Sometimes love can take you by surprise.
Kara Newell has a big-city life that needs a major shake-up. Her dedication as a social worker is unwavering, yet her heart tells her that there is more to life than just work. Kara gets the push she needs when, shockingly, she inherits a large estate on an island off the South Carolina coast. Now the charming town of Angels Landing awaits her—along with a secret family she never knew she had.
After surviving war, loss, and heartbreak, ex-marine Jeffrey Hamilton takes his position as the sheriff of idyllic Cavanaugh Island very seriously. So he is the perfect person to watch over the beautiful, confident woman who has turned her new family’s expectations upside down—and stepped into the crosshairs of angry local residents.
Soon Kara becomes more than just a job to him, and he begins to need her in ways he never expected. As Kara and Jeffrey confront the town gossips together, they’ll learn to face their fears and forgive their pasts in order to find a future filled with happiness in Angels Landing.
Release date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 400
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Kara returned the receptionist’s friendly smile with a bright one of her own. She’d recently celebrated her thirty-third birthday, and it was the first time she’d ever been called “ma’am”; but then she had to remind herself that she wasn’t in New York but in the South. Here it was customary to greet people with “yes, ma’am” and “sir,” rather than “missy” or “yo, my man.”
“I’m Kara Newell, and I have a ten o’clock appointment with Mr. Sullivan,” she said, introducing herself.
The receptionist’s smile was still in place when she replied, “Please have a seat, Miss Newell. Mr. Sullivan will be with you shortly.”
Kara sat down in a plush armchair in the law firm’s waiting area. The walls were covered with a wheatlike fabric and artwork depicting fox hunting scenes. She’d planned to take a break from her social worker position at a New York City agency by visiting her family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She never anticipated having to travel to Charleston, South Carolina, instead.
The certified letter from Sullivan, Webster, Matthews and Sullivan requesting her attendance at the reading of a will had come as a complete shock. When she’d spoken to Mr. David Sullivan Jr. to inform him that she didn’t know a Taylor Patton, the attorney reassured her that his client had been more than familiar with her.
Kara had called her parents to let them know she wouldn’t be coming to Little Rock as scheduled because she had to take care of some business. She didn’t tell her mother what that business was because it was still a mystery to her as to why she’d been summoned to the reading of a stranger’s will. It was only when the attorney mentioned it had something to do with a relative she wasn’t familiar with that she’d decided to make the trip.
She unbuttoned the jacket to her wool pantsuit. Although the temperatures had been below freezing when she’d boarded the flight in New York City, it was at least fifty degrees warmer in Charleston. One of the things she’d missed most about living in the South was the mild winters. By the time the jet touched down, Kara barely had time to hail a taxi, check into her downtown Charleston hotel room, shower, and grab a quick bite to eat before it was time to leave. She sat up straight when a tall, slender black man approached her.
Pushing off the chair, Kara smiled. “Yes.”
“Good morning, Miss Newell. David Sullivan,” he said in introduction, extending his hand.
His hand was soft, his grip firm, which took her by surprise. As she took in the sight of him, she realized he didn’t quite fit the description she’d had. The one time she’d spoken to Mr. Sullivan, there was something in his tone that made her think he was much older than he looked. Now she realized they were about the same age. Conservatively dressed in a navy-blue pin-striped suit, white shirt, blue-and-white dotted tie, and black wing tips, he released her hand.
“It’s nice meeting you, Mr. Sullivan.”
David inclined his head. “Same here, Miss Newell. It’s nice having a face to go along with the voice.” Taking her elbow, he led her out of the waiting room and down a carpeted hallway to a set of double ornately carved oak doors at the end of the hallway. “I’d like to caution you before we go in. I don’t want you to reply or react to anything directed toward you. Taylor Patton was my client, and that means indirectly you are also my client.”
A shiver of uneasiness swept over Kara like a blast of frigid air. What, she mused, was she about to walk into? For the first time since she’d read the letter, she chided herself for not revealing its contents to her mother.
“What do you mean?” Kara asked.
“I can’t explain it now, Miss Newell. But I want you to trust me enough to know that I’m going to make certain to protect your interests.”
