Memories Of Long Ago

A few weeks ago, Hubby and I drove through the old section of Dora, Alabama. Lots of old buildings and brick shells from a fire years ago. Fascinating for sure. I can imagine my maternal grandfather and his dad walking on the streets or sidewalks. A few pictures below. The ones in color I took on the drive. The black and white are from Pinterest. Several sites showed the same B/W pictures without copyright marks.

Speaking of my grandfather, I’ve been talking with my uncle about him a lot lately. He’s the youngest of my mom’s siblings at the age of 83. I’ve always thought of him being so cool. He is. It’s funny how we see the same man in two different lights. My uncle thinks of his dad as a stern SOB. While I grew up with my granddad as being a sweet, loving old man. My uncle finds it almost unbelievable that the man he knew being that way. My uncle left home at 18. He packed his bags one day, left with some friends for Indiana, and didn’t come back for a long time.

Anyway, here are some of my memories of Granddad.

First, not exactly my memory, but I remember my mother telling me when I was around 18 months old, I was feeling sickly and Granddad was the only one who could comfort me. Every time he tried to sit me down or hand me off to another person, I would cry and hold tight to his neck. Maybe that was why he liked me in particular. I do understand how a child can touch your heart by their unknowing preference.

When I was probably around seven (1963), we were walking to the store to get a dope. (Up to 1929, cocaine was used in Coca-Cola’s formula and since people would act dopey after drinking one, they would call it a Dope. And yes, I thought he mispronounced Coke. HA!) Along the trip, I dropped my dime onto the dirt road. He and I searched for several minutes without luck. He told me to not to worry that he had another dime for me to use. I was so relieved. And I do remember walking into the musty smelling store with him. Several old men were sitting in the back, around an old cast iron stove, and teased him–as they were laughing–but I didn’t understand what they said. The next time I came to visit, my grandfather told me he found the dime and handed it over to me. I remember being amazed. Later, my grandmother said he’d searched for days on that dirt road for the dime. What a sweet guy!

Granddad had two mules: a black one and a white one. My sister and I loved to pet them, whenever they would let us get near. One time, several of us grandkids were visiting, and Granddad decided to hitch up the mules to his wagon and drive us down to the store and back. Considering it was no more than a half of a mile to the store, it was a short trip, but we were all excited about it (some of us were city kids).

Then one time Granddad came to stay with us for a few days. I was in fifth or six grade and he gave me $20. For what reason, I have no idea at the time. You have to realize that amount of money in 1966-67 was equal to $170 today. A whole lot of money for 11-12 year old girl. Thinking about it now, that must have been about the time he was told he had black lung. He’d worked as coal miner possibly from 12 years old (the 1910 census showed at 16 he worked in the mines with two of his brothers, ages 14 and 12). He died in 1971.

In early 1971, he came to stay with us for several weeks. During that time, I would get ready for school in the mornings and would go into Granddad’s room (formerly mine), and grab my clothes for the day out of the closet. He often could be found sitting in the chair between the closet and a window that looked out over the pasture behind our house. One morning, he stopped me and said that he wanted to make sure I finished my schooling. As that he’d been the same man who told his five daughters that girls didn’t need to finish school (none graduated), my mom thought that was strange when I repeated it to her. But he also said he loved me and started to cry. I hugged him and promised to finish school, and that I loved him too and started to cry along with him. A few days later, he was placed in the hospital and then moved to a nursing home (probably hospice care). I visited once and he called me by another person’s name. The drugs they were giving him for the pain caused him to be confused. My mom said it was his sister’s name. That I may have looked a little like her. At the time, I had no idea he had a sister, no less any siblings.

I have several more memories of my granddad, but the ones above are the more personal ones. Though my uncle and his siblings have/had memories far different from mine–he’s amazed by mine–it goes to show how time can change a person. Sure, some people never change, good or bad., but I think many people do. And as I my uncle has said, his dad loved his grandchildren. To me, all of this history I’ve been discovering about my family has enriched me personally, and pushed me to reconnect with my relatives.

As a kid, we don’t understand all of the things happening around us. As writers, delving into the reasons of why people do the things they do, helps our stories. A side benefit is understanding events that happened to us or others prior or currently. Not that writers know everything, but with knowledge comes understanding.

From my research, my granddad’s dad wasn’t a nice man and had deserted his wife and kids when they were needing him the most. And my grandmother never knew her father, as he left when she was little and her step-father didn’t want her or her brother. So when my grandparents married at 17 and 20, they were two souls who never had a regular, loving family. Then they had children and it wasn’t like they could get on the internet or read a book about childcare and raising children in a more understanding, kind way. They only did what was done to them. Sadly.

It appears times changed them, and I like to think their children grew up and worked at being better parents than their own. I would say most didn’t do so bad, and besides, people agree having grandchildren is so much easier.

Granddad around 20 years old.

Love you, Granddad. Miss you.

Just a Mention

Though I’ve mentioned this before, I thought you might have missed it. I’m on TikTok too. Not that I do a whole lot there. Like most writers, I prefer to spend my time writing.

Here’s a recent video I did for that media.

What’s Going On With Me?

I’ve been working SLOWLY on the next Southern Crime Family novel. Sen’s story. But for some reason I couldn’t concentrate on it like I should. So I decided to do sometime I’ve put off for TWO years! Yes. Count them. One, two whole frigging years. Crazy. I had previously replaced the ebook covers for The Circle Organization books, but hadn’t taken care of the paperbacks. Same design, but I needed to include the spine and back copy.

Then they really needed to be reformatted (the inners). That takes time. Plus I wanted to added excerpts for the other books. As in Circle of Desire to have Danger and Deception excerpts in the back and so on.

Doesn’t sound like much trouble, but that includes updating the lists of books. I do have a total of 11 books out. Of course, there are two that are still with RandomHouse. I haven’t decided when to ask for the rights back. I had gotten the rights from HarperCollins to The Circle books two years ago (thus the new covers), but I’ve been putting off the RH ones. Maybe because I hope to write for them again one day? *shrug*

Beyond the 11 for sale, I have 10 books written that are not published. One day soon (hopefully), I plan to rewrite most of them. Not counting, I have another hockey romance and a suspense book I plan to write. Then I might even try my hand at historical (1910s). Goodness, I need to get myself back into forward gear and get to writing.

And I also have plans to release The Circle in a bundle hopefully in the next month or so.

Moving on. As I like to include these on my website, here are copies of my latest ads. By the way, I’m on TikTok. Be sure to follow me! See. I doing a lot of stuff.

Market Resources and Such

Hey, where do you go for your market info? I used to read RT Book Reviews. (I always wondered why she didn’t put the magazine/website up for sale.) Of course, I check Romance Writers of America’s website, magazine, and notices, but I like more than one source. The blogs I have checked out in the past have gone or they do only reviews. But here are a few I check out on occasion.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books

The above has podcasts that are interesting.

Dear Author

The above owner used to talk about the industry more, but since the Ellora’s Cave incident, I think she backed off. Sadly. But I understand.

