Read online chapter 1 romantic fiction novella by Monica Goertzen Hertlein
Arthur and Morgan Pendragon have all the advantages their wealthy parents can give: higher education, social standing, senior executive positions with their father’s company. But not love.
Arthur struggles with whether he can be the son and heir his father wants, or whether he should follow his heart.
Morgan tries to be the daughter her father never wanted, at the cost of her own happiness.
Gwen decides how long she will wait for Arthur.
Galahad tries to do the right thing, despite his attraction to his boss’s married sister.
Read Chapter One:
The Vice President of Operations, Arthur Pendragon, leaned back in his office chair, promising himself he would just close his eyes for a minute. A knock on his open office door made him groan, straightening and blinking sand from his eyes to appear alert, hoping his father, the Chief Executive Officer, had not caught him in a weak moment.
Instead, in the doorway stood his Compliance and Ethics Officer with an annoying look of sympathy in his blue eyes.
Galahad shut the door behind him before taking a seat in front of Arthur’s desk. They were opposites in many ways: Galahad was dark-haired, nearly frail-looking with his thin form and oversized ears. He never played or watched sports. He was intelligent, but without a diploma or string of letters in his email signature or on his business cards. He drove a 4-door sedan. He lived on the west side.
He was unlike the guys Arthur had called friends in school and University, other sons of wealthy families who got new cars on their birthdays and played raquetball or football or rugby.
As different from his old friends as Guinevere was from the girls he had casually dated back then.
Arthur pushed aside thoughts of his girlfriend before they led to renewed regret about that disastrous conversation the previous evening.
“Arthur, how familiar are you with the efforts to sell to the new government buying group in Argentina?”
Arthur ran a hand through his blond hair. It was longer than he usually wore it. He should schedule a trim before the board presentation on Latin American operations. “Just what we need for our logistics plan. Why? Is there a compliance issue?”
“We found a few invoices for consulting services but no contracts to support the payments,” Galahad said.
“Did you ask the marketing directors?”
“No, not yet.”
“Do that.” Arthur leaned back again, attempting to will away twinges of headache at the base of his skull by pressing his fingers to his temples.
“Hard day?” Galahad asked.
“My father’s pet project.” Arthur made a vague motion with his hand and then massaged his temples.
It was partially true. The new market was his father’s initiative and the entire senior staff, Arthur included, had put in late nights and weekends for a month refining the proposal.
But it was the disappointment in Gwen’s brown eyes last night that squeezed his heart in his chest. Please, don’t let that be a breakup.
“Want to go for a drink?” Galahad asked.
Arthur glanced up without taking his fingers from his aching head. “Don’t you have fellow nerds to hang out with and debate weird, geeky trivia no one cares about?”
Galahad raised one dark brow. “And that’s different from sitting around debating sports plays, how?”
Arthur sniffed. “At least men who are interested in sports meet actual, live women instead of holing up in someone’s parents’ basement.”
“I have several geeky women friends who would be insulted by that sexist comment, not to mention your binary view of gender.”
Arthur groaned. How did he become friends with someone so entirely different from himself? “Then why don’t you ever date if there are people of a female gender who think a romantic response to ‘I love you’ is ‘Who wouldn’t’?”
“The proper quote is, ‘I love you’ followed by ‘I know’.”
Rolling his eyes, Arthur saw his sister stride down the corridor beyond the glass wall of his office.
Galahad’s gaze also fastened on the Vice President of Finance, her high heels drumming against the flooring and her long, dark hair swept up and to the side, as she marched away.
Morgan wore a dark green suit with a knee-length pencil skirt that outlined her hips and drew attention to her long legs. Arthur’s sister had their mother’s refined beauty, but the scowl she wore resembled Uther’s uncompromising face more than Ygraine’s pleasant smile.
Morgan had also inherited Uther’s intelligence and ambition. When he first joined the company, Morgan, more than their father, had been his mentor. Without her guidance, he would have foundered. Uther’s expectations were especially high for his son, and Arthur never seemed to meet them.
Morgan did. Or she would, if their father acknowledged a woman capable of succeeding him. If she had had the foresight to be born male, Arthur would not have the responsibility of being their father’s designated successor.
