Forget the Hatfields and McCoys, in a small Southern town, the Whitfields and Tallys are the real family feud. So for some unholy reason, Jake Whitfield’s old man and Angel Tally’s grandfather wrote codicils to their wills the night before they died in a suspicious fire. The codicils require Jake and Angel to marry or lose their inheritances.
Jake feels like a man with two faces. One he presents to his brothers and the public: the criminal willing to step on anyone for a buck while mercilessly protecting the business. The other: the lonely man wanting a better life for himself and his family and working with an FBI agent to make it happen.
To Jake, marrying Angel makes sense. With her family’s help, he can fight the new criminal organization that’s moving into his town. Immersed in the criminal world, there is no hope for Angel, but her brother is still young. She will do anything to protect him from that way of life and whoever killed their grandfather, even marry a despised Whitfield. And Angel never forgot about the sexy incident with Jake in high school ten years earlier.And if she has to go along with a Whitfield-Tally marriage, she wants a replay.
“I hope you rot in hell, old man.”
Jake Whitfield leaned over the grave and spit as his father’s casket slowly disappeared into the blackness. When a violent shudder brought the crank to an abrupt stop, he shot a sideways glare at the cemetery worker.
The man wiped a sweaty forehead on the upper sleeve of his faded gray uniform and kicked the contraption. “Stupid old thing,” he muttered as he avoided Jake’s gaze.
With a painful screech, the device started up again, rattling and jumping, and finally a solid thud came from the hole as it reached the bottom. If he believed in ghosts, he’d swear the hateful bastard wanted out to kill him.
Jake’s attention fell on the mourners surrounding the gravesite.
Their jackets flapped in the hot wind like vultures settling around a carcass as most of the men stared at the ground beneath their feet. No one looked into his face. Though the minister shook his head at Jake’s disrespect, he and the others didn’t say a word. They understood his hatred. Everyone who attended would love to do the same, if they had the backbone. All were business associates and most came not so much to grieve for the man’s death, but to receive assurance that his dad had died.
Many of the people in Sand County owed Dick Whitfield their livelihood and endured his heavy-handed manipulations, but none suffered as much as the Whitfield brothers. The old man had reveled in tormenting his bastard sons more than he did his associates. Besides their last name, the old man refused to give the boys anything without a deal or concession involved. Then again, maybe an agreement had been made when they were born, a bargain with the devil for their souls.
Releasing a snarl, Jake turned and nodded at his brothers. Townsend—or Sen, as he was known—and Ethan fell in step beside him as they headed toward the old man’s white limo idling next to the curb. No one said a word.
Another gust of wind tugged at their jackets. A bouquet of dead flowers blew across their path to become stuck between an urn and headstone.
Behind dark sunglasses, Jake scanned the area. Tension from the funeral and a gut feeling warned that danger lurked. Nothing appeared strange or out of place. But life with the old man had taught him to be extremely cautious whenever emotions ran high. With new leadership at Whitfield Industries taking over, many of the smaller players wanted a part of the business and conspired to oust the brothers. He knew without a doubt, no one would take one brick or dollar without a fight. After years of being under the old man’s rule, they deserved every piece of his ill-gotten money and property. They each had worked hard and often for pennies compared to others who worked for the old man and did far less.
He glanced around again without being obvious. The old cemetery covered acres of well-tended plots that held numerous large memorials and oak trees. Several people headed toward their cars while others remained near the burial site, talking and gesturing toward the grave being filled. In the distance, he heard traffic swooshing by, but strangely, the birds stopped chirping in the swaying limbs.
Steps away from the limo with the chauffeur waiting inside, Jake passed a life-size marble statue. The head exploded, spraying chunks of the white stuff. The confirming snap of gunfire sent everyone running for cover. Screams and shouts of concern punctuated by more shots echoed around him as he scrambled for the other side of the limo, its bulletproof body offering better protection than a tree or headstone. He motioned for his brothers to follow. In no time they hunkered down with guns in hands.
