A Little Sinful

My step-cousins were off limits… or were they?

About The Book

I hadn’t seen my three step-cousins, Anton, Beau, and Galen in more years than I could remember, and now that I’d returned to my hometown of Cricket, CA, seeing them all grown up with bodies that could only be matched by Adonis was equal to a religious experience.

We’d come together to restore a house that had been damaged in a recent flood, and to help with their stepmother’s impending wedding… her fifth wedding.

Restoration and wedding duty forced us to tolerate and trust each other, and close proximity caused us to indulge in some wickedly sinful pleasures that threatened to spoil any hope we had for returning to our regular lives once the wedding was over.

How could we possibly bring this deliciously dirty affair into the light, when we were step-cousins… or were we?

A Little Sinful is a sizzling stand-alone, small-town, enemies-to-lovers reverse harem romance. It’s rich with sexy ménage scenes, single and multiple partner scenes, and all done with a touch of humor that just might melt your Kindle. As with all my books, a HEA is always guaranteed… Thanks for reading!

Chapter 1

All cylinders popped when I strutted back into my corner office on Chicago’s Miracle Mile, inside the historic Tribune Tower, feeling as though I could bust any man’s balls with just one glance.

I was hot.

I was in charge.

I was the CEO of my own multimillion-dollar company, and I’d recently—last night—signed a deal that would secure my future in this cutthroat business world of commercial interior designs.

I’d accomplished this extraordinary financial feat all on my own, thank you very much. Okay, my trusted staff helped, especially my business partner Melissa, but every single one of them had been handpicked by yours truly for being the best in their field, and what a field we had.


A Little Sinful

Chapters 1-3

Click here to read: Chapter 1 - Jess

All cylinders popped when I strutted back into my corner office on Chicago’s Miracle Mile, inside the historic Tribune Tower, feeling as though I could bust any man’s balls with just one glance.

I was hot.

I was in charge.

I was the CEO of my own multimillion-dollar company, and I’d recently—last night—signed a deal that would secure my future in this cutthroat business world of commercial interior designs.

I’d accomplished this extraordinary financial feat all on my own, thank you very much. Okay, my trusted staff helped, especially my business partner Melissa, but every single one of them had been handpicked by yours truly for being the best in their field, and what a field we had.

The deal or contract we’d landed would redesign the interior of Broadsmith’s flagship department store here on Michigan Ave. It was the biggest and one of the oldest department stores in downtown Chicago. Maybe even older than Marshal Field’s was on State Street, until Macy’s bought it in 2005, a fact that some native Chicagoans still lamented.

I was hoping to save Broadsmith’s from the same fate by modernizing it, giving it something extra that Broadsmith’s customer base had grown to expect and appreciate, while attracting new customers with the same loyalty. I had the absolute best team to accomplish that goal. We’d worked nonstop on this project for the past six months, and yesterday, at exactly ten fifty-eight p.m. we finally closed the deal.

I, of course, barely slept in my own bed during all that time, and even last night, I slept on the sofa in my office. Now, after downing the three cups of coffee I’d made down in the breakroom, and washing my face in the ladies room then forgoing any real makeup, I was ready to return to my condo and stay put for a few days until we had to begin the actual physical part of the new design. The work wasn’t scheduled to begin for at least three weeks, but it would continue for at least another six months if everything went well, which it never did, so I intended to take a few days to decompress before we started down that sure to be hectic path.

Absolutely nothing would get in my way of total rest and pampering, and I required a shit ton of pampering; a mani and pedi had already been lined up, along with some touchups to my extra-long hair, and a possible trim, a facial, a wax, and an hour-long massage by Nathan, who had the absolute best hands in the entire city. Apparently, he was also well versed in the art of Yoni Massage, which I’d never tried but desperately wanted to.

If I couldn’t fuck a man, at least I could pay for some professional stimulation. My completely ignored pussy or yoni could use a little attention by a skilled expert like Nathan. Mellissa scheduled her massage once a month, even if she was dating someone. She said it helped her to enjoy an orgasm more than she ever thought possible. It had something to do with all that extra stimulation without full release… at least that was the preferred outcome. Even Mellissa admitted there were times when she couldn’t stop the freight train orgasm if she wanted to. I craved the release, the orgasm, the mind-bending moment when my body convulsed with rapture much more than the prolonged stimulation part, but hey, I was willing to try anything that wouldn’t hurt or kill me, at least once.

Also, she swore it helped to release any sexual hang-ups I might carry from childhood. With the kind of upbringing I had, I could use some heavy-duty yoni releases. I wasn’t sure what kind of hang-ups I’d been holding onto, but the fact that I had such a wasteland of sexual encounters could only mean my hang-ups were buried so deep inside me, I couldn’t even imagine what they all were.

I had everything lined up for the next few days with the delicious yoni culmination happening at the end of my pampering ride.

I couldn’t wait.

Nathan was about as close as I could come to having a man touch me, and I intended to take full advantage of the situation by enjoying a leisurely glass of wine first, and then imagining all sorts of dirty deeds while his strong hands worked out any of those nasty kinks that had made a home in my neck, shoulders, and my utterly forgotten yoni.

Just thinking about Nathan, who I hadn’t even seen yet, was enough to get me aroused, and if I didn’t go home soon, I’d be pleasuring myself on my office sofa.

“What are you doing here?” Mellissa asked as she passed by the open doorway to my office, startling me out of my imagined arousal.

“I um…” Words escaped me.

I should’ve known better. Nothing was very private in this office suite. The front of our offices were all glass. “And don’t tell me you just arrived because you’re wearing the same royal-blue outfit you wore all day yesterday and last night when we celebrated at Russo’s.”