StephieSmith.com

Stephie had a great chart about contests (due dates, etc.) but has stopped doing that and has a link to another site that keeps up with it. Yet, her resource page is pretty good. Not sure how current.

Harlequin Junkie

Above is only reviews and interviews, but I like it. Heck, they interviewed me a couple times for Loveswept.

Published to Death

This one that follows I just found today. Just old stuff (1-2 years ago) but weeding through it some good info will pop up. I guess that is true to all of the links I’ve mentioned in this post.

Romantically Inclined

Here’s another place to check out. They mix in articles about various writing tropes with the reviews.

What about you? Where do you find your info?

Sweet Home Alabama

Grandfather in uniform 1919

Just like most people during the last year, I found myself with a little extra time. So I decided to work on my ancestry. My sister worked on it years ago which helped get me started.

I’ve learned so much about my family. I will say it’s important to know general local and world history and pay attention to dates if you do this. It will make it easier. All of the info I came across was so fascinating. It’s like my family has reintroduced themselves to me.

My goodness, I have generations galore that grew up and were buried in Cullman (half of Cullman City Cemetery is filled with my relatives/ancestors) and Walker counties. Sure, back in the 1700-1600s and beyond, they lived in Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, England, and Wales. There’s over 1,000 people in my tree. But I remember hearing stories about many of them (those from the last 100 years) when I was growing up, but the research has taught me so much.

Like that my paternal grandfather had joined the Alabama Army National Guard at 16 years old and was sent to Arizona to protect the border. This is during the time (1916) Germany was pushing Mexico to invade the U.S. and Pancho Villa was attacking U.S. cities. Be sure to look this stuff up. That’s a rough explanation of why my grandfather was there. The picture above of him (he looks so freaking young) with his first wife is on their wedding day. He was about to be 19 and she had just turned 18. Not my grandmother. Sadly, the pretty lady passed away at 23 from a sickness. She did leave behind two beautiful daughters. My aunts. By the way, I never thought of them not being fully mine.

Anyway, the crazy thing is, I could throw a rock and hit land where one relative or another owned or rented it at one time or another.

Side note: In 2019, my husband and I moved to be nearer to family. We had lived northeast of Birmingham for most of our lives. So when we moved to the northwest side of the city, you wouldn’t think that would be much of a difference. But there is. City vs country life.

Overall, there is so much to be proud of in my family though I will say some of them have the worst luck. One thing for sure, I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions.

*sigh*

All is good. I’m home now.

A Great Event Happening Next Year

Here is the information about the HUGE author book signing moved from this year (and last year) to 2022. Let’s meet!

Complete list of authors are shown at the bottom. Don’t forget it can change without notice.

General Event Information:
Capital City Author Event
May 20-21, 2022


Venue / Hotel Information:
Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center
201 Tallapoosa Street, Montgomery, AL 36104

Get your Tickets herehttps://ccae2022.eventbrite.com

Meet/Greet:
Capital City Carnival – Food, Fun, and Games
Friday May 20, 2022 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Live Music/DJ, Carnival Style Food, Table Games (with attending Authors), and Cash Bar
Ticket Cost: $15

Author Signing:
Saturday May 21, 2022 11:00am – 4:00pm
VIP Ticket Cost: $25
Includes 1 hour early entry in the event from at 11:00 am, Special VIP Swag Bag, VIP Lanyard, and 1 Scratch-off Ticket (Scratch-off prizes include chances to win Amazon gift cards, raffle basket tickets, book cash, and more)
General Admission Ticket Cost: $5

Entry into the event from 12:00pm – 4:00pmAll raffle basket proceeds and door donations will be given to our event charity:Montgomery Humane Society Adoptable Pets

Room Block Information:TBA – Once new Room Block Link it available it will be posted


Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CCAEReaderGroup/
Facebook Like Page:https://www.facebook.com/CapitalCityAuthorEvent.MGM/
Email: CapitalCityAuthorEvent.MGM@gmail.com

Author / Vendor Interest Form: https://forms.gle/XUBubRCdDXXonppv7

So Your Readers Hate Your Heroine

So Your Readers Hate Your Heroine

When I first started writing, critique partners and contest judges would often have a problem with my heroines. When I sold my first book, my editor said I needed to make my heroine likable.

Geez. She’s a cold-blooded assassin (Circle of Desire) and I understood why she was that way. Why couldn’t she?

I had explained piece by piece throughout the book how she was a dumpster baby, grew up in an orphanage and foster care. Then she was molested and became a runaway, walked the streets for a small time pimp, and then trained by a psycho to be an assassin. Why couldn’t the readers feel sympathy for her?

Well, if more than one person tells you that they do not like a character, you have to listen. And a big clue is the two words I used above. I understood.

So that means, I didn’t help the reader recognize where she was coming from when she did or said bad things. You can’t guarantee that the reader will read the whole book to grasp all of the fine details that made the heroine become that person. You have to give the reader a reason for her behavior. Of course, I do get aggravated with a reviewer when they say “I skipped through the book.” If she/he had read every word, they would have understood the heroine’s thought process. But it is the author’s responsibility to make it clear in the beginning that the main character(s) is someone you want in your life or sympathetic to their faults.

With encouragement from my editor, I went into the first chapter and added a sentence. That helped. See, it doesn’t take an info dump to get a point across. If you’re wondering, I showed in the narrative that her hands shook. Showing she was human.

I believe women often have a problem writing women because we think our readers (majority women) know the motivations behind the female lead’s actions. But that’s not true. Not every woman feels the same way about a situation. So we have to explain or show her rationale.

Funny how I forgot that lesson from my debut book when I wrote my first Brother of Mayhem book, Hidden Heat. Several reviewers felt that Cassidy was being immature by the fits she dealt the MC. She’s a strong heroine who knew if she didn’t stand her ground the club would run all of over her. I obviously didn’t make that clear enough in the beginning. But thankfully some reviewers/readers understood. Here’s one review that proved it. Debbie’s Reviews in Goodreads.

This means we (authors) have to stay on our toes and give our readers the information needed, within reason and in the most entertaining way. And readers need to give strong (or weak) heroines the benefit of doubt. If you want to skip pages, just don’t read the book.

What Is The Difference Between Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller? I Have So Many Answers.

What Is The Difference Between Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller? I Have So Many Answers.

Yesterday, I was discussing with another author the differences between a mystery, a suspense, and a thriller. I need to mention that this debate is not new to anyone and has been going on for years and years. Everyone has an opinion about it. I believe it all depends on what you read or write or both.

Now you don’t have to take my word on this. Here are other perspectives I found on the internet. I figured I would get you in the mood by seeing others before you see mine.

Author Stacy Woodson

Author Maeve Maddox

Former Literary Agent Nathan Bransford

Several Answers on Quora

See what I mean? Lots of viewpoints and really no one is wrong. Like I said, it depends on where you sit on the fence. Right? Ha!

