Moorewood Family Rules
The family that steals together — stays together.
One day a con man met an heiress, wooed her, married her, had two kids…and kept on conning. Jillian Moorewood is the oldest child from that meet-cute-gone-wrong marriage. The stable one. The sensible and dependable one. The one who protects and fixes. The one who went to prison to save their sorry butts. Now, thirty-nine months later, she’s out and she’s more than a little pissed.
Finally home, she finds the scheming clan in full family fleecing mode. They all claim they didn’t really agree to Jillian’s previous go-legit-or-else ultimatum before she went away. They viewed it as a “suggestion” then ignored it. So, business as usual. But Jillian is done with the lies and fakery. She demands the whole messed-up crew clean up its act, and this time she’s not kidding—she has the leverage to make it happen.
Problem is, her life is in shambles, but with the help of a great aunt (crooked but loveable), a bodyguard (who is a nice surprise after three years in prison), and a few allies (all working undercover), Jillian starts to put her life back together. She kicks out a few mooching relatives living under her roof, sets limits on everyone’s access to the money, ducks from their various attacks, and sees if that bodyguard is maybe interested in sticking around for a while. For the first time, she’s Jillian Moorewood, her own woman, and she’s ready to figure out who she is.
Knives Out and Ocean’s 8 meets The Nest in this hilariously twisty novel by award-winning author HelenKay Dimon, about a woman who returns home from prison to her dysfunctional con artist family and tries to get them to go legit.
Moorewood Family Rules
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Moorewood Family Rule #4: Maintain the public facade. Keep family arguments private.
Jillian Moorewood waited thirty-nine months and seven days to make a spectacular and unexpected entrance. A simple car and driver wouldn’t do. That left a yacht, splashy yet sure to draw attention, or dropping down from above into a sea of stunned faces via helicopter. Clearly, the latter won.
She scanned the target area from the window next to her seat. From this angle she could see the expanse below. A gated entrance. Towering trees hiding a wall that outlined every pristine inch of the property. Not one pool but two . . .because, of course. Didn’t every house need two?
This house had a name because that’s what people around here did. They baptized their sprawling estates as if they were precious children. This one—Hideaway. A completely nonsensical description of a forty-five-acre oceanfront estate that could accommodate five hundred guests for a sit-down dinner in the second-floor ballroom. Every building awash in weathered-looking-but-not-really gray shingles, and the whole thing plunked down on prestigious Ocean Avenue, just a short, chauffeur-driven ride from Rhode Island’s historic Newport Country Club.
The whapping and rattling grew louder the closer they got to the ground. Mere feet from landing, Jillian could make out the faces of the dozen or so people standing at the bistro tables set in a careful pattern around the larger, cascading pool.
A party. How convenient… for her, not them.
The landing skids hit the ground and almost in unison the people milling around stopped sipping whatever fancy drinks they carried and stared in horror. No one came running to greet her. They’d have to close their mouths and stop blinking first. Exactly the type of what is she doing here welcome she’d expected.
Tense silence descended on what looked like a once-lovely garden party, complete with a string quartet playing in the corner of the upper flagstone deck. Women decked out in expensive dresses, wearing the obligatory uncomfortable shoes. Men dressed as store mannequins.
The pilot helped her down from her seat. The second her heels hit the grass a wave of unexpected anger crashed over her. The history. The broken promises. The lies.
She shoved a creeping sensation of doom aside and plastered a smile on her face that she hoped telegraphed a fraction of the you-bitches-are-in-trouble emotions surging through her.
Uncle Jay—Jayson Oliver Moorewood, to be exact—made the first move. He mindlessly handed off his glass of champagne to the woman hanging on his arm. She was just his type. Pretty in an understated, wouldn’t-dare-wear-too-much-makeup kind of way. Likely in her fifties, because Jay had a thing for women of a certain age, that certain age being any woman who had lived long enough to collect impressive trinkets and stockpile money.
“Jillian. How wonderful!” he called out for all to hear as he closed the gap between them.
He didn’t touch her. Wise man.
“Uncle Jay.” The warmth in her voice surprised even her. Lying might be fused into the Moorewood blood after all.
“Right. Well. You’re here. Absent a call so we could prepare. Typical,” he said, and then, without warning, reached out and gave her hug that went on just long enough for him to whisper in her ear. “Do not make a scene.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Jillian whispered back.
“We’re in the middle of an important party.” He stood back far enough to keep a hold on her arms, likely aiming for some sort of loving look at you gesture to impress the assembled crowd. The perfectly tanned and vacuumed skin on his forehead didn’t move as he performed his devoted uncle act.
