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"Why are we here?" Henry Devonshire asked. He sat in the boardroom of the Everest Group in downtown London. A nice view of the Thames was visible though the plate-glass windows.
"Malcolm has prepared a message for you."
"Why should we listen to this?" Henry faced the lawyer across the polished boardroom table.
"I think you'll find your father's—"
"Malcolm. Don't call him my father."
The Everest Group had always been Malcolm Devonshire's life. Of course, now that he'd turned seventy, it was no surprise that the old man had gotten in touch with him and his half brothers. He probably wanted to make sure that his life's work didn't end with his own death.
Geoff was the eldest of the three of them. Henry couldn't really say much about the other men. He didn't know either of his half brothers any better than he did their biological father. Geoff's very aristocratic English-looking nose betrayed his place in the current royal family.
"Mr. Devonshire is dying," Edmond Strom said. "He wants the legacy he worked so hard to create to live on in each of you."
Edmond was Malcolm's…butler, Henry thought. Or maybe man of affairs would be more apt.
"He didn't create the legacy for us," Steven said. He was the youngest.
"Well, he has an offer for the three of you now," Edmond said.
Henry had actually met his father's lawyer and personal assistant more times than he had his father. Edmond had been the one to deliver Christmas and birthday presents when he'd been younger.
"If you would all please sit down and allow me explain," Edmond said.
Henry took a seat at the end of the conference table. He had been a rugby player and a pretty good one to boot, but that had never gotten him the one thing he'd really craved—Malcolm's acknowledgment of him. He couldn't explain it any better than that. His own father had never recognized any of Henry's accomplishments. So he had stopped looking for it and gone his own way.
Which didn't explain why he was here now. Maybe it was simple curiosity about the old man.
Edmond passed three file folders across the table, one to each of them. Henry flipped his open and saw the letter his father had written to the three of them.
Geoff, Henry and Steven; I have been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I've exhausted every avenue to try to prolong my life and have now come to believe I only have six months left.
None of you owe me allegiance, but I hope that the company that brought me into contact with your mothers will continue to prosper and grow under your leadership.
Each of you will control one of the divisions. You will be judged on the profit you make in your segment. Whoever shows the best acumen for running their segment will be appointed CEO and Chairman of The Everest Group.
Geoff—Everest Airlines. His time as an RAF pilot and traveling the globe will serve him well.
Henry—Everest Records. I expect him to sign the music groups he's already helped make their way up the charts.
Steven—Everest Mega Stores. Hopefully his genius for knowing what the retail public wants will not fail him.
Edmond will monitor your progress and make reports to me. I would have come to speak with you today, but my doctors have confined me to my bed.
I have one caveat. You must all avoid scandal and focus on running your segment or the deal is off, regardless of profit. The one mistake I made in my life was letting my personal life distract me from my business. I hope the three of you can benefit from my mistakes and I trust you will accept this challenge.
Henry shook his head. The old man had just said he considered their births a mistake. Henry had no idea how Geoff and Steven would feel about that, but it ticked him off. "I'm not interested."
"Before you turn down Malcolm's offer, you should know that if any of you opt out, the money that was put in trust for your mothers and for each of you will be forfeit upon his death. The company would retain it all."
"I don't need his money," Geoff said.
Henry didn't either, but his mother might. She and her second husband had two sons they were raising. Though Gordon made a decent wage as head coach for the London Irish, they could always use a little extra, especially since they'd have to pay for university for those boys.
"May we have a moment to discuss this alone?" Steven asked.
Edmond nodded and left the room. As soon as the door closed behind Edmond, Steven stood up.
"I think we should do it," Steven said.
"I'm not so sure," Geoff said. "He shouldn't put any stipulations on his will. If he wants to leave us something, so be it."
"But this affects our mums," Henry said, siding with St even as he gave th is more thoug ht. Ma lcol m had broken off all contact with his mum once she was pregnant. That had always bothered him. He'd like to give her something of Malcolm's…the thing that Malcolm had prized more than any of the actual living people who'd been in his life.
"It does affect them," Geoff said, leaning back in his chair as he thought it over. "I see your point. If you two are in then I'll do it, as well. I don't need his approval or his money."
"So we're all in?" Henry asked.
"I am," Geoff said.
"I think he owes our mothers something on top of child support. And the chance to turn a bigger profit than he did? Now that's something I can't resist."
Astrid Taylor had started working for the Everest Group exactly one week ago, and her job as it had been described to her had sounded…like a glorified nanny but it paid well and that was all that mattered right now. She was to be an assistant to one of Malcolm Devonshire's sons.
