Read an Excerpt
Just My Luck
A Shamrock Falls Novel
By Kelley Vitollo, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Kelley Vitollo
All rights reserved.
"Shh. There's a man after me, Betsy. We have to be quiet. He was watching me. I saw him following me the whole way to my room." Betsy Harris's mom sat huddled in the corner of her pale pink room. Her arms were wrapped around her legs like a scared child as Betsy stood in the corner, wanting to cry.
Her mom had been doing so much better. Or maybe she really hadn't and Betsy just wanted to believe she had. Fighting to reign in the sadness weighing her down, she stepped farther into her mom's room at Oakwood Psychiatric Home.
"No one's after you, Mom. Remember? We've talked about that. You're safe here. All they want to do is take care of you." Take care of her the way Betsy had for most of her life. To relieve some of the stress, to deal with the paranoia and hear the stories that had been pounded into Betsy's head since she was a child. Men are trouble. They're dangerous. You don't need anyone other than me. It's important not to draw attention to yourself.
All things that weren't easy to hear, especially when it had been Betsy's father who had hurt her mom.
"Don't!" Her mom shook her head frantically. "You didn't see. You never believe me. Who got to you, Betsy? Tell me what man got to my little girl!"
Play the game, play the game, play the game, she told herself. "No one got to me, Mom. I promise." Betsy kept her voice quiet, her footsteps slow, as she crossed the room. "You're safe. There's no man after you. We talked about how everything would be okay here."
When she reached the chair, Betsy kneeled down. She worked to keep her breathing steady and not show her mom how close she was to losing it, that she just wanted their lives to be as normal as she tried to make everyone believe they were. Of course, what with how shy Betsy was, everyone in Shamrock Falls already knew there was something different about her. As guilty as it made her feel to keep this secret, she couldn't handle the repercussions of anyone finding out.
Like having the first true friends of her life look at her with pity. Or having Mom be afraid of Betsy trying to branch out. Not to mention Jace. She hated the idea of Jace feeling sorry for her. It wasn't something she should be so worried about, considering he was her boss, but her feelings had never been what they should be where he was concerned.
"The man you saw works here, Mama," she said. "He wasn't following you. Nothing will happen to you here."
Slowly, her mom began to untangled herself and sit up straighter. "Really?"
"And you're okay, too? I was younger than you when he got to me. Don't let them fool you, my sweet girl."
Betsy's heart ached and of course her mind flashed to Jace. Jace Macnamara, the man she'd had a crush on since moving to Shamrock Falls. Not that he would ever be hers. Not only because of her mom and the fact that Betsy was so not Jace's type, but also because he was her boss. And for the first time in her life, she had something she loved, something that was hers. How could she risk losing her job over a silly crush?
"I'm fine. I know what I'm doing."
Her mom nodded. "I'm tired ... So tired. Can you help me to bed?"
Sometimes it happened like this — she'd come around easily. But other times it was more of a struggle. "Of course."
Betsy stood and held her hand out, helping her mom up. It was easy getting her to the bed and when Betsy did, she brushed the brown hair that matched her own from her mom's face.
"Are you okay?" Betsy asked her.
"Yes ... I love you."
Betsy forced herself to smile. "I love you, too."
Her mom closed her eyes. Betsy waited a couple minutes, sighed, and then walked out.
She hadn't been back in the office for more than a minute when the phone rang. "Macnamara Law," she answered, out of breath.
"Hello, is Jace there? This is Dee."
Betsy rolled her eyes, but then scolded herself. It wasn't her business who called Jace, though she didn't think women he dated should interrupt work.
The woman hung up after Betsy explained he wasn't there. Just then she saw Jace pull in. He stepped out of the car with a bag in hand, and she watched as he walked over to Jimmy, the homeless man who often frequented the area around their building. Betsy took a few moments to enjoy the view that was Jace Macnamara. A girl deserved a few visual treats, right? He looked impeccable, like he always did, in his suit with his blond hair slicked back.
He moved smoothly, almost like a tiger or a panther, all strength and sophistication. Betsy shivered at the delectable sight.
Kneeling down, Jace handed him the bag she knew would have food in it. Jace did that often. It was these moments she focused on when it came to Jace. Not his playboy, serial dater ways. He usually spent a good ten minutes talking to Jimmy, so she knew she had time to make her call, too.
Oh yes. Her call. She needed to get to that instead of admiring Jace.
She was still shaken from the incident with her mom, but seeing Jace being so generous made her smile. Because of the way she'd grown up, she'd never been very good around men, but she was comfortable with him. They worked so closely together that it was hard not to be. Betsy did well with routine. And she and Jace had one. Geez. Was she still thinking about Jace instead of making her call?
