Read an Excerpt
"Brody Oil and Gas, Kate speaking," Kate Thornton said into the phone as she did about fifty times a day.
"Hey, Katie-girl, any fires I need to put out?" Lance Brody asked.
"Hi, Lance, how was DC?" she said while she sorted through the messages on her desk. Her boss was everything she'd ever wanted in a man and, embarrassingly for her, he never saw her as anything other than his ultra-efficient administrative assistant. Which was greatreally it was. That's what she was paid for.
She'd joined Brody Oil and Gas shortly after Lance and his brother, Mitch, had inherited the failing refineries. And over the last five years, Lance and Mitch had turned their fortunes around and were now members of the famed Texas Cattleman's Club.
"DC was hot and the meetings were long. Messages?" Lance asked.
"You have two that aren't urgent but that you might want to handle before you get back to the office. One is from Sebastian Huntington regarding TCC business. Do you need his number?"
"Nah, I got it. What's the other one?"
"The other one is from Lexi Cavanaugh. I didn't recognize her name but she asked for you to call her as soon as you landed."
"She's my fiancée," Lance said.
Kate felt all the blood leave her body. She knew Lance was still talking because she could hear his voice beyond the buzzing in her ears. But all she could think was after years of secretly loving this man, he'd gone away and gotten engaged to someone she'd never even heard of.
"Katie-girl? You still there?"
"Yes," she said. "Of course I am. That's it on the messages. When do you think you'll be in the office?"
"En route now. The traffic on highway 45 is heavy, though. I need one more thingfrom you," he said.
Please don't ask me to plan your engagement party, she thought.
"Double-check with the caterers for Thursday's Fourth of July barbecue. I want to make sure this year's party blows the top off of last year's."
"No problem," she said, hearing her own voice break. She didn't know how she was going to be able to work with Lance every day now that he was clearly another woman's man.
"The other line is ringing," she said, though it wasn't. She just needed to get off the phone.
"I'll see you soon," he said, hanging up.
Kate hung up the phone and sat there staring at her computer screen. The wallpaper on her monitor was a photo of Lance, Mitch and her taken in February when Lance and Mitch had received word they were going to be accepted into the millionaire's club. She'd bought a bottle of champagne and the three of them had toasted the brothers' success.
Back then it had seemed fine that both Lance and Mitch thought of her as nothing more than an assistant. She had believed that one day Lance would see past her horn-rimmed glasses and cardigan sweaters to the woman beneath.
Clearly, that wasn't the case.
She leaned forward, looking at the photo and realizing that part of the problem lay with her. Her thick dark hair was pulled back in a sloppy braid and her glasses were a little big for her face. She'd lost weight last yearalmost eighty pounds and hadn't bothered to get new frames for her smaller face. In fact, all of her clothes were just the old ones. They were all faded and too big for her.
She looked like someone's maiden aunt, she thought.
Having grown up in the Houston, Texas, suburb of Somerset, she was aware that taking care with her appearance was an important thing if she was going to catch a man's attention. But being overweight had made everything she wore look, well, not very nice. So she'd stopped trying.
She reached out and brushed her finger over Lance's face, trying to convince herself that she would be fine as he planned his wedding. That she could stay here in this office, working for the man she loved while he lived his life.
But she knew she couldn't. The only way she was ever going to be happy with her life would be if she took control of it, the same way she'd taken control of her body by stopping her binge eating and focusing on making herself healthier.
There was really only one way for that to happen. She was going to have to quit her job at Brody Oil and Gas.
Lance wasn't in the best of moods considering he'd just gotten engaged, a day he knew that most men considered one of the happiest of their lives. But then he wasn't marrying for love; he was marrying to ensure the future of Brody Oil and Gas. He and Mitch had grown up in the fading dreams of their father, a man who'd let the Brody name get washed up and their wells dry out.
But with Mitch's financial genius and his skillshell make that luck at finding mineral deposits and oil reservesthey'd turned around Brody Oil and Gas.
He was back in Houston now, which was a relief. He hated being away from home for any length of time. He liked his life the way it was. Liked the roughness of his roughneck oil workers, liked the comfy feeling his secretary Kate gave him and liked that he had a home at the oil refinery that he'd never found anywhere else.
Few people knew that their old man had drunk away his fortune. Mitch and he had borne the brunt of the old man's anger at the loss of that fortune.
He rubbed the back of his neck as he pulled his truck into the reserved parking spot at the offices of Brody Oil and Gas.
His cell phone rang as he was getting out of the truck. He checked the ID. "Hey, Mitch. What's up?"
"I'm going to have to stay in DC a bit longer to work out the rest of the deal we put in place with your engagement."
"No problem. Do you think you'll be back for the Fourth?"
"I invited Lexi to join me. I want her to start getting to know everyone here," Lance said.
"That sounds good."
"You know her better than I do," Lance added, thinking of the woman he was going to marry. "I was thinking I should get her a little gift to say thanks for agreeing to marry me. Should I ask Kate, or do you think you could suggest something?"
There was silence on the line and Lance pulled the phone away from his ear to make sure he hadn't lost the connection. "If you have any thoughts, just shoot me an e-mail."
"I'll do that. When are you going to tell Kate that you're engaged?"
"Already did. Why?" Lance walked up toward the building.
"No reason," Mitch said.
"Do you think I should have waited until I announced it to the rest of the company?"