Her experience as an executive assistant for legendary record producer Mo Rollins had ensured she'd get the job with Everest Records. She was glad they hadn't asked too many questions about her dismissal from her last job.
"Hello, Ms. Taylor, I'm Henry Devonshire." "Hello, Mr. Devonshire. I'm happy to make your acquaintance."
Henry held his hand out to her and she shook it. He had big blunt hands with neatly trimmed square nails. His square-jawed face sported a nose that looked as though it may have been broken more than once. Only fitting since he'd been a first-class rugby player until an injury sidelined him. He was still lean and athletic looking.
"I need you in my office in five minutes," he told her. "Bring everything you have on Everest Group Records. Financials, groups we have signed, groups we should drop."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Devonshire," she said.
He paused on the threshold before entering his inner office and smiled at her. "Call me Henry."
She nodded. Dang it, he had a perfect smile. The kind that left her feeling utterly gob smacked. Which was ridiculous. She'd read the reports in the tabloids and gossip magazines—he was a player. One with a different girl every night, she reminded herself.
"Please, call me Astrid," she said.
He nodded. "Have you been working here long?"
"Only a week. I was hired to work specifically with you."
"Good, then you won't be torn about who is in charge," he said.
"No, sir, you're the boss," she quipped.
"Indeed I am."
She started pulling together the reports he'd asked for. Since her career-ending affair at her last place of employment, she'd made a promise to herself to be utterly professional this time. She had always liked men and, to be honest, knew she flirted more than she should, but it was her way.
She watched him walk away. Flirting in the office was a bad idea, but he was charming. It wasn't as if Henry Devonshire was going to make a real pass at her. His social circles contained supermodels. But she'd always had a weakness for blue eyes and a charming smile. It didn't hurt matters that she'd had a little crush on Henry Devonshire when he'd been introduced as the starting flanker for the London Irish ten years ago.
So she was ready for Henry's requests. She had everything in a folder on her desktop and printed off the information for him. She also copied the file onto their shared server.
Her phone rang. Glancing down at the multiline unit, she saw that Henry was still on his extension.
"Everest Records, Henry Devonshire's office," Astrid said.
"We need to talk."
It was her old boss and former lover, Daniel Martin. Daniel was a bit like Simon Cowell, a record executive who turned everything he touched to gold. But when the gold lost its luster, Daniel moved on. Something Astrid had experienced firsthand.
"I don't think we have anything left to say." The last thing she wanted was to talk to Daniel.
"Henry Devonshire might feel differently. Meet me downstairs in that park area between City Hall and Tower Bridge in ten minutes."
"I can't. My boss needs me."
"He won't be your boss for long if you don't speak to me. I think we both know that. I'm not asking for too much of your time, just a few minutes."
"Fine," Astrid said, aware that Daniel could ruin her chances at Everest records with just a vaguely worded comment about her past job performance.
She wasn't sure exactly what Daniel wanted—their relationship had ended so badly. Maybe he wanted to make amends now that she was back in the music industry. At least she could hope.
She sent Henry an instant message telling him she'd be right back and set her phones to go to voice mail. Five minutes later she was walking through the green area on the banks of the Thames. Lots of office workers were sitting outside on the smoke breaks.
Astrid hurried past them looking for Daniel. She saw his honey-blond hair first. The weather was cloudy and wet today and a little chilly, and Daniel was wearing his favorite Ralph Lauren trench coat with the collar turned up.
Despite the fact that she was over him, she couldn't help but notice that he looked good. Women were watching him, and Astrid saw the disappointment on more than one girl's face when he turned toward her. In the past she'd relished the envious stares of other women.
Now she knew that they had nothing to be envious of. With Daniel Martin the charm was only surface deep.
"Hi, Daniel. I don't have a lot of time. What did you want to see me about?"
"What do you think you are doing working for Everest Records?"
"They hired me. I needed a job since I'm not independently wealthy," Astrid said.
"Don't be glib."
"I'm not trying to be. What are you really attempting to say?"
"That if you poach any of my clients…I will ruin you."
She shook her head. How could not know her at all? "I'd never do that. I'm not trying to get ahead by using someone else."
"Just be warned. If you come anywhere near my clients, I will call Henry Devonshire and tell him everything that the tabloids didn't uncover about our affair."
With that, he turned on his heel and walked away from her. She just watched him leave, wondering how in the world she was going to protect herself from Daniel.
Hurrying back to the Everest Group skyscraper, she took the elevator up to her floor, not talking to anyone along the way.