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Excerpt for Wicked Welcome by , available in its entirety at Smashwords











Wicked Welcome

{Second Edition}







Wicked Welcome

{Second Edition}











Ginger Elinburg



Dedication



To my girls Amber, Tiffani and Paige.

Thanks for inspiring me to follow my dreams.



Wicked

Wicked Welcome (Book 1)

Beyond Wicked (Book 2)

Wicked: Family Ties (Book 3)

Pantar (Book 4)

Damien: The Guardian (Book 5)

Dimitri: Deadly Obsession (Book 6)

Donovan: Unleashed (Book 7)



Standalone

Hunted by Death

Always Girl

Sharp Edges

Whispered Deceit

Killian's Pass

Draçon

Hunted by Death II





Copyright 2017 Ginger Elinburg

All rights reserved as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, transmitted in any form or by any means, or store in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the Author. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the publisher.





This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, are coincidental.

CHAPTER ONE

Sitting on the porch, in a white wicker chair, sipping ice-cold lemonade, Morgan tried to recall the last time she had felt this relaxed.

The day was perfect. Clear blue skies, nice gentle warm breeze blowing across her face and the sound of a child’s happy laughter ringing through the air. Morgan couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her lips when she looked at the little girl running across the lawn chasing butterflies.

She appeared to be around two years old, and she looked so cute in her yellow dress and white Mary Jane shoes. Her long black hair, held back with a matching yellow ribbon, was flying out behind her as she ran.

Lifting her glass to her lips, Morgan looked down in confusion and, noticing it was empty, she was standing up to go into the house for a refill when she heard a woman’s voice calling her name. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw the little girl in the yellow dress stop running before turning toward the house, brushing a few strands of stray hairs back from her face. Morgan’s breath caught in her throat; the little girls face was so familiar and she felt as if she should know who this child was.

Looking in the same direction as the little girl, she saw a woman leaning against the porch railing with her arms stretched out waving at the little girl in a ‘come here’ gesture.

Come on Morgan, it’s time to get ready for dinner.” The woman’s voice caused a deep ache in Morgan’s chest and her eyes filled up with tears.

Looking back at the little girl, Morgan saw her smile as she started running toward the porch.

Mommy, guess what?” She bounded up the porch steps, holding out her cupped hands toward the woman. “I catched a flutterbye!”

The woman’s rich throaty laughter filled the air. “You mean you caught a butterfly.”

Nodding her head excitedly, the little girl opened her hands to show her mother the butterfly.

Morgan was leaning forward to see the butterfly that the child held, when she heard a phone start ringing somewhere in the house.

Answer the phone, Morgan.” The woman’s voice was firm, yet gentle.

Morgan glanced at the little girl to see if she had heard her mother, but she was still looking at her butterfly.

Morgan… I need you to answer the phone for me.” Her voice was a little louder when she spoke, as the phone rang for the fourth time.

Turning toward the woman to see how she would react to the child not listening, Morgan was confused because she couldn’t see the woman’s face clearly but, she could feel her eyes watching her.

Lifting her hand, she pointed at herself. “Are you talking to me or the child?”

I’m talking to you, darling.” Morgan saw the blurry outline of the woman nodding. “I need you to answer the phone for me. Hurry now. You mustn’t miss this call.”

Morgan turned and entered the house. As she was turning back toward the door to catch a glimpse of the child, it slammed shut, plunging the room into total darkness.

Spinning on her heels toward the ringing phone, her feet felt rooted to the floor and she looked in the direction of the ringing, confusion etched across her face. She wanted to grasp the door and wrench it open but, the woman told her she had to answer the phone.

Taking slow careful steps in the direction of the phone, she noticed a red light spilling from the ceiling. Glancing toward the light, she saw what looked like a long flight of stairs. As she watched, the red light started to pulse and grow brighter, casting eerie shadows across the wall. Heart pounding in her throat, she turned back toward the ringing phone.

She was lifting the receiver when she felt a talon like grip on her wrist. Crying out in pain, she tried to twist free. Looking up she attempted to scream when she saw what looked like a face, it’s lips pulled back revealing fangs. Her heart felt like it had to come to a complete stop. She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t catch her breath, but strangely she could still hear the phone ringing.  

Morgan felt a sharp pain begin in her chest and slowly travel down her left arm. ‘I’m dying’ kept running through her head and she struggled to draw breath into her burning lungs. With one final yank, she was free of the grip and falling...



Hitting the floor, Morgan woke up with a jolt of pain in her wrist. Tears sprang to her eyes and she sat up, rubbing her wrist and glancing at the bedside clock. She saw that it was just after midnight and she jumped when the phone started ringing.

Her hand shook when she lifted the receiver and answered breathlessly. “Hello?”

A chill coursed down Morgan’s spine when she heard a woman’s soft voice. “You have to go back.”

Still half-scared, she tightened her grip on the phone. “Back where?” Already she could hear the dial tone, and she knew the caller had already hung up.

“Well, that was weird.”

Taking the phone away from her ear, she looked over at her cat, Tiny, as she replaced the receiver back on its cradle.

Getting back into bed, she rolled over and closed her eyes, her dream replaying over in her mind, and tried to go back to sleep. Just as she was dozing off, she remembered that today was her birthday. Finally, the day she had been waiting for was here. She pressed a fist against her lips as a giggle escaped. “I’m twenty-one.”

Smiling, she opened her eyes and sat up in bed. Looking across the room, she met Tiny’s eyes. “Happy Birthday, Tiny, to both of us.”

Tiny’s teeth flashed white in the moonlight spilling across the room when he yawned and Morgan shook her head before laying back down and pulling the covers up to her chin, sighing happily as she drifted back into sleep.