Mellissa Grace wasn’t exactly my equal partner, but close to it. She was second in charge and had put up a significant amount of money and time for us to get where we were today. She’d worked her ass off in the last three years making Dragonfly Designs into a crazy success story and was my absolute rock.

She was closer to my mom’s age than mine. I was barely thirty. Mellissa was forty-nine. She and my mom were as opposite as corn and watermelons. Mellissa had a head for numbers, was a total optimist, could talk to anyone for less than ten minutes and know exactly how to decorate their house for maximum style and comfort, not to mention how much they would love whatever she threw together. She was a decorating genius and had been born into the business. Her dad had run the biggest interior decorating company in the Midwest, and her mom had been the CFO. They were a team from the moment they met, until they retired and sold their company.

Mellissa had worked for them, but when it came time to take over the reins, she resisted the temptation. Instead, she decided to branch out and work with the new kid on the block… me. It was a win-win-win situation for everyone, especially for me. I couldn’t have pulled it off without her, no matter how much I tried to blow my own horn.

I’d learned a few things from my mom about running a business. She and my dad had run their own business since before I was born.

My mom, Francine Lee Hall, a fifty-four year old small business owner who only wore jeans, boots, and some sort of unassuming top, had lived in Cricket, California her entire life, never traveled farther than Las Vegas with her sister Barbara, and had never spoken of anything sexual in front of me in my entire life. It was as if I’d been found in a cabbage patch rather than been created during sex.

My dad Hank Hall wasn’t much better. Although, he did warn me when I turned twelve that I shouldn’t sit in the backseat of a car with a boy because he might try to get me pregnant. When I asked him what that meant exactly, he told me to ask my mother, which caused her to get embarrassed and yell at my dad for putting the idea in my innocent head… and I was indeed innocent. I had never even been allowed to wear a dress to school. After a while, that fit me fine. I hated dresses due to the fact my mom would constantly be telling me to sit like a lady.

I wasn’t completely ignorant about how sex worked, but I’d never experienced even a kiss until that summer when Beau Hutton came to live with my Aunt Barbara, my mother’s older, more adventurous sister. Barbara’s second husband Jimmy brought along Beau. He was Jimmy’s son from his first marriage. He tried like hell to get me into that backseat, if only to show him my girly parts, but I would never do it, thinking the mere act of showing him my girly parts might lead to us doing something that might get me pregnant. Not that we didn’t fool around a couple of times in the barn when we were a little older, but we never actually took off our clothes. We kissed, and I showed him my pink panties, and that was about it. Anything else was completely off limits.

I was barely thirteen.

The other stuff didn’t happen until Aunt Barbara married her third husband Lorenzo Diaz, a Cuban minister she could barely understand until she became somewhat proficient in the Cuban or Cubano language, a form of Spanish. His son Anton, who spoke both languages fluently, not only wooed me out of my clothes, at least my bra and shirt, but he also wooed me into the backseat of Lorenzo’s Buick, where I first learned how big a penis could grow when aroused, a sight that thoroughly intrigued me.

By then, I was sixteen and knew how body parts worked, I’d just never seen an aroused penis before, and the idea of it scared the shit out of me.

But Anton’s growing penis had never been a topic of conversation with my mother. She remained totally oblivious to all my misadventures with my pseudo cousins.

I kind of remembered an incident or two with another step-cousin, but his stay was so brief, I could hardly remember what we did, exactly.

Mom was more into reading and acquiring children’s books, had no math skills to speak of. My dad took care of all the money for the bookstore, and they still lived in the mobile home I grew up in, despite the fact I’d purchased them the biggest house in Cricket over a year ago. The house boasted six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a guesthouse, and a three-car garage. It sat on two acres and had a view of Cricket River. If I remembered correctly, it even had a boat dock, but none of that seemed to matter to my parents. They preferred their two-bedroom trailer up in the hills that surrounded the town.


I bought the house because I remembered how the Millers traveled a lot and always looked as though they were a happy family. Not that Mom, Dad and I weren’t happy. We were, kind of. Mom and Dad had gotten married right out of high school, never cared about leaving Cricket, and never wanted more than what they already had.

I wanted so much more than what Cricket had to offer, and the thought of getting married right after high school seemed like total madness to me. Even now, I wasn’t ready for any kind of personal commitment. My company was just taking off, and if I wanted to propel it into this next decade, love, family, and commitment would have to wait until I hit a comfortable cruising altitude.

I longed for a real relationship, for real love, but I just didn’t want it now, and right now, that damn Miller house represented what I didn’t have.

When it seemed like the right time in the economy, I’d sell the damn place. Until then, the old Miller house would remain empty except for a few relatives who stayed there while visiting my parents. I’d purchased furniture for a few of the rooms, so if someone wanted to stay there, they’d be comfortable. Still, I hadn’t had a chance to see it yet. I’d bought it off my childhood daydreams of what the house would be like to live in, imagining all the happiness that surrounded anyone who lived there. So, when it came on the market, I didn’t think twice about buying it, sight unseen. Up until now, I’d been too busy to take the time to fly home and walk inside.

Plus, I’d completely outgrown Cricket.

I’d barely fit in when I was growing up there, so I knew I would never fit in now. Most of the folks who lived in Cricket thought I was a rebel, a wild child, but I never did anything that would get me into any kind of real trouble.

I looked like trouble, but it was all an illusion.

I was the classic rebel without a cause if there ever was one.

Still, I promised myself to set aside a few days for Aunt Barbara’s wedding… depending on my workload situation.

