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Judging from the heavy pounding on the front door of the Granger Funeral Home, Wyatt Granger figured either the defensive line of the Oakland Raiders had come to pay a visit or someone had died. Since Wyatt did own and operate a funeral homeand the average member of the Oakland Raiders, along with most other people in California, had no idea that Sibleyville existedthat left the latter proposition. Wyatt's luck had run out, and someone was dead.
Wyatt cursed and slowly set down the newspaper on the nearby coffee table. It appeared that his late evening ritual of reading the paper was not going to happen tonight. He suspected that most funeral directors did not curse when they were faced with the prospect of potential customers. But, then again, Wyatt was not like most funeral directors.
Unfortunately for Wyatt though, he was the last Granger left in Sibleyville and by default that left him to answer the door and pretend to be like most funeral directors. After all, the Granger Funeral Home motto was not Burying Your Dead Since 1919 for nothing.
Wyatt forced himself to stand from his father's favorite easy chair and walked through the foyer to the front door. He took a deep breath and stood frozen at the front door. He cursed at himself again. He needed to stop acting like a wuss and open the door.
Wyatt pasted his best funeral director smile on his face and opened the door. He was immediately blinded by a bright white light and the sound of applause. He shielded his eyes with a hand and squinted into the light. At least ten people stood crowded on the covered front porch. There were two cameras, one man holding the blinding light overhead and another guy holdinga large microphone. And in front of the entire circus stood Quinn Sibley.
Wyatt felt the sudden urge to vomit. It was the same reaction every time he saw her. Like a sledgehammer in his gut. She was too beautiful, too perfect. And entirely too much out of his league.
His gaze drifted from her perfectly formed, heart-shaped lips to the deep V of the skintight dark green halter dress that skimmed every famous and well-photographed curve of her body. Her brown hair held hints of dark blond and honey and hung like a curtain of silk down her back. Her honey-brown skin was flawless, and her hazel eyes flashed more green one moment, then more brown another. He would have sworn they were contacts if he hadn't spent so much time studying her to know they were 100% real. And then there were her breasts.
Men could spend hours writing poems to her breasts. Wyatt had spent enough time staring at them over the last year to know every curve by heart. They were a little too perky and round and perfect to be God-given, but they were absolutely perfect. Any man who turned up his nose at them was either blind or a complete fool.
And with all things that came in a package that promised to be too good to be true, Wyatt had stayed far away from her. No, sir. Not him. Besides, he had other plans for himself this holiday season, like getting to know Dorrie Diamond better. Dorrie was petite, cute and most importantly, one of the only single women in town under the age of sixty and over the age of eighteen. Not to mention that she was black, this was even rarer in Sibleyville. She was 28 years old and Wyatt had decided that she was perfect for his plan. He wanted to start a family and judging from the longing he saw in her eyes when she saw babies, so did she. Quinn Sibley was nowhere in that plan. Not one beautiful inch of her.
"Wyatt!" Quinn exclaimed, as if he were a long lost friend.
When Wyatt only gaped in response, Quinn threw her arms around him and squeezed her ample breasts against his chest and, God help him, Wyatt moved closer to her, allowing himself for a moment to accept that this was not a fantasy.
Ever since he had first met Quinn Sibley in Sibleyville last year, she had been the name in lights in his daydreams and fantasies. She and her two sisters had come to Sibleyville to live in their grandfather's boyhood home for a few weeks in hopes of inheriting Max Sibley's considerable fortune. There had been no fortune, but the women had left a mark on Sibleyville. Quinn's sister, Charlie, had married Wyatt's best friend, Graham, and the two had spent the last year essentially disgusting everyone with their lovesick, puppy-dog looks and cuddly exchanges. Thankfully, Charlie and Graham spent most of their time in Los Angeles.
The few times Wyatt had seen Quinn since she and her sisters had left town had been just enough to let him know that it hadn't been a joke: this woman had a hold on him. She knew it, which probably explained why she treated him like snail dung on the bottom of her shoe. And glutton for punishment that he was, Wyatt still could not stop thinking about her. Or her body and those lips, to put it more accurately. It was pure lust, and lust could be controlled. Or so Wyatt had heard.
