I regretfully inform you that I’m handing in my resignation, effective immediately.
Archiving the email, I tossed the phone on the seat next to me. Another one gone. Being my assistant wasn’t that hard, but it wasn’t the easy pass to becoming a millionaire so many seemed to expect.
Across from me, Dad sipped his brandy, his eyes pensive as he looked at my phone. We were somewhere above Montana, where I had flown out for his impromptu wedding to Kendall Brinkley. I was still salty about it. She was closer to my age than his. I couldn’t imagine how ashamed my mother would be if she were alive.
I’d thought Grams would lose it, but she’d been stoic during the entire ceremony. Mama had been gone a long time, but it couldn’t be easy for Grams to watch her former son-in-law marry a woman the same age as his own children.
But at least Dad’s wedding had given me a brief reprieve from her meddling. For a woman who hadn’t been terribly involved in my childhood, she was certainty invested in one specific aspect of my future now.
“Trouble in paradise?” Dad asked.
“There is no paradise when I need an assistant and Grams sends prospective fiancées my way. How did she even find out Wilma quit?” But then Grams had talked to my former assistant more than me. Wilma was younger than Grams, but only by about fifteen years, and I missed more than her punctual and proficient work ethic.
I didn’t have the heart to turn away the women Grams funneled toward my job opening. Only my open position was not the missionary position, or the wheelbarrow, and it definitely wasn’t on one knee to propose. Three of her candidates had already passed through my office and left as soon as they’d realized the only payday they’d hit was their paycheck. Which was still a damn good wage—just not my inheritance.
“She got Aiden married off, now she’s turning on you. I’ll talk to her if you want, Beckett.” He was the only one close to me who called me Beckett instead of Beck. “But I’m not her favorite person right now. Still, I can’t blame her, though I’d rather you fall in love and get married instead of what your grandmother wants.”
“I’m doing fine on my own.” My net worth had hit nine digits months ago.
“Your grandparents worked hard for that money.”
“They got lucky.” Finding that much oil on our land was only the beginning. It had happened during my grandpa’s day, when Mama was just a kid. Dad had been her high school sweetheart and had gone on to spearhead the company after they married.
“Your grandparents worked hard on that land and dedicated their lives to the company. You wouldn’t be using this private jet to fly back to Denver if it weren’t for them.” Dad set his drink down and leaned forward. I refrained from mentioning that I could buy my own Gulfstream, but it seemed a waste when I could use my family’s plane. “Your grandparents secured the inheritance you’re so willing to give away.”
“I’m not exactly willing to whore myself—or anyone else—out for it either.”
“None of us want you to.”
I gave him a pointed look.
“You’re right, but Grams wouldn’t consider it whoring. She’d call it a business deal.” Dad ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. If he chose to cover his gray, he’d look like he was in his mid-thirties instead of pushing fifty. “Like I said, I can’t blame her. You can’t fall in love if you don’t date, and I want to see you happy. I’d like to see you happy with that money. None of us wants to see the other option happen.”
I scowled and looked away. Why, Mama? Why? The rules for the trust were clear, and Mama had built in guardrails. Not only did I have to get married, but I had to stay married for a year. So, yeah, I could find a partner in crime, get legally wed, stay that way for a year, then divorce her and we’d each leave with half.
And if I did that, I would be no better than my older brother. Aiden had found a genuinely nice woman to marry and ignore, a woman who’d had no idea she was just a payday.
But if I didn’t do the same, then the family responsible for Mama’s death would become filthy rich.
“If the Cartwrights get what’s ours…” Dad’s jaw flexed and his gaze flicked to where his new, young bride dozed in a recliner. “I will respect your decision not to marry by your next birthday if that’s what you choose, but dammit, they’ve taken enough.”
The pain in Dad’s voice startled me. The guy had just said round two of his “I dos” and he sounded as devastated about Mama’s death as the year it had happened.
I lowered my voice out of respect for Kendall. I had to admit, she didn’t seem like the gold digger I’d first assumed she’d be. Who knows how she felt about Mama, but she’d just said her vows in front of her new husband’s four adult kids, so it wasn’t like Mama was a secret.
I didn’t want to talk about this anymore. My own work was waiting if I wanted to keep my millions, which now included assistant duties until I filled the position. Yet, when I looked at Dad, his face was lined with more stress than a newlywed should have. “Is Grams riding you about this too?”
Surprise flickered through his eyes. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
I laughed. “It’s not like she can threaten your position at the company. You’ve been there thirty years.”
“Right.” Dad’s chuckle was uneasy.
I’d kept out of the oil business. When I was a little kid, Dad had worked for the family business while still managing the ranch. Then Grams and DB—what we called our dearly departed grandpa, Donald Boyd—had sold a leasehold for a ridiculous amount of money and retired, leaving Dad in charge. DB Industries had become King Oil. Almost half of that money had been gifted to Mama and Dad, the rest separated into a trust for each of us.
F*ck. Grams wielded plenty of power at the company. Was that how she’d gotten Aiden to marry? “I’ll think about it, all right?”
It was bad enough dating as one of the Kings from King Oil. Getting into a relationship as a CEO with a demanding job had its own challenges that I was yet unwilling to deal with. But it was much harder dating after Grams had hinted to every single prospective woman in a ten-state radius that marrying me equaled a lot of money for them. Grams’s focus wasn’t on who should get the money or who would really benefit from it, but on who shouldn’t.
Dad leaned back in his chair and picked up his drink. “Look, your mother had a soft spot for the Cartwrights that I’ll never understand.” He jerked his gaze out the plane window, his jaws flexing. “If Sarah had known how much her mother would interfere with your lives, she wouldn’t have set it up like she did. And if Grams had known what she had planned, the check from the leasehold sale would’ve been in my name.” A sigh leaked out of him and for a brief second, he looked his age. “Knowing any of you had arranged a fake marriage just to get the money would kill her.”
I understood Mama’s nostalgia for the Cartwrights. She had been best friends with one of them and probably would’ve married our trashy neighbor if she hadn’t had a fling with Dad that resulted in Aiden. She’d taken to Danny’s daughter Bristol like a second mom every chance she could. Mama’s heart had been in the right place, but her mind had taken the day off when she’d set up the trust.
Instead, her good intentions had become a reverse ransom: produce a wife and then get the money. Happiness for either party didn’t factor into the equation, but then I guess that was what Grams thought the money was for.