Seth Garrett’s family taught him that anything less than the best simply isn’t an option. Now he’s out to prove he can be the most successful Garrett—and Rachel McNeal fits the bill. She’s pretty, hard-working, good in bed—and willing to finance his dreams. He thinks she’s perfect wife material—until he meets her relatives and discovers they’re far from perfect. No problem, Seth’s got a replacement lined up to give him the good life he’s entitled to . . .
Steady and sensible, Rachel always believed the best about people. She thought Seth was the man of her dreams. But she can deal with the hurt and move on. Until she discovers the true reason Seth dumped her—and just how deep his contempt for her runs. She’s done forgiving, much less forgetting. And taking his world apart piece by piece is only the beginning of her long-game payback . . .
Praise for Mary Monroe’s Family of Lies
“Family of Lies is gritty and raw, trademarks of Monroe’s novels. A riveting story. . . . Monroe’s latest is another page-turner.” —RT Book Reviews
“Readers who enjoy watching characters’ fortunes rise and fall will relish this tumultuous family.”
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By Mary Monroe
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Mary Monroe
All rights reserved.
March 2000 ...
Our flight from California's Bay Area to Mobile, Alabama, landed a little after 11:00 a.m. Even though it was springtime, the heat was sweltering. Rachel and I started sweating right away as we made our way to the baggage claim area, dodging some of the most aggressive flies and gnats I'd ever encountered. I didn't know what to expect next.
Rachel had told me that Coffeeville, Alabama, where she was born and raised, was a one-horse, hick town about an hour's drive from the airport. But because I loved Rachel and couldn't wait to meet her family and marry her, I had agreed to accompany her to a place where I already felt like an alien.
We picked up our rental car and stopped for lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet a short drive from the airport. We stuffed ourselves with some of our favorites: collard greens, mac and cheese, corn bread, and yams.
After our feast, we waddled back to our rental car and headed for the freeway. It led us to the tree-lined, gravel-and-tar route that would take us all the way to our destination. For the first twenty minutes, all we saw were four-legged creatures darting across the road and shabbily dressed folks riding bareback on mules, dragging themselves along on tractors, and piled up in old trucks.
"Damn, baby. How could such a sophisticated sister like you have come from such humble beginnings?" I joked. I had to swerve to avoid hitting a deer that had jumped out of nowhere. "Shit!" I hollered.
"Let me drive. I'm used to these roads," Rachel insisted, chuckling.
"Woman, you sit back and relax! I've got everything under control," I said, speaking louder than I meant to.
"All right then. Let me know if you change your mind." A few minutes later Rachel leaned back in her seat and dozed off.
I admired the scenery and listened to a country-western radio station for a while. It didn't take long for me to get tired of all that caterwauling. I turned off the radio and concentrated on the road for the next fifteen or so miles. When Rachel woke up about twenty minutes later, she sat up and rubbed her eyes.
"We're almost there," she said with a yawn.
"Huh?" We were now deep into a semirural area. We had just passed a tipsy shack that had a mule wagon in the front yard. "Your family lives near here?"
"Right around the bend," Rachel said proudly. "Baby, you're going to love it down here. You're going to see what the simple life is really all about. Everything down here is so different from things in California. Especially my family ..."
"This is not what I expected," I admitted. I suddenly got nervous and concerned. Was Rachel not the woman I thought she was, after all? I had fallen in love with an intelligent, sophisticated woman with long black hair, big brown eyes, and cinnamon-brown skin to die for. She was just as beautiful on the inside. She was warm, generous, and caring—everything I wanted in a woman. What about her family? Just how "simple" were they? What if she was the only rose in a garden of thorns? I couldn't imagine my family accepting a bunch of illiterate, backwoods, barefoot in-laws who were still living in the dark ages. My marrying into such a family would kill Mother!
