Description: Regina Baker has loved Sam Hyatt since the third grade, but as a poor preacher’s daughter with a landscaping business that barely pays the bills, Reggie feels like a mangy mutt compared to Sam’s current girlfriend, who has a pedigree a mile long.
As the heir to a sizable fortune, Sam has a responsibility to marry well. His wife needs to be well bred, well educated, and well heeled. He was raised to live up to his responsibilities, even if it means sacrificing his happiness.
Their matchmaking friends, Cara and Gray, arrange for Sam and Reggie to join them on a two week cruise, where Sam will have a chance to see what he’s been missing without the society trappings he’s normally surrounded with, and Reggie will have two weeks to win Sam’s heart.
Regina Baker was going to strangle Sam Hyatt.
She swiped the back of her hand across her sweaty face, leaving a streak of dirt on her cheek. He’d promised to be home by the time she finished today, and here it was after six p.m. and no Sam. It looked like she wouldn’t get paid today like he’d promised. And darn it, she needed that check.
Someone like Sam didn’t understand the concept of living paycheck to paycheck. He’d never experienced an overdrawn checking account, the frustration of overdue bills. All he had to do was snap his fingers and money appeared like magic.
Reggie gathered up her tools–shovels, rakes, hammers, stakes, water hoses–and loaded her pickup. She took her time, stalling, hoping Sam would show up before she finished. But no, she was ready to leave and still no Sam. He wasn’t answering his cell phone, either. She’d left him three messages already. Which meant she would have to face the intimidating George and ask if Sam had left a check for her.
Reggie smoothed her unruly hair into a semblance of a pony tail, scrubbed her face with the corner of her shirt, and dusted her hands on her blue jeans. Not that it would do a bit of good. Sam’s butler would still look at her like she was a cockroach trying to find a way into the pristine Hyatt mansion.
Reggie took a deep breath and rang the bell.
The butler opened the door and looked down at her. He didn’t say a word, just waited for her to state her business.
“Hi, George.” Reggie straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin with an air of false bravado. “Did Sam leave a check for me?”
George shook his head. “Not that he mentioned, Miss.”
Darn. “Well, do you know where I might find him?”
“I’m not at liberty to divulge Mr. Hyatt’s schedule.”
“Come on, George. You can drop the act with me. You know darned good and well Sam and I have been friends since he was still in short pants. I need the check for this job or they’re going to repossess my truck.”
Did the corner of his mouth just twitch? She’d never thought George might actually have a sense of humor.
“Well, you didn’t hear this from me, Miss Baker. But you might try to catch him at the club.”
He started to close the door, but Reggie stuck her foot inside. “Wait! Which one?”
His eyebrows arched. “Why, the Manor Country Club, of course.”
Reggie stared at the elaborately carved door. Of course. Like it was the only club in existence. Sheesh.
She drove across town, fighting the horrific rush hour traffic, afraid Sam would be gone by the time she arrived. Her gas tank was dangerously close to empty, she had no cash on her, and her bank account was as empty as her tank. If Sam wasn’t there, she was sunk.
The reality of what she was about to do sank in as she pulled into the drive behind a stream of new Mercedes, BMWs, Corvettes and Hummers. Her ten year old truck let everyone know she didn’t belong there.
Maybe she should have looked for a servant’s entrance.
The cars ahead of her pulled to the front and valets hurried to help the passengers out. No way could she afford valet parking. She waited in line until the driveway was clear ahead of her and drove right past the valets without making eye contact.
She just might kill Sam after all.
She found a parking place at the far end of the lot and pulled in, locking the truck behind her before heading to the main building. Like someone would break into her old truck with all these luxury cars around. She chuckled at the foolishness of her actions. She stuck out like a gardener at a dress ball, which from the look of the people going in the door was exactly what she was.
She looked down at her dirty jeans, sweat-stained tee shirt, and mud-caked boots. No way they were going to let her inside these hallowed walls. How was she supposed to find Sam if she couldn’t get inside?
The valets moved so fast she couldn’t catch one to ask them what she should do, either. She waited until they were all occupied and snuck around the side of the building. She had no idea what she was doing or where she was going, but if anyone stopped her, she’d tell them she was there to bid on some work on the golf course. At least she was dressed appropriately for that.
