“There,” Liam said.
She had wondered if she would recognize anyone; in the time she had been gone, many people must have come through Key West—and possibly moved on. It could be a city that was warm, like a true neighborhood, yet it was also a city of transients. And most of her friends had been young when she had seen them last, and surely they had changed.
It was easy to see that David Beckett was there, seated at a far booth on the restaurant side, to the left of the dance area. He resembled Liam, or Liam resembled him. He was a tall man with a face made of rugged angles, striking eyes. Katie had grown up beautifully, her red hair having darkened to a gorgeous hue. Sean was easy to recognize, as well—he was a far more masculine version of Katie, and though Katie was definitely feminine, with fine features, they both resembled their uncle, Jamie O’Hara. Kelsey didn’t recognize the young woman with Sean, but they were obviously together. She thought she recognized the woman with a tray standing by the table, and even the others who were there: another young couple who looked like flower children. His hair was as curly and long as hers was, and they both wore wire-rimmed glasses.
As they neared the table, unseen, Kelsey heard the last man at the table talking. He was very long and lean, but had a rich voice.
One that she thought she knew.
“They should really just bulldoze that house—let a major-league hotelier come in and put up one of the mega hotels—well, you know, a within-limits mega hotel,” he said, slipping an arm around the waitress who hovered by the table. “No more than two stories, of course—you can’t ruin the horizon.”
“Jonas,” Katie O’Hara argued, “don’t be silly. That’s an historic house. Why would anyone want to destroy it?”
“Well, please. Who would want to keep it?” Jonas asked.
Liam, his hand at the small of Kelsey’s back, cleared his throat.
“Actually, Kelsey hasn’t decided what she’s doing with it yet.”
It was almost funny, the way the eight people at or near the table swung around to stare at them.
It was Katie who gasped, then leaped off her bar stool with pleasure. “Kelsey! Oh, my God. You came home. How wonderful to see you!”
Her eyes were sparkling, and her words were sincere. She came forward, offering a hug, and Kelsey was glad to accept it. She drew away. “I’m Katie. I’m sorry—you might not have recognized me. Katie O’Hara.”
“Of course, Katie, I remember you well, and thank you for the greeting,” Kelsey said. By then, the men at the table were standing.
“Let’s see who you remember, and who you don’t,” Liam said. “My cousin, David. You can’t miss Sean O’Hara. And I don’t know if you ever met Vanessa, though she’s been down now and again over the years. And these are our friends Ted and Jaden. And Clarinda, and Jonas.”
David and Sean greeted her like a long-lost kid sister, Vanessa was charming but reserved, and Jaden and Ted were as loving as any good flower children might be. Clarinda welcomed her, and Jonas quickly apologized. “Wow, I’m sorry. I mean, it is my opinion, but—” He broke off and grimaced. “You remember me, don’t you? We had a house just across from you near the wharf. I still have it. It’s called the Salvage Inn now. I run it as a bed-and-breakfast.”
Kelsey grinned. “Yes, of course I remember you. You groaned anytime I was over at your house with either of my folks.”
“Okay, well, I’m afraid I have a few years on you. You were a pest back then.”
“Not that much of a pest,” David Beckett said, “I remember really liking you. I can’t believe that you’re an adult now.”
Kelsey seldom flushed, but she did so. David Beckett had an amazing sense of class and kindness.
But her mother had always said that their grandfather, Craig Beckett, was one of the most honorable men she had ever known. He had taught his progeny well, she thought.
She needed to take a step back; this did feel like old-home week. And she wasn’t staying. She had started life over again, and she was comfortable where she was. She loved her work, her neighborhood, and she wasn’t sure why she had come, other than guilt and a sense of debt, and she was very afraid of falling back into…she didn’t know what. Maybe the oddity of belonging to the house and being Cutter Merlin’s granddaughter.
“Thank you, David. And Jonas, it’s really okay—I wasn’t so fond of you back then, either,” she said, and the group laughed.
“Have a seat—I’ll get you a Guinness,” Liam said.
“Oh, wait! I’m supposedly working,” Clarinda said.
“It’s all right—I know the owner,” Liam said laughing. He headed straight back behind the bar to pour the beer himself.
“We’re right across from you,” Clarinda told Kelsey. “I live with Jonas, and if you need anything at all, we’re really close.”