“Is green her favourite colour?” Galahad had not taken his eyes from the corridor.
“Ah, yes, that’s why you’re not dating any of those other women,” Arthur said softly.
Galahad’s cheeks reddened. It was so easy to make him blush. Maybe that was why they were friends.
A tall man with a too-charming smile on his tanned face followed Morgan. The Head of Internal Audit wore a daring purple tie to set off his standard black suit and white shirt. Neatly trimmed dark stubble precisely followed the line of his jaw. His stubble and perfectly styled hair disguised a chin that was too narrow and a forehead that was too broad. He was competent, as far as Arthur knew, but he wished his sister had better taste in lovers. She was going to get her heart broken again, assuming she still had a heart under her bitterness.
Galahad frowned as the two of them disappeared into her office.
Arthur sighed. “I know it’s technically against company policy for employees to be involved with each other.”
“Accolon reports directly to Morgan, and a personal relationship between the two of them leaves us open to complaints about favouritism,” Galahad recited. “Not to mention the wrongful dismissal suit we’re in for if she fires him like she did her last paramour.”
“I know, I know, but Morgan doesn’t report to me and our father isn’t going to discipline her. If there’s any fallout, he’ll deal with it when it happens.”
“Is this where I give the speech about how our Code of Business Ethics applies equally to all employees, even the Chief Executive Officer’s daughter?”
“It’s out of my hands. Besides, I know what a tough time Morgan and Urien are going through right now.”
It was a rare family dinner without a fight between his sister and her husband. The times when they pointedly ignored each other in icy silence were even worse.
“Don’t you think the fact she’s married makes her affair even more of an ethical issue?” Galahad said.
“You can’t make morality a policy, and anyway it’s your fault she’s married to that jerk.” Maybe his sister would smile sometimes if she had married someone generous and kind instead of the self-absorbed bastard she had chosen.
Galahad looked at Arthur in astonishment. “How is that my fault?”
“You’ve been staring at her with googly eyes since the day you joined this company five years ago. You should have asked her out before Urien did, like I told you.”
His friend raised both brows. “What you told me was that I should stick to girls who were more on my level.”
Arthur grinned. “Did I say that?”
The smile faded from Arthur’s face as he stared down the corridor where his sister and Accolon had disappeared. Though she joined the company three years before Arthur, they were promoted to Vice President at the same time. Arthur enjoyed overseeing operations and had no interest in the extra hours and pressure of the top seat while Morgan had worked toward that position every day of her time with the company.
Yet it was Arthur that received invitations to golf with the board chair and Arthur that went to lunch with the head of the Audit and Finance Committee. Early on, he had tried to pass the opportunities to her or at least include Morgan, but their father had dismissed his attempts and even stated in clear terms that he expected his son to take over as Chief Executive Office when Uther retired.
Maybe Morgan would be happier if she devoted her energy to success in love instead of career. Maybe he would be happier if he accepted…
He shook his head and turned back to his friend. “Seriously, though.” He leaned forward to rest an elbow on the glossy surface of his desk. “It’s been two years since Dindrane died and you should be dating.” Geeky game rituals did not replace actual social interaction.
A flash of pain in Galahad’s blue eyes was quickly gone. He crossed his arms and returned his boss’s arch look. “Brave words from an executive vice president who is too stuck up to ask the Controller to marry him. You two have been dating for years to the exclusion of all the other beautiful women mooning over you.”
“I’m not stuck up.” Arthur sat back and loosened the tie suddenly squeezing his neck.
Galahad rolled his eyes. “Gwen is going to give up on you and go out with Lance again if you don’t tell her you’re serious about her. You know he’s never gotten over their breakup.”
Arthur hoped the stab of jealousy was not visible in his expression. “You think she still likes him?”
“Who wouldn’t? Tall, dark, handsome, swarthy skin, that Latin accent.”
Arthur gritted his teeth. His Director of Logistics was a friend as well as a colleague, but it would be difficult to endure seeing him with Guinevere again. Fear and uncertainty, emotions he had rarely felt before falling for Gwen, taunted Arthur.
He tamped them down along with the twinge of guilt at his last conversation with her. “You should tell Guinevere she can’t date Lance because it’s against company policy.”
