Every girl longs for the perfect guy. Lily Watson wants to get rid of him.
When Lily Watson learns that Bryce King, a handsome, rich businessman from Texas has purchased her father's construction business, she wants nothing to do with her new boss. Still feeling burnt from her lying ex-husband, and convinced a rich city boy couldn’t really be interested in her, Lily tries her best to avoid Bryce when he shows up in Arkansas to investigate the theft of company secrets. When Lily's ex-husband turns up dead though, she is forced to turn to Bryce for help in resolving the mystery and clearing her father.
As Bryce risks his own company to help free her father, Lily must decide if Bryce is really a nightmare, or maybe her night in shining armor. And if he is the real thing, can she prevent herself from sabotaging the relationship and letting a good one get away?
Did you hear what your father did last week?" Michael asked as I came into the portable office building one hot August afternoon, wiping sweat and sawdust off my brow.
"Hear about what?" I went straight to the cooler, downing two cups of cool water to soothe my scratchy, dust-coated throat. The day was too damn hot and sticky to be building houses, but someone had to do it.
"Mr. Watson sold the company."
I sputtered, dripping water down my grimy t-shirt. "He did what?"
Michael shrugged, "He sold the company."
I unbuckled my tool belt, dropped it on a nearby table, and marched across the small, narrow room to my father's office, not bothering to knock. "What's this about you selling the company?"
Henry Watson looked up from his computer and muttered, "I'm going to fire Michael for sure this time. Damn fool can't keep his mouth shut."
"Never mind Michael. You sold the company? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was made an offer I couldn't refuse," he said, looking at me, his twenty-nine-year-old tomboy of a daughter, as though I was a lost cause. "I haven't made my retirement a secret. It's past time I rested these weary bones, and your mother wants to travel. I've put this off long enough."
"Oh, Daddy," I groaned, slumping into a chair. "Is this why you were in Dallas all last week? I thought you were visiting Aunt Gracie."
"I did see Gracie, and I sold the company."
I stared at him. He was deliberately being obtuse with me. I could always tell. I did the same thing to him all the time. It was all part of that wonderful father-daughter bond of ours. "You didn't tell me. You told Michael, your gopher, but you didn't tell me. I'm insulted."
"Actually, everyone knew," he replied in a vague way. I shot out of my chair.
Daddy slanted me a look "If I had told you, you would have done something foolish to stop the sale. I couldn't have that."
"So, you just kept it a secret from me?" I crossed my arms over my chest and pouted. I wasn't that bad. I might have understood...maybe. "If you really wanted to sell that badly, why didn't you offer it to me? I would have bought it."
He shook his head and leaned back in his chair. "You can't afford it, and you know it. This company has been in the red for two years now. The construction business is not what it used to be."
"No buts," he sternly admonished. "I wasn't just thinking of your mother when I decided this. You can't slave away here forever. It's time you set up your own business. Do something with that degree I paid for."
I crinkled my brow. "What are you talking about? I have a degree in architectural design. I'm using that degree. Why the hell do you think I've worked here for the past five years?"
"Constructing bearing walls and lugging around insulation is not using your degree," he countered.
"I help out where I can," I said meekly. "Besides, those houses out there are my designs. So there, I do use my degree."
"Those house designs were drawn up four years ago. You haven't done anything new since then. And I understand that. They are great designs and the reason we even secured the financing for this development. But look at you, Lily, you're a mess. I never see you in anything besides ratty jeans, your hair's been in that ponytail for the past year, and your hands - good Lord - you have enough calluses to use them for a sanding block."
I opened my palms, seeing the rough skin and grimaced. My last manicure was…well, too long for me to even remember. Daddy kept talking, leaving behind the original subject. But the next topic of discussion was one never far away in his mind.
"How am I supposed to have any grandchildren if the only time a man can stand to be near you is when you're hanging wallboard together?" That came out as a joke, but the truth still hurt every time him and Momma pointed it out to me.
"You have a grandchild," I mumbled, crossing my arms again and staring down at the floor. My biological clock didn't tick all that often yet, but Momma and Daddy were determined to keep it wound up for me and primed for a resounding alarm.