“You should ease up on the Botox.” Okay, not nice. The words slipped out but, in her defense, she’d been holding in years of pent-up sarcasm. That sort of crap was bound to spill over sooner or later.
To his credit, and as a result of a lifetime of practiced pretending, he didn’t show any sign of surprise or anger at her unexpected presence, even though both had to be festering inside him, screaming to get out. Only a slight twitch in his cheek hinted at his annoyance. “Never tried it.”
She pulled out of his hold, disconnecting from him while wearing a smile that threatened to crack her back teeth from the force of it. “Totally believable.”
He looked like he’d stepped out of the most recent edition of Healthy Living for Rich White Dudes magazine, something she assumed existed. Tall and totally put together. Trim from riding ponies, or wrestling them, or whatever he did with ponies.
His navy blazer even had a crest on the pocket. She’d bet he paid someone to create a fake family emblem and already had a story about being related to a regal landowner in England. Likely insisted he was a distant cousin to the queen because Uncle Jay would not settle for anything less than royal lineage.
He had a story for every occasion. That’s what he did. He made shit up. The whole family did. Sure, they dressed in linen and silk and threw on flashy hats when an event called for them. They gave a good show, because a good grift required that sort of thing. Always on but never genuine. That could be the family motto.
Uncle Jay’s gaze searched Jillian’s face as if he expected to find an answer there for her sudden appearance. “No one—”
“Told us today was the day. We could have sent a car to pick you up.” He looked ready to corner his kids and demand an explanation but schooled his expression a second later.
“Hello.” The woman who hung on Jay’s arm earlier rushed over. “We weren’t expecting more company.”
The other woman looked as put together close-up as she did from a distance. Short dark hair cut in the sort of bob that looked good on women with long necks and strong collarbones, and this woman possessed both. She wore one of those flowy silk dresses with a matching silk blazer in a slightly different color. Add in the diamond loop earrings and she managed to look casually rich, which was not an easy social status to pull off.
Clearly, this was Uncle Jay’s newest target. The poor thing, though Jillian doubted poor described the woman in any way.
“And you are?” Jillian asked, bracing for a name that would likely make her choke.
“Yes, of course. Please forgive my terrible manners. I was just so excited to see you.” Jay placed a gentle hand on the other woman’s lower back. “This is Catherine Isadora Folger-Green.”
And there it was. Jillian managed not to roll her eyes, but only barely.
“I go by Izzy.”
Of course you do. Jillian looked down at Izzy’s extended hand. At the diamond and emerald tennis bracelet. At the shoes that cost more than some small cars. Mostly, Jillian was stunned no one in the family had come up with a creative way to steal at least one of those items yet . . . but give them an hour.
Jay cleared his throat. “Izzy, this is my niece, Jillian.”
A huge smile broke out on Izzy’s angular face, making her look much more approachable than her name would suggest. “The world traveler. Jay told me you had”—Izzy leaned in and whispered—“an incident.”
“Did he?” Jillian hadn’t been sure which backstory to expect—cancer, breakdown, divorce. Jay was a wealth of untrue stories. The more tragic, the better.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Izzy reached out for Jillian’s hand but never made actual contact. “We all have times when we need . . . rest.”
The unnecessary whispering made the discussion all the more ridiculous, but Jillian couldn’t help but be intrigued. “Where did he say I went?”
Jay cleared his throat, which was his usual way of telegraphing that it was time to shut up. “Jillian, I think we should—”
But Izzy was off and running. “You were last in Morocco, I believe?”
“Yes.” Jay turned his megawatt smile on Izzy. “Darling, I think we need to have a quick family chat. Do you mind mingling with our guests for a bit without me?”
“Of course.” Izzy kissed Jay on the cheek, then she was off. Rushing to a nearby table, laughing as she walked.
Jillian waited until the other woman was out of hearing range. “Thanks for not having me die in a horrifying accident. That would have made my appearance today difficult to explain.”
Jay’s adoring gaze centered on his newest girlfriend and never wavered. “Too risky since you’re not the type to go away and never return. You tend to linger.”
“Jillian.” One of Jay’s daughters, cousin Astrid, used the brief break in the private conversation to race over while the other lurkers inched closer, but not too close. Before Jillian could brace for impact, Astrid charged in, all arms, air kisses, and dainty sniffles. She hummed as she hugged. Probably from nerves, at least Jillian hoped so. Seeing this usually high-performing, always-stay-calm-in-public family fall apart was the point.
