Man of the Family

Man of the Family

by Leigh Riker

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460385067
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 484 KB

About the Author

Leigh Riker can't imagine anything better than having a good romance novel to read--unless it is to write one! When not writing or thinking about writing, this award-winning author also likes to garden, play the piano, travel and try to learn Spanish. At home in the Southeast with her husband/hero and their mischievous Maine Coon cat for inspiration, she is at work (of course) on a new novel.

Please visit her at leighriker.com, on FaceBook at LeighRikerBooks, or on Twitter @lbrwriter.

Read an Excerpt

Sunshine Donovan still trusted in the simple things—today's weather report, for example. She should have known better.

Sunny had just left the Jacksonville airport—with the car radio blaring a bright afternoon forecast—when the leaden skies opened up. A torrent of semitropical rain spilled over the windshield, reminding her again of a recent tabloid headline.

Sunny Clouds Up.

Oh, you'd better believe it. Only yesterday, in a Manhattan court, in front of her favorite judge, Sunny had blown up. She'd gotten a contempt citation for her momentary loss of control, but the jury's ruling really had been the last straw.

She was still as mad as blue blazes, even though she felt like a sun hat someone had left in the rain.

The disastrous trial verdict and a brand-new divorce decree weren't the end of the world, if she took the longer view. But her life right now could be summed up in another too-cute banner from the New York papers.

Defense Rains on Sunny's Parade.

If only the jury hadn't, too.

Pulling into her parents' suburban driveway a short while later, Sunny decided she deserved a rest. Coming back to Jacksonville was never easy, and this time, thanks to Nate's official exit from their marriage, she was alone.

Prosecutors lost cases all the time, she reminded herself, but she still couldn't believe the jury had bought the defense's claim that their client was crazy when he'd killed an innocent girl. She could still hear his threats. Keep looking over your shoulder, Donovan. One day I'll be there.

Sunny had heard such threats before. When she went back to New York, she'd no doubt hear them again, but she was determined to overcome this blot on her win/loss record. If she wanted to become DA, she'd have to.

And someday, she'd be able to think about the end of her marriage without wanting to cry. Even if, as Nate had always said, Sunny tended to wear her heart on her sleeve.

"Sunny?"

As soon as she stepped into the kitchen, her mother—a blur of flowered print shorts and top—swept her into a hug.

"We didn't expect you until tonight," she said, patting her hair back into place. It was even lighter than Sunny remembered, shot through with strands of silver. "Why didn't you call? Dad planned to meet you at the airport." She drew back to study Sunny from head to toe, and Sunny knew her mom wouldn't miss the limp hair that hadn't been combed all day, a rumpled suit and the laddered run in her pantyhose.

"Quite a mess, huh?" She forced a smile. "I caught an earlier plane. Staying in Manhattan for even a few more hours lacked—not to make a pun—appeal." All she'd wanted was to flee, as if she were the guilty one, rather than Wallace Day.

Her mother's blue gaze was probing. "Tell me everything."

Sunny drew a sharp breath. "Mom. I can't. Not yet."

As if to save her, the back door opened. Her dad saw her and broke into a grin. Smile lines radiated from the corners of his brown eyes. "Hey there, Sunshine."

He was still solid, tall and straight with the same brown hair that showed barely any gray. Still her hero.

Without hesitation she launched herself into his arms. Enfolded, cherished, she was still his girl. She loved her mother, too, but things often grew complicated between them. With her dad she always knew where she stood. He'd taught her to throw a baseball and to swim. He'd hugged her tight when she lost her first boyfriend. She never doubted he would see her side about the trial and Nate.

"Welcome home. How long has it been this time?" he asked.

"Too long. Last Christmas," she said, "when you and Mom came to visit."

"And, as usual, hated every second—"

"—in what you always refer to as The City." On the verge of separation from Nate, Sunny had pretended everything was fine. "I think you were right years ago about me moving north," she said. "Life in the fast lane doesn't seem so exciting at the moment."

His hold tightened, but he didn't say I warned you.

"And can you believe that jury?" her mother said. "That dreadful man…"

Her dad shook his head. "If I were that poor girl's father—"

"You're not, thank goodness," Sunny said, then slipped from his embrace. "But I know how you feel. I can't stop thinking about Ana Ramirez's sweet face. At least Wallace Day will be confined to a facility in upper New York State to undergo treatment for his 'problem.'"

"Problem? He's a killer."

"That's why he'll stay there until—unless—a psychiatric review board decides he's no longer a threat to society."

Her father frowned. "He'll also be eating three meals a day, watching TV, lifting weights, and sleeping in a clean bed. That child's parents probably don't sleep at all. She has no life."

Sunny was glad he'd spoken out.

"What can I say? Wallace Day beat the system, even though an insanity defense usually doesn't play well with a jury." She frowned. "I still don't think Day is insane." And yet he had threatened her after his victory. How sane was that?

Maybe I didn't do my job well enough.

