Shannon Stacey

The Home They Built

Blackberry Bay, Book 3
Harlequin Special Edition
February 1, 2020
ISBN-13: 9781335404664
ISBN-10: 133540466X

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There are no blueprints for this unique renovation in the latest Blackberry Bay novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Will their secrets stay hidden when the cameras start rolling?

There’s nothing Finn Weaver won’t do for his incorrigible grandmother, including pose as a live-in handyman for the TV reno show Relic Rehab. Host Anna Beckett knows good and well the Weaver house has never been a functioning inn, but taking the project got her to Blackberry Bay…the only place she’ll ever find answers about her own family. Keeping big secrets in a small town is enough of a challenge—can Finn and Anna’s romance survive the truth?

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Chapter One

“You are not even going to believe what your grandmother did now.”

Finn Weaver wasn’t sure how many conversations with his parents had begun with those words, but he’d put his money on at least half of them. “It can’t be that bad, Mom. On a scale of going to the market in her pajamas to the time she got a pet goat and tried to train it to live in the house, how bad is it?”

His mother sighed, and it sounded loud even over the phone. “If she bought an entire herd of goats and knit them matching sweater vests—no, if she stole the goats matching sweater vests from the ski shop—it still wouldn’t be as bad as what she’s done now.”

“Hold on. Let me sit down.” Finn walked across his office and sat in his plush leather executive chair, spinning it to look out over the view of the Piscataqua River.

“I don’t think sitting down is going to help,” she said.

“Does she need bail money?”

“I wish it were that simple.”

That didn’t sound good. “What’s worse than Gram being arrested?”

“Well, let’s start with the fact she expects you to come home for a few weeks to aid and abet her.”

“You mean that figuratively, right?” When it came to Gram, he could never be sure.

“Literally,” his mother snapped. “We all get to take part in defrauding a popular television show in a way that’s definitely wrong and probably criminal.”

That didn’t make any sense. While Gram’s shenanigans could be legendary, neither of his parents had ever even had a speeding ticket. They didn’t do shenanigans. “We’re not taking part in that. I’ll call her and talk her out of whatever it is she’s up to.”

“She already signed the contract.”

Groaning, Finn leaned forward so he could rest his forehead on his hand. He should probably take some preemptory ibuprofen because this was going to be one hell of a headache. “I feel like defrauding and criminal are the words I should be focusing on, but, to be honest, I’m a little hung up on the expectation I can just drop everything and hang out in Blackberry Bay for a few weeks.”

“It gets better.” His mom paused, as if waiting for his reaction, but he couldn’t manage more than a weary sigh. “She needs you here by ten tomorrow morning.”

Gram had a bad habit of waiting until the last second to drop bombs because it didn’t give a person time to get out of the way. And no matter how often her loved ones complained, she didn’t change her strategy, because it was effective.

He looked up, his gaze fixed not on the river this time, but on his own faint reflection in the window. He looked like a grown man. Dark hair kept neatly trimmed. His suit coat hung by the door and his shirt sleeves were rolled up, but he was still wearing the boring maroon tie. It was the reflection of a professional adult who had a business to run.

But it didn’t show the grandson on the inside who had a soft spot for the woman who kept their lives in a constant state of low-level disarray, with occasional spikes of straight-up chaos. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Gram, but this…

“I know,” his mom said softly, even though he hadn’t said anything yet. “But your father and I think she could really get in trouble this time, and unless you can find a loophole in the legal crap your father couldn’t, we might have to go along with this scheme she’s concocted.”

“What exactly are—” He paused. “No, don’t tell me. I have a feeling the more I know, the less I’m going to want to show up for it. I’ll be at Gram’s by ten tomorrow, but I’m not making any promises about staying.”

“Thank you, Finn. And Gram said you should bring some old jeans, too. And work boots.”

“What?” But his mother, smart woman that she was, had already disconnected.

He dropped his cell phone on his desk and leaned back in his chair. “Unbelievable.”

“A few weeks? You’ve gotta be kidding.”

The screen between the two desks didn’t offer much in the way of privacy. It existed more to keep him and Tom Brisbin, his business partner, from throwing balled-up paper or shooting rubber bands at each other during working hours.

“It’s about Gram,” Finn replied. Tom had known his family long enough so he didn’t feel a need to say more.

“It always is.” A low chuckle filtered through the screen. “I love that woman.”

So did Finn, which was the only reason he rolled into Blackberry Bay at ten minutes before ten the following morning. The quaint little town nestled around a bay off Lake Winnipesauke attracted tourists year-round, thanks to their proximity to a popular ski area as well as the water, but summer was their booming season and he had to roll the big Harley Davidson to a stop at what felt like every crosswalk in town.

