MILES AND MILES OF YOU
Three weeks later…
I’m in hell. Lucy’s only been gone one week, and I’m swimming in a cesspool of my own making. The phone is ringing nonstop, my office looks like a tornado blew through, and, like an asshole, I double-booked dinner on Wednesday. Talk about awkward. Even the maître d’ was at a loss for words when my second date arrived.
But the real cherry on top of the shit sundae?
Keke and Zane—the Hollywood power couple I’ve been courting for the last two months—had a nuclear blowup outside some L.A. club last night, which means Triada can kiss any hope of securing a joint endorsement deal goodbye.
Seven. Fucking. Days.
That’s all it took for my life to implode without Lucy.
I shove a stack of reports aside, searching for my cell. It’s buried somewhere in the mess on top of my desk. At least, I hope it is.
At the sound of Nick’s gruff voice, I glance up to find my brother standing in the doorway looking twelve kinds of put out. No surprise there. Nick’s a stickler for punctuality, and, according to the clock in the lower right corner of my monitor, I’m twenty minutes late for our weekly business dinner.
“I was in a marketing meeting that ran long,” I say, resuming my search.
Where is that damn phone?
It’s not unusual for me to lose a cell—or five—but with my life in shambles, I don’t have time to chase down a replacement.
Especially on a Friday night.
If Lucy were here, she’d probably have a replacement tucked away in her desk.
She had a knack for anticipating problems before they arose. It was just one of the many talents that made her indispensable. A fact I’m realizing far too late.
“Maybe if you’d grow some balls and explain the concept of time management to Hillary,” Nick says, “you wouldn’t have this problem.” He pauses, and I don’t have to look to know he’s smirking when he speaks again. “You realize she works for you, right?”
Relief washes over me when I spot my cell wedged between the computer monitor and the landline.
“You know what your problem is?” I grab the phone and slide it into the pocket of my rumpled dress pants. “You expect everyone to think and act just like you.”
He snorts and gives my messy desk a pointed look. “From where I’m standing, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”
My left eye twitches—another delightful new development this week—and I give him the finger. The last thing I need right now is a lecture. “Are we going to eat, or what?”
Nick turns on his heel, and I grudgingly follow as he leads the way to the boardroom.
Most weeks, I look forward to Friday night dinner with my brothers. It’s an opportunity to catch up on business with no distractions, but I’m not in the mood tonight.
When Nick, Beck, and I started Triada Tech, we were just a few hungry entrepreneurs, creating something from nothing in our foster mother’s basement. Seven years later, Triada’s mobile payment system has changed the face of FinTech. Transformed three rough-and-tumble orphans into billionaires shaping the future of Silicon Hills and rubbing elbows with Austin’s elite.
Talk about the ultimate head trip.
Hell, some days it still feels like a dream.
Which is why I’ve made a point of never forgetting my roots. Never forgetting where I come from or how quickly it can all come tumbling down.
All it takes is a moment. One error in judgment. One mistake you can’t take back.
I shove the thoughts to the back of my mind as we enter the boardroom. Beck is already seated at the long white table, reclining in a cobalt chair with the Triada logo—three interlocking triangles—printed on the back. Judging by the half-eaten salad before him, he’s been here a while.
“Took you long enough,” he says around a mouthful of rabbit food. When his eyes land on me, he does a double take, gaze lingering on my wrinkled shirt. “You look like shit.”
This, from a guy who’s wearing a faded Green Day T-shirt and hasn’t had a haircut in three months.
“I forgot to schedule the laundry service.”
That’s not strictly true, but no way am I telling him the real story. I’d never hear the end of it.
I grab a bottle of water from the minibar and take my usual seat near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sprawling Triada campus.
Beck slides a takeout container toward me, brows furrowed. “Doesn’t Lucy manage your laundry service?”
“She did.” My eye twitches as I remove the lid from my dinner. “Right up until she quit.”
Beck freezes, fork halfway to his mouth. “Lucy quit? I didn’t think she had it in her.”
“That makes two of us.”
The scent of garlic and roasted chicken fills the air, but the aroma of comfort food does little to improve my mood.
“Let me get this straight,” Nick says, taking his usual seat at the head of the table and helping himself to the last takeout container. “Your assistant quit, and you haven’t hired a replacement?”
The irony of the question isn’t lost on me. Nick burns through assistants like fossil fuel, none of them lasting more than a few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to work for him.
“I tried someone from the temp pool. It wasn’t a good fit.” I shudder, remembering the sludge-like coffee and the way she’d popped her head into my office every five minutes with questions. So many questions. “It was more trouble than it was worth.”
The instant the words are out of my mouth, I realize my mistake.
“You’re in charge of human resources.” Nick snorts, his face a mask of disbelief. “It didn’t occur to you to have Lucy train her replacement before she left?”
Not even once.
But I know better than to say that aloud.
Details have never been my strong suit. I’m a people person, which is why, in addition to sharing CEO duties, I serve as Triada’s Chief Operations Officer, responsible for sales, marketing, and human resources, while Beck—the quintessential computer geek—serves as Chief Technology Officer, and Nick, with his cool demeanor and perfectionist’s attention to detail, shoulders the role of Chief Financial Officer.
“I thought she was bluffing.” After all, how many times had she joked about quitting? About moving on and leaving me to fend for myself. It was just her way of getting my attention when my mind wandered. The threats were always delivered with a smile and a teasing lilt. “I didn’t think she’d really go through with it.”
Not until she’d started packing up her stuff last Friday.
And when she’d handed over her badge at the end of the day? That was when the panic had set in.
“Joke’s on you,” Beck says, shaking with laughter.
I push the takeout container aside and lean back in my chair.
How could I have possibly missed the signs?
Lucy loved her job. She told me as much. And, while it might make me an asshole for saying it, I thought she enjoyed working with me. She was always bright and cheerful, happy to take on new tasks and last-minute assignments without complaint.
Most important of all, she was smart. Motivated. Always finding new efficiencies and ways to make my life run like a well-oiled machine.
Hell, she thrived on it.
“You need to get this figured out,” Nick says, spearing a piece of chicken with his fork. “We’ve got too much going on for you to be parading around in yesterday’s clothes, missing appointments, and showing up late for meetings.”
He’s right. I know he’s right. Nick’s got his hands full dealing with the board. Beck’s up to his ass in R&D, testing a next-level payment system based on facial recognition. And I just wasted two months on an advertising campaign that went up in flames over some paparazzi photos and a bottle of Cristal.
As if reading my mind, Nick asks, “Any movement on the endorsement deal?”
“It’s DOA.” I rake a hand through my hair, more than ready to put this week to rest. “I got the call first thing this morning. Kane is no more.”
Nick mutters something that sounds like “Fucking Hollywood showmance” and shoves a piece of chicken in his mouth.
“It’s fine,” I say, unsure which of us I’m trying to convince. We’ve faced larger hurdles over the years. So we lost an endorsement deal. There’ll be another. Maybe the agency can find us an athlete. Or a musician. Someone who’s always on the go, needs money at their fingertips, and who’s active on social apps. Preferably a solo act. “I’ll figure out something.”
Nick and Beck exchange a look.
One that suggests they have concerns.
That’s the downside of working with family. They know every sordid detail of your life. Including the time you set off a volcanic explosion in your foster mom’s kitchen and stained all the cabinets red.
“Relax.” An idea begins to take shape in my mind, and for the first time all week, I have a reason to smile. “I’ve got everything under control.”