Adam Kingston expects to inherit his father’s multinational conglomerate. When he finds out half of it went to Nate Thomas—an annoying man whose dreams for Kingston Corp.’s future clash with Adam’s need to stave off financial disaster—Adam is furious. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to wrest control of Kingston Corp. from Nate.
Nate may be soft-spoken, but he refuses to be swayed by Adam’s arrogant demands. When Nate accidentally drops a pair of his lacy panties in front of Adam, there’s no mistaking Adam’s interest. Nate hadn’t realized Adam was bisexual, but now that his secret is out, Nate is willing to use Adam’s lust against him if it means protecting the welfare of the company he loves.
For Adam and Nate, hatred and desire are closely linked. Their inability to compromise threatens the company and could expose their tightly held secrets. But as they work together to develop a plan to save Kingston Corp., they begin to realize there might be more to their relationship than anger and lust.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abandonment, acceptance, alpha/alpha, angst, anxiety, coming out, commitment, duty, enemies to lovers, family, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, mental illness, politics / power struggle, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues, workplace romance
I watched as my father’s coffin was lowered into the ground. Most of the other funeral goers had left, including Nate, the self-righteous prick who now owned half of Kingston Corp., the company my father had built from the ground up.
It was supposed to be mine. All mine. Not split up with someone who isn’t family, no matter how convinced he was that Nate would run it better.
The few mourners—was anyone other than Nate actually mourning or had they just shown up in hopes of making the papers?—had moved far away, standing in darkly-clad clusters, whispering, perhaps sharing their most damning memories of my father. How many of them had happy reminiscences? Mine were sure as hell few and far between.
“Sir, do you need a moment?”
It took me a bit to realize the funeral director was speaking to me. I shook my head. “Go ahead and put the old bastard under.”
The man nodded, his face remaining impressively blank. He must hear all kinds of sentiments in his business. I turned and walked away, scanning the paths to see if I could escape the cemetery without talking to anyone. Not fucking likely if I went back the way I’d come in. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. At least I’d made it through the ceremony without one of the fucking panic attacks I’d been having recently. Yet another thing I had to thank dear old Dad for.
I pulled out my phone. “Darryl, bring the car to the south entrance. I’ll meet you there.”
My aunt and my wicked ex-stepmother had assigned themselves as my keepers during this blessed event. They’d done their best to parade me in front of all the attending media, but now it was time to make my escape. I headed where there seemed to be no funeral goers or photographers hoping for another shot of the grieving son. As if. There were probably a few members of the press hiding somewhere, but at least they were discreet. What had my stepmother thought I was going to do, anyway? Stand up in front of everyone and say how I really felt? I might’ve done so if I’d thought anyone would actually care, but I’d had enough of being a scandalmonger for a while.
In his last hours, my father had pretended to reach out to me, to forgive past mistakes—in other words, he’d given me a chance to apologize for being a disappointment. I’d wanted to believe he was sincere, but no, Daddy had put a nice little surprise for me in his will. He’d probably laughed behind my back every time I visited during his final illness.
I ignored the female voice calling me. It would be best for everyone if I got out of there without having to speak to another person.
Wait. Was that Valerie? She wasn’t supposed to be here yet.
I turned and there she stood, the woman my father had wanted me to marry. He’d tried to set plans in motion when I was still in high school, but we’d known we’d make a lousy match, so instead of becoming engaged, we became best friends. Valerie understood what it was like to live with parents who wanted to mold you in their image.
Now, we saw each other as often as we could even though she lived in the tiny principality of Nazapoli near the Italian Alps. She’d fallen madly in love with actual Nazapolitan royalty and become a duchess with lots of important state duties.
“You’re here.” Obviously she was or else I was worse off than I thought.
She nodded. “I am.”
“But I didn’t think you were going to make it for the funeral.”
“My pilot was able to take off early.”
“Ah, yes, being connected to a royal family does have its advantages.”
“It does.” Valerie pulled me into her arms. I was so startled I let her, though normally—unless I was fucking somebody—I liked to keep people at arm’s length.
When she pulled back, I scowled at her.
“I needed the hug even if you didn’t,” she said.
