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Authors: Bobbie O'Keefe

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BOOK: Family Skeletons
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“Ouch,” she whispered. It’d been more accident than
design that the Reviler hadn’t teetered into it. One tire track was on the bare
edge.

She looked back across the road. With the ditch over
here and the line of eucalyptus trees over there, that was the only place where
the guy could’ve parked. But what had he been doing? Reading a map? This road
led to nothing but the cove, so he had to have been lost. So he’d been studying
a map, turned his dome light off as she approached, then flicked the headlights
on as she rounded the curve. With his windows up against the night air, it was
doubtful he would’ve heard her car over the roar of the ocean.

Shaking her head, she put the incident behind her.
She looked up at the wisps of clouds outlined in the calm blue sky and allowed
her senses to take over. It was going to be a pretty day. A touch of fog, but
it wouldn’t last. She concentrated on the salty air she could almost taste, the
rhythmic crash of the mighty Pacific, the cold dew on her skin. She loved it
and yet she didn’t.

Three minutes later, she cut the Reviler’s engine at
the bottom of the porch steps. Sunny retrieved her suitcase of clean clothes
from the trunk. Closing the lid, she stared up at the old Victorian and thought
about its previous owner, missing long enough he’d been declared legally dead.
And most likely was. Franklin Corday had liked the limelight too much to have
willingly stayed out of it for seven years.

To Sunny, he’d been dead for longer than seven
years.

The house key was oversized, too big for her key
chain. She pulled it out of her jeans pocket and mounted the porch steps.

The front door opened onto a postage-stamp foyer
that ended with the staircase, and the narrow hall to the left traveled the
length of the house to a huge kitchen. Two exits out the back, one at the side
through a utility room, which also held a tiny cubicle that contained a
half-bathroom with a toilet that wouldn’t flush, and at the direct rear of the
house another door opened out of the kitchen onto a screened porch.

The immediate room to her left was what was called
the parlor when the house was built. The other three downstairs rooms were
bedrooms, each with huge closets that had doubled as storage rooms, and every
one of them had been crammed full of junk. Sunny had been busy the past week.
Except for furniture and basic kitchen necessities, these lower rooms were now
empty.

Her cousin, so many times removed she couldn’t count
them, owned half-interest in the house, but she got to do all the work. No real
surprise there. She hadn’t yet met a male Corday worth anything.

She checked the parlor’s phone, frowned when she
found no dial tone, then made herself relax. The phone company would get to it.
Eventually.

Upstairs were three more bedrooms, brighter and
cheerier and closer to the only bathroom that worked. But it held no shower,
only a claw-footed bathtub she’d scoured until she felt okay putting herself
into it.

She mounted the stairs, deposited her suitcase on
her bed and then stopped, dead-still, eyes and ears alert. Something was wrong.
Stepping back to the doorway, she stood sideways in it, turning her back on
nothing. The skin at the back of her neck prickled as she surveyed the bedroom,
then the hall leading to the other two rooms, the door opening into the
bathroom—

That was it! Her gaze shot back to the open door
leading into the right front bedroom. It was supposed to be closed like the
other one. The house was chilly, and she kept the unused rooms closed off to
save the meager heat from the floor heater in the hallway below.

She didn’t own a gun, but she kept a baseball bat
under the bed. She got it and crept down the hall toward the door that most
probably hadn’t opened itself.

A prowler must have broken in one of the back doors
and was long gone—she hoped—but her heart was beating double time and a chill
had settled over every part of her.

The room emitted a snore.

 

Chapter Two

Sunny froze.

No phone. No damned phone.

Forget the phone and the baseball bat.
Get the hell out of here.

Another snore caught itself in the middle. She heard
a huge intake of breath, a pause, and a loud exhalation. Sheets and blankets
rustled, bedsprings creaked, and feet hit the floor.

Keys! Where are the car keys!

Not in your pocket—purse still on the
passenger’s seat—the trunk. The keys are sticking out of the trunk’s lock.

Brilliant, Sunny. Brilliant.

She backed up a slow step at a time, gaze glued to
the open doorway. The baseball bat was poised over her right shoulder, her
fingers rigid around it.

Cell phone! It’s in your purse.

The floor creaked as someone walked across it, and
he appeared in the doorway before she made it back to the top of the stairs.
When his gaze lit upon her, he uttered an inarticulate sound and jerked to a
stop.

Run. Attack before he gets his wits
together. Do something, Sunny!

“Who are you? What are you—” He squinted. “You’re
the girl from the other night, with the foul mouth. So you’re the one who’s been
living here.”

She swallowed.

“Relax, whatever your name is. You don’t need that
bat.”

He moved slightly, probably just settling where he
was, but she stiffened her stance.

He grew still. “But if you feel better holding on to
it, then by all means keep it.”

Slowly, as if he didn’t want to startle her into
attack, he held up one hand, then looked down at his t-shirt and boxer shorts.
“Let me back up and put some clothes on, okay?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I asked you first. But we’ll play it your way. I
own this place. I—”

“Corday? You’re Jonathan Corday?”

