Bootlegging was Milton and Yvonne Hamilton’s ticket out of poverty, prison time, and plain bad luck. Now they’ve moved on to a bigger, richer pool of clientele right in their own respectable, new middle-class backyard. And their growing friendship with the seemingly perfect couple Joyce and Odell Watson is proving golden in more ways than one . . .
As Milton soon learns, Odell is hiding an outside family and dubious business dealings. It’s the perfect recipe for a blackmail scheme that will help Milton hide his own dirty secrets—even from Yvonne. Better yet, he can take ever more dangerous risks to ace out his liquor-smuggling rivals. And Yvonne, emboldened by her husband’s new gravy train, delights in tormenting Joyce about everything the snobbish matron doesn’t have, especially children.
But even a winning hand can be played too far. Pushed past their limits, Odell and Joyce will play on Milton’s careless boasting to get him and Yvonne out of their lives for good . . .
Praise for One House Over
“Impossible to put down.”
—Susan Holloway Scott, author of I, Eliza Hamilton
“Monroe reveals sympathetic aspects and complex motivations for each character in this engrossing setting.”
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Lester Fullbright had visited me once every other month in the women's prison camp where I had been the state of Alabama's guest for almost two years. He was the man I'd been living with when I got arrested. He'd told me that when they let me out, I could move back in.
But when I arrived at his house that Thursday evening, the day I got released, he looked surprised and a little annoyed when he opened the door. "Yvonne, what the hell you doing here? You ain't supposed to get out until next week!" He looked over my shoulder in both directions as he waved me in.
I felt sure enough frumpy in my drab release outfit: a mud-colored cotton dress, matching paper-thin slippers, and dingy white bobby socks. My hair was in three limp plaits. I had a brown paper bag that contained a few pieces of underwear, the dress I'd been wearing the day they locked me up, my Bible, a comb, and two baloney sandwiches. I'd had a wallet with four dollars and some change in it when they checked me in, but it had mysteriously disappeared. Stuffed way down in my brassiere was ten dollars gate money and a bus ticket back to the county I'd been arrested in. Them two things, and the baloney sandwiches, was what every inmate got on their way out. The bus ticket hadn't done me no good, because the closest depot was even farther than my destination. The sandwiches had such a foul smell, I wouldn't have fed them to a hungry hog.
"Did you escape?"
"Do you think I'd be stupid enough to bust out of jail with only a week to go? They turned me loose early for good behavior." I took a deep breath and set my bag on the floor.
"Whew! Praise God I ain't got to worry about them laws coming after me for harboring a fugitive."
"The same day they told me they was letting me out, I sent you a letter. I told you to find somebody with a truck or a car and come pick me up today."
"Well, I don't know where that letter went, but it sure didn't come to me. You know how bad mail delivery service is in colored neighborhoods. The only things that always make it to me on time is my bills. How did you get here?"
Lester's mouth dropped open so wide, I could see all his back teeth. "Say what? You walked ten miles by yourself through dangerous Ku Klux Klan territory?"
"I didn't have no choice. You wouldn't believe how many snakes and lizards I had to dodge. I got so thirsty and hungry, it's a wonder I didn't pass out. If I hadn't come across a spring and a blackberry bush by the side of the road, there ain't no telling what might have happened to me in that hot sun. Anyway, after I'd covered about five miles, a farmer came along on his mule wagon. He gave me a ride the rest of the way."
"Oh. The important thing is you made it home." Lester gave me the once-over and frowned. "You look like a scarecrow in that dowdy frock, but you still a sight for sore eyes," he declared with a great big smile. "Give me some sugar." He puckered up, wrapped me in a bear hug, and gave me a rough kiss on my chapped lips. "We should stop wasting time and get loose so we can celebrate your homecoming. Don't you think so?"
"Yeah, I guess," I muttered. After the wretched day I'd had, the last thing I wanted to do was get loose in bed with a man. But I wasn't in no position to say no. I glanced around the living room. As gloomy as it was, it was paradise compared to where I'd just come from. On top of dirty clothes scattered all over his floor, coal-oil lamps sat on his dusty coffee table and both end tables. There was more clothes and other odds and ends on the saggy couch. "It's good to be free again. We can celebrate, but I need to wash and lotion up first." I slid my tongue across my lips and couldn't believe how dry they felt, even after Lester's sloppy kiss.
