I’m never going to win any Mr. Personality contests. The only thing that matters to me is the company I built with my recently deceased brother. Period.
I have neither the time nor the inclination for relationships.
Now, the future of the company lies in the hands of my five-year-old nephew Stuart…
…and my brother’s insufferable sister-in-law, Simone Parker, who has just been named his guardian.
Simone Parker, who makes a living as a “fashion blogger.”
Simone Parker, who has no idea how a trust is run.
Simone Parker, I hoped to never lay eyes on again.
There’s no way I’m leaving the fate of my nephew or my company in the hands of that woman.
But fate has other ideas, and now the only solution for both of us is to join forces and…get married?
The first STAND ALONE book of the: EX-CLUB ROMANCE series.
No Cliffhangers! HEA Happy Ending.
WARNING: Due to adult scenes, language, and adult situations, for 18+ only!
Time is money.
Last year I made $75 million dollars, not including my bonus, which puts even that amount to shame.
If you divide that amount by the fifty-two weeks a year I work—I don’t do vacations—then it comes to about $1.4 million a week, very much rounded down.
If you divide that by the seven days a week I work—I don’t do weekends—it comes to about $206,000 a day, slightly rounded down.
If you divide that by the fourteen hours a day I work—6 a.m. to 8 p.m. minimum—then it comes to about $14,000 an hour, ridiculously rounded down.
That’s about $245 a minute, again rounded down, in case anyone is keeping track.
Time is money.
And right now Simone Parker has wasted—I check my watch again—about $2500 of my precious time. Rounded up.
Eric Babcock, the attorney sitting across the desk looks at me, swallows hard and adjusts his tie for the third time since this meeting started.
Or at least since this meeting was supposed to start.
I tap my fingers on the knee of the leg crossed over my other leg.
He swallows again, this time with a cough. Pretty soon he will start sweating. In fact, kudos to him that he hasn’t already begun to take on a nervous sheen.
I have that effect on people.
No one will ever accuse me of being Mr. Personality. In fact, I am known as the Jaguar of Wall Street: cool, cunning, calculating. I subscribe to the Machiavellian principle of success: it is better to be feared than loved.
“You did tell her this meeting was at 10 o’clock?” I ask him with barely contained irritation. My dark gray eyes practically cut into him.
“Ah…uh, yes. Of course, Mr. Bennett I can’t imagine what is keeping her.”
I think back to the maid of honor from my brother’s wedding and I have a pretty good idea of what may be keeping her. She’s probably finishing up her make-up, or primping her hair. Hell, she may not even be up yet, no doubt recovering from a night of partying.
“I’m so sorry I’m late!”
I turn at the sound of the airy voice that’s just breezed in through the door.
The air in the room shifts. Most would probably sense a lightness cutting through the thick bog that I’ve created while waiting impatiently for her. Even I feel that momentary tilt of the earth underneath me…before I find my bearings and remind myself who I’m dealing with. All I need to do is take a good look at her to find my ground again.
What in the hell has she done with her hair? The ends of her long, dark hair are bright pink. In fact, everything about her is pink.
At least I had the tact to take into account the solemness of today’s proceedings and dressed accordingly: a black Armani suit matched with a white dress shirt and slate silk tie.
The only black Simone has bothered to wear is a pair of stiletto heels capping off two shapely, brown legs that, as a package, lean more toward the bombshell genre rather than that of a sister-in-mourning. Her dress is all frills and ruffles wrapped around her body in a way that shows off the same striking curves I remember from the wedding six years ago. That was the last time I ever set eyes on the woman.
This outfit is further proof that today’s revelations are of dire importance.
“It took me forever to finally pull myself together—I just kept thinking about Bette, and Kevin, and poor, sweet Stuart. And then it was impossible to find a taxi….” This bit of rambling is punctuated with a dramatic sigh as she settles into the chair next to me.
“I completely understand, Miss Parker,” Babcock says with incommensurate sympathy. He is positively falling over himself as he lifts his round body out of his chair to offer her a tissue from the box on his desk. I doubt most of the clientele that enter his office are able to make him turn this particular shade of pink, complete with wide-eyed awe, the way my brother’s sister-in-law has.
“Thank you so much,” she says, offering him a smile that practically drowns him in sugar.
One dainty hand, also with pink nails, plucks a tissue from the box. Babcock looks as though he’s just been knighted by the queen of fucking England.
