Family Matters, book four of the DiCarlo Brides series, by Heather Tullis

Chapter 1

“Today’s tragedy is going to change your life. For the better I think.”

Rosemary looked up from the salmon she was deboning and saw Sage standing beside her at the restaurant kitchen counter. “Yeah? Thanks for the heads up, but I’m a little too busy for tragedy today.” Still, she felt a little shiver go down her spine. Sage’s predictions had a way of coming true, even if she sometimes couched them in vague enough terms that the average person might ignore the warnings. The word tragedy rang again in her mind—she was fairly certain Sage wasn’t referring to a burned dish or dropped appetizer. “Not enough going on in your own department right now?”

Sage didn’t react to the clipped words as her wide, brown eyes studied Rosemary calmly. Her olive skin and curling brown hair gave her the look of a gypsy—a not inapt comparison considering the random, always-accurate predictions. Though the half-sisters hadn’t known each other long, Rosemary had seen enough of these predictions to believe in them.

“The spa is busy, but I had a few minutes’ break and thought I should come warn you. It’s been on my mind since I woke up this morning,” Sage said. The chaos of breakfast preparation whirled around them, pans clattering, dishes clanking and staff calling back and forth to each other as they prepared for the convention, while feeding late breakfast patrons in the restaurant.

“Well, thanks for stopping by. I think.” Rosemary didn’t want to dwell on what the tragedy was going to be if there was no way to avert it. And how could a tragedy have a positive outcome?

Sage touched Rosemary’s arm. “Just remember. Good things come out of bad sometimes too. And this will definitely be one of them.” She gave her arm a little squeeze, and breezed out.

It was nice to no longer see evidence of the worry and stress that had plagued Sage through the summer and fall, but Rosemary wondered if it left too much time for her to worry about the rest of the sisters. She stretched her back muscles, forcing away the shiver of discomfort Sage’s prediction had caused.

Maybe Sage had misunderstood her impressions. Rosemary caught on that, then put the whole conversation behind her. She didn’t have time for cryptic messages.

break

Rosemary was dragging after a fourteen-hour day when she returned home, her feet sore, her muscles complaining, and with another long day ahead of her tomorrow. She took comfort in the fact that at least everything was ready for morning, even if she wasn’t. Sage’s warning had flitted into her thoughts several times through the day, but nothing she would consider tragic had happened, unless you counted the server who tripped over her own feet and dropped a table’s meals just before she reached them.

That had been a mess, and the restaurant had to comp the meals—which had eventually made it to them, intact—but Rosemary would hardly consider it a tragedy. She tossed her keys on the kitchen counter and kicked off her shoes in the middle of the aisle, mostly with the hope of annoying Delphi who, in Rosemary’s opinion, had a nearly OCD compulsion about orderliness. She poured herself some hot water from the espresso machine, grabbed one of Sage’s secret tea blends and stepped into the sunken living room to join Delphi, who was watching the news.

“Anything interesting in your neck of the woods?” Rosemary asked as the newscasters droned on about some new legislation the Colorado House of Representatives was trying to push through.

“I dealt with a hysterical bride because the linens we ordered are a shade too pink for her reception, a CEO who decided to add an extra ten rooms for his convention this weekend, despite the fact that we’re already at capacity, but I’m not having any trouble with my staff. You?” Delphi brushed the short, blond hair back from her face with perfectly manicured hands. She still wore the cream-colored blouse and navy skirt she’d put on for work that day and despite the fact that she had to have worked nearly as many hours as Rosemary, Delphi still looked perfectly pressed and presentable. Sometimes Rosemary could hate her for that.

A lot of people thought they were the two sisters who were the most alike, but Rosemary didn’t agree. Sure, they were both strong willed and knew what they wanted, but Delphi had a way of telling you where to go without seeming the least impolite, while Rosemary wouldn’t bother over the pretty words. They were both tall and blond, but Rosemary had long hair that she had to braid out of the way while she worked in the kitchen and she fought daily to keep the extra weight off. Delphi had a short cap of hair, was thin without exercise or paying attention to what she ate and totally uncoordinated, in opposition to the genteel, polished way she presented herself in every situation—at least when she was in public. Their histories were also total opposites, but that was another story.

