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Kellen Alexander strolled briskly into the elegant living room of his parents' Mediterranean-style home in Pacific Palisades.
"Good to have you home for good, little brother," Dreyden said when Kellen greeted him at the front door.
"It's good to be here. Hey, I've been thinking that you need a roommate." Kellen loved living in Atlanta, but he was enjoying his reunion. At the age of twenty-six, he had just recently completed his master's degree in architectural engineering and was thrilled to be done with school and back in California with his family.
Dreyden chuckled. "I don't think so. I actually enjoy living alone."
it's not like I'll be around much," Kellen uttered with a sly smile. "I've got a lot of catching up to do with the ladies."
Kellen toured the main floor, in search of the rest of his family. He took the stairs to the second floor. His oldest brother, Ari, was the father of three childrena pair of fraternal twins, one a boy and the other a girl, and another son. He was with his wife, Natalia, in one of the spare bedrooms, trying to get the twins, Christian and Crystal, to settle down. Kellen had seen their brother, Joshua, occupied in the family room playing a game on an iPad. Hearing the sound of laughter, Kellen went back downstairs where he found his brother Blaze and wife, Livi, settling down in the family room.
Kellen walked to the kitchen, where his mother and sisters were busy preparing dinner.
"Get out of here, little brother," Sage ordered, pushing him away.
"I see you're still bossy," he responded with a laugh.
"And you're still a pest," Zaire interjected. "Go play guest of honor. We got this."
They were trying to be secretive about the menu, but Kellen knew they were up to something. He had a feeling they were cooking up something special.
Malcolm Alexander cleared his throat, commanding everyone's attention. "Everybody come in here."
Kellen ventured into the family room with the others. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Dad's about to make a speech," Sage whispered as she stood beside him.
"I feel so blessed to be surrounded by my children and their families," Malcolm stated. "I'm so proud of all of you."
Malcolm was the heir of the late Robert DePaul's multimillion-dollar estate and chain of luxury hotel and spa resorts. Kellen was glad to see that his father had finally made peace with the discovery that his parents had kept the truth of his biological father a secret from him. For the majority of his life, Malcolm had grown up believing that Theodore Alexander was his father, but his mother had taken the truth to her grave.
"We love you, Daddy," Zaire said.
He smiled. "I love all of you, as well. Today we are here to celebrate Kellen and his accomplishment. He graduated with honors." Malcolm turned to him. "Your mother and I are very proud of you. There was a moment when we weren't sure you were going to attend college, much less graduate school
" He suddenly broke into a grin. "But I'm happy to say that you proved us wrong."
"I admit I partied a lot when I first went off to college," Kellen confessed with a tiny smile, "but when you made me come home for a semester when I was a freshmanit changed my perspective, Dad. I didn't see it back then, but it was probably the best thing you could've done for me." He wrapped an arm around his mother. "I really appreciate your support and all those late-night talks, Mom."
Barbara placed a loving hand to his cheek. "Your father is right. We are very proud of you."
"Kellen, we're all so proud of you, too," Zaire interjected without preamble. "Now can we eat? I'm starving."
Laughter rang out around the room filled with his family.
"C'mon," Sage uttered. "She's eating for two. When I was pregnant with Honor, all I could think about was food."
Her husband, Ryan, nodded in agreement.
"Zaire, you don't have to wait any longer, sweetie. Dinner's ready," Barbara announced when she returned from the kitchen.
Everyone followed her to the formal dining room.
Kellen not only felt good about being home, he was home for good and ready to take on the worldmore specifically the Special Projects Director position for Alexander-DePaul Design Group. Kellen had had his eye on the employment opportunity since it posted. He was confident his father would give him the job.
"I see you made all of my favorites," Kellen stated. "Thanks, Mom. I have to tell you that I've really missed your homemade biscuits, fried catfish and especially your collard greens."
"Have you learned to cook anything outside of hot dogs and hamburgers?" Zaire inquired.
Kellen nodded. "I'm pretty good with breakfast foods. I can make some mean omelets."
"That sounds good," his younger sister said. "You can make me one for breakfast tomorrow morning."
"Zaire, do you ever stay at your house?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Yeah, but when my husband's out of town, I usually stay out here. Tyrese is leaving tonight for New York."
