the fire still burns
The charred remains
of Edgewater stood like a massive black and silver
mountain in the middle of a field of fried, brown grass.
Colin McGrath gazed at the rubble of what was once
one of Newport's glorious summer mansions.
was gone. And with it, a piece of Newport’s
great "Gilded Age." The architect
in him mourned the loss of any magnificent
structure, since he believed that they all
had a soul of their own. But the purist in
him wanted to thrust his fist in the air and
holler, "Yes!" Good riddance to over-opulent,
out-of-proportion, Italianate mausoleums. There
were still enough of them in Newport, Rhode
Island to attract tourists by the thousands.
his opinion, excessive extravagance had gone
out with the old millennium. In the case
of Edgewater, the exit had been accelerated
by one strategically-placed lightning strike,
and then helped along by high winds and a
year-long drought. Mother Nature’s
clean-up campaign. And what had started as
a favor to someone dear to him had become
a personal mission.
vision for Edgewater’s replacement
was so vivid, he really didn’t
need the sketches in the worn portfolio
tucked under his arm.
the thought brought a smile to his
face as he sauntered toward the three-story
carriage house, the only structure
on the historic property that had
survived the fire.
finest architects in the country
had been called to compete for this
job. Colin paused and rolled his
head a bit, working out a crick in
his neck. He glanced at the sea of
dark Brooks Brothers-type suits and
stiff white shirts gathered in groups
along the wraparound patio. A few
women wore the female version of
the same uniform.
a ponytail, earring or a pair of
jeans in the whole gang. Until now.
took the front steps two at a time,
aware that conversations stopped
and heads turned at his arrival.
Nothing new. He’d been ruffling
the feathers of the architecture
world since he’d descended
upon it six years ago. One thing
was for sure: everyone in this group
knew his name and his reputation.
he hadn’t bothered to research
the other firms. The only real competition
for this job was Hazelwood and Harrington,
and somewhere in this bunch was some
muck-a-muck from that 150-year-old
institution. Maybe even Eugene Harrington
himself. It didn’t matter who
H&H had sent to compete – there
was only one person on their payroll
he cared about and they certainly
wouldn’t have sent her. No
doubt His Highness Harrington kept
the princess locked in an ivory tower.
Protecting her from wolves...especially
ones with long hair.
presentations have already started,” a
gray-haired undertaker type said
to him, making little effort to hide
the ‘you’re late’ disdain
in his voice. “You need to
check in with the secretary in the
nodded his thanks, unfazed by the
warning. Adrian Gilmore, the current
owner of Edgewater, would meet with
his ten candidates alphabetically.
Colin might not know the competition,
but he’d made sure he knew
everything about the eccentric British
billionaire looking to reconstruct
his burned castle on Bellevue Avenue.
Colin fully intended to land the
he had absolutely no intention of
young woman holding a clipboard stood
in the two-story entryway, pacing
in front of a set of closed double
doors. Behind them, in what he assumed
was the solarium, Gilmore was undoubtedly
holding court – er, conducting
must be Mr. McGrath,” she said,
slowing her step to let her gaze
meander over his casual dress, lingering
for a moment on the tiny gold hoop
in his right ear.
gave her a self-deprecating smile. “How’d
the only person on my list who hasn’t
checked in yet.” Her eyes sparkled
with a flirtatious gleam. “And
the only man not wearing a tie.”
winked and lowered his voice to a
conspiratorial tone. “I don’t
want to choke.”
laughed lightly in response.
me he hasn’t reached M...yet.” He
glanced at the closed doors.
just made it,” she said, chastising
him with a wave of her pen. “You’re
up next, right after Miss Harrington.”
"Miss Harrington?” For
a split second, the world tilted
on its axis. “Grace Harrington?”
the woman could answer, the double
doors opened, pouring light into
the dim entryway. Framed by the doorway
and backlit by golden rays of sunshine,
the woman who’d haunted his
dreams for ten years stood looking
as though she’d been beamed
down from heaven.
a moment, he didn’t breathe.
smoothed a lock of honey blond hair,
as if by some remote chance a single
strand might have defied the rules
of nature and wandered out of place.
Her hair was shorter than he remembered,
grazing her shoulders like blunt-cut
satin. But her face hadn’t
changed in ten years. Unless he called getting
more beautiful a change.
still had a milky smooth complexion,
eyes the color of spring moss, and
cheekbones designed by an artist.
When she smiled at the receptionist,
the dimples he remembered so well
deepened, zinging arrows straight
into his heart.
memory of Grace Harrington could
make his blood hot and his body hard.
The sight of her nearly did him in.
Gracie,” he said quietly, purposely
staying out of the light.
eyes flashed, and for one second
-- no, for one millionth of a nanosecond
-- he saw them register with shock
and...pleasure. The flicker dulled
immediately into a blank stare.
translated loosely into “no
one on earth calls me Gracie and
stepped out of the shadows. “Colin
McGrath.” He held out his hand
as though...as though they’d
never had an intimate moment. Of
course, that would depend on the
definition of intimate.
responded with a blank stare.