Moving on, here’s my fence…uh…opinion.

Thriller

First, I want to mention all thrillers have suspense and many have a mystery entwined with the plot, but thrillers have one thing in common. The inciting event leads to a greater, dangerous event. Thrillers are normally involved with killing a lot of people or/and destroying a lot of property. Such as the Die Hard franchise. So if it starts out with one person dead and then gradually more are dead until the whole city or world is in danger, that’s a thriller.

While writing this post, I searched for “thriller movies” and none were the type I think of as the typical thriller. It appears the internet and media often referred to movies I look at as thrillers to be action movies. They are both.

People include a serial killer or serial killer-like character in a movie as thrillers. It can reveal the killer or not to the reader. The same for the hero in the story. He or she could know (or not) who is bringing up the body count. But you have to realize, this is a hybrid. A thriller with suspense. Of course, suspense is included along with mystery. Think of any movie where individuals are dying left and right, and you don’t know when the next murder will happen. I think of the movie Seven for this one. They discover who the killer is mid-way through the seven deaths, but can they stop him in time?

From a personal debate of mine, I’ve had people call my first book, Circle of Desire, a thriller. I’ve always disagreed. I do like action/adventure mixed in with my romantic suspense. So it’s like a Nikita or James Bond story. In Circle of Desire, the bad guy is trying to get rid of his competition and using a female assassin to do it. She’s captured in the first chapter by the other organization and does not kill another person until later the book. He’s not about to kill everyone in the world either. So no. Not a thriller. Romantic suspense, yes.

Here’s the blurb to Circle of Desire.

As the top assassin at The Circle, a shadowy group of mercenaries, Olivia St. Vincent can hunt down anyone. She’s been trained since she was a teenager to kill without feeling, to interact with men without love. But when she’s kidnapped by the enigmatic leader of a rival organization, she learns she’s been lied to for years. She never worked for the good guys.

Collin Ryker believes the sultry woman he’s abducted knows more than she’s telling about The Circle and its plans for complete domination. Over time, as they work together, Olivia’s tenacity and vulnerability captivate him. But if he isn’t careful, Collin will fall into the biggest trap of all: caring for a woman who can betray him to his greatest enemy.

Mystery

This one is simple and most agree on the definition. Usually, there is one personthough others might help– investigate a murder or locate a missing valuable. I always think of stories about Sherlock Holmes or those written by Agatha ChristieMurder on the Orient Express, anyone?when someone talks of mysteries. But keep in mind National Treasure is a perfect example of a mystery involving an object. I do enjoy them all.

Suspense

The dictionary says, “a quality in a work of fiction that arouses excited expectation or uncertainty about what may happen.” That sure sounds like the two above too. Right? If you search for “suspense” movies, thrillers will come up instead. See, even the media is confused. I guess thriller sounds more exciting.

But what makes a book (or movie, etc.) a suspense, is that the killing or/and danger is personal and slower to come about. Maybe someone is shooting at the hero and he does not know who it is. Even the reader may not know. Or someone is planning to kill a person by setting a trap. And the reader may (or not) know about the trap and is waiting for (or surprised by) what happens. To keep it simple, and yes, tooting my own horn, my books are suspense (with the exception of the hockey romance books – they are not).

I found this article on Reedsy that might help. How to Create Suspense?

Like I mentioned, thriller, mystery, and suspense can be mixed together into a book. You’re probably thinking about the book you’ve written and it has all three. How would you market your book? I would suggest looking at your plot. If the dark moment involves something big, like blowing up a building or having a sniper in a tower killing people for several chapters or the whole book, that’s mainly a thriller. If a death happened in the first three chapters or before chapter one started, and no one knows who killed the person, that is more mystery than anything else. Or if you have a killer after the main character and most of the other bodies showing up were from people getting in the way, you have a suspense. The other elements are icing on the cake. You don’t want to confuse your agent or editor. So it’s best to pick only one. That way they will know how best to market your book.

Inspiration Struck Finally!

Wow! I love it when I’m writing and something that had been bothering me from nearly chapter one finally solved itself.

Well, okay. You twisted my arm. I’ll tell you a little about it. First, let me say, in book one (Jake) of the Southern Crime Family, the hero’s kink is that he likes to spank the heroine. Totally consensual.

In Ethan’s (book two, unless I change my mind again), I’ve already decided his kink will be that he likes to be tied up during the act. Nice twist, for the women are usually the ones, right?

The heroine is what I refer to as a real woman. She knows what she wants and she’s not shy in going after it. And he’s a real man because he isn’t scared to tell his woman that he has problems that only she can solve with a little discipline. By the way, she has a young daughter. I don’t normally have children in my books, but like I said, she’s a real woman.

Then there is Sen, the middle brother. The one I was having a difficulty in giving him a kink. See, he’s in love with an heroine who is deaf. Most of everything I can think of would appear to be taking advantage of her disability in the hearing world or maybe even cruel.

So here I was writing a scene where she’s angry at an old friend (male) and suddenly she remembers the big crush she had for him long ago. She’s getting turned on as her old friend and her new friend (Sen) argue about her, and she’s literally standing between them. She’s short. They are tall. Hot. Hard. Bam!

Let’s say, she’s going to have a fantasy to come true a few times in the book. Sen loves her enough to share. Well, at first. He is an alpha.

Here are the latest covers for Sen and Ethan books.

Let’s Talk Blurbs

Lately, I’ve been thinking about blurbs. You know, the kind on the back of books (or on bookseller sites) and the kind needed for BookBub and ads that don’t want it to be so wordy. It’s important to draw a reader’s attention.

I can’t say I’m great at them, but heck, I see some pretty sad ones. This one I came across in an ad and thought it needed help. I bet the book is awesome, but someone needs to work on the author’s blurbs. Of course, there could be people who would think the same about mine. Anyway, this is my blog and my opinion. HA! You will note I did not leave in character names and I don’t say who the author is. This is not to embarrass the person, just to help other authors who might come across this post.

“When a hit man targets [heroine’s name], gorgeous cop [hero’s name] comes to her defense. But the more time he spends with her, the more irresistible she becomes!”

There were several things I would change and I’m sure more to do with personal preference. What bothered me the most was the word “BUT.” BUT is used to contrast a prior phrase or clause per the dictionary on my computer. What is being contrasted? If the short blurb said, “cop comes to his enemy’s defense” or something like that, I could understand the BUT.

I also want to know why “gorgeous cop?” What does gorgeous have to do with the plot? And really, most of the heroes in romances are gorgeous, even if it just the heroine feeling that way.

By the way, when writing a longer blurb, remember to keep to the basics of what will pull in the reader. Telling a lot of backstory or explaining the whole book will not work. Think of what are the hero/heroine’s goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC)? You can use the following to help fill in those points: want, because, but. Here’s an example from Darynda Jones’s First Grave on the Right. The GMC is pointed out in brackets [ ]. Note that she has actually two conflicts [buts].

“Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. [WANT] And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” [BUT] But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e., murder), [BECAUSE] sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. [BUT] Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.”