When the doors opened, Kara suddenly felt as if she were about to go on trial. The room was filled with people sitting around a massive rosewood conference table. She heard a slight gasp from the man sitting nearest the door, but he recovered quickly when she stared at him. The hazel eyes glaring at her—so much like her own—were cold, angry. The resemblance between her and the man was remarkable. So much so that they could have been brother and sister. But Kara didn’t have a brother—at least not one she was aware of. She was an only child.
David directed her to a chair at the opposite end of the room, seating her on his left while he took his place at the head of the table. He still hadn’t revealed to Kara why he’d wanted her to attend the reading of the will of Taylor Patton, but his cautioning was enough to let her know she was involved in something that was about to change her life. The fact that she resembled several of those in the conference room led Kara to believe there was a possibility she just might be related to the deceased.
Resting her hands in her lap, Kara listened as David informed everyone that a stenographer would record the proceedings, asking those present to introduce themselves for the record. Kara glanced at the stenographer sitting in a corner, fingers poised on the keys of the stenotype machine resting on a tripod.
David touched her hand, nodding. “Kara Elise Newell,” she said, beginning the introductions. One by one the eleven others gave their names.
The men were Pattons, while the women were hyphenated Pattons, with one exception. Kara glanced at Analeigh Patton’s hands. Unlike the others, her fingers were bare. A hint of a smile inched up the corners of Analeigh’s mouth, and a slow smile found its way to Kara’s eyes.
Everyone’s attention was directed toward David when he cleared his voice, slipped on a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses, and opened the folder in front of him. “ ‘I, Taylor Scott Patton of Palmetto Lane, Cavanaugh Island, South Carolina, do hereby make, publish, and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby expressly revoking all wills and codicils, heretofore made by me.’ ”
Kara felt her mind wandering when David mentioned that as the executor he would judicially pay the deceased’s enforceable debts and administrative expenses of Taylor’s estate as soon as possible. Taylor hadn’t married; therefore, there was no spouse to whom he would have bequeathed his belongings. All of the Pattons leaned forward as if the motion had been choreographed in advance when David paused briefly. Then he continued to read.
“ ‘I do give and bequeath to my daughter, Kara Elise Newell, all my personal effects and all my tangible personal property, including automobiles owned by me and held for my personal use at the time of my death, cash on hand in bank accounts in my own name, securities, or other intangibles.’ ”
Kara went completely still, unable to utter a sound as pandemonium followed. The room was full of screams, tears, shouts of fraud, and threats to her person. Another two minutes passed before David was able to restore a modicum of civility. “Ladies, gentlemen, please restrain yourselves. Remember, this proceeding is being recorded, so please refrain from threatening my client. By the way, there is more.”
The man who’d glared at Kara stood up. “What’s left? My uncle has given this impostor everything.”
“Please sit down, Harlan. I can assure you that Miss Newell is not an impostor,” David said.
Kara wanted to agree with the Pattons. Austin Newell, not Taylor Patton, was her father. She closed her eyes, her heart pounding a runaway rhythm, as David outlined the conditions of what she’d inherited: She must restore Angels Landing to its original condition; make Angels Landing her legal residence for the next five years; and allow the groundskeeper and his wife, who would receive a lump sum of fifty thousand dollars, to continue to live out their natural lives in one of the two guesthouses. In addition, she could not sell any parcel of land to a nonfamily member without unanimous approval of all Cavanaugh Island Pattons, and the house and its contents could only be deeded to a Patton.
She opened her eyes and let out an inaudible sigh when David enumerated names and monies set aside in trust for three grandnephews and two grandnieces for their college education. This pronouncement satisfied some, but not all. There were yet more threats and promises to contest the will.
Forty-five minutes after she’d entered the conference room, Kara found herself alone with Taylor Patton’s attorney. Holding her head in her hands, she tried to grasp what had just happened. She hadn’t risen with the others because she wasn’t certain whether her legs would’ve supported her body. David had warned her not to say anything, and she hadn’t, but only because she couldn’t. Reaching for the glass of water that had been placed before each chair, she took a sip.
