Garland St. Germaine had way too much fun celebrating graduation from Dartmouth with her sorority sisters. They had, apparently, managed to singlehandedly revive Dartmouth’s reputation as the rowdy Ivy League institution. As a result, Garland’s father had given her a choice of accompanying him on a three month business trip to Austin, Texas or finding a substitute for the lavish lifestyle her allowance provided. After several tantrums unworthy of a college graduate, she left Park Avenue wearing sunglasses and a huff, and got on the company plane bound for the Yellow Rose Country Club and Resort. She was sure there had to be more to life than an adult version of being grounded.
Brant Fornight had made up his mind that he wasn’t interested in the life his dad’s motorcycle club could offer him. He wasn’t overly interested in money, especially not if it came with the risk of a prison sentence. He thought of himself as a simple guy even though he often pondered some of the great philosophical questions while he worked as a mechanic. He liked working with mechanical things and hadn’t needed a formal education to do that. The Sons of Sanctuary had topped off the natural born talent by mentoring and letting him work on their vehicles.
After high school, he drifted from one Austin repair shop to the next, accidentally improving his resume with each move that earned a better title and more money. When he was twenty-four, he took a job as Head Mechanic at the Yellow Rose Country Club and Resort. It never occurred to him to wonder if there was more to life.
EXCERPT First Two Chapters
David St. Germaine had sent a van and two guys to move Garland out of her primo room at the sorority house. He was extremely proud of the fact that she’d been voted Panhellenic Rep by her sorority sisters. He’d told her that it was a more impressive accomplishment than any other office because she was the embodied statement that her sorority wanted to make about their chapter at joint Greeks meetings. Garland liked having her father’s approval when getting it didn’t interfere with what was going to do regardless.
Every day for the ten days between finals and graduation she’d packed a few things in preparation for the final move-out. She was torn between having loved university life and wanting to get on to whatever came next even though she wasn’t clear about what that was. Certainly she’d never planned to use her B.A. in Classical Studies to gain actual employment. She could read and write Greek and Latin, sketch an Ionic column, explain Socratic Method, and accurately recount the biography of even the most obscure demigod.
After a quarter million dollars of education and related expenses later, that degree and a few dollars would buy a Starbucks. But livelihood wasn’t a concern. She was the only child of a rich widower who rarely denied her anything.
She showed the movers to her room and pointed out what should go. After one last look, she plugged her phone into the console of her wine-colored Maserati, selected the music playlist she’d entitled ROAD TRIP, and pointed the car south toward New York thinking that traffic wouldn’t be bad on a Sunday. At least not as bad as usual. She could probably do the trip in four and a half hours with one potty stop enroute. After four years, she knew where to stop for a decent restroom.
The New York Times still printed society pages on Sundays, only the new current title was “About Town”. It included celebrity sightings along with traditional news about Social Registry members. Charity galas and Arts League balls were always popular. The concession to modernity was that in recent years there had been sensationalism-creep. The news had begun to treat society’s best more like celebrities in the sense that scandals were printed right alongside who was seen with whom at balls, galas, museum exhibit previews, and art show openings. It had become a gossip column thinly disguised as the time-honored tradition of setting aside valuable print space for flattering the moneyed elite.
Garland pulled up in front of her building, grabbed the rolling suitcase with essential stuff, smiled at Max, the doorman, and gave him the car keys so that he could have the car parked in a two thousand dollars per month garage nearby. She might not use the car again for weeks, or even months, but it was nice to know she could.
“I’m home!” She took a deep breath and called out to anyone who might be in the penthouse. Since it was Sunday that would probably be either her father or no one.
She walked the length of the kitchen and beyond to a small, but elegant and sunny breakfast room that overlooked Central Park and was rarely seen by anyone other than Garland, her father, and the staff.
“I say, ‘I’m home!’”, she repeated as she flopped into a chair opposite where her dad was having coffee and reading the paper.
David St. Germaine looked over the top of the Wall Street Journal. “So I see.”
“Wow. Welcome home.”
He slid a section of the Sunday Times toward where she sat across the glass top table. “I second the ‘wow’.”
Before looking down at whatever he wanted her to see, she could tell that he was the farthest thing from happy. When she’d seen him two days before at graduation, he’d been delighted, either with her or his date for the day. There was no point in remembering her name. Her father rarely saw women more than once.
