Release date
January 6, 2009

-1st book in series


- Chapter One
- Chapter Two



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Chapter One Chapter Two

Chapter 1

The best way for Don Mitchell to describe this moment was the feeling of clawing up a wall of loose dirt while standing in a pool of quicksand.  How many more times would he set himself up for heartache and disappointment?  Once the recommendation was handed down from the almighty Dave Mitchell, the one whose bloodline he shared, the board of directors wasted no time in fulfilling the directive.  Six votes in favor, two opposed, with one abstention.  As simple as that, little brother Joel, barely out of diapers and teething rings was running the company.  Twenty-three years old.  Don sat quietly with no retort, unlike his mother Madeline who wanted a recount.  He slowly packed his belongings, trying not to make eye contact with the board members as they scattered from the room amidst a cloud of chit chatter and hurling accusations coming from his mother who was nipping at their heels in relentless pursuit. 

The vote was an exercise in executive decision making based on faulty rationale, but for Don it was more profound, yielding yet another rip in the veil of affection he’d worked so hard to keep mended with his father.  Every time a bud of kinship sprang forth in their relationship, some unforeseen act squashed the bonding.  This time he wasn’t four-years old, crying himself to sleep for a father that wasn’t coming home.  He was a thirty-one year old man who wasn’t looking to be fathered.  He wasn’t even looking to be loved, the basic benefit that should have come freely from his father at birth.  At this point, a dash of respect would be sufficient, yet it continued to elude him. 

His mother came back into the room after chasing everyone else away.  “Don’t you worry,” she consoled with a pat on the back.  “I’m not going to stand for this.  You are the rightful heir to your father’s ministry.  I don’t know what your father and that little conniving gold digger of his were thinking, but when I’m through with them, you’ll be in charge.  That’s a promise, if it’s the last thing I do.  She’s not getting her hands on anything else of mine and that includes your place as head of this organization.  When your father was only working with a handful of churches, I was there, back when he was struggling to make the leadership training ministry a viable business.  Now that DMI is worth more than a billion dollars, she wants it too.  I can’t lose everything to her, not again, not without a fight.  I mean a real war this time.”  Her voice faded for a second but Don could tell she was putting on a brave face guarded by a steel disposition.  Others saw her as a shrewd businesswoman, but his image of her was padded by the countless childhood memories he had of her crying when she thought no one was looking.  Loss after loss spread over two decades was bound to wear her down.

Don reflected on his options.  This would be the time when a practical person would evaluate the defeat and assess what went wrong.  No need.  He already knew the source of his problem, and it began with his birth.  “Mother, it’s done,” he said while fumbling with the stack of papers in his portfolio.  “Dave Mitchell made his choice,” he said hesitating, “and it wasn’t me.”  He braced both hands against the giant mahogany table and let his head bow with eyes closed.  “It never is.”  When Dave Mitchell gave away his favorite vintage Porsche, the one Don dreamed of owning, the car went to Joel.  When his father needed someone from DMI to represent him at the International Summit of leaders, Don wasn’t chosen.  In his mind, he never was.

“Don, don’t you worry.  I’ll take care of this.  I’m going to see your father right now.  He has to answer to me.  I might not be in a full time marketing role any longer, but I’m still on the board of directors and a key member of the executive team,” she said pausing for a moment, regaining strength in her voice.  “I’ve helped keep this place running.  Dave owes me.  He has to do right by at least one of my children, and you’re the only one I have left.  There’s no way I’m going to stand by and let that woman and your father destroy you.  It won’t happen again.”
Steering clear of the conversation surrounding his siblings was the best approach to take with his mother, given the fresh layer of defeat she was experiencing yet again at the hands of Dave and Sherry Mitchell.  “Mother, don’t bother.  Every time there was peace and a chance for his mother to consider releasing the anger she harbored about the divorce, something new came up to make her madder.  Felt like every year or at least every other year there was new trouble with Sherry and Dave Mitchell making the divorce seem like it was yesterday – years of fresh cuts on an old scab.  His mother’s unabridged anger was the proof.
Don’s heart sank deeper, which he didn’t think possible.  Madeline was a good mother.  Commitment to her family was undeniable.  At sixty-two, he wanted her to begin living her life outside the clutches of Dave and Sherry, but he didn’t know how to help her make the transition when he couldn’t help himself.