“She’s in Morgan’s department, not yours. Technically there is no policy against her seeing Lance. Although, being that you’re Uther’s choice for the next CEO, a case could be made that Gwen shouldn’t have a personal relationship with you.”
Arthur ground his teeth together. “Don’t you have work to do?”
It had grown quiet outside Galahad’s office, so it must be after 5:00. Quitting time for him, too, but no one was home waiting in his flat and besides, after hours was a good time to work without interruption.
He sighed and picked up the next document from the pile on his desk.
There was a knock on his open door.
“Gwen!” he said with pleased surprise. “You should be gone by now.”
“You should, too.”
She leaned against the doorframe. Her tight black curls framed her heart-shaped face and a knee-length skirt showed off high-heeled red shoes that contrasted the dark blazer and skirt. Her three-inch heels drew attention to a lovely pair of legs. When he met Gwen, shortly after he took this job, he had briefly thought about asking her out. But she had been dating Lance, and then he met Dindrane.
Now, she was one of his best friends and he would never trade her friendship for romance.
“Actually, shouldn’t you be on a date with one of your many hopeful admirers to make Arthur jealous?” Galahad was only partially joking. If their boss was too slow to appreciate a woman like Gwen who was smart, competent, and forthright as well as attractive, she deserved someone who would.
“I thought you could take me for a drink,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows. “Arthur isn’t likely to be jealous of you going for a drink with me.”
“Then you’re not trying hard enough. Now get up.” Gwen crooked a finger at him. “We finally released quarter end results and I’m in need of a refreshing beverage.”
Downstairs in the restaurant lounge they both relaxed in a booth and waited for their drinks. Gwen shrugged out of her blazer with a heavy sigh.
“Tough day?” Galahad asked.
“Tough week,” she said. “Morgan’s been driving everyone harder than usual. Accolon must be giving her the cold shoulder again.” Gwen frowned. “She’s always been a tough boss. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve heard her compliment anyone in the department, but she’s competent and she works even harder than we do. I’ve never worked in an accounting department with higher standards. It’s just that when her current boy toy gives her trouble it gets tougher for everyone than it needs to be.”
“You admire her.” He recognized her respect because it matched his assessment well.
Although, Gwen probably did not fully appreciate how Morgan’s thick black curls brushed the tops of her breasts when her hair was down.
Gwen sniffed. “I have great respect for her skill and dedication and frankly for anyone who can put up with Uther as a direct boss, but I wouldn’t want to be her. She seems…lonely.”
Galahad started in surprise. “She’s never lacked for company. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her alone at a social event.” There was always at least one good-looking man at her elbow at any company function.
“Well, I know, but…” Gwen scratched at a spot on the tabletop. “It’s not like we’ve ever been social or anything and I could be way off base. It’s only that for a little while when she got married she actually seemed pleasant and happy. Then she went back to being herself, except worse. Since the CEO is her father no one’s going to say anything to her about being rude to the staff.” Gwen rolled her eyes. “Just like there are no repercussions for the way she carries on affairs even with her employees.”
It was careless of Morgan, and risky for the company, but Galahad felt bad for her. Her husband drank too much at work socials and talked too loudly and eyed the waitresses with patronizing disrespect.
“Human Resources should deal with her like they’d deal with anyone else bringing down morale in a department, but Morgause would never reprimand her sister.”
“Half-sister. Same father, different mothers.”
Gwen huffed. “Family should be banned from working together.”
“If that were true, Arthur wouldn’t be here, either,” Galahad said.
Gwen looked down at her hands and idly picked up her phone. Her home screen was a picture of her and Arthur from their beach vacation. “Arthur’s different.”
“Mmhmm.” Galahad rested his chin on his hands. It was so sweet to see Gwen flustered.
She set down the phone and smiled self-consciously. “Well, he is and you know it.”
“Yes, I do.”
At their first meeting, he had written off his new boss as another arrogant suit with an inflated idea of his own worth. Not many months passed before he corrected that impression. Arthur suffered from the influences of privilege and sexism, but he was as hard-working and competent as he expected his employees to be.
And he was honest. As much as was possible for a corporate executive with global dealings. Which said more about corporate ethics in general than Arthur in particular.
Inwardly, Galahad grimaced. Reading about compliance issues daily was making him jaded.
