Friday, June 26, 2015

Bury the Hatchet - Sneak Peek - Chapter Two

Who wants another taste of Bury the Hatchet to tide you over until it releases? How about the second chapter?

If you missed it, I posted the first chapter already. Go on over and read that now and then come back for another taste.

All right, ready for more?

P.S. Want to win a print copy? Be sure you enter the Goodreads giveaway.

Chapter Two


For whatever reason, he said he would go along with it. I was still dumbfounded that Mama and Mrs. Jernigan had come up with the idea of us getting married to begin with, and I wasn’t positive that I was fully on board, but Hunter Fielding had agreed to marry me, and now everything was moving at the speed of light. I needed to make up my mind, once and for all, before it was too late. Yes, Mama and Lance insisted that I had no choice and was going to have to marry someone, but I was a grown woman. An adult. I had choices. And marriage? That was a big decision to make, even if it was essentially to be in name only and would have an expiration date.

The meeting with the Thunderbirds brass took place on Tuesday morning. That afternoon, Daddy and I sat down in his office with Hunter and his agent and hammered out the details for the prenuptial agreement.

“You’ll live together as husband and wife for one year,” Daddy explained to the other men. He’d already gone over all of it with me, Mama, and Lance well before now. He and I were seated on one side of the long board table at Roth & Rainier, the law firm where he was one of the two primary partners, while Hunter and John sat across from us. “All money and possessions that started out being Hunter’s will remain Hunter’s. The same will go for Tallie. Upon your divorce, everything that she comes into the marriage with will leave the marriage as hers. You’ll maintain a single residence but separate bank accounts.”

“Who will own the house?” the agent asked.

“Hunter buys a house,” Daddy answered before I could interject. “He’ll need one to live in after this all washes over, anyway, since he’ll still be on the team. You’ll live in it together to give the impression of being as completely head-over-heels in love as possible. What happens inside that house with the doors closed is your business and yours only, no matter what her mother and that ass Lance may have to say on that matter.”

Heat raced to my cheeks as I remembered what I’d said earlier about not necessarily remaining celibate. The fact was, Hunter was hot. Seriously gorgeous. He was about half a foot taller than me and solid muscle. His dark hair was too long and curled a little where it hit his shoulders, and he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, a bit of scruff lining his square jaw. Everything about him screamed Man, with a capital M, from the defined muscles of his forearms to the deep, gravelly sound of his voice. He’d been wreaking havoc on my girly parts since the moment he’d walked into the Thunderbirds offices earlier, and I couldn’t seem to get my hormones under control. At least not while he was staring at me like he was right now. Something told me he was remembering what I’d impetuously said, as well.

“Speaking of Lance,” Hunter said. There was a surly, grumbly tone to his words that shot straight through me and made my temperature rise again. “Who the hell is that guy and what does he have to do with anything?”

I blinked, but Daddy didn’t say anything to answer him. I supposed that meant it was going to be on me to explain. Daddy and Lance had never gotten along. The sooner he could get Lance out of my life, the better. I was almost positive that was why, out of everyone involved, Daddy was the least upset about my mishap in Cancun and the most receptive to the idea of me getting married. No more pageants. He assumed that would mean no more Lance. I wasn’t so positive about that, considering the way Mama was pulling Lance along to participate in every aspect of the aftermath.

“Lance Benton. He’s my pageant guru,” I said feebly. Anyone who’d been involved in the pageant world would understand in a heartbeat, but to the rest of the world, a guru was sort of a mystery. Mama had hired him when I was still just a baby and too young to voice an opinion on the matter, and she’d kept him regardless of whatever complaints I might have about him because he was the best. He got results, and he was the reason I’d succeeded. That was what Mama said, at least.

Sure enough, Hunter just raised a brow in question, his sexy-as-sin face a mass of confusion.

I sighed. “He oversees everything for me, training me in every aspect of my presentation and supervising all of the people who help out—my designer, my hair and makeup people. He runs the show.” Whether I liked it or not, and for a great many years now I’d been leaning toward the side of not. Hunter still didn’t look like he followed, so I added, “He’s kind of like my coach, I guess.”

“Your coach?” Hunter scoffed.

I nodded.