“Damn! Who do you think it is? Some asshole out to get Jake for sleeping with his girlfriend?” Ethan sat on the ground with his back near the car’s engine, watching for anyone coming from behind.
In his usual calm manner, Sen checked his Beretta and then edged closer to the taillights. “Probably the girlfriend.”
His brothers loved to rag him about how his last girlfriend had another guy on the side. When he kicked her out of his home, she must have told the other boyfriend a tall tale as the dumbass came at him with a gun. It almost became messy. When the boyfriend realized whose door he had knocked on, the poor dude drove out of town so fast he left rubber on the road for a half mile.
Jake shook his head and white dust fell around him. His forehead stung. A light touch came back with blood. He’d been nicked. “Most likely someone who’s wanting to take over the old man’s businesses,” he said as he ignored his brothers’ comments. “Or possibly the person who set the fire.” Leaning over, he ruffled his hair, showering the ground with powder and bits of stone.
He sneered. They’d already received warnings that someone outside the county planned to make a move soon. He hadn’t expected it to be at the cemetery. The old man was barely cold in the ground.
Several more shots zipped by and dug into the asphalt a few feet away. Followed shortly by a couple more over their heads.
Damn! They needed to concentrate on stopping the sniper. Normal people ran and kept moving when fired upon, but no, not the Whitfield boys. Maybe he and his brothers were as insane as the bastard they buried.
Sen nodded to where the road looped into the cemetery near the interstate fence. “I think the shots are coming from that direction. See the old rusted-out black van?”
“Yeah.” Ethan peeked over the limo’s hood.
“The sliding door is cracked opened. You think he’s still in there? The smart thing for a shooter to do is leave with the crowd.” Jake referred to the mourners cranking automobiles and screeching tires on their way out.
“I’ll go around and come up on the opposite side.” Without wasting time, Sen stooped low and ran alongside the cars parked by the curb.
Jake shook his head. He always wondered if his middle brother had a death wish. “Tick!”
The rotund driver inside the limo rolled down the window, showing only the top of his pale bald head and large blood-shot eyes. “Yeah, boss?”
“Scoot over. I’m coming in.”
“You get in the back.” Jake nodded at Ethan. With a jab, he returned his gun to its holster beneath his jacket.
“Sure, boss,” his brother said, mimicking Tick.
In seconds, they eased the limo down the lane toward the van. Jake caught a glimpse of Sen dashing behind a tree a few yards away. Then the side door on the van slammed shut, and a figure dressed in black jumped into the driver’s seat. No way would he let the asshole escape. He flatfooted the gas pedal and the old limo T-boned the van.
The crunch of metal and broken glass rang in Jake’s ears as he pushed hard on the door and sprinted to the other side. Two fellows ran for the trees. He tackled the nearest one as Sen sprinted after the faster, smaller one.
“You son of a bitch!” Jake flipped him over. Fist pulled back to slug the sniper, he stopped. “Sally? Sally Tally?”
Light green eyes in the middle of dark liner and eye shadow glared up at him. Chin length ebony hair tipped blood red stuck to a sweaty pale face. A grimace stretched her crimson lips lined in black as she waited for the downward swing.
He lowered his arm and examined her clothes. No wonder he’d mistaken her for a guy from the back. She wore an ankle-length leather coat with thick-soled biker boots buckled to her knees, the tight black pants tucked in. The only feminine clothing was the stiff red corset holding up plump, creamy white breasts, heaving with each intake of breath.
“No one calls me Sally anymore. Call me Angel.”
The last time he’d heard that husky voice, they had been teenagers, and she’d stolen his wallet. He’d retaliated by turning her over his knee, lifting her short skirt, and giving her nearly bare bottom a good sound spanking. During the chastisement, an unexpected dilemma had emerged. He remembered how much he enjoyed it. Way too much.
About the Author
Carla Swafford loves romance novels, action/adventure movies, and men, and her books reflect that. And that’s not all, she’s crazy about hockey, and thankfully, no one has made her turn in her Southern Belle card. She’s married to her high school sweetheart and lives in Alabama.