"Step-grandchild," he corrected. "Brianna is a joy to spoil, but it's not the same. We missed all the baby clothes and diaper changing, and late night feeding."
"Oh, yeah, that sounds grand."
Daddy eyed me over the expanse of his desk. "You should feel fortunate to not be in your sister's shoes. It breaks my heart to know Marissa can't have children."
I huffed out a heavy breath. "Don't tell Bri that. She'll never let you live it down."
"As long as you keep your trap shut, she won't know, now will she?"
I averted my gaze, not wanting to talk about my non-existent love life, my empty womb, or the pains of my sister. If I ever felt the desire for that kind of torture, I only had to wait a few days. The subject would come up again. It always did.
For five years, I labored in Daddy's construction business, but ever since I could walk, I played among the skeletal structures of new buildings and in the large dirt mounds and sand hills, constructing my own doll homes and play forts from the scrap lumber. Sawdust and tile grout ran through my veins. I just couldn't believe that he'd sell the company. All that I knew would soon be taken away from me.
After my ugly divorce, working for Daddy had been my security blanket. I didn't have to worry about striking out on my own because I always had a place here. I loved every part of my job, and I'd be the first to admit that I hid behind it. In a way, I never grew up. College, my marriage, buying my own home - those were just steps to becoming an adult. But that didn't mean much. I'm just as hard-headed and impatient as a ten-year-old child. It seemed that my time for maturity was upon me now.
And I didn't like it one bit.
"So who do I work for now?"
"Bryce King," he answered. "But you don't work for him. I've seen to that."
I ignored that last part. "Bryce King? The billionaire from Texas? He'll ruin us!"
"Millionaire," Daddy corrected me again. "And no, he won't. He's the CEO of one of the top financial restoration companies in the region."
"He's a shark! He buys companies and takes them apart for the fun of it."
"Mr. King saves companies like this one. You should meet him before you start putting him into categories. He's a nice man with humble beginnings. He will be good for Watson Construction."
I faced the tiny window. "But all those people out there, Daddy! What if this Mr. King decides to close us down? They won't have a job anymore."
"I've seen to that, too," he said.
"An agreement...a stipulation on the sale, if you will. Mr. King won't change anything concerning the employees' contracts for the next year. By then, if the company is still in the red, he has the right to make cutbacks."
I watched the swarm of workers on the nearest house, a modern twist on a turn-of-the-century townhouse. Stout Agusto, lumbering up a makeshift incline with a load of joists on his shoulder; bony Mark and his brother Johnny, feeding plywood through a table saw; Bently, who always had a smile on his face, rolling a wheelbarrow of debris out to a dumpster. The names and faces of every man and woman who worked for Watson Construction flashed across my mind like frames on a movie real. Ginger, our main office receptionist with more gold in her heart than Fort Knox; Tony, the skittish and nerdy accountant; Michael, the misunderstood assistant; Delmar, the oldest carpenter alive; Miguel, Cory, Eddie, Joseph…
"And after a year? What happens then?" I turned back to my father, meeting his gaze solidly.
He sighed heavily. "If the company must be dissolved, then those with contracts will be given a leave settlement comprisable to six months pay and dismissed."
I studied him. This can't be happening. Those people were friends. His friends! "How much?"
"What?" He leaned forward to catch my quiet question.
"How much were you offered?"
"Enough for what?" My voice rose, but I didn't care. Daddy darted a glance to his door, which I had left open, and into the rest of the portable where Michael was still shuffling around at his desk. I was sure he heard every word up to this point. I closed the door and repeated, "Enough for what?"
"Enough to settle our debts and set aside some money for you and your sister."
That struck me, and I reared back, amazed. "What about you? How much are you getting out of this?"
"Nothing," he said, peering at me oddly. "My retirement and military pension have been covering my expenses for years now. I haven't pulled a paycheck from this company in twenty-two months. The money from the sale is yours and Marissa's."
I blinked a few times. "You haven't collected a check in two years? You never said anything."