She squeezed his shoulder tight and pushed her cheek next to his.  “Too late darling, I’m already on my way to see your father.  I’ll talk with you later.”

Don blew out a deep breath as he watched his mother leave the boardroom.  He wanted to be demanding and stop her from confronting his father.  On the other hand, he wanted someone to do something, but in the end he knew no one could.  Even at this moment, he couldn’t garner enough contempt to hate his father. There were many reasons why he could, but his heart wouldn’t take the plunge into that abyss.  His father, the mighty man, the shot-caller had dubbed baby brother Joel top dog and that was the end of it.  No sense fretting any longer.  He might as well go and congratulate the chosen one.  Don plucked his portfolio from the table and went into the hallway where he ran into Joel, not expecting to see the new leader quite so soon.

“Don,” Joel said panting for breath, “I got this envelope from Dad’s office.  I’m supposed to cast this vote in his absence.”

“Too late little brother, the vote has already been taken and everyone is gone.”

“But I didn’t get to cast Dad’s vote?” Joel said holding the small sealed envelope.

“Didn’t need to little brother, nope, no need at all,” he said letting his glance graze the floor before mustering enough dignity to regain eye contact with his father’s favorite.  “Dave Mitchell’s vote was just extra reinforcement in your back pocket.  Don’t worry.  You’re the new chief executive officer.”

“Me, what are you talking about?  I thought you wanted the job?”

“I did, but the position wasn’t offered to me,” Don said.

The enthusiasm in Joel’s eyes fizzled.  Maybe he was shocked and remorseful or maybe he really was that selfish spoiled-rotten kid who was good at pretending to be sincere when it benefited him.  Either way, Don would maintain a semblance of dignity.  He planted his feet solid, pleading unsuccessfully with his soul not to let an inkling of his disappointment be exposed, not running the risk of giving Joel extra gratification. “That’s right.  You’re the new man in charge.  You were chosen to run his business,” Don said and let the realization have a few moments to soak in.  “The board went along with it, although I’m the oldest and the most legitimate.”

Don was very familiar with the controversy surrounding his parent’s divorce followed by his father’s marriage to Sherry and the birth of their son Joel.  Right or wrong, Joel was obviously loved enough to gain control of their father’s prized possession without merit.

Joel took a step back.

Don felt good letting the wind out of the chosen one’s sails, but the innuendos about his legitimacy must have stirred a hornet’s nest judging by the cutting look he was getting.  It seemed best to calm the brooding waters before the awkward conversation got out of hand.  “I’m not trying to say that you stole my position.  I’m not saying that at all.”

“Then what are you saying Don, because I had nothing to do with this decision.  This came from our father.  I don’t know why he chose me, but he must have a reason,” Joel said with his back stiffening.

Conscious of escalating the tension, Don quickly acted to diffuse it.  “If our father and Sherry deem you the most suited to run my family’s business, then that’s the way it is.”

“Leave my mother out of this.”

“That’s pretty hard to do.”  Before Joel became too defensive, Don shifted the focus back to the business.  “Regardless of whose decision this is, I’m willing to support you as the head of this organization.”  He heard the words squeak through his teeth and wondered from where they’d come.  They sounded good, the right words to say.  If only they were true.  “Do you want me to stay on as senior vice president managing the east coast?”

“I don’t see why not.  Obviously Father wants you in the role.  Why shouldn’t I?”

Don was a half smashed bug under Joel’s feet, hoping the crushing weight would leave enough of his ego intact for him to crawl away, balancing a load of dejection on his back.  This wasn’t his brother.  His real brothers were dead.  Joel was no more than an unwanted relative wedged into his world.  Don conjured up as much gratitude as his pride would allow and slung it at his father’s son for the extended grace.  “Great, that’s good to hear.  So this means I’ll keep my office on the east coast and stay out of your way.  The rest of the country is all yours, yours and that mother of yours.”
“Don,” Joel raised his voice and spewed, “you are welcome to stay on, so long as you leave my mother out of this.”

The passive approach wasn’t working.  Don had to demand that his disapproval remain harnessed in Joel’s presence.  Before he could move two more feet, the new leader threw more words his way.

