MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Not everyone was lucky enough to drive a haunted truck. Then again, lucky wasn’t a word Knox Briscoe would use to describe his current predicament. On a prayer, he turned the key in the ignition, but the Chevy offered him nothing but a dull click in response.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said, although if anyone had actually heard his declaration, it’d have to be ghosts, or perhaps some unseen wildlife. Because there was nothing or nobody in this stretch of backcountry other than him and his truck, a roadside sign proclaiming Briscoe Ranch Resort straight ahead in three miles, and a wide, calm lake nestled in the Texas hills.
He tried the key again. Nothing but that maddening click.
He tapped a finger on the steering wheel, denying himself any more grandiose a reaction because Knox was nothing if not a man in command of his emotions.
He popped the truck door open to the crisp October day. His freshly buffed black dress shoes hit the gravel with a crunch. Given the statement he’d planned to make on this, his first day as part-owner of Briscoe Ranch, it wouldn’t do to soil his suit with engine grease. He shrugged out of his sports coat, hung it on a hanger he kept in the back seat for just such a purpose, tucked the ends of his blue silk tie into his shirt, and rolled his shirtsleeves to the elbows before pulling the truck’s hood up.
He’d never considered himself much of a car guy until he’d inherited this one through his dad’s will three years earlier. It’d taken a lot of YouTube videos and conversations with his mechanic for him to get up to speed on maintaining the thirty-year-old truck, but it’d been worth every hour and dollar spent. None of that new knowledge was going to help him today, though. Nothing obvious was broken or out of place, and the engine had plenty of oil and other fluids.
Knox patted the truck’s side. “Okay, Dad. Message received. You don’t want your truck on Briscoe Ranch property. I get it. But don’t you want to be there to see poetic justice done, even if it’s just in spirit, with your truck?”
God, he felt like a moron, talking to his dead father, but what other explanation was there for the ’85 Chevy Half-Ton’s mystifying quirks or the neck-prickling sensation that he wasn’t alone every time Knox got into the cab? Even in death, it seemed, his dad had decided to stubbornly hold his ground against the father and brother—Knox’s grandfather, Tyson, and his uncle Ty—who’d excommunicated him from the family before Knox’s birth. Even in death, his dad refused to let his prized truck lay one spec of rubber down on Briscoe Ranch property. Which sucked, to be honest. It would’ve been icing on the cake to have his dad’s spirit there, watching Knox take control of the very business his dad had been robbed of.
Behind the wheel again, he gripped the key in the ignition and closed his eyes. Please work. Please.
Click. Click. Click.
“Okay. But this sucks. I didn’t want to show up for the meeting in a Town Car with a driver like a mobster goon who’s there to shake everybody down. Would you at least let me get to the entrance of the resort before stalling the truck again?”
Wow. Bargaining with a ghost. Knox’s freak flag was really flying this morning. “Never mind. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
After another futile turn of the key, Knox grabbed his messenger bag and stepped out of the truck, then rummaged around the copies of the Briscoe Ranch shareholder contract his lawyers had prepared until he found his cell phone.
As the phone rang with his office in Dallas, he spotted a for sale sign ahead of him, demarcating a gated driveway a few yards from the lake. He walked along the road to it, the phone to his ear. Was there a house at the end of that twisty, tree-lined driveway? Did the property border the resort? Looked like it might. Perhaps he’d buy it and expand the resort even more than he’d originally planned.
Shayla, his younger sister, who also worked as Briscoe Equity Group’s office manager, picked up on the fourth ring. “Don’t tell me Ty Briscoe’s giving you shit already. I told you that you should’ve brought Yamaguchi and Crawford with you.”
Maybe another boss would’ve bristled at such insubordination, even by a blood relative, but Knox had developed a deep mistrust of kiss-asses over his years as an entrepreneur, which was why he valued Shayla’s loyalty and honesty so much. And, in this case, she was absolutely correct. Linda Yamaguchi and Diane Crawford were his firm’s lawyers, who Knox should have brought along today as he usually did for business acquisitions. But Knox wanted to close this deal on his own, eye-to-eye with the uncle he’d never met before they’d started this negotiation—the uncle whom Knox was going to ruin, just as Ty had ruined Knox’s family.
