Charlie had been gone from the small town for several years, attending medical school with Rayne. She only returned when she got the news that her mother, the sitting judge, had been murdered. Rayne convinced her to come back home. The town needed good doctors.
Booker had just bought a huge, empty house. His cousins were going to a huge estate auction, and he figured he’d go to find some deals. His cousins were meeting their wives there. It would be fun.
Booker was having a wonderful time when he met Charlie. A spirited young woman who captured his heart from the moment they met. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Booker was caught up in Charlie’s enthusiasm as a first-time bidder until she got into an argument with another bidder, a bully who would win the bid even if he had to take it by force. Booker didn’t like bullies, especially a man who bullied women. Booker jumped to Charlie’s defense. That’s when things got dicey….
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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?
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….
Charlie wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing. Not just here, but what she was to do if she wanted to bid on something. Abby and Amy had talked her and Rayne into coming up to this auction today to fill out their homes. She thought they had nice homes, but what did she know about being wealthy? Not a single thing. The man she’d been sort of following was helping another man in things that he should bid on and how much. She had also learned not to take the first amount that the auctioneer put out there. It was only a starting point. “Hello.” She looked around when the man she was following spoke to her. “You haven’t any idea what you’re doing, do you?” “Nope. I will admit I’m in well over my head. Like I need all kinds of things for this house I’m going to live in, but I haven’t any idea how to go about it. Like, this table here. I love it. But I don’t know what would be a good price to bid or how to even make that happen.” He asked her if she had a number yet. “Yes. I got that when we first arrived. Abby told me about that.” “Abby? You’re here with Abby Wilkerson?” She nodded, and the man laughed. “Well, isn’t this a small world. I’m her cousin-in-law, Booker Wilkerson. I’m here with my cousin, Brandon.” “Will you help me?” He said he’d love to. “Good. First thing, this table. What is a good price to pay?
I don’t want to get caught up in the bidding and forget that I’m on a budget, somewhat.” “It’s not old if that’s what you’re thinking.” She asked him how he could tell that. “Look around at all the other pieces out here. What is the one thing they have in common? I know you can see it, but it never occurred to you yet.” She knew he wasn’t talking about the age of the piece. To her, they all looked like they’d been around a long time. Then she noticed a few things she’d not before. Looking at Booker, she smiled. “Someone has taken the time to dust this piece. Why would they do something like that to a piece that’s just a table?” He told her. “I guess I can see that. Polish it up so that it’s more appealing to someone. Eye-catching, I guess you could call it. So it will more than likely go a little high when it’s probably just a table that isn’t going to last all that long. Thank you.” “You’re so very welcome. Also, you should never, if you can help it, linger too long when looking at a piece. That gives away that you’re interested. Sort of casually look at something, then look around while keeping an eye on other people that look at it. You can figure out your competition that way.” She giggled. Charlie told him he was wonderful for helping her. “I’m enjoying myself too, so it’s good for us both.” They walked around together for the next half hour. Booker pointed out things she could bid on and how much she should go. He told her when she asked him if he’d help her when the bidding started that he’d love to, but he also had to help Brandon.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You did tell me you were here with him. You have given me a lot to go on, and I appreciate that.” He told her he wasn’t going to leave her. “But what about Brandon? Won’t he be upset?” “Right now, I don’t care. You’re much prettier than he is. Plus, he’s hanging out with Abby. Who is, I might say, good at this too.” The announcement was made that bidding would begin in five minutes. “Something else you might want to do when you go to an auction is to find out who the auctioneer is and make a mental note to watch how he does things. I ask where he might be starting when he begins and also if he will have a second auctioneer selling in another area. There is only the one person here until noon. Then they’re going to sell the house and land around it. But he’s going to start with the box lots. Those are the boxes of stuff that they deemed not worth too much, and they’re getting rid of it. I find a lot of good things in those sort of boxes.” “Like what?” They were headed to the box-lots area now. “Oh, I understand now. They’re literally boxes of just stuff. I think getting a couple of those would be a blast just to go through and see what junk you can find.” She laughed. “You’d be amazed at the things my Aunt Holly and I found in them.”