“Yes, honest. Now I’ll be glad if you stop by,” Jonas said. He made a face. “And I’ve got rooms if you want out of the old place.”
“Actually, I loved living there,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Katie put in. “Liam said it’s in pretty bad shape. Although I’ll be happy to come over and help you put things in order, if you like.”
“That would be great,” Kelsey said. Could she really ask someone else to sweep up spiderwebs and dust with her?
“I would absolutely adore getting into that house!” Jaden said. “That’s what Ted and I do. Well, not exactly. We own a place called Sunken Treasures. Most of what we do is restoration of things that divers bring up. Salvage restoration. But I worked at an auction house for a while before Ted and I opened our own place, so I’m pretty good at assessing the value of old treasures.”
“That’s great to know,” Kelsey said.
Liam returned with two pints of Guinness, setting one in front of her. She thanked him, and Ted said, “Well, you do have an army here for help, if you want it. I must admit, I’m fascinated by the prospect of getting into the house, too.”
“We could have a clean-the-house day,” Liam said.
“Do you all have a conception of just how bad the house is?” Kelsey asked.
“Oh, hey, well, it doesn’t take a lot of talent to get entangled in spiderwebs,” Katie told her.
“There’s still a barbecue out back, isn’t there?” Jonas asked.
“Oh, Lord, if there is, God knows what’s in it,” Kelsey told him.
“We have an old portable barbecue somewhere,” Sean said. “Why don’t we dig it out? I mean—if you want an army trampling over on Saturday. I’m thinking Saturday would be the best day?” He looked at Katie and the others. “Katie, you don’t start until nine or ten on Saturday night, Clarinda can come in late, and Ted and Jaden can close early. Liam, you take Saturday off, don’t you?”
“Unless someone calls in with a real problem,” Liam said.
The pretty blonde at Sean’s side—Vanessa—cleared her throat. “Excuse me—we’ve all just invited ourselves over, you realize.”
Kelsey laughed. “It sounds great. Sean, you can bring the barbecue, but I’ll supply the food. If you’re cleaning the house for me, the least I can do is supply the barbecue.”
“It’s not that bad. The weather should hold,” Liam said. “We can clean—then wash all the spiderwebs off by taking a dip. The water is a little cool right now, but not that bad.”
“Hey…I’ve got to get started,” Katie said. “We have a group of coeds looking at the suggestion books, and I’m not sure they’ll like the choices.”
Kelsey glanced over to the stage area. She smiled, as well—it looked as if the cast of a college comedy had just walked in. They were beautiful people; three girls who were blonde and slim and wearing tiny shorts and belly-baring ripped-up tees had come in with two young men who looked like linebackers—young ones. They still had baby faces.
Katie slid behind her computer, politely salvaging her songbooks and apparently telling the crew that she probably had what they wanted right on the computer; they just needed to name their songs. She made an announcement using the microphone.
“This is O’Hara’s, and it’s Katie-oke here, four nights a week. Sometimes, it’s actually Clarinda-oke, but it’s all the same fun. O’Hara’s offers twenty-five beers from the cleanest taps you’ll find from here to Canada, so enjoy—responsibly, please.” Katie said the last with a hopeful but ironic twist in her tone. Key West and responsible drinking weren’t really known for going hand in hand. Luckily, partygoers usually stayed within walking distance of the bars on Duval, while a lot of the major-chain hotels farther around the island sent shuttles to drop off and pick up their guests in the Old Town area.
Katie started the music. The college crew whooped and hollered and began dancing energetically to the music.
“It really wasn’t that long ago, but I don’t ever remember being quite so young,” Liam said, his grin wry as he seemed to echo her thoughts.
“It’s a good-looking group, and they seem friendly and ready to have fun,” Kelsey told him.
Liam nodded. “Cheerleaders,” he said solemnly. “You can tell.”
“A bit too happy for me,” Jaden said. She yawned. “Ted, feel like calling it a night?”
Ted nodded. “We’re still working on a lot of treasure recently brought up from that film shoot.” He shuddered. “Ugh. We’ll tell you all about it at the barbecue, Kelsey.” He stared at Vanessa. “It was bad. Very, very bad.”
“Hey!” she protested. “We did capture a pair of truly deranged murderers.”
“That’s true,” Jaden said happily.