While he was busy, she sat at her desk and dialed Tamara Bridges's number. Before leaving Oakwood, she'd stopped by the woman's office as requested, but she'd been unavailable. When the manager of Oakwood wanted to see her, it couldn't be a good thing.
Tamara answered on the first ring.
"Hi, it's Betsy Harris."
"Hello, Betsy. Sorry I missed you earlier. How are you?" To Betsy's surprise, she saw that Jace was already heading back inside and her nerves spiked. Right when he slipped in, he opened his mouth as if to speak, but then saw her on the phone. He grinned before walking into his office, only partially closing the door. Great. She'd have to try and be quiet.
Finally Betsy answered with, "You can say it." It wasn't as though they didn't both know this call was coming.
Tamara sighed. She knew Betsy's money situation and had been very accommodating, but Betsy had a feeling that was about to change. "We're going through some restructuring. New management is coming in and there will be some changes. You're slightly behind on your payment. I can give you a week or two, but I can't hold off much longer than that. And after ..."
She didn't need Tamara to finish. Afterward she couldn't be late or her mom wouldn't be able to continue being cared for there. Inside, a part of her broke, but Betsy sat up straighter, pushed her brown hair behind her ears, and ignored the voice inside her that wanted to scream.
There were other facilities, of course. Those facilities would have programs to help, but Betsy loved the atmosphere at Oakwood. It felt as normal and natural as a home like that could be, with free time and beautiful gardens. She wanted the best for her mother, plus the idea of uprooting her scared Betsy to death. Moving her to a new home would be difficult.
"You'll have the money and we won't have any other issues," Betsy said. "I promise. I'll figure it out somehow." She could leave her one bedroom apartment and find a studio. Or maybe rent just a room. It wouldn't save her much money, but it was something.
She could always ask her friend Sidney if her fiancé Kade needed any help at his bar, Lucky's. There had to be something she could do, maybe during the evenings so it would fit around her day schedule with Jace. A little pang of regret hit her. But that would cut out the nights we work late together ... And it would be so different than working on law cases in a small office with only Jace.
Betsy shivered. The last thing she wanted to do was work in a busy bar where she had to be sociable with a large number of people she didn't really know. But if she needed to, she could. She'd always depended only on herself and she would do it again now.
Betsy would do anything for her mom.
"I'm sorry," Tamara's voice came through the phone.
"There's nothing to be sorry for. It's my responsibility." Even though there was no one in the room with her, when her hair slid forward, she let it act as the shield she so often needed.
Tamara said good-bye, and as soon as Betsy hung up the phone, Jace spoke from behind her. "Is everything okay, B?" It was such a simple nickname, but she loved it.
"Yeah ... yeah, I'm fine." She tried not to let herself wonder how much he'd heard.
"Didn't sound like it. Let me get you a drink." Jace walked over to the coffee pot and poured her a cup. He knew exactly how she drank it, two sugars and a lot of vanilla creamer. He picked one up for her every morning, but they had the coffeemaker here too. Just like he knew about her coffee, she knew about his love of chocolate doughnuts and kept them in her drawer for when he needed a pick-me-up.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked, sincerity in his blue eyes.
"No. It's a big day for you, though." Her eyes darted to the ground. "Sorry ... I hope that didn't come out wrong." Jace's grandfather, Wallace, had recently passed away and today, his lawyer was coming over to discuss the will. Wallace had been sick for a while — it was the reason Jace moved from Seattle back to Shamrock Falls. Still, knowing he'd been sick couldn't make his death and discussing the will easier on him.
And here she was saying it was a big day.
"Don't be sorry. You're exactly right. You know how much getting this house means to me, B. I ..." Jace let his words trail off, as he often did when it came to emotions. Every now and then, though, he opened up to her. Like when he'd told her the house he'd shared with his grandfather, and would now own, felt like his only connection to the parents he'd lost. That even though it was technically a family heirloom, to Jace, it would always be his mom's. She was raised in it. She and his father had planned to raise Jace in it.
"I know," Betsy said, letting him off the hook. She opened her drawer and pulled out one of Jace's doughnuts.
"You're too good to me," he said. "I don't know what I would do without you around here." He gave her another grin.
Somehow those words took away some of the pain from earlier. They were also the exact reason she needed to make this crush go away. She loved her job. They worked so well together and anticipated each other's needs. Letting herself fall for Jace even more could shatter it all.
* * *
Jace's heart collided with his chest so hard, with one more beat he thought it would burst free. He looked at Brian, his grandfather's lawyer and friend, unable to believe what the man had just told him.
"I'm sorry. I'm going to need you to repeat that, Brian."