“You can tell me ‘I told you so’ later, but that’s not why I called. My truck broke down three miles from Briscoe Ranch. I need a driver, and I need him to get here in—” He lifted the flap of a clear plastic box affixed to the for sale sign and pulled out a flier.
The photograph gracing the center of the flier drew his eye. A grand, modern house sitting on a hill overlooking the lake. It was exactly the kind of dwelling Knox was hoping to move into somewhere in the vicinity of Briscoe Ranch since he couldn’t very well run the show from his home base of Dallas, five hours away.
“Hello? Are you still there?” Shayla asked.
“Sorry. Something caught my eye. If you could have the driver here in less than an hour, that would be great. Can you find me someone?” His meeting with Ty Briscoe wasn’t for another two hours, but he wanted to take one last walk around the resort without any of the employees knowing who he was or why he was there.
“I can’t imagine that being a problem.” He heard the fast click-clack of keyboard typing. “And … let’s see … Nope, no problem. Your car will be there within the half hour.”
“You bet. And Knox? I’m proud of you. Dad would be proud, too. You know that right?”
Knox eyed his broken-down truck. He had to believe Dad would be proud of him for taking ownership of the family business, despite this hiccup. Otherwise, what would be the point of Knox putting himself through all this? “Thanks, Shay. I’ll talk to you soon.”
As the call ended, the crackle of tires on gravel snagged Knox’s attention. He pivoted around, expecting to see a Good Samaritan pulling to the shoulder to see if Knox needed help, but his truck was the only vehicle in sight—and it was rolling backwards, straight toward the lake.
Dropping the flier, his messenger bag, and his phone, he took off at a sprint. “No! No, no, no. Shit!”
This couldn’t be happening. He’d engaged the emergency brakes—hadn’t he?
The truck was picking up speed as it backed towards the lake. Knox lunged toward the door handle. He was dragged along a few feet before finding his footing again. He dug his heels into the ground and yanked. The door swung open. He staggered and hit his back against the side of the hood, but managed to rebound in time to throw himself in the cab.
He stomped on the parking brake. It activated with a groan, but the truck wouldn’t stop. He pumped the manual brake. Nothing happened. The truck bounced over rocks hard enough to make Knox’s teeth rattle. He turned the key. Again, nothing. Nothing except a splash as the back of the truck hit the water.
“Jesus, Dad! Help me out, here!” he shouted.
The truck slammed violently to a stop, pitching Knox forward. He bit his tongue hard. The burst of pain and taste of blood was nothing compared to his relief that the truck, with him in it, hadn’t submerged any deeper in the water. His pulse pounded in his ears, even as his labored breathing turned from panicked to annoyed. “I don’t get it. What are you trying to tell me? I thought this was what you wanted.”
With a hard swallow, he thumped a fist against the steering wheel, jolting himself back into composure. All this talking to ghosts was getting out of hand. Today, of all days, he could not afford to be off his A-game. He fixed his Stetson more firmly on his head and gave himself a stern mental lecture to get a grip.
All business again, he assessed the situation. Not knowing what had caused the truck to stop or if any sudden movements would jostle it back into motion, he rolled the driver-side window down and peered over the edge to stare at the brown-green water, thick with silt and mud that roiled through the liquid like thunderstorm clouds. The water lapped at the bottom of the door, not too deep, but the back tire and back bumper were fully submerged. If the truck had rolled only a few more feet into the lake, Knox would’ve been in real trouble.
As things stood now, though, Knox’s main problem was that there was no way for him to avoid getting wet on his walk back to shore. Carefully, so as not to jar the truck back into motion, he unlatched his belt then opened the zipper of his pants. Shoes off, socks off, then pants. If he got to his first day at Briscoe Ranch on time, in one piece, and dry, it would be a miracle.