“What about you, tough day?” Gwen asked.
“What is it, then?”
Galahad gave her a wide-eyed look. “Nothing, why?”
Gwen rested her elbow on the table, braced her chin with two delicate brown fingers, and stared him down.
He sighed. “Just a conversation I had with George earlier.”
“The new compliance analyst?” Gwen said. “He seems efficient.”
“He is that. Anyway, he came across some payments to a consultant in Argentina that may not have followed our purchasing policies.” It was a violation, but not a serious one. Not unless the due diligence checks were deliberately skipped.
“Is that all you’re going to tell me?”
Galahad smiled at her perceptiveness. “That’s all there is to tell, right now, honestly. We can go back to gossiping about Arthur and Morgan and the whole Pendragon family tree.”
“Okay, why did you never tell Morgan how you felt about her?”
Galahad’s cheeks grew hot. “I didn’t…I don’t…there was nothing to tell.” He picked up his drink and swallowed. He would have taken another gulp but that would have emptied the small glass and it was beyond his alcohol tolerance to drink so quickly.
“If you say so.” Gwen sipped her drink. “Then you should save Irene all the effort to get your attention and finally ask her out.”
He shook his head, beginning to smile at his friend’s artless matchmaking attempt.
“Dindrane was a sweet girl but you shouldn’t be alone after all this time.”
His smile slipped away. In spite of the lingering pain, he agreed with Gwen. He hoped to love again. But he knew what love was and he was unwilling to settle for less.
Dindrane’s name pressed an old heartache in his chest, muted by the passing days, weeks, months. She had been kind and open and friendly, happy to work at a community service organization for half the pay she would have earned in industry. She took in stray animals and fed wild birds and avoided stepping on spiders. She was short and freckled and never bothered to straighten her wiry red curls. She loved dragons and gaming and classic science fiction. He had loved her with tenderness and admired her for her compassion.
Different in every way from the one other woman capable of dominating his thoughts and firing his fantasies with a glance. Morgan was driven and impeccably groomed and paid someone else to water her plants. She had no patience for animals or people who doted on their pets. She had probably never read the Hobbit or watched Space 1999. But he admired her for her ambition and passion.
And no one could fault him for finding her attractive. She was nearly as tall as he was, with shapely legs. She had the greenest eyes he had seen and full red lips. She was also, as Arthur had correctly put it, out of his league.
Besides, she was married.
Galahad rubbed a thumb across the condensation on his glass, resisting the temptation to draw a heart. “Easy for you to talk about finding love; you have Arthur and Lance fighting each other for your attention.”
“No one is fighting. You dramatize things too much.” Gwen flipped her hair back with an exaggerated toss of her head.
Galahad laughed and then said seriously, “Arthur loves you and he will get around to asking you to marry him.”
She stared down at her glass. “He’s had plenty of opportunities.”
“Do you love him?”
Gwen gave him a tiny smile. “If he asked me to marry him, I’d say yes. And trust me, I’ve thought about it a lot.”
“Maybe you should ask him.”
For a moment, Galahad thought she was joking, but her brown eyes held a sad sincerity. “What did he say?”
“That he needed time to consider.”
That explained the guilt lurking behind Arthur’s expression when Galahad brought up Gwen. True, marriage was a lifelong commitment that deserved proper consideration, but surely Arthur could see that he and Gwen were meant for each other?
“What will you do? Are you willing to wait for him to make up his mind?”
She fiddled with her phone. The picture of her and Arthur smiled up at her. “I understand he needs time and I don’t want to push him. I know his family objects to our relationship and he has his career to think of.”
Galahad’s heart hurt for the pain in her voice.
“Maybe he doesn’t want a wife right now. Or maybe he doesn’t want me for a wife.” She pressed the button that made her phone go dark and met his eyes. “But I feel like our relationship has reached the point where we either decide, together, to make it work long-term or we end it now. I’d rather know it’s not ever going to be serious than keep waiting and hoping and be disappointed.”
Galahad put his hand overtop hers where it rested on the phone, a promise to be there for her.
One week later, Galahad sat in the monthly department meeting with his boss and Arthur’s three Operations Directors.