“Because if you don’t,” Joel hurled at him, completing the message by jerking his closed fist and extended thumb backwards, over his shoulder before snarling, “brother or not, you’ll have to leave.”

Silence rested in the midst. Don let his glaring eyes meet Joel in the center of the hallway, confirming the warning was duly received.  Any room for misinterpretation was eliminated.  Joel’s need to defend Sherry wasn’t surprising.  After all, the feuding between the two families had lasted Joel’s entire lifetime.  Joel was taught to believe that Madeline was the culprit.  In Don’s world, Sherry was the culprit.  If Don had to guess, Sherry was the mastermind behind this play for power.  Her reign as Mrs. Dave Mitchell had led to the perpetual and merciless annihilation of his family.  Rehashing the past with his father’s other son was a waste of time.  Joel didn’t know Sherry the way Don and his mother did.  Don walked away, praying every step of the way that his burning distress would never graze the surface.  What was the point?  Joel wasn’t the source of his despair.  Baby brother didn’t have any more control over being the chosen child of Dave Mitchell than he had for ending up second best.  He’d become the placeholder for whatever was left, but hating his half-brother for always getting the best couldn’t come close to alleviating his rage.

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Chapter 2

Sherry sat in the sunroom staring into the distant morning sky, remembering the time which seemed like eons ago, when plans for her family were fueled with naiveté, back when she felt like a giddy schoolgirl skipping into wedded bliss with the one man she intended to love for a lifetime.  How could she have known back then that her fairy tale relationship would become a source of torment? 

Those who knew the whole story behind her marriage to Dave had constantly gossiped about the indiscretion. Sherry believed they saw her as the helpless secretary who seduced her boss, intentionally got pregnant, and forced Dave to leave his wife of ten yeas and four little children – a common thief.  That’s what Madeline believed and there were plenty of others too. Many hadn’t acknowledged her as Dave’s legitimate wife.  It didn’t matter today.  Joel Mitchell was visible to everyone as an authentic and bona-fide member of Dave’s family, a label she never possessed.  He was finally, officially Dave’s legitimate heir, not just legally as he’d always been, but in a way that really counted, through the crippling eyes of public opinion.  With the endorsement, no one needed to ever again question the worth of her offspring.  Joel wasn’t a sin or the product of some lustful mistake.  He was the beloved son, the keeper of his father’s legacy.  He had a purpose for living.  There would probably be opposition from Don and his mother but adversity was something Sherry knew intimately.  Marrying Dave had been a moment of overflowing happiness in her life, never figuring on the ultimate respect and integrity she would sacrifice.  It had been the price of marrying and creating a family with the man she loved, the one that shouldn’t have been hers since he was legally and spiritually committed to Madeline.  She let her thoughts roam freely relishing every step and giving no thought to the additional cost that would surely have to be paid.

When the doorbell rang, she got up to answer it, unprepared to receive the guest standing in front of her. “Madeline!” was all she mustered.  Sherry couldn’t recall Madeline coming to the house in the past two decades, unless she was mad about something – today was expected unlike other times.

“Sherry.”  Madeline stepped inside the foyer before officially being asked in.

“What are you doing here?”

“Where’s Dave?” Madeline asked, brushing against Sherry without acknowledgement.

“He’s unavailable,” Sherry said bracing herself on the doorknob before deliberately entering the battle zone with a veteran warrior.  “How can I help you?”

“Seems to me,” Madeline said sliding her sunglasses midway down her nose.  Peering over the top of them she continued, “You’ve already helped yourself to what belongs to me again.  Why are you so determined to live out my life?”

There was no point arguing.  Sherry preferred to let Madeline ramble.  In the end, Dave’s decision was the same.

“I have one child left and you won’t get the chance to ruin his life like you did my other three,” Madeline rattled.

