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The Man to Be Reckoned With

By:Tara Pammi

PROLOGUE

“HE MIGHT DIE any minute of any day or he might live to be a hundred. There’s nothing to be done for it.”

Nathaniel Ramirez looked up at the snowy, whitecapped mountain peak and gulped in a big breath. The words he had overheard the cardiologist say to his mother all those years ago reverberated inside his skull. The cold air blasted through his throat, his lungs expanding greedily.

Would this be the day?

He raised his face to the sky as his vision cleared and his heart resumed its normal beat.

At some point during the trek, he had realized he couldn’t finish the climb today.

He didn’t know whether it was because, after almost twelve years of courting death, he was finally bored of playing hide-and-seek with it, or because he was just plain tired today.

For a decade, he had been on a constant go across the world, without planting roots anywhere, without returning home, making real estate deals in corners of the world, making millions.

An image of the roses in the garden his mother had loved, back in California, their color vividly red, the petals so soft that she had banned him from touching them, flashed across his mind’s eye.

A stab of homesickness pierced him as he followed the icy path down. Sweat drenched him as he reached the wooden cabin he had been living in since he closed the Demakis deal in Greece six months ago. Restlessness slithered under his skin.

And he knew what it meant. It meant he was thrashing against the cage he had made for himself; it meant he was getting lonely; thousands of years of human nature were urging him toward making a home, to seek companionship.

He needed to chase a new challenge, whether clinching a real estate deal or conquering a new corner of the world he hadn’t stamped with his name yet. Fortunately for him, the world was vast and the challenges it presented numerous.

Because staying still in one place was the one thing that made him weak, that made him long for more than he could have.

* * *

He’d just stepped out of a hot shower when his satellite phone beeped. Only a handful of people could reach him via this number. He pushed a hand through his overlong hair and checked the caller ID.

The name flashing on the screen brought an instant smile to his face.

He connected the call, and the sound of their old housekeeper Maria’s voice coming down the line filled him with a warmth he had missed for too long. Maria had been his rock after his mom passed.

Suddenly he realized he missed a lot of things from home. He clamped down on the useless yearning before it morphed into the one thing he despised.

Fear.

“Nathan?”

“Maria, how are you?”

He smiled as Maria called him a few names in Spanish and then asked after him as if he were still a little boy.

“You need to come home, Nathan. Your father... It’s been too long since you’ve seen each other.”

The last time Nate saw him, his father had been the epitome of a selfish bastard instead of a grieving husband or a comforting father. And despite the decade and the thousands of miles that Nathan had put between them, the bitterness, the anger he felt for him was just as fresh as ever.

Maybe there was no running away from a few things in life.

“Is he ill again, Maria?”

“No. He recovered from the pneumonia. They, at least that woman’s daughter, she took good care of him.”

Praise from Maria, especially for that woman’s daughter, as she put it, meant Jackie’s daughter had slaved to take care of his dad.

Nathan frowned, the memory of the one time he had seen his father’s mistress’s daughter leaving a sour taste in his mouth. She had been kind even then.

That day in the garage, with the August sun shining gloriously outside with blatant disregard to the fact that Nathan’s entire world had crumbled around him. There had been blooms everywhere, the gardeners keeping it up for his mother even though she had stopped venturing into the garden for months.

The grief that his mother was gone, the chilling fear, the cold fist in his chest that he could drop dead any minute like her, and the little girl who had stood nervously by the garage door, a silent witness to the choking sobs that had racked him.

He hated everything about that day.

“I’m so sorry that your mother died. I can share my mother with you if you want,” she had said in a small voice.

And in return, he had ripped through her.

“He’s getting married, Nathan.” Maria’s anxiety cut through his thoughts. “That woman,” she said again, refusing to even speak Jacqueline Spear’s name, the loathing in her voice crystal clear even through the phone line, “she’ll finally have what she wanted, after all these years. Eleven years of living shamelessly with him under his roof...”

Nathan grimaced as Maria spouted a few choice words for Jacqueline Spear. Bitterness filled his veins at the thought of his father’s mistress, the woman he had taken up with even before Nathan’s mother had passed.

“It’s his damn life, Maria. He has every right to spend it as he pleases.”

“He does, Nathan. But your mama’s house, Nathan...she’s preparing to sell it. Just two days ago, she asked me to clean out your mother’s room, told me to take anything I wanted. Your mama’s belongings, Nathan—all her jewelry’s in there. She’s putting the entire estate on sale—the grounds, the furniture, the mansion, everything.”

Every piece that had been painstakingly put together by his mother with love. And now in the hands of a woman who had been everything his mother hadn’t been.

“If you don’t come back, it will forever be gone.”

Nathan scrunched his eyes closed, and the image of a brick mansion rose in front of him. A strange anger gripped him. He didn’t want that house to go to someone else, he realized.

He had lived the life of a loner for a decade, and the image of the house he had run away from hit him hard in his gut. “She doesn’t have the right to sell it.”

The silence on Maria’s end stretched his nerves taut. “He gave it to her, Nathan. As a gift.”

Nausea rolled around in his mouth. His father had killed his mother, as clearly as if he had choked the life out of her, with his disgusting affair, and after he’d lived in her house with his mistress and now... His knuckles turned white around the phone.

This he wouldn’t, couldn’t, tolerate.

No matter that he didn’t want to live in the house any more than he wanted to put roots down and settle anywhere in the world.

“He’s giving away my mom’s house as a wedding gift?”

“Not to Jackie, Nathan. To her daughter, from her first marriage. I don’t know if you ever saw her. Your father deeded the house to her a few months ago. After he was dreadfully ill that first time.”

Nathan frowned. So Jackie’s daughter was selling his mother’s house. Getting rid of it for the monetary value it would yield, he supposed.

The restlessness that had simmered inside him a few hours ago dissipated, washed away by furious determination.

It was time to go home. He didn’t know how long he would stay or if he could bear to even stay there at all after so many years.

Neither could he let the house, his mother’s house, fall into some stranger’s grubby hands. He just couldn’t.

He bid goodbye to Maria and switched on his laptop.

In a few minutes, he was chatting with his virtual manager, Jacob. He gave orders for a local manager to look after his cabin, for his airline tickets to be booked to San Francisco and last but not the least, for any information the man could dig up on his father’s mistress’s daughter.





             CHAPTER ONE

“I HEARD THE investors sold the company to some reclusive billionaire.”

“Someone in HR said he’s only bought it for the patented software. That he intends to fire the whole lot of us.”

“I didn’t realize we had value to attract someone of that ilk.”

What ilk? What billionaire?

Riya Mathur rubbed her temples with her fingers, slapping her palms over her ears in a gesture that in no way could silence the useless speculation around her.

What had changed in the week she had been gone for the first time in two years since Drew and she had started the company? What wasn’t he telling her?

Her chat window from their internal IM program pinged, and Riya looked down at her screen.

A message from Drew: Come to my cabin, Riya.

Riya felt a knot in her stomach.

Things had steadily been going from bad to worse between her and Drew for six months now. Since New Year’s Eve to be exact. And she hadn’t known how to make it better except to put her head down and do her job.

Stepping out of the small cubicle she occupied, only separated from the open cabins in the huge hall by one movable shelf, she marched past an anxious, almost hyper group of staff amassed in the break room toward the CEO’s cabin. She had spent the better part of the morning waiting on tenterhooks, walking around the different teams and trying to persuade them to get back to work while Drew’s door remained resolutely closed.

But his continuing silence, even after an email from her, peppered with little tidbits of gossip, was making her head spin. Running her damp palms over her baggy trousers, she came to a halt at the closed door.

She tapped a couple of times cursorily, and every whisper gathered momentum in pitch and volume. Without waiting for an answer, she turned the handle and the pandemonium behind her descended into a deathly silence.

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