“I want to thank each of you for your work on the board presentation.” Arthur leaned on his forearms, braced against the circular board table.
It was mahogany, like the other furnishings, with an inlaid company logo: a red dragon and a white dragon locked in combat.
“Time to celebrate the end of two months of all-day meetings and late-night revisions by enjoying a cold brew. Or two. Or twenty.” Percy raised an eyebrow hopefully.
He and Lance were both athletic with just the right amount of dark stubble lining strong jawlines. Both were taller than Arthur but not as big as Gawain, the lighter-haired man across the table.
Gawain laid his pen beside his notepad, stretched out his clasped hands, and cracked his knuckles. His suit jacket strained at the shoulders. “Can’t. My boyfriend’s barely seen me in weeks. I owe him some quality time.”
Percy rolled his eyes. “Couples,” he said with disgust.
“Jealous because you can’t get a woman to stick around for a second date?” Arthur said.
Percy flicked his long, dark hair over his shoulder with a toss of his head. “I don’t waste time on second dates when women are lining up outside my door. Galahad and I are confirmed bachelors.”
“I think Galahad would put aside this workaholic thing he has going if the right woman came along.” Lance winked at Galahad.
For a fleeting moment, Galahad imagined Morgan being the “right woman to come along” and felt his cheeks grow warm. From Lance’s sympathetic glance and Percy’s predatory grin, they had noticed the red tinge in his face. To his annoyance, he could never hide a blush.
“Finance presented their quarterlies to the board,” Arthur said. “Maybe they’ll be out celebrating as well.”
Occasionally Morgan took a few of her staff for drinks after board meetings. Galahad was torn between hoping she would be there so he could see her and hoping she would not be there with Accolon by her side.
Arthur led the way down to the main lobby and they walked the block to the Senator hotel. There was no sign of anyone from the finance department. Galahad decided he was relieved.
By the time they were seated, a waitress was ready to take their drink orders. Between Percy’s long, wavy dark hair and wolfish smile and Lance’s clean-cut Latin looks, the service tonight would be prompt. Galahad had once waited twenty minutes for a server to show up at his table.
The waitress gave Arthur’s blond, blue-eyed good looks a wide smile as she straightened the tight black skirt that barely covered her thighs.
“And bring us a round of shots,” Arthur said after they ordered.
“What would you like?”
“Whatever you recommend.” He winked. “I put myself in your expert hands.”
Her cheeks coloured, but she knew her business because the shooters she brought had a pleasant burn without any after-taste.
Galahad had intended to stay for two drinks, maximum, but when he checked his phone it was past 7:00 p.m. He tried to recall how much he had drunk. The group had shared an appetizer platter, but snack food had barely slowed the effects of the alcohol.
“Put that away,” Percy said, looking at Galahad’s phone. “We’ve got all night.”
“The new Club Bar is open,” Arthur said. “Why don’t we check it out? It can’t be that busy on a Tuesday.”
Galahad tried to think of a reason to call a cab and head home, but his silent apartment did not provide a good excuse.
Arthur asked the waitress to bring them their tab and she reluctantly cashed them out.
They walked the three blocks to the new pub. Streetlights were coming on and neon “open” signs lit up restaurants and bars on both sides of the downtown street.
Galahad tugged his jacket tighter although the cool breeze felt good on his warm face.
As Arthur had predicted, they had no trouble finding a spot to sit in the trendy new bar ahead of the evening rush.
Galahad slowly sipped the drinks he ordered hoping to slow the spinning sensation in his head. But every time Arthur called for a round of shooters, Galahad found himself tipping up his shot glass with the others.
Percy left the group to sit with a buxom redhead and her two friends, one of whom was making eye contact with Lance.
A pretty blonde in pleather leggings took Percy’s seat, introduced herself to Arthur, and chatted animatedly with him.
Galahad leaned closer to Lance. “You should join them.” He indicated Percy and the three pretty girls. “You don’t have to keep me company.”
Lance cocked his head. “I think the good-looking brunette would be happier if you joined them.”
Galahad flushed. He thought the girl had given him an inquiring glance but it was more likely alcohol playing tricks with his mind. “She was probably looking at you.”
“You know, Galahad, Gwen had a crush on you when you first joined the company, but you never showed any interest.”
