Shot Through the Hearth
Chapter 1 continued
“Then we will overcome all the obstacles,” I said cheerfully.
Wade jumped in. “I know you and Shannon have discussed your plans for the house, but maybe you could go over it again with all of us. I assume you’ll want to add square footage, open up some of the rooms. Modernize the kitchen. Maybe add on a bathroom or two.”
“Yes, all of that.”
I glanced at Wade and Carla. “I’ve already explained the city charter to Rafe so he knows that the exterior style of the house will remain Victorian.”
“It was never an issue,” Rafe said with a shrug. “I’ve always liked the style. And Marigold loves it.”
Lighthouse Cove had been added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation years ago and the town council had decreed that all new buildings conform to the Victorian style.
“But the materials and the construction will be contemporary,” I assured him.
“Of course,” Rafe said with confidence.
“And then there’s the barn,” Carla added.
“Oh, yeah.” Rafe’s eyes lit up again. “About the barn.”
“What about the barn?” Wade asked, immediately suspicious.
“It doesn’t have to be finished before the conference,” he explained. “Well, except for the foundation and a three-foot concrete block wall around the perimeter.”
I hesitated, then asked, “What exactly do you mean when you say it doesn’t have to be finished?”
“I’ll explain later,” he said breezily. “I’m getting ahead of myself.” He reached for the stack of threefold leaflets and passed them around the table. “Here, have some conference brochures. Anyone want more coffee?”
Maybe it was just as well that we were taking a short breather because my head was starting to spin.
Once we all had more coffee&mash;because we needed it—Rafe spelled out his plans, and I had to agree that with all of his connections throughout the world, this conference could be pretty amazing. Or a complete disaster. Time would tell.
I did know that Lighthouse Cove would love having a big conference held so close by. The local hotels would be in heaven and the shops and restaurants would get plenty of business.
“I’ve already booked a few dozen speakers,” he said. “We’ll have demonstrations and lectures and workshops on all sorts of future-forward ideas from every area of business, education, arts and sciences, space, communication, food and farming.”
“You’ve already lined up all these people?” Wade asked.
“Yeah. Well, most of them are friends, so it wasn’t too hard to twist their arms.” He sat forward in his chair, getting into the subject. “We’ve got an eco-fisheries expert whose passion is tide pools. And another, my friend Julian Reedy, is a world-renowned plant expert who is determined to prove that plants can communicate with humans.” He grinned. “Oh, and wait ’til you see the Stephanie vine. She’s this huge, fast-growing plant that moves and grows in reaction to human pheromones. She’s extraordinary.”
“Wait,” Carla said. “Stephanie is . . . a plant?”
“Yeah. You’ll see. It’s very cool. And another buddy, Arnold Larsson, is a pioneer in the field of smart mice studies.”
Mice? I shivered. One of my deepest, darkest secrets was that I was deathly afraid of mice. But I wasn’t about to mention it here and now.
“And Shannon, I would love to display some of the tiny houses you’ve been building. They’re perfect for people who’re looking to step away from the grid and leave a smaller carbon footprint.”
“Sure. I’ll get in touch with some of the owners and see if they’d like to take part.” I was so proud of the tiny houses my crew and I had started building last year. The 400-square-foot homes had become so popular that I finally had to hire six fulltime crew to work on them exclusively. We had sold sixteen homes so far and were still receiving offers daily.
“We’ve also got some fantastic chefs lined up to talk about the slow food movement,” Rafe continued, and his eyes twinkled. “Which means, naturally, there will be a lot of food and wine tastings.”
“Count me in,” Carla said, and we all laughed.
“And we’ll have a couple of thriller writers give a workshop on worst-case scenarios. You know, doomsday stuff. It’ll be fun and scary at the same time.” He glanced at me. “I’m hoping your boyfriend will agree to moderate that panel.”
“Mac?” The gorgeous man who took up most of my thoughts and all of my dreams. I smiled at the thought of him heading that workshop. His bestselling thrillers were filled with doomsday plots and his hero, Jake Slater, always managed to avert disaster in the end. “He’ll be great.”
“Everyone who comes to the conference will be invited to submit a grant proposal and give a short presentation on how they would change the world. I’ll be awarding a number of grants to help them finance their projects and ideas, put their words into action.”
