May 20, 1947
Los Angeles, California
Aaron Day scooped up the pink bundle and cooed at the scrunched face staring back while he bounce-stepped to the window. A glance at Cheryl, his wife, told him she followed his every move.
This was their first child. A tiny, exquisite little girl. But she needed a name.
Then, as he turned to gaze out on the magnificent Southern California spring morning, the perfect name for their perfect baby bloomed in his head. Inspired by the azure sky, he knew exactly what he’d christen his firstborn.
Aaron drew the receiving blanket back more and pointed the vista out to his daughter. “See the beautiful cloudless horizon, sweetie? You don’t understand yet about the glorious weather and golden rays shining in through this glass. But you will. One day you’re going to embody all the promise today holds.” His fingertips skimmed over her feathery blonde hair before he leaned in and kissed her wrinkled forehead, her eyes continuing to bore into him all the while. “I name you after this day of your birth. You are Sunny May. You’ll be a light in our house, filling each room with laughter and joy.”
“Aaron, her last name is Day. Must you do that to her? Sunny May Day? Even Sunny Day’s gonna get some cracks.” Cheryl rolled to her side in her hospital bed and leaned on her elbow.
“People will remember her. If she goes into the entertainment business with us someday, she’s got a ready-made name. She’ll be recognizable.”
“True. But she’ll hate us for doing this to her.”
Aaron shook his head. “Not if we tell her the story. From day one, she’ll understand that her name is perfect for her. She is Sunny May Day. Yeah,” He sighed. “She’s going to do big things with that name.”
Cheryl chuckled and laid back on her pillow. “You might be right. It would be a great ingenue name. Maybe she can follow in my footsteps with the movies.”
Aaron brought the baby to her mother and cradled her in the crook of Cheryl’s arm. “She can do whatever she wants—music, acting, designing skyscrapers for all I care. I just want her to stay our happy little sunshine girl. She’ll be a success; I have no doubt.”
February 16, 1970
Governor’s Office, State Capitol
“Are you Sunny Day?”
Sunny glanced at the delivery guy who interrupted her concentration. These figures needed to be collated and organized before the governor’s meeting in an hour. “Yes, that’s me.” She waited for the snicker or not-so-funny quip.
“These are for you.” He handed her a vase overflowing with two dozen long-stemmed roses.
She’d been so intent on nailing the poor kid for making fun of her name, she’d missed the giant bouquet in his hands. “These are gorgeous.” After clearing a corner of her desk, she took the delivery from him and adjusted the flowers. “Oh, a tip. She tugged her purse from the bottom drawer and dug out a couple quarters. “Thank you.”
He nodded and moved to leave before halting. “Your name is Sunny Day?”
She fisted her hands, holding her temper in check. “Yes, I was born on a delightful Southern California day, full of sunshine and promise, so my parents deemed me Sunny.” No need to get her middle name involved. “Born on a sunny day, named Sunny Day. There you go.” She turned her back on him, resisting the urge to ask for her quarters back, and swiped the card from the arrangement. Who sent her these beautiful…?
No. Nope. No way. She tore the little card to pieces before pulling the roses from their holder and shoving them into the trash can. Then, after swiping the vase from her desk, she trotted off to the Ladies Room to dump the water before chucking the cut crystal in her wastepaper basket after the blooms.
Teresa Knept strolled past. “Saw someone got flowers—” Her gaze fell on the stuffed receptacle. “What did you do that for?”
“They wilted.” Sunny returned to her figures.
“What do you mean? I gasped when he brought them up.”
“Yeah, me too. Until I read the card. There aren’t enough roses to fix last weekend. Some Valentine’s day.”
Teresa leaned a hip against the corner of Sunny’s desk. “What did he do?”
In truth, she’d rather just forget about it. And him. If he couldn’t be bothered to call, explain he’d be late, or that he had an emergency, or anything…After all, she’d given him Saturday and Sunday to contact her. But this? Flowers and only a “love, Brock” scrawled on the card? Did he imagine that’s all it took? She shook her head. “Not now. I’ve too much work, anyway. Maybe when I cool off, okay, Teresa?”
