"Adams Cosmetics is in trouble," Michael Cartwright said during an emergency Monday-morning meeting with the executive members of the board. As CFO, he was privy to the finances and knew what dire straits the company was in.
Present were Kayla Adams, Shane Adams and Courtney Adams, along with several high-level executives.
"How bad is it?" Kayla asked, tossing her silky mane of curls over her shoulder.
"We've lost revenue in the past consecutive six quarters," Michael answered. "Blame it on the economy or consumers just spending less at Christmas, but we've seen a drop-off the past year."
"What about our reserves?" Kayla suggested.
"We've already been dipping into those for well over a year to keep the company afloat. Add the lost revenue and we're going to have to start laying off staff," Michael replied.
Kayla shook her head. "I refuse to do that. The employees of Adams Cosmetics are like members of the family. There has to be another way."
"Investors," her brother, Shane, said.
Michael nodded in agreement. "We can contact your parents on their cruise. I'm sure given the situation the company is in, they would agree to part with shares."
"Absolutely not!" Kayla stood up resolutely, walked to the conference-room window and folded her arms across her chest. "This company has been privately owned for over twenty years." Not to mention how it would look to her parents to know that their eldest child had lost a company it had taken their entire lifetime to build. Kayla just couldn't let it happen.
"Kayla, we're running out of options," her baby sister, Courtney, spoke up in a low, firm voice. She may have been the youngest and considered the prettiest, but she also had a degree in marketing and finance from Duke University.
"What about the new fragrance line you're developing?" Kayla threw out to Shane. He was the head chemist at Adams Cosmetics and was not only brilliant but handsome, as well. "That's sure to be a winner."
"Kayla, do you have any idea what it would cost to launch a new line?" Michael replied.
"Of course I do," she whipped back. "I'm not a novice, Michael." She'd been CEO for the past five years since her father retired. She was one of the youngest CEOs in the business and proud of it. She'd gotten her master's in business administration from Harvard and had studied Adams Cosmetics from the ground up.
When she was little, her father, Byron Adams, would bring her into the office with him. She loved cosmetics and loved the idea that just a little bit of makeup could transform a woman from an ugly duckling into a swan. Even though she wore very little makeup herself, having been blessed with exceptional mahogany skin from her father, she'd made it her life's work to know every intricate detail of each line and how they came into existence.
Michael smiled despite her tone. Kayla had a razor-sharp tongue that would test the best of men. "I recognize that, Kayla," he returned calmly. "But it's going to cost millions for the kind of campaign we would need to launch Shane's line, which quite frankly the company doesn't have."
"Michael is right," Shane agreed.
"Whose side are you on?"
"This company's," Shane returned and turned his hazel eyes on his sister. The rest of the executive members might kowtow to his big sister, but he was not one of them. "Everyone, can you give Kayla and me a moment alone?"
"Try not to break anything," Courtney whispered to her older brother on her way out the double doors of the conference room. She was used to them fighting like cats and dogs, and she was in no mood to be peacemaker.
"Never fear." Shane stood up and buttoned his Italian suit. "Kayla doesn't scare me."
Once the doors had closed, Kayla wasted no time laying into Shane. "How dare you?" she whispered angrily, folding her arms across her chest. "You're supposed to back me up."
"Not when you're being unreasonable."
"I am not." Kayla pouted even though she knew there was some semblance of truth to Shane's words. "I am trying to save this company."
"That's why we're all here, Kay," Shane replied, pointing to the door the executives had just left through. "You're not the only one who loves this company. Like you, I've been working here for as long as I can remember. It's in my blood, too."
Kayla inhaled sharply. "I'm sorry, Shane. It's not you I'm upset with. It's this entire situation. You know as well as I do that the vultures are going to be circling us. Once word leaks, they're going to be swarming, ready to acquire us at a moment's notice."
"Since when do you give up without a fight?"
"Honestly, I don't know how to get us out of this mess," Kayla replied. "I mean, what's Daddy going think?" Kayla lowered her head and braced it in her hands. She felt like a failure.
"Kayla" Shane grabbed her chin and forced her to look up at him "this company was in trouble long before you took over."
"That's not true."
Shane shook his head. Kayla was such a daddy's girl. She hated to think that perhaps their father had made some less-than-desirable decisions near the end of his tenure as CEO and that now his children were left to clean up his mess. Kayla had put a bandage on the bleeding by curbing spending and implementing cost-cutting measures on production, but even she couldn't stop the inevitable. They were facing financial ruin if they didn't take immediate action.
"It is, even though you refuse to admit it," Shane said. "We need private investors willing to part with some serious capital."
"And put it into a sinking ship?" Kayla huffed. "Who would be foolish enough to do that?"
"We've received an interesting offer," Daniel Walker, vice president of Graham International told Ethan Graham in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday at their corporate office.
