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Gage Cooper drummed his fingers on the armrest as the plane taxied toward the gate. He wasn’t used to the slow crawl of commercial flights. Unfortunately, his jet was undergoing routine maintenance. He’d needed to get back to Houston in a timely manner and couldn’t wait the extra eight hours it would take for his plane to be ready.
At least he’d been able to get a ticket in first class at the last minute.
“Is there anything I can get you once we finish taxiing, Mr. Cooper?” The sultry voice of the flight attendant, who’d been trying her best to flirt with him the whole flight, pulled his attention from his internal thoughts.
He knew the attendant wasn’t inquiring whether he wanted some peanuts for the walk down the tunnel to the terminal. On any other day, he might be tempted to take her up on the offer. Right at this moment, he had business hassles popping up every three minutes. “Thank you, but no, I’m fine.” He turned to look out the window, relieved to see the plane pulling up to the gate. He undid his seat belt before the plane stopped. He wanted to be first in line to collect his luggage and then get into a cab.
While another flight attendant welcomed everyone to Houston, Gage reached into the overhead locker to take out his carry-on and laptop bag. As he waited for them to open the doors, he grabbed his phone out of his pocket and checked his emails. Hopefully, no more drama had cropped up while he’d been in the air from Midland to Houston. Quickly thumbing through his in-box, nothing seemed like it needed his immediate attention.
Relief swept through him. He’d spent the last month dealing with the unenviable task of reducing the output on some of his rigs due to the downturn in oil prices. Not to mention the petty environmental issues he’d had thrust on him over the last few months, as well by his nemesis, Charlotte Wilkinson. He’d never had problems in the past with the environmental agency he’d always worked with. That was, until Charlotte began working for Gold Star Eco and started investigating the deals his company worked on. So what if the other guy hadn’t been anal about compliance issues? Charlotte focused all her attention on Gage’s company now and made the process a nightmare. He was sure she’d found the most obscure plant in the world that needed protecting on his site in Midland. Didn’t she know how much money he would lose if he had to move his rig even one foot from the original plan? He knew he needed to care about the environment, but her almost tyrannical approach to protecting something no one had heard of made him want to pull his hair out.
And now she owned the piece of land that was supposed to be his.
Finally, the doors opened and he stalked out of the plane, giving the flight attendants a cursory nod. Making his way down the tunnel, he ignored the constant beeping of his phone from more emails coming in. He almost gave in to the temptation to turn it off again. He needed to keep his mind clear so he could formulate his plan to confront Charlotte and demand to know what spell she’d cast over his father.
His phone rang as he climbed into a cab after waiting for what seemed like forever to get his luggage. He pulled the device from his pocket, glancing at the screen to see his brother’s name. “Hey, Gray. What’s up?”
“I still don’t control Guac Olé.”
Gage suppressed a sigh. If he’d had it tough over the last month since the reading of his father’s will, Grayson had had it worse, expecting to inherit controlling share of the company he’d loved as much as his father had. His older brother had ended up with nothing but a strawberry charm.
“And I don’t have the land I could do with right now, seeing as the price of oil has tanked in the last few months.” What Gage did have was a key and twenty-four percent of a company he didn’t want.
“What was the old man thinking?” Grayson lamented. “He knew what we expected to receive. Hell, he told me not two weeks before he died that everything was sorted out and that all of us would be happy with the contents of his will.”
“I know. Have you spoken to Gavin? Has he worked out what the glasses he inherited mean?”
“Don’t know, he’s been somewhat occupied with other things. If he did work it out, he hasn’t mentioned anything to me. What about the key? Any luck there?”
“No. The key is still a mystery to me.”
Gage had spent some of the time while he was away visiting his rigs searching images of keys online to see if he could find something that matched the one his father had left him. He’d given up when his vision had started going blurry after the tenth page. Nothing seemed to match the elaborately ornate key with its thin, round blade and two-pronged tip. The key looked like it belonged in a fairy tale rather than in his possession. He could only assume it had been custom-made to fit a unique lock.
He had no idea where to start looking for the lock it would fit into. There had to be something Dad wanted him to find. But what that thing was, he had no idea. The note Dad left with the key gave him no insight either—The key to everything is happiness. Happiness wasn’t going to help him find the damn lock.
One thing he did know—he really didn’t want to have this conversation in a cab. “I’ve got to go, Gray. I’ll give you a call later on tonight.”