Mellon? Your freshman year?” He
drank in her pretty face, lingering
for a second on her slender throat
and the exposed skin peeking from
her ivory suit. He swore he could
remember exactly what that skin tasted
like. He leaned forward and added
in a quiet voice, “The Buggy
warm flush darkened her cheeks. She
obviously remembered the night Lady
Harrington had been anything but
Of course.” Her smooth New
England tones remained rich with
upper-class elegance. “I’d
heard you’d opened your own
firm, in, uh, Pittsburgh.” Was
that a note of condescension when
she mentioned his humble hometown?
at least she knew something about
him. Had she done an Internet search
and followed his career as he’d
followed hers? His occasional visits
to various search engines had revealed
that she’d obtained her Masters
at the Rhode Island School of Design
and joined her father’s revered
architectural firm. He knew she lived
in Boston and, son of a gun, somehow
he’d managed to find out that
she hadn’t gotten married yet.
still in Pittsburgh,” he said. “But
I get around.”
eyes darted to his earring and his
open collar. “I’m sure
to see nothing’s changed,” he
Nothing had changed.
Gracie was still a goddess who loathed
him for the one night she’d
fallen off her pedestal right into
the arms – and the bed – of
an unworthy rogue.
changed?” She raised one delicate
brow in question and shifted her
portfolio from one hand to the other.
took a step nearer to her, catching
a whiff of lavender and stealing
some of her personal space. “You’re
still...” He grinned as her
eyes widened. “gorgeous.”
McGrath.” The receptionist’s
voice pulled him out of the depths
of Gracie’s eyes. “Mr.
Gilmore is ready for you now.”
saw Gracie’s narrow shoulders
relax in pure relief. “Good
luck with your presentation.”
nodded a casual thanks, but managed
to block her exit with a step toward
the solarium doors. “Let’s
have lunch when I’m finished.”
spark lit her eyes again, but it
died quickly, replaced by a cool,
tight smile. “Thank you, but
I have to drive back to Boston this
course, she’d say no. For the
four years they were both at Carnegie
Mellon, she’d barely been able
to hide her utter contempt when their
paths crossed on campus or in the
architecture department. She would
look away, without the slightest
acknowledgement. And he knew damn
well she’d juggled her course
schedule to avoid having him as a
grad student Teaching Assistant.
ten years had passed. Nearly a third
of his life, and hers. Someone or
something had put them in the same
place at the same time. Gram McGrath
would call it his inexplicable good
luck. “The moment you arrived
the devil was having a fight with
his wife, Colin McGrath,” she’d
say, using her expression for the
unusual combination of rain and sunshine. “So
you were born under a rainbow and
showered with good luck.” And
Gram would twist his ear as though
he were still five years old if she
found out he’d run into this
rainfall of good luck and hadn’t
stopped to get really good and wet.
on, Gracie. Tell Daddy you stayed
to check out the competition.”
secretary cleared her throat.
Gracie’s faux smile
wavered, and he saw a tiny vein pulse
in her throat. He’d kissed
not worried about competition,” she
said as she managed to step around
him. “Hazelwood and Harrington
built Edgewater in the nineteenth
century and we’ll rebuild it
in the twenty-first.”
McGrath, Mr. Gilmore is waiting.”
humor had left the secretary’s
voice, replaced by an edge of irritation.
Colin. It was nice to see you.”
wouldn’t let Gracie go without
a fight. He’d done that once
before. “No.” He reached
for her arm and she snatched it away
like she’d been burned. Easy,
boy. “We should talk.
About this project.”
the holdup, McGrath?” Adrian
Gilmore’s British accent echoed
from the solarium.
pinned Gracie with narrowed eyes,
and took a chance. “I need
to tell you something,” he
said slowly, deliberately. “About
the night...of the Buggy Races.”
skin paled and she raised a defiant
chin. “Ancient history, I assure
heard the scrape of Gilmore’s
chair against hardwood. “Just
skip McGrath and go straight to Perkins.”
it. He touched her shoulder, lightly
this time. “Wait for me, Gracie.”
she had a chance to respond, he strode
into the solarium and across the
expanse toward Adrian Gilmore’s
desk. “Don’t even think
about skipping this, Adrian. I’ve
got the winning designs right here.”
Burger Boy billionaire didn’t
laugh. “I like confidence,
McGrath, but don’t test my
only thing I plan to test is your
imagination, Adrian.” Colin
shook hands with the youthful-looking
fast-food tycoon and gave him a cocky
smile that belied the war going on
in his head.
opened his portfolio, took out his
first sketch, and tried to concentrate.
she stay? And if she did, should
he tell her the truth? That during
the one night they’d shared
all he’d done was watch her
sleep it off?
had awakened in his bed and in his
arms, hungover for the first – and
he was willing to bet – the
last time in her life, believing
that he’d taken her virginity.
But she wouldn’t listen to
his denials. He couldn’t really
blame her for being so certain about
what had happened. Not when they’d
awakened with her in a state of total
undress and his bed in a classic
morning-after mess. Would she believe
him, now? Or was ten years too late
and too long ago?
the hell is that?” Gilmore
asked, pointing to the black and
white elevation draft that Colin
had pulled out.
Adrian, is Pineapple House, and it
stood on this property a hundred
and fifty years before Edgewater.
I’m going to design and build
it for you.”
Just as he began his pitch, Colin realized that should he succeed, it
would probably cost him any chance with Gracie he’d ever have.
But Adrian suddenly looked very interested.