High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By: Susan Mallery


Prologue



CEO knocks out the competition.

CEO Duncan Patrick has once again knocked out the competition. The shipping billionaire ends the year with two more acquisitions, including a small European trucking company and a very profitable railroad line in South America. With Patrick Industries dominating the world transportation market, one would think the wealthy billionaire could afford to be gracious, but apparently that’s not the case. For the second year in a row, Duncan has been named meanest CEO in the country. Not surprisingly, the reclusive billionaire declined to be interviewed for this article.



“This is unconscionable,” Lawrence Patrick said, slamming the business newspaper onto the boardroom table.

Duncan leaned back in his chair and stifled a yawn. “Did you want me to do the interview?”

“That’s not the point and you know it.”

“What is the point?” Duncan asked, turning his attention from his uncle to the other men on the board. “Is there too much money coming in? Are the investors unhappy with all the proceeds?”

“The point is the press loves to hate you,” Lawrence snapped. “You bought a mobile home park, then evicted the residents, most of whom were elderly and poor.”

“The mobile home park was right next to one of the largest shipping facilities we own. I needed the land for expansion. The board approved the purchase.”

“We didn’t approve seeing old ladies on television, crying because they had nowhere to go.”

Duncan rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Part of the deal was providing the residents with a new mobile home park. Their lots are bigger and the area is residential, rather than industrial. They have bus service right outside the main gate. We paid all the costs. No one lost anything. It was the media trying to create a story.”

One of the other board members glared at him. “Are you denying you bankrupt your competition?”

“Not at all. If I want to buy a company but the person who owns it won’t sell to me, I find another way.” He straightened. “A legal way, gentlemen. You’ve all invested in my company and you’ve seen extraordinary profits. I don’t give a damn what the press thinks about me or my company.”

“Therein lies the problem,” his uncle told him. “We do. Patrick Industries has a terrible reputation, as do you.”

“Both are undeserved.”

“Regardless. This isn’t your company, Duncan. You brought us in when you needed money to buy out your partner. Part of the deal is you answer to us.”

Duncan didn’t like the sound of that. He was the one who had taken Patrick Industries from a struggling small business to a world-class empire. Not them—him.

“If you’re threatening me,” he began.

“Not threatening,” another board member said. “Duncan, we understand that there’s a difference between ruthless and mean. But the public doesn’t. We’re asking you to play nice for the next few months.”

“Get off this list,” his uncle said, waving the paper at him. “It’s practically Christmas. Give money to orphans, find a cause. Rescue a puppy. Date a nice girl, for once. Hell, we don’t even care if you really change. Perception is everything. You know that.”

Duncan shook his head. “So you don’t care if I’m the biggest bastard in the world, as long as no one knows about it?”

“Exactly.”

“Easy enough,” he said, rising to his feet. He could play nice for a few months, while raising enough money to buy out his board. Then he wouldn’t have to care what anyone thought of him. Which was how he preferred things.





One


Annie McCoy could accept the flat tire. The car was old and the tires should have been replaced last spring. She could also understand that little Cody had eaten dirt on the playground, then thrown up on her favorite skirt. She wouldn’t complain about the notice she’d gotten from the electric company pointing out, ever so politely, that she was overdue—again—and that they would be raising her rates. It was that all of it had happened on the same day. Couldn’t the universe give her a sixteenth of a break?

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