Sherry didn’t know how many more times she would get blamed for the series of horrific events, the ones she had no part in creating.  Burying two children and being estranged from another one was surely difficult for Madeline, but Sherry refused to take the blame.  Madeline didn’t have exclusive rights on grief and loss.  Sherry wasn’t going around blaming Madeline for the death of her first child.  Goodness knows Madeline’s relentlessly harassment throughout the pregnancy and the resulting stress wasn’t good for the baby.  Yet, there was no blame, just a sense of loss any mother would feel about the death of her baby, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the child’s inception.  One day Madeline would have to take responsibility for the demise of her own children, some day, but clearly this wasn’t the day, Sherry knew it.  Today Madeline was squarely focused on her fourth and youngest child, Don and was clearly prepared to battle on his behalf.  “Look Madeline, I don’t want to fight with you.  If you can’t tell me what you want, then I’m asking you to leave.” Sherry aimed her words directly at the bull’s-eye of her target, refusing this time to let the unexpected hurricane lay claim to her moment of victory, which was hanging on by a frayed thread. 

“I’m not going anywhere until I see Dave.  Where is he?” Madeline insisted as she strolled up the stairs towards the bedroom section of the estate, pulling off her driving gloves one finger at a time. 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Sherry yelled out and grabbed Madeline’s arm as she hurried up the stairs.  “Where are you going?  He’s not up there, we moved him into the guest suite months ago.”  Sherry savored a rare taste of satisfaction knowing something that Madeline didn’t.  

Madeline turned to come back down the stairs with her fitted tweed suit showing no signs of wear.  “What’s he doing in there?  Just how sick is he?  Oh never mind,” she said waving off the question.

Making the decision to stay at home while pregnant with Joel was easy after losing her first child to sudden infant death syndrome. Her only regret was sacrificing the day-to-day interaction with Dave at DMI, a privilege Madeline never had to give up thanks to the divorce settlement guaranteeing her a senior position in the company.  The court hadn’t forced Dave to keep Madeline on the board of directors.  He made that decision on his own.  Unless the company was sold, which Dave would never let happen, Madeline would be at DMI until she died.  There would be no peace.  Sherry found herself constantly battling the notion of Madeline having a stronger bond with Dave because of the professional interest they shared.  Sometimes Sherry could reject the thoughts, but she knew the sad truth was that most times she couldn’t.  Going back to DMI as an administrative assistant had never been the answer for several reasons, two that she’d never forgotten.  The business world didn’t excite her and there was zero desire to personally watch Dave and Madeline attend meeting after meeting together while she sat outside the closed doors taking notes and filing papers.  Staying at home was the right choice.

“You can’t just barge in here and have your way in our house.  My husband is not well.”

Madeline yanked her arm away from Sherry’s loose grip.  “Our house?  Your husband?  Madeline gasped loud enough to be heard outside.  Her temples appeared to throb.  “You can’t be serious.  Don’t you know I designed every inch of this house, even the room where you lay your head every night, don’t you forget that,” she said spitting her words while using the palm of her hand to brush down any stray hair that might have eased out of her tightly drawn French roll. 

“I had the master bedroom remodeled fifteen years ago to suit me and my husbands taste.”

“Don’t tell me about your husband.  He was my husband long before you showed up,” she continued ranting.  There’s nothing you can tell me about Dave Mitchell that I don’t already know.  As far as this house goes, whatever Dave has, part of it belongs to the mother of his first four children which would be me.  Face it, you my dear are a side show and everybody knows the circus always come back to center stage.  Excuse me,” she snipped and pushed past Sherry on her way down the stairs.

“I’m not going to stand here and let you disrespect me.  Regardless of what you say, this is my home.”  I’ve lived here for twenty-five years.  You were only here for ten or twelve.”

Madeline stopped.  “Let’s get this clear.  The way I see it, you might have a piece of the estate, but you’ll never take my place in this house or anywhere else.  No matter how many little women like you Dave gets, I will always be the real Mrs. Dave Mitchell,” she said striding down the hallway like she still owned the place.  “I didn’t’ have to be ashamed when I got married.  Can you say the same?”

No matter what cutting words came from Madeline’s mouth, Sherry was determined to fight back, to hang on to her win of the company.  She had to for Joel.  He deserved more peace than she had experienced being a Mitchell.  “After all these years, why can’t you let me and Dave live our lives and you live yours.”  Madeline stopped abruptly and spun around to face Sherry with a fiery look of contempt. 

“Don’t you worry about me and my life,” she spitted.  “You take care of your own.  Just remember what goes around comes around.  You broke up my home.  Don’t you dare think I’m going to wish you well in your old age.  It won’t happen,” Madeline said and turned away.  The words didn’t penetrate.  Sherry wholeheartedly believed that the death of her child and dissolution of Dave’s devotion were her punishment.  Nothing else could top those two.  “You wanted Dave, well you got him along with every ounce of misery that you deserve,” Madeline added.

