My mom liked to say my stepdad and I were kindred spirits: hearts full of eternal sunshine, balls of steel, skin as thick as a rhino’s carcass, and an impulsive streak that was more than a few miles wide.
Those things, Naomi told me, were what made Josiah propose marriage within three days of meeting her, and those same things, my mom shared with a sigh, were why she had asked him to wait and keep their relationship a secret for three months…times ten.
When she finally said yes, Josiah proved to be just as rash as she predicted. I had only literally known him for hours when he flew Naomi and me to the mountains of Wyoming in his private jet. The next thing we knew, we had arrived at Jackson Hole’s county clerk office, and Josiah had a marriage license in his hand. You’re going to be Mrs. Fox at 8AM tomorrow, and you, young lady, will have me as your Bonus Dad. Any objections?
Naomi had rolled her eyes but soon burst into tears when I threw my arms around my stepdad-to-be and told him I was the luckiest girl in the world. The rest of the evening happily continued in the same vein, and it was only when coffee and desserts were being served that Josiah got a little serious and told me his story.
I had a privileged childhood, but it was gloomy as hell.
It was then I found out that while Josiah was a fourth-generation Wyomite, he also happened to be the Earl of Daringford, owing to his great-grandfather’s noble blood, and with this lofty title came the tradition of the boys in their family being sent off to boarding school on their seventh year.
While British by blood, Josiah had the heart of a cowboy, and his biggest mistake was flippantly saying yes to an arranged marriage and thinking it would all work out. But of course it did not.
Josiah and his haughty aristocrat of a wife had nothing in common, and both of them had only waited until Martha had done her “duty” by giving birth to a son before seeking divorce. Emotions did not exist in Martha’s vocabulary, and this was made appallingly evident when his wife also offered to waive all her rights to custody…in exchange for a lifetime of receiving alimony, regardless of whether she married someone else or not.
He had agreed, of course, but Martha’s cold-blooded streak had also made him paranoid about the possibility of his son taking after his ex-wife. To prevent this, Josiah had decided to enroll his son at a local public school instead of Eton, and he had his own ranch hands teach his boy how to ride a horse rather than having him attend a fancy riding school.
He had done everything he could, Josiah had told us wryly, but somehow, his little boy still ended up the frightfully decent sort. He was a stickler for rules and routines, like the best, uncorrupted version of his mother. He’s a good boy, but I don’t think he’s all that happy. I’m hoping, though, now that you two are joining our family, things will start to change…
And this time, it was Josiah who had tears in his eyes, and the poignant sight had my mom and I instinctively leaving our seats to give the new man in our lives a big, loving hug. It just felt the right thing to do at that moment, and when Josiah had hugged us back, it was like serendepity blowing me another kiss.
That was how I liked to think of it, you see. Sometimes, I’d have this feeling, and it would often turn out to be heaven blowing kisses to point me to the right direction. I called this feeling serendipity, and I felt it the first time I met Josiah…and I felt it again the first time my stepbrother’s lips touched mine.
It was half past three in the morning, and The Sherrington’s library was the only on-site facility that was still open…and happened to welcome minors like me. The wall-lined shelves were fully stocked, and their fiction selection wasn’t bad at all. Even better, they also offered round-the-clock drink service, and I ordered myself a cup of coffee to make sure I was up until seven.
I’m just going to sleep after the wedding, I decided absently. Lack of sleep was better than showing up late on what was one of the most important days in Mom’s life.
I was already a few chapters in with the latest Pendergast novel when I heard the room attendant murmur a greeting. I glanced up, curious to see what kind of person would also prefer hitting the library rather than going clubbing or drinking at this time of the night (day?)—-
Oh. My. God.
I quickly raised my book up to hide my face while peeking over it.