Clutching his pants, socks, and shoes to his chest, and dressed in only his shirt, a pair of boxers, and his black hat, he opened the door and stepped into the water, sinking knee deep. Silt and muck oozed between his toes. The cold ripped up his bare legs, making his leg hairs stand on end and his balls tighten painfully. Grunting through the discomfort, he shuffled away from the door until he could close it.
A series of exuberant splashes sounded from farther in the lake. It sounded like two fish were having a wrestling match right up on the water’s surface. He turned, but only saw ripples. Setting his mind back on the task at hand, he pulled his foot off the lake bottom, muscles working to overcome the suction, and took a carefully placed step toward shore.
From seemingly out of nowhere, something blunt and slimy smashed into his calf. The surprise of the hit knocked Knox off balance. With a yelp totally unbefitting a thirty-three-year-old Texan and former rodeo star, he danced sideways, fighting for his footing and clutching the clothes in his arms even tighter.
He desperately scanned the water around him, but the swirling silt had reduced the visibility to almost nothing. He held still another moment, listening, watching.
“Holy shit, are you okay?”
The man’s voice startled Knox. He looked up and saw a young guy of maybe twenty-two standing on the bank of the lake, dressed in a suit and with a panicked expression on his face. Behind him, a black sedan idled on the shoulder of the road.
“I’m fine. I think. Are you my driver?”
“Yeah, Ralph with the Cab’d driving service app. Shayla at Briscoe Equity Group ordered a premium lift for Knox Briscoe. I’m guessing that’s you since your truck’s underwater.”
And observant, too. “Yep. You see a cell phone and messenger bag somewhere up there, Ralph?”
“Hold up. Is that an ’85 Chevy Silverado? That’s a hell of a truck.”
“It is.” Except when said truck was haunted and decided all on its own to take a swim despite its owner’s better judgment.
“You’re lucky the tire got snagged on that rock.”
Knox took a look at the front of the truck. Sure enough, the passenger side tire was stopped by a boulder, though he wasn’t entirely sure luck had anything to do with it. “About that cell phone and messenger bag, Ralph. Would you mind?”
“Oh. Yeah. On it.”
With Ralph in search of Knox’s stuff, Knox chanced another step toward shore, keeping his head on a swivel, looking for whatever the hell it was that had slammed into him. An attack beaver? Did hill country even have beavers?
Despite his vigilance, he still startled at the sight of a massive, charcoal gray-green fish swishing through the water, coming straight at him. It had to be longer than his arm. It turned on a dime and surged at him. Knox’s curse echoed off the hills surrounding the lake.
Time to scram.
He made it two more steps before his foot snagged on a rock and pitched him forward. Desperate for balance, he reached out to grab on to his truck, but the fish had other ideas and head-butted his leg again. Knox splashed down, nearly dunking all the way underwater.
The bite of cold stole his breath all over again. He exploded back out of the water and onto his feet, spluttering and gasping.
“Fuck!” he shouted, loud enough that even if his father were in Heaven and not haunting the truck, he would’ve heard him just fine. He held himself back from adding, Thanks for nothing, Dad.
Sloughing water from his face and breathing hard through flared nostrils, Knox shifted his attention to the water in search of the piranha on steroids that had put his ability to keep a cool head to the test. The fish was long gone. Though his pants floated around his knees like dark seaweed swishing in waves, and his shoes bobbed like little black boats only a few feet away, his hat had drifted into deeper water. Terrific. Just terrific.
He was sopping wet from head to toe and standing next to his equally waterlogged truck on the most important day of his life.
“What was that thing?” Ralph asked.
“I was hoping you’d gotten a clear view of it.”
“Naw, but I did find your cell phone and bag.”
That was something, at least. Knox fished his soggy pants from the water, removed his wallet and set it on the roof of the truck, then tossed the pants in the truck bed. Next, he grabbed his shoes and tossed them onto the shore. Maybe they wouldn’t squish too loudly when he walked.
