Authors: Allie Boniface
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
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One Night In Boston
Copyright © 2007 by Allie Boniface
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: July 2007
One Night in Boston
For my parents, who taught me to love language, and for my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Stokoe, who was the first person to tell me I’d be a writer someday.
“We’re out of time.” Maggie Doyle stared at the clock in panic. Nausea danced in her stomach. Her head thrummed as she buried her fingers in her hair. Ten o’clock. Ten-oh-one. Friday. June thirtieth. It
might as well be the end of my life
, she thought.
After tomorrow, everything changes.
Her eyes blurred with tears, and the world slipped under water.
“What?” Neve Weatherby, office manager of Doyle Designs, stopped typing. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
“They’re taking it all,” Maggie said. She could barely get the words out. Something burned inside her chest. Was that her heart actually breaking in two? “The house. And the business.”
Neve stared up at her boss. “Who is? The bank?”
The interior designer nodded. Twenty-four hours. That’s how long until the Bay Bank of New England began the foreclosure process on her house and home business, according to the icy-voiced woman Maggie had just hung up on. Fishing a piece of paper from her back pocket, she reread the latest email from her attorney.
The bank will not enter into a payment plan unless you demonstrate assets equal to the amount owed…if you cannot complete your missed mortgage payments, the bank will not adjust your future payment schedule…unfortunately, foreclosure is the next step…please contact me ASAP to discuss other options…
She closed her eyes, rubbing one temple.
What other options
? Filing for bankruptcy? She’d lose her business. Selling the house? She’d have nowhere to live. Robbing a bank? She tugged at a curl. That would be about the only option worth exploring.
Neve’s narrow brows drew together. “Wait a minute. Can’t you offer them some sort of compromise? Could we come up with a couple thousand dollars? Would that stop the foreclosure?”
Maggie yanked up a bamboo blind so hard it snapped from its frame and fell at her feet.
“How? I owe them something like fifteen thousand dollars.” Uttering the words stung her. “We can’t come up with any more money. You and Andrew are living with your parents, for God’s sake. I haven’t paid you in over a month—”
“I told you I could wait a little, until the business got back on its feet.”
Maggie continued as if Neve hadn’t even spoken. “And I sure as hell don’t have any cash lying around. I cleaned out my savings account last month.”
She kicked at the blind. “No one in this town has an extra dime. I was the one stupid enough to think I could make a living here. I was the one crazy enough to think that Hart’s Falls might actually need an interior designer.”
.” Tension squeezed Maggie’s shoulders, turning muscle and tendon into wire cables that pinched the nerves at the back of her neck.
“What did your attorney say?” Neve tugged at the makeshift handle on the mini-fridge beside her desk. Out came a bottle of ginger ale, half-full, no bubbles.
“Same thing she always says. If I can come up with the money for the last three months, the bank will work with me. If I can’t, then...” She couldn’t finish.
Then the house goes up for auction, and I lose it. For good.
It didn’t matter that her rah-rah-voiced attorney said the foreclosure process could take months. Maggie didn’t want to sleep in a house that only half-belonged to her, a house that one morning she might wake up to find inhabited by a fresh-faced family who lugged cardboard boxes into the spaces where her life had been. Once the whole ugly process began, little pieces of her sanity would slip away like crumbling sidewalk under her feet.
“What about selling the house?” Neve asked. “I mean, then you could get money to pay off the bank, and at least you wouldn‘t lose the business. You could rent a place for a while, work out of there.”
“I don’t want to.” Little-girl stubborn, Maggie dropped her head, studying the stitching on her jeans. How could she sell the white two-story with the wide front porch after she’d poured so much time and energy into making it her own? How could she leave?
She’d loved the sleepy hamlet of Hart’s Falls, Rhode Island, since the day she drove through, nearly five years ago. She loved its historic buildings, its tree-lined central avenue. She loved its collection of residents, from the Portuguese single father across the street to the lesbian couple who’d opened a bicycle repair shop down by the Methodist Church. The ache inside her chest cracked and spread.
“I don’t want to sell the house,” she said again. “I don’t want to pay rent to anyone else. I did that for three years in Manhattan.”
Neve nodded, resting a cheek in one palm. “Have you thought about marrying a millionaire?”
Maggie almost laughed, real laughter, not the fake kind she‘d been pretending to call up from her gut for the last couple of months. “Sure, that’s the best idea I’ve heard so far. Got any suggestions? I don’t think millionaires grow on trees around here.”
“You could go up to Boston. There must be some cute, rich guys there. Or put an ad on the Internet. Join one of those singles’ dating groups.”
“Yeah, I can just picture my profile,” Maggie said. “Desperate redhead, thirty, seeks single male with unlimited funds to rescue her from bankruptcy. Can offer a two-bedroom house with interior design business included. That sure would reel ’em in.”
A memory washed over her. She’d had the chance to marry into money, loads and loads of it, years ago. Of course, back then, Maggie hadn’t cared at all. Her college boyfriend could have made her queen of the world, or thrown his entire legacy down the drain, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. She hadn’t wanted to be with him for his money or his name. She only loved the way he spun the earth beneath her feet, the way they fit together, the way he made her feel normal after so long.
Everyone else treated me like I would break, after the operation, she remembered. He just made me feel like a regular person. Attractive. Whole. She felt her cheeks redden and pressed the backs of her hands against them to stop the rush of blood.
We thought it would last forever. We made promises to each other, the kind you make when you’re twenty or so and think the rest of your life is easy to sketch out. We watched the moon move across the sky and talked about where we’d be in twenty or forty or sixty years. We made plans. We made love. We held on until we thought nothing but the splitting of the earth could pull us apart.
, Maggie told herself.