“I was just leaving,” I told Mellissa, putting the cup down on my desk and pulling my bag out of the bottom drawer. My flat wasn’t far from my office, less than a mile, and on a warm spring day like today, I thought I might walk home.

“I’m here to escort you out the door,” she said, sticking a perfectly manicured hand to her hip. She wore bright-green ankle boots with a stacked heel, black loose-fitting pants rolled at the ankle, a leopard shirt, and dangling large bronze earrings. Her long, blond hair was pulled back with a floral hair band, and her heavy black eyeliner and mascara accentuated her lime-green eyes that meant business.

“Okay. Okay. I’m going, and I’m actually thinking of walking to get some exercise,” I told her as I breezed by, hoping that would give me some points for effort. “I don’t think I actually walked somewhere for weeks. This will be good exercise.”

I’d slipped on red, stacked, heeled booties this morning and tossed my three-inch don’t-fuck-with-me heels into the bottom desk drawer, along with two other pairs of don’t-fuck-with-me heels.

I was ready for a leisurely walk in one of Chicago’s more upscale neighborhoods, one I’d worked hard to afford and rarely had time to enjoy. I was sure things would ease up once work began on Broadsmith’s. Of course, there was that restaurant inside the Hancock Center that was seriously considering our offer for a complete makeover, but I wouldn’t think about that now. If and when it came through, we’d handle it exactly like we handled everything else that came our way… with professional expertise.

“Yes, you should walk and stop to eat something. I bet you didn’t have dinner last night. I know how you forget to eat. Who forgets to eat? No normal human being forgets to eat. We’re set up so our stomachs growl, we feel faint, or we lose our will to live without food. But not you. You forget. Those mechanisms don’t register. Which can only mean you’re not human. You’re something other than human. I don’t exactly know what that is yet, but when I find out maybe I’ll be better equipped to deal with you. Until then: Go and eat something. I don’t care if it’s a candy bar or one of those horrible corn dogs you seem to love and pack enough chemicals to take down an elephant. Whatever makes you happy and gives you some calories. Eat it! You didn’t touch anything at Russo’s last night other than those two martinis.”

“They each had three olives. That’s got to count for something.”

She rolled her eyes. “Olives are a garnish, not a meal. I want you to eat real food, then go home and go directly to bed… alone… for now. You need your sleep first. Sex can come later… way later, with whatever guy you choose. Every straight guy you meet wants to fuck you. Pick one. I mean, look at you! You’re gorgeous, babe. Even Markus our doorman who has to be two hundred years old wants to fuck you.”

“He told you that?”

I couldn’t imagine anyone fucking Markus. For one thing, the man would probably die on the spot from the excitement of it.

“No, but I’ve seen the way he drools every time you walk by. Pure hunger.”

“Maybe he just needs a corndog.”

“He has six kids, ten grandkids, and six great-grandkids. I don’t think corndogs were part of his daily diet.”

I smirked. “I was referring to the food, not a body part.”

“So was I,” she said, straight faced, but her mind always went to sex, so I knew she was lying.

“You know there hasn’t been anyone in my bed in… well… I don’t even remember the last time there was a man in my bed. It must’ve been another lifetime, before I discovered the wonders of a clit stimulator.”

Mellissa ’s eyes went wide. “Okay, that confirms it. You need real sex. You need a real dick. We both need a real dick, but you probably need it more than I do. When you get to be my age, the urge is less urgent. It’s still there, but that flaming-hot desire is more like smoldering embers. Still, the thought of the weight of a man hovering over me, a gorgeous, rich, hunk with beautiful graying hair and a muscled chest or even two rich hunks to wrap around me from either side, still sends my lady parts into a rinse cycle. I’ve got a date tonight that I’m hoping to bring home. We’ve been teasing each other for weeks, and it’s time now to do the deed.”

“Who’s the lucky guy or guys?”

I knew of Mellissa’s various affairs in a crowded bed. I didn’t know if that was for me, but it sure always intrigued me. Still, it would have to be with the right guys, whatever that meant.

“One guy tonight, and I can’t tell you more than that. He was part of the Broadsmith’s deal, and you might pop a vein if you know who it is.”

“I’m glad you waited or that would’ve been…”

“Unethical? Like we both didn’t know that? Believe me, it was torture, but we made it through and tonight, we’re not holding back… at least I’m not. Who knows if this guy’s for real or not? You can’t tell with these C-suite guys. They come on like a wildfire in a dry forest, and believe me, this forest has been bone dry for months and wham! They punch ya in the gut and walk off with a wife you never knew existed no matter how much research you do.”

“You researched this guy?”

She grinned like I should know better. “You bet your sweet ass I did. I’m not getting my heart ripped out by some hotshot with a dress and dinner waiting at home for him, no matter how many times I swooned over his adorable smile or those baby blues.”

“You going to tell me who it is, or do I have to wait for the credits to roll?”

“You’re going have to wait, doll. I don’t want you going behind my back with any phone calls to put in a good word. I fuck by my own rules, and on my own terms. Either he and I are a match, or I move onto the next encounter. Don’t forget, I was the one who bought you that clit stimulator for your last birthday. I’m well prepared for any kind of dick downturn. That’s not the only weapon in my toy box.”

“I never thought it was,” I told her. “Someday you’ll have to tell me about some of the other toys.”

“Anytime, babe, but for now, go eat a meal and get some sleep. I’ll take care of everything in this office today.”

She took my arm and walked me to the elevators, pushed the button, waited for the elevator doors to open, then deposited me inside.

As soon as I stepped inside, the male voice on my phone told me my mother was calling.

