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by Sheryl Wright
Four women are about to embark on an emotional voyage that will be the ultimate test of love and loyalty. Will it end in smooth sailing—or leave four hearts hopelessly adrift?
Despite dealing with family dynamics that can be one tent short of a circus, the future looks bright for Tyler Marsh and Georgie DiNamico. Deeply in love, the two are also deeply committed to the success of the DiNamico-Phipps Company of DynaTech, a leading marine engineering firm headquartered in Buffalo, NY.
Georgie’s steady recovery from the head injury she suffered in Afghanistan—and the company’s survival of a hostile takeover attempt—means the couple can finally concentrate on planning their wedding. Or so they thought, until an unseen event propels their relationship into turbulent waters.
Lori Phipps, the president of the company’s DynaCraft Yachts division is a master boat builder—and a master player when it comes to loving women. Until she crosses paths with someone unlike anyone she’s ever met before. Unfortunately, Lori’s past is about to catch up with her in the very slinky form of a not-so-casual hook-up.
Stay With Me is the stunning follow-up to Sheryl Wright’s popular romance, Don’t Let Go.
Georgie DiNamico had that pouty look she got whenever Tyler Marsh tried to convince her she should do something new, usually something she wouldn’t like. Tonight the discussion centered on their chosen attire for their upcoming wedding. “Baby,” Tyler said, “don’t give me that look. You know very well how great you look in a dress.”
“No! You are not wearing that drab old thing to my wedding.”
That got a wide grin from Georgie. “Your wedding?”
Tyler had to laugh at herself and her stance. Tackling Georgie on the old leather couch, she snuggled in, savoring her scent and warmth. For Tyler, there was nothing as perfect as being held in Georgie DiNamico’s arms.
It had been more than a year since that fateful January morning that had started Tyler on this path. When Georgie’s cousin Lou Phipps had drawn all the stakeholders and company advisers together to challenge Georgie DiNamico’s place in the family hierarchy. For years she had been the heir apparent to the DiNamico legacy but a surface to air missile had changed all that. A pilot with the Air National Guard, she had been nearing the end of her second tour in Afghanistan when her helicopter was hit. The only survivor of the crash, she had endured years of survivor’s guilt on top of multiple physical wounds and a debilitating head injury. With the love and support of her family, she had recovered physically but it wasn’t until Tyler came on the scene that she really started to live again.
Tyler had done that by simply seeing the woman for who she was instead of judging her by her deficits. And seeing Georgie as the capable woman she was, Tyler had just assumed she would still want to take the helm of the new division. She was just glad the new business plan included a position for someone with her skill set. It wasn’t like there were a whole lot of companies out there looking for advice from an economic ethicist, certainly none in western New York.
As soft lips began to trace along Tyler’s temple, she couldn’t deny the woman loved her completely. That was the thing most people didn’t appreciate. When Georgie committed, she was all in without reservation, and Tyler could only thank her stars she had taken a chance on her. Of course, that didn’t mean Georgie was without her own opinions. Wedding planning, she was starting to realize, was going to be as challenging as last year’s preparations to thwart the attempted hostile takeover of the family company.
While she had gotten Georgie through that and all the upheaval that followed, not everything had gone as planned. The biotech company Georgie had wanted to create had morphed into a leaner enterprise, concentrating on broader R&D challenges. After the company reorganization, Georgie had remained the chief innovation officer at DME and across the newly formed companies. She had named two of her engineers as directors to run the engineering change programs in the other divisions and report to her. Her feisty cousin Lori Phipps was now the president at DynaCraft Yachts. The legacy DiNamico Marine Engineering—or DME—now served as the parent company to both Georgie’s new R&D enterprise and DynaCraft. And a third new company was created to manage investments and real estate. Lou Phipps, now president of that new division, DPP Holdings, had been a bigger challenge to rein in. With her sister Marnie formally named President and CEO of DME, things had worked out exactly as everyone hoped. Even Lou was happier presiding over his own small division. At last there seemed to be accord among the family members and it radiated steadiness throughout the companies.
Everything had worked out as planned with only one real wrench. When the time came to name Georgie president of her new division, DynaTech Research, she had shied away, demurred. This after Marnie and Georgie had spent weeks negotiating the organization, plus sorting things like personnel to be transferred to the new company.
In view of all this, Marnie had taken Tyler out to lunch, just the two of them. Tyler had been perplexed by the invitation, even a little apprehensive. They hadn’t gone far, just down to the Fleet Street Grill, and as usual, Marnie hadn’t wasted any time. Sitting at the prime table in the restaurant’s bullnose, she had ordered her lunch and sampled her CC & Coke before asking straight out, “If you and my sister break up, will you still want to work with her or would that be too hard?”
Tyler choked on a mouthful of too hot coffee, burning her lip in the process. “What? Oh my God! Did Georgie ask you to…no…no she wouldn’t…”
Marnie rolled her eyes. Shaking her head, she told her, “Will you relax. Must I remind you, tact is not my strong suit?” Seeming to recognize how much she had startled her, she added, “I’m sorry, kiddo. I promise you, Georgie hasn’t said anything to me. Well she has, but it’s all slimy-lovee crap. I swear to you my sister is bat crap crazy mad in love with you. That’s not what this is about.”
