Her Secret Daughter

By: Ruth Logan Herne

CHAPTER ONE

Josie Gallagher gripped the letter from the county manager’s office with tight hands.

She already knew the contents. Cruz Maldonado, her cousin Rory’s husband and a lawyer, had called with a heads-up the night before. She’d lost her battle against the hotel giant erecting a five-star resort just south of her popular lakeside barbecue joint. Her little place stood in the way of progress, which meant she’d have to relocate the Bayou Barbecue. She tore open the envelope, and her gaze landed on four distinct words. “Eminent domain petition granted.”

Gone.

Just like that. Her hard work, dedication and years of working with some of the best chefs in New Orleans had dissipated like a whiff of hickory smoke because the boat-launch site on her land was a better match for the major hotelier. Her lake access was about to become the property of Carrington Hotels & Inns for a tidy sum to help her launch a new spot, but new spots weren’t exactly a given along the waterfront, and real estate had gone sky-high in Grace Haven, New York.

“Bad news?” Her cousin Kimberly came in through the side door of Josie’s tiny apartment. The three-room living quarters was attached to the Southern-style eatery she’d spent years building, which meant she wasn’t only out of a job. She was also out of a home. “Is that from the county?”

Josie fought back a wealth of angry words she’d like to say. Clutching the stupid paper, she nodded. “Yup.”

“Oh, Josie.” Kimberly hugged her, and it felt good to be hugged. “I’m so sorry. Are you sure we can’t continue to fight? Take it further?”

They’d already gone the legal route Cruz had recommended, but he’d been honest from the beginning. If the county saw a need for this strip of land to provide the proper spacing for a major player, it’d have Carrington pay fair market value and take the land. End of story. “It’s done.”

“How long have you got to vacate?”

“Thirty days.”

“Thirty days?” Anger darkened Kimberly’s gaze. She was nearly nine months pregnant with her second child, and Josie didn’t want to tip her into labor, but at least a new baby would be a happy end to an otherwise wretched day. “They can’t possibly expect you to take care of moving everything from your home and business and find a new place in thirty days. Can they? That’s preposterous, Josie, even for Southerners.”

A deep and distinctly Southern drawl interrupted them from the screened door. “It would seem less preposterous had you taken the initial offer six months ago.”

The women turned. A man stood at the door, midthirties. Crazy good-looking. He had an official-looking folder in his left hand, which meant he was most likely another Carrington Hotels henchman. Kimberly must have sensed the same thing because she folded her arms above the baby bump in total defensive Gallagher posture.

Josie Gallagher moved forward, determined to save Kimberly from herself. “This is a private meeting, and I’m pretty sure you weren’t invited, sir.”

The man pointed south. “Carrington Hotels has been nothing but courteous about this whole thing. We approached you personally, and you laughed at our representative, and from what I’ve heard, possibly also shut the door in his face.”

She’d done exactly that, and she would have done it again if they had reapproached with that number. They’d lowballed the initial offering, hoping she was stupid. She wasn’t. “The original offer was deserving of that, I believe.”

“It was too low, and I apologize for that,” the man said. He looked honest, but Josie had found out the hard way that honesty should never be taken at face value, and despite this guy’s classic good looks—tall, broad-shouldered, curly light brown hair and blue eyes—she wasn’t going to be fooled this time, either. Or ever again.

“I wasn’t in on the initial negotiations,” he continued. “If I had been, the offer would have been quite different. But fighting over this corner property has made for costly delays…”

“And has negatively affected your client’s bottom line.” Josie pretended to yawn. “I’ve read the briefs and you’ve gotten the county to side with you, so why is Carrington sending another lawyer to my door? You won. I have to dismantle my business and move, and while that’s nothing to bigwigs like you, it’s a huge deal to small-town businesspeople like me. Take your celebration elsewhere. We’re closed.”

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