A look back for Rey
“At least push your hair out of your eyes, Rey. I know you’d rather hide behind it, I don’t blame you, but you need to watch where you’re walking. We can’t have you tripping and dropping your sister’s expensive gown in the mud. I don’t have time to get it cleaned.”
Rey carefully picked her way through the wet grass and dirt, carefully choosing the best place to put her feet. The canvas shoes she wore had holes in the toes and the cold water seeping in on her bare feet was distinctly uncomfortable. While she walked with her arms full, her mother came along behind her, prattling constantly.
“Tonight, while we’re at the party, I suppose you’ll find something to do.”
Rey didn’t answer. Yes, she had plenty to do. Her studies were her salvation. She threw herself into every assignment and excelled at every task. As her mother never failed to remind her, she wasn’t beautiful like her sister, but what she did have was a sharp mind and an unending determination to make something of herself other than her family’s pack mule. Maybe she could even sneak down into the lobby and play the piano, she’d seen a beautiful baby grand through the front window.
“Another thing, Rey, when we’re with other people, don’t walk so close to Robin or talk to her. I don’t want anyone to know you’re related.”
“What am I supposed to be? Her lady’s maid? Anyone can look at us and tell we don’t have two nickels to rub together.” Rey couldn’t hold back, this was just too much. “Daddy works himself into the ground and you throw away all the family’s money chasing a dream, that I think is more yours than Robin’s.” As soon as she said it, Rey knew she misspoke. Her sister Robin lived to be a beauty queen, she was cut from the same cloth as their mother.
Oddly, Della Cassidy didn’t seem to be offended. “You’ll change your tune when Robin is crowned Miss Teen Texas. This title will just be a stepping stone to Miss Texas, Miss USA, Miss America, even Miss Universe!”
“I’m sure her head will be bowed low under the weight of all those crowns,” Rey muttered softly, stopping near the convention center door so her mother could open it. There was no awning over this back entrance and the rain ran steadily down her face. Even though her mother had ordered her to push her hair back, she didn’t have a spare hand to use, they were both full of a plastic covered bejeweled evening gown. She waited while her mother folded the umbrella and saw fit to let them in out of the weather.
“You’ll see one day, Rey,” Della continued, as she led them down a narrow hall toward the dressing rooms. Apparently, they were early. No one else was about. “Robin has a wonderful future ahead of her. With her looks and talent, I’m sure the next step after she conquers the pageant circuit will be Hollywood. I’m working my fingers to the bone to give her every chance to escape that trashy backwater town we live in and I would appreciate it if you’d do your part to help this family.”
Rey didn’t argue. She had more important things to think about than her mother’s ambition for Robin. Rey might be plain as a slice of white bread, but she had brains, her music, and the grit to make something out of herself. If she continued to work hard, she’d graduate with honors and win a scholarship to college. After that, what she could achieve would only be limited by her imagination.
Rey Cassidy intended to take the world by storm.
A look back for Connor
“I don’t have time for this, Connor. You’ll just have to throw the ball against the side of the house.”
Connor stood on the other side of his father’s desk, football in hand. “I don’t think that will work, Father. Footballs don’t bounce like basketballs.”
Angus held up his hand. “I’m sorry, I simply don’t have time to discuss this with you. I have a business meeting to prepare for. Where’s your mother? Can’t she play with you?”
Connor frowned. “Mother is at her bridge club and she wouldn’t toss the ball for me, she can’t catch. Just a little while, Father, please?”
Angus shut his eyes and pounded the papers on his desk with his fist. “Will you stop?! I simply don’t have time for this nonsense! Your mother and I have responsibilities. I’m investing and buying properties for your future, we’re doing our best to get ahead. If you’d think more about your studies and less about frivolous things like football, you might make something of yourself. Remember, you’re leaving for New England when next term begins. Heaton is a splendid boarding school. You’ll have an opportunity for a first-rate education and your absence will give your mother and I the room and the time to achieve our goals.”
Connor grew as still as a statue. At eleven, he was still a child, but old enough to realize when arguing was fruitless. He harbored a wish to be loved by his parents. What child didn’t? But they’d never said it to him.
As he stood there, watching his father review some speculative deal, he felt a sheet of ice begin to form over his heart.
Connor gave up.
Yes, he’d leave home and yes, he’d become successful. He was Angus McGregor’s son, after all. He would learn whatever lessons the teachers would teach – but his father had just taught him an invaluable one that he would carve on his heart for all time.
Keep people at arm’s length.
Acquire acquaintances and not loved ones.
Connor never intended to let anyone close enough to hurt him again.
Connor and Rey - Present Day
“Cover me, Cassidy. I’m going in.”
Rey Cassidy rolled her eyes as her handsome boss lowered his head and charged through a throng of screaming women like a college running back going for a touchdown. Frantic females were making a grab for him, each one more anxious than the next to snag him in their clutches. “Please excuse us, excuse us.” She hurried alongside him, holding her arm straight out in an attempt to shield both his ripped body and her much slighter one with an oversize Italian-made handbag. Not your normal battle shield, but this wasn’t normal warfare. “I’d really rather cover you with a drop-cloth,” she muttered under her breath.