“I don’t get it.” Astrid pulled back and gave Jillian a once-over just as her father had. “No one told us you were . . .” She stopped to clear her throat. “Coming today.”
Out. She clearly meant out but stopped herself.
“I wanted to surprise Anika. You know, since we’re so close.” Jillian looked past Astrid to her equally blond, beautiful, petite, and perfect fraternal twin, Anika, as she spoke. “There’s a rumor you’re engaged or about to be.”
Anika stood anchored against the side of an I-played-lacrosse-at-my-private-boarding-school-looking brown-haired man. He had a pasty, somewhat useless air about him, as if he had too much money and not enough drive to do anything with it. Anika held his hand in what appeared to be a pretty fierce death grip.
Jillian came prepared and knew the guy’s old money thing wasn’t an act. His ancestors built or invented the . . . something. She didn’t care enough to remember that much about the guy, but she did admire his nerve. He was the first to move. He wiggled out of Anika’s confining hold and put out his hand, all without wrinkling his beige linen suit. Quite an impressive feat, actually.
“I’m Harry Tolson.” The rich dude name sounded even richer washed through the slight Boston elite accent.
All in all, Jillian had to give Anika credit for following the family tradition of trying to marry into piles of money. With private investigators and background checks, that sort of find-a-wealthy-spouse-and-bilk-’em planning was getting harder and harder to pull off these days.
“I’m Jillian Moorewood.”
His smile froze. His arm froze. Pretty much all of him froze except for his eyes, which widened. “Oh.”
“Yes, that cousin.”
“I heard about…” Harry wore a very serious look now. “I’m sorry.”
Someone better tell her what supposedly had happened soon or they’d all be tripping over the lie. “I’m fine, by the way.”
“Okay, then. That’s enough chatter.” Uncle Jay wrapped an arm around Jillian’s waist. “We should go inside.” As he talked, he ushered them toward the grand three-story house, with its wall of French doors across the back lower level. “Family business and all that.”
Ah, yes. The fear of an audience. Not that her family didn’t enjoy a good performance. They’d perfected those, but they had to occur when the game called for them. Not when a wayward relative wandered in without calling first.
She was tempted to grind the entire scheme—make that plural since there seemed to be more than one scam happening here—to a halt, but now wasn’t the time for a screaming scene. That would come later as she peeled back her relatives’ lives layer by layer. For now, she would shake them up a bit. Inside the house or out, either would work for what she had planned.
“Your stunt with the helicopter was over the top, even for you,” Anika said through teeth as clenched as the rest of her.
The helicopter choice had been a triumph. Jillian refused to believe, deep down, the family didn’t appreciate the drama.
“Well, I’m thrilled you’re back.” Astrid slipped up to the side of Jillian not occupied by her father and slid her arm through Jillian’s. “I missed you.”
Huh . . . “Really?”
Astrid’s big, toothy smile, complete with straight, unnaturally white teeth, slipped a bit. “Of course.”
Jay picked up the pace. “That’s enough talking for now. Hold it in.”
The group practically sprinted across the lawn and up the stone steps to the house. As soon as they escaped inside, Jay’s arm dropped from Jillian’s back, and he started shooing party stragglers out of the massive family room. A clicking sound echoed through the room as he closed each glass door to the outside and every interior door to another room.
A sort of frantic energy pulsed off him, but he never broke character as he fought for privacy. Not one drop of sweat or piece of clothing dared to move out of place by the time he turned around to face the small group gathered in front of him.
“There.” Then Jay’s satisfied expression flatlined. “Oh, Harry. You’re still with us.”
“Anyone care to explain Morocco?” Jillian asked, not caring what Harry heard or didn’t hear. He was not her problem. The rest of them were.
Before anyone could respond to Jillian’s sarcastic question, poor-but-not-really Harry held up a hand, which somehow stopped the manic swirl of conversation and drew everyone’s attention to the very expensive watch on his wrist. “Are you saying you weren’t relaxing in Morocco?”
Astrid, Anika, and Jay started talking. Jillian let them verbally trip and trample all over each other. She couldn’t make out most of the excuses in the jumble of words, but it didn’t matter because none of what they said would be true. Never was. That was a family trait she could count on.
Jillian waited until the fury died down then gave Harry the real answer. “Prison.”
Harry looked like he’d been run over by a car… more than once. “Excuse me?”
“I was in prison.”
