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Authors: Peggy Bird

The Gift of Love

BOOK: The Gift of Love
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The Gift of Love
A Holiday for Romance
Peggy Bird

Avon, Massachusetts

Copyright © 2015 by Margaret Bird.
All rights reserved.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.

Published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.

www.crimsonromance.com

ISBN 10: 1-4405-7044-2

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-7044-5

eISBN 10: 1-4405-7045-0

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-7045-2

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Cover art © iStockphoto.com/kirin_photo; 123RF/azazelka and tomertu

For Maggie, who shared her birthday with Isabella as well as her love of Friday the thirteenth, and Sophie, who not only loaned Isabella her curly hair but also taught me how to take care of it. You are the best granddaughters on the planet!

 

Contents
Chapter One

The
last thing Isabella Rodriguez wanted for her birthday was a book on how to find herself. The accompanying condescending remark from her oldest brother Luis about how she was wasting her life and needed to read the book, and the nods of agreement from her three other brothers, made it worse. She wanted to throw them—and their gift—out of the house.

She tried to lower her blood pressure and calm her anger by taking a few cleansing breaths. Unfortunately, what was effective in her yoga class didn’t seem to work anyplace else, so she gave up the attempt and let her emotions win. “I don’t need anyone’s advice on how to live my life, Luis. Especially not yours.” She was sure steam was coming out of her ears.

Luis continued as if he hadn’t noticed anything—the words, the tone, or the steam. “Look, Izzy, it’s not just me. All four of us agree. We love you. But you’ve been living for free in Dad’s house ever since he died while the rest of us cover the taxes and the cost of keeping it maintained. The house was left to all of us, not only to you. Those of us with families would rather support our kids, not our sister. I don’t know if we’re more frustrated or worried that you seem hell bent on living like some trust fund kid on our mutual inheritance but—”

“My name is Isabella,” she interrupted. “Bella, if you must shorten it. Never Izzy, in spite of your continued use of the horrible sounding name. And I’m twenty-seven, not a kid.”

“Okay, whatever,
Bella
,” Luis said, his hand slicing the air in an impatient gesture. “But your name was all I got wrong. The rest is dead on. You haven’t had a serious job since you left California. It’s like you just stopped living when you moved to Portland.” He ran his fingers through his mop of curls, one of the few traits Bella and all her brothers shared. “God knows we’ve tried to help. How many contacts did we give you in the real estate business here? Contacts who might have had a job for you.”

“I didn’t realize pressuring me to take the jobs in the family business no one else wanted was help. Or trying to set me up with a job I didn’t want. I thought it was just interference. As this is.”

Luis ignored her comment and went on with his lecture. “You shouldn’t bear
all
the blame for where you are in life. Mom and Dad indulged you because you were their baby girl. But Mom and Dad are gone. It’s time to get over being spoiled by them.”

The mention of her parents punched her in the gut. As the only girl, the youngest in the family, and a late in life surprise for her parents, she’d had a special closeness with them both. And taking care of them in the last years of their lives had only strengthened an already strong relationship. Especially with her father, who’d had a particular soft spot for her. The empty space left by his death the year before was a lot smaller now than it had been right after he died, but it was still there. She missed him. Badly. No more so than today, her birthday.

If he’d been alive, this would have been a joyous celebration. He loved throwing parties for his kids, even when they were grown up. When her four brothers had said they’d all be bringing their families up from California for her birthday, Bella had visions of a family reunion and a party close to what her father would have arranged. It was serendipitous her birthday fell on a Friday this year, making it possible for them to all make it to Portland in time for dinner and, she had hoped, a weekend together. Friday the thirteenth of July would be her lucky day, she thought.

Except it hadn’t turned out at all as she’d expected. Her celebration, it seemed, had merely provided an excuse to call a meeting to handle a crisis—her. She should have known. The four men never all came to Portland for anything other than a family matter to take care of. A new roof for the house. Papers to be signed for the business. Their father’s funeral. She was in the same category as home repairs and memorial services. She hadn’t figured it out until her three sisters-in-law took their kids and hightailed it out the door right after eating the dinner she’d carefully prepared for everyone. Leaving their gifts for her to open without them, they made no excuses and didn’t say goodbye. They waited until she was in the kitchen after clearing the table and left, abandoning her to the mercy of her brothers.

What a stupid fool she had been to actually think her siblings cared about her birthday. All they cared about was their own agenda.

At least Luis had brought up the subject of her future after the women and children had hit the lifeboats for the safety of the shore. Or wherever they were headed. The
one
good thing about all of this was that he’d had the courtesy not to embarrass her in front of her nieces and nephews.

