Ann Macela--Author
Wolf on Thin Ice by Ann Macela
Cover illustration Copyright 2013 by Winterheart Design

Wolf on Thin Ice


Wolves in Business Series




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About the Book  | Read the Reviews  |  Read an Excerpt

About the Book

Linda Rebane has achieved her life-long goal of running the family business, Rebane Renovations. She’s about to begin a major project—when the old structure mysteriously burns. She doesn’t let the catastrophe slow her down, however, not when new business drops into her lap.


Corporate wolf Mike Stratford, architect and president of WIN Construction, needs an old apartment building rehabbed. Because this won’t be his usual new-from-the-ground-up undertaking, he chooses o do the work. In the background lurks his idea of corporate expansion—taking over her company, with or without her approval.


Neither expects the scorching attraction between them in the middle of a freezing Minnesota winter. Do opposites really attract? She with her lively sense of humor and habit of making decisions on the fly, and he with his serious need for extensive planning before action. She’s thinking fling. He’s thinking forever.


Neither expects the villains either, who want both her vacant property and his old building. That turns out to be the least of their worries, however. When Linda discovers Mike’s ulterior motive, how can she even consider a tomorrow with him—much less forever?

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Chapter One

Monday, second week of December

    Am I watching my dreams burn up along with the building?

As she stared from down the street at the smoldering remains of the century-old factory, Linda Rebane pulled her nose down behind the hood flaps of her down coat and stamped her feet in their fleece-lined boots. The frigid December dawn had not yet broken in Minneapolis, and the wind was blowing from the icy Mississippi River directly to the west. She wasn’t thinking of the cold, however. The lights from the fire engines and other emergency vehicles made it easy to see the total destruction. She usually found the humor in almost every situation, but this was like watching a death in the family.

Only two corners of the five-story, block-long-by-half-block-wide building still stood, the brick darkened with soot and festooned with huge icicles from the firefighters’ efforts to put out the flames. When another strong water burst hit the attached wall, it too fell in a shower of bricks and ice chunks. The deluge probably made good footage for the TV cameras on the other side of the yellow tape behind her.

When Linda identified herself as owner of the building, the police had told her to stand by the cruiser, not with the onlookers and reporters. Thank goodness. She didn’t want to face any media people when she had no answers. What had happened here? How?

One of the fire department men walked over to her. Encased as he was in protective gear, it was impossible to tell much about him, but his gaze was sharp. “I’m Inspector Graham. You’re the owner?”

“Yes, Linda Rebane, Rebane Renovations,” she answered, pulling open the hood flaps so he could hear her over the noise of the engines and the news and police helicopters circling overhead. She told herself to stay calm and answer the man’s questions. This was not the time for the wise-cracking she used to diffuse tense situations—and hide her own anxieties. “When I heard the news on the radio, I rushed right over. We closed on the property three weeks ago. It includes this block and the one to the north that’s empty except for the car-repair garage, and it goes all the way to the river on the west.”

“You run the company?” He didn’t take his eyes off her face when she nodded. “What was inside the building?”

“Nothing, basically. No furniture or storage boxes. Our purchase requirements stipulated that the building be totally clean of any trash. A company had been using it for office space until three months ago, and the sheet-rock walls they installed were still in place. Oh, and most areas were carpeted—commercial grade. My real estate agent, our project manager, and I inspected it before the closing. The original thick wooden floors and interior brick walls were in good shape. The heating equipment in the basement and the wiring overall passed both our and the city’s last inspections. We made sure all the doors and windows were locked when we left.”

“So you don’t think anybody could have gotten in—say to get out of the cold?”

“Dear God, I hope nobody died in this fire.” She forced her thoughts away from that idea to answer the question. “If they were determined enough, I assume someone could have broken in. We thought we had all the keys, but we hadn’t yet changed the locks. I don’t know what the fire department found open when you got here.”

“We found the entire building totally involved with the windows and some outside doors blown out. A couple of the neighborhood people in the houses a block away called 911 about 4 a.m. They said it sounded and felt like a bomb had gone off. It looks at this point like a natural gas explosion. What was the state of the furnace? Could it have failed and leaked gas?”