Smart, Sunny, you fed it to him
.

Calmly, he nodded. “Yes, I am. Now it’s your turn.”

“I’ll need to see identification.”

“I gave you my card the other night. Remember?”

“Oh. Yeah, but I didn’t look at it. I still need to
see identification.”

He appeared annoyed, but when she didn’t relax her
stance, he nodded toward the room’s interior. “It’s in there. May I?”

She considered, gaze not wavering, then gave him one
curt nod of her head. He stepped back into the room and she followed as far as
the doorway, afraid to let him out of her sight. He got a wallet from the
dresser, withdrew a driver’s license and extended it toward her.

She indicated the end of the bed with a flick of her
eyes. He flipped it there and backed up to the far wall. She grabbed the
license and got the basics with a quick glance.

Jonathan Louis Corday. Five-eleven. One
sixty. Hair brown. Eyes green.

She checked the picture, him, then the picture
again.

“Okay.” She lowered the bat and felt her energy
level lower along with it.

“May I get dressed now?”

“Of course. I’m sorry, I—”

“It’s okay. We can talk over coffee. I think I
mastered that old percolator in the kitchen.”

“Never mind. I brought a new coffee maker with me.
It’s still in the trunk. I’ll go get it.”

She barely caught the curious look he gave her as
she left.

Outside, when she caught her frowning reflection in
the car window, she forced her expression to clear. No sense wondering what he
was doing here. Just ask him.

While she was filling the glass coffee pot in the
kitchen, the upstairs toilet flushed and the flow of water reduced to a
dribble. Talk about poor water pressure. She turned the spigot off, waited a
beat, then turned it back on and filled the pot.

Corday still hadn’t shown when she poured the fresh
brew into a cup. He was either deliberately giving her time or he was the
slowest creature on two legs she’d ever met.

Then he showed, dressed in tan slacks with a sharp
crease and a button-down, pinstriped shirt. And clean-shaven. No wonder he’d
taken so long. She pointed to the mug she’d placed next to the coffee maker. He
filled it and sat at the table across from her. They stared at each other.

“Well.” He cleared his throat. “How did you get the
electricity on?”

She squinted. “Huh?” There had to be more important
considerations to discuss than that one.

“Evidently you’ve moved beyond trespassing. I
suppose the correct term for you would be squatter.”

Her spine straightened. “I’m not a squatter.”

“When I saw signs of someone living here I
immediately thought of you, and I surmised you’d been scared off when you met
me.” His tone was calm, matter-of-fact, not accusatory. “This is the only place
I could’ve been going to.”

“I am
not
a squatter!”

He was remarkably unruffled. Being met at his
bedroom door in his underwear by a strange woman armed with a baseball bat had
thrown him for only a quick second.

“And I need to see identification before I’m going
to believe you’re closer to thirty than fifteen,” he went on. “Even in this
light, it looks like I might have a runaway teen on my hands, and that puts me
in deep trouble.”

“You’re in deep trouble, all right. You’re pissing
me off, buddy.”

His facial muscles tightened.

“You want proof?” She raised her chin in challenge.
“In case you didn’t catch it, I knew your name before you told me. Thanks to
good old Franklin Corday, a long lost uncle you probably didn’t even know you
had, you now share ownership of Corday Cove with his equally notorious
daughter, Laurel. Your cousin, twelve or twenty times removed. Now how is a...
squatter
...going
to know that?”

She took a deep breath and blew it out in a noisy
rush. “You want some history to go along with that? After their divorce,
Franklin’s wife won a judgment on their daughter’s behalf, stipulating that at
his death Corday Cove would go to, and I quote, ‘surviving blood kin, including
offspring, Laurel Frances Corday.’ It was that poorly written, and it gave him
an out. He searched until he found another heir—you—just so he could stiff his
daughter and her mother one last time.” She paused, then added, her voice
dripping scorn, “You really lucked out, buddy.”

“My name is Jonathan, not buddy.” Temper was
beginning to show around the edges of that unemotional armor. Cold, controlled,
but temper nonetheless. “And speaking of names, I still don’t know yours.”

“Sunny.” She clipped off the word, giving him no
more information than she had to. Her temper was a whole lot warmer than his,
and she was glad to see his appear. She’d been as much miffed by the casual way
he’d labeled her a trespasser as by the label itself.

“Sonny?” His brow wrinkled. “As in sonny boy?”

“No. I’m not someone’s male child. Apparently you
haven’t caught on to that yet either. Sunny, as in sunshine.”

He gave her a long look. “There is nothing
whatsoever about you that reminds me of sunshine.”

The precise delivery undid her. She fought the laugh
but it got away from her.

Though he didn’t smile back, he seemed to relax a
bit. “Sunny sounds like it might be a nickname.”

She nodded. As her mood eased, her stance did as well.
She propped her elbows on the table, clasped her hands and rested her chin atop
her knuckles. Openly, she studied him. “Yes, it is. But something tells me that
you don’t go by John, Johnny, or Jack.”