But her mother was done with that subject. "And when I think how we welcomed Nate with open arms," she tried again.

"Not now, Kate." Sunny's dad steered her from the kitchen toward the stairs. On the way he scooped up her suitcase.

"Where are you going?" Her mother's brittle tone spoke volumes. "Have you forgotten? The upstairs is a disaster area. That hurricane a few weeks ago tore off part of our roof, Sunny—the part over your old room."

Sunny sighed. She'd been looking forward to a long nap there before dinner.

"The whole back part of the house is under tarps right now. It still leaks when it rains. And for who knows how long? It was the last straw for me," her mother murmured.

"I've called every contractor in town," her father said, his voice tight. "Sunny won't mind sleeping in my den. Will you, Sunshine?"

"Jack, that sofa bed is like sleeping on nails."

"I'll be fine, Mom." Sunny paused. "As long as I'm home, that's all I need."

Her mother was right about the lumpy sofa bed. Still, it beat staying another night in the apartment she'd shared with Nate—the apartment they'd soon have to sell. She wasn't ready to think about that either.

A moment later her father closed the door behind him, leaving Sunny alone in the den with her thoughts. No more quarrels with Nate. No more waiting for an unfair verdict. No courtroom overreaction. No more threats from Wallace Day. They were empty, she hoped, the result of his anger management problem, to put it mildly.

Sunny had never needed a hiding place more. Even in a house with only half a roof, her family was her foundation, her rock. Feeling boneless, she crawled into the lumpy bed. Her head nestled into the pillow, and with a heavy sigh she slept.

Ten minutes a day, that's all he asked. Wearing damp jeans, Griffin Lattimer padded across the gray carpet into his living room. He sported a temporary Batman tattoo, which he'd won after tonight's bath time water fight with his son. With both his children tucked into bed, Griffin checked his messages, steeling himself for trouble. Beep.

This is Mrs. Moriarty, 27B. I called yesterday about those bathroom faucet washers, but you haven't replaced them. My water's dripping all over the place.

Beep.

Lattimer, my lease says I get painted every three years. I'm not paying the rent until you redo my kitchen. That wet-behind-the-ears kid you sent over should be fired. He just slapped that paint on…looks like—

Griffin hit delete. The usual complaints. Nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow. Besides, their words were already carved into his brain. His job as manager of the Palm Breeze Court Apartments complex could be a thankless one, but he'd made his choice. Boston, and his short stint as a TV news anchor, was a million miles away now. Like Rachel.

But Griffin wasn't going anywhere. He'd grown up without a father, and his kids wouldn't have to do the same.

In the nighttime silence, he thought back to that rainy afternoon. Ten years old and wearing his first black suit, standing at his father's graveside. His uncle stood beside him. His mother, on Griffin's other side, clutched his hand and wept into her handkerchief.

You're the man of the family now, she'd said. Make Daddy proud.

She was gone now, too. More than ever, it was all up to him.

Griffin headed for the refrigerator. With a cold bottle of water, he settled in front of the big-screen television he'd bought last Christmas, his second without Rachel.

The first year after she'd left, which seemed to be the way he measured time these days, he'd actually forgotten to put out milk and cookies for Santa.

"They're not homemade cookies anyway," his daughter had told her younger brother, not making Griffin feel better at all.

It was only September, but already he dreaded the season again. There would be no Christmas Eve with Rachel, the two of them installing batteries in toys or laying train tracks under the tree. Making memories together.

He sat and listened to the silence. The kids had stopped calling to each other across the hall. He didn't hear Amanda's stereo or Josh's small but noisy feet stomping to the bathroom for the tenth time. Each night Griffin anticipated this moment when their new home finally grew quiet, and he could stop worrying for a while about lost homework, stomachaches, neighborhood bullies, loose baby teeth and how the tooth fairy would come up with another five bucks.

Headlights arced across the windows, and his brother-in-law's truck drew up out front, a more than welcome sight. His smile usually lightened Griffin's mood.

Tonight, his eyebrows tucked low in a scowl, Chris Cabot stalked into the living room. He dropped onto the sofa. He still wore his khaki work clothes, and the pungent aroma of fish stung Griffin's nostrils. He fought a grin. The problem had to be Griffin's sister, who could drive a man to thoughts of mayhem.

"What's Bronwyn done now? Overloaded all the credit cards? Replaced the living room furniture? No," he answered himself, "she did that a few months ago. This is too soon, even for Bron."

Griffin sprawled on the sofa beside Chris. His hair—lightened from days spent on his charter boat—was tangled, and his blue eyes seemed darker than normal.

"I'm just fried," Chris said. "I spent all day out with a bunch of neurosurgeons from the Mayo clinic, and their catch was 'unacceptable.' They'll probably never come back. Ever since the hurricane that tore off Mom and Dad's roof, my business has been off." He paused. "Then I get home and no one's there. You seen Bron tonight?"

Griffin shook his head. "She probably met up with one of her friends. You know, her life didn't start the day she met you."