“Okay, Sunny. Let’s meet at lunch.” She pushed away from the desk, but after a step she bent to whisper in Sunny’s ear. “Looks like someone’s about to get blindsided.”
Sunny laid aside her pencil and glanced where her friend indicated.
A big grin on his too handsome face while he waved at her coworkers as if he were a campaign hopeful, working the crowd.
Where did he mislay his brain?
He arrived at her desk and planted one on her cheek. Clueless. “Hey beautiful. Did you…” Brock caught sight of the wastepaper basket. “Um, I guess you did. What’s the matter? Didn’t you like them?”
Sunny stood, fists clenched at her side. Her temper would take charge if she didn’t gain control. She held her breath, starting her silent count while she rubbed her earlobe. She would not explode in her workspace. But this egomaniac tempted her to break that rule.
It took to number thirty to pour enough calm over her where she spoke without raising her voice. “Brock, I think you have mistaken me for someone you can manipulate. I do not want to see your big dopey grin or your thorn-filled flowers or your one-syllable name ever again. I hope I’ve made myself clear.”
“But Sunshine Girl. I sent the roses to say I’m sorry.” He flashed his little boy pout that was hard to resist. But this time his charm act failed.
“How did I know that Brock? You only signed your name. Nothing about what happened. Were you stranded on the highway? Bleeding in some hospital? You might’ve run off with a rock band for all I knew.” She pushed his face away from her. “If this relationship had a chance, you destroyed it by standing me up on Valentine’s Day. I am done. Goodbye, Brock.”
“Sunny, baby, you can’t mean that.”
Before Sunny answered, she spotted another visitor headed her way. How did she get so popular? No one wanted her to finish this report. “May I help you?”
“Are you Sunny Day?”
Brock spun at the voice and his LA worthy tan drained from his face. “Venita.”
Sunny watched the exchange between “Venita” and Brock, a spidy-tingle racing her spine. “Yes, I’m Sunny Day.”
“Really.” The woman shook her head. “You couldn’t even find someone with a normal name.” She snorted and then turned her full attention on Sunny. “And you, stupid name girl. Women capable of landing positions with the governor’s office should be intelligent enough to avoid entanglements with married men. But let’s be clear. He is married. To me. This is your last mistake. And I will have your job for it.” She spun on her heel, all one hundred pounds of her, and thundered toward the executive offices as if she towered seven feet tall.
“Brock, what did she mean?”
“Sorry, Sunny.” He followed the woman.
“Brock? You’re married?”
He stared at the floor but nodded before taking the same route as his wife.
Married? She’d been dating a married man? Ever since New Year’s?
Well, another reason for good riddance. She held marriage as sacred and would not cause one to fall apart.
She glanced about the room, noticing her coworkers—some stared while others merely stole peeks. Her cheeks bloomed with heat and she brushed her bangs from her brow before sitting at her desk and picking up her pencil. With a swivel so no one saw her shame, she pulled her focus onto her job.
But the numbers wouldn’t add. They danced around, the ones pointing at her, sharp little digits morphing into accusing arrows of condemnation as she tried to key them into the adding machine. She began the column again when her phone rang. “Treasurer’s Office. Miss Day speaking. How may I help you?”
“Sunny, it’s Belinda. Can you come to HR, please?” Human Resources?
“Sure. I’ll be right there.” She hung up, grabbed a stenographer’s pad and pencil, and headed for the next floor. After the drama in her public office area, stepping away from prying eyes proved a welcomed respite. She didn’t wait for the elevator, not when taking the stairs beat it by minutes. A moment later she tapped at the jamb, then entered. Only Belinda. Seated behind her desk.
“Close the door, please, Sunny.”
A chill went up her spine. Not good. “What’s going on?”
Belinda stood and walked around to her. “Somewhere you’ve upset someone. I’m to let you go. Now.”
Sunny sank into the chair, her legs giving way. “Fired? Now?” What? Even if that woman followed up on her threat, her boss called Sunny’s work flawless. Her boss told her so many times. There’d been talk of being groomed for promotion in a couple months. “Why?”