“What did you say?” Mr. Too-Sexy-For-Words stopped and put a sheltering arm around her, doing his best to smile at his admirers while ignoring their efforts to capture his attention.
“Nothing important, now is no time to linger.” Rey urged him forward.
A few seconds later, Connor acknowledged the doorman as they passed safely through the secured private entrance of the luxury hotel. “Thank you, Gerald. We made it!” he proclaimed proudly. “Home sweet home. The Waterloo is my haven.” He not only lived and worked within its elegant walls, Connor owned the place. “I’m always surprised they know my whereabouts. How do they do that? Did you sneak a GPS chip into my tie or something?”
“They’re not following you, McGregor, everyone knows you live in your own hotel. Your life is much like Monopoly,” she said dryly, quoting an old Hugh Grant movie. “No, these women lay-in-wait for you like crocodiles waiting for an unsuspecting wildebeest.” Rey smirked at her own analogy.
“You’ve been watching Animal Planet again, haven’t you?” He stopped to gaze through a floor to ceiling beveled glass window, admiring the lights of the city reflecting in the serene waters of the Colorado River. “Did I ever tell you why I chose Waterloo for the name of the hotel?”
“No, you never have. I assumed it was a connection you felt with Napoleon or some reference to going forth to conquer new frontiers,” she muttered, knowing what she thought every time she heard the name; Connor McGregor was her Waterloo. Like the old Abba song proclaimed, if he set his eyes on her, Rey wouldn’t have been able to resist him if she wanted to. The only problem with that lyrical scenario was that he’d never shown an inkling of interest in her at all. Dammit. “Did you have something else in mind?”
Never taking his gaze from the picturesque scene outside his domain, he spoke almost reverently. “Before the early pioneers renamed this settlement after the man known as the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, our home was known as Waterloo. I’m commemorating the history of the city even as I shape it’s future.” He gave her a satisfied smile. “Oh, and tell Seymour to send up some champagne and caviar. We’ll be celebrating tonight.”
His rapid topic change didn’t surprise her, she was used to his ADD. Not that he’d admit to having the problem, but she thought that diagnosis might explain his inability to remain interested in any one woman for more than a couple of days. “No ‘we’ about it, unless you have a mouse in your pocket, I’m not working late.” Rey took a deep breath, then lied through her teeth. “I have a date.”
He stopped in his tracks. “A date? You?”
Connor’s surprise irritated Rey. So, what if her date was with a hot water bottle and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Her fierce leader didn’t need to know those details. “Yes, is that so hard to believe?”
She left him standing there with mouth agape, while she informed the concierge what to send up to the penthouse suite. Her presence wasn’t required for the celebration. To find companionship, all Connor would have to do was go through his Little Black Book app and select from a smorgasbord of willing women, or by the look of the crowd outside, he could just stand at the entrance of the Waterloo like Elvis at the gates of Graceland. She was sure any one of his admirers would be willing to spend a few hours with him - - celebrating.
After passing along Connor’s wishes, she made her way to the elevator, taking the first ten seconds of alone time she’d had all day to check her messages. With a few quick clicks, she solved several problems, made three appointments, and confirmed a half dozen meetings. Life in the fast lane made Rey’s blood fizz through her veins, as if it was carbonated. She loved it! The only fly in the ointment was the necessary inclusion of Connor himself. Again, Rey became amused at her own thought. She was being mean. There would be no McGregor Developments without McGregor. A real estate mogul who made money hand over fist, Connor was truly brilliant, he just wasn’t detail oriented.
Like the latest edition of Austin Monthly proclaimed, Connor was considered to be the city’s most eligible bachelor. Everything the man touched turned to gold. He’d turned a few waterfront acres near downtown Austin into the premier properties in the state. He had the vision and his team made it happen…and by ‘his team’ she meant her, Rey Cassidy.
She was the woman behind the man.
The very capable woman.
“Come on, slowpoke, my finger’s getting tired of holding this button.”
“What?” Rey jerked her head up, surprised he’d waited on her. “Sorry, I thought you’d already gone up.”
“Why would I do that?” He put a big hand over the opening where the doors emerged to insure they didn’t jump out and bump Rey while she boarded. “I need you.”
“Yes, you do,” she agreed with him. Her calm demeanor didn’t reveal the landslide of emotions Connor’s words released within her. She knew what he meant, he needed her business acumen.
His admission had nothing to do with her identity as a woman.
She fought back the irritation her summation called forth. This was a sore spot for her. Rey had fallen head over heels for her brilliant friend the day she met him.
Thank God, she’d come to her senses.
While she was absolutely loyal and completely committed to their interests – Rey Cassidy had no illusions about Connor McGregor’s suitability as a romantic interest. While he possessed many good qualities: a concern for the environment, a philanthropic heart, and a fondness for animals – his downfall was women, he couldn’t resist them. Connor loved women.