Moorewood Family Rule #18: Avoid any and all talk of incarceration because it invites trouble.
Jillian now knew what panic looked like, at least the we can’t show it kind. She just never expected it to be accompanied by so much champagne. A deafening silence fell over the room. The walls actually thumped with it as everyone sipped and hid their faces behind the expensive flutes.
Harry had the good manners to swallow hard before launching into more questions. Probably came from that fancy boarding school training of his. “You were in prison in Morocco?”
Good. Lord. “No.”
While he pondered his next question, Jillian walked over to the massive stone fireplace and stared at the photos lining the mantel. She recognized the people in them because she was related to most of them, but the happy we love being with each other expressions caused some confusion. There was even one of her laughing. She’d never seen the dress she was wearing in it. How did they pull that off?
Her gaze stopped on a strategically placed photo of Anika and Astrid with their half brother, who everyone said lacked the Moorewood gene. The lucky bastard. The painting hanging over the fireplace was of Uncle Jay, the girls, and one of Jay’s wives. Looked like number three but Jillian was pretty sure number three and number four were related and had long ago given up trying to tell them apart. Jillian guessed that was better than a painting of polo ponies, but only marginally.
If the house could talk…
Jillian turned to face the room. They all looked a wee bit paler now. Even Uncle Jay had bits of tension pulling at the corners of his mouth and eyes. The same man who rarely showed any sign of distress, even that time he was caught by the FBI while holding a stolen painting. Like, in someone else’s house, holding someone else’s million-dollar painting while the house alarm blared in the background.
Even then, Jay schmoozed and charmed his way out of the situation. He’d convinced the FBI he’d triggered the alarm when he saw someone else sneak into the house. He was the true hero, hiding the painting from potential thief savagery. Saving it with my life!, he’d insisted. And damn if that hadn’t worked.
Speaking of distress… “Thirty-nine months and now I’m out of prison. Released early for good behavior.” Jillian flashed Anika a smile. “Surprise.”
Looking over her uncle’s shoulder to the back lawn, Jillian could see the guests wandering around on the patio. Izzy entertained a group with a story that had her hands flipping around in the air and her admirers laughing. A few of the other guests peeked in the room. All engaged in the time-honored game of whispering behind their hosts’ backs.Jillian treated them to a little wave, and they all scooted away in record time.
She finally gave in and glanced at Harry, whose mouth had dropped open and hung there, making his objectively appealing face look a bit out of balance. “I’m fascinated to know how my enterprising family kept the news of my arrest quiet.”
Poor Harry’s skin took on a green tint.
“Because a private investigator should have found the truth about my absence. Harry, honestly, and I mean this in the most helpful way, I’m thinking your family needs to hire better people.”
Jay laughed. The rich sound bounced off the walls. Sounded almost real, too, but it wasn’t. “Don’t mind Jillian, Harry. She has an odd sense of humor.”
Harry frowned. “But I was told there was an incident.”
That word kept popping up, and Jillian decided to find out why. “Which was?”
“Various family members told me that you were dating a married man, and that he stole from you. From the whole family, actually, but incriminated you.” Harry winced as he spoke, which probably was a sign of good breeding when gossiping. “You couldn’t report it under the circumstances, of course.”
“Sure.” Jillian nodded. “His sad wife and all that.”
“Exactly. And as a result of all the stress you had a bit of a…”
“Breakdown,” Astrid filled in, being her usual overeager self. “An epic breakdown.”
Jillian appreciated a story with a lot of moving pieces. “Go big, I always say.”
“Right.” Harry glanced at Anika, who hadn’t moved since the word prison got tossed around. “You felt guilty and regretted your family’s loss due to you being lovesick and desperate. Then you went on a long trip to recuperate.”
“Okay.” Wow. Jillian considered clapping but decided that might be too much and could scare Harry. Someone in the family had to show a healthy regard for boundaries. But really, they’d managed to squeeze infidelity, romance, heartbreak, theft, and mental incapacity into one sorry tale about her life. Saying prison seemed easier.
End of Excerpt
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Moorewood Family Rules
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This book is the perfect escape!
— Jill Shalvis, New York Times Bestselling Author
This is such a fun read! This family is a DISASTER, so it’s nonstop drama, hijinx, secrets, alliances, and backstabbing. And amidst the hilariously awful family members, there are a couple true gems fighting against the expectations set for them to carve their own path...
— Megan Collins, author of Thicker Than Water and The Family Plot
An ensemble comedy with a healthy dose of humorous back-stabbing.