“Sounds like a wonderful opportunity,” I said, caught up in his enthusiasm.
“I think so,” he said. “I hope we’ll get a lot of great ideas out of this.”
“Logistical question,” Wade said. “Since you’re anxious to have the house finished by the time of the conference, are you planning to hold the conference on your property?”
“Yes, we’ll do it here.” He spread his arms out. “I’ve got five hundred acres so finding space won’t be a problem. I’ve ordered two giant inflatable domes, one to be divided into separate rooms for workshops and small demonstration spaces, and the other to be used as a larger theater for the more popular speakers and events. I might order another dome, but we’ll wait and see. I’d like to have part of the land graded to accommodate the conference space and give people a good surface to walk on. And I’d like to set aside an acre or two for a gravel parking lot. And then there’s the barn.”
“The old barn?” Wade asked, his eyes narrowed. I knew what he was thinking: how could that wobbly old pile of rotting boards support five hundred people?
Rafe gave a light shrug. “I don’t want to tear it down because right now it’s where we milk the cows.”
“Cows?” Wade repeated. “For real?”
“Yeah. You should check out my setup. I’ve got some happy cows in there.”
“Cool,” Carla said with a grin.
“I figure we can tidy up the old barn and use it as a space for vendors and some of the exhibits. And then there’s the new barn.”
Finally, I thought. “What is your plan for that?”
Excited now, he rubbed his hands together. “My plan is to have you finish the new barn during the conference. If you finish in time, we might be able to use it for some of the final events at the end of the week.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
He took a breath. “Okay. Let me go over a few more of my ideas and we’ll come back to the barn.”
I tried not to frown. “Um, okay.”
“Great. So I’ll also want your crew to build a tower that we’ll use as a vertical garden.”
“Tower,” I murmured, writing down the word three times. Maybe I’d consumed too much sugar because I was lost.
Carla piped up, “I’ve seen vertical gardens, but exactly what do you have in mind for this one?”
He pursed his lips in thought. “For the structure itself, I picture something similar to a fire department tower, if you’ve ever seen one of those.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Good. So basically it’s a bunker built of concrete block, about three stories tall.” He shifted in his chair and gazed at Carla. “It won’t look like much on the outside, but inside we’ll have a lush maze of plants and flowers growing up the walls and vines cascading down the walls. It’s going to be amazing to walk inside and feel your entire body relax. There will be open windows with louvers that move with the sun to allow the maximum ratio of heat, light, and humidity for the plants to thrive.”
“Wow,” Carla whispered, clearly impressed.
“The louvers are automated?” I asked, regaining some of my brain power.
“And they’re solar tracking?”
“Yes.” Rafe beamed at me. “You’ve seen examples of them?”
“I have and they’re awesome. I would love to get my hands on them.”
He laughed. “Well, here’s your chance.” He set down his coffee mug. “The tower will be the tallest building on the property so obviously there’s no possibility of shade. The louvers will go a long way toward moderating the temperatures inside. Structurally, I envision multiple mini-terraces, winding paths, ramps, and stairways leading up to an open-air rooftop.”
“The tower will have to be built soon,” I said, “if you expect to have lush plant life cascading down the interior walls by the time the conference begins.”
“Yes. I’d like construction to begin as soon as possible.”
“At the risk of repeating what we’ve said a dozen times, wow,” Wade said. “You really seem to know a lot about this stuff.”
“It’s what I’ve worked toward my whole life,” he said simply. “Green spaces in cities can lower temperatures and clean the air. It’s important to me.”
“It’s important to us that we give you what you want.” I had met dedicated people like Raphael Nash before, but I’d never met anyone who had the cash to make it all happen.
“I know you will,” he said encouragingly. “And don’t worry. We’ll go over all of this again. Right now I’m just laying the groundwork, giving you an idea of what I have in mind.”
“Okay. Good,” I said, nodding as I made more notes. With all the work he had planned for us, this job could go a lot longer than eight months. Nothing wrong with that, I thought.
“Great,” he said with satisfaction.
“Back to the parking lot for a second, I wouldn’t use crushed gravel,” I said. “But a small grade of gravel, say a pebble-sized rock, would be fine, if layered thinly.”
“Sounds good. We can look at samples later. Also, I’ll need my own driveway separate from the conference parking lot.”
