Rivalsin perfect harmony
The only thing standing between Eve Franklin and her dream is over six feet of pure, arrogant alpha male. Eve has spent years preparing to take the reins of her family's software business. Now that her father is stepping down, he's putting someone else in chargea gorgeous tech magnate who's not content with just taking Eve's place in the boardroom. He plans to woo her into his bedroom, as well!
Software genius, talented musician and independently wealthy at thirty-sixDarius Winstead has always known how to get what he wants. And he wants Eve. But she is a challenge unlike any other. She's sophisticated, smart and not the least bit intimidated by his success. So Darius starts to reveal all aspects of his life and invites Eve to see the man behind the millionaire. Will it be enough to make Eve listen to her heart and trust her former enemy?
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Holding a glass of iced tea, Eve Franklin strolled into the family room of her childhood home. Sundays with her parents were a sacred tradition, one that she never neglected in favor of her career or social life. Some of her girlfriends complained about her refusal to go on weekend escapades with them, lamenting that she saw enough of her parents when she went to work every day. Though she did work in the family business as chief financial officer of Franklin Technologies, Incorporated, she rarely saw her parents for more than a few minutes during a typical workday.
Her best friend, Lina, and some of her book club gal pals had taken off for the beach that weekend. Living in Charlotte, North Carolina, meant the best of both worldshalf a day's drive to the east or west delivered one to the majestic peaks of the mountains or the shimmering beauty of the Crystal Coast. Despite Lina's whining, protesting and threats, she'd reminded the girls that Sundays were irrevocably reserved for her parents. As she settled into her early thirties, her parents' advancing age wasn't lost on her. She wanted to spend as much time with them as she could manage.
By now, the group was no doubt "cutting up" at Lina's rental property on Emerald Isle. But she quickly pushed the thought aside. She was right where she was meant to bewhere she most wanted to be and she knew she'd made the right decision.
Fading sunlight streamed in through the opened gold brocade drapes, illuminating the coffee table where a game of Monopoly was set up. The surround sound music system filled the large room with the sounds of instrumental jazz. The current piece featured the peppy strains of an acoustic guitar, the light airy notes of a flute and the accompaniment of a piano, while a plucked bass drove the beat.
The plush fibers of the midnight-navy carpet cushioned her bare feet as she crossed the room. She set the glass down on the short-legged mahogany coffee table, careful of the game board that already occupied the space. She used her hands to tug the hem of her yellow knee-length sundress. Reclaiming her seat on the floor, she grabbed her glass and took a sip. "Whose move is it?"
"My turn." Her mother, Louise, grabbed the pair of dice from the center of the game board. Shaking them inside her closed fist, she tossed the dice out, and then moved her iron-shaped game piece. "Your turn, Joseph."
Eve's gaze landed on her father's face, and she couldn't help but notice how drawn he looked. His face was a mask of exhaustion, and a bit of moisture clung to the edge of his graying hairline. The brown eyes she'd looked into all her life were now lacking the sparkle she was accustomed to seeing there. Now he looked ahead, almost as if looking through her, his expression vacant. "Daddy? It's your move."
He blinked, then offered her a smile. "Sorry, baby. Guess I checked out for a minute." He picked up the dice, drawing them close to his lips, and blew on them for luck.
Eve shifted her gaze to her mother, who also viewed him with concern. Joseph Franklin was a hard worker, always had been. He'd taken the reigns at a struggling software company in the early seventies, reshaped and restructured it, and made it into a powerhouse business. The years of labor he'd put in to turn FTI into a successful multinational software firm were beginning to take a toll on his health.
"Daddy, you look like you could use a nap." She kept her tone light and casual, wanting to avoid setting off his notorious stubborn streak.
"I'm fine." He set his car-shaped game piece on the designated spot and drew a card from one of the two piles on the board. "Looks like I won a beauty contest. Seventy-five dollars, please, Mrs. Banker." He showed his card to Louise, who smiled as she counted out the multicolored fake bills from the plastic tray.