“For pageants? You need a coach for a beauty pageant?” He raised and lowered his gaze, giving me a thorough and disbelieving once-over.

“They’re about a lot more than just physical appearances,” I groused, sick to death of having to explain pageants to people who weren’t part of this community.

He narrowed his eyes at me, seeming to analyze every minuscule bit of my appearance. “Mm-hmm,” he said, making me feel all of an inch tall. “So what the fuck does he have to do with any of this?” he asked, scowling and waving an arm across Daddy’s desk and the papers littered all over it. “This is a marriage, sweetheart. It isn’t a pageant. The guru stays out of it.”

There was no masking the grin that swallowed up Daddy’s face. “You know, son, I think I’m going to like you. I think I’m going to like you a hell of a lot.”

“I might be marrying your daughter, Mr. Roth, but I’m not your son, and you and everyone else around here had better get that through your thick fucking skulls.”

Daddy just chuckled and sifted through the stack of papers to find another one to go over. “Got it. Noted. Not my son.” He winked at me. I had no clue how he could be laughing and winking at a time like this. My whole world was changing. Everything I’d known my whole life had been ripped out from under me the day I’d returned from a summer vacation with my sorority sisters and had to face the scandal of being stripped of my crown.

Hunter met my gaze from across the table, almost staring through me. “You understand what I said about Lance? He has no place in our marriage. At all. Not ever, regardless of how short or long this marriage may be.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” I readily agreed.

I didn’t mention the fact that a wedding was not a marriage, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that I could convince Mama that Lance couldn’t be involved in the planning for the ceremony. He had already started working on it, and she would have a serious conniption fit if I tried to put down my foot about it. The fit that Lance would throw would be big enough to cause the Gulf of Mexico to swell up so far it would cover the entire state of Oklahoma. Whether I was happy about it or not, and no matter what Hunter thought on the matter, Lance’s fingerprints would be all over the wedding and reception. Heck, he’d already made the executive decision that I would be walking down the aisle in my competition ball gown, despite the fact that it wasn’t even close to being appropriate for a wedding. It was white, there wasn’t time to get something else more wedding appropriate made, and it would look stunning on camera, especially after they added some more pizzazz to it. Those were all the reasons he needed to lay down that particular law.

Daddy finally found the sheet he’d been searching for and drew it forward, passing it across so Hunter and John could see it. “This one is more specific to finances. I set up a trust fund for Tallie years ago. It allows her to have access to the funds upon her marriage at a set dollar amount per year, so that should cover all her living expenses during the course of your marriage. In other words, while she’ll be living in your house, she won’t be touching your money. There won’t be any need for it. Additionally, I’ll be paying for the wedding since you’re buying the house.”

“The wedding shouldn’t cost too much, though,” Hunter said, narrowing his eyes. “Not like a house. I mean, maybe if we were waiting a few months and could plan it properly—”

“I promise you,” Daddy interrupted, “my wife can spend money like you wouldn’t believe, on short notice or otherwise.” He passed over another sheet of paper and pointed toward a line so he could explain the terms outlined on it, effectively putting an end to that part of the conversation for the moment.

John took each sheet of paper as Daddy discussed it, poring over it with a fine-toothed comb while the explanation continued. For the most part, it was just Daddy talking. Every now and then, either Hunter or John would pipe up with another question, or John would point out a section of wording that he wanted to have changed before he would advise Hunter to sign on the dotted line. I decided to leave them to it. Daddy and I had already gone over every single detail in these documents even before my husband-to-be had been decided upon, so there wasn’t much for me to contribute.

The basic gist of the rest of our meeting was that Hunter and I would publicly play the parts of a loving couple, putting off the impression that we were exuberantly happy newlyweds. The story we would feed the press was that we’d met at an event while Hunter was in town to meet with his new team, and we’d both been so instantly smitten that we knew this was it. We couldn’t wait, so we’d dropped everything and married as soon as it could all be arranged. In that way, we were revealing things as truthfully as possible without letting the whole truth out. Once we decided to go our separate ways after the requisite year, we would simply state that we’d rushed into things and hadn’t thought it through, that love at first sight had turned out to be just a myth, not reality.