Click here to read: Chapter 2 - Jess

“Don’t answer that,” Mellissa warned, wagging her finger at me, but the doors closed, and I was left alone with my phone yelling, “Mom… Mom… Mom.”

Normally, I wouldn’t take the call and instead, listen to the message to determine if it were important or not. Most of the time, my mom called to share some town gossip or to remind me that I hadn’t been home for more than a day or two in several years. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t spent time with each other. I’d brought my parents to Chicago on many occasions, not that they ever enjoyed themselves. Although, they did insist that we visit a Chicago-style pizza place on more than one occasion. And on their day of departure, we always had to stop at Gino’s. My mom would pack four frozen pizzas in her luggage. At least I knew they liked something about Chicago.

“Mom… Mom… Mom!”

Being food and sleep deprived, I didn’t have the willpower to ignore her call this time, couldn’t think of a reason I could text her later.

I sighed and pressed Accept.

“Hi Mom,” I said. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine, darling. You?”

“Great, actually. Closed with a big client yesterday. Really excited about it.”

“Fabulous! Does that mean you’re really busy now?”

I didn’t know if I should answer that. It could mean she wanted me to do something for her, and depending on the want, I could be in deep shit. I loved my parents and would do anything for them within reason. Sometimes that reason got a little blurry.

“It means I have some downtime. Why? What’s up?”

A leading question if there ever was one.

The elevator doors pinged open, and I stepped out into the lobby of glass, modern design mixed with historic elements and where Markus stood watch just inside our front door. From now on, I would never think of him as that sweet, older man, but rather that horny man who lusted over me. I tossed him a dubious grin as I walked out through the door he held open, while he grinned and wished me a good day.

“I have a big favor to ask,” Mom said in my ear.

Whenever my mom had a favor to ask, it usually meant trouble. She didn’t ask very often, but when she did, her favors could mean anything from wanting me to show up for some distant relative’s funeral, a relative I’d never even met, or she’d like me to entertain one of those distant relatives while they visited Chicago.

Of course, there were the easy favors, like giving her and Dad an extra couple hundred dollars to buy a bread machine or an ice-cream maker. Somehow, however, I had a feeling this would be more than a bread maker.

“You know I’m always here for you, Mom. What’s this about?”

Traffic rushed by me as I walked up the sparsely populated sidewalk. Colorful tulips ran along the curbside of the sidewalks surrounded by foot-high black metal fencing and some of the trees still carried white blossoms. North Michigan Avenue in spring was truly lovely.

“Your Aunt Barbara’s wedding.”

I knew she was getting married again, sometime soon. I hadn’t made flight reservations yet, but I intended to, soon. I made a mental note to look up the actual date on my calendar and make the reservations as soon as I got home. Anything other than her wedding, and I would’ve tried to avoid going, but short of death or a horrible injury, neither of which I was willing to entertain, there was no getting out of this one. I had every intention of attending and staying for two full days. More than that, and I’d break out in hives or something worse.

“What about it? I promised I would come out, and I will. You don’t have to worry.”

“It’s in three weeks.”

My stomach flipped at the thought, or I was simply finally feeling a hunger pang, I couldn’t tell.

“No, it’s not. It’s at least a couple of months away,” I countered.

It couldn’t be that soon. I wasn’t mentally prepared to return to Cricket in three weeks… way too stressful to even think about it happening that soon. Yes, I’d been making mental plans to return, but I thought the wedding was further away.

“This is the last week of May. June is fast approaching. She’s getting married the second Saturday in June, which is three weeks from tomorrow. Anyway, the point is, she wants to know if she can use your place for the wedding?”

“My place?” I forced out of a throat that suddenly closed.

“Yes, your place,” she repeated.

The thought made my blood run cold.

My stomach clenched this time, and I knew it wasn’t hunger; it was pure fear of what this could potentially mean.

Yes, my condo was big and had a gorgeous view of the lake, but it wasn’t nearly big enough for an entire wedding, especially not one of my aunt’s weddings. They grew in attendance every time she had one, and this was wedding number five. I couldn’t even imagine how many people she would invite.

“My condo is way too small,” I told her. “I couldn’t possibly hold one of Aunt Barbara’s weddings inside my tiny condo.”

My mom had never seen it, so telling her it was small wasn’t exactly a lie. It was more of an understatement about Aunt Barbara’s party list.

“Not your condo, darling,” she sniggered, as if the idea were totally absurd. “She would never travel all the way to Chicago to get married. No. She wants to use your house and the property surrounding it… or rather the house you bought for your father and me. It’s way too big for us, and we still haven’t gotten around to moving in, which, in retrospect, had been a prudent decision. Did you know it’s in the path of Cricket River when it overflows? The last time it spilled over its banks, flood waters roared through our town, doing all sorts of damage. The first floor of your house was completely drenched. It’s unlivable at the moment.”

She’d told me about the flood, and I’d kept track of it online, just to make sure it wasn’t anything that might cause my parents any real harm. Plus, I’d been in constant contact with them. Never once did they mention damage to the house. I could only imagine the state it was in and how much money it would cost to repair it. Yes, I had a hearty bank account, but I also knew how these flood repairs could drain you in no time.

I felt a bit miffed that she hadn’t told me sooner. The repairs probably would’ve gone easier and been less costly if we hadn’t waited so long.

“And you’re just telling me this now? Wasn’t that flood a month ago? I would’ve sent in a team to take care of the damage right away. How bad is it?”

My mom was one of those people who let much-needed tasks overwhelm her. My dad took care of all the bills and grocery shopping precisely for this reason. I wondered why he hadn’t taken charge of the water damage? It sounded like something he would have jumped on.

