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Hidden Secrets

By:Carolyn Brown


A grown man of twenty-five didn’t cry because his overbearing, overopinionated, and bossy old neighbor died. Not even if she had been his surrogate grandmother and good friend all rolled into one. But Luke O’Neal let the tears flood his blue eyes and drip onto his chambray work shirt without even one attempt to wipe them away. A warm spring breeze set Norma’s rocking chair in motion—and set loose even more tears.

Three rocking chairs were lined up on the porch. The middle one belonged to Norma always. No one ever sat in it. The one on the end next to the mimosa tree was John’s, and the remaining one belonged to Luke. That’s where they shared their joys and sorrows at the end of several days a week. And now the middle one was empty, never to be filled again.

John Rayford rounded the end of the porch and sat down in the third rocking chair, leaving the one in the middle empty. He ran his fingers through his dark hair, which was sprinkled with bits of gray, especially in the temples. His green eyes were misty and his square jaw set in determination not to cry.

“I’ll miss her. Seems like she ought to come on out of the house and sit with us.”

Luke swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.

“She was a pistol,” John said.

Luke nodded again.

“You get the donkeys fed and Buster’s leg taken care of?”

“Yes,” he managed to get out one word.

“I called the cousin.”

“Are they even coming out here? Never knew them to come in all the years I’ve been alive. And Norma talked about them all time, like she just saw them last week.”

John nodded. “They’ll be here in four days. And then they can take over.”

“Reckon they’ll know jack squat about farmin’?”

“Guess they can learn if they don’t take one look and take off like a scalded hound back to their hotel and wineries.”

“I’m not going to like them.”

“Norma didn’t say we had to like them. She said we had to help them if they needed it.”

“Well, I’m not going to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buster and Sparky both lay down and die in the next couple of weeks without her. Dogs do that, you know, so donkeys might too.”

Seconds ticked off the clock so slowly that Kim wondered if time stood still. Minutes lasted three days past eternity. Finally the time passed. She pushed her long, straight dishwater-blonde hair behind her ears and shut her blue eyes as she picked the plastic stick from the cup beside the bathroom sink. Dizziness drove her to sit on the vanity stool, but she still didn’t open her eyes. When she did, she was glad she was sitting down.

“Pregnant,” she whispered.

Four generations of Brewer women who had been born with haloes and wings, and she had to be the one who brought disgrace upon the whole family. Granted, her grandfather was a 100-percent-guaranteed, bona fide rascal, but he wasn’t one of the Brewer women. They were beyond reproach, bordering on modern-day saints. Perhaps she’d inherited more of her genes from her rogue grandfather, Daniel Tarleton, rather than her flawless great-grandmother, Hannah Brewer; her grandmother, Karen Tarleton; or her mother, Sue DeHaven.

She tossed the stick in the trash can and touched her flat stomach. A baby grew in there. One she and Marshall Neville made six weeks before, the only night they were married.

Talk about unlucky—that was Kim DeHaven! What was she going to do with a baby? Her great-grandmother would fire her; her grandmother, crucify her; her mother would sell her into slavery.

Not really, but they’d sure enough feel like it. How on earth did this happen? It was just one time, for heaven’s sake!

She groaned. She couldn’t even tell Marshall, not when he’d just asked his girlfriend to marry him in a real wedding come Christmastime. What a tangled-up mess—and she had no idea how to unravel it.

She’d met Marshall two months ago. His cousin was getting married, and the wedding party stayed at the Brewer Hotel. He’d come out to visit with them. After multiple calls and lots of texting, he’d asked her out, and that led to going with him on spring break to Las Vegas. It started out as a crazy dare and by the next morning, they realized just how foolish they had been when they woke up married. When they got home that evening, Marshall’s father had taken them straight to his lawyer and it had been annulled.

A month later, she’d gotten a text from Marshall saying that he and Amelia, his girlfriend since high school, were back together and planning a Christmas wedding.

She wandered aimlessly into the bedroom of the two-room suite she occupied on the ground floor of the lavish Brewer Hotel in Morgantown, West Virginia. When she graduated high school two years before, Hannah had presented her a key to her own suite. She had a king-size bed, an entertainment unit with cable television and stereo, her own laptop with Wi-Fi, a huge closet, a living room with a comfortable deep sofa and recliner, and a small apartment-sized refrigerator with a microwave on top tucked into a corner for snacks.

