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Emma Chandler forced a smile as she packed up her Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag and walked out of the boardroom with her head held high. It was bad enough to be in the lair of her longtime family rival Kell Montrose. That was stressful on its own. But to see her younger sisters paired up and happily in love with Kell's cousins, Dec and Allan, who were also Montrose heirs, was another stab to the heart.
A wave of loneliness washed over her. She should give up trying to keep herself on the board at Playtone-Infinity Games and let Kell win. Except that wasn't her style. But no matter how hard she tried to fight it, it looked as if she was on the way out of the company that she'd poured her life into for the last four years.
The hostile takeover had been a surprise, but to be honest, she'd known for a long time that Kell Montrose intended to find a way to make Infinity Games his own and then tear it apart. It didn't matter that her grandfatherthe man Kell had hatedwas dead and buried or that the company had floundered a little under her guidance. She'd hoped somehow to find a heart and soul under Kell's solemn exterior. Someone she could negotiate with.
Instead she'd found a man bent on revenge, and her two sisters despite their best intentions, had fallen in love with the enemy. They had also proven themselves indispensable and secured their positions at the newly merged company. They were all finding their own place except her. She, of course, had the same chance to prove herself but she knew she was the one Chandler that Kell hated the most.
The one who'd witnessed his humiliation at the hands of her grandfather. The one Kell wasn't going to keep around any longer than he had to. The one who had exactly forty-eight hours to come up with a kick-ass idea or she wouldn't blame him for showing her the door. She thought she might have one but wasn't sure he'd give her a fair shake.
When the elevator opened, she got on and reached for the Close button. She wanted to be alone. But just as the doors started to slide shut a big masculine hand wrapped around the edge and kept them open.
She groaned inwardly as Kell stepped over the threshold and into the elevator. She hoped her forced smile would stay in place. After all, how long could it take to reach the lobby? Five minutes?
"Feeling like the Lone Ranger?" he asked.
His eyes were a silvery-pewter color that always fascinated her. They were gorgeous, she thought, but icy and intense as well.
"Not at all. Why would I?" she asked. She'd always been able to play it cool and intended to do that now.
"Your sisters have come over to the dark side. I'm going to finish bringing the last vestiges of Infinity Games under the Playtone umbrella soon."
He deserved his moment to crow, but that didn't mean she had to stand here and listen to it. She reached for the buttons again to open the doors and get off but it was too late. The elevator started moving.
"You okay?" he asked.
His face was angular, all strong jawbone and a very stubborn chin. His hair was thick and a warm, dark brown color that was almost chestnut. He wore it longer on the top and parted on the side. It was thick and curly and she almost wanted to touch those carelessly styled curls of his.
She looked up into his silvery eyes and saw a hint of humanity there. "I'm fine. I just don't like elevators. I should have taken the stairs."
"And then you could have avoided me."
"That would be a plus. I get that you hold all the cards but don't write me off yet."
"Was that what I was doing?" he asked.
He had a deep voice that she had to admit she'd always enjoyed listening to. She was a total idiot, she thought. It had been almost four years since her husband, Helio's, death and since then she hadn't been attracted to a single man. Now she was standing in an elevator way too close to one and felt a tingle of anticipation.
What the hell was wrong with her? Was this just her way of making sure she was miserable for the rest of her natural life?
She realized Kell was waiting for an answer and she looked up at him and let her guard slip for just a second. "You were being an ass."
He laughed. "There's the fire I remember from the old days when we were interns together at Infinity Games. Where you were always struggling to be the best. What happened to that?"
When they were younger, her grandfather had been persuaded by the human resources department to give Kell one of the internships after his family had threatened to sue if he wasn't accepted.
"Nothing." She wasn't about to admit to a single real emotion to this man. Besides, he'd have to be an idiot not to know that losing her husband when she was pregnant hit her like a ton of bricks and then pouring her heart into this company and having him snatch it out of her hands wasn't helping.
One second away from letting him have it, she turned on him. Then she wondered why was she holding it in. It was safe to say that at this moment she had nothing left to lose. She knew it, and from the smug look on Kell's face, he knew it too.
"You really want to know what's bothering me?" she asked, taking a step forward, causing him to step back.
"I'm tired of jumping through hoops and coming up with my best ideas and then having to run down here and get them approved by you and the assembled board. I know whatever I say, it's never going to be good enough in your eyes to make up for the way you were treated by my grandfather. And I also am very aware of the fact that if I can't make this work I have no other options. All of my job experience is with a company I let get taken over."
He just stood there, his silvery eyes narrowed and his arms crossed over his chest. She knew he didn't like being called on the fact that he'd pushed her into a corner or that no matter what, he wasn't going to let her keep her job.
"What, no more comments? No more gloating?"
The elevator halted with a jerk and she reached out to brace herself again. "Better get that looked at, Montrose. I'd hate to see your empire crumble from the inside."
He stood up and pressed the button but nothing happened. They were trapped in the elevator. He hit the buttons for all the floors and then turned back to her. "Looks like we're stuck."
She could think of other words to say but her son, Sammy, was getting to the age where he'd repeat words, so lately she'd been trying to keep it clean. But really, could this day get any worse?
At least she was alive. At least she had a roof over her head. Ugh. She didn't want her mom's voice in her head. Not now. But now that it had started she was inundated with all the things she should be thankful for. Her mom had always made her list them if she complained about something. She groaned again.
"Are you hurt? You keep making little noises," Kell said.