CHAPTER TWO


 She winced when she opened her eyes and raised her arm to block out the light. The sun was shining through the curtains and someone was pounding on her front door.

Throwing back the covers, she crawled out of the bed with a groan and shrugged into her robe. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she stumbled down the hall to answer the door before whoever was out there broke it down with their persistent banging.

Her voice held a trace of anger when she yelled out. “Hold on!”

Walking into the room, tying her robe closed, she was reaching out toward the door when the knocking ended.

“It’s about damn time.” As she twisted the knob on the deadbolt, she wondered who could be banging on her door so early in the morning.

Pulling the door open, she looked up and saw that there was no one on the other side. Stepping closer to the screen door, she wondered if the person had stepped to the side when she opened the door, but the porch was empty. Gritting her teeth in frustration, she was closing the door when she glanced down and saw an envelope lying on her porch, almost hidden by the welcome mat.

Looking out toward the front yard, she cautiously opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch. Using the toe of her slipper, she pulled the envelope out enough to see her name printed across the front in bold black letters.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she stood looking down at the envelope for a minute, wondering where it had come from. With a shiver of apprehension, she knelt down and picked it up, testing its weight.

She looked at Tiny with a frown. “Well, it feels like it’s only paper.” She remembered hearing on the news that people were getting bombs in their mail so, she knew to be careful. It may not be in her mailbox, but it was on her porch and she did not know who had left it there. Standing up straight, she scanned the front yard again before turning back toward the open door. “At least we know it’s not going to explode.”

Going back inside, she closed the door before slowly opening the envelope and reaching inside. Before she could see what was in it, she heard Tiny meowing and clawing at the screen door.

Stepping back, she opened the door again and smiled when she saw the look she was getting from her cat.

“Sorry, Tiny. I didn’t mean to leave you out there.” She bit back a smile as she closed the door once more.

Tiny looked back at her with a hiss as if to say, “kiss my kitty butt,” before jumping onto the couch and stretching out, laying his head on his front paws.

With a chuckle, she looked down at the paper she had taken from the envelope and the smile disappeared from her face. There, on the paper, was the house. Not just any house but the house. The one she had been dreaming about for the last two months. What she thought was a letter was actually a brochure stating that the house was up for sale.

She remembered seeing the house when she went on a business trip last year and wishing she could live in something so beautiful. Now looking at the brochure, she wished for it again.

Her eyes became dreamy as she continued to look through the brochure. ‘I would never be able to afford something like this.’

“Oh well,” she said to Tiny, as she tossed it onto the coffee table. “I can still dream about living there.”

Tiny didn’t even raise his head, only peered at her with half-closed eyes to show her that he was still upset with her for leaving him outside.

Casting one last look in his direction, she left the room and walked up the stairs.

She was getting dressed when the phone rang again.

Reaching to answer it, she hoped it wasn’t her best friend, Brooke, calling to sing in her ear as she had done for the past five years on her birthday.

“Hello?” Holding the phone against her ear with her shoulder, she sucked in her stomach and began buttoning the fly of her jeans.

“Hello.” The voice that spoke was deep and caused her arms to break out in goosebumps. “I’d like to speak with a Miss Morgan Dupree, please.”

“This is she.” Morgan’s brow drew down in a frown.

“Morgan Elaine Dupree?”

“Yes.” Her voice was shaky and she took a few deep breaths before speaking again. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? No ma’am, I just need to make sure I have the right Miss Dupree.” Morgan could hear the man shuffling papers on the other end. “Now, the next thing I need to know is your date of birth.”

Her mind screamed at her not to give out her personal information over the phone. “Before I answer any more of your questions, sir, I’d like to know who you are and how you got my unlisted phone number.”

Morgan heard him sigh before he answered. “My name is Jackson St. Clair, and I am a lawyer from Little Rock, Arkansas. Now, I really need for you to answer my question.”

She didn’t have a clue as to why a lawyer would be calling her, unless it was a bill collector. Hoping she was not being sued, she cleared her throat and answered him. “My birthday is today.”

“Okay, and what year were you born? Sorry, but I have to ask.”

Her shoulders stiffened with annoyance and she ground her teeth together before speaking. “Look, why do you need to know what year I was born in? I’m not at all comfortable giving my personal information out to a stranger.”

“I’ve already told you, I need to make sure I’m talking to the right Miss Dupree.”

She could hear the anger in his voice when he answered her question and it fueled her own. ‘Why should he be mad at me when I am the one being bothered.

Before she could snap out a reply, he started speaking again. “Miss Dupree, I have some papers here that I need you to look over and sign. And I will need to see some sort of identification proving that you are in fact Miss Morgan Elaine Dupree.”

His last comment caused her temper to flair to life. “Look buddy, I don’t know who you are and you sure as hell don’t have a clue as to who I am so, I don’t see where you get off accusing me of lying about my identity. You called me, remember?”

She thought about slamming the phone down in his ear but, her curiosity kept her from doing just that.

As if reading her mind, Jackson raised his voice. “Wait, don’t hang up! I’m sorry if I offended you but, I’m only doing my job. And part of that is making sure that my client doesn’t get scammed out of her money. It’s just like you said, I don’t know who you are so, I have to be careful.”

Morgan quit listening at the word ‘money’. ‘Why would he be talking about money.’ Her mind raced and she tried to remember what bill was overdue this month. “Are you a bill collector? Because I’m telling you right now, I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention much less a bill.”

Jackson couldn’t help the laughter that rippled up from his chest. “No ma’am, I am not a bill collector. I’m just a lawyer calling to give you your inheritance.”

