Just that weekend his brother Phillip had bought some horse for a million dollars. And what did his little brother do to pay for it? He went to company-sponsored parties and drank Beaumont Beer. That was the extent of Phillip’s involvement in the company. Phillip always did exactly what he wanted without a single thought for how it might affect other people—for how it might affect the brewery.
Not Chadwick. He’d been born to run this company. It wasn’t a joke—Hardwick Beaumont had called a press conference in the hospital and held the newborn Chadwick up, red-faced and screaming, to proclaim him the future of Beaumont Brewery. Chadwick had the newspaper articles to prove it.
He’d done a good job—so good, in fact, that the Brewery had become the target for takeovers and mergers by conglomerates who didn’t give a damn for beer or for the Beaumont name. They just wanted to boost their companies’ bottom lines with Beaumont’s profits.
Just once, he’d done something he wanted. Not what his father expected or the investors demanded or Wall Street projected—what he wanted. Serena had been upset. He’d wanted to comfort her. At heart, it wasn’t a bad thing.
But then he’d remembered his father. And that Chadwick seducing his assistant was no better than Hardwick Beaumont seducing his secretary. So he’d stopped. Chadwick Beaumont was responsible, focused, driven, and in no way controlled by his baser animal instincts. He was better than that. He was better than his father.
Chadwick had been faithful while married. Serena had been with—well, he’d never been sure if Neil was her husband, live-in lover, boyfriend, significant other, life partner—whatever people called it these days. Plus, she’d worked for Chadwick. That had always held him back because he was not the apple that had fallen from Hardwick’s tree, by God.
All of these correct thoughts did not explain why Chadwick’s finger was hovering over the intercom button, ready to call Serena back into the office and ask her again what had happened this weekend. Selfishly, he almost wanted her to break down and cry on his shoulder, just so he could hold her.
Chadwick forced himself to turn back to his monitor and call up the latest figures. Bob had emailed him the analytics Sunday night. Chadwick hated wasting time having something he could easily read explained to him. He was no idiot. Just because he didn’t understand why anyone would take pictures of their dinner and post them online didn’t mean he couldn’t see the user habits shifting, just as Bob said they would.
This was better, he thought, as he looked over the numbers. Work. Work was good. It kept him focused. Like telling Serena he was taking her to the gala—a work function. They’d been at galas and banquets like that before. What difference did it make if they arrived in the same car or not? It didn’t. It was business related. Nothing personal.
Except it was personal and he knew it. Picking her up in his car, taking her out to dinner? Not business. Even if they discussed business things, it still wouldn’t be the same as dinner with, say, Bob Larsen. Serena usually wore a black silk gown with a bit of a fishtail hem and a sweetheart neckline to these things. Chadwick didn’t care that it was always the same gown. She looked fabulous in it, a pashmina shawl draped over her otherwise bare shoulders, a small string of pearls resting against her collarbone, her thick brown hair swept up into an artful twist.
No, dinner would not be business-related. Not even close.
He wouldn’t push her, he decided. It was the only compromise he could make with himself. He wasn’t like his father, who’d had no qualms about making his secretaries’ jobs contingent upon sex. He wasn’t about to trap Serena into doing anything either of them would regret. He would take her to dinner and then the gala, and would do nothing more than enjoy her company. That was that. He could restrain himself just fine. He’d had years of practice, after all.
Thankfully, the intercom buzzed and Serena’s normal, level voice announced that Bob was there. “Send him in,” Chadwick replied, thankful to have a distraction from his own thoughts.
He had to fight to keep his company. He had no illusions that the board meeting on Wednesday would go well. He was in danger of becoming the Beaumont who lost the brewery—of failing at the one thing he’d been raised to do.
He did not have time to be distracted by Serena Chase.
And that was final.
* * *
The rest of Monday passed without a reply from Neil. Serena was positive about this because she refreshed her email approximately every other minute. Tuesday started much the same. She had her morning meeting with Chadwick where, apart from when he asked her if everything was all right, nothing out of the ordinary happened. No lingering glances, no hot touches and absolutely no near-miss kisses. Chadwick was his regular self, so Serena made sure to be as normal as she could be.
Not to say it wasn’t a challenge. Maybe she’d imagined the whole thing. She could blame a lot on hormones now, right? So Chadwick had stepped out of his prescribed role for a moment. She was the one who’d been upset. She must have misunderstood his intent, that’s all.
