The Black Sheep Master Builder’s Fake Marriage – Lucy McConnell

What’s he doing here?” “I didn’t think he’d dare show his face.” “That’s a black sheep for you, always thinking about themselves.” Cash did his best to ignore his Diamante cousins clustered together like a bunch of chickens clucking away and establishing a pecking order. Family gatherings hadn’t always been like this. There’d been a time when they’d play kickball or snitch treats from the kitchen together—one big clump of kids just happy to have someone who wanted to play instead of sit around and talk like the adults. Growing up kind of sucked like that. The thing was, he’d still play kickball. Any. Day. But all his old buddies were too concerned about their designer suits and Jimmy Choos or whatever the ladies wore these days. He took a seat on the last row, leaning the chair back against the wall. His worn leather jacket crinkled as he moved, the sound loud in the small lawyer’s office. Only an act of God could have made him walk into a room full of self-important Moose Creek elite. He supposed Grandpa’s death counted, so he’d laced up his riding boots and ridden over here to see what was in the old man’s will. The gossiping continued as if he couldn’t hear every word.


Keeping his face neutral was easier when he remembered that it was his father’s sins unfairly heaped upon his shoulders that caused them all to look down on him. He had plenty of his own sins to account for, but none that this group could complain about. Now if Maggie were in the room, that would be a different story. He cut off that train of thought before it could gain steam. There was no sense drowning in the past. What was done was done, and he couldn’t take it back or make it right. Mr. Sam Goodall finally entered the room. Grandpa’s lawyer wore a gray suit with a sheen to the fabric that could signal Pluto. His hair was salt-and-pepper, slicked back and full—especially for a man his age. He walked tall, as if he was proud of himself and his family—all the way back to his great-great-grandparents. Cash envied people like that, the kind that could claim they came from someone. Though Cash’s grandfather had been an influential man in Moose Creek, Cash’s father was well-known in all the wrong places. It was like Dad took pleasure in destroying the reputation Grandpa so carefully built. Maybe he regretted that now that he was living in a cinderblock cell.

But probably not. Mr. Goodall motioned for everyone to take their seats. Cash’s cousins scattered like roaches when the lights came on. They wouldn’t dare upset the executor of Grandpa’s will any more than they’d dared challenged the guy during his life. Grandpa had ruled the family like a king. At least, that’s what life was like for everyone else. With Cash, he was different. More human. They think they have the corner on piety and upstanding reputations, Grandpa had said one day, but they have no idea what skeletons are in their closets. You, my boy, you have names for each of yours and you don’t hide from them. I can respect that. “I’d like to welcome you all here today.” Mr. Goodall looked over the gathering.

His gaze landed on Cash, who was kicking back in his seat like he didn’t have a care. His eye ticked. Cash smirked. Mr. Goodall continued on, “I’m sorry for the circumstances that have brought about this gathering. I hope to make this process as painless as possible, as I know you are still grieving the loss of your grandfather. Once your portion of the will is read, please exit the room. My secretary has all the information you will need to transfer titles and so on.” As the long list of Grandpa’s worldly belongings was divvied up among eager recipients, Cash tuned out. He didn’t care if Felicity got half the jewelry store or Camila moved into the mansion. What Cash wanted from Grandpa couldn’t be written up in a will. He wanted his grandpa back, the one Diamante who’d seen something in him. He’d gladly hand over his company for just one more day to work alongside Grandpa. He pulled out his phone to check for messages and found several marked urgent from his superintendent, James. The plumber wasn’t going to be at the site until Wednesday; could they bump the sheet rockers back a couple days and still stay on schedule? He checked his calendar and responded.