Rosemary pushed the comparison away as it always made her feel a little inadequate. “Things ran mostly fine in the restaurant, the convention banquets went well—unless you’ve heard something I haven’t—and I got my food order done. No major catastrophes—despite Sage saying a tragedy was going to change my life today.” She tried to blow the warning off as if she didn’t believe a word of it, but still felt an itch between her shoulder blades when she thought of it.

“Sage gave you a warning? That sounds ominous.” Delphi took another sip from her teacup, the soft scent wafting over to Rosemary said it held chamomile. She was the only one of Rosemary’s five step-sisters who was still unconvinced about Sage’s abilities.

“New information regarding the bombing of a Washington DC café has just come in,” a redheaded news anchor announced on the television. She stared into the camera with a serious expression. “Senator Teremce Lampert of Minnesota is confirmed as having died in the blast, along with at least eight other people after a bomb was launched through a window during lunch hour. Authorities are still trying to track down suspects.” She went on to discuss the controversial legislation the senator had been trying to pass and how it wasn’t expected to get enough votes without his push behind it.

Delphi looked at Rosemary. “You’re from DC; maybe that’s your tragedy.” She pointed to the television. There was a touch of sarcasm in her voice.

The camera panned back, showing the row of storefronts on the street. Rosemary recognized the café sign hanging crooked against the wall and sighed. She loved the little café and had been going there for decades. “It sure is. They make the best cannoli at that shop. It’s even better than mine.”

“Liar.” Delphi picked up the remote and turned off the television. “No one’s cannoli is better than yours, as much as I hate to admit that.”

“Thank you.” Though the loss of the café gave Rosemary wistful beats of nostalgia, Delphi’s unusual compliment did make her feel a little better. “I’m off to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be a bear.” Rosemary carried her tea up to her room to sip on while she prepared for bed, wondering if she’d known anyone who’d been hurt in the bombing.

break

The morning zoomed by as the restaurant staff got the continental breakfast out for the finance conference, then turned their attention to preparing the lunches.

Rosemary was double-checking the croissants they had made that morning when there was a knock on the storage room door. “Come in,” she called as she marked the number on her list.

“Hey, there’s a guy out there who wants to talk to you.” It was one of the servers. “I told him you were in the middle of something and tried to fob him off on Tate, but he said it was a personal matter and important.”

Rosemary scowled, but set her clipboard on the shelf and responded coolly. “Thank you for letting me know.” She wondered if it really was personal, or if that was just an excuse the salesman was using to see her.

He stood just outside the kitchen door, expectantly. First glance didn’t say salesman, though. His suit was too nice, he held himself stiffly, and well, she couldn’t put her finger on it, but his appearance put her a little on edge. “Hello, I’m Rosemary Keogh,” she greeted him with a businesslike smile. “What can I do for you today?”

“I’m Thomas Sinclair, from Davis and Sinclair. I’m an attorney.” The forty-something-year-old glanced at the people around them. “Is there somewhere quieter where we can talk?”

Rosemary felt the dread rise inside her. Was someone suing her? She decided to be very, very careful. She pointed to a private room a few feet away and he led her inside.

When the door shut behind them, she turned to him. “What’s going on?”

He gestured to a chair. “Please have a seat.”

“Do I need to sit?” When his expression softened a little, she sank into the one he’d pointed out, her bad feeling growing.

“A colleague of mine represents Don and Cecelia Markham in Washington, DC. He asked me to come speak with you, since he’s unable to make the trip.”

“Is something wrong? Did something happen to them?” Hard on her heels was worry about Cleome, their nine-year-old daughter.

He sat across from her and folded his hands on the tabletop. “Did you hear about the senator who was killed in that café bombing in DC yesterday?” When she nodded that she had, he continued. “It seems they were eating there at the time. I’m very sorry. They didn’t make it.”

Shock shuddered through her, stealing her breath and nearly stopping her heart. Grief was hard on its heels, with worry following right behind. Her mouth refused to follow directions as she tried to process the information. It took a couple of tries before she got out the words. “Their daughter, Cleo?”

