Fiction by L.K. Campbell

Inheriting Evergreen

Autumn at Watauga Lake seemed abuzz with activity. Fishermen and tourists who came to view the fall foliage enjoyed the peaceful waters and mountain backdrop. Kristy wasn’t unfamiliar with the area. She'd been there recently to deliver a wedding cake to a lakefront lodge that was frequently rented out for such occasions. Several marinas dotted the one hundred five-mile shoreline. She hadn’t heard of Stone’s Marina, but the directions seemed easy enough to follow. She saw a few cars and a Dodge Ram pickup parked outside the marina office, and she hoped that one of the vehicles belonged to Drew Stone.

The word cozy came to mind when she walked into the office. Framed photographs of boats of various types and sizes hung on the white brick wall to her right. A taxidermied rainbow trout hung on the paneled wall behind the reception desk where an older woman sat. She looked at Kristy over the top of her dark-rimmed reading glasses.

“May I help you?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you,” Kristy said. “I called this morning and was hoping I could see Mr. Stone.”

“He’s here, but he’s out on the dock with a customer right now. He shouldn’t be long if you want to wait.”

“Thank you. I will. It’s important,” Kristy said.

“Help yourself to coffee,” the receptionist said while pointing to a table near the picture window that looked out onto the lake.

She’d probably had enough caffeine for the day but one more cup wouldn’t hurt. Before she could pour it, the view from the window captured her attention. A shimmer of sunlight played across the water. Small ripples sparkled like diamonds. The sound of a boat motor drew her eyes to the dock where two men stood. One, dressed in khaki pants and a green knit shirt, leaned against a piling with his arms crossed over his chest. He had a handsome profile and was probably in his early forties. The other, a younger man dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, listened attentively to what the older man was saying.

The older man stood up straight and shook hands with the younger man. He turned toward the office and started up the dock. He skimmed a hand through his thick hair and checked his watch. He looked up as if he noticed her standing at the window, their eyes met for a moment. His eyes are kind, she thought. But old, as if he’d been through tough times in his life. She moved away from the window and sat down in the chair across from the receptionist’s desk.

“Are you here to rent a boat?” the receptionist asked.

Kristy chuckled. “Goodness, no, I wouldn’t know how to pilot one.”

She jumped when she heard the back door open.

“Drew,” the receptionist called to him. “There’s someone here to see you.”

He strode around the corner and reached out his hand to her. “Drew Stone,” he said. “How can help you?”

His voice carried a ring of familiarity. She knew she’d heard it before but couldn’t place it. If she had ever met Drew Stone, she wouldn’t have forgotten him. She took a deep breath before reaching for the hand he offered. His firm grip and warm smile suggested that he was a well-practiced salesman.

“I’m Kristy Miller,” she said. “I have something important to discuss with you, and I’d like to speak with you in private if I may.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Oh? And this is concerning…?”

“Your sons, Matthew and Tyler.”

A look of dread creased his handsome features. His jaw muscle tightened and twitched. “Are they in some kind of trouble at school?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s not that at all. I don’t even know your sons. This concerns an inheritance they’ve received.”

His jaw relaxed, but he shook his head. “I’m not sure I understand but please step into my office.”

She followed him through the door behind the reception area. His small office was paneled in the same dark wood as the reception area. An antique, roll-top desk took up most of the space. Photographs of two boys sat on the ledge at the top of the desk. She could see the resemblance of both children to their father. More photos of boats adorned the walls. He motioned for her to take a seat on a small sofa and sat down next to her. His knit shirt clung to his chest muscles accentuating his athletic build.

“Now, enlighten me about this inheritance,” he said.

Kristy opened her purse and took out the folded papers.

“My aunt, Leslie Miller, passed away recently,” she began. “As it turns out, she was a wealthy woman, and she named your two sons in her Will.”

He rubbed his chin and squinted. “I don’t believe I know anyone by that name.”

“Does the name L.M. Sullivan ring a bell?” she asked.

“Not that I can recall,” he said while shaking his head.

While her aunt’s books had sold millions of copies, apparently they weren’t popular with middle-aged men.

“What did she leave the boys?” he asked.

Kristy drew in a deep breath and looked into his eyes. They were as blue as the mountains that stood vigil over the lake.

“She left Matthew and Tyler five hundred thousand dollars each to be held in trust for them until their twenty-first birthdays. She named you as the trustee.”

His jaw dropped, and he stood up. He crossed the room and leaned against the desk.

“Are you…are you sure you have the right children?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. Stone. She included your address in the Will.”