It would be tight but doable. He then sent a message to the sheetrock company asking them about the change and if they’d be able to move their schedule. One adjustment like this could affect a half dozen jobs. “Cash? Cash.” Cash lifted his head to see that the room had cleared as each of his cousins’ names were read off and their allotment delivered. No one had said goodbye, but then, they hadn’t said hello either. “I’m Cash,” he clarified as he tucked his phone inside his jacket. Mr. Goodall smiled. While everything about his appearance grated on Cash, from the ornately carved walnut desk to the slight gap between his front teeth, there was something about the guy that kept him from crossing over to the greasy lawyer stereotype. There was kindness in his eyes. He also added some welcome in his smile, something that had been missing when Mr. Goodall had addressed the cousins. “Your grandfather had something extra special in mind for you.” Mr.

Goodall leaned onto the balls of his feet as if he were about to start an adventure. Crap. What had Grandpa done? “I can only imagine,” mumbled Cash. “I’ve been instructed to take you on a little field trip.” The lawyer opened a drawer and pulled out a set of car keys. He rounded the desk, motioning for Cash to go ahead of him. Cash stood slowly, his six-foot-three frame unfolding until he towered over the smaller man. Mr. Goodall held out his hand for a shake. Cash was surprised at the strength in the lawyer’s soft-looking hands. “Is this going to take long?” He had a crew working on a project across town and was anxious to get back there. “It may take a couple of hours. I did have my secretary ask you to clear your schedule for the afternoon.” They walked across the soft carpet through the wood line doorway and past the receptionist’s desk. Mr.

Goodall held the front door open. Cash swaggered into the sunshine, pulling a pair of aviator sunglasses out of his pocket. He’d found them on the job site a few days ago and cleaned them up. He clapped Mr. Goodall on the back, sending the man a step forward. “I’ll follow you.” He motioned to his motorcycle. Mr. Goodall frowned. “It that even safe?” Laughing, Cash threw his jean-clad leg over the seat and fired up the engine. It roared and then settled into the study purr, the handles vibrating against his palms. He’d bought the bike off a junk dealer when he was a senior in high school. Years of restoration work brought out its original beauty. He didn’t like to think about those days for too long. Invariably, memories of his father’s alcohol abuse and the sweetness of Maggie’s kisses would wash over him.

Maybe if things had turned out different with Maggie, it wouldn’t hurt so much to remember. Mr. Goodall must have sensed that he wasn’t going to get an answer to his question about the motorcycle. He climbed into his Lexus and backed out of the reserve spot in front of his law office. Moose Creek was the kind of mountain home that most people dreamed of. The shops were quaint. The mountains were full of lush vegetation, skiing, mountain biking, and countless trails for backpackers and hikers alike. Main Street was lined with sycamore trees and flower boxes that were just starting to show off their blooms. The soft scent of fresh-grown grass and fresh air brushed over Cash as he motored behind the Lexus. They drove through suburbs and then out to the edge of town, where Cash fought the urge to open up his Harley and take the wide turns. He held back, following the cautious driving lawyer because that’s what Grandpa wanted him to do. No one else could get Cash to march to their drum, but he’d respected his grandfather in life and wouldn’t disrespect him in death. Grandpa hadn’t been the type to use words like I love you or I’m proud of you. In fact, Cash hadn’t really gotten to know him until after high school graduation, when his world had fallen apart. The Lexus took a right at a fence post.

There wasn’t a street sign or even a leaning mailbox to mark the turn. For all he knew, the guy was gonna take him out in the woods and leave him there. They took a sharp left and the trees dropped away, revealing an old, decrepit mansion of a house. Wood siding peeled away from the support beams. A window in the upstairs was broken. The front door hung slightly ajar, welcoming every raccoon, squirrel, and spider in the woods into the building. Cash killed the engine and just sat, taking it all in. The silence after the roar of the motor was deafening, before the wildlife picked up again. The chatter of birds and the complaints of a chipmunk were music in their own right. There was something about the gabled roof, the gingerbread finish over the second-story window, and the latticework across the big front porch that caught his attention. Where others might see the space as a Halloween moneymaker, he saw the makings of a home. Mr. Goodall made his way to the porch, motioning for Cash to join him. “This is such a bad idea,” Cash mumbled as he made his way up the overgrown brick walkway. A broken floorboard on the porch had to be avoided, but the structure underneath Cash’s snakeskin boots was solid.

