Do You Want to Read an Excerpt from "Crazy Old Money"? Yeah. I Know You Do.
Two new releases in two weeks! I know. I’m crazy. And, before you ask, yes I DO sleep and no I DON’T write this fast. This April 5th release of Crazy Old Money is really the single title release of a story originally published in the Worst Holiday Ever anthology.
So why am I republishing this? Mainly, because this story ties into my Hexagon Universe. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you know what Hexagon is. Long story short, this connects to Snapdragon and Chrysalis and especially to the release that comes out in June called Vertical. And because I’m evil, I’ll be parceling out the keys to this universe slowly. Books from this universe contain:
A crackling romance in every story
An element of (sometimes life-threatening) suspense
Humor, ranging from full-on Romantic Comedy to darker wit
It will all be clear when I release The Benefactor, the origin story of the universe, in 2020. So, yeah. It’s all connected and, as a result, Crazy Old Money needs to be its own book.
If you already read this story as part of Worst Holiday Ever, please consider leaving a review with whatever retailer you use. This version has an epilogue that did NOT appear in Worst Holiday Ever and that explains the connection to the rest of the series. If you bought Worst Holiday Ever, e-mall me your receipt and I’ll send you the extended version to get you all caught up!
Now, without further ado…
Here’s your excerpt from Crazy Old Money!
“You’re cute when you’re nervous.”
Jada’s lips set in amusement as her gaze shifted from Marsh to the scenery. Autumn must have been mild for all the russet and gamboge leaves that still clung to the trees. The sky had the look of snow, but forecasts had insisted it would hold off another day. Dry roads and mild November temperatures should have found them speeding up the Taconic Parkway.
“I’m not nervous.” Marsh’s smooth baritone held a calm she’d believed in when they’d first started dating. Marsh was the kind of man who could raise hell without ever raising his voice. Quiet control was his gambit, made more believable by his natural confidence. But she’d seen his game and knew every one of his tells.
“Oh, yeah?” Her sly gaze slid back to his face. “Then why are we doing forty-five in a fifty-five?”
“I like to obey traffic laws.” His slow, cheeky smile copped to the ridiculousness of the lie.
“Do you also like blood flow in your extremities?” Jada jutted her chin toward the grip that white-knuckled the steering wheel, eyeing the speedometer again as she did. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him take a highway drive under sixty-five.
They had passed the point in their relationship that merited an out-loud answer to every question. Entire conversations were had with the slightest quirk of a lip, the precision of a gaze or the clever maneuver of a brow. And so should it have been for a couple who had been together for four years. The look he gave her then relented, admitting with the clarity of a church bell: “You caught me. I’m totally freaking out.”
“Baby…these are your blood relatives, not a pit of vipers. Besides, you know I can hold my own.”
Marsh did know that. Hell, everyone knew better than to go up against Jada Jones, titan of industry and one of the most successful venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road. Marsh was among the rare breed who actually meant it when he said that being with a powerful woman was a turn-on. It had happened that first time he’d seen her in her element and again every time since. He’d admitted to her that watching his girlfriend hand start-up CEOs their asses got him a little hard. His eyes positively smoldered when she put her bossy boots on.
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” he murmured.
“You forget that I’ve met them. Several times,” she pointed out. Jada had shared good times with his divorced parents, Kate and Marshall Sr., over the years when they’d paid separate visits to their son in California. “They’re a bit non-traditional…but, babe, your family’s really nice.”
“Correction. You’ve met my parents. They’re the ones who rebelled. The ones who got out of the family.”
“You make it sound like the mafia. You do realize that your family owns a textile mill and isn’t an old country crime syndicate, right?”
Marsh didn’t share her humor. “My parents aren’t as bad as the others. They’re on the lovable end of the crackpot spectrum.”
“So it’s a spectrum, huh? What’s on the opposite end?”
He took his eyes off of the road long enough to cast a haunted look her way.
Jada shook her head. “Please. The Bay Area is crackpot central. If I had a dollar for every chem trails conspiracy theorist I had to dodge at Berkeley Bowl…”
His responding smile looked forced. For the past two days, she’d sensed his anxiety around returning home. Marsh had never gone to Connecticut for the holidays in all the years they’d dated and Jada had never asked why. She was certain he had his reasons. He had never relished the quarterly trips he made from San Francisco to Hartford, solo voyages in service of his position on the Brewster Textiles board. And he never said much about it—only that he went out of love and duty to his grandmother.
All Jada really knew was that his family had run a small business milling wool for the better part of one-hundred years. Their octogenarian grandmother, who Marsh called Maw Maw, was the CEO. She’d summoned all Brewsters with special expertise to sit on the Board. Marsh had been asked because he was an attorney—never mind that his area of expertise was human rights.