Marrying Dave came at a price.  Sherry understood the reality, but at fifty-two she was no longer willing to keep paying the same cost over and over.  Her dignity and security were no longer currency.  She had to fight for her rightful place in the family.  Sherry ran ahead and blocked the entrance into Dave’s room. The door was already closed and Sherry’s hand clasped around the knob.  Madeline never broke her stride as she approached the room.

“You better move.  I’m going in there one way or another.” 

The wall of tension was mounting but Sherry didn’t let up verbally.  She couldn’t.  Joel’s security and validation was depending on her ability to stand up, hers too.  “Who do you think you are running into this house and telling me what you aren’t going to do?”  Madeline didn’t respond.  “Did you hear me?” she blurted, keeping her eyes squinted and focused, looking away only once or twice.  “I said my husband is not feeling well.  If there is something you need to discuss with him, you can make an appointment with Abigail like everyone else.” 

“Humph, I’m not everybody else,” Madeline snarled.

Sherry folded her arms tight across her chest.  “That’s only your option.”  No one could generate intensity and disdain in her like Madeline.  There was no question, Madeline had suffered losses along the way, but she wasn’t a victim and no longer would Sherry be reduced to one.  Joel was the motivation Sherry needed to deal with Madeline and her ongoing intrusion.

Madeline took two steps closer to Sherry with arms folded and lips pursed.  She reared back on one heel with her toe tapping on the other foot. 

Without warning, the door opened, causing Sherry to lose her balance. 

“We thought we heard loud voices.  What is going on out here?” Dave’s assistant Abigail asked.

Madeline didn’t wait for any more dialogue.  She pushed past both ladies and entered the room into Dave’s line of view.  “We need to talk.”

Sherry pushed past Abigail too and stood between the armchair Dave was sitting in and the spot where Madeline was standing.  “What is your problem Madeline?”

“You,” she told Sherry.

“I’ve told you my husband isn’t up for this.  You need to come back when he’s feeling better.”

“And you need to step aside, because I’ve told you I’m not going anywhere until Dave and I talk, period.”

“Fine, I’m calling the police.  They’ll get you out of here,” Sherry snapped.

“Sherry, no, don’t call them.  Let me talk to her,” Dave said reaching for her hand.

“No, I want her gone,” Sherry hollered.

“Sherry, please, let me talk with her.”

“Yes, Sherry, let me talk to him.  Bye,” Madeline added with a little wave. 

Sherry was shocked by her own level of outrage.  Her hands trembled uncontrollably.  Watching Dave oblige Madeline’s requests repeatedly, didn’t sit well.  Perhaps his desire to please her was fueled out of guilt, loyalty.  She desperately hoped it wasn’t out of love.  He had loved Madeline once and could possibly fall in love with her again.  Perhaps from a heavy dose of the same guilt, Sherry had succumbed to letting Madeline mercilessly shred her reputation year after year.  Sherry wanted to wipe that smug look off Madeline’s face.  “I’m not leaving this room.  Whatever you have to say will just have to be said in my presence,” Sherry said going to Dave’s side.  She had to protect Dave.  No one else in the family, especially Madeline knew how serious his illness was.  That’s the way Dave wanted it.  Truth be told, Sherry savored another bittersweet taste of power having been trusted with knowledge of Dave’s stomach cancer, knowledge Madeline didn’t have.  Sherry and Dave were battling the fight of his life, together, just the two of them.  She took refuge and bolstered strength in what they shared.

“Sherry, sweetheart, it’s okay.  Let me talk with Madeline.  Why don’t you and Abigail let us talk for a few minutes.”

Sherry didn’t take a single step. 

“It’s okay,” Dave said reaching for his wife’s hand.  “Really, it’s okay.  I was expecting this visit.”

Sherry let her gaze roam up and down Madeline with one eye flickering.  “I’ll be right outside if you need me,” she promised and sealed it with a kiss to his forehead.  She would protect her husband and her son from Madeline’s wrath, regardless of the penalty.

Abigail kept quiet and exited with Sherry.


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