Rachel directed me to pull up and stop in the driveway of a small, green-shingled house with a neat little front lawn and a gray glider on the wraparound porch. My mouth dropped open when a stout woman in a shabby housedress, who looked like a middle-aged version of Rachel, shot out the front door in her ashy bare feet like the house was on fire. I quickly closed my mouth as I parked the car and turned off the motor. Rachel and I piled out at the same time. Birds were circling above, and more flies and gnats were buzzing around our heads, so I moved with caution. I didn't know what to expect now, but nothing would have surprised me. I had to ask myself, What have I gotten myself into? With my lips pressed tightly together and my jaw twitching, I took a few steps and stepped into a puddle of brown slime.
"Rachel! My baby's come home!" the woman yelled. She ran off the porch and gave Rachel a bear hug. "Oh, honey, it's so good to have you home again! And just look at you—thin as a rail!"
"Mama, this is Seth Garrett," Rachel said, introducing me as she pulled me toward her by my hand.
Mrs. McNeal shaded her beady eyes and looked at me for a few moments, smiling her approval. Then she wrapped her arms around me and gave me such an aggressive hug, my chest felt like she had sat on it. "My goodness, what a good-looking young man! Just look at you! Your hair is all nice and neat, and you have bright eyes and skin as smooth as brown silk." She reared back and looked me up and down. I was surprised when she slid her hand up the side of my arm. "You just as strapping as them guys on the TV. Ain't no flab on you or nothing!"
"I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Mrs. McNeal," I managed to say when she released me. "Rachel's told me so much about you, I feel like I know you already." That was a big, fat lie. The sweet, charming Southern woman I had pictured in my mind since I'd proposed to Rachel was not the ignorant-sounding, countrified frump standing in front of me now.
"I hope she didn't tell you too much, son. The Lord's still working on me, so don't be surprised if I ain't what you expect." Mrs. McNeal looked from Rachel to me and back. "Y all, don't just stand here, looking like lost sheep. Get on in the house before them mosquitoes get wind of y'all!"
I retrieved our two suitcases from the backseat of the car, and Mrs. McNeal led us into the house. She held on to Rachel's hand so tightly, you would have thought that she was afraid Rachel was going to run off into the bushes by the side of the house.
The house looked shabby on the outside, but everything inside was neat and orderly. The living room had dark oak furniture and a brown crushed-velvet couch with a matching love seat, and beige draperies covered every window. Colorful area rugs covered most of the linoleum floor; crocheted doilies were on the end tables and the coffee table. One wall contained pictures from top to bottom of Rachel and her family and a large gaudy velvet illustration of Jesus hugging a child. Even though I had never been to this location before in my life, it was so cozy and homey, I immediately felt so comfortable, I didn't want to leave and return to the madness of California. But that feeling didn't last long.
"Where is everybody?" Rachel asked, looking around.
Before her mother could respond, a tall, good-looking dude in his twenties, with Hershey Bar–colored skin, tight black eyes, and fluffy black hair, slunk into the living room. He could not have looked more countrified if he tried. He was barefoot, too, and he wore a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves missing and blue overalls.
"Ernest!" Rachel hollered. She ran up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Baby," she continued, turning to me, "this is my brother." Ernest looked like he was in a trance. There was absolutely no expression whatsoever on his face.
I set our luggage down and reached out to shake the brother's hand. To my surprise, he just stood there, staring straight ahead. He didn't shake my hand or even acknowledge me.
"Uh, Ernest, this is your future brother-in-law," Mrs. McNeal said in a nervous tone of voice.
Ernest blinked in my direction. Then he shrugged and eased over to the couch and plopped down. He began to look at me with contempt, and that certainly made me uneasy.
"He's a little on the quiet side," Mrs. McNeal explained, giving Ernest a dry look, which he ignored.
"But he's harmless," Rachel whispered in my ear. "You'll get used to him," she added, speaking in her regular tone of voice. Then she turned to her mother. "Where's Janet and Aunt Hattie, Mama?"
"Janet's taking a nap, and your auntie is still at the Piggy Wiggly, getting a few things for dinner," Mrs. McNeal explained, turning to me with a huge smile. "Seth, I am so glad to finally meet you. I always knew Rachel would land a man like you. God sure is good."
