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I first saw him at my brother’s wedding, at the back of the reception tent. He stood with the insolent, loose-jointed slouch of someone who'd rather spend his time in a pool hall. Although he was well dressed, it was obvious he didn't make his living sitting behind a desk. No amount of Armani tailoring could soften that build — big framed and rugged — like a roughneck or a bull rider. His long fingers, clasped gently around a champagne flute, could have snapped the crystal stem with ease.I knew from a glance that he was a good ol' boy, able to hunt, play football and poker, and hold his liquor. Not my type. I was interested in something more.
Even so, he was a compelling figure. He was good-looking, handsome if you overlooked the crook in a nose that had once been broken. His dark brown hair, as thick and lustrous as mink fur, was cut in short layers. But it was the eyes that seized my attention, blue even at a distance, a volatile color you could never forget once you'd seen it. It gave me a little shock when his head mined and he stared right at me.
I turned away immediately, embarrassed to have been caught staring. But awareness continued to spread over my skin, a heat so insistent that I knew he was still looking. I drank my champagne in fast swallows, letting the arid fizz soothe my nerves. Only then did I risk another glance.
Those blue eyes glinted with an uncivilized suggestion. A faint smile was tucked in one corner of his wide mouth. Definitely wouldn't want to be alone in a room with that guy, I thought. His gaze moved downward in a lazy inspection, returned to my face, and he gave me one of those respectful nods that Texan men had raised to an art form.
I deliberately turned away, giving full attention to my boyfriend, Nick. We watched the newlyweds dance, their faces close. I stood on my toes to whisper in Nick's ear. "Our turn next."
His arm slid around me. "We'll see what your father has to say about it."
Nick was going to ask Dad for permission to marry me, a tradition I thought was old-fashioned and unnecessary. But my boyfriend was being stubborn.
"What if he doesn't approve?" I asked. Given our family history, of me rarely doing anything that warranted parental approval, it was a distinct possibility.
"We'll get married anyway." Drawing back a little, Nick grinned down at me. "Still, I'd like to convince him I'm not such a bad deal."
"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me." I snuggled into the familiar crook of Nick's arm. I thought it was a miracle that someone could love me the way he did. No other man, no matter how good-looking, could ever interest me.
Smiling, I looked to the side one more time, wondering if the blue eyed guy was still there, I wasn't sure why I was so relieved that he was gone.
My brother Gage had insisted on a small wedding ceremony. Only handful of people had been allowed inside the tiny Houston chapel, which had once been used by Spanish settlers in the seven-teen hundreds. The service had been short and beautiful, the air suffused with a hushed tenderness you could feel down to the soles of your feet.
The reception, by contrast, was a circus.
It was held at the Travis family mansion in River Oaks, an exclusive Houston community where people told a lot more to their accountants than their ministers. Since Gage was the first of the Travis offspring to get married, my father was going to use the occasion to impress the world. Or at least Texas, which in Dad's view was the part of the world most worth impressing. Like many Texans, my father firmly believed if our state hadn't been annexed back in 1845, we probably would have ended up in charge of North America.
So in light of the family reputation and the fact that the eyes of Texas would be upon us, Dad had hired a renowned wedding planner and given her a four-word instruction: "The checkbook is open."
As all creation knew, it was a big checkbook.
My father, Churchill Travis, was a famous "market wizard," having created an international energy index fund that had nearly doubled in its first decade. The index included oil and gas producers, pipelines, alternative energy sources, and coal, represented by fifteen countries. While I was growing up, I never saw much of Dad — he was always in some far off place like Singapore, New Zealand, or Japan. Often he went to D.C. to have lunch with the Federal Reserve chairman, or to New York to be a roundtable commentator on some financial show. Having breakfast with my father had meant turning on CNN and watching him analyze the market while we ate our toaster waffles.
With his full-bodied voice and outsized personality, Dad had always seemed big to me. It was only in my teens that I came to realize he was a physically small man, a bantam who ruled the yard. He had contempt for softness, and he worried that his four children — Gage, Jack, Joe, and me — were being spoiled. So when he was around, he took it upon himself to give us doses of reality, like spoonfuls of bitter medicine.
When my mother, Ava, was still alive, she was an annual co-chair of the Texas Book Festival and went for smoke breaks with Kinky Friedman. She was glamorous and had the best legs of any woman in River Oaks, and gave the best dinner parties. As they said in those days, she was as fine as Dr Pepper on tap. After meeting her, men would tell Dad what a lucky bastard he was, and that pleased him to no end. She was more than he deserved, he announced on more than one occasion. And then he would give a sneaky laugh, because he always thought he deserved more than he deserved.
Seven hundred guests had been invited to the reception, but at least a thousand had shown up. People milled inside the mansion and out to the enormous white tent, which was webbed with millions of tiny white fairy lights and blanketed with white and pink orchids. The humid warmth of the spring evening brought out the pillowy-sweet fragrance of the flowers.