Archive | February 2020

Marsden By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz &Giveaway

 

When Marsden Wilkerson received the phone call that his mother had been in a car accident, he wasn’t letting anything get in his way to get to her. Not a pushy boss, and especially not his Aunt Eita. Then his world crumbled when the doctors told him that his mother, Holly, didn’t make it.
Gabriella Farley, Abby, could hold her own, and she wasn’t about to take any flack from a rich bitch like Penelope Wilkerson.

All the Wilkerson women, with the exception of Holly, could fit that description. Abby stood up for Mars at the funeral home even though she really didn’t know him. What she did know was his mother, Holly, was a fine woman, and the family had given them both the shaft Mars’s entire life.

Mars wanted to apologize for his Aunt’s actions, but there was something about Abby that sparked a flame in his heart. From the first kiss, they knew they had something special, but going against the Wilkerson family could be very dangerous. Will this new love be doomed from the start?

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Mars moved along the line and picked up what he needed for his work. Today he was putting together the ingredients for the coloring for the next pieces of acrylic they were sending out. He was the chemical engineer that mixed the chemicals together that created the colors that the customer ordered. He loved his job too. After it was approved, he’d give the specs to the next team, and they’d mix it all up on much larger batches, then use it on the large pieces of acrylic that would be made into huge sheets. He would do that as well, calculate the mass quantities of the ingredients so the plastic-looking sheets—to be made into whatever was needed— would have a uniform color. Like, he always liked to tell people, the holding aquarium tanks that were used in zoos across the country were made of the same acrylic that he colored and helped manufacture. As he was finishing up on the teal color that he needed, he was paged that he had a phone call. Since he couldn’t take his mask and gloves off in the cleanroom, he made his way out into the hall from where he worked and picked up the phone.

“Mr. Wilkerson? This is Officer Jamie Brown. There has been an accident.” He fell against the wall where he was working and asked the officer what had happened. “You mom, sir. She’s been involved in a hit and run, and I’m afraid it’s not good news. You need to get here as soon as possible if you can. They’ve taken her to surgery, and as I said, it doesn’t look good for her. I’m so terribly sorry.” “Where is she?” He told him where his mom was and how long she’d been there. “I’m on my way. It’ll only take me about twenty minutes to get there, providing there is not much…. I’ll be there soon.” He didn’t know why he was explaining things to the officer. Nerves, he guessed. As he was pulling off his coat and gloves, his boss came around the doorway and asked him where he was going in an all-fired hurry. “Hospital. My mom has been in an accident, and she’s in surgery now.” Chris put up his hand to block Mars from moving around him.

“Did you hear me? I said that my mom has been in an accident and I need to go.” “You work for me, right?” Mars nodded and wished that anyone other than Chris Blevins had caught him leaving. Everyone else would have said go, call me when you know something. But not Chris. “Yeah, I thought so. That means that I get to tell you when you can leave. Not you leaving, then someone else telling me where you’ve gone. Go back in there and get the rest of your work finished up, Wilkerson. I don’t have time to explain to you what sort of trouble you can get into for abandoning your job, now do I?” “No, you don’t. But I didn’t plan on leaving without telling someone why I was leaving. You caught up with me before I could.” Chris just nodded at him, as if he didn’t believe him. “I have to go. The officer that I just spoke to told me she’s in surgery and that it looks bad. I need to be with my—” “I need you to be here doing the job that you were hired to do.

And since we pay you, we trump your mommy being in the hospital. Besides, aren’t you a little old to be sucking at your momma’s tit?” Chris laughed, and Mars wanted to slug him. Glancing down, he saw that he’d not yet turned off his camera, always on when he was in the lab and was recording the moron in front of him. “Now that we have that figured out, you get your ass back in there and get to work on your job. As I pointed out earlier, we pay you, which does not include you running off for every little boo-boo that someone has in your family.” Mars reached blindly for the phone that was near him. Fingering the buttons, he found the two that he wanted and called the lead supervisor to where he was. Chris didn’t seem to be impressed with his move, but Mars waited. Oliver Reese entered the hallway just as Chris was screaming at him to get to work. “I’m telling you right now, Mars, if Oliver does come down here to see you, he’s not going to be at all pleased. Just today he was telling me that he’s sick of whiney assed employees thinking that they have any rights at all with anything. You fucking get that ass of yours back in that lab before I have to put you in there. I’m not shitting you. I will have your ass fired if you even think of leaving here because your mommy needs you to hold her fucking hand while she gets a few stitches.” Mars told him that the police said she was in bad shape and that he was leaving.

