Lee King is a dreamer. When he realizes he was born under a lucky star, he reached for the jackpot and won. But winning a big prize isn't the same as keeping it safe from interlopers and greedy fortune hunters--including women. When oilman Tex McDougal crosses his path, Lee believes he has found the perfect man to help him. His daughter, Emilie McDougal, while not a buxom beauty, impresses him with her intelligence, her courage, and her selflessness.
Could he strike a financial bargain with her?
One that would suit them both?
Emilie McDougal has no family except her father, and she has followed in his footsteps from age one. When Lee King enters their lives, she begins to dream--for the first time in her life. She only wants one thing from Lee, one tiny thing that would make her life complete. Would he agree to her counter-bargain?
By Celia Yeary
The huge sign splashed across the top of a multi-story brick building in downtown Houston read "King Oil."
Looks like big brother did it right.
Lee King walked through the enormous double glass doors in the foyer of the building. On the wall to the right, a sign behind glass listed the names of businesses, their respective floors, and office numbers. King Oil-Fourth Floor. Dalton King-400.
Obviously, his older brother occupied offices in the entire top floor. Unimpressed, he punched the button for the electric elevator. The door slid open with a clang and after a slight hesitation, he stepped in.
"Floor, sir?" The operator stood to the side as if at attention.
Lee grinned at the man in the red uniform trimmed in gold braid and wore the round red hat.
"Mr. King's offices?"
"Very good, sir. Now, if you will just step to the rear, we'll be off."
Since Lee had never been in an elevator, he held his breath while the car moved, leaving his stomach behind. The weightless feeling almost made him gasp. Now, that's impressive.
When he stepped off, Lee glanced right, then left. Polished mahogany lined the corridor walls both ways, and crystal wall sconces burned softly, illuminating the hall with a soft glow. Dalton's office was to the right.
He pushed the ornately carved door open and stepped in to luxurious surroundings fit for a king. The thought caused him to smile.
"I'd like to speak with Dalton King," he announced to the receptionist behind the curved desk.
"Your name, sir?"
Leading him across the open area, she opened a door and motioned for Lee to step in. "A gentleman to see you, Mr. King."
"Send him in." The voice sounded unconcerned, slightly bored.
Lee entered and walked close to the desk where Dalton bent his head over a stack of papers.
"Sorry to interrupt your work."
Dalton King jerked his head up and glared. Glancing toward the door, he motioned to his secretary to leave. Pushing back his chair and standing, Dalton said, "I thought you'd be someone I was expecting. Now, that you've barged in here...wait a minute. You're...Lee."
With one hand stuffed deep into a pocket, Lee rocked back on the heels of his worn, dusty boots and pushed his hat back a notch with one thumb. "And hello to you, too, big brother. Been a long time."
Without saying a word, Dalton rounded the corner of his desk, approached, and threw his arms around Lee's shoulders. After a serious bear hug which Lee did not return, Dalton pounded him on the back.
"Lee. I can't believe it's you. Did you know we thought probably you'd died somewhere out there in the west and we'd never know? I can't believe this. What've you been doing all these years? Where did you go?"
"Here and there."
Lee almost succumbed to the exuberance of his brother. The situation was awkward. He remembered the last time he'd seen his brother. They had been but young boys, rough-housing in the yard, around the corral, and down by the pond. Being older and bigger, Dalton always won, even though Lee fought as hard as he could.
"Welcome, Lee. I'm so glad to see you. Have a seat."
Lee studied his brother's face. The man had an open and welcoming attitude, but Lee was uncomfortable.
"I never thought I'd be looking you up, but here I am, sitting across from you in your big fancy office. I don't need anything in a material way, Dalton, just so you know. But I could use a little advice from the biggest oil man in the state. That's all. No family stuff, just business."
Dalton frowned slightly, maybe somewhat bewildered. "All right, then. No pressure. Even though I'd sure like...forget it. What do you want, Lee?"
Lee watched his brother's face go from friendly and inviting to cool and impassive. He'd bet the expression had helped Dalton move people out of his way so he could move on up and out. In a rough business like Texas oil, a man better have a tough skin. His brother was an attorney, too, and that demeanor probably gave him an extra edge during negotiations.
Probably, it's best this way.
"I'm in a bit of a quandary, not trouble, just a problem that's hard to figure out. No matter who you are, brother or not, I would have come to you. Not for help, but just some man-to-man advice. I'll pay you for your time."
Dalton leaned back in his plush leather chair and linked his fingers across his stomach. "No need. Let's hear it."
"I have a ranch northwest of Fort Worth, not far from the Red River. At first, I had a good size cattle ranch, and then I acquired another, doubling my acreage. It's big, because there's a huge amount of empty space out there. Now, some east coast oil people are coming down wanting to drill on my land. I've been lucky enough to get this far, but when it comes to dealing with the big oil guys, I feel like I'm being sucked under. You, though, I heard, have had great success holding them off."
Dalton nodded. "I can say, yes, I have had dealings with them. They were a monopoly over in the east, but the courts broke that up into many smaller companies, though all are still big. Here, we make our own rules, if we can. The problem is to keep our prices low enough to not be undercut and still make a good profit. I take it you don't want to be taken over by these fellows. Well, neither do I. And I've fought them, tooth and nail, and succeeded. But they are ever present, and the bigger they get, the cheaper they can sell oil."
Lee cleared his throat and straightened in his chair. He leaned forward a bit. "Here's what I need. I don't particularly like the oil business from what I've seen and heard, but when there's money to be made I don't mind getting my hands a little dirty. But bigger guys coming over from the east and almost threatening me really makes my blood boil. I've made it this far without help, but it's hard to keep the interlopers away."
