Authors: Pepper Phillips
And I had enough. I must talk to the old goat. Today.
“Is he with a client?”
“No!” She slapped her hand on her desk like a gavel, as if
her spoken word was law.
Finally, an answer. He was in, but not with a client.
She flared one nostril at me. I’ve always wanted to be able
to do that. It shows real contempt.
“You still need to make an appointment. I can schedule you
in for tomorrow morning at ten. May I have your name?” She ground out her
words like they were dirty bits of gravel. I was glad
Enough was enough. I was going to see Grant St. Romain
today, or else. Deciding that being direct wasn’t getting me any-where, I
turned on my heel, stalked over to the door with his name on it, twisted the
knob, and slipped in before his secretary could stop me.
I hurried to lock the door behind me and turned to see a man
dressed only in his boxers and one sock.
boxers and sock.
He wasn’t an old fart. He was magnificent.
His knee was raised while he pulled a sock over his bare
foot. His gaze averted to me and he grabbed a white shirt from the back of his
desk chair and hid his pink boxers. Every muscle rippled and danced. A tall
man, a few inches above my own five feet, eleven inches without three-inch heels.
He was built like an athlete. He was gorgeous, deeply tanned, and buff. I am
pretty sure I drooled on my shoes.
I placed my handbag against my chest, like a shield. I slipped
into lust, and wondered if I should move my handbag further south. As if that
would protect me.
I could have torn off my clothes, but I couldn’t tear my
eyes off him.
Someone banged on the door. “Open this door! You can’t be
in there now. Mr. St. Romain is busy!”
He shouted, “It’s okay, Alice. I’ll talk to her.”
He lowered his voice, a husky bourbon drawl that just oozed
Pappy Van Winkle. I know because I’ve tipped it back once or twice myself.
It’s warm and inviting, drawing you in, to have just one more taste. And all
the while, you know you’re going to pay for it the next day.
“Obviously, you didn’t understand my secretary. I didn’t
want to see anyone this afternoon--or have them see me.” He slowly buttoned
his shirt, never moving his deep brown gaze from mine.
I could feel the heat rush up my neck into my face, the curse
of being a redhead.
I snapped my mouth closed, which I’m sure had been hanging
open since my first glimpse of Mr. Adonis Perfecto and coughed slightly.
“I’m sorry, but it’s urgent I talk with you today.”
I couldn’t stop staring at him.
I tried to focus my thoughts, to make my mind think about
something else. But he was mind-boggling. It was taking him forever to button
his shirt. A man with slow hands. Very big slow hands. I wondered how would
they feel caressing my skin, touching my hair , fondling my... My brain
finally woke up, but it wasn’t thinking clearly at all.
He smiled as he reached for his trousers hanging over the
back of his chair. “Mind turning around for just a second?”
I stood there, then realizing I was still staring much too
hard, abruptly turned around.
“Sorry. I didn’t think I would see a man in his underwear,
especially pink underwear.” I wondered what his backside looked like. If it
was as good as the front, I was missing something. Something luscious.
I resisted the urge to peek.
I closed my eyes and listened to the rustle of clothing as
he stepped into his pants. I almost wanted to scream at him to stop, but a
bold move like that wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t help asking. “Why are
you in your underwear?”
There was a pause, then I heard a zipper.
“Oh, I assist the coach with the wrestling team at the high
school one day a week depending on my schedule. Today was a heavy workout day,
so I needed to shower here at the office.” He hesitated for a moment.
“Couldn’t let the guys see my pink stuff.”
“You’re a wrestler?” Was that my voice that squeaked?
“Oh, you think I can’t wrestle?”
“Well, no.” I stopped, then I put my size ten foot in my
mouth. “Aren’t you a bit over-educated to be a wrestler?”
“Now that is a typical response.” He let out a deep sigh.
“I’ll have you know that I was the state champion in college. You can turn
I did and was impressed. As the old saying goes, he cleaned
up nice. Very nice. Too bad he was a jock. I’d had my fill of athletes, thank
you very much for that crappy marriage. They could all croak and get crispy
crunchy in Hell as far as I was concerned.