Tyler fished an ice cube from her water glass. Wrapping it in the linen table napkin, she pressed it to her burned lip. “Marnie…I swear, you scare the crap out of me!”
That elicited a smile. “Sometimes you sound so much like Georgie…the old Georgie,” she qualified. “Thanks for that.” She let out a long and somewhat showy sigh before taking another gulp of her cocktail. “But honestly, we need to have a hard conversation. It’s the what-if talk and I promise, my sister has nothing to do with this. Am I clear?”
“Yes, I think…but why now?” It was a fair question or at least it looked like Marnie considered it so. Would she answer though? She was stubborn and could not be pushed to make any decision until she was good and ready.
Relinquishing her tumbler, Tyler watched as Marnie resorted to tapping her nails on the linen tablecloth. It was just her thing and everyone knew the more frantic the tapping or clicking, the more complex the information to come.
“You’re wasting your time writing papers,” Marnie said. “The work you did on the new business plans, the strategy sessions, and this whole innovation factory idea you have Georgie designing is outstanding. I think it’s time you take on more, a lot more.”
Still pressing the ice cube to her lip, Tyler slumped in her seat. “I appreciate the vote of confidence but honestly, I don’t think I can handle another thing. Between the papers you want me to present in Miami, the ongoing strategy sessions, not to mention Georgie’s special needs…”
Marnie’s tapping fingers migrated from their relatively quiet drumming on the table to tapping on the rim of her drink. “It’s time you hire a personal assistant for her. It’s not right for you two to be dating or shacking up or whatever you want to call it, and you having to handle her personal shit too.”
“Worried she’ll start to think it’s all part of my wifely duties?”
Marnie snorted at that. “I do love our knucklehead but her middle name is Oblivious!”
Now starting relax, Tyler admitted, “It does make it hard for her to surprise me with anything when I’m the one making all her calls and reservations.”
Marnie tittered but then asked with concern, “Please tell me she’s not being completely obtuse?”
Smiling, she reassured her, “Trust me, if there is one thing Georgie is not when she’s with me, it’s obtuse. I’ll admit I don’t know why, but she just seems so transparent to me. At least she has been. Do you think that might change?”
Marnie shook her head. “Honestly, when it comes to my sister, what you see is what you get. What I do know is her loyalty isn’t just some knee-jerk thing the Air Force instilled. I kind of think the only thing she has ever truly craved is to be understood, respected, and to be part of something…more. You bring all those things but it’s your understanding, your comprehension that matters most.”
Finishing off the last of her cocktail, she signaled to the waiter for another. That, Tyler noted, was not usual. She was about to ask what was wrong when Marnie gave out a little giggle. “They’re calling you the ‘Georgie Whisperer’ down in admin.”
“Marnie, what’s really going on?”
She waited while the waiter delivered their lunch and her second cocktail. “Christ kiddo, how do you always know? Never mind. Here’s the thing. I had planned to bring you down here, learn if you could or would cope with a shake-up between you and my sister, even scare you a bit, read you the riot act then let you stew while I made a decision. But I can’t do it. I already know what I want to do. The only issue is where you stand with Georgie if things don’t work out. And don’t do that…don’t think something’s wrong. This is just a manpower planning exercise, nothing more. Got it?”
Tyler sat up straighter. She was sure there was no reason to worry about her relationship with Georgie, at least ninety-nine percent sure. “Okay, I buy your premise and it is a valid question considering some of the new strategies being incorporated.” She was quiet as she sampled her grilled chicken. “Normally, I would raise the issue of ethics in broaching such a conversation between employee and employer, but I’ll let that rest. As far as I’m concerned, I’m having lunch with my girlfriend’s sister, who is asking personal questions I am willing to answer. So, the easy answer is no. I could not continue on as Georgie’s personal assistant if things were to fall apart. I want to believe that I’m mature enough to do so with the executive assistant duties but…well…traveling with her would be really difficult, especially if she met someone. Then…I don’t know…”
“Forget the assistant duties, all of it. You’ll hire someone.” Reading Tyler’s confusion, she explained, “You’re the one who has to. You know what she needs better than anyone. Hell, you’ve turned a crappy job into an art form. You’re running a tight ship and you’re a damn good judge of character. I’ll send the job requisition and salary scale to you and Susan and leave it in your hands.”
“And I’m just supposed to hire someone?”
“Well, I would like to meet the final candidate before you offer him or her the job but it’s really just a rubber stamp kind of thing. I do it with all new hires, and of course you’ll need Georgie’s two thumbs up but I warn you now, keep her out of the loop until you have the final pool narrowed down to two or three.” Marnie’s grin edged into the mischievous as she warned with a wink, “Trust me on this. Do you want her up for three days straight writing heuristic algorithms to make the choice for you? You know that’s what she’ll do!”
Admitting she was right did make Tyler smile. “Oh God, you do know your sister.” She sampled some of her salad, not really tasting anything as she considered Marnie’s question. “If I’m allowed to be completely honest here, it would almost kill me to stay if things fell apart, but I love this job too. And I think we both know I would have to leave Buffalo if I wanted to continue working in my field. Frankly, it would suck to come to work every day and see her. It would hurt like hell, but without the assistant duties we wouldn’t be working so closely. Under those conditions I would work hard to stay. So, easy answer, yes, I would continue working here if given the chance. Who knows, maybe in time we could be friends. Now, if you’re asking me if I had to choose between Georgie and the job, I choose Georgie and I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t.”
