A tabloid once referred to Christian Sabatino as super-human, a man without basic needs such as food and sleep. As he stepped into his father’s empty office, he wished the ridiculous rumor was true. He hadn’t slept in two days, not even on the private jet as it whisked him across the world to attend the funeral of a man he’d barely known. John Sabatino. His father. Naturally, he wanted to be there for his mother, but she was worried about their business surviving the unexpected loss.
And that was why Christian had been on the move for over forty-eight hours.
So far, he had met with nervous board members to reassure them everything would continue to run smoothly, returned dozens of phone calls, and granted a rare interview so that outsiders would know the truth about Christinos Inc., the family business. After playing his part for a decade, he’d told the reporter their big family secret. Christian was and had been the CEO for years, working behind the scenes. His father had been both unwilling and incapable of doing the job. Although married, John had enjoyed the life of a playboy bachelor, jetting around the world whenever the urge struck, gambling, drinking, and bedding every woman that caught his interest.
Christian wedged his six-foot-plus frame into his father’s chair and took a deep breath as he stared at the distracting office decor. Chrome and glass furnishings with grayish-blue walls as a backdrop reminded him of an old movie he’d seen once.Garishwas the word that came to mind. Since he spent most of his time in the New York office, he wouldn’t bother to redecorate.
He settled back in the snug chair and opened the manila envelope sent by courier late yesterday afternoon. Several months ago, his mother hired a private investigator to follow John and his latest mistress. Over the decades his father had cheated on her with more women than Christian could count, but this one was different. Instead of dumping her, he’d added her to his Will.
His mother wanted to run a criminal check on the woman. Sleeping her way to the top wasn’t illegal, just immoral. Christian had told his mother so. He also informed her that he would have his own investigative team comb through the woman’s past if he deemed it necessary.
He had pulled her file that morning and learned some basic facts. Bianca Dawson was twenty-four. Both of her parents were dead, and she listed her status as divorced. Her position at Christinos was her firstrealjob. Basic facts. Nothing that threw up a red flag.
The pictures the investigator had snapped were a revelation. She wasn’t his father’s usual type. Brunette instead of blond, a small bosom rather than an over-inflated one, and a spark of intelligence burning deep in her sapphire eyes instead of a vacuous stare, she reminded him of an old-fashioned schoolmarm with her simple thrift-store dresses and nearly make-up free face.
One photograph had caught her in an angry moment. Eyes flashing blue fire and nostrils flaring, the image struck him with what was missing from his life, someone who challenged him. He found himself bored more often than not with the beautiful women he escorted to social obligations. It didn’t matter if they were drop-dead gorgeous in designer gowns that clung to every curve and promised untold pleasures ahead, he always made an excuse to leave early. Now he knew why. Unlike the other women he’d met, Bianca would keep him on his toes. He had no doubt of that. Too bad she was his father’s mistress and strictly off-limits.
Her prim and proper appearance hid the fiery passion that surely lurked beneath the surface. He would love to see her in a different venue. An image of her silky brown hair fanned over his pillow and beguiling blue eyes drifting shut in ecstasy awakened all his senses.
Two days without sleep had finally caught up with him. What was he thinking? Ms. Dawson was his father’s mistress, and he was not taking her to bed... no matter how tempting she proved.
Why did his mother believe Ms. Dawson was his father’s mistress?
Thanks to a close friend, an attorney, she’d gotten a peek at John’s Will a year ago. His father had left the magazine he’d brought back to life, a sizable chunk of money, and all of his stock to Bianca Dawson. It was the stock that worried them most. If the lawyers weren’t able to overturn the Will, Ms. Dawson would have as much stock as some family members andalmostas much as Christian.
It had occurred to him that she could be his father’s illegitimate child from one of his numerous affairs. That’s why he’d checked her blood type against her mother and his father. A doctor reassured him that she couldn’t possibly be John’s daughter.
That left one possibility: mistress.
Unlike John’s other women, she was intelligent enough to get herself named in his Will. Now the family was counting on Christian to fire her before she found out they were contesting the Will. Given the chance, she could steal corporate secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. Christian knew for a fact there was nothing worse than a scorned woman.
The door popped open. His personal assistant entered with another list and the bottle of aspirin he’d requested over twenty minutes ago. Since he traveled a lot—long hours spent on the jet with overnight stays in luxurious hotels around the world—he had hired a man for the position.
Sullivan checked the pad in his hand while tapping a polished black shoe on the plush gray carpet. “I canceled most of your father’s appointments for the week. A few of them refused to be put off. Here is the list of names and numbers.” He tore off a page and placed it in front of Christian. “I am told the employees will be gathering in the banquet hall at three this afternoon. They would like you to join them. They’re worried about your plans for the company. Of course, if they knew the facts, they wouldn’t give it a thought. Maybe you should lead with that bit of news.”
Christian swallowed a handful of aspirin without the benefit of water. “Already done. We’ll be the biggest headline tomorrow morning. That should clear things up... if the reporter believed me.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
Christian sighed. “He wanted proof my father was only a figurehead, but we did such an incredible job covering it up over the years that I don’t have any to offer.”
Sullivan shrugged rail-thin shoulders beneath a crisp white shirt tucked into freshly pressed black trousers. “Get your father’s secretary to confirm. She was with the man for four years. No matter how dense she is, I’m sure she noticed he wasn’t doing any actual work.”
True enough. Even someone with the IQ of the women his father dated was bound to realize he had been CEO in name only. Christian concluded he should do a follow-up interview in a day or two. The media would be scrambling to either prove he was lying or add to the story. “Is she here yet?” he asked.
“Sheis waiting in the lobby. Shall I get her?”
Christian leaned back in his father’s chair, and his eyes narrowed. Tracing a finger along the desk’s glass edge, he thought it over. The longer he made the woman wait, the more likely she would be to get nervous, perhaps even desperate. She might know he had summoned her early in the morning before the other employees arrived so he could fire her without witnesses.
“Let her wait.” He checked his watch. “Give me another... fifteen minutes. Then send her in. Don’t answer any questions on the way up. Ignore everything she says. That will get under her skin.”
Unchecked emotions had a way of bringing the strongest and bravest to their knees, and that was why he kepthisunder control at all times. He had seen smart businessmen buckle beneath the pressure of runaway feelings and make a multitude of mistakes that could andshouldhave been avoided. Keeping his cool had served him well.
“Don’t worry, boss,” Sullivan said with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes. “I will handle the situation.”
“You always do.”