He made a calming gesture with his hands. “She’s fine. She was at school at the time. But,” he pulled out some papers and passed them to her, “it seems the Markhams have appointed you as their daughter’s guardian.”

Her head spun and her hands clasped hard on her lap as she tried to put all of those pieces together. Cecelia was dead? She couldn’t quite seem to pound that thought into her head. They’d spoken on the phone only a few days earlier, catching up as they did every couple of weeks. They had been planning for Rosemary’s next visit to DC the following month—her bi-monthly trip to check up on the family in person and be part of Cleo’s life. That brought home what he’d said a moment earlier.

“They want me to raise Cleo? Are you sure? I would have thought Cecelia’s brother. Or Don’s.” She felt herself begin to hyperventilate. They were going to let her raise Cleo? Hope and terror filled her, though she could have sworn only a moment later that grief had filled her too much to allow any other emotions in, but they all seemed to squeeze inside her at the same time. Did Cleo know about the arrangement? Would she be okay with it? Could Rosemary bring her back home when there were two other women living in the house with her? What would they think?

Her lungs loosened slightly, though the pain of knowing that Don and Cecelia were gone was overwhelming. “Who’s taking care of her?” She had to get to DC immediately. Her mind slowed to a crawl as she tried to make it compute. How could this happen?

“You’ll have to contact the attorney for more details. He didn’t tell me that much. Are you okay? Can I get you anything?” he asked. She saw the compassion in his eyes now, the worry that showed in the way his hands gripped the briefcase he’d been carrying.

“Just a second.” Her daughter. Rosemary was going to get to raise her daughter, the one she’d given to Cecelia to raise. It was something she had never even dared to dream of and made her insides twist with excitement and pain all at once.

“I’m sure this must be quite a shock to you, considering they had family who could have raised the girl instead, but they wanted you to do it.”

“Wow. I’m honored.” She sucked in a deep breath and let it out. He didn’t need to know the truth, that they had adopted her daughter and kept in touch. Cleo was the reason she’d gone home for visits—staying away for more than a year would have been too hard—the two-month gaps between visits now was harder than she had expected. “So I probably need to plan on being there for a while. What kind of arrangements do you think I should make?” Her head spun and she couldn’t feel her fingertips anymore.

“That depends on if you decide to stay here or move back to DC.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have a choice. I have to stay here through the summer at least.”

“All right, then. The attorney’s number is on the top of the stack of papers.”

“Thanks.” Her hands trembled and she felt light-headed.

“Would you like me to get someone to be with you?” he asked. “If you have a friend or someone I can call, I’d be happy to do that.”

“No. No, thanks.” She shook her head, looked back at him and forced a smile while she tried to fit the pieces together in a comprehensive form. “I have several family members here. I’ll go to one of their offices if I need to talk to someone.” Obviously he wasn’t from the area, or he’d have already known that—the whole town had talked about the twisted mess her father had made of their lives. She doubted her legs would hold her weight at the moment, but she didn’t want to face anyone else right now anyway. How could Don and Cecelia be gone? And what kind of mother would she be with Wanda as her example of motherhood? “Their house and stuff?”

“Everything I know is in those papers. If you’d like to take a minute to read them, I’d be happy to explain anything you don’t understand. Or you can have your own attorney look them over.” He passed over a business card.

Rosemary flipped open the folder and tried to read the top page, but the words swirled in front of her eyes. She was still in shock. “Maybe when my brain clears. I’ll have my attorney look them over, too.”

Mr. Sinclair picked up his briefcase and coat and shook her hand. “I wish you lots of luck in the parenting adventures ahead.”

“Thanks.” Rosemary watched him leave, then returned her gaze to the papers in front of her. Shaking herself out of the fuzz that seemed to be taking over her brain, she pulled out her cell phone to call Alex, the attorney who had handled her father’s estate. He was a pseudo relative—a cousin to two of her half-sisters, and probably already knew about her relationship to Cleo. It seemed her father had told him everything else about them. Family law wasn’t his specialty, but he could help with the estate stuff and he had to know more about these things than she did.