That drew a smile from Marnie. “Good to know. Although I can’t imagine how you would ever be in that position. So, tell me, how much of your billable day is devoted to Georgie’s shit? Oops, excuse the potty mouth, kiddo.”
“I didn’t want to say anything earlier, but you’re a little out of character, at least for this early in the day. Is there something else going on?”
Marnie pushed back from the table. It was a distancing action. After a long silence she pulled herself back to the conversation. “Answer my question first. Give me a ballpark?”
“That’s easy. Half my day is devoted to Georgie. She still sequesters herself until eleven thirty every day, but once she opens her office door, that’s it, I’m needed at her side. Now answer my question please.”
“Okay...where do I start?” Marnie asked rhetorically, while resuming her incessant tapping. “I want to offer you a new position, something newly created, but I have some…some family issues that would need to be handled discreetly before the offer could be finalized.” She held up her hand to halt further query. “Before you ask, these are my issues that I need to cover with my sister’s girlfriend, not an employee. Things I would feel better discussing sooner rather than later.”
“Like me and Georgie breaking up?” She was getting upset again but there was no point in letting Marnie know how much. Still, Marnie seemed to waffle between distancing herself and just coming out and explaining what was going on.
Polishing off the second CC & Coke, she stared hard at the empty tumbler but instead of ordering another, she asked for coffee. They waited while their table was cleared and the fresh coffee served. It wasn’t until Marnie had the first sip out of the way before she turned her complete focus on Tyler. “My sister loves you deeply. That much I know. What comes next with you two is a complete mystery for me. Not that I mind, but I need to be prepared for all contingencies.”
“Tyler don’t do that. I’m not giving you a hard time. Just between you and me, I think you’re the best thing that ever happened to her. She loves you and we all see how much you care for her. And everything’s changed now. You guys can get married! Is that something you might consider?”
“Marnie, please, this is a conversation I should be having with Georgie, not you.”
“Will you just humor me?”
“No, I won’t. Honestly, I don’t understand where you’re going with this.” It took everything she had to keep her seat, and the grin on Marnie’s face said she damn well knew it.
“You’re a pain in my backside but you’re also a good egg. So here goes. We want to name you President of DynaTech Research. Now before you say squat, the offer comes with some conditions. Some are for my employee, Dr. Tyler Marsh, but most of these caveats are for my sister’s girlfriend. Whom should I talk with first?”
With a rush of delight, Tyler gave her a sheepish grin, starting to comprehend Marnie’s situation. “Since conveniently enough you’re having lunch with your sister’s girlfriend, now might be a good time to talk to her.”
“I need you to sign a prenuptial.”
Silenced by shock, she finally squeaked out her objection. “What’s the issue?” she croaked. “You already have me managing her estate.”
“No,” Marnie corrected, “I have my employee Dr. Tyler Marsh managing my sister’s holdings, not you, not her girlfriend.”
The distinction wasn’t lost on her but it did take a moment to consider everything she was hearing. “We’ve been playing with the idea but she hasn’t actually asked. I do want to marry her but I also know that things have to happen in a certain order for her. When whatever it is she needs to see happens, if it happens, I know she’ll ask and I think you know I have no issue signing anything you want as long as any kids we have are protected. Still, until then, can we shelve the conversation?”
“Sorry kiddo, no. I’m still stuck at the part where she hasn’t asked and you aren’t a hundred percent sure she will. What’s up with that?”
Caught out, Tyler was uncharacteristically lost for words. She shrugged, fighting back tears. She knew in her heart Georgie loved her, wanted to spend her life with her, but she hadn’t asked for her hand—or anything, really. She hadn’t even asked her to move in, although Tyler had pretty much insinuated herself completely into Georgie’s life. Maybe that was why. Maybe Georgie just assumed she was satisfied with that.
“Hey now, let’s backup here,” Marnie said. “You admitted you understand how she has to check all the boxes off before she can move on to the next step. I’m going to stick my nose in it and speculate that she’s waiting for you and me to finalize your new position before she pops the question. Doesn’t that sound like her, kiddo?”
Tyler nodded, wiping an errant tear away. “Is that what she’s waiting for, for me to agree to a prenuptial?”
“Oh no-no-no, that’s all me, kiddo. Georgie would kill me if she knew we were having this conversation but I have a corporation to run and a family legacy to protect. You can understand that, right?”
Finally settling down, Tyler tried to look at the situation from Marnie’s point of view. “I’m starting to see a bigger picture. If I take the top job, which I’m not even sure I can handle but, good God, yes I want it! So, if I take the job, we will hire someone to assist Georgie but you don’t want to pass all my responsibilities to the new person, things like managing her money. I get that and of course it would make sense to get a written agreement in place before handing that kind of thing off to the girlfriend. I get it, really Marnie I do. I just never considered the distinction. Still, I really think this is something I need to talk about with her, don’t you?”
Marnie caved but didn’t appear too dejected. “So, you want the job? If you do, I suggest you get your ass in gear and find her a new assistant.”
