Authors: Samantha Chase
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Samantha Chase
Cover and internal design Â© 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover designed by John Kicksee
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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“There is no way in the world you're going to convince him to do this. No way.”
William knew the last two words were added for emphasis, but it still amazed him that people even tried to doubt him. He relaxed in his soft leather desk chair and looked over at his brother, Robert. They'd done this before. And dealt with situations like this before. And not that long ago, either.
“Robert,” he began patiently, “we're running out of options. It's obvious that Zach can't go back to the office yet. His rehab isn't going great, he's not focusing, he's mad at the damn world, and if we don't step in, I'm afraid of what's going to happen.”
“Don't you think I'm aware of all this? I'm his father, William! You may think you know more than everyone else, but you don't.” Robert Montgomery was wearing a pattern into the carpet as he paced back and forth. “He's fired at least six different home health aides already. He doesn't want anybody there.”
William waved a dismissing hand at his brother. “Zach doesn't need a nurse. Not really. He's getting more and more mobile each day. On the days he lets the physical therapist come, he shows progress. We just need to get him focused and off the pity party he's having and maybe offer him someâ¦incentive to stop being difficult.”
“Zach's middle name is difficult,” Robert said wearily. “Honestly, I don't know what kind of incentive we could throw at him that would make him cooperate.”
“We strip him of his position in the company.”
Robert looked at his brother as if he'd grown a second head. “Don't you think that's a little harsh?”
“Don't you think his behavior is getting a little old?”
Robert took a seat on the couch in William's office and ran a hand over his face. “Look, I'm all for motivating Zach into getting better. Hell, I didn't think this would ever be an issue. I mean, he's a grown man who loves to travel and do all of those extreme sports things. I thought by now he would be champing at the bit to get back to the things he loves.” He sighed. “I don't know what's going on with him and I have to be honest, William, it scares me.”
Once again, no one understood the power of William's people-watching skills. “I think Zach's had a blow to his ego. He thought he was invincible and this accident proved he's not. He's human, just like the rest of us.”
“So maybe we need to get him to a shrink. Maybe that's the solution.”
William shook his head. “If he wouldn't tolerate the home health people, I doubt he'll talk to a shrink.”
“Apples and oranges. I think the home health people made Zach feel weak. A shrink could almost be like a peer. Just someone to talk to.”
“He won't even talk to Ethan and they've been friends since they were kids.” William shook his head again. “I'm telling you, we have our ace in the hole. With this plan, we are guaranteed Zach will not only finish his physical therapy, but he'll come out of this funk and be back in the office inâ¦let's say three months, tops.”
Robert chuckled at his brother's confidence. “I don't mean to burst your bubble here, Will, but there is no guarantee. First of all, Zach is stubborn.”
“That's a given,” William agreed.
“Second of all, I don't think threatening him is going to work. And I'm not sure I'm comfortable with doing it.”
William leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk to look at his brother. “Okay, for the record, we won't really follow through on the threat. If there's one thing we all know about your son, it's that he loves a challenge. If we throw it out there that unless he accepts this help, he'll be stripped of his title and we'll give it toâ¦Ethanâ¦or Summer, he's going to fight back. He's going to want to prove us wrong.”
“Okay, say he takes the bait. Aren't you forgetting about one very important aspect of the whole thing?”
“I don't think so,” William said confidently. “I've thought of this from every angle.”
“Gabriella,” Robert said with a cocky smile of his own. “You are going to have to convince Gabriella she has to do this. She may very well tell us to take our offerâor requestâand shove it. She's not someone who just takes orders lightly. From the looks of things, she and Zach have been butting heads for a while.”
William smiled knowingly. He was well aware of the so-called animosity between his nephew and his nephew's assistant. It was almost amusing to him. “Okay, that's what we'll call itâbutting heads.”
“Oh noâ¦” Robert sighed as he hung his head.
“What? What's the matter?”
“You're doing it again, aren't you? This isn't so much about Zach getting better as it is you playing matchmaker again.”
Why argue it? “It's a twofold plan! Zach gets better
gets the girl! It's perfect!”
“Has it ever occurred to you that not everyone wants to be married andâ¦andâ¦”
“Happy?” William provided. “No. No, it hasn't. I think Zach has accomplished so many great things in life and yet he's still not happy. Even before the accident, he wasâ¦restless. He prowled around here like a caged animal.”
