Big Daddy Sinatra

By: Mallory Monroe

THERE WAS A RUTHLESS MAN

(The Sinatras of Jericho County)

BOOK ONE





PROLOGUE

1998



Jenay Franklin knew she was running late, but she also knew she wasn’t so late that Quince would need to be called. But there he was, coming out of the front office with Ash and Carly, Jenay’s stepdaughters, by his side. She smiled and waved and slanted her bang across her forehead the way she was prone to do when she was unsettled, and hurried to them. She was always pleased to see Quince and the girls.

“Jenay!” the girls yelled as soon as they saw her coming. They broke away from their father and ran to her, throwing their arms around her.

“How are my two favorite little people in the whole wide world?” Jenay asked with a grin, as she balanced her shoulder bag and wrapped them in her arms too. Although they were only ten and eight, they were almost as big as she was.

“We built a castle today,” Ashley, the ten-year-old, informed her.

“You did?” Jenay asked in that sincere, but overly-sympathetic voice Quince hated. “Was it very pretty?”

“It was very big,” Carly, the eight-year-old, said. “Bigger than the Empire State building!”

“Very pretty too,” Ashley said. “Just like you.”

Jenay squeezed them both, and then looked up at Quince. But something wasn’t right. She could tell by that faraway look in his eyes. “I would have gotten here sooner, but Lynda was late again,” she said. “Marta knew I had to pick up the girls so she told me to wait five minutes and if Lynda didn’t show by then, I could leave. My shift would be over. I didn’t think I was so late that the school would have called you.”

She realized then that Quince wasn’t even looking at her, but was looking beyond her. She turned around and looked too. She saw a woman coming toward them. She was a big woman, about twice Jenay’s size, and very attractive.

“Girls,” Quince said to his little ones, “I want you to go with Miss Vernita. You remember Miss Vernita, don’t you?”

“But we wanna stay with Jenay,” Ashley complained.

“You remember Miss Vernita, don’t you?” Quince asked again.

Ashley didn’t want to respond, but she knew her father. “Yes, sir,” she said, her eyes looking down.

“Speak to her then.”

“Hello Miss Vernita,” the girls replied in unison.

“Hey girls,” Vernita said with a grand smile, and motioned for them to come to her. Both girls looked up at Jenay, as if even they knew this wasn’t right, but they obeyed their father. And went to the woman. Vernita pulled them into her arms. And then she looked at Quince.

“Give me a couple minutes,” he said.

Vernita glanced at Jenay, nodded at Quince, and then began ushering the girls toward a fancy sports car. Jenay drove a beat-up Ford that she shared with her husband. She knew that sports car didn’t belong to them. She looked back at him. For some reason, after the girls left her arms, she already felt alone.

“Who is she?” she wanted to know. “A friend of their mother’s?”

But Quince wasn’t answering questions right now. He was giving answers. “It’s not going to work out, Nay,” he said to her.

That didn’t make sense to Jenay. “What’s not going to work out?”

“Our marriage,” he said. And as soon as he said those two words, it felt like a punch in the gut to Jenay.

“You and I,” he kept talking. Another punch. “It’s not working out. I’ve tried and you’ve tried, but it’s just not working for me.”

The suddenness of it! It felt so out of the blue that Jenay, at first, just stared at him. “What are you saying, Quince?” she eventually asked. “Are you telling me . . . you want a divorce?”

They had to step aside, as another parent entered the school’s front office door. “That’s what I’m telling you,” Quince said. “I think it’s time for us to go our separate ways.”

“Separate ways? What separate ways?” It felt like a thunderbolt kind of crazy to Jenay. She couldn’t begin to figure out where it came from. She couldn’t figure out where it was going! “I don’t understand, Quince. I know we’ve been bickering a lot lately, but I assumed it was because of the stress of your finals. You’re always grouchy during finals week. How could that translate into you suddenly wanting a divorce?”

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