Amy Hamilton never had much of a home life growing up. Her sister Phoenix and her mother demanded all the attention, so much so that she and her father didn’t have a relationship at all. Now that her father was filing for a divorce, he felt guilty for not being a part of her life and wanted to make up for it, but Amy wasn’t sure she was ready for that.
North Wilkerson had a similar upbringing. Although his mother was dead now, before her death, she was an awful person and an even worse mother. After having sworn off family ties to his parents, he was just now allowing his father back into his life.
Amy and Booker Wilkerson were close friends in college. Amy was only supposed to be in town for a few days, and when Booker called inviting her to dinner, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch up on old times. When Booker’s cousin North and his uncle joined them for dinner, they all had a blast.
But when North just showed up at her father’s house and took over, Amy wasn’t sure what to think of him. What did he think he was doing? She barely knew him. Amy needed to nip this in the bud before it went much further. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She didn’t need a man now, or would she ever need a man, any man….
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When Marsden Wilkerson received the phone call that his mother had been in a car accident, he wasn’t letting anything get in his way to get to her. Not a pushy boss, and especially not his Aunt Eita. Then his world crumbled when the doctors told him that his mother, Holly, didn’t make it.
Gabriella Farley, Abby, could hold her own, and she wasn’t about to take any flack from a rich bitch like Penelope Wilkerson. All the Wilkerson women, with the exception of Holly, could fit that description. Abby stood up for Mars at the funeral home even though she really didn’t know him. What she did know was his mother, Holly, was a fine woman, and the family had given them both the shaft Mars’s entire life.
Mars wanted to apologize for his Aunt’s actions, but there was something about Abby that sparked a flame in his heart. From the first kiss, they knew they had something special, but going against the Wilkerson family could be very dangerous. Will this new love be doomed from the start?
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North was ready to call it quits. Moving around the house he hadn’t liked even before he walked through the front door, he decided he’d just live in the condo for his entire lifetime. It was better than trying to decide what sort of house he was going to buy. “Sir, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’re going about this all wrong.” He cocked a brow at Libby, the woman showing him the home. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to sell you the biggest house on the market around here. But you’re not thinking of this as a house to warm up to a home. You’re looking for your home.” “There’s a difference?” Libby smiled and told him there was a huge difference. “All right. I’m game for it. Tell me what it is I need to do to get myself done for the day.” Her laughter made him smile. He was glad that Abby had told him about this particular realtor. She was much like Abby, though older, and seemed to have taken him under her wing in an odd sort of way. Smiling again, he did as she asked and went out to the front porch with her. “Close your eyes and think of this doorway you’ve just gone out of. Tell me what you remember.” He looked at her. “Trust me. It’s going to help you out with this. Tell me what you thought about when you first came up the steps to enter here.” “The door looks like it’s from some kind of institution. The windows on either side of it are not right for a house this large. They look cheap and out of step somehow for the wooden doors.” He looked at her. “I hate it. The door. It was the first thing I looked at, and it’s soured the rest of the house for me. I guess you’d say the first impression was off.” “All right. That’s good. Remember that the door and the windows can be changed by you. Now, what about the house? First impressions on it, and what you saw when you walked inside. You have to remember; the front of the house can be changed if you want to live here.”
He was liking this. North had no idea why, but it was helping him to see what his feelings were for the house rather than just hating it and not moving beyond that. They re-entered the house to the front entrance hall. “Now, the door is fixed. The glass on the side has been updated. What would you like to see in here that you didn’t before?” He didn’t close his eyes this time, but looked around, changing things as he went, such as the wallpaper in the room next to where he was. Then he changed the flooring. His mind skittered over the staircase twice before he came back to it. That was the issue. “The stairs are off-center. What I mean is, it looks like they’ve been put in as an afterthought. I suppose I could change them too, but then the room would look off balance because of the way everything is centered squarely around the staircase.” She told him they’d move on to the next house. “This really is helping me. Thank you so much.”
