"He can't do this to you! We'll fight him and his damn company--if that's what needs to be done, but Saunders will remain in business!" Lila slammed her fist on the dinner table, making the plates and utensils clatter against it.
James Saunders wagged his finger from side to side with a shake of his head. "Watch your language, young lady."
Even at twenty-seven, Lila had to censor her words around her father, who thought it unladylike for women to swear. Lately, she'd been doing a lot of it.
"I'm sorry, Dad, but we can't sit back and watch everything you've worked so hard to build be destroyed by some reclusive property developer. This is your livelihood and home." Tears stung the backs of her eyes as she blinked them away. It didn't seem fair they should lose everything on some rich man's whim.
"Dad, there has to be something we can do to stop them. They can't just take our home like this! Saunders is your life." She wiped away an angry tear that had escaped the corner of her eye. Lila didn't want to break down in front of her father, especially when he was probably trying to stay strong for her. But emotion threatened to overwhelm her.
James pushed his half-eaten dinner away and placed his head in his hands. "You're right. It's my life, not yours, and I've depended on you for far too long."
Lila's breath caught in her throat. Surely he wasn't thinking of giving up. "What are you trying to say, Dad?"
Her father lifted his head with the suspicious sheen of tears glistening in his eyes. "Baby, this is my battle to fight. Not yours. I'm guilty of leaning on you a lot more than I should have. I ought to be the one taking care of you, not the other way around."
She waved her hand dismissively. "Don't be ridiculous. If you can't count on family, who else can you depend on? I'm not doing anything I don't want to do."
"Lila, your heart is in the right place, but maybe it's time to wave the white flag. I'm an old man, and although there's nothing I'd like more than to keep the shop running until the day I die, I don't think I can do it on my own and fight Ramsey's."
Lila reached across the table and grasped her father's hand in earnest. "Daddy, you have me."
"And that's the problem," he sighed.
She wasn't sure whether to be hurt or angry at his comment. "Why is my being here a problem?"
He held up his hand. "That came out wrong."
"How else am I supposed to take it when you imply you don't need me, that you don't want me around?"
Her father took her hands in his. "Baby girl, I'll always need you, but like I said, I can't keep leaning on you so much. You're a young, beautiful woman--exceptionally so."
Lila snorted, rolling her eyes. "Don't start that again."
"Fathers are supposed to say things like that to their daughters."
"I don't say anything I don't mean. I see the way men look at you. You're the image of your mother, God rest her soul. I used to wonder how a mug like me was lucky enough to end up with an angel like my Eloise. She could have had anyone she wanted, you know, but for some reason she chose me."
A smile touched Lila's lips at the mention of her mother. She didn't remember her, but listening to her father reminisce made Lila feel closer to the woman who'd given her life. "Who are you trying to kid? You know you're a good-looking man. Mrs. Reyes comes by the shop everyday and it's not to purchase milk. She has a crush on you." Lila giggled. There were quite a few women who gave him more than a second glance.
It was her father's turn to brush her comments aside. "Gloria is a nice lady. She's just looking for a little conversation."
"And a lot of you."
His lips firmed to one thin line as he shook his head. "You won't distract me from the topic. As I was saying, you're young and you should have a life of your own. You need to go back to your job, and find a nice young man to settle down with and give me some grandbabies."
Not this subject again. She should have known he would somehow steer the conversation in this direction. "Dad, I'm not interested in a relationship right now."
"Is that what you told that doctor you were seeing before I had my stroke?"
"That was nothing." The words came out a bit quicker than she intended.
James lifted a brow, a knowing expression on his face. "You used to talk about him nonstop. I thought the two of you would get married."
"It wasn't serious, Dad." Lila couldn't quite meet his eyes. She didn't like lying to her dad. The truth was, Jason had asked her to marry him, but he couldn't understand why she had devoted so much of her time toward seeing her father get better.
