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Most Eligible Billionaire: Chapter 6


Henry


DID MOM THINK she was leaving me with one last little piece of hell? Getting the final word in? I should be thanking her; there’s nothing I like better than a fight. Especially a fight I’m going to win.

This company is my family and has been for a long time—long before my mother chose a scammer and a dog over her own son.

And there’s nothing I won’t do for my family.

I propose another mind-numbing financial move. I’ve noticed she’s actually interested in construction stuff—it’s the only time she’s really tracking. So I keep the focus on the financials. This is business we could conclude in a tenth of the time, but I’m reading everything. I warned the group that I would.

It’s working; I’m wearing her down. When she feels especially tired, she scratches the dog’s head, as if that will perk her up, and she’s doing that now, big brown eyes glazing over.

If she had a team backing her up, we’d know about it by now. According to our PI, she has no business background, aside from selling ridiculous dog collars and things. My guess is that she got her hooks into my mom thinking she was an easy, small-change mark and only later realized what a big fish she had. And she got greedy, tried to take down this thing herself.

All alone. Messing with Henry Locke. Who does that?

Soon I’ll go in for the kill. I watch her stretch subtly in her chair. It took guts, I’ll give her that.

Now I’ll destroy her. I’ll strip her of everything. I find myself wondering if her neck will pinken when she realizes. Will she come at me with anger? At times she seems almost to despise me.

Will she get that loathing glow again? Will she show her claws?

Something wicked twists inside of me, and it’s not entirely unpleasant.

Brett kicks my foot. Givens wants Tuesday’s numbers. I blink and grab my tablet. I give him the numbers, then sneak another glance at her.

When I’m relatively sure she’s not paying attention, I bring up the voting amendment, a densely worded bylaw change that will redistribute voting rights, favoring family and longstanding board members over newcomers—namely her. It’s worded in a way I’m pretty sure she won’t recognize, given her lack of business knowledge. Three lawyers signed off on it.

I present it in a rambling monotone.

Basically, she’s about to vote to strip her own voting rights. Once she votes for that, we’ll reorganize the company. Reorganize her and the dog right out the door.

I yawn. Sure enough, she yawns, too. “All in favor,” I say. She turns her brown eyes to me. She’s been doing that. Pretending she understands and then watching me for a cue how to vote. Smart enough not to vote against her own meal ticket, I suppose. I created a nonsense amendment to test the theory, and I warned the group ahead of time I’d do it.

Kaleb wasn’t happy with the plan; he said it went too far. He always feels like I go too far until Locke needs to send a hard guy to the negotiating table, and then he’s happy for me to go too far.

So he went along, because I haven’t been wrong once, and I built the shit out of this company. Even with Kaleb acting like a giant boulder around my ankle, keeping us back from real progress, I built it.

Even through the crash and the real estate downturn, when other builders were wheedling out of paying subs, I found a way to pay people, to finish jobs the right way, to keep our Wall Street end happy.

No way will a small-time scammer get the best of us.

I finish rattling off the amendment where she agrees to have no more say in company business.

Vicky isn’t paying attention, though Smuckers is the very picture of alertness, suddenly, eyes like black buttons, tongue hanging out, staring at me like he’s spotted a squirrel riding on my head. I look away, not wanting to encourage his excitement.

“All in favor,” I say. We start around the table. My heart speeds up like it always does when I go in for the coup.

Vicky’s going to go for it. I feel almost sad for her.

Almost.

These shenanigans wouldn’t fly in a publicly traded company. Then again, neither would a dog on the board. In a private family company, all bets are off.

Listlessly, I raise my hand. “Aye.” We get a string of ayes.

She raises her hand. Her pretty lips part. Her chest rises slightly, and then she pauses, brows furrow. “Wait, I don’t even know what this is.”

I sigh and read it off. “All present in favor. Just waiting on you.”

She cranes her head forward, eyes narrowed.

“Can I get a definition of reallocation of plebiscite by seniority?” Vicky asks.

My heart sinks. “What is this, a spelling bee?”

“I just don’t understand it.”

“It’s a procedural motion to ensure continuing smooth operation. An agreement on forms of agreement. You’re going to have to get used to voting on matters of procedure.”

She watches Brett and Smuckers. “Specific definition, please,” she says softly.

Mandy groans.

“It’s procedural,” I say, sliding a packet of printed bullshit across to her. “A matter of continuation.”

She lifts her gaze back to me. She’s a fish out of water. A fish on land, really, flopping around, visibly confused. But she keeps flopping, keeps fighting. She’s a scrapper, really. “Reallocation of plebiscite?”

Everyone looks at me. She’s asking the right question. “The rule gives precedence to experience.”

