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Vancouver, British Columbia
Tielle Turner looked away from the multicolored planning calendar that was projected on the farthermost wall of her office. The small plasma screen in the corner of the room's living area had droned on softly, offering no real cause for interest until Tielle's keen hearing picked up on the word snow. She groaned.
"Is she kidding?" Tielle's round, coffee-colored face twisted into a glower, which she directed toward the woman who was delivering the midday forecast.
"It's only a prediction, Ti." Laura Cooper didn't bother tugging her dark eyes away from the wall projection she was studying. Laura had worked for her in some form or fashion for almost five years and was seemingly used to her mood swings whenever a discussion of the weather's quick change conditions was on the table.
"Sounds like it's for later in the week, too. No worries." Laura's eyes moved away from the projected calendar. "Besides," she called to the tiny woman standing in front of the TV with her fists perched defiantly against her hips, "it is autumn."
The reminder encouraged Tielle to turn her back on the television. "Autumn," she parroted with a smirk. "You know, when I think of autumn, I imagine leaves changing color and dropping from trees, the air turning a bit brisk, and the time changing. I imagine all kinds of descriptions. Ones she could give" Tielle cast another tiresome look at the meteorologist "but rarely does."
"It's Vancouver " Laura turned back toward the wall.
"And that's why I live here. Because it's Vancouver." Tielle's vibrant eyes, the color of chilled cognac, glistened, and she seemed more appreciative of Laura's reminder that time.
"Vancouver autumns are supposed to be awesome." Tielle used a green dryerase marker to point past the office's bay windows along the back wall of the office. The spotless glass offered a stunning, colorful array depicting the glory of the season.
"Well." Laura had pulled her attention from the wall again and was tapping her own dryerase marker to the curve of her jaw as she treated herself to the view. "Since we do have such awesome autumns, aren't we entitled to have a few not-so-awesome ones?"
"Being cooped up with a group of execs isn't going to be fun for long if it snows, you know?" Tielle gave a conceding smile.
"I don't think it'll come to that. The Korman Group will be gone in two days," Laura said with a half shrug.
Tielle slipped the marker into a back pocket of her skirt and looked back to the wall projection she'd abandoned for the weather report. "After Korman, we've got offers from four more corporations for weeklong retreats.
And if this snow hits " She let the word carry while glancing across her shoulder in the direction of the television. When she turned back to Laura, the woman was finally gazing fixedly at the screen.
Laura looked to Tielle. "Yuck."
Tielle's smile was grim. "You catch my meaning?"
"Loud and clear." Laura tapped her index finger against her cheek as she considered the mounting issue. "We need something to mix things up, you think?"
"Not necessarily." Tielle leaned on the credenza and worried the end of the French braid she'd used to tame her coarse, lengthy hair that day. "All we really need is a break between sessions. Give the weather a chance to stabilize and if it gets the better of us" she shrugged her shoulders "at least we tried."
Laura scrunched her nose. "I don't know, Ti that's a lot of time to be off the clock. We usually close down for the holidays well into New Year's. Do we really want to do more than that?"
"We've had a good year." Tielle cleared her throat when her heart suddenly seized over what, for her at least, was a lie.
"Ah, Ti, I'm sorry." Laura had easily sensed the change in her boss's mood. "It's the anniversary, isn't it?" She closed her eyes while her palm went to slap her forehead over the gaffe.
Tielle's round, pretty face had recaptured a measure of control. "Not quite an anniversary."
"Have you talked to him?" Laura's voice sounded hushed.
Tielle looked to the fall foliage beyond the window. "Not since the day we signed the papers." She thought about crossing the room to take a closer look at the view but reconsidered when a light sheen of tears blurred her gaze.
"Still too soon to think about it all?" Laura guessed.
"Still too soon." Tielle's reply was monotone.
Laura turned back to the projected calendar. "That's what I told him." Her words were faint, absently delivered.
Still, they were amplified enough to catch Tielle's ears. "Told who?"
"You had a call last week from Faro Clegg."
Silent, Tielle returned to sit behind her wide walnut desk where she repeated the name of her ex-brother-in-law in her mind. It was a name she'd not allowed herself to think of since she'd signed her divorce papers one year ago that day.
"What'd he want?" she finally asked her assistant, her voice still harboring the same monotone.
"We didn't cover many details." Laura watched her booted foot swing idly back and forth. "The gist of the call was about him wanting to talk to you about arranging a weeklong stay."
"For Clegg Marketing?"
Laura looked uncomfortable, her booted foot swinging a bit more vivaciously. "For the Clegg family."
