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       Checkmate, p.53

         Part #3 of Neighbor from Hell series by R. L. Mathewson
Page 53


  It wasn't as if they’d done any permanent damage. Well, the lemonade stand didn't count. It was made with shoddy craftsmanship and probably wouldn't have lasted another season no matter what the fire inspector said. She'd only been a baby when they were banned so she couldn't say for certain what had happened, but she really didn't believe the rumors that were whispered around town. They were just a bit ridiculous.

  True, all the Bradford males, and unfortunately some of the females, had an unusually large appetite and she'd almost lost a finger or two at family gatherings, but really, how could that get someone, never mind an entire family, banned? A few times over the years she tried asking her father about what really happened, but the conversation always ended with a warning never to come between a Bradford and his food. She'd always thought that making her swear it on a Bible was a bit much.

  "That ban is total bullshit," Trevor grumbled as he pressed a kiss against her forehead and placed her back on her feet.

  "So they didn't lift it?" she asked, carefully stepping over Jason as she started to head for the kitchen for something to snack on, but commonsense had her shaking her head, sighing, and heading for the living room.

  There was always a slight chance that her brothers would have missed something, but these were her cousins and they didn't miss a thing. Not that there had been much to start with. The reminder had her stopping and throwing a curious look at Jason as he groaned and curled into a ball. He wouldn't have been foolish enough to eat baking soda again, would he?

  As much as she'd love to dismiss the possibility, and she would have if it had been anyone else, but this was a Bradford that she was dealing with here so she had to ask, "You didn't eat my box of baking soda, did you?"

  The glare she earned from him was a little over the top, but again, this was a Bradford that she was dealing with here so she just ignored him and walked into the living room. She sat down on the loveseat and picked up the baby blue shirt lying next to her on the couch. Connor left it here the other night when they were working out some of the problems they were already running into with this project.

  She loved this shirt on him, but she'd admit that she'd liked it a whole lot better when he took it off. Deciding that it was a little cool in the house, she pulled his shirt on and sat back while she waited for her cousins to explain why they were breaking the law to come see her. She knew that it wasn't an emergency, because her Aunt, well, really second cousin by marriage, Megan would have called everyone in the family and told them that someone was in trouble.

  That's all it would take to get every Bradford and James to come running. They all stuck together, no matter what. It didn't matter if it was one of the younger Bradford boys that didn't know how to reign in his appetite or arrogance and got himself into trouble or one of their elderly relatives who couldn't manage to take care of themselves any longer, if a Bradford or James was in trouble everyone showed up. They worked it out together, whether that meant kicking someone's ass, bailing someone out of jail, or taking them in and giving them a place to live.

  They didn't turn their backs on family. Ever. The only time you didn't show up was if you were in labor, dead or dying. If none of those things occurred and you didn't show up when you were needed, you better change your name, pack your bags and haul ass for the border, because as soon as the crisis was over, every Bradford and James would be coming for your ass and an explanation.

  “Well?” she asked as Trevor sat down on the chair across from her, shooting her a grin that she was all too familiar with. It was the same grin that her brothers used seconds before they started spouting bullshit, the one they used to get away with everything and to get women to trip over themselves to please them. Quite simply put, it was the Bradford smile.

  It was the same grin that her Grandpa, well, really Great Uncle, Wes used to use when he wanted Grandma, really Great Aunt by marriage, Beth to make him fresh biscuits and jam for his mid-morning snack. She could still remember Grandpa Wes giving Grandma Beth that Bradford smile as he tried to sweet talk Grandma into baking him a double batch of biscuits. Grandma Beth would give him a stern look as she huffed and puffed about all the work it would take to make the biscuits even as she made them. She would smile that sweet smile that belonged solely to her when Grandpa Wes was looking the other way.

  God, she missed Grandma and Grandpa. They’d been gone ten years now, but she thought about them every day, especially when her brothers used the Bradford charm. She missed spending time with them and cherished the little time that she’d had with them. She would have seen them more often, but with the ban and all it limited their time to weekends and holidays. That was the one thing her father never refused them, a visit to their grandparents.

  Her father loved them too, which wasn’t surprising since Grandpa Wes and Grandma Beth helped raise her father and his four brothers after they’d lost their parents in the fire. Just like now, every Bradford showed up the moment word got out and within hours of finding out that her real grandparents hadn’t made it out of the fire, her father and uncles had a home, a real home with Grandpa Wes and Grandma Beth and their brood of boys. Things had been tight with thirteen boys to feed and clothe, but her grandparents never complained or let any of the boys know just how badly they’d struggled.

  They never let anything get them down and always worked so hard to push ahead. They made sure that every single boy was well prepared to go out into the real world. They also made sure that they were there if any of the boys needed a helping hand. They made a lot of sacrifices for all their boys and she knew that they’d done it out of love and not because they expected anything in return. They certainly hadn’t expected all their boys and the rest of the Bradford bunch to show up one day and demolish their small house.

  The place had been barely better than a shack and because they refused any help from the boys as a thank you for all they’d done, the boys took matters into their own hands. They had the house demolished in one day, cleared out the next and a beautiful new house built within two months as well as the mortgage paid off. Her father, uncles, and cousins all chipped in and worked on the house on their days off, before and after work and didn’t stop until Grandma Beth had the small picket fence and rose bushes that she’d always dreamed of.

  Rory hadn’t been born when they built it, but it was one of her most favorite places in the world to visit when she was a child. The cottage was sweet, cozy and filled with love. It also didn’t hurt that it was twenty miles away from Connor and provided her with much needed breaks. Short breaks, but they were enough sometimes to help her calm down before she did something like commit murder.

  He’d been such a miserable little bastard, she thought, but a really cute one.

  “What’s with that little smile of yours?” Trevor asked, drawing her attention back to the problem at hand.

  Two fully grown Bradford males breaking the ban and in her house.

  Since she really couldn’t afford the “Bradford Fine,” she knew that she was going to have to make this quick and get them out of here before her cousins did something to give themselves away and she would be faced with a two thousand dollar fine and a night in jail. Yes, the fine was steep, but then again, according to local gossip, so was the damage the Bradfords had reportedly done to the town.

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