Billionaires in Blue Jeans
BONUS SCENE #3
“Read it one more time.”
Hank sighed. “What did I get wrong that time?”
“Nothing.” Rudy shook his head. He knew he was being ridiculous. But he wasn’t going to be there to read this letter himself and he wanted it to be just right.
He’d only gotten five years in Bliss. He hadn’t gotten back to his girls to show them all the ways he’d changed. He hadn’t gotten the girls to come to Bliss.
Of course, he could have gone home to New York to see them at any point over the past five years, but...he hadn’t been ready. He’d changed, but he’d always felt he had more changing to do before he went back to try to make amends. And now he was running out of time. He didn’t want to be sick when he saw them. Which meant that he had to get his shit together and put some plans into place to show them how he’d changed, even if he wasn’t here to do it in person.
One thing was clear—the triplets had to come to Bliss.
There was no other way this could go. He knew they wouldn’t stay, but that wasn’t the important part. He needed them to see this town. He needed them to meet these people. Even a year here would be enough for Bliss to get to them and teach them some of the things he’d learned. And maybe get to know him a little better.
“Just one more time,” Rudy told his friend.
Hank nodded. “Okay.”
His friend. Rudy hadn’t really had friends before this. He’d had business acquaintances. He’d had fraternity brothers. He’d had board members and advisors. He had people he trusted when it came to business and investments. But he’d never really had friends. He hadn’t taken time for that. He’d made his lunches and dinners into business meetings. His golf games were about networking. His trips out of town were about acquisitions. He’d never just sat around a table, drank coffee, eaten pie, and talked.
Hank, Walter, Ben, and Roger had changed that within one week in Bliss.
Rudy had walked into Parker’s diner one morning for breakfast after living in the town for four days, Hank had waved him over to the table he’d shared with the other men, and Rudy had been having breakfast with these four ever since.
They didn’t talk about the Japanese markets, or the shipping costs to London, or the tax system in Ukraine, or what an asshole Marcus Drummond, the CEO of Drummond manufacturing in San Francisco was.
Before they all retired, Walter had been a teacher, Roger had run the hardware store, Hank had farmed, and Ben had been a contractor. They had nothing in common professionally with Rudy. Hank and Walter were both widowed, and Ben and Roger were still married to their high school sweethearts, but they had all been married only once and had been faithful to those women from the day they said ‘I do’. They talked about their kids and grandkids, most of whom they saw on a regular basis and most of whom took advice from these men, respected them, and spent holidays with them. So, they had nothing in common with Rudy personally either.
But it hadn’t mattered.
Because they were men who loved their children and wanted what was best for them. They loved Bliss. They wanted to preserve the lifestyle in the little town. And they cared about the three guys who helped keep Bliss what it was—Evan Stone, Parker Blake, and Noah Bradley.
That was all they needed to have in common.
Rudy had learned a lot from these men about how to be a part of a community, how to be a friend. And how to be a father. All while sometimes talking about the seemingly simplest of things—how Bliss could really use a new fire truck and how to get the money raised, about how the new brand of underwear Walter was wearing was the best underwear he’d ever had in his sixty-eight years of life, and yes, they even talked about the weather.
Rudy loved every bit of it.
These men had helped him see the ways he’d failed as a father, but they’d also given him hope for repairing the relationships with his daughters.
And these men had been the first people he’d told about his cancer diagnosis.
“Okay, I’ll read it again,” Hank said, giving in.
Rudy knew Hank would read the letter Rudy had written to his daughters over and over again. He’d grumble, but he’d do it. Because Hank knew how important this was. He felt humbled that Rudy had chosen him to take care of this—Rudy’s final communication with his daughters—and Hank was determined to do the task with every bit of sentiment and honor it deserved.
But that didn’t mean Hank wouldn’t say, “you’re being a pain in the ass about this.”
