Read Dearest Enemy Online

Authors: Renee Simons

Dearest Enemy

 

 

 

Dearest Enemy

 

by

 

Renee Simons

 

 

ISBN: 978-1-927111-90-1

 

PUBLISHED BY:

 

Books
We
Love Ltd.
(Electronic Book Publishers)
192
Lakeside
Greens Drive
Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2
Canada

 

http://bookswelove.net

 

Copyright 2012 by Renee Simons

 

Cover art by:
Michelle
Lee Copyright 2012

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

“Made it, Gram.
We’re almost there.”

Aboard the Harley that had carried her cross-country from New York, Callie Patterson cruised past the
Mercantile
,
the
general store she knew marked her arrival in Blue Sky, New Mexico.

A sheriff’s vehicle stood in front of the building and a group of men lolled in the shade cast by the store’s rusting roof. She could almost feel their collective gaze boring into her back as she rode by. She would deal with them and their curiosity in due course. At the moment, she was more concerned with what waited a mile down the road.

As she roared past, Sheriff Lucero Moreno and four citizens of the dying southwestern town watched the chrome and black Harley round the bend in the road and disappear.

"Nice machine," someone said. “Don’t ya think, young Luc?”

Luc hadn't noticed the bike. Blurry though his vision had been lately, he had no trouble zeroing in on the way the wind molded the woman’s white tee shirt to her curves.

"Time for rounds, gentlemen.”
He turned the ignition key and waited for it to catch.

"If you find that bodacious young thing, be polite," a grizzled observer commanded.

"Yeah, don't be throwing your weight around just '
cause
it's holdin' up a badge." Mayor Chandler chuckled. "Be nice and maybe she'll stay around and improve our scenery."

"I’m not promising miracles but I’ll do my best," Luc said with a grin. "These eyes need someone to look at 'sides you ugly old goats.” Their good-natured laughter followed him onto the highway.

A spin through what remained of the village turned up nothing unusual. He headed north and, a mile away, spotted the machine on the shoulder. Its rider sat on a stone wall facing the valley where miners and other townsfolk had once lived. Without a helmet, her blonde hair shimmered in the midday light. Luc pulled in. As gravel crunched beneath his wheels, she turned in his direction and seemed to await his approach.

"Afternoon, Miss.”

"Good afternoon. Sheriff, is it?"

"Yes, ma'am."
He tugged at his hat brim. "Luc Moreno."

“I’m Callie Patterson."

Despite the aviator shades hiding her eyes, he felt impaled on her gaze. She released him finally by turning back to the valley and a decaying Victorian house. Freed of her scrutiny, he picked up the acrid odor of asphalt baking in the sun.

“The Mansion was one of a kind," he said, "the jewel of this town. It hasn't been of use to anyone in years.”

“Tourists would love it,” she murmured.

“We don’t attract many of those. Even the shunpikers rush past on their way to Santa Fe.”

“Shunpikers?”

She shifted position, revealing strong yet feminine features and a luscious mouth made more tempting by a tiny smile hovering at one corner. Waves of heat assailed him in places he’d ignored far too long, places that now throbbed with expectancy. He forced himself back to the conversation.

“Folks who leave the highway to explore the back roads.”

“I like that word,” she said. “We’ll use it in our ads.”

“What ads would those be?”

She removed her glasses. Why did her eyes have to be that startling shade of blue? He groaned silently. Past history told him if she stuck around, he’d be in big trouble.

“The ones I’m going to write after I restore the building and put in a restaurant and a gift shop.”

“What’s your connection to the old place?”

“I own it.”

 
Por Dios,
he thought. “The owner didn’t tell you
it’s
being torn down to make way for land development?”

"My grandmother left it to me when she died. She
never
planned to tear it down.”

"I'm sorry for your loss," he said, realizing how feeble the stock phrase sounded. "But my family holds the lease on that land and Mrs. Mayfield knew we weren't renewing. So unless you put the building on rollers and move it, the place won't be standing come June."

"I never saw notice of your intent.” Her eyes darkened to a stormy grey and her fair skin flushed.

He shrugged. "Maybe the letter got lost.”

"Why are you taking such arbitrary action?"

"Nothing arbitrary about it,” he said.
“Just good economics.
I wish we could have saved you an unnecessary trip."

"Apparently, this trip is even more necessary than I thought.” The tremor in her voice attested to her anger. She crammed her helmet down on her head and with a shaking hand fastened the chin strap. "This is far from over, Sheriff. Count on it."

Callie mounted her bike. A moment later, the engine thundered to life, giving a voice to the fury that had heated her cheeks. In time, she would tell the darkly attractive but arrogant lawman what she thought of the Moreno family's plan.

Arrogant — yes, a good way to describe him.
The way Grandmother had described the Morenos she had known during her youth. And certainly more productive than focusing on the hunk factor — of which there was ample supply. Although Callie had looked forward to restoring The Mansion's splendor, she hadn't understood Gram's anger with the Moreno family.
Until now.

She backtracked to the Mercantile where she hoped to find the town clerk. The men had gone and she parked her bike beside the entrance. Inside the dimly lit general store, Callie approached a trim, grey-haired woman in denim overalls and plaid shirt.

