THE BASTARD HEIR
I’m the heir to a secret family fortune, facing down brothers I hate, and trying to get back the one that got away…
Eight years ago, she broke me.
Her secrets drove a wedge between me and my brother that can never be fixed.
Now, with my life in shambles, I’m forced by the ludicrous demands of my dead father to face the one woman I ever loved, and the brother I can not stand.
I need the money. But a year is a long sentence to serve in a house with people I hate, and in a town that hates me.
A year is a long time to dodge Harlow Jackson and the eyes and smile that made me fall harder than I’ve ever fallen before.
But it only takes days to show me that what happened eight years ago was a mistake. Now I need every last second of the year ahead to convince her to take a second chance on us.
Even though the demise of our relationship had brutalized my heart—my own doing, given how I’d handled things—seeing her today just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t over her. Eight years, and I still wanted her.
The Bastard Heir, Winter Harbor #1
I was staring at Callum Winters.
The only man I’d dared to love. The only man who had ever broken my heart.
The Bastard Heir, Winter Harbor #1
“Are you fucking serious right now?”
I couldn’t believe those words came out of my mouth.
No, scratch that.
I couldn’t believe I spoke like that to my boss. The one in charge of my pending career advancement. The one I’d been quietly convincing to make me partner.
Dalton’s lips thinned. “Harlow, I know your caseload is already bursting. But trust me when I say—this will put you ahead.”
I rolled my lips inward to prevent any unsavory outbursts that might ruin my standing on the spot. Spring sunlight filtered through the wooden slats covering his western-facing window overlooking the port. Here in Winter Harbor, damn near every day was picturesque. But the silently bobbing boats and the clear blue sky did nothing to quiet the storm inside me.
Dalton had a fair point. This case would give me the leverage I needed to prove to him and the other name partner, Troy, that I could hack it with my last name on the leaderboard. They were Quick & Fairchild right now, but if I joined the ranks of their Oregon-famous estate law firm, it would turn into Quick, Fairchild & Jackson. Elegant. And something I’d been working for since day one of my legal career.
I just couldn’t take on this case.
And I couldn’t tell Dalton why.
“I hear you,” I said slowly, almost robotically, as I stared out the window, trying to find solace in the lapping of the water against the docks. “I just wonder if I could prove my chops elsewhere, and we could assign the Winters case to Stephanie or … or Ian.”
Just saying the name of the client—Winters—sent a chill down my spine. I hadn’t thought of the Winters family since my senior year of college. No, that was a lie. I thought of a certain Winters man practically every day since my senior year of college when he dumped me and left me in one of the biggest, most assholish fashion the world has ever seen.
But I’d never let him know that he’d ever graced my mind after that horrible day. And I would certainly never agree to take a case that put me in direct contact with him—or his brother—again nearly eight years after his inglorious exit from my life.
“I’m offering this to you because I want to see you succeed.” Dalton barely concealed his sigh. “Because I think you’re ready. Unless you want Ian to become partner instead of you.”
And there it was—the audible snapping of the last straw. I couldn’t dodge this. The Winters case had been managed for almost a year by a former partner who’d disappeared suddenly last week in a puff of scandal and gambling debt. I aimed to replace him, but apparently, it meant taking on the one case I would rather amputate a leg to avoid. The case I’d only found out about accidentally an hour ago when Dalton’s secretary sent me a forwarded email from Callum Winters himself, confirming with the legal group when we’d be meeting him today.
“I was planning to take it myself—which is why you’re just hearing about this at the eleventh hour—but I just took over the Ludgate estate, and that is going to take up all of my time.” He heaved a big, weary sigh.
The Ludgate estate was a disaster. I did not envy my boss.
“I don’t know, Dalton …” For a lawyer, my argument was weak sauce. We both knew it.
“You can do this. I have complete faith in you, Harlow.” Dalton placed a fatherly hand on my shoulder, his expression sympathetic, but I could also see that he was running out of patience with my resistance to this career-changing case.
I gnawed on the inside of my lip as I relegated myself to the facts. Dalton was giving me the case. The Winters brothers—all three of them, but two in particular who were noteworthy parts of my personal history—were about to be within three feet of me. And I’d be partner soon, so this would all be worth it. Probably.
Even if running into Callum Winters sent me to an early grave with no updated will in place.
I’m an estate attorney. I should know better.
“You’re right,” I said, propping my hands on my hips. “The case is mine. There’s no problem at all. And I’ll show you that you made the right choice.”
Because if there was one thing worse than facing Callum Winters again, it was losing the promotion to name partner at the firm of my dreams.
