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Flipping Love You
Author: Erin Nicholas

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Jillian Morris would never admit it, but the fact that her mother believed she needed help dressing herself, even at age thirty-four, came in handy sometimes.

Because she did need help dressing herself.

Sometimes.

Certainly not on a regular basis. Her basic v-neck t-shirts in various solid colors and her jeans or khakis worked perfectly three hundred and sixty-two days a year. And it was awesome to be able to reach into her closet and, literally, pull on the first thing her hand touched.

But every once in a while, the clothes her mother sent her were actually appropriate. Never for Jill to wear to work, of course. But for…other things.

Like funerals.

And meetings with lawyers for reading the will a couple days after a funeral.

She’d worn this same dress to the funeral, but she’d grabbed it again this morning when she’d remembered the meeting and realized she’d need to change after work and had run back up the stairs to her apartment.

She hoped a basic black dress was appropriate for a meeting with a high-powered attorney at an enormous, intimidating mansion on the outskirts of town regarding the last will and testament of a man she’d loved and who she’d had no idea was a multi-millionaire.

Was there a handbook or blog or something that she could have referenced for this meeting? Maybe she should have Googled.

She studied the toe of her shoe.

Okay, it was a boot. One of her work boots. Because, while she’d been so proud of herself for remembering to grab the dress, of course she hadn’t thought about shoes.

Her mother would be appalled.

The boot probably had penguin poop on it.

No, the boot definitely had penguin poop on it.

Which was why she had also arrived to this big-time fancy meeting in her truck. She drove her truck to and from work because then she didn’t have to worry about things like penguin poop on the floor mats or if she’d remembered her work bag. She just kept it in her truck at all times. And wore the same thing to and from work every day.

Having a big meeting that required a dress and nice shoes right after work was really not a good idea for Jill.

Had she gotten penguin poop on the carpet in A.J.’s stuffed-with-books-covered-in-maps-and-filled-with-probably-expensive-stuff office?

Very likely.

But she smiled slightly. A.J. would not care about penguin poop on his carpet.

Though she couldn’t help but wonder how much the carpet in here cost.

A.J. had been a millionaire. More precisely, Allan J. Reynolds III had been a millionaire.

What?

She’d known the man for almost four years. He’d come to the zoo every Thursday afternoon to watch her feed the penguins. After a couple of weeks, they’d started chatting politely. Then they’d started actually talking. And laughing. And sharing their stories and passions. And caring.

The older man had been fascinating. He’d had a dry sense of humor and had led an incredible life, traveling the globe, studying and photographing wildlife. He’d been especially fond of penguins. They’d shared that passion. Which was how they’d become friends.

When he hadn’t showed up last Thursday, she’d been so worried.

Turned out, for good reason.

He’d passed away Wednesday night.

From cancer that she hadn’t even known he had.

Jill felt her throat tighten and her eyes sting. She was going to miss him so much. It still didn’t feel real that he was gone.

“Jillian?”

She lifted her head and focused on the man sitting behind the enormous, polished cherry-wood desk. “Yes?”

“I asked if you’re ready?”

Oh, he’d been speaking to her. She glanced at the other two people in the room.

Christine Jones had been A.J.’s long-time personal assistant, housekeeper, and friend. She was inheriting this gigantic house and all of the furnishings and artwork. Apparently, A.J. felt that the woman who had vacuumed, dusted, polished, and shined the place should get to keep it in the end.

Christine was a little overwhelmed by the whole thing.

But Mathias Alcazar, the twenty-one-year-old man sitting between Jill and Christine, was more than overwhelmed.

Mathias had been picking A.J. up and driving him to church then taking him out for breakfast every week for two years.

A.J. had left Mathias his cars. Yes, plural. Six of them. There was a silver Bentley, a maroon Rolls Royce, a black 1936 Mercedes Benz Roadster, a beat-up blue pickup, the basic tan Buick they’d driven to church, and, Mathias’s favorite, a fire-engine red Ferrari.

A.J.’s taste in cars had been eclectic. As had his taste in artwork, hobbies, and, clearly, personal relationships.

Jill was still smiling over how amazed and touched both Christine and Mathias had been, not only with what A.J. had left them in his will, but the kind words about what their friendships had meant to him that William, his attorney, had read.

A.J.’s children—two sons—were grown and wildly successful themselves. One lived in New York and one in London. They had inherited shares of A.J.’s company—Jill wasn’t clear on what exactly A.J. had done to become a millionaire—and money, but they didn’t want or need his house, furniture, artwork, or cars.

Now it was her turn to find out what A.J. had left to her.

She swallowed and sat up straighter, tucking her boots under the chair. “Yes, I’m ready.”

She wasn’t ready at all.

She was here with two people who knew A.J. really well. They’d known he lived in a gigantic house and had millions of dollars to his name. They’d done things for him.

All A.J. and Jillian had done was chat about animals and travel and her work. Some days they talked about recent research in wildlife veterinary care. Sometimes they talked about conservation efforts around the world. They talked about everything from deforestation of the rainforests to the news story about a mother tiger that had adopted a stray litter of puppies as her own.

They’d shared their love of animals, but she hadn’t taken him anywhere, or helped him in any particular way. She’d been touched to find out that he’d remembered her in his will at all. If he was going to leave her some of his wildlife photography or even one of his journals from his travels to the Galápagos Islands where he first fell in love with the penguins, she would be ecstatic and treasure it forever.

“To my dearest Jillian.”

Jill’s throat constricted with even those first four words.

“Everything I needed to know about you, I learned on the very first day I saw you. I was watching you caring for the penguins in the exhibit. You didn’t know I was there at first, and I overheard you talking to them. You were loving and sweet and patient. You were not just feeding them, but truly interacting, and taking the time to give each of them individual attention and care. It was clear they loved and trusted you implicitly. After that, we became fast friends and you always treated me similarly.”

Jill had to blink rapidly. A.J. had been surprisingly verbally affectionate toward her. He praised her care of the penguins and had told her many times what her friendship meant to him. But hearing it like this in a letter, that he’d clearly taken time to write, knowing it would be his final chance to say it, made her heart ache. She dashed the tear off her cheek that had slipped from her lower lashes.

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