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From the Publisher"...the unique underlying story is a good one"
-RT Book Reviews on A RELUCTANT HERO
They're perfect for each other
Desperate to save her family home from foreclosure, Hannah Olaniyi takes on a seemingly unwinnable case for a substantial fee. But her new client is testing the North Carolina attorney in ways she never imagined. As tempers ignite over conflicting strategies, Hannah fights a...
They're perfect for each other
Desperate to save her family home from foreclosure, Hannah Olaniyi takes on a seemingly unwinnable case for a substantial fee. But her new client is testing the North Carolina attorney in ways she never imagined. As tempers ignite over conflicting strategies, Hannah fights a desire that's taking her from the boardroom and into the bedroom of the town's most notorious playboy.
They just don't know it yet.
Amal Harper needs a lawyer fast someone willing to go up against a powerful family. But there's a shocking secret in this hard-driving businessman's past. Amal doesn't want to lose Hannah, especially after she starts working her seductive magic. Is it too late to mend his bad-boy ways and claim his future with the woman who's his total opposite—except when it comes to love?
"We're going to be homeless."
"No, you're not."
"We're going to be tossed out in the street and left to starve."
Hannah Olaniyi bit back a sigh as she switched her cell phone to her other ear. Her older sister, Abigail, always tended toward the dramatic. In the distance she heard children squealing with delight as they raced about the playground. A few feet away a jogger darted past and a dog tugged on its leash while attempting to sniff the trunk of a tree. She felt the warmth of the late-spring sun as she strolled through the park on her lunch break. She saw its rays cascading over the green grass, but it did little to lift her spirits. It was just proof that life went on while her world fell apart. "That's not going to happen. How's Dad?"
"He's coming out of the hospital tomorrow."
Hannah felt some of her tension ease. Her parents' financial woes had so stressed her father that he'd been rushed to the hospital two days earlier due to trouble breathing. Her mother and sister had been certain he was suffering a heart attack because of his weak heart, caused by a construction accident over eleven years ago that left him unable to work. A shady contractor had cut corners on materials used at a site where her father had been working. He ended up falling through two floors of the structure and seriously injuring his back and left hip, leaving him in constant pain. Since then, hospital visits had become part of their lives, as had countless physical therapy sessions.
Fortunately, this time it was just a panic attack, although his blood pressure was dangerously low and he was dehydrated.
Hannah glanced at a tree whose leaves swayed in the slight breeze. "I'll come visit after he's rested a day or two."
"There's no need trying to hide from the inevitable. You can't face them, can you?"
"Of course I can," Hannah said, fighting to take hold of her temper. Her sister was good at igniting it. "I saw them just yesterday. They were fine."
"They were just pretending to make you feel better like they always do," Abigail said, as though her sister was dense. "They don't want to worry the baby of the family."
There was only a five-year age difference between the two sisters, but most of the time it felt like much more. Abigail had wanted to stay an only child and had never welcomed Hannah's arrival. For twenty-eight years she had convinced herself that Hannah was their parents' favorite although they worked hard to treat their daughters as equals—same birthday gifts, same holiday gifts, but nothing seemed to change Abigail's opinion.
Hannah rolled her eyes. "I'll talk to the bank."
"They're going to take the house."
Hannah knew it wasn't that simple. Their home insurance policy had been canceled because the house needed major repairs. She remembered the contractor they'd hired to inspect the house and his quote of over forty-five thousand dollars. If they did not have the repairs done they'd lose their house, and with her father's medical needs that would mean a rehabilitation center or senior residential facility for him—and nobody wanted that.
"I won't let that happen," she said.
"Did you suddenly get rich?"
"Then how will you stop them?" Abigail's voice cracked. "This is all your fault anyway."
Hannah paused, not sure she'd heard right. "M-my fault?"
"Yes," Abigail said with feeling. "Dad refinanced the house to help you with your education so that you could get your fancy college degree. But instead of graduating and getting a job right away you decided to start your own company. If you had joined an established law firm or something you'd have the money to help. While you were having fun at college I was working to support the family, and now that you're out you still can't do anything."
Hannah gritted her teeth. Her sister knew how much earning her degree meant, but every chance she got she belittled her efforts. Abigail knew that Hannah had applied for several jobs and, despite her stellar grades and work experience, hadn't gotten hired. These factors had been part of the decision to start her own law practice. "That's not true, and you know it."