“Of course.” I hesitated, then asked, “You didn’t want gravel for that, did you?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’m not sure what I want.”
“We could lay down stone,” I suggested. “Or brick, or a basic cement slab. Or blacktop, although I wouldn’t really recommend that. It’s practical, but not very attractive. I can get some samples and photos for you to look at.”
“Great.” He made a note on his legal pad. “Now let’s talk about a timeline.” He was still smiling easily, but now I could see a ray of steely resolve in his eyes. I almost sighed, knowing that with his fortune he could get whatever he wanted, including new contractors. I wouldn’t let that happen. I intended to do the job he wanted us to do, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t be asking a lot of questions.
“So let me get this straight,” Carla said, reading through her notes. “You said that you don’t need the barn to be finished by the time the conference starts.”
“Well, yeah.” He hesitated. “I wasn’t very clear about that, but basically, I want you to start building the barn during the conference. My plan is to put on an old-fashioned barn raising.”
I glanced at Wade and he grinned back at me. “A barn raising. Interesting.”
“Yeah,” Rafe said. “It’ll be the first big event at the start of the conference.”
I frowned. “But what does a barn raising have to do with future global survival?”
He leaned in closer and said, “It’s going to be a green barn.”
A green barn? They were usually red, but I suppose it didn’t matter. It took a few seconds for the meaning of his words to sink in and then I felt like a numbskull. “By green, you mean environmentally friendly.”
“Exactly.” He smiled brightly. “I’m sure you know more about the actual materials than I do, but for instance, I’d like to see us use composite wood sidings, solar panels, a water reclamation system. We can talk about the particulars later, but you get the idea.”
“Yes, of course.” I was back in my element. “We’re starting to do a lot more of that in our construction jobs.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said. “You built the solar panel canopies over the high school parking lot, so I figure you’ll know how to get it done.”
“We do and we will,” Wade said firmly.
“And just a quick aside,” Rafe said. “I’m going to want the new house to be as close to green as we can get it. What do you think?”
I lifted my chin and gazed right at him. “We can do it.”
Now he grinned broadly. “That’s why I hired you.”
It was almost noon when we finished the meeting and headed back to town. I was glad Wade was driving because my brain was buzzing from information overload. We had spent another hour discussing Rafe’s conference and then we had finally moved on to talk about the house renovation.
Currently, his fourteen-hundred-square-foot Victorian farmhouse was a two-story, three-bedroom, one-bath home. The rooms were small, the halls were narrow, and the closets were minuscule.
Rafe wanted the walls built out until we had over three thousand square feet with four large bedrooms, four updated bathrooms, an open, modern kitchen, a wide wraparound porch, and four fireplaces.
Piece of cake.
He also wanted an outdoor kitchen built on the large patio, complete with a fireplace and a pizza oven. Because, why not? I’d written it all down. The man knew what he wanted and I was determined to make it happen for him. And for Marigold.
“Can the patio and fireplace also be done by the time the conference starts?” Rafe had asked. “I’m going to want to show it off.”
“Absolutely,” I’d assured him. “My newest crew member is a very gifted stonemason from Scotland. He’ll build you the fireplace of your dreams. And if you’d like to see some of his work beforehand, I can arrange to show you the amazing fireplace and hearth he built for his sister using reclaimed stone, brick, and glass.”
His eyes lit up. “I was just about to ask if it could be done with reclaimed materials.”
I grinned and nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Who’s the stonemason?” Rafe asked, curious now. “Maybe I’ve met him around town.”
“His name is Niall Rose and he’s a true artist. His sister Emily Rose is a friend of ours.”
“Marigold’s friend Emily?”
I smiled. “Yes.”
Rafe frowned. “Is he the one who wears a kilt?”
“He sure is,” Carla said with a happy grin. “You can’t miss him.”
“He doesn’t wear the kilt when he’s working,” I added quickly, having asked Niall that very question when I’d interviewed him for the job. “Just when he’s off to the pub or strolling around town.”
Rafe and Wade had exchanged a purely male look, and I knew what they were thinking. How could any guy compete with a big burly Scotsman in a kilt?
The answer was obvious. They couldn’t.
Two nights later, I invited Marigold and Rafe over for spaghetti and meatballs. While I stirred the pasta sauce, Mac poured the wine.