“Are you sure you’re looking for me?” No way did she know anyone who would leave her any money.

“Pretty sure.” She heard more paper being shuffled on the other end of the phone before he spoke again. “Which is why I need you to come down here to my office in Arkansas.”

“Arkansas?” Morgan remembered the brochure lying on her coffee table. “Um... could you hold on for a moment, I need to go to the... I’ll be right back.”

Without waiting for his reply, she lay the phone down and made a mad dash for the living room. Snatching up the brochure, she ran back into the bedroom clutching it to her chest.

Sitting on the bed, she stared at the picture on the front of the brochure before picking up the phone again. “Are you still there, Mr. St. Clair?”

She heard him chuckle before he replied.” You’re a poet and didn’t know it. Do you rhyme every time too?”

“Excuse me?” Morgan’s brow pulled down in confusion.

“Never mind. Are you going to be able to come down here to sign these papers? I don’t mean to rush but, I…” He had an appointment in twenty minutes and he really wanted to get this settled before he met with his client.

“No, I understand. Um... when would you want me to come down there?” Since she worked from home, Morgan knew she could be on the next plane out if she needed to be.

“Well.” His voice was a southern drawl over the line. “The sooner the better. Hopefully before the end of the week, if that’s good for you.”

Looking around her room, she tried to remember where she had put her suitcase. “I could be there tomorrow if that’s not a problem.”

Walking to the closet, she opened it and looked around before turning back into her bedroom. Her mouth twisted to the side thoughtfully when she spotted her suitcase under her bed.

“Not a problem. I’ll have my secretary set up an appointment.” He was a little shocked that she could get away so soon. ‘Poor thing must not have a job.’ Looking down at the papers in front of him, he smiled to himself, if she was the woman he was looking for she would never have to worry about working again. Hell, her children’s children would never have to worry about working.

Grabbing a sheet of paper and a pen, she quickly scribbled down his phone number and directions to his office. “Wait, what if I get there before our appointment.”

Jackson looked down at his calendar and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I can try to work you in. It shouldn’t take too long to go over the paperwork.”

After saying good-bye, she hung up and sat on her bed going back over the conversation she just had. ‘Could it really be true? Could I really be inheriting money from someone? Ha... knowing my luck, I’ll be wasting what little money I have by going down there only to be told I am the wrong Morgan Dupree.’

“Well you’ll never know if you don’t go.” Pushing herself to her feet, she started laughing as she realized she had just rhymed again. Funny that she had never paid attention to what she said before.

Walking back into the front room, she looked at Tiny still curled up on the couch. “Hey, Tiny, we’re going on a trip.”

Tiny looked up at her and yawned, his eyes hooded as if he were thinking, “You bore me lady.”

“You’re not still mad at me are you, boy?”

Looking into her eyes, he got up and went over to her and rubbed his head against her to show her that he was not still mad.

She scratched behind his ears absently as she looked through the phone book for the number to the airport. Reaching for the phone, she squealed in surprise when it rang beneath her hand.

Looking at Tiny, she rolled her eyes and answered. “Hello?”

What she heard made her breathless with laughter. True to her nature, Brooke was on the other end, singing at the top of her lungs, in a high-pitched nasal voice.

Before she could draw another breath to finish the tune Morgan started speaking. “Hey girl, what are you doing?”

“Man, how did you know it was me?”

Morgan lifted an eyebrow and shook her head. “Because you’re the only one who calls me on my birthday brave enough to sing that song.”

“Only because I love ya.”

Brooke’s laughter was loud in Morgan’s ear and she held the phone out until she heard silence on the other end. “Only to annoy me is more like it. But, I’ll let you slide this year.”

Brooke snorted and Morgan heard the snick of a lighter seconds before she inhaled deeply. “You mean just like you do every year. So... what are you doing for your birthday tonight?” Brooke recalled that last year Morgan had sat at home refusing to go anywhere to celebrate.

Morgan thought about lying but changed her mind when she looked at Tiny pacing the living-room. “I’m taking a trip to Arkansas.”

“Arkansas?” Brooke coughed on the smoke from her cigarette. Her voice was high pitched with shock when she finally spoke. “Why would you want to spend your birthday in Arkansas?”

She knew Brooke would ask a ton of questions and freak out if she told her the truth about why she was going. Since she didn’t know if it was going to be a wasted trip, she decided to hold off on telling her until she got back.

“Actually, I’m going on another business trip. Which reminds me, can you watch Tiny for me until I get back?”

She looked down at Tiny when she heard his hiss of disapproval and mouthed, ‘I’m sorry’. She hated to leave him again so soon but, she knew that if she took him with her Brooke would know this was more than just a business trip.

Brooke’s groan seemed to fill the room. “Do I have to? You know he doesn’t like me that much. The last time I kept him, he tore up my couch and chair.”

Morgan remembered just how much Tiny did not like staying with Brooke; it had cost her two paychecks to pay for new furniture. “Please, Brooke? I can’t very well leave him here by himself. I promise you, I will replace anything he destroys.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll keep him.” Morgan smiled to herself as Brooke gave in. “When should I expect you and Tiny?”

She thought about how long it would take to make her travel arrangements, get her things together, and grab a quick shower. “I should be ready to leave in about two hours, unless I can get booked on an early flight, then I’ll have to rush. How about if I just call you when I find out what time my flight leaves?”

“Sounds like a plan. Talk to you later.” Brooke hung up before Morgan could respond.

Hanging up, Morgan looked over at Tiny and shook her head. “Sorry ol’ boy but, it looks like you’ll be staying with Aunt Brooke for a few days.”

