Prologue – Millionaire’s Dream

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***New Orleans – 15 years ago***

Cassandra McBride stared at the woman in the mirror. She was virtually unrecognizable from the usual designer-suited, diamond-clad, and haute couture trophy wife of the millionaire oilman that graced the pages of the society section in every newspaper from Waco to Houston.

But tonight was special – different. Tonight she was not the twenty-five-year-old wife of a powerful man. Tonight she was Cassie. Just Cassie. Tonight she was living out her deepest fantasy. For this one night, she was going to be ‘just a good ole’ boy’s girl.’

It might seem a strange fantasy for someone who had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But Cassie had never fit-in. She had never been the daughter that her mother wanted, or the son that her father needed. She was a disappointment all around. Not pretty enough nor talented enough to win the beauty contests that her mother had. Not driven enough or ruthless enough to follow in her father’s footsteps, even if she were just a ‘girl.’

Instead, her daddy had done the only thing he could think of to ensure her future and her mother’s. He had bartered the nineteen-year-old virgin to the highest bidder. Perhaps she was not fair to the man who had given her life, but being the poison pill of a corporate merger had not been part of her life’s plan.

She chuckled as she thought about how the dying man had used guilt and responsibility to entrap her into marriage. “What will happen to your Mama?” Why her daddy had not simply arranged a marriage between his widow and his rival had once perplexed her. Wouldn’t that have been simpler? But, over time, she came to understand. Her Mama wasn’t young enough to attract or keep Gerald McBride’s interest in the company.

Instead, her life had been bartered away. Her dreams crushed. Her plans buried. Called home from her second year at A&M, her dream of becoming a teacher sacrificed to provide financial stability to her father’s business and her mother’s expensive tastes.

In the past five years, Cassie had come to terms with it all – accepted that this was her life and made the best of the situation. She had made her place in the social circles which her husband dominated. Found some solace in her work with underprivileged children.

But still, something was missing. Some piece of herself. Some purpose and meaning. Finally, she had convinced Gerald to have a baby. A child of her own. Their own, she supposed. However, she doubted that it would work out that way. Her father had certainly never been an active part of her life. And from what little she knew of Gerald’s early involvement in his son Stephen’s upbringing, it was highly unlikely he would take any interest in this child either. That did not deter her, though.

Before she settled down, took that final step, which would tie her forever to her husband, there was one thing she wanted to do. For herself. One fantasy to fulfill. And tonight was the perfect chance. Her trip to New Orleans for the national conference on the rights of the child provided her the window of opportunity she never thought she would get.

Tonight, she was going to become ‘just a good ole’ boy’s girl.’ A woman. Not a child bride exchanged for security. Not a trophy wife whose charity work reflected nicely upon her powerful husband, softening his cut-throat image, and deflecting at least a bit of criticism. Just a woman. An unknown quantity. A mystery.

She pirouetted before the mirror in the bathroom of her motel. Motel. That alone was a first for her. Not some five-star, posh, sterile, and overly expensive prison of the soul.

Just a run of the mill, cookie-cutter, overly done, chain motel. One of the thousands across the country, most exactly the same as this one. While the room itself was just as sterile as its higher-end cousins, she had found the down-home attitude of the staff refreshing and heartening. She had even gone so far as to check in under her maiden name, paying in cash, something unheard of at those other places.

This was her chance, though. Perhaps her last. And she was not going to waste it. New Orleans, even in the off-season, was a place that beckoned a wildness in the soul. A place where you could lose yourself, let down your hair, and forget the tights reins of societal strictures.

And that was just what Cassie intended doing tonight. Her last in the Big Easy. Laissez les bon temps rouler – “let the good times roll” epitomized the city’s joie de vivre. A joy that had been missing for most of her twenty-four years on this planet. Was one perfect night too much to ask of Fate?

Cassie sighed as her trembling fingers lifted the cardboard box. Condoms. That was the question. How far was she going to take this fantasy? It was the unanswered query that had plagued her since she hatched this plan weeks ago. She still had no answers. But just in case, she slipped the box into her purse.