She’d only walked a couple of hundred feet when she saw Sam at a table on a terrace, gazing deeply into the eyes of a platinum blonde. The woman’s manicure alone probably cost more than Reggie made in a day. She looked at her own ragged, dirty nails and sighed. No wonder Sam never looked at her like that. Compared to the pedigreed blonde, Reggie was a mangy mutt.
What was she doing here? She couldn’t approach Sam like this. It would embarrass him and he’d never speak to her again. She turned to go, then heard him call her name. When she looked back, everyone on the terrace was staring at her. Sam stood and the blonde put her hand on his arm and shook her head. He shook her hand off and vaulted the terrace wall, making his way to where Reggie stood.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” Sam put his hand on her back and urged her back toward the parking lot.
“Don’t you ever answer your damned phone?” Reggie picked up her pace, walking away from him, in a hurry to get away from all those people still watching them.
“I turned the phone off. Beebe gets a little annoyed when my phone rings during dinner.”
They rounded the corner of the building and Reggie stopped, turning to face him. “I’m sorry. I know how embarrassing this must be for you. But believe me, it’s a hundred times worse for me.”
Sam looked down at her. “I know you wouldn’t have come here dressed like that without a good reason. Has something happened? Is someone hurt?”
Reggie shook her head. “Only my pride. I waited for you at your house, but you never showed up. I hate to ask, but I really need that check.”
Sam smacked his forehead with one head. “I totally forgot. I’m so sorry. How much do I owe you?” He pulled his billfold from his back pocket.
“Three thousand,” she told him. “But if you don’t have that much with you…”
Sam slid a handful of hundreds from his wallet and counted out twenty-five hundred. He handed the bills to Reggie. “That’s all I have in cash, but if you want to walk to my car with me, I can write you a check for the rest.”
The humiliation finally became too much for Reggie. She shook her head and backed away. “No, it can wait. This will hold me until Monday. I’m sorry. Thank you.” She was babbling like a fool. She had to get out of there before she started to cry. “Thanks, Sam.” She turned and ran to her truck. Her hands shook so badly she could barely get the key in the lock.
She finally got the door open and climbed inside. She looked back to where she’d left Sam. He still stood in the same spot, watching her. She started the truck, shoved the gear shift into reverse, and backed out of the parking space. Then she peeled out of the parking lot.
“God, Cara, I have never been so embarrassed in my life.” Reggie leaned against the bar in Caramia Kensington’s kitchen, picking grapes out of a bowl on the counter and popping them into her mouth. She was starving, but instead of stopping for food, she’d driven straight to her best friend’s apartment for sympathy. “There I was, looking like something the cat dragged in, and Sam was with this perfectly-groomed blonde in red silk and stilettos. If he needed proof that I would never fit into his lifestyle, he got it in spades today.”
“Aw sweetie, I’m so sorry.” Cara stopped stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove and rounded the bar to give Reggie a hug. “I don’t know how Sam can be so blind. You’re the perfect woman for him. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Yeah, well I don’t think there’s any chance now. I thought, maybe, after that night at the diner that he was at least a little bit attracted, but I guess that was just wishful thinking.”
“Maybe he’s just seen you as a friend for so long that he’s stopped seeing you as a woman.” Cara returned to the stove. “I think we need to come up with a plan, some way for the two of you to spend some quality time together that doesn’t involve you planting trees in his yard.”
Reggie laughed. “Yeah, well, good luck with that. Sam spends every waking minute either at the office or with one of his blonde bimbos. We’d have to kidnap him to get him to take any time off.”
“Maybe we can figure out something. Like what Sam did for us. All Gray and I needed was some time together, to remember what we once had.”
“But Sam and I’ve never really had anything going. It’s all been one sided. Even if he knew I was in love with him, I don’t think it would make a difference. ” They’d been friends since the third grade and he hadn’t realized it yet. Reggie had known for years that Sam was the only man for her, but his parents had drilled into his head that his social standing in the community meant he had to marry well to uphold the family name. And to them, marrying well meant a woman with an impeccable ancestry who could manage a foundation as well as she could host a fundraiser for two thousand people or a dinner for two hundred. She had to look the part and come with a trust fund that matched his.
A poor preacher’s daughter didn’t stand a chance.