She/publisher did pretty good, heh? Short and hits a lot of hot spots for readers. I hope this helps when you plan to write your next blurb.

Two Chapters of JAKE

 

Since people appeared to enjoy reading the beginning of my latest hockey romance, I thought maybe you would be interested in the first two chapters from JAKE: A Southern Crime Family Novel. Be aware, like all of my romantic suspense novels, it has profanity

and some gritty attitudes. That’s just how I roll.

First, let’s start with the blurb.

Forget the Hatfields and McCoys, in a small Southern town, the Whitfields and Tallys are the real family feud.

So for some unholy reason, Jake Whitfield’s old man and Angel Tally’s grandfather wrote codicils to their wills the night before they died in a suspicious fire. The codicils require Jake and Angel to marry or lose their inheritances.

Jake feels like a man with two faces. One he presents to his brothers and the public: the criminal willing to step on anyone for a buck while mercilessly protecting the business. The other: the lonely man wanting a better life for himself and his family and working with an FBI agent to make it happen.

To Jake, marrying Angel makes sense. With her family’s help, he can fight the new criminal organization that’s moving into his town. Immersed in the criminal world, there is no hope for Angel, but her brother is still young. She will do anything to protect him from that way of life and whoever killed their grandfather, even marry a despised Whitfield. And Angel never forgot about the sexy incident with Jake in high school ten years earlier.And if she has to go along with a Whitfield-Tally marriage, she wants a replay.

**HOT ROMANCE with consensual spankings**

Amazon

Apple Books

Barnes and Noble

kobo

 

CHAPTER ONE

“I hope you rot in hell, old man.”

Jake Whitfield leaned over the grave and spit as his father’s casket slowly disappeared into the blackness. When a violent shudder brought the crank to an abrupt stop, he shot a sideways glare at the cemetery worker.

The man wiped a sweaty forehead on the upper sleeve of his faded gray uniform and kicked the contraption. “Stupid old thing,” he muttered as he avoided Jake’s gaze.

With a painful screech, the device started up again, rattling and jumping, and finally a solid thud came from the hole as it reached the bottom. If he believed in ghosts, he’d swear the hateful bastard wanted out to kill him.

Jake’s attention fell on the mourners surrounding the gravesite.

Their jackets flapped in the hot wind like vultures settling around a carcass as most of the men stared at the ground beneath their feet. No one looked into his face. Though the minister shook his head at Jake’s disrespect, he and the others didn’t say a word. They understood his hatred. Everyone who attended would love to do the same, if they had the backbone. All were business associates and most came not so much to grieve for the man’s death, but to receive assurance that his dad had died.

Many of the people in Sand County owed Dick Whitfield their livelihood and endured his heavy-handed manipulations, but none suffered as much as the Whitfield brothers. The old man had reveled in tormenting his bastard sons more than he did his associates. Besides their last name, the old man refused to give the boys anything without a deal or concession involved. Then again, maybe an agreement had been made when they were born, a bargain with the devil for their souls.

Releasing a snarl, Jake turned and nodded at his brothers. Townsend—or Sen, as he was known—and Ethan fell in step beside him as they headed toward the old man’s white limo idling next to the curb. No one said a word.

Another gust of wind tugged at their jackets. A bouquet of dead flowers blew across their path to become stuck between an urn and headstone.

Behind dark sunglasses, Jake scanned the area. Tension from the funeral and a gut feeling warned that danger lurked. Nothing appeared strange or out of place. But life with the old man had taught him to be extremely cautious whenever emotions ran high. With new leadership at Whitfield Industries taking over, many of the smaller players wanted a part of the business and conspired to oust the brothers. He knew without a doubt, no one would take one brick or dollar without a fight. After years of being under the old man’s rule, they deserved every piece of his ill-gotten money and property. They each had worked hard and often for pennies compared to others who worked for the old man and did far less.

He glanced around again without being obvious. The old cemetery covered acres of well-tended plots that held numerous large memorials and oak trees. Several people headed toward their cars while others remained near the burial site, talking and gesturing at the grave being filled. In the distance, he heard traffic swooshing by, but strangely, the birds stopped chirping in the swaying limbs.

Steps away from the limo with the chauffeur waiting inside, Jake passed a life-size marble statue. The head exploded, spraying chunks of the white stuff. The confirming snap of gunfire sent everyone running for cover. Screams and shouts of concern punctuated by more shots echoed around him as he scrambled for the other side of the limo, its bulletproof body offering better protection than a tree or headstone. He motioned for his brothers to follow. In no time they hunkered down with guns in hands.

“Damn! Who do you think it is? Some asshole out to get Jake for sleeping with his girlfriend?” Ethan sat on the ground with his back near the car’s engine, watching for anyone coming from behind.

In his usual calm manner, Sen checked his Beretta and then edged closer to the taillights. “Probably the girlfriend.”

His brothers loved to rag him about how his last girlfriend had another guy on the side. When he kicked her out of his home, she must have told the other boyfriend a tall tale as the dumbass came at him with a gun. It almost became messy. When the boyfriend realized whose door he had knocked on, the poor dude drove out of town so fast he left rubber on the road for a half mile.

Jake shook his head and white dust fell around him. His forehead stung. A light touch came back with blood. He’d been nicked. “Most likely someone who’s wanting to take over the old man’s businesses,” he said as he ignored his brothers’ comments. “Or possibly the person who set the fire.” Leaning over, he ruffled his hair, showering the ground with powder and bits of stone.

He sneered. They’d already received warnings that someone outside the county planned to make a move soon. He hadn’t expected it to be at the cemetery. The old man was barely cold in the ground.

Several more shots zipped by and dug into the asphalt a few feet away. Followed shortly by a couple more over their heads.

Damn! They needed to concentrate on stopping the sniper. Normal people ran and kept moving when fired upon, but no, not the Whitfield boys. Maybe he and his brothers were as insane as the bastard they buried.

Sen nodded to where the road looped into the cemetery near the interstate fence. “I think the shots are coming from that direction. See the old rusted-out black van?”

“Yeah.” Ethan peeked over the limo’s hood.

“The sliding door is cracked opened. You think he’s still in there? The smart thing for a shooter to do is leave with the crowd.” Jake referred to the mourners cranking automobiles and screeching tires on their way out.

“I’ll go around and come up on the opposite side.” Without wasting time, Sen stooped low and ran alongside the cars parked by the curb.

Jake shook his head. He always wondered if his middle brother had a death wish. “Tick!”

The rotund driver inside the limo rolled down the window, showing only the top of his pale bald head and large blood-shot eyes. “Yeah, boss?”

“Scoot over. I’m coming in.”

“Sure, boss.”

“You get in the back.” Jake nodded at Ethan. With a jab, he returned his gun to its holster beneath his jacket.

“Sure, boss,” his brother said, mimicking Tick.