Tiny showed her his teeth before turning around and walking out of the room, the hair on his back bristled in anger.

Sometimes I wonder if he really understands me?’

Morgan watched him walk away and bit her lip when he looked back at her with another hiss.

When she called the airport, she was shocked to learn that the next flight out was leaving within the next hour and a half.

After calling Brooke back, she had to rush in order to get to the airport on time. When she got her suitcase from under the bed, she wondered why it was still packed. Opening it up, she saw that all her best clothes were folded neatly inside.

Well I don't have time to worry about it right now.’ Zipping it back up, she whistled for Tiny and headed for the front door.



After dropping off a very displeased Tiny, she glanced at her watch and sped toward the airport, praying they didn’t leave without her. ‘Damn it, I hate being rushed.”

Pulling into the airport, she found a parking spot, grabbed her suitcase from the back seat of her car and ran toward the terminal.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she found her gate and saw that they were still boarding.

As she settled back in her seat, she let out a tired sigh and thought about the busy morning she had just gone through and the day wasn’t even over yet.

“Could this day get any worse?” Her words were a whispered breath of air as she drifted off to sleep.

CHAPTER THREE


 The house was dark when she stepped through the door. A cold mist was swirling around her feet and she could swear she heard a child crying very softly. As she reached out for the light switch, the door slammed shut behind her and she screamed as the room was plunged into total darkness.

Laughter, that was pure evil, swelled up around her. It seemed to be coming from all sides at once. Spinning around, she reached out for the door handle. Before she could grab a hold of it, she felt something grip her around the upper arms and start shaking her. Her screams grew in volume as she tried to break free from the hold. She could see a red pulsing light coming toward her face...



Morgan came awake with a start and a scream dying in her throat. Glancing around, she saw that the woman in the seat next to her still had her hand on her arm.

“Are you okay dear?” The woman had a worried look on her face.

Shaking her head to clear the last of the dream away, Morgan turned her face away from the woman and looked down at her lap. “I’m sorry, I… I guess I had a bad dream.”

“I should say so.” Morgan looked over from the corner of her eye in time to see the woman shudder. “It sounded like you were being killed or something.” Giving Morgan an uncertain look, the woman turned her face toward the window.

Morgan let out an uneasy breath as a voice came over the speaker, letting the passengers know that they were about to land in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Glancing at her watch, she saw that it was just after one in the afternoon. Looking through her purse she pulled out the directions Jackson St. Claire had giving her. She figured she could be at his office around two, depending on the traffic.

Getting off the plane, she retrieved her suitcase and made a beeline toward the nearest phone. After calling Mr. St. Clair’s office and making an appointment for two-fifteen, she hailed a cab and gave the driver the address. Sitting back against the seat, she thought about what she was walking into and chewed her cheek as she looked out at the passing scenery.

What will happen if I’m not the right Morgan Dupree? What if I am and all I’m getting is another pile of bills to add to my own? After this trip, I am now officially broke. I can’t afford my own debts, let alone someone else’s. Thank God, my plane ticket is round trip. God, why didn’t I think about this before I left home?”

Shaking her head, she tried to stop thinking negatively and concentrate on the passing traffic and businesses.

Her heart kicked in her chest when the cab pulled up in front of a towering office building. Pulling money from her purse, she paid the driver before opening the door and stepping out of the cab.

She craned her neck back and looked up at the mirrored windows, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun.

“You going to stand there all day or what?”

Morgan jumped at the harshness in the cab drivers voice. “Sorry.” Pulling her suitcase out, she slammed the cab door and turned back toward the building and made her way inside. Cold air enveloped her as she stepped through the glass doors and she looked around nervously. Taking a deep breath, she walked up to the front desk and waited for the secretary to acknowledge her.

“Can I help you?”

Morgan swallowed past the sudden dryness in her throat. “I have an appointment for two-fifteen.”

Smiling, the secretary lifted the receiver to her ear again. “Which of our associates are you here to see?”

“Oh, sorry, Jackson St. Claire.”

Nodding, the woman pushed a button and spoke into the phone before replacing it and waving toward the waiting area. “He’ll be with you shortly.”

“Thank you.” Walking to the nearest chair, Morgan settled back, picked up a magazine and absently began flipping the pages.

To her surprise, she was ushered into Mr. St. Clair’s office five minutes later. Heart pounding, she brushed her bangs back, took a deep breath and entered the office. When her eyes found the man standing behind the desk, she froze in her tracks and took another deep breath through her nose.

Her first thought upon seeing Jackson St. Clair was, ‘DAMN!’. He was just about the sexiest man she had ever had the pleasure of meeting. Six foot-two, jet-black hair, tanned skin, and eyes the color of the sea, a strange mixture of blue and green.

Jackson’s first thought, when he saw her, mirrored her own. The woman was beautiful. Around five feet, slender, red wavy hair that reached her waist and, unless she was wearing contacts, her eyes were bright purple.

Clearing his throat, he held out his hand. “Miss Dupree, thank you for coming so soon.” ‘Man, she is gorgeous and she smells heavenly.’

She couldn’t help but smile as she sat her suitcase on the floor and shook his hand. He had a nice strong grip for someone who sat behind a desk all day. “Hello, Mr. St. Clair.”

Releasing her hand, Jackson waved to the leather chair in front of his desk. “Please, have a seat.”

“Thank you.” Taking her seat, she dug through her purse and pulled out her wallet. “I believe you wanted to see some identification.”

He felt a blush creep up his neck as he took the proffered items. “Well it’s just to be safe.”

Morgan sat twisting her fingers while he compared her I.D. to the papers in front of him. ‘He’s going to tell me I’ve wasted my time.’ The thought kept replaying over in her head and she bit down on the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.