That was one of the best things about these four men he called friends—they didn’t sugarcoat things, they didn’t avoid the word “cancer”, they didn’t give him platitudes like “things will be fine” or “I’m praying for you”. He knew they were praying for him. But they said things like “this really sucks” or “you look like shit, you better go lie down” or “of course you can drink half a bottle of whiskey—what’s it going to do, kill you?”
He was dying and no one was pretending it was anything other than that. But they were making it all so much better than it would have been anywhere else in the world.
As Walter would say, “Everybody’s gotta do it. At least you get to pick a few things about how you do it.”
That’s what Rudy had been thinking about ever since the doctor had said, “I’m sorry, Rudy.”
He was simply grateful that he could spend his final days in this town, with these people, and that he had friends who would not only write down his final wishes but who would make sure they happened.
Hank started at the top of the letter, reading through Rudy’s words to each of his daughters and the three men who had become like sons.
Rudy could say these things to Evan, Parker, and Noah in person, but there were a lot of things that had to happen before they heard these words and Rudy wouldn’t be there for any of that. Just like he could call his daughters and say these things, but it would be so much better if he could show them what he was talking about.
They’d think he was crazy. He knew that. But he didn’t care. Maybe he was a little. Maybe facing death and all of your mistakes made a guy a little nuts. In any case, he’d made Evan draw up his will and trust and had put several stipulations in it for his daughters. They would inherit his company and the fortune that went with it. But they had to come to Bliss, live in the old house he loved, and run his pie shop first.
Bliss, pie, and the boys—Rudy needed his girls to get to know all of it.
For one year. Just one. That wasn’t much. He knew, better than anyone, how fast that time would go. The best thing he could do for his girls was make them come to Kansas. Of that he was certain.
Hank’s voice wobbled on the third paragraph but he was able to keep going. It wasn’t that Rudy didn’t want Hank to be emotional. Rudy was asking a lot of the man. But he needed to be sure that his message got through to his girls. He knew Hank would deliver.
He honestly didn’t know how he would have dealt with the cancer without these men. Their support and friendship meant the world to him and when he wasn’t busy being grateful that he’d finally found a home and friends, he was busy being pissed off that he’d only gotten five years with them.
Rudy gave Hank a nod after he finished. “Thank you, my friend.” His voice wobbled too.
Walter clapped him on the shoulder and Hank took a seat across from Rudy at the small table in the front of the pie shop. They liked this spot. They could sit and chat while watching Main Street and the park through the big front window.
“On a scale of 0 to 10, how pissed off are your girls going to be about all of this?” Walter asked, cutting off a bit of cherry pie from the piece in front of him.
Rudy alternatingly made cherry and apple, occasionally throwing in peach when the mood struck him, but he had to admit that he was best at cherry. He sighed. “Pretty pissed, I’m guessing.”
“You still think uprooting them and making them come to Bliss for a whole year is the way to go, though, right?” Roger asked.
Rudy knew that these guys were as fascinated by this whole idea as Evan, Parker, and Noah were.
No, maybe fascinated wasn’t the right word to describe the boys’ feelings. They were feeling more…worried. Probably because they were about the same age as the girls and could more easily relate to how they would feel having their father dictating their lives for an entire year, while he wasn’t around to yell at. But these guys, these older men with children and grandchildren, who had seen sixty-plus years of life, they got it. At least kind of. They understood wanting their children to be happy and safe and fulfilled. And how a guy could be driven to drastic measures to ensure that happened.
“I do,” Rudy said.
“Ask him,” Ben said, quietly to Walter.
“I’m not asking him,” Walter told him.
Roger lifted his coffee cup and said, “You’re the one that wants to know so bad,” behind it, even though Rudy could hear every word.
“I’m not the only one who wants to know,” Walter told him.
Hank sighed. “Rudy, we want to know what your intentions are with Evan, Parker, and Noah and your girls.”
Rudy paused with his cup halfway to his mouth. He frowned and set it down again. “Excuse me?”
