Authors: Sherryl Woods
“According to Tex's will, you are officially Tess's legal guardian.”
“No,” Megan whispered, stunned not only by the concept, but by the weight of the responsibility. She tried to imagine taking a kid back to New York with her, fitting her into a life already stretched to the limits. Her imagination, always vivid, failed miserably. “There has to be another way. Mrs. Gomezâ¦.”
“Not quite,” Jake said. “You can't just dump Tess with Mrs. Gomez and take off.”
“Why the hell can't I?” she all but shouted as panic flooded through her.
“Because Tex has spelled it all out in his will.”
His intimate familiarity with the details of Tex's wishes stirred suspicion. “How do you know so much about Tex's will?” Megan asked, her gaze narrowed.
“Because I'm the one who drew it up. Believe me, it's airtight.”
Megan wondered just how many shocks her heart could take. “You're a lawyer?”
“A damned good one, if I do say so myself. You renege on the terms that Tex has spelled out and the ranch is up for grabs.” Jake's expression turned triumphant. “In other words, it'll be all but mine, Megan, and there won't be a damned thing you can do to stop it.”
For my father
As strong-willed as Tex and every bit as great an
influence on my life. I'll miss your wit,
your generosity, your tomatoes
and our Beanie quests.
October 23, 1917âAugust 28, 1998
egan O'Rourke swept through the elegant marble and glass lobby of the prestigious Manhattan skyscraper, acknowledging a half-dozen greetings that followed in her wake.
“Good morning, Miss O'Rourke.”
“Hi ya, sweetheart.”
This last from the newspaper vendor, who also handed over a copy of the latest issue of her competitor's glossy life-style magazine.
“Nothing you haven't covered and done better,” he assured her with a wink.
“Thanks, Billy. I hope the day never comes when you tell me she's beat me on something.”
“Won't happen,” he said with confidence. “That staff of yours doesn't miss a trick.”
Megan knew that because her staff was every bit as eager and ambitious as she was, every bit as tenacious and determined to take
to the top, right along with the weekly TV show that had launched just weeks ago. The people she'd hired were young and savvy, quick to spot trends, sometimes just
as quick to start them, she acknowledged as she got onto the elevator.
Not until the doors had whooshed closed did she pinch herself, a daily ritual that had started with her meteoric rise in publishing. She still couldn't believe she was right on the brink of becoming a phenomenon as successful and renowned as Martha Stewart, dabbling in a whole slew of media pies, from magazines to books to television, her finger on the pulse of American culture.
Pretty impressive for a small-town girl from Wyoming who'd grown up on a ranch with a grandfather who was about as sophisticated as flannelâshirts, not designer sheets. Tex O'Rourke wasn't into trends or styles or much of anything except land and cattle and making money. If Megan ever saw another cow again it would be way too soon.
Still, as Tex liked to remind her, she owed a lot to those cows she hated so much. They'd enabled her to go off to New York at twenty-one with money in her pocket. She'd been able to rent an apartment where she didn't have to fear for her life every time she walked out the door.
After she'd served a suitable apprenticeship on three other magazines, starting in the lowliest of capacities, those blasted cows had allowed her to buy a faltering bimonthly publication, rename it and, in two short years, turn it into must-have reading from New York to Los Angeles. Even the people who set the trends read it, just in case she'd gotten the jump on them. Her readership demographics were an advertiser's dream. These were the people who spent
moneyâa lot of itâto stay one step ahead of the Joneses.
But if Tex's money had given her a boot up, she knew it was her own drive and dedication and vision that had accomplished the impossible.
was on financially stable ground now all on its own. Her first bookâa hefty tome on entertainingâhad been a bestseller. The secondâon turning flea market bargains into treasured heirloomsâwas flying off shelves at an even faster pace.
Six months ago she had started a local cable TV show in Manhattan, used that to assemble sample tapes, and just weeks ago had taken the program into national syndication. She was the media world's latest hot property. Her demanding schedule was packed with talk show appearances and newspaper interviews. Ironically, that ability to crowd every hour with work was another lesson learned from the inexhaustible Tex, even if he didn't approve of the way in which she'd put it to use.
