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The Cornerstone by Kate Canterbary (1)

Prologue

SHANNON

Now

I was the fucking boss.

I negotiated multi-million dollar real estate deals, juggled at least six major crises before lunch every day, and tamed lions for fun.

Not actual lions, but my brothers came damn near close enough.

I ran marathons, wore heels no shorter than four inches, and could file injunctions faster than most people responded to text messages.

But I was a whore for superstitions.

Horoscopes, full moons, palm readings, Friday the Thirteenths, even freaking black cats. All of it.

It defied logic but I had to believe there was an order to the universe and everything—everything, everything, everything—happened for a reason. I needed to believe it all meant something, and that maybe if I paid careful attention, I could protect myself and my family from whatever the universe was throwing at me next.

So waking up an hour late, snagging three separate pairs of tights before they made it over my knees, and drowning my new iPhone in coffee not more than sixty seconds after the barista handed it to me were giant neon signs warning that my Monday was a special kind of cursed.

I needed a shaman and some burning sage, and I needed it now.

Sprinting up the Walsh Associates office stairs with my dead phone in one hand and a fresh coffee in the other, I tried to remember what was on the agenda for this morning’s status meeting. Me and my five business partners—the ones who did double duty as my brothers plus Andy Asani, our newest architect and the object of my brother Patrick’s affection—we held these meetings sacred. Lateness wasn’t tolerated.

I didn’t stop when I reached the landing for my office, instead yelling to my assistant while I started up the next flight, “Tom! Get me something to eat and I need a new iPhone before this meeting is over.”

“On it,” he called.

I cleared the last landing before the steep stone staircase to the attic conference room, slowing my steps to avoid wiping out. I could handle my heels in most situations, but these medieval stairs were thirteen feet of uneven, winding granite torture.

Especially in a pencil skirt.

I was out of breath and fully disheveled by the time I reached the conference room, but I cast a warning glare around the table and dropped into my seat without comment. I wasn’t regaling Sam, Andy, Riley, Matt, and Patrick with tales of my crazy morning.

Andy sent me a questioning frown and pointed to her hair, an indication that my still-damp ponytail was more than likely a wreck and my bangs were undoubtedly askew. Shaking my head, I rolled my eyes and mouthed “Not now.”

“I tried calling you,” Patrick muttered. He was almost a full year older than me, and together we managed our family’s third-generation sustainable preservation architecture firm. He handled the architecture, I handled everything else that went into running a business, and it had been this way since forever.

“Phone disaster,” I said.

He groaned. “I believe that’s your third phone disaster this year, Shannon.”

“Thank you for that reminder, Patrick,” I said with a saccharine smile. I’d been bossing his ass around for thirty-three years, and that wasn’t about to stop. “Suck my dick.”

Matt did nothing to conceal his laughter, and he ignored my raised eyebrow. He was a year younger than me, and too much of a big, happy puppy dog to let some brusque frowning kill his vibe.

“If we could focus on the agenda—” Patrick paused when Tom bustled in, a plate in one hand and his tablet tucked under his arm.

“Which size iPhone do you want?” He angled the tablet toward me, pointing at the device options. “You have small hands, so—”

“You have a directive. Solve problems without my involvement,” I said.

Tom nodded, chastened. “On it.”

He set a plate with two cartons of yogurt, two mixed berry muffins, and a large latte beside my other cup of coffee. Patrick watched, tapping his fingers on the table, and it was clear his patience was depleted for the day.

When Tom hurried down the stairs, Patrick said, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to—”

“There is no vagina food allowed at this table,” Riley interrupted. He was my youngest brother by five years, and it didn’t matter that he was a full foot taller than me now, or that he could pick me up and lift me over his head. He’d always be a little kid to me.

“Riley,” Patrick growled. “Sit down and shut up.”

“I will puke if there’s open yogurt in this room,” Riley said. “I’m not exaggerating. It smells like old barf, and can someone actually explain what yogurt is?”

He snatched up the cartons and, in the process, knocked over his stainless steel water bottle and both of my coffees. Liquid and ice cubes splashed across the round table, and hell promptly broke loose.

Everyone shot out of their chairs, yelling and swearing, and collecting laptops and phones before much damage could be done. Andy found a roll of paper towels, and she and Sam mopped up the spill while Matt produced a set of tiny tools from his messenger bag and took apart his soaked computer.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Patrick shouted at Riley.

“I do not like being in the presence of yogurt,” Riley responded.

“Would it not be possible to handle that in a slightly less catastrophic way?” One leg of Patrick’s trousers was drenched with coffee, and he pointed to Andy’s waterlogged notebook, the disemboweled computer, and the stained rug. “How is it?” he asked Matt.

“Fried,” he answered. “And it smells like pumpkin spice.”

