© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
by Gina Welborn
Monday, early May ~ Moore, OK
"You spent $450 on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!?” Leesa Ellis slammed the Widmore-Hill mansion exercise room door, yet the action did nothing to lessen her frantic pulse. She was an accountant not a baby sitter, although her job as financial manager for her sister’s inheritance usually felt more like the latter. She slowly buttoned the jacket of her black pantsuit to regain some semblance of serenity.
“Little sister,” she enunciated perfectly and with a pointed finger, “you’d better have a logical explanation.”
Andie kept pedaling the exercise bike. A bead of sweat dripped off her forehead and onto her already-soaked lime sports bra. “Maybe.” She shrugged. “Maybe not.”
With the jerk of her wrist, Leesa turned off the walled sound system, effectively killing Toby-Mac’s “Welcome to the Freak Show,” which seemed to be on continual repeat. Why couldn’t Andie work out to something less mind-numbing? Leesa strolled across the room, her heels clicking on the spit-shined wooden floor. She stopped at the exercise bike as Andie’s mobile phone vibrated in the empty metal dog bowl next to her.
“Are you going to answer your phone?” Leesa asked over the vibrating hum of the bike’s wheels.
“That’s what voicemail’s for,” Andie answered, her voice ragged.
The phone stopped vibrating.
Leesa jerked a debit card receipt from her blazer pocket. She unfolded all three creases then waved it in front of her sister’s flushed face. “Explain this.”
“You told me I had to turn in all receipts, and that’s one of them.”
“That’s not what I want to know.”
Andie’s brown eyes gave the paper a cursory glance before refocusing on the bike’s odometer. Her black-and-pink ponytail bobbed as she increased her pace. “Nope, my little pigeon. You won’t listen.”
“Won’t listen?” Leesa drew in a deep breath and released it. Trying to have a conversation with Andie was rendering her as repetitive as a cable news network. With another deep breath, she tucked the overgrown bangs of her inverted black bob behind her ears. Once she was finished getting answers from her sister, she’d schedule an appointment for a haircut.
Andie’s phone rattled again in the bowl.
Leesa knelt to pick it up.
“Leave it,” Andie snapped, stilling Leesa’s red-manicured nails inches from the white case.
“Don’t you want to know who it is?”
The phone fell silent, and Leesa straightened to meet Andie’s guileless gaze. “Answering your phone shows respect to the caller.”
Andie rolled her eyes. “You sound like Michael.”
Leesa blinked. Ugh, she did sound like their older brother. The phone vibrated again, and she glanced down before meeting Andie’s stubborn gaze. If her sister could ignore the rattling, then so could she.
“Listen, Andie, as your financial manager, my duty is to ensure you spend your inheritance wisely.” She waved the bill in front of Andie again. “Four hundred-fifty dollars on PB&J is idiotic and asinine, not to mention crazy.”
Andie slammed the pedals to a halt. Her brown eyes narrowed. Sweat dripped down her face, her chest rising and falling with each harsh breath. “I. Am. Not. Crazy.”
At the seething tone, Leesa felt her own face pale in mortification. She knew better than to say the “C” word. She stared at the small mole on Andie’s right cheek. Her sister had inherited every beauty gene their parents had had, especially their mother’s Native American cheekbones. Were it not for the three months Andie spent in juvenile detention her freshman year of high school, she could have competed in the Miss Moore pageant like every other Ellis female, won, and gone on to win Miss Oklahoma and probably Miss America like no other Ellis had been able to do. Ninety-two days of incarceration for mental instability had ruined that.
What was she thinking mentioning the “C” word to her sister?
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted. “I didn’t mean—”
Andie burst into laughter. “Oh, Lee-Lee, you look like you insulted the president.” She resumed pedaling, leaning forward over the handlebars. “I probably am insane. You should look at my Meyers-Briggs score. ”
Leesa glanced down at the receipt in her hand. Usually she doubted her younger sister’s mental instability, but in light of the recent receipt, doubt found fertile soil in her mind. “So why the sandwiches?”
“Estuardo thought they were a great idea.”
Leesa gasped. “Tell me you didn’t involve him in one of your hair-brained schemes.”
Andie grinned and more sweat dripped down her face. “Baby brother has a missionary’s heart. I had never thought about feeding the Will Work for Food beggars, but Estuardo said Jesus would, so we should too. He’s right, sis.”
“He’s thirteen.” Leesa grabbed the exercise bike’s handlebars. Not to mention, even after four years in America after their parents adopted him out of Guatemala, his English was still spotty. “He’s not been a Christian long enough to know what Jesus would do, and you’re a sophomore in college who should know better.”
“You’re a cynic who should read her dusty Bible.”
Leesa groaned. Leave it to Andie not to break the nine-year, once-a-day jab at her spiritual life. “Did you take Estuardo all around the city to feed the beggars?”
The phone rattled.
Leesa happily ignored it. “Did Michael know?” Their oldest sibling, and legal guardian of their youngest sibling, wouldn’t have approved. Couldn’t have.
“He tagged along.”