After what seemed like an eternity, he lowered the papers and looked at her. “Would you like something to drink, Miss Dupree?”

Great, here it comes’. “No thank you and please, call me Morgan.”

Jackson walked over to the mini bar in the corner, looked at her over his shoulder and smiled. “Morgan, it is and, you may call me Jackson.”

Morgan shifted in her chair and closed her eyes in embarrassment at the noise it made. ‘Kill me now.’ “That…”

“Happens all the time.” He watched her as he walked back to his desk. ‘She’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs’.

Sitting down again, he began shuffling papers around until he decided she had squirmed enough. “Well, Miss... I mean, Morgan, after careful examination of all the documents you’ve brought, it appears you are in fact the Miss Morgan Elaine Dupree I was searching for. So, if I could just get you to sign these papers...”

“Excuse me, but why do I need to sign anything and what am I signing for, exactly?”

He looked at her for a full minute before replying. “I can’t very well give you your inheritance until you’ve signed these papers.”

She took a deep breath and asked again. “What exactly am I signing for?”

He looked at her to see if she was joking. She was not; he could plainly see that she didn’t have a clue as to what she was getting. “Once you sign these papers you will be a very rich woman. I have to get your signature in order to give you control of it.”

“How… how much money?” She held her breath as she waited for him to reply.

“I can’t tell you that until you sign these papers. Once we transfer ownership, I’ll answer any questions you may have.” Pressing a button on his phone, he asked his assistant to join them.

“Terry, this is Miss Dupree. Would you mind being a witness to the signing of these documents?”

“Sure thing, Jack.” Terry smiled and shook Morgan’s hand. “Ma’am.”

Passing the papers to Morgan, Jackson showed her where to sign her name.

When she finished, he signed his own name before passing the papers to Terry for his signature. “Terry will get these filed with the courts and I’ll mail you a copy later. Thank you, Terry.”

After Terry left, Jackson turned back to Morgan. “Now to answer your earlier question, you have just taken control of a very substantial amount of money.”

Her breath caught in her throat. “When you say substantial, how much are you talking about?”

“Well, with the stocks, bonds, and cash it comes to around two-hundred million dollars.” He watched as her face paled and he thought she was about to pass out.

She felt like someone had just hit her in the chest with a sledge hammer.

Catching her breath was painful. “I… I think I’ll take that drink now, if you’re still offering.”

Pushing his chair back, he stood and walked back to the bar. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed her eyes had a faraway look in them. “Are you okay? Maybe you’d like water instead?”

Morgan shook her head and absently ran a hand through her hair. “I think I need something a little stronger than water.” Taking the glass from his hand, she lifted it to her lips and took a drink, wincing as the liquid burned her throat. Tilting the glass again, she finished her drink and sighed as she felt her body begin to relax. Her hands quit shaking and she realized she felt a little calmer and more than a little light headed. “Okay, why am I getting this money?”

He smiled at her, thinking she was joking. “Come on, Morgan, as if your parents didn’t tell you about your trust fund.”

Maybe it was the Scotch that made her start giggling, or maybe it was nerves? Whichever it was, she couldn’t seem to stop. Drawing a breath and wiping her eyes, she was able to stop laughing long enough to answer. “Well, no actually they didn’t. You… you see, I have been poor my whole life. I used my rent money to pay for my plane ticket and a cheap motel room. An… and I just spent almost all of what was left paying for a taxi to get here from the airport.” With that said, she broke into another fit of giggles.

Jackson got up and took her glass out of her hand.

“Oh, are you getting me another one?” She watched him walk back toward the bar and bit her lip when she felt a giggle tickle her throat.

“I think you’ve had enough, don’t you?” He watched as her cheeks grew red and he waited for her angry retort.

Choking off a nasty reply, she laid a hand against her stomach and swallowed a few times. “Maybe you’re right; I am feeling a little queasy.”

“You don’t drink much, do you?” He watched her to see if she was going to be sick.

She stared at him for a second before answering. “No, that’s the first time I’ve had anything stronger than a glass of wine, and I had that earlier to celebrate my birthday.”

When he came back to his desk, he handed her a cup of black coffee. “Here, drink this. I need you clear headed so we can finish our business.”

He took the time to study her as she drank her coffee, even half-loaded she was a cutie. His gaze kept going to her eyes and he smiled when she lifted a questioning brow. “I hope I don’t offend you, but are you wearing contact lenses?”

She took another sip of her coffee and shook her head. “No, it’s my real eye color. And, I’m not offended, people ask me that all the time. Now my hair is another thing, naturally jet-black. But it makes me look so pale that I keep it dyed red.”

He waited until she sat her cup down before he began telling her how she came to inherit such a large sum of money. “I have a client who claims to be related to you. She had a trust fund sat up for you, by my father, on the day you were born. You could only inherit on your twenty-first birthday. The only thing we are to keep from you is the identity of our client, who wishes to remain unnamed at this time.” He held his hand up when she opened her mouth to speak. “She told my father that when it is time, she will let you know who she is herself. Our firm is not to interfere in any way on that point.”

“Ookaaay.” She still wasn’t sure if Jackson was pulling her leg or not. She decided to test him. “If, as you say, all this money is mine, when do I get it?”

He pushed back from his desk far enough to open the bottom drawer. Reaching in, he pulled out a folder and laid it on his desk. Opening the folder, he removed a small manila envelope and tossed it across the desk to her. “This is what you’re going to need to gain access to the money at the bank. Now, as I’ve said before, it’s not all in cash.” Pushing the folder across the desk, he pointed at it and waited for her to look at him. “In this folder are the account papers for you to use at the bank to get into your safety deposit box. In the box, you will find your stocks and bonds, among other things.”