“You have the boys pretty involved with this will. Evan is writing it up, and you know he’ll feel responsible for making sure it all happens, but you also know that he’ll worry that he’s not up to the task. Parker is going to be right next door to the pie shop in the diner and he’s not great with big changes or craziness. And no offense, but it sounds like having your daughters here for a year could cause a little craziness.”
The other men at the table nodded at Hank’s assessment.
“And then there’s Noah,” Hank went on. “I know you told him that he needs to look out for Brynn in particular. You know that boy is going to take that to heart and practically wrap her up in bubble wrap. So I guess we’re just wondering what your intentions are with the boys.”
“What do you think my intentions are?” Rudy asked. He loved those boys and yes, everything Hank said was true. But he wanted the boys to meet and get to know his daughters. And he wanted his daughters to meet and get to know the boys. They all meant a lot to him and it seemed only right that they should know one another.
“You’re getting the boys very involved with all of this. You know they’re not going to be able to say no to you,” Hank said. “We just want to be sure you’re not backing them into a corner where they’re doing things to make you happy that they don’t really want to do.”
Rudy frowned. He didn’t want that either. “Evan needs to have someone trust him with something big,” Rudy said. “He needs to know that he can be serious when he needs to be. Parker needs to be shook up a little.”
The men nodded again, agreeing with all of that.
“So you’re trying to play matchmaker,” Walter said. “I knew it.”
Rudy felt his eyes widen. “Matchmaker?”
“You’re hoping your girls will come here and make those boys fall in love. Evan will settle down and Parker will lighten up,” Ben said.
“Sounds to me like Ava would be a great fit for Evan,” Roger agreed. “She’s serious and organized and he’s the good time guy who loves to just have fun. He could get her to loosen up and she could make him more responsible.”
Rudy didn’t know what to say to that. He really hadn’t considered the boys being love matches for his girls. More like big brothers. Good friends. Someone who could be for them what Walter, Ben, Roger and Hank were for Rudy. People who loved this town and lifestyle and could help the girls see all the good in it.
But, now that they mentioned it, maybe Ava could help Evan see that he had more to offer than throwing the best tailgate parties in the county. One thing Ava did very well was see and encourage the potential in other people.
“And Cori is the fun one, right?” Ben asked. “She could help Parker relax and laugh a little more. Maybe get him out of his kitchen and away from all his rules.”
Cori was definitely the rule-breaker of the triplets. And she could make anyone smile. She had a sparkle, a charm about her that was irresistible. Even to her father who had tried to mute it. Rudy felt his heart ache thinking about his youngest daughter. He’d made a lot of mistakes there. But Cori needed to learn to commit. She needed to realize that she had more to offer than a good time. She was a lot like Evan. Knowing Evan had helped Rudy understand Cori better. So yes, maybe she did need someone like Parker, the epitome of commitment. Maybe they could balance each other out.
“And Noah,” Hank said. “Noah needs someone who needs him.”
Rudy paused there. Noah would give someone his very last dollar, fix their car, paint their house, and get them a new puppy and still feel like there was more he could do. Rudy wasn’t so sure Noah needed someone to need him. He took on too much responsibility for the people in his life already. He needed someone who wanted him. Someone who was self-sufficient and independent and who could convince Noah that he was already enough. So maybe Ava or Cori would be good for Noah. Ava and Cori didn’t really need anyone for anything. As for Brynn…well, Rudy wasn’t really sure about Brynn. She was the quiet one of the bunch, the bookworm, the scientist. He could talk business with Ava and he could at least argue with Cori and know what they were talking about, but Brynn was different. He had never felt like they could really have a conversation. He never really knew what she was thinking. Brynn just went along with whatever was going on, while Ava and Cori readily gave him their opinions. Maybe Evan would be good for Brynn. He was the outgoing, friendly one who could make anyone feel at ease. Maybe he could coax Brynn out of her shell.
Rudy sighed. Hell if he knew. For all of the insights he’d had into his girls since coming to Bliss and realizing the things he’d been missing out on, he didn’t really know them. He knew things about them. Things that would probably surprise them. But, while he was willing to disrupt their professional lives for a year to bring them to Bliss, he wasn’t sure how much he should mess with their love lives.