Some unknown assailant had attacked Zaire over a year ago, and now that she was pregnant, her husband preferred that she stay with her parents whenever he was out of town. There were a few times when Franklin, the loyal and trusted head of security his parents had inherited after Robert's death, stayed with her when she chose to remain home.
Seated at the dining room table, Kellen let his gaze wander around, landing on his parents and his siblings, before he sampled his food. "Mom
Barbara smiled. "Thank you, dear."
His gaze landed on Dreyden. Silently, he noted that his brother had lost weight in a relatively short period of time. When Dreyden had surprised him in Atlanta just a couple of months ago, he'd looked fine.
"Dreyden, what's up with you?" Kellen inquired in a low voice after everyone settled down in the large family room after dinner. "I couldn't help but notice that you didn't eat much at dinner. To be honest, you don't look like you're feeling well."
"I've just been really tired lately," his brother responded with a slight shrug. "We just finished tax season, so I won't be working late as much."
"Why don't you take a vacation?" Kellen suggested. "Go somewhere exotic."
Dreyden smiled. "I've been thinking about that myself. Maybe I'll see a travel agent next week and plan a trip."
"Do it," he encouraged. "You need a break away from work." Kellen was worried about his brother. He had never seen him look so pale or exhausted.
He rose to his feet.
"Where are you going?" Dreyden asked.
"I need to talk to Dad about the Special Projects Director position at the Alexander-DePaul Design Group. I applied as soon as it became open, but I haven't heard anything from human resources."
"Why don't you just enjoy being with the family, Kellen?" his brother suggested. "Think about work tomorrow."
"I'm excited, Dreyden
I really want this job. I've been waiting on something like this since before I graduated."
"I can see that, but just give it a couple of days. It's better to get the job based on your own merits and not because of your last name."
"I've spent all of this time in school so that I can prepare myself for this position," Kellen stated. "I've earned it."
Kellen turned around to find Harold DePaul standing in the doorway with a young woman he assumed was his fiancée, Amy. He knew that the couple had met at Blaze and Livi's wedding. Amy and Livi were close friends. "Harold, it's good to see you."
Harold and Amy were getting married in a couple of weeks. Kellen was initially surprised that he was engaged to an African American womanespecially after the way he reacted when his uncle left everything to his biological sonMalcolm Alexander. Kellen thought him a racist because of his initial reaction concerning his uncle's relationship with an African American woman. However, he and many of the DePaul relatives had come to look past skin color. "Congratulations on your surviving grad school. I bought you a gift."
He and Amy moved on to talk with Barbara and Malcolm.
"Harold looks very happy," Zaire whispered.
Kellen agreed. "I never expected those two to hook up, but I can tell that they are crazy over one another. Talk about irony."
"I'm glad he's found someone," Zaire responded. "William's illness has been very hard on him."
"I can't imagine losing a brother
or a sister."
Just then Livi walked into the room and made her way over to Harold and Amy. "Hey, you two.I'm glad you made it."
Kellen walked over to his father and said, "Dad, I applied for the Special Projects Director position a couple of weeks ago. I think the job is perfect for me, but I didn't get an interview for it. I did have a telephone interview with talent acquisitions, but it was for another position. Do you know what happened? I think they made a mistake."
"Son, there was no mistake," Malcolm said. "The director position has already been filled. Someone in-house was promoted. However, the architectural engineer position is yours. You'll start in a couple of weeks."
A shred of disappointment snaked down Kellen's spine. "I really wanted the special projects position. I feel I'm qualified for management."
"The person selected was more qualified for the position. You don't have seven-plus years in experience."
"I'm your son. Surely, you can override the decision to hire someone else."
Malcolm met his son's gaze. "What would you have me do, Kellen?"
"I have all of this education and you want me to work in a position that"
"Let me stop you right there, son," Malcolm quickly interjected as he held up his hand. "Kellen, you do have the education, but you are lacking when it comes to hands-on experience. There is nothing wrong with starting in an entry-level position and working your way up."
Exasperated, Kellen argued, "Ari, Blaze and Sage didn't have to do anything like that. As for experience, I've interned and worked with the largest architectural firm in Atlanta."
"They didn't just come to their positions with educationthey also came with years of work experience."
"I can't believe this," Kellen uttered in frustration.
"Honey, you can't expect your father to just give you a position," Barbara remarked blandly. "You have to earn it in the same manner as everyone else."
"Dad can do whatever he wants," Kellen responded. "The Alexander-DePaul Design Group is his company."
