You might be wondering how you’ll know when your playboy ways are coming to an end. For some it might be an unexpected pregnancy, for others it might be finally landing the one woman you’ve always wanted. For me, it was the death of my mentor and the subsequent reading of his will.
The signs were there, they always are. But I didn’t notice them until it was too late, and my demise was complete.
#1 – You find yourself thrust into the land of responsibility and you don’t immediately hightail it out of town.
#2 – Despite being stuck with the world’s biggest Jekyll & Hyde, some sadistic part of you actually enjoys spending time with her.
#3 – Your family suddenly stops wanting to weigh in on every decision in your life.
#4 – Somehow you end up being the voice of reason in your tumultuous partnership.
#5 – You start thinking of other people before yourself.
#6 – You agree to put yourself in the middle of an Alaskan reality TV show that has both of you sleeping in the same tent.
Book 5 of the Baileys Series
It sucks mostly for the person who died. Yeah, okay, it definitely sucks most for the person who died. Or maybe it doesn’t.
Maybe there’s nothingness after you pass and it’s really the worst for all of us who are left behind, dealing with the gaping hole of the one we’ve lost.
But you wanna know what sucks worse than attending someone’s funeral? The reading of their will. Not that I’ve been to many. This is my first.
And I can tell you, it’s a complete waste of an afternoon.
Especially when the most important person who’s supposed to be here, isn’t.
I glance at the small gold clock on the wall. I wonder if Luther Lloyd, Attorney at Law, has a stopwatch so he can milk every cent out of his clients. At least this isn’t costing me anything.
Although it sure did cost Chip. Which sucks. The man died too young.
When Luther called and requested that I be present for the reading of the will, I was surprised. Chip wasn’t the type of man I’d think would leave a will.
He was more the type of guy I’d think would leave a note that says, “Throw my ashes into Lake Starlight. I lived a happy life. I’ll catch you on the other side.”
Not someone who picked out special items to leave to someone else who will class them as junk. I don’t want his high school diploma, his coffee maker, or anything of his if he’s not coming with it.
“How long do we wait?” I ask.
Luther checks his watch because he’s the type of man whose life is dictated by a schedule. “I was clear about our meeting time on the phone with her. Let’s give it five more minutes.”
I nod, tapping my fingers on my Vans. Not the most practical thing for an Alaskan winter, but unless fresh snow is falling, I make them work.
“Do you have an excursion today?”
I shake my head.
“And how’s business going?”
I shrug. I’d like to say busy, but sadly, it’s not.
And the fact that I’m going to watch Chip’s company, Lifetime Adventures, be taken over by the woman we’re waiting for makes me want to throw up in her Gucci purse.
She’s going to run it into the ground. Which means everything Chip wanted for the company will die right along with him. His legacy will end in either bankruptcy or awarded to the highest bidder.
“I know this is hard on you. You and Chip were close.”
I shrug again. What does Luther want from me? Does he expect me to ask for a tissue while I lay my heart on his desk? Not gonna happen. I’m used to death.
When your parents die when you’re fourteen, it’s a sledgehammer right in the heart. I quickly realized that all the happily-ever-after fairy tales are bullshit.
I learned that life is fragile and there’s no way to know when your time is up. Crap you shouldn’t know at fourteen, when you still think you’re invincible.
When Chip told me his COPD was worsening, the writing was on the wall—he was going to die.
I stuck by him, helping where I could by taking over the excursions and day-to-day operations, because that’s what you do for the ones you care for.
I should feel some sense of relief today, because his daughter, Cleo Dawson, will be told she’s inheriting the company and I can slide back into my easy life of bush piloting.
But all I feel is dread at the thought of her ruining the company her father worked so hard to build and keep.
I glance to the clock again, which spurs Luther to look at his watch. With no hopes of having a conversation with me, he blows out a breath and opens Chip’s file folder.
“How many of those do you have in there?” I nod toward his filing cabinet. Four drawers upright.
Grandma Dori’s will is probably in there, listing the percentage of Bailey Timber that will be split up between my eight siblings and me. My stomach twists with the thought.
He’s probably wondering, What’s wrong with you, Denver?
You come in here wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a beat-up pair of Vans. You won’t make polite conversation.
I’m sure he assumes I’m hungover.
But then he’ll remember my tragic circumstances and the pity will set in.
The part where his eyes turn soft and he nods, gifting me with the “I know, your parents died much too young and it’s fucked you up” expression.
I’m used to it by now. It rolls off my back.
“Almost all of Lake Starlight. Have you thought about writing a will?” Luther sits back, and the small uptick of the corner of his lips says he finds his question as funny as I do.
“We both know I have nothing to leave anyone.”
“Everyone has something,” he says, his hands holding the ends of a pen in a straight line in front of him.
“I don’t own a house or have any money in savings.” Unless someone wants my phone with a bunch of chicks’ numbers, there’s only my plane, which I’m still paying off.
Since my twin, Rome, is engaged and Liam, my best friend, is a step away from the same with my sister Savannah, that phone wouldn’t come in handy to any of them.
“What about personal items? I’ve mediated my fair share of fights between family members over something as simple as a television.”
“I’m living at Savannah’s right now. It’s all her stuff.”
He straightens in his chair. “You know what I mean.”
The door opens, and Luther’s eyes zero in behind me. I swear a cold chill wafts into the room with her.
I don’t have to turn around, because her heels announce her arrival. The only surprise, which shouldn’t really be a surprise, is that her stepsister, her mother, and her stepfather are alongside her.
God forbid she deal with this on her own.
Luther’s smile fades as her entourage finds their seats.
