Hi, Everyone! I'm not going to make any excuses, just going to say I got lazy and delayed a little bit. Sorry to those of you who have been waiting for this chapter. Life, unfortunately, happens.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter and those of you who fav'd/followed! On to the chapter.


Her trip had, thankfully, been a success. Phillip and his assistant had given her plenty of information to work with. They offered a great sounding board for her ideas from business/corporate retreats, to keeping with youth group camps. Maybe offering a few weeks in the spring for business retreats for things like conferences or team building weeks could help offset bills incurred during youth groups in the summer. More cabins would definitely be needed, and the idea for a bunk house/mess hall started to form.

The Saturday following her meeting, Mark came over for lunch and the two of them traded ideas. He couldn't stay for too long, he told her, because his grandfather had started to transfer the ranch business into his name. That meant that he needed spend time going over the books to get an idea as to what he was truly taking over outside of chores. He explained that business was not his forte and he needed to study up on how to make sure he was able to properly balance the books.

Things had somewhat cooled down between the two of them. They still had dinner a few times together, however more often than not it was at the Tate family home, where they never spent more than a few minutes alone. Most of the time after dinner was spent with him absconded in the office while she worked with both Charlie and Alex on homework and studying. Most of the time they communicated via text message as he struggled to get a handle on the new changes.

She was fine with that. The apartment over the garage had been completed the week after her trip, but the inspector was dragging his feet giving her the approval needed for her to get a certificate of occupancy. Not quite ready to start making waves, she was letting Mark's brother, Adam, deal with the inspector. Her thoughts on the matter were that Trudy and Rosa's rumors were not making people in town happy and they were taking it out on her.

Whatever.

In the meantime, she was working with Adam on plans for redoing the original cabin as well as additional cabins. The bunk house or mess hall would take a little bit of time, and with the weather getting ready to start changing, they both agreed that it could wait to get started. In fact, aside from making sure that the original cabin was structurally sound everything else could wait until warmer weather.

Two weeks after her trip to Omaha, Jamie was in town visiting the bookstore to put in an order for the library when Gary Tate called her on her cell phone, asking her to meet with him at his office. They agreed to an hour later and she continued with her order, purchasing a novel for herself along with several classics and a few new authors. To kill time, she took her purchase into the neighboring coffee shop and settled in to read a few chapters in one of the overstuffed sofas.

She was twenty minutes into her break when the cushion next to her shifted and she felt someone staring at her. Using the bookstore receipt to save her page, she closed her book and turned to meet Suzanne Caulfield's glare.

She was a pretty woman with wavy brown hair and hazel eyes. Tall and curvaceous. Jamie would have considered her beautiful if not for the sneer that curled her upper lip. "Can I help you with something, Miss Caulfield?"

"Stay away from Mark Tate."

"Excuse me?"

The other woman studied her, eyes narrowed. "Mark and I have been together since high school. I understood when he spent all that time at the inn when Fiona was sick. We were finally getting back to where we were when you showed up. Now he only goes out with me once or twice a week and he hardly spends the night." Tears glinted in her eyes. "He barely ever tells me he loves me and it's all your fault." Her words ended on a loud pout that had the coffee shop patrons turning in their direction. "Get it through your spoiled southern belle head that no matter how much you throw yourself at him, Mark Tate will never cheat on me." With that last shrieked sentence, Suzanne stood from the couch, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and flounced out of the shop.

All eyes followed her out before jerking to settle on Jamie. For half of a second, she contemplated returning to her book, but the thought of so many eyes on her made her uncomfortable. Instead, she threw her untouched coffee in the trash and hustled down Main Street to the office of Beckitt and DeWitt. While she waited for Gary, now fifteen minutes early for their meeting, she had plenty of time to think.

It had nagged her over the past month that they had spent together, why nothing had ever happened between her and Mark. Sure, they had dinner together but nothing had ever progressed from the night that they had spent innocently cuddled on her couch.

In all honesty, it hadn't started out as innocent cuddling. But, it had sure ended that way. And she had tried not to let that get to her, his distance, but now, with Suzanne throwing her accusations around, it definitely was.

At first she had thought his family had stirred the pot after Adam saw him the next morning. But she had cleared the air with his grandmother weeks ago and his family seemed to like her. At one point or another, one of them had stopped by for coffee or invited her over for dinner.

Now, his lack of — for lack of a better word — action, or — what had seemed like playful teasing — reinforcement of their status as friends made sense. Aside from a few kisses that had tapered off since dinner with his father and grandparents weeks ago, they were back to where their tentative friendship had started. He came by for dinner only three times since she returned from Omaha. Hell, she spent more time with his family than she had with him. They were friends. He told her that. It was her own stupid fault for thinking that things were progressing further than they truly were.

And now she knew why there was such a distance between them. When he told her that he had never been with Fiona, it was the truth. But when he told her that he was available, he was lying to her face.

Lord, how pathetic was she?