Though, come to think of it, their love lives were a mess. Ava turned every social situation into a business meeting. She dated men that had important business connections or who would be at ease at a dinner with other CEOs or politicians. Something she had, of course, learned from Rudy himself.
Cori didn’t commit to anything, including relationships that lasted longer than a few weeks. Since coming to Bliss, he’d realized that had come from him as well. He’d never had a committed relationship with a woman. He’d tried to have one with the girls’ mother, but Jennifer was a wise woman and she’d realized she was far too good for him. Cori had, unfortunately, learned that she and Rudy did best when they saw each other for very short periods and had long breaks in between and she’d transferred that to every relationship with every man in her life. His youngest had always been exuberant and outgoing and loved to be unexpected. Something he had very much failed to appreciate until the last few years.
Brynn more or less avoided relationships with men that weren’t professional and yes, that too, came from her relationship with Rudy, at least in part. He and Brynn had never been comfortable one-on-one and he was sure that somehow impacted her ability—or rather, inability—to be confident in a more personal relationship with a man.
Rudy felt the regret pressing in on him. He’d done so many things wrong. He had to get something right with his girls. Maybe it was best that they learn everything without him around. He really didn’t deserve to take much credit.
“I can’t match the girls up with the guys,” he finally said, knowing it was true. “For one, the boys will do anything I ask, and that’s not fair. They can’t date someone because I ask them to. That’s something they need to figure out on their own. For another, if I tell the girls I want them to date one of those boys, it’s very likely going to be the last thing they’re willing to do.”
The older men all thought about that and he saw a couple of nodding heads.
“But,” he went on as he shifted on his seat, reaching for the piece of paper he’d been carrying around in his pocket for the last few weeks. “I can make some suggestions.”
He opened the paper and spread it out on the table. His friends leaned in to look.
It was a piece of his stationary that he’d found in his briefcase. It ready from the desk of Rudy Carmichael across the top.
So far, the list read:
- Move to Bliss. 1 year. Live in house
He wanted the girls to be together for that year. Working and living together. With Ava and Brynn’s workaholic tendencies and Cori traveling the world, they got together about once a month. He wanted them to be closer than that. The three girls were like three parts to a whole person and they needed each other, even if they didn’t realize it. Yet.
- Run pie shop. Profit by year end.
The pie shop was his pride and joy. Not necessarily as a business, but as a place that was his. He led a worldwide conglomerate with Carmichael Enterprises, but the company was a combination of many companies, people, and talents. Talents that weren’t his. He was the boss. He didn’t do anything directly. He didn’t make anything. He didn’t interact with customers. He interacted with vice-presidents who interacted with regional managers who interacted with district managers and on down the line. But here in Bliss it was different. He made pies and then got to watch people actually eat them. It was crazy how satisfying that was. He wanted Ava to have a taste of that for sure. He also wanted Cori to see what went into running a business behind the scenes. He knew she saw him as a cold, remote businessman interested only in the bank statements. He wanted her to understand that those bank statements, and the numbers on them, were what allowed him to offer his employees their wages and benefits, donate to charity, and improve their factories, shops, and overall products. She seemed to think that he just sat at his desk and counted his profits. She needed to understand what those profits meant and allowed him to do—or prevented him from doing.
The stipulation that the girls work together to make a profitable business would also benefit Brynn. She needed to get out of her lab, her bubble where she was able to hide away from interactions with anyone but the like-minded scientists she led on the research team. Like Ava, Brynn needed to see that what she did at work impacted people. She and her team worked on pharmaceutical advances that made people’s lives better, but she didn’t get to see those people. In the pie shop, she would interact with people who seemed very different from her, but maybe she’d see, as Rudy had, that there were more similarities than differences once she got to know them.
He’d gotten even more specific on the list after that.
- Ava—kitchen, baking, all products. No business!
