Set in a world where southern wealth and power comes from one source, The Family is ruled by one boss and it’s time for the newer generation to step into place. Abbi Glines is kicking off a sizzling new series this week, and I have the first chapter for you to give you a little taste.
This wasn’t my home. It never would be. Home wasn’t a place. Home was a person. If you were lucky, it was more than one person. Because of that, I’d never be able to go home again. My home had been my dad and my brother, Cole. Now, they were dead, and I was alive. I was homeless. Even though I had a roof over my head.
“Madeline, honey, breakfast is ready. No hurry though. I don’t have an appointment until nine thirty,” Melanie Houston called from the other side of the closed door.
I stood there, staring at my reflection in the mirror, wearing clothes that weren’t mine. Melanie had bought them for me. I would have never chosen these items for myself or any of the other items she had filled the massive walk-in closet with before my arrival yesterday. My mother’s best friend was someone I had never met until she walked into my former neighbor, Mrs. Miller’s, living room with tears in her eyes to take me “home.”
Melanie was nice. She had come to save me when I had nowhere else to go. Mrs. Miller barely made it on her monthly check from the government. Staying with her had been temporary. I had been planning on getting a third job in hopes I could afford a place to live. I was a legal adult. I wouldn’t stay with the Houstons that long. Just until I could save enough money to live on my own.
“I’ll be right there,” I replied and bit my tongue to keep from reminding her yet again that my name was Maddy.
My mother had named me Madeline, but I didn’t remember much about my mother. She had died from breast cancer before I turned three years old. My dad had always called me his “Maddy girl.” I’d never been called Madeline by anyone, except on the first day of school every year. I would correct my teachers when they called roll that first time. Had my mother called me Madeline? There was so much I didn’t know about her.
With one last look at the stranger in the mirror, I walked to the door and opened it, then headed down the hallway toward the wide, curving staircase. The chandelier that hung over the foyer appeared to sparkle as the sunlight came through the windows, hitting it directly. Everything was so clean and smelled fresh. That was the first thing I’d noticed when I walked in the large double doors yesterday afternoon.
There was no lingering hint of weed or stale beer in the air. The moldy smell that I’d grown accustomed to in our apartment was also absent. Would I ever get used to this? Did I want to? I didn’t miss that smell, and it made me feel guilty. I had hated the stench and complained about it often to my dad and brother. If I could have them back, I would never mention it again.
“There you are, and don’t you look beautiful.”
I turned to see Melanie beaming brightly up at me as I descended the stairs.
“I knew blue would be your color. It was your mother’s color too. Those eyes of yours are like looking at Etta. You do have her eyes.”
My dad had once told me I had my mother’s blue eyes. He said they were bluer than the sky and deeper than the sea. I had always wanted the hazel eyes my dad and Cole shared, simply because they looked so much alike. There wasn’t anything about me that looked like either of them.
“Mrs. Jolene made homemade waffles with her special strawberry glaze. You’ll love it. It’s Saxon’s favorite breakfast,” she told me and patted my arm. “Let’s go get you fed.”
I followed her toward the kitchen as she continued to talk about the different milk options and the juice selection. Breakfast wasn’t something I was used to unless it was cold Pop-Tarts and a glass of water before I hurried to catch the bus.
“Oh good,” she said as we entered the spacious white kitchen. “Saxon, you’re eating in the house this morning.”
Melanie moved to the side of the island, and when she did, the guy standing there studied me. I, in return, did the same to him. He was tall—at least six foot, if not more—with broad shoulders and dark brown hair that held the slightest bit of curl. His brown eyes were set off by his thick, dark lashes. They would almost seem feminine, if not for his chiseled jawline and the small scar on his left cheek. When the corner of his mouth lifted just barely enough to form a smile, I noticed the hint of dimples.
“Madeline, this is my son, Saxon,” she said before looking at him. “Saxon, dear, this is Madeline.” She turned back to me. “He gets up early to go out to the stables. Racehorses are what the Houston men eat, sleep, and breathe. You’ll find that it takes over every part of our lives here.”
Saxon kept his gaze locked on me as he finished the glass of milk in front of him. I had been too tired yesterday after our flight from Dallas, Texas, to Ocala, Florida, to stay up and meet the family for dinner. Instead, I’d taken a shower and gone to sleep.
Although Melanie had told me all about Saxon during our flight. He was her only child, my age. He had been the all-star high school quarterback his senior year and worked with his father, raising and training racehorses here on their five-hundred-acre ranch, even though he had been offered several football scholarships. Kenneth, Melanie’s husband, had been born into a racing family, and Moses Mile Farm had been in his family for over eighty years.
“You left out a few details,” he said to his mother, raising one eyebrow at her, then smirking. When his gaze swung back to me, he asked me, “You ever ride a horse?”
I shook my head.
“But you’re from Texas,” he stated the obvious while looking confused. As if being from Texas meant we all had our own horses and rode them around for transportation.
“And yet I’m not a cowgirl. Go figure,” I replied.
