The Texas Tycoon's Baby

By: Crystal Green

“We have more in common than you ever expected, don’t we?” she asked. “My circumstances are hardly the same as yours, but when I found out that I was just sort of thrust into this world without a plan, it pushed me to a place where I felt pretty alone for a while. My parents never even knew that I stumbled on the truth, but it sure shaped me, just as it’s shaping you in a way.”

“Shaping me,” he said slowly.

“Yeah. I think it’s what made me such a pleaser—you know the type.” Her smile was wistful. “The Girl Fridays of the world, the ones who have to make sure everyone is happy with them. I spent years being the secretary of the school’s governance team and every childhood club on my block, honing my skills at being the go-to person.”

“So that’s why you’re so good at your job.” And making herself relevant to others. When he’d found out that he’d come from the wrong side of the blanket, he’d felt as if he didn’t have much of a place in the Texas Barron family, even though Eli had tried like hell to fit him into the company, making him a co-vice president right off the bat.

“Maybe you’re right.” She grew quiet, as if she had so much more to say but didn’t know how to word it.

Chet even got the feeling that there was something going on here that he would never understand, something deep in her that she wouldn’t reveal easily.

And it scared him that he cared enough to know just what it was.

He tried to figure out a way to bring up the subject but was stopped short by Chef Arnett coming to the sliding glass door in her whites and announcing that dinner was ready to be served.

Going to Mina’s deck chair, Chet offered her a hand, helping her up. Her flesh branded his and he backed off sooner than he meant to, recovering by ushering her ahead of him inside, where, in the living area, a fountain ran through the room. The water sculpture had been designed to recall a Japanese garden, with stone lanterns and raked rocks surrounding a pond that would hold koi fish when it came closer to the grand opening of the ranch.

They arrived at the dining space, a stone table with padded silk chairs. A lone candle burned in the midst of the settings. A bottle of wine rested in a silver bucket of ice, but when Chet went to pour it, Mina refused him again.

“I’m sticking with the water,” she said, refilling her glass with the pitcher resting on the table.

As they sat, Chef Arnett folded her hands in front of her, smiling. Chet could tell that the young apple-cheeked woman was nervous about serving the big bosses.

“I’ve prepared sample dishes—tasting portions,” she said, sliding two menus onto the table so they could see what was in store. “Five courses, and they’re all made in the spirit of good health.” Just like the resort would be promoting.

“Hellfire,” Chet said, perusing the list. Like the menu of the San Francisco restaurant from which they’d recruited Chef Arnett, there were a lot of choices. Even after so many months of this life change—from rancher to business tycoon—he wasn’t used to the luxuries.

They thanked her, and when she left them to enjoy the first course, they started with a choice of appetizers. Chet dug in to what the chef called a crab rémoulade salad paired with a Chenin Blanc wine, which Mina, of course, didn’t want.

That’s when Chet realized what might be going on. Was she actually afraid of dropping her defenses with him? Was she afraid that they might do something they regretted again, out here away from the office?

It was time to get everything in the clear.

“Are you angry with me, Mina?”

She put down her fork and lifted her linen napkin, dabbing at her mouth. It seemed to take forever as Chet waited.

“Angry?” she asked.

“For what happened after we were together.”

She cleared her throat. “No. Of course I’m not angry.”

“Good. Because you know there are reasons it had to end there.”

“I know your reasons.”

She lifted her gaze, and even though her green eyes were clear, there were depths that he couldn’t fathom.

He added, “I told you that I’d hate for word to get around the Group that you were with the boss, so I’ve been standoffish. Maybe too much.”

Blinking, Mina paused, as if she’d expected him to say something else, though he wasn’t sure what.

But, hell, he did care about her ambitions, and if everyone knew that they’d been together, it would mark her, undermine her true talents.

Yet was that really the only reason he wanted to set their relationship back to rights?

Chet shut down the possibility of there being any more between them while waiting for his Girl Friday to respond.

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