"Who's out there making all that noise?" The voice coming from another part of the house was so loud and angry, it made me jump. "I know y'all out there talking trash about me!"
"That's my sister, Janet," Rachel said, whispering again. Then she quickly left the room.
While she was gone, Ernest remained on the couch. He lifted a magazine off the coffee table, flipped it open, and began to stare at a page without moving his eyes.
"Seth, from that blank look on your face, I suspect you can't wait to get some food into your belly. It'll be a little while before dinner's ready. I just put the corn bread in the oven. I started cooking last night, all for you and Rachel. I hope you like deviled duck eggs and poke salad," Rachel's mother told me.
I had never eaten a goddamned duck egg before in my life. And I had no idea what poke salad was. I had a feeling I was not going to enjoy either one. Since I couldn't say what was on my mind, I said what I thought Mrs. McNeal wanted to hear. "Yum-yum ..."
"Good. I know you must be tired, too. Why don't you sit down and rest your legs?" Mrs. McNeal waved me over to a wing chair facing the couch.
I didn't bother to tell Mrs. McNeal that Rachel and I had eaten a huge lunch, and I certainly didn't want her to know how terrified I was to hear that she had prepared duck eggs and that mysterious poke salad just for us. The last thing I wanted to do was get on my future mother-in-law's shit list. I was still thinking about Ernest's odd behavior and the menacing voice of Janet, but I managed to sit down with a smile on my face.
A few minutes later Rachel returned. Shuffling behind her was a young woman, also in her twenties, in a brown corduroy dress and men's house shoes. She looked a lot like Rachel, too, except she was slightly taller. There was a dazed expression on her face as she looked me up and down.
"Honey, this is my baby sister, Janet," Rachel said, introducing her.
I leaped up and stumbled over to Janet with the biggest smile I could manage, even though all kinds of questions, concerns, and disappointments were bouncing off the walls inside my head. "I'm glad to finally meet you, Janet," I said as I reached out to embrace her.
"Don't you tetch me!" she yelled with a Southern drawl that was so thick, it sounded fake. "I know you the one that's been sneaking into my room in the middle of the night and playing with my titties!"
"Janet, this is my fiancé, Seth. He's never been here before." Rachel didn't even bother to hide her exasperation. She turned to me with an apologetic look on her face. "Honey, my brother and my sister were both born with a, uh, few problems. But they're just fine, as long as they take their medication."
"Okay," was all I could think to say. Medication? Both of Rachel's siblings have to take medication? For what? My chest tightened, and my brain felt as if it had frozen. Uh-oh. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered.CHAPTER 2
Seth offered to take our luggage to my old bedroom, but Mama insisted on taking it herself. Naturally, I followed behind her, because I could tell from the look on her face that she had something to say to me that she didn't want Seth to hear. I was right. The moment we got inside the neatly organized room, with its roll-away bed, mismatched dressers, and frilly yellow curtains, she set the luggage on the floor, shut the door, and lit into me.
"How come Seth is looking like somebody knocked the wind out of him?"
"What do you mean, Mama?" I asked dumbly.
"What's wrong with you, girl?" Mama snapped, shaking her finger in my face. "Didn't you see the look on his face when Ernest refused to shake his hand?"
"I didn't notice."
"Well, I know you noticed the way he looked when Janet yelled out and then when she came into the room. You ain't blind."
"Now that you mentioned it, Seth did seem a bit surprised, I guess."
"Surprised? The way that man was looking, you could have knocked him over with a feather. If I didn't know no better, I'd swear you ain't told him about our family."
"I haven't told him everything," I muttered. "I didn't want him to get the wrong impression about Janet and Ernest before he met them. I wanted to wait until we got here."
Mama gasped so hard, she choked on some air. I clapped her on the back, and as soon as she composed herself, she continued. "Oh, my Lord in heaven! All this time he thought we was just a typical American family?"
"Mama, as far as I'm concerned, we are just a typical American family." I began to wring my hands and pace the floor.