He looked a bit unnerved by the thought that she might be hurt. "I'm fine. I just had my mom's voice in my head."
His brow furrowed as he looked over at her.
"You know how moms are with advice and stuff. My mom's pet peeve with me was whining, so whenever I'd complain about something, she'd have me write out a gratitude list. And just now, I was thinking what a crap day this was and then I started making the list. It's a sickness, really. Was your mom like that?"
"Figures. Did she just bake cookies and spoil you? I told my mom there were ones out there who did that."
"No. Kristi Keller Montrose never did any of that. She left me with my grandfather when I was three and never looked back."
Emma stared at him for a really long time. It explained so much about Kell and made her see him as a little bit more human than she wanted to. She liked him as her enemy, pictured him as the dark, evil knight from Sammy's favorite bedtime story, but she'd just seen the first chink in the armor. Kell had clearly been the best of their group of interns and everyone had expected Gregory Chandler to offer him the managerial role in the company. But her granddad had called Kell into his office, kept him waiting and then told him that he'd never have a job at Infinity Games. No matter how many times he threatened to sue.
No, that wasn't true, she'd seen the chink a long time ago in her grandfather's office. "I'm sorry, Kell." She was sad for the boy he'd been and for the man he'd become.
"You can't miss what you never had," he admitted, as he pressed the emergency button. They were still trapped in the elevator.
Of all the things that Kell wanted to discuss with Emma, his parents weren't one of them. They'd been working together for the last six months and he had to admit, she'd been an asset to merging his company with hers. But now it was time for her to either transition into another role or leave, which was pretty much what he'd said just now at the board meeting in front of his cousins and her sisters. Everyone had looked at him as if he was the bad guy, but that was reality.
After Emma had abruptly left the meeting, they'd all been staring at him with accusation in their eyes, and he'd finally decided to just go after her. But it wouldn't change anything. And now they were trapped in the elevator, just as if they were trapped in the old feud between their families.
It had been six months since he'd initialized the hostile takeover of her family's company Infinity Games. It was now January in Southern California where they lived, and that meant chilly weather, but no snow. And he was more than happy to concede that he was very chilly toward Emma and all the Chandlers. He could even acknowledge it was a coping mechanism.
Since then, his cousins had weakened and fallen in love with the other two Chandler sisters. But Kell hadn't forgotten the way they'd struggled growing up under the bitter tutelage of their grandfather, Thomas Montrose. There had been only one thing that Grandfather Thomas had wanted and that was to see all Chandlers suffer as he had when he'd been cut out of the profits and left to see someone else developing his dreams. And the message had sunk in with Kell, the eldest grandson, who'd spent the most time with the old man. Kell's dad had been a navy SEAL killed in action and his mom had lit out for greener pastures.
"So " Emma said after the silence stretched on, their call for help unanswered. "I guess one role you might need to fill is building maintenance."
He chuckled. "That would be a waste of your skills."
"It would, but I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be stuck in here now if I was in charge of it."
"Have you thought of anything else you can do in Playtone-Infinity Games?" he asked.
She rubbed the back of her neck and glanced over at him. He'd always thought her eyes were pretty. The color of the California sky on a late autumn day when it was clear and so blue it almost hurt to look at it.
Her long reddish-brown hair was pulled back in a chignon but a tendril had escaped to curl around her ear. He didn't want to notice it, but he did. He also couldn't tear his eyes from her lips. She had a kissable mouth, he noticed. Her lower lip was full and just looking at it whetted his appetite.
She wore a black Chanel dress with a gold accent at the neck that made hers seem long and slender. He recognized the designer because his last girlfriend had worked for Neiman Marcus and had paraded haute couture in front of him all the time.
"The only viable idea I have for a new role is to make the company's charitable arm more of a foundation. There are a few things I've been wanting to implement but there was never time in my schedule."
"Like what?" he asked. Creating a foundation would be great for the tax write-off. They were about to see some huge gains in profit from the merged company and he didn't want it all to go to taxes.
"Shouldn't I save this for the meeting in forty-eight hours that decides my fate?"
"Just run it past me," he said.
"I've been working on a prototype game at home for my tablet that would help kids with reading. I know there are other reading apps and software out there but they don't work with Sammy. So I started focusing on what he likes and working to his skills."
"That's a lot of customization," he said, but already he saw the potential in the idea. If they distributed a learning game through a foundation they could get their software into the hands of kids as they were just starting to play. So that once they were older they'd gravitate toward the Playtone-Infinity family of console and handheld games.
"Yes, but I've been talking to some of the teachers at the nursery school and they said most kids fall into four or five categories for learning so we'd create different versions based on those categories and then roll it out in test groups. What do you think?"
"I like it. I like it a lot. But you're going to need more than just one game to keep your job."
"I realize that," she said. "I've been jotting down some notes on what the charitable trust could look like and working on the job description for the chairman role."
"Fair enough. After your initial meeting with the board in forty-eight hours, why don't we have a meeting next week in your office. You can show me your prototype and your ideas for the structure of the foundation. If it's viable we'll discuss a way to make it work."
"Really?" she asked. It was almost too good to be true.
"I just said so," he said sarcastically.
"But I thought you were going to take out your revenge on the Chandlers by firing me," she said.
"Well, if you keep talking about it then I will just fire you outright. But we're family now. You and I share a nephew and an adopted niece. I've always been focused on revenge, but now that I have what I want, maybe I need to look at the future a little differently."