“Excuse me, could I have one of those?” I asked. The flight attendant glanced down at the stack of newspapers in her arms, a surprised expression crossing her features before her pink lips curled into a flirtatious smile.
“There’s a news channel on board, number fifty four.” She bent down lower than necessary, giving me a glimpse of the lacy black bra underneath her uniform. Her breasts brushed my bicep as she reached for the controller in my armrest. “Here, let me help you with that.”
A couple of years ago, I would have leaned into it. I would have smiled back and taken her to a hotel room as soon as the plane touched down. Not anymore.
Shifting a bit so my arm wasn’t in the way of her ample chest anymore, I smiled politely and nodded at the newspapers. “I prefer getting my news from the papers.”
The flirtatious smile faltered before she straightened up. “Of course sir. The Times?”
“One of each, please. Thank you.”
She shuffled through the stack, then handed me three different papers.
“Anything else I can get for you today, sir?” She batted her long lashes, thrusting out her hip a little. The name tag on her uniform told me her name was Carol.
Carol was pretty and clearly interested, but I wasn’t. “I’ll take a Macallan on the rocks.”
It was after lunch. Still too early to be drinking, but I needed it. Carol nodded and walked down the narrow aisle to get my drink, handing out more papers to the other passengers in first class as she went.
Settling back in my seat, I unfolded The Times. The paper rustled as I snapped it open. I paged past the gossip section, but not fast enough to miss my brother’s face smiling up at me from the page.
The headline was one that I saw at least once every couple of months. Danny loved the attention that went along with being who we were as much as I avoided it. Today’s headline speculated about my brother dating Madeline Thompson, a hotel heiress in her own right.
I shook my head. Danny, Maddy and I all grew up together. Our fathers, despite being rival property magnates, had been friends for years. Danny and Maddy both adored being in the public eye. I knew there was nothing between them, but I also knew they thrived on headlines and society gossip.
Carol delivered my drink and I gulped half of it down, relishing the smooth burn of the alcohol. My brother was going to be insufferable later. No doubt being the subject of an article in The Times had made his already enormous head swell another size or two.
“Aren’t you too young to read newspapers?” Carol asked, hovering near my seat with another welcoming smile.
Sighing inwardly, I nodded. “I’m an old soul, I guess. Thanks for the drink.”
My eyes drifted away from her brown ones back to my paper. Taking the hint that I wasn’t in the mood to be social, she frowned and took off.
I scowled at Danny’s picture for a second, then went in the search of the real news. For the next three hours, I devoured the papers before pulling out my laptop to get some work done.
Too soon for my liking, the Captain’s voice crackled over the speakers. “Good afternoon folks. We’re going to be starting our descent into Florida in the next few minutes. We hope you enjoyed the flight with us today and that you’ll choose us when you travel again.”
I was already booked on this airline for a flight out tomorrow, much to my father’s chagrin. He never understood why I preferred to fly commercial instead of taking the company jet. Neither my dad nor my brother understood why I chose to stay under the radar, out of the public eye, keeping mostly to myself.
Luckily, they’d given up on trying to talk me into changing my mind. As the Chief Financial Officer of one of the biggest hotel groups in the world, they thought I should enjoy the perks more. But being CFO was enough for me. I didn’t want or need the rest of it.
Heat and humidity hit me in the face as soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal. “Fucking Florida,” I muttered under my breath, heading toward the rental car company I always used. Why my dad chose Tampa for the company headquarters never made sense to me, but he loved it here.
Something about being able to work and still live the retirement lifestyle. It made zero sense, but it wasn’t my logic or my decision. At least he didn’t expect me to live here, or even to spend a lot of time here.
I spent my time traveling between our hotels all around the country. I worked from hotels and planes, hardly ever sleeping in my own bed. It suited me perfectly.
After spending fifteen minutes in the express line to rent a car, I made my way through the throngs of people in the airport and found the Mercedes I’d rented out in the lot.
Once I was on the road, I blasted the air conditioner in the car and turned the radio all the way up. Rock music poured out of the speakers. I let the pounding bass wash over me, relaxing the knots in my shoulders.
My father’s office was in an imposing building downtown. It was one of the only properties we owned that didn’t double as a hotel. Just the sight of it had the pleasant buzz from the music flowing right out of me. I used to love it here, but I had really grown to hate this state. I didn’t know what the issue was, but being here made me really uncomfortable, like somehow my skin was on too tight.
Reaching for my collar, I pulled it away from my throat and rolled my neck from shoulder to shoulder. My suit was tailor made for me and up until I landed in Florida, it fit me like a glove. Now it also felt too tight. Like my skin, it was choking me. Making me itch.
A car horn blared at me as I slowed to a near crawl before pulling into the parking lot. Frank, my dad’s favorite security guard, waved me through the boom with a friendly flick of his hand. I returned the gesture, half wishing I could stop and chat with him. But my dad was waiting.
I glanced at the clock on the dashboard, realizing that by taking my time to get here I was officially five minutes late. I hated being late nearly as much as I hated where I was. Growing up with one of the most successful men in the country as my father, I had learned a lot about business. One of the first lessons I learned was about timeliness. Time is money and nobody liked losing money.
Gunning it through the lot, I parked in my designated space and jogged across to the elevator. Unlike most execs, dad didn’t have a corner office. He had a large rectangular space in the middle of the floor with a massive balcony overlooking the ocean. Glass stackable doors made up one entire side, in his words, to let in ‘plenty of natural light.’ On days that he felt like it, the doors were opened completely so he could feel like he was working outside.