"You know where everything is at. Make sure you put some calamine lotion on them ashy lips. And hurry up, so I can show you how much I missed you."
After I took a quick bath and scarfed down two peanut butter sandwiches and a glass of buttermilk, Lester grabbed my elbow and steered me to his bed. We stayed there for the next hour.
Once he was satisfied, he sat up with his back against a stack of pillows, gazing at me with his eyes narrowed. He started laying out the rules in a gruff tone, which was odd for a man that had squealed with pleasure the whole time he was humping me a few minutes ago. "We better get a few things straight right now. You had it easy the last time you stayed with me. You was lazy, spoiled, and came and went as you pleased." I sat up, but I kept my mouth shut, because he was telling the truth. "I ain't going to put up with all that foolishness this time. If you want to stay under my roof, you going to get a job and pay half of the rent. You'll cook all the meals, keep the house clean, wash the clothes, and everything else I tell you to do."
"Is that all?" I sneered.
"Naw! You'll pay half for the utilities, food, and every other household expense. We straight?"
"We straight," I mumbled. I would have agreed to anything because I was too tired to argue. All I wanted to do was relax, organize my thoughts, and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
"And another thing," Lester continued, wagging his finger in my face. "If I find out you fooling around with other men, you will suffer."
"I ain't going to fool around on you," I assured him, shaking my head. "I ain't never cheated on none of my men."
Lester wasn't the best boyfriend in the world, but the best I could do at the time. He was a little on the bossy side, unpredictable, and self-centered. I'd always overlooked his faults because I liked his light brown skin; cute baby face; hard, trim body; and good hair. He always had a decent job, and he had never beat me. Besides all that, he had been hinting for years that he might make me his wife someday. Since Lester had more of the things I liked than any other man I'd been with, I assumed he'd make a good husband. He was thirty-six now, and I was thirty, so I prayed that he'd be ready to marry me soon.
I could have moved back in with Aunt Nadine and Uncle Sherman. They had raised me after my mama and daddy died in a tractor accident when I was six. My aunt and uncle had moved to Mobile last month, and I wanted to stay on in Branson. It was just another typical segregated small town in Alabama, but I never wanted to relocate because it was the only home I'd ever knowed. And it kept the memory of my parents alive. Most of the residents in our part of town lived on dirt or gravel roads, in ramshackle houses. Lester's place was one of the few on our block that had an inside toilet. The folks that didn't have one had to use the numerous common-area outhouses. Every house had a potbellied stove in the living room, and almost everybody had a garden, a bunch of chickens, and unruly kids running around in their yards. Some folks had backyard pigsties. Unless it was hog-butchering time, they'd let their pigs roam around in the yards, too. Lester was a simple man. He didn't want no livestock or kids, because he believed they would be too much trouble. I didn't agree with him, but I always went along with whatever he wanted to do, anyway.
Katy Harris, my best friend girl since I was ten and she was eleven, lived next door to Lester. She had offered to let me move in with her when I got out, but that would have been an insult to Lester. Besides, cuddling in bed with him was a lot more comfortable and fun than sleeping on a pallet on her hardwood floor.
There was a lot of crime in the neighborhood. Folks that didn't have much to begin with got robbed by folks that had even less. There was armed robberies and assaults on the streets every now and then. But house break-ins happened on a regular basis. Most of the locks was so flimsy, all a burglar needed to pick them was a bobby pin or a butter knife.
* * *
Five days after I'd moved back in with Lester, I returned to my old job at one of the biggest sugarcane fields in the county. I'd been doing farm labor from the time I started walking, so I was used to it. Lester worked for a farmer that raised hogs, chickens, and cows, so between the two of us, we made enough money to get by. We worked within walking distance from Lester's house, so we didn't have to depend on the overseers that transported workers on mule wagons and trucks owned by the farmers.
Lester claimed he had a toothache that Friday morning, so he didn't go to work. When I got home at 6:00 p.m., he was gone. I didn't know where he was or when he'd be back. I flipped through magazines, looked out the window every few minutes, and paced the floor for two hours, before I decided to go out and have a drink. I hadn't had one since the day I got arrested, so I was ready for a good buzz. I left a note on the coffee table to let Lester know that I'd be out until around midnight. There was three bootleggers operating less than a mile away. The only reason I went to Delroy Crutchfield's place was that he was the closest.