With that taken care of, it was time to get the inevitable over with. He loosened his tie, then unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off.
“Uh, sir? Are you stripping? I mean, uh, why don’t you get out of the water first?”
“Going after my hat.” It wasn’t until he’d spoken that he realized his teeth were chattering. The sooner he was out of the frigid water, the better. He added his shirt and tie to his pants in the truck bed, then drew a fortifying breath and pushed into the water for a freestyle swim across the lake.
Technically, the hat was replaceable, but this particular one had been the first he’d bought with his own money, back when he was fifteen and working his first real job outside of the local junior rodeo circuit. Over the years, it’d become a habit to wear it to new jobs or when he needed a little extra boost for a negotiation. He believed in good luck charms like he believed in ghosts—which meant surreptitiously and despite his better judgment—but there was no denying the slight edge that the black Stetson with the cattleman’s crease and the rodeo brim provided him.
He was a solid fifty yards into the water when he reached the hat. Grabbing on to it tightly, he ignored the fact that his legs were going numb and made short work of returning to shore. He shook the water off the hat and placed it firmly on his head again, then took his phone from Ralph and dialed his office again.
Shayla answered on the first ring this time. “Hey, Knox. If you’re calling about a tow truck, one’s already on its way. I forgot to mention that before.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Shayla Briscoe, World’s Best Office Manager. “Thanks. You’re awesome, sis.”
“Figured you’d need one for that awful truck. It always was unreliable, even when it was brand new.”
Knox glanced again at the Chevy. It might be a pain in the ass, but some of the best memories of his life involved that truck. “It has its moments.”
“Is the Cab’d driver there yet?” Shayla said. “Should be, any minute.”
“He’s here. One more thing. I need you to email me with some information on a property.” He rattled off the address of the lakefront home from memory and thanked her again. When the call ended, Knox turned to Ralph and sized him up. The two of them were roughly the same height and build. “You’re, what, six-one? One-eighty?”
Ralph gave him the side-eye, apparently on to Knox’s plan. “Six even and one-ninety,” he said hesitantly.
Close enough. Knox took out three, soggy one hundred dollar bills from his wallet. “Ralph, I’m going to need to buy your suit.”
* * *
It wasn’t the first time Emily Ford had spied on a VIP guest at Briscoe Ranch Resort. In fact, she considered it a mandatory part of her research as the resort’s Executive Special Event Chef. Wowing elite guests with personalized, gastronomic marvels was her specialty. As long as the guests never checked her internet search history or spotted her peering at them through binoculars, she was golden.
She didn’t usually involve her best friend for life, Carina Decker, in her covert ops, but today was an exception. Because today’s resort VIP was Knox Briscoe—a cousin of Carina’s whom Emily had never met, and Carina had only seen a handful of times, though they’d grown up a couple hundred miles from each other. He was about to sign on with Carina’s dad as the heir apparent of the resort, making him Carina’s future landlord and Emily’s newest boss.
Since Carina was eight months along in a pregnancy that had supersized her whole body from her ankles to her face, stealthiness in this covert ops mission was not easily achieved. So, once Emily had gotten the call from the security guard manning the resort’s cameras that Knox had arrived, Emily and Carina had settled for spying on him from a window in the bridal gown shop Carina operated in the resort’s lobby.
A shiny, black sedan matching the description the security guard had given Emily came into view on the long road through the property leading to the circular driveway in front of the resort’s main building.
Carina nudged Emily in the ribs. “This is exciting. I’m glad he’s here, and I’m proud of my dad for putting the rift behind him. Whatever my dad, Uncle Clint, and Grandpa Tyson fought over that made Uncle Clint leave, it’s been more than thirty years. That’s ancient history.”
Ancient history that was still shrouded in silence and speculation, Emily added silently. To the best of her knowledge, no one but Tyson, Ty, and Clint knew the reason for the fight—and Clint and Tyson had already taken that secret to their graves.
