Your Forever Love (The Bennett Family #3)(5)


by Layla Hagen

“No, I want to see your office. It’s funny to watch you scare people.”

“I want them to do their job. I don’t scare them intentionally.”

“That’s the funniest part.”

“Okay, let’s go. Did you put your inhaler in your backpack?”

Julie nods, slinging the straps of her backpack over her shoulder. My daughter is a fighter. After the accident, I brought in the best doctors to treat her. Even so, they couldn’t perform miracles. She had sustained heavy injuries to her left leg and hip, as well as the left lung. Despite their best efforts, my baby will always walk with a limp and have to carry her inhaler with her. She rarely has respiratory attacks—mostly when she’s doing physical exertion—but she must carry it with her as a precaution.

The limp and the inhaler were a magnet for bullies, which is why she’s changed four schools up until now, and she finally seems to be making friends there.

“I like this house, Dad,” Julie comments as we walk out the front door.

“Glad you do.”

It’s a one-story with a garden and a pool in the heart of San Francisco. The house is simple, yet elegant. The exterior walls are painted in a light green, and white shutters are on the windows.

I could have rented a more luxurious house; I can certainly afford it. However, I grew up with others who came from old money, and I’ve seen that financial security offers opportunities but also destroys lives. A number of my childhood friends got involved in gambling, drugs, or simply wasted their lives away because they never had to work. I plan to teach my daughter what the right way is. I owe that to Sarah.

As I drive us to the office, I wonder if bringing Julie to San Francisco was a good idea after all. She says she’s excited to travel with me, but she knows no one here. Let’s hope that will change once summer school starts. I can’t help feeling that bringing her to San Francisco was a selfish decision. I need to spend a few months here to oversee the expansion, and I scheduled this trip to coincide with her summer holiday because I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from her for three entire months.

“This is a huge building,” Julie announces once we get out of the car. A skyscraper stands in front of us in the buzzing business district. We arrived in San Francisco on Friday morning, and I came into the office shortly thereafter to meet the team, but it’s the first time here for Julie.

“Only four floors belong to us.”

“Why? Your office is an entire building in Boston. Though the building’s smaller.”

“The team here is much smaller. We’re just starting out on the West Coast.”

My great-grandfather started Callahan’s Finest as a one-man shop selling jewelry. Since then, the company grew to a multi-million-dollar juggernaut. We own hundreds of shops on the East Coast and even in Europe, but none on the West Coast. Recently, one of our competitors went bankrupt, and we bought their assets on this coast—and their team.

Julie and I take the elevator and ride up to the fifth floor. When we step out of it, I switch to full-on business mode. This is a new team, and seeing me arrive with my daughter might give them the impression I’m a softie. I’m not—when it comes to business. They don’t call me ‘the shark’ for nothing.

“Veronica,” I tell my secretary. “Please tell the team we can start the meeting in five minutes.”

“The meeting room is prepared. Will your daughter go in with you?”

“No. She’ll remain in my office.”

I lead Julie to my office—a corner room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two adjacent walls.

“I’ll be gone for an hour,” I tell her. “You can stay here and draw. If you need anything, Veronica will be outside. After lunch, I’ll take you to Pippa.”

As I make my way to the meeting room, I try—as I tried all weekend—not to think about Pippa Bennett. That woman is something else. Everything about her tempts me, from her kindness to Julie to her addictive laughter. Her rambling tendency is adorable—except when she casually speaks about her underwear. Then it’s dangerous.

Damn it, Callahan. Pull yourself together. I’m here for three months, so dating Pippa is out of the question. Still, I smile at the memory of dancing with her. In those moments, I wasn’t the concerned father or the stern businessman. I was just myself, and it was refreshing.

Stepping into the meeting room, I scan the party before announcing my presence. The atmosphere in the room is relaxed, the two dozen employees around the oval table sharing jokes and chattering. Well, that’s about to change. Since I bought the company in a hostile takeover, I don’t imagine they look forward to working with me.

“Good morning,” I say loudly, and the chatter dissolves to whispers. “Let’s start this meeting. We have three months to make Callahan’s Finest run like a well-oiled machine on the West Coast. The clock starts ticking as of this moment.”

The whispers instantly die. I glance around the room at everyone’s stricken expression. Perfect. Mom made a bet with me that the team will call me ‘the shark’ by the end of my stay here. I bet against her—I plan to earn that moniker by the end of the week.

***

Julie and I walk into Bennett Enterprises five hours later. The doorman informs me that the Creative department is on the first floor.

Two things shock me when Julie and I enter the Creative department. One: the mayhem. Two: Pippa Bennett—specifically the way she runs this mayhem, with severity. I wasn’t expecting this from the sweet woman who trusted me to dance wildly with her at the wedding.

There are ten desks in this open-space area, and each of them is cluttered with poster-sized papers with designs and unfinished pieces of jewelry.

Pippa is right in the center of the room, wearing a snug blue dress that highlights her delicious curves. She’s talking to a twenty-something guy who’s a head shorter than she is. He’s biting his nails, glancing at Pippa while she comments on the paper he’s holding in front of her.

“Luke, I love you, but if you ever hand me something this half-assed again, we will have a serious conversation.” Even though her voice is stern, I detect a hint of warmth in it. Interestingly, the poor schmuck she berated doesn’t look terrified, just ashamed. The people I berate usually look like they’re about to pee their pants after I’m done with them. Of course, I don’t soften my criticism with I love you, either.