Now feeling much better, she smiled. “You really think I can do it, you and Georgie?”
Offering up her trademark grin, Marnie nodded, finishing her coffee before explaining, “You, kiddo, are perfect for the job. You’ve been managing her department and leading this new strategy for all these months. Face it: your education and experience make you the perfect choice to lead a startup research firm. And as a bonus, you can manage and communicate with your chief innovation officer and VP of engineering. And…before you ask, that is the title and job she wants. She was adamant that you be offered the spot as company president. Frankly, I’m a little miffed I didn’t think of it myself.”
Now, remembering back to that lunch a month ago, Tyler could still feel the roller coaster of emotions that conversation had been. That night, over dinner with Georgie, she had laid out the plan to hire a new assistant before Marnie announced her promotion. Georgie had been so excited, and pleased, and relieved—yet there was still no marriage proposal. As the days, then weeks passed by she started to wonder if she was wrong, even questioning if maybe Georgie was waiting for her to ask. No, she knew that wasn’t it.
Almost a month to the day afterward, she was just finishing dinner at her parents’ when Georgie sent her a text asking her over. As much as she loved spending her nights with Georgie, she had made some personal rules about spending time with her family, especially now that her sister had delivered a precious little girl. This was her family night. Besides, outside the rain was torrential. Still, Georgie did manage to lure her out. She arrived cranky and disheveled only to find a note from Georgie, “I’m on the roof, G.” along with a raincoat and umbrella.
She stormed her way up the fire stairs pissed as all get-out at having to go back out into the storm when she could be home and toasty warm and making googly eyes at her little niece.
Pushing the fire door open she stopped in her tracks. Georgie, decked out in rain gear and wearing the peaked wool watch cap she preferred when sailing, stood in the bullnose much as she had almost a year earlier. Seeing her fearless in the center of a magnificent storm, Tyler had fallen in love with her again. Unlike that night, the weather now was unseasonably warm for snow, but it had deteriorated into a hard cold rain. Lightning, also a strange sight for so late in the season, illuminated the dramatic backdrop, while a dozen hurricane lamps lit a wide circle around Georgie. She reached out, taking Tyler’s hand, leading her to the center of the circle, the center of her storm. Then she did something that truly warmed Tyler’s heart. She closed her eyes to see the words, words Tyler now knew she had long since prepared.
“When I first read your résumé, I knew you were smart and accomplished and ready for a new direction...When you first entered my office, I knew you were poised and beautiful and prepared for any challenge...But it wasn’t until you walked out here, into the storm, that I allowed myself to see something more. I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to hope that what I saw was real.” She closed her eyes again and Tyler was warmed by the effort it must have taken her to craft her words and commit them to heart. “You once said, you imagined that was the first time in a long time I had felt any attraction to a woman, but the truth is I have never felt for anyone what I feel for you...There is no doubt in my heart or my mind that you are brilliant and gorgeous, the whole world sees that, but you, the real inside you, took my heart and my breath in a way I hope to never comprehend…I love you Tyler Marsh and I want to build a life together, me and you.”
Georgie closed her eyes again, opened them, and then, smiling, got down on one knee. Between Tyler almost tackling her on the spot and the pounding rain, Georgie had a hard time getting the rest of the words out, not to mention the ring.
When Lori Phipps decided to hire Tyler Marsh’s baby sister to take over as security for the boatyard, she never imagined the kid would be so diligent much less observant. “You’re sure about this?”
The look she got in return was answer enough.
“Hey, no offense kiddo! I know you’re on your game. I just don’t wanna chase anyone off if they have a legit reason to be down here.”
Pulling out the seat at the opposite desk in the little cottage that served as the security shed and her unofficial office, Lori realized she needed more info. “Well, if it’s a she, she’s obviously not one of the creeps who thinks this is a good place to play whip-o-willie.”
Megan smacked her hands over her mouth. “Oh boss! My dad’s gonna laugh his ass off when I tell him that one.”
Lori grinned. The Marsh family were all good people in her books, even junior here. She had gotten to know the kid during last year’s family dustup, her own family that is. The DiNamico/Phipps clan had finally found peace, and a lot of credit was due to Megan’s older sister Tyler and her budding relationship with cousin Georgie. Budding relationship—yeah, right! Those two are madly in love and absolutely perfect for each other. What she wouldn’t give for something like that. Yes, she had made a good life for herself, even building her own craftsman home just steps from the beach. She had a life most people would give an arm for and she rarely lacked for company. Especially now. Since being officially named president of DynaCraft Yachts, it was as if the lesbians were coming out of the woodwork. Too bad she wasn’t interested. Oh, she wanted someone, but seeing Georgie and Tyler together had convinced her of one thing. If it’s not the real thing, then why the hell bother?
“I don’t think she’s a creep. I think she’s in trouble,” Megan said, almost as a confession.
“Trouble?” she asked, having to think that through. Turning her attention back to the parking report, she noted, “She leaves every morning and she’s back at the same time every night.”
“I checked the computer. I didn’t watch through every single night but all the ones I checked, yeah.”
“I trust your instincts.”
“Yeah, I do. Don’t be so surprised. Hell, I never would have even thought to check the computer for overnighters.” Lori sighed, trying to decide what to do. “Okay kiddo, what would you do if you were me?”
