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Found by Scarlett Finn

 

Overview: Holden Abernathy’s actions have made it impossible for Poppy Granger to remain in her new life.
Grammie isn’t happy to see Poppy back on the sprawling estate. Despite living in luxury, Poppy can’t say she’s happy about it either, but what was the alternative?
Holden’s bounty has stirred up the imaginations of the world. He seems hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to get her attention.
Leaving Turner and his family may have been the best course of action, but it proves hard to live with. No matter how Poppy tries to settle back into her old life, the Maddox family just won’t leave her thoughts. It doesn’t help that they’ve been accosted by the media eager to know more about her life beyond the estate.
When the Granger evening meal is interrupted by staff warning them that the grounds have been breached by a stranger, Poppy is more excited than alarmed. Her curiosity rises when she learns the intruder wants facetime with her. Her family panic, but Poppy wonders: who could be willing to go to such extreme lengths just to talk with her?

 

Found by Scarlett Finn Book Chapter One

 

Two weeks. That was all the time Poppy needed to get back into the swing of Granger life. In the fourteen nights she’d been home on the Adler Estate, she hadn’t left the grounds. Not once. None of the Granger women had.

Only her father, Clark Granger, ventured beyond their perimeter walls. He had to go to work, to meetings and had other things to deal with. Important things. Given how much security he had access to and the fact he went from the house to a car then into a building, the press didn’t hound him. Not as much as Poppy and her sisters would be hounded if they tried to go out to say, a nail appointment.

Going out wasn’t necessary for the women anyway. Nails, hair, clothes, whatever they needed was brought to them. That was the advantage of money. Her sisters and mother didn’t mind filling their days with massages and personal fashion parades. Poppy wished that she could be so easily satisfied.

Grammie was still playing up her faux senility. The longer it went on, the more likely it was that her mother would be driven insane by the antics. Still, Grammie was who she was. After enduring decades with her mother-in-law, Poppy figured her mom should’ve learned that.

Just as Grammie had insisted, Holden hadn’t been allowed anywhere near the estate. And Violet wouldn’t look at her youngest sister much less speak to her. More than once, Poppy had gone to her sister’s bedroom door to beg entry. Violet just ignored her. At the dinner table, it was the same scenario. Her eldest sister wouldn’t even look in her direction.

That Friday night, the family had gathered for dinner, just like always. There was so much drama in their lives, yet they’d given up trying to talk about it, so no one said a word during the appetizer. The entrée was just as silent. Dessert was served and wine glasses topped off. Going through the motions was a Granger specialty. Rather than arguing and giving the staff something to whisper about, all of them did their best to eat fast and get through the meal without addressing each other.

In the previous times her mom and sisters tried to converse, Grammie would end up either needling them or trying to bring Poppy into the conversation. The latter would silence Violet and remind them all of the animosity.

Her father had other things on his mind so didn’t have much time to worry about family drama. The man often only made the situation worse in his attempts to fix things anyway. Unlike his wife, he had learned from past behaviors.

Sitting with her family was a huge contrast to the always moving, always active Maddox house. Dinner with the Maddoxes was an event; a celebration just of being together. On pizza night, they made their own pizzas from scratch. Arguments over the toppings and who got what shelf in the oven were common. On pasta night, there would always be a rush to scoop up the last meatball.

Poppy hadn’t had the pleasure of barbeque night at the Maddox house. Apparently, when Turner had the time to come over and spend an evening with the family, they grilled steaks on the deck. Imagining the scene and atmosphere put a smile on her face.

After two weeks, she’d hoped that the Maddox family wouldn’t be so prominent in her thoughts every day, every minute. Throughout the first week, it was a struggle just to breathe. Despite the time that had passed, her struggle wasn’t getting any easier.

Turner was still out there. Still working to support his family, fulfilling his responsibilities. He was doing what he was supposed to do, why couldn’t she do the same?

From seemingly nowhere, her mother, Silvia, suddenly thrust her shoulders back to sit up straighter. “This is ridiculous!”