In seconds, they eased the limo down the lane toward the van. Jake caught a glimpse of Sen dashing behind a tree a few yards away. Then the side door on the van slammed shut, and a figure dressed in black jumped into the driver’s seat. No way would he let the asshole escape. He flatfooted the gas pedal and the old limo T-boned the van.

The crunch of metal and broken glass rang in Jake’s ears as he pushed hard on the door and sprinted to the other side. Two fellows ran for the trees. He tackled the nearest one as Sen sprinted after the faster, smaller one.

“You son of a bitch!” Jake flipped him over. Fist pulled back to slug the sniper, he stopped. “Sally? Sally Tally?”

Light green eyes in the middle of dark liner and eye shadow glared up at him. Chin length ebony hair tipped blood red stuck to a sweaty pale face. A grimace stretched her crimson lips lined in black as she waited for the downward swing.

He lowered his arm and examined her clothes. No wonder he’d mistaken her for a guy from the back. She wore an ankle-length leather coat with thick-soled biker boots buckled to her knees, the tight black pants tucked in. The only feminine clothing was the stiff red corset holding up plump, creamy white breasts, heaving with each intake of breath.

“No one calls me Sally anymore. Call me Angel.”

The last time he’d heard that husky voice, they had been teenagers, and she’d stolen his wallet. He’d retaliated by turning her over his knee, lifting her short skirt, and giving her nearly bare bottom a good sound spanking. During the chastisement, an unexpected dilemma had emerged. He remembered how much he enjoyed it. Way too much.

His body hardened with the memory. Squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds, he tried to regain control by erasing the mental picture of a pink lace thong. Damn, he’d gotten expelled for physical abuse after that. Despite how furious the old man had been at the time—as angry at the school as he’d been at Jake—he’d forced the school board to repeal the sentence.

After Jake had returned to school, the rumors flew around with varying degrees of outlandish speculation. Some claimed they watched him beat her to a pulp. While others said he’d dragged her off and raped her. The outcome everyone had agreed on was that his old man had paid off the officials. The only part that had been true.

In turn, rumors said Sally Tally had transferred to a girls’ school. Between being teased about her unfortunate name and a father who was in prison more than he was out, she had it rough, even after her wealthy grandfather stepped in to help. Jake never knew what happened to her, but he did know his old man had enjoyed making Jake pay back every dime spent on lawyers. Because of her, his last two years in high school had been hell.

“Get off of me, you freak!” She shoved at his chest.

When his eyes focused on the mature version of Sally, all gothic angel, wiggling between his thighs, he returned to the problem at hand. “Who was with you? Why was he shooting at us?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes, looking away as she remained silent.

The wind picked up again, blowing her strangely dyed hair across her neck. He clasped her wrists. Her full lower lip trembled, yet no tears simmered. Unable to resist, his gaze returned to her full breasts. Sally-Angel had filled out quite nicely.

“My eyes are up here, dickhead.”

He dragged his gaze back to hers. “You’ve grown up.”

“Get off me now.” Her words sounded tough but the worry in her eyes told a different story.

Before he moved, he heard Sen shout, “Hey, Jake, look at what I got!”

With a firm grip on a slender arm, Jake stood, hauling her up with the aid of her backpack. Then he forced her to the van. Sen held onto a lanky teenager with one hand and a Remington rifle with another as they walked out of the tree line. The boy wore black leather pants and a matching tee shirt with the words “Suck This” above two streams of red.

Jake returned his attention to Sally-Angel. “Kind of young for a boyfriend.”

“You’re sick. He’s my brother. Leave him alone.” She pulled on her arm but he squeezed tighter. “You’re hurting me,” she said between clenched teeth.

For some reason, he didn’t believe her―beneath the leather he felt solid lean muscles―but he eased his grip.

“I thought your granddaddy taught you better than that. Didn’t he ever tell you Whitfields were mean sons of bitches?”

“Oh, I already knew that.”

She jerked at his hold again.

He grasped both arms and pulled her to him, leaving not a fraction of an inch between their bodies. Her breasts rubbed below his chest, and his cock jerked. Damn. What was it about her that revved his engine?

Leaning down to her ear, he said in a low tone, “Be still and I won’t hurt you.” He’d never physically hurt a woman in his life, but she didn’t need to know that. “Anyone else in the van?”

The softness of her hair and the smell of leather and woman caused him to lengthen more. Like he needed this. She had trouble written all over her hot little body. He shoved her back enough to regain control, while keeping his grip and glancing over to the van.

Ethan leaned into the open door. He then looked over his shoulder to Jake and shook his head. No one else was inside.

He returned his attention to Sally-Angel. “You better tell me, why did your brother try to kill us?” His tone modulated as he wanted her frightened but not to the point of being speechless.

“Maybe you deserved it for killing my granddaddy.” Her dislike oozed out with each word. She nodded her head toward the teenager. “Anyway, who says he shot at you? It could easily be me.”

He didn’t have time to play her games. With all of the gunfire, the police would be coming soon.

“There’s a possibility I deserve to be shot for many things, but I had nothing to do with your grandfather dying in that fire. Did you forget my old man died in it, too? That has to tell you we weren’t involved,” he said, hoping it sounded convincing.

“He’s lying! What did I tell you?” The teenager reached for the rifle, but Sen quickly twisted his skinny arm up behind his back. He squealed, bowing his body to escape the painful pressure.

“Quit hurting him!” She wrestled with Jake’s hold, trying to reach her brother. With a smooth step to the side, he avoided her kick. Then he grabbed the back of her neck and squeezed until she quit fighting.

“Look at me.” He shook her until her gaze met his. “You and your brother are in enough trouble. I don’t have time to turn you over my knee again.” Memory of a hot red handprint on her rear jarred him.

“Another reason you should be dead,” she said, her eyes narrowed.

He could tell she meant it. Interesting. Few men had the guts to say that to a Whitfield, no less a female.

“Kill him, Angel. One less Whitfield we have to put up with. You know how.” The teenager wheezed when Sen’s elbow met his stomach.

“You two have lost your minds,” Jake said with disgust. At that moment, the sound of sirens drifted across the cemetery, coming closer by the second.

He shouted over his shoulder, “Tick!”

The chauffeur straightened from checking the damage to the limo’s front end. “Yeah, boss?”

“Is the limo drivable?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Mr. Whitfield had it made special to take a beating.” Tick reached for the driver’s door.

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.” Jake dragged Sally-Angel over to the back door.

Her body brushed his. Before he could figure out her game, the heel of her palm slammed beneath his chin, jarring his whole skull. Stars floated in front of his eyes long enough for her to regain her freedom. She stepped toward her brother.

Jaw throbbing and his eyes blurred, he blindly reached out and wrapped a hand in her hair and hauled her back. This time, he clasped a wrist and lifted it high behind her back. When she kicked out, trying to bring him to his knees, he pulled her arm higher until she bit off a groan.

He brought his mouth to her ear. “Try that again, and I’ll make sure you feel the same kind of pain before I break your arm and then I’ll start on your brother’s limbs,” he said as he waited for his vision to clear.

