Shot Through the Hearth
"Have you ever been to a barn raising?" I asked.
My foreman, Wade Chambers, chuckled. "No. But I've seen them in the movies." We strolled around the old Victorian farmhouse we were about to start renovating. Raphael Nash, the owner of the house and the acres of farmland surrounding it, wasn't here. He had been smart enough to rent one of our town's beautifully restored Victorian mansions until this rehab was completed.
"I've seen that movie, too," I said.
"Right?" Wade nodded, grinning. "Some city guy hides out in Amish country to avoid being killed by the bad guys. And sometime in the second act, everyone in the community comes out to help the Amish family build a barn. It looked pretty cool."
"Except for the part where the guy almost drowned in a corn silo."
"Oh, yeah." He made a face. "Ugh."
I sighed as we stepped gingerly on the badly warped planks of the rickety wraparound verandah. "Watching that movie probably doesn't count as actual job experience."
It was embarrassing to admit I'd never built a barn, especially since I'm a building contractor and I've been hanging out at my father's construction sites from the time I was eight years old. My name is Shannon Hammer, and ever since my dad retired five years ago, I've owned Hammer Construction all on my own. And even though we specialized in Victorian home reconstruction, I was proud of the fact that we had built or renovated almost every other style and type of structure out there. But in all my years of building and rehabbing, I had never taken part in a barn raising. In fact, I couldn't remember anyone in the Lighthouse Cove area ever building a new barn.
That might've been due to the fact that I was born and raised in this small coastal town in Northern California, not the first place that came to mind when you thought of farmland. But back in the eighteen fifties, the town was settled by dairy farmers, and to this day, outside the town limits, there are thousands of acres of rich farmland with a gazillion happy cows wherever you look. And yet, I couldn't remember ever seeing a new barn go up. Apparently, the local farmers had managed to get by with the same old barns that had been standing on their properties for over a hundred years.
"So anyway, Rafe wants a new barn," I told my foreman.
"I figured that's why you brought up the subject," he said. "Does he want the barn before or after we renovate his house?"
"Pretty sure it's after, but we'll double-check when we meet tomorrow morning."
We stopped at the front steps and stared across the wide field to the funky old barn where Rafe housed his small herd of milking cows and the odd assortment of hybrid farm equipment he was working with. The red paint was faded and peeling off. A few of the vertical slats were missing, and some of the remaining wood had started to disintegrate. The roof was uneven and missing some shingles.
"It looks ready to fall down."
That was an understatement. I stared at the old structure and felt a glint of excitement. I had never been one to shy away from a challenge, and replacing this clearly unstable outbuilding with a shiny new one would be fun. I turned to Wade. "We can do this. How tough can it be? It's just like any other job, only bigger, right?"
"Way bigger," he said. "But if anyone can get it done, Shannon, you can."
"It's nice of you to say so."
"You're my boss," he said with tongue in cheek. "I have to say nice things to you."
I smacked his arm and we both chuckled. But as we walked back to my truck, I sobered. "Rafe hinted that he's got a deadline for both of these projects, but he wasn't willing to mention what it was. Said we'd talk about it when we meet tomorrow."
"Does he know that the house alone will take at least six months, maybe longer?"
"I warned him."
"Okay," Wade said easily. "Guess we'll find out the rest of the details tomorrow."
"Yeah." The meeting with Rafe and my two foremen was scheduled for six o'clock in the morning. I just hoped we would all be awake enough to go over the final details of the job.
Wade pulled himself up into the truck and settled in the passenger seat. "Rumor has it the guy is made of money."
"Despite the condition of his house and barn, those rumors are true," I said mildly, starting the engine and putting it in reverse.
"Well then, if he wants a barn . . ."
"We'll give him a barn," I said with a soft laugh.
With a firm nod, Wade pulled out his tablet and started a tentative list of supplies, equipment, and manpower. After a minute, he glanced up at me and grinned. "Guess we'll have to schedule some time to watch one of those barn-raising movies."
Early the next morning Wade and Carla showed up at my place driving Wade's wife's classy BMW sedan. I had offered to drive my truck—with Carla squeezed into the skinny backseat—but then I figured that since we were meeting with a genuine bazillionaire, the image of us driving up to his house in a luxury sedan would send a better message. Namely, that our company was successful. And that we had great taste in cars, too.
Not that my truck wasn't impressive. It was big, shiny, and powerful. And besides, Rafe was a farmer now. Wouldn't he appreciate that his new contractors were driving up in a big hunky truck?