The next house was just as bad for him. As an attorney, he wanted balance in his home. North had never considered himself to be obsessive compulsive, but he did like things in straight lines where they were needed, and curves that would be well blended in the flow. Things just where they were supposed to be. He was ready to call it a day, perhaps a week when they pulled up in front of the next house. Christ, it called to him. North got out of the car and stood staring at the way the house looked with the backdrop of the sky behind it. “I saved this one for last because when you told me what you were looking for, that there should not be a long pretentious drive, I didn’t think it would be something you’d like.” Nodding at her, barely paying attention to what she was saying, he made his way to the front door. “This house had eleven bedrooms. Each of the bedrooms on this floor has a half bath inside. There is a shower/bathtub between each set of two bedrooms that would be shared. The master bedroom not only has its own bathroom, but it also has its own deck that has a two-person hot tub on it. Also, there is a place to bring firewood up to be used in this room.” “Are the turrets from the original build?” Libby told him that according to the paperwork, not only were the turrets built with the home, but there was extra shaped glass stored away in the basement of the utility building out back. “Several years ago, the entire house was sandblasted to remove all the paint from it. I have no idea why someone would have painted it, but it’s better now.” There was a turret at each corner of the massive building, both front and back. He loved the way each of the three floors had a window looking out over the lands. How the very top of each of them had ivy growing from the top down.
The way the house spread out from each of the sides showed him that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to use a great many of the stones around the area. The walls between each window on the main floor were tall, stone, load-bearing walls. Going into the house, he decided that the front of the place just screamed at him to live here. Libby laughed when he handed her back what he thought was the specs on the house. “I’m sorry. Did I miss something? I’ve fallen in love with this house. I’m sure you know that without me telling you.” Libby told him she could see that he had. “I’m not very good at poker either. Tell me this place isn’t going to cost me more than the purchase price to have it brought up to this decade.” “The kitchen was redone just last year. The roofing gets a good power wash every other year. It’s made wholly of slate with a tin seal under it. There is a new furnace and air conditioner on each floor. The house, only about ten years old, is about as modern as one could be, I’ve been told. There are no carpets in the home. I believe the homeowners didn’t care for the way carpet had to be replaced every several years and opted to have area rugs put into the rooms. That way, they could change them out when the room needed to be redecorated.” He asked her why the house was being sold. “The previous owner designed the house himself. You’ll find large pieces of furniture in some of the rooms that cannot be removed without tearing out walls. As soon as the house was finished and set to be moved into, the man died.
Not here, I assure you, but when he was visiting his parents in another country. That’s all I know about that.” Nodding, she unlocked the door for him. Stepping in first, he turned to Libby and told her he wanted to buy it. The house seemed to wrap around him and make him feel like he’d just found the perfect house. Nodding, she handed him the paperwork. “I know you want it, but I’d like you to go through the house once. That way, if you get up on the third floor, you can change your mind.” He asked her if there was something wrong with the third floor. “Not that I’ve been made aware of. But the house has been sitting for eight years now, the first two in probate, without a single person wanting to go through it after seeing the front of it. Also, the drive to the house. The driveway is longer than some people want to travel, I guess.” North had started to leave Libby in the largest dining room he’d ever been in when he asked her if he could bring in someone to be objective. Nodding, Libby told him to do whatever he needed to make sure he was making a good choice. North decided if he ever needed any kind of land, he was going to ask for Libby. He was even going to recommend her to his cousins. Calling Mars to ask him if he could come by hooked him up with Abby. She said her mom was out shopping and she was bored. Asking him if she’d be good as a standin for Mars, he readily agreed.
Abby had become the go-to person, since Holly had been murdered, for just about everything they did. He couldn’t have been more happy than to have her in his corner, as well as the rest of his cousins. When she got there, he was in the kitchen. While he knew how to cook, due to Holly, Mars’s mom, taking the time to show all of them how to make a few dishes to survive on, Abby had been expanding his skills. “Holy shit, North. This is a fucking wonderful kitchen. You have to buy this for that alone.” Libby was laughing when she showed him the other features of the kitchen. Such as a large pantry for extra storage, a huge freezer, as well as a restaurant size refrigerator that would be good to hold food for parties. The three of them walked the rest of the house. There were rooms that had large furniture in them, but he found that he loved them as well. The master suite had a bed in it that was larger than a queen in both length and width. It was the gas fireplace in the room that made him as happy as he’d ever been about a home. “There are some things I am required by law to tell you. Nothing bad, but it does need to be disclosed. The bank has been trying to sell this home for several years now. Just recently, a company was set to purchase it, but there was a death in the family, and the deal was closed. In the back acreage of the lot is a family cemetery that—”“What was the name of the company that was set to buy this house?”