“Elvira Chandler?”

"That's me." She scrutinized Callie from behind the marble counter. "You have to be Lucy's granddaughter."

"Grandmother Lucinda spoke of you with great affection." Callie held out her hand. "I'm glad to meet you."

Though in her eighties, Elvira appeared twenty years younger. The blush of pleasure dusting her cheeks enforced the illusion. Callie hoped she would look just as energetic when she was this woman’s age. They shook hands and Callie wasted little time in getting to her problem.

"Don’t know what I can tell you," Elvira said. "Taxes are paid through the end of May even though the place has been empty for ages. But then, I ‘spect you know that.”

Callie leaned against the counter. "We’ve been keeping up the taxes because we believed the land was ours for as long as we wanted. That whether the house was empty or not, we had nothing to worry about with a renewable 99-year lease — underline the word 'renewable.' Now, the sheriff tells me otherwise, and with Grandmother and Aunt Hattie gone I must find a way to hold the Morenos to their word."

Tears glistened in Elvira’s eyes.
“Pained me somethin’ fierce when Lucy and Hattie left all those years ago.
Broke my heart when they passed on without never once comin’ back.
But I remember how bad your grandma got hurt and what sent her away." She dug out a hanky and dabbed at her eyes.

“I also remember she had a way of wantin’ something and goin’ after it without botherin’ to look down the road. Left others to figure a way out of whatever mess developed. Looks like this time you’re stuck with the job."

Callie drew herself up. “I don’t feel stuck.”

"'Course not, dear.
Didn't mean nothin' by it."
Her gaze sharpened. "But with them gone, you could live anywhere you want.
Up in Santa Fe or Taos.
Young folks seem to like the opportunities there. Why pick a place that’s on its last legs. Like The Mansion. It’s beat up and run down and hasn’t been lived in for ten years. It’ll take a heap of money and work till
it’s
fit again. I’d advise you to forget about it and look elsewhere."

How to tell her the restoration was even more important now?
"Their dream has been mine since childhood," Callie said. "I gave up a lot to come out here and here is where I’ll stay.”

What she'd told Elvira was partially true but there was more to it. The woman was, after all, a stranger and didn't need to know everything about Grandmother Lucy's will.

Callie continued. "This project has taken the better part of three years to put together. I thought I'd covered all the details, yet I’m facing the possibility that everything's headed down the tubes."

"It’s a shame you put so much into it, and had such high expectations,” Elvira said. “Maybe if I'd known what you
was
plannin’, I could've headed you off, but I had no idea." Elvira Chandler looked truly unhappy.

"Don’t blame
yourself
,” Callie said. “The truth is, the one question I didn't think needed asking has come back to haunt me."
And nothing you might have said would have kept me away,
Callie added silently.

"What are you going to do, child?"

Callie shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I must save the house. I’ve counted on living in it."

"Is there some way I can help?"

“I’ll have to apply for a certificate of occupancy. Where would I go for that?”

“You’re determined?”

“I am.”

Elvira walked over to the mail stacked on a corner of the counter and sorted it into cubby holes built into the back wall.

With the watery light from the front window making a halo of her hair, she turned toward Callie. "The Town Board's meetin' tonight."

"Can anyone attend?"

"Anyone with an issue that affects the Board."

Callie nodded. "That’s me."

"Town Hall's three doors down."
She leaned against the counter. “But the town fathers have plans that will endanger your house.” She grimaced.
“More than that.
You may lose it altogether.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well … I shouldn’t be telling you this, it’s supposed to be a secret, so keep it on the down low....”

Callie smiled.
“The down low?”
Her tone was teasing.

Elvira chuckled.
“T.V., dear.
You learn a lot.” The woman reached out and patted Callie’s arm as if to say she hadn’t taken offense.

Callie nodded. “Yes, I guess you can. So, you were saying...?”

“There’s been talk of reopening the big mine. We had an engineer come down to do an assessment. We’re waiting for his report. If it makes sense, the valley will become an open pit mine and that mountain out there will be gone.” She shrugged. “Just gone, and The Mansion with it, I’m afraid.”

Callie felt the blood drain from her cheeks and words failed her.

"Thank you for telling me,” was all she could muster.

“We three were good friends. I'd like to think you and I can be, also."

"So would I."

Elvira reached into a drawer and handed Callie a set of keys on a ring. "Good. I'll see you at seven.”

Outside, Callie glanced at her watch. She had plenty of time to inspect the house before the meeting. She pocketed the keys and returned to the spot where she and the sheriff had met. The Mansion stood across the small valley at the foot of a rocky hillside.

Although she couldn't see it clearly from this distance, she liked having a real building to look at instead of an architect's rendering. Or photos embellished by the memories of two old women removed from reality by time and distance.

She could picture how the place would look after the fading outside had been restored to its original shade of beige — buff, the old plans called the color. How the cream trim would sparkle in the sunlight and the red-brown details would pick up shades of the desert around them. She could even picture how the proper landscaping would improve the setting. None of that would happen, of course, until after the structure and internal systems had been repaired. Or the mine turned the house to dust.

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