"You are not ready, son." His father gave him a reassuring smile. "Starting in an entry-level position is what you can expect from any company. It's not a bad place to bethe salary is competitive and you will be able to work on some exciting projects."
Kellen did not respond. He had come to Los Angeles fully expecting to be awarded the position. It had never occurred to him that his father would not give him the job.
"Dad's right, little brother," Dreyden interjected.
"You have your own firm and Zaire started her own company. Maybe I should do my own thing."
"You can do that, Kellen, but what real experience do you have?" Dreyden questioned. "What can you really offer a client coming to you?"
There was tightening around his mouth, but he didn't speak.
"I know this isn't what you want to hear, but it's what you need to hear. Learn your craft and then move up."
"Why does everyone think I'm so incompetent?"
Dreyden released a small sigh. "I don't think of you as incompetent, Kellen. You're impulsive and you want things to happen immediately."
"I can't deny that," Kellen stated.
"No point. I know you, little brother."
"There's nothing wrong with being ambitious," Dreyden said. "You need to recognize that your position is not exactly an entry-level one. You should be thankful because you could have ended up in the mail room."
"I do have a job and I am grateful for that. It's not exactly on the management track, but I guess I'll have my chance to impress my new boss in a couple of weeks."
Wisps of cirrus clouds played peekaboo with the early June sun. A steady wind, blowing in from the east, brought warming temperatures, and Addison Evans was looking forward to the summer. But for now, she needed to complete preparations for her new hires that were starting today.
She paced back and forth in her office. Why was she so nervous? Kellen Alexander was just another employee. He was on her team. The fact that she was anticipating his arrival with such emotion came as a complete surprise.
"You're going to wear a hole in the rug," her assistant said. She walked into the office with a stack of documents. "This is what you've been waiting for. They arrived late yesterday after you'd gone home."
"Thank you, Devin."
"I have everything set up in the conference room for the new-hire orientation. Samantha from human resources should be arriving any moment. She called from the car."
"Great," Addison murmured. "Thanks for getting everything ready."
She sat down at her desk. "Let me know when the new hires arrive."
"Will do," Devin responded with a smile.
Kellen was the first to arrive.
"I'm Addison Evans." She smiled and extended her hand, which quickly disappeared into his large one. She made a point of keeping her grip firm and looking Kellen in the eye, a habit she'd acquired early in her career, and one that had always alerted her about what kind of man she was dealing with. "Welcome aboard."
"Thank you," he responded politely.
Kellen held her gaze and didn't seem surprised by the firmness of her grip. More important, he didn't try to grind her hand into dust with his superior strength.
Both marks in his favor.
Addison studied him, poised there so straight and tall in his sharply tailored, black, designer business suit. He was devastatingly handsome, but she crushed that thought as soon as it entered her mind. His dark-eyed gaze made the already hot day sizzle.
She forced herself to look away from Kellen. The man had broad shoulders, slender hips and long legs that would easily turn a woman's head in his direction. Addison released a soft breath of air before turning her attention back to him.
He was easily the sexiest man she had ever met, but it wasn't just his looks that attracted her to him; it was the mystery and the intrigue that she found intoxicating.
She could not read him.
Kellen was smiling, but she silently noted that his smile did not quite reach his eyes. Addison had heard that Kellen was reputed to be very personable; however, she was not seeing this side of him at the moment.
"Where would you like me to sit?" he asked her.
She tore her gaze away and concentrated on his question. "Your office is two doors down. I'll have someone take you there after a brief orientation." Addison resumed control of her emotions. "I'll walk you to the conference room. I have two other employees starting today, as well."
"Great," Kellen murmured.
She stole a peek at him. He did not look as if he really wanted to be there.
"How long have you worked here?" he asked suddenly.
"I've been with ADDG for almost five years. I interned here during grad school and was hired permanently after I graduated."
"Where did you attend college?"
"Stanford," Addison responded. "Here we are," she said with a soft sigh of relief. "Your orientation will last until noon. We have a welcome lunch planned for one o'clock."
Addison walked briskly away from the conference room longing for the safety of her office. She was far too aware of Kellen as a sexy man, when she needed to look at him objectively like an employee. Still, it was hard to stay objective when he focused those gorgeous gray eyes on her, when the clean male scent of him eddied in the air around her and his energy filled every corner of the room.
She had to find a way to block out her intense awareness of this man.