"It wasn't important. Besides, your mother and I have decided to sell the house, and buy a vacation home on the coast," he answered my question and my thoughts.
"What?! You're leaving, too? Why don't you ever tell me these things? Does Marissa know?"
"It's never been a secret, Lil Lil. Nomi has wanted to return home for years now. So, we're moving back to Pebble Beach." His brow smoothed over quickly, but I didn't miss the tiny frown line that popped up.
"You hate Pebble Beach," I reminded him.
He smiled, resembling a love-struck teenager. "But I love your mother, and I would follow those legs of hers across the globe."
I returned to my chair, grumbling under my breath. This had started out as a good day. Although it was only Tuesday, the temperature had dropped a few degrees since yesterday, and no one had complained about anything so far - no "the electrician is late again," no "I need to leave early today," and no fights between Mark and Johnny for sure.
"Speaking of love," he started again. I jerked my eyes to him. Oh, God, not again…he lasted fifteen minutes this time. "When am I going to get my grandchildren?"
I grinned maliciously. "If you're in such a hurry, I can drag Bently off behind the Porta-Potty, and get knocked up today."
"Bently?" he asked as his eyebrows hit the ceiling. "You and Bently?"
Groaning and rolling my eyes, I said, "No, Daddy. I was joking. Bently's married, remember? To my best friend, Ann. I was the maid of honor."
"Oh, right," he cleared his throat. "Is there, uh…anyone else you've been dragging behind the Porta-Potty? I think Michael might have a thing for you."
Dearest Daddy , I thought. He doesn't have a clue. Michael wouldn't be caught behind a Porta-Potty with any woman - Eddie, maybe, but not a woman. "I think Michael has other plans for his life," I said calmly.
Just then, poor Michael knocked on the door and poked his head in. "Lily, you're wanted on site four. Something about the measurements in the master bath not adding up, and they can't fit the Jacuzzi through."
"We'll talk about this later," I told Daddy and headed out into the August sunshine to do my job.
Bryce King sat behind his desk two days later and stared at the woman in front of him. "You are sincere about this?"
"Absolutely," Kristen said firmly, nodding her perfectly made-up head, not a hair shaking loose. "I've had enough of your lies."
"I have never lied to you, Kristen. I informed you beforehand. It was a business dinner," he said for what seemed like the hundredth time. She lifted a tanned shoulder, not believing him.
"Vivian Corter does not do business. She is out to get you for herself, and I will not stand by waiting for that to happen. I am leaving while I still have my dignity."
Bryce clenched his fists under the desk, taking a deep breath and speaking through his teeth, "Ms. Corter solicited my opinion about a business prospect. You are making a mountain out of a molehill."
An icy glare followed. "Do not speak to me that way. You are not a boy from the streets anymore. Do not insult the man you have become."
"And what kind of man am I, Kris?"
She looked away, staring out the massive windows that overlooked all of downtown Dallas. "You are a shrewd, handsome, wealthy businessman, Bryce, but you are still too naïve for your own good." She met his gaze again. "Every person in this city knows Vivian's capacity for getting what she wants. You do not wish to see that, but it is only a matter of time before you fall for her schemes. I have not been, nor will I ever be, second in line to any woman."
He unclenched his jaw to speak, but was interrupted by his secretary. "Mr. King," Gloria said through the phone's intercom, "Justin is here to see you."
Bryce punched a button. "Give me a few minutes, Gloria." But Kristen was already standing and shouldering her leather handbag. "This isn't over between us, Kris."
A sad gloom filled her eyes. "Yes, Bryce, I am afraid it is definitely over." Then she turned and walked out of his life. He should have felt troubled by her leaving, but something akin to relief settled under his skin instead. Kristen had always been too narcissistic for him. And now that she was gone, he couldn't remember why they had been together for so long. Great sex, maybe?
Gloria popped her head in a few seconds later. "You okay, Mr. King?"
He glanced at her. "I'm fine. Send in Justin."