“What? No!” He shook his head but that made him dizzy. “We were just friends.”
“For someone who’s a decent compliance auditor, you miss the most obvious things.”
Galahad squinted at Lance but he was not sure what to make of his friend’s comment.
The blonde laughed loudly at something Arthur said, her face flushed. Then she leaned over and kissed him.
At the same moment, Gwen entered the restaurant with a friend and stopped in the doorway of the lounge. Gwen’s wide-eyed gaze fixed on Arthur, then she turned on her heel and marched back out. Her friend sent Arthur a disgusted look before she followed.
“Arthur.” Galahad leaned across the narrow table to tug his friend’s sleeve and point at the door, but his hand was unsteady and his voice sounded funny in his ears. He tried to remember the name of Gwen’s friend.
Arthur glanced toward the entrance at a group of new arrivals, then gave Galahad a puzzled look.
When Galahad opened his mouth, his stomach lurched unpleasantly. “Elaine,” he said loudly, proud to have remembered the name of the woman with Gwen.
Both Lance and Arthur gave him odd looks, their faces wavy and unfocused.
“I need to take my friend home,” Arthur said to the blonde girl.
“I can take care of him if you want to stay,” Lance said, glancing at the woman.
Galahad wondered if he heard a trace of censure in Lance’s usually calm voice and tried to focus on their expressions but the room rotated slowly around him.
“No, I think it’s time to call a cab,” Arthur said.
He pulled out his phone and Galahad decided he could tell Arthur in the cab that Gwen had been there.
Or he could tell him tomorrow, because Galahad did not feel well. In fact, he very much wanted to go home and lie down.
Gwen was going to have another cup of coffee. If the caffeine kept her awake this Friday evening, so be it. Once she finished her report she would have the rest of the weekend free, though that hardly mattered since she had no plans.
She had barely spoken with Arthur in the past two weeks. Not since their conversation. The longer they went without speaking, the smaller her hopes shrank.
She headed for the lunch room, hoping there was coffee in the urn that was not too old to drink.
When she pushed open the lunch room door, she found Lance filling his own cup.
“Working late?” she asked.
He started at the sound of her voice, then a warm smile curved his lips. “Yes. You too?”
Gwen reached into the cupboard for a clean mug, happy that not only was there coffee but it smelled fresh.
“I made another pot,” Lance said. “I decided if I have to burn the midnight oil on a Friday I deserved to have good coffee.”
She returned the smile. “I’m glad you did.”
He stepped aside with his full mug and she slipped hers under the spout.
“Did you ever finish that poem you were writing?” he asked.
She was surprised he remembered that. “No. I kept the paper on my counter for months, then it graduated to the top of the fridge. Now I don’t even know where I put my notes.”
“That’s too bad. I thought the first few lines were good.”
Gwen laughed self-consciously.
“Really. You should finish it,” Lance said.
She wondered if she could find the paper with the first verse of her poem. She leaned back against the counter and took a sip of coffee.
“What about you?” Gwen asked. “Any plans to get back together with that band?”
“Yes, actually,” Lance said. “We’ve held a few practice sessions and we’re going to play Wednesday.”
“Where? I’d love to hear your band. I never got a chance before.”
“Would you really like to come?”
“Absolutely,” Gwen said. It sounded like fun. Elaine would want to come, too.
Lance sent her a curious look and Gwen wondered if he thought she was suggesting something more than a friend supporting a friend. Which she was not, even though he was one of the best-looking men she had ever dated and her coworkers considered her a fool for breaking up with him. Even her mother had been disappointed.
“We’re playing at Molly’s Place, a small pub on 8th Street.”
“I know where it is,” Gwen said. “Elaine and I were planning to go somewhere Wednesday night anyway since our Tuesday plans got cancelled.”
A picture of Arthur kissing that sleazy blonde in the club intruded. She tried to remember if Lance had been there with Arthur but all she could recall were two blond heads mashed together.
“It wasn’t anything, you know,” Lance said quietly.
She stared at him.
“Really, he was just talking to her and she made the move.”
Gwen had successfully gotten through three whole days without dwelling on that moment, at least not for long. To her horror she realized her eyes were misty. She stared into her coffee cup.
