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Isn't It Rich?
By Sherryl Woods
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRichard Carlton made three business calls on his cell phone, scowled impatiently at the antique clock on the wall of his favorite Old Town Alexandria seafood restaurant, made two more calls, then frowned at the Rolex watch on his wrist.
Five more minutes and he was history. He was only here as a favor to his Aunt Destiny. He'd promised to give some supposedly brilliant marketing whiz kid a chance at the consultant's contract for the family corporation's public relations campaign despite her lack of experience working with a major worldwide conglomerate.
He was also looking for a consultant who could help him launch his first political campaign. His intention had been to hire someone more seasoned than this woman Destiny was recommending, but his aunt was very persuasive when she put her mind to something.
"Just meet with her. Have a nice lunch. Give her a chance to sell you on her talent. After all," Aunt Destiny had said with a suspicious gleam in her eye,
"nobody on earth is a tougher sell than you, right?"
Richard had given his aunt a wry look. "You flatter me."
She'd patted his cheek as if he were twelve again and she was trying to call attention gently to one of his flaws. "Not really, darling."
Destiny Carlton was the bane of his existence. He doubted if there was another aunt like her in the universe. When he was barely twelve, she'd breezed into his life twenty-four hours after his parents' small plane had crashed in the fog-shrouded Blue Ridge Mountains.
His father's older sister, Destiny had lived a nomad's life, cavorting with princes in European capitals, gambling in Monaco, skiing in Swiss Alpine resorts, then settling into a farmhouse in Provence where she'd begun painting more seriously, eventually selling her works in a small gallery on Paris's Left Bank. She was exotic and eccentric and more fun than anyone Richard or his younger brothers had ever met. She'd been just what three terrified little boys had needed.
A selfish woman would have scooped them up and taken them back to France, then resumed her own life, but not Destiny. She had plunged into unexpected motherhood with the same passionate enthusiasm and style with which she embraced life. She'd turned their previously well-ordered lives into a chaos of adventures in the process, but there had never been a doubt in their minds that she loved them. They, in turn, adored her, even when she was at her most maddening, as she had been lately, ever since she'd gotten some bee in her bonnet about the three of them needing to settle down. To her despair, he, Mack and Ben had been incredibly resistant to her urgings.
Over the years, despite Destiny's strong influence, Richard had clung tenaciously to the more somber lessons of his father. Work hard and succeed. Give back to the community. Be somebody. The adages had been drilled into him practically from infancy. Even at twelve, he'd felt the weight of responsibility for the generations-old Carlton Industries sitting squarely on his thin shoulders. Though an outsider had held the temporary reins upon his father's death, there was no question that the company would eventually be Richard's to run. A place would have been found for his brothers as well, if either of them had wanted it. But neither had shown the slightest interest, not back then and not now.
Back then, while his brothers had gone home after school to play their games, Richard had taken the family obligation to heart. Every weekday he'd gone to the historic old brick building that housed the corporate offices.
Destiny had tried her best to interest him in reading novels of all kinds, from the classics to science fiction and fantasy, but he'd preferred to scour the company books, studying the neatly aligned columns of figures that told the story of decades of profit and loss. The order and logic of it soothed him in a way he had been helpless to explain to her or to anyone. Even now, he had a better understanding of business than he did of people.
When he was twenty-three and had his M.B.A. from the prestigious Wharton School of Business, Richard slipped into the company presidency without raising so much as an eyebrow among the employees or among the worldwide CEOs with whom Carlton Industries did business. Most assumed he'd been all but running it behind the scenes since his father's death, anyway. Even as a kid, he'd displayed amazing confidence in his own decision-making.
Now, at thirty-two, he had the company on the track his father would have expected, expanding bit by bit with a strategic merger here, a hostile acquisition there. He was still young, successful and one of the city's most eligible bachelors. Unfortunately, his relationships tended to be brief once the women in his life realized they were always likely to take a back seat to the pressing - and often far more interesting - needs of the family company. The last woman he'd dated had told him he was a cold, dispassionate son of a bitch. He hadn't argued. In fact, he was pretty sure she had it just about right. Business never let him down. People did. He stuck to what he could trust.
Since he'd been so unsuccessful at romance, he'd turned his attention elsewhere in recent months. He'd been considering a run for office, perhaps the Alexandria City Council for starters. His father had expected all of his sons to climb to positions of power, not just in the corporate world, but in their community and the nation. Helping to shape Richard's image and get his name into print as a precursor to this was just part of what his new marketing consultant would be handling.
His timetable - okay, his father's oft-expressed time-table - for this was right on track, too. His father had espoused the need for short-term and long-term strategic planning. Richard had doubled the number of years his father had planned ahead for. He liked knowing where he should be - where he would be - ten, twenty, even thirty years down the road.
For someone whose precise schedule was so detailed, wasting precious minutes out of his jam-packed day waiting for a woman who was now twenty minutes late pretty much drove him crazy. Out of time and out of patience, Richard snapped his fingers. The maître d' appeared instantly.
Excerpted from Isn't It Rich? by Sherryl Woods Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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