Dressed in the tightest, reddest dress that Brandon Turner had ever seen, the grieving widow tugged away from the supporting arms of two pall bearers and threw herself, wailing like a banshee, on top of the flower-covered casket. That the bereaved managed to arrange herself in such as position without her breasts flopping out of the scooping neckline of the dress that had barely concealed her biggest attributes and without the hem of the micro-mini skirt rising high enough to reveal what Big Ed Corbett had, in life, considered his private property, simply amazed Brandon. It was just as astounding to him that at no time in her histrionics had one lock of her perfectly coiffured, too tall, platinum blonde hair fallen from the intricate beehive into which it had been teased and lacquered.
Chuckling softly behind his fist, the sight gave Brandon his first laugh in the past couple of days. He glanced up at the cloudy sky. If the heart attack hadn't killed Big Ed, the sight of his beloved catapulting to the top of his casket would have. Big Ed, normally the most jovial of sorts, had no sense of humor at all when it came to his darling Eula Jean. None whatsoever. However, for most anyone else who came within the reach of her three-inch, perfectly sculptured, red-varnished nails, Eula Jean provided constant comic relief. Not that anyone in the stock car circuit would ever allow Big Ed to know about that. They might not have respected his choice for a wife, but they more than respected his abilities in putting together a race team that worked together as well as the finely-tuned machine Brandon drove around the racetrack.
"Ah'm comin' with ya, Big Ed!" Eula Jean screamed in her patently phony Southern accent, as Harley and Marvin, Big Ed's favorite henchmen, lifted her off the top of the casket, not an easy task as Eula Jean clutched at the arrangement of white and black daisies arranged in the distinct checkered pattern of a winning race flag. Flowers flew into the first row of folding chairs, set up especially for the funeral on the track's infield. All but one small figure jumped and raised their arms to ward off the floral attack, as if somehow the harmless flowers carried some painful, embarrassing disease with them.
As Harley and Marvin carried the caterwauling, writhing widow toward an ambulance parked behind the rows of mourners, Brandon's attention was captured by the tiny figure remaining frozen on her chair. That must be the niece, the one Big Ed had boasted and bragged upon to no end-but never allowed within spitting distance of the track. He'd kept his ward, after the death of her parents' years earlier, enrolled in the finest boarding and finishing schools and then promptly enrolled her in some fancy university overseas. Other than a few gap-toothed grinning school photos when the kid couldn't have been past elementary school, Brandon had never seen Big Ed flash around any more recent photos. Perhaps, she'd grown up plain and ugly Big Ed would never have won any beauty contests, nor had his brother Dick, her father, been in any stretch of the imagination all that handsome.
Yet, Big Ed boasted and bragged upon Desiree Corbett to anyone who'd listen. She'd won this spelling contest or that math contest or snagged straight A's on her report card. And whenever she received an award or met some milestone, Big Ed would climb into his personal jet, emblazoned with its red and black "Corbett Conquers" logo, and fly off to wherever little Desi, as he called her, might be currently residing. A brain, Brandon decided. And to the best of his remembrance, brains and beauty rarely mixed. Eula Jean-even in Brandon's jaundiced view-was a beauty, but she sure lacked the common sense to come in out of the rain.
Yes, Big Ed placed much pride and caring in his niece. Not even Eula Jean could drag him away from the tracks when one of his cars was testing or qualifying or running, but the word that little Desi might have caught the sniffles or broken a nail would have him hauling butt to the airport faster than a race car leading the pack.
Poor kid, he decided, looking at her and noticing how her back shook, no doubt overcome and sobbing her eyes out over the loss of her beloved uncle. She'd be on her own now, tough after a lifetime of Big Ed's over-protection. Lord knew that Eula Jean wasn't the maternal type in any stretch of the imagination, so he doubted that she'd offer a loving hand to the kid.
Dressed in a simple, conservative black dress with some kind of black veil over her head, the poor kid didn't look very strong or healthy. Maybe that was why Big Ed kept her away-maybe he was afraid mingling with the throngs of people normally circulating around the track she'd catch some bug that would lay her low. Colds and the flu passed faster than autographed trading cards among the drivers, the crews and the fans.
She'd need some protection. If the circumstances were different, he'd be the first to step up to the plate and offer it, just out of respect for Big Ed and because Big Ed had done the same for him years earlier. But, he had enough worries of his own at the moment-presently encased in red and being led weeping from the ambulance by Harley and Marvin back to the front row of chairs.