“Why Gabriella? If this all blows up in your face, you'll have cost her a job and Zach an assistant. Have you thought of that?”
“Oh, I'm sure it will come to that before all is said and done, but in the end, everything will be as it should.”
Robert eyed his brother warily. “I give it a month. And that's only ifâand it's a pretty big ifâGabriella agrees. I'd be willing to bet you a month's worth of profits she turns you down.”
The grin on William's face widened. “I'll take your wager. And when I win, I'll put the money into a college fund for their first child!”
Robert couldn't help the laugh that escaped. “You're relentless, you know that, right?”
“I am, but I'm also right. I think Gabriella Martine is the answer to all our prayers where Zach is concerned. Mark my words.”
“Oh, I will. But I have one stipulation of my own to make.”
William's brows rose. “Really?”
“I want to be the one to approach the both of them about this newâ¦situation.”
To William, it sounded as if his brother were trying to steal his thunder. “May I ask why?”
“Zach will be suspicious of you. Gabriella will, too. They both know about your antics in the family. They'll see this flimsy plan for exactly what it isânothing more than a matchmaking scheme.”
“You wound me with your words, Robert,” William teased, but held out his hand in agreement. “But you have a deal.”
They shook on it, but William knew he was going to have to swoop in and smooth things out. His brother was a great businessman, but had little to no finesse with people. Even his own family.
He watched his brother walk out of the office as he relaxed once again in his chair. They'd meet up later and discuss how Robert would approach both Zach and Gabriella with this new arrangement. William strongly suspected Gabriella would put up token resistance, but it was his nephew who was going to be the bigger challenge.
As for William, all he had to think about was what college he hoped their child was going to attend eventually.
Very few things threw Gabriella Martine for a loop, but this conversation had done that and more. “I don't think I understand,” she said carefully, her blue eyes wide with confusion.
Robert Montgomery smiled serenely at her from behind his desk at the Montgomerys' corporate headquarters. “Zach isn't getting better,” he began. “He's fired every home health worker who's shown up, and most days he refuses to work with the physical therapist. Technically, he should still be in the rehab facility, but he pitched such a fit once he was free of the casts, we made arrangements for him to continue his recovery at home.”
Gabriella nodded. While she had done her best to stay out of her boss's way during his recovery while still taking care of things for him in the office, she had kept up with his progress through Ethan Reed, the company vice president and her friend. It had been hard to adjust to Zach being absent for so long, but she also knew it was in his best interest for her to stay away. The last time she had seen him, he all but burst a blood vessel.
Not the most glowing recommendation about their work relationship.
“Mr. Montgomery,” she began patiently, “you and I both know my presence seemed toâ¦agitate Zach the last time we were together. I don't think I'm the right person for this particular task. Maybe you could ask my assistant, Carolyn. She's very efficient, and she has a good relationship with Zach.”
Shaking his head, Robert folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward. “I don't know the cause of all the animosity between you and my son, and I don't want to know. What I do know is that you run this office like a drill sergeant, and that's exactly what Zach needs right now.”
“Iâ¦I don't know,” she said and began to feel a bit panicked. Gabriella cared about Zachâprobably more than she shouldâbut that didn't mean she was willing to work soâ¦closely with him. The office was safe; there were other people around to act as buffers. But working from his home? It would just be the two of them. Looking around the office, she was just about to make an excuse to get up when a knock sounded at the door. Both she and Robert turned to see William walk in.
Gabriella just about collapsed from relief. Out of all the Montgomerysâand there were a lot of themâshe felt the most at ease with William. She knew all about his matchmaking hobby, but he'd never even hinted at anything along those lines with her so she felt relatively safe with him.
“I'm so sorry to interrupt, Robert, but you left your cell in my office earlier and Zach's doctor is on the phone.”
Robert jumped up, took the phone from William, and quickly excused himself. As soon as he was out the door, William pulled up the chair next to Gabriella. “I didn't expect him to leave.” He chuckled. “I thought we'd excuse ourselves to give him some privacy.”
Gabriella couldn't help but chuckle with him. Although, if she were being honest, she'd say she was relieved to have Robert out of the room. He was making her uncomfortable with all the talk about working from home with Zach. In a perfect world, she would have been able to jump right on board with the idea. But with the way things had been between the two of them in the months leading up to Zach's disastrous climb, it was impossible.