Dalton only looked minorly convinced as I sent him a tight smile and marched back to my own office. My heels clicked on the expensive sandalwood flooring, age-old anger burbling back to life inside me.
How could it be that I was thirty years old and still not over the fact that Callum Winters was a dick to me eight years ago?
I’d graduated from college. Passed the bar in Oregon. Joined one of the most respected practices in the entire state. Branched off into estate law, which was my passion, even though it went against the grain of what my entire family of lawyers practiced. I owned a townhome just off the gorgeous main boulevard and spent my days proving my worth in the legal field. Add in the fact that I was now gloriously cancer-free and had been for two and half years, and life was what most normal people would call awesome.
So why was my entire body getting hot and prickly just thinking about seeing freaking Callum Winters again?
According to the email chain, Callum and Co had been corresponding with Dalton’s secretary for the past week about what to do regarding their recently deceased father’s will. They were coming to Winter Harbor—their father’s hometown … and mine—to wrap up his affairs. Which meant that they were very likely down the street from me, and I was supposed to act like everything was okay.
“Hey, Bets?” I paused at my secretary’s desk—well, my shared secretary with Ian, but I knew she secretly preferred me. “I need the Winters family file, ASAP, with a cherry on top.”
Betsy smiled as she clicked through screens on her computer. “You got it, Harlow. Anything else?”
“A martini, maybe,” I collapsed into the chair facing her desk. She was a lifeline of the practice, and probably very underpaid. Once I became partner and made her into my main secretary, though, I planned to change that. “Possibly a massage after that.”
She snickered as the printer kicked to life. “That’s all doable.”
“You’re the best, Bets. I’ll need you to send me your good juju for this meeting.” I checked my phone for the time. Half-past eleven. The Winters brothers would be facing me in less than an hour. That was plenty of time to get up to speed on their case … but not nearly enough time to fortify my heart for seeing my first—and only—love again.
Or his younger brother, the man who’d come between us.
“Good juju: sent,” Bets replied as she collected the pages slipping out of the printer. “Though I thought you had plenty to spare.”
I smoothed the front of my pressed black pants. Betsy had no idea about how much juju I needed if I was going to be facing down Callum and Carson Winters again. Hell, even I didn’t know how much juju I needed. I was just sure that it wouldn’t be enough.
“It’s always smart to get a little extra.” I took the print-outs from her.
“Especially if you’re dealing with the Winters family.” Betsy lobbed a sigh that held weariness. As though she had some experience with them.
“I haven’t dealt with them, actually.” Better to not admit my previous romantic attachment to someone who was suddenly my client. If there was one thing I would not give Callum Winters, it was the satisfaction of knowing he’d stood in the way of my promotion. “Have you?”
Betsy leveled me with her warm brown gaze, wisps of gray hair escaping her low ponytail. “The whole town has experience with the Winters. Not the kids, of course. Nobody knows about them since they’ve never come around.” She waved her hand dismissively. “But the man whose estate you’re handling now? Everyone above fifty-five in this town knows about Elliot and Camille.”
She was right. My parents had murmured vaguely about the sad Winters story plenty of times during my youth, but I never paid much attention. It had always seemed like something antiquated and irrelevant. But I’d never thought that Callum Winters could be related to Winter Harbor.
The mention of Callum’s mother made my stomach jolt. He’d always spoken about her with such fondness. It was strange to think that Callum’s father and I shared a hometown, but that Callum had likely never even been here before.
“Ancient history, right?”
Betsy didn’t laugh or even smile. Instead, she reached for my wrist. “Let me just say, you need the juju. That family is bad news.”
I almost laughed because I knew what level of bad news Callum truly was … and his brother Carson, for that matter. But I didn’t know why the rest of his family was bad news. Or why that meant I should care.
“Things will be fine,” I told her, more to reassure myself than her. “This is a simple inheritance case and then, boom. All done. Easy as cake.”
“As pie,” Betsy corrected me.
“That’s what I meant. It’s easy like baking in general.” Even though, for my kitchen-impaired self, baking was an intolerable chore.
“Mm-hmm.” Betsy’s little smirk told me exactly what she thought of that. “You were too young to know Elliot Winters. He fled town before you were even born. But if those sons of his are even one-eighth as shady as he was … well …” Betsy glanced over my shoulder and down the hall, probably checking to see if Dalton or Troy, the other partner, was coming. “You need to check and double-check every single thing they tell you.”
I swallowed a knot in my throat and forced a smile. Bets had no idea how right she was. And unfortunately, I’d already learned this lesson.