Carina wrapped an arm around her belly. “With a new generation of Briscoes coming along soon, it’s time for the family to forgive and move on. And I think Knox represents a new era of greatness for our family and for our business.”
Carina was right. Probably. Knox’s private equity firm’s investment in Briscoe Ranch might just be the monetary boost the resort needed to propel it to the next level in luxury destinations. Including the building of the dream restaurant that Emily had been working toward at the resort for a decade. Only weeks earlier, Ty had finally, finally, agreed to give Emily the space to build her restaurant at the resort. All they needed now were investors. Knox’s timing couldn’t be more perfect—unless it wasn’t.
“You don’t think this all feels too good to be true?” Emily said. “I mean, I get that Knox is family, but the man’s amassed a net worth of millions by buying and flipping failing businesses. How can we trust him not to sell us all out?”
“I was skeptical when my dad first told me his plan, but I trust my dad. And I trust his lawyers. They’re too business savvy to make it possible for anyone to sell the resort away from the family.”
When the car rounded the driveway and came to a stop, Carina and Emily crowded together, ducking their heads low in case either Knox or his driver looked their way.
Emily already knew what he looked like from photographs accompanying write-ups and interviews in business magazines, as well as the occasional photograph of him attending a charity ball or museum opening, posted online on Texas society blogs. From what she’d seen, Knox was loaded with money, charm, and ambition. An impeccable business reputation. A scandal-free personal life. By every account, he’d made his fortune the most ruthless way possible—fair and square.
None of that research, however, had prepared her for the sight of him.
Knox Briscoe stepped out of the back seat of the sedan one long leg at a time. He buttoned his black suit jacket and surveyed his surroundings, looking far more intimidating in person than the confident, intellectual spirit that his photographs conveyed. He was younger. Larger. His features were darker and more brooding. His leather shoes were as shiny black as the paint job on the limo, as slick as his black cowboy hat and suit.
“Oh, wow,” Carina said on a breath. “I forgot how much he looks like my dad.”
Emily had been too wrapped up in ogling him to notice, but now that Carina mentioned it, he did look a lot like a young Ty Briscoe back before he’d gone bald. “The Briscoe genes are strong, there’s no doubt.”
“What are you feeding him and my dad at their meeting?” Carina asked.
Emily flushed with a sudden, rare case of insecurity as she considered the lunch menu she’d created for the meeting. How could she possibly feed Knox Briscoe pheasant? He looked like he dined on nothing but porterhouse steaks and the tears of his enemies. “Brine-roasted pheasant with an heirloom sweet potato puree and a wild mushroom reduction.”
“Everything looks tasty to you these days. You’re an eating machine, but look at Knox. I can’t pair him with that menu.”
Carina snickered. “He’s not a wine.”
Definitely not as decadent and sweet as wine. He had the muscular grace of one of those hard-core Crossfit athletes who bench-pressed semi-truck tires in his spare time and had a single-digit BMI rating. He probably didn’t even drink wine. He definitely didn’t eat sweet potato purees or mushroom reductions. Though he should. It would probably do him a world of good to indulge his senses like that.
Just like that, inspiration struck. “That man needs peaches.”
Specifically, the late season peaches she’d gotten that morning from her orchard supplier in Fredericksburg.
“Come again?” Carina said.
“Sugar. Butter. Fat.” Inspiration jolted Emily like a zap of electricity. She slid down the wall to the floor, closing her eyes to visualize her new masterpiece. “Charred peaches with a balsamic vinegar reduc—no, not vinegar—a pinch of cayenne lacing a brown sugar brûlée crust. Oh my God, that’ll piss him off.” She rubbed her hands together like the evil genius she was. “All that butter and sugar. He’ll hate that. Right up until he takes a bite. Then he’ll understand.”
Carina poked her with her shoe. “You’re doing that weird fantasy food rambling thing again.”
Emily barely heard Carina’s teasing; she was too busy perfecting the recipe in her mind. “Huh?”
“I love you. But you’re crazy.”