“Jonathan is preferred, thank you.”

Yep. He wasn’t difficult to get a handle on. “Well,
Jonathan, is that enough proof?”

“Yes, you’re not trespassing. You’re here with
Laurel’s permission...”

She’d felt her face go blank, and he must’ve seen
it.

“Aren’t you?” he asked, eyes narrowing.

She considered him for a moment, and then sat back.
Wearily she lifted her shoulders. “It was more her mother’s idea,” she said
dryly.

“And what exactly is it that you’re doing here?” His
gaze drifted to the hall, then back. “The downstairs rooms are empty of
everything but furniture. Are you preparing the house for sale?”

“Uh-huh. You’d agreed to sell it.”

“I didn’t realize it would be this fast.”

“It’s not on the market yet,” she clarified. “When
I’m through clearing out the personal stuff, painters and contractors have to
be hired.”

“Why you?”

“Why me what?”

“In what capacity are you here? As a friend of the
family?”

“Oh.” She pursed her lips. “Well, actually—”

“You seem too young to be the real estate agent.”

“In fact, I am an agent,” she informed him coolly.
“And a successful one. You’d be amazed at how grown up I can look when I put my
mind to it.”

“Excuse me.” At her rebuff, his stuffy side made
another appearance. “I stand corrected.”

She waved it off. “But I won’t be handling the sale.
I work out of San Francisco and don’t know the area here well enough to feel
comfortable with it. Mavis Fairly lives here in Chester Beach and works out of
Castleton City. She’s a family friend and will handle negotiations.”

She got up, refilled her cup, then sat down again.
“Now I need to know what you’re doing here. Do you by chance want to hang on to
this place after all?”

“You look apprehensive. Evidently you don’t want me
to reconsider.”

And that thoughtful look of his probably meant that
he was reconsidering. Oh, great. One complication after another. She stood and
pushed her chair under the table. “Call...Laurel, when you make up your mind.
And consider the coffee maker a gift. I’ll get my suitcase and be gone.”

“You don’t have to go, Sunny. You’re welcome to
stay.”

“This place isn’t big enough for both of us,” she
mumbled as she emptied her cup into the sink. She stopped on her way out of the
kitchen, turned back, and tilted her head as if to look down her nose at him.
When annoyed, her habit was to annoy right back. “And I can’t help but wonder
in what capacity you’re inviting me to stay, Mr. Corday?”

He stared at her for a long moment, as if mulling
over her meaning. Then his eyes closed briefly, showing her he’d caught on.
Appearing impatient as well as irritated, he shook his head at the well-worn
oilcloth that covered the table. “Are you always this prickly?”

Sunny regretted making the implication. Her peppery
side had gotten her in trouble more than once.

“You’re not my type,” he went on, voice so
dismissive his insult topped hers. He managed to give the impression of looking
down his nose at her without even looking at her. Then that cool green gaze
rose and caught hers. “And I haven’t changed my mind about selling. Your
commission is safe. I live in Bakersfield.” He paused, then added, as if
explaining to a child, “No ocean. I wanted to see this place before it was
sold. Perhaps I should have contacted Laurel, but I was given a key at the end
of probate so I just came ahead. And until you arrived,” he said and then hesitated,
and she didn’t miss the hesitation. “I liked it here. If it doesn’t interfere
with your work, I’d like to stick around. Perhaps we could tolerate each
other.”

She frowned. “My commission?”

He frowned. “That’s the only thing you got out of
that whole speech? This is prime oceanfront property. The commission alone will
amount to a small fortune.”

“Oh. But I told you I’m not handling the sale.” She
jumped at a sudden strident ringing and then broke into a smile. “Hey! I don’t
have to stay mad at the phone company.” She sprinted to the parlor, grabbed the
receiver and spoke into it.

“Hello, doll,” said the voice at the other end.

“Ryan. Hi. My phone works.”

“That seems a little obvious, don’t you think?”

“Oh, shut up. Are you just checking, or what?”

“My four o’clock appointment for tomorrow just
called to cancel, and I don’t have anyone until noon the next day. If I’m still
invited, I can make it by dinner tomorrow.”

“Great. Come on up. You have that set of
directions?”

“Got it. See you tomorrow.”

“Uh, Ry—” But the phone clicked in her ear. She’d
explain and introduce Jonathan tomorrow. No big deal.

“Expecting company?”

She jumped, then spun to find Jonathan in the
doorway. “Ground rule number one. Don’t sneak up on me.”

His gaze flitted back down the hall toward the
kitchen, then returned to her. “Perhaps we should rethink this. Tolerating each
other may prove to be beyond us.”

She’d caught the dry tone and realized he had humor
as well as temper behind that reserved exterior, and that he was trying to be
fair. It wasn’t his fault she felt so weighed down with this place and the
hovering aura of the missing Franklin Corday, the father who’d unsuccessfully
tried to disown her when she was in fourth grade. She’d spent a long portion of
her life trying to disown him right back, yet here she was clearing out his
house.

BOOK: Family Skeletons
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