Mr. Goodall pushed the door all the way open. The resounding creek was enough to make goose bumps break out on Cash’s arms. He folded them and glared. “What’s this about?” Mr. Goodall dug through his satchel. “This is what your grandfather left for you. The house, the surrounding 50 acres, all of it.” Cash threw his head back and laughed, sending birds scattering from the trees in all directions. So this was what Grandpa really thought of Cash. All those lessons in the woodshop, the time spent restoring or remodeling a room in Grandpa’s house. It was all about the free labor. Well, no one said Grandpa wasn’t cheap—even if he was the richest man in Moose Creek. So what of it? Knowing Grandpa didn’t think he was worth more than a run-down building and some spooky woods cut deep. Not that he’d let the lawyer see that.

Mr. Goodall slapped his palm against the porch beam. “I assure you this is no laughing matter, sir.” Cash sauntered down the steps even as he spoke over his shoulder. “The old man got me good. For a minute there, I thought he might have actually cared.” “But he did.” Mr. Goodall raced off the porch, tripping over the hole that they had so carefully avoided before. “Mr. Diamante!” The desperation of the man’s voice caused Cash to pause. He turned his head, looking over his shoulder. “What?” “There’s more to this place than what you see.” Cash stared longingly at his bike with the American flag flapping on the pole on the end—a testament to his four years of military service. He had a hundred and ten things to do and not a moment to waste on this fool’s errand.

Yet something inside of him didn’t want to give up on Grandpa, didn’t want to believe that his last act was one of cruelty. Yet … how could he dismiss the fact that his cousins were draped in jewels, surrounded by cash, and driving shiny vehicles while he’d been given a pile of old wood? He looked up at the gray sky, the clouds so dense he couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended. “Mr. Goodall, I have a thriving business and a lot of work to do. My grandpa may have thought this was all I was worth, but I’m done using what other people think of me as my yardstick.” Mr. Goodall ran his hand over his greasy hair. “That’s exactly why your grandfather wanted you to have this place. Your cousins are a bunch of pretentious pricks—his words, not mine. None of them would be able to see the potential of this place, and it’s one your grandfather held dear.” Cash turned around, scanning the outside of the building for anything of worth. The roof needed replacing. “Give me one good reason I should accept this headache.” “Because, in your grandfather’s words, you’re the only one on the planet who would be able to bring this place back to life.” “Why would I do that?” “It’s an old family property, and I have records stating that Thomas Jefferson himself stayed here for several weeks.

The building is not only part of your family but historically significant.” Cash tucked his thumbs into his pockets and turned, shuffling his feet forward. Darn it all if Grandpa hadn’t hit two of his soft spots with one blow. Not the family history thing— although it would be great to rub the fact that he had the family historical home in his cousins’ noses—but patriotism and the Founding Fathers made up two of his foundation stones. Not to mention his company specialized in restoring old homes. There was something about bringing back the majesty the builder had envisioned when he’d put the place together that gave Cash a sense of satisfaction unlike anything he’d ever known. It was redemption—the thing he always sought for himself but was never able to find. Mr. Goodall approached slowly as if Cash would bolt out of there. “This home has been in your family for over 150 years.” A strangled sound escaped Cash’s throat. He’d love a project like that. Instantly, his mind jumped to the type of building materials available in that time period; the handcarved wood alone would be a work of art. His hands opened and closed, wishing he had a hammer and a nail setter. “I guess I could take a look around.

” Mr. Goodall checked his grin. “Be my guest.” Cash ascended the steps and stepped through the door. To his right was a grand staircase so covered in dust he wasn’t sure what the original color was, but if he had to bet, he’d say it was cherry. Goose bumps prickled on his arms. Beyond that was a library with built-in bookshelves. On his left was a parlor with a fireplace, small yet probably usable once it was clean. He walked straight down the hallway ahead of him and was suddenly in a large family room. There must’ve been a wall here dividing the dining room from the family room at some point, but it had been taken out to make the space bigger. He peeked inside the kitchen, finding ancient appliances and dried leaves piled up in the corners. The back of the house was open to the wilderness through giant windows, allowing fresh light to filter through. He checked the frames and determined that the windows had been added later than the first build. A nice touch, and one he’d probably keep—if he decided to take on the project. He shook his head.