In all their time together, he’d never once made a pass at her, never made a risqué suggestion, or a lewd comment. Oh, he teased her. He was nice to her. He respected her highly. To Connor, she was a valuable asset, his path to success, his secret weapon, and yes, his friend.
But that was all.
And Rey was fine with it.
There was no way she would ever put up with Connor McGregor and his antics until the water got hot. If they were to ever attempt to be a couple, she’d kill the man dead in the first twenty-four hours.
But that wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t attracted to her. Rey didn’t have what it took to please Connor McGregor.
If one were to ask him, and people had, what type of woman he preferred, his answer was always the same.
Connor liked to think he was an equal opportunity philanderer, but that wasn’t true. He definitely had a type - centerfolds - statuesque beauties with lush, long hair and surgically enhanced bust lines. Rey was none of those things.
As one member of the paparazzi phrased it in an article/expose of Connor a few years back, she didn’t seem to fit the picture. By all accounts, Miss Rey Cassidy appears to be an integral part of Connor McGregor’s success, but one can’t help but notice she looks out of place in his world. While Mr. McGregor’s masculine perfection is unquestioned, he certainly can’t be categorized as a swan, more a golden eagle perhaps. But Miss Cassidy plays the role of the Ugly Duckling quite well. We can’t claim to understand their dynamics, but we do applaud the results. McGregor Developments is changing the face of Central Texas for the better.
Rey remembered well how she’d tried to hide the periodical containing the humiliating article from Connor, but he’d eventually seen it. And when he did, she remembered how he demanded a retraction and threatened to have the magazine shut down. Rey had tried to explain to him that the retraction would be as embarrassing as the original piece, but he hadn’t listened.
Rey knew she wasn’t beautiful, her own mother and sister had pointed that fact out many times. But seeing it in print and knowing Connor saw it too…well, it had taken a long time for her to get over the humiliation. One good thing did come from the fiasco, however. Rey endeavored to improve herself, dressing more fashionably and getting a makeover. She might be a country girl, but if she was going to rub elbows with the rich and famous, it was time to start acting the part.
Once she was in the elevator with him and the doors closed, Rey adjusted her mask of indifference. “I think all we need to do tonight is prepare your comments for tomorrow’s televised announcement. Our partnership with the Earle brothers will be a landmark deal in this city. Luxury apartments, five-star restaurants, world class boutiques – the sky’s the limit.” Her tone was appropriately enthusiastic, yet professionally curtailed.
“Ah, not tonight. Tonight, I have a proposition for you.”
Rey’s heart skipped a beat. “What kind of a proposition?”
“Patience. Patience.” Connor wiggled a finger at her. “I need to ply you with champagne and get you in the mood first.”
In the mood? A surprised bark of laughter escaped Rey’s lips. “Champagne isn’t going to help.”
“We’ll see.” He looked entirely confident and too handsome for his own good – or Rey’s.
Trying not to look agitated, she leaned against the elevator wall and folded her arms over her nearly non-existent bosom. “What do you need for me to do, take a drug test for you? Provide a urine sample?”
Her sassy comment just made him smile. “Not hardly. I don’t do drugs, you know that.” He made a sweeping gesture down his body. “This is a temple.”
As the elevator dinged its arrival, she pushed off the wall toward the door. “I’d bow and scrape, but I think your temple gets a little too much worshipful attention as it is.”
Connor stuffed his hands in his front pocket, his stance wide, letting her precede him. “Negatory, my little Rey of sunshine. I give women what they want. I’m just spreading joy.”
Rey laughed, stepping out into the lavish suite. “Joy is not what you’re spreading. You’re a virus, McGregor.”
“Yet, you’re unaffected,” he stated, but with a questioning lilt to his voice.
“I’m immune.” Heading into the comfortable sitting room, Rey took her normal seat on the oversize leather couch, immediately pulling her tablet from her purse to check their schedules. “Now, what’s on your mind? What do you need from me? I’m way ahead of you on the contracts.” When he took a chair across from her, she met his eyes and immediately got snared in his compelling gaze.
“Rey, we need to talk. We’ve been friends since college.” He began, then hesitated, a decidedly guilty look coming over his face.
Uh-oh. What was this? She was not only his assistant, they also had a semi-partnership agreement where she earned stock options in his company when a deal performed above expectations. Rey intended to fight him for her fair share if she had to. “Connor, are you trying to break up with me, professionally speaking?”
Connor’s eyes widened. “Oh, hell no.” He barked out a laugh. “I do have my faults, but stupidity is not one of them.”
She gave him a pointed look. “Well, that’s debatable at times.” When he glared at her, she amended her statement. “Yes, we’ve been friends awhile. What’s on your mind?”
“Well…” Connor hesitated. “I need you to run interference for me with a woman.”
Rey didn’t know what she’d been expecting him to say, but this wasn’t it. She saw red. “What do you mean?”