He had clothing and toiletry staples in one of the big side bags and what amounted to a mobile office in the other, because he hadn’t wanted to pack up his truck and give his family the impression he was on board with an extended stay. After going over the calendar, he and Tom had marked the meetings Finn couldn’t miss, but there was no reason he had to be in the office otherwise. The day-to-day of their financial management company could be run from practically anywhere, but he didn’t want anybody to know that. Especially Gram.

Because three road construction zones in twenty miles had slowed him down, Finn went straight through the intersection with the right turn that would lead to his parents’ house, figuring they’d already left, and followed the bay for another mile and a half, until he came to the winding driveway leading up to his grandmother’s house.

Finn’s grandfather—may he rest in peace—had been one for maintaining appearances, and the outside of the massive Victorian on the hill, overlooking Blackberry Bay, was in pretty good shape, though it was starting to show some wear and tear. The clapboard siding—some original and some not—was painted a muted salmon color and the door and many windows were trimmed in a cream color. It caught the eye without being garish. Blackberry Bay didn’t do garish.

The two-car garage that had been built to replace a torn-down barn, as well as an original shed that was almost as big as the garage, were painted to match, and if there was one thing Gram could do well, it was tend gardens. From the road, her home was the picture of historical grace and elegance.

Inside, it looked like the seventies and eighties were having an everything-must-go rummage sale.

Or it usually did, anyway. He’d had a busy month at work, so his visits to town had been quick ones, and after visiting his parents, he’d made time for a glass of lemonade with Gram on her front porch. But sometime between his last time inside and today, a whole lot of stuff had been removed and somehow he doubted she’d randomly decided to do a mass decluttering.

“We’re in here,” his mother called when he gave the front door the extra little shove it needed in order to latch properly behind him.

As if they were ever anywhere but in the kitchen. His footsteps were loud in the foyer as he walked past the doors to the living room and the sitting room—and damn if anybody had ever been able to tell him the difference between the two, other than one having a television and the other having the most uncomfortable wingback chairs he’d ever sat in—to the kitchen.

His parents were seated at the butcher-block table several generations of Weavers had taken their meals around. They were dressed in their usual jeans and T-shirts, though his mom had a lightweight cardigan over hers. They both had short dark hair liberally sprinkled with gray and gave him matching tired smiles.

Gram hopped down from the barstool she’d been sitting on in front of the counter, since the kitchen didn’t have a center island. Her gray hair was long and loose around her face, and her white tank top, peach capris and white tennis shoes made him smile as she opened her arms for a hug. Gram refused to age gracefully by seemingly refusing to age at all, thank goodness.

“You made it!” She looked at the clock on the wall and then pinched his arm just hard enough to make him wince. “Barely.”

“Hey, barely counts. And of course I made it.” He pulled out a seat at the foot of the table and sat. Gram followed suit, sitting across the table from his parents. “So I’m here. Somebody tell me what’s going on.”

“I have good news!” Gram clapped her hands together one time while his father groaned. “Do you know that show, Relic Rehab?”

“Nope.”

Her shoulders drooped. “You really should watch more TV, you know. Anyway, they remodel historical homes with businesses in them and they’re coming here to remodel the Bayview Inn!”

“Okay.” Finn looked from Gram’s excited expression to his parents—his mother rolling her eyes and his father shaking his head—and back to Gram. “What’s the Bayview Inn?”

“This is.” Gram waved her hand in a gesture that encompassed the kitchen before leaning closer. “I’ve decided I can only afford to keep this place up if I let rich flatlanders—I mean tourists—pay to sleep here, but it needs some updating to be an inn, so I applied to the show and told them it already was. And I got picked!”

“This house has never been an inn and everybody in Blackberry Bay knows it. Everybody in this town knows everything.”

“I know stuff, too, kiddo. I’ve lived here my whole life and I know where all the bodies are buried, so you can bet your sweet bippy everybody’s going to stick to the script.”

Finn groaned and scrubbed a hand over his jaw. “Please tell me you’re not blackmailing the neighbors.”

“The neighbors? Honey, I’m blackmailing the entire town.” She nodded. “The ladies at town hall were going to be a problem, but Jill’s mother told Carolina before she passed that Jill got her job because she worked late with one town selectman in particular, if you know what I mean, and his wife’s meaner than a badger.”

“Gram.”

“You sound exactly like your father when you say that.” She chuckled. “Except he says ‘Mom,’ of course. But he makes that same face.”

“Mom,” his dad said, his voice a groan.

“See?” Gram pointed her finger between the two of them. “Just like that.”

“I love you Gram, but this is…” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “Tell her, Dad.”

