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A Star Tribune serialized novel by Jane Fredericksen

Chapter 24

The story so far: Kacie makes a friend, and Kinney gets a surprise.

It was, Kinney realized, his first birthday cake, in well over a quarter-century. “Sorry. Bad with surprises.” There seemed to be a hunk of driftwood lodged in his throat; he worked his way around it. Instead, he focused on the candles. “That’s a lot of wasted years.”

“Go ahead, Kinney,” Kacie urged. “Make a wish!”

Kinney looked at Kacie and flashed a shy smile. He looked at Ronnie and gave a slyer smile. He closed his eyes, paused and blew out all the candles, gripping his ribs in mock pain.

The others laughed and cheered. Thea began dishing out cake. Kinney held out his hand for the first piece.

“Wait!” Kacie stopped him. “You have to open your present first!”

“Present?”

Ronnie handed Kacie an envelope. Kacie handed it to Kinney.

Kacie could scarcely contain her excitement. “Open it!”

Mystified, Kinney slid a finger under the envelope flap. Inside was a folded piece of paper, and something metallic and shiny. Apprehensively, he tipped the envelope upside-down. A small key fell out and landed on the table.

Kinney stared at it, recognition slowly dawning. He pulled out the piece of paper — a document — and read it in disbelief.

“This can’t be right,” he murmured. “It’s the title for Redemption.” He glanced up, amazed. “But … how?”

“I sold my boat back to Uncle Bernie,” Kacie said.

Bernie beamed. “Kid’s quite a salesman. Right, Princess?”

The two exchanged winks and a fist bump.

“She also started a business venture at the restaurant here,” Thea added. “Had an old roaster I wasn’t using and she started playing around with it. Came up with this.”

Thea plopped down a brown package with a hand-sketched label: “Kacie’s Koffee: Drink Like a Pirate.”

“Stuff really sells,” Thea smirked. “Even got a website now.”

Kinney shook his head. “But a boat like Redemption … I still can’t believe that was enough.”

“Well, as usual, it was all Kacie’s idea,” mused Ronnie. “Don’t think you’re the sole owner of that boat, Kinney. We all have a piece of it.”

She pulled out a slip of paper covered with cartoon lettering. “Kacie sold us all shares in McKinney Charters.”

One by one, each person in the room pulled out a similar slip of paper.

“So you see,” Ronnie finished, “You’re going to have to stick around a long time. Just to pay us all back.”

Kinney frowned. “I can’t believe Vince would part with Redemption. Not to me.”

“Vince is a businessman,” Pete pointed out. “He owns a number of shares, too. That way, he keeps part of the boat, and you as captain.”

Kinney wasn’t so sure he liked that, but he could deal with it. For now.

He gazed down again at the title in his hands.

“And anyway,” added Ronnie, “He mentioned something about giving up on classic beauty.”

A triumphant smile claimed Kinney’s face. He took a moment to savor the victory. He looked back up, his eyes moving from face to face. “Thanks — everyone.”

“All right, time for cake,” announced Thea.

Everyone reached for slices. As Kacie’s hand reached down, Kinney grabbed it. Their eyes met and she paused.

He spoke so that only she heard. “Thanks, Kacie.”

She grinned and waved her own slip of paper at him. “Finally. You do owe me.”

Kinney dove for a slice of cake, but Kacie beat him to it

Tomorrow: Chapter 25, the end of the story.