Authors: Monica Tillery
Copyright © 2016 by Monica Tillery.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.
ISBN 10: 1-4405-9549-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9549-3
eISBN 10: 1-4405-9548-8
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9548-6
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123RF/Jan Skwara and © romancenovelcovers.com.
For my parents, who have given me so much.
I know you’d never leave your house to someone else, right?
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Gavin Cooper paced the length of the airless office, the old wooden floors creaking beneath his feet, and blew out a frustrated breath. Everything about his father’s death had been drawn out: the illness, the funeral arrangements, even the removal of his hospital bed and equipment from the home. He and his two younger brothers already knew what was in the will, so why the big production now? What he wouldn’t give to, for once, be able to sign a paper without a meeting. But that was reality when your father, Jack Cooper, left behind a hugely successful guacamole company, an incredible legacy of generosity and innovation, and a giant hole in your heart.
“I thought only people on television had to be present for the reading of a will. What is taking him so long?”
His youngest brother, Gage, leaned back in his chair. “It’s pretty sad that I came in from Houston and still managed to get here before Rodney. He better not be billing us for this time.”
Grayson, the middle brother, glanced at the grandfather clock dominating the corner of the office and fiddled with his shiny blue tie. “Rodney couldn’t have picked a worse day to keep us waiting.” His knee bounced up and down, like he might pop out of the chair at any moment. “There was a refrigeration glitch at the plant last night, and in all the panic, I was on a conference call with the foreman all morning. I had to cut him off before everything was settled so I could be here on time, so I’m sure there will be an even bigger mess waiting for me when I finally get back to the office.”
“Avocado emergency at Guac Olé. What else is new?” Gage teased Grayson. “Of all days to have trouble at the plant, it would have to be today, huh? It’s kind of crappy that you have to start dealing with these things right before you take over the company. Dad would’ve gotten a kick out of testing you like that.”
Jack Cooper would have been right at home in Rodney’s office, kicking back and shooting the shit, giving half-useful advice and cracking up over his own jokes. Gavin would give anything for the chance to sit around wasting time with his dad, but that was impossible, and his patience was wearing thin. It was time to wrap this up and start living the life Dad had prepared them for. He had already moved into the family home his dad was leaving to him so he could care for their dad during his long illness, but until it belonged to him legally on paper, it wouldn’t feel like it was his. Gage had moved to Houston, but he was adept at delegating and would have no trouble handling the oil-rich land their father was leaving him. Grayson had lived and breathed guacamole from the time he was old enough to draw a paycheck; he loved his job as CEO at the company their father had built from nothing and was primed to finally take the helm at Guac Olé. He’d basically been running the place for months already.
Rodney Rodgers, their longtime family attorney, pushed through the door in a rush of blustering apologies and excuses, his secretary trailing behind with a teetering stack of folders and a cup of coffee. Rodney took his seat with an audible sigh, thanking and dismissing his secretary with a smile after she deposited his items on the desk. Gavin noticed that, despite the somber reason for their meeting, Gage’s eyes followed the secretary and her figure highlighted by the tight pencil skirt she wore as she left the room. Rodney leaned back and retrieved a cardboard box bearing their last name from the credenza behind him and tapped the top.
“I am so sorry to keep you boys waiting. Jimmy Crowder’s cows got out early this morning and held up traffic. You know how it is.”
Gavin nodded. The last time the Crowder cows got out they’d meandered halfway across town and into the Prentice family’s peach orchard, where they managed to eat half the fallen and low-hanging fruit before Mr. Crowder got around to wrangling them. The poor old man had been so convinced that the fruit was fermented and his cows would get drunk that Gavin stuck around until the last one was safely back behind the fence. Seemed like a lifetime ago now, though it couldn’t have been more than a year or two.
After spending the last several months saying good-bye to his father, returning to normal life was a challenge. He’d resumed his regular work hours at his veterinary clinic and had finally gone back to his evening workouts with Grayson at the gym. When Dad lost his appetite, Gavin stopped cooking at home and started hitting the drive-through more often than not. The extra pounds he’d packed on were becoming noticeable, and he wasn’t ready to admit defeat and end up the only Cooper man with love handles.
“Now that I’m finally here, let’s get started.” Rodney opened a manila file folder holding notes and documents, and took the lid off the cardboard box. “Jack was so proud of you boys, and he wanted you to know that. Ordinarily, I would simply notify the heirs and send them the paperwork, but your father asked me to personally make sure that you receive the things he left for you and make sure you are all clear about the inheritance. Gavin, he wanted you to clear out his safe-deposit box.”