Chris didn't respond. Griffin had never seen him like this, but since Rachel had disappeared he'd soothed Amanda's and Josh's feelings often enough. He peered into Chris's worried eyes.

"Yep," he said, "they look green to me. For no good reason."

Chris's mouth twitched. "Shut up. Let me miss my wife—and feel miserable." The smell of fish wafted through the air between them. "What would you know? It's not like you've been around anyone over the age of thirteen since—"

"Thanks." Pain coiled inside Griffin like a rattler. But Chris was right. Who was he to talk? In his experience, happiness didn't last, and he wasn't looking for another chance. All he cared about was finding Rachel. Protecting his kids.

Chris grimaced. "Hey, sorry. I didn't mean…"

"Look, save it. I've heard your speech a hundred times since last New Year's, and nothing's changed."

"Maybe that's the problem. It's more than time for you to—"

"Back off, Chris," he said, but it was Griffin who moved a foot away. "I'm not exactly free to socialize. I have two kids to raise."

"That doesn't mean you need to be a martyr. Don't you ever get lonely?"

Griffin didn't answer. For a long time after Rachel had left, he would have been able to say no. He hadn't felt a thing then. He didn't want to, even now.

Chris tried again. "My sister's home. You remember Sunny? She's feeling sort of unhinged, my mother says."

"Unhinged? And that's a recommendation?" Griffin remembered her from Chris and Bron's wedding. He'd been best man, and Sunny Donovan had been matron of honor. Tall, blond hair, gray-blue eyes…similar coloring to Rachel's. She wasn't his type now. No one was, really. "A hotshot lawyer, isn't she? Driven?" Which was about as far as possible from Griffin's present life.

Chris laughed. "I know she comes across that way sometimes, but Sunny's all right. She has a big heart. She's just having a rough time. Maybe the four of us could get together some night. No obligation. Just a fun evening out. With adults."

Griffin tried to switch topics as if he were changing channels on the TV. "Your sister's married. So am I."

"After two years?" Chris wouldn't give up. "Rachel isn't coming back, Griff."

"Maybe not, but I have my standards."

"You don't even know where she is."

"I'm still looking," he said.

"Know what I think? You should file for divorce." He paused. "Sunny's already divorced. As of a few days ago, it's a done deal. Then, after that—"

"No, thanks."

Not quite to his relief, he heard Amanda in the hall. He and Chris turned as she came into the room, and Griffin's heart rolled over. He couldn't believe she was already a teenager, though barely.

"It's late," he said. "Why are you still up?"

"I'm hungry." Her shy smile blossomed, but not for him. "Hi, Uncle Chris."

"You knew I was here."

She nodded. Her dark blond hair hung to her waist and shimmered in the light. Her hazel eyes warmed.

"Josh knew, too. But he fell asleep while you and Daddy were fighting."

"We're not fighting," Griffin said quickly. "We were having a discussion."

"Did Aunt Bronwyn do something bad?"

Looking guilty, Chris closed the distance between them to hug her. "No, Mandi. She's good, and I love her. You, too." He tapped her nose with a forefinger that probably smelled like tuna, but she giggled. "Now be a good kid." He lightly spun her toward the kitchen. "Get your snack and go back to bed."

She would have given Griffin an argument, guaranteed. Josh at five was still manageable, despite his tendency to worry about everything; but with Mandi he no longer seemed able to connect.

"It'll be time for school before you know it," Chris added.

"I hate school."

That didn't bother Chris. "So did I. Par for the course." As she went into the kitchen he lowered his voice. "You think she was standing in the hall, listening?"

"Probably." He hoped not, especially the part about Rachel. Griffin said no more until Amanda came back with a banana and a glass of milk. He didn't look at her when she drifted down the hall, didn't want to ask himself why. The spray of freckles across her nose made him yearn for simpler times when she'd been the little girl who worshipped him. "Good night, baby."

"I'm not a baby," she said. "Night, Uncle Chris."

"Keep taking those Gorgeous pills." He grinned at Griffin. "Man, I don't envy you in another few years. Scrawny boys ringing your bell day and night. She's going to be a beauty, Griff."

"She already is." Like Rachel.

He walked Chris to the door, but his brother-in-law lingered without opening it. He gazed at Griffin's forearm and the smeary tattoo he hadn't seemed to notice before.

"That's a great look for you," he finally said, then let himself out into the night.

Shaking his head, Griffin locked up. He didn't envy his brother-in-law, having to make adjustments to his new marriage with Bronwyn. She'd been born strong-willed, bent on getting her way, but he'd never seen a happier couple the day they married—ex-cept for him and Rachel long ago.

He shut off the lights and went to his room. Never mind the talk about Sunshine Donovan. Divorced now, was she? Yet Chris's words stayed with him. Every night Griffin looked forward to his few moments of quiet time, to his solitary thoughts. And every night he ended up wishing he wasn't alone with them. Maybe for the rest of his life.

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