Once and Again: Petal, Georgia, Book 1

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Dedication

 

This one is for all the fans of my Chase Brothers who’ve encouraged me to make a return visit for one of Tate’s siblings.

And for Eileen, who was the inspiration for Polly Chase. I miss you every day.

Chapter One

 

Lily wandered through her new home—the apartment above the garage. Hard to fully think of it as home when just two weeks ago it’d been a collection place for unwanted crap her mother refused to get rid of.

She looked at herself in the mirror one last time before heading to the house to grab her brother. She didn’t have a suit or anything, but she used what she had. She’d come to realize appearances were indeed important when it came to dealing with authority figures. These were Chris’s teachers and his principal, their support would go a long way in helping him get where he needed to be.

Competent. Yes, that was it. She wasn’t Chris’s mom and she was still relatively young, so she wanted to appear competent. Solid. A together, trustworthy adult sibling pitching in to get Chris back on track at school. Lily thought she might have nailed it. Enough to do the job anyway.

And, she thought as she took another look, perhaps it was petty, but she thought she also looked good enough that when she had to deal with Nathan, he’d see what he’d been missing.

Not that she’d put any thought into how he might react when she saw him again after so many years. Or what he felt in general. Much.

Of course the snort of amusement might have ruined that statement.

Taking a deep breath she went down and saw the box she’d told Chris to carry up to her place still sitting next to the car. “Chris! Get over here and take this box.”

“I don’t see why you didn’t just hire someone to do this,” he muttered. But he did it, carrying the box upstairs with care to keep those grumbles under his breath.

He came back out quickly and she sent a smirk his way. “Why would I pay someone when I’ve got a perfectly good fifteen-year-old who can pick things up and move them?”

“For free!”

“Free? Ha! You cost a lot more than free, kid. In any case, you’ve got to step up your game. Helping out around the house is part of that.”

Inside, their mother wandered around watering plants. It was as if there was no problem at all. Or hell, that they were even there really. Lily turned to her brother, stepping between him and their mother to interrupt his attention.

“Get your stuff, I’m taking you to school in fifteen minutes. You can look like a hobo, or you can clean yourself up. Either way you’re in my car and we’re leaving in
fifteen minutes
.”

“I heard you the first time. I get it. Fifteen minutes.” His defiance didn’t last long and he broke eye contact, dipping his chin. But he wasn’t quite done. “Still don’t see why you have to go with me.”

“Let’s establish up front just how not okay it is to talk to me with an attitude other than
yes ma’am.
As for your statement that you don’t know why I have to go with you. Seems to me, Christopher, that’s your problem in a nutshell. Wake your ass up and get yourself together before you end up pulling slurpees for people for the rest of your life.” She looked at her watch. “I’m leaving this driveway in
fifteen minutes
and you will be in the car. Tick tock.” She gently prodded him out of the room and finished the last bit of her own preparation as she gulped down her coffee.

Her mother came into the kitchen and began to clean up the nonexistent mess.

“I’m going to take him and then meet with his principal and as many teachers as I can. I should be back by noon or so, but you have my cell number if you need me.” Lily checked her bag to be sure she had the folder of information she’d need.

“Oh is that today? All right then.” Pamela Travis looked troubled for a moment and then smiled.

“Yes. And we can talk about it when I get back, all right?” Lily had actually hoped her mother would come with her to these meetings, but the strong woman Pamela might have been when her children were young had slowly fizzled out until she disappeared completely when Rodger had walked out.

Six months ago, right before the start of the school year, Lily’s father up and announced he’d filed for divorce and was in the process of moving in with his new girlfriend. Emphasis on the girl. A twenty-year-old who’d babysat for Chris many times. Chris had called Lily right away, and she’d come to Petal to find her mother a wreck and her brother at loose ends.

Her father was just fine. As if there’d be any doubt he wouldn’t be sure of that. The one person in Rodger Travis’s life who got his consideration and time was Rodger Travis. This dumb hooker he’d shacked up with hadn’t been the first, though she was probably the youngest. He’d left town and had been back exactly once to see his son.

Wasn’t like Atlanta was the other side of the earth. No, it was an easy enough commute for him to make at least once a week. Too bad he was so wrapped up in banging a girl barely old enough to have graduated high school.

It wasn’t really a surprise then, that in the wake of all this upset, her sweet little brother had started messing up big time. Things quickly got out of control. Cutting school. Bad grades and even, two weeks before, a trip to jail when he’d been busted drinking in the abandoned barn out on Summit Farm. Stupid.

Over drinks, at two in the morning, her mother had finally confessed the depth of the problem and her inability to handle Chris.

Lily had found out a number of things that night. First that her mother had turned increasingly to the numb reality of an entire bottle of wine with her anti-anxiety medication. Second, that her father wasn’t interested in the mess he’d turned his wife into or the devastation his abandonment had brought to his son’s life. When Lily had spoken to him, he’d helpfully suggested Lily take out a loan to send Chris to military school. Their older sister, Nancy, was an opportunistic, lazy bitch and would prove no help either. Which, to be fair, Lily had known since childhood.

Getting Chris back on track had fallen to Lily, even though she’d escaped Petal years ago and hoped not to look back.

She had to look back now.

Speaking of Chris… She looked at her watch. “Let’s go!” She headed down the hall where she found him on his bed with a handheld video game system and his headphones on.

“You’re not my mother,” he said sullenly.