Carina was right; Emily was crazy. All great chefs were. She stood, hung the binoculars around her neck, and smoothed out her chef’s jacket. “I’ve got to go. I have a lot of work to do.”
“I thought the meal was ready.”
“Not anymore. I’m going to share my peaches with Knox Briscoe.”
Carina poked her tongue against her cheek as her forehead crinkled with delight. “Someday, one of my lessons about double entendres is going to sink in.”
Emily wasn’t daft or naive. She knew a double entendre when she heard one—or, more accurately, inadvertently said one—but it wasn’t her fault that the vast majority of people didn’t understand that sex and food were incomparable. The perfect meal trumped sex every time, and anyone who claimed otherwise had obviously never experienced Emily’s cooking. Knox Briscoe didn’t know it yet, but his tongue was about to have the ride of its life.
With food, of course.
* * *
Two hours later, Emily pushed a loaded food cart behind the resort’s main reception desk, then through the maze of cubicles and offices tucked away from the guests’ view. She nodded to Ty Briscoe’s secretary, then let herself into his corner office.
Knox’s fierce intensity beat like waves of power through the air in the room. Emily froze near the door, stunned to find herself suddenly, uncharacteristically, intimidated.
From where they were deep in discussion at his conference table, Ty afforded Emily a brief glance, but Knox’s focus remained unrelentingly on Ty and the business at hand.
“That idea has merit,” Knox was saying to Ty in a deep, firm voice. “But my equity firm’s vision extends beyond a cosmetic update. This resort has the potential to become a self-contained city, a beacon for travelers from all over the world. But we have to be willing to take risks.”
Even from the door, Emily could see beads of sweat on Ty’s bald head. His thick, bulldog neck had turned red, something that only happened when he was keeping his anger in check. Emily wasn’t sure she’d ever seen the larger-than-life man, her father figure for all intents and purposes for the past decade, cowed by another man before. But he was definitely not the alpha in the room today. “Yes, I know, but not—” Ty said.
Knox plowed ahead. “Yes, but nothing, Ty. You came to my equity firm earlier this year looking for investors and a new vision for your company. You came to me because I’m the best at what I do.”
Emily shook herself out of her eavesdropping trance and busied herself creating place settings on the table in front of each man. She could have brought along an assistant to do such menial labor, but she’d wanted to make a strong first impression.
“I came to you because you’re a Briscoe and I’m not getting any younger. It was time to pass this business to the next generation of my family. Our family.”
Knox’s jaw tightened. He glanced at Emily, as though her presence required him to censor himself. She retreated to the food cart, willing herself invisible so the two men would keep talking without paying her any more mind.
“Let’s not pretend that warm, fuzzy family feelings made you pick up the phone to schedule that initial meeting with me,” Knox said. “You needed equity. But it was my ability to see the untapped potential in this place that allowed me to put together a team of investors so quickly. The trick is, there’s no such thing as free money, Ty.”
“You don’t think I know that, boy?”
Knox’s eyes gleamed, but rather than address Ty’s question, he continued. “You and I are now beholden to Briscoe Equity Group’s investors, as the majority shareholders, and they expect us to make their money back plus at least a twenty percent profit in record time. We all stand to make a lot of money, you included, but we’re not going to do that by giving the resort a simple facelift.”
Ty dabbed at his forehead with the cloth napkin from his place setting. “I hear what you’re saying, but we already have a world-class stable of horses, and hill country’s premier golf course. And we’re a world-renowned destination wedding location. Other than adding another wing of rooms, what more do you plan to do?” Ty said.
Emily set servings of chilled peach soup in front of Knox, then Ty. She’d labored for nearly two hours on the soup, which was in the running for her best culinary creation ever, if she did say so herself.
Knox picked up his spoon and poked at the crisp brown sugar brûlée. “We’ll add a wing of timeshare condos, for starters. From there, we’ll add enough rooms to double the guest occupancy, add a bar or two, expand the number of upscale shops in the lobby, and install a five-star destination restaurant, featuring a top-tier chef.”