He motioned to the chair in front of his desk. I walked
over and sank in the soft burgundy leather. The room was decorated in deep
forest green with Audubon prints and framed diplomas hanging on the mahogany
paneled walls. I doubt the walls were impressed, but I was.
The air smelled clean and faintly of soap and freshly
applied cologne. Old Spice. I was sure of it. It was my yearly Father’s Day
gift to my dad and I loved the smell because it always reminded me of him.
“Why pink underwear? It doesn’t seem...um....” My mind
grappled for the correct word.
I grinned. He grinned back.
Oh, my, my, my. He flashed me dimples to die for.
“I do my own laundry, and I have quite a few pink things now
that I didn’t have before. I didn’t expect to be modeling them. But as you’re
so taken, I might consider pink in the future.” He held out his hand to me.
“My name is Grant St. Romain.”
I took his hand. It was warm and firm. Mine was cold,
clammy, and way too big to claim Southern Belle status. I started to blush
again. My mind reeled with sensations. He held it a few seconds longer than
was proper (like I cared at that point!), and when he let go, I felt
unsettled. As though I was missing something important, essential. Which was
strange, since I’d just met the man. Plus, he was a jock. But still, that
didn’t stop the tingling in my palm where our hands touched, nor the awareness
within me that lingered.
Burning with embarrassment, I couldn’t utter a sound.
“Who are you and why are you so determined to speak to me
Sitting at his desk, he leaned back. A man secure in his
mahogany world. He gazed at me and waited.
I opened my handbag, withdrew a letter, and handed it to
him. “I’m Sara McLaughlin, and you mailed me this letter.”
Surprise lit up his face, then disappointment. He handed
the letter back to me. It looked as though he were judging me. “I know what it
says. I honestly didn’t think you would show up here.”
I stiffened at that remark. Jumping up, I shouted at him. “And
why not? I get a letter from an attorney that tells me I’m
letter! You don’t deliver news like that in a letter. It’s cold. Cold and
rude. Impersonal as though I’m, I’m, I’m…” I couldn’t think of what to say.
I felt like a nonperson. Unworthy. I clamped my jaw shut and sat down
abruptly in the chair, crossing my arms, crossing my legs, crossing my mind.
He paused for a moment, staring at me intensely.
“You didn’t know you were adopted?” He tapped his pen
against the legal pad again. A deep frown marred his face.
It confused me. Why was he frowning? I didn’t know what to
say. The truth sounds so stupid, but it was the truth. I hadn’t a clue.
He stopped tapping his pen. “I thought you knew.”
Stunned, I just sat there. Just as I had when I received
the letter and its contents that afternoon. What was I doing here? I decided
enough was enough.
I was going home.
Jumping up, I walked to the door. As I put my hand on the
knob, I stopped. I couldn’t help it. I shut my eyes and placed my forehead on
the doorframe. Tears rushed up to my eyes before I could stop them. I was
alone. Totally forever alone.
There was no one left alive who loved me, or even cared
I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and as I turned around, a
hankie was pressed into my hand and arms went around me. A stranger’s arms. I
let loose then, and cried harder. I turned my back to the attorney. I didn’t
want anyone to see me cry.
No one held me when the police came to tell me about my mother
dying in a car accident two months ago or at her funeral. No one held me at my
father’s funeral seventeen years ago. No one held me when I received the hateful
news that I was adopted this morning.
No one has held me for a very long time.
Not even my ex before the divorce.
I didn’t know that hugs could be comforting, caring,
calming. Until now.
Stopping my tears, I wiped my cheeks. Grant St. Romain
moved away from me, and I looked up into his face.
I was a goner. Jock? Did it really matter?
His eyes were mesmerizing, deep brown pools flecked with
traces of gold and surrounded with thick black lashes that any woman would
He released his hold on me. It was all I could do not to
grab him and make him wrap his arms around me again. I didn’t know this man,
but I wanted his arms around me so bad it hurt. Or at least for another minute.
