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First one hired, first one fired.
Leave it to her to get that twisted, Reeve Fox thought as she made the turn off the coast highway onto the road leading to the marina. It was supposed to be last one hired, first one fired. Or laid off. Told to resign.
"Whatever," she muttered.
She knew she'd hit bottom when she slipped into useless ponderings like the twisting of clichés. A beautiful, sunny day in Southern California, with people coming great distances to soak up the warmth and enjoy the sand and surf, and here she was, reduced to talking to herself.
Of course, it did help to take her mind off where she was going. For an instant, anyway.
Any of those visitors to the golden shores of this paradise"well, paradise as long as you didn't have to drive in the traffic or plow through the crowds" would no doubt be delighted to have her destination. A summer's day visit aboard a brand-new, luxurious corporate yacht was a treat that few would turn down.
And an afternoon with world-famous international entrepreneur and self-made multi-billionaire Josh Redstone would be a hot ticket for anyone, from those wanting to learn how he'd done it to those simply wishing some of it would rub off on them. Or perhaps hoping he'd part with some of that wealth for their cause, a hope well-founded in Josh's lengthy history of doing just that if you could convince him or move him.
But she was dreading this afternoon. Dreading it because she loved and admired the soft-spoken, gray-eyed man who'd built a dream into an empire and managed to keep it alive and well and prosperous and as tightly knit as a loving family.
Dreading it because Josh was her boss, and she knew he was about to tell her this had to end. Josh was kind and generous and loyal, but he didn't get to where he was by being a pushover. And if he felt he had to, he'd fire her.
She hated the sound of that. Fired from Redstone. Terminated sounded just as bad. It was very rare that anyone was fired from Redstone. Left by mutual agreement, maybe, but fired? No. Josh's instincts"and his security's background checks" were too thorough. They'd had some bad apples turn up in the past year or so, but they were the very rare exception.
She wondered if Josh would just let her resign. She'd prefer that. And he was a generous man, maybe he would, despite the way she'd failed him. And continued to fail him, holed up in her little house, barely able to function. He'd carried her, paid her for doing nothing for so long now".
She was dead wood, and anyone else would have fired her long ago.
As she took the turn to the marina, she dodged a carload of pointing and gawking tourists in a minivan and pulled in behind an old sedan with a rack full of surfboards on the roof, likely explaining the oxidized state of its once silver paint. The surfers in the sedan looked young, and she wondered if they were old enough even to be aware of the controversy surrounding the building of the marina, that it would destroy the break at one of the best surfing beaches in the county. She'd grown up here in Orange County, and remembered as a child hearing the adults discussing"sometimes arguing" the subject.
Of course, she was older than those surfer kids were, and about the only thing they had in common was blond hair.
Much older, she thought wearily, and in more ways than one.
While the slightly battered sedan continued on, she turned into the marina parking lot. And her mind went immediately back to the meeting before her.
So much for distraction, she thought wryly. She turned left at the edge of the marina, heading toward the guest slips that were near the yacht club. When St. John, Josh's ubiquitous and enigmatic right-hand man, had called her to set up this meeting, in his usual laconic way he had said only that it would be afloat. She was never sure if he simply hated to talk or just trusted that anybody who worked at Redstone could figure out the rest.
She wondered just how small the club of exRedstone people she was about to join was. Tiny, she guessed; those who were lucky enough to get hired rarely left, at least not permanently. Unless they were stupid enough to break Josh's cardinal rules of integrity, hard work and ethics. Redstone was huge, but somehow Josh, the glue that held it all together, managed to keep that feeling of kinship among his people, fostered by the knowledge that if any of them, no matter how low on the ladder, needed help, the full force of Redstone would be behind them. Like family.
A family, Reeve thought with a sigh as she parked and got out of the car, that was about to divorce her. She looked around. She noted the location of the marina office in case she needed to ask where the boat was. She was peripherally aware of another car pulling into the far end of the same row, saw from the corner of her eye a dark-haired man in a lightblue shirt get out. She glanced at him, thinking he looked familiar, but he was too far away to recognize.
But then she spotted her goal, on a side tie at the far end of the first dock. She'd never seen the boat, hadn't even known this prototype was finished and in the water, but she recognized it immediately. Not because it was flashier or brighter than the other luxury yachts tied up in this large-slipped section of the marina. The opposite, in fact; she recognized it because of the sleek, powerful lines and the subtle Redstone color scheme of slate and red.
