© 2021 by Sara Leanne Adams
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Trigger warning: this book contains subject matter that may be sensitive to some readers.
The spring foliage sparkled in the early morning light, the vibrant green of May calming my rattled nerves. This was my favourite time of the year, with everything fresh and new, and summer days on the horizon.
Maine was truly a beautiful state. Except in the winter. New England winters were almost as bad as New York winters. I’d been living in Rochester for sixteen years. Lake effect snow can be a merciless bitch.
The meeting with the lawyers was scheduled for nine. I did six hours on the road the day before, leaving myself three for this morning. After a restless night at a hotel in Concord, New Hampshire, I was out the door at five.
I drove into Bangor just after eight, my GPS leading me to a historic brick building that was exactly what I expected. Orland Hollingbrook was an eccentric old fart who preferred everything around him to be as ancient as he was. Except for his women. When it came to finding a place to put his withered old dick, the newer, the better.
Rot in hell, you disgusting pig.
I could’ve left. Driven back to Rochester. Forgot the past forty-eight hours ever happened. That was the best option for my mental well-being. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the money. When I ran away sixteen years before, I swore I’d never step foot in that miserable mausoleum again.
Until the phone call that changed everything.
I parked my old green Honda in the lot next to the lawyer’s office and pulled out my Kindle. Might as well kill some time with one of my romance novels. My books were my escape from my lonely spinster life.
What would it be like to fall in love with a guy like the ones in my books? Big, strong hunks who treated their women like queens.
My romance heroines always had to go through some kind of angst, but they eventually found their happily ever after. Too bad the real world didn’t work that way. Happy endings weren’t guaranteed. Especially for a woman as screwed up as me.
At eight-forty-five I tucked my Kindle away and opened the car door. My feet felt weighted down with concrete as I walked toward the entrance.
I pushed open the heavy wooden door, stepping into 1980. Sure, I wasn’t born until the end of that decade, but I’m familiar with the style of that era. The interior decorator in me cringed at the dark brown panelling and flowered couches.
The woman behind the counter peered at me over the top of her wire framed spectacles. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Kinley Davenport. I have an appointment with Mr. File.”
“His office is on the third floor,” she informed me. “If you head down that corridor, you’ll find an elevator on your left.”
I wandered down the dark, carpeted hallway. Somebody should tell the lawyers at File, Fitch and Ferguson that carpet is not in style, nor is it healthy. I pressed the elevator button and waited. The doors opened, but nobody exited. I stepped inside the mirrored car, shaking my head at the brown carpet and brass railing.
The door slid part way closed, stopping when a large hand reached inside. “Hold that,” a familiar voice said.
The bane of my existence from the minute my mother married his father until I left. My stepbrother bullied me for the entire eight years I lived with him. He hated my mother. And he took it out on me.
He stepped into the elevator, his smile disappearing when he saw me. The last time I saw Harland he was nineteen. I thought he was a big guy back then. But the jerk apparently kept on growing. He towered over me, my eyes level with his chest. A very muscular chest, encased in a skin tight, black dress shirt. A grey, pinstriped tie and crisp black jacket completed his I’m somebody important image. My eyes dropped to the expensive looking briefcase, his gargantuan fingers wrapped tightly around the handle.
Utter contempt rolled through my gut, rising from the pit of my stomach like a volcano dormant for fourteen years, bubbling just below the surface while it waited for the inevitable eruption.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away,” he snarled, his deep voice resonating through the small elevator. “Your gold digging whore of a mother taught you well.”
“I’m nothing like my mother,” I snapped.
“Then why are you here?”
“For my sister.”
“You didn’t even know she existed until two days ago.”
“She’s my flesh and blood.”
“She’s your half sister.”
“So I’m just supposed to abandon her?”
“I’ll make sure she’s taken care of. You can crawl back into whatever hole you’ve been hiding in for the past fourteen years. She doesn’t need someone like you in her life.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Someone like me?”
“Just how it sounds. An opportunist.”
I jammed my finger into the open button. “I think I’ll take the stairs.” When the doors didn’t slide open, I hammered the button with my thumb.