One last turn before the mirror, a final inspection. She wore tight, well-worn jeans that she had bought at a thrift store. Her blond hair fell about her face that sported markedly more dramatic make-up than usual. A touristy t-shirt completed the ensemble. Her one splurge had been the shiny red cowgirl boots, but she could wear those again, perhaps to the Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Ensemble? Cassie chuckled nervously. Tonight she would have to watch that. Her vocabulary. Not that it would be too much of a challenge. After all, she had been raised more by Aunt Rose, the old ‘negro’ housekeeper and cook, than either of her parents.

Cassie still shuddered at that word. How easily her parents, her husband, and their friends dismissed people simply because of the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. She would never get used to that.

Perhaps that was the root of this fantasy? All those hours, days, a childhood spent in the presence of a simple woman with an earthy honesty, warm cookies, and open arms for the little girl who had no one else to love.

She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye before it could trail down her painted cheek, ruining her make-up and delaying this night further. Perhaps that was what she was doing? Procrastinating? Because deep inside, Cassie knew that Aunt Rose would not approve of this escapade.

Cheating. Whether she had sex with a man other than her husband or not, she knew that Aunt Rose would consider this adventure ‘hanky-panky.’ Something the woman had never condoned in her parents and would be scandalized over in her ‘honey child.’

That was the issue. Cassie felt guilty. And she had not even done anything. Yet. Oh, Gerald might not realize it, but she was more than aware of his little peccadilloes, usually with Latina girls. Most barely legal. Others? But as Aunt Rose said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

She closed her blue eyes, sent up a prayer seeking forgiveness. Whether to a god she had never believed in, even though they made a show of attending church weekly, or the woman who had been more mother to her than the one who birthed her, Cassie was not sure.

Despite the delay, she knew that this was a chance she had to take. Just this once. An opportunity that she could not pass up. “I’m sorry, Aunt Rose. But just this once, I want something for me. I hope you can understand that?”

With that entreaty to the woman who had been dead for more than three years, she slipped out the door into the waning light of a muggy fall night in the Big Easy. And whatever Fate awaited her. This was her one chance to live out a dream.

Chad Wilson took his place at the podium by the door of the dive nightclub. What the hell was he doing here? He had been working as security, a glorified word for ‘bouncer’ since he retired from the Marines two months ago.

He should have probably gone home, back to East Texas. His grandfather needed his help on the old homestead. But after years spent traveling the world, the places and spilled blood that he had seen, some part of him was unsettled. Unclean. And he did not want to contaminate the one good thing that he had in this world.

The trouble was Chad had no idea how to cleanse his mind and soul of the stain. So, as much as he longed for the clean air scented with pine, the solitude that place brought his soul solace, and the warm love of his grandparents, he just was not ready to go back. Yet.

But a sleazy one-bedroom apartment in a cheap complex, a job that was going nowhere, and no real friends to speak of, was no kind of life either. His only companions were a couple of mutts that he had saved from the local pound that first week.

He should walk away from this place. And never look back. Maybe he would. After this shift, he would speak with the manager and give his notice. Hop into his old battered pick-up and drive home. First thing tomorrow morning.

The decision brought some relief to his troubled mind as he turned his attention to his job, to getting through this final night. It was not even eight, and already a line was forming outside the country music club. He would focus on that for now. On making sure that the line moved smoothly and no fights broke out. After all that was what they paid him for.

She was stunning. Absolutely beautiful. Chad looked at the woman who had just reached the front of the line. She clearly did not belong here. From her tight-fitting denim jeans to the rock on her finger right down to the pointy toes of her expensive cowgirl boots. This lady shouted money, lots of it. And class too.

“Excuse me; I think you have the wrong place, Miss.”

She stared at him for a long moment. Her blue eyes, or at least he thought they were blue, scanned him from the top of his cheap cowboy hat down to his battered boots and back up to meet his eyes.

Then she looked around the club from the packed bar with Friday night boozers to the dance floor that was empty except for one older couple that came regularly to dance to the slow songs before going home early. He saw the place through her eyes and found it lacking.

Then she turned those baby blues back to him, “No. No, I have the right place.” She opened her purse, “What’s the cover charge?”

“Nothing. It’s Ladies’ Night,” Chad lied as he promised himself to keep an eye out for the little lady for the rest of the night. No matter how busy the place got.