“What was Grandfather thinking? Letting this house sit here all this time.” There was also two bedrooms, a bath, and a door to the crawl space. The back yard sported a root cellar. No doubt there were mason jars full of fermented fruits and vegetables lining the shelves, perhaps the work of his great-grandmother. He closed his eyes and listen for the sounds of years gone by, of the people working, living, loving in these walls. His people. And suddenly, he understood. Grandpa wasn’t making fun of him by leaving him this decrepit home; he was giving him a link— something he’d never had in this life—a link to his ancestors, a link to his family. Maybe Grandpa was telling Cash he belonged in the family that had built this house with their bare hands, added onto it over the years, and tamed the surrounding forest. Maybe he was more Diamante than his twittering and gossiping cousins. Maybe he was more Diamante than all of them put together. His chest swelled and his eyes burned with emotions he’d rather keep in check. Cash walked out of the house, sliding on his aviators to hide the moisture, and headed for his motorcycle. Mr. Goodall scrambled to keep up with him.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Cash climbed onto his bike and put up the kickstand. “I’ll take it.” Mr. Goodall beamed like a new father. “Wonderful. Wonderful news.” His face suddenly fell. “There’s one little catch.” He held up his thumb and forefinger to indicate just how small this catch really was. Cash kicked the kickstand down and leveled him with a stare. “What catch?” “Well, your grandfather thought it would be best if you were a bit more settled before assuming ownership of the home.” Mr. Goodall couldn’t look at any one tree for longer than two seconds. Cash slid his sunglasses down his nose and peered over them at the little man. “What did he mean by settled?” “Married, for one.

And then you also have to have the house livable within six weeks.” His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. Cash stared at him, dumbfounded. “Six weeks for this level of restoration is impossible. The exterior alone could take half a year.” Painting it a light gray would be perfect for the time period. With dark green shutters, or white, depending on what paint flaked off during the refinishing process. Mr. Goodall dug through his satchel again, pulling out a file, which he opened to reveal a legal document with small print. “It’s all laid out right here. The house doesn’t have to be finished; it just has to be livable, and you have to be living in it with your wife.” “Wife?” Cash shoved the paperwork back at the lawyer, not wanting it anywhere near him. Marriage was not … He was not marriageable material. “I don’t even understand why that’s an issue.” Mr.

Goodall gritted his teeth. It was as if he agreed with Cash but was bound by his agreement to be the executor of the will to bear the bad news. “Your grandfather wanted to assure that the property would remain in the family. Therefore, he requested that you have a child before you inherit. I assured him that was taking it too far. Our compromise was that you got married.” Cash chuckled. “Leave it to Grandfather to have a compromise that’s completely unreasonable.” A sense of love for the old man washed over him, one that he’d never felt so strongly when Grandpa had been alive. The old man had been demanding and frustrating and yet trying to do what he’d thought was best. Without any romantic prospects, or even a date for this Friday night, Cash had no chance of inheriting the land or the house that had struck his creative chord. Darn it all, he wanted the house and the vision it created in his head. He also wanted some of the heritage that came from caring for the last thing that had been on this land for over 150 years. “What happens to the place if I don’t have a wife?” “The home will be donated to the city of Moose Creek.” He kicked a pebble.

“They want to turn it into a tourist destination.” Cash righted the bike. “Do not give this land to anyone else. I will find a way.” A whole new set of worry lines appeared on Mr. Goodall’s face. “How are you going to do that?” Given Cash’s parentage, he could understand Mr. Goodall’s stress. However, Cash had no idea what he was going to do. “I guess I’m gonna have to find a woman.” With that, he started the motorcycle, cutting off all attempts at conversation. As he drove away, he knew there was only one place he could go for help.

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Updated: 9 June 2021 — 12:54

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