Tucker

(working title) The CEO’s Reluctant Heiress

#

“This year, your brother Jack will be two years from being twice as old as your sister Jen. The sum of Jack’s age and three times Jen’s age is sixty-six. How old is Jen?”

Tucker Smith spared a glance for her daughter as she pulled another pitcher of Coors for the trio of suits at table three. “You’re an only child, the question is moot.”

“Nice,” Emma said flatly. “I’m sure Mrs. Garcia-Shapiro will be totally impressed by that logic. When should I have her schedule your parent-teacher conference for?”

Tucker sighed. “Em, you are the fruit of my loins and my love for you knows nearly no bounds, but I draw the line at eighth grade math word problems.” On autopilot, she switched out the nearly empty salsa crock in front of Emma with a fresh one and a new basket of tortilla strips. “I did my time, slick. You’re on your own.”

“Thirteen point six.”

The masculine voice from a few barstools away caught both their attention. It belonged to Sam Adams and Baja Tacos, extra guacamole – a fairly typical order for Ace’s Sports Bar & Grill and not the reason Tucker’d been surreptitiously checking him out. Emma would say he was hot, but tall, dark and Armani clad had never been Tucker’s type. No, it was his eyes that kept grabbing her attention – they were intense, like green bottle glass that seemed to see right into her soul. Get a grip, Smith.

She’d spent the last twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to convince the butterflies in her stomach that the eye thing was creepy not sexy.

“You’re sure?” Emma demanded of the stranger. “The back of the book says the answer is ten.”

The guy slid a cocktail napkin over with equations scratched on it. “Sorry kid, the back of your book is wrong.”

Tucker frowned. “And you’re a math teacher… where, Mr…?”

“Josh.” He offered his hand across the bar. “And no, I’m not a professional.” He flashed a devastating grin. “I just like numbers.”

“Tucker.” She grasped his hand and jumped at the jolt of electricity that shot up her arm. Instinct had her jerking away like she’d been burned and pride forced her to vainly cover up her embarrassment by vigorously mopping an invisible spot on the bar top. “So what brings you to Austin, Josh?”

“What makes you think I’m not native?”

Tucker laughed. “Darlin’, your complete lack of accent tells me you’re from the left coast, the fancy suit tells me big city and your rugged tan points south, probably somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego.”

“Los Angeles.” Josh sipped his beer. “That’s very impressive, pixie. Do you do parties?”

“Between Ace’s and teenagers,” she nodded her head at Emma furiously texting on her phone, “I’m lucky to sleep.” She took two quick steps and plucked the phone out of the girl’s hands, setting it on the bar against indignant cries of protest. “Homework now. Mindless texting later.”

“Mom,” Emma wailed. “If the answers in the back of the book are wrong then I have a civic duty to my peers to make sure everyone knows.”

“‘Civic duty to your peers’? Where do you get this stuff?”

“PBS.”

Josh patted the bar. “Let me see.” Emma cheerfully complied, sliding the book down the bar. He took a moment to peruse the open pages before flipping to the back where the answer key was located. He shook his head and sent it back to Emma. “Sorry, kid. The rest of it looks right.”

“That’s so unfair.” Emma grumbled.

“Life’s not fair, Em,” Tucker replied, moving to the other end of the bar. “Learn to be one with that now and you’ll be much happier. Go on back to the kitchen and grab some dinner. Mimi and Roger’ll be here any minute and that means-“

“Only tofu and sprouts until Sunday unless grandpa sneaks us out for some barbecue. Yeah, I know.” The girl didn’t need to be told twice. She jammed the book into her backpack and was off like a shot.

Tucker turned back to find Josh watching Emma, clearly amused. “She took the phone, didn’t she?”

“Yep. You have eyes in the back of your head?”

She laughed. “No, just hard won experience.” She smiled and nodded towards his plate. “Can I get you anything else?”

Josh opened his mouth, and then shut it again. He smiled, riling up those damn butterflies. “Nope, I’m good.”

I just bet you are.

“So a sports themed bar – your idea or your husband’s?”

Tucker cocked a brow and leaned in, bracing her hands against the counter in front of him. “That’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think?”

He grinned. Oh, he really needed to stop doing that. “Not at all.” He nodded at her left hand. “You wear a wedding ring – husband. The massive football helmet hanging above your head and ESPN on all the TVs – not stereotypically the little woman’s idea of fancy digs. Your underage kid does her math homework at the bar during Happy Hour – either your boss is criminally lenient or you are the boss. And no, I don’t do parties either.”

Tucker splayed the fingers of her left hand and regarded the simple gold band she’d never taken off.  “Touché.” She smiled slowly. “My late husband was a sports nut, one of those guys who would wear only body paint to a game in sub-arctic temperatures.” She wiggled her fingers. “Widow. I just never bothered to take it off.”

He nodded sagely. “Defense against randy patrons?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hardly. It actually has the opposite effect. Men.” He laughed and when he finished his beer, she set a fresh one in front of him. “On the house. For saving me from word problems.”

He bowed his head. “My pleasure.”

“Tuck?”

She turned around to find Lucky, her assistant manager steering a defiant Emma through the burgeoning crowd. The girl shrugged his hand off her shoulder and quickly regained her seat, tucking into an enchilada the size of her head like she’d never seen food before. She refused to make eye contact with any of the adults present.