“No, I’m not. I’m your sister and I’m here because of the wreck you’re making of your life. I love you and I’m here to put a stop to it. So. You can get up on your own and walk out, or I swear to you, Chris, I will show up in every single one of your classes and sit next to you to be sure you’re there. Moreover, I will drag you by the back of the neck from one place to the next. I am not having it. Your little vacation from reality is over. Get. Your. Butt. In. The. Car. Now.”

Grumbling, he still got a move on at last and headed toward the door. She took his book bag and gave it a look. “Take this with you. I want you to know I will be checking your work so don’t forget to bring it home each night. We’ll be sure you have all the supplies you need and all that jazz.”

“Great.”

She laughed, pushing him with a guiding hand on his shoulder through the house and toward the driveway.

He raised a hand at their mother. “Bye, Mom!”

Her mother came into the room and kissed Chris’s cheek. He blushed and hugged her back. He was a good kid; she knew that. He’d lost his way and now she’d help him find it again.

“Love you both,” their mother called out.

 

She parked in the lot, noting that it looked pretty much the same as it had a decade before when she’d attended Petal High. The same mix of cars from shiny new to beater in the parking lot. The same kids hanging out and laughing before school started.

“Chris, I’m meeting with your principal right now, and she and I are going to talk about how we can work with you to get you passing this year, all right?”

He tried to look away, but she wouldn’t let him. She took his shoulder and turned him to face her. “You can’t do this anymore. Playtime is over. You’re going to fail if you don’t take care of your business. And that’s not acceptable. If it was all you were capable of that would be one thing, but you’re a smart kid. Don’t blow it.”

“If I have to hear all these lectures, I’d rather go to class.”

She laughed and whacked him upside the head. “Whatever it takes, monkey-boy, whatever it takes. I’ll see you after school. Right out here.” She pointed to the parent pick-up lane.

“Until my car gets back from the shop, Mom’s letting me use hers. No need to pick me up.”

This one she and her mother had only reached agreement on the day before when they’d gotten word Chris had cut fourth period again. One of the many reasons her mother had agreed to let Lily be in charge was her own seeming inability to give Chris hard consequences. Though Lily was beginning to think a big part of that had to do with the pills, but she hoped that would end soon too. In either case, there was a new sheriff in town and this was going to end one way or another. Starting with the removal of privileges like a car—a car Lily didn’t think he’d done anything to earn to start with.

“Boy, did you hit your head? Who drove you in? I did. How is it you’ll get Mom’s car? Pay attention. Anyway, only boys who go to school and pass get cars their mothers pay for. Until you get your grades back above failing, you’re not driving anything.”

His eyes widened and his mouth hardened. He looked an awful lot like his oldest sister right about then, and that scared her enough to stay hard and on task with him.

“That’s my car. You can’t do that.”

“Chris, you’re missing the point. I can. I will. You’ve pushed Mom around long enough. Go to class or I’ll escort you there myself.” She kept it quiet, but made sure to keep eye contact with him.

“Fine.”

She shrugged and stepped back. “See you at two fifty.” Before he said another word, she moved past him and toward the administration offices.

“Lily Travis for Principal Bunton, please.” She held on to her folder with all the letters, notifications, emails and other things the school had sent over the last semester.

Living with her mother and raising a nearly sixteen-year-old boy with a ferocious sense of entitlement. Just what she thought her life would be like at twenty-eight.

 

 

Nathan Murphy had been grading a test when the knock on his door startled him. A warning that he wasn’t seeing any students just then died on his lips when he looked up and saw…
her
standing there.

Long, shiny black hair, perfect bangs framed large brown eyes outlined with black liner. The deep-red lipstick on her lips should have looked overdone against her pale skin, but it was the entire package that worked. She was as sexy as she appeared wholesome. Speechless, he took her in from the tips of the ballet flats she wore, up legs as long as a summer day, up the nip at her waist where the red and white gingham blouse had been belted. Bangle bracelets at her wrists. She was an ad for the updated, way sexier 1950s. It was all American but in that pinup sort of way. Vintage sexy and he really wanted some more.

And he’d seen her naked more times than he could remember. Which was a lie. He remembered every single time he’d been with Lily Travis naked.

“Um.” He cleared his throat and loosened his tie. “Lily?” She’d not been this va-va-voom when they’d been in school. This was a woman who had a point of view. She’d grown up. This woman appeared to fully own the depth of her sexuality in a way she’d only begun to realize when they’d been together before. This personal style suited her very well.

She straightened and took a deep breath. The buttons at her cleavage did their work—barely—as her breasts thrust forward, stretching the material. His cock must have felt sympathy and that was why it stretched the material at his lap.

He searched for his words as he took her in. “Lily?”

She stepped into his classroom, and he couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say as he watched the woman he’d once loved walk toward his desk. She still moved as if music played in her head.

His sister Beth was close to Lily so he knew she had been around more to deal with her little brother. But it hadn’t prepared him for the punch to the gut at the sight of her.

“Mr. Murphy.” She nodded once, all business. “I’m here about Chris. Do you have a few moments?”

“Chris?” He wondered if she wore stockings with garter belts and corsets. And then of course he had to imagine her dressed like that, because…well why not?

She sighed. “Chris Travis? Tenth grader? Hair too long? Surly? Problems with authority in all forms? He’s failing your English class.” She put the academic warning letter on his desk.

Oh, yes, that. “I can’t really talk with you about this. I’m sorry. Your mother needs to do it. Or your father.”

She pulled out yet another piece of paper to hand his way. “This is the paper that establishes my guardianship of my brother. My parents have signed the appropriate paperwork. It’s all in order.”

Reading through the paperwork to be sure everything was correct, he looked back to Lily. “All right then. I have about twenty minutes before my next class. Sit down and we can talk.”

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