Home > Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(9)

Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(9)
Author: Alice Clayton

I wondered if the wife was happy, if she loved her life. I bet she was adorable, all sunshiny and strong hands and cute cardigans. To bed early, up when the cock crows—I bet she lived her life according to the natural circadian rhythm of the earth; not segmented around fashion week and art gallery parties.

I got all that from the back of the travel section in the Sunday Times that I was sneak-reading instead of reading my own section. I bit down hard on the croissant.

I thought about my secret dream, the one that only Roxie and Clara knew about, which was to one day venture off my island and into the wild. To live on a farm and collect eggs and make gorgeous handcrafted cheese in sweet packaging from smiling sheep. And if there was someone sharing my bed who woke me with his crowing cock . . . well, that would be very okay.

I sighed, thinking about cheese and the simple life and simple yet intense sex. I wondered if Oscar liked cardigans. I wondered if he’d like me in only a cardigan, the edges barely covering my breasts, one large button barely keeping it closed somewhere around my navel, crossing my legs just so as I perched on a hay bale to keep him from seeing my country kitty. His eyes would shine, his shirt would disappear, displaying all of that wonderful ink as he stalked across the barn toward me, his hands flexing as he ached to take hold of me, flip me over the hay bale and—



“Natalie,” I heard again, and I blinked. My mother, father, and brother were looking at me with amusement, my croissant squished in one hand.

My forehead was damp and I was hot all over, my pulse pounding. Good lord, I’d been daydream-fucking Oscar at Sunday brunch?

“Excuse me,” I said, heading into the kitchen.

My mother was close on my heels. “We lost you there for a minute. Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere special.” I sighed, quickly drinking a cold glass of water. The chill spiked through my haze, bringing me back down to earth.

“Sure looked special, from the dreamy look on your face.” She started slicing more bagels for round two. “Anything going on that I should I know about?”

I’ve imagined an entirely separate life for myself based on the word Brie . . .

I haven’t been able to concentrate on one guy for more than an hour at a time ever since I saw the Cheese Man . . .

There was a moment yesterday where I thought thumb-stroking could quite possibly be my new favorite thing ever . . .

“Nope. Same old, same old,” I said. “But I landed a new account on Friday.”

“Sweetheart, that’s wonderful! Did you tell your father?” An artist by trade, my mother was tall, like me, but even more fair-skinned, which she took great pains to maintain. She kept the wide-brimmed-hat business hopping. Her long, thick red hair was usually worn in a lazy bun.

“Go tell your father, I’ll bring this along in a moment. Ask your brother if he ate all the olives already . . . I could have sworn there were some for the platter . . .” As she looked for the lost olives, I smiled and headed back into the dining room.

My father had begun the crossword puzzle, so before he got too far into it, I sat down next to him and plucked the pen from his hand. “I’m supposed to tell you I landed a new account on Friday,” I announced.

Todd peeked over the top of his newspaper. “Congratulations!”

“Thanks. And I’m supposed to ask you where all the olives are. Mom’s going crazy trying to find them.”

My brother grinned. “Olives? Never heard of ’em.”

“She’ll kill you,” I said with a knowing look.

My father took off his glasses and cleaned them with the edge of his shirt, looking at my brother. “If you’ve hidden them somewhere, I’d strongly recommend that you go put her out of her misery.”

Todd headed into the kitchen with a grin, and a moment later we heard, “Stop teasing your poor mother!”

“So, tell me about this new account,” my father said, giving me his full attention. I told him everything, from how I’d come up with the pitch, to the research I’d done into past campaigns and how effective they’d been in the marketplace. He listened and nodded, asking a few questions as I went along.

“I know Mike Caldwell, the guy you pitched to. He’s tough,” my father said, a look of pride on his face.

My father was head of Grayson Development, a real estate development company operating in the five boroughs. He’d moved into Brooklyn ahead of the renovation curve twenty years ago, and could have retired long ago based on that building boom alone. He developed some commercial, but he mostly concentrated on residential. Occasionally high-rises, but mostly prewar conversions in the smaller buildings. He loved a brownstone.

“You could have asked me for an introduction, Natalie. I would have been happy to put in a good word for you and MCG,” he said.

“I know that.” And while he would have called up this client in a heartbeat, he also knew that I didn’t need him to. Which made him even more proud. Which in turn made me all preeny. From the beginning, my father had instilled in my brother and me that you carve the path you wanted, and then you work like hell until you get it. Not that he’d ever be opposed to offering a helping hand, as in introducing me to Mr. Caldwell. But I was proud knowing that I’d gotten where I was in life on my own. “I did kind of kill it in the pitch,” I said with a quiet smile.

“Of course you did!”

My mother came into the dining room with the bagel platter then, and all shop talk ceased as brunch continued. Where my father instilled the “get where you need to go on your own” mentality, my mother instilled the other half of my “take no prisoners” attitude. Family first, but never sacrifice yourself in the process. She was already an up-and-coming artist when she met my father, and in the middle of their whirlwind romance they had an unexpected surprise: my brother. She could have set her own life aside to make a home for my father, but they were equals in every way and they made sure neither sacrificed more than the other.

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