“Arthur left right after that to take Galahad home.” Lance tried a grin. “Who was about to throw up or pass out or both.”
She chuckled. Galahad could never hold his liquor.
“It’s not just Tuesday,” she said, staring into her coffee cup. “Arthur and I have been going out for three years now and he has yet to suggest anything serious.” Or give her an answer to her proposal. Maybe his lack of acceptance was an answer.
Maybe he cared more about his parents’ opinion than she had thought. Was their objection to her lingering racism, about something she could not change, or to her career, which she would not change? Either way, unless Arthur rejected their ideals of who he should marry, there was no future for him with her.
“Well, he’s an idiot if he doesn’t do that and soon.”
Gwen looked up at Lance’s brown eyes in his handsome, olive-skinned face. The admiration she saw there from a man so many of her friends and coworkers lusted after was a boost to her ego. She was suddenly glad to be wearing her blue blouse with its scoop neckline, her hair swept to the side in a flattering style.
“Tell me more about your band.” Gwen pushed open the lunch room door and started down the hallway.
Lance fell into step beside her, talking about how the group had gotten back together. When they reached Gwen’s office, Lance leaned against the door frame as they continued their conversation.
“I can’t wait to hear you play Wednesday night,” Gwen said.
“I can’t wait to read the rest of that poem.”
Gwen laughed. “It won’t be done by next week.”
Lance smiled. “I’ll be patient.”
She did not plan it, she did not even think about it, she simply leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. The coffee cup in her hands bumped against the mug he was holding and they both pulled back.
“Gwen,” he said in a tight voice, “Arthur is a friend and I know how he feels about you even if he hasn’t put it into words.”
Guilt warmed her face at his distraught expression. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”
“Not too sorry, I hope,” he said with an attempt at a smile.
A tiny laugh escaped her.
At that moment, while they stood close to touching, her smiling up at him and him looking down warmly at her, Gwen heard someone loudly clear her throat. She jumped guiltily.
Her boss stood in the corridor, hands on her hips.
“Gwen, you are still here,” Morgan said with an expression of mocking contempt. “I assumed you had gone home or wherever you were going.” Her gaze switched to Lance and she raised an eyebrow.
“I should let you get back to work,” Lance said to Gwen. With a cold nod for Morgan, he turned his back and left.
Gwen nodded at her boss and stepped into her office wishing it were anyone else, anyone in the world, rather than Morgan to catch her in that unguarded moment. “Please come in.”
Morgan returned to her office after her meeting with Gwen. The Controller had spoken of the projected financials for South America, shoulders stiff and jaw tight. Morgan had allowed her to avoid the topic of the scene in the hallway.
Gwen had kissed Lance. Either she had given up on her plans to fast track her career through the CEO’s designated successor, or she was playing them both. A protective urge to safeguard Morgan’s little brother flickered and died. It was long past the time when Arthur heeded her. She had already warned him how short-lived love was.
“Where are those projections?” Uther walked in without knocking.
Morgan raised a brow. “I’m fine, Father. How are you?”
He flapped a hand in her direction. “Arthur needs those estimates. They were supposed to be done today.”
They were not. The deadline was a week away. She silently handed him a copy of Gwen’s financials.
Privately, Morgan questioned the profitability of this Latin American venture, at least in current economic conditions, but Uther was adamant.
Flipping through the thick hard copy, he turned and started for the door.
She straightened her shoulders and sucked in a breath. “If Arthur provides the logistics plans, I could combine them with the financial estimates and prepare the board report.”
She hated that nerves twisted in her gut simply asking for an opportunity other executives took for granted. It would be easier, and more accurate, for her to familiarize herself with operations’ plans than for Arthur to try to understand the financial complexities of the proposal. She was better equipped to complete the analysis, then discuss it with the board, and they would have better information to evaluate the options.
Uther did not look up or turn. “Arthur is capable.”
Morgan bit down on her fury and hurt at her father’s dismissal. It was pointless to argue.
Then he paused and faced her. Anticipation leaped up.
“You’d do better to go home to your husband. You’ll never patch up your differences if you’re always here in the office.” He spun on his heel and left.
Pain and anger overwhelmed Morgan. She picked up her stapler and threw it at the opposite wall. It clanged sharply, popped open, and landed with a thump and a shower of staples on the carpet.
