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?
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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Wats leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He loved being able to work for himself, but he’d been working much too hard. The family alone was keeping him hopping. Thinking of the conversation he’d had with his cousin Shawn today, he wondered what was going to happen to him when he figured out that life could throw you a curveball without any notice. “I’m going to take some time off.” Wats asked him what he was going to do that for. “I’m thinking if I don’t get my home in order now, I’m going to be sitting here with an empty house when I’m sixty years old. Not that it’s old, but the house is so empty, it’s like living in a tomb.” “All right. Not that I think you’d need time off to buy some furniture, but I hope you get it done the way you want it.” Shawn told him he was going to fill it with things he loved that he picked up at estate auctions. “Why? I mean, great, but why?”
“When was the last time you were at my parents’ home?” Wats said he didn’t remember. “Yeah, well, it’s all steel and glass. I don’t know if Dad even likes it. Anyway, I’m going to get things that speak to me. Dad is going to go on this trip with me. He’s thinking he is going to love living in the condo. At least his brothers are close by, and he can walk to town if he wants. We’re going to have some fun getting to know each other.” “Now, that I can get behind. What is your dad doing with his home?” Uncle Hank hadn’t been in his house since Penny had been arrested. They all called her that now, and it was fun. “My dad is going to sell his as soon as he gets it emptied out. It seems none of them were very thrilled about returning to their homes.”
“Dad is donating the house to the city. I haven’t any idea what they’re going to do with it—it’s really run-down—but he gave them the property there too. That’s about fifty acres. I’m thinking they’re going to tear the house down then put in something equally ugly.” No doubt. Wats told him about North’s dad running for mayor. “He’d be really good at that. With as long as this family has lived here, he’d know just about anything and everything about the town.” Wats sat up when his phone rang. He thought he’d put it on the service, but he might not have gotten it right.
There was a learning curve on just about everything he did lately. Saying his name, Wats waited while the person at the other end calmed down enough to speak. “My grandfather is gone.” Wats didn’t know what she meant—gone as in missing or gone that he’d died. “He’s not here. I came in this morning to stay with him while I finished up my classes, and we had a nice breakfast. Then when I went to the university to see about the classes I would need, I came home, and someone had been in here. There is blood all over the place too.” “Did you call the police?” There was a long pause, and Wats asked her again. “I don’t even know who this is or what your grandfather’s name is.”
“My grandda is James Oliver. My name is Rayne Oliver. Why do you think he had your phone number in his phone marked as police?” Wats said that he didn’t have any idea. “I’m going to call the police now. I’m so sorry to have bothered you.” “It’s no trouble. I’m on my way there with my medical bag. When we find him, I’ll be able to see how he’s faring.” He didn’t want to say anything about him maybe being dead. Lots of blood could be scary enough. “I’m going to call my cousins in too. All of us can look for him.” Wats called the others and told them what was going on. He also mentioned how his number was listed as the emergency number. He called North last, as his number had been busy when he’d called him the first time.
“He’s with me at my house.” Wats turned his car around and headed toward North’s home. “As for the blood, I don’t know. There wasn’t any there when the two of us left there a few hours ago.” “She said there was a great deal of it.” Wats parked in the parking lot of the store he was nearby and tried to catch his breath. “What should I do? Go there and find out what is happening or just go back to my offices?” “Why don’t you go and see if you can talk to Rayne in person? Then perhaps bring her to my house. I don’t think she should be driving if she’s that upset.” Wats told him he’d go out there now. “Be careful, Wats. Since we have no idea what the blood is from, someone might still be in the house.” “Well, thank you very much for that thought.” He made his way to the house carefully. There didn’t seem to be any cars along the way that were parked without anyone in them.
