Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods
1


Men were the bane of Susie O’Brien’s life. She was surrounded by them, all of them stubborn in the extreme, beginning with her father, Jeff. Add in her uncles Mick and Thomas, her brothers and, the very worst of all, Mack Franklin, and it was a wonder she could get through a day without screaming.

Today, in fact, already seemed likely to test the limits of her patience in never-before-imagined ways. Before she’d even had the first sip of her coffee, her uncle Mick came charging into the Chesapeake Shores real estate management company that she ran with her father.

“Where’s Jeff, that—” At her frown, he cut off the disparaging epithet he’d apparently been intent on using. “Your father, where is he?”

“Dad had an appointment with a client,” she said, then chose her next words about her father’s whereabouts carefully. She knew that this particular piece of property was a hot-button issue for Mick. “He’s showing her a house on Mill Road. It’s the third time she’s gone through the place. He’s almost certain she’s going to sign a contract today.”

Mick frowned, obviously clicking through his own mental data bank of properties on Mill Road. Then astonishment dawned. “The Brighton house? He’s finally going to unload that old eyesore? How’d he get the listing? Last I heard, no one in that family would even speak to an O’Brien.”

Susie hid a smile. It still stuck in her uncle’s craw that old Mr. Brighton had refused to sell him a key piece of shoreline property when he’d been developing Chesapeake Shores. Apparently the refusal had something to do with a Brighton-O’Brien family feud several generations back that neither coaxing nor big bucks had been able to resolve. For all Susie knew, some great-great-uncle’s rooster had chased a Brighton, who’d lopped off its head and cooked it for Sunday dinner. In her family that was all it would take to start a feud that could last for eons.

“Seems that way,” she confirmed. “Apparently Mr. Brighton’s heirs don’t have the same aversion to dealing with an O’Brien that he did.”

“Stubborn old coot,” Mick muttered.

“Why did you want to see Dad?” Susie asked. “Is there a problem?”

For years now the only things that brought the two brothers together were problems and the entreaties of their mother. Nell O’Brien insisted that even the sparring brothers and their families had to spend holidays under the same roof. Susie couldn’t recall a tension-free holiday meal in her entire lifetime. The antacid business probably thrived thanks to the O’Brien dynamics.

Mick and her dad could be civil for an hour or two, which was more than she could say for Mick and her uncle Thomas, at least until recently. Lately they’d apparently struck some kind of accord, which was akin to achieving peace in the Middle East. Like those treaties, Susie suspected this one didn’t have a lot of hope of lasting, though now that Thomas was with Connie Collins she seemed to have a soothing effect on him. She also seemed determined to maintain the détente.

“There’s water leaking in Shanna’s bookstore again,” Mick told Susie, referring to his daughter-in-law’s business on Main Street. “And, frankly, the plumbing in Megan’s gallery should be checked, too. The last thing she needs is a flood ruining all that expensive art.”

Susie gave him an innocent look. “Isn’t the art hanging on the walls?”

Her uncle scowled. “What’s your point?”

“Only that it would take quite a flood to ruin the paintings.” She beamed at him. “Besides, since you gave Megan that space for a dollar a year, didn’t you agree to take care of all the upkeep? I can look at the lease, if you like. We kept a copy here—at your insistence, as I recall.”

Mick gave her a sour look. “If your daddy stayed on top of details the way you do, he’d be a better businessman.”

“He doesn’t need to,” Susie retorted. “He has me. I will get the plumber over to Shanna’s today, though. The last thing we need is another insurance claim. And I can send him by Megan’s as well, as long as the bill comes to you.”

Though he looked disgruntled, Mick nodded. “That’ll do.” He studied her. “You’ll be at the house for Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Of course.”

He eyed her speculatively. “You bringing Mack?”

Susie stilled. “Why would I? I’ve never brought him before.”

“I’ve seen you around town with Mack Franklin for at least three years now,” Mick replied. “Maybe longer. Isn’t it time the two of you either got serious or called it quits? What kind of man drags his heels this long, and what sort of woman lets him? You deserve better than that, Susie. You’re an O’Brien, after all, even if you’re not one of mine. Nobody would have gotten away with treating one of my girls that way.”

“Mack and I aren’t dating,” Susie said stiffly. “We’re friends. Besides, how he treats me is none of your concern.”

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