Just how the hell could he ever drive for Eula Jean-for no doubt Big Ed left the entire operation to her as his widow? Brandon had fended off her passes for five long years, first out of respect for Big Ed, but mostly because he found Eula Jean one of the most obnoxious women he'd ever met. He could already see that keeping his seat in the Corbett Conquers
car would depend on keeping the grieving widow happy in bed. And wouldn't she gloat like a fat pig in the porridge if she ever managed that. Well, he'd just have to look for another ride. He only hoped Big Ed would have understood that even though Brandon appreciated all he'd done for him, ever since he was a kid driving go-carts, he'd rather walk away than whore himself to keep his ride.
As the minister called everyone to their seats, Brandon walked away, back toward the pits where Fire 'n Ice, his favorite car awaited him. Harley, after safely escorting Eula Jean to her seat, hustled to his side.
"Gonna need any help?" he asked, out of breath and puffing.
"No. I think I can manage on my own without the crew," Brandon chuckled, slowing his stride just a bit to accommodate Harley's slower, belabored gait. "Marvin might need your help if Eula Jean tries to join Big Ed again."
"That well, no disrespect, Bran, but that woman has more hot air in her than one of them big balloons in a Thanksgiving parade. Should have seen her once we got her inside that ambulance. Just as cool as a ice cube." He turned and spit.
"And here I was hoping the medic had a huge syringe of happy juice with Eula Jean's name on it."
"Pshaw. I'd like to give that woman a shot but it'd be more like from a double-barrel, not one of them little needles. You shoulda heard her 'Better get back out there. They're expectin' the widow. And we don't want to keep Big Ed's lawyer waitin'. He wants to read the will directly after the service.' Harley mimicked Eula Jean in a high falsetto. "Seems to me she could at least wait until Big Ed is buried 'fore she was off spendin' his money."
"Just how does that surprise you, Harley? Everybody but Big Ed knew that Eula Jean was deeply in love with his money. Well, her four years of servicin' Big Ed finally paid off. She's just hangin' around to collect her pay." Brandon shrugged, thinking once more of the woebegone waif sitting all hunched over and sobbing. He had to eliminate her from his mind and refocus his concerns on his own needs.
"What are you goin' to do, Bran? I mean you gonna keep working for Corbett?"
Brandon knew that question was probably in the mind of every member of the team. They'd had a winning season, wanted to keep on winning, not just because of the bonuses and the perks, but because it would be the finest tribute they could make to Big Ed. And there was no one who could simply step into Brandon's shoes without diminishing the team's efforts. They'd all worked too long and too hard to become the finely-tuned organization that was the envy of most other teams in the circuit. They'd become, through sheer determination and practice, an organization of men who seemed to be able to divine one another's thoughts without even trying. No one else could just step in and take Brandon's place and hope to have that kind of teamwork continue without interruption.
"Guess that'll depend on the new boss lady, Harley. She may not want me in the driver's seat," Brandon admitted, silently adding especially when he made it perfectly clear that the only seat he was interested in was the one in the racecar.
"Oh, she'll want you all right. She'd be a fool not to," Harley laughed.
"Remember, this is Eula Jean. She's got her own notions." Brandon stopped and ran his finger over the smooth fender of "Fire 'n Ice," inhaling the homey smells of oil and grease and rubber in the pit. "Well, she can't stop this ride. This one's for Big Ed."
Brandon pulled the racing helmet from the top of the car and pulled it over his head, adjusting the tiny earpiece and microphone. He lifted his leg through the window and grabbed the top of the car, deftly bringing his other leg through and sliding down into the seat. After connecting the communications wire and fastening the safety harness, he listened to the progress of the minister eulogizing Big Ed and waited for his cue. Harley slapped Brandon on the shoulder and gave him a thumb's up before pulling up the window net and fastening it in place.
The choir began its final hymn as Brandon reached forward and flipped the master switch, turned on the ignition switch and started the engine. It came to life beneath him as he felt himself become one with the machine, his own nerves fusing with the complex network of wires, tubes and hoses connected to the engine.
As the choir sang one last "Amen," Brandon pulled the car out onto pit lane and headed for the track. The hell with the speed limit on the lane, he thought, flooring the accelerator. This wasn't a race; it was his good-bye to Big Ed. He hit the acceleration lane nearing seventy miles an hour, slid easily onto the track and let Fire 'n Ice take charge. Brandon held the car tight into the first turn, allowing the centrifugal force created to propel the car to more than 120 miles per hour by the time he hit the back stretch of the track. The car purred like a tiger watching its prey naively walk into its trap. By the time he'd reached the second turn, the car was hurtling along at 170 miles an hour. If only he could do this well at qualifying the next day, he'd probably be able to hear Big Ed shouting all the way from heaven.