She was enjoying herself so much that she nearly forgot that they were here for a purpose. “Okay, remember what I said. Stick with the price you want to pay for it, and don’t take the first amount he puts out there.” She didn’t want anything in the box he was trying to sell off, and neither did anyone else, it seemed. As the bidding didn’t generate even a buck, he added another box, then another. The box next, the one with the office things in it, was something she was interested in. When Booker leaned down and whispered in her ear, all thoughts of bidding flew out of her head. “You’ll have to take them all—remember that when you buy a bunch of boxes.” She nodded, and when the auctioneer said a dollar, she raised her hand. While she had no idea what was in the boxes that she’d want, the office equipment appealed to her. Someone put their hand up, but he was only waving at someone across from him. The auctioneer asked him to conduct his conversations elsewhere and looked at her. “You won, missy.” She jumped for joy. Laughing, she went to the auctioneer and hugged him before she realized what she was doing. Telling him it was her first auction and bidding, he laughed with her. “Well, I’m glad you came here today. Thanks for the hug too.” When she started to go for her boxes, Booker told her to wait. No one would bother with them. He purchased the next lot of eight boxes, and she bought two more at the end that were filled with glasses, as well as wine glasses that she really liked. The two of them, she thought, had gotten a lot of junk with their stuff. They started a pile by one of the trees. Booker even purchased a chair so she’d have something to sit in under the tree. When the rest of the boxes were sold off, her buying two more lots for a total of ten, the other Wilkersons joined them. They had twenty minutes before the bidding began on the furniture. “Are you having fun?” She told Abby she was having too much fun, she thought. She didn’t know how she was going to get everything in her car. “Don’t worry about that.
I called Mars, and he’s going to rent one of those hauling things to bring our stuff home in. I missed the box lots, but I see you didn’t. Would you mind if I went through them with you? Just to look at the things people consider junk?” “I’d love that.” Booker bought her lunch, as well as two bottles of water. The house, it seemed, wasn’t selling for much, and she watched Booker when he decided it would be a good investment. Charlie moved closer to him when he started to tense up when the bidding started. “You can do this.” He only glanced at her, but she could see that he was happy she’d said that. His face not only relaxed, but he wasn’t fisting his hands either. Putting her smaller hand into his much larger one, she felt like she was centered. It was a strange way to feel with only just meeting the man. Booker bought the house, or so they all thought. Since it had gone well under what they should have gotten for the place, the auctioneer had to speak to the family. Booker kissed the back of her hand when he was asked to wait until the auctioneer returned. “Thank you.” She told him he was welcome and that he had calmed her as well. “We’ll go to the furniture next. Are you ready for that?” “I believe I am.” She watched as the household things were brought out where the boxes had been. The big bed that came with several pieces of furniture caught her eye. Admiring it from a distance, she watched as others went over the stuff like they were searching for something special in it.
“Are they serious about buying it for that price? I’ve heard that some of them are only willing to go to less than a hundred dollars. That seems cheap to me.” “They’re putting that out there so that others around, like you, would hear it. They want you thinking it’s not worth all that much. But I’ve seen it in the bedroom before you got here, and it’s well worth a thousand or more. It’s very old and made of mahogany. It looks to me like it might have been handmade right here on the property. That is a really good piece.” She nodded but didn’t go near the bedroom set. She didn’t have the kind of money that would justify her paying that much for just a bedroom suite. Charlie did have her inheritance, but she was saving that for a rainy day. Booker laughed when she told him that. “My aunt would have told you that there are forever going to be rainy days, and you won’t be able to save for all of them. What you should do is make each day count so that when the rainy day does come, you have your comfort in the things you did when you had the money and time.” “I think I might have liked your aunt.” Booker kissed her then. Just a quick kiss on the mouth. “That was nice. Booker, I’m beginning to like you a great deal. Is that odd?” “No. It’s the way it should be. Come on, let’s get us a place to bid on the things that we want. If you want the bedroom suite, then you get it. I’ll even help you pay for it if it comes to being close to your limit.” It didn’t bother her that he was willing to do that. For some reason, it seemed right that they purchased the set together. Shaking her head at the nonsense in it, she moved to the group of people that had gathered around not just the bedroom suite but the table and chairs that had been brought out as well.
