Harboring Hannah by Pepper North


Chapter 1

“No way!” Deke pulled into a gravel parking lot. Getting out, he circled a compact cabin cruiser parked with a sign on the side. FOR SALE.

It was older, but the hull was in perfect condition. He ran his hand over the sleek side of the boat. It didn’t look like it had ever seen water. Deke rounded the rear of the boat to look at the engine. He’d need to buy a new one. By the oil slick running down the side, this one had obviously not been maintained.

A painted name on the back caught his eye. Tobler’s Toy. Another sign hung on the stern. This one announced a phone number. Deke pulled his phone from his back pocket and called.

“That thing never ran. I’m selling it as is,” the cultured voice on the other end informed him.

“I can work with that. What’s your price?” Deke asked.

Shaking his head at the exorbitant answer, Deke answered, “That’s too steep for this boat. I’d like to go on board before making a counteroffer. Do I have your permission?”

A heavy sigh answered him. “Of course. I hid the ladder under the bow on the trailer. Look around and call me back when you have a price in mind.”

“Thank you.” Deke disconnected. Ten minutes later, he sat in the captain’s chair. There were some cosmetic problems on board. Obviously, a lot of partying and not a lot of cleanup had taken place. He’d need to pull out the carpet, replace the fabric and cushions in the sitting areas, and burn the mattress. Some bug killer sprayed everywhere would go a long way to making it more habitable.

He redialed the owner. “The boat has a solid hull, but the interior may need to be gutted. That motor is shot. There’s a bug infestation that has gotten worse sitting out in the elements untreated. If you throw in the trailer, I’d be willing to offer you a third of your original offer.”

“That’s insulting,” the other man blustered.

“Sorry. I’m just being honest with my assessment. I’ll close everything back up. You might wish to send an exterminator out here to treat the boat. It won’t be worth anything soon.” Deke lowered the phone from his ear as he ran his hand over the helm.

“Wait! Let’s not get too hasty. Come to my office. Maybe we can come to an agreement.”

A text message sounded, and Deke saw an address pop up on the screen. It was on his normal path from the hotel to the office. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

He took a couple of minutes to take some pictures of the worst of the mess. Finally closing everything back up, Deke stowed the ladder and returned to his truck. Before getting in, he took one last picture of the exterior.

There had to be a marina somewhere for him to have the boat overhauled. If it didn’t take too long to get it in shape, he’d find a berth for the boat. Deke would love to move out of the hotel for the last few weeks he’d stayed in town.

“Hi, you must be Deke. Thanks for coming over. Step into my office,” the distinguished lawyer invited.

Sitting down in the deep brown, leather wing chairs in front of the expansive desk, Deke understood he was dealing with a skilled negotiator. “I’m guessing you haven’t been inside the boat for a while. Here are a few pictures I took.” Deke handed over his phone for the man to scroll through. As he did, Deke scanned the pictures artfully arranged on the desk. An affluent family looked back at him from the professionally staged photographs. His gaze seemed drawn to the young woman standing just slightly removed from the photo.

“Those damn kids. You’re right. The inside is trashed.” Ron named a price slightly higher than Deke’s. “I’ll throw in the trailer for free.”

“Deal,” Deke answered, standing to shake Ron’s hand. “I’ll go to the bank and get a cashier’s check while you find the title. When is a good time for me to come back?”

“Any time is fine. I’ll sign the title and leave it with my secretary. Enjoy your new boat.”

“Thank you. I plan on it.”

Deke walked out of the office, trying to control his smile. Things were falling into place.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, he returned with a crisp cashier’s check. He entered and stood by the door, waiting for a young lady to complete her business with the secretary. Deke couldn’t help overhearing the conversation.

“Really, Sally? I can’t talk to him?”

“Sorry, Hannah. Your Dad is in an important meeting. He left orders not to be disturbed by anyone. Not even family. Send him a text and see if he can answer.”

“I already did that. It’s important.”

“I’m sorry, Hannah. I’ll tell him as soon as the meeting ends.”

“Thanks, Sally.” The young woman turned with a weary, sad look on her face.

Something in her defeated expression tugged at Deke’s heart. Instantly, he knew she hadn’t wanted to come, but this had been the last option. The door closed behind her before he could react.

“Sorry for the delay. I have the title for you,” the secretary said, drawing his attention.

“Thanks.” He scanned the title to make sure it matched the boat correctly and that Ron had signed. “Here’s the check.”

With his business done, Deke left the office and headed outside. His gaze landed on the young woman sitting on the curb. Unable to resist, he walked to her.

“Hi! You must be Ron’s daughter, Hannah.”

“Hi. Sorry, I can’t help you influence to him.” Her voice was flat, as if people had used her in the past to impact other people’s dealings with her father.

“No influence needed. I just bought his boat. You wouldn’t know a marina where I can find a berth, do you?” Deke asked.

“My brother kept it at Stewart’s down the road. It’s a quiet place. He partied too much and got kicked out.”

“Ah. Sounds like I might need to sweet talk the manager to get it accepted back there. Are you okay?” he asked, settling down on the curb next to her.