I smiled for the first time that day. Almost a year had passed since I’d seen Valerie, but she was as beautiful as ever. She wore a perfectly tailored black sheath dress, and her dark hair was swirled up in an impeccable Audrey Hepburn–esque style. She could easily have walked off the set of an early 1960s film. I was surprised photographers hadn’t mobbed her.
Valerie took my hands in hers, and because she was my best friend, I allowed that too. “How are you? And don’t give me any bullshit.”
She nodded. “That sounds right.”
“You’re not even going to pretend to be shocked that I’m not grief-stricken?”
“I’ve never pretended with you, Adam, and I appreciate that you don’t pretend with me, either.”
That was true. No matter how tempting it would’ve been to get my father off my back, I never pretended I might marry her.
“I couldn’t get this day over with fast enough. The old ass should consider himself lucky I showed up at all.” I offered her my arm, and we started walking the way I’d been headed. “Thank you for letting me be honest.”
“So the rumor is true, I take it?” she asked.
I snorted. She had to be referring to my father fucking me over on my inheritance. “How much time do you have?”
“As much as you need. I’ll be in Chicago for a month, and I don’t have any plans tonight. But if I did, I’d cancel for you.”
“I asked my driver to circle to the back of the cemetery. Would you like to get a drink?”
“I would love that, but I think we’d better go back to your apartment or my hotel if we don’t want to be surrounded.” She tilted her head toward a photographer who was literally hiding behind a tree watching us.
“Fuck off,” I yelled.
“Adam.” She batted my arm.
“Now you’re pretending. Nothing I do really shocks you.”
“I’m simply attempting to correct your abysmal manners.”
I snorted. “I suppose you’ve always done that.”
“Sadly, I’ve always needed to.”
“You’d do best to give up on trying to teach me propriety; even my father eventually did.” I stumbled on the uneven pavement, surprised by the pain of the memories that confession brought up. The one thing I never wanted to do was fail, yet my father had thought I was a failure at basically everything.
“Hang on just a minute. Let me call my driver.” By the time she’d finished telling her own driver that he wouldn’t be needed, we’d reached my car.
“Where to, Mr. Kingston?” Darryl asked.
“At least then I won’t be seen going to a married woman’s hotel room,” I said, when I was seated next to Valerie on the soft leather seat.
“No, just taking one up to your flat.”
I gave her a mocking, wide-eyed glance. “Surely no one would think I’d seduce an old friend on the day of my father’s funeral.”
“That is exactly the kind of thing you’d do.”
“Too true, but . . .” I gestured toward the diamond on her left hand, which was so large her husband could probably see it all the way across the Atlantic. “I don’t do married women.”
She scoffed. “Nice to know there’s something you don’t do. Now tell me about your father and the very attractive man who now owns half of Kingston Corp.”
I opened the limousine’s liquor cabinet and poured myself a Scotch. “Would you like a drink?” I asked, glancing at Valerie.
“No, thank you. One of us should be sober.”
“That’s sure as hell not going to be me.” I downed my drink and poured another. I sipped this one for a few moments and then felt ready to talk. “To answer your question, yes, the rumor is right. Fucking Nate fucking Thomas now owns half of Kingston Corp. Half. Of. My. Company. The nerdy little tree-hugging enviro-nut who wants to turn the all of Kingston Corp. into some kind of pro-Earth charity now owns half of it, and I’ve got to figure out how to overturn the will or get him to sell. Maybe I can convince him it’s evil to own the means of production or something.”
“I doubt he’s truly a communist—are there still communists? From what I’ve read about him, he seems like an idealist and certainly pro-environment, but—”
“You haven’t met the self-smug bastard.”
“I’m going to make a wild guess here, based on everything I know about Adam Kingston. Is the real problem that he hates you and refuses to do what you say?”
“He . . . Yes.” Why could Valerie always read me like that?
Valerie tucked in a piece of hair that had escaped from its confines. “This should prove interesting.”
“I don’t want it to be interesting. I want it to be over.”
“Have you ever actually talked to Nate?”
I glared at her.
“Well, have you?”
“We’re at every division president’s meeting together. Most weeks, he tells me I’m callous and reckless, and I argue that he’s trying to give all our profits away. He makes me lose my temper faster than anyone other than my father.”
“Telling him how wrong he is isn’t talking to him.”
“We have discussions, they are just—”
Valerie raised her brows. “Do you, or do you dictate and expect him to obey?”
