Authors: Lyla Payne
Copyright 2015 by Lyla Payne
Cover Photography by Iona Nicole Photography and Lyla Payne
Cover by Eisley Jacobs at Complete Pixels
Developmental and Line Editing: Danielle Poiesz at Doublevision Editorial
Copyediting: Shannon Page
Proofreading: Mary Ziegenhorn, Diane Thede, Diane Cleary
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments,
organizations or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Also by LYLA PAYNE
Going for Broke
Fifty First Times: A New Adult Anthology
Not Quite Clear (October 27
Sleigh Bells & Second Chances
SECRETS DON’T MAKE FRIENDS
Secrets Don’t Make Friends (November, 2015)
Young Adult Novels Written as TRISHA LEIGH
THE LAST YEAR
THE CAVY FILES
Buried (January, 2016)
Return Once More (September 29
To the very real Drayton family and others like them – thank you for having the bravery, guts, smarts, instincts, and resources to help set such firm foundations underneath this great nation.
I stand on the porch for several minutes after Mrs. Drayton’s car disappears around the corner, reeling from the job offer that came from my boyfriend’s mother. My feet are rooted to the spot even after Mrs. Walters, who’s still auditioning for the role of Nosiest Neighbor in the Lowcountry—a title for which there must be plenty of competition—shuffles outside under the
pretense of watering her tomatoes. She holds the green garden hose over the oversized pots, staring at me from three houses away.
My excitement over the job at a historic property like Drayton Hall—it’s a huge coup for someone in my field to be asked to help archive such a prominent family’s documents—can’t overcome the guilt of saying yes without checking with Beau first. On the one hand, the
worry annoys me—he’s my boyfriend, not my father or my boss. Definitely not my husband. Still, the niggle of shame means that, as my boyfriend, he at least deserves a conversation and a heads-up. If he has a reason—whether it’s a good one or not—for wanting me to stay away from his family archives, shouldn’t he at least have the chance to tell me what it is before I run pell-mell into the situation?
It takes another minute or two to gather my thoughts well enough to make room for simple motor function, after which I give Mrs. Walters a giant smile and a wave. She frowns back, not disappointing me with her huffy glare. Pleased that at least one thing in my life can be counted on, even if it is being spied on and disapproved of, I take a deep breath and push open the front door to the house
where my grandparents had practically raised me, where I now live with my cousin, Amelia.
Frigid, recycled air washes over my sticky skin, giving me chills on my way to the kitchen, where the clanking of dishes and the banging of cabinets says that Millie escaped after eavesdropping at the door. I shiver, cursing at my inability to withstand the begging of a pregnant woman. Amelia had played
that card yesterday, forcing me to turn on the air conditioner despite the fact that summer is, for all intents and purposes, over. But as long as the temperature is over ninety and the humidity over sixty percent, she insists that if Mother Nature hasn’t gotten the memo, we’re not going by the calendar either.
My cousin does a wonderful job of acting as though she didn’t overhear the entire
conversation between Beau’s mother and me on the porch, but we’ve known each other too long for me to buy it. I wipe the sweat out of my eyes, holding my frizzy dark hair back in a makeshift ponytail as she gives me the side-eye from the kitchen counter.
“Okay, out with it,” I say. “Tell me how I handled that all wrong.”
Amelia shrugs, busying herself with emptying the dishwasher. “I’m not a
relationship expert, Grace.”
“Maybe not,” I admit, trying to be gentle. She’s so withdrawn these days. It makes me feel as though the floor around her is lined with discarded lightbulbs, all ready to smash to pieces underfoot if anyone gets too close. “But you know I value your opinion, anyway. And
dying to give it to me.”
That earns me the smallest start of a smile. It feels like
winning the lottery. I let out a breath, my shoulders dropping for the first time since Mrs. Drayton showed up on my porch unannounced twenty minutes ago. My knees wobble more than they have since the ghost of Anne Bonny showed up my first week back in Heron Creek, almost three months ago now.
I sink into one of the kitchen chairs, squinting in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming across the
table. Amelia dries her hands and sits across from me, the bright glow in the room accentuating the growing lines around her eyes and mouth.
“Okay. Well, she came over here just to ask you whether you’d be interesting in curating some new family archives at their second plantation home, correct?” Millie’s lips press into a line at my nod. “Why?”
“Your confidence in my archivist abilities is
“But seriously, think about it. Why not call first? Why not have Beau ask you?”
“Maybe she was out running errands in Heron Creek? Renewing her subscription to the local paper?” The defensive tone in my voice makes me cringe, and I heave a sigh. “Fine. She said she spoke to him about it at their tea last week.”
“He didn’t say anything to you?”
I shake my head, positive that where
she’s going with this line of questioning isn’t a place filled with sunshine and roses. It’s not as though any relationship worth having is ever easy, but it would have been nice for the mayor and me to have at least a month or two of sex-filled bliss before reality insisted on knocking.
“No.” I bite my lip, picking at stray strings coming loose from my grandmother’s old embroidered tablecloth.
It used to be white but the edges have started to yellow. How could she have been gone that long already? “Why wouldn’t he want me to work for his family?”
He hadn’t even made a move to
me to his family, but we haven’t exactly had a whole lot of extra time on our hands. After my first impression of his chauvinistic and condescending brother, Brick—and his of me as the Kook of Heron
Creek—maybe Beau feels as though he already has a good reason for keeping us apart. Panicked tears start to burn in my throat.
“Don’t start freaking out. I can see it on your face. You’re starting to question everything about your relationship until now and probably a decade into the future, too.” Millie smiles, bigger this time. “It’s probably nothing. Mayor Beau could have just wanted to figure
out how he felt about things before bringing it up with you.”
I pause, thinking about what she said. My panic recedes, but the visit from Cordelia Drayton starts to look foreboding in a whole new way. The fact that she would come here without talking to her son or making sure he’s all right with the decision… It makes me wonder. Not about Beau trying to hide me from his family, but perhaps the
other way around—that he’s trying to hide
“So, you’re saying it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s horribly embarrassed to be dating someone who’s so completely addled at the age of twenty-five?”
Amelia snorts. “Not
. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone prouder of his girlfriend. And that reminds me… You’re almost twenty-six! What are we doing for your birthday?”
escapes me at the reminder. “Nothing, I hope.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be possible.” The mischievous grin slips from her lips as she studies me with those emerald eyes, carbon copies of my own. They miss nothing. Her gaze softens after a moment and Amelia reaches out, covering my hand with hers. “Things are going good with you and Beau. I just think you should talk to him—about his family
I nod, a lump materializing in my throat. Her reference to the man claiming to be my father, who might show up here any day wanting heaven knows what, sinks deep into the pit of my stomach. The fact that I gave not only my ex-fiancé, David, my new address but my “father” as well, strings anxiety through my blood. There’s too much going on in Heron Creek that I don’t understand, what
with these damn ghosts and my still-new relationship, for my past to start rolling into town, too.
“I know you’re right. I guess it’s stupid to think things will go away if I ignore them.”
She nods. “You’ve always held tight to that theory, Grace. It’s worked for you a lot of the time, but the thing is… We’re not kids anymore. Nothing bad stays gone forever.”
Her statement hangs in the air,
turning black around the edges until it darkens my heart like an unintended warning—maybe about the voodoo curse still hanging over our family. Anne Bonny pissed off a lot of people back in her day, but in the end it was her love for her son that had been her downfall. The thing that created the kind of hate that lasted generations.