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A selection from Their Unfinished Business


“No. No way. Absolutely not!”
Ali Conlan crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her twin sister across the dinner table.
“What’s the big deal?” Audra asked. Arching her brows, she added, “I mean, unless you’re not over him. Alice.”

It turned out a person really could see red when mad, Ali realized as her vision tinted crimson.

Through gritted teeth, she said tightly, “Don’t call me Alice. And I am over Luke Banning. I was over him five minutes after he left town with you eleven years ago.”

If her sister wanted to fight dirty, she would fight dirty right back, Ali decided.

But Audra didn’t so much as blink before replying blandly, “And you’ve forgiven me for leaving and for that little ... misunderstanding. Why don’t you give him the same break? It was a long time ago. You need to move on.”

“I have moved on!” Ali hollered, tossing down her napkin and rising slightly from her chair. She sounded defensive even to her own ears, but it didn’t help that her one-time, two-bit actress of a sister said sotto voce, “Me thinks she doth protest too much.”

Reeling in her temper, Ali glanced around the table where her brother Dane and Audra’s husband, Seth Ridley, sat. Clearing her throat, she said more calmly, “I am over Luke Banning. I haven’t spent the past eleven years pining for the man. In fact, I’ve hardly given him a second thought. I’ve been too busy.”
“Oh yeah? When was the last time you had a date?” Audra asked.

It felt good to be able to say, “I have one this weekend, as a matter of fact. With Bradley Townsend.”

“The developer?” Dane made a face.

“Actually, he’s a man,” she drawled.

“I’m not sure I like him,” her brother said. Audra, amazingly, did not offer an opinion. In fact, she had become suddenly engrossed in rearranging the cutlery at the side of her plate.
Her husband, however, seconded Dane’s view. “Me either.”
Ali exhaled sharply in frustration. “Look, my personal life is not the issue here and neither is Luke Banning. The resort’s future is what’s important right now.”

Dane, always the voice of reason, smiled and nodded. “I couldn’t agree more.”

Ali returned his smile, glad to have him on her side in this matter. That made it two Conlans to one. End of discussion. She picked up her coffee cup and had just taken a sip when he added, “I think we need Luke Banning.”

Somehow she managed to choke down the hot liquid, but an undignified coughing fit ensued. When it had passed enough for her finally to speak, she demanded, “How can you say that, Dane?”

“We need another investor, Ali. It’s as simple as that. If we want to buy that extra acreage when it comes on the market and put in a championship-caliber golf course and clubhouse, we need more capital. So our choices are either take out a loan to finance the expansion or take on another partner.”

“There is a third option,” Audra interjected sweetly before winking at Ali. “I could bankroll it.”

Ali felt her lip curl at the suggestion. Audra knew Ali wouldn’t allow her sister to sink any more of her vast personal wealth into their three-way partnership.

“Don’t even go there, Aud. We’ve discussed it before. The answer is still no.”

Glancing at her sister, Ali wondered again how it was possible for two people who had once shared a womb to turn out so differently. Not just physically, although even in that regard they were night and day. Audra was a blue-eyed bombshell of a blonde who had more curves than should be legal, while Ali was tawny-eyed, brunette and athletically slender. They barely looked like siblings let alone twins. In temperament, though they were even more divergent. Ali was generally the more sedate, studious and practical of the pair. She left being flamboyant, frivolous and outrageous to Audra. In fairness, though, her sister was really none of those things any longer.
Since returning to Trillium Island a year earlier after a life-altering and nearly life-ending event, Audra had become much more subdued and centered. Now she was also much happier thanks to her recent marriage to Seth Ridley.

Audra and Ali had cleared the air and ended a decade-long estrangement, and for the most part Ali was delighted to have her sister back. Even so, the two women managed to lock horns on everything from fashion to politics.

Differences aside, though, Ali knew Audra and Dane were right about Saybrook’s. If they hoped to make the resort not just profitable once again, but to put it back on the map as a hot vacation destination, then they needed a golf course. It was the only way to compete with the upscale mainland resorts that had lured away so much of Saybrook’s business over the past decade.

