And there was something else I suspected—he’d known. He couldn’t have not known. Clementine didn’t look like either him or Amber. She didn’t have my colors, my angles, or my expressions either.
“I suppose she failed to mention I repeatedly asked for a paternity test,” I said.
“Well, you have it now.” Julian waved to the trash can behind us. “Obviously, I have more copies of it.”
“That’s not how paternity tests work, idiot. The only thing it proves is that you’re not the father. The rest of the world’s male population has officially become potential candidates.”
“You’re grasping at straws.” Julian bared his teeth. His eyes were shining. He wanted to cry. I leaned forward, no trace of malice in my voice.
“No, you’re losing everything you’ve ever had, because you tried to steal it rather than earn it. Now get out of my office, Julian. Come back with an apology if you want a brother. I don’t want to see you in any other capacity.”
I knew what I needed to do, but it was going to take a minute.
Instead of getting the hell out of my office, leaving a trail of smoke and the rancid smell of desperation that clung to him, Julian sprawled on the seat in front of me.
“As for Maddie . . .” He trailed off. Hearing her name on his tongue made me want to break every glass wall in the office using his head as the hammer. “You may be together now, but I know you weren’t together. Shortly before you came to the ranch, Ethan told me all about you. How you cheated on her. How she dumped you. Your little girlfriend even told him about all the women who came after her. All the hussies her boss saw going up to your penthouse. Now, let’s see. What do we have here? You lied to your family about being engaged. You fathered a child with the woman your brother married, keeping this fact from them—and me—and making me raise her as my own. I can tell Lori and Ronan you probably won’t be seeing a lot of Madison after he finally drops dead. That it is an arrangement. What are you paying her to cling onto your arm with starry eyes? Money? Shares? Status? Do you even see how pathetic it looks from the outside? Or maybe . . .” He got up, laughing as he shook his head, like this was nothing more than an elaborate personal joke. He was losing it. Crying. Laughing. Shaking all over. “Maybe I should just go directly to Madison and tell her about the kind of person she is dating. A man who fathered a child and didn’t even—”
He never got to finish that sentence.
I pounced on him with such speed we both sailed on the floor from the momentum, crashing against the glass door. Julian hit his head. I straddled him, no longer caring that we had an audience and that I was playing into his hands. Objectively speaking, I knew I looked like a certifiable asshole. But I’d reached the end of the road. Julian had sprinted past every red line I ever had and was officially so far off the rails he couldn’t even see the line. The idea of losing Madison after everything we’d been through—all the lies and bullshit and what-ifs and maybes—to something so stupid, so malicious, made my blood boil.
“Don’t you dare say her name again.” I balled the lapels of his suit, twisting them savagely.
Julian laughed, rolling his head on the carpet like a madman. “You fool. You goddamn fool. Your dick cost you your kingdom. Clementine is yours and the company is mine.”
He tried to punch me in the face, but I was quicker. People gathered outside my office, watching from the glass wall, their mouths hanging open. I threw a sucker punch straight to Julian’s eye. He cried out but continued trying to punch me unsuccessfully. “I will have your kingdom after the old man kicks the bucket!”
“Shut up,” I growled.
“And in case you are wondering, why, yes, I did fuck Amber while she was still yours. Before you even put a ring on her finger. When you still lived in your dorms . . .”
I punched him again.
I couldn’t see past the red mist of anger and wrath.
Two burly security men stomped into my office, followed by my father, who must’ve arrived straight into this clusterfuck. He was holding a walking cane, hunched over it, the cane dancing between his fingers as he struggled to keep standing. His eyes said it all. He’d heard us. Every last bit.
Julian and I scrambled up from the floor, straightening our backs like two unruly punks caught shoplifting. Julian was banged up, with a black eye and open lip. It amazed me how we both were, in our core, still the same kids competing for our father’s precious approval.
“Back to work,” my father roared, turning around to glare at the people who stood behind him, ping-ponging their gazes from Julian and me to Ronan, whom they now knew was dying. People ran to their stations so fast you’d think their asses were on fire. Dad turned his attention back to us.
“In my entire seventy-two years of living, I’ve never been as disappointed as I am today. I thought I raised men. I knew you didn’t always see eye to eye. I wasn’t blind to the way you exchanged words and taunts from across the table during dinner for the past few years. I was terribly saddened when Amber decided to end her engagement to Chase and got with Julian so early afterward, but I held my tongue, knowing that, in essence, you were good men who were allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. Julian.” He turned to my brousin. Julian stared at the floor, blinking rapidly. “From the moment we took you in, you were the apple of our eye. You’re my son no less than Chase is.”
Julian’s head snapped up. “Then why did you give—”
“Because he is more suitable for the job,” my father clipped out, smacking his cane on the carpet. “He worked harder and, frankly, made fewer mistakes. His approach is more analytical, and he is not trigger happy when in crisis. He will be CEO because, in my opinion, he possesses the set of skills that a good CEO requires. You’re emotional, Julian, with the tendency for knee-jerk reactions. If you need a point of reference to why I couldn’t trust you as CEO, all you need to do is look back to your behavior in the past few years, or weeks even. Taunting Chase, trying to turn the shareholders against him, trying to make me sign contracts while I was half-conscious—yes, I do remember that—and spilling the beans about my illness publicly before I was ready to tell people.”
Julian let out a groan, covering his face with his hands. It was the first time he’d looked human in years. My father turned his head toward me, frowning.