Authors: Rachel Branton
Tags: #lds, #Christian, #karen kindgsbury, #Romantic Suspense, #ariana, #Romance, #Suspense, #a bid for love, #clean romance, #dee henderson
“I’ll have to check, but from what I remember, it goes to your surviving children and spouse. Only if you die without marrying and without heirs would it automatically revert to Lily and her children.”
“Is there a way to change that?”
“Yes. Once you actually are cleared to receive the funds, there is a way to name a new heir—whoever you want. I can have the papers drawn up, if that’s what you’d like.”
“Yes, please. I want to name Lily as my heir, no matter what, and I want her to get the money right away, not to go into a trust fund or anything.”
“That will work.” Mark hesitated. “Uh, Tessa, is there something wrong?”
I forced a laugh. “Oh, no. But my husband doesn’t need money, and Lily does, so until I have children, I want her to be my heir.”
“If you’re in trouble—”
“No trouble. Really.”
“It’s just that . . . well, a few hours ago, my secretary received the strangest call. Someone was asking about your trust fund and your heirs. The woman pretended she was calling in your behalf.”
His words turned my blood to ice. “What did your secretary tell her?”
“Nothing—we don’t give out confidential information without identity verification—but it’s strange someone would be asking. I mean, your family has a copy of the will, and they can always talk to me if they need clarification.”
“Is there any way someone outside the family could get that information?”
“Not through normal channels. Short of hacking into our server or bribing someone. No, the information is safe. But it makes me uneasy that someone was asking about it at all. If they are determined, they may be able to find out what they want to know from your family’s friends or acquaintances. That sort of thing. There are a million methods of extracting information from people. In fact, I was about to call your mother and warn her not to talk to anyone about the terms, just in case. You never know what they might do with the information.”
Too late. I bet my mother had already spilled everything to her friends and all the relatives who’d come for the wedding.
“Thanks,” I told Mark.
“I’ll get everything processed as soon as possible. You go and enjoy yourself.”
He could say that because he didn’t know I’d married a man convicted of murder, though he would as soon as he talked to my mother. Then he’d also know why I’d called and what I was afraid of.
I hung up and stared at my phone. It had brought me nothing but bad news in the past two days, and I was seriously considering throwing it away.
Gage returned to the bedroom. “You were right. Dylan was worried. He’s okay now.”
“Good. He’s a sweet boy.”
His eyes swept the room, and I felt satisfaction that I’d put the negligee and bag in the dresser out of sight. “Mia says it’s time for dinner.”
“First I’m going to change into some of my new clothes, even though I haven’t washed them. My others are decidedly dirty. I think this white fluff came from those chickens.” It clung to my wrinkled black pants no matter how I tried to brush it off. “Do you think Mia would mind letting me use her washing machine?”
“I’ll probably need some things washed, too.”
I forced a grin. “So now you want me to do your laundry?”
“Isn’t that a wifely thing to do? Or I could do yours instead.” He winked. “It’ll seem funny if we do it separately.”
“I’ll do it, then.” No way was I letting him touch my delicates. “Or maybe we should tell Mia the truth.”
He was quiet a long moment and then, “I’d rather not. Please.”
He didn’t quite meet my gaze. “This is going to be the closest I ever get to marrying. I want her to have that much. She blames herself for that, too.”
“Why wouldn’t you ever get married?” It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him about Bailey’s love for him, but I couldn’t get out the words. “You said yourself that you’ve done your time. If you moved to a bigger city, no one would ever know.”
His jaw tightened. “I’d know.” He turned in the doorway. “Are you coming?”
I followed him out the door.
was dreaming about a warm beach, a fabulous-looking man, and strawberry pancakes when Gage pulled the pillow off my head on Saturday morning. I squinted at the light. “What are you doing?”
“I’m needed on site today, remember? You said you wanted to go.”
“Not this early.”
“Early? It’ll be nine soon.”
I peered at the alarm clock on the night stand. “In an hour. Way too early to be up.”
“I would have gone hours ago if I hadn’t been waiting for you. Besides, if I’d slept any later, Mia would know I spent the night on the couch.” He rubbed his neck as if there were a kink. “And that stupid rooster started crowing at five. How could you sleep?”
