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       Last Resort, p.2

           Jill Sanders

  Chapter One

  Fifteen years later…

  Cassey stood on the crowded boardwalk and looked at the slightly burned building. The windows were knocked out, the front door was boarded up, and a good chunk of the ceiling was falling in. It was perfect. She smiled one of her rare smiles and walked towards the doors. The keys were in her hands and her fingers shook as she slid the silver key home to unlock the large wooden door.

  When it creaked open, she smiled again, knowing it belonged to her. Well, to her, her family, and the bank. She walked in slowly, keeping the doors open so the light from the boardwalk sifted in. Flipping on the lights, she noticed that tables and chairs were piled up against the back wall. Most of the old mirrors along the walls were broken, thanks, no doubt, to kids breaking in and tossing stones at them. But it wasn’t such a great loss; she’d planned on taking them down anyway. The black ceiling and walls would be painted a lighter color since the place would no longer serve as a grunge dance club.

  As she looked around the large room, her mind whirled with ideas, just as it had since she’d first seen the place almost eight years ago. Back then, her aunt, Julie’s sister, had been running the dingy grunge club.

  Cassey had spent years walking up and down the beach outside and knew the wonders the mile-long boardwalk held. Even though it was centered on the beach in one of the smallest towns along Florida’s Gulf Coast, tourism had always been booming here. This was the it place to be. With it's small-town charm and quaint shops.

  Most of those little shops were housed in one long building. They’d recently been painted a light yellow with tall white columns. Some units had upper floors, which usually housed apartments or offices. The little details of each section were unique, showing off the character of each business.

  The businesses provided everything one might desire on a summer vacation. There were shops that sold sundresses and swimwear which sat alongside ice cream parlors and specialty shops. There was a fun-plex of sorts at the other end of the docks that was almost always packed with kids, even during the off-season. She and her brothers had spent many hours and all of their allowance there during their school years. The only thing the boardwalk was missing was entertainment for adults. Cassey planned on providing it.

  Smiling, she looked around the large room. There was a long mahogany bar against the left wall and a stage area in the back right corner that she planned on using. The tables and chairs that had been left there could even be cleaned up and used again.

  The old building, which sat separate from the others, had been in the Grayton family for generations, and since waterfront property in the growing resort town of Surf Breeze was highly sought after, it needed to stay that way. Ever since her Aunt Karen’s death two years ago, the family had been receiving offers for the old building.

  It wasn’t until Cassey’s last birthday that she had made the decision to follow her dreams and take a chance. She’d worked at the local restaurant in Spring Haven since she was sixteen. Being a waitress had given her the experience she needed to open her own place. But her dream wasn’t only about food. She smiled as she looked around. No, she had a few other plans for this place.

  She took her time walking through the large rooms. The large kitchen in the back would need new appliances, but other than that, it could be up and running with minimal work besides a good cleaning, some paint, and TLC.

  The two customer bathrooms were standard and only needed cleaning and supplies. She walked back out to the main room and noticed the mirrored office hovering over the back corner. She knew she would be spending time there and decided to walk up and take stock of the shape it was in.

  When she climbed the narrow stairway, she could smell burnt carpet. Walking into the office, she frowned. Here the fire had done the most damage. She could actually see through the roof and the water damage to the floor was pretty bad.

  Turning down a long hallway, she walked towards what would be her home. She knew the apartment was furnished, but was afraid of what was in there. Using her other keys, she opened the heavy door and took another narrow hallway to her new apartment. The door to the small place was painted bright teal. She liked the color and smiled slightly, knowing she would keep it.

  When she walked into the one-bedroom place, she was shocked. It was gorgeous. She’d never been back here; when they had visited eight years ago, they had stayed in the front building. Her Aunt Karen had lived here and had run the club since the early eighties. She had been the wild child, though she had always been accepted in the family.

  Where Julie had been soft-spoken and very modest in her appearance, Karen had been her complete opposite. Even though their faces matched perfectly, the twins had chosen completely different attitudes and lifestyles.

  She walked into the apartment and noticed the flowered colonial furniture. Karen’s clothing style had always been dark, but her apartment reflected a more feminine side.

  The tan tile floors needed a good cleaning, some of the furniture as well, but it was better than she had expected. Walking through it, she noticed the out-of-date appliances in the small kitchen. She knew her budget wouldn’t allow for new ones just yet, but maybe she could find some used ones that were in better condition.

  Walking to the back, she noticed the bathroom needed some work as well. When she walked into the bedroom, she gasped and rushed to the sliding doors. Outside, a small rooftop patio garden area was in full bloom. It hadn’t been tended in the last two years since no one had lived there, but still the flowers and trees were beautiful. She made a mental note to buy some shears to trim back the bushes that had grown wild. An iron table and chairs sat in the middle of the stone pathway. On either side of the back-alley garden were low brick walls which helped kept the secret patio hidden. It was a small slice of heaven in the middle of grunge. She loved it. She could imagine herself spending most of her free time here, reading, working on her laptop, or just soaking up some sun.