She felt hot tears of grief roll onto her cheeks. Don and Cecelia were dead. It was like losing her father all over again. Maybe worse because the pain wasn’t accompanied by the twist of resentment she hadn’t been able to release about George. Cecelia had been the mother she’d wished she’d had and Don had filled in for the father who was gone most of the time. She thought of Cleo, of how alone she must be feeling. It made Rosemary want to drop everything and head straight for DC, but she had commitments and arrangements to make, so she’d have to stick it out, at least for a few more hours. She could check on flight times as soon as she had a chance to get her feet under herself.

Rosemary left a message with Alex’s secretary and stared for a long moment at the folder, allowing herself to grieve for several minutes before wiping her face and forcing herself to focus on her job. Cleo was going to need her, so she’d be strong. Later, when Rosemary was alone, there would be time to fall apart.

She returned to the kitchen to find her assistant manager, Tate, scowling.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Dill. In the chicken sandwich filling.”

She felt her blood pressure rise as she grabbed a spoon to taste the filling. When her sample confirmed what Tate had said, she turned to Rulon, who had been assigned to mix it. “You added dill?”

He rubbed a sweaty hand over his unshaven face. “It was an honest mistake. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry. The recipe calls for tarragon. They aren’t even kept on the same shelf. How did you make the mistake?” Rage rose within her—much easier to deal with than her grief. She’d been on the edge of ready to fire him anyway. This was the last straw.

“Look, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” He didn’t appear sorry though. His dark eyes were belligerent and he gestured angrily.

“You’re right, it won’t. You’re done here.” Rosemary’s mind started whirling as she thought of everything they needed to do to fix the problem and still get lunch out on time.

“What do you mean?’

“I mean you’re fired. I put up with a lot of things, but incompetence isn’t one of them, and you’ve already used all of your freebies. Grab your things and get out of here.”

His fists opened and closed and his arm muscles bunched. He was a couple of years younger than herself and he worked out often. For a moment she thought he might deck her, but instead, he used all of the gutter language his limited mind had absorbed and stormed out.

She sucked in a deep breath to center herself, then focused on what had to be done to salvage lunch. It was almost a relief to have something so comparatively minor to focus on instead of the emptiness inside her. “Do we have enough chicken to start over?” she asked Tate.

“No.” He still wore his scowl.

“Fine.” There was no choice; they had to have the filling for that afternoon’s sandwiches. She turned to the others. “Who wants to get paid to drive to Denver for emergency supplies?”

She picked one of the five people who vied for the opportunity and did her best to put it out of her mind, but wasn’t very successful.

 

Chapter 2

Rosemary was still fuming, working like mad to keep up with the restaurant demands and oversee preparations for the banquet that afternoon. She just couldn’t catch a break, and she was tired. And hungry. But she wasn’t going to indulge in anything until those sandwiches were made.

“Rosemary, can I talk to you for a minute?” It was Harrison, who always made her feel like a bumbling fool, though he never seemed to do it on purpose. He was using his calm, controlled voice—which meant they would probably be fighting in a few minutes, because that’s what they usually did when they ‘talked.’

“I’m a little busy here. Can it wait until after we get through the lunch rush?” She didn’t even look at him.

“I think you can spare two minutes. How about if we go to your office?”

Her office? So it really was going to be a showdown. She clenched her teeth and turned the work over to Tate, her assistant, before whirling and heading for her office. Harrison followed along and after he shut the door to the kitchen, she turned to face him, “I’m running a little behind right now. I really can’t spare the time, so try to keep it short, will you?”

“I just spoke with Rulon.”

She knew it. “And he’d be the reason I’m behind. What, did he come whining that I yelled at him?” She put her hands on her hips and glared at Harrison, the gorgeous idiot. The way his brown hair fell over his eyes always got to her, but she could mostly ignore it when she was angry.

“He said you yelled at him in front of everyone.” Harrison stood casually, his hands in his pockets. He always started out like this, employing the take-it-easy approach, like his vegan, Mother Earth-type mother taught him, but it never lasted long. The muscle beside his eye twitched—a dead giveaway that he was already mad.