“Finally, something we agree on,” Grammie Marigold said, though there was no way she could have any inkling what her daughter-in-law was talking about.

Sometimes Grammie just enjoyed aggravating people. She wasn’t quite the doddering old lady she portrayed herself to be.

“We have to know, Marigold,” Poppy’s mom demanded. “What is your plan?”

“My plan?” Marigold asked, casting her round eyes around the table. “Do I have a plan?”

“I think we should talk about Vi and Poppy first,” Primrose said. “You two have to start talking to each other.”

“She stole my fiancé,” Violet said to Primrose. “What do you want me to say to the woman who seduced away the man I was supposed to marry?”

“I didn’t seduce him,” Poppy said, irritated by the constant accusation. Her sister and the press were eager to paint a scarlet A on her. “If I wanted your ridiculous fiancé, why would I have left? Why would Grammie have barred him from the estate? Why am I not with him right now?”

Violet lunged across the table. “It’s all some big game to you. You can’t play with people’s lives like that. You and Grammie are both exactly the same!”

“Oh,” Marigold exclaimed, lowering her fork. “It’s a game now? Excellent! I love games!”

One of the gallery attendants came running into the dining room. Such an abrupt act was so unexpected that it silenced everyone at the long dining table. The harried employee paused for a second to compose himself, then came striding over to the table to dip and murmur something in Clark Granger’s ear.

“What is it?” her mother asked. “What’s going on?”

Marigold’s smile glittered. “This is turning out to be some night.”

Her father, Clark, landed a fierce glare on the attendant. “How did he get onto the grounds?”

The attendant glanced around at the women.

Grammie was quick to pounce closer. “We have an uninvited guest?” she asked, then narrowed her eyes. “Is it Holden?”

Even her father looked at the nervous attendant. When the employee noticed he was the focus of everyone’s scrutiny, he cleared his throat. “We don’t believe so, ma’am.”

“If it is, shoot him.”

“Grammie!” Primrose exclaimed.

“She is insane,” her mother muttered.

Poppy just smiled. “This isn’t a stand your ground state, Grammie,” she said. “And he isn’t threatening our lives.” Not in that minute anyway. “Besides, men like Holden don’t start fights, they send their guys, usually ex-military, to do it for them.”

As Turner had once told her.

“Who is he?” Grammie asked, tugging on the attendant’s jacket. “What happened? Don’t stand there dumb, boy.”

“Yes, tell us,” her mother said, proving there was more than one thing the in-laws agreed on, that once anyway.

“We don’t know,” the attendant said. “He appeared at the front gate. Security didn’t grant him access.”

“Did he threaten anyone?” Silvia asked, reaching for Violet’s hand. “What did he want? Is he out of his mind?”

Poppy was more interested in her family than the attendant relaying the story. At least she was until she spotted he was looking right at her. “What?”

“He wanted to speak to Miss Poppy.”

“Me?” she asked.

Grammie clapped her hands. “It is Holden’s man! Shoot him!”

“Grammie!” Primrose called again then looked to her. “Poppy, he’d only do this if he really loved you.”

“What?” Poppy asked. “Appear at security to talk to me? No thank you, don’t let him in.”

The young man shook his head. “We didn’t grant him access.”

“Dad said he was on the grounds,” Primrose said.

Everyone’s focus swung to the attendant again.

“What did he do?” Grammie asked, practically salivating. “Bust on through the gates?”

“Uh… no,” the attendant said. “He swung his vehicle up parallel to the perimeter and used it to get over the wall.”

“Over the wall,” Grammie pondered. “Did he breach the wall?”

Like the attendant was relaying a movie plot, Grammie relished the excitement. The others seemed exasperated, but her grandmother’s reaction was helping to temper Poppy’s own emotions.

“After positioning the vehicle, he jumped out of it,” the attendant said. “Climbed up onto the roof of the truck and went straight over the wall.”

“Oh,” Grammie said, her lips circled. “He’s smart.”

“Is there property damage?” her father asked. Trust him to care about the costs before anything else. “Call the police.”

“They’re already on their way,” the attendant said. “But he could be anywhere.”