David removed his glasses and laced his fingers together. “So, Miss Newell, you are now the owner of a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and two thousand acres of prime land on Cavanaugh Island.”
Kara’s eyelids fluttered as if she’d just surfaced from a trance. “I’m sorry to inform you, but Taylor Patton is not my father.”
David’s eyes narrowed. “Did your mother ever mention Taylor Patton’s name?”
She shook her head. “No. The only father I know is Austin Newell.”
“Well, I can assure you that you are Taylor’s biological daughter. In fact, you are his only child.”
Kara closed her eyes. When she opened them, they were filled with fear and confusion. “How is that possible?” The query was a whisper.
“That is something you’ll have to discuss with your mother.”
She would talk to her mother, but not over the phone. What she and Jeannette Newell needed to discuss had to be done face-to-face. Combing her fingers through her hair, Kara held it off her forehead. “Please tell me this is a dream.”
David sat on the edge of the table, staring at Kara’s bowed head, a look of compassion across his features. “Even if I did, it still wouldn’t change anything.” Reaching into the breast pocket of his suit jacket, he took out a small kraft envelope, spilling its contents on the table in front of her. “These are keys to the house in Angels Landing, Taylor’s car, and his safe-deposit box in a bank in Sanctuary Cove.”
Kara released her hair, the chin-length, chemically straightened strands falling into place. “Where’s Sanctuary Cove?”
“It’s on Cavanaugh Island, southeast of Angels Landing. You only have ten days to transfer the accounts from Taylor’s to your name. By the way, do you have a rental?”
“No. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel.”
“Good?” Kara repeated.
David smiled. “Yes. It means I don’t have to get someone to drop it off for you. I’m going to have our driver take you back to the hotel so you can pick up your luggage, and then he’ll take you to Angels Landing.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m planning to leave for Little Rock tomorrow.”
“Can you hold off leaving for a few days?”
“David. May I call you David?” He nodded. “When you wrote and asked me to come here, I never could’ve imagined that the man I’ve believed was my father all these years is not my father. Not to mention that I now have a bunch of cousins who can’t wait to put out a hit on me so they can inherit my unforeseen assets, assets I don’t need or want.”
“Are you saying you’re going to walk away from your birthright?”
“A birthright I knew nothing about.”
David leaned in closer. “A birthright you need to protect, Kara. If you walk away from this, then you’ll be playing right into the hands of the developers who’ve preyed on the folks who’ve lived on the Sea Island and who’ll turn their inhabitants’ birthright into a playground for millionaires.”
Kara felt as if her emotions were under attack. “But… but the will states I can only sell the land to a Patton.”
“Pattons who want to sell more than half of Angels Landing.”
“Why would they want to do that?” A pregnant silence filled the room as she and David stared at each other.
“Greed, Kara. If they can get you to go along with their way of thinking and you sell your two thousand acres, the monies they’ll receive for the sale will be divided among them evenly.”
An expression of confusion crossed her face. “How many acres do they hold collectively?”
“Probably about four hundred,” David said.
“Hypothetically, if I decide to hand over my shares and we sell twenty-four hundred acres at let’s say a thousand dollars per acre. Are you telling me two-point-four million will be divided among twelve of us?”
He didn’t respond. Instead, she did the calculations in her head. Instead of $2 million she would get $200,000. “The split seems a little inequitable, especially if I hold the majority shares.”
David’s dark eyebrows lifted a fraction. “They see you as an outsider, someone who will take the money and run. Please don’t prove them right.”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“I’d like you to give yourself a week to think about it. Stay at the house, tour the island. If you decide you prefer the Big Apple to the Lowcountry, then you walk away and…”
“I walk away and what?” Kara asked when David didn’t finish his statement.
“The surviving heirs will contest the will, it will go into probate, and after the state of South Carolina gets its share, the family will get what’s left.”
She gave the dapper attorney a long, penetrating stare. He was asking for a week while her supposed biological father had asked her for five years. Right now Kara had three weeks of vacation time: one she could spend in Angels Landing and the other two in Arkansas before returning to New York. She hadn’t told her parents when to expect her, so Kara decided to change her travel plans yet again.
“Okay. I’ll try it for a week.”