"Wallace married Debbie not long before he passed. He changed his will to leave the house to her. You get it if and only if you marry, live with your wife, and stay that way for at least six months."
If the man hadn't already been dead, Jace would have killed him.
He couldn't believe Wallace would put that kind of stipulation on something that was rightfully Jace's. That he would put that condition on anything.
It wasn't as if Wallace ever tied the knot or settled down, unless you counted on his deathbed, apparently. He'd been too busy conquering the world to worry about any emotional attachments, even when Jace landed in his lap, a scared six-year-old who'd just lost both his parents in a small plane crash. And Wallace had been happy with that freewheeling life. He'd never complained and seemed to revel in it, like Jace did now with bachelorhood. He loved his freedom. It was the one thing they'd had in common, so Jace couldn't believe he would push ties on him now. Especially when he never cared enough to tie himself to me.
When his parents died, Jace lost everything. The only people who loved him. Wallace had accepted his responsibility and moved in with Jace, and they stayed in the very house that held all the memories of his parents, but that had been the extent of it. Wallace didn't slow his lifestyle. He wasn't home more often. He left Jace with nannies most of the time. Hell, he'd never even insisted Jace call him by anything other than his first name.
Brian reached into his bag and pulled out a piece of paper. He handed it to Jace, who unfolded it and started to read.
Hey, son. Bet you're pretty pissed at me, aren't you?
Jace shook his head. Pissed didn't begin to cover it.
You have a lot of reasons to be upset with me about your life, but I'm telling you: this isn't one of them. You might not understand it now, but one day, I hope you will.
I haven't always done the right thing. I made a lot of money in my life. I saw a lot of places, but I was often alone. I worked harder than I had to and traveled more than I needed to. Did I ever tell you how much I loved you? How proud I was of you? Dying gives a man a lot of perspective, Jace, and I had a long time to reminisce on my life and what was important. I wasn't there for you enough when your folks died. Debbie has been in love with me my whole life — hell, I've loved her, too, but I never treated her right. Never made any kind of commitment to her until now.
The past few months have been spent making amends. I wanted to die as her husband, and I know I should have told you, but you have to trust me when I say I know what I'm doing.
Don't live like me, son. Don't have regrets. You may not know it, but you're afraid to love and I take the blame for that too. Open yourself up to someone. I'm sorry for not caring for you the way a father should.
Don't blame Deb. She fought me tooth and nail, but she promised and she always keeps her word. She won't go back on it now.
I know you'll make the right choice. I have to believe we all have a Debbie out there. I wish I had realized it sooner.
P.S. Say hello to Betsy for me. I always liked that girl.
Jace's fists clenched the letter in his hand. He wanted to ball it up. Almost did. "God damn it!" he yelled. His grandfather wanted him to fall in love and he was taking away the one thing Jace did love — his parents' house. His memories. Had his grandfather gone crazy?
No. He knew that wasn't it, just as he knew Brian was a damn fine lawyer. He wouldn't have taken advantage, nor would Deb. Neither of them would budge and Jace knew that as well. Brian probably had documents from doctors and whoever else he might need to prove that Wallace had been in his right mind.
If anything, Wallace had been thorough.
Which meant Jace was screwed.
He picked up the phone and dialed Debbie. He had to try. Instead of hello, she answered the phone with, "I'm sorry, Jace."
"If you're sorry," he said, struggling not to yell, "then don't do it."
"I have to. It's what Wallace wanted, and I promised him I would. He was worried about you."
Pain shot through him. Wallace had been worried about him, yet he hadn't cared enough to tell him he'd gotten married? Or to give him his parents' house?
"It's only six months ..."
And there went his self control. "Only six months? The timeframe doesn't matter. He knows what that house means to me and you should too." Jace hung up the phone.
Wallace had been wrong about Jace. He wasn't afraid to love; he just liked his life. Not everyone needed the same things and there wasn't anything he wanted that he didn't have.
Except his house. When Jace went off to college, he always knew he could come home. That the only place he'd ever lived with his parents would be his one day. When Wallace got sick, Jace gave up the chance at partner in a big firm in order to come home and not only care for the man but also to reclaim his house. And this was what he got?
He needed to find a woman to marry him — and live with him — for six months. He'd never lived with a woman. He liked his space. How in the hell was he supposed to do this?
"I'll let you think it over," Brian said, standing and smartly leaving Jace's office before he lost it on him.
Wallace had gotten married without even telling him. He obviously wanted to keep it a secret, since he didn't even move Debbie in with them. He'd given Deb Jace's mom's house, his current home. Jace had to get married. Through all of that, another thought slipped through. In the letter, Wallace had called him son.
Excerpted from Just My Luck by Kelley Vitollo, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Kelley Vitollo. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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