“Right, because he put dill in the chicken salad. Dill. Really? It was supposed to be tarragon, and he used twice what he should have in the first place, and it was totally unusable. I had to send Gillian to Denver to get more chicken because we’re now short for the lunch we’re catering this afternoon. That’s several hundred dollars in ruined ingredients and over five man hours of wasted time that we have to make up because he’s totally inept.” That included the hour’s drive to Denver, but Rosemary had to pay Gillian for the day and her gas, didn’t she?

Harrison’s lips pressed together. He never seemed to approve of her leadership tactics. “You should have brought him in here to fire him.”

She knew she should have handled it better, had silently reprimanded herself for it several times already, but didn’t appreciate Harrison telling her how to deal with her staff—even if he was the director of HR. “I didn’t have the time or the patience. It’s not like this is the first time he’s done something stupid that’s cost us. I was more than understanding on the previous three occasions.” But today she had been primed to blow. Learning about the Markhams had honed the fine edge of her temper and she hadn’t been in control of herself. She hated not being in control.

“Nevertheless.”

She cut him off before he could continue. “Don’t you nevertheless me. I don’t have time to deal with this. Write me up if you want, whatever, I don’t care. I have food to get out. If you’ll excuse me.” She tried to push past him, as tears started to prickle in her eyes, but he latched onto her upper arm.

“Whoa. You need to calm down if you’re going back out there.” His voice was low and even. “This is a problem waiting to happen.”

“I can’t calm down.” She sucked in a breath and blinked rapidly, but a tear spilled over anyway.

His voice switched to worried. “Hold on. What’s wrong?” His grip was loose, but secure, an odd combination. “It’s not lunch that you’re upset about, is it?”

She wiped at her cheek, flicking the tear away. “Don’t be stupid. You think I can’t deal with an employee? Everything isn’t about this place, you know—even if you don’t have a life outside the hotel.” She yanked on her arm and he let go.

Steeling herself for the chaos of her kitchen, she pushed out of the office and went back to work. It was the best cure for grief, and a distraction from her worry.

break

Rosemary told herself that she ran her own kitchen and there was no reason to make a big deal out of taking off for a week or so, but after fixing the work schedule so she could take off, she headed upstairs to see Lana and Delphi.

Why had her father insisted in putting her in this position, anyway? She’d been happy in her downtown DC restaurant job, close to the Markhams and her daughter. He knew she just wanted to cook, but it hadn’t been good enough for him, Instead he’d made it a condition of her inheritance that she spend the year in Juniper Ridge heading his latest resort’s restaurant.

He’d strong-armed the rest of the sisters into working there as well, though a couple of them had been more than willing when the terms of the will had been read. And then there was the big house he’d bought for them to live in—six women in one house—even if it did have private bathrooms in every room—was asking a lot. Half of them were married now, including Cami and Lana, the two daughters by his long-deceased wife. None of them had known about the other girls. The fact that they had all been a secret had caused plenty of stress and trouble by itself but they were dealing.

They were a long way from being the happy family he’d apparently wanted for all of them, though, and she didn’t look forward to explaining herself now. She smiled and greeted Gina, the executive office manager, and stuck her head in Lana’s office. “You got a moment?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Let me grab Delphi too so I can handle everything at once.” She passed a few more offices, including Harrison’s—it was empty—and knocked on Delphi’s open door. “Got a minute for a quick meeting with Lana and me?”

Denial was on Delphi’s face when she looked up, then her eyes narrowed and she nodded. No doubt she noticed Rosemary’s red nose and eyes—she really needed to take a break to touch up her makeup. “Sure, no more than a minute, though.” She stood and followed Rosemary out of the room.

Delphi entered Lana’s office first and Rosemary closed the door behind them. “I have to make an emergency trip to DC. I just got a flight. It leaves first thing tomorrow. I could be gone for a week or more.”

“But we have a big wedding this weekend,” Delphi protested.

“It can’t be helped.” Rosemary steeled herself. “Some close friends of mine were killed in the café bombing yesterday. I need to get home for the funeral, and other things.” She nearly mentioned Cleo, but decided to hold off a little while. She was still trying to grasp that.