What had caught Jada’s attention whenever she overheard him on the phone with Connecticut was the change in Marsh’s tone. That he became so gentle when reasoning with what sounded like a stubborn woman only made Jada love him more.
“JJ…” He used his nickname for her, speaking in a low, sorrowful tone, as if breaking upsetting news. “California crazy is, like, quirky crazy. Lovably-eccentric crazy. Eight-dollar-bamboo-fiber-dental-floss crazy. My family takes crazy to another level. This is the East Coast.”
Marsh sounded more frantic by the second. Though, if he’d thought his warnings would make her less curious to meet his extended family—especially the elusive Maw Maw—he’d thought wrong.
“Babe,” she argued gently, hoping he wasn’t too far gone to calm down. “The only one who sounds crazy right now is you.”
“Do we need to review what we talked about on the flight?” he asked as if she hadn’t spoken.
Jada rolled her eyes. She’d barely slept on the plane for Marsh’s cautionary tale. He’d made a big deal about quirky cousins, instigating in-laws, and rivalrous siblings, but they were the sorts of things Jada might have expected. What family didn’t have petty jealousies and infighting? A jackass who became a loud mouth when he drank too much? A grandmother who said whatever the hell she wanted?
Then there was the other thing she expected—the thing that Marsh didn’t have to say because they both understood: she was the black girlfriend coming home to meet his WASPy family. He hadn’t said that Jada would have more melanin than anyone else in attendance, but all the clues were there. Jada rarely talked about the thick skin she’d had to develop—how many mild to outrageous indignities she’d suffered over the years. When people kept narrow company, it showed.
“I passed your test, babe. Twice. Speak loudly when I’m around Uncle Peter—he’s loads of fun but he’s only got one half-good ear. Don’t take the bait when your cousin Jason wants to talk education reform. Keep your mom’s new girlfriend, Ashley, away from your dad. And always let Maw Maw be right.”
Jada was impressed by how thoroughly she’d parroted back Marsh’s advice, but her answer didn’t appease him. If anything, Marsh seemed more on edge.
“Just…don’t let anything anyone says offend you.” Even the chiseled quad muscle that her hand rested upon seemed tense from where she touched it through his fitted slacks.
“Aww…it’s cute when you think I’m a china doll.” She moved her hand from his leg to stroke the back of his neck. “But, baby…I’m like Teflon. I think I can handle one dinner with your family.”
* * * * *
Jada is in no way prepared to handle dinner with my family.
Marsh wished his epiphany had come sooner. He’d pep talked himself into believing otherwise all week. Keeping secrets about the money meant keeping secrets about the business, which, in turn meant telling half-truths about his family. Marsh had worked so hard to create a distinction between the way he lived now and the way he was raised that he’d never revealed to Jada what his family was like and how much money they really had.
It wasn’t lying specifically to her, per se. When you were embarrassed by your wealth, you lied to everyone. Marsh had been editing details that might incriminate him for a decade or more. He referred to friends from boarding school as “friends from high school”. He never revealed that he was from Connecticut—only that he was from back east. If anyone ever asked where he’d gone to school, he mentioned his grad school alma mater, UCLA—never his undergrad, Yale.
And he didn’t only let his words do the talking: he grocery shopped at Costco and Trader Joe’s; he brought a packed lunch to work each day instead of buying lunch from restaurants on the street; he’d resisted the siren call of the Tesla dealership and bought himself a Prius. Sure, Marsh still had money, but it was hidden behind the secret panels of his life, just as a secret wallet compartment held his Centurion Card.
And he would have gotten away with telling Jada in his own time if it hadn’t been for his meddling grandmother. The woman had been guilting him about bringing Jada home to meet her for years. The insistent call he’d received from Maw Maw summoning him back for “an urgent family matter” could have been an excuse to achieve just that. Maw Maw would have surmised that he had existing plans with Jada, and that bringing her along as part of his own sacrifice—a single day out of his Thanksgiving weekend—would be the only decent thing to do.
The timing of Maw Maw’s family meeting rendered the word “sacrifice” an understatement. The meeting had ruined Marsh’s meticulous plans for a romantic getaway in Whistler. Supremely romantic, if things went his way. Marsh wasn’t so thankful for anybody as he was for Jada. It seemed fitting that Thanksgiving weekend also be the weekend he proposed.
“What’s the name of the place again?”
Jada’s question startled Marsh out of his thoughts. He looked over to see that she’d taken out her phone. Plans to carry out his proposal at a ski chalet in British Columbia had taken him the first half of the week to unravel. Reworking his proposal to involve a gorgeous Vermont bed and breakfast had taken the second half of the week to spin back up.
