"I have an announcement to make," Patrick Elliott said to the roomful of Elliotts, interrupting the roar of conversation among the nearly fifteen present for the New Year's Eve celebration. Patrick had stipulated that only family members and spouses attend the gathering.
The announcement must be big news, Gannon Elliott thought as he stood next to his brother Liam. Curious, Gannon studied his grandfather as he held court across the den of the family home in the Hamptons. The Christmas decorations would come down tomorrow, but tonight the lights on the trees twinkled in three of the rooms on this level of the nearly eight-thousand-foot turn-of-the-century home. The house his grandmother had lovingly furnished had provided a haven for the Elliotts through the births and, tragically, through the deaths of children and through the ever-increasing power and wealth of Patrick Elliott and his heirs.
Gannon's Irish-immigrant grandfather might be seventy-seven, but he was still sharp as a razor. He made dominating the magazine-publishing world look like a piece of cake, with magazines that covered everything from serious news to celebrity watching, showbiz and fashion.
"But it's not midnight," cracked Bridget, Gannon's younger sister, in response to their grandfather. "You have the night off, Grandfather. Did you forget it's New Year's Eve?"
Patrick's eyes sparkled as he wagged his finger at her. "How could I forget with you here to remind me?"
Grinning, Bridget dipped her head and lifted her glass in response. Gannon shook his head and took a swallow of whiskey. His brash sister always seemed to be stirring the pot when it came to their grandfather.
Pausing for a moment, Patrick glanced at Maeve, his petite wife of more than fifty years. Patrick might be the workaholic lion who had built a publishing empire, but Maeve was the one woman who could soothe the savage beast.
The love and commitment emanating from both their gazes never failed to humble Gannon, arousing a gnawing sensation in his stomach, a vague dissatisfaction that he refused to explore. He mentally slammed the door on the feeling and watched his grandmother Maeve, love shining in her eyes as she nodded at his grandfather.
Patrick looked back at the family assembled by his invitation. "I've decided to retire."
Gannon nearly dropped his glass of whiskey. He'd figured the old man was so wedded to his conglomerate that he would spend his last moments on earth making another deal. Murmurs and whispers skittered through the room like mice.
"Oh my God."
"Do you think he's sick?"
Patrick shook his head and lifted his hand in a quieting motion. "I'm not sick. It's just time. I have to choose a successor, and because all of you have performed so well with the various magazines, the choice is difficult. I've decided the only fair way to choose is to give each of you an opportunity to prove yourself."
"What on earth is he doing now?" Bridget whispered.
"Do you know anything about this?" Gannon asked his brother Liam, who worked for the conglomerate rather than one of the individual magazines. Everyone knew Liam was the closest of any grandchild to Patrick.
Liam shook his head, looking just as stunned as everyone else in the room. "Not a clue."
Like the rest of the family, Gannon knew that the four top magazines were headed by Patrick's sons and daughter. Gannon's own father, Michael, was editor in chief of Pulse magazine, a publication known for cutting-edge serious news.
"I will choose from the editors in chief of our most successful magazines. Whichever magazine makes the largest profit proportionally will see its editor in chief take over the reins of Elliott Publication Holdings."
Complete silence followed. A bomb wouldn't have been more effective.
Three seconds passed, and Gannon saw shock cross the faces of his uncles and cousins. He looked across the room at his father, who looked as if he'd been hit on the head with a two-by-four.
Bridget gave a sound of disgust. "This is insane. How can it work? Do you realize that since I work for Charisma I'll be working against my own father?"
Liam shrugged. "Is that any worse than pitting brother against brother, brother against sister?"
"Shane against Finola?" Bridget added in disbelief about their aunt and uncle. "They're twins, for Pete's sake. Someone has to talk to Grandfather and make him see reason."
Finola stepped next to Bridget and shook her head at her father. "He won't be changing his mind. He's got that 'till hell freezes over' expression on his face. I've seen it before," she said with a trace of bitterness.
"It's not fair," Bridget said.
Finola had a faraway look in her eyes. "He has his own definition of fairness," she said softly, then seemed to shake out of her split-second reverie. She smiled at Bridget. "I'm glad I have you on my team."