“That is beautiful. Don’t you think?” “It is.” A thought popped into her head in that moment. Of him sitting at one end of the table and her at the other, with people seated down either side with children in their arms. The thought, or vision, was so vivid that her breath caught when she realized this was their children and grandchildren. “Booker, something isn’t right about this.” “I know.” She had a feeling he did know, and she nodded too. “We’ll figure things out when we get back home. All right. Today, let’s just fill out our home.” She nearly missed bidding on the bedroom suite. Her mind was filled with words like home. Our. Even the vision of them and a large family. When Booker poked her in the ribs, she looked at the auctioneer when he started the bidding out at six thousand dollars. When he got back down to a hundred dollars, a man in the crowd behind her said, “Here.” She didn’t turn and glare at him as she wanted to do but kept her eye on the man doing the fast-talking. Booker told her to wait to see where it went and if anyone was going to bid with them. When he told her now, she lifted her hand up to bid one-fifty. The man behind her moved up to where they were standing. She saw him out of the corner of her eye and didn’t like that he was staring at her. When Booker moved between the two of them, she felt better. The man started cursing quietly at first, then he started getting a little louder.
“Nothing is going to happen to you, love. All right? Just do what you’re doing, and it’ll be all right.” Then the man shoved Booker into her. It wasn’t a light push either. Both of them nearly tumbled to the ground. “Excuse me. You nearly knocked us down.” The man bumped Booker in the chest with his belly. Then he started talking to him in another language. While she had no idea what was being said, Booker did and was talking to the man calmly and without raising his fists up like the other man was. “Hey. Hey now. What’s all this about?” Booker told the auctioneer that the man had insulted his wife. Had called her a slut, and said that she only wanted the bed to entertain other men on. “He said that to you? What the hell—pardon me, ma’am—but what the hell is he being upset about? It’s only an auction.” The man said something else, and Booker looked at the auctioneer. There were some very tense-filled moments there while neither of them spoke as the man went on and on about something. Not only did Abby join them, but all the Wilkersons stood up behind them. “Mars, are you with this group?” He said he was. That this was his family. “This isn’t right. Not to you or anyone in your family. But to be insulting like this to a pretty woman is just beyond what I think is right.” “I agree, Mr. Shadow.” He asked the man to leave, and he just stood there, staring at her. Finally, when she’d had enough, she pushed her way in front of Booker, and he put his hands gently on her shoulders.
“You’re a nasty bully.” She asked Booker to translate for her. He said that he understood what she was saying. “You are the meanest man I’ve met. We were all having a good time until you had to get all up in arms about a bedroom suite. What is the matter with you? Don’t you have any man—?” The blow to her face knocked her back. She not only saw stars, but she was sick with the pain of it. Closing her eyes when it became too much for her, Charlie wondered what her mother would say to her now. She’d think it was funny, she’d bet. There were noises going on, cursing too, but in the end, she just let go. Letting the pain take her under so that she’d not feel it for a while. ~*~ Wats was as pissed off as he’d ever been. Someone had actually hit a woman because she was bidding against him. Every time he thought about him hitting Charlie, he had to stop what he was doing and take a deep breath. “This will go a good deal faster if you would just let your wife fix me up.” He said he knew that, but he was safer in here. “Why? The guy was arrested, you told me.” “But I know where they took him.” Charlie laughed, then moaned. “I’m sorry you were hurt. But if it’s any consolation, you got the bedroom suite for nothing.” “Booker told me.” She looked around, then back at him. “May I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer, but please don’t make fun of me. All right?” “Yes. But you should know that I don’t lie.
If you ask me something, you’d better be prepared for the answer. Ask me.” She did. He had to think about his answer hard before he answered her. “You’re worried that you’re falling in love with my cousin? How is that something I’d make fun of you about?” “I’ve only just met him today. I mean, literally today. He’s kind and wonderfully sweet. He doesn’t rush into things. Nor does he, and this is a biggy, treat me like I’m some sort of bimbo that he needs to protect.” He laughed with her. “I suppose looking at me, you’d think I do need a protector. But he didn’t shove me out of the way when I went to talk to the man. I know it was a stupid thing for me to do. I mean, I should have let someone handle it for me, but he didn’t do anything.” “Actually, he did.” She asked him what he was talking about. “My wife can’t come here and take care of you because she’s taking care of Booker. He has a broken wrist as well as needing stitches in both his lip and his hand. He knocked the man to his ass with one blow. He came up with a gun, believe it or not. But Booker didn’t back down, he— Where are you going? I still need to stitch you up.” “Where is he?” Wats followed her, but not too closely. He could tell that she was pissed off, and he didn’t want to come between her and her anger. “Booker Wilkerson, where the hell are you?” He yelled that he was here, so she went to find him. As soon as they entered the room he’d been put in, Wats cringed. It was going to take him longer to heal from his wounds than it would Charlie, of that he was sure. Charlie asked him if he had a brain injury that she needed to be made aware of.
