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"I'm sorry, sir, I've checked the directory three times. There's nobody by that name listed."
Strains of the new receptionist's voice carried in through Christopher Fortune's partially open door. He looked up from his in-office putting green.
What was her name again? He couldn't remember. It was only the start of her second week. Jeez, but she was shrill. He'd have to talk to her about her tone. Not good for community relations. But first..
He realigned his stance as the golf pro had taught him, making sure that his toes were parallel to the pin at the end of the fourteen-foot portable green. He set the putter in the hollow part of his left hand and placed the right hand so that his right thumb rested on the left side of the shaft. He pulled back to take his shot-
"Sir, I don't know what else to tell you." Now her voice was teetering on exasperation. He couldn't hear what the other person was saying, but she was giving him a headache. "We have a Christopher Fortune, but nobody by the name of Chris Jones works here. Could he be the one you're looking for?"
The words made Christopher hit the ball a little too hard. It rolled off the end of the green and under the coffee table that was part of the furniture grouping at the end of the room.
Who was asking for Chris Jones?
Two months ago, Chris Jones had adopted his mother's Fortune family name and moved to Red Rock from Horseback Hollow, Texas. He'd dropped the Jones portion of his name when he'd accepted the new job. Now, he was Christopher Fortune, vice president in charge of community relations for the Fortune Foundation.
Christopher set down his putter, walked over and fully opened his office door to see what the ruckus was about.
What the hell-
"Toby?" Christopher said flatly when he saw his brother and his new sister-in-law, Angie, standing there. "What are you doing here, man?"
The receptionist, a slight woman with close-cropped black hair, looked so young that she could've easily been mistaken for a sixteen-year-old. She turned and froze, all wide dark eyes and pale skin, when she saw Christopher.
"Oh! I'm sorry, Mr. Fortune. I didn't understand that they were looking for you. They asked for Chris Jones."
Now she was blushing.
Christopher glanced at the name plate that was front and center on the reception desk.
"Don't worry about it, Beverly. It's fine."
"Hey, little brother," Toby said, extending a hand. "Good to see you."
Christopher shook Toby's hand. His brother immediately pulled him into an awkward hold that their sister, Stacey, was fond of calling a man hug: a greeting that started as a handshake and ended with the guys leaning in and stiffly slapping each other on the back a couple of times.
When they broke apart, Christopher stepped back, reclaiming his dignity just in time to see both elevator doors open and Kinsley Aaron, the Foundation's outreach coordinator, step into the reception area.
Her long, straight blond hair hung loose around her shoulders, framing her pretty face. God, she was gorgeous, even if she was a little too uptight for his taste. He straightened his tie and raked his fingers through his hair, trying to right what Toby's enthusiastic bear hug had mussed.
Kinsley had the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Those eyes were two of the reasons he always remembered her name. Although, the dowdy way she dressed wasn't much of an enticement. He couldn't figure out why such a beauty chose to dress like a schoolmarm. She always covered up as much of herself as possible. Didn't she know her modesty only made him daydream about the gifts that were undoubtedly hidden beneath all that wrapping?
As Kinsley approached Beverly's desk, she arched a brow at him. For a split second he could've sworn she'd read his mind. But he knew it was a ridiculous thought. She was probably just curious about Toby and Angie, since she tended to take her job so seriously. After all, this was an office where visitors generally came seeking help, something that typically fell into her community outreach division.
Before Kinsley could start asking questions, Christopher turned to his brother and sister-in-law. "Why don't we go into my office? We can talk in there."
He made quick work of ushering them out of the reception area. This sure as hell wasn't the most ideal time or place for a family reunion. Especially when he was determined to keep his life in Horseback Hollow worlds apart from the new life he'd created for himself in Red Rock.
Before he shut the door, he cast one last glance back at Kinsley, who was still lingering by Bev's desk. They locked gazes, and Christopher felt that old familiar zing that always happened when he looked into those eyes. The virtual vibration lasted even after she looked away.
And she was always the first one to look away.
He was pondering that when Toby said, "Since you were too darned busy to come home for the wedding, I decided I'd bring my beautiful bride to see you. Angie, you've met Chris before. Chris, this is my wife. Can you believe it?" he said, grinning. "I have a wife."
"Good to see you again, Angie," Christopher said, keeping his tone all business and shaking Angie's hand.