“Firefly Ranch,” he recited easily. He’d been on the phone with the innkeeper at least ten times. “In a little town called Lincoln near Mad River Glen.”
“Aww, this place looks cute!” she exclaimed, swiping through what had to be the photo gallery. “The website says we should stop at the Vermont Country Store if we have a chance. Have you heard of it?”
Marsh smiled and took her hand. “It’s kind of a thing.”
Jada gave it a squeeze and kissed the tops of his fingers before giving it back and returning to her browsing. “Then we have to go. I want the full experience.”
Little did she know that the full experience involved renting out the B&B for the entire weekend and hiring a butler-slash-chef who would wait on them hand and foot. He’d gotten them gear in case they wanted to snowboard, had a horse-drawn carriage on 24-hour call for sleigh rides through the woods, and had printed trail maps for walks in the B&B’s private forest.
But he needed the weather to do what it was supposed to, to complete the magic: Jada absolutely loved snow. Not the kind that came out of machines during warm seasons in Lake Tahoe—the kind that fell from the sky. He’d rented a tricked-out Suburban because he’d forgotten how to drive in this weather. And if the forecast held, tomorrow he’d be making good use of his four-wheel-drive.
"Tomorrow, JJ…” Marsh trailed off, uttering for her benefit the mantra he'd repeated to himself. "If we leave right after breakfast, we can be there by lunch. Did you see the pictures? The hot tub in our suite pushes up to big bay windows. We’ll drink champagne while we look out at the forest and watch the snow fall…”
“Don't you think it'll be rude to leave before breakfast?” she asked in a way that told him her impeccable manners warred with the fantasy he’d spun.
“This weekend isn’t theirs—it’s ours,” he declared with low resolve. “We’ll excuse ourselves graciously and be on our way. Trust me—by morning, you’ll have had your fill.”
Soon enough, Jada would see that his claims weren’t an exaggeration. All crazy meant was being divorced from reality. Jada had dealt with her share of narcissists, but they tended to be of the new money, Silicon Valley variety. Marsh’s family, on the other hand, was old money crazy. He may have been born to them, but few of them felt like his tribe.
From his pedigree alone, Jada had surmised he’d grown up with at least upper-middle-class privilege. Bringing her home to his talk-with-their-teeth-together New England family would serve up exactly the kind of shenanigans he’d tried to escape. No one was more estranged from reality than people who had been so rich for so long.
His cousin, Biff, was a high-functioning alcoholic and the one slated to take over the business. Biff’s sister, Liz, was a low-functioning opioid addict who Marsh hadn’t seen in two years. Years before, Liz had gratefully accepted plastic surgery as an eighteenth birthday present from her mother, which pretty much explained how crazy Aunt Minnie was. Minnie herself had gone under the knife more than a dozen times. She liked Marsh well enough, but viciously hated his mother. Their passive-aggressive cat fights were among the family’s longest-standing traditions.
The other characters in his family weren’t certifiable, but something had to be wrong with them, the way they enabled the crazy ones. What sane person would stay married to Biff? Why were his cousin Jason’s lips glued to his Uncle Peter’s ass? And if Steven hadn’t been such a workaholic, absentee father, wouldn’t Liz have turned out better than she had? Yet no one was as fearsome or as feared as Maw Maw. She took no prisoners, accepted no excuses, had no pity for the weak. Their autocratic leader was as hard on the people around her as life had been on her.
She’d been a girl of four when the crash of ’29 hit—just old enough to remember the privilege she was born to, and to feel the trauma of its loss. She and Paw Paw had been childhood friends, both of their families decimated by the crash. Every ounce of ambition, of perseverance, of sheer grit she had learned, had come from quitting school and working the machines on the mill floor. By 1940, she’d done what she had to do, to help her own family and, later, the Brewsters, to claw their way back to the top.
As a bright, quick-witted child with clear entrepreneurial sensibilities, Marsh had won his grandmother over with his first lemonade stand, which he’d cleverly set up on the links. He’d positioned it near the tee box on the tenth hole at the country club and charged a steep five dollars a glass. Apart from his business savvy, his habit of melting Maw Maw with a dimpled smile and a climb in her lap may have also helped.
To say that others hadn’t been as successful with Maw Maw would be an understatement. Every expression of the woman’s emotions felt as binary as code. When Maw Maw favored you, it felt as if the heavens had opened and God himself smiled down. When she didn’t, she could make you rue the day you were born.
“My mom says she’ll fix you a plate.”
Marsh had thought Jada was still looking up Vermont stuff on her phone. Evidently, she’d been texting her parents. He looked over just in time to see her smile as she tapped out her last message and slipped her phone into her purse.