“You do that, and I’ll make sure that you never work as an engineer for so long as I live. You’re a fucking employee, not a boss. Get in there, like I said to you, or so help me, you’ll regret it.” “That’s quite enough, Chris.” Chris turned to look at Oliver when he spoke. “Your mother has been in an accident, Mars? I’m sorry to hear that. Get going, and give her my best and tell her that I’m thinking of her.” “Thank you, sir.” Nodding, Mars moved around Chris, who tripped him. Getting up, Mars had to count to ten before he could look at Chris again. Then he backed away from him. “You’re not worth the mud on my boots.” Leaving the building, he was running to his car when his phone rang. It was his Aunt Evelyn or Eita for short. Telling her that he was on his way to the hospital, she told him that the police wouldn’t tell her anything. Not even if the accident victim was his mom. “They just called me.” She demanded, which was her way, to know what the hell was going on. “I don’t know. I’m on my way to the hospital now.” “You left work? Marsden, I’m sure your mother will be just fine. Tell me where she’s at, and I’ll go there to take care that she’s okay. You know how she can be.” She laughed that bitter biting laugh that she did when speaking about him or his mom. “You can barely afford to leave your job in the middle of the day, Marsden. Have some responsibility, please. Stay there, and I’ll take care of every—” Hanging up on her felt wonderful. Traffic was tight, but he knew this town like he knew his room. Mars also made sure that he was careful not to speed and to keep his cool. All he needed was for him to be in an accident too, and they’d both be laid up. When his phone rang again, he saw that it was his Uncle Clayton.

. Answering it while pulling into the parking lot, he was too stressed to be nice to anyone right now. “Your aunt said that you hung up on her, Marsden. That is no way to treat your elders. You just let her take care of this for your mother and get back to work. She said that you cursed at her at well.” Mars didn’t say anything. “Listen, young man, I will not tolerate you treating your aunt this way. Now, get back to work. She told me that you left there without telling anyone. You can’t afford to lose your job, Marsden. Especially without either of you having any kind of job.” Hanging up without any comment, not that it would have done any good, he made his way into the hospital. After being directed where to go, he made his way up to the surgical floor. The staff there told him that it would be a little while, but the police would speak to him now that he was there. While he waited, Mars checked his messages. There were several from work. Deciding that he didn’t want to be bothered about that right now, he ignored them. There were two from Uncle Clayton and four from his wife, Aunt Eita. They would gang up on him when they arrived, treating him as if he were a ten-year-old instead of the twenty-something-year-old man that he was. His uncles were his mom’s brothers. She was the baby of the family, and they still treated her that way even now. They also all thought that they were so much better than he and his mom were. Mom having gotten pregnant with him when she’d been just barely sixteen years old, had also meant that they never respected her, especially not his aunts.

Each of his uncles had married women that, to him, seemed to be cut from the same mold. Snobbish women who thought that they were the only people in the world who could get a job done right or whatever “project” they set their minds to. Mostly it was keeping him and Mom in their place, which was several hundred steps below where they thought they were. They were forever in their business and talking to them like they had a learning disability. Neither of them had any such problems. But, unlike them, he and his mom kept out of their business, family, and whatever else they had going on. Mom had worked hard after he was born, and his grandfather had kicked her to the curb. All her brothers were married by then and had never once helped her out. Well, they helped her out with useless advice, but that was about all. His mom had gone to night school to finish her high school education, then on to college to get a nursing degree. He wondered if any of them had any idea the accomplishments that his mom had made. Her same work ethic had been taught to him. You want something, you go after it. And he had. Mars had wanted to be a chemist from the first time he’d had a chemistry set as a kid. He not only pursued a degree in his desired job, but he also had continued to work on his education, with his mom’s support, to receive his doctorate in the same field. He was now Marsden Wilkerson, Doctor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. He and his mom had celebrated for a week when he’d graduated at the top of his class thirteen years ago. Mars had been more proud of his mom when she’d become head nurse at the hospital that he was at right now, as well as department head for nursing at the college where they’d both gone.

When his phone rang again, he let it go to voice mail. It was Chris, his boss again. He wanted nothing to do with him right now. Going to the desk to ask the nurses there if they’d heard anything, he sighed when they shook their heads. Gladys told him that she had only just asked the OR for news. “Your mother is a strong woman, Mars. You know that. She’ll be just fine.” He nodded and told her that he hoped so. “I do, as well. There has never been another person here that works as hard as she does. Not only at being a damned fine nurse, but helping the rest of us when it comes to issues.” “She was telling me last night that you guys were having a party for one of the doctors who is leaving. Mom said it was more of a celebration for the nurses that he was finally retiring than them being happy for him.” Gladys and the other women laughed. “Has my family been calling you a lot? Just tell them that I’m here and that I’ll call them if there is anything they need to know.” “I told that aunt of yours, Christa, that she had better curb her demands at the door before she comes up here or I’ll call security on her. Demanding that I send you home. I don’t know how your mother came from the same family as those brothers of hers. I swear, I don’t.” He didn’t either but said nothing. He was watching the police come toward him. “Mars, you take them in the nurses’ office there. Lock the door. That way, no one will bother you. I’ll send the surgeon in when he’s done too.” They shook his hand, Officer Brown and his partner Officer Dutch. About ten minutes after taking them into the room to talk, the doctor came in to speak to him as well. Mars wondered at the timing but waited for the news.