"Stand still, because you making me even more upset." I stopped in my tracks, but Mama still seemed just as upset. "There ain't no such thing as a 'typical American family,' unless you count the one on Leave It to Beaver. This is a new day. Even Bill Cosby's TV family and his real-life family had problems, but they had problems most people can relate to. You can't hide things from Seth before y'all even get married!"
"Mama, you are overreacting. I didn't try to hide anything from Seth."
"Oh, yes you did! You hid something important from him about the family he's going to marry into. By not telling him, that's the same as hiding it! Oh, Lord! How come you didn't tell Seth about your brother and your sister before now?" Mama hissed. She placed her hands on her hips.
"Uh ... uh ... it never came up," I said, fumbling.
"What do you mean, 'it never came up'? How could you not bring it up? The problems we got ain't the kind you can hide for too long."
"I was waiting for the right time to tell him," I said, sitting down hard on the bed, wringing my hands some more. They had begun to sweat, and so had my armpits. "But I'm sure it won't be a problem. Seth is a very understanding man. And he's in the church."
Mama looked at me and shook her head. "Lord knows how his family is going to react when they hear. All the stuff you told me about how uppity they are ... lawyers and such. And with him having a mama that don't do nothing but play bridge, suck up daiquiris, and socialize, I can tell you now she ain't going to ease into this."
"Mama, why are you so concerned about what Seth and his family will think about Ernest and Janet? They won't have to deal with them."
"Rachel, I didn't raise you to be no fool. You know how folks around here have always looked at our family like we was all crazy," Mama said gently.
"Crazy? Nobody in our family is crazy, Mama," I protested.
"You can call it whatever you want, but when it comes to most of the folks in this town, crazy is the first word out of their mouth when they talk about the McNeal family." Mama snorted and shook her head. "Speaking of crazy, how is that baby brother of mine doing out there in California?"
"Uncle Albert is doing just fine." I saw no need to say more, but Mama wanted to know more.
"Is he still fornicating with men?"
"He is still dating men, Mama. He lives with one, and he's very happy. He said that he hopes to get married someday." Mama looked elated, but not for long. "Say what? Do you mean to tell me the boy is going to come to his senses and marry a woman someday? See there! I knew if I prayed long and hard enough, Albert would straighten hisself out!"
"Uh, yes, he wants to get married. But ... to a man. The politicians keep talking about making same-sex marriages legal in California, and he's real excited about it."
Mama stared at me with her mouth hanging open, as if I had just turned purple. "I thought I had heard everything, but I never thought I'd hear something as ungodly as men marrying men, and women marrying women. Lord, have mercy! What is this world coming to? Lord knows what my friends will say when and if Albert ups and marries a man!"
I shook my head. "Mama, stop worrying about what people will say. These narrow-minded, ignorant, countrified folks in Coffeeville don't know any better. I'm sure our family is not the only one you know with a few simpleminded people."
Mama shot me a hot look. "There's a lot more to it than a 'few simpleminded people' in this family, girl."
"What I meant was—"
Mama silenced me by waving her finger in my face. "I don't care what you meant. Hush up and let me talk! You can stand here in them white sandals if you want to and act like you don't know no better, but I know you do. The problem in our family goes waaay back. I can remember your great-granddaddy doing some of the same outlandish stuff your sister and brother do. I'll never forget how he showed up naked at my high school graduation."
"Oh. I didn't know about that," I mumbled.
"And you didn't know about your late grandmama's late twin sister, who used to eat rocks and live grasshoppers."
"No, I didn't. But those people are deceased, and like I said, neither Seth nor any of his family will have to mingle with Janet or Ernest."
"It ain't just Ernest and Janet you'll need to tell Seth about. The bad seeds in our family ain't all dead. You got a cousin named Milton. He's just three years younger than me. You was a baby when he was around, so you wouldn't remember him. Anyway, he's over there in the state hospital, wrapped up in a straitjacket, as we speak. He's so bad, he's been locked up in that asylum most of his life."
Excerpted from Bad Blood by Mary Monroe. Copyright © 2015 Mary Monroe. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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