About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Oh, Jen! We can't possibly live here!"
The wailing voice of her younger sister brought Jenny Gordon out of her stupor of shock. She stared somberly around at her morose surroundings. Dirt and dust met her inspection whichever way she turned. At first the little cabin left to her by a distant cousin had seemed to be the answer to prayer, but the reality was different from the dream .
"Jen?" Jenny turned to her younger brother, David. His twin sister, Renee, was still sniffling from the doorway, trying desperately to hold back tears.
"Jen? What are we going to do?" He stared disdainfully around the rough-looking log cabin, lips set in a grim line. "We can't live here."
Jenny cast him a fleeting smile. Whatever her own thoughts were, she must keep from her brother and sister the extent of her worry. "Oh, I don't know, David. It's not so bad."
His dark eyebrows went swiftly toward his curling black hair and as swiftly lowered to meet in a straight line across his forehead. Blue eyes snapped with anger.
"Are you out of your ever-loving mind!"
"Oh, Jen, no!" Renee's shocked voice mingled with her brother's irate one.
Jenny lifted a shaking hand to her head and pushed her ash-brown hair from her eyes, which felt dulled by fatigue and worry. It had taken almost everything they'd had in savings to get here, and now she was faced with a definite dilemma.
After her parents had died in an accident shortly after their move to New York from North Dakota, Jenny had hurried home from the university to care for the twins. The comfortable living she had been used to had ceased to exist when the estate was finally settled. Poor investments and estate fees had put on hold any possibility of receiving an inheritance from her parents' insurance policies.
It hadn't helped that the only job she'd been able to find was as a waitress in a greasy diner on the corner close to where they had found a cheap apartment, and she had had to leave the twins on their own for much of the time. The hours had been long, the pay a mere pittance, but it had helped to tide them over until she could find something a little more permanent. Except nothing permanent had ever come.
Just when Jenny had about reached the end of her endurance, the letter had arrived from the lawyer's office. Jenny could barely remember Father talking about a cousin who had come to live with his family when he was just a boy. He had left when he was twenty-one and had written Father periodically, but Jenny hadn't thought of him in years. She had been amazed when she'd received the letter from the lawyer's office about inheriting Cousin Tito's property.
And now here they were in the little Arizona cabin that was nothing like the home she had envisioned.
Jenny was brought back to the present by the squeaking of the floor as David shifted his suitcase and placed it in front of him. There was a defiant set to his shoulders.
"Jen, this place isn't fit for a pig much less a human." He kicked some dust under his feet, causing little dust motes to dance through the sunlight spilling in the open door. "What are we gonna do? We sure can't stay here."
For the first time Jenny fully took stock of her surroundings. After the first shock had worn off, she noticed that the cabin was not really a cabin in the rough sense of the word. It was actually a five-room structure made to look like a cabin. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room combined, a small bathroom and the small living room in which they were presently standing. Sheets were draped over much of the furniture, giving the rooms an eerie quality in the dim light.
The building itself was solidly built and what had appeared to be deterioration was really neglect. An air of loneliness seemed to permeate the place, calling out to the isolation Jenny had been feeling since the death of her parents. Despite its flaws, it was as though the place was calling her home.
Jenny shook herself from her fanciful imaginings and focused on the reality of the situation. On closer inspection she could see things she hadn't noticed before. Light switches were evidence that the cabin had electricity. The kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator, and a small stove stood against the wall in the corner. That the cabin was already furnished was a major blessing, considering they had no furniture of their own. Jenny felt somewhat cheered by these detailsuntil she looked at her siblings.
Renee had returned to the porch and refused to come back into the house. Her ramrod-straight back gave mute testimony to the tension and anger she was feeling. David gave Jenny one final disgusted look and joined his twin on the porch. He seated himself on the stairs at the side of the porch, away from Jen's scrutiny. If looks could kill, David's final glare would have sent her to her grave.