He really wanted her involved in the creation of the product they were going to sell. It was going to be a challenge for her, and while he knew she’d be frustrated, he really felt that the kitchen, making the pies, was the place for Ava.
- Brynn—customers/waitress. Time with people, get to know them. No kitchen, no business.
Brynn needed to be nudged—okay, shoved—out of her comfort zone when it came to being with people. Waitressing in the pie shop would ensure she met the town and got to really know the people of Bliss. And he had to specify that she stay out of the kitchen and the accounting. She’d be all too willing to jump in to make things more comfortable for her sisters. But being uncomfortable was the best way to grow. Rudy knew that personally.
- Cori—books/accounting. No baking. Leave customers to B. Make a commitment.
And yes, he had to not only make Cori do the behind the scenes stuff so she’d see what went into running a successful business, but he had to specifically tell her to not bake—something she loved and was good at and would be too easy for her to fall into—and to leave the customers to Brynn. Cori was a people person and not only would that not be out of her comfort zone, but she would take over from Brynn and allow her quieter, shy sister to not have to interact.
Rudy read his list, still feeling good about the stipulations he was going to ask Evan to write into his will. He’d get more detailed in the actual legal document, but he also intended to leave some wiggle room so that his girls could really make this work. The most important thing Bliss had taught him was that he didn’t know everything.
He pulled out a pen.
“You’re adding to it?” Hank asked.
Rudy nodded. “I missed a couple of things.” He leaned in and added a few notes beside each girl’s name. When he was done, he held it up.
“Date a guy from Bliss. Give it 6 months. Have fun. No checklists,” Walter read from the note added beside Ava’s name. He looked at Rudy. “You want her to date a Bliss boy for six months?”
Rudy nodded. “She’s never dated a regular guy. All of her dates are somehow connected to Carmichael. She needs to know what it’s like to actually date someone. To have a little fun.”
“And you want Brynn to date six guys from Bliss?” Roger asked, reading the next note. “Wow.”
Rudy shrugged. “She never dates at all. I know the guys here in Bliss are nice guys and I know that Noah will look out for her and make sure she dates men who will be good to her.”
“You want her to fall in love with someone here?” Roger asked.
“No.” Rudy shook his head. “I just want her to…practice. She’ll go back to New York to her lab but she needs some good experiences here first.”
“Noah will take care of her,” Roger said with a nod.
Yes, he would. Rudy had no fears there.
“And Cori isn’t supposed to date at all?” Ben asked, with a grin. “She’s going to be pissed about that.”
Rudy shrugged. “It’s just six months.” Where Ava and Brynn needed to have more fun, Rudy wanted Cori to focus on something other than having a good time. Her sisters, the pie shop. Maybe if she just settled for six months, she would approach her other relationships—like the ones with men—a little more seriously. And he wouldn’t make her lay off dating for a whole year. After all, maybe she would find a nice Bliss boy who could get her to put down some roots for a change.
Rudy shook his head and refolded his list, tucking it into his pocket again. He wasn’t going to think like that. He wasn’t going to arrange marriages for his daughters, for God’s sake. That would be crazy. Okay, what was on his list might be a little crazy, but he felt good about it. But telling his girls who they should marry was a little much, even for him.
“Well, all I can say is thank you,” Walter told him.
“For what?” Rudy asked.
“For giving me a front row seat for this show.”
They all chuckled.
“I think Rudy knows exactly what he’s doing,” Roger said.
“I think he’s completely crazy,” Ben disagreed, with a grin.
“Well, no matter what, I think we can all agree on one thing,” Hank said. “Bliss, Kansas is never going to be the same once the Carmichael triplets get here.”
Rudy grinned at that. “And I hope that the Carmichael triplets are never going to be the same once they get here too.”
Hank clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll take care of them, Rudy.”
“I know you will, friend. I know you will.”
Ava, Brynn, and Cori were going to be okay. Bliss, Kansas would make sure of it.
Get to know Parker, Evan, and Noah better in the Billionaires in Blue Jeans series!