He couldn’t help but smile himself when he took in her overdone but adorable get-up. Beneath her white padded parka, with its oversized fur-rimmed hood, she wore a gray wrap dress of soft cashmere that fell just above her knees. Her slim leather boots were accented with a knit collar, and around her shoulders hung a completely unnecessary alpaca scarf. She was even wearing earmuffs accented with what looked like very soft fur. He knew for a fact that she had packed no fewer than four pairs of boots, two coats and three perfectly-coordinated pairs of gloves. They were only staying until Monday, but Jada could have warmly-survived winter in the wild.
Her fashion bug tendencies were among the many things he loved about her. She was always pulled-together and sharp. And she was creative about it: classic couture one day and high-fashion avant garde the next. Today, no bold lipstick, dramatic eye shadow or bright shade of nail polish spiced up her look. Though, her naked brown skin seemed to radiate light. Her cropped cut was sleek—shaved in the back and curled in the front to soft, smooth waves. Jada’s slim, diamond-jaw face really pulled it off.
“Don’t tease,” he practically pouted, his inner petulant child imploring him to hatch a plan to somehow get them to the Thanksgiving dinner he wished he could enjoy. “You know how I love your mother’s cooking. Why don’t we move our return flights to a day earlier? We’ll go through Boston, and do a stopover in L.A….”
“Wow, really?” She blinked over at him then. “You’d sell out our mountain getaway for a piece of sweet potato pie?”
When he pretended to think, she swatted his shoulder. Little did she know that he wouldn’t be changing a single other element of their plans. The proposal could still be salvaged. Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving in Connecticut, come Saturday, he would ask her to marry him.
“Oh, so it’s like that?” She crossed her arms.
“Uh-huh,” he baited. “That’s exactly how it is.”
Their banter always led to flirting, and their flirting always led to more. If he hadn’t been driving, he’d have leaned over and kissed her. In fact, when they got out of this car, kissing her was exactly what he was going to do.
* * * * *
Marsh had that look in his eye—the one he got any time he was thinking about kissing her. Two-and-a-half-hours in the car without stopping was becoming a bit much. They had long-since turned off of main roads and hadn’t seen other houses for at least a mile. She hadn’t remembered Marsh ever saying that where his family lived was so remote.
When they crested a hill, Marsh’s eyes brightened in a way that made Jada follow his gaze. Looming in the distance, a grand estate stood alone.
“Is that it?"
She hadn’t meant to sound so astonished, but…could that really be where Maw Maw lived? Jada had expected something, well…smaller. Like a suburban mini-mansion or a really nice house. Spotlights illuminated what looked like a small castle. Jada was sure they flattered the estate, no matter the season. The golds, greens and reds that lit it up today were clearly in celebration of Christmas.
Other illuminated buildings orbited the surrounding lands. There looked to be car garages and utility buildings and guest houses and boat houses—you know, because behind the house was a huge lake. And the land beyond the lake and the buildings wasn’t just land—not just dead grass on a frozen plain—it was acres and acres of hundred-year-old forest. Deciduous trees stood leafless and bare, while evergreens closer to the house had been decked out in small white lights. Beyond grand gates, gas light posts lined a more definitive driveway and the space just below each light had been tied with red velvet bows.
"Nice place," she remarked when he didn’t answer.
"My grandmother has champagne tastes.”
But this was no $20 split of house sparkling—it was a nebuchadnezzar of Taittinger. Marsh said nothing more for the moment and Jada had the presence of mind to let it settle. It obviously made him uncomfortable. His voice was quiet when he finally spoke.
“Like I said before…this is my family. Not me.”
Marsh pulled the car to a crunchy stop behind another parked Suburban on the gravel driveway. Jada pulled her hood up and arranged her scarf and earmuffs as he came around to open the door. Temporarily enamored by the weather itself, she was delighted to see her breath freeze in front of her face as he helped her stand in the cold air. After he closed her door, he didn’t wait to pull her into his arms.
God, he smells good.
Even after airplanes and rental cars, Marsh still smelled like him. It seemed like ages ago that they’d showered together that morning, having so much fun they’d nearly missed their flight. Marsh brought the sexy times all right, but he always took time for the romance.
“I can’t wait to get away with you,” he murmured, touching their noses in an Eskimo kiss. “This time tomorrow, we’ll be in Vermont.”
“You promised me snow,” she quipped softly as he brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m gonna hold you to that.”
She liked the way his lips always melted into a smile as his cerulean blue gaze washed over her face, how he got his fill of drinking her in before he leaned in for a kiss. Marsh was a master kisser. A championship kisser. An Olympic gold medalist in kissing. He took his time even then, in the frigid cold, with a brisk wind stinging their faces, to devour her mouth deeply and right.
* * * * *
Wanna read more? You can get the book right here.