Her father’s raised angry voice was the first thing Charity heard as they opened the resort doors. She was aware of the startled curious stares from the guests milling around the lobby. Glancing over at Ryan she smiled when he chose that moment to squeeze her hand as if sensing her need for reassurance. Leaning in closer to him she whispered “what do you think could have happened while we were gone?”
Shaking his head he opened his mouth to respond when a flash caught both of them unaware. A man with a mic approached them. “What do you think of Donnie Hollis’s bid to take over the resort?”
Gasping Charity’s eyes grew large and round as a million conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. “The resort is not for sale. My father would not sell the resort to the likes of…of….that man.” She let Ryan take her hand and lead her away from the growing group of media sharks.
Stopping in front of her father’s office the angry voices grew in volume. Looking up she found Ryan watching her in concern. “Don’t say it” she held her hand up forestalling any comment he might have made.
“Charity” his voice was deep laced with concern for her. Not only could she hear it in his voice she could see it in his green eyes.
“No” she shook her head jutting her chin out. She refused to believe her father, the notorious son of Donnie Hollis, would sell his resort to the very same man who went to prison for embezzlement. “No” she repeated reaching for the door handle.
“Charity please” Ryan covered her hand with his stalling her. “We both saw the audit. The resort has been losing money. Has been for a while.”
“He would have told me” she insisted turning the door knob.
“He might not have wanted to worry you” Ryan squeezed her hand until she looked up at him. “We were in the middle of getting married. Going on our honeymoon. When would he have told you?”
She let her hand slip from the door. He was right. Daddy wouldn’t have told her. He would have kept it to himself. That was why he looked so worried at the reception. The wedding crasher had turned out to be her infamous grandfather Donnie Hollis.” She leaned into her husband’s solid reassuring steady shoulder. Sighing loudly she buried her face into his chest.
He slipped his arms around her slim waist. Kissing the top of her head he suggested “let’s put our stuff away. Hopefully by then our unwelcome guest will be gone.”
A small smile tugged at her lips “ok.” They retraced their steps stopping short of where they had left their bags. “I can’t” she shook her head unable to face the stares again.
Kissing her cheek Ryan nodded “stay here until I get back.”
“But you’ll need help” she bit her lip reluctant to be the center of the media’s feeding frenzy again.
“I’ll manage” he assured her confidently.
Shrinking back she watched warily as he traversed the lobby. Flashes from multiple cameras went off at once. She marveled at how calm and collected he remained as he retrieved their bags. He didn’t stop once to acknowledge the men and women hedging in and shouting questions at him.
“You’re amazing” she cried launching herself into his already full arms.
“Yes I am” he grinned at her eyes sparkling.
“Don’t let it go to your head” she slapped his arm playfully before relieving him of some of his burden.
“You don’t have to” he protested.
“I won’t have my husband looking like a pack mule” she giggled glad to be home despite everything that had happened upon their arrival.
Taking her hand Ryan started to walk down the hallway towards their small apartment they were lucky enough to have at the resort. As they neared the office door an elderly man strode out a scowl etched deeply into his facial contours. “You’ll regret this” he shouted fist waving in the air as the door slammed shut in his face.
“How dare you talk to my father like that” Charity bolted forward dropping the bags at her feet in the process.
“Father” the man snorted a look of contempt in his eyes. “That boy isn’t fit to raise a cockroach much less a child.”
“I think you have that turned around” Charity said coming to her father’s defense.
The older man raised an eyebrow “do you even know who I am?”
“Besides a jerk” she matched his condescending glare with one of her own “you’re Donnie Hollis. Embezzler. Spent the past twenty odd years in prison.”
“I see my reputation precedes me” he straightened his suit lapels. “Good” he stared at her with eyes of steal “it makes things easier.”
“What things” Ryan demanded stopping beside his wife.
Eyeing Ryan up and down taking his measure Donnie said “I’m taking control of this establishment before dumb and dumber run it into the ground.”