Hell, the woman had a punch. His threat was no more than hot air. He had boundaries, and intentionally hurting women or children crossed the line. Her whimper alerted him that he might have reached that line with her. He released his hold. With her he hoped the Whitfield reputation for cruelty, actually the old man’s rep, ensured her cooperation. Usually it worked, but her attitude so far proved nothing frightened her.

Worry sharpened the glare she gave him, but she quickly pulled herself together when she spotted Sen loading the teenager into the other side of the limo. They scooted into the bench seat facing the back. Her shoulders slumped. Maybe she understood he threatened her more as a means to encourage her cooperation. Though he refused to wage war against the weak, the teenager was big enough for him to keep an eye on. Relieved she didn’t plan to fight any more, Jake pulled the backpack off her shoulders and threw it to Ethan.

“Check this and make sure there aren’t any weapons,” he ordered.

Then he shoved her inside. Once Ethan jumped into the front with Tick, the limo shot down the lane.

No less than a minute passed and Ethan held up a gun. How much more dangerous could the woman get? His brother tucked the gun into the console and shook his head.

Jake jabbed the seatbelt into the latch and leaned over to do the same for Sally-Angel with her trying to slap his hands away. He ignored her as it clicked in place. Then he barked at the others to do the same. The way Tick drove, an accident loomed in the near future.

As sirens faded behind them, he caught her wrist and held it on his thigh, her heartbeat popping furiously against his fingers. The way she eyed the door handle, he refused to let her have an opportunity to do anything else foolish.

They left the cemetery by way of the dirt service road exit behind Quinn Funeral Home. When they hit the interstate, Jake loosened his hold, took a deep breath, and leaned back. He grinned when she jerked away and shook her wrist.

A few more miles down the road, he mentally sighed with relief. No police followed. If needed, he would deal with the authorities later. At the moment, he had an important meeting to get to, and along the way, he wanted some answers from these two.

His gaze passed from her to her brother. The teenager glowered from the seat facing them. He wanted Jake’s blood pooling on the floor for touching his sister. No one said a word but Jake had a lot of practice reading people’s body language.

Old man Whitfield’s temper had swung from one end of the spectrum to the other in a split second. By paying attention to the downward sweep of his mood, it made a difference between walking out of a room and being thrown. These two were amateurs in hiding their concerns. They had a good reason to tremble. The boy twitched and squirmed until Sen snapped, “Be still.”

The woman next to Jake stiffened. So she didn’t like anyone raising their voice at her brother. Dangerous to let others know what could be used as leverage.

“So tell me, what made you believe I had something to do with your grandfather’s death?” He folded his arms and glanced at the woman next to him.

“We don’t have to tell you shit, you lying motherfucker!” Her brother moved toward Jake, but Sen slapped an arm across his chest and rammed him back into the seat.

“Damien,” she said, her tone cautionary as she shook her head. “Shh!”

“Watch your mouth and shut up,” Jake said at the same time, pointing a finger at the teenager. He remembered being that age and full of resentment at anyone telling him what to do. “Show some respect in how you talk in front of your sister.”

The teenager opened his mouth, looked at Sally-Angel, and then shut it. For the next minute or so only the sound of the radio filled the automobile as everyone tensely waited for what might happen next.

Jake turned in his seat to study her. He’d hoped the breather would give her time to mull over her decisions so far. She stared out the passenger window with her shoulders stiff and straight.

“Sally.”

When she continued to watch the passing scenery he gritted his teeth and tried for the other name. “Angel.”

She slowly faced him, hostility tightening her lips.

Not a bit amused by her insolence, Jake narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t have a lot of time to waste on this. I can turn this limo around and take you and your brother to the police.” She actually snorted? Damn, he kind of liked her spunk, but for the moment, he needed answers. “Tell me everything. Don’t make me do anything you’ll regret. There are messy ways for me to find out the truth.” When she made a move to look out the window again, he caught her jaw, felt it flexing beneath his fingers as he forced her to look at him. Oh, yeah, he took pleasure in seeing those light-colored eyes spitting fire with the need to tell him off.

But he didn’t have time for this. “Throw him out of the limo,” he said to Sen as he kept his gaze on Angel.

His brother opened the door and grabbed the back of the teenager’s shirt.

“Let me go, you slant-eyed bastard!”

“Damien!” She faced Sen with a look of unmitigated horror. “Oh, I’m so sorry. He’s upset or he’d never say that. Please close the door. Don’t hurt him.” She unbuckled her seatbelt and tried to dive over Jake’s lap. He held her back by the waist. “Damien, you apologize to him right now,” she shouted at her brother.

Lips stretched tight, Sen, whose mom had been Vietnamese, shoved the teenager’s head out the door. “That’s no way to talk to your elders, especially one holding your life in his hands,” he said.

The teenager’s arms waved in the air as he scrambled for a hold on the side of the door. His screams became partially lost in the stream of air sliding by the fast-moving car. Fighting Sen was hopeless for the teenager. The exotic looking man was the family’s collector and worked out daily. Collector was a nice word for the person who made sure others paid what was owed. It often involved broken bones and bruises, and the occasional disposal of a body.

“I’m sorry, sorry! I swear,” the teenager shouted. “I don’t know why that came out of my mouth. I never even wanted to say that before.” Tears glistened on his cheeks and snot ran from his nose like a two-year-old.

“Okay! Okay! He apologized. I’ll talk. Please don’t.” Angel held out her hands as if she could reach her brother and pull him back in.

Jake was a little disappointed she’d cracked so fast. Twice, she’d shown by controlling her brother, he controlled her. He understood how protecting a sibling was important, but self-preservation ensured they came back and fought harder.

When he and his brothers were kids, they often found their punishments worse whenever they defended each other against the old man. They realized to survive they needed to stand on their own two feet. Take what was coming and then plan vengeance as a team.

Not everyone learned that lesson growing up. Maybe that was a good thing. Otherwise, he would not have the upper hand like now. Besides, Sen would never throw out the boy, but after being shot at, they needed answers quickly. Fear was a great motivator to get someone to talk.

Angel turned to him, tears in her eyes.

Jesus H. Christ. That was the last thing he needed. He hated it when women cried. It turned his insides into mush as he did anything to make them stop. His mom only had to tear up for him to start looking around to make it better. He took in Angel’s smeared mascara and streaked face.

Was it real? She could be playing with his sympathy.

“Leave him alone,” she begged. “I’ll tell you whatever you want. I don’t understand why you’re pretending not to know, unless it’s all to prove you’re just as big of an asshole as your dad.”

He nodded toward his brother. With an effortless move, Sen tossed the teenager onto the seat and closed the door. The kid’s hands shook as he locked his seatbelt.

At the same time, Jake braced his arm over her collarbone and pressed Angel back into her seat.