On his next breath, Knox frowned down at the soup, then pushed it ever so slightly away.
Emily gave a quiet gasp. The nerve …
“Agreed,” Ty said. “And we just so happen to have plans for a new restaurant in the works. It’s one of the reasons I asked our special event catering chef, Emily Ford, to showcase her skills by preparing us lunch today.” He gestured to Emily, who was still gaping at Knox’s untouched soup. It wasn’t until Knox’s eyes roved over her in a dispassionate study that she realized she was wringing the bottom of her chef’s jacket in her hands.
Ty continued, “She’s been working with me to develop a dynamic proposal for a world-class restaurant here at the resort. All we’ve been waiting for is the right investor, and here you are.”
Knox’s mouth gave an almost imperceptible frown. “No offense to Ms. Ford, but my investors have shelled out millions of their own dollars to transform Briscoe Ranch into a world-class luxury resort, so we need to aim higher.”
Aim higher? And here she’d thought Knox’s whole claim to fame in the business world was not being a jackass. Her loyalty to the Briscoes meant nothing to this man. And very little to Ty, either, obviously, who was allowing his family’s business to be yanked away from them. No, not yanked. Knox Briscoe had too much poise to do anything so passionate as yanking. Rather, this was chess. Or, perhaps, Monopoly. A slow, deliberate erosion of his opponent down to nothing.
Standing tableside, she touched the edge of the plate on which Knox’s soup bowl sat. Oh, how satisfying it would be to flip it over onto his perfectly pressed slacks. Her masterpiece deserved a better fate, but the temptation rippled through her with wicked glee.
Knox’s body tensed. He knew what she’d been contemplating, too. His hand twitched as though in preparation to grab her wrist and stop her before she could soil his clothing.
“Emily,” Ty warned.
Was she so obvious? So predictably reckless that both Ty and Knox could read her thoughts so plainly?
Screw them. Sure, they held her career in their hands, but neither deserved to eat her cooking today. With outrage pounding through her veins, she pulled out the seat at the head of the table between the two men and dropped into it. She slid Knox’s bowl in front of her, grabbed his spoon, and—as both men gaped at her—cracked through the brûlée and dipped into the sunset-orange soup.
The soup exploded in her mouth in a burst of complicated, unexpected flavor. Perfection. Better than sex. Better than just about anything else this heartless, cynical planet could offer.
She flattened her palm over the bound stack of papers in front of Knox. His grand plans for her home, her career, and the livelihoods of so many of her friends and colleagues. He was going to ruin everything, and there was nothing she could do to stop it; not if Ty was just going to roll over and let Knox walk all over him.
She pulled the dossier in front of her. Ty and Knox sat, stunned, watching her flip open the contract. Neither had yet to say a word about her brazen intrusion. How the hell was she getting away with this?
Her anger was too blinding for her to focus on the words or make heads-or-tails of the legal jargon. But she’d heard all she needed to know. Knox and his investors were going to turn the resort into yet another cookie cutter chain hotel. “Ty, this is a bad deal. He’s going to sell out. He’s a business flipper. That’s what he does. He doesn’t care about the Briscoes at all.”
“I am a Briscoe,” Knox said in a dull, even tone.
Emily was too pissed off to look him in the eye. She took another bite of soup to keep herself from telling him that he wasn’t a Briscoe in any way but his name. Instead, to Ty, she said, “If you do this, you’re going to lose everything your parents built, everything you’ve worked your whole life for.”
“That’s enough, Emily,” Ty said, but there was no mistaking the tinge of regret in his eyes.
Knox rose slowly, buttoning his suit jacket as he loomed over Emily. “Are you asking to be fired, Ms. Ford? Because I was hoping the chef I hire for the new restaurant would see the value in keeping on some of the resort’s restaurant workers as line cooks.”