“Not that I’m aware of, no.” Wats noticed that everyone seemed to leave them alone except him and Rayne. He was staying for the fun—he had no idea why Rayne was. “I was mad that he hit you.” “I was too, but you should have let the police handle it when he pulled out a gun.” Booker looked at him, then back at Charlie. She did the same but looked at Booker. “What? Something you’re not telling me.” “He was going to kill you.” Charlie looked at Wats again. At his nod, she turned to Booker again. “I was willing to let the police handle it. I was sure that if I started on him, I would have killed him. But he pulled out the gun with the intention of killing you. He announced to everyone that you were one dead slut.” Booker stood up and made his way to Charlie. When she went into his arms willingly, Wats asked if they could finish stitching them up. They didn’t want the swelling to get too much before they could get that done. “I missed getting that table for our house.” Wats didn’t say anything about what Charlie said, but he did glance at his own wife. “This is so unfair. My very first auction and I have to get next to some dummy head that had to ruin it all for me.” “They stopped the auction.” Charlie asked Rayne what she meant. “No one here wanted to go on without you there. The police are still here, of course, but the others voted to wait to see if you were going to join them again.
The people here, they’re really impressed with the two of you.” “We didn’t do anything,” Wats told her what he’d seen. “Okay, we did take on a bully, but we wouldn’t have had to if he’d been a nicer person. What did he say to you?” Booker said it wasn’t nice, and wanted to leave it at that. Wats was sure that Charlie was going to push it, but she laid down on the bed that Booker was on so she could be stitched up as well. It took them more time than it normally would have because the two of them were talking to each other. Wats thought he was seeing the first blossoms of love. When they were released to go back to the auction, people cheered for them. A couple of women told Booker he could defend their honor anytime he wanted. It was embarrassing to him. Wats could tell. Everyone was good-natured about it, and the police asked if they could talk to the two of them when the auction was over. Wats was very proud of his family right then. Mars said he’d bid for them, but Charlie declined. She said her fun had been delayed, and she wanted to get back into it now. But she kissed him on the cheek for being so sweet, and then she turned to the auctioneer, asking him if he was ready. “Yes, ma’am, I am. I have to tell you, I was never so terrified in my life as when that man said he was going to kill you. I thought for sure my heart was gonna stop when that husband of yours just stood up and knocked his gun away. Goodness.” Charlie thanked him. “My wife, she said she’s going to be watching for you from now on. You surely do get the job done when someone is nasty to you.” There was some fun made when Charlie bid on the dining set. They teased them both about being careful not to bid against them. As was Booker’s nature, he got a kick out of it and didn’t anger.
Wats only then realized it was the first time he’d truly ever seen his cousin pissed. He was usually one that would just walk away. This was a first for all of them today. Not only did she win the dining set, but she also was able to bid and get two more bedroom suites. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d found someone that loved auctions as much as Booker and Aunt Holly had. She was getting good at knowing when to stop, too. As they were loading up the things on the truck Wats had gotten, Booker asked him for something for his headache. After checking him out, he told him he wanted some pictures of his head if he didn’t mind. When he agreed, that worried him just a little, but Booker assured him it was only a headache. Uncle Josiah showed up just as the auction was coming to an end. “There you are.” Booker shook hands with the auctioneer and told him he ran a good auction. “You’re a good man to have around. I don’t suppose you have yourself a shop, do you? I mean, the way your missus was buy—” “Missus?” Uncle Josiah looked around, then at his son. “Oh, yes. All right. But we do need to talk about some things later, son. All right?” Uncle Josiah looked confused, but he wasn’t going to embarrass them by asking questions now. Charlie asked him what he had in mind when the auctioneer asked about the shop. “Well, you see all this stuff that people leave behind? Some of it is worth a little bit. A lot of it they just leave behind because they’ve realized they don’t have the room to take it with them. I need someone I can call on to come and pick it up for me, and I’ll pay you to do it. It won’t be a lot, mind you, but a couple of dollars a box should cover you coming and getting it. If you’ve got a mind to.” Booker looked at his dad.
