I should have gone to Starbucks, Kyle Ellison thought.
They served morning coffee with a smilenot unsolicited advice.
"All I'm saying is you're not a young buck anymore." Kyle's executive assistant handed him a mug of black coffee as she fixed him with an all-knowing stare. "You can't carouse the night away like you did in your twenties."
Taking a grateful gulp of the strong brew, Kyle collapsed into his leather office chair. He closed his eyes and waited for a surge of caffeine-induced energy. Contrary to his long-time assistant's assumption, his rowdy all-nighter had been spent home alone working.
"You're ignoring me, aren't you?" Marjorie Sims asked.
He cracked open an eyelid and closed it again. "Yup."
Unlike Margie, Kyle didn't believe thirty-one made him a candidate for an old-age home, although he'd put his social life on hiatus. There would be plenty of time for fun later.
Right now his priorities were Ellison Industries and overcoming his rep as the happy-go-lucky second son, whose life revolved around good times with good-looking women.
"Well, you might want to pay attention," Marjorie said, her tone as stiff as the collar on her starched white blouse. "Because your uncle wants to see you in his office."
Kyle jerked upright in his chair, no longer needing a jolt from the coffee.
Weeks ago, a call from his uncle Jonathan would have brought a smile to his face, but these days it put him on edge. Office tension had spilled over to their personal lives eroding their once-solid bond.
Kyle rose from his desk, shrugged back into his suit jacket and adjusted the knot on his silk tie. He hoped this was the summons he'd been waiting on, but cautioned himself to curb his expectations. It probably was just another one of Uncle Jon's little challenges, he speculated, irked at the thought.
"Did his secretary say what it was about?" he asked.
Margie looked up from the mail she was sorting. "Your uncle made the call personally and said it was important."
A quick elevator ride later, Kyle blinked to adjust his eyes to the dim surroundings of the coveted twenty-third floor of the Ellison Building. The combination of mahogany-paneled walls and dark draperies blocked the mid-south sunshine, shrouding the entire f loor of the downtown Nashville skyscraper in gloom.
"Ah, Mr. Ellison, your uncle's eager to see you," the blond receptionist manning the outer office said. "His secretary's out sick today, so just go on through to his office."
The interim-CEO of Ellison Industries, Jonathan Ellison had practically begged Kyle's older brother, Adam, to reconsider his decision to walk away from the top job and the company. Now that Adam was out of the picture, his uncle had been dragging his feet in turning over the reins to Kyle.
He seemed to overlook the fact Kyle also held an MBA degree and had toiled for years under their late father as one of the company's vice presidents, same as his brother.
Regardless, Ellison Industries was in Kyle's blood and sooner or laterhe expected to run it.
He paused in front of the door, which still bore his father's name in raised gold letters, before pushing it open.
"Great, Kyle's here." His uncle wore an uncharacteristic grin, and Kyle felt his hopes buoy. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen him smile, and something had the man practically beaming.
His uncle rounded the desk and inclined his head toward the office's leather sofa, where another man was seated.
The man rose and extended his hand. "Good to see you, again," he said.
Again? Kyle searched his brain to place him as they briefly shook hands.
"It's Logan," his uncle blurted out.
Kyle took in the man's features trying to reconcile the face of the boy he knew with the adult in front of him.
"Logan?" Kyle asked hesitantly, not quite believing it.
The man smiled and nodded. "It's me all right, cousin."
Faint memories of the two of them wreaking havoc around the Ellison estate during the weekends Logan had spent with Uncle Jonathan played through his mind.
"Oh, my God, I haven't seen you since we were, what, six years old?"
"It's been a long time," Logan said.
More than twenty-five years, Kyle thought. He guessed it had been nearly as long since his uncle had seen his only child. Tears glistened in the older man's eyes, and the smile on his round face threatened to split it in two.
Logan's mother had remarried shortly after divorcing Jonathan Ellison. His uncle had tried to make the most of his time with his son, but when Logan moved to Asia for his stepfather's job, their visits dwindled and eventually stopped altogether.
