Keeping Up Appearances


Millions of women wanted to be me. Thousands of them would have jumped at the chance to kill me to be me.


Well, that would be because of a certain arrogant, self-important, ridiculously rich media darling named River Andrews.

Who just so happened to be my husband.


River's plagued me my entire life. Since birth. Literally.

My mother is his father's personal secretary and has been since before either of us were born. As Mom tells it, Mark Andrews saved her from being penniless, pregnant, and all. He hired her as his personal assistant nearly twenty-five years ago, and she's been doing a stellar job ever since. To show her gratefulness, she's done everything for Mark, including buying anniversary presents for his wife before he realizes he's forgotten his wedding anniversary.

Mark is one of the three founding members of a software company that hit it huge just before Centaur came around. Apparently, they saw the potential of the search engine and roped the creators into working for them. So, when Centaur finally turned into the monster it is, TriTech Incorporated benefited even more. As if the Andrewses needed to be wealthier, right?

Luckily, being Mark's assistant paid off for Mom. In spades. He bought us a huge house with the works, and he, his wife, Anne, and River became like family to us.

So, surprise surprise, guess who was in the hospital waiting room when I was born? If you guessed five year old River, you won the grand prize trip for two to the Bahamas.

Just kidding.

I don't know if he was making up for a lack of having any siblings to annoy or what, but River's been making my life hell nearly all my life. Or, as soon as he was able to anyway…

For example: When I was four, River was the precocious nine year old who decided to conduct an experiment on my hair with the bottle of bleach he found in his laundry room. Obviously, his housekeeper forgot to put it up where he couldn't reach it. Instead of coming out with platinum blond hair the way he thought I would, I ended up in the hospital with a burnt scalp and no hair.

River is also the guy that poured red dye in my pool on one celebratory occasion. I was heartbroken when my sweet sixteen pool party ended up being a bust because no one could go swimming. He wasn't caught that time, but I knew it was him when I found him cackling gleefully to himself over it. The jerk.

Fortunately, ever since he graduated from college, River pretty much vanished from my life. Instead of harassing me, he's moved on to wreak havoc in the celebrity world. He's got a pretty face, apparently a gorgeous body, and has money to boot, which makes him a prime candidate for every single celebutante out there. And he's enjoyed that fact many times over.

But, much to Mark's distress, his heir has also gotten in plenty of trouble and doesn't exactly have a squeaky clean media image. There was the time he was arrested for DUI certainly, or the time he was caught having a ménage à trois with two nubile and popular actresses. Frankly, I'm surprised there's no sex tape floating around yet. Now add to these two instances plenty more of the same, and you can see why Mark's worried about the company's image and is sure he's going to suffer a heart attack soon.

Last week, Mark and Anne were over at our house for our weekly dinners, and he was voicing his frustrations for both his wife and my mother. I love Mark; he's like the father I never had, and I totally understand why he was so worried. It just makes me want to kick River's pompous, self-important ass even more.

"I just don't know when that boy is going to settle down and take his responsibilities seriously," Mark fumed. River had been on the news for the millionth time about his drunken escapades on the boardwalk in Venice Beach. His father was not amused. "I need him to step up and start doing his part in the company. How am I supposed to pass on my position to him if he keeps acting like a teenager? He's nearly thirty, for crying out loud!"

Anne patted his arm comfortingly while she spoke to my mother. "Shannon, honestly, we've talked to him hundreds of times about his behavior. He listens, but he turns around and does the same thing all over again. It's not as though he's not smart, either."

"I know he is," my mom replied serenely. Personally, I think she's secretly thrilled that I'm not crazy. "Maybe simply talking to him isn't going to break through to him. Have you thought about any other way to make him see that you're serious?"

Mark shook his head and stabbed a fork at the contents of his plate. "Damn it, I've tried! I've threatened to cut off his bank accounts and make sure he won't take my position in the future, but doing that would just turn around and hurt the company. An Andrews has to be at the helm alongside a Henderson and a Childress. River knows it, too." He sighed heavily. "I wish there was some way to settle him down and make him stop partying so much."

The four of us were quiet for a while, and I let my mind wander to the concert I had coming up. I'm not exactly famous like River or a bunch of these other celebrities, but I do pretty well with my singing and piano-playing. Well enough that I play at a bunch of country fairs and festivals all over the place. I mean, I have a record deal—not a stellar one, but a deal all the same—and, as long as I can sing and play to my heart's content, I don't care what else is going on.

My next concert was actually going to be my first that I would play in a club where I would be the only act. I was excited and terrified all at the same time, and I'd been rehearsing my butt off with my tiny band. I had all these ideas about what we'd play, the patter I'd use with the audience, and how to improve my stage presence. I was so caught up in working things out in my head, though, that I missed my mother's next words. But I clued in just in time to hear…

"…find a bright, intelligent young woman who'd keep him in line, it would do wonders in keeping him restrained. After all, I doubt he'd want to let the world know that he would cheat on his wife," Mom was saying to Mark and Anne.

"So you think if we found him a woman to marry him, he'd agree to it?" Anne asked, her tone pretty disbelieving. Honestly, I was in the same boat with her. River would never marry a woman he was forced to be with, and there would end that plan.

Mom shook her head and leaned in conspiratorially. "If you made it clear that you would cut him off without a penny if he didn't marry her and start taking charge of his company responsibilities, I think he'd do it. Grudgingly, but he would." She smiled at Mark. "I know River, too. I think he's just having a little too much fun, and, if you rein him back in this way, he'll comply." Her voice was so firm and sure, and I know it's just one of the reasons why she's such an awesome mother. She knows what she's doing. Maybe she didn't mean to get pregnant with me, but she sure as hell didn't slack off in the raising me department.

Mark must have read my mind because his next words were, "My god, if we'd let you raise River, maybe he wouldn't have turned out so bad. Now, I remember why I hired you all those years ago."

Even as my mother's cheeks pinked, Anne shook her head with a smile. "Nonsense. Shannon was busy raising Aubrey to perfection. And look how well Aubrey turned out." When they turned their adoring expressions at me, I cringed. Okay, seriously. I know my mother did a bang up job with me, but their sweet smiles made me squirm with guilt. I wasn't all that good, to be honest, and I was tired of keeping up that façade. "Really, Shannon. If we'd only left River with you more often, he would've learned discipline, manners, and a healthy dose of responsibility—just like Aubrey."

I tried not to smirk. If only she knew…

"We just need to find an intelligent woman who's not going to let River steamroller her over and will actually stand up to him," Mark said. "I just need her to keep him in line long enough for him to realize what he's really supposed to be doing. If she fawns over him like every other female out there, it'll never work."

"Well, that pretty much eliminates every eligible young woman between the ages of twenty and thirty," Mom replied with a sigh. "Do we know of anyone who wouldn't fall for your charming son?"

There was a long silence during which I contemplated how long it would take the three of them to realize that this idea was futile. I mean, really. Did they really think River would marry someone his parents handpicked for him, no matter how they threatened him? Hell, I'd never do it either. It's just a little too nineteenth century for me.

Arranged marriages. Ha! Hahaha…

So when I looked up from toying with my mom's famous chicken casserole, I found the three of them staring at me with sinister little smiles on their faces.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I knew I was in trouble.