I’ve added an extended epilogue to A Family Affair: The Weddings that enhances the story (it reveals a much-anticipated secret.) This scene also contains important information for the next book in the series, A Family Affair: The Cabin. Enjoy! —Mary
Jack Finnegan knew the time would come when he’d have to sit down and talk to Edith about what had happened at Lester and Phyllis’s wedding. He’d let a few weeks pass, but it had been weighing on his mind and the sooner he said what needed saying, the sooner he’d get a good night’s sleep.
Edith had to know what was coming when he called her this morning to tell her Dolly had fixed up a container of chicken noodle soup and homemade rolls for her. Jack planned to deliver a heck of a lot more than soup and a batch of rolls, but he’d give her credit, she agreed to the visit.
He pulled his truck into the driveway, grabbed the bag on the passenger seat, and hopped out. The lace curtain in the front window moved and Jack spotted his sister’s pointy chin. Still up to her old tricks. Edith always had been skittish about trusting people, but that blasted devil had found a way around that skittishness and made her believe he was the only one she could trust.
And that ruined her life.
His sister opened the door before he had a chance to ring the bell. “Hello, Jack.” She peered over his shoulder, shooed him inside. “It’s chilly out there. Come on in before I lose all the heat. Do you know how much my gas bill is these days? I turn the furnace down to sixty-two at night and pile three extra blankets on top of my bedspread, but it’s still chilly.”
“I imagine it is.” He blew out a sigh and removed his baseball cap before his sister started on about manners and such. The foyer never changed: faded cream wallpaper with tiny lilacs, and so dang many pictures it made him dizzy to look at them. All family pictures, most of his kids, some of his parents…
“Care for a cup of tea?”
She knew he was a straight-up coffee drinker, hadn’t had more than half a cup of tea in his entire life, but that didn’t stop Edith from trying to reform him. “No thanks.”
His sister sniffed her opinion and asked, “How about a chocolate chip cookie?” She raised a brow. “Fresh out of the oven this morning, loaded with walnuts.”
“Thought I smelled baking when I walked in.” Jack never could say no to Edith’s cookies. Back in the day, she’d make him one sort or another every few days: chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, maple pecan. Dolly put an end to that because she couldn’t stand the temptation and had zero understanding of “single” serving. Edith hadn’t liked his wife’s boycott of her cookies, but she’d accepted it and then found a way to send cookies to the shop. In all the years and all the changes with his sister, her baking expertise stayed the same.
That was probably the only thing about Edith that hadn’t changed.
“I’ll take a few cookies,” Jack said, patting his belly. “Three sounds good.”
“Let me heat them in the microwave for a few seconds.” She stood, clasped her hands together. “Melts the chocolate just right.”
When his sister disappeared into the kitchen, Jack scanned the living room, took in the fancy vases and decorative bowls. They reminded him of the old days and his parents’ sitting room. Heck, maybe the knick-knacks had belonged to his parents. Jack hadn’t been interested in displaying bric-a-brac the kids couldn’t touch, but his sister sure had an eye for it. He hadn’t been in this house in more than two months, but it looked the same as it had two years ago and would look the same five years from now.
Like time had stopped.
“Here you go,” she said, carrying a tray with cookies and a big glass of milk—whole milk, too, not the skim kind Dolly kept in the fridge.
Jack worked up a smile, helped himself to a cookie. “Wish you wouldn’t hide your talent, Edith. There’s never been a better cookie baker than you, not even Ramona Casherdon or Miriam Desantro.” Her pale face pinched with color. His sister was not one to give or receive compliments.
“Eat your cookie,” was all she said.
He obliged, munching on the bits of chocolate chips and thinking about the real reason for his visit. When he’d polished off his second cookie, he sat up straight, eyed his sister. “You know I didn’t come here to sample the goodies.”
Her gray head dipped. “I know.”
Those were two of the sorriest words he’d heard in a long time. “Edith, we’ve got to talk about what happened at Phyllis and Lester’s wedding.”
That head dipped lower. “I know.”
There was no denying the pain in her voice, and when she lifted her head to look at him, oh, but there was pure misery on that face. All these years and his sister still carried the guilt of the past. “I wouldn’t bring this up if it weren’t necessary.” He gentled his usually gruff voice like he was talking to one of the grandkids. “Norris Welsh died three years ago. Pancreatic cancer. He can’t hurt you; fact is, once he took the money, he was long gone.”
“Of course you do, but you still aren’t letting it go. He done you wrong, Edith, no doubt about that. The man was nothing but a liar in a suit and you fell for it. Nothing against you; you were innocent to the ways of a man like that.” The whole town knew Edith Finnegan wanted a man and a wedding ring and was determined to get both. But when the wheeler-dealer insurance man rolled into town in his fancy car, tossing out ten-dollar words, they didn’t notice how Edith watched him when he escorted other women about, or that she wanted to be one of those women. She didn’t have the looks or the talent for “flirty” conversation, but Edith possessed one thing most women didn’t: solid, not-to-be-beaten determination.
And she was a sly one. She never told a soul that she and Mr. Fancy Suit were sneaking around or that they’d done a lot more than “sneaking,” but when the bastard threatened to tell the whole town exactly what they did every Thursday and Saturday night in the back seat of his car, there was nothing for Edith to do but come to Jack for help. The tears outweighed the words, but he heard enough to figure out the guy was blackmailing Edith. Welsh wanted three thousand dollars to keep his mouth shut, and if she didn’t pay, he’d spew dirt so far and fast, she’d never dig her way out.