~*~ Eita saw Marsden sitting in the little room when she got off the elevator. He had his back to her, and for reasons that she couldn’t explain that pissed her off more. Clayton stopped at the desk, and she made her way into the room. It was about time that Marsden started having respect for his elders. She wasn’t going to tolerate anything more from him today. “What do you think you’re doing here? Didn’t I tell you to go back to work? I swear to Christ, Marsden, you’re going to lose that job of yours, and then where will you be while your mom is laid up? I’m not going to bail you out of anything. I did tell you that I had this taken care of, didn’t I? Several times, I believe. What did she do to cause the accident, anyway? Texting and driving, no doubt.” Marsden just looked at her, his eyes cold. “Don’t you dare look at me like that! You know as well as the rest of us do that you’re barely making it on the money you have coming in. You’re both still living in that shabby little place, aren’t you? Well, when your mother comes home, she’s going to stay with us. I’ll make sure that she has proper care and someone getting her up and moving again.

” “Marsden?” He turned his head and looked at Clayton. He had better not baby him, or Eita would tear him a new ass when she got home. “They won’t tell me anything
about your mother. They said that you did that. You go out there right now and tell them that I’m her brother and that I’m—” “So you did remember that she’s your sister, did you?” Clayton looked shocked, but Eita didn’t. Marsden had never had any respect for them. Any of them. That was going to stop now as well. “I’m her son, and I’m the only one that can make decisions on her behalf. Also, you might be her brother, but that doesn’t mean shit to me right now. So you can fuck off.” Eita slapped Marsden. As his face reddened with her handprint there, she felt a satisfaction that she’d not been able to feel since the first time she’d spanked this kid. Of course, he was an adult, but that was absolutely no reason for him to behave like he was from the streets. Though, the way things were going, she didn’t doubt that he’d end up there after a time. She lifted her chin up a few more notches when he stood up.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Marsden? You’ll apologize to your uncle right this minute. As much as I’d like to blame this on your mother’s little accident, you’ve always been a disrespectable little shit. Tell him right now that you’re sorry, or so help me, Marsden, I’ll make you regret it.” Marsden looked at her. While she tapped her foot so that he’d know she meant business, he finally spoke to her. “You ever draw back your hand to hit me again, and I will fucking hit you back. You can demand no more respect of me than you’re willing to return.” He then looked at Clayton. “My mother died on the operating table twenty minutes ago. Her little accident took her life.” Eita looked at Clayton when Marsden left them both standing there. Surely he had that wrong. There was no way that Holly would leave her only son to fend for himself. Sitting next to Clayton when he sat down, she wondered what she was going to have to do now. Christ, they’d have to make arrangements for her funeral, and more than likely pay for it too. “He’d better not be doing anything that my ass has to cover.

” Clayton didn’t say anything. “I’ll have to go down to the funeral home and make the arrangements for this, or he’ll have it so expensive that we’ll have to dip into our savings account. I don’t know who would even come to it either. I wonder if it would be all right if we just made it a graveside service without calling hours. That will suit everyone just fine. Where do you suppose her body is now?” “I don’t know.” She really didn’t think that Clayton would know, but he stood up. “I’ll go and see what sort of things we can do to make this happen. I can’t believe that Holly is gone. You assured me that the police said it was nothing more than a fender bender when you spoke to them.” “I didn’t actually speak to them, Clayton. I told you that.” He said that she had. “No, what I told you was that Marsden wouldn’t allow me to speak to them. But from what I heard on the scanner in my office, it was only two cars. Nothing to think that she’d be killed in it.” “Well, you were wrong. Weren’t you?” Nodding at him, Eita didn’t point out that he was being rude to her. She would allow him to be cranky for a little while longer, then she’d have to shake him out of it. “I’ll have to call and tell the rest of the family.

What did he mean about me remembering that she’s my sister?” “He’s still going on about not inviting her to our Christmas parties. I told them both, several times, that it’s not their type of crowd. People with money, like our friends, do not want to be reminded that there are people out there with less than them. Especially at Christmas.” Clayton told her that he thought it was more than that. “Who knows about those two, Clayton? They were forever with their hands out to someone or another. It wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t even any insurance to pay for things. And him not working? I just don’t know what to do about that. Do you have any idea what he even does for a living? I’m betting that he’s nothing more than a fast-food restaurant manager, or something lowly like that.” “I don’t know what he does. I don’t even know what Holly did for a living.” She could hear a tone in his voice, but since he didn’t use it on her, she didn’t care. “Don’t you think that’s sad? That I have no idea what my sister has done with her life?” “No, I don’t think that’s sad at all, Clayton. She made her bed, and she had to do things on her own to be taught a lesson. The smartest thing your father ever did was to put her out when she found out she was going to have Marsden. Did I tell you that I looked it up once? The name on the certificate for his father is unknown. She should have made a name up rather than putting unknown. Now everyone will know what sort of person she was by that statement.” He asked her what sort of person she meant. “You know what I mean.