"So, they call you Mr. Fortune around here?" Toby asked, a note of good-natured ribbing in his voice. But before Christopher could answer, Toby let loose a low whistle as he glanced around Christopher's new digs. "Would you look at this fancy place? I guess you're doing all right for yourself, little brother."
"It's a pretty sweet gig," Christopher said. "Actually, I wanted to work directly for Uncle James at JMF Financial, but how could I argue after I found out that he'd created a position just for me? I'm sure he could do something for you if you want. All you have to do is ask."
What Christopher didn't say was that the work was a little boring and "do-gooder" for his taste. But the salary they were paying him, which was commensurate with the Fortune name rather than his experience, more than made up for the lack of excitement.
If Christopher had learned one thing over the past two months it was that he had to create his own excitement, ensure his own future. It wasn't as if he'd been blazing trails in Horseback Hollow. Nope, back home, he'd been bored and broke.
And a nobody.
Now he had a job that people respected and the bank account to go with it. So he figured why not go for the trifecta and take on the Fortune name? It was his birthright, after all, even if his old man would be mad as hell when he found out.
But those were the breaks, weren't they? His father Deke's attitude was one of the things that had driven Christopher to Red Rock in the first place. Once he was settled, he'd gone to court and filed a petition to change his name. Once the judge had signed the order, Christopher Fortune said Hasta la vista, baby to Chris Jones and Horseback Hollow and claimed what was rightfully his.
Christopher glanced around his office, trying to see it through Toby's eyes. The Fortune Foundation had been founded in memory of Lily Cassidy Fortune's late husband, Ryan Fortune, who had died of a brain tumor nine years ago. The Foundation had started out in a small storefront on Main Street in downtown Red Rock but had since expanded and was now located in a stately three-story brick building just outside of town. Christopher had one of the corner offices with rich polished mahogany architectural wall paneling on the walls-or at least the ones that didn't have floor-to-ceiling windows with a to-die-for view of the local landscape. His traditional executive's desk and credenza still left enough room for the putting green, two chairs and a couch that were grouped conversation-style around a coffee table.
Hell, his office was bigger than his old studio apartment back in Horseback Hollow.
He directed Toby and Angie over to the couch. Until now, he hadn't even tried out the office's living room furniture.
"I just can't get over the change in you," Toby said.
Christopher turned to Angie, who was still as pretty as she had been in high school with her light brown hair, blue eyes and delicate features. His brother had done well catching her. He'd tell him so later if they had a private moment. But just as the thought crossed his mind, it was overshadowed by the hope that the newlyweds weren't planning an extended visit in Red Rock. Christopher had work to do.
He hoped this visit wasn't because Deke had sent Toby to do his dirty work. If any of his family got him it was Toby. But it would be just like Deke to send one of Christopher's brothers to hassle him.
But right now, Toby was talking to Angie. "The Chris I knew never wore anything but jeans and boots. I don't know who this suit is standing in front of me with those shiny pointy-toed shoes. How many crocodiles had to die to make those shoes?"
Christopher laughed, but it was a dry, humorless sound. "They're not made out of crocodile," Christopher said.
"It was a joke, Chris." Toby frowned. "No offense, but you're even acting differently. Just remember, I know where you came from."
Awkward silence the likes of which he had never known with Toby hung in the air. He didn't want to fight with him, and it seemed every time he opened his mouth he said the wrong thing.
That was the story of his life when it came to family. But Christopher wasn't about to sit here in his own office and let family drag him down to feeling bad.
"How was the wedding?" Christopher asked, hoping for neutral ground. He directed the question to Angie, who had been remarkably quiet.
"I would say it was the happiest day of my life, but each day I wake up seems to take that title," she said. "We wish you could've been there."
"Yeah, well, it's better that I didn't come. That way the focus was on the two of you. All sunshine and happiness. No dark clouds, you know?"
Angie looked at him with big blue eyes.
"Well, we certainly did appreciate your generous gift. A thousand dollars was " Angie shook her head as if at a loss for words.
"It was too much," said Toby as he leaned forward and plucked a business card out of a brass holder sitting on the coffee table. "Ten crisp $100 bills. Leave it to my little brother not to miss an opportunity to show off- Wait. Christopher Fortune?" he read aloud from the business card. "Did they forget to print your entire last name on here?"
"No," said Christopher.
Toby held up the card. "Where's the Jones?"