He laughed, and both dimples were out in full force. “I’ve got to get back out there before Dad realizes I snuck inside for a second breakfast. Jo didn’t make this out at the barn kitchen.” He nodded his head toward the back door. “The waffles are delicious, trust me,” he added. “When you’re done, you can head out to the stables. I’ll show you around.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about horses or going out to the stables, but what else was I supposed to do with my day? I simply nodded, and he turned and exited out the door in the far-right corner of the kitchen.
“He grew up on horses. He forgets that there is a life outside racehorses,” she said as she walked over to the kitchen cabinet and began getting me a plate. “We aren’t formal around here for breakfast. Mrs. Jolene, who Saxon has been calling Jo since he could talk, cooks breakfast for the ranch hands early every morning and then comes in to make sure we have a hot breakfast before returning to clean up the workers’ breakfast. Kenneth always eats with the hands. Saxon eats in here the days he has classes, but he’s not taking any classes this summer semester. Which reminds me, we need to talk about college. If you want to attend locally, we need to get you registered for the fall term. Anyway, Mrs. Jolene will always have food to eat in the house. You just come in and make yourself at home.” She paused. “I want you to feel at home here. I truly do.”
“Thank you,” I replied, although I didn’t see that ever happening, but Melanie was trying her best to make it so.
“After breakfast, go on out to the stables and find Saxon. He can give you a tour and then show you some things you can do every day to help out. We all have some chores, and I think that’ll help you feel like a part of the family.”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Working out at the stables would be better than anything you could do inside the house. Besides, I am willing to bet you’re gonna fall in love with horses. Your mama sure loved them. I imagine it’s in your blood.”
My mother had loved horses? How had I never known this?
Melanie had told me how she had grown up with my mother. They’d been best friends all their lives. Dad had never told me we had lived in Ocala, Florida. He never mentioned Melanie or where my mother was from. Whenever I asked him about grandparents, he would tell me they were all dead. I had assumed there was no other family or friends.
“I didn’t know my mother loved horses.”
Melanie’s smile faded, and she looked away. “Well, I can imagine your father wouldn’t have wanted to talk about that much,” she replied, then began talking about the fresh juice options, as if she hadn’t mentioned my mom or dad at all.
When Melanie had arrived to pick me up, she’d been dressed as if she had walked out of a magazine and into the wrong reality. Mrs. Miller frowned at her, as if she’d spoken another language, and asked if she was confused. I had thought the same thing. I couldn’t envision someone in my family knowing anyone who looked like Melanie. My dad hadn’t even been able to show me a picture of my mother, so all I had were the small things he would mention on occasion. I learned not to ask him about her though. Dad wasn’t mean to me, but he had a temper. Talking about my mother always sent him into a drinking spell. I had done everything I could to keep him happy.
“Maddy girl, where is the fucking milk? I told you to get milk when you went to the grocery,” Dad yelled from the kitchen.
I glanced over at Cole nervously, hoping he would speak up and say something. It was his fault we didn’t have milk. I’d barely had enough money left after he took most of it from me before school this morning. Cole shrugged as he stayed silent, watching a basketball game on the television.
“Did you use it all?” I whispered.
Cole glanced over at me. “I had to, Maddy. I owed Rev,” he replied, as if it were my fault he’d gotten hooked up with a dealer.
“What am I supposed to tell Dad?” I asked.
Cole shrugged again. “Just tell him you didn’t have enough. I don’t care what you say.”
“He asked me—” I stopped talking the moment Dad’s large form filled the doorway.
His angry scowl went from me to Cole. If he knew about Cole selling party favors for Rev at school, he’d beat him.
“You want to say that a little louder, Maddy girl?” he asked me, not taking his eyes off Cole.
“I was telling Cole I had forgotten to get the milk and asked if he had money I could borrow,” I lied.
Dad didn’t seem convinced as he took a long drink from a can of Natural Light. Dad always had money for that. “What’d you spend all that money on then? There’s barely shit in that fridge.”
He had left me a hundred dollars. That was all he left me every two weeks, and I was supposed to buy the groceries with that. Most of the time, I would babysit the Johnson kids three doors down at night to help buy us more food. But lately, Cole had been finding my hiding spots and stealing my money. Instead of selling cocaine, I knew he’d started snorting it. He said he wasn’t, but I could tell when he was high. It was becoming more and more frequent.
“Eggs have gone up in price, and so has fruit,” I explained, which wasn’t a lie.
“Don’t need the fucking fruit. We ain’t damn uppity folks. Use that money for some damn milk and them chips I like. Stop trying to make us healthy,” he said with a growl, then went over to flop down in his faded green recliner.
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
Apples were the only thing I ever bought for me. They might not care about eating healthy, but I did.
“Make us some grilled cheeses tonight, why don’tcha, Maddy girl?” Dad told me.
“Okay,” I agreed, thankful he hadn’t lost his temper over the milk.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister? Huh, boy?” Dad asked Cole.
I hated it when he did that. It only upset Cole, and that led to him getting high.