  Walking back in, she noticed the bedroom for the first time. A large four-poster bed sat in the middle of the room. Old white lace hung off the tall posts, giving a canopy look to the bed.

  She tested the mattress; it was soft and would be comfortable enough. Lying back on it, she closed her eyes for a moment. She could do this. She was only twenty-two, but the business classes she’d taken while waiting tables would serve her well.

  Her business plan had impressed the bank enough that they had given her a loan to fix the place up without batting an eye. Now all she had to do was get her hands a little dirty and get started.

  Her brothers were going to be there first thing tomorrow morning, but she just couldn’t wait to get started. Heading back out to her car, she grabbed her bags and carried them in through the side gate and walked up the outer stone steps to her new apartment. Changing out of her clean clothes, she pulled on a pair of old jeans and an old T-shirt. Tying her long dark hair back with a bandana, she pulled out a box of cleaning supplies from her car and got to work downstairs. The office would have to wait for her brothers to arrive since it would have to be gutted and someone would have to climb up on the roof to patch the holes. No doubt, Marcus would be the one to get up there and do the patching.

  Marcus had always been fearless. When she first arrived at the Grayton place fifteen years ago, she’d never imagined having three brothers and a sister to grow up with. But the kids had bonded and had been inseparable, at least until Marissa had run away suddenly, shortly after her seventeenth birthday.

  Cassey frowned as she started to clean, thinking about her sister. She missed her and wondered what had caused her to leave such a wonderful place. Whatever it had been, she hadn’t confided in her and that hurt worse than any beating she’d ever received from her real parents.

  As she worked, she remembered the last night she’d seen Marissa. They had walked down to the lake and had gone swimming, something they had done since bonding the first summer they’d lived in the house on the hill
with the Graytons.

  “Do you believe in fate?” Marissa asked as she floated in the cool water, looking up at the dying light. Her long blonde hair floated around her tan face. She’d just turned seventeen three days earlier and they’d had a large party that weekend.

  “Fate?” Cassey thought about it. “Sure, I guess so.” She was floating, much like Marissa, but her dark hair was shorter and closer to her head.

  “I’m destined to be like my mother,” Marissa blurted out, causing Cassey to stand up and look down at her.

  “Why would you say that?” she asked, frowning down at her sister. She’d heard the horror stories of Marissa’s past. Her mother had had her when she was just sixteen. She’d been so into drugs, no one had thought that Marissa would survive the first week. But she had, and she’d lived long enough to suffer the wrath of a mother addicted to crack. At least until Lilly had swooped in, much like she had with Cassey, and rescued her.

  Marissa had arrived at the Graytons less than a month before she had.

  Marissa stood up in the water next to her, looking down at the round rocks along the shore. “I don’t know. It’s just some of the choices I’ve made in life.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I see so much of her in me.” Marissa looked up into Cassey’s eyes. Cassey could see sadness there and something else in her eyes.

  “What’s wrong?” She moved closer to her.

  Marissa looked up and shook her head. “Nothing. I guess I’m just being emotional.” She smiled and then splashed water at her playfully. “I’ll race you to the docks?”

  Cassey took the challenge and lost, like always, and quickly forgot all about the conversation until the next morning when she’d gone in to wake Marissa for school and found her bed empty with a note on the pillow. The note only said that she had to leave and nothing more.

  Cassey blinked back to the now. She was losing the light, so she walked over and flipped on the overhead lights. A few bulbs were out, causing the room to be in shadows.

  She’d wiped down the bar and cleared out the old bottles and trash from behind it. There were a few spots for small fridge units, and she knew the keg hold and lines would need some work. She planned on having a new soda machine installed.

  Back in the kitchen, the pizza ovens were still in working order and she thought of adding flatbread pizzas to the menu along with fresh seafood items and some other favorites—burgers, steaks, and chicken dishes.

  She worked until she was too tired to work anymore, but she was happy that the place was already looking better by then. As she cleaned, she added a dozen or more items she would have to buy or fix to her list. There was still so much to do before opening day, which she planned on being a little over a month from now.

  She had applied for the liquor license when she’d signed up for her business license. It would take a few weeks for approval, but she had a few weeks to spare. The building inspectors were scheduled to stop by in three weeks, and there was so much to do before then.

  Walking up the back stairs, she slowly made her way down the hallway to her new home. She plopped down on the bed, fully clothed, and was asleep before she could even remove her shoes.

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