And it’s no wonder, the way she looks. It’s a good thing most of that sex-kitten face of hers is covered by those monstrously huge sunglasses or he’d literally be on his knees. As it is, she practically has him salivating.
Simone is naturally milking it for all it’s worth.
“You’re so kind, Mr. Babcock. It’s just been so difficult since….” The rest is drowned out by a fresh bout of sniffles.
“That’s completely understandable Miss Parker. I can only imagine—”
“Perhaps we can get on with this meeting. Some of us have jobs to return to.” I’ve made sure to stress the word jobs purely for her benefit.
Simone turns to me as though she’s just realized I’m sitting there.
“I’m sorry,” she says with a distinct chill in her voice. She lifts those obscenely large frames off her nose to bore a hole in me with large brown eyes that are now narrowed with contempt. “Do I know you? You seem familiar, but I can’t quite place you. One might almost mistake you for family.”
“It’s no surprise you have trouble placing me,” I reply in a dry tone. “The last time I saw you, you were holding a half-empty bottle of champagne in your hand and making out with the photographer’s assistant at my brother’s wedding.”
She gasps and those eyes widen with white-hot fire. I watch her full lips, also in a darkish shade of pink, itching to give it right back to me, but before she can utter a word Babcock clears his throat.
“Perhaps we should get started. I’m sure you both have busy schedules and are quite eager to hear about your siblings’ final wishes.”
Smooth. I’ll give him that. No doubt in his profession Babcock is used to dousing out the flames of familial resentment.
I’m the first to break the staring competition. I haven’t a clue about Simone, but I do indeed have a busy schedule and, more importantly, I am very eager to hear about my brother Kevin’s final wishes. “Yes, let’s.”
“Ah, uh, yes,” he says, for some reason looking to Simone for confirmation. She just drops her glasses back down on her round little nose and directs her attention back his way.
“Well, due to the unusual circumstances of Kevin and Bette Bennett’s death, which is still under investiga—”
“We are both familiar with the circumstances of their demise,” I say, keeping my impatience in check.
This topic elicits another bout of sniffles to the left of me. There is a pause while Mr. Babcock offers another tissue. At this rate, we’ll be here all day.
It isn’t that I don’t miss my brother. It has, however, been over a week since the plane flying him and Bette to New York disappeared, leaving me plenty of time to adjust to the reality of him being gone. Right now, there is important business at hand which supersedes any time-out for sentimentality. It’s important business that affects the future of the company that, for all intents and purposes, is now mine. Which is why I intend to get to the point of this meeting as soon as possible before Babcock has to start buying stock in Kleenex.
“Perhaps we can start with the guardianship of Stuart?”
Babcock blinks at me as though I just suggested euthanizing his puppy. The man is an attorney in downtown Manhattan. Surely he knows my reputation by now. The bottom line is everything to me.
The look on my face must convey as much since he immediately snaps back into lawyer mode.
“Yes, well, since, er…due to the unusual circumstances of their death,” he gives me a quick, sheepish glance before continuing, “it is impossible to determine which spouse survived the other. In cases such as this, each spouse is treated as though they outlived the other. As such—”
Good God, I don’t need a primer on probate law, Babcock!
Despite my desire to reach across the desk and snatch the papers out of his damn hands to read them for myself, I sit and pay attention, lest some minor, but important detail actually slip from his lips.
“Kevin and Bette Bennett were almost identical in their wishes. I must say it’s refreshing to see a couple who is so completely on the same page in things such as this. While it’s not uncommon, in my experi—”
In what will no doubt be our one and only moment of harmonious thinking, both Simone and I manage to shut Babcock up and get him back on track. I do so by pointedly clearing my throat. Simone falls back to her go-to of sniffling and lifting her glasses to wipe her eyes.
Yes, yes, everyone knows Kevin and Bette had a fairytale marriage, seeing eye to eye in every possible way. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m keeping my awe and admiration in check until I know exactly what page it is that Kevin and Bette were both on.
“You can start with Bette’s will I say.” Hopefully that will put an end to Simone’s leaky eyes and nose. I’m irritated to find Babcock look to her for confirmation once again and then proceed when she nods her head.
“Very well then.” He lifts the paperwork and proceeds to read. “I, Bette Parker Bennett, being of sound mind….”
“I see how it is!”
Simone turns to me with a glare, lifting up her sunglasses to rest them on her head. “I have the responsibility of actually raising our nephew—not that I would expect Bette and Kevin to have it any other way,” this is stated with a meaningful twist of the lips, “and this one gets to hold all the purse strings.”