“The flood was only two weeks ago, but there wasn’t any reason to check on the house until your aunt wanted to use it for her wedding. We assumed it had weathered the flood unscathed. After all, this town has flooded at least three times in the last hundred years, and that house has been standing ever since old man Miller’s grandfather built it in 1880.”

I didn’t want to have this argument. “Mom. The town had a major flood, and you never checked on the house?”

“I’ve been busy. We were lucky the bookstore didn’t flood, but the bookstore is on Frog Street, and that’s on higher ground than Moon Street. Anything below Frog Street flooded, and your house is below Frog Street, so it flooded.”

My parents owned a children’s bookstore, Tales on Frog Street. They’d owned it ever since I could remember, and while I was happy the store didn’t have any flood damage, I wasn’t happy about the house.

“If the house has flood damage, how can Aunt Barbara have her wedding there? I thought she’d already booked Moon Street Hall? That place must hold five hundred people.”

It was an old warehouse the city converted into an events hall. It looked good inside when it was decorated for various weddings, graduation parties, or a local country-dance.

“Four hundred and twenty six, and it has worse damage than your house.”

“Your house, Mom. It’s your house, yours and Dad’s. I bought it for you.”

“And we’re thankful, darling. Anyway, she looked at several other venues, and none of them will do. She loves the house and the grounds surrounding it, once it’s all fixed and back to normal of course. Plus, if she’s going to have the wedding at your… my house, we thought how nice it would be if you did the decorating as well.”

The favor kept growing.

“Doesn’t she have a wedding planner for all of that?”

“She did. June’s Events Planning, but June can’t do it. Her shop was destroyed, and they had to cancel everything for the next three months. Of course, they returned her deposit, but that left her with no one to decorate. She can’t change the date because Andrew’s relatives are flying in from England. He’s British, you know.”

“I know,” I told her, but I’d forgotten that detail. Andrew was one of many in a long list of husbands, boyfriends and fiancés that my aunt had fallen in love with over the years. Andrew was younger, had never been married, and didn’t have any children, nor did he want any, according to my mother. He was also the mayor of Cricket, a detail that put everything into perspective. The wedding had to be perfect.

“This wedding isn’t that big,” she continued. “Only a hundred and fifty guests, give or take, which the house can easily handle. The empty living room and dining room combination will more than handle that amount. Anyway, according to Anton, the damage in the house is nothing that can’t be fixed. The flooring may even be salvageable.”

“Wait… what? Anton is in town?”

I didn’t want anything to do with Anton.

“Yes, darling. The walls may need a little bit of work, and paint, and well, you’ll have to talk to Anton about all of that. Those kinds of things aren’t your concern. All you have to do is use your decorating magic to create a magical wedding for your favorite aunt, which I know you love to do, or why else would you own a decorating company in Chicago?”

Just hearing Anton’s name brought back a tsunami of memories, some of which I’d rather leave out in the ocean.

“I thought Anton lived in Boise, had married a kindergarten teacher and was some kind of carpenter or something?”

“He married a college professor, but they’re divorced. He’s a homebuilder, darling. And yes, he essentially lives in Boise. He builds housing communities. Like you, he’s a big deal now, but he’s willing to take on this repair, with Galen’s help, of course.”

This was getting way too deep for me. I couldn’t possibly go home now, not if I had to work with my two step-cousins. This would never work.

“Galen’s there, too?”

“He’s a contractor for historic homes, which the old Miller house most certainly is. He also built our gardening shed out back and whenever I need a repair in the bookstore, he never charges us. He’s a good man. Barbara raised him right.”

“She was his step-mother for less than a year,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but it was his formative year,” she assured me.

I’d known I’d probably have to deal with one or all my aunt’s stepsons at the wedding, since they had remained close to her, but I was hoping I could ignore them for most of the night. Besides, I’d thought Anton was still married, and Galen was on the road restoring houses, and Beau was never much of a problem. He and I had remained somewhat friendly. Besides, he made possibly the best damn barbeque ribs I’d ever tasted, and I intended to indulge when I returned to Cricket.

Still, I didn’t want to spend any significant time with any of my pseudo cousins, and preparing the house for the wedding would put me in a situation I wasn’t prepared to tackle. This would never work out.


Way too many uncomfortable childhood memories.

“Look at it this way, darling, instead of buying your aunt a wedding gift that she won’t need, she’d rather you took care of the wedding itself, if that’s not too much to ask. She has a few ideas, and we both feel as though you would be the perfect person to interpret everything she wants. This would mean a lot to her, and to me. She’s family. We have to take care of each other.”

My mother didn’t understand what she was asking for. The scope of this was unreasonable, especially in the time allotted and I didn’t even know what condition the house was in. The repairs alone could take up all the time, not to mention the cost of getting it all done so quickly.

“Mom, do you even know everything this would entail?”

“Of course not. That’s your job.”

“What you’re asking is impossible.”

“Haven’t I always taught you that nothing worth doing is ever impossible?”

“How is this worth doing?”

“She’s my sister. Your aunt. And she’s done a lot for you.”

“Like what?”

As with all good mothers, she knew exactly what to say from her how-to-get-your-kids-to-cooperate toolbox. Her main tool had always been guilt.

“Too many things to list.”

“How about one?” I insisted. After all, if she were going to bribe me, she could at least give me one thing to feel grateful for.



“I’m thinking.”

More silence.


I could hear her whispering, and I assumed she was talking to my dad who hated to talk on the phone.