“I . . . Fuck, why do you always have to act like things are my fault? That is one reason I could never marry you.”
“One of a billion reasons. Do you have another one to confess?”
The gleam in her eye made it clear she had something specific in mind, but she knew most of the reasons, except . . . Fuck, had she figured out that I liked men? I’d never even hinted at it, and it wasn’t a reason for not marrying her. I liked women too.
Someone must know. You can’t truly believe you’ve kept it secret all these years.
One day I would get caught with a man and more people than my father would lose respect for me. But until then, the adrenaline of almost getting caught on a regular basis only made my dirty secret better.
“What is that look about?” Valerie asked.
“It’s never nothing with you.”
“Why do I feel like I’m twenty again with you trying to get me to take something, anything, seriously?”
“Because neither of us has really changed.”
I smiled. “What the fuck am I going to do about Nate?”
“You’re going to have to talk to him and work this out like an adult, one qualified to run a global conglomerate.”
I hated how right she was.
The fucking will turned out to be airtight. After a week, my lawyers couldn’t find a single loophole, and I’d hired the best. The problem was, so had my dad. Apparently, my father could give the company to anyone he chose. There was no chance of proving that my old man wasn’t in his right mind when he wrote the will. He’d been as sane as ever. Shrewd, unfeeling, vengeful, but sane.
I was going to have to talk to Nate or, as Valerie would put it, talk at Nate and hope he’d listen. There wasn’t much chance of that, though. He might be a woolly headed, put-the-world-ahead-of-profit hippie, but he was smart—not as smart as me, but damn close. And he was stubborn, really fucking stubborn.
And you’re not?
My father had taught us both to never relent. I couldn’t understand his interest in Nate. Not long after hiring him, my father had taken Nate under his wing. Over the years, he’d spent more and more time acting as a mentor, but from what I could see, Nate was less like my father’s ideal son than I was. My father had been a smooth-talking businessman who’d seduced companies into rolling over and showing their belly. Then, when they were too weak to fight, he’d take control, buying them out and merging them into Kingston. I’d always thought my dad wanted a fox for a son, a fox in bunny’s clothing. I was ruthless, but I didn’t have the patience for the sweet talk or seduction. I didn’t wait for an opponent to show weakness, I just went right for the kill, like a shark.
Nate thought you could succeed in business by making everyone happy. He sincerely believed he could make the world a better place. The fool. So how the fuck had he been my father’s protégé? No way in hell had he actually converted my old man to his way of thinking. Harvey Kingston had never changed his mind, not for any man, woman, or child other than my mother, but she’d been gone so long he’d forgotten how to bend.
I glanced at the time on my laptop screen. Nate would be out of his meeting with my father’s attorneys. I could head down to his office and catch him off guard. Beard him in his den, as it were. It was time he understood that it was my place to decide the direction this company would go. He’d simply have to get on board.
Nate understood environmental science, and I agreed with my father’s decision to put him in charge of the Enviro division. I might even be able to stomach letting him run the division however he wanted to, but the future of Kingston Corp. depended on me putting plans into action in the Research division, plans he might not like. The board wanted us to share leadership with me as CEO and Nate as president, a position we would create just for him. No way in hell was that going to work. I doubted he’d even been keeping up with Kingston’s financial reports, and he’d likely fallen for my father’s bullshit about how bright the future looked. My father had insisted nothing was wrong up until the day he died, but Kingston was in serious financial trouble, and I needed to get us back on track.
I had a few ideas about how to do that, one of which was to reduce Kingston’s reach. My father had originally started Kingston Corp. as a household products company, but as the world and the market had shifted, Kingston had become a conglomerate, owning and overseeing a number of diverse businesses. As much as I hated the thought of selling off any of those divisions, I would do what was necessary. Because, despite what my father thought, failure wasn’t an option for me.
The elevator dinged. I’d reached Nate’s floors. As the doors glided open, I stepped into the Enviro business’s executive offices. As I walked through the sea of cubicles, I heard a wave of whispers cross the floor. Apparently one girl thought I might be planning to finish Nate off. I wasn’t quite that ruthless. This wasn’t the Old West. Hell, we weren’t even in Texas. Although there was some appeal to the idea of settling this all with a duel. I’d rather be shot at than spend hours, days, weeks negotiating with someone who didn’t understand profit margins.