Originally, he'd planned on only taking one lap at the end of Big Ed's funeral, but he decided two laps would be better. As he passed the funeral, he glanced as all headed turned to follow him from their seats in Victory Lane. He gunned the engine once more as he followed the track around its distinctive oval shape.
Big Ed deserved more than just a couple of laps, he decided coming back up toward the area in the infield and Victory Lane. He needed a big send-off. Brandon pulled his foot from the accelerator and ground both feet against the brake, twisting the steering wheel to the max. Smoke flew from the hot tires as he spun three complete circles before stopping the car. He sat for a moment, breathing hard and feeling the adrenaline pumping through every capillary in his body. Then, he slid the gear back down to first and pulled off the track, crawling over the grassy infield on his way to park the car next to Big Ed's casket in Victory Lane.
He'd nearly reached the familiar black and white checkered pavement denoting Victory Lane when a flash of red shot into his peripheral vision. He turned his head just in time to see Eula Jean launching herself at the car. Swearing under his breath, he slammed on the brakes and twisted the steering wheel, stopping just at the end of Big Ed's casket with a small bump, as Eula Jean pasted herself across his windshield.
He couldn't see what was happening as he quickly disconnected his communications wire and the safety harness before pulling down the window netting, but judging from the open-faced, slack-jawed stares of the mourners, it was something more than just Eula Jean's pounding on the windshield while wailing at the top of her lungs. He grabbed the top of the window and pulled himself half out-just in time to see Big Ed's casket, on top of the wheeled gurney rolling merrily over the pavement and toward pit road.
Brandon jumped out of the car, stopping only long enough to pull the helmet from his head and toss it back into the car. Just as he took off after the slowly rolling mortal remains of his surrogate father and best friend, Eula Jean jumped from the front of the car directly onto his back. She locked her arms around his throat and hitched her knees against his sides. Frantically, as she was cutting off his air supply, Brandon pulled feebly on her arms as he focused on running after Big Ed, now bumping down a slight incline and headed directly for the garage area behind pit road. At the last bump, the hastily repaired floral arrangement slipped from its perch and landed on the pavement.
"Bran Bran Ah cain't believe Big Ed would leave us!" Eula Jean screamed, bringing her heels around and locking her legs around his waist. "How could he leave us?"
"Get-off-me!" Brandon yelled, digging his fingers into her arm and pulling it free enough to get a good breath before she tightened her grip. Watching as the casket happily breezed on its merry way into the garage area, Brandon brought his elbow up nudged Eula Jean hard in her side.
"We're comin', Big Ed. We're comin'!" Eula Jean shrieked. "Bran, hurry. Hur-ooomph!" Brandon's elbow finally connected with a soft spot. Eula Jean's grip loosened and he felt her being lifted off him, barely noticing Harley and Marvin pulling her away. Brandon, free of his encumbrance, pressed on, reaching deep for the energy to propel him.
He was just nearing the casket as he noticed it headed directly toward an open grease pit in the floor of the garage. He hurled himself forward, catching the end of the gurney by his fingertips and dropping to the ground as he stopped it. Unfortunately, the momentum carried the casket from the gurney, sailed past the open grease pit and slid to a stop against the back wall of the garage, plowing directly into the long banquet table filled with food for the reception following the funeral. The table flipped over, sending cakes, sandwiches and salads flying into the air. Food rained down on the people who'd followed Brandon's lead and ran to capture the runaway casket. In a cacophony of falling wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers falling from the wall, Big Ed came to his final rest.
If Uncle Ed had been there, Desi would have sworn he'd planned the whole thing. Tears flowing freely again, as she pulled the veil out to wipe her eyes with a linen hankie, Desi had believed that nothing could top Aunt Eula Jean attempting ride along with Uncle Ed to heaven before the funeral began. But this this mad rush after a runaway casket topped even that. Desi tried valiantly to keep her laughter in check, only to dissolve into tears of merriment all over again.
It would make the sports channels; that was for sure, and her uncle, always keen on promoting himself and the team, would love every second of footage they broadcast.
Desi supposed that she should probably head over to where the crowd was gathering in the garage area, but she doubted her presence would help the situation. She could see that Uncle Ed's team was already lifting his casket to their shoulders and walking toward the hearse. Others were attempting to wipe food from their best clothes. Two huge, burly men were holding Aunt Eula Jean between them. No, it was far more pleasant to just sit her by herself for a moment and attempt to control her mirth.