The type that sleeps around so much that she hasn’t any idea who to blame her mistake on. And he was a mistake. She could have been so much a part of this family if she’d taken care not to get herself in that position. I’ve always thought that Marsden’s father was a married man that didn’t want to have anything to do with raising a child from one of his flings. Clayton, I’m telling you right now, I think Holly got just what she deserved in life by getting herself in that position.” “I don’t think that she wanted to die, Eita. No one wants that.” She didn’t answer him. Holly more than likely planned the accident so she could get sympathy from her brothers. Well, had that happened, Eita and the other women of the family would have put an end to that too. Eita and the other wives had been making sure that Holly and her bastard son stayed right where they were since Holly announced that she was going to have a baby. No amount of tears that she shed that day would have made Eita any less hard on the child. As she told Clayton, since Holly screwed up, that was her problem. And she wouldn’t take the rest of them down with her. Pulling out her phone, she pulled up her party line numbers that they all used when they had juicy gossip. This news was going to pop all their buttons when they heard what she had to share. Smiling, she waited for them to answer. When talking to them, she never had to fake her concern or pretend to feel any different than she really did when talking about Holly and Marsden. None of them cared for the sister or her son. “We’ve all heard about Holly. Can you believe that?” Eita, having her news already spread about, asked Tina who she’d heard it from. “Marsden called him a few minutes ago. He told us that she’d been in an accident, which we all knew, and that she’d not made it out of surgery.

Also, he said that funeral arrangements would be ready in a couple of days.” “He thinks he’s going to go down there and run up a high bill and that we’ll all pay for it. I have news for him, I’m going to make sure I do it so that there isn’t any way that he’ll put a huge bill out for one of us to pay. I was thinking just a quick graveside. I doubt very much either of them had any friends. Of course, there will be ours, but they won’t go to someone’s funeral that they don’t know. Do you think?” They all agreed with her, just as she liked it. “He’s also not working. I told him that I had this taken care of, and what did he do? He left work to come here like we didn’t already make arrangements to be here. I swear to you, he does stuff like that just to piss me off. He also threatened me. I slapped him when he was nasty to his uncle. I don’t think he has a lick of manners. Holly did him wrong by keeping him when he was born, and now we’re all going to pay for her stupidity.” When she’d told them all she knew, Eita was surprised to see Clayton sitting out in the lobby. He never left her alone without asking her permission to do so. It just wasn’t done in their society. Well, just a little bit longer, she told herself, and he’d be back to his old self again. Going to the elevator, knowing that he’d come to her, she was in it with the doors closed before she could stop the doors from closing on her. “Damn it. Why do I have to suffer?

Damn it, Holly, why did you have to go and ruin all our lives when you decided to get yourself knocked up?” No one was in the elevator with her, she noticed and was saddened by that. There was no one to ask her what had happened. Well, she’d do it later when she had to drag Clayton out of here. Didn’t he remember that they had dinner plans with the Staffords tonight? Getting frustrated with him when she had to wait another twenty minutes on him, Eita decided that she’d just take the car and go home. Let him deal with getting home. She had things to do to get ready for tonight. She wouldn’t have to get all dressed up too much tonight, she realized. Thanks to Holly’s death, everyone would expect her to be sad and a little absentminded. Not that most of their friends knew how she felt about Holly. Eita planned on taking their sympathy to the next level. Something good may come out of this anyway. They would think that she and Clayton were real troopers for coming out on this day of all days. Eita wondered if she had a lovely black dress she could put on. Black wasn’t really her color, but she wanted to look washed out and in mourning. Although she was actually sort of glad to have Holly out of her life now. Out of all their lives. No more embarrassing looks when she was with her friends, and they saw her on the street. She’d not have to answer any more questions as to where the sister was either when she and Clayton had parties. Then there was the added bonus of having a real excuse to play up why they weren’t there. She was just getting ready to start the car and go home when she saw Clayton coming out of the hospital. He didn’t look her way but continued to speak to the man he was with. Whatever they were talking about, she’d find out later. It had to do with Holly and Marsden, she was sure. Eita had forgotten all about the hospital bill until this very moment.
She supposed it would be up to her to make sure that got paid off as well. Would anyone ever appreciate everything she did behind the scenes for them? More than likely not, she thought.

Dean By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

Isabella Booth was tired of all the sexist crap handed to her on a daily basis.  When her father wouldn’t even consider her as an heir to his lawn care business because she wasn’t a man, and left it to her brother Hunter instead, she had done the next logical thing. She opened her own lawn care business, and it thrived.

Dean Marshall was renovating his family home. As far as the landscaping was concerned, he was told to go big or go home. When Shep invited the owner of the landscaping company to his home for dinner, Dean wanted to be there to see about getting some things done for his place. He didn’t mean for his jaguar to knock the woman to the ground.

Bella was thoroughly pissed when the big cat ruined her jeans and favorite shoes, and when he announced that they were mates, Bella was seeing red. No way, no how, was she having another sexist, overbearing man in her life. Not if she could help it….

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Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.

Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.

His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.