Belinda shrugged. “It makes no sense to me, but the complaint comes from the governor’s office. Like I said, you’ve upset someone. I need you to sign this paper and I’ll cut you your final check. They want me to send a guard with you to get your things, but you won’t cause a fuss, right?”
A guard? “I’m too confused to be a problem. What do I do?” The sooner she complied, the sooner she’d skedaddle from this nightmare.
“Just sign here. I pointed out that you’ve been a model employee and deserved a severance besides what you are owed. They agreed.” A moment later Belinda handed her a check, showing triple what she normally took home. Two weeks’ severance then.
“I’m allowed to pick up my things?” Sunny tucked the check inside her steno pad, unable to meet Belinda’s gaze.
“How about I walk up with you? That way it won’t look so bad and I’m covered.”
Sunny nodded. She’d never been this humiliated in her life. But she wasn’t about to cry or cause a scene. Just get out of there. That’s all she wanted to do. Get out.
She stood and Belinda followed her into the hall. “Can we take the stairs? Fewer people that way.”
“Sure.” Belinda opened the stairwell door.
They climbed the steps in silence. Why talk? Normal sounds fell muted, muffled. Even their footfalls on the cement treads echoed as if from far away. Sunny felt encased in a bubble that hushed the surrounding world.
At the top, Belinda let her hand rest on Sunny’s shoulder a moment before entering the corridor. She offered kindness despite being forced to do a hatchet job. It wasn’t Belinda’s fault.
It was Brock’s.
If he’d been a faithful husband, none of this would’ve happened.
Or did she own part of the blame?
Had she taken the time to look for telltale signs? Had she overlooked a signal that shouted “married?” What wrong did she commit that they must fire her?
At her desk, Sunny noticed the adding machine and financial books now sat elsewhere. Guess word leaked back and someone else got put onto her task. Well, considering the governor needed the figures, that made sense. Just another slap.
She gathered her purse, tucking in the small family photo she displayed to anyone who stopped by her desk. An extra tube of lipstick, a hairbrush, a brown bag lunch, and her latest book purchases—Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Love Story. Neither of which she’d started, seeing she hadn’t made up her mind which to read first and had saved the decision for lunchtime. Then she remembered her steno pad. She was too embarrassed to think.
Books and lunch in hand, her tooled-leather purse strap over her shoulder, she finally glanced up and caught Teresa’s sympathetic gaze. With a forced smile, she wiggled her fingers in goodbye at the one friend she’d made in the office and walked with Belinda back to the stairs.
This time she heard the creak of the metal door as it swung on its hinge—like a cell door opening. Only she wasn’t being locked in. They were about to lock her out.
At the next floor down, Belinda offered a handshake. “You’re going to bounce back from this, Sunny. You have too much intelligence and talent. People who do things like this always end up getting theirs in the end. It was nice knowing you and if you need a reference, ask for me. I’ll give you a good one.”
That was more than Sunny could take. A tear forced its way down her cheek. She swiped it away from her jaw before it dripped and cleared her throat. “Thanks. I appreciate that. Goodbye.” Because if she didn’t get out of there now, she wouldn’t be able to see to do it. Tears were going to fall. If only she could hold them off until she got to her car.
Belinda headed to her office and Sunny continued to the first floor.
Just as her hand grasped the handle, the stairwell door pulled away and someone bowled her over.
The next thing Sunny knew, she sat on her bottom at the base of the stairs glancing away from most chocolate eyes she’d ever seen.
“Are you all right?” Pat held out his palm to ease the lady to her feet. A petite blonde with big blue eyes swimming with a sheen of moisture. He must have hurt her. “Let me help you.”
She took his hand but glanced away. “Thanks, I should’ve been paying better attention.”
The tingles racing up his arm thickened his voice. “No.” Pat shook his head. “My fault. I stormed the stairs, trying to beat that behemoth of an elevator.” He reached for her bag, whose contents lay scattered on the concrete floor.
“I’ll get it. I don’t want to hold you up. You’re in a hurry.” She stooped and reloaded her purse, flung the strap over her shoulder and grabbed at her other items.