“Trust me, I already have. Several times.”

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to scrape up the money to pay taxes on this beast,” Gram said, “but I don’t want to sell it, either. I don’t really have any marketable skills to speak of, but I can do hospitality.”

Finn recoiled so hard the old wooden chair creaked under his shifting weight. “You? Hospitable? You chased the plumber out of the house with a broom.”

“I wasn’t chasing him with the broom. I was trying to hand it to him so he could sweep up the crap he tracked in on his damn boots.”

“Mom asked why you had Christmas decorations up the first week of November and you threw her out of the house.”

“I like Christmas. And who cares about November? Why do we have to reserve an entire month because we eat turkey on a Thursday?”

“So I guess Thanksgiving dinner isn’t a tradition you’ll be honoring at the Bayview Inn?”

“Damn. Do people stay at inns for Thanksgiving? They can go eat with whoever they’re in town to visit, I guess.”

“Gram.” He set the lemonade down. “Remember when Mom’s parents came to town when Dad proposed to her and you made them stay in a hotel even though you have all these rooms?”

“I remember that, but you don’t, since you weren’t born yet.”

“Even if I have to limit examples of your hospitality to those I actually remember, I can still do this all day.”

Gram gave him a that’s-enough-out-of-you look and sat back in her chair with her arms folded. “It doesn’t matter. It’s done. I signed the contract, dealt the cards and now everybody has to play the hands I gave them.”

“What exactly is it I’m supposed to be doing?”

“You’re the inn’s handyman.”

He laughed until Miss Hospitality picked up the candle jar in the center of the table and cocked her arm back as if she was going to chuck it at him. “You can’t be serious, Gram. Remember when I took shop in high school and the teacher made me switch to home ec because his nerves couldn’t handle me being around power tools?”

“Such a proud day for me,” his father said in a droll tone.

“Hey, at least I learned how to cook.”

“You barely passed that class,” his mom pointed out.

His family was so much fun. Really. Finn couldn’t imagine why he’d chosen to live an hour away. “At least, unlike in shop class, I couldn’t hurt anybody.”

His dad groaned. “I don’t know. That quiche—”

“You’re getting off topic,” Gram snapped. “I don’t need you to cook. I don’t even need you to be particularly handy. I just need you to look like you are.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Wear some old jeans and run around with no shirt on. Maybe we should some smear some baby oil so you look all hot and sweaty.”

Gram!” He was not letting his grandmother smear him with baby oil. And he never wanted to hear her refer to him as hot and sweaty ever again.

“Simmer down. You can put it on yourself if it makes you feel better.”

While doing it himself was certainly a better option than his grandmother doing it, he had no intention of coating his body in fake sweat to appease a camera.

“And do it fast,” Gram told him, “because they’re going to arrive anytime now.”

*

“Well, this is certainly quaint.”

Anna Beckett tore her gaze from the rural scenery passing outside the window to look over at her assistant. They would both consider themselves city girls if asked, but where Anna was entranced by the woods and the charming homes and the glimpses of a lake, Eryn Landsperger’s voice was droll.

“No more than the last town,” Anna said.

Eryn shook her head, her blond ponytail swinging. “This one feels different.”

Turning back to her window, Anna shivered. This one feels different. Because this town was different, though she was absolutely the only person who knew why. And she intended to keep it that way.

“Home sweet home for the next six to eight weeks,” Eryn said, and then she sighed. “Or more, probably.”

The Bayview Inn was going to be their anchor project—the two-part finale that would wrap up a season of smaller projects, even though it was filmed first to take advantage of as much of a guarantee of good weather that New England offered. The final projects were always the biggest of the year in terms of cost, square footage and historical value.

The Bayview Inn only checked off two of those boxes, and the old Victorian in Blackberry Bay would definitely be Anna’s most challenging project ever. It had been since the day they met to go through the latest crop of applications submitted through the website and she’d seen the name of the town. The team had dismissed the application because the paperwork proving the provenance of the inn was sparse, but she’d made a joke about how small towns didn’t always do things the way they were supposed to and urged them to focus on the beautiful old house.

And she hammered home the fact that according to Tess’s application, her son and his wife, as well as her grandson, lived locally and would be part of the renovation. While their project owners varied, the ratings were always highest when there was a family group involved with the filming.

The Bayview Inn was a project she really wanted—a fact she’d made known to executive producer Duncan Forrest, though she hadn’t told him why. If she played her cards right, nobody from the show ever needed to know she’d taken on this project for personal reasons.

“We’re running late,” Eryn said after checking the time on her smartwatch. They always allowed for traffic, but nobody could predict a truck hauling a fifth-wheel trailer rolling and ending up across all three lanes of traffic in southern New Hampshire. “We’ll barely have time to park the RVs and get to the inn, never mind getting them set up and exploring the town.”

