For the Sake of His Heir(2)

By: Joanne Rock

Gabe never moved fast.

It was one of the qualities that made him an excellent woodworker. He had a deliberate way of doing things, slow and thoughtful, because he gave each task his undivided attention. Tourists who stayed at the resort chalked it up to Gabe being on “island time.” But Brianne knew him better than that. He was actually very dialed in. Intense. He just put a charming face on it.

“Let’s stop at the main house.” Gabe shifted direction on the planked walkways that connected disparate parts of the property and provided the framework for her garden designs. “I’ve got a drawing you can take with you to see what I have in mind for the bungalow.”

He passed two empty cabins in need of upgrades as he approached the back door of the Birdsong Hotel’s central building, which housed ten units with terraces overlooking the Atlantic. The dark-tiled mansard roof with dormers was a nod to the historic French architecture of the island. The rest of the building was white clapboard with heavy gray shutters and louvers over the windows—the shutters were decorative unless a hurricane came, and then they could be employed for safety measures. The louvers, another historic feature of many of the houses in downtown Fort-de-France, the island’s capital, could be used for extra shade.

“I don’t want to plant anything in the front garden that will be in the way of the redesign.” Brianne knew better than to think that an upgrade for Gabe only meant a couple of new windows or a better door. She loved seeing the way the buildings took shape with him guiding the redesign, the thoughtful details he included that made each building unique. Special.

She liked to think they made a great team. Her gardens were like the decorative frames for his work, drawing attention to the best features.

“This project is going to be more streamlined.” He brushed away some of the dust on his shirt, then pulled open the screen door on a private entrance in back that led to his office and downstairs suite. “I was planning on talking to you today about some changes in my plans. I’m going to hand off some of the remodel to a contractor.”

He held the screen door open for her, waiting for her to step inside. She could see his eleven-month-old son, Jason, seated in a high chair. The boy’s caregiver, Ms. Camille, bustled around the small kitchen reserved for Gabe’s use. The expansive one-bedroom unit was larger than most. Gabe kept a villa of his own at the farthest edge of the resort and only needed this space for a centrally located office and day care, so it provided plenty of space.

“A contractor?” She must have misunderstood. “You’ve been personally handling every detail of this remodel for two years because it’s your hotel and you’re the best on the island. I don’t understand.”

“Come in.” He gently propelled her forward, one hand on the middle of her back while he waved a greeting to the caregiver with the other. “Ms. Camille, I’ve got Jason if you want some lunch.”

The older woman nodded. “Be en garde, Monsieur Gabriel,” she said, her native French thick in her accent as she passed Gabe a stack of mail. “Our sweet Jason is in a mischievous mood.”

Brianne’s gaze went to the dark-haired boy strapped in his high chair, his bare toes curling and butt bouncing at the sight of his father. Two little teeth gleamed in an otherwise gummy grin. Dressed in striped blue shorts and a bright blue T-shirt, the boy banged a fat spoon against his tray.

“I’m on it,” Gabe assured her, bending to kiss the baby’s forehead, a gesture that clutched at Brianne’s heart, making her wonder how Jason’s mother could ever abandon him—the child or the father, for that matter.

Theresa Bauder had lived among them for all of six months. She was a beautiful, gifted songstress Gabe met when she’d given up on her dreams to Martinique after a frustrating three years of trying to make it in the music business. Brianne had been envious of everything about the woman, from her eye-popping beauty and natural elegance, to her clear, sweet singing voice on nights when she performed with her acoustic guitar out on the beach.

The fact that Theresa had also landed—in Brianne’s opinion—the most eligible of the McNeill men was also enviable. But then, when the woman was expecting Jason, she’d gotten a call from her former manager back in Nashville. A top country artist wanted to perform one of Theresa’s songs. Even more exciting, the artist was in talks to do a movie about her life, and wanted Theresa to come out to Los Angeles to play a younger version of her in the film. Theresa left. Her home, her husband, her marriage. To hear the local gossips, Gabe had only gone to LA with her to wait for his son to be born since Theresa had also decided she didn’t want to be a mother with a career heating up. Gabe had said little about it, but he’d returned to Martinique with his son when Jason was just four weeks old.

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