“Oh my fucking God,” Patrick seethed.

“It’s not that bad,” Andy said as she wiped laptops and phones dry. “Only a few casualties.”

“I’m going to have to sand and stain the whole surface again,” Sam murmured, his hand coasting over the tabletop.

Riley gestured toward Patrick. “If we could just agree that there’s no yogurt at meetings—”

“Get over the goddamn yogurt,” Matt said.

“If we’re banning yogurt, we’re sure as shit banning coffee and water, too,” Patrick said.

“Shut up,” I bellowed. “Everyone. Shut up. We have things to accomplish and we’re not spending the next hour bitching at each other about yogurt. Sit down, get your status reports ready, and don’t speak unless I specifically invite you to do so. Understood?”

There were more muttered comments as we dealt with soggy chairs and stained clothes. We returned to our seats and started working through property updates. Patrick tracked the fine project management details while I monitored the Boston real estate market, but I quickly zoned out while staring at the Multiple Listing Service website.

I was tired, hungry, and caffeine-deprived, and generally irritable. There was no one reason for my irritability, but a mountain of little reasons that had been building for months.

“All right, well, I think we’re good,” Patrick said, glancing at me. “Did you get everything you needed?”

“Um…” I skimmed the list of priorities and issues on my side of the master status table Patrick and I shared. “I think so.”

I retreated to my office and spun my chair to face the gothic arched windows. I didn’t have much of a view—just the alley below and the adjacent Beacon Hill red brick row houses—but I needed a place for my thoughts beyond the four walls of Walsh Associates.

I was fierce to the bone, and it served me well. That fierceness taught me to keep it together at all costs because if I fell apart, everything and everyone was falling with me.

It gave me the strength to raise my siblings when my mother died and my father lost his mind. It kept me going when I was single-handedly covering college tuition for Sam, Riley, and my sister, Erin, funding the takeover of Walsh Associates from my father, and putting myself through law school, all while selling houses on the side. It gave me the energy to learn the law, money, architecture, and Boston, and the expertise to manage all of that with more competence than most people ever expected out of a five-foot tall redhead. It gave me the will to, at once, be everything everyone ever needed.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped being everything to my siblings.

A brisk knock sounded at my door but I didn’t answer. Tom and my brothers were going to barrel right on in regardless of whether I responded. The rest of my support staff knew not to bother me unless the building was burning down, and I didn’t smell smoke.

“Okay, boss. I think you’re going to like this.” Tom chattered on about the newest iPhone for several minutes while I stared out the window. “Boss?”

I glanced over my shoulder. “Can it wait?”

Tom pointed to my desk, ignoring my question. “Phone is charging but otherwise fully operational. I picked up your prescription and another pumpkin spice latte, and Rory ran the payables this morning.”

New phone, birth control pills, coffee, and a heap of checks to sign. “Thank you,” I said. “What else is on my calendar for today?”

He swiped his tablet to life and pushed his angular glasses up his nose. “Ten o’clock with the bank to close on your Louisburg Square investment. One o’clock lunch at Townsman with that development firm. They’re the ones who want to buy out the Medios Building, and if their assistant can be trusted, the offer they’ll make is a good one. Please be nice to them. Three thirty with Patrick to review the upcoming projects. Eight o’clock dinner with Mr. Pemberton.”

Ugh.

I was more or less dating Mr. Pemberton.

I knew Gerard Pemberton through some lawyer friends, and we’d bumped into each other at several Massachusetts Bar Association networking events. He was an attorney at a firm where my law school buddy Simone worked, a firm that liked to paint itself as boutique but actually churned a massive volume of high-profile and high-priced divorces.

Gerard was good at that: portraying himself as something pleasant despite being a complete tool.

As fate would have it, Gerard was going through his own divorce now. He and his wife, Meredith, called it quits about six months ago and he was busy proving a point to her. He wanted Meredith to know that he’d moved on and he was better off without her, and he was going hard at sending those messages.

Apparently, I was good ‘get back at your ex-wife’ material, and he wanted to be seen all over town with me. I attributed one hundred percent of my appeal to the fact that the work of Walsh Associates was featured in seven different design and architecture publications in the past four months, and we were currently restoring a home for Eddie Turlan from the eighties punk band The Vials.

Gerard also wanted to fuck his anger away. Quite unfortunately for me, he had some trouble maintaining erections, and routinely blamed Meredith for that while we were in bed. It was charming to watch him berating his cock and cursing his ex.

That was one of the many reasons we didn’t get between the sheets too often.

I didn’t love Gerard, and I didn’t especially like him either. He talked constantly and with no regard for whether anyone was listening. He was rude in subtle, elegant ways that most people interpreted as highbrow snark.