I had to shake my head as I jumped into the front passenger seat. The fact that during our phone call last night, the three of us had actually discussed which car we should drive was a testament to our nerves and the importance of this job. A contractor was never so happy as when she had jobs lined up. And this job was a big one that could keep my crew and me busy for months.
"So tell us more about this new client," Carla said as Wade drove off toward the outskirts of town where Rafe's extensive property sat.
I turned in my seat so I could see both her and Wade. "I've only met him a few times and I think he's a pretty great guy. Business-wise, most of my information is from Marigold. Plus I looked him up online when we first talked about doing the job."
Raphael Nash, or Rafe, as he preferred, had made millions in the tech world by inventing, among other items, a unique solar battery that collected and stored energy in miniature solar panels, each the size of a deck of playing cards. From there, Rafe and his company were able to apply those panels to a dozen different uses, including small shingles that were attractive enough to use as siding on homes. They did twice the work of larger roof panels, storing up enough sun power to keep a home running for years.
Rafe was convinced that these small, attractive shingles would look perfect on the outside walls of the sorts of Victorian homes found along the Northern California coast, and while experimenting with the idea, he had discovered Lighthouse Cove. And Marigold.
After that first creative victory, Rafe and his company had gone on to invent a bunch of other products and gadgets that had revolutionized the alternative energy field.
Then, last year Rafe quit the business, leaving his tech company in his partner's good hands and moving to Lighthouse Cove, where he had bought the old Jenkins farm. He had hoped to live a quieter, more rural life, living off the land as much as possible. But instead of retiring to milk cows and fish, his mind wouldn't allow him to relax. He continued to dream up new and crazy ideas to improve life on the farm, mainly focusing on solar- and wind-powered farm equipment. He had even invented a self-reeling fishing pole that ran on solar batteries and he was currently experimenting with safe wind technology. He had installed three wind turbines on his property but had stopped using them after hearing that the big machines might endanger the birds. The guy was a marvel. And he was gorgeous, by the way.
No wonder my friend Marigold had fallen in love with him. And vice versa.
"Gorgeous? Really?" Carla said after hearing my rundown. "Tell me more."
"Well, let's see. He's tall, dark, and handsome. Classic good looks."
"Yummy," she said. "Where's he from?"
"According to Marigold, his mother is from Costa Rica and his father is from somewhere in the Midwest. Rafe was born and raised in San Diego. Also according to Marigold, the guy has already made enough money to last ten lifetimes. Now he wants to concentrate his talents on inventing ways to make life better for the poorest people on the planet."
"That's not a bad goal," Wade said as he made the left turn at Paradise Lane and continued east up and around the hill.
"I've heard he's one of the fifty richest men in the world," Carla said.
"He's definitely in the top twenty," I figured.
Carla bit her lip nervously. "I hope he'll be able to relate to us little people."
"If Marigold loves him," I said, "he's got to be a nice guy."
After a few seconds of contemplation, she nodded. "Okay. I'm holding on to that."
"We'll sit at the dining room table," Rafe said after I'd introduced him to my two foremen at the front door.
"Wherever you'd like," I said.
He led the way into the cramped foyer, past an old wooden newel post that seemed to be the only thing holding the ancient staircase upright, and past the arched entry leading into the sparsely decorated living room.
"I'm not really living here," he explained, "so please excuse the lack of decor."
"No problem," I murmured as we followed him through another archway into the dining room.
"Whoa," Wade said, halting as we all stared at the spread Rafe had arranged for the meeting. The dining table was covered with platters stacked with donuts, pastries, and bagels. Another plate held cream cheese and all the other goodies that we might want to smear onto the bagels. There was a coffee urn, mugs, and a row of soft drinks lined on top of a sideboard.
"Wow," Carla said. "You expecting company?"
Rafe grinned. "You're it."
"This is so nice," I said with a big smile. "You didn't have to do it on our account, but I'm not about to complain."
"Good. Then grab some coffee and have a seat."
We happily followed his instructions and then sat down at the table.
"When I schedule a meeting this early," Rafe explained as he grabbed two fat donuts and put them on his plate, "I figure breakfast should be included in the deal. And since I'm basically a twelve-year-old kid when it comes to nutrition, this is my kind of breakfast."
"Mine, too," I admitted, chuckling. "Thank you for doing this. It wasn't necessary, but it's greatly appreciated."
"Don't thank me yet. I'm about to put you to work for the next few months."
"We're looking forward to it."