The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dean had most of the bedrooms finished with the exception of furniture. He’d been working on making the rooms a little larger and decided that having three larger bedrooms was much nicer than having six small ones. He wondered at times when working how he and his brother Rodney, like Shep and Oakley, had managed to sleep in the same room and not smother one another. There was barely enough room in the closets for one person’s clothing, much less two of them. Not that Heath or Trenton were any smaller. They just seemed to have been able to work out the room size to suit themselves. Mom had done right by them, though. There might not have been as much room in the bedrooms as they needed, or even wanted, but there was plenty enough food for them to eat, as well as a roof over their heads. Their father hadn’t ever cared about that. At times he’d think about his father.

How he had been in prison for a time then got out, only to screw up again to get himself dead. To have found out that he’d murdered their mom was enough for anyone to turn against him. But for his father to think that it was justified because she’d been mean to him didn’t cut it as far as he was concerned. Just as he was coming down the stairs, he heard his grandda on the front porch. Taking the family home had afforded him plenty of company coming around all the time. All were welcome as far as he was concerned, and he always had fresh tea in the icebox in the event they might show up with a thirst. “Hey, Grandda, how’s it hanging?” He just loved this old man and was surprised to see him blush when he spoke to him like he did. “I’d think that after living with Harris all this time, you’d be used to the dirty comments and bad jokes.” “That girl. I tell you, Dean, I swear she was raised up by heathens. But I love her to pieces, and I can’t find a single thing about her that don’t make me smile. I came over to see if you had a date tonight.” Dean told him that he did, with him. “I know you and your brother Rodney are the babies of the family and all, but you all still need to get out there and date some. How you gonna find Mrs. Right if you’re all holed up in this house working all the time?” “Let me show you what I’ve been up to for a mate, if she ever comes around, to make our home one that can stand on its own.”

He took him to the bedrooms that he’d just left. “I’ve not told anyone, but Harris loaned me the money to get started on the house. She told me that once I got started on it, have a project or two done, then people that sold the equipment that I had would want me to try out their products. She promised me that she’d help me find the right fit for me.” Grandda walked into the bedroom that had been his and Rodney’s. It didn’t look a thing like it had before, because of the interior and exterior project that he had going on here. Grandda turned to him after looking around. “See? That’s the great part of it. It just blends right in with the everyday house. There are several components in this room that will make it more efficient. There aren’t any vents in any of the rooms here because everything is under the flooring. You know
as well as I do that when you get out of bed and put your feet on the cold flooring, it can make you feel about ten times colder than it really is.” Grandda agreed with him. “The water from the floors all goes to the basement to be heated up for the hot water tank. It’s cleaned, too, so that you can drink it.” “Where does this water come from? I mean, eventually, you’re going to run out, right?” Dean told him not if he was smart about it. “Tell me about what you did.” “There is a stream that flows under the house. I had no idea it was there until I had someone come out and show it to me.

It comes from the mountains behind the houses and flows into this stream year-round. Even if there is a drought, there is always plenty of water coming down to the stream.” He showed Grandda the windows next. “These are double-paned windows. Much better than the ones that we had in here before. The seals around them are better than anything I’ve ever worked with before. Even better, Harris told me, than what she has in her home. I did a lot of research on it.” There were other things in the room, too, things that he was happy to show his grandda. And like he had hoped he would, Dean got enough praise from him to make all the depression he’d been fighting lately just vanish. “Shep and Harris’s property. They have enough stuff on it that they don’t have to go beyond for things like meat and vegetables. You getting that done up too?” Dean was glad that he’d gotten his garden in. It had been late, but he’d been amazed at how many late crops he could still grow. “This is really amazing, son. I’m very proud of you.” “Thanks, Grandda. Some of the men that work with the Marshall House have been coming over here when they have time and showing me how to get my orchard in order. I have to admit, I was going to start out slow on that—just get me a few trees to start with. But Joe—he works for Shep—he told me to go big or just go home. So now I have two hundred fruit trees all planted, as well as a watering system that is much like the one in the house that keeps them watered. The garden that I’ve got in, it’ll be much too large for just me this year to harvest. Even with help, I think I’m going to have to learn how to cook so that I can use as much of it as I can.” Grandda asked him about meat. “I’m working on that.

I have to have young animals so they can get used to me, but I’ve already bought them—again, with help from a farmer not far from here. Next spring, I’m going to have fifty head of cattle brought in, and fifty pigs. There will be a hen house too, as well as ducks. I had no idea how helpful ducks were to a farm.” Taking his grandda out to the barn, he told him about the tradeoff he’d had with Marshall House. “So they can store things here in this barn for free if they let you use it when you need to. I like that. Bartering has been around forever, I’m betting. What are those things out there in that field?” He told him they were solar panels that would supply electricity, and thus heat, to the house. “No electric bill? I’m betting that the electric company don’t like that none too much.” “I don’t have to justify anything to them. And the extra that I have, which is a great deal since I live here alone, is being sold to a company that the Marshall House sells theirs to for a profit. It’s not as much as Shep is making, but I’ll get there.”

