“James,” my father barked, causing me to grit my teeth. I never once knew him to speak to me in a kind voice. Everything about him was abrasive and set me on edge.
Knowing I had to acknowledge him at some point, I turned and took off my wool coat, handing it to my father’s butler, Thomas. Composing myself, I followed the sound of his voice to his study where he already had a cigar lit as he looked through some documents.
“John Wallace will be here soon. I need you to look after him for me.”
I gritted my teeth, knowing what was coming. “Sure.”
His eyes met mine in a hostile way that would have scared any board member, but I was used to him. “Not sure. Before Michael’s death, Wallace and I were on the verge of merging our companies. We would be the largest corporation on the east coast!” he said, slapping his hand down on his desk.
“You can still have that.”
“You know the stipulations of merging our companies.”
I did, and my brother had readily agreed. It was a gentleman’s game, one in which the merging of companies was sealed with a marriage. It didn’t make sense. Those old fashioned values, the days where a handshake was as good as your word were long over. Any deal could be made now under the right conditions without having to sacrifice your happiness.
“I’m not marrying his daughter.”
“Kimberley is a very nice woman.”
I rolled my eyes at his description. The last time I had seen her, she was meek and boring. Not to mention, her looks left a lot to be desired. Her dirty blonde hair was always a frizzy mess, and the freckles sprinkled over her nose made me think of Orphan Annie. I wasn’t the type of man to judge a woman solely on looks, but I did think there had to be an element of attraction. But above all that, I wanted to like being in the company of my wife. An arranged marriage wasn’t at all a guarantee of happiness.
“She may be nice, but I will not be forced into marriage. I’m not Michael.”
He scoffed at that, his disappointment in me obvious. “I’m well aware that you are not your brother. You prove it to me every day you defy me.”
“And you thought the day of his funeral was the perfect time to bring this up? You can’t even let us mourn him before you shove me off on his fiancé?”
“Business never sleeps. If we don’t move on this now, he’ll make a deal with the Connelly Group. That family is ruthless. If he makes a deal with them, we’ll never expand the way we need to. Is that what you want, for our company to limp along?”
I found it funny that he thought the Connellys were ruthless, when he was planning my marriage on the day of my brother’s funeral. My father was one of the most hated businessmen in the city. People despised working with him because of how unforgiving he could be in a business deal. For that reason alone, I wanted nothing to do with the company.
“I will not marry her,” I said forcefully, my fists clenching hard as I stared him down.
He stood from his desk, buttoning his suit jacket as he walked around to confront me. “It’s a requirement for you to take your place as CEO.”
I huffed out a laugh at that. “We both know I won’t be CEO. You will run the company until you’re dead.”
“But the board needs a fresh face, which is why I was voted out in place of your brother. But make no mistake, the company is run by me.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“Then you know you need my approval to take over.”
“I’m not looking for your approval. This isn’t the life I want. I will never run this company,” I said, turning for the door.
“Then they’ll vote in Jerry Wright.”