“Just screwed up again.”

“I hate it when that happens. Anything I can do to help?”

“No.” She paused and looked at him for a few seconds. “I think you really would help.”

“I will. I’m headed to get some coffee.” Deke nodded at the familiar chain logo across the street. “Let me buy you a drink.”

“I’m not a slut,” Hannah said defensively.

“Of course you’re not,” he answered without hesitation. Again, his heart ached at the thought of what had prompted her to think she needed to answer with this information.

Trying to lighten the conversation, he added, “And I promise you, I’m not a pervert. Come on, Little girl. I think we both need coffee.”

Twenty minutes later, Hannah admitted her friend had parked her car in a tow zone and it was being held in an impound lot. She’d tried to get it out, but the jerk behind the counter kept inflating the price.

“I left when he told me he had a special price for his girlfriends.”

“Good. Let’s go get your car,” Deke held out a hand to help her stand. “Are you okay about driving with me? Your Dad has all my information if that makes you feel better.”

“I’m good,” she answered simply, and followed him to his truck.

“Oh!” she said in surprise when he opened her door and helped her inside. “You’re one of those guys with manners. You don’t have to waste them on me.”

“Fasten your seatbelt, Little girl,” he instructed, avoiding her suggestion that she wasn’t worth being treated the right way.

Deke climbed into the driver’s seat and started the vehicle. “Which way?”

“To the left and then right at the light.”

Silence settled as he drove through the light traffic. Finally, as if she couldn’t resist, Hannah asked, “Why do you keep calling me Little girl? I’m pretty average size.”

“Your size is perfect. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’ve been looking for my Little girl for so long, my Little radar may be faulty,” he answered, looking sideways to study her reaction.

Deke watched a gorgeous pink tinge spread over Hannah’s cheeks. “No. It looks like my detector works perfectly. Do you have a Daddy?”

“I thought I’d found one, but he was just a user like my other boyfriends. I figured maybe Daddies only existed in books and on the internet.” Hannah shrugged and sat back against her seat, studiously not looking in his direction.

“There are lots of Daddies in the world looking for their Little boy or girl. I thought I’d found mine a couple of times, but they were just playing at being Little.”

“Maybe they don’t exist,” she suggested.

“They do.”

Deke pulled into a narrow entrance designed to restrict exits and entrances. The thick steel door was open, propped back against the tall wire fence. He sized it up easily. Sending a text, he asked Ben Underwood to call the number on the fence in 5 minutes.

“Okay. Time to get your car.” When she reached for the door handle, he stopped her. “Let me.”

When she nodded, he couldn’t stop the “Good girl” from sliding from his mouth. Her resulting giggles made Deke smile as he walked around the truck hood.

“That’s my car over there,” she pointed, sobering.

“Let’s go talk to the man.”

A bell jingled as they walked in. A man appeared in the doorway and greeted Hannah. “Oh, you’re back. That’s good. I switched you over to the minute plan. Your price is getting higher as time passes.”

Deke signaled Hannah not to respond. “Could you show me the charges for the car, please?” Deke said quietly, authority ringing from his voice.

“The price is in my head,” the man answered argumentatively.

“Gotcha.” Deke pulled out his phone and sent a long message. “Sorry. Just updating the sheriff with the company’s policies. “What is the charge for the tow?”

“Tow was one fifty. Storage is a dollar a minute. It came in at two thirty this morning. That’s roughly nine hours. Nine times sixty is five forty. The grand total is eight hundred. Cash.” The man crossed his arms and looked down at them. “What’s this about the sheriff?”

“Just a minute.” Deke held a finger up as he texted.

“You’re adding dollars to the total,” the impound clerk threatened.

“That’s…” Hannah protested.

Deke shook his head to cut her off as the phone rang in the office. They could easily hear an authoritative voice identify himself as Sheriff Ben Underwood. The employee turned his back on them as he listened to the sheriff’s voice.

After a few minutes, he replied, “Yes, Sheriff. I’ll have our documentation ready for your arrival.”

Disconnecting the call, he looked at Hannah and Deke. “Your lucky day. I need to clear out a few cars. I’ll have your car brought to the front. No charge. Wait outside.”

“What?” Hannah asked before Deke steered her out of the office with a guiding hand low on her back. She looked at the man who had accompanied her in confusion as they stepped outside.

“Drive out of the lot and go to the restaurant we passed about three blocks to the north. I’ll follow you.”

Nodding, Hannah watched a man appear and unfasten the wheel lock from her car. Without a word to her, he scurried away to work on a car parked two vehicles away as a tow truck appeared from the depths of the guarded lot.

“Go now,” Deke directed.

In five minutes, he stood next to her in the parking lot of the pizza shop. Hannah rushed forward, wrapping her arms around his waist to hug him.

“Thanks, Little girl.”

“What are you thanking me for?” she asked, stepping away.

“For letting me take you to lunch.”

“You’re taking me to lunch?” Hannah asked.

“Yes.” Deke took her hand and led her into the restaurant. Their first date would be one to remember.