Morgan looked up from the papers she was studying. “What do you mean by ‘among other things’?”

“Well,” Jackson leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together behind his head. “our client has been putting things into the box over the years; and before you ask the answer is no, I don’t know what she has placed in there. We didn’t ask and she’s never made it known.”

“So, I can use this money for anything I want?” She wanted to be sure she wasn’t going to be locked up for spending money that wasn’t hers to spend.

“Anything your little heart desires.” The smile that curved his lips caused her to shift in her chair. “Why, is there something you want to buy?” He laughed low in his throat when she shifted again.

She gave him a smile of her own before looking down. “Well, yes, actually there is.” Reaching down for her purse, which had ended up on the floor at some point, she pulled out the brochure about the house and laid it on his desk.

Jackson pulled the brochure closer and let out a low whistle of appreciation when he saw the picture of the house that graced the front of the brochure. “That’s a damn fine house. Do you know where it’s located?”

She nodded. “I’ve seen it once before and fell in love at first sight. I never thought I’d be able to afford something that nice, I guess I can now.” She still couldn’t wrap her mind around that little fact.

Opening the brochure, he saw the address of the house. “I know where this town is located. Have you called this number here to see how much the house is selling for?”

She gave him her best ‘are you kidding me’ look. “What would have been the point? I knew I couldn’t afford it, so why tease myself?”

Before she could stop him, he picked up the phone and started dialing the number printed on the front of the brochure. Turning his back to her, he spoke into the phone, his voice so low she couldn’t hear a word he was saying.

Watching him, she saw him nod his head a few times before he turned back to face her and hung up the phone. He was chewing the inside of his jaw and he refused to meet her eyes. She felt her heart drop and her shoulders sagged.

“It’s sold already, isn’t it?”

Jackson shook his head. “How bad do you want this house?” When he looked up, his intense gaze held hers until she glanced away.

Looking at her hands, she shrugged her shoulders. “It’s not like I have to have it. It’s just a pipe dream of mine.”

He watched her for so long without saying anything that she started to get nervous again. “The person I just talked to said the house needs some major work done to it. Are you willing to spend the kind of money it may take to repair whatever needs repairing? It could get very expensive. Are you willing to put that kind of money into a dream?”

“How much money are you talking about?” Her voice was so low he had to strain to hear.

“I honestly don’t know. But the house is selling for one hundred-twenty-five thousand dollars.” He watched her eyes grow wide and he waited for her to tell him to forget about it.

Her breath lodged in her throat and she reached for the brochure again. The longer she stared at the house, the more sure she became that she had to have it. “Yes, I’m more than willing to put that kind of money into a dream.”

“Alright, if you’re that sure, then let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?” He picked up the phone again and hit a single button before turning away.

She started to nod her head then stopped when a thought hit her. “Wait, how long will I have to wait until I can move in, after I buy the place?”

Turning enough to look at her, he reached out with one finger and hung the phone up before he shrugged. “I would think you could move in right away, unless the place is in an unlivable condition. Why? Are you in a hurry to move?” He couldn’t help the smile that touched his lips every time he saw the bewildered look on her face, it was so damn cute. He found himself wondering what she looked like first thing in the mornings. ‘Whoa, you do not want to go there, bubba.’ Shaking his head to clear it of images of her naked, he waited to see if she would answer.

She didn’t miss the glazed look that came over his face. “No and, if there’s no reason for me to stay in Arkansas tonight, I would really like to get back home, if it’s at all possible. I need to go pick up Tiny as soon as I can.” She knew she’d probably lose her money from the motel and the penny pincher in her cringed.

“Who’s Tiny,” ‘Does she have a kid?’

“Tiny is my kitty cat, I found him when he was just a kitten. He would never forgive me if I left him with my friend Brooke for too long.” Love made her eyes darken as she explained to him who Tiny was.

“I take it Tiny doesn’t like your friend.” He chuckled when she scrunched up her nose.

“Not so very much.” Morgan let out a little laugh of her own.

“Tell you what we’ll do, you go home, get your cat and whatever else you’ll need, and I’ll get started on buying that house. I’ll call you in a few days to update you and I’ll fax you the papers you’ll need to sign to finalize the deal when I get them ready, okay?”

Standing when he did, she picked up her suitcase and sighed. ‘Guess I didn’t need this after all.’ “Okay, I guess I’ll talk to you in a few days then?”

He held out his hand for her to shake. “Talk to you then.” After shaking her hand, he picked up the phone and turned his back to her as he began talking, silently dismissing her.

As she was walking out the door, she remembered that she didn’t know if she had enough money for a taxi ride to the bank and back to the airport. Embarrassed, she stepped back into the room and waited for him to complete his call.

When he turned to hang up the phone, he was surprised to see her still there. “Is something wrong?”

Cheeks flaming bright red, she cleared her throat. “I umm... I don’t think I have enough money for a taxi.”

They both started laughing at the irony of that statement.

“What were you planning to do for cab fare if you did have to stay the night?”

Morgan shrugged. “My motel is within walking distance from here. I figured, I only needed a cab from there back to the airport.”

Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was almost quitting time. “How about I give you a lift to the bank so you can withdraw some cash?”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out or anything.”

“Not a problem. It’s almost quitting time and I have to drive right by the bank on my way home.” He got up and put on his suit jacket. Reaching into the pocket for his keys, he started for the door.

CHAPTER FOUR


They rode to the bank in silence, neither having anything to say to the other.

“Here we are.” As he pulled up to the curb, he noticed that she was biting her thumbnail and her leg was bouncing nervously. “Do you want I should go in with you?”

