Why did he call us to come over? This Sunday wasn’t a holiday. If Dad had any issues about work, he’d take it up with me at the office. He’d always been particular about keeping personal headaches separate from his business ones, and it paid off. The man was filthy rich and hadn’t gotten there by luck.
When he’d called earlier to ask if I’d come over, I was curious what was up. He’d been so cryptic about it, and curiosity got the better of me. My twin was no exception. Kody had been summoned the same as I had. After a call with him, I realized he was just as clueless.
It can’t be something bad, right?
He hadn’t given anything away in that call, but I expected no less. That man’s poker face was legendary, and he wouldn’t let anything slip into his tone either.
As I pulled up to my father’s estate, my curiosity was split between dread and excitement. Would it be good news or bad?
Kody turned into the long driveway as I set my SUV in park. I seldom drove it in the city, but heading way out here was always a chance to get it out for a good ride. He braked and parked his truck next to me, and as I stepped out, glancing at the estate, I tried to figure out what could be going on.
No other cars waited out front, but that didn’t mean others couldn’t be parked along the side.
“Hey,” I greeted Kody as he got out and nodded at me in acknowledgment. He headed for the tailgate, which he opened. I followed, unsurprised he was pulling a six-pack of beer toward him.
“Have you been here long?” he asked.
I shook my head, taking the bottle he offered me. “You think this is going to be a party?”
Our father never invited people over to the estate. It was his fortress away from real life. The few times he ever had guests, they were for holidays, birthdays, and such.
“No. I just need something to take the edge off.” He tapped his bottle to mine, then took a long drink.
I smirked as I brought my bottle to my lips. His idea of something taking the edge off was more liberal than mine. If Dad asked us here to share bad news, I wanted to be clear-headed. Not shit-faced.
“You seriously don’t have any idea why he invited us to come over?” Kody set his bottle on the opened tailgate and leaned against it.
“No clue.” I shrugged. “He doesn’t invite people over often, and—”
Kody scoffed. “And it’s just the two of us.” He splayed his hand out, emphasizing it was just our two vehicles out here. “I’ve been wondering about it all day.”
I rubbed the back of my neck, nervousness coming in quicker. “Do you think it’s anything about work?”
Kody opened his mouth to reply but then closed it, pausing on his words. “Nah. He wouldn’t call us here for that.”
“He has been stressed lately.”
He dismissed me with a wave. “What, you think he’s stressing about that asshole in HR getting busted sleeping with his secretary? That’ll blow over. Office drama—same old.” His brows raised as he grinned, reaching for his bottle. “I sure as fuck hope Dad called us over for good news. To tell us something he wants us to hear first.”
“Like he wants to announce his retirement. That we’ll be taking over the company.”
Now it was my turn to grin. Kody and I were set to run our namesake—Wagner Industries—sooner or later. Dad wasn’t quiet about his long-term visions for the company. He’d built it, he’d babied it, and when he’d had enough, it would be ours to manage.
“I’ve got my eye on a few new toys I’d like to get.” Kody took another long drink. His gaze was distant, but he smiled as he lowered the bottle.
“Like you can’t just get them now?”
His reply was a shrug and another long drink.
Money wasn’t an issue for us, not really. Dad had done well with establishing Wagner Industries. We owned a successful world-renowned conglomerate, and when Kody and I took over, we’d grow on those earnings and make it better than before.
“Like you need any more toys,” I muttered.
“Dad’s got all the money he needs,” Kody argued. “He’s getting old.”
“He’s only sixty.”
“Eh, he’s getting older.” He set his empty bottle down and stretched his arms over his head. “He’s been with Margaret for a few months now.”
“Margaux,” I corrected.
“And he’s probably looking forward to slowing down in life. Not work as much, you know? Hard to keep a girlfriend happy when you’re at the office all the time.”
I sipped my drink then huffed a laugh. “Like you’d know anything about keeping a girlfriend happy. They never stick around long enough to be a girlfriend.”
He shot me a cheesy finger gun. “You got that right.”
I swatted his hand away. “She seems to make him happy.”
“She does. I mean, she’s all right. It’s weird, though. I never imagined he’d want to settle down again after Mom.”
Dating for a few months isn’t really settling down.
I hadn’t considered Margaux a replacement. Our mother passed away so long ago, it wouldn’t be fair to say any woman Dad dated was a rebound or substitute for what he’d lost. Dad never dated much, especially not in the beginning. He’d been too busy—preoccupied and happiest—building Wagner Industries into what it is today. Now, though, he seemed even more well balanced. Light-hearted and patient.
“As long as she’s not a gold-digger who’s using him.”