Because Callum wasn’t just my first love.
His younger brother, Carson, was my ex.
I excused myself to get my things, drawing deep, fortifying breaths. I needed to get to the abandoned Hope Creek Manor where I’d be meeting the Winters brothers, and I needed to get there early so that I could get my bearings and prepare myself.
Even still, having a plan didn’t keep my knees from feeling like mush as I packed my briefcase and headed out the door. Eight years had passed. Who knew where they were in their lives? Hopefully happily married and moved on. Where I should be, too. Where I would be, I supposed, if it weren’t for Callum.
A sharp ache registered in my chest, and I took a deep breath of the crisp April air to distract myself. No need to get lost in the swirl of ancient heartbreak and oh woe is me, my squandered soul mate. No, I’d been down that road too many times—especially when drunk. I loved to torment myself with the ridiculous notion that Callum was the one for me. The one who’d ruined it all. The one who I might have a second chance with if only the stars aligned.
Well, now that the stars were aligning, they looked more like a comet heading for disaster. This churning in my gut—this couldn’t be the marker of a soul mate. This could only signal a bad idea or food poisoning.
Harlow, get yourself together.
The salty sea breeze calmed me as I headed for my black two-door coupe at the front of the office on Main Street. Winter Harbor was a quaint and cozy town with plenty of locally-owned restaurants and a bustling port. It was not only my hometown but also my sanctuary. And as I navigated the back roads to the impressive plantation-style home, I vowed to not let this heartbreak blast from the past disrupt my peace and tranquility.
I had fought long and hard for this little slice of success. I wasn’t going to let the ghost of my love affair with Callum Winters haunt me forever.
I squeezed the steering wheel the whole way, up until I sat in front of the impressive mansion. However decrepit it had become over the years, it was still a sight to behold. Overgrown bushes clogged the wooden steps to the wraparound porch, and huge oak trees crowded the expansive front yard. But the late 19th-century Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion was a gem, even with the cracking white paint and the echoes of the broken family that used to inhabit this space. The family that had started Winter Harbor.
The grandsons of which were scheduled to arrive any minute now.
Inside my car, parked in the big cul-de-sac driveway in front of the house, I drew a deep breath.
Because seeing him again after eight years wasn’t bad enough. No, now I had to confront the distinct possibility that he and his brothers might become the newest residents of Winter Harbor. It was a good thing my parents were taking an extended vacation in Europe because, as lawyers themselves, they always loved to talk shop with me, especially when they were six thousand miles away from their own caseloads. And they would have plenty of questions about my newest case being tied to the only man responsible for breaking my heart. For now, I didn’t have to tell them that my ex was back in our hometown requiring my legal services.
So maybe this whole situation was just reinforcing the truth that my parents knew all along: it’s best to stay in the family business. I had to be the rebel who branched out into estate law, even though I had a cozy spot waiting for me at my mom and dad’s intellectual property and contract firm. Their Winter Harbor practice had taken off so much that my brother had opened a Portland office. That could have been me. But no. I insisted on this career whose sole outcome was to lead me back to my ex.
But I just loved estate law. During my second year of law school, I was allowed to sit in on a case between three siblings, fighting over their inheritance. It got so ugly that it went to court. The entire ordeal grew so surreal that it seemed something more suited for a season of Melrose Place than real life. But that just played into my love of dramatic soap operas—thanks to summers spent being babysat by my grandmother when I was a kid. So after that trial, I was hooked and determined to go into estate law.
Gravel crunched on the driveway, jerking me out of my thoughts. Panic started a hot, insidious trail through my limbs. Truth was, I could tell myself I was ready for this moment as much as I wanted, but I’d never truly be ready to face down Callum again.
Through my rearview mirror, I watched as a broad-shouldered man exited a car. I didn’t need to watch for long to know who it was. The way he raked his fingers through longish, dark brown hair stirred memories in me I thought I’d laid to rest. Ice-blue eyes. Square shoulders that had only grown wider, more filled out, in the eight years since I’d seen him last.
I was staring at Callum Winters.
The only man I’d dared to love.
The only man who had ever broken my heart.
And right beside him? Another tall, dark, and handsome man with equally piercing blue eyes. And that’s when the truth hit me like a sucker punch.
My education didn’t matter.
My legal career meant nothing.
My grit and grandeur in the courtroom?
Because nothing could have truly prepared me to take all the Winters brothers head-on.
Not when one of them hated me for dumping him …
And the other one hated me for having been with his brother.
(Available on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited)