Authors: Leslie North
The Maxfield Brothers Series
By Leslie North
tephen Maxfield has
the chance to save the business his father built, and only one woman stands in his way.
With Duncan Enterprises crumbling, Stephen Maxfield knows that a lucrative building contract could be the ticket to saving the family company. He’s always been regarded as the unpredictable brother, and this time is no different. He’s prepared to do what he thinks is right—even if it means ousting his own father. Stephen faces another obstacle, however, in the form of Angelia Lopez, the gorgeous Duncan VP with her own plans to save the company.
Angie Lopez has been groomed as Duncan’s successor, and she’s convinced that selling off pieces of the company is the way to save it. She’s busy making deals to break apart the business, while hoping that it brings together the Maxfield family. But when she comes up against Stephen Maxfield—all six feet eight inches of him—she’ll have to work harder than ever to keep her focus. Angie’s been burned by men in the past, and Stephen sets her aflame.
Stephen has no time for romance, and Angie is on a dating time-out. But if the two can see beyond their business plans, they just may find they’re the perfect match.
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he was attractive
. There was no doubt about that. Her dark hair was pulled tightly up in a bun, and Stephen wondered what she would do if he reached out and raked his hands through it, pulling out all the pins. He wanted to know how long her hair was. Would it sweep past her shoulders? Swing down to the small of her back? Brush all the way down to that luscious…
“Is there a problem?”
His eyes snapped back up, and he realized that her dark eyes were staring intently at him. There was a hint of temper in her voice, but it was controlled.
“No ma’am,” he said politely with a smile. “Just lost in thought.” He wasn’t at all ashamed of the fact that she’d caught him staring at her.
Her eyes narrowed, but she turned back around again. He knew that she could see him reflected in the gleam of the elevator doors, so he kept his eyes from straying again. She was simply a small distraction from what was really weighing on his mind. Part of him couldn’t believe he was in San Francisco again. Duncan had called, and he’d come running. It was pathetic.
There was something nostalgic about riding in the elevator again. He’d enjoyed more than one woman in this elevator when he was younger. His eyes flickered up at the camera and he smiled to himself. He’d given the security officers quite the show. What would the lone woman riding with him do if he pushed her up against the wall and pressed his lips to hers?
She was dressed in a gray blazer and a skirt that showed off her tanned legs. Conservative. Business-appropriate. She was more than likely a secretary or a receptionist. Good old Duncan did like them young and pretty.
“You do realize that I can see you, right?” she demanded. Stephen smiled as his eyes snapped up again. She hadn’t even bothered to turn around, and he met her look in the distorted reflection.
“I’m sorry,” he said easily. “You’re a nice distraction.”
She turned around and leaned against the wall, deliberately easing her gaze up and down his body. He grinned unabashedly. “There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction every now and then,” she said softly. “I’ve always wanted to know what kind of tools you construction workers carried in your tool belt. Are you all talk?”
She thought he was a construction worker? Well, he was dressed in jeans and a work shirt. “That depends on what kind of tools you’re looking for,” he said in a husky voice as he stepped closer towards her.
Lifting her chin, she smiled coyly at him. “I’ve always had a thing for a man in a hard hat.”
“Come by my room later tonight, and I’ll show you every hard thing I have.”
When he was inches from her, she tossed back her head and laughed. “God. You men are so easy.” The doors opened, and she nimbly stepped outside. “Have a nice day. I hope you looked your fill.”
He stood in the elevator for a moment, stunned. Quickly, he realized this was his floor too, and he hopped out before the door closed.
Her heels clacked on the tile floor as he followed her. Out of curiosity, he stayed a few steps behind her. If she was on this floor, she was, no doubt, closer to being Duncan’s personal assistant than a simple secretary. But this meeting was only for the Board. So what was she doing here?
“What are you doing? That wasn’t anything serious,” she hissed as she whirled around.
“It wasn’t?” he asked innocently.
“No. And you shouldn’t be up here. Are you lost?”
Was he lost? Well wasn’t that an interesting turn. “Maybe,” he said casually. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t be up here?”
Her features relaxed. “I’m sorry. I’m a little high-strung today. This floor is for VP members only. We have an important business meeting in the works. If you let me know who you’re waiting for, I can help direct you to the right place.”
“I have a meeting with Gabe Maxfield,” he said with a straight face.
“Ah. Well Mr. Maxfield will be preoccupied in the meeting for a while. You’re welcome to wait by his office, or I can let him know that you’d like to reschedule, Mr.…?”
“Maxfield,” he said with a smile.
Frustration flashed across her face. “Yes, I know you’re waiting on Mr. Maxfield. You know what, I’m sure Gabe will realize his mistake, and he’ll be in touch with you as soon as the meeting is over. On behalf of Duncan Enterprises, I apologize for the inconvenience.”
She had the power to apologize for the inconvenience? This was getting more and more interesting by the moment. She flashed him a small smile before spinning on her heels and moving faster. She must have realized that she was late.
At the end of the corridor, she pushed aside the glass doors. Through the panes, Gabe caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. Stephen hadn’t actually called to announce he would be attending. The truth was, Gabe wasn’t sure if Stephen was coming or not.
The woman rounded on him. “I thought I made it clear. This is a private meeting,” she said as she slapped her hands on his chest.
“Is it now? And you’re invited to this private meeting?” he asked as he cocked his head.
“Of course I’m invited,” she snapped. “I’m Angela Lopez, the Senior VP of the company. Do I need to call security?”
Surprised, his eyes looked back up to Gabe. Everyone was staring at them. “Of course, you are,” he agreed with obvious reluctance. “Well, you should probably take a seat, Ms. Angela Lopez, Senior VP. It looks like everyone is waiting for you.”
“And I will sit down as soon as you leave!”
He gave her a wide smile. Part of him was about to enjoy this moment. “Why would I leave? I’m invited as well.” Clearing his throat, he turned to the board members. “I’m sorry I’m late. As many of you know, I’m Stephen Maxfield. I got held up in the elevator.”
The expression on her face said it all. A few members nodded to him as he took his seat, and he watched with some amusement as she tried to compose herself. Her face was flushed, either with anger or embarrassment, but one thing was sure, she wouldn’t be threatening to call security on him again. Like it or not, he owned part of this company. And she worked for him.
tephen settled back
in his chair and surveyed the room. Gabe sat at the opposite end of the table and watched Stephen, his poker face giving nothing away. Stephen could still hear Gabe’s voice on the phone last week.
“The company is in trouble. We need you.”
Like Duncan Enterprises needed him. Duncan had made it very clear that he didn’t need anything from his eldest son, and Stephen felt the same reluctance to get involved. But there was something in his younger brother’s voice that worried him. Gabe never asked for anything from him. For him to call like that was almost the equivalent of him crawling over broken glass.
So Stephen had come.
Duncan himself was absent from the meeting. That was fine. If Stephen could be in and out of San Francisco without setting eyes on Duncan Maxfield, he was all the better for it. But Nathan, their youngest brother, was also absent.
Where the hell was he?
Angela Lopez stood up. “I’ve already spoken to many of you about the plan going into the new quarter. I have the backing of much of the board, but I need approval from the majority of the shareholders. That, of course, would be Gabe and Mr. Maxfield.”
So he was Mr. Maxfield but his brother was Gabe? Interesting.
He watched as she took a deep breath. She was nervous. Her hands were shaking, and she was tapping the toe of her shoe absently against the polished floor. Stephen didn’t really know her, but it seemed out of character for her. In the elevator she was assertive and in control. As Senior VP, she should have felt comfortable in front of board members. And yet, she seemed unsure of herself.
“The real estate that Duncan Enterprises holds is its strongest asset. Our property values alone are still in the high millions, and this needs to be protected at all cost. In order to maintain those numbers, we need to consider the value of the other aspects of the company. The design and construction sections are simply no longer pulling their weight, and maintaining them is a drain on resources needed elsewhere. I think it’s time for us to consider selling those sectors of the company so that we can throw our full weight behind the real estate branch of the company.”
Stephen snorted. He’d been balancing his chair on its back legs, and it fell forward with a loud thump as he straightened. “Absolutely not. This company started in construction. It made its name through construction, and now you want to get rid of it? That’s absurd.”
Angela whipped her head sharply around. “I realize that you might not love the idea, Mr. Maxfield, but there is very little else we can do. We are hemorrhaging money on the construction projects that are failing before they’re even finished.” She opened her mouth, but Stephen waved his hand to shut her up.
“Then you need to be more discerning about the projects that you accept.” The meaning of his words was lost on her.
She glared at him. “If you would not interrupt me, Mr. Maxfield, you would know that it doesn’t matter how well we research these projects. The economy is simply not stable enough for continued expansion on bigger projects.”
“The economy? Aren’t we above using that as an excuse?”
“An excuse? It’s a reality, Mr. Maxfield. I don’t know where you’ve been these past few years, but I’ve been here trying to keep this company together. Yes, I understand that selling it off piece by piece will be hard, but it’s that or lose everything. Life’s not always perfect, so get over it and get on with it,” Angela snapped. Stephen raised his eyebrows at the outburst. Clearly, he’d hit a nerve. She seemed embarrassed to have lost her cool and nervously tugged at her blazer.
Gabe stood. “I don’t love the idea myself,” he said softly as he looked at Angela. “It feels like we’re taking the easy way out.” Angela’s cheeks colored, and Stephen watched them closely. What exactly was going on here? Gabe turned his head to meet Stephen’s gaze. “But since I have been here, I do understand that there are some issues we need to iron out. Angie, if you’d please start your presentation.”
The remark was clearly aimed at him, but Stephen didn’t shrink under it. Of course, Gabe had been here since the beginning. He had always been Duncan’s favorite son. But since he was the one who would take over the company, he should have been fighting as hard as Stephen to keep it together.
Even harder, since Stephen had never cared what the hell happened to the business their father had built up.
Angie leaned over the desk and pulled up the reports on the white screen. Stephen grimaced when he saw the numbers. As he listened to Angie drone on and on, he began to see why Gabe had called him. Part of him had thought that maybe Duncan had thrown some little temper tantrum, and Gabe needed him there to help clean it up. But the more he saw the reports, the more he realized that Duncan Enterprises really was in trouble. What had happened in the past year?
He turned and saw that Gabe wasn’t looking at the reports. He was staring straight back at him.
And he didn’t look happy.
Finally, when she was finished speaking, Gabe stood. Nodding his head to the board members, he cleared his throat. “Thank you, Angie. I think that’s plenty of information. It’s a lot to consider, and I know we all need to think it over. Angie’s plan may seem drastic, but it’s the only viable option that’s been presented to Duncan. If anyone has any better ideas, please draw up the plan and present them to me in the next few weeks.”
“Why isn’t Duncan here?” one man grumbled.
Gabe’s lips tightened. “Flu,” he said. “Meeting adjourned.”
Flu? It was all Stephen could do not to snort. It used to be that Duncan was dying before he would refuse to go to work. The flu had never kept him out of the office before. Neither had little league games, his sons’ trips to the hospital, and award ceremonies. No sir. As he reminded them time and time again, Duncan Enterprises was the reason they had a roof over their heads and food on the table. And that required hard work. If they wanted to go to college, they would simply have to accept that.
So exactly, where was Duncan Maxfield?
The members got up, shook hands and talked among themselves. Gabe closed his portfolio. Stephen got up to greet his brother, but Angie beat him to it. “What the hell was that?” she hissed as she reached Gabe.
Gabe had always been the calm one, and Stephen watched now as he glanced coldly over her. “What do you mean?”
“You were supposed to support me,” she whispered as she checked over her shoulder that none of the board members could overhear. “We’ve talked about this plan for weeks. And now you’re all like, we need to think on it? This is the only option we have, and you know that!”
Gabe had agreed to this plan? If he wanted to get rid of two-thirds of the company, why had he called Stephen?
“It’s the only option that’s been presented so far,” Gabe said slowly. “Now that we’ve discussed all of the company’s difficulties, we can brainstorm ideas more openly. I didn’t shoot your idea down, Angie.”
“I can answer that,” Stephen said as he went over to join in on the conversation. Angie’s eyes widened when she realized that he’d been listening. “As Senior VP you probably know I’m a majority shareholder. As a matter of procedure, I’m invited to all board meetings. I’m an integral part of this company.”
“An integral part of this company? Really? I’ve been here for ten years, and I’ve never laid eyes on you. We’ve made some pretty big changes in that time, and you weren’t here for any of them. So why are you really here today?”
Stephen shrugged. “Gabe? Why am I here?”
“Maybe we should start over,” Gabe suggested with a fake smile. “Stephen, this is Angela Lopez. Angie, this is my older brother, Stephen Maxfield.”
Angie pursed her lips. It was clear that she didn’t think starting over would do much good, but finally she took a deep breath. “Mr. Maxfield, I would like to apologize for my earlier actions. I am quite protective over the discussions that are held in this room, and I hadn’t formally met you. Although it’s quite clear that you have the Maxfield eyes.”
It was all Stephen could do not to roll those Maxfield eyes. “And Angie, you can’t imagine how happy I am to find out that the woman from the elevator is Senior Vice President.” His eyes cut quickly to Gabe’s. “Was there a regime change that I wasn’t aware of?”
Gabe stiffened. “No. There was not. Duncan is still CEO, and Angie is being groomed to take his position. Therefore, you should consider her plan carefully before you shoot it down,” he said, his voice hard, his words clipped. “Soon, she’ll be running the company.”
The mask slipped away, and Stephen stared at him. Before he could open his mouth, Gabe continued. “That’s why I called you. This is your last chance to do something for this company before a Maxfield is no longer in charge of it.”
Angie faltered. “Gabe,” she said softly.
“This is a decision that will affect all of us,” Gabe interrupted her. “So I thought you should be a part of it. If you don’t want to sell part of the company, now is the time to help come up with a different plan. And if you don’t care, then feel free to leave.”
Stephen studied his brother carefully. Gabe had always worn a mask. As the middle child, he felt neither the responsibility of the older sibling nor the carefree spirit of the younger one. But in the end, he’d been the only one to stick around. While Stephen didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about leaving Duncan behind, he did feel guilty about leaving his brother. At one time, they had been so close. Now it was like looking into the eyes of a stranger.
It was clear that his time with Duncan Enterprises had changed Gabe. And Stephen didn’t believe for a second that this was simply about the choice to sell part of the company. There was something bigger bothering Gabe.
“Mrs. Lopez, could you please excuse us?” Stephen said softly.
“I’m not married,” she murmured. He glanced sharply at her, but she was already walking away.
“What the hell is going on, Gabe?” he said in a low voice. “Is she sleeping with Duncan?”
Gabe grimaced. “I’m sure he has his reasons for promoting her. He says she’s the best choice for the company. I agree.”
“Do you trust her?”
After a moment, he sighed. “I think the issue is bigger than her,” he said finally.
“And what issue would that be?” Stephen said softly.
“The company, of course.” He held out his hand. “It’s good to see you Stephen.”
Feeling awkward, Stephen shook his brother’s hand. He wanted to push the issue further, but Gabe was already turning to talk to other people. With a frown, Stephen turned and saw Angie staring at him from across the room. She had her phone up to her ear, and she was turning her head away from other members.
But he could see his name on her lips. And if her frown was anything to go by, she was not happy about whatever she was hearing.