Wiping her hand on her jeans, she smiled at him and reached for the door handle. “I’m fine. I shouldn’t be in there long. Wait for me?”

Jackson nodded and watched her as she slipped from the car and stared up at the bank.

Forcing herself to step away from the curb, she slowly walked up the sidewalk, pulled open the glass door and entered the bank lobby.

Looking around the cool interior, she approached the nearest desk and asked to speak with someone about accessing the account and safety deposit box.

“Is it your account and box?”

Nodding, Morgan handed the young woman the papers Jackson had given her.

The woman studied the papers for a few minutes before picking up the phone. “Mr. Cooper, I have a Miss Morgan Dupree here and… yes sir.” Hanging up, she handed the papers back to Morgan and pointed to a row of leather chairs. “If you’d wait over there, Mr. Cooper will be with you in a few minutes.”

Morgan smiled nervously and nodded mumbling, ‘Thank you’ before walking over to sit down.

She was settling back when the door next to her opened. “Miss Dupree?”

Looking up, she was surprised by the man standing in front of her. “Oh my… you look just like my dad.”

The man laughed as he held out his hand. “Your dad, Ryan, is my cousin. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Morgan stood and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you too.”

“Well now, what can I help you with today?”

Morgan held out the paperwork to him. “I need to withdraw some money from this account.”

Mr. Cooper read the papers and nodded. “Come into my office please.” After Morgan entered, he eased the door half way closed and walked around to sit behind his desk and picked up the phone. “How much are you needing?”

She knew she needed to withdraw enough money for a cab ride and something to eat but, she decided to get enough to pick up something for Tiny and Brooke. “Maybe a couple hundred, is that okay?”

“You can get as much or as little as you want. About five hundred then?” Without waiting for her reply, he tapped a few buttons and spoke into the phone, giving the person on the other end her account number and telling them how much she would be getting. Hanging up the phone, he folded his hands in front of him and smiled.
“Joanie will be here in a minute with your money. Is there anything else you needed?”

She was shaking her head when she remembered the safety deposit box. “I’d like to get the contents from the safety deposit box while I’m here.”

Joanie knocked and entered, carrying a small white envelope. “I hope twenties are okay.”

Taking the envelope, Morgan’s cheeks flushed as she counted the money before putting the envelope in her bag. “Thank you.”

Mr. Cooper stood as Joanie walked out. “The deposit boxes are right down the hall.”

Standing, she followed him down the hall and into a vault.

“Do you have your key with you?” Mr. Cooper led her to the row of deposit boxes and pointed at one of the larger doors before stepping back.

Stepping forward, Morgan put her key in the top slot, her brow wrinkling when she saw that there was a place for another key. Turning toward Mr. Cooper, she saw him bring out a second key and start walking toward her.

“We require a second key for safety reasons.” Inserting the key, he turned both at the same time and pulled the door open before moving to the side.

After a brief hesitation, she pulled the box out of the wall and took it over to the table that was in the middle of the room. Taking a deep breath, Morgan opened the lid and looked down into the box.

The first thing she saw was another key attached to an envelope. Taking the envelope from the box, she opened it and pulled out a single sheet of paper. In the center of the page, written in fancy sweeping script was an address and the words.

Thought you might need this.”

There wasn’t a signature on the note, no way to tell who had written it but, according to Jackson, this note was from “the lady” who had the account set up for her. Taking the rest of the things in the box, she studied each item, stocks and bonds as far as she could see, before stuffing them into her purse and closing the lid of the box. After putting the box back, she thanked Mr. Cooper before walking out to Jackson’s car and handing him the note after getting in. “Can you take me here?” She buckled her seatbelt and passed him the key. “This was attached to the envelope that the note was in.”

Taking the key, he absently slipped it into his shirt pocket while he studied the address for a few minutes. Chuckling silently to himself, he looked at her with a smile, then started his car and pulled back into traffic. Jackson knew exactly where they were going but decided not to tell her because he wanted it to be a surprise.

Morgan was looking at the papers in her lap and she didn’t notice when they pulled into the parking lot of a car dealership.

When Jackson pulled to a stop, she looked up and saw where they were. “Why are we here?”

“This is where you wanted me to take you.” He smiled when her eyes widened before she turned back toward the passenger side window.

“Are you sure this is the right place?”

He looked at the address again. “Yes ma’am, this is the right place.” Putting the note in his pocket with the key, he opened his car door and got out. After a minute, Morgan opened her own door and followed him.

Holding the entrance door open for her, he gave a mock bow and waved his hand toward the interior. “After you.”

Stepping in after her, he walked up to the front desk and asked to speak to the owner. Within minutes, a man, who was smiling at them as if they were long lost family members, came out to greet them.

“Hello.” Extending his hand, he shook Jackson’s hand. “How may I help you?”

Jackson shook his hand then took the key from his pocket. “We would like to see the car that belongs to this key.”

Morgan didn’t think the man’s smile could get any bigger but, upon seeing the key, it did.

“Of course. You must be Morgan?” Turning his smiling face toward her, he extended his hand again. “It’s so good to finally meet you. How was your flight?”

Before she could answer, he was already walking away, leaving them no choice but to follow.

When she stepped outside behind Jackson, she saw the most beautiful hunter green Jaguar parked at an angle near the door. She looked at Jackson and then turned her eyes on the dealership owner. “Is that my car?”

The man smiled again and nodded. “We were told to expect you sometime this week so, I had one of my guys get it ready for you.”