It wasn't that she didn't grieve for her uncle, for her heart broke when she'd lifted the telephone and heard Eula Jean's nearly incoherent screams and learned that her beloved uncle had died of a sudden and massive heart attack. Yet, she was her uncle's niece and she could see the humor in most every situation, as he had and this one was the best of all, just as if Uncle Ed had planned it.
As the hearse pulled away, to take the casket to Uncle Ed's jet for the trip back home for the burial, Desi pushed herself from the chair and walked back toward the line of motorhomes parked in the infield. As she neared the huge vehicle with the "Corbett Conquers" logo emblazoned on its side, Desi paused for a moment. This was her uncle's home away from home. Actually, he spent more time living in it at the tracks during the season than he ever did in his huge home back on the Florida coast. She'd seen pictures of it, photos that Uncle Ed brought with him when he'd visited her, but she'd only spent a few minutes in it just before the funeral. With her usual charm, Aunt Eula Jean reminded her not to feel too much at home there because she planned to sell it and the team just as soon as the will was read.
Desi shrugged and pulled open the large silver door, climbing the steps into the vehicle. She'd been informed to be present immediately after the funeral. The will would be read here, because Aunt Eula Jean had confided in the limo from the airport that she wanted to get back to living as soon as possible. That was fine with Desi. The sooner, the better.
Uncle Ed had never wanted her near the tracks, despite the begging, pleading and groveling she'd offered just for the chance to see this side of his life. No, he'd insisted, life on the race circuit was a nomad's life and unsuitable for growing children. She'd often wondered if she had been a boy instead of a girl if Uncle Ed would have been so insistent to keep her as far away as he could. Instead, he'd picked Brandon Turner from near obscurity, after seeing him tear around a go-cart track years earlier, and groomed him both as his driver and his heir apparent. Despite the good looks and charisma of the driver, at least what she'd seen of him on television week after week, she'd grown resentful of his closeness with Uncle Ed.
Yes, she knew that Uncle Ed had been a devoted father figure to her, would do anything within his powers to provide with what he thought she might need. But, that wasn't the same as the closeness, the pride, Uncle Ed enjoyed with Brandon Turner. Desi knew she shouldn't hold it against Brandon that her uncle chose to spend his life with him rather than her, but that didn't stop the child remaining in her to squarely place the blame on the driver's shoulders for this.
Thirsty, Desi glanced at the self-contained kitchen. She walked over and manipulated the clever catch on the cupboard above the minute sink. She pulled out a glass and filled it with water. As she quenched her thirst, she looked out over the infield to the stadium seating surrounding the track. Why couldn't she have succeeded in convincing Uncle Ed that she didn't want the fancy boarding schools, the finishing classes, the prestigious university degree when all she really wanted was to be with him? And it wouldn't have mattered if he'd lived in Timbuktu or Tallahassee.
Desi set the glass on the table and sat down in the plush chair, swiveling around to look at the garages. Eula Jean strode across the cement straight for the motorhome, followed by a gang of men, each tugging uncomfortably at some part of their suits-their ties, vests, belts. It was obvious to Desi they'd feel much more at ease in their usual daily wear of mechanic jumpsuits than in their fancy funeral clothes.
Well, it wouldn't be long now, not with that gleam of avarice clearly flickering in Eula Jean's eyes. Soon, she'd be back in a limo and headed for the airport. One last good-bye to Uncle Ed and then she could try to decide just what she was going to do with her life. And it wouldn't be contenting herself in the beautiful condo Uncle Ed had bought for her and seeing to the charity work he had insisted was the proper career for a young woman of substance. No, indeed. Even though she was sure that he had left her well-provided for in his will, Desi was determined to create a career for herself. Armed with her degree in marketing and management, she would have her pick of meaningful jobs from which she could make her own living.
Who knew? Maybe a job in an advertising agency or perhaps working with a manufacturing company the possibilities were endless. For the first time since she'd heard the sad news of her uncle's death, Desi felt a sense of freedom and possibility. For the first time in her life, she could live as she chose, where she chose and without worrying about how Uncle Ed would manipulate and maneuver her into doing exactly as he wished instead of what she wanted.
The door of the motorhome slammed open and amidst a cloud of overwhelming, floral perfume, Eula Jean stormed in. She plopped herself down on a chair next to Desi and motioned for the attorney to sit next to her. As Desi settled the veil back over her face, she watched the attorney comply and set his briefcase on the small table.
