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"Befriend her. Charm her. Whatever it takes." Whatever it takes?
Evan Black bristled at the words, but he didn't respond. Through the panoramic window of his father's large corner office at Blackwood Development, Evan watched waves crash against the rocky outcropping below. The coast was beautiful heremaybe that's why his father had opened a regional office in Crescent City, California.
"Three hundred acres of prime real estate. That's all that's left before we can move forward." Robert Black's tone let Evan know he wanted his son's attention.
Turning slowly, Evan peered into his father's dark eyes. Working for his father's development company hadn't been easy, considering the elder Black didn't believe in showing any favoritism to his own son.
Evan had started at the bottom as a carpenter because his father wanted him to have hands-on experience from the ground up, working in every facet in the real estate management and development industry in a company that had designed and constructed everything from hotels and single-family homes to hydroelectric projects.
And now he'd assigned Evan this housing development, bringing him from the Blackwood home office, and his home, in Virginia Beach. Completing this project to satisfaction would land him on his father's handpicked management team as vice president of construction.
He'd worked harder than anyone else, and now his father dangled the key to success. The slight smile on his father's lips hinted that he was satisfied he had Evan's attention.
"Just picture it, Evan. A private, gated housing community and resort in the middle of the majestic redwoods, a vast panorama of natural beauty, and a forty-acre golf course created by one of the top designers."
"Sounds like you have it all figured out. Why'd you need me on this project again?" Evan forced some humor into his tone. This move might end up being more permanent than temporary. Evan wasn't sure he wanted to leave Virginia Beach. Then again, getting some face time with his father might mend a wound that never seemed to heal.
"I don't have it all figured out; I'm just showing you how I envision things. Then there's that three hundred acres of prime real estate," he repeated, dragging out the last words as he pushed a pin into a map on the wall. The Smith River wove through the redwoods around the pin and then spilled into the Pacific. "Get her to sell her land. The project is at a standstill until all the pieces are in place."
"And once I've completed this housing development, and you're satisfied, then you'll make me a vice president on your management team." Which only included three other people, and they weren't related to Robert Black.
"The prize is within your reach, son." His father smiled broadly and clapped Evan on the shoulder, an unusual gesture for him.
But Evan's gut burned at the tactics his father had suggested. The founder of Blackwood Development had spent years jumping through the California property hoops to gain the surrounding acreage for development. Why did he need three hundred more? "What's so important about her land that we can't move forward if she won't sell?"
The man's smile dropped. He made his way around his mahogany executive desk to ease into the high-backed, maroon leather chair, clasping his hands across his trim midsection. Evan favored his father and imagined that's what he'd look like in another thirty years. The man allowed only a little gray to show at the temples of his thick dark hair. Lean muscle sculpted his physique from his early years spent in construction. Now he played tennis to keep in shape and always sported a tan on top of his slightly olive complexion.
His father peered at him. Evan never liked it when his father looked at him that way. He would have thought by now, at thirty-two, he wouldn't shrink under his father's glower. He'd tolerated the man's harsh behavior this long; just a little longer and he could achieve the success he'd worked for all these years. The success he wanted. His father had started and built the company from the ground up and had seen the fruit of his efforts. Evan was more than ready to step into the position he'd worked and been groomed for.
But more important, he was ready to see the glimmer of approval in his father's eyes. To hear his father say he was proud of him. And yet. .he had the uncanny sense that even that wouldn't vanquish the emptiness inside.
"What's so important about it?" Mocking him, his father repeated the question.
Asking it in the first place had made Evan appear weak-minded. Unfit for an executive-level position at the company. Unfit to be Robert Black's son. But there was something else about his father's request that left Evan uneasy. Something he wasn't being told.
"I get that the Smith River runs through the property, and including that in our plans would increase the value exponentially, but what aren't you telling me?"
He held steady under his father's hard gaze. "You're shrewd, Evan. That's why you're the man for this task."
Evan's father had evaded the question, but Evan hadn't thought getting the answer would be easy. He'd let it drop.
"If you've already approached this woman about the property, how do you expect me to have success where you failed?" Careful with your choice of words, Evan.
"I didn't say that I personally approached herthat's why I have employees. People to do the dirty work. But their efforts have failed." His father paused as if considering his next words carefully. "But as far as you having success in this situation, you sell yourself short, son. If you're going to be a part of this decision-making team, part of management, then realize your power. You're young and virile. There's never a time I've been with you that women weren't looking your way." Again his father paused. He ran his hand over the smooth wood grain of his desk. "Sela Fox is a widow. All you have to do is show up. My guess is that she'll do the talking. Maybe even the wooing."
Are you out of your mind? Evan made to protestbut his father held up a hand, silencing him. Evan ground his teeth.