Morgan didn’t realize she was crying, until she saw the handkerchief Jackson held out to her. Drying her eyes, she looked at Jackson again. “Is this some sort of joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke.” Turning back to the smiling dealership owner, he asked what all she had to do in order to take ownership of the car.

“Just sign the title. Madam has already paid for it, put insurance on it, and had it tagged. So, when Miss Dupree is ready to leave, she may do so.”

 With that, the man shook their hands again and went back inside to get the paper work ready.

Morgan opened the car door and leaned in, her eyes automatically closing as she breathed in the smell of leather. She jumped when Jackson spoke near her ear.

“Do you like the color?”

Pulling her head from the car, she closed the door and turned to him. “It’s beautiful. I’m almost scared to drive it.”

Jackson laughed and opened the door to the dealership. “You’ll love it once you get behind the wheel.”

After signing the paperwork, Morgan put her things into her new car, thanked Jackson and slid behind the steering wheel, eager to get home.

As she was putting the car in reverse, Jackson tapped on her window and waited for her to roll it down. “Drive safely and remember, I’ll give you a call when I have all the papers on your new house ready.”

She smiled and nodded. “I’ll be careful. And Jackson, thank you.”

 “Hey, don’t thank me, I’m just doing my job,” Backing away from her car, he watched as she eased the car forward. Giving her a wave, he turned and walked back to his own car.

Pulling into traffic, she turned the Jag toward home and reached out to turn the radio on before settling back into her seat with a nervous sigh. Her mind raced as she thought of all the things she was able to do for herself and Tiny now that she had the money.

CHAPTER FIVE


Morgan’s heart began racing when she turned onto Brooke's street and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. She wondered what her friend would think when she saw her pull up in a brand-new car. ‘She’s going to have a fit, that’s what she’s going to do.’

When she pulled into the driveway, she saw the curtains in the front window move and she knew Brooke must have heard her pull up. Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door and slowly stepped out, keeping an eye on the front door of Brooke’s house.

Before the door even opened she could hear Brooke yelling from the inside. “No way!! No fucking way!”

When the door finally opened, Tiny rushed out and began rubbing against Morgan’s leg. Squatting down, she wrapped her arms around the cat and gave him a hug before looking up at Brooke. “I would’ve called but…”

She had to brace herself for Brooke when she stood back up. Instead of the usual shoulder pat hug, Brooke picked her up in a bear hug so tight she was sure she could hear a few ribs cracking.

“Who’d you rob?”

Morgan stumbled back when Brooke sat her back on her feet and opened her mouth to respond.

Without waiting for a reply, Brooke started firing off questions so fast Morgan had to ask her to calm down in order to understand what she was saying.

“First, I didn’t rob anybody,” Morgan laughed at the disbelieving look on Brooke’s face. “Second, let’s go in and I’ll tell you everything, okay?” She put an arm around Brooke’s shoulders and guided her back into the house, looking back once to make sure Tiny was following.

Once inside, she sat on the couch with Tiny at her feet and proceeded to tell Brooke all that had happened since she had left, stopping every few words to answer the endless stream of questions from Brooke.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep calming breath before telling Brooke the hard part. “I’m moving to Arkansas.”

“I can’t believe you got all that money and a new car and... YOU’RE WHAT!?” Jumping to her feet, Brooke took a few steps away and glared down at Morgan. “Have you lost your damn mind? I know you’ve gone completely off your rocker now. What are you thinking girl? ‘Moving to Arkansas’, yeah right, when hell freezes over!” Brooke was red faced and out of breath by the time she finished.

Morgan opened her mouth to explain but stopped when she caught a movement from the corner of her eye. Tiny stood up and turned to face Brooke, who was walking toward Morgan with her hands fisted at her sides, and growled in warning.

Brooke stopped walking and pointed at Tiny. “If he comes near me I’ll…”

Tiny took a step toward Brooke growling low in his chest.

“Morgan, call your cat.” Brooke’s voice shook when she spoke and she began taking slow steps backward, never taking her eyes off the cat.

Instead of calling his name, Morgan made a low humming sound, which seemed to echo around the room.

Tiny stopped his advance toward Brooke and looked back at her as if asking, “Are you sure?” When she nodded her head, he turned one last warning glare on Brooke before walking back to Morgan and laying down at her feet.

“Brooke, I’m so sorry.” Standing, she looked down at Tiny and back toward Brooke. “I don’t know what got into him. He’s never done that before.” She held her hand out to Brooke only to have it rejected.

Shaking her head, Brooke walked slowly to the front door and pulled it open. “Maybe you and Tiny should leave.”

Morgan was stunned but, she understood Brooke’s fear.

“Come Tiny.” Morgan patted her leg as she started toward the open door, watching as Brooke stepped away from them. “I’ll come back later so we can talk, okay?”

She felt her heart breaking when Brooke shook her head. “No Morgan, I don’t think that would be a good idea. First, you tell me you’re all of a sudden rich, then you’re moving to Arkansas, and now your cat tries to attack me. I hope you’re happy with your new life but… I don’t think it should include me.”

Brooke didn’t try to wipe away the steady stream of tears that trickled down her cheeks as she said the words that would end their friendship and, Morgan wondered if this was the best thing for both of them. Looking into Brooke’s eyes, she knew she had just lost her best friend and there was no way of changing her mind. Blinking quickly, to control her own tears, she stepped out onto the porch and walked slowly down the steps. She wanted to blame Tiny but couldn’t. She knew that he was only trying to protect her from what he thought was a dangerous situation.

Waving a weak good-bye, she waited for Tiny to get into the car before sliding in after him and driving away from Brooke’s house for the last time.

When she got home, she found a message from Jackson letting her know that he had completed the deal on her house and that she could move in at any time.


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