Life was good. Life was very, very good. Alone in the elevator, she pinched herself again just to make sure it was real and not one of those summertime daydreams she used to have on the rare occasions when Tex had allowed her to laze around down by the creek during breaks from school.
When the elevator opened on the thirty-second floor, Megan stepped off into chaos. The rapid expansion of her media interests had jammed the offices, but no one had the time to steal away to look at new space. Her Realtor was at her wit's end.
“Jasmine called again,” her executive assistant said, as if to reiterate that fact as he trailed her into
her office. “The penthouse floor over on Madison is going today unless you get your tail over there to put in a higher bid.”
“Can I fit it in?”
“No, not unless you clone me.”
Megan stared, intrigued by the idea. “Can I do that?”
“They did it on
but as a practical matter, I'd say no,” Todd Winston said.
Toddâwith his all-American face and biceps to die forâhad been an aspiring actor until Megan had gotten her hooks into him when he'd taken a temp job between acting roles. She'd turned him into an executive assistant, the ultimate Yuppie with his neatly trimmed brown hair, oxford cloth, button-down shirts and trendy glasses that couldn't hide mysterious eyes the gray-green color of sage. She had a hunch he'd taken the job as an acting assignment and chosen his wardrobeâand the glassesâaccordingly. She knew for a fact he could see better than she could, and her vision was twenty-twenty.
He still taped at least three daytime dramas at home every weekday and fast-forwarded through them in some sort of bizarre soap ritual every weekend. He claimed the women in his life loved it, and if it satisfied some deep-seated need in him and kept him working for her, Megan wasn't about to complain. Nor was she going to voice any disapproval of his tendency to discuss the story lines as if talking about old and dear friends. She had offered sympathy on more than one occasion only to discover that the
death in question had been scripted and filmed in a studio on the west side of Manhattan.
“What do I tell Jasmine?” Todd asked.
“To start looking for alternative space. Then find a hole in my schedule and pencil her in sometime before the millennium.”
“I'll write it in pen,” he countered. “Otherwise, you'll just erase it and write in something else. I will not listen to another one of that woman's perfectly justifiable tirades. You hired her to find new space so we wouldn't all be crawling over top of each other. The least you can do is look at what she finds.”
Megan grinned at his testiness. “I thought you enjoyed crawling all over the staff, especially Micah.”
Micah Richards was a bright, ambitious producer who was responsible for whipping Megan's TV production into shape in record time. With her close-cropped black hair, angular features and long legs, she was stunningly beautiful in an unconventional way. Mere mention of her was enough to bring color to Todd's cheeks.
“Micah's the kind of woman who'll slap me with a harrassment suit if I sneeze in her general direction,” he protested. “I do not crawl anywhere near her.”
“But you want to, don't you?”
Todd gave her a jaundiced look. “My private yearnings are none of your concern.”
“Sure they are. It makes up for having absolutely none of my own.”
“I thought you had a date last night.”
“It was a business meeting,” she countered emphatically. “No yearning involved.”
“How many so-called business meetings does that make with Peter? Your finances must be very complicated if you need to see your accountant that often.”
That was the trouble with an efficient assistant. He knew her habits all too well. “Do I pay you to keep tabs on my social life?”
“You pay me to keep tabs on everything.”
True enough, she acknowledged, but only to herself. “Okay, then, tell me what's on the agenda for today.”
Todd ticked off a daunting schedule that was already running late, thanks to his penchant for scheduling nine o'clock meetings when he knew perfectly well Megan refused to be civil to anyone before ten. Too many years of ranch living and rising at dawn had made her rebellious. Fortunately, most of those nine o'clock meetings were with staffers who knew her habits. They worked steadily until she called for them, she crammed an hour's worth of talk into fifteen minutes and Todd got to enjoy his little game. It was a small price to pay for his otherwise incredible efficiency.