She rested her weight on her hands, bent over her desk, concentrating on slowing her panting breaths. The problems in her marriage were not solely a result of her working long hours. If anyone’s marriage suffered because of overwork, it was her father’s. Both of his marriages.
Urien’s picture sat on Morgan’s desk, a photo of the two of them at Whistler. They were laughing. How long had it been since they had gone anywhere together? How long had it been since they smiled in each other’s company?
Could she even remember the first time she suspected his infidelity? She had made excuses for so long, convinced herself more than once she was overreacting. By the time she faced the truth, it was embarrassing to admit her foolishness. That she had married a man just like her father.
She had wanted to hurt Urien back, give him the same heartache and humiliation, so she took advantage of the hot looks one of the accounting managers had given her. Her admission of an affair had elicited minimal reaction from Urien. He had shrugged and continued dressing for Sunday dinner at her parents.
Neither of them had said anything to her family, merely shared a few drinks and a five-course meal, talking of business and fashion and the weather. Inwardly, she had screamed at the illusion of normalcy.
Her husband had been just as uninterested in her next affair and her next. Had it become routine for them both? They should divorce. Her hesitation seemed as pointless as the marriage.
Except what would divorce change? Other than a public admission of her failure.
She had failed as a wife. She had failed as a daughter.
Pain twinged the back of her neck, stabbing upward. She massaged the spot, hoping she could physically rid herself of her increasingly frequent headaches.
She should follow George’s example after his transition: change her name, change her clothes, announce her re-birthday. Except George was a man, regardless what was announced at his birth, and she was not. She was both female and a woman, to her father’s everlasting disappointment. At times, she wondered if he would have left his first wife if he had known Ygraine was pregnant with a daughter, not a son.
Why did she still try so hard to please Uther? She was never going to be Arthur. Uther was never going to name her his successor, despite her qualifications. Arthur did not even want the CEO position, not really. Not as much as she did.
He would take it, though. He always bowed to their father’s wishes. He studied marketing, like Uther, even though he had talked of going into finance, like she did. He joined the company in Uther’s department, following his father’s career path, though he showed more of a flair for operations than Uther had.
Arthur suited his current position, more than he would as CEO, but any time she hinted at such a thought, her opinion was dismissed as envy. Not even Arthur suggested that he continue as VP, Operations when their father eventually retired. She resented his acquiescence, but he would be a fool to pass up the opportunity.
If only he appreciated it, instead of taking his easy path for granted. He had no idea how hard she had worked for titles and opportunities which had been granted him without his asking.
She rolled her neck, trying to ease the persistent twinge at the base of her skull, and opened the file Gwen had prepared. The minutia of convincing their bankers to extend sufficient credit for Uther’s South American project fell to her, as well as liaising with Morgause on the personnel issues, especially for international employees.
The compliance requirements for overseas business were equally tedious, and their diligent compliance officer would not let a single box remain unchecked on the checklist.
The words on the page blurred as her eyes unfocused. Galahad mystified her. He was hard-working, everyone agreed on that, but it seemed to be for its own sake, not with any expectation of promotion. Most employees started in compliance and then found jobs elsewhere in the company, jobs with more promising career paths. Galahad had transferred from accounting to compliance and seemed content to stay there. His nit-picking was an asset in that position.
He was attractive in an unconventional way, not like Urien or Accolon, certainly not in a league with Arthur’s other senior staff. Galahad looked gangly next to Percy and Lance, yet she had seen him in the company gym late one evening. He was not big, but his muscles were toned and his body was well proportioned. His cheekbones were high and sharp. His dark brown hair curled over his forehead and around his overlarge ears, just long enough to grab. In a crowded elevator one day, she had been close enough to smell a sandalwood scent from his shampoo.
Early in their acquaintance, she had thought he was interested in her, but he had never taken any of the opportunities she gave him. He even seemed to avoid her. When she saw him with a petite redhead with big eyes and a guileless smile, Morgan realized she was simply not his type.
Which was for the best, since he was not her type, either. Too thin, too lacking ambition.
She brushed aside her frivolous analysis of her brother’s employees and opened her copy of Gwen’s financials. She had a long night in front of her.
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