"Is this fact or gossip?"
The voice coasting from behind the massive walled bar space instilled a spine-tapping tingle beneath Leonard Cartright's skin. Nevertheless, as he'd already come to the table with his suspicions, he knew it'd be pointless to play the cautious role then.
"What I just told you was hearsay." Despite his resolve, Leonard exercised care in handling what he knew to be a highly sensitive issue.
Leonard cringed. "Gossip has got such an ugly ring to it."
"Mmm and yet I keep on hearing it." Graedon Clegg's movements could easily be described by any variation or synonym of the word sleek. Artful, really, given his striking build, easily mesmerizing when partnered with other attributes.
Graedon moved from behind the bar and passed a drink to his late father's oldest friend. "Calm down, Leo," he urged.
Leo Cartright didn't care if the man he reported to was a kid beneath him. Only a fool would come to deliver unsavory news to Graedon Clegg and be on anything other than heightened alert. This stood whether Graedon was offering a drink or a challenge to a brawl.
"Come on, Leo, I need you to talk to me here." Grae allowed his concern to show, hoping it'd urge Leo to speak freely. Grae let his uncle in name only glimpse his concern and hoped it'd urge the man to speak freely. Anticipating the moods of his associates was one of the things that made him such a formidable opponent at work and play.
Leo downed a bit of the gin and tonic he'd requested. "Working for your brother's become too volatile," he admitted once a few sips of the crisp drink had bubbled on his tongue.
"In what way?" Grae appeared the image of maddening cool as he eased behind the no-nonsense blackwood desk in the stark corner office.
Leo's jaw dropped, his eyes growing wide.
Graedon shrugged, a smile narrowing an unexpected bronze stare. "Humor me," he urged, his palm stroking the sleek stubble shading his jaw and adding something rugged to an otherwise pretty face.
"Something's got him changed. Something subtle but it's strong. I don't know " Leo reached for the drink, downed another hearty swig. "He's still the same ol' Farodictating, strutting around like a little Napoleon."
Grae let slip a soft chuckle as the image of his older brother came to mind. Leo had captured Faro Clegg perfectly.
"Sorry," Leo said, yet the grin remained on his attractive, dark face.
"So what's changed?" Grae asked.
"Well " Leo expelled a perplexed sigh. "He's still got the little-big-man complex, but it's like he's not as I don't know pressured by all of it as he used to be. Hell if I know, Grae " Leo leaned back in the deep armchair he occupied and smoothed a hand across the soft salt-and-pepper hair tapered at his nape. "It's like he's got the skinny on somethin' the rest of us don't. I don't want to find myself on the evil side of his bad personality if what he knows is that I've been feeding you info on how he's running his side of the business."
Grae leaned forward a bit in his own chair. "Are you trying to tell me you confirmed the suspicions you came to me with last monthones in addition to what you gave me six months ago?"
"What can I say? Your brother is one long, consistent train wreck, but this part is still hearsay."
"Hearsay," Grae groaned. He angled his gaze toward the low file cabinet that ran the length of the rear wall when the phone there buzzed. He ignored the sound. "Anybody willing to name names? Names bold enough not to hide behind the gossip, but to defend their words."
Leo didn't seem hopeful. "Come on, Grae, nobody wants to brush up against Faro, especially when it could mean getting caught between something with you on the other side of it. Everyone knows what a fierce position that could be," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
The phone buzzed again. Grae answered, primarily to get thoughts best left alone to venture out of his mind.
Leo took advantage of the break in conversation to enjoy the rest of his drink. He'd finished it off before Grae's rich rumble of a voice became a veritable rasp as he next addressed the unfortunate soul on the other end of the phone line. When he apologized to the caller, Leo realized he was talking to his assistant, Emily Claude.
"I don't need to see it, Em. Hold on to it till I get out there, all right?" Grae set the phone to its receiver, studied it for an extended moment. "What do you know about a retreat?" he asked before swiveling his desk chair back to face Leo.
"Somethin' to do with Faro?" Leo asked.
"No idea." Grae stood, rounded his desk and went to refill the drink for the man who was more like a brother to him than his own. "Sounds like he's trying to put together some kind of retreat for the family."
Leo watched Grae slosh more gin into their stout glasses. Silently, he considered the event. Family retreats and reunions usually had the makings of a lot of unnecessary drama. "Is that it?" He reclaimed the glass Grae handed over. "A retreat made you scare Em that way?"