She finally came back on. “She rescued little Sprinkles when she accidentally fell down that empty well on Barbara’s property. That’s got to be worth something. You loved that little dog. She grounded her boys for a month after that, even though they denied ever having touched Sprinkles.”

Beau and Anton were always tormenting me when I was in my mid-teen years. The three of us would torment each other. When Anton came into the family, the pestering and bullying took on monumental proportions. Beau hadn’t been that bad. I could usually handle whatever he tossed my way, but Anton was older and much more adapt at the art of bullying and tormenting me. Galen had done his share while he was there, but Anton had been in a class of his own.

Mom hit pay dirt with this save. It was the biggest single save my aunt ever made, and the only time I ever remembered her taking my side against her “boys.”

I was sure one of them had pushed Sprinkles down into that well to get even with me for something. They never liked my dog, and even though I never caught them teasing her or doing anything mean to her, that didn’t mean they hadn’t been doing it behind my back. Sprinkles had somehow gotten out that day, and somehow ended up down the well. Beau found her, so he said, and Barbara called in one of her many favors from the local sheriff’s department, and after several hours, they managed to get her out with only a few scratches and a sprained foot.

I thought of a bargaining tool.

“I’ll do all of this with conditions.”

“Oh, here we go,” she sighed. “Can’t you simply do something for me and your aunt out of the kindness of your heart?”

“That’s not how I’m going to drive this big favor. I’ll take on decorating for this entire wedding, plus I’ll oversee everything concerning it, and that includes the repairs to the house. I may not want to work with Anton or Galen. I’ll make that decision when I get there, but it’s my call.”

“Fine,” my mother immediately said.

“And the other condition is that once the house is repaired and the wedding is over, you and Dad move in for an entire month to try it out. If at the end of the month, you don’t like living there, you can move back into your trailer.”

“Mobile home,” she corrected.

“Whatever,” I said. “Those are my terms.”

She covered the phone then while I listened to muffled voices. After a few minutes, she came back on. “Fine. I agree.”

“Who’s there with you?”

“Your aunt, your cousin, Anton, and your dad.”

I couldn’t believe Anton and my aunt were in on the call. He’d been the main bully when I was in my mid-to-late teens, and the one I blamed for the scary Sprinkles incident. I hadn’t seen him since I’d left for college, and had hoped that our goodbye had been somewhat final. I mean, I knew I’d have to see him from time to time at family gatherings, but so far, I hadn’t gathered with the family. This would be the first time.

Yet, there he was on the other end of this phone call. What was that all about?

“They’ve been there the whole time? Including Anton.”

“Yes. Why?”

“Shouldn’t someone have at least said hello?”

I heard my aunt and my dad yell hello. I couldn’t make out if Anton had said anything, but then, I probably would never recognize his voice after all this time.

“I’m on speaker?”

I hated when she put me on speaker. She did it without telling me and inevitably I’d say something I wish I hadn’t.

“Of course you are, my darling. I would never put this horrible radiated phone up to my ear. I’m not stupid.”

I couldn’t help sighing. I was dog tired, and now my brain felt totally fried.

“When can you be here?” she asked. “Barbara wants to get started ASAP. We don’t have much time. She’ll email the floral arrangements she wants and the type of food.”

“I have to hire the caterers as well?”

A wave of nausea swept over me.

“Of course you do, darling. The guests have to eat.”

“And what about the cake?” I asked, hoping she’d already ordered one. At this late date, it would be next to impossible to get one.

“What about it?”

I sighed again, realizing this entire wedding, including the restoration of the house, was now on my shoulders.

Tremendous fatigue suddenly overtook me, and I couldn’t possibly walk one more step, let alone four more blocks to get home. I needed a cab or an Uber. “I’ll let you know when I book my flight.”

“Great. Love you, darling. See you soon.”

“Love you, see you…”

But she’d already disconnected.

Click here to read: Chapter 3 - Anton

I’d kept in touch with my stepmother Barbara, over the years because she’d been the only real mother I’d ever known. My own mother abandoned my father and me when I was about seven to move to Paris and learn the fine art of making the perfect croissant. At one point, she’d even opened her own bakery with some French dude named Maxime, who was an arrogant prick and treated me like an annoyance.

I’d traveled to Paris for a few visits, but my mom and I could never seem to pick up where we left off. At one point, when I was in my teens, she’d wanted me to stay, but I knew I’d be in the way with Maxime still in the picture. I never felt as if she wanted me to stay. Not really. It was more of a guilt thing about being a bad mother. By then, none of that mattered. I was almost seventeen, lived with Barbara and my dad inside a small parsonage provided by the congregation of the Church of the Lighted Window, and was busy daydreaming about getting into Jess Hall’s pants. Yeah, she was now my cousin, but technically, we were about as related as a bear and a lion. I thought of nothing else on that last trip to Paris. The possibility at least gave me something positive to focus on. I had absolutely no use for a city where I didn’t understand the language, couldn’t get a good burger, and felt completely alone.

But the number one factor was that Jess lived thousands of miles away, and I was planning on wooing her into my arms, or at least the backseat of my dad’s car.

Yeah, I tormented her, always setting her up for a fall, and even bullied her on occasion, but damn if I didn’t secretly like her. At one point, while I was living with Barbara, Jess was all I thought about. Unfortunately, being a minister’s son, and Jess being my kind-of cousin, my dad let me know early on that she was completely and utterly off limits.

To better deal with the sting of that statement, and to keep her away, I purposely tormented her.

Still, there were those times we ended up in the back of my dad’s car, and she let me touch her naked breasts and even taste her sweet nipples, but it was only because she wanted money to buy a set of books or something. Jess was always keeping stuff from her parents who were even stricter with her than my dad was with me.

