Chapter 1: Hayden
“Should I let you out here, sir?”
I open my eyes and shove a curtain aside, looking out the car window. Traffic’s at a standstill. I have no idea how long we’ve been sitting here because I kind of, sort of dozed off. I glance at my watch.
“Shit.” Enzo is going to kill me. I’m supposed to meet our new project manager from the FDA with him . . . several minutes ago. I’d run through a burning building for my friend and business partner, but apparently getting to bed at a reasonable time the night before a big meeting is too big of an ask for me. I really, really did not plan to be out so late, or to wake up with company this morning, but a series of rather fortunate events . . .
I press a button in front of me just below the privacy screen. “Are we going to get moving any time this century, Henry?”
His gravelly voice comes through the speaker, loud and clear. “Doesn’t look good. I think you’d get there faster walking.”
Yup, Enzo is going to kill me.
I glance out a window, find a landmark, and calculate the remaining distance. As much as I’d prefer not to show up dripping sweat, walking is a better call than making them wait. Or wait longer, as the case may be.
A quick look down at my cell confirms the worst. Two missed calls and even more text messages.
With another touch of a button, the privacy screen slides down between Henry and me. His judgy gaze peers at me from the rearview mirror. He doesn’t mean to come off that way, but a lifetime of working for my father has ingrained an ironclad sense of duty in the man. Even if he is my driver now, not my father’s.
“I’ll be at least two hours.”
Henry blinks. The only sign he’s actually heard me. When I was young I used to think he either couldn’t stand me or was being deliberately disrespectful. But now I know better.
“Enjoy your morning,” I call as I gather my briefcase and jump out of the car. How is it already so damn hot at nine in the morning?
Okay, nine fifteen.
Making my way through the rush-hour crowd, I voice-text Enzo.
Sorry. On my way. Standstill traffic, and I fell asleep in the car.
Just as I’m about to shove my phone back into my pocket, it vibrates. A quick glance tells me what I’ve already guessed: it’s my father. I’m tempted to ignore him, but he’ll only call back until he reaches me.
“Good morning, Father.”
“I thought you had a meeting with the new project manager this morning?”
Hello to you too.
I’m tempted to ask why he’s calling if he knew I had a meeting, but I have too much of a headache to fight with him at the moment. That won’t be a problem anymore once this whole tiresome approval process is over and Enzo and I are able to bring our product to market.
“I’m on my way there now.”
“We can’t afford delays, Hayden.”
I’m not in the mood. It’s hot. My head is pounding. I nearly crashed into a tourist who stopped in the middle of the damn sidewalk to take a picture, and Enzo is texting me as we speak.
“Dad”—he hates when I call him that—“I’m fully aware. We had no control over the last person being transferred, but there’s no reason to think a new project manager will cause any problems.”
“When is the last time you’ve looked at the supplier statements?”
“I talked to P&R last week.”
“I didn’t ask when you talked to the accounting firm. When did you look at the statements yourself?”
I turn the corner, walking as quickly as possible.
“I really have to go,” I try, knowing it’s futile. When my father is finished with me, he’ll let me know, and I won’t be getting off this call three seconds sooner.
I grind my back teeth, trying not to say something I’ll regret. “End of June.”
“Two weeks ago?”
If he hadn’t lent Enzo and me eight million dollars last year, I might comment on his superior ability to calculate days of the week. But that qualifies for the something I’ll regret list, or at least the something I’ll be made to regret list, so I hold my tongue. Two more blocks.
“I spoke with Paul this weekend. He mentioned an increased cost of stabling agents.”
In other words, Since Angel’s accounting firm answers to you, I called your plant manager and talked with him about expenses to circumnavigate the communication chain.
There are so many things I despise about my father. The constant criticism. The fact that he can hardly tolerate me. But most of all, I hate the way he manipulates me. For the thousandth time, I remind myself Angel, Inc. would not be possible without this man who is convinced I am a total fuck up. So instead of asking why he even bothered to lend me start-up money in the first place, I play nice.
“I’ll take a look at them. And we’ll let you know how it goes today.”
There’s my building.
“I’m expecting an uneventful transition.”
The FDA doesn’t care what you expect.
But I keep that one to myself too.
Would it kill the man to say goodbye once in a while? Probably, yes.
I remind myself that his opinion doesn’t matter to me, but it still slides under my skin, if only a little. My phone vibrates again before I can put it away. Enzo.
“Hi,” I answer, anticipating another tongue-lashing.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Sorry,” I say sincerely. “I’m just coming into the building now.”
“I don’t even want to know.”
I silently agree.
“Take your time. We already ran through introductions, and I convinced them to take a ten-minute coffee break, assuring them you’d be here by then.”
“I will be. Just have to run into the men’s room. Traffic was horrific, had to walk the last four blocks.”
I can see Enzo’s eyes rolling through the phone.
“Poor baby. Get your ass up here.”
My ass is what got me into this situation. I went to my neighborhood bar, intending to have a drink or two and head home at a reasonable hour, but a fiery redhead groped me on the way out. Admittedly, I’d been checking her out from across the bar, my interest not the least bit subtle.
Welcome to my life. A series of bad decisions, one after the other, with one glaring exception. The one that was poised to make me a billionaire in my own right, my parents’ money be damned.
Just one FDA approval, three more months of pleasing them and my father, and then . . . let the games begin.
Keep reading on September 17th when LAST CALL hits Amazon for a special $2.99 release price. Subscribe to chat with Hayden for a new release notice here.