She could see right through her father's attempt to change the subject. "Really, Daddy. You look tired. I don't want you overdoing it."
He groaned. "Baby, I appreciate your concern but I'm fine. I'm not about to quit nownot before you land on one of my properties with a hotel." He gestured to a few spots on the game board. "Then you're gonna owe me some serious cash."
She knew better than to press her father, so she looked to her mother for support.
Louise handed over the rainbow-colored stack of money she'd counted out for him. "Maybe she's right, honey. Sunday is the day of rest, after all, and we've got a busy day tomorrow. A little extra sleep couldn't hurt."
His face twisted into a frown and he lay his winnings down on the coffee table. "All right. If it'll get you two off my case, then I'll take a nap." He scooted to the edge of the sofa, then used his hands to brace himself as he got into a standing position. "You girls are always sending me to bed lately. Next, you'll be trying to goad me into retiring."
Louise blinked, her eyes darting away from her husband's accusing gaze.
Eve drew a deep breath. Her father was almost seventy years old, well past the age most people would have retired, especially considering the financial security he enjoyed. She knew better than to point out his age, but she didn't think retiring was a terrible idea. It was doubtful he'd even consider it, so she chose a different approach. "We're just trying to take good care of you, Daddy. You think about work too much."
He folded his arms across his chest, rumpling the striped fabric of his button-down shirt. "And you'd better be glad I do, otherwise we wouldn't be enjoying this lifestyle." He gestured around the room as if to draw her attention toward the expensive oil paintings, brass fixtures and other material possessions around the space.
While all the things they owned were very nice, and she did enjoy having a measure of financial security and freedom, none of that mattered to her nearly as much as her father's well-being. "You know we appreciate all your hard work. I just don't want you to worry. When the time comes, I'll be ready to take over at FTI."
Silence fell in the room. She knew she'd taken a risk by bringing up her eventual assumption of the CEO position, but she hadn't expected this. Studying her father's face, she found it unreadable. Was he confused or feeling out of sorts due to whatever was ailing him? Or did he doubt her ability to lead the company? She couldn't tell, but she didn't dare ask.
"I don't want to talk about this now. I'm going to bed." He turned around and stalked down the hallway, his hands formed into fists at his sides.
Once he was gone, she helped her mother tidy up. When the board game had been put away, she followed her mother into the kitchen and asked the question that was burning in her mind.
"Mama, what's wrong with Daddy?"
She shrugged. "I wish I knew. I've been trying to get him to go to the doctor for two solid weeks now." She rolled up the sleeves of her blue shirtdress, and turned on the tap to wash out the glasses they'd used.
Her mother's words made her nervous. If her mother couldn't get him to go see a doctor, she knew her own chances were pretty slim. Still, there was no way around the worry she felt regarding him. Maybe she was being overly cautious, but where her father's health was concerned, she'd much rather be persistent with her requests for him to see a doctor than find out too late that something was wrong.
With the three glasses set upside down to dry, Eve followed Louise back into the family room. Every inch of the house was filled with sweet memories of her childhood. As an only child of a well-off family, it was pretty likely she'd been overindulged. What mattered most to her, though, was the love her parents had showered her with at every given opportunity. They'd always made time for her, and that was the best gift she could have received, more precious to her than a boatload of jewels. "We have to make him go in for a physical. Something is wrong, I just know it."
Louise sat down on the sofa and sighed. "I know it, too. I've been with that man almost fifty years, and I can tell he's not himself. He's just so damn stubborn." She ran a hand through her glossy short salt-and-pepper locks. Her brown eyes, shaped the same as Eve's, held all the affection and concern she felt for her husband of forty-six years.
"So what are we going to do about him?" She took a seat next to her mother, looking across at the family photograph on the wall above the console table. The picture had been taken when she was about ten, around Christmastime. While part of her cringed at the wayward pigtail standing straight up on one side of her head, her heart smiled as she looked upon her father's face. In the photograph, he looked young, strong and steadfasta broad-shouldered, sharp-dressed man lovingly embracing his wife and daughter. That was the man she knew and lovednot the tired, bent man she'd been seeing lately.