I spent the first ten minutes in Delroy's crowded living room standing in front of his potbellied stove, watching everybody else get loose. I was counting on some man to buy me a drink so I wouldn't have to spend my money. Somebody suddenly tapped me on the shoulder.
"I been watching you ever since you came through that door," a deep voice told me. I whirled around and seen a grinning man behind me, holding a drink. I had noticed him earlier because he was the only man wearing a white linen suit, and he had had several frisky women all over him at the poker table.
"Who me?" I asked dumbly.
"Yeah, you. I hope you like moonshine." He handed me the drink.
"I do. Thank you." I took a sip and smiled. "What's your name?"
"Thanks for the drink." Lester had spies, so I didn't want to do nothing that would draw the kind of attention to myself that made people talk. I attempted to walk away, but Milton grabbed my arm. "Ain't you kind of bold?" I asked, giving him a mild frown.
"Yup," he snickered. "What's your name? I sure would like to get to know you."
"Yvonne Maynard, and I already got a man. We'll be getting married soon. And I noticed you already got a lot of meat on your plate."
Milton waved his hand and scanned the room with his eyes narrowed. The women that had been paying so much attention to him was pestering another man now. "Shoot! Them heifers ain't even clean. I wouldn't touch nary one with a stick. I ain't got no woman right now. I been searching for a long time. I got a feeling my search could end tonight ..."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, like I just told you, I got a man."
He looked around the room again. "Where is he tonight?"
"Um ... I don't know. He was gone when I got home from the cane field this evening and —"
Milton didn't waste no time cutting me off. "Why is a pretty little piece like you working in a cane field?"
"Because I can't eat and live nowhere for free," I chuckled.
"A classy woman like you should be able to do a lot better than a cane field. I took you for a rich white family's mammy in one of them big houses on the north side."
"I hope to have a first-rate job like that someday, God willing." I took another sip of my drink. I had to cover my mouth with my hand to hold back the belch threatening to embarrass me. "I been working on farms most of my life."
From the look of pity on Milton's face, I could tell that he felt sorry for me. But a split second later, he eyeballed me like I was something good to eat. It made me feel special and nervous at the same time. "What do you do when the crops is off-season and there ain't no farmwork?"
"I clean houses, take in washing and ironing, and whatever else I can get."
Milton closed his eyes and shook his head. When he returned his attention to me, he looked like he felt even sorrier for me. "I declare, that's a damn shame. Do you live in this neighborhood?"
"All my life."
"Hmmm. That's strange. I been living just down the road a piece from here for almost two years, and I ain't never seen you before tonight."
I didn't care what this man thought about me. But I was reluctant to tell people I barely knew that I was an ex-convict. It was a painful subject that I avoided as much as I could. I finished my drink and set the glass on the coffee table. "I'm a homebody, and so is my man. Other than work, we don't go too many places."
"Your man is lucky. I'd give anything in the world to have a beautiful redbone like you."
I preferred tall, handsome men with light skin and good hair, and Milton wasn't nowhere near that. His skin tone was chocolate-bar dark, and he was only about three inches taller than me, and I was barely five feet. He had plain features and a dumpy body. His short off-black hair was nappy, but I was pleased to see that he hadn't plastered it down with pomade or lard, like some of the other men in the room. Regardless of how he looked, the other women was still making eyes at him. It had to be because of his charming personality and that white suit. I shook my head to clear out the thoughts I was having about Milton.
"I guess I should be getting back home," I said.
"You just got here a few minutes ago. What's your hurry?"
"Because you getting a little too close, or trying to. And I don't want to say something that'll hurt your feelings," I teased.
"Okay, I get the message," he said with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I ain't going to pester you no more. How far do you live from here?"
"Me and my fiancé live about a quarter of a mile down this road, in that green house at the end of the block. My best friend girl live in the house next door."
"I do declare. We neighbors. I live on the same road, on the other side, a stone's throw away from your place! Come on, I'll walk you."
As soon as we got outside, Milton wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and we started walking.
"Where do you work?" I asked.
"Well, like you, I can't eat and live nowhere for free. You ever been to Cunningham's Grill, that colored roadhouse out by the city dump? I work there Monday through Friday, cooking away all day."