I always thought I’d run into her on my many visits with Barbara in Cricket. As luck would have it, once that girl left for college, she never looked back. By the time she’d left, I’d already been in the service for a while and was headed for my first tour in Afghanistan. Whenever I had an extended leave, I’d return to Cricket, but Jess never came home again, at least not while I was there.

Beau had stayed in Cricket, making up for my absence. He left for a few years trying to find the perfect rib sauce, and Galen left for a few years to live with his mom, then to learn a trade, but they both returned.

Beau never really left Barbara, even after his dad and Barb were divorced. His dad didn’t seem to care one way or the other about him, so Barbara took up the slack. His dad was a long-haul trucker who lived in a one-bedroom apartment that barely accommodated him, let alone his growing son.

Barbara loved having Beau around. She always liked kids and gave each of us a stable environment to flourish. No matter how many husbands she had, Galen, Beau, and I always considered her our other mom and cared about her more than our real moms. One of the many things the three of us had in common, our moms should never have had kids. Collectively, they didn’t hold a candle to Barbara, and we all knew it.

Our general connection and affection for Jess, however, was something entirely different. The three of us tormented her in our own ways, not because we hated her or any of that adolescent crap. Just the opposite. All three of us thought she was beyond cool, a true rebel, and we each wished we weren’t related, albeit in a tangential way.

She ended up hating us and hating the town.

A side effect we hadn’t planned on.

But who could blame her?

My brothers and I, we always considered ourselves brothers, even though there was no actual blood between us, had taunted her relentlessly when we were kids, which probably caused her to be more masculine than feminine. She had a competition going with each of us ever since the first day we’d all met. Because Jess and Beau were more the same age, and they’d known each other the longest, they’d come to a level of acceptance, still contentious, but much more tolerant of each other.

She and Galen were also around the same age, but he didn’t stick around long enough to get under her skin.

Still, that didn’t stop her from leaving.

Because she’d grown up fighting for her ego, she never quite fit in at school. I’d seen a few pictures of her over the years, and seen her website, so I knew she’d grown out of that rough and tumble phase, but I still didn’t know how she would react to me or for that matter, how she would react to any of us. Even her own parents never understood her.

Jess was always her own person and from what I could tell, had become successful in Chicago where she’d lived for almost a decade.

I could hardly believe she’d agreed to return to Cricket for my stepmom’s fifth wedding. And not only had she agreed to attend, but she’d agreed to be responsible for the entire wedding and oversee the repairs.

I wasn’t about to allow her to oversee the repairs. That was my job. Not hers. As soon as she arrived, I intended to make that part clear. No way would I abide her hanging around the house, giving bullshit orders to my crew all day.

Never going to happen, and I intended to make sure it didn’t.

“She doesn’t know what’s in store for her, does she?” I asked Francine as we stood just inside the front door, assessing the damage.

The Miller house was exactly the type of historic house I loved, from the fanlights on the windows to the Inglenook just off the kitchen. It was big, imposing, and full of sophisticated charm.

I’d tried to buy the place when it went up for sale, thinking that moving back to Cricket with my wife might save our marriage, but Jess’ bid won out. She got the house, and shortly after that, my wife left me for an exchange student from Manchester, England where they now lived.

Was I resentful that Jess bought the house with no intention of ever living in it herself, as a showoff, showpiece home for her parents who were content in their mobile home and wanted nothing to do with it?

Damn straight I was, and now she thought she would oversee the repairs when she knew nothing about a historic home other than it might be impressive to own one.

Yeah, right… in her dreams.

“No. I never showed her the pictures,” Francine said, smiling.

Barbara had joined us for a tour of the damage to the property, while Hank had remained behind at the bookstore. He didn’t like getting too involved in whatever scheme his wife and her sister had going on, and he especially didn’t want anything to do with this house.

A damn waste of good money, he’d said several times during the phone call with Jess, and then afterwards, just in case we hadn’t heard him the first twenty times.

This rushed overhaul of a house he and Francine never intended to live in, had all the markings of a scheme to get Jess to return home… and so far, it seemed to be working.

“If anyone can put this house back together again, it’s you, Anton,” Barbara cooed, knowing damn well compliments would get her everywhere. “You’ve never failed me before, and I’m sure you won’t fail me now.”

Barbara’s strategy with kids and people in general was to always acknowledge their good points, even if she’d only recently met them and could only see that they’d combed their hair that morning or wore a clean shirt. If she knew them at all, she would toss compliments around like pocket change, no matter what they said, or how they acted. This strategy caused kids to open up to her, adults wanted to do things for her, and men wanted to marry her, or at the very least, be her sex toy.

Her favorite movie was Auntie Mame, which my brothers and I knew almost by heart. We must have watched it thirty times, if not more… all with Barbara’s encouragement, of course.

“I’ve looked, and the entire first floor is gone. Normally, I’d say it would take at least a month to have it livable again,” I told them, as I gazed across at a buckling wooden floor and water-stained walls. The house was built over a hundred and forty years ago, therefore, no drywall. We were talking lath-and-plaster, which would require a plaster expert to restore it properly.

Fortunately, my brother Galen was that expert. He prided himself in the art, and it was in fact a true expert. There were men and women who called themselves experts and charged accordingly, but did shoddy work. Not Galen. He was all about matching the plaster that was already there and doing it right. His work was top-shelf all the way. Fortunately, the house was built before asbestos became part of the overall construction, so no worries there.