Harland reached in front of me, hitting the close button.
“I want off this elevator!” I yelled. “Get out of my way, you oversized bully.”
“Oversized bully?” He shook his head. “That’s the best insult you can come up with?”
I tried to reach around him to hit the open button again, but he was blocking the entire panel. “Move, Harland. We have to get upstairs. We’re going to be late for our appointment.”
“Relax, fire crotch.”
“Do not call me that.”
I clenched my fists, glaring up at the man who made my life a living hell. On my first day of high school, he sweet-talked the school secretary into letting him make an announcement over the PA system. He wished me good luck on my first day of freshman year, then he told the entire school that my nickname was fire crotch because I had a massive, bright red bush. He claimed he saw it when he accidentally walked in on me in the shower.
None of it was true, but everybody believed him. They called me fire crotch until the day I left, the summer before my senior year. Harland got suspended, and his father took him to a Red Sox game as punishment.
“Settle down, Kinley,” he sighed, moving to the other side of the elevator. “You haven’t changed a bit. Still got a giant stick up your ass, I see.”
I pressed the button for the third floor, but nothing happened. “Why isn’t this elevator moving?” I muttered.
“Move,” he barked, nudging me out of the way with an enormous shoulder, the smell of his aftershave or cologne tickling my nostrils. He smelled like a mixture of leather and pine tree. It was a pleasant fragrance. Too bad the wearer was a grade A asshole. He hit all the buttons, cursing under his breath. “I think we’re stuck.”
“Good job, asshole.”
“That was a little uncalled-for.”
“If the shoe fits.”
“Grow up, Kinley.”
His eyes roamed over my body, stopping at my chest before meeting my angry glare with a mischievous glint. “Little fire crotch has grown up, I see. You’ve turned into quite a fuckable piece of ass, Kinley Davenport.”
Anger flooded my veins, fourteen years up pent-up rage threatening to blow up that elevator. I closed my eyes, taking slow measured breaths, my therapist’s words calming me.
Don’t let your anger control you. He can’t hurt you now unless you let him. Don’t let him. He’s not worth it. He can’t continue to victimize you unless you choose to let him.
“Holy fuck, Kinley,” he laughed. “Relax. It was a joke. You never could take one.”
“I can take a joke,” I growled through clenched teeth. “Making lewd comments about someone’s body isn’t funny.”
“You gotta learn to relax, sweetheart.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Go home, and I’ll never bother you again.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Harland?”
“Very much. That’s why I said it.”
“Because my sister and I shouldn’t have to share a cent with you. I highly doubt he left you much.”
“He had fucking dementia! Your conniving mother probably tricked him.”
“Sure,” I scoffed. “My mother knew that they were both gonna die on the same day. She didn’t give a shit about me. If she was manipulating him into changing his will, it would’ve been to make sure she got everything. She wouldn’t care what happened if she was dead.”
“What are you talking about? She was devastated when you left. Cried for days.”
“Sure she did.”
“My dad was pretty upset, too. He had a soft spot for you, Kinley.”
Deep breaths, Kinley. Keep it together. The last thing you need is to have a meltdown in the lawyer’s office, with Harland Hollingbrook watching.
“Kinley? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I snapped.
“You look a little pale.”
“I need to get out of this fucking elevator!”
“Language, fire crotch.”
“Oh, shut up, Harland.”
“Ouch. Your harsh words are hurting my feelings.”
He chuckled while I banged on the door, yelling for help. What an asshole. Harland Hollingbrook hadn’t changed one bit.
“We’ll have you out in a jiffy, Miss!” a voice called from the other side of the door. “Sit tight!”
“What have you been up to the past sixteen years?” Harland inquired, folding his arms over his immense chest as he leaned against the wall.
“What’s it to you?”
“I’m just trying to make conversation, Kinley. Holy fuck. You might wanna consider being a little more discreet about your hatred for me in front of the kid.”
“I don’t plan on being here long. I’m hoping to get the custody paperwork complete, and be back in Rochester by the end of the week.”
“You heard me, Harland.”
“What makes you think you’re getting custody?”
