Not for Sale - Chapter One
“Thanks for coming.” I’m given one sympathetic hug after another. Gentle pats on the back, soothing kisses on the cheek, loving strokes through my hair.
“She was such a delight.” I try not to blow a snot bubble on Glynnis, Gran’s best friend, as I laugh at her expression of compassion. “You’re right, dear. She was a nasty bitch. But I’m still going to miss her.” Her eyes fill with tears. “I’ve known Iris for over sixty years. When your mom and my son were babies and the men were off sittin’ on wells, we’d have sleepovers as if we were little girls. We’d stay up all night gossiping and sipping sherry right here on this couch.” She pats the faded floral print arm of the once over-stuffed piece of furniture and gets blurry-eyed. It’s a story I’ve heard a million times before and it saddens me how it might be the last time one of Gran’s friends tells me something about her.
At ninety-five, she had outlived most of her friends. Memories of her now rest in the hands of me and my cousin, Kelsey. It’s up to us to celebrate her legacy, as crazy as it was.
“The neighbourhood will be quiet without her.” One of Gran’s neighbours steps into the conversation and wraps an arm around my shoulder, dropping a kiss on my cheek. I laugh even as my vision wavers with the fresh layer of tears. “Who’s going to yell at the construction workers to pick up their cigarette butts and to ‘mind their manners for parking their asses on her fucking lawn!’?” The three of us laugh and reach for our tissues at the same time to dab the tears away.
Gran’s mission these had been to make the construction workers on her street miserable. Living in an up-and-coming inner-city neighbourhood, there was no shortage of fights to pick. She’d tell me about the developers who’d knock on her door, asking if she’d like to sell her house for full-market value even though they planned on knocking it down. Convinced they were in cahoots with the funeral homes who kept leaving flyers in her mailbox, Gran refused time and again, telling them when she goes the house will be passed on to me. She made me promise that when she died, I wouldn’t sell out.
Asher approaches and loops his arm through mine, letting me drop my head on his shoulder while I scan Gran’s house, looking at all the knickknacks littering the hutches and tables. Picture frames cover almost every inch of wall space and I know drawers are full of oddities and junk. Just like Gran wanted, all of her belongs to me. I get to pass on her legacy. I get to create my version of a perfect life on the very spot where she did it. I get to honour my promise to her and make sure this house stays in the family.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s someone who wants to pay his respects.”
Kelsey’s arm is looped through that of a man she presents to me like a gift on a silver platter. She stares at me with wide eyes that roll up and to the right indicating I should look that way, as if I could have missed the tall man dressed in dark jeans and black t-shirt who’s as broad as a door frame and wears two full-sleeve tattoos like they complete his outfit.
I pull myself from Asher’s warmth. I don’t know this man. He wasn’t at the funeral, at least not dressed like that. I would have noticed, and Gran would have risen from the dead to smack him for not dressing appropriately for her occasion. That’s not the only reason I would have noticed him. At well over six feet tall, he towers over the nonagenarian audience here, as well as those of us who still stand at full height.
“And she blamed me for the syphilis outbreak!” Glynnis blurts out. My hands fly to my face to cover the inappropriate smile that I can’t contain.
“Come, Glynnis. Let’s get you another glass of punch.” Gran’s neighbour spins her by the shoulders and leads her away, lips pinched between her teeth to stop the laughter.
Mr. Tall Broad and Imposing doesn’t crack a smile, apparently not one for joking at a funeral reception. For some crazy reason, that level of respect makes my insides tremble. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure it was my ovaries exploding.
“Sorry about that,” I say, hoping the blush in my cheeks isn’t too fierce.
“I’ve met Iris,” he says, implying that nothing her friends say could be shocking. His voice is deep and smooth and so is his stride as he takes a step forward with his hand outstretched to take mine. “I’m Owen McLeod.” I place my hand in his and he clasps over it with his other hand, enfolding my small hand in his considerable grip. “I’m very sorry for your loss.” He holds on for the few seconds that it takes for my eyes to make it up the length of his decorated arms to his eyes.
“Thanks,” I say, cocking my head to the side, wondering how this very large and magnificent Owen knew my little old granny. I pull my hand from his before my palm starts to sweat at the sound of his voice drifting over my skin. “What was your connection to Iris?”
He moves towards crossing his arms over his chest like the mention of her name makes him defensive, then changes course and slides his hands into his pockets instead.
“Community meetings. I kept my eye out for Iris.” It doesn’t seem like he’s going to elaborate on that. I’m not sure if he’s uncomfortable talking about Gran, talking to strangers, or just talking.
It’s good that she had a handler who looks like he runs an MC club because Gran was hell on wheels at those meetings. She’d take any side of an issue as long as there was a good argument to be had, and there were lots of issues according to her. With all the new-home development happening in the neighbourhood, she was a stalwart for anyone who wanted to save their 1950s-era home from the wrecking ball. She would fight every plan put forth for community approval no matter how ridiculous her claim was. Gran told me about the complaint she filed against a two-story house going up seven doors down from hers because it would block the sunlight from reaching her backyard. She argued that the new houses were too big for proper landscaping and she didn’t want to live in a concrete jungle. She griped that if another house went up with a three-car garage, it would be like living on a freeway.
Judging a book by its cover, I assume Owen lives in one of the houses that Gran tried so hard to keep from being built. I have to hand it to him, it’s very nice that he would still look out for her at the meetings and pay his respects to someone who didn’t want his kind driving the market on modern homes.
I’m surprised Gran didn’t mention Owen to me, or better, set me up with him. She handed over phone numbers from her friends on a weekly basis—grandkids, great nephews, second cousins twice removed. If he was single and had a phone, Gran was on it. Why would she keep Owen from me when he kept an eye out for her?
“I won’t keep you from your guests. Again, sorry for your loss.” The deep bass of his voice makes every cell in my body vibrate as if he already knows my frequency.
“I’ll walk you out,” Asher offers.
He throws Kelsey and me a nod then turns to leave, confirming my appraisal of him as the strong, silent type. As quickly as he appeared, he disappears, leaving nothing behind but his aura, taunting me with its presence.
For the first time since she escorted him over, I notice Kelsey still standing there. “Holy shit!” she whisper shouts. “How far down the street does he live and can I trade the house for the bank account?”
I shake my head at her in slow-motion with my eyes on the back of the man who gave me quite possibly the nicest housewarming gift ever—the sight of his ass in those Carhartts.
“Uh-uh. Gran said no fighting over the will. I’m taking the house and the neighbour.”