Jason Bowers sat in his pick up outside the chain link fence that surrounded the vacant lot, engine idling, a container of steaming coffee in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. Through the lenses he could see across the open space to the bare trees at the back of the property and clear on down to the river that ambled along till it met up with the Chesapeake somewhere down below Patterson’s Point. He’d taken to making this a regular stop on his way to work every day since he first saw the “For Sale” sign posted on the gate back in November. The one acre was so overgrown with weeds the realtor was forced to hire someone to come in to cut them down and clean up the lot so that prospective buyers could get a decent look at the grounds. The someone the realtor hired had been Jason, and for him, it had been love at first sight.
For the past two months, he found himself drawn back over and over, not yet tired of imaging the way his nursery would look when he finally got it up and running. First thing he’d do would be to cut down a whole bunch of those trees. Not that he didn’t like trees, but he’d need the space to show off the ones he’d be selling and to plant the field grown perennials he knew from experience would be big sellers. Besides, he wanted a more unobstructed view of the river, and suspected his future customers might as well. He’d bring in someone to evaluate the old hardwoods that were growing back there and sell off what he could, then have the rest chopped for firewood which he’d season, divide into half cords and cords, and slap on a sale sign. By next winter, those bundles would be ready to go.
Next he’d black top the area from the road down to the trees so he could store his heavy equipment — the bobcat, back hoes and riding mowers, his dump truck and the extra pickup — and still have room for the piles of mulch and mushroom soil he’d need for his landscaping business. Not to mention parking places. He was planning on needing lots of parking because he was already envisioning lots of customers.
Jason wanted it all so much he could taste it.
Eighteen months ago, he’d sold his Florida landscaping business. It had been a tough decision: he and his late brother, Eric, had started building it before Jason had even graduated from high school. Eric had put up half the money that had gone into making Bowers for Landscape a success, and Jason felt obligated to return that money to his brother’s widow, Brooke, after Eric was killed in Afghanistan. That obligation had brought him to St. Dennis with no intention of staying, but the opportunity to spend some time with his nephew, Logan — Eric’s only child — had kept him around longer than he’d planned. The longer Jason stayed, the harder it was to think about leaving.
For one thing, Logan was the image of his father, and that alone tugged at Jason’s heart in ways he’d never have suspected could happen. The fact that Logan was Jason’s only living relative made it hard to think about moving on. Once he made the decision to stay in St. Dennis, Jason knew he was doing the right thing. Family connections had opened prominent doors — Brooke’s brother, Clay, was married to the daughter of the owner of the town’s most popular inn, and Brooke was marrying the grandson of St. Dennis’s most prominent resident — but Jason knew it was his hard work that kept his phone ringing.
When he first arrived in St. Dennis, Jason had struggled to establish himself in town where everyone seemed to belong but him. Thanks to a few influential people, like the Sinclairs and Jesse’s grandfather, Curtis Enright, Jason was slowly building up his business. But in order to prosper, he needed to expand. And in order to expand, he needed more equipment, and property on which he could park it all, and he’d need to branch into retail sales of garden supplies. The long neglected field out on River Road was exactly what he’d been looking for. After a weeks worth of haggling with the owner, his offer had been accepted and settlement was now only a week away.
He could hardly believe his good fortune, but he had the owner’s signature on the agreement of sale and had an appointment tomorrow to look at some equipment that was being sold by a landscaper who was retiring. There were times — like right now — when he felt like pinching himself.
Jason took one last sip of coffee before returning the cup to the holder, replaced the lens caps on his binoculars and tucked them back into their case. He made a U-turn and eased past the old cyclone fence that separated his property from the one next door where a square stone building stood. It was boarded up and covered with vines and looked every bit as neglected as the lot he was buying, but once cleaned up and renovated, it would make a sweet little shop for the retail business he’d open as soon as he got the nursery going. He’d already had his realtor contact the owner to see if they could work out a deal, but the owner wasn’t interested in selling right then. Jason would just have to bide his time, maybe have the realtor try again in the spring.