Tucker questioned Lucky with a look which he answered by waggling his eyebrows and shaking his head, their universal signal for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Fabulous.

“I’m out. The afternoon drawer is tallied and tied. Tommy just clocked in and is headed this way. Oh, Luis called sick. Again.”

“That’s the third time this month! We’re only two frickin’ weeks in.”

The large man shrugged. “Want me to talk to him?”

She shook her head. “No way, the last time you ‘talked’ to an employee about their attendance they had to go home and change because they wet their pants. I’ll deal with Luis.” She made a shooing motion with her hand. “Get out of here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lucky saluted and paused behind Emma. “Remember what I told you?” The girl nodded quickly and blushed. He dropped a fatherly kiss on the back of her head and left.

Tucker opened her mouth to ask Emma what the hell was going on – don’t ask, don’t tell be damned – when Tommy jogged up to the bar to relieve her. “Maria needs you. She’s having a conniption about Luis skipping out again.”

She sighed. “The helm is yours.” She turned and headed back to the kitchen, hoping Maria wasn’t planning mutiny. She looked back and found Josh watching her, a small frown on his face. This time instead of butterflies, a tight chill ran down her spine.

#

Josh nursed his beer and regarded Tucker openly as she moved gracefully through the bar, her progress impeded several times by chatty patrons – likely regulars – as she made her way back to the kitchen to diffuse whatever crisis was brewing. She looked like a teenager in her 501’s, tiny black t-shirt and pink cowboy boots – not the mother of one. She sure as hell didn’t look a successful business owner. Mama always said you can’t judge a book by its cover. For his own sanity, he had to believe his mama had been right.

“You gonna ask her out or what?”

Startled Josh blinked at Emma. “Sorry?”

She rolled her eyes and pointed her fork at him. “You haven’t taken your eyes off my mom for more than a few minutes since you got here. So either you like her or you’re stalking her.” She frowned. “Stalking’s not cool. She’s got enough to worry about.”

“Does she now,” he murmured. He cleared his throat. “So let me get this straight: you’re asking my intentions toward your mother?”

She chewed thoughtfully. “Yeah, I like that. What are your intentions toward my mother? You gonna ask her out or what?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Afraid not; I go back to Los Angeles on Monday.”

“So?”

Josh stopped laughing. “What do you mean ‘so’? Your mom doesn’t strike me as the one night stand type. And am I really having this conversation with a mathematically challenged eighth grader?”

“Hmpf,” she said. “Technically, if you’re leaving Monday it would be a two night stand, Mr. Wizard. Looks like you’ve wasted all this time checking out her ass and not paying attention. Typical.” She turned back to the magazine she’d been engrossed in, dismissing him. “Have a nice flight.”

This had to be the most surreal conversation he’d ever had – he was currently based in Los Angeles, so that was saying something. An older couple came through the front entrance. The woman stopped just inside the threshold but the man jogged down the steps and approached the bar, sparing Josh the need to scrounge up a pithy rejoinder.

“You ready to go, sweet pea?”

The girl squealed and launched herself into his arms. “Grandpa! Guess what? My math book is wrong. We need to start a petition and make the school board remove it immediately.”

He smiled at her, adoration naked on his face, and smoothed her hair away from her eyes. “Well, well. That is certainly cause for alarm.” They walked away from the bar and Emma turned around and stuck her tongue out at Josh, making him laugh. Kid had cheek. Had to admire that.

Josh snagged Emma’s abandoned reading material – The National Scoop. He shook his head. To each his own. He was about to slide it back when one of the headlines caught his eye: Billionaire Socialite Dead at 48! Vast Fortune to be Donated to Black Footed Ferret Foundation Unless Missing Heir Found!

Christ. Where did they come up with this junk? Still, he thought, picturing Tucker, they only got it half wrong.

Tucker emerged from the kitchen and intercepted Emma and her escort on the way to the door. She hugged her daughter tightly and exchanged stiff-looking greetings with the older couple – no love lost there. From his perch he could see Emma practically vibrating with tension, shooting anxious looks between her mom and her grandparents. He wondered if they realized how much the kid was tuning into. The trio finally made their escape, leaving Tucker standing alone, an island of stillness amid a noisy crowd of people using cheap beer and spicy chicken wings to chisel the edge off their work week.

Yet another reason to avoid steady nine to five jobs like the plague. He’d worked his ass off to get where he was – but on his own terms. Now, just as he was about to crest the summit he’d been yanked back only to find his safety line in the hands of one pixie barkeep.

How the hell had that happened?

Swigging the last of his beer, Josh stood up to leave. He left the tabloid face up, flashing its money shot to anyone who happened to take notice of it. Josh reached into his coat and pulled out a slim, silver case. He shook out a card – Joshua Campbell III, CEO Fields International, (310) 555-1138 – and laid it precisely on top of the tabloid.

He’d completed phase one – he’d found the lost ark when no one else believed it existed. He motioned the bartender, Tommy, over. “Can you make sure your boss sees this?” He tapped his finger on the magazine.

The kid nodded, “Sure thing.”

“Thanks.” He dropped two twenties on his plate and made his own exit, carefully avoiding Ace’s enigmatic owner. He had a couple of days before everything went to hell in a hand-basket; he could wait for Tucker to come to him.

There was no doubt in his mind that she would.

#

One response to this post.

  1. […] Tucker « potpourri […]

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