Babcock has finished reading both of our siblings’ final wishes. Neither one of us is entirely happy, but I’m certainly not going to be this blatantly candid about my feelings on the matter.
Simone is apparently reading from a different page.
“Well now Miss Parker, that’s not exactly how—”
“I’m sure Kevin and Bette knew what they were doing when they named you guardian over Stuart,” I say, interrupting Babcock.
Simone’s only reaction is to narrow her eyes with suspicion.
My face remains completely impassive.
She turns back to Babcock. “So what, I’m supposed to go running to him every time I need to buy groceries or school clothes or…whatever?”
“I’m perfectly willing to give you free rein. Like I said, I trust that Kevin and Bette had a perfectly sound reason for naming you guardian over our nephew.”
“And you guardian over the trust and estate, whatever that means.”
“Oh not to worry Miss Parker, it simply means—”
“When was the last time you even visited your nephew?” Simone has spun her head back around to face me, cutting Babcock off.
“I fly to London on a regular basis.”
“Not London. I’m referring to Stuart. Your nephew?” She draws out the words, as though I’m slow in the head.
I can feel the deliberately relaxed muscles in my face start to harden into something approaching annoyance. “And when was the last time you were in London?”
She straightens up in her chair indignantly. “I Skyped with all of them every Thursday night.”
“Oh, well in that case,” I say in a droll tone.
Her mouth tightens in anger. “Do you even know anything about Stuart? What’s his favorite food? What food does he absolutely hate? What’s his favorite color? Book? Candy? Who is his best friend?”
Babcock, to his credit, tries to get the conversation back on track. “Perhaps it would be best if—”
“I simply don’t understand why either of them would hogtie me with the likes of him, knowing how little interest he’s ever shown in his own nephew.” She’s back to looking in his direction again, though all of this has obviously been said for my benefit.
“Perhaps they didn’t feel you were quite qualified to take control over Kevin’s half of a billion-dollar company,” I offer.
Dammit. I’ve let her get to me. What is it about this woman that manages to get under the iron-clad skin I’ve built up when it comes to human interaction?
There’s a sharp intake of breath on her end. I turn to see Babcock vacillating between the two of us with wide eyes, like a spectator at a boxing match waiting to see which of us is going to throw the knockout punch.
I for one don’t plan on being the one to satisfy him. My method of dealing with obstacles like Simone is far more lethal—figuratively speaking.
Simone somehow manages to recover. Out of the corner of my eye I watch her calmly smooth down the skirt of her dress over her crossed legs. Her lips are pressed firmly together, no doubt to keep from saying exactly what’s on her mind.
Babcock clears his throat and straightens up in his chair now that the dust seems to have settled. “Well, now that that’s—”
We’ve both spoken at once, causing Babcock to flinch in his chair. Simone turns to me with a cool look. I turn to her with the poker face that I use in every negotiation.
“Go ahead,” I say, ceding the floor to her.
“No, by all means, you first,” she says with a sweet smile.
I wait a moment, then talk. I have no desire to play games. “I have to fly out to London to handle transitioning the London office of Bennett Financial. Since you’re so concerned about my lack of interaction with my nephew, how about I take on the responsibility of bringing him back to New York? It will give us a few days to get to know one another. Perhaps I’ll even find out what his favorite color is.”
The last part was said in an almost sarcastic tone and I’m pissed at myself. That kind of low blow shows far too much weakness. All the same, I dare her to find fault with what I’ve just proposed. If she really cares about him, then she should have no argument with this idea.
There’s the tiniest hint of suspicion in the way she looks at me, as though trying to find the catch. Perhaps she’s smarter than I remember.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” she concedes without argument, much to my surprise. “I think you’ll find out that he’s a wonderful little boy and worth getting to know better.”
I’m a bit thrown by how easily she’s given in. Working on Wall Street has inured me to the idea that every proposal should naturally lead to a few rounds back and forth until a compromise is achieved. I stare hard at her face and find it completely void of anything resembling guile or cunning.
She actually meant what she said. Go figure.
“It’s blue by the way.”
“His favorite color.” She brings her sunglasses back down and turns to face Babcock.
I can feel one side of my face itching to quirk up in a hint of a smile. I quickly stamp it out. While my claws have been drawn back in, the wheels in my head are already spinning. I can’t—won’t—let emotion come into play here. There’s far too much at stake.
If all goes according to plan, by this time next month, both Stuart and I will be rid of Simone Parker for good.