“Thanks,” Rafe said after his glass was filled. “I’m glad you invited us over tonight because I wanted to talk to you both about the Foundation.”
“It’s a great idea,” Mac said.
“I’m glad you think so, because I want you both to be on my board of directors.”
I turned away from the stove and stared at him. “Are you serious? I don’t have any experience with that sort of thing. I wouldn’t know the first thing to do.”
“I can help with that,” Rafe said with a grin.
“You’re a vital member of this community, Shannon,” Marigold said. “And you have lots of great ideas for improving people’s lives.”
I stared at her, then nodded reluctantly. “I do get a kick out of coming up with helpful innovations. But really, I’m just a small-town building contractor.”
Rafe leaned against the counter. “You have expertise in alternative energy sources and you know all the different types of environmentally sound products and materials that are on the market. And you use them for your home renovations. You know more than you think you do, and I know you would add a lot of good input to the board’s decision-making process.”
“What kinds of decisions are you trying to make?”
He took a sip of wine. “We’ll be funding small companies and individuals who are leading the way, inventing new products and bringing their own brand of new technologies to the marketplace.”
I gave the sauce one more stir and set down the spoon. “Your Foundation sounds a lot like the company you used to run. What’s the difference?”
Rafe nodded. “The company was involved in research and development of new products, then patenting them and finally producing them. The Foundation doesn’t do that work itself, but instead gives money to small companies and individuals who are focused on finding solutions to the world’s biggest challenges.” He chuckled ruefully. “My partners at the company didn’t have such lofty aims. Which is one reason why I finally retired.”
Marigold squeezed his arm. “But while you were there, you came up with wonderful ideas that are already helping to change the world.”
He smiled at her and gave her a kiss. “Thank you.” Finally he glanced back at me. “As a building contractor, you’re on the front line. You’re constantly learning about the latest innovations and choosing the most energy-efficient products and materials. And you’re devising the newest and best methods for putting it all together.”
I frowned. “You’re making me sound like some kind of brilliant strategist, and I’m so not that.”
“Yes you are,” Marigold insisted with a smile.
I looked at her fondly. “You’re sweet, but we both know I’m not.”
She just grinned and swirled her wine so I switched my gaze over to Rafe, who, lest I forgot, was my newest client. “I guess you’re right in one aspect. I do keep up on the latest innovations in the building industry. But seriously, I’m no genius. I just want the best for my client.”
Rafe flashed a big grin. “I appreciate that.”
I let out a breath. “Well, then I’d be honored to help the Foundation in any way I can.”
“Good. Thank you.” He immediately turned his focus to Mac. “Will you join us on the board of directors?”
“Sure. Sounds like a kick in the pants.”
“I hope so.” Rafe shook his head, laughing. “You also may have heard about the conference I’m holding next October.”
“I’ve heard some rumors,” Mac said. “Mainly from you.”
Rafe laughed again. “Yeah, I’m pretty psyched about it. And I’m hoping you’ll moderate a panel on worst-case scenarios.”
I set down the sauce spoon and gazed at Mac. “You would be great at that. Your books are filled with so many of them.”
“That’s true enough.” Mac stood at the chopping block, cutting up a cucumber for the salad. “Sure. I’ll be happy to do it. Would you like me to come up with solutions or just present some problems?”
“You could do both if you want,” Rafe said. “It’s up to you.”
“You want MacGyver stuff or Jake Slater stuff?”
Rafe looked puzzled. “What’s the difference?”
Mac didn’t even have to think about it. “Okay. Say there’s the threat of a nuclear bomb going off in the lighthouse. Naturally, both Jake Slater and MacGyver will save the day, but Jake will do it by kidnapping the drug warlord who planted the bomb in the first place, dragging him into the lighthouse, and forcing him at knifepoint to call off the threat. But meanwhile, his entire army of cutthroats are already advancing and Jake will have to fight them off with his bare hands. And the knife, of course.”
“Wow,” Marigold whispered.
“MacGyver, on the other hand,” Mac continued, “will devise a gadget made of toothpicks and a hairnet that he’ll use to jam the timer and prevent the bomb from exploding.”
Rafe’s deep laugh was filled with delight. “I knew you’d be the perfect choice.”