"Why didn't you just join Uncle's business like we all wanted you to? You've worked there since you were sixteen and ran the office like no one else."
"I didn't want to be a secretary."
"There's nothing wrong with being an office assistant."
Hannah kicked a pebble, imagining it was her sister's shin. "I didn't say there was."
"You could have gotten married to Jacob. He has money."
"I'm not ready to get married, especially not to him."
"You're just selfish and—"
"Okay, that's enough. It's not my fault that you're miserable."
"You keep blaming me, but in reality you're miserable because you've never left home. You stayed there and watched the house slowly fall down around you and you did nothing. After Dad's accident you had an opportunity to travel and didn't. Even though you'd saved your money for a two-week trip to France. Something you'd been talking about since you were nine and saw the movie An American in Paris. Dad was doing well then and you could have gone. We all told you to, but you made a choice to stay."
"I couldn't have gone then."
"What about years later?" Hannah continued before her sister could argue. "You chose to stay home and help Mom with Dad. I chose to become a lawyer so that I could help both my parents and others. So if you're unhappy, that's not my fault. Okay, so I didn't expect things to work out this way. I thought after graduation I'd get a great job and soar high and fast. That didn't happen, because in the real world lots of graduating lawyers don't get work right away. That's the dirty little secret they don't tell you before you enter the profession and get thousands of dollars in debt. I know a guy who graduated top of his class who's waiting tables, and another who's working at his father's car lot. I'm doing the best I can. My business is slowly growing and I'll show you what I can really do, but for now get off my back and find someone else to blame for your unhappiness."
Silence followed and then she heard sniffling. "I didn't mean to make you mad," Abigail said in a tear-soaked voice. "It's just been so hard. Mom and I have done our best to maintain the house, but you know Dad was always the handy one. I've never been good with repairs and things like that. I'm doing all I can, and I'm so scared."
Hannah gripped her phone. With her sister, if it wasn't insults it was tears. "Yes, I know," she said, trying to soften her tone and keep the irritation out of her voice.
"I've spent my life supporting our parents, and I'm helping to take care of Dad. I've done more for them than you ever have ."
Hannah sighed, knowing that she'd never convince her sister to see her in a different light. She knew her sister was as dependent on her parents as they were on her. She'd never ventured out alone, had few friends and had never had any romantic interests. Only in her early thirties, Abigail was resigned to living at home and being provided for. Most times Hannah felt like the older sister because Abigail was never one to offer advice or encouragement. "It's going to all work out."
"Mom is so worried. We can't imagine having to put Dad into some kind of facility, but if we lose our house no other place will be able to address his needs."
"Look," Hannah said, trying to sound strong, although she didn't feel she had any strength left. She rested against a tree. "I said I'll handle it."
"When?" Abigail pressed, as if she expected her sister to provide a miracle at that moment. "How?"
Hannah closed her eyes and sighed. "I'll get back to you. I need to go."
"Of course you do. You always have something more important to do than worry about us."
Hannah disconnected and put her phone away, wishing she could do the same with her parents' troubles and her sister's false accusations. She knew what Abigail said wasn't true, but her words hurt anyway. Hannah wanted to be the one to rescue them, and she couldn't. She wanted them to be proud of her, but after graduating from law school she'd ended up with a mountain of debt and no job prospects, and starting her own company was her last-ditch effort. She was getting some clients but not enough to meet all of her financial obligations. Her father's brave smile burned in her memory.
She knew her parents tried to protect her from all their worries, but she'd seen the strain in her mother's eyes and her father had lost a lot of weight. She felt like such a disappointment. When her father had gotten injured on the job, everything changed overnight. She'd been comfortable with the life her family had planned for her. She would work in her uncle's prosperous business, get her degree in business management and perhaps own it one day. But that all changed. She'd returned home from school one day and seen her mother drop the phone and crumble to the floor. She had rushed over to her.
"Is it father?"
"Is he okay?" she asked hesitantly. "No, he's badly injured."
After her father was hospitalized for over six weeks and had undergone months of physical therapy, they learned that the company he worked for refused to pay for his loss of wages and inability to hold a job. While the lawyer they hired had helped get some compensation for her father, he hadn't been aggressive enough, and her father ended up having to apply for permanent disability, three lawyers later. That's when Hannah decided her new path. She gave up her dream of getting an MBA and running an office. Instead, she'd get justice. She remembered the shock on everyone's face when she told them her plans, but no one would stop her.