“Like this.” I grabbed the pillow again and put it over my head, pressing my arm on top.
He lifted the corner. “So I guess that means you don’t want the pancakes I made.”
“Two days in a row?” I mumbled. “I’ll get fat.”
“The strawberries are fresh. And the whipped cream, too.”
I moaned. This man did not play fair. Last night he’d insisted on staying in the room with me until he was sure Mia was asleep, strutting around in his sweats and one of Aiden’s T-shirts that was much too small for him, and now he expected me to get out of bed before ten. Totally unreasonable.
He’d looked really good in that shirt—not that I’d ever admit it to him. While he pored over one of his geology reports, I’d spent the time reading a book, staying dressed and as far away from him as possible.
“Okay, but weren’t you getting married today? How would you have gotten up for that?”
“The wedding wasn’t until one.” I felt nauseated at the thought. Julian and me married. My mother and father happy. My trust fund available and Lily taken care of.
But Julian would have kept lying. Marriage didn’t change people like that, not unless they wanted to change. Today, for some reason, the pain of that knowledge didn’t hurt as much, though it did force all thoughts of sleep from my head.
“Fine!” I sat up and hurled the pillow at Gage. He ducked, grinning with satisfaction when it missed.
His eyes fell to the top of one of my new T-shirts. “I see you didn’t use Mia’s gift.”
I threw the other pillow, and this one smacked him right in the face. I smirked. “I’m saving it for a special occasion. Like a honeymoon.”
“Ah.” There was regret in the word, though whether it was because he thought the gift wasted or because he wouldn’t be around to see, I really didn’t know. Or care.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m coming. Where are these famous pancakes?”
In the kitchen we were soon joined by Mia and Dylan. Dylan ate more pancakes than any of us. At this rate, he’d outgrow even his uncle.
Mia kept looking between me and Gage thoughtfully, as though concerned about something. “So,” she said at last, “are you two okay? You’re not fighting or anything, are you?”
I stared at her blankly. “If you’re talking about yesterday, that’s over.”
“I’m talking about why Gage slept on the couch.”
I exchanged a look with Gage, who was flipping pancakes. So much for his subterfuge. Gage opened his mouth, but I beat him to the explanation. “Gage snores horribly,” I said with a smile. “Terrible. Like an earthquake. I’m surprised you couldn’t feel the vibrations in your room.”
Ignoring the outrage on Gage’s face, Mia nodded. “He used to snore when we were little, but I figured he grew out of it.” She laughed lightly. “Not that I could hear it now either way.”
“Ha! Gage’s snoring is probably the reason you went deaf,” I said. Dylan choked on his milk, and Gage stared at me. “Oh, I didn’t mean—” Me and my big mouth. But Mia was laughing. She laughed so hard, Gage had to pound her back to help her breathe.
“No one ever tells me deaf jokes.” Tears gathered in Mia’s eyes. “Except Aiden. I can’t wait to tell him this one.” She took the spatula from Gage and went to the stove.
I sat back, relieved. Gage cast me a sardonic look that I ignored—except for the heat that surged in my face.
“Better take some sunscreen,” Gage said, not missing a thing. “You don’t want to burn.”
“Don’t worry. I’m religious about using sunscreen.” And I was. With my pale, freckled skin, sunscreen was my best friend.
“My dad has to use a lot of sunscreen,” Dylan said. “He’s albino.”
“Cool,” I said, glad Ridge had already filled me in at the police station. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
Dylan grinned at me, and I knew I’d said the right thing.
“You about ready?” Gage looked at my full plate.
“Give me five minutes,” I said, digging in. “It’s your fault. You made them.”
“If I hadn’t, you’d still be in dream land.”
“Yeah, but I was dreaming of strawberry pancakes.” Well, not just pancakes. That man walking with me on the beach had looked suspiciously like Gage. Color filled my face again.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“I never lie.”
I knew what he was referring to. Our marriage was a complete lie.
“Well, almost never,” I amended. “And never again.”
Gage nodded almost too gravely. “Good.” He came to his feet. “I’ll go fill up the bike with gas and come back for you.”