Her first meeting was with her food editor, who wanted to do a feature on edible flowers. She littered Megan's desk with bright nasturtiums and encouraged her to sample them to prove her point. Megan eyed the perky little flowers with distaste and agreed to take the woman's word for it.
That was followed by a quick session with a freelance photographer hoping to do an architectural photo shoot on the new waterfront home of a man who'd made megabucks in the computer industry.
Megan had to tell him they'd been there and done thatâmonths ago, in fact.
She had lunch with her editor to talk about the next book, followed by nonstop meetings to cover every facet of the magazine, as well as the topics for the next four tapings of the TV show.
“Are you satisfied with these?” Megan asked Micah, who was pacing around the room with an edginess that was typical of the woman's nervous energy.
“All but that last one,” she said. “To be honest, I'm not sure anyone gives a fig about figs.”
“Isn't it our job to show them the possibilities?”
Micah nodded. “Okay, I'll buy that, but consider this. The people watching this show have to go to their neighborhood market later to get the ingredients. Just how many varieties of figs do you think the stores in Middle America will carry?”
“In other words, we'll excite them, then frustrate them,” Megan said thoughtfully.
“Exactly. It's all well and good to suggest new, trendy foods, but if we do, we'd better be sure there's a mail-order link or something for the hard-to-find ingredients. See what I mean?”
Megan nodded. “Mail order, huh? Maybe a catalog?” She beamed. “I love it. Put somebody on developing it. Let's not just offer exotic gourmet foods, but a sampling of everything we talk about on the show. Anything else?”
“Nope. I'll take care of this and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Micah.” Megan regarded her hopefully. “I don't suppose we could get the first catalog out in time for Christmas.”
“Not without having the entire staff crash and
burn. Maybe next Christmas, if we want to do it right.”
“Okay, I'll settle for summer,” Megan compromised.
“Done,” Micah said, then grinned. “I would have gone for spring.”
It was a game they often played, tempering their natural tendencies toward eagerness and excitement with reality checks.
“See you tomorrow,” Micah said. “I'll find something to sub for the figs.”
After her meeting with the producer, Megan retreated to a test kitchen to sample the recipes slated for nine months from now, in the July issue's feature on backyard entertaining. She prided herself on the fact that
had never once mentioned the word
in connection with such an informal social event.
She thought of her grandfather and smiled. Tex referred to her suggested alternatives as “sissy food” and refused to allow his housekeeper to put any of it on his table. Megan knew, because on her last whirlwind visit home she'd asked Mrs. Gomez if she'd ever tried any of the recipes.
“Only at my own home,
Your grandpapa wants only meat and potatoes, nothing so fancy as what you write about.”
“Does he even look at the magazine?” Megan had inquired, unable to hide the wistful note in her voice. For all of her claims to independence, she still craved Tex's approval, which he gave out with stingy rarity.
“Of course he looks. He even got cable last month so the picture of you on TV would be clearer. He is
very proud of you.” The older woman had shrugged. “That does not mean he understands the choices you have made or the food you write about,
“Yes,” Megan had agreed with a sigh.
Megan was a mystery to her grandfather, just as Tex was an enigma to her. He had taken her in when she was barely nine and abandoned by a mother who no longer wanted any part of raising a difficult child. That was the last time Megan had seen Sarah O'Rourke. She had never seen her father, at least not that she could recall, and no one mentioned him. She didn't even know his name. Given Tex's tight-lipped reaction to her hesitant inquiries, there was some question whether her mother did, either.
Tex had been mother and father to her from that moment on. He'd done the best he could, but he was not an especially warm man. He believed in plain truths and harsh realities with no sugarcoating. He'd given her a roof over her head, food and clothes, but he thought toys and dolls were foolishness, television a waste of time and books on anything other than ranching only marginally better.
Megan had never doubted, though, that he loved her. And when the time had come to let her go, he'd railed about it, but he'd given her the wherewithal to make her dreams come true and the knowledge that home would be waiting for her if she failed.