She, of course, sits in the leather-bound chair next to me, crossing her legs. Only Cleo would wear high heels and a dress in the middle of an Alaskan winter.
“Denver.” Her voice is cool with a touch of forced politeness.
I turn to her, her tanned legs making it clear she’s from the south.
I’d be lying if I said the smoothness didn’t appeal to me, but that’s the thing about the devil—no one said he or she wasn’t a temptress.
“Cleo.” I nod.
“Miss Dawson, I’m afraid the will is set up so that it is only to be read before you and Mr. Bailey.”
“Why?” Cleo asks.
Her stepfather gets up and rests a hand on the back of Cleo’s chair. Her mother crowds me by coming on her other side.
“We’re her parents,” her mother says.
I examine Cleo’s mother’s mink coat. I bet she bought it specifically for this trip, since last I checked, Texas doesn’t require bundling up.
“Cleo’s over eighteen and an adult. I’ll read the will and Cleo can discuss it with you after if she chooses to.”
“This is ridiculous,” her mother says. “He was my husband.”
“Ex,” I correct.
All their heads whip in my direction with horrified looks that I’d have the audacity to speak at all.
“Why is he even here? He’s not related to Chip.” Cleo’s mom eyes me as though I’m small-town trash.
“Are you worried you can’t strip him of his last dime?” I roll my eyes.
Cleo turns in her chair and puts her hand on her mother’s. “Go ahead and wait outside.”
“I should at least be able to be here, being her mother.” She gives Luther an annoyed huff and the three of them leave.
“Think you can handle yourself alone?” I ask Cleo.
“I hope you have the keys with you.”
I pat down my pockets. “Shit, I knew I forgot something.”
Her eyes narrow. I watch her nostrils fill with air that leaves her body practically with flames.
“Okay. Let’s just get started. We’re already late.” Luther taps his pen on his desk.
“I wonder why that is?” I sneer.
“It’s not exactly dry weather out there. The roads are horrible.” She swivels to focus her attention on Luther.
“You’d think by what you’re wearing it was a balmy eighty degrees.”
“You’d think by what you’re wearing that you were on your way to the local skatepark.”
I laugh and shake my head. “Let’s have it, Luther.”
Luther opens the file folder again and clears his throat. “Chip Dawson was my client, and I will be upfront in saying he changed his will two months ago, but he was of sound mind to do so.
“I suggest neither of you go and try to say otherwise. I made sure to have witnesses present.”
“She might argue, but I won’t.” I don’t even mention whatever he left me isn’t worth anything anyway. Without Chip himself, it’s all meaningless.
“Cleo, you are left Chip’s house and all the belongings inside.”
She straightens and eyes my pockets, silently saying, Hand over the keys to Lifetime Adventures, fool.
“Cleo is also getting his truck,” Luther says.
“I hope a stepladder comes with it.” I chuckle.
She huffs. “You know, we can get out of here faster if you stop interrupting.”
Luther waits a second, and I nod for him to continue.
He goes through all of Chip’s financial accounts, and as expected, everything is going to Cleo.
If we could get to my toaster or whatever he’s giving me so I can get the hell out of here, I’d appreciate it.
“Now Lifetime Adventures.” He taps the papers on the desk. My attention is piqued, because for the first time, I sense apprehension in his voice.
“Lifetime Adventures is to be split fifty-fifty between Cleo Dawson and Denver Bailey. If one shall not want their portion, the other has first option to buy the other one out.”
My stomach drops like the chunk of an ice cap into the ocean. Chip left me his company? What was he thinking? I look at Cleo.
Even with her layers of makeup, her face pales and her head tilts. “He left it to both of us?”
Luther smiles. “Yes, Miss Dawson. You both equally own everything that has to do with Lifetime Adventures.”
She sinks back in her chair and her manicured nails land on her mouth. “I can’t own a business with him. We’ll kill one another.”
I sit up straighter. Savannah’s not exactly a billboard ad for all the great things in life that come with running your own company. She leaves Bailey Timber looking exhausted most days.
I’m not meant for a life like that. Can I do this? Run a company when I hate anything that comes with strings?
Lifetime Adventures comes with a whole slew of strings, Cleo Dawson apparently being the thickest and most binding of them.
Luther digs into the file folder and produces two envelopes and some paperwork, handing each of us a package. “I know this is big news, so he’s written you both a letter.
“Why don’t you take some time, read the letter, and let me know if you have any questions?”
We reach out at the same time. In Chip’s handwriting, Cleo is written on one white envelope and ~Denver~ on the other.
“Why would he not leave it to me?” Cleo asks Luther.
“I’m sorry, Miss Dawson, I don’t ask my clients why. Maybe the letter will provide a better explanation.”
She stands and faces me. “I’ll buy you out.”
I’m sure she’d love to buy me out. I was unsure a second ago, but the thought of Cleo destroying what her father worked so hard for has me digging in my heels. “My half isn’t for sale.”
“You know as well as I do this will never work out.” She crosses her arms.
The worst thing about Cleo Dawson, the thing that drives me insane, is that she’s hot as shit, yet I’ll never be able to lay a hand on her.
She’s always been miserable to me—why, I have no idea—but I’m happy to return the favor.
I stand, towering over her. “Well, we can give it the ol’ college try.” I nod to Luther. “Thanks.”
Stuffing the letter into the back pocket of my jeans, I wink and sidestep her.
“Did you even go to college?” she calls after me.
“Don’t worry, Cleo, we’ll get to know all those fun details about one another working side-by-side.” I walk through the door.
Her entourage stands, and I walk right by them.
The fun of sparring with her might be the silver lining to a shitty situation.