North wondered why Abby would care when Libby said she’d check. “Just wait a second, and I’ll tell you why I care. It’s important for all sorts of reasons.” “Abode Well.” It took North a few seconds to catch up with Abby when she started to dance around the room. “Did I miss something?” “Holly was going to buy it. If for no other reason than that, North, you must purchase this home.” Abby looked around, then back at him. He was going to buy it,
but knowing that Holly had approved in some way made it all the more special for him. “If you don’t buy it, I certainly will.” He turned to Libby and told her he’d buy the house. “Also, you mentioned when we pulled in that there was an empty lot next to this one. I’ll take that as well.” Libby said there was a rental on that property that was currently being rented. “Who are they?” “Mr. Oliver lives there. He used to teach here at the local school. He’s retired now, and his wife passed on a few years ago. Lately, he’s been late on his rent. That’s something else I was going to tell you that you might have to deal with him sometime soon.” North told her he’d deal with it later if that was all right. “It is. Once you purchase the house, all of that will no longer be a concern to anyone at the bank, nor my offices.” It took him nearly two hours to get to sign his name on the deed. With the help of Mars and his dad, he was able to get a very low-interest rate, as well as some extra from the equity from the house to fix the barn out back. It needed a new roof. North took out a loan, even though he had enough money to pay cash for the house. His dad told him that the loan would help him establish a line of credit, as well as help the town. Always, he’d been told by Dad, help the town more than he had ever done.
North, with his new outlook on life, told his dad he would do that. Anything to help the town, after all, it had muscled through when his mom and aunts had gone on a rampage recently that ended not just in the death of his mother, but in all the other women being in jail. The five of them had done enough harm to the town and the people living here, North was still surprised the townspeople were nice to him and his cousins. ~*~ Amy had been summoned home from college a couple of times since she’d made a hasty exit. This time, however, had been different. She not only had her own place, but she was also making her own money. Not sure where to enter the house, she opted for where she knew she’d be welcome. The timing couldn’t have been better, she thought. While in town, she was supposed to look at some paintings for a person by the name of Wilkerson to evaluate them. Then she’d be in charge of cleaning them, bringing them back to their natural state. It was a hobby she did when she wasn’t on a job taking pictures of animals. Going to the back door of the house had been her way to escape all the drama in the front rooms. As soon as she walked into the big warm kitchen, Amy felt the stress of the last few days roll over her. The big hug from Lulu and her husband Hank was just what she needed. Sitting down when they asked her to, a large plate of not just her favorite fruits were given to her, but scones warm from the oven as well. A cup of tea, her preferred flavor, was also there. Just like when she’d been living here, they never discussed the household, neither the people living in it nor her family. It was just the three of them enjoying a nice little break from whatever else was going on.
“I’ve been working out of the country since January. It’s been fun having a new job waiting for me every time I finish one. Did you get the pictures I sent you?” Lulu told her how she’d been putting them in a big album. “I’m going to have the ones that weren’t picked by the company I work for put into an album someday. They paid me for fifty pictures and ended up buying an additional fifty. I have no idea what they’re going to do with that many shots. I’ve made it so they have to get approval from me for whatever they want to use them in. That way, they’re not all over the Internet used as book covers. Not that I’d mind that, but I have to have some say over them.” “The one you took of the elephants playing in the water is my favorite of them all. And the monkeys throwing around leaves. They’re all wonderful.” She hugged Hank when he blushed brightly. “When are you leaving again? I’m sure someone is good as you isn’t going to be idle for very long.” “No. I have two more shots this year for the same magazine, then I’m taking a month off. I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do with so much free time, but I think I’ll manage it.” Lulu asked her if she enjoyed taking the water photos. “I did, as a matter of fact. The ones I was able to take of the polar bears was heartbreaking. They’re having a rough time of it.” She turned when her dad walked into the room. He glanced at her, then looked at Lulu. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company.” Then he looked at her again. “Amy? Is that you? My goodness, you’re beautiful.” “Thanks, Dad.” Unsure if she was supposed to hug him, she waited for him to make the first move. When he just kissed her on the cheek, she didn’t let the disappointment hurt her too badly. “I had some extra time before I was to meet with you, then later the job I have. So I came to see what Lulu and Hank were up to.” “I can see that. Things have been very quiet around here.” She figured with Phoenix gone on her honeymoon, things would be considerably quieter. Amy didn’t ask about her or her mother but laughed when Dad asked for the same thing she was having— and was denied.