And it did get busy. It was Friday in New Orleans, after all. By midnight, the dance floor was full — some couples dancing arm and arm. More than a few single ladies line dancing to the latest country song. He looked them over, but she was not among them. He scanned the room once more, looking for her. He had kept his promise, checking up on the little lady often during the night.

His stance stiffened as he noticed her chatting to one of the Friday night cowboys at the bar. He was worried about the trouble she could get herself into, in a place like this. Although he supposed it was none of his business. Still, he could not get her out of his mind.

“Hey, buddy, I’m here to relieve you,” said his friend Mike from behind.

Chad thought about telling him to keep an eye on the lady wearing tight fittin’ jeans. Then he thought better of it, better he stuck around instead of heading home the way he usually did to his dogs and that empty apartment. Tonight he would hang out for a bit, get a couple of beers, and keep an eye on the little lady himself. Make sure she didn’t get into no trouble.

Chad took up a spot at the end of the bar and grabbed a cold bottle of beer, opening it himself. He tried not to be too obvious as he watched the lady sip her pink frozen drink with the dumb umbrella in it. After a couple of minutes, he could see her body tensing as the Friday night cowboy, as they called the doctors, lawyers, and accountants who dressed up and came in on the weekend to pick up women, kept pushing closer to her. Enough was enough. Chad put the empty bottle of beer on the bar and walked over to them.

“Excuse me, Miss, but would you care for a dance?” Tight Fittin’ Jeans, as he had come to think of her, smiled up at him, and his heart dropped to the toes of his dusty cowboy boots. She nodded and held out her hand, making her excuses to the other man.

Chad cursed under his breath as the music switched to a slow country classic just as they stepped onto the dance floor. But he took the princess into his arms and drew her close anyway. The feel of her ripe, soft curves against his hard body was maddening, and after a moment, he looked for something to say – anything.

“So, what’s a lady like you doing in here?” he reddened as the dumb line bypassed his brain and right out his mouth.

She laughed then, and the sound was like fingers running softly up and down his back after a night of making love. “You think you have me figured out, don’t you, cowboy? Well, I’m not what I seem, and for a beer, I’ll tell you bout these tight fittin’ jeans.”

The song came to an end, and Chad led her into a dark booth in the corner reserved for VIPs. He figured this little lady was the classiest one this place had ever seen. Way classier than the occasional athlete that stumbled in here drunk and looking to get laid. He ordered them a couple of beers and listened as she unloaded her life story over a couple of them.

It was pretty much what he expected. Spoiled little rich girl marrying the moneyed older man that daddy had chosen for her. Her blue eyes swam with unshed tears as she emptied the second bottle of beer, “So there you have it. Except that I have always fantasized about being just a good old boy’s girl. So, tonight while I’m out of town on business, I thought what the hell. It might be my last chance to live out my fantasy.”

Chad frowned at her final words, “Last chance? Why’s that? You dying of cancer or something?” He tried to laugh and lighten the mood, but her story had touched some protective instinct deep inside of him that had been raging like wildfire across the West Texas brush since the moment that Tight Fittin’ walked in.

She shook her head and giggled nervously, “Nothing that bad. Just that we are thinking about starting a family and…”

Her fingers tightened nervously around the neck of the bottle as she looked down. “Well, I know cheatin’ wives are a favorite subject for country songs, but it isn’t something I ever thought I would do.”

She looked up and met his gaze almost like a shy little girl, “I take vows seriously, especially where children are involved.”

Her eyes dropped to the table once more, “It is just that this fantasy won’t leave me. Every time he touches me, it is like something wild inside of me wants to break free. Some tiger or something.”

A tiger in tight fittin’ jeans, Chad chuckled at the image. It just about summed up the lady sitting so close to him. “Well, little lady, I ain’t makin’ no promises, but how about we dance the night away, and you live out at least that much of your fantasy.”

His fingers gripped her chin, and he lifted her face until their eyes met, “For tonight, consider yourself, this good old boy’s girl.”

He was a fool. A damned crazy-ass fool. He cursed himself as he lowered his face slowly to press his lips against her soft ones. The kiss was gentle. Not quite what you would give a little sister since it was full on the lips. It was more like one you would give a goddess whom you worshipped, someone you knew was so far out of your league—someone you could never have.

