Dirty Scoundrel

By: Jessica Clare

My mouth goes dry when the sedan idles in front of the restaurant and a driver hops out, then races around to the side of the car and opens the door. A moment later, Chap Weston steps out. I recognize the guy. Anyone would. He’s famous in a way that a lot of Hollywood actors will never get. In the fifties and sixties, there were some really big names in Hollywood royalty—Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart . . . and Chap Weston. Even though he’s more’n twice the age he was in those movies, he’s still got that famous smile and tall, strong shoulders. He’s wearing an expensive, fitted suit that makes me feel a little self-conscious in my too-baggy dress shirt and jeans, and his hair is immaculately combed. Shit. I didn’t even think to do somethin’ with my hair. I bet it’s stickin’ up in all kinds of cowlicks like Natalie teases me over. Ain’t nothin’ I can do about it now, though.

I still wither a little inside when Mr. Weston strolls forward and gives me a scrutinizing look. “Are you Clay Price?”

“Yessir.” I stick my hand out, surprised at the booming resonance of his voice. Guy looks damn good for being eighty. Still weird that he’s the dad of my seventeen-year-old girlfriend, but Hollywood’s weird like that. Nat’s told me she’s the daughter of wife number four and he’s on number six right now. “I’m real pleased to meet you—”

“Spare me the pleasantries,” Mr. Weston says in a cold voice. “This won’t take long.” He glances over at his driver and gestures. “Wait in the car.”

The driver nods and shuts the door, then hops back into the driver’s seat.

I try to hide my frown. “Natalie not coming tonight?”

“You’re not going to see Natalie again,” Mr. Weston says, with that polite smile on his face. His teeth are bright white in his tanned face, and perfect.

I can feel my back stiffening. My muscles clench and alarm pounds through me. “Excuse me?”

“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.”

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