“I don’t play games. If you think calling me and my brothers names will piss us off, then you’re mistaken. The old man was one of the biggest assholes in the Southeast, and I took all of my lessons from him. I’ll show you how big of one I can be if you don’t hurry up and talk.” His interested gaze drifted down to her chest. She inhaled as if attempting to make her breasts smaller.

To ensure that she understood, he leaned in and placed an arm around her shoulders. She needed to be aware of how helpless she was in the situation. For whatever reason, he’d never been so desperate to prove to a woman how much of a bastard, figuratively, he was too.

“I remember how pretty and red your skin looked, but I didn’t remember how soft,” he said in a low voice the others couldn’t hear. Using one finger, he followed the edge of her corset to the little satin bow in the center. The tip of a blunt finger slipped beneath the material and caressed her warm skin. Her breath became shaky, glittering eyes drifted halfway closed. Just as quickly her eyes popped open, glaring at him.

Interesting. He liked how responsive she was even as she fought it.

“Get your hands off my sister!” Though the teenager’s voice shook from his near fatal exit, Jake couldn’t help but respect the kid’s determination to protect his sister.

“Stay out of it,” Angel demanded, without taking her gaze from Jake’s.

“Start talking and make it quick,” he whispered. He inhaled and breathed in the light clean scent from her hair.

She swallowed and then closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Her lovely breasts buoyed up and almost stopped his heart. He forced his gaze to her face. She lifted her chin and opened her eyes.

“We have to get married.”

CHAPTER TWO

Angel slumped into the seat while she waited for the big guy to quit laughing. She hated how he acted so amused by the horrible fact. It wasn’t the first time the male species laughed at her. Growing up, people made fun of her all the time. They laughed about her hand-me-down clothes or her rhyming name. But the last few years, when she started working for her grandfather, they realized how much of a mistake it was to treat her so. Often it had been too late. That was, after she knocked them to their knees, bleeding.

So far, the only reasons why she’d been so patient with Jake―as patient as she knew how―and not tried drastic measures to escape were because they had her brother and she needed Jake’s cooperation. They were to marry. Even she knew better than to start off a relationship by giving the groom a black eye.

Hell, she needed to tell him the truth about who shot at him. Why did she care that he thought she was lying? Maybe she wanted him a little worried about what she would do next.

When they’d pulled up to the cemetery checking on the flowers at Granddaddy Mac’s grave, there were the Whitfields in all their glory. The oldest, who constantly landed on his feet no matter the circumstances, stood over the grave glaring at all of the mourners, while she struggled to hold together the family’s businesses and take care of the only family she had left. Desire to kill Jake had crossed her mind, and just as quickly dissipated. Rather ironic that someone else wished to put a bullet into his cold heart. For certain, if she had given into that weak moment, his brothers would be coming after her, and no one lived long after that. Instead of shooting Jake, she found herself saving his life. He’d never believe it. One moment she was watching the Whitfield funeral, and the next, she spotted the sniper in the trees. Before she knew what she was doing, the rifle, normally resting in the rack inside the van, was in her hands as she eyed the sniper through the scope’s crosshairs.

Sure, she’d been angry about the requirements of Mac’s will and planned to confront Jake, but not until later in the afternoon before they read his daddy’s will.

She watched him laugh. Thin lines fanned from the corners of his eyes; the type a person received from being out in the sun too much or from laughing. He had a wonderful laugh. Full and sexy. The sound helped her relax as his gaze heated more from amusement than lust.

“Hon, I haven’t seen you since high school. You’ll have to find you another baby daddy.” He finally released her and sat back.

“No, no. I didn’t say anything about a baby. You don’t understand―”

“Hey, how old are you?” The youngest Whitfield―Ethan?―leaned over from the front, arms and hands hanging down the back of the seat, interrupting her explanation, and waited for her brother to answer.

“He’s too tall. So he has to be too old.” Sen tilted his head.

“They grow ’em big nowadays,” Ethan bit back.

“True. Look at us.” Sen nodded.

“Fourteen.” Her brother’s eyes widened.

“Thirteen,” she said at the same time as her brother. “He won’t be fourteen until October. But that has nothing―”

The other Whitfield, holding her brother in place, nodded, and butted in. “The timing is about right.”

“No way.” Jake shook his head.

She looked at Jake and then her brother.

Shaking her head, she held out her hands as she tried to stop their speculation.

“Hell, no! Damien is my brother, remember?” Her mind refused to wrap around their logic. “Just because I said we had to marry, you jump to the conclusion I’m preggers or he’s our kid?”

Everyone started talking at once. Her head ached from trying to keep up with the insults and accusations. As she was about to release a frustrated scream, a piercing whistle shut everyone down. They turned toward Jake.

“None of that matters,” he said to her. “What the jackasses don’t know is we never had sex.” He looked at his brothers. “So the kid isn’t mine,” he confirmed in a firm tone.

“You bet he’s not. That’s just scary.” She wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms beneath her breasts.

What a disaster this was becoming. He refused to listen. She was shutting her mouth. He could just find out the truth the hard way about why they had to be married.

“They’re just yanking my chain.” He shifted in his seat and pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes. After lowering the window a little, he lit one and inhaled, closing his eyes for a few seconds. Then he looked at her from beneath heavy eyelids as he blew smoke from the corner of his mouth toward the opening. “What’s so scary about being with me?”

How could anyone look so sexy while smoking a cigarette? She sighed and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Bad boys never grew up. When his gaze dipped down, she dropped her arms. No need to draw his attention in that direction again.

“Scary?” Then she remembered what she’d said. “Well, it’s scary because I would’ve been a kid at the time I had him.” Sarcasm dripped from every word.

“The rumor was going around that you left to have a baby.” Masculine lips puckered to take another draw. The tip flared bright.

Oh my, he oozed sex and heat. Her attention refused to move away from how his lips parted to release the smoke. He looked even more dangerous doing something so bad for him.

“Mom was sick after having Damien, and she needed me at home to help out. I know when the rumors started. It was after some of the kids from school saw me holding him at the grocery store, assuming he belonged to me. You know, trailer trash equals baby.” Sure Granddaddy Mac had money, but he’d owned his first nickel and refused to help anyone including family. He firmly believed everyone had to work for it. What money he paid her dad to do odd jobs had been spent on drugs and alcohol, and when good old dad didn’t work or was in jail, they lived on welfare. Funny how little had changed. Even though she had money the last couple of years, guys still thought she slept around because she was a Tally. Idiots.

“I heard about your mom. That’s rough,” said Sen.

Angel glanced his way. His sincere expression helped ease the tension in her shoulders a little. Then she remembered hearing about his mom’s death a year before hers.

“She’d been sick a long time. I was sorry to hear about your mom, too.”

He lifted his chin in acknowledgement of her shared sympathy. Then he looked away.

She’d never heard how his mom had died. For her own, what could she say? That her mom had never been there for her, and her suicide only finished the job. She forced her gaze to the window.

“Where are you taking us?” she asked.

“We still have a lot to talk about. What with all the shooting and marrying involved. . .” The laughter in his tone warned he believed she was trying to pull a fast one on him. He pinched the fire on his cigarette and flicked both out the window. “So tell me the truth.”