He blew out a whistle between pursed lips. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “Why would a stranger leave that kind of money to Matthew and Tyler?”

She stared down at her hands. “Believe me. I’ve been wondering the same thing. But it wasn’t unusual for my aunt to do things that some people might consider odd.”

The old desk squeaked as his shifted position and massaged his forehead.

“As much as I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth,” he said. “I’m not sure I like the idea of my sons receiving an inheritance that large from someone that I don’t know from Adam’s housecat.”

She stood and approached him. “Are you absolutely sure that you never met my Aunt Leslie?”

He turned toward the laptop computer on his desk and typed her aunt’s name in a search field. He studied the list that popped up on the screen.

“I’ve never done business with anyone by the name,” he said.

“What about the children’s mother?” she asked. “Might she know Aunt Leslie?”

He stiffened, and a shadow passed over his face like a cloud covering the sun.

“I doubt it,” he said.

“Could we ask her?”

His expression hardened. “That’s not possible,” he said.

His demeanor told her to drop it.

“Alright then,” she said. “I’ll have to contact Aunt Leslie’s attorney to see how to proceed.”

He stepped to the door and opened it for her.

“Look,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want the best for my boys, but I can give that to them. I don’t need charity from your wealthy aunt.”

Whether it was from grief or from years of defending her aunt to the rest of the family, she couldn’t hold her tongue.

“Mr. Stone, I don’t know why my aunt left this money to your sons, but she wanted them to have it.” She paused to catch her breath. “If you don’t want to act as trustee for their inheritance, that’s your choice, but this money belongs to them and will be there for them when they’re old enough to receive it.”

He blinked and swallowed but didn’t respond. She took that as her cue to leave.

“Nice to have met you, Mr. Stone,” she said and reached into her purse to retrieve her business card. “If you change your mind,” she said. “Please call.”

He took the card from her, and she turned to walk back into the reception area.

“If you ever want to buy a boat,” he said. “Please give me a call.”

She stopped. Where had she heard his voice? She turned back to him.

“Are you sure that we’ve never met?” she asked.

“I think I would remember you,” he said.

He smiled as if to dispel any bad impression he might have made on her. It worked.

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said.

When she went back to her car, she called Mark Henderson to give him an update on her meeting. How could a man be so proud that he wouldn’t accept a sizeable inheritance for his children? Whether he knew her aunt or not, didn’t he realize how that money could change his children’s lives?

“I’ve met with Drew Stone, Mr. Henderson, and he says he doesn’t know Aunt Leslie. He’s never heard of her and doesn’t want anything to do with the inheritance.”

“If Mr. Stone doesn’t want to act as trustee,” he said. “You can do it.”

She leaned her head against the steering wheel. “Mr. Henderson, I don’t know anything about setting up trust funds.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll put you touch with the appropriate person at Leslie’s bank. They’ll be happy to guide you through the process and get everything set up.”

“Thank you for everything, Mr. Henderson,” she said. “While I have you on the phone, I have another question. My Dad and I found an unfinished manuscript on her computer. If the book was already under contract, what would happen to it?”

“Usually, Leslie would run all of her contracts by me before she signed them,” he said. “And I don’t recall her showing me one for a new book. If it’s not under contract; then you can sell the rights to the publisher, and they can contract with another writer to finish it.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” she said. “I was looking through her cell phone’s contact list last night and found an entry for Liz Riley with Fortnight Publishing.”

“That’s her publisher,” he said. “But Kristy, don’t agree to or sign anything without consulting me. That book could be worth a lot of money.”

She wasn’t as concerned about the bottom line as she was about finishing Aunt Leslie’s work.

“I will, Mr. Henderson.”

Before cranking the car, she stared at the marina office. If Mr. Stone had a few days to let it sink in—to think about it, he might change his mind about acting as trustee for his children’s inheritance. She made a mental note to call him back in three days.

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BOOK 1 GHOSTS OF EVERGREEN series. When Kristy Miller’s aunt dies suddenly, she leaves Kristy a large portion of her multi-million dollar estate including her mountain home, Evergreen. Kristy soon discovers that Aunt Leslie had kept a few secrets from her family, not the least of which is how she earned her fortune. Another of her aunt’s secrets leads Kristy into a new relationship with the charming but stubborn Drew Stone. Each of Drew’s young sons received a large inheritance from Aunt Leslie, but Mr. Stone maintains that he has never met or heard of Kristy’s aunt. The third secret might be the biggest one of all. Kristy wonders if Evergreen is haunted.

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Category: Paranormal Ghost Romance

Published: November 2013

Words: 34,370


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