Under the Stars

Bonus Epilogue

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Here is your bonus epilogue for the Lone Star Crossed Saga novella, Under the Stars.

I fumbled in my bag for my key, glad I’d taken a rideshare instead of driving to the Star Energy corporate office. My ears still rang from the news.
I hadn’t seen all of my family together like that in five years. All the Star children and grandchildren gathered together to hear J.P. Star’s last wishes.
Well, not all.
My cousin Jude, Aunt Marie’s son, was missing. He begged off, claiming he couldn’t miss the afternoon rush at the restaurant where he worked as a sous chef.
Plus, there were three new cousins. Granddad had an entire other family no one knew about.
The Crosses. Carter, Jasmine, and Nathan.
Only the oldest, Carter, showed up.
I hadn’t been able to stop staring at him. I turned from granddad’s Portrait on the boardroom wall back to Carter. Over and over. They looked nothing alike—pale, crystalline-eyed Granddad and tall, dark, and handsome Carter. Carter with his perfect deep brown skin and spectacular height. He was at least six foot six and carried himself with a familiar command.
My fingers scraped the bottom of my hand back, but I still couldn’t locate the suite key.
I thought I slipped it into the side pocket inside my purse. Just when I was ready to dump everything out on the hotel hallway floor and sift through it like a hobo, the hotel room door swung open. There was Ben, brows arched in concern.
“I heard you by the door and looked through the people. You can’t find your key?”
Clutching the bag, I threw myself into his arms.
“I can’t do anything right now. I’m still in shock. Not one of them warned me,” I growled.
My husband’s neck was damp and bore the woodsy scent of the hotel soap. I untied sashes his waist, slipping my hands inside the road to feel the warm comfort of his skin. I dropped my bag at our feet in the suite’s entryway. Just touching him lowered my blood pressure and cleared the disbelief clouding my brain. My lips grazed his job. He moaned.
“What do you need?“
I chuckled. “To tell you what happened and remind myself why I am happier with you in Seattle than I could ever be here with these people.“
“Come on. They’re your family.“
I stepped out of his arms and passed him so he could close the door to our suite. The couch in the living area wouldn’t do. I circled around it to the king bed on the far right wall and flung myself on it.
A grid of creamy molding decorated the ceiling. A carved rosette centered each square. The elaborate decor up there was overkill. No wonder the room was so expensive. I hadn’t wanted to stay here, but the posh hotel was the closest to the downtown Dallas high-rise housing the family business. I choked at the $700 a night price tag, but then wanted to splurge.
“We can definitely afford this place now,“ I said.
Then lay next to me on the bed and pulled me back into his arms. My shoulders sag against his chest.
“You make a great big spoon.“
“Oh, I’m a champion Spooner,“ he murmured into my ear. “What happened?“
“We showed up and everyone’s looking at each other all suspicious.“
“They don’t trust this Carter guy?“
“Oh, Mom was just a sharky about her twin as she was about our newfound relative. Our cousin. J.P. had a son who died thirty-some-odd years ago. Mom’s half brother. The man had three kids. Granddad never said a word. Not one fucking word to anyone but his lawyer,” I explained.
“Your mother didn’t know?”
“Maybe she’s lying.“
I rolled over to face him, exchanging the comfort of being a little spoon for tucking my face into his neck.
“With her, that’s always a possibility, but the horror on her face was too uncontrolled to be a ruse. She had no clue.“
Ben’s shrugging shoulders lifted my chin for a second.
“So you have to split your grandfather’s billions three more ways. That’s not such a hardship.” He paused and stuttered. “I shouldn’t have said that. Your grandpa died. I don’t mean to make this about the money.“
I patted his chest. “Trust me. With them, it’s always about money.“
Tears rose in my eyes again. I wiped them away quickly.
“You and I don’t have to worry. I inherit my share out right. No strings.“
He stroked my cheek with his thumb and swallowed. “How much?“
“One hundred million. Plus an apartment in Tokyo.”
Ben whistled. “I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s just hearing the numbers out loud. I… Holy shit.”
“And we get ours free and clear. I guess the old man didn’t have a problem with my marrying an Asian person after all. Why would he? He had a secret baby with a black woman in the 1950s.”
“And no one knew?“ His low-toned voice took on an uncharacteristic squeak.
“Everyone was shocked. Carter Sr. was two months before my mother, just shy of eight months after my grandparents married.”
I did more math in my head. To think the scandal at the time was how quickly the twins arrived after the marriage. Every joked about Mom and Marie being honeymoon babies.
“Wait. What strings?” Ben jerked back.
“Oh, Granddad’s still pulling the strings from the grave.”
I erupted in laughter. More tears fell, but I lost track of whether it was from grief or the absurdity of the situation finally hitting me.
“Mom and Reese are going to have to step aside and let Carter be CEO.“
“Is he qualified for that?“
“Of course he is. He has an MBA from Duke. He runs some construction empire in North Carolina. Granddad had his perfect male heir all along.” I shuttered for my baby brother. “Poor Anthony. It’s hard enough being compared to resolve the time now he’s in the shadow of a business genius/basketball god. Aunt Marie actually brought up his DUI.”
My husband grimaced. “That’s not like her.”
“I know. She’s usually the nice one. We were all on edge.”
“So Carter’s the new CEO?”
“He will be after a breaking-in period. And they can’t say no. If Carter doesn’t lead the company, no one gets a dime. Except for me for some reason.”
“Yay?“ Then shrugged again, and waved phantom pom-poms.
“It’s great news. We’ll have money to invest in your business. Hiring all those new programmers and launching your new products—none of it will be a problem.“
“It’s your money from your family.“ Then shook his head.
I wriggled closer and pulled his hand to my chin to kiss the tops of his knuckles.
“What’s mine is yours and I can’t think of a better way to use the money.“
He pressed his forehead to mine. “none of this seems real.“
“Get used to it,“ I smiled. “Being ungodly wealthy is an all greed and lies if we don’t want it to be.“
“Did you talk to your mother?”
“Barely. I have little to say to her. I don’t know how to keep her secrets. And Reese and Anthony were too worried about making sure I stayed on their side. I don’t even know what that means. The trust conditions are clear: if they interfere with Carter taking over, they forfeit their share. Period.”
Ben hugged me again. I kissed and nibbled his neck, inhaling his scent to calm my nerves.
“But I don’t see Mom giving up without a fight.”
“What’s Carter like?“
“Formidable,“ I sighed. “But I told him he should run. Getting mixed up with us isn’t worth it.“
“Not many people will turn down this kind of money.“
“He’s not leaving. I could tell. As far as we know, he never even met granddad, but I’m telling you, he had the same look in his eyes.“
“What look?“
“Like he’d win or die trying. Like he’s gone balls to the wall a million times before. Like he always comes out on top. His last name might be Cross, but he’s got the Star arrogance down pat. It just worries me because he seemed like a nice guy. He’s concerned about his own family, but Mom had the exact same look. This is going to get ugly. I’m glad we get to watch the drama from the other side of the country.”
“We can’t flee yet. We have your family dinner tonight.“
I shook my head. “I changed our flight. We leave tonight.“
“Quinn!” He gently slapped my back.
“Trust me. The shit is hitting the fan, and we don’t want a front-row seat to this soap opera.“
“You know I love trouble, so I kinda do.”
His broad grin unlocked the tension in my chest and let it go. I laughed. He kissed my forehead, the tip of my nose, then my mouth. The glancing kiss deepened, as did my fingers’ trail under his robe. He hissed a sigh as I gripped his cock.
“This is the only trouble you have time for tonight.”
Ben snickered, then flipped me on my back and did what he did best—behave very badly.