Jenny sighed and turned to the bathroom. When they had entered she had only given it a cursory inspection. Now she took the time to look around her. A whiteenamel claw-foot tub was in the farthest corner. A small commode was in the other corner and a whiteenamel basin stood between. The three items took up most of the space and left little room for anything else. A window above the sink let in a pale, sickly light through the brown grime. One pane was busted out in the corner. The thought that it might have been vandals disturbed her, but she pushed the alarming feelings aside.
As Jenny continued her inspection, a resolve was forming in her mind. This cabin was solidly built. There was obviously electricity and running water. If she and the twins were to clean it up there was no reason that they couldn't live here. She was beginning to get excited at the prospect. Could they do it? What other choice did they have? There was no money left to return to New York and nowhere to return to if they did. There might be some money coming from Cousin Tito's estate eventually, but that would take time and they needed somewhere to live now.
With grim resolve Jenny went outside. She straightened her shoulders as though she were preparing for battle, as in a sense she knew that she was.
"David. Renee. I have something to say." She watched David stiffen. Renee turned to her expectantly, her tear-streaked face looking hopefully toward Jenny.
"I think," Jenny began, "that with a little work we could manage to live here."
David spun around on the porch. Renee's mouth dropped open.
Jenny raised both hands in the air. "Just listen to me a minute."
A mulish expression settled over David's features. His very posture spoke of open defiance, but the thought of the tenement houses in New York and David's descent into an association with the lower dregs of society spurred her on. If there was any way possible, they would never live that way again.
"Maybe you didn't notice that there is electricity and water in the cabin," she told them hopefully, pausing and looking around. "At least there will be when we have it turned on. And there's a refrigerator in the kitchen and a stove. There's even a tub and commode in the bathroom."
The excitement she was beginning to feel came through in her voice.
"The place is a pigsty, for crying out loud! You can't possibly be serious. It would take ages to make this place livable! Where would we live in the meantime?" David placed an arm around Renee's shoulders. "I don't want my sisters living in a place like this."
Jenny stared hard at him until he eventually looked down in embarrassment.
"Have you forgotten how we've been living for the past few years?" She waved her hand around. "This is paradise by comparison."
Renee glanced at her brother and Jenny could see the thoughts flitting across her face. Renee's concern for her twin was equal to her own. If they didn't do something soon, they were going to lose him. They shared a look over his head. Renee lifted her chin, her blue eyes shining luminously. "If you think it's best, Jen, then I'm willing to give it a go."
David's arm dropped from her shoulders as though he had just been stung. He glared from one to the other. "I can't believe it! I can't believe my ears!" He sounded almost desperate.
Jenny lowered her voice, unconsciously pleading with her brother. "David, we all need to work together." She reached a hand toward him but he jerked away. His voice vibrated with his wrath.
"I'll help! You bet I'll help! And as soon as I help you make this place livable, I'm outta here. Do you hear me!"
He flung himself off the porch and stumbled across the yard toward the desert. Jenny started to go after him but Renee placed a restraining hand against her arm. "Let him go, Jenny. He needs time to take it all in."
No one knew David better than his twin so Jenny reluctantly bowed to her wisdom. Jenny worriedly watched as David became a small dot in the distance. "He might get hurt."
"He won't go far." With that pronouncement Renee turned and went through the front door of the cabin. Jenny followed her, shoulders drooping wearily. She knew that David wouldn't make this easy, but would he really run away? It would take all of them working together to pull this off, but David was so impulsive, there was no telling what he might do.
Inside, the cabin seemed cooler, a blessed relief from the sweltering heat outside. Renee had stopped and was staring gloomily around her.
"Do you really think we can fix this place up? And where do we get the money to do it?" She looked inquiringly over her shoulder at Jenny.
Jenny sighed heavily. They still had a little money left in the bank, but not much. She looked hopelessly around her. "I guess the first thing we need to do is have the lights and water turned on. Mrs. Ames said she would stop back for us at one o'clock. We can talk to her about it then." She glanced at her watch. "That's still thirty minutes away."
When they had arrived in Phoenix, they had been met at the airport by Hattie Ames, the wife of Jacob Ames, the lawyer who had handled Cousin Tito's estate. Mrs. Ames was a tall woman with slightly graying dark hair coiled into a bun on her neck. She'd been wearing an elegant burgundy two-piece skirt and jacket with a pink chiffon blouse, leaving Jenny feeling dowdy in comparison. Her old jeans were showing definite signs of wear and her faded T-shirt didn't fare much better.
