BY SHARINA HARRIS
Family is what you make it.
Three very different women. Only one thing in common. But when their family patriarch dies and they must share his estate, the truths they discover will test them—and everything they think they know about each other.
Beloved Georgia judge Joseph Donaldson was known for his unshakable fairness, his hard-won fortune—and a scandalous second marriage to his much-younger white secretary. Now he’s left a will with a stunning provision. In order to collect their inheritance, his lawyer daughter Maya, her stepmother Jeanie, and Jeanie’s teen daughter, Ryder, must live together at the family lake house. Maya and Jeanie don’t exactly get along, but they reluctantly agree to try an uneasy peace for as long as it takes . . .
But fragile ex-beauty queen Jeanie doesn’t know who she is beyond being a judge’s wife—and drinking away her insecurities has her in a dangerous downward spiral. Fed up with her mother’s humiliating behavior, Ryder tries to become popular at school in all the wrong ways. And when Maya attempts to help, she puts her successful career and her shaky love life at risk. Now with trouble they didn’t see coming—and secrets they can no longer hide—these women must somehow find the courage to admit their mistakes, see each other for who they really are—and slowly, perhaps even joyfully, discover everything they could be.
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Pastor Davies strode toward the solid oak lectern, a thick, maroon-colored Bible in hand. Sunshine streaming through the stained glass cast red and green lights against his weathered face. “Let the church say amen.” “
Amen,” the congregation responded. I couldn’t. My throat felt like grains of sand in an hourglass. A hundred pairs of eyes were aimed at me, watching my every move even though they couldn’t see me through the black lace veil covering my face. I stroked a coin, Daddy’s lucky penny, between my forefinger and thumb. The cool from the copper soothed me.
“Oh, Lawd.” Aunt Lisa waved a black lace handkerchief in the air, her arms jiggling with the motion. “Not my baby, sweet Jesus. Not. My. Baby!” Aunt Lisa jumped from the seat and walk-hopped to the front of the church. She threw herself on the black and silver casket, moaning and groaning and body shaking.
That’s right, Aunt Lisa. Give them a show. Move the attention away from me.
“Take me instead, Lord!” Aunt Lisa patted her chest and looked toward Black Jesus in the mural above the baptism pool. My daddy’s other sister, Aunt Eloisa, wailed from the pew. She didn’t dare run up like Aunt Lisa. Aunt Eloisa had bad knees, bad ankles, bad joints—bad everything if you let her tell it. Daddy would hate this. He hated spectacles and pomp and circumstance. If he were here, he’d tell Aunt Lisa to sit down and tell Pastor Davies to get on with it. But if he were here, he’d be alive. And I wouldn’t be at his funeral. Exhausted from crying myself to sleep. Exhausted from heaving the two crackers I’d just managed to swallow before my stomach churned. Exhausted from taking care of my stepsister. Exhausted from making sure my stepmother hadn’t burned the house down.
Pastor Davies looked over his shoulder and nodded to the minister seated to the right of the pulpit. I couldn’t remember his name, but he’d always been nice the few times I’d attended service. He sighed and hefted his portly physique up. The chair squeaked and shifted, as the red velvet cushion on top of the chair rose like dough. “All right, Sister Lisa.” The minister’s soothing and patient voice could barely be heard over the wails. “Go on back to the pew, now. Sit down with your family.”
Aunt Clara Bell, my great-aunt who’d raised Daddy and his sisters after my grandmother died, waved Aunt Lisa back. “Come sit down, so we can pay our respects to Joe. It’s a funeral, not The Price Is Right.” Aunt Lisa wailed louder. Minister Simpson, who’d been seated toward the left side of the pulpit, gently grabbed her elbow and guided her away from the casket. She slumped from his grip like a toddler in the throes of a tantrum. Her black, mad-hatter hat fell to the ground, as she flopped onto the floor and howled. “Hush now,” the minister’s voice grew agitated. “Judge Joe’s in a better place.”
In a better place. What better place could there be than here with me? The tsunami was building, churning my insides, flooding my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I was angry—so damn angry and hurt. I couldn’t move past the vow he’d made twenty-two years ago. He should be here. He promised. The penny heated between my fingers, but I couldn’t stop rubbing it. I couldn’t stop the memories from bowling me over.
“Swear it, Daddy. Swear on your lucky penny that you’ll never leave me.” Daddy, so big and so strong, was like the oak tree in our backyard that I’d loved to climb—solid and steadfast. But the day Mama died he’d fallen, and he’d crumbled. And at five years old I didn’t know what was scarier—Mama’s lifeless body or Daddy’s lifeless eyes. I don’t know if it was my small fists banging on his legs, or the tears that soaked his pants, but he suddenly dropped to his knees. His brown eyes glistened with a wetness that left me cold even though the sun warmed my skin. He looked at me, and he saw me. He choked on a breath as if he were coming back to life. He took the penny from my fingers and vowed, “I promise, Maya. I’m here to stay.” I believed him. But I’m not five years old anymore. Twenty-seven years old, mad at the world, mad at God. Mad at Daddy for saddling me with his second wife, Jeanie, who couldn’t bear to see his casket. So instead of sitting in the pew with his family, she’d run out of the sanctuary and locked herself in the bathroom. After everything Daddy endured for that woman: my family giving him crap for marrying a white woman fifteen years his junior, his so-called friends freezing him out because they didn’t think it was right. And how had she repaid him? With cowardice.
Sniffles cut through my fog of anger. Ryder. My shadow. The only good thing Jeanie had done with her life had been birthing a beautiful and brilliant daughter. The squeeze from Ryder’s hand gave me a sliver of comfort. Though, from the red that inflamed her baby blues, and from the puffy bags under her eyes, she needed comforting, too.
I tilted my head on her shoulder and pulled her into a side hug. “We’ll be okay,” I managed to whisper. Her arm squeezed my waist. “Promise?” Her voice shaky and desperate, much like my own when I’d asked Daddy the same request. I wanted to give her the world, but I couldn’t utter the lie. But I did stop rubbing the penny. It wasn’t lucky after all.
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ABOUT SHARINA HARRIS
Sharina Harris earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgia State University. After college, she pursued a career in digital marketing and public relations. Although her profession required writing, she decided to pursue a career in writing in 2012.
Sharina’s contemporary romance series under the pen name, Rina Gray, was named Book Riot’s 100 Must‑Read Romantic Comedies. When Sharina’s not writing, she can be found with her head stuck in a book, rooting for her favorite NBA teams, and spending time with friends and family.