“Yep, to the seedy, sinful spots as well.” Andie stopped pedaling, wiped her forehead with the back of her wrist. “I don’t see why it matters. Estuardo ran the Memorial 5K with us last month. Trust me, we were safe. Jonah went with us.” She hopped off the bike, snapped her fingers, and pursed her lips like a duck. “Oh yeah, baby, we’re going to a movie tomorrow night. Jonah, me, alone in a dark theatre— Hold that lecture for a sec.” She picked up the phone and tapped the screen. “Are your ears itchin’?” She laughed then mouthed, it’s Jonah. “Why wouldn’t I be talking about you?”
Leesa fisted her palms and the receipt to keep from reaching for the phone.
Andie turned away from Leesa. “Sure, I’ll meet you there instead,” she cooed, her voice sex-kitten enough to deserve a week’s penance, even though she wasn’t Catholic. She dropped the phone back into the bowl and grinned. “You can lecture me now.”
“You can’t date him.”
“Insert good reason here,” Andie said with a smirk.
“He’s your youth pastor.”
“I joined Lighthouse after Miss Eugenia died, remember?”
“He’s too old for you.”
“Ha! He’s the same age as you.”
“Still,” Andie mimicked back.
Leesa gritted her teeth.
Andie was the most pig-headed, obstinate, do-it-her-own-way-without-any-regard-for-propriety sibling she had. Why couldn’t Mrs. Eugenia Widmore-Hill have asked Michael, Samantha, or Evelyn to be Andie’s financial manager instead of her? Even in the woman’s dying state, she had to have known any of the Ellis siblings would have been more suited for this job than Leesa, despite her accounting and business management degrees and five years’ experience working for a Fortune 500 company. Eight more months. That’s all she had to get through before Andie turned twenty-one and came into complete control of her inheritance, and then Leesa would be released from her two-year contract.
Released from “parenting” Andie.
Released to live her own life again.
She met Andie’s glare with one of her own. Winning this argument called for the big artillery. “Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve.”
For a second, she could’ve sworn Andie looked panicked.
Then her sister turned on her heels and, with a Beyoncé strut, walked to bathroom. A moment later she came out with a fluffy, ridiculously expensive white towel wrapped around her neck. “Lee, I’ve been thinking.” A V deepened between her brows. “You’re going to be thirty soon—”
“In another year.” Leesa glanced into one of the mirrored walls. No gray, no wrinkles either. She still had her Miss Moore curves, too.
“I see you lookin’,” Andie said, approaching, the muscles in her arms as defined as her bare abs. She could have been one of those celebrity trainers on The Biggest Loser. “You should date. Guys think you’re hot…at least those who like the prim-and-proper type.”
Leesa pinched her lips closed to seal off a defensive retort. Prim and proper wasn’t a negative character trait. “I know you think Jonah McKnight is a great guy, but he’s . . . well, he’s . . .” Why couldn’t she say it?
Andie’s eyes widened expectantly. “He’s what? A major hottie? Possibly Superman’s clone? Oh wait, you’ve never met him because in the last nine years you’ve only gone to church for funerals. Jonah’s a great guy. What problem do you have with him?”
He worked in a church. He was hitting on a girl too young for him to date. The list was endless. What did it matter what she thought? Andie wasn’t about to take her advice.
Leesa held up the crumpled debit receipt. “Let me know first before you do something like this again. Okay?”
“Sure, sis.” Andie smoothed the sides of Leesa’s hair then cupped her ears. “But you stay out of my business with Jonah. I’m planning on an Ellis-McKnight wedding by Christmas, which leaves only four months of dating for the ideal three-month engagement.”
“Three months isn’t long enough to plan a wedding.” Or be engaged. And four months was certainly not enough time to get to know a person’s flaws.
The phone rattled again.
Andie cranked up the music. “It’ll work,” she yelled.
Leesa sighed. Reasoning with Andie was like reasoning with a cat.
Andie picked up her phone, texted a response, and dropped it back in the bowl.
Leesa stopped herself from criticizing. Thank heaven for protective phone cases. “How much longer are you going to work out?” she yelled over the music.
Andie held up ten fingers before she sat at the weight machine and started arm crunches.
Ten minutes would be more likely twenty.
“I’ll see you at dinner,” Leesa called out, before leaving the exercise room.
As she walked down the chandelier-lit basement hall to the elevator to take her back up to the first floor, she glanced at the debit receipt. Having a discretionary fund of $500 a week to give away to any needy cause was a pittance compared to the $250,000 dollars a month Andie could donate to any charity or charities if she had the financial manager’s approval. Her approval.
She stepped inside the elevator and pushed the first floor button.
Her utterly naïve sister would never believe her if she said Mr. McKnight was like all the other guys who had been clamoring to be her best pal ever since Mrs. Widmore-Hill designated never-met-a-stranger Andie as the inheritor of her multi-million dollar estate. The action really wasn’t much better than leaving it to a pet, as some eccentrics did. No, sharing her thoughts about the youth pastor would only push Andie deeper into his arms. The only way to end the relationship was to convince Mr. McKnight to do the ending. Men like him could be bought.
The elevator binged. Doors slid open.
Leesa stepped into the hall then immediately turned the corner to go into to the first room on the left. She closed the barn doors to her Southern Living-perfect office. Spring sunlight streamed through the wall-length windows behind her desk and highlighted the stack of mail she left lying there before storming to the exercise room.
She slowly smiled.
Surely a struggling youth pastor at a young church barely making budget had a financial wish list. Had to.
Every man had his price.