“Just this one time, Lulu. You know how I’ve been keeping close to my diet.” He was eventually given two cookies and half a scone. Again, Amy didn’t ask him what was going on. She’d learned the hard way that she wasn’t a true part of this family. Phoenix and Mom had been louder and stronger than her since she figured out she wasn’t welcome here. Amy was never sure what she’d done other than to be born that had pissed them off. But since she didn’t care much about parties and socially mandated appearances, she kept to herself and entertained herself when necessary. “I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for some time now. I wasn’t even sure how to do that until I asked Hank. I’m glad you had them here for you, or I might not have been able to call you home.” She nodded at her dad, wondering what she was going to be forced to do for a “family function” again. “If you don’t mind, we can just talk in here.
I’ve been confiding in these two much more than I think they wanted.” “No, sir. I’m just glad you finally got that big head of yours out of your ass and saw what was going on right under your nose.” Amy laughed at Hank. He’d always been one to say what he thought. It had helped her be what she was too.
“Now, you go on and tell this little thing why you called her here. She’s a right to know.” “Have you always been this pushy? If so, why am I only just now noticing it?” Hank told him he had that ass thing going on. Dad laughed, then looked at her. “I’ve filed for divorce from your mom. It’ll be final in a few weeks. Phoenix isn’t married either.” Amy wished she’d not been taking a sip of tea when he said that. It burned her lip and her nose as it spewed from her mouth. As she coughed her way to breathing again, she watched the rest of them try and mop up the mess she’d made while pumping her on the back to help her breathe. When she was finally able to inhale again, she looked at her dad.
“Phoenix isn’t married? So Doug Schmidt is dead? I mean, that’s the only reason I can think of that would make it so Phoenix didn’t get her way. It would be death or— Oh no. She was caught with her panties down. Wasn’t she?” Dad just nodded with a huge smile on his face. “Did Doug leave her at the altar? I do hope someone took pictures of it. That will do me— I’m sorry, Dad. I truly am. After spending all that money on her day, it was all for nothing. I’m really sorry.” “Only you would think of me in this. Thank you for that. But if I’m honest with you, and I plan to be from now on, I’d tell you it was well worth it. But Doug and his dad, they’re thrilled so much that they paid me back in full for the wedding, as well as the tickets for the honeymoon. I’m not planning on telling your mother or sister. I’d like to let them think that I’m still out the money. It’ll be good for them, I think. I guess the Schmidts were more thrilled that the wedding of the century didn’t go on after finding out that not only was Phoenix a piece of trash, but she was an expensive piece too.” Dad laughed, but even to her, it sounded bitter. “Fran, your mom, she was in the pictures I had taken of them with several of the groomsmen.” “You knew what was going on.” Dad looked at Hank and Lulu. She did too. “You told him what was going on. Thank you for that. I don’t care for Phoenix or Mom, but it must have been hard on you to have gone to Dad with this information.” “I hired a man to take the pictures. It was easy. The only issue I ran into was finding a night to pick from. Since the invitations went out, there had been an orgy of sorts going on here nightly.” Hank handed her another scone, which she declined. “I didn’t want another family hurt by them. What it came down to was them or us. We’re too old to be cleaning up a room four times a day after the two of them had their friends over. Here, you’ve lost some weight you can ill afford, young lady. Eat.”
“I have lost some weight, but I’m not worried about putting it back on, thanks. At least while I’m here.” She winked at Lulu when she huffed at her. “I’m headed out again soon, so getting the weight on right now isn’t a priority. I need to be able to get in and out of places, and being the size of one of the elephants I’m working with won’t be a good thing.” “What do you do?” She looked at her dad. “I know so very little about you that I’m ashamed of myself. I don’t even remember the last time you and I had a conversation.
