Jonas entered the spacious hallway and greeted Henry, his grandfather’s man-about-the-house. Wanting to get this meeting over with, Jonas made his way through the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion to the outside entertainment area with its one-hundred-eighty-degree view of the beach and the ocean. The wind was up and the waves were high, perfect conditions for a bit of surfing or kitesurfing. Jonas jogged down the steps from the entertainment area to the tiled patio at the edge of the property, which held comfortable chairs and expensive outdoor furniture. Despite the distance from the kitchen, this tree-shaded spot was Jack’s favorite place to dine.
His grandfather sat at the head of the table, his hand wrapped around a coffee cup, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, reading the business section of the paper, a daily habit of his. Jack liked his habits, in business and in his personal life. He wasn’t fond of people—sons, grandsons, colleagues and staff—coloring outside the lines. Jonas’s fluid, going-with-his-gut way of managing Halstead & Sons was a constant source of irritation to his grandfather. Jack could be as disapproving as he liked, but he couldn’t argue with the numbers; since taking over as CEO of Halstead five years ago, cash flow and profits had steadily increased.
Jonas noticed Preston McIntyre. Why was Jack’s lawyer eating with them? Jonas shook Preston’s hand and slid a glance in Jack’s direction. He immediately recognized the stubborn I’ll-get-to-it-when-I’m-ready expression. There was no point in pushing; the old man was as stubborn as a mule. Which grated, since Jonas was a get-it-done-now type of guy.
Jonas pulled out a chair from the table. “Morning, Jack.”
He’d been Grandpa Jack when Jonas had been younger, but it had been a while since he’d called his grandfather anything but his given name. Jack wasn’t the sentimental type. “Jonas. Have some breakfast.”
Jonas reached for the fruit salad.
“How is Cliff House coming along?” Jack demanded, his eyes flashing.
The Cliff House was their newest project, a rambling, neglected property that had once been the most luxurious hotel in Santa Barbara. That had been in the 1920s and it was now just a mess and a money pit. But it had awesome views and potential, and, best of all, Jonas had bought the property out from under Harrison Marshall’s nose. Harrison might be a world-renowned chef, restaurateur and family friend, but going onto his turf and snagging a property he’d desperately wanted had been fun. And it had been a clean snatch; a simple offer of more money that the owner had quickly accepted.
“On time and on budget,” Jonas replied, knowing that was all Jack wanted to hear. And it was the truth. He ran a tight ship.
“That’s the least I expect,” Jack snapped, eyes flashing. “Elaborate.”
Jonas gave Jack his verbal report, his eyes flicking to the smaller but still impressive house next door. The windows were locked and the drapes were closed. That meant his father was in Europe looking for art that could be added to his already extensive collection.
Such wealth, Jonas thought, was attached to his surname. The houses, the cars...the option not to work another day in his life—that’s the choice his father had made.
Jonas shuddered. Work was what gave his life meaning, how he filled his days. It provided the context of his life, the framework that kept him sane. For him, having nothing to do would be a nightmare.
He was too driven, too intense, too ambitious. In that way, he was like his grandfather. A focused workaholic determined to grow the family company under his stewardship. Besides, what else would he do with his time? He didn’t have—didn’t want—a wife and kids, and he didn’t play golf.
Jonas wondered, as he often did, if he would be as driven if he’d had a gentler upbringing, if he hadn’t had his father and grandfather riding him to do better, to be better. They’d both assumed he would be the future of the company, the fifth Halstead to run their multigenerational empire. A lot of emphasis had been placed on his performance; success was praised, failure was disparaged and a perceived lack of effort ignited tempers. Jack had encouraged independence of thought and deed, and winning at all costs. Lane, his father, didn’t believe in expressing any emotion. As a child, Jonas had learned to suppress his feelings. They were tools his father used to mock or denigrate him. It was easier, he’d discovered, to avoid emotional neediness in both himself and others.
Jack asked him another series of questions and Jonas concentrated on the here and now. There was no point in looking back, it didn’t achieve anything. And since Jack was, technically, Jonas’s boss, he needed to concentrate. His position was reasonably secure. He’d pulled the company into the twenty-first century and both stocks and profit margins were up. He had the Halstead name, but he didn’t own the company. Yet.
Jack leaned back in his chair, asked Jonas to pour coffee and Jonas complied. Preston had said nothing for the past half hour and Jonas wondered, again, why he was there. Preston gave him an uneasy look, and Jonas knew he was about to find out. And he wasn’t going to like it.
What was his wily grandfather plotting?
Jonas watched his grandfather, who was looking down the beach.
Jack’s deep green eyes, the same color as Jonas’s, eventually settled on his grandson’s face. “I am rewriting my will.”
Jonas felt his stomach knot. Dammit, again? They went through this every five years or so. As far as Jonas knew, he would inherit Jack’s shares in the company and his father would inherit a massive life insurance policy and most of Jack’s personal properties, excluding this house.
“This property and my shares in the company will all be yours.”
Good. He’d be pissed if he’d worked sixteen hours a day for more than a decade for nothing. “Thank you,” he said, knowing that was the only response Jack wanted or would tolerate.
“...only if you marry within the next ninety days.”
What the hell?
It took every iota of Jonas’s self-control not to react. He wanted to leap to his feet, slam his hands on the table and demand that Jack explain his crazy statement. He wanted to ask his grandfather if he’d lost his marbles. But the only gesture of annoyance he allowed himself was the tightening of his grip around his coffee cup.
“That’s a hell of a demand, Jack,” Jonas said, danger creeping into his tone. “Does it come with an explanation?”
“You’re pissed,” Jack said, and Jonas caught the note of amusement in his voice.
“Wouldn’t you be?” Jonas countered, straining to keep his tone even.
“Sure,” Jack agreed. “You can be as pissed as you like, but I’m not changing my mind. You’re going to marry or you lose it all.”
Jonas rubbed his forehead, not quite believing how Jack had flipped Jonas’s life on its head in the space of five minutes. Jonas turned to Preston. “Is this legal?”
Preston sent him a sympathetic look. “They are his assets. He’s allowed to disperse them any way he likes. It’s blackmail but its legal blackmail.”
Preston narrowed his eyes at his client and Jonas’s respect for the lawyer increased.
“I’ve made up my mind,” Jack said, ignoring his lawyer’s comment. “Marry in ninety days and I will sign over everything to you, giving you complete control of the company and ownership of this house. That way we’ll avoid paying the state a ridiculous amount of money in estate tax. All you have to do is marry.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Your father will inherit my shares. He wants them and feels they’re his right