“The furnace was in good condition. I believe it was about ten years old. The previous owner and we had left it running so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. There was no smell of gas when we were here, and we walked through all of the floors, including the basement.”

“Why did you buy the building?” Graham took out a notebook and pen and began writing.

“We got a good deal from the previous owner, Don Rasmussen.” She saw no need to go into the details. “My company rehabs homes, smaller apartments, commercial space, and some historical buildings. This was to be our first time to rehab a building this large or one that we owned. We were going to make the ground floor into shops and put lofts for rent or possible purchase on the upper floors. You know how hot the market for lofts is even these days, especially so close to downtown and the university and with a view of the river.”

“What will you do with the property now?”

She glanced at the destruction and sighed. “I don’t know. We’ve never built entirely new. While we’re cleaning up the site, we’ll have to decide.”

“Is the property insured?”

“Of course, but . . .” For a second, she wondered at the shrewd look the inspector gave her.

“But . . .” He raised his eyebrows.

“It’s insured for the worth of the old building. Once we restored and rebuilt, we would have it re-valued. We’d carry construction insurance during the rehab.”

“Where can I get in touch with you?”

She pulled off a glove and opened the purse she had slung over one shoulder. Grabbing a business card, she held it out to him. “Here’s where you can reach me.”

Graham read the card, put it in his notebook, and handed her one of his.

“What happens next with what’s left?” she asked.

“We’ll make sure the fire is totally out and search for both remains and evidence of arson. That will take some time as the building has to cool down. Then we have to dig down to the basement and take a look at the furnace. We’ll control the site until we make our findings on the cause. You won’t be able to do anything with it until then. Have your insurance agent contact me about their inspectors.”

“Do you think it was arson?”

“Do you, Ms. Rebane?”

“I have no idea who would do such a thing, to the building or to my company, or what they could hope to gain.” She took a deep breath as the enormity of what she had to do now hit. First, telling her parents who were due in town in two days. “If you have no other questions, I need to get to my office and notify our insurance people. I assume a report on the cause will take some time. Do you have any idea how long it will be before the site is returned to us?”

“No more questions right now,” Graham said. “Rest assured, we’ll be in touch. Once the insurance companies get involved, however, there’s no telling when you’ll have control again. It could be weeks or several months.”

Linda thanked him for the information and made her way around the police cars and fire engines—and away from the reporters. She succeeded in reaching her own car without being noticed. After driving several blocks, she pulled over as a sudden need to cry almost overwhelmed her.

She’d loved that old building. Even though originally a factory making machine parts, it had elements of beauty and style and would have made a wonderful place to live. Donald Rasmussen had known that. He and her grandfather had been life-long friends, and “Uncle Don” always said he’d sell the property to nobody except her family company. He’d followed through on his promise, teasing her at the closing that she’d better take good care of his building or he’d come back to haunt her. She’d laughed at the joke. Three days later, the old man had died from a massive heart attack.

“Oh, Uncle Don,” she whispered, “I’m so sorry. I feel like I failed you.”

For a few minutes, she let herself wallow in her feelings—grief over Uncle Don’s passing, anger over the destruction of a building with such promise, and frustration over the ruin of her chance with that building to make her mark as her father’s successor, to stand outside his shadow. It was the first truly large project she had initiated since she took over two years ago, and thanks to Uncle Don, it could have taken the company in a new direction.

Rebane Renovations had always been part of her life. Even when she was little, her father took her to all his projects and explained them in detail. He’d also taught her to hammer a nail and use a screwdriver. Everything she’s studied in school and working for the company had been aimed at her goal of taking over. Her parents did not doubt her abilities—they had retired happily and left it all in her hands. Their employees didn’t doubt her, either.

Why then was she so worried? It must be the shock of actually witnessing the destruction. At least neither Uncle Don or her father was here to see that.

When a report came on the radio about the fire, she listened, but heard no new information. The reporters had not yet discovered who owned the building. But they would.

That knowledge made her sit up straight. She had a company to run, and she’d better get to it. Putting the car in gear, she headed for 35W and her offices in an industrial area northeast of downtown.