"He's already handing out invites to the damn thing." Grae set aside his drink and went about rolling the sleeves of a navy shirt over wide forearms corded with muscle. "Dropped mine off a few minutes ago. It's waiting on Em's desk. Location? Turner Estates and Gardens."
"Lord." Leo slumped down into his chair. "Is it confirmed? The place? I just can't imagine" Leo paused over speaking Tielle's name. He knew that wound was still raw, too fresh, even for Graedon to hear without being affected.
Grae needed no additional clarification at any rate. "Em says there's an asterisk next to the location name designating that it's 'subject to change,' so "
"You think it will?"
Grae shrugged off Leo's soft inquiry. "Doesn't matter. I'm not going anyway." Out of frustrated habit he fingered the dark curls that covered his head in a halo of glossy black.
Leo didn't bother disputing the comment. He wondered if Grae heard the doubt in his voice as clearly as he did. "Why do you think he's organizing a lovefest for the family?" he asked instead.
"Besides the fact that we could really use one?" Grae smirked.
It was relatively true. While a measure of goodwill existed among the various cliques within the Clegg family, overall, there was still a measure of bad blood that could at any time erupt into a smelly mess. Such problems among the Clegg brood had been well covered over the decades, ever since Kenneth Clegg's advertisements for African-American products and businesses began to appear in national magazines.
Faro and Graedon Clegg's father had continued to outdo himself. The man's accomplishments had boosted Clegg Marketing from one plateau to another. Sadly, Ken Clegg's successes were matched all too greatly by the dramas in his personal life. Most unfortunate was the fact that the greatest portion of that drama originated in his family.
Nevertheless, Ken's bright spot had been Clegg Marketinghis baby, his brain child. The visionary had even welcomed his family to share in what gave him such joy. The man's heart was as big and robust as the man had been himself. When he died, family, friends and business rivals alike had all mourned his passing.
Yet when Graedon Clegg assumed the role as CEO of the company, few argued the virtually unarguable; Ken Clegg's tenacious persona and dogged work ethic tempered by compassion and good humor seemed to have been reborn in his youngest son.
"Maybe Faro's motivations for this retreat have something to do with your gossip." Grae finished rolling his sleeves and reached for his drink.
A bark of laughter leaped from Leo's heavyset frame. "It's rumored that your brother might be ready to jump a ship he set ablaze and leave a ruined kingdom in your capable hands, and you think he'd throw a party at some ritzy resort to celebrate?"
"The place isn't a resort," Grae muttered into his glass before drinking from it. "Do you really think he'd do that ever? Leave? Leave it all to me, besides? 'Cause I sure as hell don't."
Leo shook his head.
"There're often faint orbs of truth in rumors," Grae said. "Whatever Faro's doing isn't being done in preparation for Faro leaving, but for me leaving."
Leo barked another laugh. "But that's crazy! He'd be a fool to think anyone would side with him to make that happen."
That much was also true. At thirty-six, Grae had secured his place at the helm of his family. It wasn't predestined. Most of the Clegg family had believed they'd had the next great football superstar instead of the next powerhouse ad exec. He was massively built and athletically talented to boot, so it was a logical assumption. Alas, Grae had inherited his father's business savvy and passion for the ad game, as well.
Regrettably, the prodigy Ken Clegg had found in his youngest son wasn't a hit with everyone in the Clegg family. Faro wasn't of a mind to relinquish his birthright to his baby brother, no matter how much natural talent the man had.
It was of little consequence, however, given the fact that the rest of the Clegg family believed that Grae had what it took to make Ken Clegg's legacy flourish and keep them all on the positive side of wealth for the foreseeable future. When the board of Clegg Marketing unanimously decided to place Grae in the top seat, many thought Faro would be too humiliated to remainincluding Grae, who had been as surprised as anyone when his brother had chosen to stay aboard.
Unlike the rest of the family, who figured that Faro had come around to the majority's way of thinking, Grae had a different feeling entirely regarding his brother's motives. He believed the man was just biding his time, waiting for Grae to royally screw up or to throw in the towel.
Grae knew that a year ago that day, Faro had almost gotten his wish.
"So what now?" Leo asked. "Are you going to try and find out what he's up to this time or just wait and let the chips fall where they may?"
"There's an invitation out there with my name on it." Grae rolled back one shoulder in a lazy shrug. "Chips will probably fall anyway."
"And what about that invite?" Leo balanced his emptied glass on the perfect crease of one black trouser leg. "The venue? You gonna put a stop to that?" Leo frowned in a playfully curious manner when Grae responded to his question with a slow smile.