It’s totally my fault, I’m aware of that. But I just realized there is no relationship between the two of us.” “It is your fault, but it’s all water under the bridge now. I mean, it’s much too late for us to have you come to my art exhibits, or any of the other million and one things I was in while living here, with Phoenix and Mom always taking up your time.” Amy knew she’d hurt him, but it wasn’t in her to be lovey-dovey with him anymore. “I’m a photographer. I’ve been one since I graduated from college a few years ago. In the event you tell me you don’t remember paying for it, you didn’t. I paid my way—” “That’s enough, Amy. You’ve proven your point quite well, I think.” She looked at Hank when he spoke to her. “I know you’re hurt, but there is no reason whatsoever for your father to be made a target. You know it isn’t entirely his fault that you stayed away.” “What do you mean?” She just looked at the plate in front of her without answering her dad. “Amy? What’s Hank talking about? Tell me, please, why you stayed away for so long. I’m begging you.” “The missus and your other daughter made her life a living hell while here.” Lulu took her hand into hers as she continued. “If she wasn’t being ambushed and beaten by one or both of them while living here, it became a nightmare for Amy to even be in the same room with them. Several times I had to care for Amy when they poisoned her food. Food that I cooked, mind you. There were credit cards taken out in her name that she had to go to court over. Clothing of Amy’s was torn to shreds, shoes filled with unspeakable things.
Once there was a scorpion put in Amy’s bed. If not for her spending the night in the hospital that night, she would have been killed, I think.” “Why wasn’t I informed of any of this?” He looked at her, and Amy saw the exact moment he understood. “You did come to me, didn’t you? You tried several times to tell me what was going on, and I shoved you away.” Dad stood up, and so did she. When he hugged her, then left the room, she sat back down. Not saying a word to either of the two people that had practically raised her when her mom and dad didn’t, Amy got up and left the same way she’d come in. Once she was in her car, she drove out the front drive and onto the main street. Once there, with nowhere to go, she decided to take a little time for herself. Finding herself a hotel with a pool, Amy opted for two nights and pulled her luggage from the trunk, full of clothing that was going to need to be washed before she could wear any of it. But instead of doing any of those things, she laid out on the bed and cried. Cried until her heart felt like it would never mend. Waking when her phone rang, she didn’t bother picking it up to see who it was. Instead, she staggered to the bathroom and turned on the water to take a bath. It had been literally years since she’d been able to soak in a tub. The phone rang several more times while she lay there in the too-warm water. Amy tried to think of anything other than what was going on with her family for a while. Just as she was thinking there would be nothing to take her pain away, she remembered her good friend Booker Wilkerson. It only then occurred to her that he was more than likely related to whoever had asked for their paintings to be cleaned.
They’d been in a couple of classes together. Hitting it off as well as they did, they would go on shoots together during her assignments or when she was helping him study for this or that. Afterward, they’d go out to someplace fancy, always his treat as she was dead broke all the time, and then hang out at his place. Unable to recall even a short conversation with him, Amy did wonder how welcome a call from her would be. Finding his phone number proved to be a tad more difficult than she thought it should have been. But once she found it, calling him was easy. Getting a busy signal, Amy opted for not leaving a message. It was silly anyway, wanting to get in touch with someone from years ago. Putting her phone back on the nightstand, Amy pulled out her clothes to sort out. When her phone rang again, she saw the face of Booker. Wondering how much the man had changed over the years, she answered the phone with a smile. “Amy Hamilton, how the fuck are you?” Amy laughed and cried as she told him she’d just gotten to town. “I’m going to pick you up, take you to dinner, then we’ll go over all the shit that has happened since I spoke to you last. It’s been far too long if you ask me.” “For me as well. I’m only home for a couple of days. I’m thinking I’m here to assess your family pictures. I’m staying in a hotel.” After giving him the name of the place she was staying, he told her he was leaving now. He also told her that Mars, one of the cousins she never met, was the one with the paintings. “I’m going to talk to him soon, just not today. I spoke to my dad earlier today.
I don’t think I’m any more a family member than I was before. How is your family?” “Too much to tell you over the phone. I’ll be there in about ten minutes. I’ve missed you so much.” Amy said she’d missed him too. Very much so. “All right, dear. You wait for me in the lobby, and I’ll come in and get you. Remember what I’ve always told you, love.” “I remember. You told me that you are the only man in the world I needed. I don’t know how true that is anymore. Do you?” He said he didn’t know, but would be there soon. “I’ll be in the lobby. I can’t wait to see you.” When he came in the front doors of the hotel a few minutes later, Amy went to him, sobbing about how much she’d missed him. As they hugged, talking over one another, she knew she’d made a good decision in calling him. If nothing else, she knew she’d feel better just hanging out with him for a while.