On the cusp of fifty, he was still handsome, with a little silver above his ears and a tan that never faded completely because he kept a boat at the Yacht Club and made a point of sailing, when weather and business permitted. He’d been referred to as ‘eligible bachelor’ more than once, but Garland doubted the veracity of that claim. Since her mother’s death, he hadn’t given anyone reason to think he was ‘eligible’.
She looked at the paper. The front and center color image was none other than herself wearing a short sparkly dress that had ridden far too high as she fell backwards spilling a colorful beverage when she went sprawling into the laps of laughing friends.
The headline read, “Germane Enterprises Princess Out on the Town. Daddy’s little girl lets her hair down and her skirt up.”
As she stared at the page, her father said, “Nice dress,” in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
Without looking up, she said quietly, “We were just having some fun, celebrating graduation.”
“How many times have I told you that what you do reflects on me? And, by extension, on Germane Enterprises?”
She raised her eyes to meet his glare. “Thousands.”
“That’s right! Thousands. You would think a girl capable of graduating Dartmouth summa cum laude would get it after mere dozens of times.”
“You’re not everybody else though. Are you?”
She lowered her eyes. “No.”
“With great privilege comes great responsibility.”
She bit back a comment that tried to take possession of her mouth. Something about using condoms and clubbing with a designated driver. But she decided that sort of retort would make her sound weak and juvenile. So she said nothing. After a few seconds of staring, he continued.
“Christ, Garland. You and your miscreant friends got thrown out of some cheap dive? That’s pretty hard to do. Places like that host Ladies’ Nights to attract young women to come in.” He let out a frustrated breath. “What are your plans?”
“Yes, Garland. As in, what do you plan to do when you wake up tomorrow?”
“I just finished school. I was thinking I’d take a couple of weeks. Maybe do some shopping and get together with friends before…”
Truthfully, she hadn’t gotten to that. Her vision began and ended with lunching and shopping. “I haven’t worked that out yet.”
“Good. Then you won’t be inconvenienced to have to cancel anything.”
“What do you …?”
“I’ve made plans for you. I’ll be spending most of the summer at the property we’re expanding in Texas. You’re coming with me.”
“To Texas!?!” She looked as horrified as if she’d just been told she’d be summering inside a tank on a war torn border somewhere between the remnants of Arabia and the remnants of Persia.
He went on as calmly as if she hadn’t spoken. “This…” He glanced down at the tattling paper. “…is an indication that you’re not ready to make your own choices. So I’ll make them for you. Austin this summer then Wharton School this fall. Thank goodness your GPA is high enough. I’ll have to call in some favors and donate a fortune, probably, but you will get in.”
“To Business School? I don’t want to study business. I can’t think of anything less fun. And Philadelphia? Really?”
She saw the traces of a smirk appear around his mouth. “This has nothing to do with fun, Garland. It’s about being a productive member of this family and, by extension, a productive member of society. When you have an MBA from Wharton, you’ll be ready to step into a position with Germane Enterprises and do something worthwhile with your life.”
Her eyes flashed. “You can’t make those decisions for me. I’m not a little girl.”
His face softened slightly, but was no less serious “No. You’re not. And you’re welcome to show me your independence by walking out that door with your clothes and the college degree you just earned. You can start at home plate, like I did instead of on third base. Like you did.”
The range of limited options flew across her vision like a rapid-sequence music video. And she didn’t like anything she saw.
She wanted to be the girl who took that option. She wanted to stand up and say, “Okay. I’m out.” But she didn’t think she was cut out for pioneering a whole new way of life.
“I guess you win then. I’m not prepared to be homeless.”
“It’s not a matter of me ‘winning’. It’s about what’s best for you.” He snapped the paper and went back to reading. “We’re leaving in two days. You can shop and play with your friends until then.” He lowered the paper again long enough to say, “Do you think you can manage to stay out of the news for that long?”
Since the question was rhetorical and there was nothing else to say, she rose and left the room. It was the adult version of being grounded.
Garland didn’t hate her father. She believed he loved her in his own distant, detached, heavy-handed way. She’d also spent enough time in the homes of friends to know that warmth and affection had been missing in their household since her mother died.
Visiting with friends was a great vicarious pleasure for her. She loved observing the dynamics of families where love was shared openly and without agenda. She wanted that for herself someday.