I arrived on his floor and dashed through the first slit in the elevator doors as soon as it appeared. My feet sank into plush carpeting as I made my way to his office.
“Good morning Norma,” I greeted his secretary, an old battle ax of a woman who’d been with him since the beginning of time.
She lifted a white eyebrow and peered at me over the rim of her glasses. “You’re late Blake. Best go in quickly, Danny’s already been in there a while.”
I groaned, as I’d been hoping to beat my brother into the office. I actually liked my dad, so it would have been nice to have a few minutes to catch up. Guess I should have thought about that before taking so much time getting here.
“Get in there,” Norma instructed sternly. “Before Danny’s fanciful ideas have a chance to seep into the old man’s head.”
A soft chuckle I couldn’t hold in burst free. There were less than a handful of people in the world who would talk to or about my father that way. I loved Norma for it. “You’re right. Before we know it, we could be moving our headquarters to the moon because it would generate more publicity.”
The corners of her mouth twitched up. It was Norma’s version of a smile. I counted my interaction with her as a success and added the smile to my mental scoreboard before sweeping into dad’s office.
As Norma said, Danny was already in there. Like me, he was wearing a tailored suit that ran several thousand dollars. His was black to my charcoal, his hands shoved into his pockets. Pausing his pacing down the length of the office, he turned to look at me. “Blake, there you are. I was wondering when you were going to grace us with your presence. Dad and I were just talking about launching a new campaign. I have a social media strategy devised and I want to drive morale internally by setting in motion a promotion drive.”
Right down to business then. That was okay by me. Danny and I didn’t make small talk often. We both preferred getting to the point. No fake niceties exchanged that neither of us cared about anyway.
My dad, who had been absently harrumphing and murmuring while pouring over paperwork swept his glasses from his face and stood up, extending his hand to me. “Good to see you boy. How have you been?”
His iron grip closed around my fist before he pulled me into a brief, one armed hug.
“I’m good, Dad. You?”
I released him and stepped back. Grey blue eyes searched mine, questioning before he nodded with satisfaction and went back to his chair. “I’ve been busy. What do think of this social media campaign Danny’s babbling about?”
I didn’t have to look at my brother to know his own blue eyes would have narrowed to thunderous slits at my father’s choice of words. People often said that Dad could have easily been mistaken for our older brother with the similarities between us. Jet black hair, and piercing blue eyes with gray undertones, only Dad’s had lines around them that ours didn’t have. Not yet, anyway.
Danny would get them soon if he didn’t watch the scowling. I shrugged, lowering myself into a soft, black leather chair. “You know I don’t like social media, but Danny’s the marketing guy.”
“I swear you’re twenty-eight going on eighty,” Danny said. “Social media is the way of the future. Fuck, not even the future. It’s here now!”
Shrugging again, I ran a hand through my hair and winked at Dad. “At least I’m a handsome eighty.”
My father chuckled and went back to his paperwork. “Neither of you have a clue about being or even pushing eighty.”
“Neither do you.” I shot back. Dad was only in his late fifties.
“I still know a damn sight more than you boys.”
Danny walked to the chair next to mine, leaning over with his palms on the backrest. “I’ll take that as a yes for the campaign, then. Moving on. The promotions, I have a candidate in mind for the new general manager position.”
“As long as it’s not the manager of the New York property, I can probably get behind it,” I told him, reaching for my laptop in the bag beside my chair. New York was one of the reasons I had to come see my father.
Danny’s head swung to face me. “It is the New York manager, actually. Dustin’s a friend of mine, and he’s been with the company for a long time. He deserves this.”
I scoffed, firing up my laptop. “What he deserves is to go to prison.”
Dad finally looked up from the sheaf of papers on his desk. “What do you mean?”
His tone took on an icy edge. Dad knew me well enough to know I didn’t just say things like that, or make wild accusations. I was damn good at my job and he trusted me.
Pulling up the file I needed, I set the laptop down on his desk and turned the screen to face him. “Dustin’s been stealing money from us.”
“What?” Danny snapped. “Don’t be ridiculous. I just told you, he’s a friend. He wouldn’t do that. Your math must be off. Run the numbers again.”
Irritation shivered up my spine. Thank God Dad was in charge, and not Danny. “I’ve run them again already. Three times. Your friend is a thief.”
“Fuck you.” Danny spat. “He’s not a—”
“Gentlemen.” My father interrupted in no uncertain terms. Danny shut up, but kept his glare on the back of my head. “Blake, I’ll take a look at this. But Danny, come on, you know better than to question Blake’s numbers.”
“What I know is that he’s just being full of shit to block Dustin’s promotion,” Danny thundered.
“I didn’t even know you wanted to promote anyone before I set foot in this office. Why would I randomly carry around evidence that someone’s been stealing from us on the off chance I could use it to block a promotion you propose?”
“I said I would look into it.” Dad said, looking from Danny to me and back again. I sighed, biting back the urge to punch my fucking brother in the face. He had a way of bringing out my inner teenage Neanderthal. “I wanted to talk to you about California, Blake. The property is doing well, but not as well as it should be.”
“Now there’s a manager you should be looking at then,” Danny interjected. Dad silenced him with a stern look.
“I hear the manager is wonderful, actually. I want Blake on the ground to assess the situation. The property is due for a visit anyway. None of us have been there this year.”
If it meant getting out of Florida sooner than expected, I was in. “Sure, I can go check it out.”
“Better get going. The sooner you get there, the sooner you can start ruining someone else’s life.”
I stood, fishing my phone out of my pocket. Time to change my ticket. Danny was right about one thing, the faster I got out of here, the better.