David blew out an audible breath. “Thank you.” He stood, walked over to the wall phone, and pushed the speaker feature. “Please tell Linc I need him to drive a client to her hotel. He’s to wait for her to check out, and then I want him to take her to Taylor Patton’s house.” He ended the call and came over to cup Kara’s elbow when she stood up. “I’m going to call my cousin, Jeffrey Hamilton, who’s the island’s sheriff and have him stop in to check on you. I’ll be in court for the next two days, but as soon as there is a recess, I’ll come out to see you. Meanwhile, Jeff or one of his deputies will help you if you need anything.”
Kara nodded her head in agreement, trying to keep her emotions in check. Taylor Patton was her biological father?
Jeffrey Hamilton leaned back in his chair, booted feet propped up on the corner of the scarred desk. He’d submitted his department’s budget to the mayor and town council at the January meeting, yet it was mid-March and he was still awaiting delivery of new office furniture. Ever since he’d been appointed sheriff of Cavanaugh Island, Jeff had attempted to refurbish his office and expand the force from three deputies to four. Sadly, things seemed to be taking a lot longer than he’d first thought.
The cell phone on his desk rang. Glancing at the display, Jeff answered it on the second ring. “What’s up, David?”
“Is there anyone in your jail that needs legal counsel?”
He laughed softly. “Sorry, Cuz, but I haven’t locked up anyone in more than three weeks. Are you calling to let me know that you’re ready to pop the question to that gorgeous oral surgeon you’ve been seeing?”
“We’re not even close to that. I’d like you to go out to Angels Landing and check on the new owner. Her name is Kara Newell.”
“Is there anything I should know about her?” Jeff asked.
“I may as well tell you now because gossip about her is going to spread across the island faster than a cat can lick its whiskers. She’s Taylor Patton’s daughter.”
“I was under the impression that Taylor didn’t have any children.”
“Most of us thought the same thing.”
Jeff shifted, and his chair groaned like someone in pain. “How are the others taking the news?”
“Let’s just say they’re not too happy that she exists. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“Don’t worry, David. I’ll keep an eye on her.” He knew his cousin couldn’t divulge how he’d come by the proof because he was still bound by attorney-client privilege, even in death.
“Thanks, Jeff. By the way, how is Aunt Corrine?”
“Grandmomma’s good. Have you made plans for Easter?”
“Yep. Petra and I are going down to St. Thomas for a few days. You’re welcome to join us.”
Jeff stared at his spit-shined boots. After spending twenty years in the Marine Corps, he still enjoyed the age-old tradition of shining his shoes and boots. “I’d love to, but I gave my deputies time off to spend with their families.”
“Speaking of families, Jeff, when are you going to settle down and have a couple of kids?”
He sat up and lowered his feet. “After you get married and have one.”
David’s chuckle came through the earpiece. “You’ve got a few years on me, Cuz, so you’re first. I have to hang up because I have a meeting with a new client. Call me if Kara is having trouble with her new family.”
“No problem,” Jeff promised.
He ended the call, then slipped the cell phone into the case attached to his gun belt. He was walking out of his office when his clerk, Winnie Powell, entered the police station through the back door.
Winnie smiled, her bright blue eyes sparkling like blue topaz. She fluffed up her short, curly hair. “It looks like rain.”
He returned her smile. “We could use a little of that.” The winter had been unusually dry. “I’m going over to Angels Landing.”
Winnie nodded as Jeff headed out of the station. Once in the parking lot that served the town hall, courthouse, and police station, the humidity wrapped around him like a wet blanket. He got into the Jeep and started the engine. The vehicle had been emblazoned with a sheriff logo on the passenger-side doors and refitted with a partition separating the front seats from the rear ones. Within minutes of driving, the rain had begun as Winnie predicted, the sound of the wipers breaking the silence.
Slowing to ten miles an hour, Jeff drove through downtown Sanctuary Cove, passing Jack’s Fish House, the town square with its fountain and marble statue of patriot militia General Francis Marion atop a stallion, and the Cove Inn, the town’s boardinghouse. Once he’d taken over as sheriff, he’d convinced the town council to lower the town’s speed limit to fifteen miles an hour because there were no traffic lights in the Cove and to discourage teenagers from drag racing. Amazingly, there hadn’t been posted speed limits for years.