“Sure,” Grammie said, picking up her wine. “It’s not like we have dozens of security agents roaming in the trees. You’re supposed to stop people outside the wall.”

Since the whole Holden fiasco, her father had hired more security agents, but most were on the external side of the wall. Even those who were on the inside would have to be exactly where their intruder was to track him. In the dark, in the trees, it wouldn’t be easy to do.

“We’ve been looking for him… We don’t know where he is.”

That was surprising. Just how long had they been sitting there enjoying their meal with some maniac close by waiting to pounce?

“Where’s Tiller?” her father asked, surging to his feet.

“He wasn’t on site,” the attendant said. “He’s on his way back now.”

Clark retrieved his phone. “If Tiller was here, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I don’t understand who it is,” her mother said. “With all the press we’ve had recently, it could be a crazy, obsessed lunatic.”

Her father paused for a second, then looked to his wife. “Yes, you and the girls should go to the panic room.”

Primrose made a sound of disgust. “I hate the panic room.”

Silvia was already on her feet and was pulling Violet up to hers too. “You should be pleased we installed it.”

The room had been installed a decade and a half ago. Over the years, it had been upgraded as technology progressed. Except, so far, the room had only been used by the sisters as a den for their teenage sleepovers.

Clark reached for his mother. “You have to go quickly.”

“I don’t have to go anywhere,” Marigold said. “I don’t want to miss the fun.”

“Miss the fun,” Silvia muttered, ushering Violet past her to go to the next place-setting to retrieve Primrose. “Get up. We have to go.”

“This is crazy,” Poppy said. “He’s never going to get into the house.”

“Don’t underestimate crazy,” Primrose said.

The only one left in her seat, Poppy couldn’t believe all the drama. She was about to say exactly that when noise carried from outside the room. The gallery… There was a scramble, a sound like someone falling, then there was silence.

A female scream pierced the air.

“Oh my God,” Silvia said.

“Go!” Clark said, pushing his wife toward the terrace at the back of the room. “Go down through the library. All of you go now!”

It wouldn’t be difficult to find the family. The dining room was huge and would be the only lit up room in that part of the house. The kitchens were beyond it, so whoever was causing the chaos would come upon the dining room first. The library was a straight shot across the external terrace. Going outside was their only chance.

“Daddy,” Violet called as Silvia pulled her away from the table.

Marigold wasn’t quick to move, though she was quick to grab for Poppy who leaped to her feet.

“All of you go,” Clark said.

The women began to move in their huddle toward the terrace, hearts racing, adrenaline flowing. Someone was coming for them and her father was staying behind. Who the hell knew he was so brave?

Hasty footsteps came into the room and Poppy tried to turn, but the cluster of other Granger bodies was too close for her to see anything. Other faster footfalls followed and there was a scramble.

“Candy-Cane!” Poppy froze. Right there on the spot as the rest of her family kept on going for the door. The scramble continued; she thought for a second that maybe she’d made up his voice. “Jesus-fucking-Christ. I don’t wanna hurt you.”

Spinning around, Poppy was astounded by the sight. It was Turner. Right there, being pulled and heckled by a bunch of guys wearing black. They were trying to drag him out. And the sirens, she could hear…

“Let him go!” Poppy screamed, hurrying across the room toward the melee. “Let him go now!”

Throwing herself into the mix, she yanked at the hands and arms connected to Turner. None of the security agents were authorized to hurt her. The cops were already on their way. If any of these guys hurt her or Turner, Poppy would demand the cuffs went on their wrists.

As security began to realize that she was coming to the defense of their intruder, they backed off, leaving her and Turner in the circle of their ranks.

“Poppy,” her father asserted from across the room. “What is going on?”

Rounding to look up at Turner, Poppy tried to figure out what he could be doing there. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “What are you doing here, First?”

Though she could see the pace of his pulse in his throat, his smile was slow. “You know what I’m doing here, Candy-Cane.”

No, she really didn’t and kept on searching his gaze trying to find an answer.

