After suffering a humiliating divorce, infuriated Catholic Jude Matawapit bolts to his family’s Ojibway community to begin a new job—but finds himself thrown into a battle for chief as his brother-in-law’s campaign manager. The radical Kabatay clan, with their extreme ideas about traditional Ojibway life, will stop at nothing to claim the leadership position and rid the reserve of Western culture and its religion once and for all, which threatens not only the non-traditional people of the community, but Jude’s chance at a brand-new life he’s creating for his children.
Recovering addict Raven Kabatay will do anything to win the respect and trust of her older siblings and mother after falling deep into drug addiction that brought shame and anger to her family. Not only does she have the opportunity to redeem herself by becoming her brother’s campaign manager for chief—if he wins, she’ll have the reserve’s backing to purchase the gold-mine diner where she works, finally making something of herself. But falling in love with the family’s sworn enemy—the deacon’s eldest son, Jude—will not just betray the Kabatay clan. It could destroy everything Raven believes in and has worked so hard for.
Jude signed away the last of his marriage, signed away the last of the life he’d built since his first year at university. Finished by a simple signature on a piece of paper.
He tossed aside the pen. It rolled across the polished surface of the boardroom table and bumped into another one, the same as his ex-wife had bumped into another man. A man who was supposed to be Jude’s friend and colleague, the very man Jude had introduced to Charlene and their two children, a man who’d eaten dinner at his house.
Stephen Baker wasn’t even here to witness the destruction he’d caused. He was living his brand-spanking-new life in Kenora with Charlene.
The secretary poked her head in the room. “Mr. Matawapit, would you like another cup of coffee?”
“This past year, I’ve consumed enough to cause a bean shortage in Brazil.” Jude shoved back the chair in the same way he’d shoved away the anger, bitterness, and disgust when Charlene had broken down and admitted to the affair.
“Save the cup for the next guy who has to come in here and sign away his life.” He handed the secretary the mug she’d given him earlier, after leading him to the boardroom to address his divorce papers in private. She’d led many a man or woman to this room of wood wainscoting, leather chairs, polished hardwood floors, and coffered ceiling.
The lawyers should be able to afford fancy furnishings, at the rate they’d charged Jude for an uncontested divorce. A great pity to the poor suckers who couldn’t mediate their split and had to march into court to fight over the kids, money, possessions, and the house.
When Jude stepped outside, big fat snowflakes fell from the overcast sky. He stuffed his hands into his coat pockets.
There she stood in the parking lot, beside her fancy sports truck—little sister Bridget in a knitted cabled toque to match her fluffy high-collared black swing coat with the big buttons. Even five months pregnant she was classy as always, just like Charlene had dressed.
“You’re not at work.” Jude strolled over.
“I got you a Coffee Coffee.” Bridget held out the paper travel cup.
“Coffee Coffee? Seriously?” Even though he’d become officially divorced moments ago, Jude couldn’t help the smirk tugging at his lips. “C’mon, you’re not supposed to show the enemy any pity. Get me your famous tar you’re loyal to.”
He took the cup, which immediately warmed his cold hand, since he’d yet to don his leather gloves.
“I thought the enemy deserved what he truly wants instead of Reggie’s Donuts after what he’s been through.” She looped her arm through his. “How you doing?”
“Considering I signed away my marriage a few minutes ago, not too shabby.” Jude sipped the bitter caffeine he used to savor that was as pungent as the sour pit in his stomach.
Bridget halted. She wrenched her arm free. Her boot heels squeaked along the snow. She faced him. “Will you please stop it?”
“Stop what?” Jude sipped more battery acid.
“The big brother mode. Say it for once. Please.” Her pitch-black eyes flashed.
“What would you like me to say?”
Bridget might be a year younger, but no older brother cried on his little sister’s shoulder. Big brothers remained strong for the family, never showing a hint of weakness, like Dad always did.
“Maybe this is the best way to start a new year. Newly divorced.”
The sound of a radar going off came from Bridget’s purse. “Oh geez. Now what?” She withdrew her cell phone.
This was a perfect opportunity to escape. “Look, I’ll talk to you later. Work beckons after a two-week Christmas break.”
“Never mind work.” Bridget read her text message. “The center is functioning fine without me. The school won’t fall down if you’re not there.” She slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh my God.”
“What?” Adrenaline pumping, Jude leaned in. Something bad better not have happened back home.
“Chief Willie died last night.” Bridget gasped. “And…the principal quit at the high school.”
“Died? Quit?” Mom, Dad, and Emery must be birthing sixteen dogs after getting slammed not once, but twice, back at the reserve. And why hadn’t Dad texted? The parents always contacted Jude first.
“Mom says Dad’s going to fill in until a new principal’s hired. As for Willie…” Bridget’s eyes sagged at the corners.
Jude yanked his cell phone from his jacket pocket. He furiously typed in…
Dad, what happened to Willie? And what’s this about the principal quitting? Call me at once.
He sent the message. Something resembling a disgusted frown forced his lips into a scowl. He didn’t need not to be bothered—if Dad thought to spare Jude’s so-called full plate after signing his divorce papers. Everyone knew he put others first and himself second.
The text popped up.
I planned on calling you tonight. You signed your divorce papers this morning. I didn’t wish to bother you right now…
Jude clenched his teeth or the growl threatening to climb up his throat would escape.
Bridget slid her arm back through his. “C’mon. Let’s get a coffee.”
“I already have a coffee.” He held out the paper travel cup.
“We’ll get one where we can sit and talk.” Bridget trudged to her truck. “No excuses.”
He gripped the phone. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. For once, let someone inside your head. You’re worse than Dad.” She threw open the truck door. “The Coffee Coffee on Waterloo.”
* * * *
“Do you think he’ll have a traditional or a Catholic funeral? He practiced both faiths.” Raven poured a refill into her brother’s mug.
Clayton grabbed the sugar packets from the small bowl on the counter. “We’ll talk later.”
“Order up.” Cookie banged the bell.
“Okay.” Raven set the coffee pot on the back counter’s burner.
In respect to Willie, the diner’s tables and the main counter were full. Whoever couldn’t get a seat stood, holding their coffee-filled mugs. Everything stopped after a community member died, except for Kiss the Cook, where the people of the reserve liked to gather if the home of the grieving family was too packed.
The diner door swung open.