Oh, this man. Emily visualized the way his perfect suit would look covered in mushroom reduction, sweet potato puree, and bits of roasted pheasant. In the end, she decided against the childish act, more out of respect for Ty than any sense of dignity or self-preservation.
Ty jabbed his spoon in the air at Knox. “You watch your tone with her. Emily’s too valuable an asset at this resort to work as a line cook.”
Spoken like the father figure he was to her. Emily’s heart warmed for the man who’d taken a huge risk in hiring her right out of chef school, homeless and without a penny to her name. Of course, she didn’t reveal any of that. She carefully schooled her features, refusing to splay open her chest and give Knox Briscoe one single glimpse of her heart. His careless response to her peaches was proof enough of his lack of a soul.
The gleam in Knox’s eyes turned cool and calculating as he turned his focus to Ty. “I wouldn’t have expected that from you, Ty. Sleeping with the special event chef. Interesting. And against my business policy.”
Emily’s self-control snapped. She pushed up from her chair, ready to get in Knox Briscoe’s face and give him a piece of her mind. She slammed her hands onto the table for emphasis, but instead of hitting the table, her right hand caught the rim of the soup bowl. As though in slow motion, the bowl launched itself at Knox. Emily lunged for it, but she was too late. Bright orange soup splashed all over the front of his suit.
Mortified, she stood over him and watched glops of peach and brûlée topping ooze like lava into the creases of his waistband and belt.
For his part, Knox didn’t rise or curse at her—as Ty was doing, she noticed out of the corner of her eye—nor did he attempt to clean himself off. He kept his cucumber-cool gaze locked on hers, a slight smirk curved on his lips. “Did I hit too close to home on that observation, Ms. Ford?”
Holy shit. She’d spilled soup all over her new boss. There was no way she was getting the restaurant now. She’d be lucky to keep her job. What she refused to give up was the last shreds of her dignity. Nobody insulted her by insinuating that she’d slept her way to the top and got away with it, not even the intimidating Knox Briscoe.
She rose to her full height. “I may not know what your father did to get disowned by the Briscoes, but it’s no wonder you’re trying to deflect some of that shame you inherited from him onto the people of this resort. Even after all these years, it still stings, doesn’t it? Whatever he did to get shunned? The shame of it all?”
A shadow crossed Knox’s face. Good. She’d meant for that to hurt.
A hand closed around Emily’s arm and tugged her away. Ty pushed between her and Knox, scolding her, apologizing to Knox. When did the giant she’d long revered as a force of nature turn into a spineless, apologetic noodle? She would’ve never expected her idol to fall from grace in the blink of an eye.
Emily glared past Ty, to Knox. “It makes sense, now, this whole alpha power vibe you’ve got going on. You know what they say about men who seem like they’re overcompensating for something.”
The shadow vanished from Knox’s eyes and the shark-like calculation returned. “That they have big feet? Or am I mixing my old wives’ tales?”
“Emily, please. Leave us,” Ty said. “You’re embarrassing yourself and insulting me.”
That pulled her up short. She was way beyond damage control when it came to her own embarrassment, but she did care about insulting Ty. She might not trust Ty to know what he was doing, not after this crippling deal with the devil himself, but she still respected Ty enough to honor his plea. With a nod, she walked with stiff, proud steps to the door.
“Ms. Ford, the suspense is killing me. What do they say about men who seem like they’re overcompensating?” Knox said, sounding amused.
Gritting her teeth, she paused with one foot out the door and tossed a look over her shoulder, startling all over again at Knox’s aura of cool perfection. The cut of his jaw, the fullness of his lips, eyes that were as cruel as they were wise. How had she ever thought she could win over a man like that with peaches and pheasant? Whatever family shame Knox was overcompensating for, it wasn’t going to save Emily or her beloved resort. Knox Briscoe was beyond redemption, her career was over before it had even gotten off the ground, and life was never going to be the same again.
“Haven’t you heard?” she said. “The thing about men who seem like they’re overcompensating for something, is that they always are.”
Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Cutler
Excerpt from One Wild Night Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Cutler