I stepped out of the elevator, considering if I should call security or punch him square in the face myself. The latter would mean a lot of legal paperwork, but damn if I wasn’t tempted.
His beady black eyes ran aimlessly in their sockets, like they, too, wanted to escape the man they were in. An assistant handed him a fresh suit, and he raced to the restroom to change. I glanced at Dad’s office. He wasn’t in yet. I took my phone out and sent Mom a text asking if he was okay.
“Mr. Black! I’m so sorry about the news.”
“Mr. Black, I just want you to know if you ever want to talk to anyone, I’m here.”
“Chase—can I call you Chase?—I’ll be keeping your family in my prayers . . .”
I breezed past a herd of blabbering assistants, making my way to my office. I had no fucking clue what they were talking about but was eager to find out right after I consumed my first coffee and turned from zombie to semiconscious. A hand landed on my arm. I looked up from my phone. It was Julian. He was fully dressed in a brand-new suit. That was fast. Did he possess the most useless superpower of all, of getting dressed quickly in public restrooms?
“A word,” he growled.
I stalked into my office and took a seat behind my desk. He followed closely behind. I prided myself on being self-possessed when it came to Julian, but even I had my limits. Something told me I was about to meet those limits today.
“Well?” I powered up my laptop, not sparing him a glance. There was a fresh cup of coffee on my desk, and I took a sip. “Are you waiting for a royal invitation from the Windsors, or can you spit it out before lunch?” I made a show of glancing at my Rolex for emphasis. I noticed he was holding a thick stack of papers in his hand.
“I told everyone about Ronan. About the terminal cancer. How he had only a few more weeks to live,” he said. My eyes darted up. His lower lip was trembling, but he kept his head high. “This has nothing to do with us. I love Ronan like a father, but he can’t go around pretending it’s not happening. This company feeds thousands of families. Families who deserve to know what’s going on.”
I couldn’t argue with his logic, but I sure as hell could crucify him for telling people about it.
“You had no fucking right,” I gritted out, feeling my composure slipping. I couldn’t sit back and let him do that anymore. I was fed up.
“Now, that’s not true. We all had the responsibility of notifying the company, but none of us wanted to do it because we feel loyal to him. Because we love him.”
I was going to spit out something about how Julian never had loved my father, based on his behavior; then he slid a paper across the desk toward me.
“Ronan is not willing to change his stand on the CEO position. So you will. Refuse the inheritance.”
“Are you on meth?” I adjusted my tie. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“Because—” he started. I raised my hand, cutting him off.
“Let me guess: you’ll stage a vote of no confidence meeting. Rest assured, I am way ahead of you. Every single person you tried to sway against me called me up to say I needed to put you back on your meds. They’re all in my pocket, and I have their full cooperation.”
“No.” He reddened, curling his fists in anger. “Because—”
“Madison and Ethan? That bag of bullshit?” I sat back, forcing out a metallic laugh. Talking about Ethan still felt like taking a lengthy walk in hell, fucking barefoot. “Madison and I are engaged. I spend every night at her place. My suits look like they’re made of brown fur because of her dog. She hangs out with Mom and Katie more than Amber did the entire duration of her marriage with you. Hell, we were caught having sex in the restroom on her floor yesterday.” I chuckled, but the admission felt sour in my mouth. It wasn’t my place to spit it out. I just wanted to throw it in his face. To make sure he knew Mad and I were the real deal.
Julian banged his fist on my desk, making the keyboard fly an inch off the surface. “No! I don’t mean any of this, you asshole. If you let me get a word in—”
“Just the one, please.”
“Clementine is yours!” he spat out, picking up one of the papers in his hand and throwing it my way. It floated between us and landed like a feather on my desk. “She’s fucking yours, okay? Not mine. That’s for sure.”
I sat stoically, not picking up the paper between us. Didn’t take a genius to figure out it was the paternity test. Julian took a ragged breath, dragging his fingers over his balding head.
“I took the test. Finally. Amber’s been teasing me about it for a while now. Every time we had a fight, she’d throw it in my face. I’m sure it doesn’t come as a shock to you that things have been bad between us for a while.” He gave me a narrowed-eyed glance, like it was my fault they were both D-grade douchebags who hated each other and had married for all the wrong reasons. “Three years, to be exact,” he added.
“Peculiar,” I said icily.
“Not really.” He exhaled, his body shrinking as he did. “Ever since she found out you’d get CEO, she’s been riding my ass like there was no tomorrow.”
So that was what made him the way he was? Goddamn Amber?
Julian rubbed his forehead, looking around the office. “Yesterday I finally took a test. It was one taunt too many, I guess, after the weekend at the ranch. Amber was in a bad mood, and I wanted to know if she was bullshitting me or not. She wasn’t. I’m not Clementine’s father. Which means”—his red face morphed into a smile so nefarious I thought he was going to grow little horns on each side of his skull—“you’re the baby daddy, brousin. Now tell me, would it not kill your parents to know you were the MIA father to their granddaughter?” He cocked his head sideways. “This is highly unorthodox. The stuff Jerry Springer drama is made of.”
I grabbed the paper, skimming through it. Julian wasn’t lying. He wasn’t Clementine’s biological father according to the test. I looked back up at him, balling the paper in my fist and throwing it into the trash can across my office with easy accuracy. I said nothing.
“Amber told me she tried to tell you numerous times,” Julian accused, his lips twisting in feral disgust. I wondered if he was clinically sane. He seemed much more eager to blackmail the CEO position from me than mourn the news about his daughter not being biologically his after nine years of raising her. Only I knew Julian enough to know life had left him scarred beyond recognition from the inside. That was his way of dealing with this.