"No," Mitch said. "She's not like the rest of the staff."
"I know that. Do you think I should call Senator Cavanaugh to follow up on anything?"
"I'm handling that. Just keep doing what you usually do," Mitch said.
"And that is?" Lance asked.
"Heavy lifting," Mitch said.
Lance smiled. From the time they were very little, Mitch had relied on him to do the heavy physical stuff. It only made sense since he was the older brother, and Lance had learned early on that their parents weren't going to watch out for either of them.
"Will do. See you on Thursday?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Mitch said.
He disconnected the call and stood there for another moment in the hot, Houston sun. It might sound like he was daft to others but he liked the burn of the summer sun on his skin.
The air-conditioning chilled him as he walked through the building. There was always a moment when he almost paused as he entered the office, unable to believe how he and Mitch had brought the empty, run-down company back to this. The lobby was filled with guests waiting to go up to different meetings. There was a full staff of security guards who protected the company.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Brody."
"Good afternoon, Stan. How's things?"
"Good, sir. Good to have you back in Houston," Stan said.
Lance nodded at the man and walked toward the executive elevators. He got on and pushed the button for the executive floor. The ride was quick and he realized he was eager to be back to work. DC was like another world, a place he didn't fit in. Here at Brody Oil and Gas, he not only fit in, he was in his kingdom.
He walked into his office and Kate glanced up at him. Her normal smile of welcome wasn't as bright as it usually was.
"Welcome back, Lance. Steve from finance needs five minutes sometime today. I told him I had to check with you first."
"No problem. I'm free this afternoon."
"Good. I'll take care of it."
"Anything else I need to know about?"
She shook her head, a strand of her thick dark hair brushing her cheek. She looked up at him and her eyes seemed wider, those dark-chocolate orbs that he'd lost himself in a time or two. He shook his head. That was folly. Kate wasn't the type of woman who'd be interested in an affair.
And despite his engagement, affairs were all he'd ever been interested in. He wasn't the kind of man who could marry a woman he felt anything for. He'd learned from his father that Brody men didn't handle lust or love well. They required devotion and dedication from their lovers or else they turned to jealousy. He had experienced it himself during his ill-fated love affair with his high school sweetheart April, when he was eighteen.
"Did you hear what I said?"
He shook his head. "No, I was thinking about the trip to DC."
Kate bit her lip and looked down.
"What is it, Katie-girl? Is something on your mind?"
Kate nodded. "I need a few minutes to talk to you in your office."
"Okay," he said. "Now?"
"Yes, I think the sooner we get to this the better."
"Come on in," he said.
She stood and picked something up from her printer before leading the way into his office. Lance watched her walking in front of him, seeing the sway of her hips and the way the fabric of her long skirt brushed her calves.
Why was he just now realizing that Kate was one fine-looking woman beneath those ugly clothes of hers?
Kate had been in Lance's office many times before and today she felt a pang at the paper she held in her hand. She had made up her mind that she was going to resign. There was nothing that could change that.
Well, that wasn't true. She vacillated between being firm that she had to leave, and wanting to stay so she could see Lance on a daily basis.
But then she had to remember that part of the reason she'd lost the weight was because she was tired of sitting on the sidelines of life, and watching other people live while she just went about doing her job and going home to her empty town house in Houston.
That emptiness had started getting to her and she'd contemplated buying a cat. But she'd stopped, horrified at becoming her great-aunt Jean, the spinster and butt of most jokes by the younger generation when Kate was growing up.
"What did you want to talk about?" Lance said. He leaned one hip on the front of his desk and stretched his long legs out.
She stared at him for a minute. How was she going to get over him?
"I have been thinking about my job lately.
And I I've decided to pursue opportunities away from Brody Oil and Gas."
"What?" Lance asked, standing up. "Why now? We need you, Katie-girl."
Katie-girl. He called her that stupid nickname that made her feel like she was five years old. And like a sister to him. She realized that she'd let the relationship develop that way, happy to have at least some sort of affection from him.
"That's the problem for me, Lance, you don't really need me. You might have back in the beginning when you hired me, but now any efficient office manager will be able to handle this. I think we both know that."
"That's been true for the last two years. Why are you leaving now?"
She shrugged. She hadn't thought that Lance would care, to be honest. "It just seems like a good time to make a move. Everything is going well here, you're engaged and Mitch is spending more time in DC. A new person will be able to transition smoothly."
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Is anything the matter, Kate? Did I do something I shouldn't have?"
"Not at all. It's me, Lance. I keep staying here year after year because it's comfortable, and I think we both know that isn't the way to really have a successful career."
"Is that what this is about? We can promote you into a different role," he said.
She shook her head. "No. Thank you for the offer but I'm ready to try something new."
Kate was tempted to say yes to anything that Lance suggested, but she refused to let go of the fact that he was getting married, and to stay here well, it would be the dumbest thing she could ever do.
"Will you stay until I can hire a replacement?"
She nodded. That sounded fair to her. "Of course I will."
"Thanks for that."
"I guess here is my resignation. I'll be at my desk if you need anything else from me."
She turned to leave and felt as if she was running away. A part of her wondered if she shouldn't try to stay here and make things different between her and Lance. But how?
She'd Googled Lexi Cavanaugh as soon as Lance had told her about the engagement, and there was no way that she could compete with a woman like that.