Nate’s assistant, Michelle, was at her desk, but I blew past her and pushed his office door open so hard it banged against the wall. His back was to me, and he jumped, knocking a gym bag off the chair in front of him. He must have been putting something in it, because it was unzipped and the contents spilled onto the floor. He grabbed the bag and started frantically shoving everything inside. What the fuck? His smelly gym shorts can’t be that different than— Oh my fucking God. I caught a glimpse of pink lace. I might’ve thought he’d hooked up with some girl at the gym except Nate didn’t go for girls, which meant . . . No way. He didn’t . . .
He zipped the bag and tossed it to the side of the room where it knocked over a stack of papers. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Those were lace panties. Nate’s lace panties? Oh my God.
Finally I tore my gaze away, but Nate was looking out the window, so I glanced around his office, determined I wouldn’t look at the gym bag. Wow. The office was a mess. My father would’ve hated it. I started counting the number of seltzer cans Nate had stacked on a shelf.
Nate turned around and I looked up. He held my gaze as if daring me to mention what I’d seen, his cheeks pink with embarrassment.
Normally I took every chance I could to taunt him, but this time I was too busy trying to understand my own reaction. I couldn’t seem to think—all my blood had rushed to my cock. Another one of the damnable things about Nate was that despite being so unaffected and nerdy and probably wearing pants made of hemp cloth, he was fucking hot. His arms might’ve been the most perfectly formed ones I’d ever seen, and his ass . . . I couldn’t stop thinking of it covered in pink lace. I’d never, not even in my most secret dirty jerk-off fantasies, gotten off on a man wearing lingerie. I didn’t usually like feminine men, much less men in something as ridiculous as manties, but Nate. In fucking pink lace. Holy shit, that was going to be my new favorite thing.
No, no, I was going to block it from my mind, unless it became useful in the near future. It was always good to know someone’s secrets. Someone’s hot, dirty secret.
Now what the fuck was I doing in his office?
Nate cleared his throat. “I’m assuming you’re here about the will,” he said, his tone measured.
My anger came rushing back. “Of course I’m here about the will.” My father had fucked over my entire future by giving half my company to Nate. I certainly wasn’t here to chat with him about the weather.
“I suppose you think you have some ‘solution’ to this ‘problem.’”
If only I could knock the smug look right off his face, if only I didn’t find him so goddamned intriguing. “I know I do.”
“One that involves me backing down on everything I believe in.”
I pretended to consider his words. “Not everything.”
“If we’re going to discuss this, let’s take a walk.” He looked down as he closed a folder that was open on his desk. His blond hair fell over his forehead; his bangs were far too long for his professional status. I bet if he weren’t in an executive position, he’d wear his hair long, put it up in a fucking man bun or one of those little ponytails that might be hot on a guy at a club, but not in the fucking office. No, definitely not. I would have no interest in yanking his hair down and running my hands through it. Fuck no.
“You want us to take a walk?”
“Yes. You know, exercise and take in some of the air I want to make fresher. You do go outside on occasion, right?”
I scowled at him. “When I have to.”
Silently, we walked to Wacker and strolled along the river. Finally Nate said, “I’m assuming you want me to hand over control, run Enviro, and keep my mouth shut?”
Well, he certainly knew me. “Well, I—”
“Or do you just want me to quit altogether, saying I don’t want to take part in owning an evil corporation?”
Could he read my fucking mind? “The first one seems more realistic.”
“Yeah . . . no. That’s not how this is going to go.”
I fisted my hands, fighting the urge not to yell. “It would be easier.”
“For both of us. Do you really want to spend every day arguing with me?”
He sighed. “If that’s what it takes.”
“I won’t back down.” Not even when anxiety has me in a stranglehold. Kingston was all I had, and I wouldn’t lose it.
“I’d much rather try to make a difference than spend so much time arguing,” Nate said. “You could help me do that, Adam. We don’t have to focus all our energy on profit.”
“Yes, we do.” While a part of me wondered what it would be like to ride his energy and enthusiasm, I had to prove my father wrong, show him I could run things my way.
“Don’t you care about anything else?” His words jabbed at me.
“I care about keeping this company going.”
“Don’t you have enough money already?” he shouted.
Wow! I’d actually made Nate Thomas yell in public.
