Excerpt from SAY I DO IN GOOD HOPE
“I’m sorry to get you involved, Sheriff.” Kyle Kendrick slanted a glance at Cade Rallis, who strode up the sidewalk to the home on Market Street. “She was supposed to have vacated the premises last Saturday.”
“I read the paperwork, Kyle. I’ll speak with her. I’m not promising we’ll have her out tonight.” Cade gave a humorless laugh. “Eliza isn’t known for being the most accommodating person in Good Hope.”
Kyle paused at the steps leading to the porch. While it was still cold, the rain had stopped. “You will get her out.”
He thought of his sister, who would be arriving on Saturday, considered the time it would take to get even the minimal furnishings delivered.
“I’ll give her notice she has three days to vacate or we’ll move her out.” Cade pushed up his coat collar. He was a tall man, topping Kyle’s six-foot-one by several inches.
The sheriff had a square jaw and the look of a man who could hold his own in a fight. Kyle remembered hearing he’d once been a cop in some big city before moving to Good Hope. Eliza Shaw would find Good Hope’s sheriff a formidable foe.
Moments later, Kyle stood with the sheriff on the porch, the beveled glass in the door shimmering from the light inside the home. One thing Kyle could say, from his brief glimpse inside, the house had been worth every penny.
Kyle wasn’t sure where Eliza planned to live now that her father had sold the house. If she couldn’t take all the furniture with her, he’d be willing to buy some of it from her. He briefly wondered again why her dad had decided to sell the home.
He’d asked, but the realtor hadn’t known.
Cade rang the bell for a second time. The buzzer worked, because even standing on the other side of a closed door, he could hear the chimes echoing down the hallway.
“If she thinks she can ignore us…” The sheriff’s jaw was set in a hard line. Instead of hitting the bell for a third time, he pounded with his fist. Three solid bangs.
“Eliza. It’s Sheriff Rallis. You need to open up.”
Cade’s hand was poised to strike the door again when a figure appeared in the hall.
The locks clicked open. When Eliza finally opened the door, she stepped back and motioned them inside. She wore an oversized shirt in a leopard print and black leggings. Instead of boots, her feet were encased in black slippers.
She looked softer, more approachable. Until those gray eyes narrowed on him and flashed. Without saying a word to Kyle, she turned to the sheriff.
“What do you think you’re doing coming to my house and banging on my door at this time of night?” Her voice could have frosted glass.
From Cade’s relaxed stance and easy expression, you’d have thought he hadn’t noticed.
“There’s a matter we need to discuss.” Cade’s voice remained easy. “We can have the conversation standing here in the foyer, if that’s what you prefer.”
Eliza hesitated, and Kyle had a sudden image of them spending the entire visit just inside the doorway.
With a melodramatic huff, she turned. “The parlor will be more comfortable. I’ve got a fire started.”
He and Cade followed her down the hall and into a room that had Kyle pausing in the doorway, wanting to take it all in. The floor gleamed, and the rugs he recognized as Persian. The fireplace was white Carrara marble with a curved mantel carved out of the same material.
While the furniture definitely fit the style prevalent in the late 1880s, when the house had been built, it was surprisingly warm and inviting. He wondered if she planned to take all the furniture.
Unless she was moving into another Victorian as large and grand as this one, the pieces wouldn’t fit.
First things first, Kyle told himself. He needed to get a move-out date. Then they could talk furnishings.
While the sheriff took a seat in an ornate chair with a tapestry seat, Kyle confiscated a spot on the sofa. Eliza sat in a high-backed chair in burgundy velvet that, due to his mother’s interest in antiques, he recognized as a Victorian balloon armchair. Constructed of mahogany, it featured hand-carved cabriole legs with floral motifs. The large back gave the impression of a throne.
Cade fixed his gaze on Eliza. “I assume you know why we’re here.”
After a moment of silence, her eyes turned cold as steel. “My father is an ass.”
A startled look crossed Cade’s face. “Pardon me?”
“My father, despite knowing this house was meant to be mine, sold it out from under me in an attempt to force me to leave Good Hope.” Her lips curved in a thin smile. “He won’t succeed.”
“Your father held clear title to the house.” Kyle surprised himself by speaking out. “The title company researched it. The sale was aboveboard.”
Eliza didn’t spare him a glance. Instead her gaze remained fixed on the sheriff. “You need to speak with my attorney, Beckett Cross.”
Kyle felt the first stirrings of unease. While he didn’t know all the familial relationships in Good Hope, he was aware that Beck and Cade were married to sisters. The surprise that flickered over the sheriff’s face told him Cade hadn’t known she’d retained his brother-in-law as her attorney.