Which left her more depressed than she expected. It’s not like she wanted Chadwick to make a pass at her. An intra-office relationship was against company policy—she knew because she’d helped Chadwick rewrite the policy when he first hired her. Flings between bosses and employees set the company up for sexual harassment lawsuits when everything went south—which it usually did.
But that didn’t explain why, as she watched him walk out of the office on his way to meet with the divorce lawyers with his ready-for-battle look firmly in place, she wished his divorce would be final. Just because the process was draining him, that’s all.
Sigh. She didn’t believe herself. How could she convince anyone else?
She turned her attention to the last-minute plans for the gala. After Chadwick returned to the office, he’d meet with his brother Matthew, who was technically in charge of planning the event. But a gala for five hundred of the richest people in Denver? It was all hands on deck.
The checklist was huge, and it required her full attention. She called suppliers, tracked shipments and checked the guest list.
She ate lunch at her desk as she followed up on her contacts in the local media. The press was a huge part of why charities competed for the Beaumont sponsorship. Few of these organizations had an advertising budget. Beaumont Brewery put their name front and center for a year, getting television coverage, interviews and even fashion bloggers.
She had finished her yogurt and wiped down her desk by the time Chadwick came back. He looked terrible—head down, hands jammed into his pockets, shoulders slumped. Oh, no. She didn’t even have to ask to know that the meeting had not gone according to plan.
He paused in front of her desk. The effort to raise his head and meet her eyes seemed to take a lot out of him. Serena gasped in surprise at how lost he looked. His eyes were rimmed in red, like he hadn’t slept in days.
She wanted to go to him—put her arms around him and tell him it’d all work out. That’s what her mom had always done when things didn’t pan out, when Dad lost his job or they had to move again because they couldn’t make the rent.
The only problem was, she’d never believed it when she was a kid. And now, as an adult with a failed long-term relationship under her belt and a baby on the way?
No, she wouldn’t believe it either.
God, the raw pain in his eyes was like a slap in the face. She didn’t know what to do, what to say. Maybe she should just do nothing. To try and comfort him might be to cross the line they’d crossed on Monday.
Chadwick gave a little nod with his head, as if he were agreeing they shouldn’t cross that line again. Then he dropped his head, muttered, “Hold my calls,” and trudged into his office.
Defeated. That’s what he was. Beaten. Seeing him like that was unnerving—and that was being generous. Chadwick Beaumont did not lose in the business world. He didn’t always get every single thing he wanted, but he never walked away from a negotiation, a press conference—anything—looking like he’d lost the battle and the war.
She sat at her desk for a moment, too stunned to do much of anything. What had happened? What on earth would leave him that crushed?
Maybe it was the hormones. Maybe it was employee loyalty. Maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, she found herself on her feet and walking into his office without even knocking.
Chadwick was sitting at his desk. He had his head in his hands as if they were the only things supporting his entire weight. He’d shed his suit coat, and he looked smaller for having done it.
When she shut the door behind her, he started talking but he didn’t lift his head. “She won’t sign off on it. She wants more money. Everything is finalized except how much alimony she gets.”
“How much does she want?” Serena had no business asking, but she did anyway.
“Two hundred and fifty.” The way he said it was like Serena was pulling an arrow out of his back.
She blinked at him. “Two hundred and fifty dollars?” She knew that wasn’t the right answer. Chadwick could afford that. But the only other option was...
“Thousand. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
“A month. She wants three million a year. For the rest of her life. Or she won’t sign.”
“But that’s—that’s insane! No one needs that much to live!” The words burst out of her a bit louder than she meant them to, but seriously? Three million dollars a year forever? Serena wouldn’t earn that much in her entire lifetime!
Chadwick looked up, a mean smile on his face. “It’s not about the money. She just wants to ruin me. If I could pay that much until the end of time, she’d double her request. Triple it, if she thought it would hurt me.”
“I don’t know. I never cheated on her, never did anything to hurt her. I tried...” His words trailed off as he buried his face in his hands.
“Can’t you just buy her out? Make her an up-front offer she can’t refuse?” Serena had seen him do that before, with a micro-brew whose beers were undercutting Beaumont’s Percheron Drafts line of beers. Chadwick had let negotiations drag on for almost a week, wearing down the competitors. Then he walked in with a lump sum that no sane person would walk away from, no matter how much they cared about the “integrity” of their beer. Everyone had a price, after all.
“I don’t have a hundred million lying around. It’s tied up in investments, property...the horses.” He said this last bit with an edge, as if the company mascots, the Percherons, were just a thorn in his side.
“But—you have a pre-nup, right?”