Sunsets At Pelican Beach by Michele Gilcrest
Cole and his crew carefully carried in the granite for my parents' new center island. Once it was in place, he stood back, admiring the cut and gliding his hand along the surface. She chose the most elegant European granite that Cole could find. It was just like her to spare no expense. Dad gave his stamp of approval but really didn't care about the details. I stood nearby in the dining area, admiring his skills and other aspects of him as I prepared lunch. In a little while, I'd head back to the boutique, but not before seeing to it that Cole had everything he needed.
"Lexi, that's quite a spread you have there," he said.
As a client and long time friend of Cole’s family, I thought it was only right to take good care.
"Yes, I made it for you and the crew. I thought you might need a little fuel to help you get through the rest of the day."
"I know the guys will appreciate it. You really didn't have to do this. I'm sure you're already busy with running the boutique. Coming over here during the day and feeding us is way beyond your call of duty."
"It's no big deal. I promised I would be here to help Mom oversee things whenever she couldn't be here."
Cole whistled for the crew members working outside to get their attention.
"Everybody, Miss Donovan has some food here for you. I'll take care of the counter while you guys go ahead and take a lunch break."
He turned back toward me.
"You're going to have some, too, aren't you? There's a variety to choose from. Over here, you have turkey or ham and cheese on croissants, and then you also have…"
"Thank you, Lexi. I appreciate it. I really do. However, my girlfriend, Payton, should be stopping by any moment now. Usually, once a week, she whips together a surprise lunch for me. I'd hate to disappoint her by spoiling my appetite."
"Oh, I see. That's awfully nice of her. Does she make it a habit to come to your worksite?"
"She doesn't stay long. My clients don't normally have an issue with it, but if it's a problem, I can call her."
"Oh, no. Don't be silly. I wouldn't give it another thought. I'll just lay the tray of food over here, so it doesn't interfere with your workspace."
I laid the tray on a table that was out of the way. I was irritated at the idea of Payton stopping by. I didn't want his time at the house to end without me telling Cole that I was in love with him. With a little encouragement, hopefully, he'd realize that I was perfect for him. We were perfect for each other.
"Cole, I have to get ready to head back to the boutique. My mother and I are swapping this afternoon. I'm covering the boutique while she'll be here with the crew. Before I go, I was wondering if you heard about the fundraiser that we're hosting for the young boys and girls club?"
"No, I wasn't aware."
"It's going to be a huge event. All of the proceeds will go to the children. We thought it would be a great way to give back to the community. Hopefully, if we can get all the locals with deep pockets to participate, we can raise enough funds to provide school supplies, activities, and new clothing to the children this year."
"Well, that certainly sounds like a good cause. I'm all for anything that will benefit the kids."
"I figured you would be. I was thinking this might be a good opportunity for you and your daughter, Emmie, to get involved. I know how much she loves to help out.”
"Really? What did you have in mind?"
"Mom wants to have a live auction at the fundraiser. She's been in touch with quite a few business owners to ask them to donate some of their services."
Cole leaned back on the counter and folded his arms.
"That makes sense for businesses like the bakery that could offer a free gift basket, or the nail salon that could offer a… what do you ladies call it?"
"A mani-pedi?" I said.
"Yes, a mani-pedi or a spa day. But I'm not sure my business falls in line with all of the other services."
"Yes, but there is something else you could offer."
"And what's that?"
"Perhaps a small donation and spreading the word around Pelican Beach, of course. But even more importantly, we want you to be there with sweet Emmie."
"Oh, Lexi, I'm happy to give a donation, but I don't know about…"
"Now, now. Think about how helpful it would be for you to attend and mingle with the town officials. Come on. You know them all on a first-name basis because they all speak highly of your renovation work. Your reputation spreads beyond Pelican Beach and is well known here in Naples as well."
"And... perhaps if you're there, you can encourage the donors to give up a little bit more money for the fundraiser. Emmie can help out with the games, and you can feel good in knowing you did it for a great cause. It's a win-win for all!"