“You did this all in a month? My goodness boy, what will you have done in a year or two? This is wonderful.” Dean hugged his grandda. “You might be having yourself a grand house before this here thing is done. My goodness.” “Doing most of it by myself has helped me a great deal. If anything goes wrong or I have to extend things, then I’ll know how to do that without having to call in the professionals. I’m having a good time too.” Showing his grandda what else he’d been doing, it wasn’t hard for Dean to admit when he’d made mistakes here and there. There had been plenty of them at first, but he was getting better all the time. “I’m adding onto the back of the house. The kitchen is much too small for this house with all the improvements I’ve made. Plus, I wanted to be able to have an eat-in kitchen like Mom always had. Plus, a dining room to hold a few people if I wanted to have anyone over to watch the game or whatever.” Getting cleaned up to have dinner with his grandda, he thought of all the work he had to do today. But he wasn’t going to let it stress him out. The one thing that he’d learned from his mom—just one of the million and one things he’d learned from her— was to take time for your loved ones. You had no idea if they were going to be there when you woke up the next morning. She’d not been, as it turned out, and he was sorry for that daily. They made their way to the local steak house. It was a nice little drive. The trees were starting to turn colors—he could make them out now, knowing which colors were made by which trees. He’d been thrilled to learn that he had plenty of maple trees on his land, and was planning, again with the help of Joe, to get as much syrup from them as he could come late winter.

He started to tell his grandda that as he drove them in, but decided that if he didn’t have enough to give everyone, he’d just give it to him. Grandda was his hero. “I’ve been working at the grocery store for a while now. I just love seeing all the people around town. And I will admit that I’m a talker. But the things that you hear there, it would curl your tail if you let it. I’ve been thinking on getting some way to get some baskets ready for the holiday coming up. With what I’ve heard around, I’m betting that there is plenty I can do to get a few extra vegetables on a few tables.” Dean told him that he’d help if he wanted. “I might take you up on it. But I’m still in the planning stages right now. I mean, I know I can tell you about something, and you’d not blab it all over town. Some of these people are downright broke. Not even enough coming in for them to see to their bills, much less food on the table.” “Mom used to do stuff like that. Not give people the feeling that she knew they were broke—she’d be slick at it. Like she’d hear something, and one of us and her would gather up some things to share. Not so much they’d be suspicious about her showing up with a lot of stuff, but enough that they’d think she was doing just what she said she was doing—cleaning out the closets or something. Mom would bake up a few pies too. She’d say it was because whatever tree that the pie was made of had been especially fruitful that year.”

Dean smiled when he thought of the conversation he’d had with her once about having a cherry tree. “We didn’t even have most of what she’d bake the pies from. Like she would tell them that we boys had been out in the woods and come across some blackberries. She decided to share our good find with these people.
Then there was the cherry tree that she’d say was so pretty in the spring she just knew she was going to get a lot of pies from it. And there she was with a dozen of them.” “There ain’t no cherry tree on that property, is there?” Dean told him that there was now, but no, not when Mom had been baking there hadn’t been. “My Jill Ann. She was a good-hearted soul, she was. I miss her every day. I’m betting you do too.” “Every time I tear out a wall or put in a new electrical outlet, I think of her. She’d be all over helping me with this project, telling me what my mate someday would think of all this. Every time I pull out a wall and replace something on it, I write her name and the day that she passed on. So that someday someone will know that a great woman lived there.” Grandda told him that was a special thing he was doing. “It’s what any of us would do for her, I think. Our mom, she was something special.”

After they were finished with their meal and Grandda had a nice slice of pie with his, Dean told him of the things that he was working on outside the house. Grandda told him of all the things that he’d been up to, and by the time they parted ways, him dropping Grandda off at Shep’s house, Dean decided that they needed to do that once a week from now on. That way, they could catch each other up on their weeks. He might even suggest it to the others. ~*~ Hunter didn’t want his sister there, but there was little he could do about it. Talking Dad down and telling her that he demanded to see her had her coming, not running off so he had to fill Dad with stuff she’d told him. Well, stuff that he had in his head that she’d told him, none of it very good. He also mentioned to her that Dad had said that she was too old for birthday celebrations. He’d almost forgotten what today was. Of course, of all days, his dad was running behind. The man was never late for anything. Isabella Booth, his sister, was a pretty thing. He supposed she would almost have to be. He was handsome and well built, and their parents were both good looking, even for their age, Hunter thought. There was very little reason to have ever thought that she’d be ugly. Hunter wanted to think that he had something to do with it, but really, he was just her brother, not her parent. It hadn’t ever bothered him what she looked like so long as she wasn’t a boy.

Hunter knew his father well enough to know that he would never have left the family business to his sister. Hunter had made sure that Dad thought that Bella was just a greedy airhead that didn’t know a hoe from a whore. That was the way he’d been able to slant things in his favor. Hunter didn’t care how stupid or smart Bella or Dad was, so long as, now that he’d left the business to him, they stayed the fuck out of his business. While he didn’t know what this meeting was going to entail, he knew that it might be something he didn’t want his sister in on. “I’ve had enough.” When Bella stood up and walked to the door, he actually stared at her with his mouth open. No one ever walked out on Dad when he wanted to talk to them. Especially not his children. “If he comes in, you tell him I said to fuck off. I’m a fucking grown woman, and I’m not taking this shit anymore.”