I shot my twin a deadpan look. He was quick to assume the worst and be jaded enough to say it while I was always the one to do the simple thing of thinking before speaking—or judging.
“She’s got her own money. She doesn’t need his.” While I didn’t know everything about the woman our dad was dating, I’d paid attention when he’d introduced her. Margaux had been previously married and had a twenty-five-year-old daughter.
She wasn’t hurting for income, and she and my father had met in a meet-cute kind of way, nothing related to business. My first impression of the woman remained the same after I got to know her a little better. She was a soft-spoken, sweet lady, not too pushy but not a pushover either. “She makes him happy, though.”
“I guess. Are you going to finish that?”
I shook my head and gave him my bottle. “I won’t rain on his parade.”
Kody nodded as he led the way to the front door. “I won’t either. You’re right. He’s been happier since meeting her.”
“It’s not like he’d have anything to be unhappy about.” A successful business, wealth, a family. He had it made. Sixty wasn’t old, but when I considered what my father had, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life, too. Accomplishments in all aspects of my life: work, income, and family.
Well, not the family part. I wasn’t as jaded about women as my twin was, but I wasn’t looking to settle down just yet.
Kody opened the door, and I followed him in. Looking around, I was relieved that everything looked the same. I wasn’t stuck in my ways and against change, but the way Dad asked us over for no reason needled at me.
“Hey!” Dad came down the hall. “There you are!”
“Hi, Dad,” I said, raising my brows as he approached. He walked too fast, too eagerly, but I put my arms around him once I realized what was happening. Over his shoulder, I caught Kody’s bemused expression.
A hug? “Hey,” I repeated, slower, as I patted his back. I wouldn’t say it was awkward, but, well, fuck, it was awkward.
He did the same to Kody, hugging him and smiling. He was happier than usual, and it was starting to freak me out.
Dad never hugged. He wasn’t cold or anything. He was a loving parent but he was not and never had been much of a hugger.
“Geez, Dad.” Kody did the same stiff pat on the back as I had done. “A hug? What, are you dying?”
Dad rolled his eyes at his joke as we released him. Still keeping his arm around my brother, he guided us both into the house, past the huge foyer. “No. No. I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Are you retiring?” Kody asked.
“What?” Dad slowed enough to smirk at him. “No. I’m far from being done with work. I’ve got plans to see through yet.”
Then what’d you invite us over for?
“Already started, huh?” Dad asked, gesturing at the bottle in Kody’s hand as we reached the kitchen. “Kaden, help yourself. You’re just in time for the big announcement.” He released Kody, and I followed them both through the kitchen and summer room to the sliding glass doors that opened to the backyard.
What big announcement?
As he slid open the partition and we filed outside, I realized more guests had already arrived and found themselves beverages.
It wasn’t a party. And Margaux wasn’t a guest. The term seemed too formal for her since she spent so much time here with my father. She looked like she belonged, relaxing near the pool as she chatted with her daughter. They must have parked near the garages, off to the side, just as I’d thought.
“Here,” Kody said. He passed back my beer and grabbed a new one from the outdoor kitchen.
“What’s up, Dad?” he asked, trailing after him.
He was already ahead, reaching for Margaux’s hand. Her smile was tender. She beamed at him with something that looked less like adoration and more like love.
If he’s not dying and he’s not retiring, what else could he announce?
“Hi, Kaden.” The young woman smiled at me, seeming displaced since her mother left her mid-conversation to go toward my dad. “Hey, Kody.” She lost the smile and simply greeted him in a polite tone.
“Hey Marissa,” Kody replied, lifting his drink and putting all the charm in his smile.
I elbowed him hard. “Mercedes.” The guy was such a dick about names. He’d always been terrible at remembering them, but especially so with women. “Hi,” I told her. “How are you?”
“I’m all right but kind of wondering why Mom asked me to come here tonight.” She was quick to smile. “It’s a lovely home, but…” She shrugged.
Her cluelessness made this whole thing even more bizarre. I’d only spoken to her a couple of times—enough to remember her damn name—but it seemed weird that Margaux wouldn’t have given her daughter a reason for tonight.
“Kaden, Kody,” Dad started. He held Margaux’s hand, grinning at her.
She cast a quick smile at Mercedes.
“I asked you over tonight to let you know I’ve asked Margaux to be my wife.” He kissed her hand and lifted it, showing an enormous ring that glittered in the sinking sunshine.
Mercedes drew in a sharp breath of shock.
I turned to Kody. He sprayed out the mouthful of beer and his eyes went wide.
My jaw hung open as I stared at the future Mr. and Mrs. Wagner.
What in the actual fuck is going on?