He held up a hand defensively. “It’s no big deal, I just…uh…seem to have overbooked again.”
“Overbooked? If you wouldn’t juggle women like bean bags, you wouldn’t get yourself in a bind.” Yes, she’d done this before and she didn’t like it.
“I’m not that bad.” When she narrowed her eyes at him, he gave her a sheepish smile. “Well, maybe I am. But I don’t mean to be. I just want each one of my ladies to feel special, and sometimes I can’t be in two places at one time.”
“I don’t know how anyone can feel special when they’re just part of a herd,” Rey grumbled.
“Not a herd, I choose to think of them as a select group of lucky women,” he gave her a disarming grin.
Rey bristled, but she resigned herself to her boss’s predilection for the fairer sex. Some people had a weakness for chocolate, others for alcohol or gambling – Connor’s vice was women. At least he was honest, for the most part. He made no promises of a future or even exclusivity, all he tried to do was keep them separate.
For their own safety. And his.
And to avoid misunderstandings and the occasional cat fight.
“All right, all right. What do you need me to do and what do I get out of it?”
Connor snorted. “Bless your little mercenary heart.” When she rolled her eyes, he stood and strode to his desk near the window. “I need you to pick up Veronica at the airport tomorrow and in return I’ll sponsor that 5K run for your favorite charity. The whole thing – advertising, T-shirts, food, water, permits – the whole ball of wax. What is it called? Remind me.”
“Helping Hands, raising money to build housing for the homeless.” She narrowed her gaze at him. “I can’t believe you’re asking me to babysit one of your women in order to get your support for a worthy cause.”
“Why not? I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” Connor hid a grin. He wouldn’t tell Rey he’d already sent a check to cover the sponsorship.
“Couldn’t you have arranged for a taxi to meet Veronica?”
Connor frowned, which only served to emphasize the sexy cleft in his chin. “I’d rather you handle this. She knows you and I are close.”
“She does?” Rey knew this information was meant to make her feel better, but it didn’t. She felt…vulnerable. Connor’s romantic liaisons were usually something she tried to ignore. She knew they were happening, she just didn’t want to get involved.
“Sure.” He stood up and came to sit on the arm of the couch next to her. Much to her dismay, Connor ruffled her hair. “You’re my buddy.”
Rey growled softly, her lip lifting in a tiny snarl. “Don’t call me that.” Growing up, her neighbor’s dog had been named Buddy. She didn’t enjoy the connotation. Moving away from him, Rey rose and stalked to the wet bar. The doorbell rang as she was about to take a bottle of water out of the small fridge. Instead, she went to the door and opened it, allowing the waiter to push a cart into the room laden with a silver domed platter and a bottle of Dom Perignon chilling in a bucket of ice.
Connor jumped up to greet his employee. “Jerry, how’s your little girl? Did she enjoy the dance recital?”
“She did, sir, and thank you for sending the roses. She’ll never forget it and neither will we.”
“Not a problem.” Connor fished out a twenty. “You tell Stacy that I plan to watch her dance in the Nutcracker next year.”
“I’ll do it, Mr. McGregor.” Jerry nodded at Rey before leaving. “Just ring if you need anything else.”
Once the waiter was gone, Rey tried to hold onto her annoyance but it was impossible. When she saw the sweet side of Connor McGregor, the considerate way he treated people, she just couldn’t stay angry at him. “When is Veronica’s flight and what do you want me to do with her after I pick her up?” Her tone was one of pained resignation.
“Bring Veronica back here and see her to her room, spend a little time with her, maybe share a cup of coffee.”
“Why not bring her here to the penthouse?”
“Oh, no. I use other rooms in the hotel for my assignations. I don’t bring women to my private suite.”
What was she? Chopped liver? “I see.” She picked up the dome and checked out the food, finding an appetizing array of hors d’oeuvres. “So, what will you be doing while I’m entertaining Veronica?”
Taking the champagne bottle, he deftly uncorked it, pouring each of them some in a fluted glass. “Veronica is coming in a day earlier than we originally planned. I had a previous engagement with Serena that I just couldn’t cancel. She’s counting on me to be her date at her mother’s birthday party.”
“You’re just too kind, aren’t you?” Rey accepted the glass and took an overly large sip, then sputtered and coughed when the bubbles went straight up her nose.
“Hey, are you all right?” Connor came to Rey and handed her a napkin. “Take it slow, you don’t drink much alcohol.”
Rey felt completely gauche. Each time she heard about plans Connor made with one of his many women, she never failed to compare herself with his conquests. She always came up short.
“I’m fine.” She set the glass down. “I need to drive home anyway. Text me Veronica’s flight and room info and I’ll take care of her. I should be paid extra for dealing with your harem, you know.”
“You probably should. Thanks, Rey.”
Rey was looking down and when he moved close, she jerked her head up. “No problem…” What would’ve been a thank-you kiss to her cheek, turned into a helluva lot more when her mouth accidentally collided with his.
His mouth caressed hers and Rey’s heart stopped. Step back. Step back, she told herself. But her muscles refused to obey. Damnation! Why did this have to feel so good?