Christopher shrugged, but didn't feel the need to explain himself.
"So, that's why the receptionist was having a hard time helping us." Toby gestured with his thumb toward the reception area. "It's true, then? They don't even know who Chris Jones is?"
"Don't take it personally, Toby," Christopher said. "I just needed to make a fresh start."
"How can I not take it personally? I mean, I get that you and Dad don't see eye to eye on your moving to Red Rock and working here at the Foundation, but come on, Chris. What the hell? Aren't you taking this a little too far?"
"Is that a question or an accusation?" Christopher challenged, holding his brother's gaze until Toby leaned forward again and put the card back where he'd found it.
This life was exactly what he wanted.
He wanted what the Fortunes had: money, power, respect. He had gotten none of that back in Horseback Hollow. What was wrong with claiming it now?
"I figure the family can't be any more disappointed in me now than they've always been. I never was any good to anyone around the ranch, anyway. Don't you think they'd consider the new and improved Christopher Fortune a vast improvement over Chris Jones, the son who couldn't do anything right?"
Toby looked down at his hands, then back up at Christopher. A somber expression crept into his eyes. "I don't even know what to say to that, except that Mom asked me to tell you she loves you."
That was just about the only thing that Toby could've said to hit Christopher where he'd feel it.
The thing was, he didn't even sound mad. Just.. disappointed. A look that said, remember where you came from and don't let the Fortunes change you into something you're not.
He hadn't forgotten and the Fortunes hadn't changed him. He would be the first to admit that embracing the Fortunes' world and starting on a desk job had taken some getting used to. He was surprised by how he sometimes missed not getting outside between the hours of nine and five. This indoor, sedentary job has been a challenge, but every time he looked at the view outside the windows of his executive's office or at his bank account balance, it got easier and easier.
"Y'all must be hungry," Christopher said. "Come on, let's go get a bite to eat. I'll treat you to lunch."
"Excuse me, darlin'." Kinsley Aaron frowned as she looked up from the notes she was taking while manning the third-floor reception desk for Bev. Christopher Fortune stood outside his office door, smiling broadly, no doubt thinking he was God's gift to women.
Darlin '? Excuse me?
Had they somehow time traveled back to the 1960s?
"My name is Kinsley," she said, doing her best to keep the bristle out of her voice. He may have been young and good-looking and a Fortune, but how dare he call her that?
"I know what your name is," Christopher said.
"Then why did you call me darlin'?" She didn't smile.
The man and woman who were with him looked a bit sheepish, perhaps a little embarrassed for him, before they ducked back inside his office. Actually, Christopher should've been embarrassed for himself. But did the guy do anything for himself?
The only reason he worked at the Foundation was because his uncle was James Marshall Fortune.
"Where is Betsy?" he asked
"Who is Betsy?" she returned.
"The new receptionist?" he answered with a tone better suited for talking to a small child.
Well, Mr. Man, two could play that game. "Nobody by the name of Betsy works here. Do you mean Beverly? "
Christopher shrugged. "Yes, the one who was here earlier." He motioned to the desk where Kinsley was sitting. "Where is she?"
If Bev was smart, she 'd handed in her resignation and left.
Kinsley blinked away the snotty thought. She hadn't meant it. The Fortune Foundation was a fabulous place to work. Even though Christopher Fortune was full of himself, other members of the Fortune family had been very good to her. Not only did they pay her a decent salary to work as an outreach coordinator, a position she considered her life's work, but also she would be forever grateful that they had taken a chance on her.
She'd come to them with little experience, having not yet earned her degree. She was working on it, but with a full-time job and going to school part-time at night, it was going to take her a while before she completed her coursework.
"I'm covering for Beverly while she's on her break," Kinsley said. "She should be back in about fifteen minutes. In the meantime, is there something I can help you with?"
Christopher smiled and looked at her in that wolfish way he had that made her want to squirm. But she didn't. No way. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
What was with this guy? Better question, what was with her? Kinsley had always subscribed to the Eleanor Roosevelt philosophy: nobody could make you feel anything unless you gave them permission. Actually, the quote was nobody could make you feel inferior, but this adaptation felt just as authentic.
"Yes, will you please call and make a lunch reservation for three at Red for 1:15?"
At first Kinsley thought he was kidding. But as she squinted at him, it became quite clear that he was indeed serious.