"I'm gonna keep after him. I intend to nag him until he gets himself checked out, no matter how long it takes. I've been putting up with him all these years, and I'm not giving him up now."
"Thanks, Mama. I think this software launch has put a lot of extra stress on Daddy's shoulders." She knew how excited her father was about the upcoming MyBusiness Sapphire product, an enthusiasm she shared. This would be the most comprehensive software suite they'd offered in years, and even though the launch was still a few months away, the product would be officially announced this week. After that, they'd have to contend with media attention and any possible competition from other firms, in addition to their already-packed launch preparation to-do list. "Everybody's been working so hard on it."
"I know. Times like this, I really enjoy my position as a silent board member. When y'all get to scrambling around, I don't have to take part in any of it."
She was familiar with her mother's point of view. For Louise, it was enough to be a part of Joseph's dream. She'd never had any interest in the intricate inner workings of the business, or in keeping up with ever-changing technological trends. When it came time to plan a party, though, Louise could be counted on to have everything in place. Celebrations were her forte.
"I guess I'll get on home, and get myself together for this week." She gave her mother a kiss on the cheek and stood. "Need help with anything before I go?"
Louise shook her head. "Maid will be in tomorrow, so go on home. I'll see you at the offices tomorrow."
She kissed her mother on the cheek again, then left, closing the front door behind her.
Outside, she climbed into her midsized SUV and started the engine. Alone in her car, she thought about the look that had come over her father's face when she mentioned taking over at FTI. She was the only heir to the business, and she'd worked hard alongside her parents to make it a success. Could he really doubt her abilities now, after everything she'd put into her work?
The city lights twinkled in the darkness, dotting the I-77 corridor like gems. Easing into the turn lane, she took a moment to take in the sight of the city. For a few seconds she admired the skyline. Then the light changed, and she turned her truck in the direction of her house.
Darius Winstead lifted the lid of his grill and turned over the four steaks on the grate. As he closed the lid, he took in the magnificent view from the patio of his vacation condo. Only a few hundred yards away, the Atlantic Ocean ebbed and flowed beneath a beautiful crystal-blue sky. The view was part of the reason he had bought his little Emerald Isle retreat, and he had plans to spend many more days here during his awesome retirement.
Just beyond the patio steps, his boys were competing in an epic game of volleyball, using the net he'd perched in the sand the day he'd bought the place. The three of them were his closest friends in the world; they all shared the same passion for sports and musicjazz in particular. They were grunting and shouting, and making serves and volleys as if they were professional athletes and the championship hung in the balance. The sight of it tickled him. If he weren't busy tending the grill, he'd be out there with them.
At twenty-eight, Darius had been a hot commodity in the tech world. Having graduated at the top of his class from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with his master of science in information technology, he'd earned the opportunity to intern for his mentor, Joseph Franklin, at his software company. In a little less than four years, Darius had created the first smartphone operating system and sold it for $300 million. He then happily left the office politics and stuffy meetings behind. Even Ra-shad, Darius's closest friend, had called him a dumb ass for getting out of the software game when he did, but he had no regrets. He'd loved the creative side of software development, but the business side of things had pushed him far away. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life sitting in board meetings, going over expense reports and kowtowing to stockholders.
Now, at thirty-six, Darius spent his days doing the things he loved, and felt incredibly blessed to be able to do so. His time was his own, and that was just the way he wanted it. Just a few days after his official retirement party, he'd done the one thing he'd always wanted to do, the thing he'd been planning for monthsform a band. He'd given up playing his bass during his early days in the tech business, but the day he'd picked it up again was as if he'd never put it down. His boys had been happy to join him in practicing, and once they'd felt comfortable with their skills, he'd started marketing the group. He and his friends were now the Queen City Gents, a jazz quartet that played regular local gigs and enjoyed an enthusiastic, mostly female following.