Everything about this marriage business felt cold and calculated, which I supposed it should. That was the truth of it. It was all being decided and arranged in an almost mercenary manner. The craziest part of it all was that Daddy—the one who was most in line with the idea of Hunter Fielding being the man I married for this farce—was also the one who was most able to keep emotion out of the arrangements. Maybe that was to be expected since he was a lawyer. I supposed it came with the territory.

Anyway, once everything was hammered out, the contract was drawn up, agreed upon, and signed by all parties involved. Hunter pushed back his chair and stood, his agent following suit. I glanced up to find Hunter’s eyes trained on me. I’d never seen eyes quite like his. They were light, and on first glance, they seemed to be some sort of blue, almost too crystal clear to be human. But when I looked closer, I realized they were a silvery sage green unlike any I’d observed before, both magnetic and impenetrable. Every time I’d caught him looking at me, his expression had been unreadable, but it grew more and more heated with each glance. Not an angry sort of heat but more along the lines of sexy and sensual, causing tingles to race to every nerve in my body.

“So you’re coming to dinner with me tonight then,” he said.

“Dinner?” That was enough to take me by surprise, and I sat back in my seat, eyes wide. “Why do you think I am coming to dinner with you?”

“Because we’re supposed to be putting on a show for everyone,” he said, aggravation coming through in his tone. “If we wait until after the wedding to start that, there are going to be even more questions than there already will be. Might as well get started now. See and be seen, right?”

I took a gander at Daddy, but he was no help. At the moment, he was gathering up all of the documents that we had just gone over and sorting them into stacks. Traitor. “Maybe we can start in a few days. Mama expects to go over wedding details with me tonight.” I honestly didn’t know if Mama expected anything of the sort, but there were a lot of details that needed to be seen to, and she wouldn’t want to put them off any longer than necessary. Not to mention Lance, but I didn’t see any reason to bring him into the equation right now. The less Hunter knew about Lance’s involvement, the better, at least for the time being.

“How many wedding details can there be? There are only so many things that can be put together at the last minute like this.”

At that, Daddy snorted in laughter. “Son, you’ve got a lot to learn about Southern women and what they can accomplish on short notice.”

I was sure that Hunter was about to gripe that Daddy had called him son again, and I was prepared to interject, but John beat me to it.

“We should really get out of here,” he said. He took Hunter by the arm and started guiding him toward the door. “We still haven’t had time to check in at the hotel, let alone change clothes. Hunter needs to get a rental car. We can work the rest of this out tomorrow, can’t we?”

Hunter would not be deterred so easily. He stopped and turned, narrowing those silky green eyes at me. “Seriously, dinner?”

“Pick her up at six thirty,” Daddy said. “My secretary will give you the address, and she’ll make reservations for you at Giovanni’s Trattoria.”

I did a double take. “Giovanni’s?” Not only was my father blatantly ignoring everything I had said about needing to work on wedding details with Mama but Giovanni’s was one of the swankiest restaurants in town, easily one of the most expensive places we could possibly go. Getting in there at the last minute was next to impossible. I loved their food as much as I loved anything, and I wasn’t worried about the cost, but it seemed like a bit much for the first time we went out together.

Daddy raised a brow in my direction, continuing to sort his papers into stacks. “The goal is to start putting it out there that you two are an item, isn’t it? There’s no better place for that in Tulsa.”

Hunter quirked up a grin, a rarity in the brief time I’d known him and an action that made my heart go pitter patter, and he winked at me. “I’ll see you at six thirty.”

“With a ring, like we outlined earlier,” Daddy said. “Size five. Make sure it’s big enough to draw notice.”

“Got it,” Hunter said, catching John’s eye and jerking his head toward the door. With that, his agent preceded him out of the board room, and Hunter snaked his way out behind him, leaving me with a stunning view of his very tight ass, my jaw nearly hitting the floor at the perfection of it. His jeans hugged every blessed inch of him, defining all the muscle there and in his thighs.

Daddy chuckled after the door closed. “Just be glad your mama isn’t around to see you gawking at him like that.”

“She’ll be seeing plenty of it soon enough,” I muttered. If all went according to plan, everyone in Oklahoma would soon be seeing a lot more than me gaping at Hunter as he walked away. I picked up my purse from the floor, tossing my copies of the pre-nuptial agreement inside before pushing my chair back from the board table. “Daddy, tell me something,” I said as I stood.