“Will you go into partnership with me, Dad? I’ve decided I’ve had enough of teaching for a while, and I want to do something different. With you.” Uncle Josiah looked like he was going to cry, and Wats patted him on the back. “We just purchased a house that I think will be perfect for odds and ends. My wife here is a doctor now, so she can afford to keep me in pocket money.” “I’d love nothing more.” While Wats didn’t know what house Booker was referring to, everyone was happy all the way around. “But first, I’d like for you to get to the hospital. The police said they’d make sure that the bill was paid by that moron.” “Do you want this to start now, Mr. Shadow?” Wats had forgotten the man’s name and was glad that Charlie knew it. “We have enough help here today to load this up if you want. I mean, if that’s all right with the rest of you.” “I have a better idea.” Mars looked at Booker, then at him. “You go to the hospital with these two and make sure they’re all right. The rest of us will do the cleanup and take it where you want.” “I bought this house. I think it will be perfect for where we can start out.” They began to take the boxes and other things into the truck while he and Rayne loaded the two of them up in his car. He was beginning to worry about Booker, as he was too agreeable to going.
He was going to keep him overnight just to make sure, no matter what the X-ray told them. The ride to the hospital was quiet. He could hear Charlie and Booker talking to each other, but they were too quiet for him to hear. When Rayne took his hand into hers, he looked over at her. “She loves him.” Wats said he could see that too. “I think he loves her as well. He surely has taken a beating for her if he doesn’t.” “They’ll be all right, don’t you think?” She asked him if he was worried about Booker. “Yes. He’s not himself. I’m worried that there is something more wrong with him. I only checked his head. What if he was hurt elsewhere? I’m going to keep them both overnight, even if I have to beat the two of them into submission.” Rayne agreed with him. And that made him more worried than he’d been before. ~*~ Rayne read the X-rays three times before she was satisfied with the results. Not that she was happy with what she saw, but she knew they were lucky that she and Wats had brought them into the hospital. Charlie had a concussion and two broken ribs, more than likely from falling over when hit. Wats joined her just as she was going to go see Charlie. “He was shot. The shithead was shot, and he didn’t say a word about it.” Rayne asked how bad it was. “He was shot. Bad enough that I’m worried.” “You’re worried because he’s your relative.
Tell me what you really think, like he’s no relation to you.” Wats said it was serious, but not that bad. “Good. She has a concussion. So getting them to stay will be easier since they’ll both be here.” “I have him going into surgery now. I can’t join him there, but I can be with him when he gets out. He also has a concussion and four broken ribs. I’m sure he’s also got a couple of broken fingers.” Rayne said he was a good man. “What do you mean? He was shot and didn’t tell anyone.” “He didn’t want to freak you out. Or, for that matter, Charlie.” He’d not thought of that. “Would you have let them stay there had you known? I wouldn’t have. But Charlie got to have a good time, and her day wasn’t totally ruined by that man. Booker was a good man in being stoic and not worrying her or any of us too much.” “You know, he’s always been like that. I remember once him having a broken hand during a football game.” She asked how he’d gotten it. “He was the quarterback. I guess he was too good, and the other team thought they could take him out. But he played the rest of the game and even won before he let on that he was injured. I should have remembered that.” Rayne went to tell Charlie that she was spending the night. Wats told her that Booker was going to be fine but that he’d sustained a larger issue. Charlie had to threaten his life before he finally told her what had happened. She sat there for several moments without speaking, only to look at them with tears in her eyes. “He said he loved me. We only met today, but it seems right. I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, we only just met.” Rayne asked if she loved him. “Yes. I don’t know how that happened either, but knowing what he did for me today makes me love him all the more.