As if sensing the importance of the question, Megan sat up straighter. Even Lori had to admit she looked the part of a cop in the uniform. Tough, smart, in control. “Well first off, she’s not hurting anyone, so I don’t really want to give her the heave if she has no place to go.” She chewed on her knuckle for a moment then forged ahead. “I think she’s in some sort of trouble, probably with her folks. I think maybe she’s been kicked out and has no place to go.”
“Okay, I’ll buy that, but tell me what you’re basing that on. More good intuition?”
Looking very much like the cop she wanted to be, Megan removed a memo pad from her pocket and folded it open on the desk. “She usually arrives at one of two times: six thirty or ten thirty p.m. She always has takeout with her. She parks by the spit to eat her meal then places her garbage in the public trash. She then takes a walk to the public restroom. If it’s the early arrival, she then leaves the property for a long walk, usually about an hour. Afterward she returns and drives out for a short while. I followed her the other night.”
Lori raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She’d reserve her comments on driving the security truck off the property later.
“She just drove around. Eventually I thought she spotted me, so I just turned around and came back. She pulled back in less than five minutes after I did, so...”
“So, she’s just driving around like she has nowhere to go, I get it. What else?”
“I think she’s scared, at least at night. When she comes back from her drive or on the late nights, she always tries to park close to the main shed in the little alcove. It’s pretty hidden there.”
“But we have cameras up everywhere and a big honking Under Surveillance sign. Why there?”
“Honestly, if it were me, that’s where I’d park. One, the surveillance signs would discourage any creeps and two, you can’t see a car parked there at night unless you pull up right in front of it…”
“What about the security lights?”
“They’re on a timer. Once she’s in her car and settled in I doubt there’s enough movement to trip the sensors.”
That surprised her. “Wow, you did do your homework. I had totally forgotten about that. How long do you think it took her to figure that out?”
Megan smiled. “Two nights. She parked under the spotlights by the public washrooms for the first two nights. If I had to sleep in my car, I would pick a well-lit place too. That is if I couldn’t find someplace that felt safer.”
“And you think she’s been parking in the slip because it’s safer than out under the spotlights?”
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Megan said. “I have to sleep in my car but I’m scared so I pick a place that’s really busy twenty-four seven, but that comes with noise and nosy assholes. Next you find a quiet place but well-lit so people aren’t too interested in your car but that has other risks.”
“Like some asshole noticing you’re in your car alone. Even though the parking around the washroom is really bright, there aren’t a lot of people around and God knows how long it would take the cops to get out here…well, I’m just sayin’, hiding sounds like the safer bet to me.”
Lori nodded, agreeing with Megan’s evaluation. “So how do we help her out? I mean, if we confront her, she’s liable to take off and go hide some other place. I don’t know how you feel about it but if we can help one person, then why not?”
“Agreed, but boss, how can we help? You said it yourself, if we try to approach her, we’ll probably just scare her off.”
Lori sat silently, tossing her lack of options around hoping something would stick. Finally, groaning, she picked up the report again. “So she leaves at six ten every day. Every day?” At Megan’s nod, she asked, “Feel like going for a drive tomorrow morning, nice and early?”
“Oh man, don’t you think she’d spot the truck?”
“Don’t stress it, kiddo. We’ll find you some inconspicuous wheels. How’s that sound?”
“Maybe I should stick around tonight, you know, just to make sure she’s okay.”
Smiling, she had to admit the kid was committed to doing the right thing. One day she was going to be a damned good cop. “No worries. I’ve got the security app on my phone. I can walk over here faster than the cops can respond. I’ll set the app to notify me every time the light sensor is activated. There!” She held up her cell phone as proof that she had just changed the settings. “Okay, head on home and say hi to the family and I’ll see you bright and early.”
Megan grabbed her uniform ski jacket off the chair. All bundled up for the cold, she grabbed the keys to her Chevy and headed out. At the door she stopped. “Boss, thanks for listening. See yah tomorrow.”
Lori watched her breeze out, listening for the starter on the Chevy try to turn the engine over. She didn’t relax until she heard the engine rumble to life. Well, that was one of her little flock sorted for the day.
As Lori walked from the boatyard to her house, she couldn’t help but worry about the homeless woman Megan had noticed. Even for late March, it was still damn cold and the snow had been relentless. Tonight wouldn’t be too bad, with temps expected to stay in the low forties. Still, she didn’t envy the woman. Her mind had been running wild with all the possible scenarios that would drive a woman onto the street. Why was it always the women who had to run? It seemed women and kids, the most vulnerable, were always the ones to pay.
It was hard not to turn around and go out to the woman’s car. She wanted to just ask her if she was okay and what she could do but Megan was probably right. The vulnerable had a way of shying from help. How could they not? Anyone desperate enough to live in her car might be feeling some measure of fear not to mention shame. People were proud. Besides, this was the evening Megan said she wouldn’t return, if she returned, until late.