“We’re going on the bike?” My legs were barely beginning to feel halfway normal after being on it so much the past few days. If I hadn’t been accustomed to riding Serenity, I might have been a lot worse off.
“Of course. That’s all we’ve got.”
“On our next honeymoon, remind me to bring a car.”
“Okay.” Our gazes met and held, and under his smile I saw sadness and something more I couldn’t identify. I wondered if it had something to do with Bailey and the reason he’d decided never to marry.
Leaning down swiftly, he planted a warm kiss on my forehead before going out the side door.
Mia was looking at me with a bemused smile. “He loves you so much.”
Now it was my turn to choke on my milk, but I couldn’t tell her how wrong she was.
Dylan signed something to his mother.
“Yes,” she answered, speaking for my benefit and signing at the same time, “go feed the chickens. Don’t forget the water.”
“Okay.” Dylan shot out the door as if the pancakes contained rocket fuel.
I took another bite as Mia slid into the chair opposite me. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “What about hiring someone to research those people I was looking at?”
“Shouldn’t we leave this to the police?”
Her head swung back and forth, her face grave. “Ridge will do everything he can, but this is only one of his cases. A hired investigator might get faster results, if we can find someone good. I’m willing to do anything for Gage—and for your future children.”
My bite of pancake had somehow formed a large lump in my throat, and it was only with effort that I could swallow it. “I hope you’re right about this, but what if you aren’t? Skeet was a terrible man. I know what he did to you. No, Gage didn’t tell me—I guessed. What if Gage really did kill him?”
Mia’s face hardened, and her eyes gouged into mine. “You don’t know my brother very well if you can say that. In self-defense, yes. To protect me, yes. But never in cold blood. If you loved him as much as he loves you, you would know that.” She held up her hand as I started to protest. “I think you love him enough. The rest will come. It did with me and Aiden.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew Aiden had loved her a long time and that she’d told Charlie Norris when he’d come over with the gun that she’d always loved Aiden. But always didn’t mean you consciously knew something. Deep down I’d always known my father and mother didn’t have a relationship I wanted to emulate, though I’d never defined the idea so clearly in my youth. I’d always known proper mothers spent more time with their children. I’d always known Lily wouldn’t succumb to pressure.
I’d always known Julian was hiding something.
I could see it now. Unexplained absences, unexpected gifts that were really apologies, the subtle comments from people I knew.
I’d been completely blind. If not for Sadie, I would have paid dearly for that blindness. I needed to call and talk to her, but not now. Not when I was so close to losing it.
“Aiden came to me after Skeet attacked me,” Mia said quietly. “Gage called him. He helped me that night. And later, after the murder and finding out about the baby, I was thinking of adoption, but he wanted to marry me. He promised to take care of us. I was afraid at first, but he’d always been nice to me, and I liked him. Eventually, I said yes.” She smiled through her tears. “Later I realized he’d always been there for me. Always. I’d just never thought of us being together like that. We were friends, or so I thought, but it became much more. He’s the only one I love more than Dylan and Gage.”
“I’m glad. You and Dylan are both very lucky.”
Mia glanced at her wall clock. “You’d better hurry. Gage will be back soon. I’ll make you two a little picnic.”
Mia shook her head. “I’m glad you’re here. We will get to the bottom of this.”
“Yes, we will.” The more I knew Gage, the more I wanted her to be right, though I probably had no business agreeing to anything she proposed since I didn’t plan to be around long enough to see it through. “But I think you should have more faith in the police. Ridge seems like a good cop.”
“He is. Maybe I’ll wait for a bit.”
Morosely, I went into the bedroom for a quick shower, remembering after to slather my body with sunscreen. The new jeans were a little snug after all those pancakes, but they’d been worth every bite.
My hair was refusing to obey, and in the end, I pulled the mass into a ponytail. Anything I tried to do to it would be ruined on the bike anyway. Good thing I wasn’t trying to impress Gage. Well, forty-five thousand dollars was impressive enough. A bitter taste filled my mouth, and I had to brush my teeth three times before it left.
Gage was waiting outside, stowing the lunch Mia had given him. I was glad to see he was also wearing jeans and a T-shirt. His leather jacket was packed inside the bike’s plastic compartment with the lunch. Guess it was part of the motorcycle.