He stood scratching his rugged beard. I knew I was starting to warm him up to the idea by his slowly emerging smile. I think deep down, Cole always did have an interest in me. All I needed was a little more time, and Payton Matthews would be a thing of the past.
"Lexi, you sure do drive a hard bargain."
"Yes, but a hard bargain for a very good cause. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Yesss, you can sign me up. But only under one condition."
"Anything, you name it."
I stood in front of him, trying to look as irresistible as possible.
"No tricks on the day of the fundraiser, Lexi. I mean it. You're not putting me in a dunking tank, I'm not going on any dates, and I'm not doing anything crazy. I'm just there to show support."
"You got it. Note to self. No dunking tanks and no dates, for now."
"Just kidding." I adjusted the collar on his shirt, which was a little out of place.
"In the meantime, be sure to ask Emmie to think about if she'd prefer to help with games or the cotton candy booth."
"Ha, that's a no brainer, but I'll let her know."
His daughter Emmie was the cutest little thing. She always looked so darling in the dresses that we sent her from the boutique. I'm confident it wouldn't be hard to win her affection as a stepmother. My family has known Emmie and Cole's mother for years. Yet another advantage to add to the list if you ask me.
Just then, the doorbell rang.
"That's probably Payton," he said.
It was all I could do not to grit my teeth. I mean, could the man work in peace without having her checking on him? Or maybe she was here to check on me? Either way, if she wanted to come by and see what was going on, I'd be happy to give her a little show.
"I'll get the door." I offered.
I noticed him catching a glimpse of me as I walked out of the kitchen. It was probably my new dress that hugged my silhouette just so. Through the stained glass, I could see Miss Perfect standing with a bag in one hand and a cooler in another. I opened the door.
"Payton, darling. How are you?"
She gave me a fake smile and seemed rather shocked.
"Hi, Lexi. I'm pretty good. How are you doing?"
"Oh, I can't complain. And if I did, no one would listen anyway. It's been a while. I don't think I've seen you since our last photo shoot."
I let her continue to stand just outside of the door, hoping that she would get the message that I didn't want her to come in.
"Let me guess. Is all of this for Cole?"
"Yes, it is. I normally surprise him with lunch when my schedule allows."
She proceeded to step inside the house, but I shifted so she couldn't get past me.
"Lunch. Yes, that's right. He mentioned that you'd be stopping by. Unfortunately, the kitchen is literally in shambles right now. Cole asked me to thank you and to collect the lunch, so you didn't have to get in harm's way."
Those weren't his exact words, but there was no harm in keeping her out of a kitchen that was under construction.
"Well, I normally say a quick hello. It won't take but a minute,” Payton said.
"It's fine. You can hand everything over to me. I'll be sure he gets it. Mom would have a nervous breakdown if she thought someone was in her kitchen and could potentially get hurt."
She finally handed over the bag and the cooler.
"Do me a favor, Lexi. Please tell Cole that I packed all of his favorites and ask him to give me a call when he has a chance."
"Certainly. Don't worry; I'll get right on it."
Behind her, I could see the palm trees starting to sway and some dark clouds rolling in.
"Oh, Payton, it looks like a storm is heading in. You should be on your way. Be safe, dear."
Since my hands were full, I closed the door with my foot and returned to the kitchen.
"Lunch is here."
"Awesome, where's Payton?" Cole was looking beyond where I was standing.
"There's an awful storm kicking up, so she had to run. She did ask me to give you this contraption of a cooler, and this bag."
"Thanks. I'm surprised she didn't want to come in. Even if it was only to say a quick hello, she didn't say anything else?"
"No. I'm sure she was concerned about heading back before the storm lets loose."
"Well, you go ahead and eat. I'm going to check on my mother and let her know she may want to delay heading back until the storm passes."
He bit into his apple while glancing out the kitchen window.
"Yeah, I guess I didn't do a good enough job at checking the forecast."
I really had my work cut out for me if I was going to win Cole over. It seemed completely unfair that Payton would just show up in the last year and serve as a distraction. After his wife's passing, I provided an ear to listen and a shoulder when he needed it most. That's okay. She may be a little setback to my plans, but my mother didn't raise a little weakling.