Does that make sense to you?” “Absolutely. It’s the same thing for Wats and I.” Rayne sent Wats on an errand while she sat on the side of the bed with Charlie. “He’s going to be fine, you know. And if he won’t behave, one of the others will sit on him until he does.” “Wats asked me to be his partner in his office. Are you going to be all right with that?” Rayne told her she was, that she was family now. “I guess I will be. Josiah, he was certainly confused. But he was really nice about not giving us up about the lie. It was nice, too, being called Mrs. Wilkerson.” “It is. Very nice. And you couldn’t be joining a better family.” Rayne called in the staff to make sure they started an IV for her, and told her that she’d let her know when Booker was out. Then when she left Charlie to her nurse, she stopped at the desk and asked if they could put Booker into the room with Charlie. “They’ll be roaming the halls if you don’t.” “We can arrange that, Dr. Wilkerson. My goodness, there are going to be a lot of you Wilkersons around here, aren’t there? We’ll have to make sure we use your initials, or we’ll all be messed up.” Rayne nodded and left to find Wats. It was the first time she’d been called Doctor Wilkerson by staff. It felt damned good. As they waited for Booker to come out of surgery, Rayne made a couple of phone calls. One to her aunt to let her know where they were, and the second call to Josiah.
He had asked her to call when they found out anything. He told her that he’d be right there. Wats went home to get Louis so that he could hang out with the others. He was becoming a wonderful part of the family quickly. Rayne’s phone rang, and she almost didn’t answer it. Her aunt had called her several times over the last few days, and she wasn’t ready to talk to her yet. But this time, armed with her anger that her newest family members had been hurt, as well as liking Charlie, she answered the phone with her title and Wilkerson. “Where is Selma?” Rayne asked who it was, knowing full well that it was Aunt Becky. “Don’t be a smart ass. Tell me where that sister of mine is. I have a mind to give her a piece of my mind.” “I’m sure you couldn’t afford to give her any of your mind. You have seemed to lost your marbles anyway if you think that she’s going to forgive you for treating her and me the way you did.” Becky snorted. “You think I’m kidding? I’m not. I’m happy. I have children that I love and Aunt Selma to talk to when I need an adult. You were never there for me. While you didn’t beat me, you were so verbally abusive to me that it made me feel like shit all the time.” “I kept you in line.” This time she snorted. “Where is she? I want to know why she’s changed the locks on our house. I need to get in and get some things out of it.” “Not without the police and Aunt Selma there you’re not. Besides, it’s not ‘our’ home. It’s Aunt Selma’s. She told me how you moved in with her like she needed you.” Aunt Becky said she had. “Nope. Aunt Selma is a good deal stronger than you’ve ever given her credit for. Besides, I’m thinking you need to find yourself a home anyway. She’s selling that one soon.”
“Why would she—? You did that, didn’t you? Just to see me on the streets. Well, I have money, so I can buy any home I want. You just wait and see.” Rayne told her she didn’t care if she had a house or not. “What a rude person you’ve turned out to be. My goodness, I should probably have beaten you once or twice to get that nastiness out of you. You should be nicer to me. I’m the only relative you have besides Selma. Did she tell you that she’s dying? Well, she is.” “We’re all dying, Aunt Becky. And you both being in your seventies isn’t a big stretch in knowing that you’re going to die too. But if you mean the cancer, yes, she told me about it. She also told me she’s in remission. I have a feeling you would have left that part out had I not heard.” Nothing. Not a denial or anything. “By the way, Grandda is fine as well. He’s been having fun with our children. He said it makes him feel decades younger to be a great grandda.” “He should have died long ago, the old buzzard. He’s just hanging on because he wants one of us to die first.” She thought that was as good a reason as any and told her aunt that. “Have you always been a terrible person, or am I just noticing it?” “Always have been. Always will be.” She saw the surgeon coming down the hall. Charlie was just joining them in a wheelchair when he stopped to talk to them all. “I have to go. I’m not asking you for permission to hang up, Aunt Becky, because I know you well enough to not allow it. But I’ll talk to you some other time.” Simply closing the connection, she stood up when Doctor Moran Davis sat across from Charlie. Since he and everyone else was going on the notion that she was Booker’s wife, he was going to speak to her first. “He’s come through well. The bullet didn’t do much damage.