She was trying to decide if she should walk back over later on when she noticed all the lights in her place were on. For a moment she happily imagined that her sister Leslie had stopped by with something for her supper. She did so once or twice a month but she usually called first, teasing that she wouldn’t risk popping into Lori’s bachelorette pad unannounced. Smelling the sweet scent of a hardwood fire and spotting the corresponding smoke chugging from her chimney, she groaned, knowing for a fact that Leslie would never light a fire in the fireplace. That meant Peachy was here and had probably gone to some great effort to create the ultimate romantic evening. Sweet baby Jesus…give me strength.
Lori had made the ultimate mistake with this one, letting a casual hookup get too close. Oh sure, Sue Ellen Peach was a great gal and certainly fun to be with but Lori knew deep down she wasn’t long-term relationship material, even if she was sexy as all get-out and had the sweetest ass! It wasn’t that long ago she had given up on relationships, but seeing Georgie and Tyler Marsh together had renewed her white picket fence dream. She was finally in the place where she could care for a family and have the time for a loving and intimate relationship. Too bad old Peachy wasn’t the one.
It had been a banner year at work. The upset her brother had failed to orchestrate actually initiated some amazing changes. She was now leading her own company and with Georgie’s help and Marnie’s encouragement, she had revamped the entire line and rolled out their biggest and best yacht to date. They had debuted the DynaCraft Super 69 at the Miami International Boat Show after taking her for a three-week shakedown cruise. It had been amazing. The Super 69 was big, fast, and fun to sail. Not only did they take the top award for Best New Design, she had personally taken a dozen new orders. She was now in the enviable position of having more work than the boatyard could handle. In this economy it was more than fortunate, it was downright miraculous.
Hanging her coat in the mudroom, she kicked off her work boots and braced herself. It wasn’t Peachy’s fault she hadn’t been clear about her intentions. She had been out with her only a few times before inviting her to come along on the shakedown cruise. To be perfectly honest, she had only asked because Peachy wasn’t working and could afford the time away. Besides, the last thing she wanted to do was play third wheel to Georgie and Tyler’s lovey-dovey adventure. Setting out from Baltimore in January had been a bit intimidating but seeing that old spark of challenge in Georgie’s eyes was all the motivation she needed.
The first four days aboard had been hard on Tyler and Peachy. They had been forewarned that around the clock either she or Georgie would need to be at the helm. Both had offered to serve as watch but the reality of freezing temps, heaving swells, a pitching deck, and having to constantly break ice off the running lines and sheets had been shocking. She did give them credit; cold and miserable, they both stuck it out. By the time they reached the Bahamas, they were thawed and ready to have fun and Peachy had been all that and more. Still, as much fun as they had together, Lori knew there was no emotional connection between them.
“Hey Peachy, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Oh, you’re home,” she said with what almost passed as surprise. “I was just dropping this off,” she added, pointing to the casserole dish she was just putting in the oven. “I was in the mood to cook today. I guess I got carried away. When I couldn’t find room for it in my fridge, I thought of you and brought it over. I hope you don’t mind me letting myself in.”
“I see you set a fire too. Feeling cold?” she asked without rancor or encouragement. She was aiming for neutral as she slid into a kitchen chair.
“No. It’s very thoughtful, but…”
“But, I didn’t call and I let myself in which would have been totally embarrassing if you had brought someone home, right?”
Lori tried to smile. “Thanks for remembering that little fact and I do appreciate the food and all but…Peachy, we talked about this.”
Smiling and clearly not too bothered by Lori’s reaction, Peachy swooped across the kitchen, quickly straddling Lori and wrapping her slender arms around her broad shoulders. “Hey, no worries, okay? I know the dealio! We’re just casual, nothing more, and I know better than to just show up here but I just wanted to have a little fun tonight. You can’t blame a girl for that, can you?”
Groaning, Lori couldn’t help but grab her ass. Peachy was a vivacious redhead, and absolutely crazy in the sack, but she had to be sure. “It’s just fun right?”
“I’m just here for a good time,” she declared, clamping her lips on Lori’s mouth and grinding her ass into her cradling palms. When she came up for air, she added with her lopsided grin, “The casserole will take forty minutes, any idea how we can pass the time?”
Lori knew exactly how they would spend the next forty minutes, and the forty after that, and the forty after that…
* * *
There were really only two ways out of the Cattaraugus Creek community. You could head out the west side on Hanford, or take Allegany. Megan was betting the mystery woman would be headed to Buffalo, and would take Allegany up to Main. Staking her bet, she was parked at the Sunset Bay Restaurant when she spotted the blue Ford. Right on time.
For once she was glad she and her dad had spent the evening working on her car. They had finally replaced the starter with one they were sure wouldn’t burn out in a week. Since taking up the job as the boatyard’s one and only security guard, she had surprised the Marsh clan with her dedication. Back when her boss Lori, Marnie, and her sister’s girlfriend Georgie had been hiding out in her family room planning their strategy to fight cousin Lou’s takeover attempt, with her sisters and mom lending a hand, she and her dad had spent their time cooking and yapping about stuff. It went a long way to repairing the damage her emotional spat had been causing.
Back then they were arguing about college. She had withdrawn from UB without their knowledge and there had been hell to pay when they figured it out. At the time she couldn’t explain it to them. How could she make them understand? College was okay if you knew what you wanted to do. Only thing was, she didn’t have a clue at the time. Then she’d overheard Lori complaining that she would probably have to hire some security company to cover the boatyard now that their nephew Ethan was leaving for the Marine Corps. That caught her attention. Not being a security guard but the idea of community policing.