One second. Two seconds. Three. Caressing lips. The tease of a tongue.
Connor jerked back and Rey whirled around, making a grab for her purse, and heading out like a gazelle trying to outrun a hungry lion. Hmmm, maybe she did watch too much Animal Planet. “Getting late, I gotta go. Have a good night.”
“Yea, I forgot about your…date. You have a good time too.”
Rey just nodded, poking the elevator button thirty-odd times in just a few seconds. “Come on, come on,” she whispered.
“Rey…wait. I think we need to…” Connor called out, his voice getting closer with every word.
The doors opened and Rey rushed in, punching the down button just as Connor reached the door. “Rey!” Connor slammed his hand against the elevator door. “What the hell just happened?” He’d been minding his own business, working out a plan to make everybody happy – and Boom! His assistant’s soft, plump lips had just gotten in his way. And when he’d felt them, tasted them, Connor had momentarily lost focus. “Fuck,” he swore again, realizing she was already gone. And knowing Rey, she was already halfway to the parking garage by now. He could have Security stop her, but something told him that wouldn’t be a wise thing to do.
Reviewing the events of the last few minutes, he tried to ascertain if he’d done something wrong. If not…why did he feel like he’d made a big mistake?
Yes, he knew Rey had little patience with his romantic entanglements. Not everyone could be as straitlaced and all-business as his capable second-in-command, he certainly wasn’t. Connor enjoyed the company of beautiful women. “So, sue me,” he murmured.
His plans for the evening had fallen flat and then went crazy. He’d looked forward to rehashing his recent victory with Rey. No one understood him or the way he ticked better than she did. God, the woman was smart. Their association just kept getting better, their minds were totally in sync and their strengths complimented one another. Where he was lacking, she could easily make up the difference. He might have the money and the vision, but she had the expertise, the organizational abilities, and the drive.
They’d known one another since college. Total opposites. Professor Newton had paired them up on a project and they’d never looked back. Rey Cassidy was unlike any woman he’d ever known. She wasn’t into the usual female mind games. With Rey, it was what you see is what you get. Brilliant. Creative. Amazing.
But where did that kiss come from?
Oh, he knew it was an accident on both their parts. But goddamn, he’d never had a kiss feel so right.
Alarm bells began to ring. No. No. This couldn’t happen. Dalliances were his drug of choice. He couldn’t afford to play where he worked – not with someone as critical to his well-being and success as Rey. Trying to shake off the shock, Conner returned to the service cart and covered up the caviar. His appetite was gone.
Frankly, Connor didn’t know what he’d do without her.
So, he sure as hell couldn’t afford to mess up what they had. As far as dumb moves, that would be colossal. Maybe he should call her and apologize. He was just about to press the number 1 on his phone, when it vibrated in his hand.
One glance at the screen told him it was Daphne. A smile came to his lips.
* * *
Fighting traffic to get home, Rey endeavored to keep her cool. “Playing babysitter to his…” she grumbled under her breath. “I can’t believe him.”
Rey glared in her rearview mirror at the driver of the car who didn’t think she was going quite fast enough. “Bite me!” she yelled, wishing she’d said the same thing to Connor.
“And the kiss, God, he probably thinks I did that on purpose,” she groaned. “But what a kiss!” She sighed, licking her lips and recalling how good he tasted. Her clit was still vibrating at the pleasure she’d received from a clumsy, accidental brushing of their mouths. “Stop it, Rey, Connor is persona non-grata, not that he’s interested in you anyway.”
After clocking a couple of miles, leaving downtown behind, and making her way to Westlake, Rey opened her window and let the cool evening air blow away her worries. “What difference does it make? Conner is Conner. He’ll never be anything else. He’s probably already forgotten about the kiss.” She just needed to accept him for who he was and keep her eyes on the goal.
To make loads of money together.
Once she pulled into her driveway, Rey was settling down. This space was her sanctuary. Behind the walls of her two-bedroom condo, peace and tranquility reigned. The gated community where she lived was designed and constructed by McGregor Developments, so the place was a matter of pride for Rey. This had been one of their very first projects as a team. She could still remember sitting up to all hours of the night with Connor, pouring over plans, laughing as they watched their dreams come to life.
After parking in the garage, she let herself into the condo, entering through the mud room, stepping out of her shoes and shedding clothes as she made a stop at the washer. By the time Rey made it to the kitchen, she wore only her underwear. All the blinds were closed, thank goodness, or she’d be flashing the neighbors. “What to eat? What to eat?” She rummaged in the fridge, needing a little something nutritious before she indulged in the promised ice cream. “Ummm, ham.” She took a slice, then paired it with a piece of artisan bread and munched on it as she padded into the living room.
First stop was at the mini-greenhouse built into the dining room window. One of her interests was growing African violets from seed. She loved to take an almost microscopic seed and after some nurturing and sunshine, watch it evolve into a healthy plant producing breathtaking purple, pink, or white blooms. After giving the plants a drink of water and pinching off a dead leaf or two, she moved on to her next ritual.