A bigger investment from Audra was out of the question if the Conlans’ business venture was to remain on relatively equal footing. As it was, Audra had sunk more money in than either one of her siblings.

A loan wasn’t in their best interests either since the economy remained soft, gas prices were up and the experts were already predicting traffic would be down when the summer tourist season officially kicked off at the end of the month.

“We need another investor,” Dane said quietly. Ali sighed in defeat. “I know we do, but Banning? Does it have to be him?”
Dane shrugged.

“When we first talked about this idea, we agreed we wanted someone with ties to Trillium Island. Someone who would appreciate Saybrook’s charm, as well as its importance not only to the island’s history but to its overall economy. Luke fits the bill, especially since he’s done very well for himself since leaving,” he said patiently.

“I know.”

Of course she did. Not because the man who’d broken her heart had called or written to her, but because she couldn’t pick up a magazine or turn on the nightly news without seeing just what a huge success he’d become.

Dane wasn’t finished driving the point home.

“Luke Banning’s name on this project will give Saybrook’s the kind of international exposure it hasn’t had since the resort’s heyday in the nineteen-forties and fifties when members of the Rat Pack and other Hollywood legends made it their Midwest destination.”

“I thought that was part of Audra’s appeal,” Ali said nastily.
But her twin didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m old news, sweetie. Now that I’m married and haven’t appeared on a tabloid cover in nearly a year, I’m a has-been.”

Audra grinned at her husband of three months after saying it, clearly pleased to be passé after nearly a decade of generating headlines with her infamous antics.

Ali damned herself for being so practical. Their arguments made perfect sense, and if it weren’t for her personal history with Luke, she would be the first to suggest approaching him. The fight had nearly gone out of Ali, but she decided to make one last stand.

“Who’s to say Luke will want to have anything to do with the island? He left here more than a decade ago and has been pretty happy to stay away from it since then,” she pointed out. “Now that he’s such a big shot, he’s probably forgotten all about this place. It certainly doesn’t hold many happy memories for him given his childhood.”

Dane cleared his throat and glanced toward Audra, who said, “Luke’s interested.”

“You’ve spoken to him?” Ali’s incredulous gaze cut to her twin. “So this family dinner to discuss the future of the resort is really just a formality. You and Dane made the decision for Conlan Corporation behind my back.”

“Not behind your back, Ali. We ... um, actually, I made a phone call to Luke about a month ago and merely tossed the idea out to him,” Audra said. “He got back to me a couple weeks ago, having decided the idea has merit, at which point I told him I needed to discuss it with the pair of you before things could go any further. I discussed it with Dane last week and now we’re discussing it with you.”

“You guys talked about this last week and you’re just now getting around to cluing me in? How thoughtful,” Ali muttered.
“I can always call Luke back and tell him you can’t handle the idea of doing business with him,” Audra offered.

Ali’s vision blurred red once again.

“I can handle doing business with him,” she snapped. “Although I doubt I’ll actually have to. I’m sure Mr. Entrepreneur of the Year will delegate this project to some minion or another. We might not speak to him other than a conference call every now and then.”

She was feeling better already about the prospect. Surely, a businessman of Luke Banning’s stature would not jet in from New York City to dirty his hands with a project as relatively small as this one, even if sentiment apparently had him opening his wallet to help finance it.

“So, it’s agreed,” Dane said. “The Conlan Corporation is offering Luke Banning a stake in the resort.”

Ali begrudgingly grunted her consent while Audra flashed a triumphant smile.

It wasn’t until Ali was pulling on her jacket at the end of the evening that Audra said, “By the way, the meeting will be a week from Wednesday.”

“What meeting?”

“The meeting with Luke. That was the earliest he could get here to look over our plans for the golf course and club house.”
Ali didn’t waste her breath giving voice to the scathing retort that came to mind. She banged out the side door and was in her car before Dane could rush after her and attempt to play peacemaker.

“I think that went rather well,” Audra said, grinning at her brother as they stood by the side door and watched Ali’s car speed up the long drive that led back to the main road.