“So tell me,” William said, interrupting her thoughts, “how are things going around here without Zach? I know Ethan is doing the best he can and everyone is pitching in to help out, but it can't be easy without Zach's presence.”
“Well, we were kind of fortunate in that we were prepared for Zach to be away for the month he was on the climb. We had done a lot of special scheduling with some of our bigger clients, so nothing new was happening for the length of Zach's scheduled vacation time.”
“I hate to say it was fortunate, but I suppose it worked out for the best,” William said thoughtfully. “And now? It's been quite a while since the accident, surely everything hasn't been in a holding pattern?”
Gabriella shook her head. “Everyone's been great at stepping up and taking on certain aspects of Zach's work. I know Ethan talks to Zach every day and he's been kept up to date with what's happening, but I don't think he's reallyâ¦engaging. You know what I mean?”
William nodded. “That's what has us all worried. Ethan can't possibly work with Zach as closely as needed to keep him in the loop on everything as it's happening, and I'm afraid it's the only thing that might help him get out of this funk he's in.” He smiled at Gabriella. “Although I think âfunk' is too mild a term. He's out-and-out belligerent and completely detaching himself from everything and everyone.”
“That's not good,” she murmured. “I don't understand why he's not trying harder to get better. Knowing Zach for as long as I have, I would've thought he'd be beyond anxious to get better and get back to his old self.”
“We all did.” He sighed. “That's why it's going to be devastating to have to remove him from his position in the company.”
” Gabriella cried out in disbelief. “What do you mean, remove him? He's the president of the company! He started this office, you can't justâ¦justâ¦replace him!”
“We don't have a choice,” William said. “We knew he was going to need time to recuperate and get well, but he's not improving. He's not making any effort, and at the end of the day, we still have a business to run. Obviously, we'd rather run it with Zach at the helm, but he's given us no other option. He doesn't want to work and we need someone who does.”
“It's going to kill him, Mr. Montgomery,” she said imploringly. “You can't do it. This company means the world to himâ¦”
William shook his head. “I used to think so. Maybe there's something more going on with him, I don't know. All I know is it isn't fair to make Ethan take on so much. He and Summer have put their plans on hold for their engagement party and their vacation to see how their house in North Carolina is coming along, all for Zach's sake. How much longer are they supposed to wait?”
“It hasn't been very long, William. Please. Justâ¦give him a little more time,” she begged.
If there was one thing William excelled at, it was his ability to observe people and see where they were really coming from. Everything in his gut was telling him what Gabriella was feeling had way more to do with Zach as a person than Zach as her boss. He just needed to be sure.
“Look at it this wayâconsidering the way things went when you were up in Alaska with Zach, you'll get a reprieve from all the stress and his attitude. We'll move Ethan up to president and possibly make Summer the vice president if she's interested, or maybe start interviewing some of the junior executives. I prefer to promote from within. You won't have a big transition to make, and I'm sure you'll want to stay on and helpâfor Ethan's sake.”
Gabriella felt like she was going to be sick. There was no way she could possibly wrap her head around this. How could this family be so cold? Didn't they understand that Zach had nearly died? He was struggling with his recovery for reasons none of them could understand. “Why aren't you encouraging him rather than preparing to pull the rug out from under him?” she asked William.
“Gabriella, we've talked to Zach until we've exhausted ourselves. He's not interested. He needs help. More help than any of us can give him, and he's refusing outside help as well. Until he can get his head back in the game, our hands are tied.”
“What ifâ¦” She cleared her throat. “What if I went and worked with him? Like you just said, he needs someone who can keep him up to speed with the day-to-day operations of the company.”
William's eyebrows rose at the offer. “Really? You'd do that?”
She nodded. “I'm not saying I'll make any more of a difference than the rest of you have, but I can try.”
“Oh, I don't know,” William said and nearly had to bite his tongue to keep from smirking. “Robert and I talked about asking you, but I don't think it would be a very good idea.”
“Why not? Robert and I were talking about it when you came in.”
She nodded again. “I didn't think it was the best idea either, but now that I know what you're planning to do to Zach, I have to at least try.”
“Well, that's very commendable of you.” He squeezed her hand. “Unfortunately, I don't think it's the right thing for you.”