Her prize possession was a baby grand, one of the few things she’d splurged on with the bonuses Connor gave her for a job well done. Sitting on the bench, she let her fingers wander over the keys and soon works of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Bach came flowing from her instrument. Music was her passion.
As she played, Rey let memories flow over her. Sheet music was unnecessary, she didn’t even have to watch the keys or her hands. Rey just knew. She could feel the music, she was one with the instrument. One song drifted into another. All her favorites. Her friends.
From the age of three, she’d known she wanted to play. She’d crawled up on the bench of an old upright piano and tried to mimic the tunes she heard on television. Without a lesson or any instruction, Rey displayed an instinctive natural ability. Her father was thrilled and sought a teacher for her, but her mother would not support her husband in the matter. She was too preoccupied with her older daughter’s beauty pageant career to squander money or time on her younger child’s burgeoning gift. Despite his wife’s attitude, Ben Cassidy found Rey an instructor. Mrs. Fitzhugh had joyfully taught her young pupil free of charge. Throughout the years, she’d advanced, showing an aptitude beyond anything anyone expected. Her teacher encouraged Rey to compete, but without her family’s financial support, travel and entrance fees were hard to come by. Her father told Rey more than once how much he regretted how they neglected her training, but there was never enough time or money to support both girl’s dreams.
Music wasn’t Rey’s only talent. She excelled in school in every subject, graduating first in her class in high school and earning a full scholarship to The University of Texas in Austin. She could’ve majored in music, in fact, unbeknownst to Rey or her family, Mrs. Fitzhugh had pulled some strings and arranged for Rey to have an interview to Julliard, but her mother wouldn’t allow it. She’d even been the one to insist that her youngest daughter major in business. Her reasoning was that Rey would always be assured of a good job and a good living, and her mother had been right, she supposed. Rey smiled. If she hadn’t taken business courses, she would’ve never met Connor.
College had been a time of freedom for Rey. She’d escaped her mother’s tight rope of control and stepped out from her sister’s shadow. Even though she followed Della Cassidy’s edict and majored in marketing and minored in accounting, she spent every spare moment in the music building, playing on one of the practice pianos. During one of those times, her impromptu performance was heard by Dr. Schumann, the dean of the Music Department. When he found out she wasn’t even taking a music class, he’d thrown a Hungarian fit. The old gentleman insisted that he work with her privately and she’d been thrilled and willing to sacrifice many free hours advancing her technique. By her Junior year, he’d worked out a program for her, a way to have it all. With his contacts in the industry, the old gentleman could make things happen. But by that time, she’d met Connor and his dream became hers.
Her love affair with music didn’t end there, however. To this day, she still visited Dr. Schumann to play for him, and a letter detailing an open-ended offer to record and tour as a concert pianist, even performing at Carnegie Hall, rested in a prize place in her desk.
Rey had no regrets how things turned out. She wouldn’t trade what she and Connor accomplished together for anything. Like the old adage proclaimed, things happened for a reason. Rey believed she was right where she was supposed to be. Connor needed her. If things changed, she always had her music to fall back on.
After she played herself out, Rey rose and poured herself a nightcap. Nothing strong, just a bit of rum with coke. Something to settle her nerves. Spying her laptop on the coffee table, she sat down and opened it, going right to her email. “Oh, damn,” she muttered, noticing an important communication from the city planning office that had just now hit her inbox. Almost too late. “This is not happening. I refuse to miss this deadline.” Checking the time, she saw it was 9:01. “Maybe, just maybe.” Opening the files, she went to work, filling out forms that would insure one of their projects would get off the ground without curtailing the progress they’d made with vendors and suppliers. Once she was through, she hit send, copying Connor on the message. “There, I saved the day. Again.”
Curling up on the couch, she turned on the television and let out a long breath, wiggling her toes. High heels were a necessary evil, but getting them off her aching feet was heaven. Resting her head on the cushion behind her, she halfway watched the local news…until a familiar face crossed the screen.
Connor stood in front of one of the town’s premier restaurants with his arm around a stunning woman with fiery red hair. The headline below the video read Local Businessman Entertains Royalty. “Royalty?” Rey almost bit her tongue, sitting up and leaning toward the television. “Didn’t take him long to find entertainment for the evening.”
Mesmerized, Rey glared at the reporter who recounted with relish the sighting of Austin’s favorite rake wining and dining a member of Europe’s royal family.
“Do I hear wedding bells in the air?”
Rey answered the reporter’s question. “No, that’s the sound of a cop car coming to take me to jail after I murder Romeo.”