“Maybe it’s simply I don’t want to be married to you,” she said, concentrating on keeping her face emotionless. How could he pretend he didn’t know about the two major parts of the codicil to Mac’s will? Marriage was nothing compared to the other requirement.

He leaned over, and she pressed her shoulders into the seat. If it was his attempt at intimidating her, it worked.

“Quit talking about marriage. That has nothing to do with you wanting to kill me. Should we open the car door again and see what answers we get from your brother?” He tugged at her hair, she jumped, and he sat back. His infuriating grin spread across his handsome face. His grin told her he liked unsettling her.

“I told him if you were dead, I wouldn’t have to marry you. Nothing more and that simple.” It was a lie, but Jake didn’t need to know. He’d eventually find out the truth. She didn’t plan on making it easy.

She dared not look at her brother. When he lost his temper, he blurted out things best kept quiet, or never voiced, or thought about for that matter. He’d already proven that. Besides, he hadn’t seen the sniper. She really needed to tell everyone the truth. Then again it would serve the Whitfields right to stew for a while. The push-pull she felt when dealing with Jake always drove her nuts. The thought of her doing anything that helped a Whitfield was almost abhorrent to her. Maybe holding back was part of her stubborn nature.

His blue eyes turned icy as he stared into hers. Then with a flicker, as if he thought of something new to torment her with, they warmed again.

He nodded. “We’re home. I don’t have time to argue now. Later, I’ll certainly get straight answers. Yeah, later.” His gaze brushed over my lips. “You’re lying about this nonsense, but I don’t know why. You and I are going to have a long talk. For now, my brothers and I have a meeting to attend first. So don’t even try to leave.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Her mind wasn’t on what he’d said or how he looked at her but on the house at the end of the long drive. Built forty years earlier in the Victorian-style with numerous turrets, large windows and wraparound porch, even the roof was covered with slate instead of asphalt shingles. She’d loved the house from the first and only time she’d seen it.

Not long after the incident at the school, she’d gone with Mac to meet with Dick Whitfield. Instead of listening to the old men yammering about what they should do about their two young’uns, she’d sat quietly hoping for a glimpse of Jake. He wasn’t her type―he was a Whitfield―but as any normal girl, she enjoyed looking at him. Back then he wore his hair long. Sun-kissed brown hair, tall, with an athletic build, he played several sports, but was often kicked out because he didn’t follow instructions well. All the good girls wanted him and bad girls had him for a night or two. Maybe deep inside she’d wanted his attention. She’d been neither a good nor bad girl, just a Tally. Hated for her blood. That didn’t stop her from having a little crush on him. She did know something had changed in her after he’d taken her over his knee.

Her legs quivered as she remembered those strong arms holding her, the feel of his bare hand on her near naked backside. The memory brought a tingling between her legs.

Nothing like that was going to happen and certainly not with Jake Whitfield, no matter how attracted she was to him. Even living in the same small town, she’d seldom caught sight of him over the years, and on the rare occasion their gazes met, he never spoke to her. Maybe the families’ long standing habit of mistrusting each other remained ingrained in his subconscious, despite that they both had felt a connection on that fateful day. She liked to think he had though he hadn’t exhibit such a sentiment in all this time. Then again, their families’ lack of communication had a lot to do with their unspoken mutual desire to keep down hostilities while money continued to flow into their businesses.

Exhaling in frustration, she decided at that moment she’d rather tell him to take a flying leap off the town’s water tower.

Her gaze followed the long driveway with various trucks, SUVs, and luxury cars lined up on one side. When the limo passed a large black SUV, a huge man exited the driver side and watched as they drove to one end of the house. She doubted if Big Judd Richards could see through the tinted black windows. So she didn’t bother waving, and instead stared in amazement at the six-car garage.

Who in their right mind needed that many vehicles? She couldn’t imagine paying their insurance and maintenance bills.

She twisted in her seat hoping to see the cars parked behind each closed bay, but the driver stopped several yards away next to a side door leading into the house. A tall, thin woman stepped out onto the small porch and watched them exit the limo. Their housekeeper had been with them for years and everyone in Marystown knew her. Probably the only woman over fifty not rumored to have slept with old man Whitfield.

“Tick, show them to the den downstairs, and make sure they don’t leave. Tell Jimmie Sue to give them something to drink and snack on until supper.” Jake’s gaze swept over Angel, and a teasing glimmer returned to his eyes. She almost melted from the look. “Behave yourself. All of our guns are locked up, so I expect you to be there when I’m finished with my meeting, understand?”

She hid her surprise. He didn’t really believe she was dangerous, no matter how much he accused her of shooting at him. She found his attitude to be a curious contradiction.

“Do I have an option?” She wanted to go home and forget how he found it so easy to push her around. And for some unknown reason, she let him. Truthfully, she needed to be as angry at herself as she was with him. But what good would it do?

He laughed and turned away, walking with his brothers toward the front of the house. Satisfied that he didn’t know everything, she grinned. He was going to be plenty angry when he found out the truth.

Seeing Judd there reminded her he hadn’t called with the time and place to complete the requirements of her granddaddy’s will. She couldn’t wait to hear one certain asshole’s reaction to it.

Her attention drawn by Jake’s broad shoulders slid over his jacket stretched tight to the point she wondered if the seams would split like the Hulk’s. The image of his shirt and pants tattered, slipping off with each step, revealing taut pecs and biceps glistening in the waning light caused her face to warm.

Tick cleared his throat behind her. Uncomfortable being caught dreaming about Jake’s clothes falling off his naked form, she forced her gaze to the big man called Tick and glared. His knowing grin irritated her.

“Come this way, and I’ll get you settled.” He tossed her the backpack, and she smoothly caught it. It felt lightweight. Her small Beretta was probably still missing inside. Tick continued to talk. “Wait until you see the room. It has an eighty-six-inch TV and stadium seating and a sound system that will blow you away. There’s also a popcorn machine. Jimmie Sue keeps two jars of cookies on the bar.” Tick put an arm around Damien’s shoulders and waited for her to walk ahead.

Her brother stared at the house with amazement. She knew he’d never been in the mansion. Even though their granddaddy had money and property―still nothing like the Whitfields―old man Mac Tally lived in a mid-size home. The man was frugal to the point he could make a penny scream. She and Damien lived in the double-wide they grew up in. It wasn’t until their mom died last year that Mac asked them to move into his house. She and Damien refused. Being under his thumb while she worked for him would be a bit too much.

She blinked a few times to get rid of the extra moisture. Despite her grandaddy being a hard-ass, she missed him.

The sun reflecting off the sparkly clean windows emphasized the difference in how they grew up. For that matter, Angel had a hard time not looking around. She guessed she would always have a feeling of awe. Only it was more about the man who lived in it than it was the house.

And what a shame Jake was similar to all the men she knew who never listened to what women said. When would he find out his bachelor days were over?

 

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