Maneuvering onto an unpaved road, he shifted into four-wheel drive. A marker pointing the way to Angels Landing came into view, and Jeff turned onto Palmetto Lane and headed to the house that had given this section of Cavanaugh Island its name. The few times he’d come to Angels Landing, Jeff felt as if he’d stepped back in time. The antebellum mansion at the end of a live oak allée was breathtaking with its columned, wraparound porch. The rose-colored limestone Greek Revival home, with its pale pink marble columns and black-shuttered tall windows, had been one of the finest homes on the island.
Jeff parked next to the vintage Mercedes-Benz sedan that had belonged to Taylor Patton. Reaching for his cap on the passenger seat, he pulled it on. The rain was now a steady drizzle as he sprinted to the front door, which opened as he wiped his boots on the thick rush mat.
“Why, if it isn’t Corrine Hamilton’s grandbaby boy. What brings you out this way?”
Jeff took off his cap and curbed the urge to roll his eyes upward. The petite woman and her groundskeeper husband had worked for the Pattons for longer than he could remember. He also wanted to remind Mrs. Todd that at forty he had left boyhood behind many years before.
“Good afternoon, Miss Iris. I’m here to see Ms. Kara Newell. Is she in?”
Mrs. Todd’s dark eyes narrowed suspiciously behind her rimless glasses. “Did she do something, son?”
Jeff tightened his grip on his cap. It was apparent that the housekeeper had transferred her loyalty from Taylor to his daughter within weeks of his death. Those who lived on Cavanaugh Island joked that it was easier to gain access to the Oval Office than to cross the threshold to this historic house.
“No, she didn’t, Miss Iris. David Sullivan asked me to look in on her.”
Mrs. Todd opened the door wider. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” She smiled. “Follow me. She’s in the garden room.”
Jeff shook his head in amazement as he followed the elderly woman, who was dressed in a crisp gray uniform that matched the coronet of braids atop her head. It had been years since he’d stepped foot into the house, but like the exterior, nothing had changed. It had the same vases, lamps, tables, and chairs. Mrs. Todd directed him down a narrow carpeted hallway to a doorway on the south side of the property.
He stopped at the entrance to a room filled with potted plants, trees, and flowers. The sound of soft music flowed from somewhere in the indoor oasis. His gaze shifted to the housekeeper when she approached the woman reclining in a cushioned chaise and spoke quietly to her.
Jeff felt his heart stop when Kara Newell swung her long, slender, bare legs over the chaise and stood up to face him.
She was absolutely stunning. Anyone familiar with the Pattons would recognize the startling resemblance between Kara and her paternal grandmother Theodora—or Teddy as she had been affectionately called by her husband. His gaze went from her tousled hair, pulled up in a short ponytail, to the tawny face with large hazel eyes, cute button nose, and lushly curved full lips, then lower to a white tank top and olive-green shorts. Each time she took a breath, the swell of her breasts were visible above the top’s neckline. Scolding himself, he focused his attention on her face rather than staring at her chest. She was slim but had curves in all the right places.
He inclined his head. “Ms. Newell.”
Kara smiled and offered her hand. “Please call me Kara.”
Taking three long strides, Jeff grasped her hand, holding it gently within his much larger one. “Jeff Hamilton.”
“David told me you would stop by. Would you like to sit down?”
“Thank you.” He waited until Kara sat on a pull-up chair at a small round table covered with a floral tablecloth before sitting on the matching one.
A pair of eyes with glints of gold and green met his. “May I offer you something to eat or drink?” Kara asked Jeff.
“No, thank you.” He crossed one jean-covered knee over the other. “Have you settled in?”
Kara assumed a similar pose, staring at the polish on her bare toes. “There’s not going to be much settling in. I’ll only be here a week.”
Leaning forward, Jeff lowered his leg, planting both feet on the worn rug. “Are you telling me that you don’t plan to live here?”
“No, I’m not telling you that.”
“Then what is it you’re not saying?”
