1 Chapter 1

1

The minute I stepped into the office, my calendar warned me of a very long, very bad day.

First stop, the accountant everyone recommended. Next up, Cousin Gary and my brother Ben, with brother Connor probably bringing up the rear. Then the abyss of paperwork—or rather, these days, computer catch-up.

But first, the damn finances.

“Where’s the money going?” I grumbled to myself as I sat and clicked through the worksheets for the last six months. Why didn’t they balance?

As the head of Behr Construction, located east of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills, I should know where every penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and, more importantly, every dollar was. If it had been spent, I should know what we got in exchange.

The sheets for the last six months, from January through June, made no sense. On paper, we seemed to be spending twice what we needed to complete our projects. Given that the rate of inflation was down from its record highs, this didn’t compute. Shouldn’t our building costs be going down also? Instead, as far as I could tell, costs were still going up. What was I missing here? With an average of four to six hours of sleep a night, I was in the dark without a firm mattress, warm blanket, fluffy pillow, or a clue.

When someone knocked at my office door, I hoped it was the help I’d recruited and not another problem. I was running out of patience, which wasn’t good for a six foot six, built-like-a-bear Behr. I tend to growl a lot when I’m overprodded. For the last few months, more often than not, I’ve been gruff with everyone.

“C’mon in. It ain’t broke!” I yelled.

What walked into my office wasn’t the nerdy pencil-pusher wearing glasses and a pocket protector I expected at all. Instead, he was tall, swimmer-thin, tanned, with striking blond hair and incredibly piercing sea-green eyes. Me? I’m all shades of brown. When I’m not working with my brothers or one of the construction crews, I tend to stand around and supervise. Everybody calls me the stoic Behr, but lately my stoicism was cracking at the seams.

“I’m Abraham Behr,” I said as he walked up to my desk.

“Ah, Mr. Behr,” the escapee from the sea said. His eyes twinkled. Twinkled. Nobody twinkles at me. “I’m Jeffrey Mason, CPA. Nice to meet you. This company built my parents’ and grandparents’ homes. It’s an honor.”

A low noise came from my throat as I tried to banish his Pollyanna charm. I had to admit, however, he was a refreshing bit of beauty and pep, even if he was every Behr’s sworn enemy.

I stood and reached across my desk to shake his hand and blinked in surprise. His grip was firm, and his eyes glinted in determination. Huh. Definitely not what I expected.

“Call me Abe. Everyone does. Have a seat.” I pointed at what my younger brothers Ben and Connor called the hot seat. “You got a résumé?”

He smiled happily, nodded, and dug into his—I don’t know what to call it—his purse? He handed me a couple of sheets of paper stapled together.

I knew his references personally since I’d called them for a recommendation. I told them I wanted someone who not only was a good accountant, but also was discreet. I couldn’t let the community know Behr Construction was in trouble.

Jimmy Patterson, owner of Penny’s Coffee Stop, said to talk to his business partner Felicity Long. Felicity hadn’t even hesitated before throwing the name Jeff Mason my way, with an e-mail address. Architect and interior designer Fredi Zimmer agreed with her. Both of them vouched for his numbers handling. Max Greene, Fredi’s husband, told me about Jeff Mason’s discretion. Before Max met the flamboyant Fredi, Jeff had somehow found out Max was gay, but he didn’t make this fact public.

We were all surprised when Max, who’d once been engaged to a local girl, married Fredi instead. Just goes to show how little we knew those we’d gone to school with for years.

I looked up from the résumé in my hand. The guy sitting across from me, for all his stunning looks and lean body, wasn’t a complete lightweight. He nearly looked me in the eye when I shook hands with him, not up like most people do, and his shoulders might even be wider than mine. He was older than I’d expected, not a recent college grad.

“Don’t remember seeing you around town. Where you been?” I wasn’t trying to insult him, but was curious. From his résumé, I knew he was five years younger than me, so maybe that was why I hadn’t known him in school. Not to mention Behrs didn’t ever hang around with Masons.

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