He picked up Love Story. She’s a reader. Of course, every woman over fifteen inhaled that book. He glanced at her other title. “Have you read Jonathan Livingston Seagull?”
She shook her head and accepted the paperback from him. “No. If you’ll excuse me. I’m sorry.” Her face twitched as if she tried to control something, but she had yet to meet his gaze when she spoke. Instead, she shoved out the door. Out of his life.
The words “what a shame” bounced through his brain. But he brushed them away and with one more glance at the now closed door, he resumed his trek up the stairs, sure he’d still beat the elevator to the third floor.
Childhood friend Trey Haynes worked in finances. As long as he had a lunch break today, he might as well check if Trey would join him. Both manned jobs which placed them downtown, but somehow being able to catch up didn’t happen often. Pat decided to make an effort.
He exited and found Trey’s office, or open shared space. The guy sat bent and focused over a column of numbers, punching keys on an adding machine.
“Hey, did you forget about lunch?”
Trey looked up, a blank stare at Pat. Then a light glowed in his eyes and his face showed recognition. “Oh, man, I’m not going to get a lunch break today. It’s been crazy around here, and I just had an urgent report dumped on me. Someone got canned. Now I gotta figure where he left off and finish this data form in the next ten minutes.”
Pat glanced at his watch, gauging how much time he had. “Want me to wait?”
“Nah. We can try again another day. Thanks, anyway. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ll call you.”
Trey waved, but his attention returned to the figures before him.
Pat started back to the hall. He still had time. Plus, a little company for lunch would’ve been nice. But his other friends worked farther away. No chance to meet them with the minutes remaining. He decided to go back to his office.
Just as he rounded the corner toward the exit, he spotted a familiar someone. He caught himself ducking on instinct and sighed. If he was ever going to smooth out their relationship, he first needed to stop avoiding her.
Did he want a relationship with her?
Yes, he had to admit he did. She was his big sister, after all. Though these days she stood about half his size. In stature. In measured personality, she loomed gigantic.
“Hey sis, how about lunch?”
The woman with the trademark Whitcomb raven hair glanced over her shoulder. Her face pinched for a moment, then she sighed. “Yeah, I could do with a nibble. Where do you want to take me?”
He chuckled. Well, he had invited her.
She clicked over in her heels, which gave her a couple added inches in height and took his arm. “I need to talk to you, anyway. Let’s go to Mario’s. Not far and I’m in the mood for Italian.”
Pat covered her hand with his. So far, things were pleasant. A tasty lunch with pleasant conversation might help. “Sounds great.”
Rather than make her take the stairs in those shoes, he resigned to riding the elevator with her. With others in the car, she didn’t start a discussion, and he felt gun shy enough about what might trigger an explosion, so he enjoyed the quiet. Which lasted the couple blocks to the restaurant. Then once seated, her expression revealed she was about to launch into something big.
“I’m glad to see you. I’ve been meaning to call. I need a favor.”
A favor? Hm. At least she didn’t yammer calling him the crowned prince and her a mere peasant struggling for notice. “What kind of favor, sis?”
“I found this parcel up in Kokomo. A beautiful setting for a new high rise. If I can acquire the land, I expect I can push this project through. I’m having trouble, though, getting the owner to give me a definite deal. She keeps needing to think on it and other questions. Fairly sure she’s stalling, and I don’t want someone else to get that property.”
The server stopped by with water and bread sticks. “Are you ready to order or shall I come back?”
“I’ll have the pasta primavera.” She ordered the same thing like clockwork.
Pat gave his usual choice—spaghetti and meatballs. He had no other conferences today. If he spilled on his tie, he had others in his office. He considered ordering for them both, but she would’ve taken that as him insinuating she lacked ability. Which floored him. She was more than capable.
Part of him understood why she struggled so to prove herself. But the other part wished she’d relax and not paint him with the same brush as their parents. He wasn’t the problem. However, the way their mother and father showed preferential treatment, it made him out the bad guy. And he hated that. He loved his older sister and wanted them to get along.
“So, tell me more about this parcel.”