Like he’d say that to his dad. He would, of course, but he’d be much nastier about it than she’d been. When she walked out of the house, Hunter just sat there, where he’d been when the butler told them that Dad was running behind. As soon as he heard her car startup, Hunter smiled. One more thing to dig the hole that would bury Bella when it came to anything that Dad left them in the will. He’d get it all, which was all he ever wanted in the first place. To be the man on top of everything. Getting up, he’d started for the bar when he heard their dad coming back. “What the hell are you doing, Hunter? It’s only nine in the morning.” Hunter said that he’d been trying to catch Bella. “What do you mean, catch her? I thought she’d stay and talk to me. Doesn’t she know what today is? It’s her birthday. I thought of all days she’d want to talk to me.” “I don’t think she wants to be around us anymore. She said that she was sick of waiting and that she was a grown woman.” Hunter didn’t think he’d ever be able to say a curse word to his dad. His mouth would never form them in front of him. But he had no such trouble lying to him. “She said that you aren’t ever going to demand anything of her again, Dad. She even told me that I shouldn’t be here either.”

“Oh yeah? I wonder why she’d say something like that. I mean, I’m trying to make amends here, for whatever I’ve done to her to make her so upset with me. Do you know what it might have been?” Hunter shook his head. “Well, I’ll try and call her later. But you and I need to talk about the business that you’re running. I’ve been hearing things that I just don’t care for, son. Are you having troubles? Do you need for me to step in and help you out? I can. It would be—” “No. I’m doing just fine, Dad. I swear. It’s running almost like you never left. You said that you’d give me the business to run, and that’s what I’m doing. You’ve not changed your mind, have you?” Dad told him that he’d not. “I don’t think you have to worry about Bella’s business like you did before. She will fail soon enough. You can count on that. A woman like her, growing up in this house, and she goes out and opens her own place. Bella did that so that she could act like she’s smarter than you. I don’t believe that, but she sure does.” “You go and get her and tell her that I’d like to talk to her as soon as she has time. Tell her…I don’t know. Tell her that I’d really like to see her. I miss her. If you weren’t around to tell me what she’s up to, I’d never know except for what little I can read in the papers.” Hunter didn’t think that Bella would come back here ever again with all the things he’d been telling her about Dad. None of it was true, but she didn’t know that, any more than Dad knew what Bella was really saying about him. “Also, you tell her that I’d very much like for her to come and have a few dinners with me every week. Now that your mother has left for her European vacation, it gets a little lonely around here. You tell her that, will you, Hunter?” “I will. And I have to say, Dad, that’s a wonderful idea.” Dad puffed his scrawny chest out like he was king of the world. Hunter was just barely able to catch himself from rolling his eyes when he turned away to leave, wondering where Dad had gotten the idea that their mom was on vacation. Turning back to his dad, he tried to act all humble. “She took my last cash, Dad.

Just demanded that I hand it over before she left. If she has all that money, why did she need mine too?” “I’m not sure of a lot of things of late to be honest with you, Hunter. Sometimes I have these memory spells, and I have to just rest a bit. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How are things going down at the lawn care service? I’ve been hearing things around town and such that things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped they would with you in charge. What are you doing?” Hunter told him it was just that, rumors, and that he had a handle on things. He told him not to worry. “It has my name on it, Hunter—of course, I’m going to worry. But you make sure you tell Bella everything I told you, Hunter. I’m not getting any younger here, and I miss her. I just can’t believe some of the things she does according to you. Like robbing her only brother. But then, from some of the things you’ve told me, I guess it’s no less than I could expect. Correct?” As he left the house, Hunter thought that his dad was wrong on that score. Bella was only good for one thing, and that was to be the scapegoat when he needed her to be. But he also knew that his dad had gotten stupider. The fact that he believed every word that came out of Hunter’s mouth just went to show just how dumb his father was. Hunter had been playing his father and sister against one another since he’d been old enough to figure some things out

First and foremost, Bella was very intelligent. Not just that, but she could make money. Easily. When she’d been just a kid, she’d figured out a way to make money by mowing lawns. At thirteen, she’d been able to get her own mower, as well as a weed eater and other yard equipment to carry along with her mower and little trailer. By the time she was fifteen, she’d been able to pay for a nice used truck that she’d never let him drive. She wasn’t even able to drive it until a year later. Stupid to pay for something that she’d not been able to use, Hunter had always thought. Bella had gotten out of school earlier too. At sixteen, she’d graduated an entire year before he’d been able to. It didn’t help that Hunter had had to repeat a few grades and didn’t graduate until he was almost twenty. But there she was, taking college classes on how to run her own business on a computer that she locked up every time she walked away from it. It just occurred to Hunter that Bella had always been selfish about her things. Not that he ever wanted to share with her. But she had nicer things and didn’t allow anyone to mess with them.