“Yeah,” he replied dryly. “No one’s bleeding.”

Audra’s thoughts turned to Luke Banning. “Not yet anyway.”

The sun was hot for mid-May, but Ali tipped back her head as she knelt in the small flowerbed that ringed her mailbox and took a moment to enjoy the way it felt on her face. Northern Michigan’s winters were always long, especially when lake-effect storms were added in. This winter had felt interminable. Just a few weeks earlier the last of the snow had finally melted from the woods that bordered the northern edge of her property. Trillium, the three-petaled flower for which the Lake Michigan island was named, bloomed there now, offering a much warmer carpet of white.

It was Sunday, which meant she had just three days to reconcile herself to seeing Luke again. She was over him, no matter what Audra seemed to think. But he’d been Ali’s first love, which made him impossible to forget. And he’d left her behind after three years of dating without a second thought, which made his desertion impossible to forgive. So of course the prospect of seeing him again had her on edge. That was only natural.

It didn’t help that Audra had ideas for this reunion that clearly went beyond business. In the past week, her twin had hinted broadly that Ali might want to do something with the shoulder-length hair she always wore pulled into a simple ponytail. And she had tried to convince Ali to wear more fashionable clothing than the conservative button-down blouses and straight, below-the-knee skirts that populated her wardrobe.

Ali ignored the unsolicited advice. This was business, not a social call. She wasn’t going to doll herself up for Luke Banning’s return. No, indeed.

Indifference, that’s what Wednesday’s meeting called for. Nonchalance.

Ali yanked a weed out of the flowerbed and tossed it atop the small heap of wilting interlopers next to her, warming to her strategy.

She would be ruthlessly polite and exceedingly casual when she and Luke were finally face to face. She would show him, Audra and everyone else who thought otherwise that the past was ancient history, and that the fact he’d spent the past decade in New York City growing wealthy and respected and enjoying the tabloid-documented attentions of supermodels and liposuctioned socialites was of absolutely no concern to her.
She snatched up her gardening trowel and hacked at the hard ground with its dagger-like metal point.

On Wednesday, she would be professional and businesslike. She would be cordial, but in a detached -- hack! hack! -- and disinterested -- hack! hack! -- way.

She swiped at the sweat beading on her brow and then set aside the trowel so she could wrap her fist around the base of another weed. As she knelt there locked in an intense tug-of-war with a deep-rooted dandelion, she heard the motorcycle. The mere sound of the engine reeled her back in time, as it always did, resurrecting the bittersweet memories she’d just convinced herself were safely buried and of no threat to her emotional well-being.

Even as her heart seemed to kick out an extra beat, she told herself she was being foolish. It wasn’t Luke. It couldn’t be Luke. She still had three days, nearly seventy-two hours, before she would see him again. Besides, he wouldn’t still be driving a damned motorcycle after all these years. He probably traveled in a limousine, a stretch one so long it would barely fit on the ferry that brought vehicles over from the mainland.
But as she shielded her eyes from the sun with one grimy hand, a Harley Davidson Sportster crested the hill and rumbled into view.

In the years he’d been gone, sightings of Trillium Island’s most famous son seemed to be about as common as sightings of Elvis, and they’d proved to be as reliable. There was no mistaking the Harley rider’s identity, though, especially since he was flouting state law by forgoing a helmet.

Even with the space of thirty yards and the span of more than a decade separating them, Ali knew him at a glance. Wind ruffled the almost-black hair she’d once run her fingers through. He was wearing it shorter these days, looking more like a respectable adult than the rowdy teenager and young man he’d been. Aviator sunglasses obscured his eyes, but she remembered that they were the same shade of blue as the cool waters of the great lake that surrounded the island.

A dozen feet from her driveway the bike slowed and all hope that Luke would somehow fail to spot her evaporated.
Indifference, she reminded herself.



And yet all she felt was mule-kicked when he brought the bike to a stop in front of her mailbox, grinning for a long moment in that sexy way that had haunted her dreams and taunted her heart.

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