DEFENDING GLORY by Anne K. Albert
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Aidan “Mac” McKeown palmed the bullets doctors removed from his right thigh and stared out his office window. Daffodils, tulips, and marsh marigolds lined garden paths beyond the alleyway at the back of the building. The fragrant scent of lilacs sweetened the air. Robins chirped on their endless hunt for worms. It was a perfect Thursday morning in northern Minnesota. The kind his partner would have cherished.
If he were alive.
A true hero and all around good guy, Ben should have been the one to survive the ambush. He had every reason to live. A loving wife. Two adorable children.
Mac’s fist tightened around the spent ammo. If only he could remember what went wrong that day. He had snippets of blurred images, fragments of shouted warnings, but nothing concrete. He woke up in the hospital two days later, and at the grand old age of thirty one learned a valuable lesson. There was no grand scheme. No master plan. And most certainly, no merciful God in heaven.
He tossed the bullets into the middle drawer of his desk. Why rehash the past? If Ben were alive, he’d order Mac to snap out of it and focus on the here and now.
“Pay attention,” Ben would say. “Never let your heart rule your head. It’ll get you every time.”
Exhaling slowly, Mac began to sort through a stack of bills. He divided them into two piles. Those he could pay and those he could not. Topping the former was the rent for the century old, red brick building that housed his office on the ground floor and a small two-bedroom apartment he called home on the second. After that he could pay the minimum amount required on the electric and telephone bills. The rest would have to wait until next month.
Or the month after that.
The recent downturn in the economy affected everyone. The good news was he did not have the added responsibility of a family to take care of, but many of his creditors, local entrepreneurs like himself, did. That bothered Mac. His bills were more than just a bunch of numbers or tallies of services rendered. They were mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. He had to find a solution to his cash flow problem before it became their problem, too.
A warm breeze whooshed through the open office window, whipping the items he’d pinned to a cork bulletin board on the wall opposite his desk. One photograph and accompanying article snipped from the local newspaper caught his attention. Written less than a year earlier to coincide with the grand opening of McKeown General Contracting, it told readers how as a young boy he had worked with his grandfather, a master tradesman in Minneapolis. Fond memories of their fishing trips to Piedmont Island spurred Mac to move north and open his own business.
He had felt so confident then. So certain he’d made the right decision. But with few construction projects on the horizon, and cash so tight he could not afford to paint his company’s name or phone number on the side of his truck to attract future clients, it was doubtful he’d still be in business by the end of summer.
The buzzer inside his shop blared. A quick glance at the wall clock provided a spark of hope. 8:00 A.M. on the dot. Someone must need his services to come by so early in the morning. Reaching for his cane, he pushed himself up from the chair, and headed to the front of the building. A couple stood near the counter with their backs toward him.
“Good morning,” he said. “How may I help you?”
They turned to face him and his optimism fizzled. Although he did not recognize the woman, he was acquainted with the man. The pastor’s appearance inside his shop could mean only one thing. They had no desire to save his business. Their only concern was his soul.
Pastor Rick Wainwright’s eyelids flickered as he spied Mac’s cane. “How’re you today?”
Mac forced a smile. “I can’t complain.”
“I’d been under the impression you’d purchased tickets for last week’s church supper, but I don’t recall seeing you there.”
“I had other plans.” And he did. He rarely missed Monday Night Football. “I gave the tickets to my landlord. He and his wife said they had a lovely evening.”
The single word spoke volumes, making Mac wonder how far the pastor would pursue it today. He found the minister’s concern for his welfare irritating and unwarranted. To his relief, Wainwright gestured to the woman by his side.
“I’d like to introduce you to Glory Palmer. Glory, this is Aidan McKeown. The man I told you about.”
Mac groaned inwardly. He could only imagine the things she’d heard. Besides skipping out on church suppers and declining repeated invitations to attend services at the Piedmont Community Church, he’d also refused to provide any details about his life prior to moving to the island.
Nonetheless, he extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you. And call me, Mac.”
She gave his hand a quick, but firm shake. Her straight, strawberry blonde hair swished against narrow shoulders. A tiny gold cross at her throat shimmered in the soft fluorescent light.
“I own a cottage at Hanover Point,” she said. “Are you familiar with it?”
“I’ve motored past a couple of times when I’ve been out that way fishing.”
“It needs a major overhaul.”
Well, well, well. Perhaps he had been a little hasty in assessing the reason for their visit. She had a renovation project and the pastor had obviously recommended him for the job. Mac did a mental arm pump.
“It needs a new kitchen,” she said. “But I’m unsure what else to do.”
If memory served him correctly, the building was approximately twenty years old. “It depends on how often you plan to use it.”
“Year round. I’m going to live there.”
At Hanover Point? He did a double take. Dressed in navy slacks and a white silk blouse, the petite young woman had ‘city girl’ written all over her.
“It’s isolated,” he pointed out. “During winter the road is often closed due to blowing and drifting snow. You could be stranded for days without heat or hydro.”
She arched a brow, as if to suggest it was no concern of his. And she was right. Still, he could not deny how he felt. Imagining her alone and at the mercy of the elements kick started every protective cell in his body. Or was it something else? It had been a very long time since he’d fallen under the spell of a pretty woman. And Glory Palmer definitely fit into that category.
“My family’s owned the property for years,” she continued. “But until last fall I’d never had any reason to visit. This may sound silly, but from the moment I arrived I felt as if I’d come home. This is where I belong.” Her eyes darted to the pastor. “My future’s here.”