“Surely the funeral isn’t for a few days,” Delphi protested.

“I don’t know when it is,” Rosemary admitted, “but there are other issues I need to handle that go along with it. I’ll explain more later. Meanwhile, I’ve made some changes to the catering work schedule to make sure everything is covered.” She filled them in on the adjustments so they would know who to contact in case anything came up.

When they finished, Delphi left, citing an appointment with a prospective client, but questions lingered in her eyes.

“This must be someone you’re really close to,” Lana said when they were alone.

Rosemary nodded. She’d grown closer to this half-sister over the past few months when Lana became pregnant. As the only one in the family—as far as she knew—who had ever been pregnant before, she’d done her best to support the slightly younger woman. Not that Lana or anyone else knew Rosemary had been pregnant before. Not yet, anyway. “They were more my parents than Wanda or George in a lot of ways. It throws some other wrenches in the works, but there will be time to discuss that later.” She sighed, desperately wanting a hot bath full of bubbles and a glass of really excellent wine. “I need to get back to work. I’ll see you later.” She heaved herself from the chair.

“Tell me if you need anything. Really, Rosemary.” Lana held her gaze for a long moment.

Rosemary nodded, though she didn’t know if it was a lie or not.

break

Harrison was taking a stroll around the resort late that afternoon. He’d needed a moment to get out of his office and stretch his legs. He paused when he passed the restaurant entrance. He could see Rosemary standing in front of a table with a couple of octogenarian diners—they were locals, he knew because he’d seen them around enough to recognize them.

Rosemary smiled and covered the woman’s withered old hand with hers, kindness and respect in her demeanor. She wasn’t smiling as brightly as she often did when she interacted with happy guests and he wondered if the deal with Rulon still bothered her. She turned away from the table and nearly bumped into one of the servers, half-laughing as she said something that looked like ‘such a klutz,’ but since the server smiled as he continued to a family a few tables beyond the older couple, Rosemary must have been talking about herself and not him.

Harrison wondered why she seemed able to handle little things with grace and good humor, but wigged out on Rulon earlier. And what had caused her tears?

She pushed through the kitchen doors, the smile slipping from her face and sadness taking over a moment before she disappeared from view.

He turned and continued on down the hall, then ducked in to see Sage, his half-sister by their mom. She was half-sister to the rest of George’s daughters as well, including Rosemary, and always seemed to have insights.

“What’s up?” Sage looked up from her computer monitor when he stopped her office doorway. Her wild dark curls were pulled back as they always were while she worked.

“You got a minute?” he asked.

“For you? Sure.”

He shut the door behind him. “So what’s up with Rosemary? She looks like death warmed over.” The two weren’t particularly close, but Sage had a way of knowing things, often even if people didn’t tell her.

Sage shot him a surprised look. “You haven’t heard? Some people she was close to back home were killed in that bombing that killed that senator.”

He’d heard about the bombing on the news the previous night, and earlier, when Rosemary was upset and at the point of tears, she must have already known about her friends. It made Harrison feel like such a jerk. But she made him feel that way on a regular basis, so that was hardly unusual. “No wonder she’s… off.”

“Yeah. So go easy on her, will you?” Sage’s voice was light, but he could tell from the worry lines around her eyes that she was worked up about it. “She’ll be heading to DC first thing in the morning.”

He nodded. “That explains a few things.”

“Aren’t you going to DC next week to work with their new HR director?” Sage asked him speculatively.

The thought had occurred to him, too. He’d made the appointment a couple of weeks earlier. “I have meetings. She might be back by then if she’s leaving already.” He wasn’t sure if he wanted her to be back or if he wanted a chance to talk with her away from work—away from everything that made crossing the line into friendship so difficult here. It was something to think about.

There was a pile of work on his desk, which he needed to get back to, but he knew he would have trouble focusing on it now. The blond woman he had brought to tears that morning, however, was very much on his mind. She always was, seldom leaving him alone for long, but this was something more. If only he’d known earlier, he would have handled it differently.

Too late for that, though. Too late for a lot of things. Considering the way she never let her guard down around him, even for a second, he doubted that would change.

Still, a few overtures of friendship might not hurt.