“I’ve got a chance, Pat. A real chance. This deal’s loaded with potential and will bring a steady income to Whitcomb. I should be able to buy the land for a steal. With the economy as it is, I could negotiate something to be built quick and then offer mid-level housing netting a constant source of capital. Dad will have to admit I pulled off a major coupe and consider me for more than this token position.”
“Sounds wonderful, kiddo. I’m proud of you.” And he was.
There’s a but, and somehow, she’d put his on the line. He knew it. “But?”
“I’m pretty sure the owner doesn’t like me. I realize I come off too gung-ho, but I need this deal. Would you drive up to Kokomo and talk with her?” Man, she gave him the puppy dog look.
“Sis, I can’t today. Got a brief to finish. Followed by two weeks of negotiation with Judge Maupin overseeing. Tell you what. I’m available after that. Two weeks is the soonest. Then my calendar is clear enough to leave the city.”
She pouted. “All right. If that’s your best. I feel it in my bones, someone’s going to snap that property up.”
“Is the location on the market or are you talking her into selling?”
“No, not yet. But she might get an idea. Oh, I hate to wait that long.”
Pat sighed. “If I had time, I’d go. As it is, I carved out this lunchtime to meet with Trey, but he got stuck on an emergency project. I’d planned on heading back to the office to skip lunch before I saw you.”
She smiled. “I’m glad you did. This is the nicest thing that’s happened to me today. It’s been pretty bleak.”
He covered her hand. “I’m sorry. Want to talk about it?” Perhaps she’d realize he cared.
She shook her head. “No, not really. I’ve already taken care of it. Just more fuel to add to Mom and Dad’s fire. I’m incapable in their eyes.”
“They don’t believe that.” Well, maybe. Not because she’d done anything, though.
“Yeah, they do. That’s why this deal’s so vital. If I land it, all by myself—and don’t you dare mention that you sweet-talked that old woman into selling to me—they must admit I’ve got worth.” She blinked fast, and he spotted her tears welling close to the surface.
If he could just help. But anything he did for her only made her appear weak. No, he’d never reveal to his folks he’d gone to Kokomo for her. But were there other means to point his parents at her outstanding qualities?
Not that they doted on him and fed her the crumbs. They also wanted to control his choices, including where he worked. Family first. Family is important. Whitcombs took those adages to a whole new level.
The Whitcombs were a first family in Indiana, with parts of their giant business holdings in all sorts of Hoosier endeavors, from politics to construction to marketing to farming. Darned near impossible to find a field where they didn’t have input. And income. Which was why they insisted on Pat bringing his legal credentials into the corporation. All in the family. That was their motto.
“They recognize you have worth. They’re fighting generations of tradition where men do the business and women raise the kids. It’s messing with what they understand. That’s all. Give them time. I mean, look around. The women’s movement is opposing this all over. You get to battle it at home.” He smiled and hoped she saw him as an ally.
“You’re right. But I need you. Please, if you can do it sooner, tell me. I’m not sure my presence would help. That old gal doesn’t seem to like me.” She dabbed at her lips and pushed her less than half eaten plate away.
“Don’t need the added weight. Tastes good, but a taste is enough. No desire to give my husband more reasons to not be attentive.”
Her husband was a slimeball, but he’d never tell her that. He was the one thing her parents cheered. She’d married a pretty-looking charmer. The problem was, he didn’t always remember he was married.
“You look great. Brock’s an idiot if he’s not paying attention to you.”
She smiled, though it radiated sadness. “Thanks. After this morning, I needed to hear that. I’m glad you asked me to lunch. Pat, I wish we had more times like this.”
“Me too.” And if she felt that way, maybe they would. He checked his watch. “I’d better pay the tab. Need to get back to the office and finish that brief.” He raised his hand, and the server brought them the bill. After leaving a tip under the ashtray, he stood and helped his sister with her chair.
“Thanks.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
“What was that for?”
“For improving my day.”
He wrapped her in a quick hug. “You are welcome. Let’s make this a regular thing. I miss just talking with you.”
“And Venita, I promise to get to Kokomo first chance I get. I’ll let you know.”
He paid the tab and walked her to her car before going back to his office. Now to finish that brief.