"So what brings you back?" Kyle leaned against the antique oak desk now occupied by his uncle.
"I'm married now, and we're expecting a baby," Logan said.
"A boy," Uncle Jonathan quickly added, returning to his chair. "I'm going to be a grandfather."
"Congratulations all around." Kyle gave his cousin's hand another shake.
Logan continued. "I thought it was time to reconcile with Dad for the sake of my unborn son."
"That's great, man," Kyle said. "So when will Uncle Jon's name officially change to Grandpa?"
"In three months. I didn't want to put off seeing Dad any longer, and then there's the matter of my son's financial legacy."
Kyle raised a brow. There was something in his cousin's tone that didn't sit right. "Financial legacy?"
"My estrangement doesn't change the fact I'm an Ellison. Thus, so is my unborn son." He glanced around the office. "My boy deserves a stake in all of this. So do I."
"Well, I'm sure Uncle Jon and I can find a place for you here," Kyle said, unable to brush off the feeling of unease creeping over him.
Surreptitious glances exchanged between father and son did little to abate his concern. He's family, Kyle reminded himself.
Actually, Dad and I were discussing it when you walked in," Logan said. "I was laying out my qualifications for the CEO position."
Son of a
"The what?" Kyle's entire body stiffened.
He must have heard his cousin wrong. No way had this almost stranger waltzed into his late father's office with the idea of making it his own.
"As you know, I spent a considerable amount of my childhood in Asia," Logan said. "As I explained to Dad, with me at the helm, Ellison Industries could establish a strong position in China and other emerging markets."
"He has some excellent ideas," Uncle Jon said, every word infused with pride. "Logan has a degree in international business. He's also fluent in Chinese."
"Both Mandarin and Cantonese," Logan interjected.
Kyle struggled to keep a cool head as he looked from an elated Uncle Jon to his prodigal son. However, there was a point they all needed to be clear on.
He turned his attention to Logan.
Long-forgotten memories of them as children resurfaced. A spoiled Logan having to have his way all the time. His cousin cheating at games or accidentally breaking a window while playing ball and pointing the finger at an innocent bystander.
Logan had been a low-down kid who apparently hadn't lost his touch as an adult.
"You're obviously confused, cousin. Ellison Industries was founded by my father, David Ellison, who died of a massive coronary at this very desk." Kyle's gaze flicked to the heavy oak desk before he turned his attention back to Logan. "Uncle Jon is merely acting as gatekeeper until it's time for me to take the helm."
Again, father and son exchanged uncomfortable glances.
"My understanding is that Adam was the son Uncle David intended to head the company, not you," Logan said. "Like those princes over in England. The oldest one is the well-respected heir, and the younger one, the spare."
Kyle's hands curled into fists at his sides, both itching to wipe the smug expression off his cousin's face. He resisted the urge. No way had he wanted Logan to see that the verbal jab had hit a sore spot.
"You don't know anything about this business, my father or even your own father." A mirthless chuckle pushed past Kyle's clenched jaw. "You're a stranger to us, Logan. Do you actually think we'd entrust you with Ellison Industries?"
His cousin folded his arms over his chest. "Maybe some fresh blood is just what this company needs."
Uncle Jonathan stood and held up his hands. "Hey, we're all family here. Let's calm down, before one of us says something they'll regret."
"Of course, Dad. I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention to step on anyone's toes. I only wanted to offer my expertise."
The apology rang hollow in Kyle's ears. It sounded as fake as his cousin's sudden regard for his father,
"We appreciate the offer, son, and we'll take it under advisement," Uncle Jonathan said. "Right, Kyle?"
His uncle turned to him, and there was no escaping his expectant, almost pleading, expression. Kyle exhaled. As pissed as he was with Logan, he couldn't disappoint his uncle.
"Yeah, whatever," he finally said.
Satisfied, Uncle Jonathan turned his attention back to his son. "If you'll excuse us, Logan. I have a business matter to discuss with Kyle," he said. "I'll see you and your wife at dinner this evening. I look forward to meeting her."
"Of course, Dad. See you then."