The flooring, on the other hand, was my specialty, and I had a few ideas on how to salvage some of it in the smaller rooms where the water hadn’t pooled as much. I was also in contact with salvaged wood distributors all over the country and could probably find a match somewhere. The only problem would be in getting it shipped here on time.

“But because this is where your stepmom, the woman you love like your own mom, is planning her wedding in three weeks?” Francine asked, then waited for me to say what I knew they both wanted to hear.

Francine was a woman who rarely wore any kind of makeup, allowed her hair to go gray, wore half of it pulled back in a clip off her face with a few bangs, and always dressed as if she were spending the day in her backyard where no one would see her. She was a product of the seventies and never wore a bra, so her large breasts always jiggled when she moved, and she rarely, if ever, wore a skirt or dress. She liked everything natural and therefore, most of her clothes were a wrinkled mess.

None of that seemed to matter to anyone in town; the kids loved her. Absolutely no one could read a kid’s book with all the animation and fun that Francine could. And absolutely no one knew exactly what book went with what child. She could tell what a child would love in about five minutes flat.

I always loved that about her. Francine gave me some of my favorite books of my life, and she gave them to me when I needed them most.

I owed her, big time.

“I’ve already put a local crew together that can get it done in about two weeks. They’re anxious for the work. Even bringing in a couple of my own guys from Boise, but they’ll be in and out in a few days. We should make it if we don’t find anything that can stop us cold.”

“Like what?”

One thing about Francine, which Jess picked up on as well, details mattered. It had always been the bane of Jess’ teen years that her mom demanded details whenever Jess would try to get away with something a little sinful. Francine would press her and eventually, Jess would have to come clean. Something that always got her into trouble.

“Like any kind of pipe that’s damaged, or if we find black mold or a hundred different other things that can go wrong with a house when it’s been soaked by more than two feet of water.”

“If it doesn’t work out, we’ll move the wedding outside,” Barbara said as if that was a perfectly reasonable alternative. Apparently, she hadn’t taken a tour of the grounds.

Barbara was the opposite of Francine. There were times when I wondered if they were in fact blood sisters. Sure, there was some facial resemblance, but it ended there.

Francine carried a few extra pounds, whereas Barbara worked out and stayed slim. Barbara never opened her front door without all her makeup. Her hairdresser made certain there was never any gray on that shoulder-length, thick hair, and her clothes were whatever was in style at the moment. Plus, whenever she could wear heels, she would.

Today she wore stylish black boots, stretch jeans, and a long low-cut, bright pink top. Unlike Francine, Barbara wore a bra and loved to show off her deep cleavage.

“Have you taken a close look at the surrounding grounds lately?” I asked her. “I believe there’s part of a small boat sitting in the middle of the backyard.”

“All I know is, this has to work out,” Barbara announced in that firm, deep voice of hers. “There’s nowhere else in this entire town that even comes close to this place. I know how you work, sweetheart. Once you start a project, nothing gets in your way. I have complete faith that you’ll have the house completely restored in time. And sweet Jessica will handle everything else.”

You could call Jess almost anything, but sweet wasn’t a word that ever came to mind when someone referred to Jess Hall.

“Hank can help if you need him to,” Francine said, offering up her husband. “He used to be good at pounding in a nail or two in his day.”

“Thanks, Francine,” I told her. “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Barbara sighed, as a sly grin stretched her slightly chapped lips. “She’s finally coming home.”

And there it was. This desperate plan had been conjured up to get Jess home, at my expense, I might add. I’d somehow knew it all along.

“Tell me this whole restoration and wedding thing isn’t about getting Jess back in Cricket. You guys don’t know all the trouble I went through to get my crew in Boise stable enough to continue without me. We’re in the middle of building fifty-six new homes.”

“You work too much, hon,” Barbara said as she glanced over at Francine. “And of course this isn’t about getting Jess to come home… okay, maybe a little, but the girl hasn’t been back here for any length of time in over six years. That’s way too long for my poor sister to have to go without a real visit from her darling daughter. Something needed to be done, so I stepped up to resolve the issue. It was my duty as her sister.”

“Another word that didn’t fit Jess Hall, darling. I’m sure Jess isn’t anyone’s darling,” I mumbled, remembering when she climbed up to the top of the old water tower and flashed the town her breasts when she’d turned seventeen. As soon as her parents learned about it, they grounded her for an entire month. That was the month I would help her sneak out and in return, she let me touch and taste those soft, full breasts of hers. Unfortunately, we’d never gotten further than her breasts. Her pussy had always been off limits, no matter how much I’d offer. Had to give her credit for setting limits, but holy shit, did I ever suffer.

I also remembered having to pay her for that honor of being the first to see those mangiest breasts, but that was Jess. Everything she did had a calculated purpose behind it.

I couldn’t imagine anything different for this little visit.

“That’s only because you don’t know her now. You only know the rebellious teen Jess,” Francine argued. “That girl’s been replaced. She’s completely different.”

“So she’s mellowed?” I asked, knowing damn well that couldn’t be true.

“I wouldn’t say that she’s mellowed, exactly,” Barbara said.

“She’s more agreeable now?” I asked, hoping I was wrong.

“Oh no. That’s not how I would describe her at all,” Francine shot back.

“Okay, then what? How is she completely different?”

No one could tame Jess, and I’d be disappointed if they had. I liked to think of her as the hellion, the nonconformist, the girl who wouldn’t let anyone get the upper hand, ever.

The girl who could put my brothers and me in our place and walk away smiling.

The girl with all the stamina, but most of all, the girl who didn’t need any of us to get what she wanted.

Then, Barbara gazed over at me, smirked, and said, “She’s a woman now.”

Nothing more needed to be said.