“What’s plebiscite?”

“Ballot.”

Her chest rises again. Another intake of breath. I know exactly when it dawns on her, because that glow comes back in to her face. “Precedence to experience. As opposed to a…?”

She waits for me to fill it in. I sit back, as if bored. I’m anything but.

She fixes me with a wry smile that twists up some part of me. “Maybe as opposed to a fluffy little dog?” she finally supplies.

“Not how I was going to put it.”

“Well, then.” She sits up straight. “Smuckers has considered your amendment, and he’s decided to vote no.” She turns to Smuckers. “What is that, boy? Oh, I’m sorry, nay.” She glares at me now. “I can’t believe you tried to strip him of his vote. Do you have no decency?”

“When it comes to protecting this company? No.”

Her gaze intensifies. “Just no?”

“None at all,” I say. “No decency whatsoever. Nada, if you will.”

Her pretty lips part. It’s shock. Maybe a little bit awe.

I give her an amused smile, adjusting my jacket sleeve over my cuff just so. The suit was tailored by a man who charges three hundred bucks an hour and is worth every penny.

“Uh,” she says. “You think you’re all that? You’re not.”

“Oh, I am,” I say. “I very much am. And for the record, I will crush you in the end.”

“Smuckers had this medication once,” she says. “We tried to hide it in his food, and he spit it out. No matter what we did, he’d spit it out.” She puts one finger on the paper with the new amendment we printed up and slides it back across the desk. “Smuckers doesn’t like when people try to fool him. That’s his message for you.”

“I have a message for Smuckers.” I put my finger on it and slide it back across to her. “Smuckers needs to know that we have a private investigator on this case. Smuckers might not have very nice food to eat if you ended up in prison.”

Finally she looks scared.

Brett swoops in. “I think we can all walk away from this table happy. Maybe Henry was hasty with that ultimatum. I say we settle this. One-time offer from me personally.” He writes the number—$4,500,000.00. “This offer expires in two minutes.”

My heart pounds. This is sloppy. The third final ultimatum. But he’s doing it as a personal thing. And if she takes it, okay. We’ve shown how close she can come to losing everything.

She looks at the paper.

She’s all alone caring for that sister of hers. She’s poor—we have her banking information; we know it for a fact. She has every reason in the world to take it. Yet she hesitates.

“This is our last offer,” Brett says. “After this, we’ll take the company from you, and you’ll get nothing.”

She raises her brown eyes to me. It’s me she’s really dealing with. I like that she knows that. “You know what Smuckers hates even more than being fooled?” she says.

My heart pounds. She almost lost everything to me, and now she’s going to tell me a dog story?

“He hates being threatened,” she says. “And bullied. He really, really hates it.”

“Well he’s going to have to get used to it,” I hear myself saying. “He’s used to bubbles and bows and sunny parks but he’s in the jungle now. There are animals here who are faster and stronger and smarter than he is. Animals who will dominate him easily. Savagely, even.”

“Then you don’t know Smuckers very well.”

“Oh, I know all about Smuckers, and I’d suggest he practice rolling over. Baring his belly for the superior predator.” I lower my voice. “Begging sweetly for mercy.”

The color heightens in her face. This shouldn’t be fun.

But it is.

I keep going. “Smuckers may think he can request packets and bylaws and definitions and get up to speed, but he can’t compete here. He doesn’t have the skills.”

“Smuckers thinks owning fifty-one percent is the best skill to have,” she says.

My pulse quickens. “Then Smuckers should prepare to be destroyed.”

Kaleb clears his throat. “I think this meeting has devolved to the point where we can adjourn.”

“We still have issues to take up,” I say.

“More plebiscites?” She shoots a hard gaze at me. “No, thanks. Though I do have one request. An assistant.”

I wait. She can have whatever she wants. Does she not understand that? She could take an entire floor as her office if she wanted. “Do you have an assistant in mind? You can bring in anybody you want.”

“I’d like somebody familiar with the company and the board. Maybe April?” She gazes over at April. It’s a good choice.

“If April agrees.” I wave a hand at April. Of course she’ll agree. Being Vicky’s assistant will be a cakewalk compared to what she’s doing. “You can take her to HR and hash it out. Try it on a thirty-day trial basis if you like.”

April nods.

Kaleb moves that we schedule the next meeting for a week out. All present agree.

Vicky scoops up Smuckers, nestles him back into her purse, and swings out of the room.

“We got this,” I say to the rest of the board. Everyone drifts out except Brett. He backs into the door, closing it behind him. Blocking me from leaving.

“What?” I say.

“Are you looking to fight her or fuck her?”


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