Nobody sane should ever be up at eight on a Saturday morning. Especially not when said person stayed up until three a.m. for a horror movie marathon with her best friends Ivy and Nena. So totally worth it though.
What a waste of a Saturday. I could be sleeping, or bungee jumping, or sleeping, or ziplining, or sleeping instead of starting a job I didn’t want in the first place.
I bit back a yawn as I smoothed the wrinkled turquoise polo, the required uniform for Mountain View Resort employees. Taking a deep breath to steady the waves in my stomach, I knocked on the door to room four-oh-two three times, as instructed, and squeezed my clipboard against my chest.
What had my father been thinking bringing this guy to Branson? For the last few years, I’d overheard Dad lamenting to my brother about how the shows didn’t make enough money and the profits from the resort disappeared into the theater. If Dad wanted to revive that dump, he’d need someone to sell out every performance. I had serious doubts about his choice. Another reason I was in the doghouse.
I lifted my fist to hammer the door a second time when it flew open.
A wet torso greeted me, and a hint of the hotel’s jasmine soap drifted from the room. My gaze followed water dripping down tanned pecs and over the only real six-pack I’d ever seen as it disappeared into the thick hotel towel wrapped around his waist. Wow. My face burned hotter than the coffee I’d slammed earlier, and I forced my head up to meet the gaze of The Gracin Ford, celebrity bad boy and former member of Accentuate, a one-hit wonder boy band.
Gracin’s manscaped eyebrows arched as bright blue eyes took a circuit over my body. My skin tingled all over in response to his gaze.
Sadly, he had to open his mouth. “Not my type, but thanks.”
Then he slammed the door in my face.
What? That… that… that son of a bitch! I punched the door three times, fully prepared to give this egotistical asshole a piece of my mind. Meanwhile, my father’s lecture from half an hour ago echoed between my ears: “If you want to go to U of N in the fall, you work for me this summer to pay me back for the damage to the Mercedes. Don’t, and you can go to Southern Community like your brother did.” I counted to thirty, trying and failing to calm myself while I waited for his highness.
The door swung in. At least this time, he’d had the decency to put on a pair of khaki shorts and a t-shirt. His gaze shifted over me once more, and I tried not to squirm, but blue eyes gave me the creeps. And brought back memories I’d rather pretend didn’t exist.
“What now?” he asked. If he was even slightly miffed, he didn’t show it. The cool nonchalance in his voice didn’t stop my temper from shooting toward the atmosphere.
I dug my nails into the back of the clipboard and smiled my best smile. “Hi, Mr. Ford. I’m Carly Reynolds, your … personal assistant. Your father provided us with a detailed itinerary of your day-to-day–”
“Let me see it,” he said, leaning his shoulder against the door jam.
I handed it over, keeping the tremor in my hands at bay. Personal assistant my ass, more like his errand bitch. If he hadn’t fired his previous P.A., I could be lounging by the pool as a lifeguard or cleaning rooms or checking guests at the front desk. Instead, I had to spend my summer following every whim of a twenty-year-old has-been. As he took the itinerary, his eyebrows furrowed at something else. Before my hand could drop back to my side, he snatched it and tugged at the tie holding the leather cuff covering my wrist.
His eyebrows lifted again and amusement danced across his full lips. “Nice tat. Why hide it?”
“Who says I’m hiding it?” He let go of my hand, and I quickly retied the cuff over the small trinity knot tattoo on my wrist. It had only been two weeks since I’d gotten inked, but Mom and Dad hadn’t noticed. Yet. I crossed my arms and bit the inside of my upper lip. As much as I didn’t want to be here, I also didn’t want to go to Southern Community. Keeping my mouth shut was kind of required if I wanted to go to Nashville in the fall.
Gracin nodded and refocused on the itinerary. He flipped the paper, shaking his head. “According to this, you’re supposed to take me to breakfast every morning at eight so we can discuss the day’s schedule.” He handed the clipboard back to me. “I’m assuming that’s why you’re here now.”
He sighed. “Let me get my shoes. No doubt the big kahuna will be expecting me.” He moved into the room and I reached out to hold the door open. “I’ll get a more realistic schedule to you.”
“Realistic?” I asked as he slipped on a pair of boat shoes and a Rolex that could pay for half a semester at U of N or the entire two years at Southern Community.
“Yeah, that’s clearly the schedule Dad wants me to keep. Not even close to reality.” Gracin stepped into the hallway, patting his pocket. He groaned and turned to stop the door from shutting completely, but it was too late. He fell forward, letting his forehead thunk against the thick wood. “You wouldn’t happen to have a key to my room, would you?”
“No, but we can get one from the front desk after breakfast. You’re moving into one of the cabins today anyway.” I shrugged because it wasn’t that big of a deal. “No worries.”
Gracin laughed, but there wasn’t any humor to it. “Do me a favor. Keep this key thing between us, okay? The last thing I need is to hear how irresponsible I am. Again.”
