Authors: Serena Pettus
It was both incredible, and unreal just how
it felt being held and kissed silly by Luke. Her body was on fire, her panties soaked from more than the sprinkler, and she was loving it.
In truth, Ashe had been feeling like a giddy little girl with her first crush whenever he was around. Her whole day brightened when he got to the house.
Luke was a great help too. He’d dug into her garden project with gusto, knocking out the sectioning and preparing the plots the first day. They’d then sat down and planned out the best areas of the yard to plant each crop based on sunlight, shade, water needs and so forth.
It had surprised her how much information he’d sought out in order to assist her. Most people would have merely shown up, done what was asked of them, and gone on their merry way.
Yet as she stood there, lost in a sensual haze, Ashe couldn’t help but entertain the idea of having a relationship with Luke. At the same time, she wondered if he would even be interested in anything more than a fling.
Pulling away, she was happy to note his eyes appeared to be blazing as he looked down at her. “Well, you certainly kiss as good as you look, she tossed out, turning to carefully step out of the garden. “I’m going to change and do lunch. Do you want to see if anything of my dad’s would fit you? I think there’s some knit shorts somewhere and some t-shirts. I could toss your clothes in the dryer while we eat.”
His sheepish smile was too cute and gave him a boyish charm. Combined with his devilish good looks, it was a wonder her ovaries hadn’t exploded.
“It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. Are you sure you don’t mind? I could have Benson bring me a change of clothes.”
“No problem at all. Let me take Lilly inside and I’ll get you a towel to start with.”
Luke came up beside her, both of them looking down at Lilly, who was staring up at a lizard crawling along the underside of the umbrella. He leaned over and picked up a plush butterfly and bounced it above her until it looked like the wings were flapping.
“Why don’t you go get some dry clothes on, and I’ll entertain princess Lilly for a while?”
“Are you sure?” Ashe hated to push her daughter on someone, but it would be faster and she wouldn’t have to get Lilly all wet by carrying her in.
“Absolutely. Besides, we’re good buddies, aren’t we, princess?” he asked softly, giving her belly a tickle.
Lilly’s gummy grin and chubby, squirming body told Ashe that she was enjoying the attention, so she relented. “Okay, I’ll make it quick,” she promised.
Racing through the house, she quickly threw her wet garments in the tub, then pulled on a pair of running shorts and a goofy t-shirt that read,
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. It had been a gift from her dad, and though it was now pretty faded, it was soft and comfortable.
She was just walking back through her room, when she caught her reflection in the full-length mirror near her closet. The scratches from the badger were healed, but she now had some scarring. It wasn’t bad, but it would be a reminder of that day every time she saw it.
Now there’s a good excuse not to shave my legs!
She pulled her hair back into a somewhat neat ponytail and hurried to find Luke an outfit. Her dad wasn’t a tall guy, so the most she could hope for was a pair of shorts with an elastic waistband. Any shirt she may have found would be much too tight on Luke’s broad shoulders, but it wasn’t like sharing a meal while staring at his bare chest would be a hardship.
She got lucky and found a pair of shorts that used to be sweats until her mother cut them off. What she didn’t expect to find was an envelope with her uncle’s name scrawled on it, tucked in the back of her father’s pajama drawer.
“What the hell is this?” she mused aloud. When she flipped it over, she saw that it was sealed, but she also noted the address and logo for a no-kill shelter her grandfather used to own.
It was even stranger because her uncle had hated going to that place. According to her father, it was because the animals would all go crazy whenever he came in. Almost like they were scared of him, or something.
So why would there be something in her dad’s room, addressed to her uncle, in an envelope from a place he hated? Could this be why he was so adamant about helping her clean out the upstairs rooms? Was he looking for this envelope?
In the Will, the house and all it’s contents had been left to Ashe. There had been nothing allotted to her Uncle James, but she hadn’t really expected there to be. It wasn’t like he and her dad had a great relationship, but her curiosity was definitely getting the better of her now.
It was her conscience that kept her from opening it and nosing through the contents right then and there. Instead, she tucked the envelope in her waistband and made her way back downstairs to relieve Luke of his baby duty and give him the shorts to change into.
They were sitting at the table enjoying their sandwiches, when her cell rang. She wasn’t too surprised to see that it was her Uncle James. He’d taken to calling at least once a day to check on her and Lilly, and inquire as to whether she was prepared to begin with the clean-out or not.
Sure enough, this time was no different, except now she was wondering if he was genuinely looking to help her, or if he had an ulterior motive. Perhaps she
take a peek inside that envelope and see just what he was so anxious to get his hands on.
His disgruntled tone was new. Like he was getting tired of the task being put off. “Are you
going to be ready to do this job, or what? My generosity only goes so far, Ashelynn. If you want my help on this, then get the lead out.”
? “Listen, James, I never asked for your help in the first place. I’ve been patient, since we both lost someone we care deeply about, but you’re starting to tick me off here.”
His snort on the other end of the line only fueled her anger. He was laughing at her? “Don’t kid yourself, Ashe. Your dad never cared for me, never accepted me as a brother. I guess since we weren’t cut from the same cloth, then I wasn’t good enough to be around his family.”
Fed up with the whole situation, with his constant calls and harassment over her parent’s private rooms in the house, she finally lost her cool. “You listen to me. I will
have you badmouthing my parents. I’m sure if dad had a problem with you, then it was for good reason. Don’t bother coming by, or calling me anymore regarding anything to do with this house. It, and everything in it, was left to
. I’ll get to it whenever I damn well feel like it, and it’s none of your business when that may be. Understood?”