But Chad did hold his fantasy as they drank, danced, and laughed until the bar closed early the next morning. He walked her outside. “You shouldn’t drive,” he mumbled, not knowing what to say or do now that the fantasy was coming to an end.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a keycard, “I thought of that already. I checked into the motel across the street before I came here.”

Was it his imagination, or was she as nervous and uncertain as he was at the moment? Of course, being a real cowboy and gentleman, there was only one thing he could do. “I’ll walk you back there then. It ain’t safe for a lady alone this late at night.”

She slipped her arm inside his. They walked across the busy highway in silence. Battles, as bad as any that Chad had seen over there, waged between his head and his heart. He should say good night and leave before it was too late, before things got out of control. Before he did something they both would regret, he decided as they stopped in front of a door.

She looked down at her boots for a long moment. Chad tried to gather the strength to walk away. To say goodbye to what he knew would be the best thing that ever happened to him.

“Come in.” Chad thought he must have heard her wrong. But as she lifted her beatific face, he saw the tears swimming in those blue eyes once more as she whispered, “Please.”

For the rest of his life, Chad would replay every single moment of that night. He had taken the keycard from her trembling fingers and opened the door. Some romantic silliness had egged him into scooping her into his arms and carrying her through the doorway like a bride on her wedding night.

She had wrapped those tiny arms about his shoulders and held tight as he lowered her to bed. She had tightened them, drawing him closer to her. Then she had pressed those soft lips to his once more, and all sanity had fled.

Clothes had been thrown about the dingy room in their haste to be skin against skin. The first time was rushed. The whole night had been foreplay and both of them were consumed with a burning need and passion. He had almost come the moment he was inside her tight cunt. But his little trick of replacing her face with his drill sergeant’s from boot camp had kept him from embarrassing himself until the little lady reached her peak. They had collapsed in one another’s arms and dozed for a bit.

But it was the second time in the middle of the night when he had awoken to her astraddle his hard cock, lowering herself slowly onto it. The neon lights that drifted through a crack in the curtains bathed her soft skin as surely as the candlelight that this woman deserved.

She had ridden him then. Like a cowgirl at the Livestock Show and Rodeo, she had ridden him like a prized pony. She had put him through all the loops around the barrels. She had ridden him hard into the home stretch. Until she cried out like that tiger, they had spoken of earlier. She had collapsed forward onto his chest and into his arms after they had both come.

They had woken twice more that night as if some demon reminded them both that the sands of the hourglass were slipping away. This fantasy would end for both of them with the first rays of morning light. But for this one night, a cowboy held a lady – and she could be just a good old boy’s girl.

Chad never knew what possessed him to look at the society page of the paper that morning. Sure, it was just lying there on the table as he slid into the booth of his favorite diner. He came here with his grandfather when they went into town to the Seed and Feed. He had thought he would rifle through it until he found the sports section while the old man went to the bathroom. But when he picked it up, that familiar smile greeted him.

Except this one was not genuine. No light in those blue eyes that appeared a dull shade of grey in the grainy photograph. Some demon, the one that had haunted his dreams for months, drove him to read the article beneath it. His chest tightened as hope, what little he had ever had, died. He knew her name now. And he knew too that she and her husband were expecting a baby.

He remembered her words that night, as he flagged down a waitress and ordered hot, black coffee. He wished he had a bottle of whiskey to pour into it. But he knew that all the whiskey in the world would not erase the memory of his tiger in tight fittin’ jeans.

He lifted his cup of coffee just as you might a glass of champagne, “You’re still a lady to me.” The first rays of the morning light appeared through the window just as they had that morning. His heart had ripped in two when he slipped out of the room then. But for one night, he had held more woman than most men ever see. The night he held a lady wearing tight fittin’ jeans.

His grandfather joined him at the table, and Chad plastered a smile on his face as he listened to him chatting with another rancher at the next table.  But he could not focus on a word the men said. His mind and a part of his heart would always be in that dingy motel room. Not many cowboys got the chance to hold a millionaire’s dream, but he had.

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