Trey Waterston has been on the outside looking in for so long he nearly forgot where home is. But when he has to go back to the ranch that is his Texas birthright, he expects it to be as difficult to navigate as everything else in his life. He does not expect to find a halfhearted search afoot for a missing heiress. Beautiful and innocent Rebecca Cargill has disappeared, and nightfalland a snowstormis coming. If they don't find her, she could die.
Not on my watch. Instinctively, and directed only by a photograph, Trey knows he is the only one who can help her. Maybe he can finally claim his legacy. But why is he suddenly so sure Rebecca is a part of it?
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James Waterson III left his family's ranch at the glorious age of eighteen, ready to exceed the already high expectations of his friends and family, teachers and coaches. James the third, better known as Trey among the ranch hands and football fans, the recruiters and reporters, was going to conquer college football as the star of Oklahoma Tech University. He'd so easily conquered high school football, the NFL was already aware of his name.
At the age of twenty, Trey was washed up.
What's wrong with that boy? He blew his big chance.
What's wrong with him? He was so bright when I had him in class.
What's wrong with the Waterson kid? He must've gotten into drugs.
What a waste, what a shame, why, why, why?
His parents, of course, had left the family ranch in Texas to visit him in Oklahoma numerous times. They'd consulted with his coaches and met with his professors, and no one could understand why Trey Waterson, the promising freshman recruit, could no longer remember the play calls and passing routes now that he was a sophomore.
Well, Mr. Waterson, I'm not saying your son can't handle stress, but we've seen kids freeze up when they get in a big stadium. We're talking about a crowd of one hundred thousand.
No one could deny that Trey's test grades were no longer easy As, but struggling Ds and failing Fs.
To be honest, Mrs. Waterson, he was supposed to come to my office for tutoring directly after class, but he never showed. As I told the athletic director, I can't help a kid who refuses to be helped.
Trey's parents had believed him. He wasn't trying to skip class. He was not experimenting with drugs. They remembered the hit he'd taken in the last quarter of a home game, and worried that he was somehow suffering, months later.
We take good care of our players. Your son had a CT scan and passed a neurological exam that very week. Everything looks completely normal. No damage from that game, and no brain tumors or anything else that would explain the changes in his behavior.
That had been the most disheartening news of all. Trey was healthy, according to the doctors. An MRI was ordered, anyway; Trey was told it was "unremarkable." He could balance on each foot. He could touch his nose with his index finger and stick out his tongue straight and name the current President of the United States.
When he finally found his professor's office and correctly described how to calculate the area within the shape created by rotating a parabola around the z-axis, Trey believed the doctors, too. There was nothing wrong with him. He was just having a hard time, somehow. Not sleeping well, for some reason.
After their conversation, the professor gave him the exam, letting him make up the missed test just because Trey was the future of the Oklahoma Tech football program.
Trey failed the math test.
He understood the mathematical theory, but he couldn't calculate three times six. Five plus twelve. He sat in the professor's office and sweated clean through his shirt. He thought he was going to vomit from the fear, the sheer terror, of not being certain if he was counting on his fingers correctly. Seventeen times four? Not enough fingers, he knew that much.
We 're sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Waterson. I know your son passed the drug screen, but these boys get pretty clever about hiding substances in urine samples. Now, now, hold up. We 're not accusing him of taking drugs, but he has been cut from the football team. He has until May to bring his grade point average up to the school standard.
Trey came home for spring break, in time to help with the annual calf branding. As coordinated as ever, he threw lassoes and branded calves, day after day. He felt so damned normal, he wondered why he'd fallen apart. After spring break, he'd go back. He'd make up all the work he'd missed. He'd survive his nineteenth year. Then he picked up the branding iron, held it over the calf's hide and forgot which way was up. He was on the James Hill Ranch. The brand was a straightforward three initials: JHR. The iron didn't look right.
Trey had spun the brand the other way, but it looked just as wrong as it had at first glance.
Hurry up, the iron's cooling.
He must be holding the iron correctly, then, if they were telling him to hurry. James Waterson III permanently branded a calf on his own family's ranch with the symbol upside down.
He returned to Oklahoma Tech, failed all his courses, turned twenty years old and never returned home again.
It was much easier to lie to his parents on the phone. He had a good apartment, a good job, a good life. No, he wasn't going to go back to school next year, but that was okay, because he'd rather work with his hands. That became his big excuse: he'd rather work with his hands. His parents didn't need to know that he was spreading mulch for a landscaping firm.
