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.