It was her own fault for reading more into their time together. Her own fault for thinking that the fact that they talked to each other about almost everything meant that they shared some kind of bond.

Craziness.

They were two different people, from two different worlds and though she was willing to mold herself to fit into this world, she would never be from it. And that difference was too hard for some people to get passed.

By the time Gary stepped out of his small office with an envelope in his hand, she was sick to her stomach. Nerves shot, her hands shook so bad that she clenched them tightly against her roiling belly. He handed her the envelope urging that she read it at home and preferably not alone, mentioning that it was Mark's day off.

Numb, she looked at what was bound to be another hateful letter in her hand before nodding and leaving the office. The curvy handwriting clearly indicated that this was a letter from Fiona.

Wanting to delay, she moved down to the Farmer's Market. Winter was right around the corner and the days were starting to get shorter and colder. She had read that winter in the Great Plains could be brutal on some occasions, deadly on others. Now would be the perfect time to start canning and preserving, stocking up the pantry in the event of a harsh season.

A shopping cart full of fruits and vegetables later, she packed up her car and made the drive back to the inn. She unloaded her car near the kitchen door before parking in the garage. Grabbing a box of jars, she moved back into the kitchen and set a big of water to boil. While she waited, she decided not to put off the letter for any longer. Whatever Fiona had to say, she could forget it as soon as she lost herself in cooking.

Sentences jumped out at her. Don't toy with people's emotions. Don't cling to money. Grow up. Take responsibility. Blah, blah, blah.

It was the last two sentences of the letter that completely changed everything: "I only say all of this to you, because I care about you. I am your mother." Enclosed with the letter was a certificate of adoption where one Fiona Thatcher surrendered her rights to her daughter, Jamie Anne Thatcher, to her sister Helen Thatcher-Bryant and her husband Henry Bryant. Fiona was to give up all rights, until Jamie was eighteen, unless Jamie was willing to contact her. Presents, letters, and cards were okay, but she had no legal control or say over Jamie's life.

As if her life wasn't crazy enough as it was.

Jamie stood from the kitchen bar and dropped some jars in the pot. On auto pilot she went to work on the fruit. While the cooking process started, she went around the inn and locked doors and windows, pulling down shades and turning off lights.

The good thing was that the building inspector had not cleared the newly constructed suite over the garage for occupancy. Until that time, she had to keep the inn closed. She hoped to be open in the coming weeks, but for now, she could enjoy the quiet and solitude. On the way back into the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of wine, taking the bottle with her.

Suddenly things made sense. Her parents had always made it painfully obvious that they had only wanted one child. Their comments about her owing them — whatever they thought they deserved at the time. No wonder they had no problem spending the money in her trust fund. They would consider it as payment for the trouble they went through to raise her. Apparently, she was fifty million dollars' worth of trouble.

At least that much and more, as they continued to fight her over it.

Could this help her case?

While she moved her canning process along, she called Brad and explained the discovery, promising to fax the adoption paperwork — minus her missing birth certificate — to his office by the morning. She had just ended the call when Mark strolled through the dining room into the kitchen.

This was one confrontation she did not want to have right now. "I locked everything up," she spoke with her back to him.

"I have a key."

Yeah, that was something she didn't want to hear. "I want it back."

"You'll get over it." He moved up behind her, hands going to her shoulders. "Jamie, talk to me." Hands on her shoulders, a friend consoling another friend.

"You knew, didn't you?" She didn't look at him, but pointed to the papers on the counter.

"She asked me to let her tell you herself." He squeezed her shoulders gently. "In her own way."

"And what a great way." Jamie tore herself out of his tender grasp, she balled the letter in her fist and threw it at him. "Don't be spoiled, Jamie. Don't be selfish, Jamie. Accept responsibility for your actions and don't toy with people. Time to stop being a money grubbing whore and grow up. I only say this because I love you and want you to be the best that you can be. Oh yeah, and I'm your mother." She pushed the adoption paperwork across the counter. "I'm paraphrasing, of course."

His eyes scanned the letter, confirming her words. "I'm sorry that she felt this was the appropriate way to break this news."

"Really? Please don't tell me you're surprised. Instead of believing the best in a complete stranger, she labeled me the wicked witch of the east because of some investigator's report. And now it's her mission in death to teach me to be a better person. Something she willingly gave up the right to do while she was alive."

"There's more to that story, Jamie," he told her calmly.

"Which you won't tell me, of course. Because it's in another scathing letter that I will receive when the time is right." When he did nothing to deny the accusation, she felt her shoulders sag in defeat. "I thought we were friends."

"We are," he said hastily.

"Lies and half-truths do not a friendship make." She refilled her wine glass. "I want you to leave."

He opened his mouth to respond, but a tinny ringing cut him off. Mark reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. "This is Gary. It could be an emergency. Let me take this and then we'll talk."

"Actually, you should just take the call and leave."

"I'll be right back." With a pointed look, he answered the call and walked into the dining room.


And that's that. Let me know what you think.

Thanks!

Perci