Brave (Contours of the Heart Book 4)

By: Tammara Webber

Prologue

1980



Jeffrey McIntyre grinned as he shut the door of the cramped, ramshackle trailer serving as on-site office, boardroom, lunchroom, and occasional nap quarters for the small, would-be construction company he and his partner had pitched to the men he’d just escorted out the door. All three were prominent local businessmen, and all three were loaded. They were too sharp-witted to give immediate approval, of course. They hadn’t gotten where they were with knee-jerk decisions lacking due diligence, and Jeff respected that. But his hand burned pleasantly from their firm-gripped shakes, each grasp imparting a soundless but undeniable gut-level verdict: yes.

The stuffy loan officers at the big banks, high-and-mighty gatekeepers of industry, hadn’t wanted to take a chance on a couple of twenty-six-year-olds with vision. He and Zeke had been shown the door enough times for lesser men to give up and slink away like chastised schoolboys. Well, all those arrogant pricks could keep their damn money and fuck right off, because McIntyre & James Construction was about to have investors.

Jeff yanked at the unfamiliar tie and popped the top button clear, freeing his thick neck from the stranglehold of the starchy shirt his debutante fiancée had declared obligatory if he really meant business. He might resent her snooty interference, but she’d been right and he knew it, so he’d heeded her advice. Grin spreading, he turned to meet his partner’s more restrained smile.

Ezekiel James had always been more naturally cautious. He was the voice of reason when Jeff wanted to barrel ahead, eternally certain of victory and dead wrong as often as he was right. Despite his characteristic composure, Zeke’s eyes were wide and lit with expectant eagerness. Elbows on knees and hands knotted, he sat forward in one of two worn leather desk chairs they’d found at a used-office-furniture store in east Fort Worth. His wedding band glinted yellow against his dark skin. His pretty little wife was ready to start trying for a baby, he’d confided last week. He wanted to make her happy, but his prudent temperament told him he and Jeff had a company to establish before either of them could start a family.

“So. What do you think?” Zeke asked. His soft-spoken inquiry was almost frustrating. How could he not be crazy with excitement when Jeff was barely containing the urge to whoop with pleasure and curse all the naysayers they’d encountered right to their smug faces?

But Jeff knew his friend’s grim history—his parents breaking their backs, working their hands raw at multiple menial jobs to put food on the table for Zeke and Lila, his little sister. His mother had died of lung cancer without ever picking up a cigarette; they’d buried her eight years ago. His father had lost the use of his right arm a few months later when a heavy piece of machinery fell on him at his warehouse job. He’d been slightly inebriated at the time, and before he’d even left the county hospital, the company had fired him and stripped him of disability benefits. Though he could have sued to regain them, it was hard to find a lawyer who’d take the case of a drunk-on-the-job black laborer—or so he’d told Zeke when pressed.

“It’s too late anyways now, son,” his father had said. “Best to just push on through.”

Zeke had known who’d have to do the pushing.

Eighteen and quietly ambitious, he’d planned to go to college. But he couldn’t afford to attend classes at the junior college while supporting his motherless sister, himself, and a father whose sorrow clung to his skin like days-old sweat, so he got a job working construction. It was grueling, sometimes dangerous work—especially for a young man who couldn’t keep his woolgathering mind from envisioning ways to make the spaces he built more useful and visually appealing—but it paid better than anything else he was qualified to do.

A year prior, he’d been paired with Jeff on a North Dallas site. As the August temperatures soared up to and over one hundred degrees, they framed track houses—every one a cookie-cutter version of all the rest. While they worked, he’d told Jeff about the luxurious-for-the-client and practical-for-the-company concepts he’d proposed that the housing foremen always dismissed. Recessed lighting and niches, alcoves, and seating nooks, built-ins that took advantage of otherwise unserviceable spaces. Over lunch at a nearby hole-in-the-wall barbeque joint, where Jeff was often the lone white man, Zeke sketched out customizable alternatives to the floor plans.

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