One Week with her Rival:Eden Manor, Book One

By: Noelle Adams

Eden Manor, Book One



Monday


Vanessa Franks stared at the rickety balustrade of the main staircase in Eden Manor and tried to fight a familiar sense of rising panic and helplessness. The staircase must have been a masterpiece when it was carved a hundred and fifty years ago, but now it was dilapidated and broken.

And Vanessa was responsible for getting it back to its former glory in only one week.

Ever since her husband had died three years ago, Vanessa had struggled to hold his business together. She’d never wanted to be a contractor, although she’d grown up with DIY parents and so knew more than most about construction and renovation. But her husband, Carl, had poured his soul into his contracting business, and she’d vowed not to let it fall apart now, just because he’d died in a car accident. Even after three years, with each new job she took on, she felt like she was grappling with loose ends that would inevitably slip through her fingers.

Forcing the anxiety into a tight ball in a dark corner of her mind, she took a deep breath and smiled at Ruth Owens, her friend and the best woodworker in North Georgia. “I know it’s kind of a rush,” Vanessa said, “but do you think you can have it done in a week?”

Ruth was in her fifties—a strong, plain-spoken, no-nonsense kind of woman. “Don’t know. That’s pushing it, for this kind of work.”

“I know. But the owners moved up the timetable, and they really want to get it done. Do the best you can, will you?”

“Sure thing.” Ruth was shaking her head, the loose graying hair that had escaped her braid brushing against her cheek. “What’s the hurry anyway?”

“I guess their investor is coming to visit this weekend, and they want to show him as much progress as possible. They mentioned the staircase particularly.”

Vanessa had been thrilled when a young couple had bought Eden Manor, an old lakeside Victorian mansion that had sat empty for years. They were going to turn it into a bed and breakfast, and Vanessa had fought hard for the contract to restore the house.

She’d been happy to at least get the fine craftsman jobs—the detailed woodworking, the stained glass and ironwork, and the preservation of the old fireplaces. She’d wanted the entire project, but obnoxious Joe Coleman had outbid her for the grunt work. He had most of the construction laborers in the county in his pocket, effectively shutting her out of the bigger jobs.

It had been different when Carl was alive—since he’d grown up in the area and had a lot of friends—but now there was nothing Vanessa could do to get the workers away from Joe. Fortunately, she had cultivated relationships with the fine craftspeople in the region, or she would be out of work completely.

She hoped somewhere Carl was happy that his business still survived—that he was pleased about how hard she was working to keep his company afloat.

“Did I lose you somewhere?” Ruth asked, breaking into Vanessa’s thoughts.

“Oh. Sorry. Just worrying, as usual.”

“I’ll do the best I can here. Nothing to worry about.”

Vanessa smiled, gratified by Ruth’s relaxed good-nature and her loyalty—something the world was in short supply of. “There’s always something to worry about.”

“You worry too much. You’re doing real good. Carl would be proud of you.”

A wave of emotion washed over Vanessa, momentarily burning in her eyes. Carl had always been proud of her, even when she’d been in college and her greatest feat had been an A on a difficult exam. “Thanks.”

“Seriously. I never thought you could make a go of it after Carl died. I thought you should just sell out to Joe like he wanted. No offense—you’re just so little and pretty and delicate, and you don’t look like you could do big jobs like this.”

Vanessa was used to the sentiment. It was hard enough to be a woman in this business. Being five-three and small-boned, with big brown eyes and long, wavy brown hair made it even harder. She’d had to get used to men patronizing her or coming on to her—or sometimes both at once. “I’m not really delicate.”

“I know. You just look that way. Anyway, the point is you’re doing a great job and you have nothing to worry about.”

“I’d worry less if Joe Coleman wasn’t always lurking around, trying to nibble at the edges of my business.”

Ruth laughed, rubbing the mahogany wood of the lovely old balustrade, as if it were a special friend. “Oh, Joe, he doesn’t mean any harm.”

“Yes, he does.” Vanessa’s shoulders stiffened at the thought of the man’s arrogant, infuriating face. “You know what he did when he first came back to town. And he still wants to buy me out. He’d love to see me fail.”

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