But he will need to rest up and behave himself for the next week or so. He had a lot of injuries and is lucky his head is hard.” He looked at Wats. “I did take a look at his head. You’re right. It was a good-sized gash. I opened it up while I was in the sterile room and washed it out while I had him under. I hope you don’t mind that I did that.” “No. I’m glad you did it. I don’t want anything to happen to him.” Wats looked relieved. “I was concerned when he wasn’t arguing with us about bringing him in. He’s not one to go to the doctor all that well.” “Well, he’s in good hands, I believe.” Doctor Davis looked at Charlie. “I’m to understand that you’re going to be a physician here as well. You need anything, Charlie, you just let me know. I’m new as the head of this department, and I’m trying to make my way into getting things on a better standing between doctors and nurses. If you need anything, I’m serious, you just call me or come by.” It was another hour before they got to see Booker. Rayne could tell he was in a great deal of pain, so when he was taken to his room, sharing it with Charlie, she rushed the rest of them out of the room so he could get some meds and rest. Yes, Rayne thought this was a good family to be in with. Louis was holding Wesley’s hand when he got off the elevator. It was a good sight to see, the two of them. When he saw her, he came to her slowly. As soon as he was close enough, she gave him a big hug, then pulled out her phone to show him what they’d gotten for him today.
“The bunk beds will be nice if you want to have someone stay over. And look at this old flag. I thought if you wanted to, you could hang it on your wall.” He looked at the pictures as she showed him, and she knew he had questions. “If you don’t like it, Louis, we can sort that out later. I just thought bunk beds would be nice for your new room.” “Are you going to send me back?” She asked him where she’d send him. “To my dad. He will come and get me. I don’t ever want to go back there again. I like having stuff I can wear that is clean and stuff.” “I like you being there with us too, Louis. But in answer to your question, no, he’s not going to get you again. They found your momma. Did you hear that?” He nodded. Louis had told the police that she had been buried in the back yard near the apple tree. “And Brenda is in jail too. They’ll never get by any of us to get to you again. I swear to you on my life.” He played with her badge while he stood there next to her. She didn’t rush him. The teachers she’d spoken to about Louis said he was a thinker and that if someone rushed him, he’d tighten up tighter than a rubber band around a wrist. When he did look up at her, she smiled at him when he grinned. “Grandpa Wesley said him and me would go fishing.
I’ve never been, but when he told me he’d not been in years, I thought for sure he was kidding me.” Rayne couldn’t imagine the man with a fishing pole in his hand. “He told me if I wanted to, and I got good grades, him and me could have a lot of first times together. He even wants to go camping with me. I’ve slept outside before. I don’t think it’ll be the same with him, do you?” “No. I’m sure you’re going to have all the things necessary to make it a safe and fun trip. You might even make your food over an open fire.” He warmed to that idea, then looked at her pictures again. “Do you not want the bunk beds?” “No. I want them. That way, when Grandpa Wesley comes to read to me, we can rest up in the same room. He’s pretty tired when he leaves me at night.” She’d known Wesley was reading to Louis, just not that it had been nightly. “I’ll be a really good boy for you, Mrs. Wilkerson. I promise you.” “I know that, Louis. But not too good, all right? I mean, we have to be able to ground you to the house so we can spend more time with you once in a while.” She tickled him until he yelled for mercy. When Wats joined her in their talk, she went to check on Charlie. She woke her up, she thought. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. I was watching Booker.” Coming into the room when asked, she stood by the bed so she could see how Charlie was doing. “I think my mom wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that I fell for a Wilkerson. I mean, sheesh, she surely did talk about them a great deal. I’m so happy I’m going to be a part of this family that I could bust.” “I know how you feel.” They both watched Booker breathing. “I just learned that you’re going to have to keep an eye on Booker. He’s sometimes a little stubborn when he’s hurt and won’t go to get checked out. They all have stories about him doing that.”
“I will.” Charlie took her hand into hers. “Thank you.” Rayne asked her for what. “Not treating me like I wasn’t good enough for him. For welcoming me to the family with open arms. I can’t believe it’s only been a few days, but I feel like I’ve known you all forever. It’s a wonderful feeling.” “It really is.” She sat there with Charlie for a little while longer. As her eyes finally closed, she checked on Booker and left them there. She was glad to have a family like this one. Rayne would be on her toes to keep them healthy and well, but she was looking forward to that as well.