"What do you have?" Ethan answered, standing up and buttoning up his charcoal Italian suit. He walked over to his wet bar to pour himself a glass of water and drank liberally.
"We've been approached by the CFO of Adams Cosmetics on whether Graham International would entertain purchasing shares in Adams Cosmetics."
"Oh, really?" Ethan's brow rose inquiringly. He'd known the Adams family since he was a child. Byron Adams had worked at Graham International with his father before starting his own company. The Graham and Adams families had been close once.
Byron Adams had been the father Ethan had never had, probably because Carter Graham hadn't known what to do with a young son at the age of sixty. He'd been shocked when his forty-two-year-old wife announced she was pregnant with their first and only child, considering they'd tried for a number of years. She'd given birth to a healthy baby boy, but a late-in-life child was not what Carter had been looking for and it was evident in his treatment of Ethan.
Once when he'd won a lacrosse championship, he'd come home with his trophy eager to show his father how hard he'd worked, but Carter had been cold and indifferent. No matter how hard he tried to please him, Carter refused to give him any praise. But that had only made Ethan work harder to win his approval. His mother, Eleanor, had tried to show him enough love and affection for the both of them, but Ethan had never felt like Carter cared about him one way or the other.
Ethan supposed that's why he respected Byron Adams. Byron was a wonderful, attentive father who cared about his children. Ethan was admittedly jealous when he would spend the night over at the Adams's residence and see how much love they had for each other. He envied them.
Then everything changed. Byron left Graham International to start Adams Cosmetics, which had devastated his father. Carter considered it an act of betrayal on Byron's part and thus the divide between their families began. He'd thought after his father died, his relationship with Byron would return to normal, but Byron seemed to think Ethan was a carbon copy of his father. When Ethan would see Byron upon occasion, he was always civil, but the bond between them had been broken. Ethan had also lost his mother a few years after Carter's death, and he was now alone.
"Adams Cosmetics could go under," Daniel stated. He didn't believe in beating around the bush. Ethan knew him to be a straight shooter and he didn't intend on changing that one bit.
"Why? What happened?"
"They're in need of capital," Daniel replied, leaning forward in his chair. "If someone doesn't bail them out soon, they'll be out of business before the year is out. They've extended themselves as much as they can with the banks, and if they want to go forward with any of the new products Shane Adams is creating, they're going to need investors."
Ethan nodded. "Is Kayla Adams agreeable to an outsider investing in her company?" he inquired. Byron's eldest daughter was CEO of Adams Cosmetics and he doubted she would appreciate an outsider owning a piece of her pie. Matter of fact, she would be livid. Kayla had never liked Ethan since he'd declined her attempt at seventeen to lure him into bed. He'd been six years her senior, and having any kind of relationship at the time would have been completely inappropriate. Though now would be an entirely different matter altogether.
"I've heard she's amicable," Daniel returned. "If they don't get funds soon, they'll have to take the company public and submit an IPO. You and I both know that is not only costly, but the Adams family would also lose control of their company."
Ethan smiled. "I highly doubt she's accepting this lying down." Kayla Adams was a fighter.
"So are you open to buying the shares the Adams family might put on the market?"
"Of course, but I want more than a few shares. I want to own the majority interest," Ethan replied. If he was going to invest in a sinking ship, he needed complete control to bring it back from the brink of disaster. "Start inquiring with our bank on raising capital."
"Ethan, the Adams family will never give up control."
"Then find a loophole."
"You sure don't want much," Daniel returned, closing his file. "I wouldn't think you'd be so ruthless, considering your history with the family."
"You know me, Daniel. Since when have I ever let personal feelings get in the way of business? I want the whole pie or nothing at all, and this circumstance is no different."
"Treat this as extremely confidential," Ethan added. "I don't want word of this leaking out." He had to strike while the iron was hot and prevent any other corporate mammoths from snapping up Adams Cosmetics. Their cosmetics company would fit in nicely with Graham International, which specialized primarily in fashion and perfume but had a small cosmetics division.
"Absolutely." Daniel nodded and headed toward the door, but stopped short. "You know, Kayla Adams is going to consider your interest in the company as hostile. Especially considering you're asking for majority shares."
"Oh, I know," Ethan responded. Kayla was not going to cooperate with him. In fact, since that incident in the stables when she was seventeen, Kayla had made a point of keeping a wide berth from Ethan every time they met. At first he'd thought he was imagining it. He assumed Kayla was embarrassed at her juvenile seduction attempt, but after the last party they attended a few years back, when she'd pointedly refused to dance with him, Ethan knew he wasn't. How could she go from wanting him to not wanting to be near him? Ethan suspected that Kayla was as far from immune to him as she portrayed. "I will handle Kayla."
"Are you sure about that?" Daniel asked.
Ethan chuckled. Kayla was a spitfire, and she wouldn't take kindly to Graham International owning a stake in Adams Cosmetics, but Ethan was determined.