She’d worked at the hotel in some capacity since she’d turned sixteen. She helped at the front desk and with the bookings, generally keeping an eye on things in the evenings. But mostly in the summer, she was at her great-grandmother’s beck and call to do whatever she wanted.

Hannah Brewer and her late husband, Jesse, had owned it since the day they married, more than sixty years before. To stay at the Brewer was an experience, instead of a mere place to throw the suitcases and splash in a swimming pool. The only reason it was a five-star hotel was because they didn’t give out six or seven or ten stars.

Hannah and Jesse had only one child—a daughter, Karen, who married Daniel Tarleton. Karen was even more perfect than Hannah was, if that was possible. Instead of a woman entering a room, a force strolled in when Karen arrived. She lived in the old Cosby plantation mansion outside of town, and the only fault she had was her judgment in men.

Or man, as in her husband of more than forty years. Good-looking beyond words with his salt-and-pepper hair and big brown eyes. Rumor had it if all the women he’d cheated on Karen with were put shoulder to shoulder, the line would reach from Morgantown to DC.

Sue DeHaven, Kim’s mother, was a quiet schoolteacher. Her husband—Kim’s father, Jeff—had died two years before in a tragic automobile accident. If Sue had a fault, Kim didn’t know where she hid it. She’d been the perfect mother, and she was the one Kim hated to face the most.

Throwing herself down on the bed, she stared at the ceiling.

Show me what to do. Give me a sign. I can’t face Nanna or Grandmother or even Momma.

The phone rang.

She jumped and grabbed it from her nightstand. The phone call could be her sign!

“Hello, Nanna.” Did her voice sound different now that she was going to be a mother?

“How quick can you get up to my apartment?”

“Are you OK?” Kim asked.

“I’m fine, but hurry up…please,” Hannah said.

Kim shivered at the tone of her great-grandmother’s voice. Surely she hadn’t figured out Kim’s secret already.

“I’m on my way.” Kim removed her nightshirt with Tweety Bird on the front and slipped into a pair of khaki shorts, an orange T-shirt, and a pair of matching flip-flops, and then went straight to the elevator in the lobby.

When it stopped she knocked on Hannah’s penthouse door.

Hannah started talking the minute she swung the door open. “I just got word that my cousin in Emet, Oklahoma, died this morning and left me her farm. I’ve decided to go to out there and finish bringing in the summer crops.”

Kim stepped through the door and looked around the room. Everything looked the same as it had the night before when she kissed her great-grandmother on the cheek and left.

“Where in the devil is Emet? You never mentioned a cousin or any relatives living in Oklahoma, or any relatives of any kind, period.”

Hannah picked up the phone from an end table, but she didn’t hit any buttons.

“We’ll talk about that later. I need to call Sue and Karen. They don’t know it, but they are going too.”

“You want me to book flights for this afternoon?” Kim asked.

“I’m not flying. I’m riding and you’re driving.”

Kim wiggled her head. Surely she hadn’t heard her grandmother right. Oklahoma was a long way off and driving would take days. She couldn’t begin to fathom driving that many days, much less with a fidgety, nearly eighty-year-old woman in the car.

“How big is this town? And what kind of ranch is it?” Kim asked.

“Just over a hundred, and it’s a farm, not a ranch. Small orchard, big garden. Little fruit stand out by the road to sell the produce,” Hannah said.

“Dear Lord!” Kim shuddered.

“God is dear, I’m sure, but even God can’t keep me from going now that I’ve set my mind to it,” Hannah said.

Her tall, elegant great-grandmother on a farm in Oklahoma was a vision Kim couldn’t even drag up from the bottom of her imagination. Hannah Brewer, the queen of the Brewer Hotel, out in the middle of a garden? Hannah had never even been to the vineyards of the winery because she might break a perfectly manicured fingernail or a West Virginia breeze might ruffle her gray hair.

Hannah went on. “My mind is made up. Has been since John called this morning and told me Norma was dead. Didn’t expect her to leave me the farm, but I’m not surprised. Anyway, I’m going and you are coming with me. Computers scare the dickens out of me, and John says everything she did was kept on one. He can’t operate the stupid thing. You are good with them, so that is your new summer job.”