If you thought Brier had a wild streak, you ain't seen nothing yet!
The only child of an oil mogul, Rose Kingsbrier should've had it all. That changed the day her momma died, leaving her to live a solitary life in a mansion that was more like a mausoleum. Rose tried for years to get her father's attention, eventually finding it easier to become his source of grief than to live in grief's shadow. Convinced that she's irresponsible, now Rose's father intends to marry her off. But she's not letting him barter her away that easily.
Ross Cavanaugh's construction business is renovating the Kingsbrier mansion and, before the job's even started, he gets swept up in Rose's schemes. She's a hot ticket and easy-going Ross enjoys their budding friendship. Until Rose proposes a marriage of convenience to solve her problem and provide Cavanaugh Construction financial backing. Rose may not mind dragging her own reputation through the mud, but Ross has worked too hard to be accused of fortune hunting. When Rose gets herself in over her head, agreeing to her offer may be the only way to save her.
**Cavanaugh is a standalone novel set over thirty years in the past. There is sensitive matter and the characters react to those circumstances based on the time period. Please consider reading reviews or contacting the author if you have questions.
Rose watched bourbon spurt from her father’s lips. The spray of light brown droplets hit the server’s sleeve and spattered like mud on the white cake frosting as the innocent woman went to place the dessert before him. The table’s occupants began scrambling to ensure that Eric Kingsbrier was okay. Rose’s cheeks bunched up in a devious smile. Quick as lightning flashes, Eric’s incensed eyes locked with hers. Rose covered her own initial expression that was a little bit “who me?” with one that was a lot more “I have no clue what you mean!” —although everyone had heard exactly what Rose said.
Her father glared across the table, shooing the poor waitress’s hands away. He had enough decorum to allow the situation to die down without harsh words. They were in public. He had a solid reputation to uphold. Although, he’d give Rose an earful about her conduct once they were alone. The only parenting skill Eric Kingsbrier retained in his regulated existence was discipline. Fortunately for Rose, Eric hadn’t proven to be near as attentive a progenitor as her mother. That orderly and controlled life existed on a parallel plane to Rose’s. It was only when she did something like this, that Eric found unable to ignore, that their courses intertwined.
Tonight Rose’s behavior was intentional. Causing her father embarrassment forced them back on separate paths. Exactly where they belonged as far as Rose was concerned.
The server returned to a large brown tray set behind their family table at the country club with the now soggy slice of cake. She promised to replace it with a fresh one, acting like the entire situation had been her fault. The waitress didn’t put anyone else’s order in front of them. Instead, she took the full tray back to the kitchen, ensuring no one had to decline Mr. Kingsbrier’s polite insistence that they should all dig into their delicacies without him.
Rose’s mouth twisted up, her brow furrowing. Waiting for her slice of berry mascarpone layer cake was now penance for her bad manners. She’d made every excuse possible to get out of this awful dinner from the get-go. Then Rose touted one flippant remark after the next throughout the meal. This last one seemed a swift and keen way to be shuttered from the table once and for all. She hadn’t expected the turnabout of having to extend the evening waiting for dessert.
She’d also never seen her father spit. That was one for the books. If Rose were the type to keep score over the miserable way Eric acted toward her versus the creative yet indignant responses she came up with to make her father feel like he failed his late wife, it was a point in her column that she was glad to accept.
“Why did you have to go and say that?” Her best friend, Lily Anne, seethed in Rose’s ear.
Lily Anne wadded up her fabric napkin and chased off in the direction of the kitchens where the waitress had disappeared to. Without a doubt, she’d seek out maître d' to explain the server’s less than professional appearance before he’d have the chance to get upset. That was the problem with Rose’s partner in crime.
Lily Anne had boundaries.
Her absence left Rose sitting with her father, his business associate, Mr. Midgett, and the man’s son; whose stature did little to offset their surname.
Shoot! Rose thought. Because the last place she wanted to be was left alone in the younger, short man’s company.
From the moment they’d been introduced —and with little eloquence or deference for civilized manners —Midgett Jr. yammered on about the potential for “merging Kingsbrier assets” with his company’s. Hint, hint, wink wink,… gasp, choke, puke! So Rose pulled out the stops, encouraging Lily Anne to sit across from mini-Midgett at the dining table and making questionable statements of her own to lead the boy believe Rose’s intent was to be a less than virtuous wife.
It was a good thing that the room’s temperature was set to frigid, allowing Rose to keep her cool since he now seemed more interested than put off by those remarks. Midgett Junior believed that, given enough leash herself, Rose was the kind of woman who’d ignore her spouse’s philandering.
