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By Sherryl Woods
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf she'd had any idea that reinventing herself would require so much self-doubt and soul-searching, Destiny Carlton might have left it for another day. Perhaps another lifetime.
Her agitated pacing slowed at last, and she turned to the woman who had been her personal secretary and confidante for nearly two decades.
"Am I crazy to even be thinking about this?" she asked Miriam Thomas. "Have I finally lost it completely? Give me your honest answer."
Miriam's lips quirked. She'd never been anything less than brutally honest. "You're the most sane person I know," she said loyally.
"But this," Destiny said doubtfully, "this is huge. It's not as if I want to get a little job in the corner card shop."
"Hardly," Miriam agreed wryly.
"I haven't worked in years," Destiny pointed out.
"Okay, okay, I've run charity events and I've certainly kept my eye on all the decisions at Carlton Industries, but that's not the same as actually being in business. It's not the same as going in to my nephew and asking him to trust me to take over an entire division of the family company."
"Isn't that the point?" Miriam asked. "It is the family company and you're a very important part of this family, the matriarch, in a manner of speaking."
"True, but I turned my back on it years ago and left it to my brother. The only reason I gave up my art and my studio in the south of France was because of the plane crash that killed my brother and his wife. I couldn't leave Richard, Mack and Ben all alone. They were mere boys at the time. They needed me. Now they're grown men with wives of their own."
"Thanks to you," Miriam reminded her.
Destiny allowed herself a small smile. "Yes, all that meddling did work out rather well, if I do say so myself. There was no telling how long it would have taken them to get around to settling down if I hadn't given fate a bit of a nudge."
"So they owe you," Miriam suggested. "If you want to try something totally new, if you want to reinvent yourself completely at this stage of your life, why shouldn't you? And why shouldn't they give you their blessing?"
"It's not just their blessing I want," Destiny said.
"I'm asking to take over the European division. Richard has me tucked into this nice, predictable niche in his life. I'm the doting, slightly madcap aunt. He doesn't see me as any kind of businesswoman. I'm partly to blame for that. I've never shown the slightest inclination to work for Carlton Industries before, at least not in any formal capacity."
"Sit down," Miriam ordered in one of her rare displays of impatience. She actually scowled until Destiny complied. "Bottom line, you know this company inside out, whether you've ever held an official job here or not. You're on the board of directors, for goodness' sake, and no one goes into those meetings more informed than you do. Am I right?"
"I try," Destiny agreed. It was a point of honor to her that she do her homework if she was going to hold a seat on the board.
"And you're uniquely suited to this particular job, isn't that right?"
Destiny thought of the problems in the European division. Most of them had been caused by the persistent stealth attacks of one man in particular, William Harcourt, the man she'd once loved with all her heart, the man she'd walked away from more than twenty years ago when she'd come back to the States to take care of her suddenly orphaned nephews.
"I do know how William's mind works," she agreed. "And the fact that he's become a threat to my family's company - perhaps because of me - makes me highly motivated to put a stop to it."
"Well, then, I don't see how you have any choice. You have to do this," Miriam concluded. "Not just for your own sake, but for the company."
"What if I botch it up?" Destiny asked, unable to shake her own self-doubts.
Miriam gave her a scathing look. "Don't be ridiculous. You won't." She grinned. "For one thing, you'll have me right there beside you."
Destiny stared at her. "You'd go to London with me?"
"I certainly wouldn't let you set off alone," Miriam said emphatically. "Besides, with Darryl dead and Dwayne in college, my life is as much of an empty nest as yours. It will be good for both of us to dive into something new and exciting."
Yes, Destiny thought, that was exactly it. She needed a challenge. Ever since the marriage of her youngest nephew, she'd been essentially at loose ends. If she wanted to go back to her house in France, she could. If she wanted to spend her time painting, she could do that, too. If she merely wanted to travel, that option was open as well.
But all these years of running a household, of overseeing her nephews' education, of taking a more active role on the Carlton Industries board of directors had given her a jaundiced view of idleness.
She wanted to be productive. She'd made the transition from eccentric artist to instant mother rather successfully. Now she wanted to reinvent herself yet again. There was someone inside her still to be discovered. She had a lot left to prove, not to her nephews, but to herself. Leading a wildly madcap lifestyle in her twenties or even at thirty had been one thing. It was quite another to consider going back to it in her fifties.
It wasn't too late to find an entirely new direction that suited her, she assured herself. At fifty-three, she was still vibrant, intelligent and capable. In fact, in no small measure thanks to her success in getting her nephews settled, she felt ready to tackle anything.
For months now this idea had been brewing in the back of her mind. She'd tossed out an occasional hint, just to see if Richard would jump at the bait, but he didn't seem to be taking her seriously. It was time he did. After all, he was the one who'd indirectly planted the idea in her head.
It was all tied up with William Harcourt, who had turned out to have an astonishing head for running his own family's business. In recent years he had made it his apparent mission in life to go after every European contract previously held by Carlton Industries. He'd won some, lost more, but there was no mistaking his use of inside information - her own pillow-talk revelations, damn him - to make her family's company pay dearly for every deal it made. Until very recently his actions had been more annoyance than threat, but lately his tactics had grown bolder and more damaging. It was time to put a stop to it.
Excerpted from Destiny Unleashed by Sherryl Woods Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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