Cade lifted a brow. “You hired Beck to—”
“It’s complicated.” Eliza lifted her hands. “But I can assure you the sale was an error. The house definitely belongs to me.”
Kyle opened his mouth, but before he could speak, she hurried on. “Sorting out all the legal issues may take some time, but—”
“I paid for the house because I need a place to live now.” There was no way Kyle was going to have his little sister live at the Sweet Dreams motel.
Eliza settled those gray eyes on him. “You’ve been in Good Hope since last summer. As I don’t imagine you’ve been living out of your vehicle this entire time, I suggest you simply stay where you are awhile longer.”
Kyle spread out his hands, shook his head. “Not going to happen.”
The woman sitting across from him narrowed her eyes. “I understand you paid cash. When all this is settled, I’ll not only reimburse you but include interest.”
“I don’t think you’re getting the message.” Kyle’s voice dropped dangerously low. “It’s my house now. Legally, I’m within my rights to demand you vacate immediately.”
Color drained from her face even as she glared at him. “You can’t be serious.”
Her gaze swung to the sheriff. “Speak with Beck. It’s really very straightforward—”
“Eliza.” Cade leaned forward, resting his forearms on his khaki pants. Unlike his deputies, he dressed in street clothes, rather than a uniform. “I sympathize with you. This has got to be distressing. But according to the paperwork Mr. Kendrick showed me, he has clear title to the property. You need to vacate the property, or my deputies and I will pursue eviction and have you forcibly removed.”
Eliza saw red. Forcibly removed? From her own home? She was seconds away from pointing to the door and ordering them both out, when common sense kicked in. She might not know Cade Rallis well, but she knew the lawman didn’t make empty threats.
It didn’t help that he was sworn to uphold the law, which right now was firmly on Kyle Kendrick’s side. She didn’t know Kyle, either, but hoped, despite his hardline approach, he would be more amenable to reason, or charm. She’d try both and hope one worked.
“Thanks for making your position clear, Sheriff.” Eliza managed a pleasant tone. “I believe Kyle and I can keep this matter off your doorstep.”
Eliza shifted her gaze to Kyle and forced a smile. “I’m sure we can work something out so both of us are happy.”
“It’s my house,” Kyle repeated, as if wanting to make sure there was no misunderstanding.
God, how she longed to wipe that smug smile from his face. She’d been right to peg him as an arrogant bastard.
An arrogant bastard who now holds the deed to her home.
“I believe you’ve made your feelings on that point clear.” Somehow, she kept the smile on her lips. “Why don’t you and I discuss this further over a glass of wine?”
When Kyle hesitated, Eliza stood and gestured to the hall. “Please don’t let us keep you, Cade.”
Use his first name, she told herself. Make this more personal. “I’m sure I can count on your discretion.”
Cade gave a curt nod and rose. He slanted a glance at Kyle, who’d also stood.
“It won’t hurt for us to discuss the matter.” Kyle gestured with one hand toward Eliza. “I’d like to settle all the moving-out details amicably.”
Suspicion settled in the sheriff’s eyes as he studied Eliza. Then he turned to Kyle. “Let me know if my office can be of further assistance.” Cade nodded at Eliza. “I’ll show myself out.”
Once she heard the door close behind him, Eliza turned to Kyle. “Red? Or white? I have both.”
“Red. If it’s not too much trouble.”
Eliza’s smile felt brittle, as if it was about to break into a million pieces. “No trouble at all. Have a seat and relax. I’ll be right back.”
The wine refrigerator was located off the kitchen. When she pulled out a bottle of pinot, she cursed herself when she noticed her hands shook.
Get yourself under control.
She might not like it, but at the moment Kyle held the upper hand. Which meant that she needed to tread carefully, or she’d find herself out on the street.
Once again, she cursed her father. He would pay for his arrogant assumption that he knew what was best for her. The fact that he could even think he did was laughable.
Putting two glasses on the tray, she opened the bottle, splashed in some pinot and returned to the parlor.
Kyle had risen and was now bent over, running the tips of his fingers lightly over the smooth white stone. His was a worker’s body, lean and tough-looking. Right now, his amazing ass held her gaze captive. Something primal stirred low in her belly.
He glanced up and straightened, crossing to take the tray from her hands before setting it on a vintage mahogany tea table with a glass top.
He lifted a flute from the tray and handed it to her, then took one for himself. “Is that fireplace Carrara marble?”
“It is. My great-great-grandfather had it imported from Italy when he built the house.” Eliza took a sip of wine and studied him through lowered lashes. “You bought the house without seeing the interior. Risky move.”