I held back the scoff and the sarcastic comment that would normally shoot from my mouth in record speed. Especially since I’d heard the same lecture more times than I could count. “Yeah, okay. But we have to go now, or you’re going to have to hear how irresponsible I am.”
“Well, I won’t say anything about the tat in that case.” Gracin’s smile showed his Hollywood white teeth.
We were half way between his room and the elevator when his cell rang. I tried to ignore his half of the conversation, but when you’re alone with someone, it’s hard not to listen.
“Hey, babe.” Pause. “Yeah, I had a great time too.”
Another pause. Gracin laughed, clutching his hand against his chest.
“Probably best they didn’t catch us. Photographic evidence and all.”
Another pause when we got to the elevator. Gracin’s face turned from California tan to the shade of a bruised red pepper.
“You didn’t? Please tell me you didn’t.”
I wanted to lean closer to hear what the person on the other end had done. Celebrity drama and all. I didn’t seek it out, but that didn’t stop me from reading the headlines when they popped up on my computer.
After I pushed the button for the elevator, we stood side by side. Gracin’s fingers tightened around the phone. I could hear a female voice coming from his speaker but not what she said. Gracin slapped the mirrored doors.
Housekeeping’ll love that.
The doors dinged open as Gracin’s fist soared toward them, and he threw himself into the elevator. He managed not to fall, but it was so hard not to laugh.
“Next time you talk to that jackass, tell him you were just another one-night stand.”
Wow. I’d somehow managed to keep my expression neutral when he fell into the elevator, but my mortification couldn’t be hidden.
He stared at me in the mirror. “There goes hiding my lack of responsibility today,” he said in a calm voice that didn’t match the fury from a moment ago.
I kept my mouth shut despite the thoughts running through my head and held his mirrored gaze. Both took supreme battles of will. I thought only one thing: U of N. Nothing was going to keep me from going to Nashville.
Gracin tilted his head. His eyebrows sagged as he opened his mouth. A beep sounded from his phone, distracting him from whatever he was about to say. He shook his head at the screen and then handed it to me. “Here. Fair warning before Hurricane Albert leashes his wrath on me.”
I wasn’t interested in getting caught up in his drama, but curiosity got the best of me and I glanced at the image on the screen. It wasn’t anything major. A beautiful girl with bright brown eyes and obviously dyed red hair kissed a smiling Gracin on the cheek. It was pretty clear they were in a bar when this was taken. Several empty beer bottles sat on the table in front of them.
“A hot chick took a photo of you guys in a bar?” I handed the phone back. “Big deal.”
“The ‘deal’ is she sold it to a tabloid.” Gracin shoved the phone into his pocket. He didn’t spare me a glimpse, even in the mirror. “I can see the headlines already: ‘Gracin Ford Falls Off the Wagon.’ ” Finally, he faced me. “Except I didn’t. I’ve been sober for almost a year. None of those empties were mine. Not that anybody will believe me. Especially King Albert.”
I didn’t say anything, but the heat burning the tips of my ears was enough.
The elevator opened to the lobby. Gracin motioned me out first and followed me to the private dining room. Dad sat at the head of the table in the middle of the room. My mother sat to his right, and a gray-haired man with a stringy comb-over sat on his left. His extensive lack of hair didn’t stop Albert Ford from trying. My older brother, Luke, sat next to three empty seats for me, Gracin, and my little sister, Miranda. Quite the family affair.
“Carly, I’m glad you made it,” Dad said, adding a fake laugh at the end. To anyone else, it might’ve appeared teasing. I knew better. Dad was not happy we were a minute late. Of course, when it came to me, he wouldn’t have been happy had I been two minutes early either. My father was the consummate politician around here. He ruled more like a dictator, but was JFK when guests were around. “I thought you were going to be late.”
“That’s my fault, Mr. Reynolds,” Gracin said. He threw out a hundred-watt smile.
I fought to roll my eyes. At least he’s taking the hit for me.
“Carly rushed me out the door, then let it close before I remembered to grab my key.”
And under the bus I go. Thanks, asshat.
Dad stared through me with his laser pointer green eyes. “Well, Carly, I suggest you head to the front desk and get another. While you’re there, make sure housekeeping stays out of his room until this evening when the cabin is ready.”
“Yes, sir.” I let my head drop in good girl compliance, catching the laughing eyes of my brother. We both inherited Dad’s light brown hair, but Luke lucked out getting Dad’s eyes. Unfortunately, he used them to taunt me at every turn, which only served to remind me who was the chosen one in the Reynolds family. Hint, his name began with an L.
Gracin made his way toward the buffet spread. He piled fresh fruit on his plate, winking at me. I shuddered as I freed myself from the room. Guys who winked were just plain creepy.
My last summer before heading off to college was going to be the worst one of my life. All because of a little dent in a Mercedes. Smashing.