“You sassy little bitch! One thing your dad never did was punish you for your mouth, but I’d sure as hell have done it,” he growled.
“You know what? You can
my sass! Don’t call here and you damn sure better not come on my property.”
With that she hung up and slammed her phone down on the table. Her hands were shaking, and her temples throbbing with her anger. How
he insult her father? It wasn’t like he’d been the only one to sense something off about her uncle. Hell, he wasn’t really even a relative since he was adopted.
“Everything okay, Ashe?”
Luke’s question brought her out of her head and she realized she’d completely flipped her shit in front of the man who’d just kissed her silly in the garden. Didn’t it just figure her mouth would be the ruin of whatever might have developed between them?
“Sorry about that,” Ashe sighed, dropping her head into her hands, her food completely forgotten now. “I should have left the room.”
“No, you should tell me what the problem is with whoever was on the phone. With you and Lilly being pretty isolated out here, I don’t like the idea of anyone possibly showing up to cause you trouble.”
His voice was sincere, and he didn’t seem put off at all by her display. She’d expected him to make an excuse to leave after that yet there he was, simply wanting to help her yet again.
Figuring there was no harm in telling him, she explained about how James wasn’t really her uncle, but an adopted brother to her dad. How he’d always seemed a bit off when she was growing up, and that her parents never left her alone in a room with him for any reason.
As she continued, Luke’s brows drew closer and closer together in a deep frown. Especially when she mentioned James’ keen interest in the upstairs office and master bedroom. “I haven’t cleaned them out yet, but I suppose I should do that soon, if for no other reason, than to find out what’s so damn important that he wants to get his hands on. Although, I wonder if it’s this letter?” She pulled out the envelope and set it on the table. “It’s got his name on it, and the return address on it belongs to my grandfather’s no-kill shelter he used to run. I found it in my dad’s pajama drawer when I was searching for some shorts for you.”
“Only one way to find out,” Luke pointed out. “It’s not really mail, since there’s no mailing address or postage. Plus, you said yourself that the house and everything in it belongs to you.”
Sitting up straight, Ashe squared her shoulders. “You’re right. This might hold the answers I need, and why shouldn’t I open it?”
Laughing, Luke shrugged. “Go for it.” Just then, Lilly began to fuss in her basinet, but Luke hopped up and went to pick her up. He was a natural when it came to handling a baby, and only added to his appeal.
When he was seated at the table again, she took a deep breath and pulled the papers free. Laying them out, she began to skim over them, but what she was seeing didn’t make any sense.
Before her was a series of lab tests from the local vets office, pictures of a kennel with a young badger—much like the one which had been in her house—inside, and also pictures of a young boy.
One page was an adoption certificate from the shelter, for a badger that had been discovered during a fire in a house a few towns over. Firefighters had located the animal locked in a bedroom, cowering under the bed according to the report. With the owners having perished, the animal was turned over to the shelter since it appeared to be tame, and her grandfather was the only one willing to take on the unusual animal.
It was a few pages down she found the sheet of paper that completely freaked her out. This page had been written by her grandfather, and explained how he’d been sitting in his office at the back of the shelter one evening when he heard a child’s voice asking for something to eat.
When he’d gone to investigate, he found a naked boy inside the badger’s cage, but there was no animal in there with him. He noted that the boy looked no older than maybe four years, and he asked him if he knew where the badger had gone, to which the child had simply replied, “I put him away.”
When asked where he’d put him, he told her grandfather he’d put the badger back inside him. Taken aback, her grandpa wasn’t sure what to think about the peculiar boy. There was no way he could have gotten himself in that cage on his own, it was a few feet off the ground.
This is where the document got even nuttier. It went on to claim that he’d then
the child change into the badger right before his eyes! Surely that wasn’t right. Maybe he was hallucinating, or had fallen asleep at his desk and dreamt the whole thing?
Was her grandfather crazy? Was that why the shelter had closed down?
“This makes no sense,” she told Luke. “Take a look at this stuff and see what you make of it. I think my dad was trying to hide the fact that my grandfather was going crazy.”
She watched as Luke skimmed over the pages, his eyes wide. He was probably thinking the same thing she was…that there was a very good chance there was a nut in her family tree. Yet as he shuffled through the rest, his eyes began to narrow and his lips thinned.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and tapped the screen before putting it to his ear. His curt, “Get over here, we have a situation,” did not help her feeling of unease one bit.
“What’s going on, Luke? Are you making any sense out of that mess, because I’m sure as hell not.”
“I need Benson to take a look at this, and then we’re all three going to have a very important discussion. He’s close by, so he’ll be here in just a few minutes.” He looked up at her then, his eyes intense. The expression on his face told her that whatever they were about to talk about was extremely serious.
She’d never seen him look so grave before, and the fact it was brought on by the papers she found had her stomach churning. With her appetite gone, she dumped the remainder of her lunch in the garbage and gazed out the kitchen window to the back yard.
Just a little while ago, they’d been out there, chatting away about anything and everything. Joking around, playing in the sprinklers, and then there was the amazing kiss too. Such a wonderful day, all dashed to hell by something as simple as a piece of paper.
“I thought maybe those papers were what my uncle was wanting so badly, but I don’t think he’s interested in the ramblings of an old man who was clearly falling into dementia or something.”
“Ashe, what did you say your uncle’s name was?” Luke asked, focusing on a tiny piece of paper taped to the back of the picture of the boy from the kennel.