ve been approached by another attorney who has an interested buyer ready to make an offer.”

Could it be that quick and easy? “Yeah, I’d like to hear the offer.”

“I’ll get you the information then. Do you have any questions about the property?”

Anita shifted in the leather chair. She shouldn’t feel uncomfortable explaining the situation to the attorney. “I don’t understand why my grandmother left it to me. Did she leave anything else? A…a letter or something?” Something to give her some answers.

“I’m sorry. No. ‘The property and everything therein.’ That’s all it says.” Carter glanced back down to the paper on the desk in front of him. “It does say ‘to my beloved granddaughter.’”

“Beloved? Really?” Anita held back a burst of anger, but her face still heated. “Did she say anything to you when she made the will? Anything about me?”

God, I sound needy.

“I took over the practice when the previous attorney retired. He’s the one who talked to your grandmother.” Carter glanced at her hands clasped in her lap. “You didn’t get along?”

“I never met her,” Anita snapped, then immediately regretted taking that tone. It wasn’t his fault her family was so dysfunctional. She took a deep breath. “I thought she was dead. My mother told me she died before I was born.”

If she could believe her mother, her grandfather had died in the war—which war, she’d never specified. But obviously, her mother had been a bald-faced liar. Was it true her grandmother lived here by herself for over sixty years? Or had her grandfather lived here some of that time also? What could she believe? Was there truth to anything her mother had told her?

Carter frowned as if he heard her thoughts. “She lived alone in that house for as long as I can remember. I heard she had a daughter, but she must have moved out before I was old enough to remember her. I’ll bet my parents knew her. I mean, they knew Aggie, too, but they would be more your mother’s age. I can ask them.”

Carter held out the keys, but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to reach out and take them. “There’s nothing I want to ask about my mother. I know everything I need to know.”

“She’s still alive?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry, I assumed if your grandmother left you everything, it was because your mother was deceased.”

“There was bad blood between them.” That was an understatement.

“Families can be complicated,” Carter said smoothly.

“Didn’t my grandmother still have money in the bank?” If she did, she probably left it to a charity, not her daughter.

“I’m afraid there were no other assets. No safety deposit box. No stocks. Nothing in the bank. Evidently, she’d withdrawn it all over the past few years. She didn’t have any money left.”

So her grandmother had outlived her assets. That didn’t bode well for the condition of the house. Anita accepted the keys. “It was nice to meet you, Carter Colburn. Thank you for taking care of this.”

“If I can be of any other help, please let me know.”

“That’s what your brother said, too.”

“Noah loves to work on old houses. I’m sure he’d be happy to help with whatever you might need.”

“I’ll think about it.” Anita shooed away the racy thoughts of what she might need from Noah. Now wasn’t the time. But would asking for Noah’s help on the house be the gateway to spending the month together?

The Colburn and Sons Salvage truck was still parked next door when she returned from the lawyer’s. She was tempted to walk over and see what Noah was up to. She might be able to catch a glimpse of him flexing his muscles and working with his talented hands. And she could drop a hint about that fling.

Every year, she spent her vacation in leisure. She sketched and painted to her heart’s content. Soaked up the local art culture. And enjoyed rolling in the hay, and the bed, and on the floor with a new man every year. It was her way to recharge and fill her creative well.

House first. She’d picked up a sandwich and an iced coffee on the way back to the house. She juggled them along with the key. It slid smoothly into the lock and the plain white door opened silently.

Why was her heart racing? It was just a house. No big deal. The door opened into a long, narrow entry hall. A washer and dryer sat side by side just past the doorway. Hooks ran the length of the wall, and a long black raincoat and a beige hooded jacket hung from two of them. A pair of rain boots and some canvas sneakers sat neatly on the floor. She should have realized the house would still be filled with all of her grandmother’s things.

When Agatha Swanson was carried out of the house after she fell, had she known it would be for the last time?

There shouldn’t have been that sick twist of grief in Anita’s stomach. She shouldn’t care about a woman who’d thrown her unmarried daughter out of the house when she became pregnant and then ignored both daughter and granddaughter for the next forty-five years.