Nor did he see any indication of trouble. By the time he was pulling up in front of the house, there were two cruisers there, and a young woman on the front porch rocking in the rocker set out there. “Your cousin called here. He told me that my grandda was with him.” Wats told her he’d take her there if she wanted to go. “I do. I hope you don’t mind, but I have to wait on the police. They’re doing their thing in there now. I was terrified.” Wats checked her over. He told her he didn’t want anything to be wrong with her and checked not just her blood pressure, which was just a little high, but her temperature too. When he was able to give her a clean bill of health, he sat down on the porch in front of her. “I’ve known your grandda for a while. When I was in med school, he was one of the free patients that, as students, we were to work with. He’s a very healthy man for his age.”
Rayne told him he didn’t sit around on his duff like a lot of people his age. “I think I remember him being about eighty? I could be wrong.” “He’ll be ninety-three on his next birthday. Which is coming up. He’s all I care about in the world now. My parents are both gone. I don’t have any sisters or brothers. No aunts that I want to be around either.” She laughed. “The last time I was here, he and his sister, my aunt Carol, had this big to do about him living alone. Christ, he’s a few years older than her and looks like he could be her kid. Not really, but Grandda is in really wonderful shape.”
Wats told her about the house that was going to be built for him and how his cousin, North, was going to make sure he was going to be all right living out here alone. Rayne told him she had planned on living with him until she graduated next year, then she was hoping she could get him to move in with her. “I’ve had a little house since my parents died. It’s not much, but it’s a damned sight better than this is. I guess North, as you called him, saw what he was living in here.” Wats told her how he’d only just bought the house a few weeks ago. “The banker that was holding the place didn’t want to do anything for him. Told my grandda he’d be better off in a nursing home if he didn’t like this place. Grandda lost Grannie here. He doesn’t want to leave without going to her, he told me.” By the time the police were finished up with the house, they’d discovered that a raccoon had made its way into the house when it had been attacked by something larger. The blood was all animal blood.
It was confirmed it was a raccoon when they found his body in the bedroom that Grandda used. “I think he’s been feeding the poor thing. Grandda is allergic to cats and doesn’t care for dogs. They’re too big for him to handle, he told me. But this little raccoon made his way into his heart, and he’s been taking care of him. I think it was making the loneliness more tolerable.” Wats thought that was the nicest thing he’d heard in a while. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay here now. At least not tonight.” “I have a condo you can stay in. I mean by yourself. With your grandda. I’ll be someplace else.” Wats let out a long breath. “I have a furnished condo the two of you can stay in. I’ll bunk with my dad. He’s close to where you two can stay.” “I don’t want to put you out.” Wats assured her she wouldn’t be. He was enjoying spending time with his dad.
“If you’re sure?” “I am sure. You gather up some things for him to wear, and tomorrow we’ll come back here to see what we can salvage out of the bedroom. After that, North is going to take care of getting something more livable in here for the two of you.” Wats hoped his dad didn’t mind him staying with him a few days. “You get some things, like I said, and I’ll make a couple of calls. That way, by the time you’re finished here, I can have my arrangements made as well.” As he figured, Dad was happy to have him. North said he was his hero for doing this. All Wats had wanted to do was go to bed and not wake up anytime soon. It was stressful being the worrier of the family. Taking Rayne to his brother’s house, then to the condo, was about all he could handle this evening. Going to his dad’s condo, Wats was thrilled that he didn’t seem to mind him rushing off to bed and let Wats go without bombarding him with questions. As soon as his head hit the pillow, Wats knew he wasn’t far from sleep. When a phone rang somewhere in the place, he had to catch himself from getting up and answering it. Being dead tired as he was, he didn’t think he could make a sound decision on whether or not he liked chocolate ice cream or vanilla. Or even both, for that matter.
Thinking briefly of the list he’d brought from his office, Wats wondered if any of the others would help him out with it. He needed someone to work for him to answer phones. To clean up after him and his patients. Also, Wats needed to get laid. Laughing a little, he rolled to his side and smiled. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day, and he was going to try his best not to be running all over town again. Yes, he thought as slumber took him under, tomorrow was a brand new day.