Rose opened her mouth, blowing out a perturbed breath. Appearances no longer mattered. Midgett was as unimpressive a potential husband as she was a wife. She glanced at the carpet, contemplating her next move. A pair of crisp gray slacks with polished black loafers stopped next to her chair. She’d know those enormous feet anywhere.
“Oh, Rodger, there you are! I’ve been looking for you all night!” Rose squealed, jumping from her seat, latching onto his arm.
Baby pink manicured fingernails pressed through the worsted wool of his dress suit jacket, clinging to Rodger’s coat like a lifeline.
On the way to the club, he’d been over-hot with the summertime Texas sun beating through the car window. Now, seeing the faint hair on Rose’s forearm sticking up, Rodger thanked goodness for the air conditioning in the ballroom. Its coolness masked the irritated heat rising from under his collar. Rose had stomped on Rodger’s plan with her shenanigans. His blue eyes cast Rose a look of haughty derision. Her own widened in response.
Save me, they pleaded, and as was his norm, Rodger Newhouse swooped in to defend Rose Kingsbrier against the smarmy sea of eligible bachelors that her father thrust toward her.
Rodger didn’t know what Rose had gone and done this time. Not that it mattered. She’d gotten riled up enough to create a scene that caught the attention of the entire ballroom. That it happened at the same time as he’d finally got up the nerve to approach the Kingsbrier table was what irked Rodger.
Eric Kingsbrier, a man Rodger called “uncle”, had long since made his intentions clear regarding the sole heir to his oil fortune. Eric planned to deliberately bypass Rose and hand the reins of his company over to a responsible man of his own choosing. It was no surprise that his twenty-two-year-old daughter was one of the most sought-after brides in East Texas. Rodger sympathized with the plight of his lifelong friend. Rose felt belittled by her place in the world. Not that her legendary antics did anything to improve how anyone outside her closed-circle of confidants viewed her.
While he promised to do his best for Rose, that didn’t mean Rodger allowed her to bowled him over. Her closest friends never did. That was the single-most quality that had attracted him to Lily Anne.
Rodger gritted his teeth, allowing Rose to lead him to the parquet dance floor. The formal tea-length dress she wore, which was the same color as her name, swished back and forth as she walked. The sound grated on Rodger’s nerves more than Rose forcing him to dance to the live muzak in the hall. He wanted someone else. Rose was the gatekeeper. He only needed to get his hands on the key.
Rodger pulled Rose into his arms and she wrapped her hands up around his neck. He glanced back at the spot she’d been sitting in. The fairer haired blonde with her hair cut into a bob returned to the table and began chatting with the youngest man.
Several older women, dancing alongside with their husbands, nodded to Rodger, reassuring him that he had what it took to keep Rose in line. They remembered all too well how young love blossomed and, in this part of Texas, Newhouse and Kingsbrier was a divine match to behold. Too bad they had the wrong idea about Rodger’s uncanny ability to keep Rose under control. He had decades worth of ammunition on her that stymied many of Rose’s devilish plans.
No, these families weren’t ever going to be joined in holy matrimony.
“I owe you,” Rose said, meaning it.
Rodger rolled his eyes. Tonight was one more payback on a long-running list she needed to compensate for. Rodger had saved her behind since they were knee-high to a grasshopper.
His daddy made his money raising cattle in the same county. His momma and Rose’s had been cousins many times removed or something silly akin to that. Rodger opted to leave those details to a genealogist. All he cared was that, for as much fun as he’d had growing up alongside this particular girl, that small detail provided a valid excuse not to marry her. And he pitied the fellow who did. For as much as he loved Rose Kingsbrier and wanted the best for her, her antics were more than any man should have to handle.
“Please, Rodger.” Her tone begged his forgiveness. “That boy is so daft. When he gets to the helm of his family’s company it’ll be a wonder if he doesn’t run it into the ground. I’m not about to let him do the same to mine. I’ll make it up to you. You’ll see. When have I not come through on a promise?”
Rodger sighed, shook his head and smiled. He had perfect white teeth and, while her cousin-of-sorts was a man of little words, the look on his handsome face spoke volumes. He’d let her have her way, again.
Rose broke into a bright grin. Then she glanced over her shoulder, remembering that his acceptance of her came with a cost.
Lily Anne was back at the table, playing her own part so well, chatting up the latest dolt that Eric Kingsbrier tried to dangle like a carrot under Rose’s nose.
Or was it the other way around? Was Rose herself the carrot? Rose decided that it didn’t matter because there was a lovely offshoot to her current predicament: Rodger’s subtle jealousy over the attention Lil was giving to Mr. Wrong. It meant that Rose had Rodger right where she needed him. Ready to pursue Lily Anne in earnest.
It was the price Rose was willing to pay.