Brant Fornight was a third generation Austin native and everything about the town suited him just fine. He wasn’t one of those people who lived in the mountains, but dreamed of a house on the beach. Or vice versus.
Dry air, hills, and live oak was good enough for him.
He’d made up his mind that he wasn’t interested in the life the club could offer him. Since he’d grown up in and around his dad’s motorcycle club, he was able to make a truly informed choice.
Brant didn’t have the kind of angry fire in the belly that motivates a man to choose that path. He wasn’t overly interested in money, especially not if it comes with the risk of prison. And he hadn’t experienced the sort of injustice that had caused the original seven members, all Vietnam vets, to band together with a third finger prominently raised at particular aspects of society.
Brant thought of himself as a simple sort of guy even though he was an avid reader of classics and secretly pondered some of the great philosophical brain-scramblers while he worked as a mechanic. He was born with the talent for it, loved taking things apart and putting them back together in better condition than before. The Sons of Sanctuary had nurtured that gift by mentoring and letting him tinker with their vehicles.
After high school, he’d drifted from one Austin repair shop to another, accidentally improving his resume with each move to a larger shop, new title and more money. When he was twenty-five, he took a job as Head Mechanic at the Yellow Rose Resort. It required a double skill set: mechanic and manager of fuckwads who needed a babysitter more than a supervisor. Even though he was younger than almost all the guys who reported to him, he handled it. One way or another.
He smiled about that. It’s exactly the sort of thing his old man liked to say. Get it done. One way or another.
It never occurred to Brant to wonder if there was more to life, and maybe he never would have, if Garland St. Germaine hadn’t gotten lost white exploring the resort grounds. Occupied by her own dark thoughts, not looking at much but the pavement in front of her, she’d wandered far afield of guest paths. When she looked up, she was in front of the huge vehicle maintenance facility known as “the shed” . She didn’t know how she got there and had no idea how to find her way back.
Since she’d been in Austin for a week, she’d acquired a golden tan that would be the envy of any lotion ad. Her ash blonde hair had also lightened several shades and taken on some dramatic, but still natural, highlights. Wearing a tank top, knee length shorts, and flip flopped through one of the open bays and came face to face with Brant Fornight.
He was wearing jeans and a black tee with the Yellow Rose logo and text that simply read CREW.
He looked her over too quickly to be accused of leering at a guest. And everything about her screamed guest, from the small diamond studs in her ears, to the designer sunglasses, to the skin that had that look of perfect nutrition and expensive lotion.
“What can I do for you, darlin’?”
The endearment was politically incorrect according to the new standards, but if she complained, he could always say it was just part of the local charm.
Looking at the twin fires in Brant’s striking black eyes, she temporarily forgot what she needed. It was hard to tell whether the amusement on his handsome face was a permanent expression or if he was having fun at her expense.
She cleared her throat. “I was having a look at the, uh, property and I guess I got turned around.”
“Yeah.” He gave her a slow smile that had all her lady parts perking up and standing at attention. “We don’t get many people who start out lookin’ for the pool and wind up here,” he drawled while wiping his hands on a rag.
She scowled. “I wasn’t looking for the pool. I was just…”
“Havin’ a look at the property.” He smiled. He pointed to a black and green vehicle that also bore the Yellow Rose logo. “Hop in this golf cart and I’ll drive you back.”
“I don’t want to put you out.”
He laughed out loud and shook his head. “This is the best thing that’s happened to me this year. Come on. I’ll go fast enough to get the breeze goin’ and cool you off.”
She had gone past attractive glow to full on sweat. As if on cue, she was reminded of that when she felt a trickle of perspiration run between her breasts. His promise to ‘cool her off’ caused a blush for, what she was sure was, the first time in her life.
“Well, it is hot out here,” she said, looking around as if someone might argue. Or intervene.
He looked over at the temperature gauge. “Only ninety six in the shade. ‘Course that’s the way they report temps. In the shade. But…” He looked down at her feet. ”…it’s really about one fifteen where you’re standin’. On that asphalt. In the sun.”
Following his eyes down to the tarmac beneath her feet, she realized that she did actually feel as if she was slow cooking.
