By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.
“I appreciate your time, sir, but Beyond the Stars is non-profit and I intend to keep it that way.”
Val rolled her eyes at Maggie, her assistant, as she listened to the umpteenth investor who wanted to buy out her resort and make her a very rich woman.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the military families who need healing. I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’m late for a meeting.”
She stopped herself from slamming down the phone, setting it back on its base with a quiet click.
“Meeting?” Maggie’s blue eyes twinkled in her flushed face.
“Yeah, with you. We always have a meeting on the schedule, right?”
They both laughed and Val let the sound wash over her.
“Thank God my brother left me the money he did,” she said. “Much as I hated accepting it at first, it’s been the cushion we need, so we didn’t have to make this a commercial resort.” She’d argued with her brother’s widow over not taking the money, but her sister-in-law insisted it was what Chet had wanted. He’d left his family well-insured, prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“You’re doing well with the grants from the various veterans’ associations, plus the fundraising we do. And as long as families leave with something positive after their week at Beyond the Stars, what more can you ask for?”
“For the rest of the world to leave us alone.” Val tapped her fingers on the side of her soda can. “I want this place to stay special, to be the safe haven it’s meant to be. I know we need to press to keep the private donations coming in, but it brings in some unwanted attention, too.”
“You’re doing great, Val,” Maggie said again. “Your brother would be so proud of you.” Maggie fanned herself with a Beyond the Stars brochure. “He died too young, honey, a true hero. This is what he would’ve wanted you to do. I have no doubt that the families who come here are blessed with some peace.”
“I’m not denying that, Maggie. I just have to make sure our finances stay in the black.” Val’s heart ached whenever anyone mentioned Chet. She’d never get over losing her baby brother to the war in Afghanistan. But Maggie was right. Beyond the Stars made a difference for other Gold Star families.
Maggie continued to fan herself.
“You okay?” Val asked. She didn’t like the beet-red tone of Maggie’s skin.
Maggie groaned. “I’m perfectly healthy. These personal ‘power moments’ are all part of a normal menopause, according to Doc Maura.”
Val wanted to give Maggie a big hug but knew it might embarrass her. It had taken two years to convince Maggie she was right for this job. To work on an isolated island at the edge of the North American continent, with the goal of benefitting the families hardest hit by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What about ginger tea? I heard ginger might help.”
Maggie laughed. “If anything really worked, I’d be rich off the cure for hormone hell.” Maggie flapped her hands as if she were shooing away flies. “Don’t you worry about my problems. By the time you get to this point in your life, there’ll be a cure for hot flashes.”
Val smiled. Maggie wasn’t here for the paycheck. She was here because she was a Navy widow, a Gold Star family member. She’d lost her husband and been left with three teenage boys to raise. This was back during the first Gulf War, when the support system for Gold Star families hadn’t been as strong as it was today.
They went back to their usual routines at their respective computers.
“You sure you’re ready for this?”
Maggie’s voice broke through Val’s desperate attempt to keep her mind off the man who’d be walking into her office thirty minutes from now.
“Yes, I am. He’s probably married or at least involved, and even if he’s single, I’m not looking.”
Maggie snorted. “Honey, that’s the exact attitude I had before I met Mike.”
“If it didn’t happen with Bob, it’s not going to happen.” She’d ended the relationship with her long-term boyfriend from Seattle two years ago. “I was comfortable with him. We had so much in common. But it wasn’t enough to keep us together when I moved here.”
“‘Comfortable’ was your first mistake, Val. The man who’s best for you won’t be the one you’re most comfortable with. He’ll be the one who sets your teeth on edge and makes you a better person, all at the same time.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Do you really think this man won’t remember you?”
This wasn’t the conversation she wanted to be having before their new employee showed up. He’d been a college boyfriend…briefly.
He broke your heart.
Yes, he’d broken her heart—but wouldn’t any boy have back then? She’d been young, he’d been her first, and it wasn’t as if he was ever anything other than wonderful to her.
Except when he didn’t come back junior year. He’d disappeared from her life with virtually no explanation.
“It’s in the past, Maggie. Fifteen years ago. Anyway, how many people remember who they dated in college?”
“You do. And it’s been a while since you dated. You’re too isolated out here. Not to mention that if you ever want some kids of your own, sooner is best.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, Maggie. But just because I’m plowing through my thirties doesn’t mean every eligible male is a potential father for my babies.”
Val knew she’d want male companionship again. And yes, a family. But not yet. Beyond the Stars was too new, and she couldn’t foresee a time when she’d willingly leave San Juan Island for the mainland. She’d invested her entire life in BTS and was determined to see it flourish.
“I need to get this schedule straight before he shows up.”
“I’ll leave you alone. For now.” Maggie’s voice was soft, but her steady gaze let Val know that this conversation was far from over.