"You're looking good, Wyatt," Quinn gushed, as she not so subtly positioned him so that they both faced the camera. "What has it been? Five, six months? Too long, right? We're practically family. We shouldn't wait this long to see each other."
It took him a while because he did have the most perfect pair of breasts pressed against him a few seconds ago, but Wyatt finally realized that it was not an accident that Quinn and a camera crew were hogging his porch.
"Quinn," he finally said.
He glanced at the cameras and the men in flannel shirts and khaki shirts standing around the porch, watching the scene with bored expressions. One man blew a bubble, then popped it and continued to chew like a cow.
Wyatt stepped closer to her and turned his back to the cameras. He asked, flatly, "What is going on?"
"I've got a chance of a lifetime for you, Wyatt," Quinn continued excitedly, ignoring his question. She flashed a smile at the camera, then turned back to Wyatt,
"I'm documenting one of the most exciting moments of my lifemy homecoming to Sibleyville"
"Homecoming?" he repeated, blankly. "You're not from"
She squeezed his armhardand continued to smile at the camera. "I have been picked to star in a Helmut Ledenhault movie. Yes, that's right, Wyatt, the Helmut Ledenhault. And, even more, exciting, Helmut has chosen to film the movie here in Sibleyville. Our little town. And here is the really best part, Wyatt. Are you ready for this?"
Like a runaway train, she ignored his distinct lack of enthusiasm and plodded on. "We want to film the movie here in the Granger Funeral Home!" Wyatt shook his head in disbelief, and this time she pinched him on the back of his arm. He flinched in surprise. Her camera-worthy smile never faltered. "Two weeks, at the most, Wyatt. What do you stay? Are you ready to be a star?"
Wyatt stared at her uncomprehendingly for a moment. For the first time, her bright smile faltered for a second as she nervously glanced at the camera and then back to him.
Wyatt cleared his throat, then said to the crew, "Can you guys give us a minute?"
"Cut, cut, cut!" roared an irritated male voice.
Wyatt squinted against the lights as a man walked up the porch steps from the darkness of the front lawn. The man stood no taller than Quinn's shoulder, and while Quinn wasn't a short woman at close to five-foot-eight, that meant the man wasn't exactly tall. He had a bad hairpiece that sat askew atop his head, and thick black-rimmed eyeglasses covered beady blue eyes that were perched above a beady nose and a beady mouth, if a mouth could be beady. He was dressed in an allkhaki outfit for a day on safarior at least how movie stars in the 1940s dressed for a day on safariwith the white scarf tied around his neck.
"Quinn, what the hell is going on here?" the man shouted in a thick German accent, jabbing his hands on his hips. "You said that this wouldn't be a problem. That this was all just a formality. That you had this cowboy wrapped around your little finger. It doesn't look like he's wrapped around your little finger. In fact, it looks to me like he's on the verge of saying no, and he cannot be saying no when we need to start filming this movie in one week."
Wyatt stepped in between Quinn and the fuming man. Wyatt kept his voice even as he pinned the man with a hard glare and said, "I don't know where exactly you're from, little man, and I don't care, but around here we don't talk to ladies like that. Comprende?"
Some of the anger drained from the man's expression as he shot an uncertain glance over his shoulder at the camera crew.
"Were you filming that? I said to cut. Don't you idiots know the meaning of the word? I'll put it more simple for the un-evolved around us. Turn! Off! The! Cameras!" Helmut screamed at the crew, since he realized that screaming at Quinn was no longer an option.
The other men did a poor show of hiding their smiles and nods of appreciation at Wyatt. The lights and cameras went out.
"Wyatt, please," Quinn snapped, irritated, stepping around Wyatt. She sent the man an apologetic smile.
"He's from Sibleyville, Helmut. He doesn't know any better. He's really sorry for threatening you."
"I did not sign up for amateur hour," Helmut spat at her. He waved to the enraptured camera crew. "Let's leave this town before we start to smell like it."
"Helmut, wait," Quinn pleaded, running around the man to block the porch steps. "Wyatt will let us use the house, right, Wyatt?" She stared at him imploringly.
Wyatt ignored Quinn and pinned Helmut with another hard glare.