Her grandmother’s voice broke the tense silence. “Oh my God!” Marigold exclaimed. “He’s the stud.”

Turner’s amused brow rose in question.

Poppy couldn’t be so casual about his arrival. “Why didn’t you call?”

“You left your phone at the Venture.”

That’s right, she had. “Because I needed a clean break. We needed a clean break.”

“I have been on the road for fifteen hours straight. The whole time I tried to come up with what would be the right thing to say when I got here.”

“You drove?”

“I drove,” he said. “Once I knew I had to get here I just… I needed to get here.”

A plane would be faster, though somehow she couldn’t envisage him waiting at check in with a bag. Turner was an active guy; always doing something. Right then, Poppy wasn’t doing something, she wasn’t even sure that she was breathing.

“Well, come on!” Grammie exclaimed. “Fifteen hours? We want to hear it!”

His smile grew as he switched his attention over her head. “Marigold Granger… It’s an honor to meet Poppy’s Grammie.”

“I didn’t think anyone knew who she was,” Primrose whispered in the background.

Turner’s smiling eyes landed on Poppy’s. “We’re not done. Baby, we didn’t get started. My shot with you can’t be… what we had. You deserve a guy with class, a guy with money, a guy who can give you anything you ask for…” He raised a shoulder in a half-shrug. “I can’t be that guy. You know what I am. Damnit, you know it better than I did… I told you that I couldn’t handle you being out in the world vulnerable, needing me, and not stepping up. You don’t love this Abernathy guy, I know what the media’s saying is crap.”

“In your statement—”

“Charley and Preston came up with that last part. What was I supposed to say? That I’d known all along who you were and what was going on and hadn’t told them?” Curving a hand around the back of his neck, he rubbed at what had to be his niggling guilt. “It doesn’t matter what they know.” His arm dropped to his side. “It’s supposed to hurt…” He smiled while grazing the back of his finger down her jaw. “You’re right. It is.”

“Turner—”

“I can provide for you better than I did at the Venture. You’ve gotta give me a chance to try. I didn’t know we were finite, that you’d just take off like you did. I’ll do better. Somehow…” For a moment, he glanced around at the grandeur of the dining room like maybe he was trying to work out how to build an estate to give her. “You’re in my head every minute… You walked away from me, Candy-Cane… And I let you.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” she said, intercepting his hand when he tried to touch her face again. “I know what you are, how deep your decency goes. You have such an incredible amount of respect for women. Accepting how we ended has probably played on your conscience.” She smiled, linking her fingers in his. “But it’s okay. I’m okay… I made us what we were. I did that. Me. You have nothing to feel guilty about. I told you I’d never regret us and I don’t. Even now, I don’t.”

But Turner was shaking his head. “You don’t get it, Popkat.”

“I do,” she said, stepping closer. “You imagine how you would feel if one of your sisters was in a relationship like ours and you feel bad about it. But you don’t have to. I made my choice. I pushed you. Just like you said. I pushed. We were what I wanted us to be. You don’t have to rush in and apologize.”

“I’m not here to apologize,” he said. “I’m here because there’s something inside me I can’t ignore or resist.” A prickle of dread chilled her spine. “You said you never fit until you found me. And I didn’t know it, but there was a piece of me missing until you showed up. You fit with me because you belong with me… You are that missing piece. My missing piece… It’s important that I don’t lie to you, not anymore. I mean, I didn’t intentionally lie to you, I was lying to myself.”

“Turner, please. You don’t have to do this.”

He wasn’t dissuaded. “I feel everything with you. I want to be someone you can rely on, just like I said, but to hell with the distance.” Flattening her hand on his chest, he pressed her palm against him. “Being with you was the happiest time in my life.” Poppy swallowed; that’s what her grandmother said about her grandfather. Turner remembered. “All very dramatic… I don’t regret it.” He had made quite the entrance. As she breathed in, her heart swelled. “I’ve left everything behind and I won’t go back without you. You did it to me from a thousand miles away, Candy-Cane. You’re still doing it to me. I’m the one guy who will take you any damn way, every damn way and never walk away… I won’t walk away, Poppy Granger and I won’t let you walk away from me ever again.”