Edith didn’t have more than a hundred dollars to her name, not that she hadn’t once had thousands, but Norris Welsh had weaseled it from her. When a woman who’s never had a man give her a second look suddenly gets two and three looks, plus a few fancy words? Well, that woman will empty her checking and savings accounts for him, especially if she believes she’s setting up house with the man—as in marriage. That’s exactly what Edith did, but there was no marriage in the making, nothing but a big blackmail threat. Jack couldn’t stand by and witness his sister’s ruination at the hands of a vermin in a suit. He knew the man would do it, too. Nobody threatened to expose the sordid details of an intimate nature unless he were ready to pull the trigger. Edith would not have survived, no question about it, and that’s why Jack took the money from ND Manufacturing.
“Jack? If you hadn’t helped me, I don’t know what might have happened.”
He met his sister’s gaze, pretended not to notice the tears that rimmed her eyes. Edith was a proud woman who didn’t take kindly to sympathy. “You’re my kin, and I wasn’t about to let that worm or anybody else hurt one of my own.”
A tear spilled, followed by another. “All these years and we’ve kept it between us. The only other person who knows is Phyllis.”
“Thank you.” Her voice dipped. “Thank you for not telling anyone.”
He nodded, snatched another cookie, bit into it. If he kept eating the dang things, he’d have a bellyache by the time he left, and Dolly would want to know why. She’d start on him about drinking too much coffee and eating too many donuts, and he’d have to listen to her because there was no way he’d tell her about his visit to Edith and her chocolate chip cookies. Dolly was nobody’s fool; she could smell a lie before it left a person’s mouth. “I’m not telling Dolly, but if you pull any more shenanigans like you did at Lester and Phyllis’s wedding, people will know you’re hiding something.”
“How would they know?”
“You kidding?” He scratched his jaw, leaned forward, hands on his knees. “Nobody walks into a church and tries to stop a wedding unless there’s a dang good reason. You made no sense, Edith, no sense at all. There you were, a woman who doesn’t say two peeps to anybody and doesn’t come out of the house much, but sure enough, you’re standing in the church, trying to break up a wedding.” Jack shook his head. “That got the town talking…and wondering.”
“Phyllis is my friend. I don’t want anybody to hurt her.”
“That man ain’t gonna hurt her.” He sighed, softened his voice and drew on his patience. “He’s not Norris Welsh, Edith. He’s a good man.” She looked away, sniffed. “And you got to stop tormenting yourself for your bad judgment. You were ripe for the picking. That wasn’t your fault.”
“You can only make so many excuses for me. I knew he wasn’t telling me the whole truth, but I didn’t care. I wanted to marry him, and despite his tendency to fabricate, I thought he really cared about me.” She dabbed at her nose with her handkerchief. “I never thought he’d try to blackmail me.”
Jack dragged a hand over his face. This conversation was going nowhere. They said the same words every few years, and it always ended the same way. “He was no good, Edith. Why can’t you see that and stop torturing yourself?”
She bit her bottom lip, met his gaze. “Because he was my baby’s father.”
“What?” Jack jumped off the couch and stared at his sister. “You were pregnant? When? What happened to the baby?”
“I lost it early on. Nobody knew.”
Damn. What to say to that? “You should have told me.”
She shook her head. “By the time I mustered up the courage to tell Norris, the whole mess with the blackmail started. I was afraid to tell you because I didn’t know how you’d react and I couldn’t have you going after him.”
“I wouldn’t have gone after the scumbag.” But even as Jack said the words, he knew they might not be exactly true. He might have forced the man to do right by marrying his sister and then what? That would have been worse than horrible.
“I never told anybody about the baby.” She paused, dabbed at her eyes. “Not even Phyllis.”
“Nobody needs to know.” What a dang mess, and a heartache on top of it. No wonder Edith was never right afterward. Who would be? He gentled his voice. “You still got a lot of years left in you, Edith. Don’t you want to try and find a speck of happiness?”
“You know what makes me happy?” Her eyes grew bright, her voice soft. “Watching couples in love. Watching them fall in love. It’s beautiful and it warms my heart.”
“You’re talking about the Casherdons, aren’t you?”
Her voice grew softer, her cheeks pink. “I’m talking about the Casherdons and the Desantros and the Reeds. All of the star-crossed lovers who found a way to be together.” Her thin lips pulled into a smile that looked a lot like joy. “And I’ll be watching someone else, too.” The smile spread when she added, “Dolly told me Peter’s coming back to Magdalena.”
Jack crossed his arms over his chest, blew out a sigh. “That’s what I heard.”
“Aren’t you happy your son’s coming home?”
“Thrilled.” Dolly said their son was heading back to Magdalena for a spell, something about his business almost going belly-up. She didn’t say and he didn’t ask, probably because she knew he’d have a few comments about the son who’d left for California fifteen years ago and forgotten where he’d grown up.
“Peter’s a good boy.” She tsk-tsked, her face lighting up in a way that made her almost attractive. “You were always so hard on him. Just because he had big plans you didn’t understand. I can’t wait to see him. I heard he’s still not married, but who knows? That could all change once he comes home. In fact, I’m sure it will. You just wait and see.”