“Butâ¦but Robert just saidâ¦”
“I know, I know. Like I said, we discussed it, but the more I think about it, the more I think it wouldn't be beneficial to anyone.”
Her spine stiffened. “I've worked with Zach for many years. I know how to handle him where work is concerned better than anyone. I've been dealing with his moods and his frustrations, and I've broken up my share of fights between him and Ethan. I think I would be the perfect candidate to go in there and help out.”
“It's really sweet of you to offer, but I think I know what's best for my nephew,” William said as he patted her hand and stood. He cringed at his own intentionally condescending tone, but knew it would galvanize Gabriella's decision. “Tough love. It's time to stop coddling him. If we take his title away from him and let him stew for a while, he'll eventually break out of his pity party and get his head back in the game.”
Gabriella stood and faced the man who she had always thought had a soft spot for his family. “That is the coldest thing I have ever heard!” she said with disgust. “You may be willing to throw in the towel but I'm not. Give me a chance to help him.”
“We don't have the timeâ¦”
“Just a couple of weeks,” she begged. “A month, tops. If I haven't made any kind of impact or if Zach hasn't shown any signs of getting better, then I'll step aside.” Her eyes pleaded with him just as much as her words. “Please, William. Let me try to help him.”
William shrugged, feigning indifference. “I don't see why you'd even want to bother. From what I saw back in Alaska, Zach didn't seem too thrilled with your being there. How do you think he'll react to you practically moving into his house?”
“Iâ¦I'm not moving in,” she clarified, taking a step back. “I'm going to be there just as I would on a normal workday and try to establish some sort of routine to help Zach get reacquainted with what's going on in the company.”
“It may not be that easy, my dear. You may have to take your cues from Zach.”
“Meaning you may not end up working an eight-to-five shift. He's supposed to have physical therapy twice a day and you'll have to work around their schedule. His physical recovery is first and foremost.”
“Of course,” she agreed.
“Are you willing to essentially put your life on hold to work around a man who might not appreciate the effort?” William hated wording it quite so harshly but he had to know with great certainty that Gabriella knew what she was getting into and was committed to it.
Straightening to her full height, she nodded. “I am. I believe Zach deserves a chance.”
William couldn't help the smile that spread across his face as he held out a hand to Gabriella. “Then it looks like we have a deal.”
* * *
“You heard me. I know you banged your head pretty hard when you fell off that mountain, but your hearing is just fine.”
Zach Montgomery looked at his father and felt nothing but rage. With everything he had been through, this was what he got? “So you're firing me?”
Robert shrugged, trying to seem indifferent to his son and the situation at hand. “I'm not saying fired, it's an ugly word. I'm just saying with everything you have going on, maybe it's best for you to have one fewer responsibility.”
“I made this office what it is!” Zach yelled. “You and Uncle William didn't want to branch out to the West Coast. You were more than happy with things as they were. I took the chance and started things out here, and I've made millions for the company! How can you just forget that?”
“I'm not forgetting anything, Zach,” Robert said wearily. “We all know what you did and how hard you've worked. But with things the way they are right now, we need someone at the helm and that's not you. We need a full executive staff. I need to get back home and so does William. Ethan can't handle everything by himself, and you're not willing to pitch in and help out.”
“So I'm out and Ethan's in?” he sneered. “Who's going to take Ethan's position?”
“We've approached Summer about it.”
That felt like a slap in the face. A couple of months ago, Zach had found the idea of his sister working in his office to be laughable. She was more like a damn camp counselor than a business executive and nowâafter one massive dealâeveryone saw her as vice president material? Maybe he had hit his head harder than he thought. “This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Summer isn't ready to take on that kind of responsibility. Besides, doesn't she have a wedding to plan or something?”
“She did,” Robert said, rising to get himself something to drink. There was no way he could look at his son with a straight face right now. The look of sheer shock on Zach's face at the mention of Summer stepping up into his league had been comical. He almost felt bad about it.
“What do you mean,
? Has something happened? Is Summer all right?”
“Yes. But you had an accident, Ethan's been running the company, and Summer has really stepped up. They haven't had time to talk about wedding plans or see how their house back east is coming along. You are their main concern right now. Their lives are on hold right now
. I know Summer was hoping to have her engagement party back home, but she won't plan anything until you're better. She wants you there. We all do.”