"Good. Then let's get started."
But instead of pulling out blueprints for the house or listing all the features he wanted in his new barn, he began talking about Marigold. "You know I've asked her to marry me."
I bit back a smile. "I might've heard a rumor about that."
His own smile was brilliant. "Then you know she said yes."
"I'm so happy for you both," I said, and laid my hand warmly on his forearm.
"She's like no one else I've ever known," he said in an awestruck whisper. "She inspires me to be the very best person I can be. That's why I've started the Marigold Foundation."
"A Foundation. That's . . . interesting." I blinked and somehow thought of my father's old saying that the rich were different than you and me. "Does Marigold know you did this?"
"I just told her last night."
"Did she run off screaming?"
Rafe barked out a laugh. "You do know her pretty well."
"Yeah, I do." I kept smiling. "And I know she's not generally impressed with grand gestures."
"No, she isn't," he said, meeting my gaze directly. "And while the gesture may be grand, it isn't an empty promise. The Foundation is fully funded, and except for salaries for a small staff, all the Foundation money will go toward grants to help eradicate poverty and hunger while saving the environment."
I stared into his eyes for a long moment, then nodded. I already knew that his goals were altruistic and humane, so why not accept him at his word?
He held up a hand. "Okay, let me rephrase that. I'm not looking for any pie-in-the-sky ideas." He smiled. "I don't want any Kumbaya moments from people applying for grant money. I want to hear down-to-earth nuts-and-bolts stuff. I want to hear ways to use cutting-edge technologies that will actually help people."
I'd had a positive impression of Raphael Nash from the first minute I'd met him last month, but my loyalty was with my friend Marigold. I trusted my instincts, though, as well as Marigold's, and everything I'd just seen in Rafe's eyes and heard in his voice told me that he could be trusted.
I took a small bite of a bear claw and chewed it for a few seconds. I wondered why he had mentioned the Marigold Foundation and thought I'd better ask the question. "How is the Foundation connected to the work we're going to do on your home and the new barn?"
"I'm glad you asked," he said, gulping down some coffee. "Let me explain what I have in mind."
The three of us pulled out our tablets and prepared to take notes.
Rafe folded his hands together and smiled. "I'm going to put on a conference."
I glanced at my two foremen. As announcements went, Rafe's wasn't exactly earth-shattering. But the more he talked it through, the more I could see that this conference of his could be a major event. He already had a name for it.
"Future Global Survival Con," he said with a wide grin. "Impressive, right?"
He looked so guileless yet so proud of himself, I almost laughed. His twelve-year-old boy sensibilities were showing again.
"Very," I said.
"I recently sent out two thousand glossy color brochures to companies and individuals who are active in all the fields I plan to target. So far, over three hundred people have registered to attend." He looked so delighted with himself, it was contagious. I smiled back as he added, "We'll be sold out at five hundred."
"Wow," Carla said again.
Wade nodded. "Double wow."
"Ditto." I chuckled a little. "I guess you can tell we're pretty fascinated by all of your plans."
"I'm glad, because the feeling's mutual."
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I can't wait to start working with you guys. Marigold insisted on driving me around town to show off some of the houses you've renovated. You do good work."
"We like to think so," Wade said with a grin.
I nodded. "Thank you."
He smiled sheepishly. "Also, I confess I did a little background research on your company."
"Yeah, and I talked to a bunch of people around town."
"Oh boy," Wade muttered.
I immediately worried that he might've talked to Whitney Reid Gallagher, my worst enemy since high school. She would've given him an earful of reasons to avoid hiring me. None of her reasons were based in reality, but that wouldn't matter to Whitney.
Rafe chuckled. "It's all good. I was really impressed with what I found out. I admire your work ethic. And Marigold loves you, of course. So I'd say I'm pretty lucky to have you."
"I think you'll be happy with our work," I said, relieved that he didn't mention Whitney.
"I know I will," he said. "I just need you to assure me that my house will be finished before the conference starts."
"And when does the conference start?"
"Eight months from today."
"Oh." I blinked. I kept getting taken by surprise. "Well, that's completely doable, depending on the circumstances, of course."
"What circumstances?" he demanded.
"Supplies and equipment delivered on time," I said. "Available manpower. Cooperative weather. Things like that."
"I'm willing to pay whatever it takes to overcome all of those obstacles."
© Kate Carlisle
Visit The Secret Room to read an extended excerpt, exclusively for members of my Mailing List!
Return to the Shot Through the Hearth page