The entrance hall led into a U-shaped kitchen. She set the coffee and sandwich bag on the scarred countertop. The appliances were harvest gold, the walls papered with autumn leaves. She groaned. This room should have a total upgrade before she put it on the market.

She opened the refrigerator and found it empty. Someone must have come in here and cleaned that out at least. The dining room furniture was old, heavy, dark. More wallpaper covered the walls, this time with an ugly green paisley print. There’d need to be a whole lot of stripping going on in here. The hardwood floors looked in pretty good shape, though.

She crossed to the living room and drew open the curtains. The view there took her breath away. She longed to capture all those amazing shades of blue and green. The gently sloped lawn led to the lake. Neighboring docks stretched into the blue water, moored boats bobbing with the gentle waves.

Gorgeous. Relaxing. Could be a half-a-million-dollar view.

The floor-to-ceiling windows took up the entire back wall, giving her an expansive view of the lake. French doors opened up onto the long wooden deck she’d seen earlier. A fireplace took up most of one of the other walls. An ugly wooden mantel, pitted and broken, surrounded it. It looked as if someone had hammered on it with a fireplace poker or a baseball bat. Maybe both.

Anita frowned. Was that a sticky note stuck on the edge? She peeled it off. She had to pull her reading glasses out of her purse to make out the small, shaky writing.

Sorry for the mantel. Your grandfather used to take his frustrations out on the woodpile, but I can’t lift an ax.

Anita’s hand began to tremble. She sank onto the old brown sofa as she stared at the little slip of paper. Her grandmother had left her a message about a fireplace mantel? An ax? On a Post-it?

Who was this woman?

Anita’s throat grew dry, and she remembered the iced coffee she’d left in the kitchen. As the cool, sweet coffee moistened her throat, she took a harder look around the room. The white cabinets had seen better days. Scuffed linoleum covered the floor. A huge, old microwave sat in one corner of the counter, a yellowed Mr. Coffee in the other. Then she noticed a note stuck on the stove.

The left back burner doesn’t work. Never had it fixed. Didn’t need more than one burner.

She was not going to feel sorry for this woman.

Anita snatched the paper off the stove. She wouldn’t need more than one burner, either. She stuck both notes on the front of the refrigerator. How long had they been there? Were there more?

She didn’t see any more obvious Post-its in the kitchen, so she went back into the dining room. A flash of pink caught her eye in the china cabinet. She opened the glass-paneled door and lifted it from a shelf laden with dishes decorated with a delicate floral pattern.

This china was my mother’s. She brought it with her from Sweden.

Anita crumpled it in her fist. She didn’t want all these messages. Didn’t want to know the history of the woman who hadn’t wanted her. But she was on a mission now. She had to find all of them, if only to destroy them.

There was a large bedroom off the living room. A moss-green bedspread covered a double mattress. A pair of slippers peeked out from under the bed. Another sticky was affixed to the carved headboard.

Pleasant dreams.

She left the room and dashed up the narrow staircase to the second floor. The closed door at the top of the stairs had three pink squares stuck across the panels.

This was your mother’s room. It’s pitiful to have left it as it was, but I still miss her.

If your mother wants anything in here, she can have it, otherwise, throw it all away. I couldn’t bear to do it.

Women in our family are stubborn and tend to overreact, and they find it very hard to forgive.

Anita’s hand trembled as she brushed her fingers over the words. She didn’t tear them off. She didn’t open the door. She couldn’t do it now. Maybe not ever. Maybe she’d hire someone to come in and clear it out.

There were two more doors in the upper hallway. One led into a bathroom covered in blue porcelain tile.

Hope you like blue.

The other door was closed. There was no pink paper stuck there. Anita’s heart pounded in her ears. This last room was the one that faced the lake, the one with all the windows. The light would be incredible. Had her grandmother known? How could she have known?

Anita held her breath and pushed open the door. The windows she’d admired from outside gave a magnificent view of the lake and did let in tons of natural light. The ceiling had been opened to the rafters, and the empty room had been painted white. An artist’s easel sat in one corner. A note was stuck on the crossbar.

This studio is for you, Anita.

She dropped to her knees and cried.