Jenny had to envy Hattie's seeming imperviousness to the sweltering July heat that had Jenny dripping with perspiration. The hour-and-a-half drive to Mayer had seemed endless despite the air-conditioned comfort of the car.
Jenny went to the door and leaned against the frame. The desert landscape shimmered as the heat reflected off the hot sand. A large bird circled overhead and she shivered as she recognized the predatory buzzard. Where was David? He had to be back before Mrs. Ames returned.
Renee walked up behind her and laid her chin on Jenny's shoulder. Perspiration glistened on her face. Jenny was surprised to discover that Renee was almost as tall as she now. She glanced sideways at her younger sister, taking in the softness of her face. Renee's black hair glistened vibrantly. She was so lovely, even at twelve. Jenny felt a quick pang of envy but just as quickly snuffed it out. Ugly memories that she had thought were in the past struggled to rear their dark heads.
"I could sure go for a cold soda about now," Renee remarked, interrupting those thoughts and scattering them to the far winds.
Jenny smiled. "I'd settle for anything to drink. My throat feels as though it has a layer of cotton in it."
Renee stepped up beside her sister and squinted, her focus down the dirt road that led to Cousin Tito's ranch. Following her gaze, Jenny saw a vehicle rapidly approaching. She glanced at her watch.
"Heavens. Mrs. Ames is early. Renee, go see if you can find David. I don't want to keep her waiting. Not in this heat."
"I couldn't agree more!" Renee swiftly descended the stairs and went in the direction they had last seen David disappearing.
Jenny walked along the porch and rested a jeans-clad hip against the rail. Arms crossed, she watched the rapidly approaching car. A smile quirked her lips. Mrs. Ames must be in a mighty big hurry.
It was only seconds before Jenny realized that the vehicle didn't belong to Mrs. Ames. Her car was a white Lincoln Town Car. This was some sort of truck. Jenny's eyebrows pulled together and she waited in silent anticipation.
A dark blue Jeep Cherokee slid to a halt in front of her. Almost before the car stopped, the front driver's door was thrown open and a large, blond-haired giant fairly threw himself from the vehicle. He strode toward her, taking the porch steps two at a time.
"Who in thunder are you and what are you doing here? This is private property!"
Jenny stared up into blazing green eyes, her heart rate accelerating at the intimidating picture the man made. Never had she seen such an earthy shade of green in a set of eyes before. Nostrils flaring, the man reminded her of stories of avenging Vikings of long ago, especially with a day's growth of whiskers shadowing his firm jaw. She shivered despite the sweltering heat.
"Well?" The belligerence of his tone released her from the daze his fiery presence had induced. She felt the hackles rise on the back of her neck at his arrogance. She drew herself to her full five-foot-six-inch height, which still left her a good eight inches shorter than he was.
"Look, Mr. Whoever-you-are, exactly what right do you have to question me?"
Green eyes locked with blue. Invisible sparks seemed to pass between them, the atmosphere crackling with imperceptible energy. They stared at each other for what felt to Jenny like an eon. The air seemed to grow thicker around them and Jenny found it hard to breathe, her mouth growing even dryer than before, and she knew it had absolutely nothing to do with the Arizona heat. She willed herself to look away, but her eyes had a mind of their own.
Jenny finally dragged her gaze away from the man and focused on David standing behind him. She tried to settle the rapid beating of her heart. The stranger had swung around at the sound of David's voice. His eyes went from David to Renee, who was standing slightly behind her brother, and back to Jenny again.
"What in thunder is going on here? A pack of runaways no doubt." The stranger's lip curled disdainfully. His eyes slid over the three of them as if they were some kind of dirty vagrants and David squirmed slightly under that intense regard.
"Well, you can just pack it up and go back home where you belong. You're not staying here."
"You can't tell us what to do!" David flung himself forward and stubbornly faced the stranger, his trembling lip giving lie to his bravado.