"For God's sake, hire a private nurse! I'll pay for it. I don't think it's too much of me to expect my woman to spend some time with me," he'd said one day after another heated argument. Jason Webster wasn't used to being neglected by anyone and had no problem letting her know it.
"I'm a nurse. How could I put him in someone else's care when I'm quite capable of handling the job myself? I can't just ignore that fact. He needs me."
"I need you. You're going to have to make a decision: It's either me or him."
That ultimatum had been the final straw in a string of problems between the two of them. She did love Jason, or at least Lila thought she did, but how could she stay with someone who would force her to make such a choice? Lila realized then she couldn't. Jason hadn't taken it well, and not even a week later he was dating someone else, another nurse at the hospital. His actions had reaffirmed to Lila she'd made the right decision.
James gave his daughter a long hard look. "You haven't lied to me since you were five years old and didn't want me to find out you'd broken your mother's favorite vase. You're not very good at lying, baby. I believe I'm doing the right thing."
Lila's heart beat a tattoo against her breast. "What? You've made a decision?"
"I'm going to sell. I won't let you waste your life taking care of me and fighting a war we can't win." Pain oozed from his voice, and his dark face looked gray all of a sudden.
Alarm shot through her. "Daddy, are you all right?" She rushed to his side.
"Don't you worry, child. It's just this old heart. Get me my pills and I'll be okay."
Lila wasted no time retrieving the prescription bottle from the medicine cabinet and a glass of water. On top of recovering from a stroke, he often suffered heart palpitations due to stress and unhealthy eating habits even though she tried her best to regulate the latter. The entire situation had taken its toll on him physically and mentally.
How could she let him give up something that meant so much to him? If only he didn't have the worry of what would happen to the shop, Lila was sure he'd get better. Selling the place would kill him, slowly but surely.
There had to be something she could do. Thus far, none of her efforts from writing Ramsey's, the local newspapers, and attending town council meetings, were getting her anywhere. Her one last resort would be to go to Ramsey's headquarters in Manhattan and demand a meeting with the CEO. Failure was not an option.
Later that night, after she'd done the cleaning up and her father was in bed, Lila flopped on the couch from exhaustion. Was it already three years since they'd received that damned letter, an offer to purchase the building they lived in? The problem being, it wasn't only their home, but where her father's business was housed. Shortly afterwards, her father suffered his stroke. Lila had taken leave from her position as a geriatric nurse to assist during her father's recovery and rehabilitation, as well as manage the store while dealing with a property developer.
After refusing to sell out for months, Lila learned the city was interested in purchasing their property under eminent domain. Apparently the powers that be at Ramsey's had friends in high places. If the city bought their home, they could sell it for as much--or as little--to Ramsey's as they wanted to. From that point on, her father seemed to age before her very eyes.
She picked up one of the newspapers she'd saved. It was months old, but it had an article within in it that talked of the plans for the shopping center and all the stores that would be included--in her neighborhood. Who were they kidding? Didn't they realize people had lost their homes and businesses in order for this waste of mortar to be built? She scanned the rest of the article which discussed the developers of the project and the head man himself, Hunter Jamison.
Dubbed "the Beast" for his aggressive business tactics, he'd taken over the nearly bankrupt Ramsey's over ten years ago and turned it into one of the largest companies of its kind in the country. The paper contained an earlier picture of him and he looked every bit the Viking he was said to be descended from. Larger than life in the photograph, with his broad shoulders and barrel-sized chest, he seemed more suited for a football field than an office.
Wavy blond hair framed an extremely attractive face with its square jaw, long straight nose, and surprisingly full lips. Lila thought he looked a little too perfect. Too bad for all his looks, he harbored a black heart.
Though she'd read this article a dozen times, she continued on, looking for some kind of clue that might help her. Lila placed the newspaper on the coffee table and picked up a more recent issue. This particular article focused solely on the man and the accident which had nearly cost him his life. Obviously the accident didn't prevent him from ruining her father's life. Lila was tired of this waiting game. She had to act now.
It was time to confront the Beast.