Dalton raised an eyebrow. "Just how big are you?"
Calmly, Lee said, "Big."
Without a word, Dalton shoved his chair back, stood and walked to the window. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he stood straight with his back rigid while he stared at something on the street. What was he seeing? Or thinking? Lee felt a little uneasy as he watched his brother. He didn't like a man turning his back on him, but this was important enough to stay quiet.
Maybe his answer was a little curt.
Lee stood also and walked to the window. Looking out, he said, "Nice view. This city sure is big and busy."
Turning only his head, Dalton looked Lee in the eye. Lee knew that look, not only from his childhood, but from other men he'd had dealings with. To him, it said "Just who do you think you are?"
But surprisingly, Dalton placed his hand on Lee's shoulder. "Let's go have some dinner. It's almost twelve and I've been up since four. I bet a nickel you're hungry, too."
Without thinking, Lee chuckled. "You know me so well."
"No. I don't know you at all, but by damn, you're my brother and I won't let you down and I won't let you go."
Lee swallowed hard. His throat closed up. Couldn't say a word.
What's wrong with me?
* * * * *
Lee walked with long strides, just as Dalton did, along the sidewalks in front of one large building after another. Some approached ten stories, while most were two or three stories. Ralston's Dry Goods. Bethany's Breakfast and Lunch. Warren Office Building. Gentlemen's Emporium of Fine Clothing. Jack's Coffee Shop.
After three blocks, Dalton stopped in front of an eating establishment called "Dunstan Bar and Grill."
Dalton asked, "This all right with you?"
Lee shrugged. He didn't care where he ate. Although the place looked a little upscale, nothing bothered him. If the owners didn't like his dirty boots and rumpled clothes, he'd take his business elsewhere.
His brother pushed open the heavy door, stepped to the side, and motioned Lee to enter the small foyer. They walked up three steps and Dalton pushed open one of a double set of doors.
"After you. Let me see about a table."
While he waited, Lee looked around at the crowded place. The interior was dimly lit, quiet, even though the patrons talked. White cloths covered the tables, and brown leather covered the high-backed chairs. The diners appeared to be mostly businessmen, with a few well-dressed women here and there.
Dalton returned and stood quietly, holding his hat down by his side. Lee removed his, too, and smoothed back his thick, black unruly hair.
"Right this way, Mr. King," the head waiter said.
As they sat, a man and a young woman stood from their table and instead of passing by, stopped. The man, older by a couple of decades than the young woman, greeted Dalton.
"How're things out at the ranch, King?"
Dalton stood once again and shook hands. "Fine, just fine, Roscoe. Jo's in charge when I'm in town. I'd like to introduce my brother, Lee King, a rancher from North Texas. Lee, this is Roscoe Moore, one of the movers and shakers here in Houston.
Lee stood and shook hands. "Glad to meet you."
"Same here. This is my daughter, Caroline."
Lee almost wished he'd had a shave and haircut and wore clean clothes. Caroline was a beauty, a dark-haired gorgeous young woman dressed in the latest style, if he knew anything about fashion. She smiled at him in a way he'd bet she'd used on more than one man. He nodded a greeting, since she didn't hold out her hand.
In a soft, low voice, she said, "Happy to meet you, Mr. King."
With one nod, Lee answered, "Likewise."
"Well," said Mr. Moore, "we best be moving along. I have appointments this afternoon, and my darling daughter has an engagement as well." He turned to her. "Don't you, my dear?"
"Yes, Father, but only a short meeting. Then I'll be free."
The four stood immobile for a few seconds, and Lee wondered what was going on. The two visitors did not move away quickly, and Dalton stood very still as though he waited on Mr. Moore. Finally, the man spoke again.
"Dalton, will you and your lovely wife attend the ball tomorrow night?"
"I plan on going, since I'll be in town, but Jo wanted to stay out on the ranch with the children. We have others who look after them, but she takes her duty as a mother very seriously. Otherwise, she'd be here with bells on."
Mr. Moore nodded his head. "I can understand that. Mrs. Moore and I only have Caroline, here, and she's not around as much as we'd like."
Caroline closed her eyes briefly, but opened them and smiled brightly. "Father. Really. I'm very pleased to accompany you to the ball." She turned to Dalton. "Mother has some sort of cold or flu and needs to rest. That's why I'm with Father."
"You live in San Antonio, don't you?" Dalton asked.
"Not anymore. Mother is not well, and Father wants my help in the business. So, I've recently moved to Houston."
"Sounds good. Well, Mr. Moore, I don't want to keep you."
The older man nodded. "We'll be going. Mr. King? Will we see you also at the ball with your brother?"
Lee thought for a second and glanced at Dalton. "Why not? I have nothing better to do tomorrow night."
"Well, then, we'll look for you both."
When they left, Dalton and Lee sat once more. The waiter came by and they ordered a small steak with browned potatoes and a salad.
As they ate, Dalton quizzed his brother. Lee didn't mind. After all, he needed information, too.
"Exactly how do you need my help?" Dalton cut his steak as he talked.
"As I said earlier, I need guidance with decisions about someone drilling on my land. How do I know if I have oil or not? If so, how do I hand over parts of my land to someone in hopes of finding oil? What do I get out of it, and how much control can I keep?"
Dalton wiped his mouth and took a sip of coffee. "Whoa, there. Too many questions to answer at once, although you do have the right ones. Let's tackle the possibility of oil first. You don't want to allow anyone, not an individual or a big corporation, to come onto your property and start poking around. First, you need a good man to tell you if you have a possibility for oil."
"And where do I find such a man?"
"Right here in Houston. Tex McDougal."