"I know where it is, but I ain't never ate there. I don't have the kind of money you need to be eating out."
"I know what you mean. If you ever want a meal on the house, come by and send somebody into the kitchen to get me. I'll sneak you a plate on the house."
"Thank you. I just might do that."
"I hope you do." His arm got tighter around my shoulder. We didn't say nothing else until we reached my front door.
The lights was still off, so I assumed Lester hadn't come home yet. "I would invite you in, but I'd hate for my fiancé to come in and find me alone with a strange man."
"Don't worry about it, Yvonne. All I wanted to do was make sure you got home safe and sound. You go on in and have a blessed night."
I had locked the door when I left. It was unlocked now. I went in and stood stock-still in front of the door. I didn't turn on one of the lamps, because I knew the shotgun house so well, I could get around in it with my eyes closed. But there was enough dusky light streaming in through the window for me to see that my note wasn't on the coffee table, where I had left it. I assumed Lester had read it and expected me to come home around midnight. His bedroom was next to the living room, and every wall in the house was so thin, you could hear just about everything going on no matter what room you was in. The springs on our bed was so decrepit, they squeaked even if somebody just bumped against the bed. They was squeaking like mad now.
When I eased up to the bedroom door and opened it enough to peep in, I spotted a candle burning on the windowsill. What I seen in the bed took my breath away. The man I thought I was going to marry was on top of a woman, humping like a dog in heat.CHAPTER 2
I had no idea who the woman in bed with my man was. There was no way I was going to work toward having a future with Lester! Just being under the same roof with him now almost made me puke.
The only place I could think of to go was Katy's house. Her lights was on, but she didn't answer her door when I knocked. She had a lot of men friends and was all the time entertaining one. If that was the case tonight, I didn't want to interrupt her, so I went back to Lester's place.
I was in such a tizzy, I needed something to calm myself down. I decided to go back to that bootlegger's house and get sure enough drunk. But first, I wanted to know who the woman was with Lester.
There was a lot of trees with wide trunks directly across the road. I decided to hide behind one and wait for that nasty female buzzard to come out. I didn't have to wait long. Ten minutes after I'd ducked behind a walnut tree, Lester's lights came on and the door opened. Him and the woman stood in the doorway and kissed and hugged before she turned around. I couldn't believe my eyes. The woman was Katy, my best friend.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Over the Fence"
Copyright © 2019 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Neighbors - Book 2,
Chapter 1 - Yvonne,
Chapter 2 - Yvonne,
Chapter 3 - Milton,
Chapter 4 - Yvonne,
Chapter 5 - Milton,
Chapter 6 - Yvonne,
Chapter 7 - Milton,
Chapter 8 - Milton,
Chapter 9 - Yvonne,
Chapter 10 - Yvonne,
Chapter 11 - Milton,
Chapter 12 - Yvonne,
Chapter 13 - Milton,
Chapter 14 - Yvonne,
Chapter 15 - Milton,
Chapter 16 - Yvonne,
Chapter 17 - Yvonne,
Chapter 18 - Milton,
Chapter 19 - Yvonne,
Chapter 20 - Milton,
Chapter 21 - Milton,
Chapter 22 - Milton,
Chapter 23 - Yvonne,
Chapter 24 - Yvonne,
Chapter 25 - Milton,
Chapter 26 - Milton,
Chapter 27 - Milton,
Chapter 28 - Milton,
Chapter 29 - Yvonne,
Chapter 30 - Milton,
Chapter 31 - Yvonne,
Chapter 32 - Milton,
Chapter 33 - Milton,
Chapter 34 - Yvonne,
Chapter 35 - Yvonne,
Chapter 36 - Yvonne,
Chapter 37 - Milton,
Chapter 38 - Yvonne,
Chapter 39 - Yvonne,
Chapter 40 - Milton,
Chapter 41 - Milton,
Chapter 42 - Milton,
Chapter 43 - Yvonne,
Chapter 44 - Milton,
Chapter 45 - Yvonne,
Chapter 46 - Milton,
Chapter 47 - Yvonne,
Chapter 48 - Milton,
Chapter 49 - Yvonne,
Chapter 50 - Milton,
Chapter 51 - Yvonne,
Chapter 52 - Milton,
Chapter 53 - Milton,