"Crowd on in," he called, almost merrily, Desi thought with a stomach-churning sense of revulsion. She glanced at Eula Jean, leaning heavily against the lawyer and allowing him full view down the low-cut bodice of her totally inappropriate red spandex dress. It seemed obvious that Eula Jean was already counting on using her not inestimable sexual experience to expedite the process so she could put her plans into motion. Men were such fools, allowing their hormones to dominate their brain cells. "I think there's room for most everyone."
The attorney opened his briefcase and extracted a thick sheaf of papers and a videocassette. Glancing around at the expectant faces of the crowd, the attorney stood. "Now, where's Mr. Turner? We need him front and center."
Brandon Turner shuffled his way through the crowd, looking nervously at Eula Jean before dropping into the only available seat left in the crunched space, next to Desi. Desi considered him from behind the safety of her veil, wondering if he were already courting Eula Jean. Uncle Ed had been oblivious to the attraction the older woman had for the driver. Anyone watching her displays of enthusiasm in the winner's circle any time that Brandon won a race would have had to be blind not to see she would have been more than willing carry on the celebration in her bed. She wondered if Uncle Ed had ever believed the rumors circulating around the message boards on the Internet about Eula Jean's wandering hands? She hoped not. Uncle Ed had always been the sort to only believe the best in people and discount any rumors, regardless of how well substantiated they might be.
"Ed recorded his will about six months ago. Of course, everything that he will tell you in his own words is documented in copies of his will that I'll distribute after we view the tape. If anyone has any questions afterwards or needs any further assistance we might offer we've stapled my business card to each copy," the attorney stated. He reached over and inserted the cassette into the VCR and turned on the small television, setting on a shelf attached to the wall. The picture flickered a moment before the image cleared.
Desi gasped, seeing her uncle's smiling face beaming down at her from the television. It was a familiar smile, but one that made her shift uncomfortably in her chair. It was that particular smile Uncle Ed always wore just when he was about to play a particularly mischievous joke on someone. She prayed she was wrong and Uncle Ed wasn't going to pull one last prank.
"Hello, everyone. I see all the vultures have assembled come in from circling over my corpse to see what pickings they might find. Of course, the head vulture-my attorney-has already made his presence known," Uncle Ed said, nodding to the left as if he had known that's precisely where the attorney would be standing. The attorney, in response, cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"Well, I'm hoping that the funeral was sufficiently impressive. There ought to have been a couple good sound bites for the camera crews to catch. Film at eleven, as they say," Uncle Ed chuckled. "Need to make sure we stay in the news. As long as they pronounce our name right, any coverage is good coverage."
Desi raised her hand to her lips to stifle a small chuckle. Uncle Ed had no idea just how much airplay footage of his funeral would probably receive.
"But, you didn't gather just to hear me blather on about this and that. You all want to know just what you're going to get. And unless I miss my bet, I'm not even cold yet before Eula Jean got the attorney to see to the reading of my will." Uncle Ed pursed his lips and smacked loudly. "That's a last smooch for you, honey. I know you better than you think.
"Okay, let's start," Uncle Ed continued, picking up a sheaf of papers. "Now, I could read all this fancy legal stuff, but instead, I'm just going to tell you what I decided. First, each member of my crew and everyone who works in the shop and the front office will each receive a check for $5,000. Consider that my end of the season bonus to each of you. To Harley and Marvin, my left hand and my right hand, you've always been there when I needed you-and lots of times when I didn't. You've helped me take care of our little Desi. You've managed to keep some of my wife's more elaborate antics out of the press and hushed up pretty well. You've stuck with me when I was down and even more, when some of the other team owners tried to tempt you away, you stuck by me then, too. You deserve a lot but instead, I'm leaving each of you $250,000. Now, if you invest it properly-and don't squander it on fast women and faster cars-that should see you through to your retirement. I'm saving a seat on each side of me up here in heaven. And no speculating about whether I'm up here or not. I am. Case closed."
Desi looked over at the two hulking men, both were bawling like babies and hugging each other. It was obvious they didn't give a fig for the money that Uncle Ed had left them, but were truly touched that he'd remembered them so fondly.
"That takes care of most of my estate except for my three main heirs," Uncle Ed continued. "Eula Jean, I'm leaving you the house in Florida. And, I've established a trust fund. The interest off it will see to the upkeep of the house and to your living expenses for the rest of your life. There are, however, a couple of them things the shyster calls 'caveats.' First, if and when you remarry, you get to keep the house, but the trust fund returns to the estate. Now, I know that you were hoping I'd leave you everything, but well, I'm not quite the fool you always thought I was. I knew about the other men and I forgive you."