His mother was worried sick, but he could fool her once a year when his parents came to visit. Before their arrival, he would practice driving from his one-bedroom apartment to their hotel and back, daily, until he could do it without getting lost. He'd preplan the restaurants they'd go to, and rehearse those routes, too. He'd smile and drop names as if he had lots of friends, and then his parents would leave after four or five days, and Trey would go back to his life of isolation and safe routine.
But now, he had to go back to the James Hill Ranch.
Trey looked at the wedding invitation in his hand, at its classic ivory vellum and deep black engraving. It contained little squares of tissue paper and extra envelopes, a confusing piece of correspondence until he'd laid all the parts out on his kitchen counter.
Miss Patricia Ann Cargill and
Mr. Luke Edward Waterson request the honor of your presence at their marriage.
The groom was his younger brother. His one and only brother. The wedding would be held on the ranch, one third of which Trey owned as his birthright. There was no acceptable excuse to miss his brother's wedding.
Ready or not, after ten years away from home, Trey Waterson had to return to the James Hill Ranch.
It was enough to make a grown man break out in a cold sweat.
Becky Cargill perched in her first-class seat, ice water in her hand, and sweated unladylike buckets. She'd never been so nervous in her life. Then again, she'd never tried to run away from home before.
The flight attendants were extra solicitous, even by the standards of the first-class cabin, but Becky didn't know if that meant she looked as ill as she felt, or if they'd simply seen her name on the passenger manifest. Becky meant nothing, but her last name, Cargill well, that meant money. Of course, not everyone named Cargill was a relative of the Texas Cargill oil barons, just as not every Rockefeller or DuPont was one of those Rockefellers or DuPonts, but Becky's mother had indeed been married to one of those Cargills, and she made sure no one ever forgot.
Becky's birth father was not a Cargill, but when the man known to one and all as Daddy Cargill had been her stepfather, when he'd been in the first weeks of passionate fascination with Becky's mother, he'd let his new stepdaughter use his last name. Her mother wouldn't let her drop it now. Not ever.
Becky was her mother's little trophy, always dressed like a doll, the picture of sweetness and innocence. Her mother would turn on the charm for the Right Kind of People. I'm CharleneMaynardor Lexington, whichever of her subsequent husbands' names was most in vogue, and then she'd gesture toward Beckyand this, of course, is my sweet little girl, Becky Cargill. By having a different last name from her mother, Becky was a useful sort of calling card, proof her mother had been accepted into more than one dynasty as a wife for the Right Kind of Man.
It was only recently that Becky had started to see that she'd been part of the reason men proposed to her mother. Mr. Lexington, for example, had enjoyed being photographed as the doting stepfather of a Car-gill. In society page photos, it implied an alliance between the Lexingtons and the Cargills existed. For the Maynards, the appeal had been slightly different. That family had several young sons. Wouldn't Becky Cargill someday grow into just the Right Kind of Girl for one of their many boys?
Until she did, Becky was to be seen but not heard. She was to smile and not cry. She was to be pure and virginal and obedient at all times. Becky fingered the pearl button that kept her Peter Pan collar demurely fastened at her throat. Her style had not changed much since her mother had divorced Daddy Cargill. Becky had been nine years old at the time.
Now, she was twenty-four.
No one ever guessed her age. Her mother made certain of that, too. Becky had been shocked this summer when her mother had started dropping delicate hints to the Right Kind of Men that although Becky was indeed young, she was approaching a certain desirable age.
Shock had turned to devastation this winter weekend when her mother had, rather viciously, told her it was time for her to show her appreciation for the lifestyle which she'd been privileged to enjoy. Hector Fer-rique, old enough to be Becky's grandfather, was the owner of the Cape Cod vacation home in which they'd been living this year. Apparently, it was time to thank Hector for the free use of his spare mansion, and for the first time in her pure and virginal life, Becky was expected to do the thanking.
Hector will arrive this evening, and we're all flying to the Caribbean to spend the Christmas holiday. I've packed your things.
The flight attendants noticed when Becky fished in the seat pocket for the air-sickness bag. "Can I get you anything else? Perhaps a ginger ale or some crackers?"
Why don't you line up about five of those little bottles of scotch on my tray table?
But, no. She'd never had five shots of any kind of alcohol. She was on her own for the first time, and she was going to need all her wits about her. Besides, she'd probably get carded, as usual, and that would be the straw that broke the camel's back. She might possibly cry. Or get angry.
"The ice water is just fine, thank you. Can you tell me why the plane hasn't left the gate yet?"
"They are waiting on the weather forecast for Austin. They won't let us take off if the destination airport is going to close due to ice and snow."
Becky looked out the window at the snow-covered Boston airport. "It snows every day."