The gangway to the dock wasn't particularly steep with the tide in, nor was it slippery, yet Reeve felt as if it were both as she made her way down. She hadn't really realized how much she had come to rely on having the massive force and support of Redstone behind her. Hadn't realized how much she had come to trust Josh Redstone himself.
It's your own fault. You've thrown it away. Even Josh's patience had to run out eventually, and you've let him down for nearly a year.
The litany she'd been running through her head ever since she'd gotten the call from St. John continued in an endless loop as she made her way down the dock. She began to feel as if she were in a tunnel as her field of vision narrowed to nothing but the boat that managed to look racy despite its size and the fact that it was sitting quietly in place.
She only realized she'd come to a halt when the voice came from above and snapped her out of whatever zone she'd slipped into. She looked up to see a man who, from the Redstone shirt he wore, was apparently a crew member on the big boat. He was tall, lean and had the tan, slightly weathered face that spoke of life spent outdoors.
"I'm Captain Taggert. Josh is expecting you. Come aboard, please?"
Leave it to Josh to have the captain serve as greeter, she thought. But then again, she realized, it was Josh who made people like the handsome, straight-backed captain here jump to do things before he even had to ask. It was all part of the incredible loyalty and love he inspired in everyone at Redstone, around the world.
She was going to miss it. All of it.
With a vague nautical image of walking the plank in her head, she followed the captain's gesture and walked toward the back"stern, she supposed"of the boat. It was beautiful, she realized on some level of her mind that was able to look at it dispassionately. But then, it was a Redstone, so she would have expected no less.
"Nice boat," she said, feeling pressure to say something.
"Yes," Taggert said. "The man's a brilliant designer. She's set up for work or play. You could host anything from a society wedding to an international conference complete with media connections on this boat."
She nodded, smiling rather wistfully at the pride in his tone. She'd heard back when the keel had been laid that Josh wanted this still-unnamed yacht to be their"meaning any Redstone personnel" escape from the city, which now seemed to stretch unbroken from L.A. to south O.C., when they needed to work or play without interruption.
"Not many would build something like this and then make it available to anybody who works for him," the captain said, the admiration that most who dealt with Josh felt clear in his voice.
The rest of the crew radiated that same pride and admiration she saw as she noted men and women busily going about the tasks of checking, doublechecking, and then rechecking yet again every inch of the new and as-yet-untested-by-blue-water vessel.
"The Redstone family," Reeve whispered, aching now that the loss of that family loomed so close. She'd been numb for so long the emotion startled her.
She had the feeling she was about to again see in action the shrewd and sharp mind behind the lazy drawl and unhurried manner, the mind that had built the Redstone empire. The man so many had misjudged as stupid, lazy or naive, much to their later dismay when they realized they'd been out-thought, out-worked and outmaneuvered.
She'd never misjudged him. But she was very much afraid he must feel as if he'd misjudged her about now.
The main salon, as the captain had called it, was also beautiful, with the quiet, understated elegance that typified any Redstone project. In the past, Reeve had wondered if it had been Josh's late, beloved wife who had given him the sense of flawless style, because he himself seemed more of a downhome, comfort-over-style kind of guy.
As he did today, sitting at a banquette with papers strewn across a table made of a beautiful wood burl and polished to a mirror sheen. He didn't look as if he belonged there, tall and lanky in his jeans and simple Redstone T-shirt, his longish dark hair tousled as if he'd just run his hands through it. But this boat, and all the rest of the far-flung Redstone empire, would not exist except for the acumen of the gray-eyed man who turned to look at her now.
"Reeve," he said warmly, unexpected welcome clear in his voice.
"Mr. Redstone," she said, feeling it proper under the circumstances.
The formality stopped him in the act of reaching for her shoulders.
"Mister?" he asked quietly. "I'm still Josh, Reeve."
"I know. You'll never change."
He stepped back, studying her for a moment.
"And you have?"
The laziness of his drawl, a combination of all the places he'd drifted through during formative years, didn't fool her. He was on point, and she was the focus.
"Irrevocably, I'm afraid," she said. Suddenly desperate to change the subject, she gestured around her. "It's a beautiful boat. The biggest yet, isn't it?"
For a moment he didn't answer, but finally he let the change of subject happen. "Yes. I don't think we'll go much bigger than this. More than 150 feet and you might as well just build a cruise ship and get it over with."
"Redstone Cruise Lines?" she suggested, managing a smile.
"No, thanks. I've got enough going on with Redstone Resorts. Sometimes I think I should have just stuck with building airplanes."
"The world is glad you didn't," she said, meaning it.