Eula Jean jumped up and planted her hands on her hips. "Well, I never "
"Oh, yes, you did and often," Uncle Ed spoke directly into the camera, chuckling a bit. "And if you don't believe me, ask the shyster there. He's got the private investigator's full report. And, if you attempt to have my will overturned, you get nothing. Not a red cent. Darlin', you'll be hustlin' burgers back at the truck stop faster than Brandon there can spin a lap at Talladega. But, all is not lost, sugar. Nope. See, you might come out with the brass ring yet."
Eula Jean remained standing, sucking most of the oxygen out of the confined space. Repeatedly her mouth opened and shut, like one of Desi's beloved tropical fish in the last throes of life, gulping for all it was worth. To say that she was stunned seemed an understatement, but that was all that came to Desi's bemused mind. She wondered just what trick Uncle Ed had up his sleeve now. She glanced around at the assembled crowd. All eyes were glued to the small television screen. Uncle Ed knew how to pump a dramatic moment for everything he could. On the screen, he could be seen reaching forward and sipping from a glass that looked as if it were filled with pale golden beer.
She glanced at Brandon Turner. He was sitting back, one arm held across his shaking abdomen with his hand cradling an elbow. The hand raised to his face failed to hide the silent laughter coming from his mouth. She watched his gaze flick in her direction for a second before redirecting itself to the small television screen.
"Ahh," sighed Uncle Ed. "No, don't get your hopes up, Eula Jean, sugar. It's just near beer, that fake stuff. Ain't bad once you get used to it. So, no, you can't say I wasn't of a sober mind when I made my will.
"Now, back to the fun stuff. As I sit here, we're just headin' into what looks to be our best season ever. I have more than just high hopes that we're going to take the prize this year. Brandon's never been better in the driver's seat. The crew is working like they were all of one mind. We could take the championship this year. Hopefully, I'll be there at the end of the season claiming that championship trophy for myself. But, there's always the chance I won't be. And if you all are watching this tape, it sure as hell means I didn't make it.
"So, here's the deal. I'm leaving Corbett Conquers Racing in equal shares to the man who should have been my son, except for a quirk of biology-Brandon and to my niece, Desi, who's always been the daughter I never had. But, you both know that I just couldn't go off and leave what it took a lifetime to build without attaching a few strings here and there. I want Corbett to have that championship trophy. And I want that bad. So, if you manage to pull off getting that championship-then the whole outfit is yours, Brandon and Desi. But, if something happens and you blow it-then I'm directing the shyster to put it up for sale. The proceeds from the sale-except for suitable trust funds for Brandon and Desi-will all go to Eula Jean.
"Now, Brandon, I know you don't know Desi. I kept her away from this circus 'cause I never thought it was proper for a fine young girl like her to be exposed to the kind of rough and tumble life we lead. So, Desi, you just go back to the city and leave it all in Brandon's hands. He's more than capable of handling things. I've taught him everything I know."
Now, it was Desi's turn to jump up. She shook her finger at the screen. "Like hell I will, Uncle Ed," she swore, forgetting for a moment that she was talking to a video recording.
"Ah, that's what I thought you'd think, Desi," Uncle Ed chortled. "Actually, I'm surprised I was able to keep you away as long as I did. I sort of always expected to turn around one day and see you doggin' my steps. Never expected you to mind what I said so close. But, you're a good girl. You always respected me and what I said. Well, now I'm asking you to respect Brandon's judgment, too. Listen to him. He knows what he's doing. And I know how you take pride in upholding the Corbett name. You'll do what's best to keep it a name of honor.
Desi sat down hard on the chair. So much for freedom. Just when she thought she'd be able to choose her own destiny, Uncle Ed had managed from beyond the grave to dictate at least the next few months. If he actually expected her to go back to the city and leave the caretaking of the family name and honor in some stranger's hands, Uncle Ed was sadly mistaken.
"Brandon, what can I say to you," Uncle Ed continued, templing his fingers before him. "I know I probably put you between a rock and a hard place here, but I think you'll agree that the prize at the end of the ride is worth it. Knowing Desi as I do, she ain't going to be content to just sit back and let you have your own way. So, all I can tell you is this be patient with her, teach her what you can.
"And both of you try not to kill each other. It's probably a long time between now and the end of the season, so God help you both."
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