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
His grin was heart-stopping. He turned his back long enough to open a refrigerator, withdrew a bottle of water, and set it in the cart’s drink holder when he got behind the wheel. After Garland seated herself on the passenger side of the cart, he handed her the ice cold bottle of water. “All part of the service, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” She accepted gratefully. But as badly as she wanted to drink, she wanted to feel the cold bottle against her skin even more. She held it to her chest, closed her eyes and moaned. “You’re an angel in disguise.”
When she opened her eyes and saw the change in his expression, she realized that calling attention to her breasts may not have been the smartest move.
Brant tore his gaze from the water bottle. It may have elicited a moan that would haunt his fantasies forever, but even he knew that ogling guests was crossing a line. He wasn’t sure whether he should be glad that he’d given her a cold compress, or curse himself for it, but the view above her neck was just as interesting. She’d removed her sunglasses and stuck them on top of her head, which left him exactly sixteen inches away from amber-colored irises that were stunning, and so unusual with her blonde locks that she looked almost exotic. At the moment they were also questioning why he wasn’t starting the engine.
He pushed the ignition button and they lurched forward. When they started down the hill, the cart picked up speed. The air movement did cool the feeling of scorching skin. She took a big swig of cold water and laughed. “You’re right. This feels good. You could sell rides to the overheated.”
He smiled, steering and stealing glances at the unlikely passenger and the strange, but welcome turn his morning had taken.
“So where to?”
“You know where the hotel is?” He raised one eyebrow. “Well.” She laughed. “Of course you do.”
They coasted down a hill then laughed when the cart struggled to climb up the next. On reaching the top, the hotel came into view, sitting on a ridge as if presiding over the Yellow Rose’s five championship golf courses.
She pointed to the right of the eighteen-story hotel. “We’re in one of those villas next to the hotel.”
He whistled long and low. “So I’m guessing you’re not using a stay-two-nights-get-the-third-free coupon.”
She laughed because she had no other response, not knowing if there was such a thing or if he’d just made that up. “Oh, you know. My father is here overseeing some business development. Told me to either come for the summer or look for a box under a bridge.”
When Brant looked over, he seemed to be studying her. He suspected that she was early twenties. So what she said about being there with her father didn’t really make sense. “You in a box under a bridge. Can’t see that.”
“Hmmm. Well, it could happen. You remember the story about that ex movie star who was living in the bushes in Central Park?”
“No. I guess I missed that.”
“You must not watch “Entertainment Tonight”.”
He chuckled. “Guilty. Or not guilty. Take your pick.”
She indulged in a leisurely look at his tan profile. He had lashes so long and thick that she would think were fake on a woman. But she thought that, if she was reading signals right, there was nothing fake about Brant Fornight. He had an open, easy-going manner that put her at ease. Running her eyes over the dark hair that threatened to reach the ribbed neck of his tee, following the line of his straight nose and strong jaw, she decided he could be vying for the title of the best looking man she’d ever seen.
“What’s your name?”
“Brant Fornight. What’s yours?”
“Garland St. Germaine.”
His eyes slid sideways. “Pretty name. And unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever run into a Garland before.”
“It was my grandmother’s maiden name. The one good thing about it is that it doesn’t lend itself to cute nicknames.” She chuckled. “The closest anybody ever came to making one stick was this guy at school who used to call me Garfield.”
Brant puzzled at his reaction to that. His gut had tightened. Apparently he didn’t like getting an image of another guy calling this girl anything. Once he realized that he would probably never see the beautiful girl with the terrible sense of direction again, he slowed the cart down as much as possible without raising suspicion.
When they reached the walk to the door of her villa, she turned toward him. Her hesitation made him wonder if she was just as reluctant to end the unlikely encounter.
Her smile was warm, but he couldn’t tell if it was a friendly smile or an I’m-interested smile. “Well. I guess this is me.”
“I guess so.”
“Thank you for the ride, Brant.”
“It was my pleasure, Garland. Whenever you get lost anywhere around vehicle maintenance, this chariot will be at your disposal.”
She grinned. “Flowery words for a vehicle maintenancer.”
“Maybe I’m not one-dimensional.”
She stared as if she was trying to read his mind. “Maybe you’re not.”
She got out and walked to the door knowing that he was watching her rear end under the pretention of seeing her safely home. She swiped the card key and opened the door then turned to smile and wave. In return she was rewarded with a macho chin jerk that made her smile even bigger.