Gavin leaned forward and took the envelope the attorney offered, opening it to find a small safe-deposit box key and some paperwork. “Sure, no problem.”
Rodney looked into the cardboard box and pulled out a larger, decorative key. “Gage, this one is for you.”
Gage took the key and turned over the attached white note card.
Son, the key to everything is happiness.
“Happiness and twenty-five percent of Guac Olé, I guess,” Rodney said with a soft laugh. “He signed over one-quarter of the company to you, which I believe you were expecting.”
“And the land, right?” Gage closed his fist around the key.
Rodney scanned the documents on his desk, his brow furrowed. “No, no land. If you’re referring to the property at 12332 Pine Ramble Drive, that now belongs to a Miss Charlotte Wilkinson.”
“Charlotte Wilkinson? Why the hell would he give my land to her?” Gage sounded more perplexed than angry, and Gavin searched his memory for any other Charlottes his dad might have known. The only one he knew of was a horrible environmental scientist who had been making his brother’s life miserable, butting heads with him on several of his oil company’s drilling sites. Gage had been promised the land for as long as he could remember—the land and the oil there played a major role in his brother’s future plans. His father changing course at the last moment, without telling any of them, made no sense.
“And this one is for you.” Rodney handed Grayson a small, enameled strawberry charm attached to a white note card that matched Gage’s.
Son, what’s sweeter than success?
Grayson read aloud. He turned the little strawberry over in his palm. “And half of Guac Olé, right? I know there’s got to be paperwork involved. I set aside this time today so I could handle everything.”
Rodney stared at the papers in front of him as though he wished he could hide under them. “That’s it. I’m sorry.”
“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’? Dad promised me half of Guac Olé. Gage and Gavin are going to sell me their shares, and then I’ll own the company I’ve poured my whole life into. Look again, Rodney.” Grayson sounded panicked, and Gavin didn’t blame him. His entire future was riding on the assumption that he’d inherit the company; there was no plan B.
Rodney pushed his glasses up his nose and sniffed. “Mr. Cooper left the half of Guac Olé not willed to Gage and Gavin to Rebecca Nash.” His words were almost a whisper.
“The only Rebecca Nash I know is a floor supervisor in the factory... There’s no way he would leave her half the damn company. Is this some kind of horrible joke?” Grayson balled his fists, looking like he wanted to leap across the desk and take his frustration out on their mild-mannered attorney.
“I’m not sure if it makes any difference, but he did stipulate that you retain your position as CEO if you so desire. Regardless of who actually owns the company, you are still essentially in charge. He knew how much the company means to you, and he firmly believed in your ability to lead the company going forward.” Rodney chanced a smile, probably hoping to diffuse the anger in the office with this small piece of good news.
“Are you serious? No, it doesn’t make any difference. This is not what we discussed, and it’s not what we were promised. I don’t want to be CEO of a company someone else owns. You can’t honestly tell me that you didn’t know that we’d have a problem with these changes. You know what used to be in the will, and you didn’t think to ask him why he suddenly wanted to change everything? What exactly is going on here, Rodney?”
“I am sorry. I know that this is an unpleasant surprise, and I will admit that it did seem odd at the time. However, your father didn’t explain his reasons to me, and he was well within his rights to do as he pleased without my input. He simply asked me to carry out his wishes.” Rodney slid a pair of reading glasses across his desk to Gavin.
It took everything he had to resist crushing them in his hand as he grabbed them and read the attached card, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
Son, look to the past to see your future.
Dad didn’t even wear glasses. What the hell does this mean?”
He had a sinking feeling that he would soon find out that the house his father promised him now belonged to some random woman. There was no way he would be the only one lucky enough to get what he was expecting. The surprise would be who would be getting the house. Like his brothers, Gavin had made plans based on the assumption that his father would follow through on his promise. The home’s historical aspects would be lovingly restored and maintained, and future generations of Coopers would be raised there. He hadn’t ever considered the possibility that wouldn’t happen—he and Dad had talked about it numerous times, agreeing that he would keep it in the family as the only brother sincerely interested in marriage and children.
It was more than a house, more than their home. It was everything to Gavin, and for it to belong to anyone else simply wasn’t right. Gavin fixed Rodney with a look he hoped was expectant rather than hostile and challenging. Might as well get it over with so they could figure out what to do next.
“And the house? Does that belong to me or not?”
Shrinking against the leather of his chair, Rodney said, “He left it to Macy Young. I’m sorry, Gavin. I know that you guys are all surprised and angry.”