“You can’t do that” Charity protested “my parents have worked hard to make this resort a pleasant place for families to come and enjoy the island.”
“There’s no money in that” the man laughed. His disdain evident in the way he stood. “Take a good look around you girl. This place is falling apart. It hasn’t been remodeled in years. It probably looks the same as it did on the day they bought it. The decor is hopelessly out of date. There hasn’t been any live entertainment for at least ten years. The paint is flaking. The plumbing is old. The pipes rattle in the walls.” He took a step closer “open your eyes girlie. This place is falling apart. It’s days are numbered. Even the families are going elsewhere. Places where the kids actually have fun.”
She hated to admit it but Donnie had a point. The resort did look old. She ran a hand along the wall “it needs a little TLC that’s all.”
The man snorted “you’re as delusional as your father. Wake up before the bill collectors come knocking.” The man pushed past them to stride down the hall.
A growl built up inside her as she whirled around to pursue him. She slipped through Ryan’s hands as she sped after the old man. “What kind of father are you” she demanded grabbing his arm forcing him to stop and look at her.
Shaking her off he stepped back “I’m a shrewd businessman. First and foremost. I always keep track of the bottom line. Anything else is extraneous details.”
“Your family. Your son” she shouted giving vent to her anger “they are all second to the almighty dollar.”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that” he raised an eyebrow “but yes that analysis is accurate.”
“You could help us save the resort” she could see by his stony face that he wouldn’t.
“Where’s the profit in that for me” he asked “I’m in this business to make money not lose it on a bad investment.” He dusted off his suit “the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be.” His disdain deepened as he looked over his shoulder but luckily for all of them he simply huffed before walking away.
“I was hoping he’d be gone before you arrived” Graham’s soft voice spoke behind them.
“Daddy” Charity cried running towards him arms open wide as she greeted him.
As her arms tightened around him he squeezed her tight. “I missed you” he murmured. A look of shock crossed his face “I mean..I hope you had a good time. Enjoyed your honeymoon.”
Ignoring him she sniffed “why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what” he asked evasively unable to meet her eyes.
Reaching up she held his face still between her hands. “How bad is it” she demanded.
Making a noise like a deflating tire Graham seemed to shrink into himself. “It’s bad.”
“Bad as in we can manage bad” she looked up catching Ryan’s eyes, drawing comfort from the way he was watching her.
“No honey” Graham pulled away with a heavy sigh “bad as in we can’t go on. Zane he …. he borrowed money from some” he stopped face twisting in anguish. “Let’s just say the loan came due and their methods of getting weren’t very pleasant”
“Where is Dad” Charity asked. She had expected him to be waiting for them at the airport when they arrived.
“If we’re going to talk about this we better go into the office.” Graham shuffled towards the door without waiting for a response.
Charity watched him like she was seeing for the first time. He seemed to have aged twenty years in the week she’d been gone. Following him inside Charity sat down on one of the empty chairs. Memories of her teen years coming to mind. She had sat in here for what felt like countless hours listening to her parents scolding her for some transgression or another. Now it almost felt like the roles had been reversed.
Graham sat like a man defeated behind his desk loaded with papers, the majority of which were unpaid bills. He lifted his eyes toward his daughter. The only bright spot in an otherwise bleak future. “Zane is in the hospital. A couple of goons beat him up when he couldn’t pay back the loan.”
Jumping to her feet she cried “is he alright?”
Ryan took her hands gently leading her back to her empty chair. “We’ll see him tomorrow just as soon as we can.”
“Alright” she gulped air feeling as if she had fallen into a nightmare. A nightmare where everything was different but looked the same. Lifting her eyes to Graham she asked “what are we going to do about the loan? Those loan sharks won’t simply go away.”
“It’s already taken care of” Graham stood looking out the window. It was a gloomy prospect as it looked out upon the empty pool. “You can thank Hannah’s parents later for helping me get the money Zane needed in such a short time.”