Or forever. At this stage, I wasn’t particular.
He walked back behind his desk and sat, ever the
professional, but curiosity gleamed in his eyes.
Twisting the handkerchief in my fingers, I noticed that it,
too, was pink. I gave a brief smile as I clasped it tighter in my hands. “No,
I didn’t know. It came as a complete shock.”
“Again, I’m sorry.” His voice was compassionate, caring.
Different from the stern quality it had when he first found out I was Maudie Cooper’s
daughter. “Where do you want to go from here?”
Home. I wanted to go home and crawl in bed, throwing the
covers over my head. Instead, I crossed the room and sat in the chair, leaned
my head against the back, and closed my eyes. I needed to think.
But my mind was still whirling with the news. I was
Snapping my head forward, I glanced at Grant St. Romain. He
stared at me intently. Waiting. Patiently.
“You said in your letter that there were conditions.
Exactly what are they?”
Grant reached for his phone, punched a button, then spoke
into the receiver. “Alice, bring me Maudie’s file.”
He cleared his throat. “I want to read the will to you,
word for word. I know what it says, and I don’t particularly agree with
everything Maudie put in her will, but it was her decision.”
The doorknob rattled, and pounding on the door followed.
Grant rose to unlock it. He raised an eyebrow in my direction.
Once the door opened, Alice shoved a file into his hands,
glanced around the room suspiciously and sent me a scathing look.
Feeling a guilty flush rise up my neck and into my cheeks, I
sunk deeper into the leather chair.
She slammed the door forcefully, so I guessed I was still not
on her list of favorite people.
Grant opened the file and searched for the will. Finding
the specific paper, he began to read aloud.
“I, Maudie Cooper, being of sound mind and body, do
hereby bequeath all my worldly goods and possessions to my only child, Sara
Elizabeth Cooper, known as Sara Elizabeth McLaughlin, if she will do the
Sara, you must live in my apartment for the next six
weeks. You may not spend more than twenty-four hours out of town. You must
run my business, Tuesdays through Saturdays at my usual hours during this
period, except for national holidays. Once this requirement is met, at the end
of six weeks, you may keep or dispose of my belongings and investments as you
If you should not choose to follow my instructions, then
everything will be liquidated within one month of the delivery of this will.
The proceeds will then be given to create a college scholarship in my name at
Boggy Bayou High School.”
Grant put the will back into the file, closed it and leaned
back in his chair.
“Yes. That is what I was directed to tell you. If you meet
the conditions that Maudie set forth, then you inherit everything.”
“But...I wanted some...answers.” I started to twist the
pink hankie in my hands.
“What sort of answers?”
Numb, I stood and walked to the window. It faced a
courthouse square. Boggy Bayou was a charming little town. Several old men
sat whittling and spitting while sitting on a park bench. A young woman pushed
a baby stroller. A squirrel ran along the power line. Everything was so
ordinary. So perfect. Every one of those people knew who they were. And
where they belonged.
Slowly, I began to speak. “Mr. St. Romain, I want to know
who my birth parents were. Why did they give me up for adoption? Why didn’t
my parents ever tell me I was adopted? Why wait until now to let me know the
truth? And why not tell me the
Grant rose from his chair and walked to the window and stood
behind me. His presence calmed me for some reason I couldn’t explain. His
deep whiskey voice soothed my strung-out nerves. I wanted to fling myself into
his arms, and get that sense of peace and quiet that I received earlier.
“I don’t know. Maudie surprised me when she told me she had
a daughter. She knew your mother died. I told her that she should contact you
then, but she was hesitant and said she didn’t want to interfere with your
I turned around to face him.
“She gave me life. Once both of my parents were dead, why
wouldn’t she contact me then?”
He seemed grim. “If you want to find out any answers, you
need to follow the conditions of her will.”
I looked at him directly in the face. “That’s a stupid