Sam walked into the hotel in a rush. Her trainers squeaked on the pristine marble floor. She’d been delayed for the reading of her late grandmother’s will. The hotel was one of the better ones in the city, with its large, open lobby, gleaming walls, and colorful furniture. She winced at her jeans and T-shirt. After traveling for almost twenty-four hours, all she wanted to do was find a bed and crash. Unfortunately, that was the last thing she’d be able to do since the lawyer was waiting on her before he could get started. Carajo!
A couple moved toward the elevators. It was the daughter of one of her grandmother’s old friends. She waved but didn’t have time to stop and chat.
At the front desk she asked for the location to the meeting room. The desk clerk pointed her in the direction of the elevators, where she entered the cab and hit the button for the third floor. Jonas Carson had made things easy for everyone and had arranged the meeting at the hotel where most of the out-of-town family was staying. Hauling her luggage behind her, she headed for the door she’d been instructed to.
Frustrated with the long, dark tendrils escaping her plait, she brushed the hair behind her ear and focused on the task at hand. Her gut clenched with waves of anxiety. She wanted to turn the other way, but her Grandma Ginny hadn’t raised a sissy. With her shoulders squared, she turned the handle and stepped into the conference room.
Conversation stopped as all eyes turned to glare at her. She lifted a haughty brow in response. A tall, lanky, older man in a suit stood and smiled at her. Ah, yes. The lawyer. He was probably the only person who didn’t actually want to send her right back to the disease-ridden jungles of Brazil.
“Ms. Suarez.” He offered a wrinkly hand for a shake. “I’m Jonas Carson. Please have a seat. I know you’ve had a really long day, but if you could just bear with us for a moment, we’ll make this quick.”
“Thank you, Mr. Carson.”
“Oh, no. Jonas, please. Ginny was a good friend and spoke highly of you. I feel like I’ve known you for the longest.” After he patted her hand, he pointed her toward a group of chairs away from the relatives from hell.
“Finally. I still don’t know why we had to wait on her,” an older woman complained and fanned herself with a dainty, frilly piece of silk.
Why, it was dear old Aunt Maggie Danitelli. The woman was the ultimate sourpuss and had a face to match. Sam was struck by the urge to stick her tongue out at the miserable old biddy, but she held back. She wasn’t trying to start trouble, and she wasn’t five years old anymore. All she wanted was for the will to be read. Then a nice, long, two-day nap sounded perfect.
Noise broke out, and complaints started to rise for her having made them wait for so long. Not that she would argue with any of them. She’d been in the jungle, had traveled by every mode of transportation known to man, and was ready to chew on bark from starvation. Dios mio. Did any of those people actually think she cared what they thought? She rolled her eyes at their narcissistic behavior.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Jonas spoke over the loud complaints. “If you’ll just give me a second I’m going to pull out the past three versions of Mrs. Suarez’s will and a video will she made. She wanted to ensure no one would fight her final wishes.”
Her ass hurt so badly all she wanted was a massage. She used a small table that stood next to her chair as an armrest. Jonas passed copies of the will to all the people in the room.
When he reached her, Jonas handed her a paper bag and gave her a conspiratorial wink. She lifted her brows and opened the bag. Oh, yes. Jonas was in the lead to be her new best friend. Inside the bag was a chicken salad sandwich, a bottle of water, and something else. Was that…? Oh god it was! A chocolate chip cookie. She almost cried from happiness. She’d died and gone to food heaven. She pulled the food out of the bag and ate while everyone was reading the details of the will.
“As you can see from Mrs. Suarez’s will, it’s really all very simple…” Jonas’s voice, along with all other conversation, shut off the minute Sam started to eat.
When she glanced up mid-bite, everyone had even more hatefulness to their wrinkled older faces than usual.
“How the hell does this…this…?” Her Aunt Cecilia appeared ready to burst a blood vessel. “This girl, end up with what’s rightfully ours? How?” Cecilia was fuming. Red blotches covered her rounded cheeks. Her shriek reverberated through the large conference room.
Huh? Sam glanced around. What did she miss? She scanned the livid faces, each one was worse than the last. If looks could kill…she’d be stabbed, beheaded, hung, shot, and probably thrown out a window. Yeah, she’d definitely missed something during her food-gasm.