"Yes, but it's unusual in Texas." The flight attendant tapped her wristwatch in a cheerful, apologetic manner. "They'll update the airport status on the hour, and then we'll know if we're cleared for take-off. Don't worry, Miss Cargill, we've got agents standing by to help you make alternate transportation arrangements if the flight is cancelled. You'll have first priority, of course. We'll get you home for the holidays."
Of course, since her last name was Cargill, the flight attendant had assumed Texas was home. Becky simply smiled, a display of pink lip-glossed sweetness, and the attendant moved on to the businessman in the next row, tapping her wristwatch, repeating her apology.
Becky dabbed at her upper lip with her napkin, mortified at the nervous sweat she couldn't control. She could feel a single bead of moisture rolling slowly down her chest, between her breasts, but, of course, she would not dab there.
Mother must have noticed my absence by now. She'll call the airport, and I'll be taken right off the plane, like a child. They won't card me first, not when she calls and says her daughter is on the plane without her permission.
Miraculously, the pilot came over the speakers and announced that they were going to take off. Becky's stomach went from fearful nausea to desperately hopeful butterflies. Within minutes, they began taxiing down the runway. She was leaving Boston, and her mother, and the horrible man to whom Becky was expected to sacrifice her virginity.
The pilot's voice was female, and somehow, that made Becky feel better. The only person Becky knew who could possibly defend her against Hector Ferrique was also a female, and a female pilot was going to get her there safely in an ice storm. With any luck at all, the snow and ice would arrive immediately after they landed, and it would become impossible for her mother to chase her down.
The plane lifted off. Becky had gotten away. Now, she needed to stay away. Even if the Austin airport closed after Becky arrived, her mother could and would find her and drag her back, unless Becky could find someone strong enough to stand up to her. There was only one person in her life who'd ever seemed stronger than Mother, and that was Daddy Cargill's real daughter, Patricia.
The year that Becky was nine, the year that her mother had married Daddy Cargill, was the year that Becky had worshipped her new stepsister, Patricia. Eight years older than she, Patricia had swept home from boarding school on weekends and vacations to keep Becky's mother in check. Heavens, she'd kept her own father in check. Becky had watched in wide-eyed wonder as Patricia had plucked the key to the innermost vault of the wine cellar right out of Mother's hand. I do think there are plenty of other vintages for you to enjoy. Let's save the Cote de Nuits for an appropriate occasion, shall we?
Then Patricia had given Becky a whole can of Dr Pepper and let her drink it in her bedroom. Sitting at Patricia's tri-fold vanity mirror, Becky had played with real, red lipstick.
The divorce was inevitable between their parents, of course, and one day, while Patricia was away at her boarding school, Becky and her mother had moved out. Becky had cried and said she wanted to be a Cargill. Her mother had agreed that keeping the name would be wise, which wasn't what Becky had meant at all.
This morning, as Becky's mother had announced that Hector Ferrique would be coming to visit his own beach house, the newspaper had announced that Patricia Cargill was getting married in Austin.
Becky had seized on those lines of newsprint, using them as her excuse to get to the airport. How easy to finally use that Cargill name, the one she'd been borrowing since fourth grade, to change the chauffeur's schedule. "No, my flight leaves this morning. Mother's will be later this afternoon. My sister, Patricia Cargill, is getting married in Austin this weekend. I'll be at the wedding while Mother and Hector are in Bimini. No, just the three blue bags are mine. The rest are Mother's. Thank you."
Becky was hoping the Cargill name would let her crash a wedding she hadn't been invited to. If her mother came to drag her away, Becky hoped the bride would kick her former stepmother out of the receptionbut let her former stepsister stay. Indefinitely. As plans went, it was weak, but it was all a pure and virginal and obedient person like herself had been able to come up with on a moment's notice.
Please, Patricia, don't kick me out. I'm still just little Becky Cargill, and I've got nowhere else to go.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When trey got tackle in college it hurt him, but every doctor said he was fine. When trey was outside looking in for so long beacuse he couldnt remember anything for long. He ran away from home so his family wouldnt look at him saddly. When he came home for his brother wedding. But eith a big snowstorm is coming. His brother and his wife-to-be decided to go ahead on the honeymoon. Then trey sister-in-law sister comes running to the ranch to get away from her over bearing mother. Then rebecca gets a phone call from her mother telling she is coming to get her. The rebecca runs out in the snow storm and gets lose. Trey knew that he was the only one to find rebecca. And when he does they stops at a old cabin for the snow storm to go by. Then the texas rescue rescue trey and rebecca.
What a dumb book.