For just a moment Charity allowed herself to wonder what it would have been like if Eddie had been the one her dad had chosen instead of Zane all those years ago. Would she even be here? Shaking her head she shoved those disloyal thoughts away. How could she even think like that when her dad was lying in a hospital bed? “Can’t they loan us enough to get the resort back on its feet again?”
“No honey I can’t ask them to do more than they already have” he shook his head. “The only thing left to do now is sell the resort.”
“No” she shouted “I won’t let you.” She turned to Ryan “he’s giving up without a fight. Tell him Eddie and Rory will loan us what we need. I know they will.”
“No they won’t” Graham’s voice rose, loud and firm catching their attention. “They’ve given us all they can. If the money your dad owed had been only a few thousand dollars that would have been something else. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for more. I have no doubt they’d do all they could to help.”
“How much did Dad owe” her voice quivered like she were standing on the edge of an abyss.
“Thirty thousand dollars” Graham sat down heavily behind his desk cradling his chin in his hand. “I’ll never be able to pay Eddie back.”
“We’ll figure something out” Charity insisted “we can’t let old man Hollis take the resort from us without a fight.”
“Honey we’re all tired” Ryan stood holding his hand out to her. “Perhaps when we’re rested things will look different, less bleak.” Turning to Graham he said “sir perhaps I could take a look at your books in the morning. Maybe I’ll see something that you overlooked.”
“I’m sure I haven’t missed anything but be my guest” Graham waved a hand at the clutter. He watched as the young couple moved towards the door. “Ryan call me Graham or Dad. Anything but sir.”
“Yes sir….I mean Graham” he nodded as he left the room.
Charity glanced at a framed picture of herself and Ryan sitting on her dad’s desk as she swiveled back and forth in his chair. She was alone, lost in her own thoughts. It seemed like yesterday she and Ryan had returned from their honeymoon to find everything they had left in chaos. Hard to believe that was already a month ago. Even harder to believe they had another month before the new owners came to take over the resort.
This was her home. She tucked her feet beneath her. This was where she had met her best friend Nana. A small smile graced her lips as her thoughts returned to the days she and Hannah had played in the nursery together. It seemed all her favorite memories had been here. She met Ryan here. Her fierce protector. He never let anyone or anything hurt her.
He had proposed to her along the beach. Then they said their vows on the very same beach. How could she possibly let this place go? The resort was a part of her. She loved it. Had dreamed about all the things she would do to it when she was in charge. It would make a beautiful hacienda style resort. Many of the homes on the island were in that same style.
She pushed herself away from the desk glancing out the window. How could Zane put all that in jeopardy? Because of him her father had lost everything. She knew she was being unreasonable blaming him. She knew he had borrowed the money in the belief he was helping. All he did was compound the issues. Neither of her parents were good business men. Reviewing the books with Ryan proved that beyond any doubt. It’s amazing the resort had lasted as long as it did.
The door opened and her dad’s pink hair emerged. “Sweetie I’d like you to come out and meet the new owner.”
Frowning she protested “we have another month.”
“I know sweetie but he’s anxious to get things started” Graham beckoned her to follow him.
With ill grace she followed frowning severely as they approached a tall dark haired man. Her footsteps slowed as they came to a stop. She wanted to run. Be anywhere but there. The man turned with a grin and held his hands out to her. “Ryan” she exclaimed “Dad said we were going to meet the new owners.”
Nodding he handed her a large manila envelope “open it” he encouraged, eyes gleaming as he watched her.
Giving him a curious look she tore open the envelope. Her eyes skimmed over the words. Deed of ownership. Hollis Resort. “You bought it” she breathed shallowly.
“Keep reading” he insisted.
Her name was listed on the line that said owner. “But I…How did…” Tears gushed as words failed her. “You did this for me” she said in a small hushed voice.
“Well” looking over his shoulder he smiled “we all did.”
She followed where he was looking to find the old gang. The kids that had helped form her. Zach and Teasha Ferris. Hannah Bennett. Divia Marx and Vincent Rake. “Thank you all so much” she cried moving in for a group hug “you have no idea what this means to me.”