Nate glanced around uneasily. His outburst had turned heads. Someone would recognize me soon or even him. Dad had seen to putting his face out there enough. God knows it’s a face you could sell things with. Fucking gorgeous asshole.
“My father may not have been completely honest with you about the state of things at Kingston.”
“Can’t you wait until he’s been dead a few months before you start in on how terrible he was?”
“Oh, did I forget to look that up in my etiquette guide? Is there a set amount of time to wait before telling it like it is? Some people are fuckers; my dad was one. Being dead doesn’t change that.”
“God, Adam, you really didn’t know him at all.”
“Maybe it’s you who didn’t know him.” Now I was the one who was yelling. I was also contemplating pushing his pious ass in the river.
Nate spun around and started walking back toward Kingston.
“Walk’s over then? Did I get enough of the not-very-fresh air?”
“You’re in no frame of mind to listen to me.” He rubbed at his forehead. Maybe I’d given him a headache. I sure as hell had one.
“And I’m never going to be.”
“Which is why this isn’t going to work.”
“So you’re ready to step down?”
“No, I’m going to fight, but if we can’t come to a compromise, we’ll tear this company apart.”
The fucker was right. If we didn’t get a plan into action soon, things would disintegrate because we were sailing for the edge of the cliff as it was. Nate just didn’t know it. All he knew was Enviro, which was part of why having him in charge of the whole company was absurd.
“Let me know when you’re ready to listen,” Nate said. “But don’t wait too long. The company won’t run itself.”
He stomped off in the direction of Kingston. So much for mild-mannered. The sassy little shit.
You like sassy little shits.
I did, but liking Nate was very inconvenient, so I ignored that thought and celebrated the fact that I’d gotten to him, because sometimes I really was the bastard most people thought I was.
My celebration was short-lived, though. I was going to have to figure out how to work with him. As much as I hated to admit it, Enviro made money and the profits were needed to bolster the rest of the company. Instead of following him back to Kingston, I sat on a bench and wrote him an email, adding links to the encrypted files that would show him just how bad things were. Hopefully after meeting with the lawyers today, Nate had his all-access pass to everything Kingston Corp. My father would’ve made sure the transfer was taken care of swiftly. He wouldn’t want me to be the only one with the keys to the King-dom, especially since he’d never given me full access when he was alive. Shitfaced fucker. Fortunately, hacking had been my teenage deviant behavior of choice. My father had never realized I was privy to all his private dealings.
After I hit Send, I slipped my phone into my pocket and started walking again, away from Kingston. I considered keeping on going, taking a train to the airport, and flying off somewhere. Maybe Kingston was too much trouble and Nate should just have it. But how and where would I start over? Most people would enjoy lying on a beach doing fuck all. I had the money to sustain that lifestyle for quite some time, but I would be restless before a day was up. I didn’t do idle well.
I was, in fact, a control freak, and I needed things done my way, but I’d built Kingston’s Research division into something I was damn proud of. I couldn’t let my father’s stupid investment ruin everything I’d worked for.
I stopped at a hot dog cart and ordered myself a traditional Chicago dog and a Coke. Then I sat on a bench enjoying the fatty meat. Hot dogs were truly one of life’s simple pleasures. I tried to imagine Nate joining me, but he was probably a fucking vegetarian, maybe even a vegan. If so, he didn’t know what he was missing. Surely eating some meat wouldn’t wreck his fucking perfect physique, with his goddamn broad shoulders and arms that strained the sleeves of his dress shirt.
An image of him popped into my head but he wasn’t wearing a suit any more. He was in pink lace panties, all worked up, preaching his make-the-world-better rhetoric while wearing pink lace.
Did he truly wear the scrap of lace I’d seen in his hand? Maybe they belonged to a boyfriend? But my mind refused to believe that and I had to shift on the bench as my cock started to respond to the images in his head.
Think of something else.
I imagined packing up my office because Kingston had gone under. That did it.
I stuffed the last bite of hot dog in my mouth, stood, and tossed the wrapper in the trash. I believed in keeping Chicago clean, and honestly, I was on board with most of what Nate cared about. I just hated when people were so fucking sanctimonious about their causes, trying to make you feel guilty for every little misstep.
I wasn’t going to back down. I would get my way with Kingston, and Nate would simply have to accept it.