She didn’t have to decide right away what to do with the property, but when she did, it would be a project that honored Uncle Don and enhanced Rebane’s reputation, of that she’d make sure.  

Chapter Two

Tuesday, second week of January, four weeks after the fire

Mike Stratford, president of WIN Construction, pulled into the parking area in front of Rebane Renovations and looked around. The snowfall of the night before was neatly plowed off the lot, and the two-story red-brick building was in excellent repair. Exactly how he would expect this company to present itself.

Rebane had a well-deserved reputation for quality work. Could they, would they take on a joint project, something they’d never done in the past? What would Linda Rebane think of his proposal? And the one after that . . .

Would she be able to see his proposals as they were meant—strictly business, to be considered dispassionately, with no emotional content, simply in terms of profit and loss? As he did with all aspects of his life? Yes, some people didn’t like his approach, even called him “Iceman,” accused him of having no warm blood in his veins. He preferred to think of himself as rational and pragmatic.

First, what was she was going to do with the two city blocks, now vacant after the fire? WIN Industries, the conglomerate in which his division resided, was interested in buying and developing them, but even more important was Rebane Renovations itself and making it part of Construction. She wasn’t likely to simply hand over her family company, however, no matter how generous the offer. So, don’t even think of the true end results you want out of this. One project at a time.

Outside his warm truck, the icy wind reminded him the temperature hovered around zero as he walked quickly but carefully up the salt-strewn path to the front door. Inside, a cheerful receptionist greeted him with a “Happy New Year.”

He returned the greeting. “I’m Mike Stratford. I have an appointment with Linda Rebane.”

Please have a seat,” the woman replied. “There’s a rack if you’d like to take off your coat. I’m sure she’ll be right with you.”

Mike hung his overcoat up and instead of sitting, took a turn around the room. The furniture was totally utilitarian, but comfortable. Framed photos displayed the company’s work. He knew they took on everything from older and historic houses to apartment buildings to office complexes, and the scope of their work was impressive, as were the awards from various building and preservation organizations.

A woman about forty appeared at the entrance to a hallway. “Mr. Stratford, if you’ll come this way . . .”

He followed her down a hall with glass windows in the walls. The rooms on one side displayed offices, some with desks and others with drafting tables. The other side looked into a shop where people were working on cabinetry and loading a truck. A warehouse area loomed beyond. He noted the cleanliness and order on both sides of the hall—and the fact that few glanced up from their work to watch him go by.

Rebane employees and their subcontractors were known for their hard work and attention to detail. His escort led him into a large office at the end of the hall. From behind a massive, ornately carved, mahogany desk, Linda Rebane rose and came around it smiling and with her hand out. “Hello, Mike, it’s good to see you again.”

He took her hand. She had a strong grip for a woman . . .

. . . and he wondered if he’d been hit by a two-by-four.

Mike had met this woman before, at various events, mostly builders’ associations meetings and trade shows. Of course, he’d noticed how good-looking she was. Today her dark brown hair was pulled back by a wide clasp, and her slim-but-curvy figure obscured by a loosely knitted vest over a red turtleneck and dark wool pants. She was about six feet with heels, and he’d always liked tall women. They fit together with his own six-four frame so well. This particular tall woman had never given him a bit of encouragement as a woman might toward a man she was interested in, however. No special smiles or standing close or touching. He had treated her as another professional, of course.

Interestingly enough, on those occasions when they had time to talk, it was her business mind that engaged his attention. They’d had some interesting conversations about the state of the economy, the building trades, and the need for quality design and construction. She had a quirky sense of humor, but was dead-on in her assessments.

He’d never had this reaction, though, had never taken her hand and felt a rush of warmth all the way up his arm, never looked into her hazel eyes and felt the impact in his chest.

Static electricity? That phenomenon so prevalent in winter when the building heat dried up all the humidity and reaching for something metal caused a spark? No, not static electricity.

Whatever it was, somehow he managed to smile and let go. When he declined the offer of coffee, however he wasn’t certain that his voice sounded normal.


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