They considered each other for close to a minute. Although he was all she could see, her whole world, the weight of expectation in the rest of the room was heavy with anticipation.

“You came all this way,” she murmured.

“It’s something real,” he said, showing her another smile. “I know it now. It took me a minute, but I got my head out my ass.”

A brief laugh escaped her. “Your mom told you to come.”

“My mom didn’t get why I ever let you leave, and she was right. I couldn’t let you pass me by, Popkat. I can’t. You’re not better off without me. Let me prove that to you. Give me a chance to do this the right way. No secrets. No sneaking. Truth. Honesty. Us.”

“We can’t.”

But when she tried to pull away, he snatched her back. “Every moment we’re apart is a slow, agonizing death,” he said, vehement in his conviction. “Nothing compares to this, Pop. We can’t ignore that. What I want is right in front of me… don’t tell me I can’t have it.”

It was what he’d done to her. So much of what he was saying mirrored their past conversations. Like all of it made sense to him now. Poppy had figured out that what she felt for him was real long before she’d ever thought about leaving.

“Why?” she asked. “How do I know this isn’t just the chase? That you don’t only want me because I’ve been taken away?”

“I don’t even know how…” He inhaled through his nose, taking the time to moisten his lips. “This is no game. This is real. Us. It’s real. All the time you were trying to support me, trying to be what no one else would be: simple. All you gave me was acceptance. Complete acceptance. One hundred percent of the time. You were my beacon of hope, my security, the only one I could rely on to never want anything but me. That was all you wanted, all along. You never needed me. Not for one second. But I need you. I can’t do it without you. Can’t go on another second without knowing you’re with me. We belong together, Candy-Cane. I feel it now, that thing inside me you talked about, the physical presence. It’s you and me. We are coded to each other, baby… You’re in my DNA.”

A long lingering silence stretched. Poppy didn’t know what to do or what to say.

Her grandmother didn’t miss the chance to move things along. “You haven’t said you love her,” Grammie said.

Turner smiled, that slow, predatory, carnal smile that she’d only seen him use on her. “I don’t have to say it,” he said, combing his fingers into her hair. “She already knows it… Just like I know she loves me… She’s been showing me all along and I was too dumb to accept it. You’re the first and only woman I have ever truly loved, Poppy Granger, and I’m ready… for whatever comes next. As long as we do it together, I’m ready.”

Except she wasn’t. Poppy couldn’t take him away from his life. From his family. From his work. Putting an end to their relationship was the hardest thing that she’d ever had to do. Every minute since walking away from him, she’d ached to be near him again.

But true love was a pesky thing. Feeling for him the way she did, it was impossible for Poppy to put her own needs in front of his. Even if it meant hurting him or him hating her, she’d endure anything to see that what he valued was prioritized first.

Sliding her hand free from his grasp, Poppy took a step back. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice deeper than usual. She couldn’t even meet his eye. “I feel terrible that you came all this way.”

His optimism faltered. “Candy-Cane…”

“I’m sorry,” she said, forcing herself to look at him even though it shattered her heart. “You should go home, there’s nothing for you here.” Poppy started past him, but he grabbed her wrist to halt her. The searching hurt in his gaze sought something she daren’t let him see. “I’m sorry, Turner. Honestly, I am. But you need to go.”

Walking away from him seemed to take hours. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen feet between her and the door, still the distance stretched for miles.

Letting him go once was torture, a second time just seemed like unnecessary hell. He couldn’t love a life on the estate with her. He wouldn’t want to attend parties or schmooze society any more than she did. Poppy couldn’t save herself from it, but she could ensure he never had to live such a false existence.

Poppy had known from the moment she left him in the Venture that happiness wasn’t her destiny. Because she’d never have him. Never be his. Coming to terms with that reality was taking her some time. His arrival didn’t change anything. They were from different worlds and had different expectations of life. Hers would be whatever her family dictated. Once, Turner had called himself her freedom. The least she could do was give him his freedom in return.

 

 

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