“Probably,” he conceded, then chuckled. “You’re right. Definitely risky. But the exterior is in amazingly good shape, and the realtor said the home had been in the same family for over a hundred years. Odds were the interior would meet with my approval.”
They remained standing, neither of them making a move to sit.
Eliza lifted her glass, gestured. “Well, now that you’ve seen a little of it, what do you think?”
“It’s a beautiful home.” His gaze met hers. “I want to assure you I’ll take good care of it.”
Instead of immediately responding, she took a seat and he followed her lead. She swirled the liquid in her glass and considered how to best play this. “I’m not moving out.”
He leaned against the back of the sofa and studied her. Instead of anger in those baby blues, there was assessment. “I own the house.”
“It should never have been placed on the market.” Though Eliza was not one to discuss family matters with friends—much less with a stranger—in this instance she had no choice. “Every word I said to the sheriff is true, Kyle.”
She had his attention. Now she had to make him see that her moving out and him moving in would be a waste of time for both of them.
“You mentioned you’d retained an attorney.” His voice, like hers, was easy and conversational. “You didn’t give details.”
“I don’t like to air my family’s dirty laundry.” She took a breath, then let it out. “But because this is a special situation, I’ll share the details with you. I’d appreciate it if you’d keep what we discuss confidential.”
He gave a slight nod, took a sip of wine.
“My grandmother, who previously owned this house, had instructed my father that the home should go directly to me upon his passing.”
“He’s still alive. The title to the home was in his name.” Kyle kept his gaze on her face. “He was within his legal rights to sell it.”
Eliza couldn’t stop her fingers from tightening around the glass. “She wanted it to go to me.”
“If that’s true, your name should have been on the title.”
The man wasn’t stupid.
“You’re right. I should have insisted my name be placed on the title.” Eliza rose to her feet but waved Kyle down when he started to stand. “I was in college when she died. I trusted that when the time came, the house would be mine. That was my error. I shouldn’t have trusted him.”
A look of sympathy crossed his face. “You should be able to trust your own father.”
“Yes, well, not all fathers are created equal.” Eliza strode to the fireplace, resting her hand on the cool marble. She loved every inch of this place.
“Why didn’t you remind him of that promise when he suggested selling the place?”
“I wasn’t aware the home was even on the market until my father e-mailed me it had been sold.”
“He e-mailed you?” The look of shock on Kyle’s face would have been laughable at any other time.
“That’s right.” Eliza had to press her lips together to keep them from trembling. Angry. It wasn’t hurt but anger she felt toward her dad. She was so angry with him.
“Did he say why he sold it? Did he need the money?”
“Money isn’t a factor. He’s simply meddling in my life. He wants me to move so I can soar.” Eliza’s laugh held no humor. “He’s convinced I can’t do that in Good Hope.”
Kyle shook his head. “He’s placed you in an awkward situation.”
Eliza crossed the distance and sat on the sofa beside him, turning her body to face him. “Let me buy the house back from you. It may take me a little time to arrange the financing, but I can’t lose my home. All I’m asking for is time.”
His gaze searched her face, and something he saw there must have satisfied him, because some of the tension left his shoulders. “I’d like to help you. I really would.”
“I can find you another house in Good Hope.” The words tripped over themselves in her haste to get them out. This was the only place she’d ever felt safe, the only place she’d felt loved. Bits and pieces of her grandmother were everywhere she looked. “I’ll even cover the rent.”
A softness filled his eyes. “I can see you’re really willing to go above and beyond to make this work. But this house is within walking distance of the middle school.”
“My sister is coming to live with me.”
The comment elicited all sorts of questions, none of them relevant to the discussion.
Eliza wasn’t sure why the comment had startled her. After all, lots of people had siblings, herself included. But his sister must be young if being close to the middle school was a consideration.
“Why is she going to live with you?”
“It’s a long story.” He waved a dismissive hand. “But Lolo—Lorraine—will be with me for several months. I want to give her a home while she’s here.”
While Eliza applauded his desire to provide appropriate lodging for his sister, surely there were other houses for sale near the middle school. “The Dunleveys are considering selling their home down the street. Of course, they’ve been talking of doing that for the last few years. Eventually, it will come on the market, and it’s a beautiful place.”
“I don’t have time to wait. Lolo is arriving Saturday.”
Reaching over, she touched his arm. “Please don’t make me move out.”
Something flickered behind his eyes, a look she couldn’t quite decipher.
He rubbed his chin. “This is a large home with a lot of bedrooms.”