His business associate, Justin Marshal, came swiftly through the door. Justin did everything swiftly - walking, eating, talking, waiting in line at the DMV. He also had this astute mind that remembered the oddest tidbits of information, like the fact that a flamingo can only eat with its head upside down. Justin tossed a file on Bryce's desk. "Have a look at this."
Bryce pushed Kris out of his thoughts and opened the file. "What am I looking at?"
Justin hurried around the side of the desk and hovered over his shoulder. "This is from that construction company you bought. The one in Arkansas?"
"Watson Construction," Bryce said, flipping through the papers.
"Yeah, that one. This is what I wanted to show you." He pushed the top sheets aside and thumped his finger on a miniature house plan. "Look familiar?"
Bryce studied the plan. "No, should it?"
"Remember that architecture firm outside of Grand Prairie that you wanted, but the owner wouldn't sell?"
"These are the same houses." Justin folded his arms across his chest, staring down at the plans.
"Sorry, Justin. Kris has managed to stupefy me once today. Explain the problem," Bryce said, looking closer. If he remembered correctly, the reason he even wanted that firm was because his baby sister had fallen in love with a house and wanted to build one on her own property. He traced the home plans back to a small design firm, but before Bryce could exert enough pressure on the owner, the firm closed shop. The architect's name was…Nicolas something.
"Look at the designer," Justin pointed out. Bryce scanned the page. Lily Watson.
"That can't be right."
"It is," Justin claimed. "I looked it all up." He shoved the plans aside to the last page. A detailed track sheet of Lily Watson's career covered the entire page. Graduate of Kansas State, with a masters in architectural design and a minor in software development; intern to Jenson's Designs out of Kansas City; site manager to Watson Construction. A post-it note stuck to the bottom: Nicolas Garcia, also graduated from K-State, same year.
"This Lily Watson stole someone's design?"
Justin shook his head. "I don't know. But if that is true, we've got problems. We've closed the deal on the Watson Company, but if it's involved in fraud, we'll need to do some serious damage control. And we absolutely don't want Morrissey getting wind of this."
This day just gets better and better , Bryce thought. And it's only Thursday. The crazy stuff doesn't start until Saturday. "How many of these houses has Watson built?"
"None completed so far. They are working on a new development. Some kind of miniature, man-made lake community. All the houses use these plans, which incorporate some kind of architectural software. There will be fourteen houses when they're done building, but all of them are accounted for. We'll have a severe law suit if fourteen families don't get the homes they paid for."
He buzzed Gloria into his office. "Get me a flight to Little Rock as soon as you can." Then he turned to Justin, "Find that Nicolas guy from Grand Prairie. Figure out what's going on here. Discreetly. And then get a hold of our attorneys. Ask them to go through the contracts again. Then warn Jacobson about preparing a statement for the press, just in case."
His associate rushed out of the room, brushing by Gloria so that she stumbled back a step. "Gracious, that man. Doesn't he ever slow down?"
"That's why I like him," Bryce smiled grimly at his secretary and then returned to the file. He looked up when he realized that she still stood in front of him. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if you need me to clear your afternoon, sir."
She tilted her wire-rimmed glasses lower on her nose. "Because Miss Snob just dumped you, and you could use some time away from this place."
He opened his mouth to deny that fact, but closed it with a snap. Gloria had been his secretary since he was scrounging around in a dingy office building in Arlington, doing his best to pay the bills with a meager salary earned from advising small companies on ways to boost their business. She stuck with him through the rough times, and had earned the right to comment on his problems - especially since she wouldn't have listened to him anyway. Despite her ability to comment on any aspect of his life, she still called him "Mr. King."
"I think that would be a good idea. I need to go see Lisa anyway."
She nodded as though he had come to his senses and floated out of the room. An hour later, she confirmed his flight for the next morning, and he gathered his briefcase.
"Take the rest of the week off," he told her as he left. "And remind me to give you a raise when I get back."
She grinned. "You gave me one last week, Mr. King."
He halted at the outer door. "Oh, so I did. Well, you're due for another."
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|Publish Date||Sep 1, 2011|
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