Gannon had never been one to shirk a tough fight and he wouldn't shrink from this one either. "May the best Elliott win," he said to Finola, although he knew the stakes were damn high. "Talk to you later," he said to Bridget, Liam and Finola, then moved toward his father, immediately confident that he would do anything to help his father make their magazine, Pulse, the top dog at EPH.
He was an Elliott, born and bred to compete, excel and win. Every Elliott in the room had been raised with the same genes and high expectations. It was in their blood to fight and win. Shrewd as always, his grandfather had known that fact when he'd issued the challenge, Gannon thought. Regardless of who won and Gannon was damn determined to make sure his father was the winner Patrick had just assured a banner year of earnings for each magazine and Elliott Publication Holdings.
His uncle Daniel stopped him on the way to his father. "You look like a man with a mission."
"I think we all are," Gannon said wryly and squeezed his uncle's shoulder. "The least he could have done was pass out a year's supply of antacid with this kind of news."
Daniel chuckled and shook his head. "Good luck."
"Same to you," Gannon said and walked the few feet to where his father and mother stood.
Twirling his glass of brandy, his father met Gannon's gaze. "I should have known this earthquake was coming."
"Who could have predicted this?" his mother, the most easygoing person he knew, asked. She met Gannon's gaze and smiled. "I see you've already recovered and are ready for the game."
"It's in my genes," Gannon said with a nod to his father.
"You have some ideas already?" his father asked, clearly pleased.
"Sure do." Gannon knew the first person he wanted on the Pulse team: Erika Layven, the woman he broke up with over a year ago.
Erika Layven reviewed the layout for the April issue of HomeStyle magazine with a critical eye as she took another sip of instant hot chocolate with marshmallows. Wiggling her sock-clad feet beneath her desk, she studied the spring-flower theme of multicolored roses, sprigs of lavender and cheery pansies. A huge contrast from the gray, bitter-cold January late afternoon she glimpsed outside her fifteenth-story window in Manhattan.
The weather made her feel cold and old. The recent report from her doctor hadn't helped much either. Add to that the New Year's Eve party she'd attended with a forgettable man and the more forgettable kiss at midnight and she could feel downright morose.
If not for the pansies, she told herself and straightened in her chair. She had a bunch of reasons to feel good. As managing editor of Elliott Publication Holdings' new magazine HomeStyle, she had the opportunity to help create a vision and make it come true. She had power. She had influence. She had a dream job. If she felt herself missing the rush she'd felt when she'd worked for Pulse, she pushed it aside. This was better, she told herself. In this world, she ruled.
A knock sounded at her door and she glanced at the frog clock on her desk. It was after five-thirty on Thursday night. Most employees had left for happy hour.
"Yes?" she called.
"It's Gannon," he said, then unnecessarily added,
Erika's stomach jumped into her throat and she took a full moment to catch her breath. What did he want? Pushing her curly hair from her face, she pulled together her composure. "Come in," she said in as cool a voice as she could manage.
The door opened and Gannon six-foot-two, black hair, green eyes and killer body filled the doorway, filled the room. She steeled herself against him and strictly instructed her hormones to behave, her palms to stop sweating and her heart to stop racing.
Idly wishing she'd kept on her boots so she could meet him almost eye to eye, she stood in her sock feet behind her desk. "Gannon, what a surprise. What brings you here?"
"Hadn't seen you in a while."
Your choice, she thought but took a different tack.
"I've been very busy with HomeStyle."
"So I hear. You're doing a fabulous job."
"Thank you," she said, unable to fight a sliver of gratification. Gannon was tough. He'd never been given to flattery. "It looks like Pulse is full of excitement as always."
He nodded. "What did you think of the series we ran on fighting Internet viruses?"
"Excellent," she said. "I loved the day spent with an Internet security soldier. Fascinating." She paused a half beat. "I would have added a fraction more human interest."
His mouth lifted in a half grin. "That's one of the things I always admired about you. You see the good in an article but are always looking for a way to make it better."
"Thank you again," she said, feeling curious. "You still haven't told me why you're here."
He glanced at her bookcase and tilted his head sideways to read a few titles. "How much do you like it here?"
Confused by his attitude, she studied him carefully as he lifted her frog clock from her desk. He wasn't acting normal. Although she wasn't sure what normal was for Gannon. Their relationship had clouded her instincts where he was concerned.
"What's not to like? I get to help rule," she said and smiled.