Both Lori and Georgie had been against bringing in some outside security company. The boatyard was the center of a small and thriving community. Everyone knew to call the boatyard security cottage for help and often did because Ethan Phipps had been more than a site security guard; he was family and a welcome face when things were strained. Lori had seen to Ethan’s training, sending him off to the Buffalo Police Academy for several courses. The academy commander had been one of the people to write a great recommendation for Ethan that got him into the marines for officer training. At the moment Ethan was in Pensacola learning to fly. How great was that? And Ethan was doing something else. Once he learned Tyler’s sis would be taking his old job, he had connected with her on Facebook, offering insights and experience to smooth the way. Now, a year later, they were buddies and had hashed out all the things she was interested in learning and doing.
Following the mystery woman up Route Five, it was easy to see this was the work she wanted. Not following trespassers but making a difference in the community. Her dad was like that in his own way too. Fixing cars and helping your friends and neighbors was cool and all, but policing lit her fire. For the first six months on the job she was just happy to be employed but it wasn’t until starting her part-time training at the police academy that she knew she truly belonged in uniform.
Back then she sat with her folks, trying to sort out her feelings and make them understand this boatyard thing wasn’t just a sabbatical from university. Megan had assumed they would be concerned because she wasn’t interested in some high up degrees and professions like her sisters. It was cool that Kira was a lawyer and Tyler was a…whatever it was she did, but that wasn’t who Megan was. She wanted to be a cop. And not just any cop. She wanted to join the New York State Police. She wanted to chase bad guys down the highway and help lost kids get home and…and figure out what would cause a woman to live in her car?
Her parents’ first concern had surprised her. They were worried that working for a statewide employer might take her away from them. Her dad got it, but Debbie Marsh had been scared for her little girl. Policing, especially at the community level, was rewarding and dangerous, but what if they wanted her to move way downstate? She had shown them everything on the New York State Police recruiting site, and all the research she had completed by herself. The NYSP would give her a choice of postings and even if she ended up a little farther away than she wanted, she would work her way back to the Greater Buffalo Area soon enough.
They had just hit the Seneca roundabout when mystery woman turned for Route 20. That surprised her but she followed along making sure to leave a car between her Chevy and the blue Ford. Her fourteen-year-old Cavalier was a very common vehicle for the region but she and Carl had invested a lot of time over the last year turning the old convertible into something special. Carl had picked it up at auction thinking it would make a great project for the car club. The front end was completely smashed in but Carl was the best at what he did and could tell the difference between salvage and garbage. While they worked on the frame and body, Georgie had offered a boat engine. It was a strange choice but the Dynamic Straight Six, the only operating prototype built, produced more than 340 horsepower on the Dyno. Even though she ran on diesel, she purred like a kitten and as a bonus, Megan hadn’t spent a cent on gas. The boatyard had been turning out their own biodiesel for years. The old fryer grease from three of the local restaurants had been providing all the resource material needed to perk up their own fuel. Nothing was wasted at her work. She liked that, liked the attitude, and the people.
She hadn’t really liked Georgie DiNamico when her sister first brought her home. She seemed weird and slow. She would come out with all these big convoluted questions then only utter a few words when you asked her something. It had been her mom, as usual, who had hauled her into the kitchen to give her grief. No one had told her Georgie’s head was fucked up from getting shot up over there. Still, it was weird, but Georgie did try and it was obvious that she had it bad for Tyler. Megan hadn’t thought much of that. Her only worry had been for how it would look if they got together. But she had been wrong about Georgie. She was good people and so was her family.
Proof positive was Lori’s job offer. It had come when Georgie’s family had been camped out with her mom and sisters, trying to figure out some business shit. Lori had slipped outside for a smoke and caught Megan sneaking a butt too. That’s when she found out from Lori about the security job at the boatyard. It wasn’t glamorous but it did come with some police training and a lot of responsibility. Lori said her nephew had done it for a year after graduating from the University of Buffalo while he applied to the marines.
She had spent half the night on Facebook with her academy friends and some state cops asking what they thought. Most considered working as a security guard beneath them and even detrimental to her future application to the state police, right up until someone asked which guard company she was considering. Opinions reversed immediately, when she explained it would be for the DiNamicos. Everyone who knew Buffalo knew the DiNamico family and how they treated their security people. They got their training at the police academy, they had great uniforms and all the best equipment, but better than that, she had learned that a recommendation from them was like a golden invitation to the police force. She’d have to work to earn that recommendation but she was up for the challenge and said as much to her parents when she told them the job required their joint endorsement. Without it, neither Georgie nor Lori would give her a chance. Respect, it turned out was the first rule if she wanted to work at the boatyard or for DME. Respect for family, respect for community, but most of all respect for her own efforts.
All of this was probably why she was following the blue Ford as they made their way along the Buffalo Skyway. It looked like they were headed downtown. That didn’t mean anything except she was wondering why the woman had taken the route she had. I-90 would have been faster, so why…The I-90’s a toll road. That cost money. Sure enough, she followed the blue Ford off the skyway at Church, staying a few cars behind. It was still early, even by downtown standards at just 7:05 as the mystery woman turned cautiously onto Pearl Street.