Young and stupid, that’s all we were
. Because at the last minute, she split them apart herself. She let all her old ghosts convince her that they would never work together. She gave in to the insecurity that made her feel all edges and angles inside the smooth sophistication of his world. She let the hollowness inside her swell until there was nothing to see but darkness. She told a lie and let him go, and he walked away.
Maggie traced the rim of her coffee mug, letting the broken edge dig into her fingertip until it hurt. God, how she missed him sometimes. How she missed the two of them together, that rhythm of a relationship, a simple waltz of days that took you through the light and the dark but always with someone holding fast to the small of your back. Steadying you. Spinning you. Loving you. She hadn’t met anyone like him in all the years since. Sometimes it seemed like she never would again.
If I hadn’t let him go, then maybe today I wouldn’t be indebted to the bank.
She tossed her head and flame-red curls tumbled around her shoulders.
I wouldn’t be wondering how to pay my mother’s nursing home bills. I wouldn’t be lying awake at three in the morning, wondering why I let the best thing in my life walk away ten years ago
But if she’d stayed with him, sooner or later he would have found out her secret. He would have discovered the lie she’d told from the very beginning. He would have peeled her open one day to find her missing pieces.
I did the only thing I could. I couldn’t tell him the truth, not about that.
Neve started a fresh pot of coffee. “Did you eat anything this morning?”
“I don’t have time. Or an appetite.” Maggie sank onto the worn velour loveseat in the corner and tried to steady her soul.
You only have one choice
. The voice prickled at the back of her skull, the way it had all night and all morning.
Only one way to get the money.
She pulled at a loose thread in her shirt and tried to ignore the voice. Bad enough she wasn’t getting any sleep. Bad enough her clothes hung on her five foot frame, making her resemble a damn middle schooler on the wrong side of puberty. Now Maggie could add growing dementia to her list of ailments, since her brain had been splitting into a variety of personalities lately and working against her in the wee hours of dawn.
Maybe Alzheimer’s runs in the family
, she thought.
“What about Bradley Torrance?” Neve asked.
“What about him?”
“Didn’t you two go out a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah.” Maggie thought of the corner table the brawny farm equipment wholesaler had reserved at the local Italian restaurant. She thought of the bottle of wine he’d selected from the list of four, the dollar he’d given her to feed into the jukebox, the way he’d forked pieces of chocolate cake from her plate.
“He’s a nice guy.” Neve poured a cup of coffee, left it black, and handed it over. “Not to mention good-looking. And he took over his father’s business the week after he graduated from high school. It’s grown twice as big since then.”
“Forget it. I’m not going out with Brad again just so he’ll feel sorry for me and pay off my debts.” The thought made Maggie cringe.
“You know, it takes time to get to know someone,” Neve went on, sounding more like a forty-year old woman than the girl just three years out of high school that she was. “You should give him another chance. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Maggie wanted to say. Things
happen in an instant. Life can change forever in the space it takes to draw a breath. And everything—everything—can turn upside down in just one night.
Silence settled inside the former parlor that she’d painstakingly gutted and redesigned from the bottom up. Den, half-bath, kitchen in the back: she’d decorated all the rooms on the first floor of the house, imagining four years ago that they might serve as examples of the work she could do. Meanwhile, the second floor became her sanctuary, with the business below like a humming heart, inspiring her. Driving her. Keeping her alive.
I did all right, the first year or so
. But between her student loans and her mortgage and her little Ford Escort dying once and for all, she’d slipped behind. A replacement car, even used, brought another monthly payment. Property taxes inched their way up. Moving her mother into Elmhurst House had set the last nail. Even an ordinary assisted-living facility, with none of the frills of the places up in Boston, ran over a thousand dollars a month. The small pension left by Maggie’s stepfather covered barely half the cost.
The long hand on the clock slid its way toward the six, and the hairs along the back of her neck stood at attention.
Twenty-four hours. That’s how long I have until I lose it all.
The voice returned, a mosquito buzzing about her temples. She’d turned it over fifty different times and fifty different ways inside her head. She’d explored every other avenue she could think of and she knew the voice was right. She didn’t see a way out that didn’t involve Dillon Murphy, the stepbrother she hadn’t seen or talked to in five years. Maybe six. She had to find him. She had to ask him for help.
The thought made her sick to her stomach.
As the telephone rang, Maggie slumped farther down in the loveseat. “Let the machine get it.”
“We opened at ten.”
“I know.” But she was afraid that if she put her lips to the receiver, her throat might just open up. Then the sobs would pour out, flooding the room until she floated away on her sorrow. Wouldn’t exactly be good for business.
“Hello, and thank you for calling Doyle Designs. We’re either hard at work or out of the office right now, but leave us a message and we’ll call you right back.”
Maggie held her breath, trying to guess who it might be.
It wasn’t the bank. Or a bill collector. Or the gravelly-voiced nurse from Elmhurst House.
“Yes, hello.” A deep male voice rumbled and coughed into the machine. “This is Carl Anderson, vice-president at Bullieston Software Development up in Boston. I’m interested in speaking with you about the possible purchase of your property. Our company is planning an expansion into Hart’s Falls, and we’ve been looking at several homes in the north neighborhoods down there. I understand that you might be open to discussion. I’m going to leave my cell phone number as well as the main office number here. Please call me when you can.”
He rambled off ten numbers, paused, then another ten, and came to an abrupt halt before clearing his throat and hanging up.
“What was that?” Neve asked.
“I have no idea. Play it again.”
But the message didn’t make any more sense to Maggie the second time around. Bullieston Software Development?
Her eyes widened.
Wait a minute
. Had this company talked to the bank? Did they already know that she was in trouble? She sighed. Of course they did. Companies like that did research, right? They sniffed around and looked into records and found out which poor souls were in danger of losing their homes. Then they snapped them up for a fraction of their worth.