Jones raised his voice. “Mrs. Suarez’s will is very clear. All three versions of them name Ms. Samira Suarez the inheritor to the bulk of her estate. She did leave each of you one million dollars in individual accounts. If Samira Suarez dies within 30 days of Mrs. Suarez, each of Mrs. Suarez’s female children, Cecilia, Maggie, and Luisa would get a lump sum of twenty million dollars. Her son, Juan Sr. is in the will but has been disinherited. According to Mrs. Suarez’s will, he has his own inheritance from his father’s side. Mrs. Suarez’s grandchildren, Antonio, Robert, Marco, and Lucas would get ten million each and the rest would go to her designated charities.”
“One million dollars!” Juan Junior jumped to his feet. Sam’s older cousin’s face was tomato-red and mottled. And that was saying something because his skin tone was a lot darker than Sam’s caramel-colored flesh. The button on his collar looked ready to burst along with the seam of his pants.
“That’s correct, Mr. Suarez.” Jonas sounded exhausted. The poor guy must have a hard time dealing with her horrid relatives on a regular basis.
“Mi abuela—my grandma—was a billionaire, and she left us a mil a piece, but the rest to Sam?” He slapped his hands on his waist. She thought he might pull the gun he carried out of his holster and shoot her. For the first time since she’d gotten there, a flicker of unease crawled up her spine. She stopped eating, drank some water, and focused on the group.
“Mr. Carson, are you sure?” her Aunt Luisa asked softly. Luisa seemed confused, but at least she wasn’t actively glaring at Sam. Instead, Luisa was pale and her lip trembled as she spoke. Luisa had always been the quiet one. She’d allowed her family to drag her into the mess of being mean to Sam, so Sam didn’t really hold things against the frail woman.
“Quite sure, Mrs. Tate. If any of you disputes the will, there’s a clause that automatically takes away your million dollars and gives rights for Ms. Samira Suarez to disallow anyone from using any of the properties under the Suarez Holdings.”
“This can’t be possible. Ginny had enough money to leave everyone at least ten million apiece and still have tons left over,” added Kurt, her Aunt Maggie’s husband. Kurt turned to Sam, his look so chilling it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
Sam sat there, frozen in place, watching them mull over the implications of fighting a losing battle. She, on the other hand, was just happy to be home, back to the place she’d always wanted to return to. After years of volunteering for her grandmother’s favorite charity, she had no real income to call her own.
As one group, the relatives stood to depart the room. More than a few sniffed and muttered under their breaths while others ignored her and marched out.
Juan Junior stopped in front of her on his way to the door with his wife Marcia. Junior’s large belly hung over his belt. His dark face was still crimson from anger and probably high blood pressure. For a man in his early forties she’d swear he was a heart attack waiting to happen. And with his white beard, he looked like a seething version of Saint Nick.
She lifted a brow and stood her ground. He always acted as if he were better than her and bullied her for most of her youth. Anger simmered in her blood.
“You got something you want to say to me, Junior?” Juan Junior was the biggest jerk in Black Meadows, but she wasn’t intimidated. She’d grown thick skin around her family and had learned to push back.
“This isn’t over, prima.” His hillbilly drawl went against his sad attempt at trying to look like a businessman.
“Oh, I think it is, primo.” She curled her hands into fists on her lap. “Ginny’s will, all three versions, have spoken. Enjoy your inheritance, and try not to waste it in one day.”
She winked. Juan Junior growled. He turned and tugged Marcia out of the meeting room.
She sat there, trying to calm the disappointment and anger being around the family filled her with. Her heart jumped in her chest when Jonas pulled a chair, yanking her out of her momentary break. He sat down in front of her, sighing as he lowered his body onto the wooden, padded chair.
“I can see you’re exhausted, so I want you to go home, rest, and if you have any questions, give me a call.” He patted the hand she’d laid over one of her knees. “Ginny was a great woman. She loved you and always mentioned how proud she was you’d grown up to be different than all her other children and grandchildren.”
She cleared her throat. It was hard to blink away the tears that gathered in her eyes every time she thought of her Grandmother Ginny. The last time she’d spoken to her, Ginny had been happy and excited that Sam was coming home soon. It was difficult to know she’d missed out on her dear grandma’s last moments. Pain and pressure squeezed at her heart. If only she’d known, she’d have returned sooner.
