A childhood memory crept up to tickle Thane’s brain. A little girl of seven, or eight, dressed in worn clothing so thin you could almost see through it, but mended very carefully in places with tiny, even stitches. She had the prettiest red curls and the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. His cousin, Hannah had befriended her on the school grounds, sneaking her food at lunchtime. He couldn’t remember the girl’s name, only that she was bone thin and dirty, but the most delicate creature he ever imagined. Even with all of the bruises she tried to hide, she wouldn’t let anyone bully her or her sisters. She was a fighter. A fighter of words, not physical action. He could almost see her being beaten by someone if she caused any trouble.
His heart yearned to see her sweet smile and he would try whatever he could to make that happen. Then one day she and her sisters were gone and they never returned to the school. He could still see her clutching one of her sister’s hands, as if she was afraid to let go.
Thane took a deep breath. Why had he thought of that little girl now? Hannah had begged her parents to try to find the girl and cried for days. But Hannah was gone now, death claiming her young life with a brain tumor. Thane wished he could tell that little girl what an impact she’d made on the lives of him and his cousin. Something about Nita reminded him of the little redhead who would huddle against the building to stay warm.
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A young man leaned back in a rocking chair and propped his feet on the porch rail. He stared through the trees toward the snowcapped Cascade Mountains. The quiet of the hillside was broken when a deer dashed through the wooded area. He surveyed the property to try to discover what had disturbed the wildlife.
Thoughts tumbled through his mind and he wondered once again if he should leave the quiet sanctuary of his home and journey to the dry desolation of the Arizona desert. He wanted to see for himself the woman who inherited his grandmother’s family home and business. Would he be a traitor to his family if he were to send a warning that some of Clara Evanston’s family would be out for blood once they found out what the old woman had done and exactly how much she was worth?
A smile tugged at his lips. His grandmother, Clara, was a sneaky broad that he’d loved with every bone in his body. She accepted and nourished him until she took her final breath. A deep sadness replaced his earlier smile and he questioned the nagging notion that Grannie’s life was cut short by something other than nature.
The sun beat brightly, warming the earth and the air. It wouldn’t be much longer and spring would arrive on his mountain. The streets in the city were already lined with trees sporting the delicate, pink cherry blossoms that graced the air with their aroma. The colorful red, blue and yellow blooms of the primroses mingled with the white and pink blooms of the azaleas.
He reached into the pocket of his red flannel shirt and removed the slip of paper Avery Martin, Grannie’s attorney, handed him yesterday morning. The unmistakable loud roar of Justin’s sports car racing up the driveway and squealing to a stop interrupted his thoughts and he jammed the notepaper back into its safe haven.
The angry shout accompanying his cousin’s arrival grated on Thane Evanston’s nerves. The quiet peace of the day was gone in one short moment.
“You knew about this, didn’t you?” Justin sputtered as he strode around the side of the house. “If I know you at all, you probably talked the old bat into changing her will. She didn’t have anything of value, except the house and land on Bainbridge Island, and you let her give it away.”
Thane stared at the mottled face of his grossly overweight cousin. Short, blond spikes of hair stuck out from the thin ring around his pale pink scalp.
“Why don’t you sit down and catch your breath, Justin. Then you can explain to me what you’re talking about.” Thane didn’t move. He didn’t have any doubt Justin wouldn’t budge until he’d ranted and raved himself into an angina attack. Even after all these years, Thane didn’t have a clue how to prevent Justin from throwing a temper tantrum.
The man before him shoved a sheet of paper at Thane. “You’re going to sit there and deny any knowledge about Grandmother’s will? I know you talked her into changing it and forced her to sign it,” he bellowed.
“Why would I do that?” Thane asked. “And how do you know anything about her will? She hasn’t even been buried yet, and the reading of the will isn’t until Friday.”
A sneer of pure hatred settled on Justin’s face and revealed a row of straight, yellowed teeth. “You think you’re the only one who can get women to spill their guts? I’m surprised you know anything the way you poke around like a turtle. You waste more time sitting on your ass, staring out at those hills, than you do working. You won’t get anywhere in this world at the rate you’re going. You won’t be worth two plugged nickels.”
Thane’s feet thudded to the floor and he leaned forward. “Just whose guts did you get to spill? Grandmother’s? Is that how you got the information?”
Justin’s face drained of color and he took a step back. “What the hell are you talking about? The old lady died in her sleep.” A deep red stained his cheeks. “I should have known you’d try to blame somebody for her dying.