He could see exactly how that little shop would look. The cash register would be right inside the front door on a long counter where customers could set the plants they were buying. There’d be a row of sturdy clay pots on shelves and garden tools, stacks of potting soil — everything the home gardener would need. He’d hire someone to run the shop because he’d always been an outside guy, but he was a smart enough businessman to recognize a void in the marketplace when he saw it, and Jason planned on being the person to fill it. There was one big box store that carried garden supplies but it was sixteen miles from St. Dennis and carried plants that were grown who-knew-where across the country in big factory-sized, warehouse-style greenhouses. Jason’s perennials would be field grown right there in St. Dennis, and a few years down the line the trees he’ll grow would be bagged and burlapped in his own field. Maybe someday he’d even be able to add a small greenhouse of his own where he’d start flats of herbs and annuals from seeds.
Jason sighed. He’d had all that and more in Florida, and it had killed him to sell it, but it had had to be done. But that was all behind him now, and there was nothing to be gained by looking back. Things had all worked out for the best, and there were times when he really believed that. Except for the fact of Eric dying, he wouldn’t change much about his life these days.
Of course, if Eric hadn’t died, he wouldn’t be here in St. Dennis. The original plan had been for Eric to move back to Florida with Brooke and Logan once his last tour of duty had ended, and he’d join the business with his brother. Not a day went by that that weight didn’t press down on Jason’s shoulders just a little.
Jason wondered what Eric would have thought about living in St. Dennis.
It was a nice enough place, with pretty streets, a lot of old houses, and fabulous views of the Chesapeake Bay. St. Dennis was a town that was fat with history. There were homes several centuries old and families that had lived there almost as long. That was one of the things, though, that chafed at Jason a little. It seemed that everyone he met could trace their roots back till damn near the beginning of time, and therefore, seemed to belong more than he did. Despite the welcome he received from Brooke’s family — and from Jesse’s as well — both of whom probably had been in St. Dennis since the beginning of time — Jason still felt like a perpetual outsider. Not that anyone had intentionally tried to make him feel that way, but even though he had quasi-family ties here and owned an up and coming business, deep inside, he knew he really wasn’t one of them.
Which was okay, he supposed, since he really didn’t belong anyplace else, either.
Still, here was better than most places. Here he could be a part of Logan’s life, and he knew he had Jesse to thank for that as much as Brooke. Even though Jesse would soon be Logan’s step-father, he never seemed to resent the place that Jason played in the child’s life. In fact, it had been Jesse’s idea that Jason share coaching duties of Logan’s basketball and softball teams, and never failed to let Jason know when there were school plays and concerts. All in all, St. Dennis had been a pretty good place to have landed, especially when he considered the fact that he didn’t have any real ties to anywhere else.
That was okay, too. For the most part, he kept himself too busy to think about it. Most days he worked from dawn to dusk building up his clientele. Time off was mostly devoted to Logan or joining a few of the guys he’d made friends with — Jesse, Clay, Cameron O’Connor, the local contractor - for a beer or two. He’d had a few real dates since he moved here, but he hadn’t met anyone who’d interested him enough to spend too much time with and he’d never been one for casual dating. Small talk always seemed like a waste of time to him. He knew some people were pretty good at it, but he wasn’t one of them. If he occasionally felt pangs of loneliness, well, everyone got lonely from time to time, right? As far as he could see, one night stands in a small town like St. Dennis could only lead to trouble. If the right woman came along — one that turned his heart as well as his head, he wouldn’t walk away. That just hadn’t happened yet, and Jason wasn’t one to use up valuable time worrying about something he couldn’t control.
The important thing right now was that his business was growing. Those few months between the time he’d sold his old business and began to establish the new had been torture for him. He’d been focused on work since he was fifteen, and without that focus to give him an anchor, he’d felt adrift. He loved what he did and he was really good at it. Back in Florida, his landscape designs had won competitions. He was looking forward to building Bowers for Landscape into an award winning firm in St. Dennis as well.
All in good time, he reminded himself as turned the truck around on the broken concrete that he’d replace once he held the deed in his hand. Right now, he had a crew to get working and later this morning, a meeting with old Curtis Enright, who’d asked him to stop by this morning to go over a special project.
Jason smiled as he headed back out River Road. He had a full day ahead of him, dreams that were becoming reality, and a feeling that something...something was on its way.
Life was good.
Excerpted from At the River’s Edge by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2014 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.