If she had an ounce of willpower, Rey would’ve clicked the OFF button. Instead, she listened as the gushing woman related the story likening Conner to Chris Pratt, saying she wished he was her leading man. “Oh, brother,” she let her head fall back on the couch. Her bemoaning stock phrase hit home – that’s how Conner saw their relationship. He looked upon her as a sister. A sexless pseudo-sibling who, just like family, knew more about him than anyone else. “Let’s see…” She could recite facts about him better than any family member could. “Born on May 15th, which makes him a Taurus.” She laughed morosely. “Fitting, since he’s stubborn as a bull. Only child, born to older parents. Spoiled? To be fair, not really.” Rey sighed. “Opinionated. Drinks whiskey, neat. Favorite color is green. Favorite food, meat of any kind. Voracious reader of non-fiction. Connoisseur of music and movies.” She laughed again. “Except he’s a total Marvel/Batman/Superman freak.” Her voice rose in volume. “Oh, and he doesn’t intend to settle down. Why limit himself to one woman when he can have many?” Continuing in a more normal tone of voice, she recited his physical facts. “Thirty-two. Six-two. Two-hundred thirty pounds, thereabout. Body to die for. Silvery gray eyes. Sable brown hair. Sexy scruff of beard. Arrogant.” Her voice took on a grumbly tone. “With reason, because he’s a helluva man.” When she came to herself, Rey realized her voice had gone all dreamy. “Egad, what am I doing?” Rey picked up a sofa pillow and held it over her face. “Kill me now. I’m going nuts.”
Covering her eyes worked like a charm, because the next time she opened them, an infomercial for the perfect pillow was on television and the clock read two-thirty in the morning. “Geez,” she muttered, pulling an afghan up over her shoulders. “I’m pathetic. Some date. I didn’t even get my ice cream.”
* * *
“I am so tired of sleeping with ditzy, shallow women,” Connor mumbled before pouring himself a much-needed shot of scotch. Taking his laptop from the coffee table, he eased his big, tired body down on the couch. Flipping open the lid, he opened his email, his attention flitting from message to message. As he did, snippets of his conversation with Daphne kept going through his head. All she could talk about was who she knew and where she was going next. She’d name-dropped so many famous people that he needed a Who’s Who of The World’s Elite just to keep up.
And the other day his date with up and coming singer, Tessa Bailey, had taken the cake. They’d been dining at Flournoy’s, enjoying their first course, when she’d began to expound on her latest adventures capturing Pokémon Go characters, or that’s what he assumed she was talking about. My friend Mia and I were trying to catch a Rattata and fell in the lake at Central Park, isn’t that crazy? It really was. Connor had only nodded. And I tied my phone to the ceiling fan trying to get my egg to hatch. Can you believe it? No, he could not. Just to get through the evening, Connor had put his Aviators on so she couldn’t see when he found it necessary to roll his eyes.
He was also tired of gold-digging women, women who thought if they gave you a blowjob, they were entitled to try and max out your gold card. A couple of weeks ago, Veronica had hinted at a pair of earrings she wanted. No, hint wasn’t really the correct word. She’d demanded them. Connor, I want a pair of diamond earrings. Big ones. She’d run a manicured finger down his chest. Two carats for each ear. I’m worth it. Right? Well, that was debatable.
And then, there were the crazy women. Those were really getting on his nerves. He’d been out on a date with Troian, a gorgeous woman, when she’d become offended by a waiter who hadn’t shown her the proper deference when pouring wine. Did you see that? He made eye contact with me. I think he looked down my blouse. He hadn’t. The waiter had been giving Connor the eye all evening, the man was clearly gay. I want you to get him fired. He’d refused. When the waiter returned, Troian demanded he apologize and when the poor man hesitated, she’d thrown a whole glass of wine in his face. Crazy was the worst.
Yes, he was getting tired of sleeping with these questionable women, but he wasn’t getting tired of sleeping with women in general. In fact, he quite liked it. Too much. The problem was – his oversize libido and generally open heart was leading him down a path not entirely suitable for a man in his position. Maybe it was time he reevaluated his life. Become a little bit more discerning in his choice of companions. Not that he was ready to settle down, he’d learned early on to keep people at arm’s length. “Let’s not get carried away,” he chuckled. “Baby steps.”
A message from Rey popped up. Opening it, he quickly read it through, seeing that she’d filed essential paperwork for yet another deal. A smile touched his lips. The woman was worth her weight in gold.
Bong! Bong! Bong!
The grandfather clock in the front hall hailed the hour. She’d been burning midnight oil while a princess pursued him all over town. “Thank you, Rey,” he murmured as he typed a quick note and sent it to her, expressing his gratitude for a job well done. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. I really don’t.”
* * *
“So, when will Connor be back from his business trip?” Veronica asked for the umpteenth time.
When she’d referred to this chore as babysitting, Rey hadn’t been far off. The woman was acting like a five-year old. “In the morning. He left tickets here for you to go to the ballet.” She tapped the folder that included the itinerary Connor had outlined for the woman he’d be entertaining tomorrow. “If you’d like, I could come with you.”