“Why do I get the impression that you’re interrogating me, Sheriff Hamilton?”
Jeff’s impassive expression did not change with her accusation. “If I were interrogating you, Kara, you wouldn’t have to ask. All I want is a yes or no as to whether you plan to live on Cavanaugh Island.”
“I can’t give you a yes or no, Sheriff Hamilton.”
“Okay, Jeff. As I said, I can’t answer that question right now. I promised David I would spend a week on the island before making a decision. Only two hours ago I was told the man I believed to be my father isn’t.” She looked away from him, trying to hold back the tears forming in her eyes. “When I walked into that conference room earlier this morning and saw people staring at me who look like me… to say it was a shock is putting it mildly. Then I was told that I’ve inherited a house, two thousand acres of land that my so-called relatives want me to sell to a group of greedy developers, and I must live here for five years. If I do so, it means I have to resign from my job, give up my Manhattan apartment, which has an incredible view of the East River, and lose contact with a group of friends I’ve become extremely close to.”
“Yes, I can understand how difficult that may be. Not only will you have to uproot your entire life, but you’ll also have to deal with the family issue.” Jeff lifted his broad shoulders under a long-sleeved chambray shirt. “The upside is you can always get another job and make new friends. And instead of views of the river, you’ll have views of the ocean.”
Kara folded her arms across her chest. “You make it sound so easy.”
A hint of a smile tilted the corners of Jeff’s mouth. “Because it is. I gave up a military career to come back here to take care of my grandmother.”
“You think so, Kara?”
“Of course it is. There is no discussion when it comes to family. You do what you have to do,” Kara said.
“Like you have to accept your birthright and honor your father’s last wishes.”
“What’s with this birthright thing?” she asked.
Jeff stood up. “I’ll tell you sometime soon. Right now, I have to get back.”
Kara also rose to her feet. “When will I see you again?”
“Tomorrow. I’m off, and if you don’t have anything planned, I’ll come by and take you to Jack’s for lunch and give you a crash course in Lowcountry culture.”
“I’d like you to answer one question for me, Jeff.”
“Do you have something against the Pattons?”
“Nothing personal. I just don’t like it when people threaten others.”
Her eyes grew wider. “Did David tell you what happened?”
“He didn’t have to. You can say I read between the lines. As sheriff of Cavanaugh, I have zero tolerance for those who break the law. And to me threats are a serious offense. I’ll pick you up at twelve.”
Jeff didn’t give Kara a chance to accept or reject his offer when he turned on his heels and walked out of the room. He’d been back for almost a year, and it was the first time that a woman had captured his attention for more than a few minutes.
There was something about Kara, other than her natural beauty, that had him enthralled. He didn’t know whether it was her big-city attitude, but whatever it was, he intended to discover it before the week ended and Kara was out of his life for good.
Kara sat motionless, her gaze fixed on a potted palm. It had been more than two hours since David had informed her that Austin Newell was not her biological father; instead, her father was a dead man who knew about her when she hadn’t known he existed. The news had stunned her, the hostility exhibited by the Pattons frightened her, and Sheriff Hamilton coming to see her made their threats even more terrifying.
Any normal person would’ve been overjoyed to inherit a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and two thousand acres of land and four automobiles—three of which were classics—cash on hand, securities, and other tangibles in Taylor Patton’s name. And if the house, its contents, the cars, and the land was an indication, then there was no doubt she’d become a very wealthy woman.
Kara knew she had to call her mother because only Jeannette Newell could give her the answers she needed as to her true paternity. What she didn’t want to think about was her mother’s duplicity. How could she hide the true identity of the man who’d fathered her for more than three decades, while Austin, the only father she’d ever known, had become a coconspirator?
She also knew she couldn’t avoid the inevitable but decided to wait—wait until her mother was at home before calling her. Normally Kara would’ve called Jeannette at the senior residence where she headed the nursing unit, but she couldn’t find the nerve to talk to her mother just yet. She also wanted to tell her mother that her travel plans had changed and not to expect her the following day.
David has asked if she would stay on the island for a week, and she’d said she would. A week was more than enough time to uncover what David and Jeff Hamilton had warned her about giving. . .
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