Luis glanced over at her second oldest brother Ernesto, a signal to run with the conversational ball, apparently. Great. They were tag-teaming her. She wondered if they’d scripted in advance what they were saying.

“It’s time we stop paying for you to have a carefree life, Izzy,” Ernesto said. “Most of us have families, kids to support. We want to sell the house so we can finally get our part of the estate.”

“Still Isabella. Still not Izzy.”

“Jesus, Izzy, is that all you get out of this conversation? We use a nickname you’ve never liked?” Carlos, the next brother in the lineup, chimed in.

“What I’m getting from this conversation is that you four, as usual, are making decisions that affect me without any consideration of what I might want.”

Luis looked like he was about to interrupt and bring the conversation back his way, but she wasn’t going to let him. “You had your say, brother. Now it’s my turn.” She raised her eyes to meet his gaze so directly she swore he flinched. Good. Maybe he finally saw how angry she was.

“I have done everything this family has ever asked of me. When I graduated from college, I went into the family real estate office like I was expected—no,
ordered
—to do. I didn’t complain. Instead, I worked my way up from receptionist to running the place. But you couldn’t let me enjoy my success for long, could you? I was told to move to Portland to take care of Mom and Dad. I didn’t object even though I had friends and a life in California.” Her hands fisted with the anger she still felt from having it all yanked out from under her when, two years before, her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and her aging father had been unable to manage her care. Because she was the only girl, she was expected to take care of her parents. So she met her obligation like the good daughter she was.

From the sideways glances Luis and Carlos exchanged, she knew she’d hit a nerve. “I’m an equal part of this family, and I don’t deserve to be talked to like this.” She turned to Javier, the brother closest to her in age and affection, who was sitting beside her on the couch. He looked uncomfortable, like he wasn’t happy with how the conversation was going. “Javier, how could you do this to me on my birthday?”

“I’m sorry, Bella,” Javier said. “We probably should have picked another time. But we’ve been talking about it for weeks, and since we’re all here ...” He let his words trail off and shrugged. “We thought it would be better to tell you in person, and who knows when we’ll all be together again.” He tried to put his arm around her shoulders, but she scooted over to avoid the hug.

“We need to get this taken care of,” Luis went on. “The real estate market’s recovered; houses are selling; it’s time. Besides, don’t you want something better for yourself? From what I can see, all you do is rattle around in a big house, writing short stories you can’t get published while you study off and on for a real estate broker’s license.”

Before she could respond, Javier added, “A broker’s license I don’t think you ever really cared about getting.” Over her weak attempt to ward him off, he took her hand and squeezed it. “I’m right, aren’t I? You really don’t want to get into the real estate business, do you?”

As much as she resented having to admit one of the brothers was right about anything, Javier was correct. She had only said she’d study for the test because she thought the family wanted her to. It had never been her idea to become a real estate broker.

“Look, whatever-your-name-is,” Luis said, “you did a great job running the office in California, and we all agree you were amazing taking care of Mom and Dad. I don’t know what we’d have done without you. But that was then. This is now. We need to close out the estate. And the truth is, the fat bank account Dad left you when he died is getting low. You don’t have to go back to the family business if you don’t want to. But you do have to find something you want to do that makes you enough money to support yourself in a place of your own. That’s reality. You can’t afford to keep this house going, and we don’t want to do it anymore.”

“If Dad were still alive, you wouldn’t dare do this to me.” She knew she was tearing up, but she was determined not to cry in front of them.

“If Dad were still alive, we wouldn’t have to do this. But he’s not. And we do. End of story.” Standing in front of her, Luis tried to pull her up from the couch. “Don’t be angry, Isabella. We’re only trying to do what’s best for all of us.” He, too, reached to put an arm around her. “Give me a hug to show me you understand.”

She refused his hand and his hug, standing without his help. Drawing up to the full extent of her five foot two inch height, she glared at him and stuck out her chin. “What I understand is this is a hell of a way to wish me happy birthday.” She picked up several empty coffee cups from the cocktail table in front of her. “All right. If you all agree it’s time to sell the house, I guess I’m outvoted. Put the house on the market. If that’s what you came for, you have it. Now I think it’s time you all left. Until it’s sold, this is still my home. So I have the right to have whom I want here, especially on my birthday. And right now, that doesn’t include any of you. Go back to your families and your expensive houses and luxury cars and leave me alone.” She was tired of the discussion, tired of trying to fight the inevitable. She only wanted them to be gone so she could mourn the end of yet another phase of her life brought on by the demands of her family.

BOOK: The Gift of Love
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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