Dirty Scoundrel(5)

By: Jessica Clare

“I’m not an idiot, boy. I know exactly what this is about.” He continues to give me that charming smile, even though his words are hateful. “You’re interested in my daughter. I’m here to tell you she’s not interested in you. I’m trying to let you down easy.”

Huh? I just talked to Nat on the phone a few hours ago. We texted not long after that. “I’m not sure what you mean—”

He holds up a long hand, indicating I should be silent. “You’re here because you want to meet with me. Get to know me a little better. Best-case scenario, you want to move in with my daughter. Worst-case scenario, you’ve gotten her pregnant and I need to step in.” His eyes narrow at me.

Move in with her? “Sir, I want to marry Natalie. I love her—”

Chap Weston shakes his head at me, interrupting me once more. I’m all flustered and unable to think clearly, even as he continues. “That’s a nice thought, but what do you have to offer her?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve looked into your family, son. They’re not exactly what anyone would dream of for a son-in-law.” He gives me a pitying look.

I grit my teeth. It ain’t a secret that the Prices are trash. There’s five of us—all from different moms—livin’ in our shitty trailer while Dad roughnecks it out west. My brother Boone just joined him this last year, and I’m about to head off and do the same. “I’ve got a job lined up. I’m gonna work real hard.”

“And what, move my Natalie into a trailer? Don’t you think she deserves better than that?”

I clench my jaw, because he’s right. Natalie does deserve better than that.

“Son,” he begins again in that grating tone I’m startin’ to hate. “My daughter is smart. She’s got great connections. I want her to go to Stanford, just like I did. You know she’s been accepted, right?”

Huh? Stanford? I don’t even know where that’s at. And Natalie hasn’t mentioned college, not once. I thought we’d make plans now that we’ve graduated. “No, I didn’t know that.”

The look he gives me is pitying. “I see. Well, that doesn’t change things. Natalie will be attending in the fall and working on her degree. She’s got the world in front of her—that’s what I’m trying to tell you. You’d only bring her down.”

This can’t be true. Natalie loves me. Just last night, we kissed for hours and she promised me that she loved me as much as I loved her. It can’t all be lies. “I think you’re wrong, sir—”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe, son. Look in your heart. You think you can offer Natalie the kind of life she deserves?” He gives me a long, up-and-down look again, eyeing my clothes.

And I feel . . . ashamed. He’s not wrong. The job I’ve got lined up is roughnecking—hard, dirty work that pays well enough, but not like what Natalie will be used to. I know her dad lives on an enormous ranch out in the country. I know he’s got all kinds of Hollywood money coming in. Natalie wears name-brand designer clothing. She’s gone on fancy vacations with her dad and her stepmom to places I can’t even find on the map. All I’ll have to offer is my starting salary as a roughneck “worm”—the lowest guy on the totem pole—and hope I can move up.

And love, of course. I can offer her so much damn love. But now I’m starting to think that won’t be enough. Natalie Weston is . . . well, she’s perfect. Shy, soft-spoken, sweet, and caring.

I’m just a crude Price.

Still, I can’t give up on the girl I love. “I might not be the best guy for her, Mr. Weston, but no one will love her more than me. No one.”

“That’s a nice sentiment,” he says, glancing back at his driver. “But I can tell you all about how fleeting love is, and so can my five ex-wives. And it’s hard to have love when you don’t have money.”

My heart squeezes somethin’ fierce and I begin to feel despair. I’m losing. Somehow I’m losing and I’m gonna lose . . . everything. “This isn’t what Natalie wants—”

“You so sure about that? She didn’t tell you about Stanford.” His voice gentles. “My Natalie’s got a soft heart. She wouldn’t want to hurt you more than is necessary, son.”

I can’t believe this is true. I can’t. I think of Natalie, with her big blue eyes and her soft smile. Feels like my fucking heart is being ripped in half. “Why wouldn’t she say anything to me?”

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