Helmut flinched, then turned to Quinn. "You need me much more than I need you, Quinn. Remember that. You have one week, and then I find a new location and a new lead actress. One week."
"One week?" she sputtered in disbelief. "But, it's Christmas"
"Merry Christmas, Quinn."
With pat of his proverbial hair, he descended the steps towards a waiting van. The camera crew mumbled amongst themselves and slowly followed. There was no sound in the neighborhood as the two minivans filled up and drove down the oak tree-lined street toward the highway.
Wyatt glanced down the dark street at the other houses. There were several other houses on the wide street, but gossip traveled around their neighborhood as if they all lived on top of each other He didn't see any curious faces peeking out the windows, so at least none of his neighbors had seen the cameras. Wyatt did not want his mother hear about the 60 Minutes surprise show on their front yard, until he could explain. Beatrice did not handle surprises well.
Wyatt glanced at Quinn and found her staring at him. She frowned and snapped, "Thank you very much, Wyatt." She groaned and raked hands through her hair, disturbing the carefully coifed curls. Wyatt tried not to notice that now she looked as if she had just gotten out of bed. She muttered to herself, "What am I going to do?"
She whirled around to face him. He coughed to cover the desire that slammed into his body. Quinn had never been angry with him. She had never been anything with him. As far as she was concerned, he was white paint on the wall.
Fire flashed in her hazel eyes, her cheeks flushed and her breasts heaving. If he still cared about Quinn Sibley, he would be raging hard right now because she looked like an Amazon warrior princess come to life. Well, maybe he could stop caring tomorrow because right now he was raging hard.
"You stalk me around Sibleyville and whenever you find an excuse to come to L.A. Now I give you a chance to stare at me for hours on end, without anyone stopping you, and you ruin it."
Wyatt was jerked from whatever X-rated fantasies had been developing in his head. "I don't stalk you, Quinn. I haven't seen you since I can't remember when."
He remembered when. Five months ago, he saw her for five minutes when he had been visiting Graham and Charlie at their home in Los Angeles. He hadn't known that Quinn lived in their pool house until Quinn had breezed into the house, glared at Wyatt, then grabbed Charlie and walked into the kitchen. It had taken everything in Wyatt's power not to follow her into the kitchen like a starstruck teenager.
Quinn crossed her arms over her chest and studied him, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. And she probably did. A woman that beautiful did not spend more than a week alive without knowing how to tell when a man was bullshitting her.
"Are you going to let me use your house or not?"
"I don't know," he said with a shrug.
"You don't know? You don't know?" she repeated, growing more outraged with each word.
"I don't know," he confirmed.
"What is there to know?" she sputtered.
"There are things to consider"
"What things? It's not like you have to worry about having a funeral in a funeral home. From what Graham says, there hasn't been a death in this town in eight months."
Wyatt inwardly cursed his best friend. Thank you, Graham. Ever since Graham had married Charlie, Graham had been the regular New York Times. Graham couldn't let a conversation pass without telling Wyatt about Quinn. And apparently Quinn was getting the Wyatt updates on the other end. Except Wyatt remembered that there wasn't really much to update when his life consisted of going home and going to work.
"My mother lives in this house on the second floor," he said calmly. "This is not just a mortuary. It's also a family living space. I have to talk to her."
"You better not ruin this for me," she threatened, with glowering eyes. When he didn't respond, she snorted in disgust, then dug a sleek, black cell phone from an oversized purse on the stairs of the porch.
"Great. My reception is out again. Damn Sibleyville. But it's not like I could call a taxi around here anyway. I need a ride back to the house."
Without another word, she stomped toward his SUV. Because it was Sibleyville, the SUV was unlocked and she climbed inside the passenger side and slammed the door.
Wyatt stuffed his hands in his jeans pocket and watched her, fuming, as she sat in the SUV with her arms crossed. Wyatt was tempted to walk back inside his house, close the door and turn off the front porch light. He was in the middle of a tempting crossword puzzle in the newspaper. And he did have big plans for Dorrie Diamond and white picket fences and minivans. He stared at Quinn again.
Despite his better judgment, he made his way toward theSUV before Quinn changed her mind and walked the several miles back to her home. In her stilettos, no less. He wouldn't put anything past this woman.