“The town’s been here over two hundred and fifty years. It’ll probably still be here after we meet Mrs. Weaver and see the inn.” She snorted when Eryn rapped her knuckles on the fake wood door trim. “But you’re right. We’ll definitely have to dump the RVs and run.”

When the drivers pulled the RVs into the lakefront campground they’d be calling home for a while, Anna wished she had the time to explore, but as soon as they got the compact car unhooked from its tow bar, she and Eryn had to go. They’d leave the large SUV driven by Mike, the senior cameraman, at the end of the convoy of vehicles for the crew to use.

They had no trouble finding the house, and while she was familiar with it thanks to the extensive video and numerous photos she’d reviewed, she always felt a rush of anticipation when she first set eyes on a new project.

An elderly woman wearing a floral dress and an apron opened the front door for them. After giving them a huge smile, she stepped back and welcomed them in with a theatrical sweep of her arm. “Welcome to the Bayview Inn. I’m your hostess, Tess Weaver.”

“I’m Anna,” she managed to say with a straight face. If she hadn’t already guessed Tess’s story was largely fabricated, the exaggerated performance would have tipped her off. “And this is my assistant, Eryn. We’re so excited to be here, Mrs. Weaver.”

“I’m excited to have you here. Do you want a tour?”

“Honestly, I’d rather just sit and talk to you for a few minutes,” Anna replied. “We watched the video tour several times, and we’ve been traveling all morning, so the rest of production is busy right now, setting up.”

“Come into the kitchen and I’ll get you some lemonade.”

She saw Eryn’s wince and knew the first thing they did after leaving here would be finding a local coffee shop. “Actually, we’d love some water if you don’t mind.”

While Tess poured them each a glass of ice water, Anna looked over the kitchen. The place was definitely overdue for a renovation. By several decades.

“How did the town get its name?” she asked, taking the glass she was offered. She found small talk about familiar subjects put people at ease faster than jumping right into production talk.

Tess chuckled. “It’s quite a story.”

“We love to sprinkle local flavor throughout the episodes, so I’m always up for a good story.”

“Well, as legend has it, the founders of Blackberry Bay were exploring the area and they found this beautiful bay off the big lake, and the entire area had been overrun by wild blackberry bushes.”

After a few seconds of silence, Anna realized that was the entirety of the story, but she couldn’t tell by Tess’s expression if she was trying to be funny or if she really believed that was quite a story. Anna didn’t bother to ask how the Bayview Inn got its name. Being literal seemed to be a theme around here. “I guess we should all be thankful it wasn’t overrun by poison ivy, then.”

Tess’s laugh covered Eryn’s groan, and Anna smiled. “So your application essay said your husband passed away and business has declined due to guests choosing more updated lodging. And you’ve been running the inn by yourself?”

“For the most part. My son and his wife disappeared somewhere, unfortunately, but let me introduce you to my grandson. He’s such a good boy, doing his best to take care of me and this old house…inn. Taking care of his grandma and this inn. Finn, honey,” she said to somebody behind Anna, “come say hello.”

Anna turned, expecting to see a young man—maybe even a teenager—blushing awkwardly at his grandmother’s praise.

The man was not a teenager and there was nothing awkward about him. And she could only hope she wasn’t blushing when he put out his hand for her to shake.

“Finn Weaver,” he said in a voice she might have been tempted to pay $2.99 per minute to hear saying naughty things over the phone.

He was tall, with short brown hair shot through with natural highlights, and dark eyes that looked at her intently as she shook his hand. The jeans that were so soft and well-worn they practically hugged his body and the tight navy T-shirt fitted the job description, but as she shook his hand, something felt not quite right.

This guy was who Tess was passing off as her handyman? The softness of his hands and the well-kept nails would explain the sorry condition of the inn—if it actually was one. Hell, she probably had more calluses than he did, and she didn’t skimp on hand lotion.

She might have her doubts about him doing physical labor, but it was obvious he was no stranger to working out. In a gym. Probably an expensive one, too. There was just something about his strong body and impeccable grooming that smacked of money. Finn Weaver looked like a high-maintenance kind of man.

Anna did her best to focus on Tess’s chatter—she was talking about her ancestors now, or maybe her husband’s—but Finn moving around the kitchen and pouring himself a glass of lemonade was distracting her. He not only looked good, but he smelled good, too. Even his scent was tantalizing and expensive.

She wasn’t sure exactly what was going on in the Bayview Inn, but she knew one thing for sure. Anna and Tess weren’t the only people in the room who were hiding something.

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