“Because she’s a twelve-year-old girl. She needs to be with a woman, not a bachelor who brings home a different whore every night.”
“She needs to be surrounded by people from her own social class. She’s going to inherit millions. Why would she want to live with you in whatever hovel you call home these days?”
“You don’t know anything about my life.”
“I most certainly do. You’re living in a one-bedroom apartment in Rochester. You drive a rusted out piece of junk. You work for a second-rate design firm that pays you shit wages, and you’re living pay cheque to pay cheque without a penny to your name.”
I blinked rapidly, shock giving way to fury. “How do you know all that?”
“I hired a private investigator as soon as I got the call about Dad and Susan. I figured you would come crawling out of the woodwork.”
“What a complete invasion of privacy!”
He shrugged. “Money can buy a lot of things. Information is certainly one of them.”
“Just because I don’t live in a penthouse in New York City, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get custody.”
“You can barely afford to support yourself! How are you going to support a child?!”
“I’m guessing with our inheritance!”
“And that’s the only reason you’re here!”
“That isn’t true! You don’t know anything about me, Harland Hollingbrook! Go fuck yourself!”
The elevator door slid open, two maintenance guys standing awkwardly, obviously hearing our argument. And two suits standing behind them, who were probably the lawyers we were meeting.
“I presume you’re Mr. Hollingbrook and Miss Davenport,” one of the suits asked, frowning with disapproval.
We followed the lawyers to a conference room where two women were seated with laptops in front of them.
“I’m Farley File, and this is my partner, Roland Fitch. Please accept our deepest condolences on your loss.”
“Thank you,” I said quietly, taking a seat at the long table.
“I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter,” Harland said.
“I’ve been managing your father’s personal and business matters for years. He was a good friend. We used to golf together before his health started failing. I want to make sure his daughter is taken care of, and his final wishes are followed.”
“Really?” I whispered when Harland took the chair next to me. “There are ten empty seats, and you have to sit there?”
“Do I stink or something?”
“Then what’s the problem, fire crotch?”
“Stop calling me that,” I growled under my breath. I glanced up to find four sets of eyes watching us with a mixture of annoyance and curiosity. A third woman took a seat at the end of the table, a bitchy scowl on her thin, pale lips. Her gray hair was pulled back in a tight bun, glasses perched on her forehead while she studied us and made notes on the pad in front of her.
“I’ll tell you what,” he whispered, leaning in close to my ear. “I’ll stop if you can prove me wrong.”
“You’re a pig,” I hissed.
“Mr. Hollingbrook, Miss Davenport, are you ready to get started?”
“Yes,” we chimed.
“Good,” Mr. File said, clearing his throat. “We have a lot of things to go over. Too much for one day. I know you’ve both travelled a great distance, and you have a funeral to prepare for. It’s a very difficult time, and I don’t want to overwhelm you. But there are some issues that need to be settled today.”
“We’re fine,” Harland said. “Let’s get it all out on the table. I want to get things tidied up here as quickly as possible.”
“I’m afraid it’s not going to be that simple.”
“Your father left very specific instructions in his will.”
“Of course he did,” Harland muttered.
“As you are aware, your father was a very wealthy man. I’m sure he never thought that he and Susan would pass away together, but he did leave instructions for that scenario. In the event of his death, if Susan was no longer living, he wanted all of his assets distributed evenly between his three children.”
“What?!” Harland bellowed. “Three children! Kinley doesn’t deserve a cent. She’s not family!”
“I’m sorry, Harland. But your father was very clear about that.”
“He was getting dementia! I’m going to fight this!”
“Your father made that change fourteen years ago. I can assure you, he was fully cognizant that day.”
“Why would he do that?”
“I don’t have an answer for that.”
“My dad would’ve never wanted the house sold. It’s been in our family for generations.”
“You’re correct. He doesn’t want the family estate sold. Ownership will be transferred to you, Miss Davenport, and the child. If you choose to keep it, there is a fund set up to pay the taxes and complete the necessary repairs and upkeep. Should you decide to sell the property, the proceeds would go to charity.”