“What’s that?”

“Why is it that you’re so hunky dory with all of this? Why aren’t you getting worked up?” Lord knew worked up didn’t even begin to cover it where I was concerned.

The entire structure of my life until this point had been ripped away from me, just because of one night’s worth of poor choices. Now my future looked so different than it had only a few weeks ago that I couldn’t even recognize it. I’d been so close to achieving the goals I’d been working toward since before I’d understood what they were, but that was all gone. No chance. I couldn’t be Miss USA. I couldn’t compete for Miss Universe. At this point, I didn’t even know who I was anymore, or what my life should be about. I’d always had direction and a narrowly defined purpose. Now, all I could do was go along with what I was told. That wasn’t much different from any other time in my life, really. I was good at doing what I was told. That was how I’d gone as far as I had in the pageants I’d competed in over the years, so it came naturally to me.

Still, even with everyone agreeing that I was going to have to marry in order to help my misadventures in Cancun wash over, Mama and Lance were spitting mad over Hunter being the man we’d settled upon. They hadn’t had any better suggestions, and Daddy’s firm had run a thorough background check on him and come up with nothing worse than a brother with some drug and legal issues that had nothing to do with Hunter, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to them. They thought I deserved better for my fake husband and short-term marriage. They thought he should be someone who Oklahoma loved, not someone the people in the state hated with the fire of a thousand suns. They wanted him to sweep in on a white charger and save the day, not be dragged in kicking and screaming like Hunter was. They wanted the impossible.

But Daddy? I wasn’t at all sure what he wanted, and that left me feeling as if I stood on shaky ground. He’d always been my rock, my safe place amid the colliding fronts of Mama and Lance.

Those two pushed me harder and told me I was never going to be good enough if I didn’t do exactly as they said; he smiled and told me he loved me just as I was. They plucked and waxed and airbrushed me, obsessing over my every flaw; he looked at me when I had bedhead and a seaweed mask covering my face and told me I was beautiful. They regimented everything I ate, putting me on fad diets that only allowed for canned tuna and green vegetables one week and hard-boiled eggs and steamed carrots the next week; he brought home Subway sandwiches and cupcakes and sneaked them into my room, winking as he backed out with his finger pressed to his lips.

He winked in that same way now, shoving the stacks of paper aside and placing his entire focus on me. “I’m not getting worked up because, for the first time since you were six months old and your mother informed me she was going to enter you in a baby pageant whether I liked it or not, I’m not worried about the damage she’s going to do to you. You’re going to get out from under her thumb, and you’ll be all the better for it.”

“Out from under Mama’s thumb?” I repeated after him, dumbfounded. It was Lance who had always ruled every aspect of my life as far as I could figure it, dictating everything to Mama from my diet to my bedtime, and even the electives I should sign up for in school. He had determined that I should be in Delta Delta Delta. He’d been the one to decide that I should major in communications at the University of Oklahoma. He’d hired and fired the various designers, makeup artists, and coaches I’d had over the years. It had always been Lance, not Mama, making those decisions for my life. She’d just been the one to enforce my compliance.

Daddy smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Tallie, I tried to fire Lance at least a dozen times over the years, but your mother wouldn’t have it. He’s been the one deciding how you needed to do things, but it was your mother who insisted he be in your life at all. She’s ultimately the one behind it, and I couldn’t be happier to have you finally coming to a point where the two of them can’t dictate your life.”

My life.

But if I went along with the plan and married Hunter, just as I’d been told to do, it wasn’t really my life, was it? I’d just be going along with what they told me to do, and maybe instead of Mama and Lance dictating everything now, it would be Hunter taking on that role. Or maybe they would find a way to wheedle their way in to keep going as they had been.

       It wasn’t my life. Or at the very least, it wasn’t the life I wanted. Now I needed to figure out what to do about it.

Want to read more? BURY THE HATCHET releases on July 9, and you can order it now at AmazoniBooksBarnes and NobleKobo, and All Romance eBooks. Add it to your Goodreads shelf now if you haven't already done so.

No comments:

Post a Comment