The day she turned eighteen, not only did she move out of the house Hunter still called home, but she moved not into a shabby apartment, but a house that she’d been able to purchase with her own money. That, too, was someplace he could never go to. While he had an idea where she lived, the actual address was something that she’d never share with him. He supposed she was smart on that score. He would have fucked that up for her if given the chance. Now, at twenty-three, not only did she have her own car, a home, as well as a fat bank account, Bella also had a multimillion-dollar business. Hunter would see the little signs in all kinds of yards and businesses, stating that Booth Landscaping was caring for this property. The only reason he knew about her bank account was because he would read about her being one of the wealthiest women in the entire state.

More than likely, the article had said, the country. Pulling into the front lot of her business, he was detained. He was forever detained there. Really, what it meant was, they were asking his sister how badly she wanted to make him gone. He’d never been on this lot, and he was reasonably sure he never would be. Bella actually had wild dogs roaming the place after it closed down. He knew that because he’d tried to get in at that time, and had nearly had his ass torn off by them. “She said to tell you that you need to go back and suck up more to your father. She’s busy.” He hated that the entire company seemed to know that Hunter didn’t care for him. “Miss Booth also said to tell you that you’re not getting money or a job, nor are you going to get in to steal from her.” “What a thing to say to her own brother. You tell her that I have a message from our dad.” The man not only went into the booth to talk on the phone to Bella, but he closed the door. Hunter could see him laughing like it was a huge joke on their part to have a good time with him. Being her older brother had counted for nothing to her, and he was frankly sick to death of it. Before he could pound on the door and tell the man he wanted the fuck in, he came out with his hand on his gun. Fucking shit.

Had she ordered him to shoot her only brother? “Miss Booth said for you—” “I know who the fuck she is. You don’t have to keep saying her name as if I haven’t any idea that my sister is here. What the hell could she say to me that has you ready to blow my head off?” “Miss Booth said that if you don’t leave here now, she’s going to have me drag your dead body into the lot and let the police know that I had to kill you for trespassing.” The man leaned down to the window. “You go on and try to run the gates, Hunter, and I’ll have you dead before you cross your front tires over the electric eye that will lock you down.” Terrified that he’d do just that, he slammed the car into reverse and hit the gas. He got no more than three inches before his entire body was slammed forward, then back. Whatever he’d hit, he was sure that it had killed him. Getting out of his car, he held his head where blood was making it impossible to see what it was that had rammed him from the rear. Looking at the large truck, one of the kind that he was sure could pull a house down the road, Hunter was satisfied that he’d at least done some damage to it. “What the hell? You hit me.” The man, a huge monster of a guy, got out of the car, and Hunter revised his thought about the truck and the house. This man would need this type of truck to pull him around. “Did you even look in your rearview mirror before you backed up like you did?” “You hit me. I was trying to see my sister, who owns this business, and you rammed me.” Hunter loved the way the lies just slipped from his mouth like piss did from his dick.

“What did you think was going to happen to your truck when you came up on me so fast? My sister isn’t going to be happy about this.” “Your sister doesn’t give two shits about you.” The guard again. That mother fucker needed to keep to his own business. “Hello, Mr. Marshall. Miss Booth is expecting you. If you’d like to go on ahead there, the man on the other side will take you to her now. I’ve already called the police, and I’m making a recording of the entire incident as we speak to hand over to them. Obviously, it was this man’s fault for being too afraid to even drive properly.” “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I wasn’t the least bit afraid of you.” Hunter tried to shut his mouth, but again, things were flowing faster than he could stop them. “I was sitting still when he drove his excuse to compensate for his tiny dick into my car.” The man didn’t even pause as he made his way into the gate to the waiting golf buggy, leaving him there as if he was going to be the one that took the blame on this. Hunter looked at the guard that was standing there with his hand still on his gun.

The sirens sounded just as he was trying to figure out how he was going to get home. As soon as the two cruisers pulled up, the cops came out of the cars, hiding behind their car doors with their guns drawn and yelling at him to drop to the ground. Hunter put his hands up but refused to drop like he was some sort of animal. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea how much it cost me to clean this suit? More than I want to spend again.” He put his hands down. “Now listen here, you have no right to arrest me. That other man, he hit me.” “Moron.” The guard walked by him and handed the police something. “He backed into Mr. Marshall’s truck after arguing with me about going inside. It’s all on that recording for you.” Hunter found himself arrested and getting in the back of the cruiser before he could think how to lie himself out of this mess. Just as his neck was being bent so that his head wouldn’t get hurt on the doorframe, he looked at the building and saw his sister standing there. His tongue was so tied up when he saw her that he couldn’t speak—not to yell at her to come to help him or anything else.

Standing there, with the sun behind her and leaning against one of the many trucks, the vision that she was made him realize just how gorgeous Bella had become. He supposed that she was when she’d been at the house earlier. But then she’d been dressed in a pair of sweats and a dirty T-shirt. One that had her name on it. Looking at her now, he could see that she’d not only cleaned up, but she’d dressed up too. The skirt hung just mid-thigh, slick tight and black. The blouse she was wearing was a bright white. The slimness of it made her look curvy and grown up. When the hell had that happened? Hunter never got a chance to ask her that, or any of the other million questions that were going through his head. Almost as soon as the door was shut, he found himself being taken to jail. Unfairly too, he thought.