For the Sake of His Heir(9)

By: Joanne Rock

“I have been asking my mother daily when Monsieur McNeill would be ready to take this trip. I am anxious to see New York City.” She grinned widely, her smile so warm and open, like her mother’s. “I started packing two weeks ago when I first learned this might happen.”

“You see, Brianne?” Gabe downshifted as he turned into the private airfield, a little-used amenity for the island’s most privileged. “The trip was meant to be, and it was just as well you lit a fire to get us underway. I might have spent another week tweaking that archway molding.”

Grateful to speak about something besides the family problems waiting for her on the other end of their flight, Brianne seized on the topic with both hands.

“You do beautiful work.”

“It’s an indulgence. A hobby I invest too much time in.” His expression darkened as he parked the SUV beside an exotic black sports car in the small lot. “Now that I’m a father, I need to spend less time on personal pursuits and more time developing my business to provide for Jason’s future.”

In the back seat, Nadine unbuckled the baby, prattling to him about the great adventure they were going to have.

Brianne followed him to the back of the SUV to help with the bags. She’d never seen anyone restore historic woodwork with as much precision and commitment to craft as Gabe. “What you do is a gift few people have. It’s a dying art.”

She pulled out her bag and started to reach for a smaller suitcase when a uniformed attendant greeted them, a cart at the ready to wheel their luggage to the plane. A warm breeze blew strands of her ponytail around her neck to stick briefly on her lip balm. She peeled her hair aside, tossing it back behind her shoulder.

“And it’s dying for a reason,” Gabe replied as they followed the airfield staffer to a gleaming white Cessna with the stairs lowered and ready. “Not enough people care about those kinds of details when you can purchase a prefabricated piece for a fraction of the cost.”

He greeted the pilot while the ground attendant loaded their bags for them, leaving Brianne to consider his words. She would have never guessed he’d be so dismissive of the craft he’d spent years honing.

While the attendant ushered them on board the private plane, Brianne weighed what he’d said. Maybe she didn’t know him nearly as well as she thought she did. As if the sleek jet at his disposal didn’t already highlight that they came from different worlds, now she questioned how much value he placed on her chosen career field if he viewed his own as simply a “hobby.”

Bristling, she told herself not to let it bother her. She was worried about her grandmother and on edge to begin with. She buckled into the deluxe white leather seat as the attendant who saw them on to the plane briefly reviewed some of the amenities. There was a fully stocked bar, Wi-Fi access throughout the journey, global channels available and a simplified cold menu since there would be no server on board with them.

Gabe thanked her, then settled Nadine and Jason in a private compartment in the back. He returned to take the spot beside Brianne, his arm brushing hers briefly as he fastened his seat belt. The pilot pulled up the stairs and locked the exterior door before closing himself in the cockpit for the flight. Not long after, the engine rumbled as the aircraft taxied forward.

Now that they were settled, Brianne picked up the thread of their conversation. “I still can’t believe you’d put woodworking down like that. What about landscape design? Is that a dying art best left to wither?”

“Of course not—” he said.

But she wasn’t finished. Some of the agitation of the day came out now, her argument picking up momentum as the plane picked up speed.

“Because you can surely purchase a random tree or bush at your local nursery and throw it in the ground. Who needs beauty and refinement when there’s a buck to be made?”

As the plane left the ground and gained altitude, the view from the windows shifted from the scattered lights of buildings to a deeper darkness. The cabin lights dimmed automatically, casting them in deep shadow until Gabe switched on the reading lamp over the vacant seating across from them. Only then could she see the level look in those blue eyes as he studied her.

“You think I’m suggesting it’s all about money?” His voice gave nothing away.

“That’s how it sounds to me. Like your craftsmanship is less important than learning the art of moneymaking at the elbow of a business titan like Malcolm McNeill.” But some of the steam went out of her argument at his cool words, and she wondered if she’d misunderstood him.

He leaned forward in his seat and turned toward her, giving her his full attention.

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