There was always a segment on NPR or a golf tournament worth recounting, but at the very minimum, he kept me occupied. Despite his soliloquies, I always had a dinner date at the ready. He was pleasantly reliable…and barely tolerable, but the only objective for me was moving the fuck on.

“Would you like me to reschedule anything?” Tom asked.

I drummed my fingers on my armrests and shook my head, but I didn’t turn away from the windows. “No. Thank you, though.”

My eyes landed on the emerald agate geode on the corner of my bookshelf. It was just a rock with something remarkable hiding inside, and it appeared in my office six years ago without a card or return address. The only identifying information was a Brazilian postmark.

There were other mysterious geodes, too. Some were no bigger than a strawberry and others were the size of a softball, and they came with postmarks from all over the world. Russia. Austria. South Korea. Canada. Zambia.

Only one person who would drop rocks in the mail and send them my way without explanation. Someone who liked to remind me that I was a self-centered bitch who needed to take myself a hell of a lot less seriously.

Well, now there were two people who knew those things.

Yeah, today was going to be special.

*

Before sunset, I’d bought one property, sold another, and found two more to lust over. I wanted to snap them up before anyone else noticed the gorgeous—yet completely trashed—Public Garden-side brownstones, but this day wasn’t going well enough to make quick decisions.

A dish of gnocchi sat untouched in front of me, my glass of pinot grigio was growing warm, and I was drowning out Gerard’s commentary about wind farms. It could have just as easily been his position on the area’s best driving ranges or how he was diversifying his portfolio, but I wasn’t even close to listening.

Instead, I was debating whether we’d get a bigger payoff from merging the twin brownstones on Mount Vernon Street into a super-mansion or restoring them as they stood. This was the kind of project Matt lived for, and if I could get him on board, it would be huge for him. A twelve-thousand-square-foot structural remodel and preservation job meant an eight-figure price tag, and a sale like that translated to major publicity. It was exactly what Matt needed to finally grab some awards of his own and garner the media attention that Sam and Patrick picked up without effort.

“Dessert?” Gerard asked, gesturing to the menu the waitress was offering.

It took me a moment to realize he expected a response. Most of the time, he required no more than the occasional nod.

“No,” I said. I wanted my bed, pajamas, and Game of Thrones. Some Jon Snow would help my mood. “I have an early meeting.”

It wasn’t exactly false; all of my meetings were early relative to Gerard’s firm, where the partners strolled in around nine thirty. I texted Tom to get me on Matt’s calendar for a Mount Vernon Street visit tomorrow, and engrossed myself in looking busy with emails.

Gerard talked the entire walk back to my apartment—something about paleontologists discovering an ancient species of birds. Whipping the babble out of him wouldn’t have required much work on my part, but I didn’t have the desire to fix him. Everything about this was temporary, and when the emotionless boredom of my time with Gerard left my wounds scabbed over and my heart numb, this would end.

It was misery, but it was the best I could do right now.

The prehistoric bird story continued until I pointed to a chair in my living room and said, “Make yourself at home. I’m getting some wine.”

I grabbed a bottle from my pantry without concern for variety or origin and stood at the sink, gazing at the night sky. A nearly full harvest moon was shining bright over the Charles River, and it seemed too close, too heavy to be real.

Gerard called to me from the hall but I ignored him. There was probably a tennis match he thought I needed to see.

Sometimes I studied the sky and wondered about the order of it all. Who would I be if I hadn’t lost my mother and been forced to grow up at nine years old? What if I hadn’t been forced to grow all the way up at seventeen when my father kicked me out of the house? Would I be standing by while my brothers filled their lives with love and happiness and meaning? Would I still be negotiating the lesser evils of loneliness and limp dicks?

Shannon,” he repeated, his tone more abrupt than I’d ever heard before. “Could you join me out here?”

Abandoning the wine in the kitchen, I rounded the corner and found Gerard in the front hallway with the door open. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see past the door.

“There’s someone here to see you, Shannon,” Gerard said, and my stomach dropped into my shoes.

Nothing good ever came from an unexpected visitor at ten thirty on a Monday night, and I realized this was what the universe had been warning me about all day. Not a dead phone, not a showdown over yogurt. This.

I closed my fingers around the edge of the door and pulled it open, and then air was gone.

Even in a dark hoodie and jeans, even with a ball cap pulled low over his eyes, even with a clean-shaven jaw, even after all these months. I knew him. I’d always know him.

“Shannon,” he said, his voice deep and commanding and filled with too many memories to manage in this moment.

Before I could stop myself, a broken, breathy sob escaped my lips. It was equal doses of hell-sent anger and the kind of affection that drained oceans, moved mountains, and slowed time.

I wanted to hold him close, so close that he melted into me and we couldn’t tell one from another, and then I wanted to slap the shit out of him.

“Will,” I said.

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