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**


Apple Books

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“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.


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.”


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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