Veronica frowned at Rey, looking at her like she was an annoying bug. “Not necessary. I’m sure I’ll know a ton of people there. Society friends.” Realizing she sounded rude, Veronica backtracked. “Although, if you were planning on going anyway…”
“No, of course not. I have plenty to do.” Rey had no desire to spend an evening with one of Connor’s women. She wasn’t actually jealous. To be jealous, she’d have to want Connor for herself – and she didn’t. She so didn’t.
“God, I’m bored.”
Veronica’s whining was getting on her nerves. “I don’t know how you could be, Connor left you tickets to events, beautiful gifts, and access to every amenity this amazing hotel has to offer.”
The sexy blonde made a face. “They’re a poor substitute for Connor.” Rising, she slinked over to gaze at herself in a mirror. “I think I’ll get my hair done again. Maybe a manicure.”
“You look perfect, you know,” Rey was forced to admit. There was one thing about Connor’s choice in women. He had very good taste.
Veronica’s arrogance both amused and annoyed Rey. She supposed she had self-confidence too – in some areas – but hopefully it didn’t cause her to act like an ass.
“I can make an appointment for you, if you like.” Rey offered as congenially as she could. As much as she disapproved of Connor’s ways, she would never willingly jeopardize any of his relationships. After all, you never knew when ‘the one’ would come along. And as much as they bantered and carried on, Rey really did wish him happiness.
One of them should be happy.
Oh, she supposed she was content. There was a lot going on in her life. She had her work, her music, her home. Just not a man.
“Maybe you should do something with yourself too.”
Veronica’s words made Rey look up so quickly, she popped her neck. She was about to come back with some snarky remark when her phone buzzed. “Saved by the bell,” she muttered, tapping on her phone so hard she broke a nail. “Great.”
“How’s it going?”
Hearing Connor’s voice in her ear caused her to jump to her feet. “Excuse me, I have to take this. Business,” she said, hurrying in the hall where her charge wouldn’t hear.
“Not very well,” she hissed. “I’m not a suitable substitute for you.”
Connor chuckled. “I would hope not, you don’t possess the right equipment.”
“I’m going to do damage to your equipment if you ever ask me to do anything like this again. I don’t like it,” Rey stated emphatically.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Connor said soothingly. “I didn’t think you’d object. After all, eating out and shopping is what women like to do. Beats sitting behind a desk.” A soft feminine growl told him what she thought of his comment.
“She’s about to go to the salon for a full treatment and later tonight she’s agreed to attend the ballet.”
“Excellent!” Connor was pleased. “How about you? How was your date last night? Don’t you think I should meet this guy and check him out for you?”
Date? “Oh! My date!” Rey beat her hand on the wall. “My date was great and I do not need for you to meet him. I can handle my private life without your interference, thank you.”
“Can you?” Connor persisted. “What’s his name? What does he do for a living?”
Rey panicked. Conner knew everyone. Thinking of her missed ice cream, she floundered for an answer. “Ben Jeremy. Yea, that’s his name. You don’t know him, he owns a string of dairy farms in Wisconsin. They make cheese and ice cream.”
“A dairy farmer, Rey?” He chuckled. “How interesting. I’d love to meet him.”
“Impossible!” she declared flatly. “He flew back this morning, some problem with the milking machines.”
Conner sounded doubtful, which just pissed Rey off more. “Now that you know Veronica is still waiting safely in the wings, can I help you with anything else?”
“Yes, you can. Something important has come up.”
Hearing the serious tone in his voice, Rey put aside her irritation. Business was business. “What is it? Something good?”
“Could be.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Doug Rogers called me this morning.”
“Doug Rogers? I don’t know the name.”
“Oh, yes you do,” Connor insisted. “Douglas Auburn Rogers, the rancher from West Texas who owns the land where the biggest oil discovery in history was just made.”
“Oh, that Doug Rogers,” Rey repeated with the proper amount of awe. “What did he have to say?”
“He’s interested in a deal, a cooperative project to build a resort on Lake Toledo Bend in deep East Texas.”
“Huh, my old stomping grounds. Interesting.”
“Exactly, you know everything there is to know about the area and the people. This could be huge. I’ve been wanting to expand out of central Texas.”
“Sounds great, I can’t wait to hear all the details.”
“Perfect.” Connor smiled. “Just take care of things with Veronica and I’ll be there tomorrow. Maybe I can convince her to cut our time together short. I’m too excited about this business proposition to do her justice, I’m afraid.”
Rey bristled at the mention of Veronica. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll ‘do her’ just fine.”
Connor chuckled. “Do I detect a hint of jealousy?”
Jealousy? Rey shivered at the thought. “God, no, you detect a hint of disgust.”
“Ah, Rey, you wound me,” he sighed. “No matter, I think we’re about to be spending a great deal of time together in close proximity. I’ll have ample chance to change your mind.”
“What are you talking about?” Alarm bells began to ring. “Our current level of proximity works just fine for me.” Keeping a bit of distance between them was what kept her sane.
“Never mind, you’ll find out soon enough.” There was a pause. “As soon as I finish with Veronica, I’ll call you. Enjoy your freedom for the next couple of days, because after this you’re all mine.”