“Thanks, Jonas. I loved her…a lot.” Her voice wobbled. Ginny had been the only mother she’d ever known. She swallowed against the knot in her throat.
“I know, dear. She wanted you to have her house. And she made me promise to tell you that if you were to run into any trouble, you should call on your neighbor. I have his information around here somewhere. Give me a moment to get it for you—”
She cut him off with a negative shake of her head. “Leave it. I need some sleep, or I’m going to pass out on the floor.”
“I’ll come by and visit you in a few days. Bring any papers that are relevant for you to keep. You should consider finding a lawyer.”
She stood, her muscles screaming from exhaustion, grabbed her bags, and followed Jonas to the door. “If you were good enough for Grandma Ginny, you’re good enough for me.”
Once again she hauled her luggage while dragging her tired body out of the room.
Outside the hotel, she stopped a taxi and gave him her address. As soon as she got to the house, she dropped her bags in the living room and walked up to her bedroom. The room was still clean and tidy, just as she’d left it before her first trip five years ago. After four years in Somalia and one in Brazil, she was finally home. Ginny had been happy to endorse the charity and support Sam’s commitment to volunteering. When she’d told her grandmother she was going to teach children in the jungle how to read, Ginny had doubled the donations for that program.
She stripped off her travel clothes and opted for a shower. The next day would be soon enough to decide what the information Jonas had given her meant. When the warm spray kissed her skin, she closed her eyes and sighed. Her thoughts drifted back to the last thing she’d done in Brazil. She’d been witness to a wedding. A man and a woman over a decade younger than Sam’s twenty-seven years were joined in marriage. The couple had been so happy, and exchanges of animals and other gifts had taken place.
At that moment, she focused on the fact that she’d been alone for a really long time. Her last relationship had been years back when she’d dated another teaching volunteer in Somalia. He decided to cut his time there, and they knew their casual relationship was over. She had stayed, and he never asked her to go with him.
Sadness and longing enveloped her, making her almost shiver with the intensity of emotions. She donned her short-and-tank-top pajamas and threw herself onto the bed. She missed her grandmother, and her family hated her because her mother had been the black sheep. Since she had no romantic ties, she was well and truly alone. After seeing so many children and helping care for them, she realized she wanted a family of her own. What was she doing?
She sighed and pushed away the depression. This was not the time for a pity party. She hadn’t met any men in the jungles of Brazil, but she was back in civilization now. The town of Black Meadows wasn’t very big. Still, she could always call on her best friend to help her meet some people. Yes, it would work. All she had to do was try and get out there, socialize, and something might flourish. But first, she needed to polish her social skills, and Natalia would help her.
As if summoned by her thoughts, her cell phone rang, and a photo of Natalia’s smiling face filled the screen. She placed the phone to her ear and opened a window to allow the air to circulate. While it didn’t smell bad, there was staleness inside the bedroom she needed to get rid of.
“Hey, Nat.” Exhaustion pulled at her, but if she ignored her best friend she’d never hear the end of it.
“Sam, I’m so sorry I couldn’t get you at the airport. I was stuck in a meeting out of town, but I’ll come see you as soon as I get back the day after tomorrow.” Natalia’s soft voice was clear across the line.
Sam sighed. “It’s all right. I’m about to get some sleep. I’ve been traveling for twenty-four hours, and I’m exhausted.”
“I’m sorry, chica. Give me a call as soon as you wake up. There are things I need to fill you in on. You’ve missed out on a lot while you were gone. Have you seen your neighbor yet?” Nat’s voice sounded excited.
Sam yawned. Now that she’d taken a shower she felt ready to drop. “No. I just got back from seeing the lawyer and was about to fall into bed when you called.”
“Call me after you speak to him!” Nat’s enthusiasm traveled through the line. “Anyway, get some rest. I’ll talk to you later. I’m glad you’re back safe, Sam. Te extrañe. I missed you a lot. Video conferencing once a month is not the same as having you here.”
“I know. I’m glad I’m back. I’ll call you later.” She shut off the phone and fell into an exhausted and blissful sleep.