Eliza wasn’t sure where he was going with this, so she waited. She told herself it was a good sign he hadn’t yet ordered her to pack her bags. Until that happened, she held on to hope for an amicable resolution.
Even if things went south, that didn’t mean she’d move out. This was her place, and didn’t someone say possession was nine-tenths of the law? All Eliza knew was she’d chain herself to the banister before she’d be kicked out of her own home.
“There may be a solution.”
Eliza expelled the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Kyle was a reasonable man. Why had she ever thought him arrogant?
She smiled and attempted to hide her relief. It was never wise to let someone know they had the upper hand, even if they did. “What are you proposing?”
“We’ll live here together until the legal issues are resolved.”
“Absolutely not.” Eliza jumped to her feet, two bright splotches of red coloring her pale cheeks. “This is my home.”
For some reason, Eliza reminded him of Lolo when she got into one of her dramatic “moods.” Kyle found himself more amused than irritated.
“Legally,” Kyle kept his tone even, “it’s mine.”
Her chin jutted up. “I won’t leave.”
Yep, he thought, stubborn. Just like Lolo.
Eliza met his gaze with a boldness that would have intimidated most men.
He didn’t look away. “I believe the sheriff made it clear that if you don’t leave voluntarily, he’ll haul you out.” He settled back against the brocaded satin of the sofa and took a sip of wine.
“He wouldn’t dare.”
Another sip of wine. “I don’t know Cade well, but something tells me the man takes his duties seriously.”
Eliza stood there, chest heaving, those fabulous gray eyes flashing. She looked like a warrior. One ready to go down on her sword because of stubborn pride.
She might fool herself into thinking the sheriff would back down, but deep down she knew the truth. Cade Rallis was sworn to uphold the law, and that’s what he’d do.
Kyle wasn’t sure how much of her story was true. Facts were facts. Her name hadn’t been on the title. Her father had signed all the necessary papers, transferring the home to him.
If Eliza had a beef, she needed to take it up with her dad or pursue her case through legal channels. The home was his, and he felt he’d been generous in offering to let her stay.
It hadn’t been an altogether altruistic move. If she stayed, the furniture stayed. That meant he wouldn’t have to scramble to make the place look like a home. Plus, there would be a woman around.
Although Kyle didn’t know Eliza well, Good Hope’s mayor had known her since childhood and Jeremy considered her a good friend. That was a good enough reference for him.
“It might work.”
Her words pulled Kyle back from his reverie. He noticed Eliza’s bosoms had quit heaving. Pity. In fact, the iron maiden demeanor she wore like a righteous shield appeared to be firmly back in place.
When she didn’t continue, he raised a brow.
“I suppose you could sleep here until all this is resolved.” She waved a dismissive hand. “I’ve got eight bedrooms.”
“I’m not talking about just sleeping here.” Kyle kept his gaze firmly fixed on her. “My sister and I would live here.”
She continued on as if he hadn’t spoken. “You’d each have your own bedroom and bathroom. Two of the bedrooms available have a sitting room you could use as your parlor. If you needed to use the kitchen, you’d have to run that by me.”
When she paused, he cocked his head. “Are you finished?”
Her gaze narrowed. She gave him a regal nod.
“Now, let me tell you how it’s going to be, as this is my house and you are the guest.” When she opened her mouth to speak, he held up a hand. “It’s important to me that my sister have a home during the time she’s in Good Hope. That’s why I purchased this place. There will be no ‘my part of the house’ or ‘your part of the house.’ This will be a home. If not, I suggest you leave now.”
Eliza closed her eyes for a moment, and he felt the pity stir again. Then, they opened and flashed.
Here it comes, he thought. She’s going to burn the only bridge she has because of foolish pride. While he sympathized with her predicament, his duty was to his little sister.
Lolo had enough stress in her life without moving into a war zone.
The brunette took one deep breath, then another. She held out her hands, palms down. “Okay. We’ll do it your way.”
Surprise skittered through Kyle. It wasn’t often he found himself surprised by someone’s behavior.
“Good.” Setting down his glass, he pushed to his feet. “I’ll go get my stuff.”
“What?” Her eyes widened. “Now?”
“No time like the present.” He grinned, glanced around. “Sleeping under this roof is going to be a good sight more pleasant than Sweet Dreams. There’s just one more thing.”
The suspicion was back in those smoky depths, strong as a flame that had been torchlit. “What?”
When he’d closed on the house, the realtor had provided him with the keys. But the way Kyle saw it, having Eliza hand one to him would bring it home that this was his place as much as it was hers. Even more, since his name was now the one on the deed.
Kyle held out his hand, palm up, and smiled pleasantly. “The key?”