“Wait. I actually wanted to find out if you were free to come in to the office tomorrow.”
“Not sure. It’s not like it’s down the road for me. I’ll have to check my schedule. I don’t know what Dana’s organized for me. It’s my first full day back in the office after being out for a month. What time were you thinking?”
“Why don’t we make it for drinks and then dinner? That way you can try to clear as much as possible off your desk and drive down to Sweet Ridge. Let me know if that works.”
“Okay, I’ll send you a text once I know for sure.”
“Great. See you, Gage.”
“’Bye, Gray.” Gage disconnected the call. He leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He was still trying to come to terms with his father’s death. He’d left Houston the day after the meeting with Dad’s lawyer. The only emotion he’d felt then was anger. And he’d had plenty of time over the last month for the anger to simmer below the surface.
The cab’s slowing pulled him from his reverie. There was the familiar sight of his building just beyond the traffic lights.
Home sweet home.
More like a place to rest his head between trips. The condo could never be called a home. He’d worked in so many different locations that he’d lost the sense of what a home should be. A place where everything was happy, like the family sitcoms he’d watched as a teenager. Oh, the house he’d grown up in had been a home, when their mother had been alive. Even though, with the hindsight of an adult, he now recognized the tension between his parents.
Grayson reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet as the cab came to a halt. He passed the driver enough cash for the fare and a tip, got out of the car, and walked into the foyer of his condo’s building, nodded to the doorman, and made his way to the bank of elevators.
Screw thinking about happy families. He needed to focus on his afternoon meeting. He had to make sure he had all the facts…well, what he thought were the facts.
It wasn’t going to be a pleasant chat. He’d never met Charlotte Wilkinson. With the way she sounded on the phone with her hoity-toity British accent, she was probably a scorned middle-aged woman. No doubt a divorcée who hated all men. It was the only explanation he could come up with for the way she expected his company to kowtow to the petty environmental issues she always highlighted in her emails and reports to him.
Now he had another reason to be angry with her. What had she done to Dad to convince him to bequeath the house and surrounding ten acres of land outside of Sweet Ridge to her? Land he knew held a decent oil deposit beneath its surface. Had she blackmailed him? Claimed to be a long-lost daughter? Or, worse, had she seduced his father? He shuddered at the thought. He hoped his father had been smarter than getting sucked in by a woman. Or women, considering the contents of his will.
He’d started visiting Sweet Ridge, Texas, in the months prior to his father’s death to try to mend their broken relationship. They’d talked about the past, sorted through some of the mistakes Gage had made. There had still been more he’d wanted to say to his dad. He’d thought they’d reached an understanding. They’d even discussed Dad leaving the land to Gage.
Had Dad still not trusted him?
He ran a successful business. He’d obtained his college degree while working his ass off on oil rigs in places no one wanted to go.
He’d worked for everything he had. His bank account was probably as substantial, if not more, as his father’s had been. Hadn’t he proven to Dad that he wasn’t that kid anymore? The one who’d acted impulsively without thinking about the consequences. The kid who’d believed the world owed him because of his prowess on the football field.
He’d changed, and it burned him that his dad hadn’t thought he deserved the land. He’d told Dad what he planned to do with it. How the profits from pulling the black gold out of the ground would be more than he’d ever make from guacamole—even though the guacamole factory had provided their family with a very good lifestyle. Dad had seemed excited about Gage’s plans.
Now Gage knew it had been an act, and Dad had never planned on leaving him the land at all.
The land had been the first piece of property their father had bought, but, for some reason, he’d never lived in the house on the property. The family hadn’t even gone there for the odd weekend away, like a family fun mini-vacation. Still, the land abutted a stretch of bush that was great for hunting deer, so before Gage had left for college, he’d spent a weekend there with his football buddies. One last hurrah before they headed off to college, all with dreams of making the big time.
No. He wasn’t going to think about that. How he’d been so arrogant and confident. How he hadn’t given any thought to what going to college on a full football scholarship really meant. How it didn’t matter if you were the star player on the team.
You break the rules, you’re out.
His phone buzzed with the reminder that his meeting was going to take place in thirty minutes. He needed to get his head in the game. No way was he going to let Charlotte cause any more delays on his oil fields. And he was going to get back the land that was rightfully his.
No matter what it took.
End of Excerpt