Since their formative years, every time Lily Anne Andrew set foot at Kingsbrier he’d shown growing interest in her best friend. This evening, Rose observed Rodger watching the petite girl from his family’s table across the room. The corner of his mouth perked whenever Lil did something Georgia sweet. Lily Anne had impeccable manners and charisma and, while she was no gossip, had the ability to make conversation out of thin air. The complete opposite of someone quiet like Rodger Newhouse, but he listened with intensity to everything Lily Anne said, and she drew him into discussing more obtuse topics than Rose ever managed to.
Rose bit her bottom lip. The only drawback to their match was that Rodger wouldn’t be in a position to continue aiding and abetting the plan to throw her daddy off-course. She had no desire to be part of a marriage for anyone’s financial gain. For the love of God, didn’t all the families in this room have enough money? It flowed out of their pores, let alone fell from their pockets.
Coming from an acceptable family that wasn’t too close a relation, Rodger had acted as a wonderful deterrent up until this point. Now, for his sake, she’d have to find a new accomplice. Finagling Rodger’s replacement and the way Eric upped the ante since her college graduation in the spring was problematic.
Reading her thoughts, Rodger stiffened against her as they swayed back and forth, his posture challenging Rose to step up to the plate and set him up with her friend sooner rather than later. The ability to hold his tongue made him a great listener and allowed him the uncanny ability to be in-tune with the things people weren’t forthright enough to speak aloud. Rose was faltering. Two could play her game. And while he’d never laud it over her head, they both knew that he was either present during, or privy to, her flights of fancy when that wild Texas spirit took over, ruling against Rose’s common sense.
“On my momma’s grave, I swear to you Rodger that I’ll make tonight up to you.”
He looked down at her, grinning like a wolf.
She beat his breast pocket and then straightened the wonky blue handkerchief that set off his spectacular eyes.
“You cad. I’m not going to hear another peep from you ’til you’re with Lily Anne, am I?” she teased back, showing no mercy. “I’m not stupid. I see the two of you making puppy dog eyes at one another. Since you came with me to pick her up at the airport your tongue has been hanging out of your mouth like a coonhound on a hot day.”
However true, Rodger refused to bite. Over the past month, he’d sought out reasons to drop by Kingsbrier unannounced, honing in on the girls’ plans. He invited them to do things under the guise of being polite enough to include Lily Anne when he’d rather Rose not be around at all. Letting her have a one-sided squabble with him was worthwhile in the end. If he’d learned anything from Rose it was how to reach an agreement without the other person realizing they’d shown their hand. Allowing her to think she was winning dealt Rodger the cards he needed. Instead of ignoring her existence, his Uncle Eric should have employed the same tactic. Those negotiating techniques were what he’d fashioned Kingsbrier upon.
Undeterred by the real reason she’d forced him into this waltz, Rodger pressed his lips to Rose’s cheek, letting them linger. If he had to play along, the sooner it was over the better.
Rose caught his subtle intention right away. They were so practiced at this game. She plastered on a face intended to make people wonder if they weren’t more to one another and tipped her head down. She thought of something scandalous so that a blush painted her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the son of her father’s business associate gawking at the way their bodies moved like a beautiful trickle of rainwater over the dance floor. Practice makes perfect. They’d suffered through Cotillion together.
“I love you!” Rose said, clear as day for everyone around her to hear. She clasped her hands tighter around Rodger’s neck and drew him closer.
The younger Midgett at the Kingsbrier table stood and excused himself. Lily Anne’s shoulders slumped and she looked at her hands, folded in her lap.
Poor Lil. Rose found it difficult to stop herself from feeling bad. Her scheming had worked, but the collateral damage wasn’t something ignorable when it came to her friends. Rodger and Lily Anne wouldn’t get to dance.
For all Rose knew, Eric Kingsbrier tricked that boy into thinking this was his lucky evening. He’d bestow Midgett with a cornucopia of opportunities in the boardroom, the bedroom, and beyond. While it bothered Rose to no end, this boy might not care that the basis of their relationship was a business deal. It might be exactly the foundation he desired for his marriage. Heck, too few generations ago Rodger and Rose would have found themselves wed to one another in an incestuous attempt to keep money in the family.
Tonight, though, Rose was the only person who’d gotten what they wanted. Minus that sweet slice of mascarpone cake anyway. The hollow victory overwhelmed her. She pursed her lips, a slow sigh releasing from her nose, hopeful that no one saw.
Breath brushed across her ear. “Your conscience is showing,” Rodger said, as if someone might get the wrong idea. A soft heart meant ruin for Miss Kingsbrier’s solid reputation. He couldn’t fault a girl, in her position, for wanting a man to admire her for herself and not what her daddy had in the local savings and trust. Battling that fear was what thickened her hide and gave Rose license to act the way she did.
Copyright ©2018 Jody Kaye
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is
coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!
This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.