Kyle saw the adoration in his uncle's eyes as he watched Logan walk out the door. He wanted to be happy for him, really he did, but he suspected his cousin's sudden return meant nothing but trouble.
Sitting down, his uncle motioned for him to have a seat in an armchair across from the desk, but Kyle preferred to stand.
"Before you say anything, I'm offering Logan a job tonight," Uncle Jon said. "Not the CEO position, of course, that's still up in the air. But I want to bring him aboard as a VP."
Kyle didn't like it. Nor did he appreciate his uncle's "up in the air" comment about the CEO position.
"I don't think it's a good idea to give him such a vital role in the company coming off the street," Kyle said.
Although his uncle's mind was made up, Kyle wanted to make sure his objection was on the record. David Ellison never passed out executive-level jobs to his sons like Halloween candy. Kyle and his brother had both worked themselves up through the ranks at Ellison Industries. They'd earned their vice-presidential slots.
"I'm making my son a vice president," his uncle reiterated, removing his glasses and placing them on the desk. "Besides, I called you up here for another reason. I have an assignment for you."
Figures, Kyle thought, another hoop to jump through. Not for the first time, he wondered if his late father hadn't made a mistake entrusting his brother to carry out his last wishes instead of his sons.
Uncle Jon reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a sheath of papers labeled Peppermint Lane Candy Co. and slid it across the desktop.
Kyle picked up the papers, attached by a binder clip, and flipped through them.
"Since when did Ellison Industries buy a factory that makes," he hesitated not quite believing what he was reading, "peppermint bark? More important, how come I didn't know about it?"
His uncle threw his hands up and shrugged. "Nobody did. Your father purchased it shortly before he died," he said. "He didn't talk to me, Adam, or as far as I know, anyone else about it. So no one knows why."
"It wasn't like him to make an acquisition without running it by us and then the board." Kyle continued to sift through the sheaf of papers. He quickly skimmed the factory's balance sheet. "Especially one that's losing a boatload of money."
"That's where you come in," his uncle said.
"You want me to go in, turn things around and make it profitable?"
His uncle shook his head. "Your job is to shut it down."
"Why not just sell it?"
"The place had been on the market for years with no takers before your father purchased it," he said. "The numbers have been crunched, and our bean counters agree the most profitable move for Ellison is to put the place out of its misery."
"What's the time frame?"
"I want it taken care of ASAP." Uncle Jonathan frowned. "The factory's president and the mayor of the town have done everything but kick in the door trying to get an appointment with me. They even sent a giant tin of their peppermint bark."
"The candy any good?"
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not partial to peppermint bark, so I had my secretary leave it in the break room."
Kyle rolled the papers into a makeshift tube. "I'll get right on it."
"Hold on, there's one more thing," his uncle said. "I want you to go to Candy, Ohio, personally to oversee the layoffs and closing."
Kyle nodded. "I'll offer the employees relocation and placement at one of our household-goods manufacturing plants."
His uncle shook his head. "Give them a severance package of one week's pay for every year they worked at the factory. No relocation or placement."
The fact he'd never had to worry about money didn't make Kyle impervious to the reality that many people did, especially in the current economic climate. The details he'd quickly gathered from the paperwork still in his hands were fresh in his head.
"Come on, this factory is the town's largest employer. Our closing it will decimate it," he said. "We can do better by them."
"Fine," his uncle huffed. "I'll go as high as a two-weeks salary for every year worked, but that's it. We've owned this company less than a year, so I consider it extremely generous."
Kyle shook his head. "Surely, we can
His uncle leaned forward in his chair and crossed his arms on the desk. "Ellison Industries is a household-goods conglomerate, not a social service agency," he said. "It's a tough break for the folks of Candy, Ohio, but it's not our problem."
A smile that was half smirk lifted the corner of his uncle's mouth. "If you're not up to it, I can make it Logan's first assignment, and you can resume your active social life."
Kyle kept his cool in the face of his uncle's threat. "That won't be necessary," he said.
"Then go take care of business, and prove to me you deserve to sit in your father's chair."