She saw what a lawyer could do and knew then that that was what she wanted to strive for. She wanted to use the law to help people get justice. But now she had a law degree, and she couldn't help the ones she cared about the most. Her parents had left Nigeria and worked hard so that she and Abigail could have all the opportunities they couldn't. They had sacrificed for the American Dream, only to be faced with having it all slip away.
Her cell phone rang again and pulled her from her thoughts. She glanced at the number and groaned. It was Jacob. She couldn't deal with him now. She still felt guilty about their last meeting, when she'd halted several feet from her apartment door trying to figure out how best to handle the man who stood before her holding a bouquet of flowers.
Hannah thought of running but he'd already seen her, so she inwardly groaned and then plastered on a smile and walked toward him. "Jacob, you shouldn't have," she recalled saying to him.
He extended his arm and handed her the flowers. They were beautiful, but the sight of them depressed her. She'd told him that their relationship was over, but he still carried hope and no rebuffs, no matter how hard she tried, could convince him otherwise. He still remembered her and sent her expensive cards on holidays and her birthday. "I told you to stop this."
"I knew you'd be upset about your dad's health scare so I wanted to cheer you up."
It was a likely story, but Hannah didn't completely believe him. "That doesn't matter."
"Okay, I promise. No more flowers."
"Or cards, or teddy bears, or baskets or "
"Okay," he said, flashing a crooked grin. His smile was both shy and friendly at the same time, and it was one of the reasons she'd fallen for him in the first place. She'd been attracted to his vulnerability. "I get the hint."
Hannah wiped her forehead in an exaggerated gesture of relief. "At last."
"How's your dad?"
"He'll be out of the hospital tomorrow."
"I'm glad to hear that. I care about them like they're my own parents."
Hannah hesitated and then opened her door and turned to him. "They know that, and I'm sure they'd love to see you."
"I needed to see you first."
Hannah rested against the door frame and shook her head. "Jacob, don't do this."
"You know how I feel."
"I really wish you didn't."
"I can't help it."
"You haven't given yourself a chance to. There are many women out there, all much better than me, who deserve a great guy like you."
Jacob hung his head a moment and then smiled at her. "Perhaps if you say that enough times I'll start to believe you."
"Good, because I won't stop."
"So I still don't have a chance?"
"I'm going now."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Because you already know my answer, and it's not going to change. Thanks for the flowers."
"I'd give you a whole lot more if you'd let me."
"Goodbye, Jacob," Hannah said and then closed the door. She set the bouquet on the side table in the foyer and then collapsed on her couch. It had been a hectic day, and she didn't want to end it thinking about how her life may have been different if she'd married Jacob as everyone had expected her to.
She would have lived a life of privilege. Jacob Omole's family was very politically connected in Nigeria and enjoyed state dinners and mingling with the upper crust of society both in Nigeria and among the diplomatic core in Raleigh and D.C., where his parents frequently visited. She'd started dating him in high school. Their families were close. Marriage seemed inevitable to everyone but her. When she'd completed her undergraduate degree she had opted to study abroad in Tanzania, where she worked in a microloan office helping provide needed counseling to women hoping to start a business. Upon returning to the United States she worked as a paralegal for a legal aid program in a poor town in Georgia, where she saw the law work to impact lives. She had had an opportunity to see a bigger world and had larger dreams for her life than the one others had prescribed for her. She chose to follow her heart. Now she just wished she didn't feel so guilty because of it.
Hannah put her phone away, also dismissing the memories of Jacob. She then stumbled over to a park bench and sank into it, feeling as if she was being crushed by the weight of the world. Pain, raw and primitive in its intensity, spread through her, overwhelming her until her throat felt dry and her eyes were blinded by tears. She covered her face and sobbed.
"Hey! I didn't expect to see you here," an exuberant deep voice said from above her.
Her head snapped up and she saw a large, blurry dark figure. She quickly wiped her tears away so she could see him better. The light behind him put him in shadow. She squinted up at him. "I'm sorry?"
"It's good to see you again." He took a seat beside her.
As she brought his face into focus, she realized it was very good to see him, as well. She found herself staring into the caring brown eyes of a handsome man: the man of her dreams.
Posted July 28, 2013