Megan was considering the irony of having someone camp way out at the boatyard only to spend an hour driving to within a block of their head office…on the same block as the head office. Then the blue Ford pulled into the parking lot for the DiNamico Building. Megan, a little more than confused, stopped her Z24 on Pearl Street and studied the young woman carefully. Sure enough, she parked her car, grabbed a knapsack, and headed for the side entrance with her covered head held low, eyes down, never looking around.
Huh? Mystery Woman works here?
Then why didn’t Lori know her? She knew everyone, prided herself on knowing everyone who worked for the DiNamico and Phipps families. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Some of the offices were rented out and she could work at one of them? Still, why would she seek out shelter at the boatyard if she didn’t work here? And if she did work here, work for the family, why hadn’t someone stepped up to help her out? Megan had worked here for over a year and knew for a fact that the DiNamico/Phipps clan took care of its own and that included employees.
She now had a right to pursue the case, if for no other reason, she convinced herself, she needed to identify the woman in peril to her employers. Trying to decide her next move she jumped when someone knocked at her passenger window. Powering it down, she warned with a growl, “Geez Sanjit! What the hell…you trying to kill me?”
He grinned up a storm, leaning his lithe frame into the open window. “Hey Megan. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted you to know you can park in the lot. There’s lots of room today. Are you here to see Marnie? Oh, don’t tell me you got accepted to the academy before me? Does Lori know? Wait, maybe I should transfer out to the boatyard? What’s it like out there in the winter? Hey, open the door, I’ll ride into the lot with you and point out an open visitor spot. So, what’s the deal, do you have paperwork to do?”
Megan popped the door locks and waited for a gap in his inquisition. “Sanjit! Come up for air, man. I swear, you ask more questions than my sisters put together.”
“Kira and Tyler aren’t here yet. You didn’t come here to see them did you because I don’t think Tyler will be here until eight and Kira doesn’t come in until the day care opens at eight thirty. Of course you know all that, sorry,” he apologized, pointing out the correct parking spot for her. “I was just so excited to see you. Please tell me you got in? That’s why you’re here, right?” he asked hopefully.
The truth was, they were both applying to the police academy and had hopes of being accepted in the same class. They had started their jobs on the same day, attending training together, and both looking forward to a career in law enforcement. Starting as a security guard at DME, or whatever they were now calling the family of companies operated by the DiNamico/Phipps family, was a good move for good reasons.
Way back during the Depression, old Luigi, the company founder, had needed some security to keep tabs on his building lot and the construction materials he’d been accumulating. Looking for a way to help unemployed veterans, he started hiring them, in time expanding his recruiting to include off-duty cops. Doing so fused a connection between the company and professional law enforcement that lasted to present day. Pretty much everyone working security for the DiNamico companies was a retired cop, an off-duty cop, or a soon-to-be cop. Still, both would-be police officers Sanjit and Megan would have to wait until a new academy class was called. You had to be a hired employee to attend the police academy and that wouldn’t happen until the next state funding round or a lot more retirements took place. While they worked here at DME, they were both studying the fundamentals and talking about being cops. It was their thing.
“Dude, take a breath. I’m not here to see anybody. Well at least I didn’t plan on it.”
“A mystery!” His eyes were big and bright. “Tell me everything.”
“Okay, but you can’t say anything. Not till I tell Ms. Phipps what I found, okay?” She pinned him with a stern look, waiting for him to nod his acceptance. It was the only time he ever shut up. “That woman that pulled in, in the blue Ford, does she work here?”
He had to think for a minute, looking around the lot. Pointing to the car in question, he asked for confirmation before pulling his smartphone from his jacket and tabbed to the security app he used for parking access and visitor notifications. “Here we go…” The file didn’t provide much information but he shared what was there. “Her name is Aydan Ferdowsi; she’s an intern in engineering. Let’s see who she works for…” He tabbed through another page before saying in confusion, “It says here she works for Tyler Marsh? Did you know, oh no, what’s this about? Not Georgie, please tell me it’s not like that?”
“It’s not like that. Geez, will you chill already!” At least she hoped it wasn’t like that. Shit, if Tyler broke up with Georgie…no, that couldn’t be it. She waited for his incessant questioning to peter out. The minute he settled down, she told him the whole story of the mystery woman.
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know yet. I guess I need to talk to Ms. Phipps.”
“Not your sister? If the big bosses find out we knew this woman was in trouble and we didn’t do anything…”
“We’ll do something, I promise. Just keep it to yourself for now. Let me get back to the boatyard and talk to my boss. Seems as how that’s where Miss Ferdowsi likes to hide out, it might be better to approach her out there.”
“Maybe. March might signal spring to some but it’s still darn cold out. We can’t let her sleep out there for another night, can we?”
“No way, buddy. Don’t worry. If Ms. Phipps can’t think of something, I’ll talk to Tyler. She’s supposed to be a big boss now too. I bet she can help. At least I hope so.”
“Me too.” He climbed out of her car and opened the lift gate for her to head back out for her shift at the boatyard.
She had some of the answers Lori Phipps was looking for, she just wasn’t sure if she’d be all that happy about them.