Kissing Kady Ch. 01byEveHasFallen©
"Son, you're being unreasonable."
From across the room where he stood next to the small mahogany bar in his father's office, Damon Moore let out a bracing breath and began making himself a drink with steady, practiced ease. It was only about four in the afternoon, but the sun was nearly set so he splashed in half a finger more than his usual; it was going to be a long day.
Drink in hand, he turned toward his father, Harold Damon Moore, a distinguished looking man in his mid-fifties. His hair, once jet-black had begun to gray at the temples, but he still had the same fierce eyes and hard-set mouth that had, in Damon's youth, scared the living hell out of him. Harold was a man used to getting what he wanted, both inside the board room that he dominated like a dictator, and in his home, which he'd ruled over through three wives, and his only son—Damon, whom the executives and business media had dubbed, "The Heir."
And it was true. From the moment of his birth—to Harold and his first wife, Maggie—Damon had been groomed and bred in preparation for one day taking over the family business.
Damon snorted to himself, taking a long swallow of scotch, relishing the way it burned the back of his throat. Family business. It was so quaint-sounding, really. But there was nothing quaint about Harold Moore's single-minded style of doing business; his father was the American Dream come to life. He'd earned every cent he'd ever made and, if dollars were a true measure of success, then Harold had it—about one-hundred-and-fifty million times over. And that success was measured partly by the fact that whatever Harold Moore demanded was done immediately and without hesitation.
Not anymore, though; at least not where Damon was concerned. He was through being lead around by his father's iron will. It was time he put his foot down and there was no better time to start than now. "Dad," he said, advancing slowly toward his father's desk. The older man had tossed his suit jacket across the back of a leather chair that cost more than most people made in a month.
Damon caught the smell of the cigar his father had been smoking.
Cubans, of course.
"I'm not getting married just so you can make a business deal."
"What the hell kind of thing is that to say?" his father exploded.
Damon shrugged. "The honest truth. Beth and I are through." Meeting his father's hard eyes, he ran his free hand through his hair. "Look, I know you and her father have been friends for God knows how long, but..."
"But what, Damon?" Harold shoved back from his seat and stood, pressing his fingers to the polished surface of the immaculate desk. It was all Damon could do to keep from visibly gulping down his apprehension. "What? You're not done carousing around like some damn idiot? Sleeping with every female that crosses your path? You're not done wasting my money and my time with your little hobbies and projects?"
Damon bristled; his shoulders clenched and his father, very aware of the reaction, shot up a derisive eyebrow. "By all means, say what's on your mind."
The younger man, his eyes the same slate-gray as his father's, took a deep breath. "I'm sorry you feel like I've been wasting your time and money, but that has nothing to do with the fact that my relationship with Beth is over."
"Then perhaps you'd like to explain to me why the society pages were full of pictures of you carousing around Monte Carlo? Without Beth? Your fiancée?" Harold held up a hand to silence Damon's reply. He eased back into his chair and stared up at his son. "You're messy, Damon. Careless. You and I both know that I'm no angel when it comes to women," his mouth twisted, and Damon knew he was thinking about Karen, his father's current wife who was in the process of filing for divorce. "But I think Beth is good for you. Refined. Elegant. Level-headed. She handled this whole Monte Carlo debacle rather well, considering. And I don't have to remind you that her father is the CEO of Galaxy Airlines. There's...potential there, son."
Damon met his eyes straight on. "You mean business potential. Potential to make money and expand the reach of Moore Corporations. Sorry if I draw a line between business and relationships."
Chuckling quietly, Harold regarded his son with cynical amusement. "You're serious? After all these years, you still think that in the world of big business, there's an honest separation between relationships and money?" Harold shook his head. "Everything—everything—comes back to money."
"I don't believe that." He refused to believe it.
"Then I failed with you in more ways than I thought."
Damon's jaw clenched, but he kept himself under control. "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Now if we're done here, I'm going to get back to my office. I have a few phone calls to make." He took a step toward the door.
"Sit down, son," Harold commanded tersely. When Damon reluctantly obeyed, Harold steepled his fingers and gazed out the window as if gathering his thoughts. Finally, he looked at his son. "We have a problem."
Nodding, Harold began thrumming his index fingers against his chin. "Your...relationships. They worry me. I don't care what you do or with whom—to a certain extent. But...it's as if you don't care anymore. How many times have I told you that you're the face and—"
"...future of Moore Corporations," Damon finished the line he'd heard over and over again for as long as he could remember. It had become grating, really. Always being labeled in terms of his father's legacy, rather than as an individual separate from Harold Moore, the business magnate.
"See, you can say the words," Harold murmured slowly, "but I feel like you don't really know what they mean. Or maybe it's just that you don't care."
Damon was slow to reply; he honestly didn't know if he cared or not. He wanted to. He knew he should, but he was so damn listless lately.
"So, I just wanted to let you know," Harold continued. "I'm flying your cousin Simon in from New York next month."
"Excuse me?" Damon sat up ramrod straight in his chair. Simon was a slick-as-oil businessman who, on Harold's dime, had gone to the best schools in the country to earn a degree in business and his MBA in record time. Damon, too, had finished school and earned the top degrees and credentials to appease his father, but Simon—he had a cutthroat blood-thirst for the industry that Damon couldn't match, which Harold constantly pointed out. His cousin's impending arrival couldn't be a good thing. "Why is Simon flying out here?"
Suddenly looking tired, Harold relaxed back into his seat. "I'm considering giving him half of your twenty-five percent share in the company. Until you turn 26, it's still mine to do with as I please."
Jumping to his feet, Damon couldn't control himself as he bit out, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Nothing's decided yet. I'm just considering options. Seeing how Simon fits into the company. Hell, I might send him back to New York after a few days. Who knows?"
Damon was incredulous. "All of this just because I broke things off with Beth? You're in the middle of your third divorce for God's sake!" Spewing a colorful string of curses, he stalked toward the window, shoving his hands into the pockets of his slacks. He heard his father push out of his chair, move almost soundlessly across the carpet only to stop a few feet behind him.
"I've been through divorces. I've been married. Had a child. Hell, I was on the way to making my first million when I was your age. You, on the other hand, just seem like you're floundering. And that's a damn unsettling thing from where I'm standing, Damon. Especially when you're supposed to be taking over the company that I sacrificed three marriages in order to build. I just want to see some commitment from you. Something. Anything that says you've got your priorities straight."
Turning to face his father, Damon met his eyes and set his jaw. "My first and only loyalty is to this company." Up until the moment the words left his mouth, Damon hadn't realized how true those words were. As much as his father frustrated, angered and exasperated him, Damon lived and breathed Moore Corporations. It was all he knew; it was all he'd ever planned to know. The prospect of failing, of being replaced by his damned bastard of a cousin was enough to make him swear to run a marathon if it meant his father would change his mind. "Give me a chance, Dad. I know where my priorities lie."
The phone on Harold's desk started to ring and, uncharacteristically, he didn't go immediately to answer it. "Then I guess you'd better prove it, son. Simon arrives in three weeks." And then he was walking toward the phone, all business and formality again.
Damon was left staring at his back, wondering just what the hell he was going to do.
The next morning, Damon was still at a loss for what action to take. He hadn't been able to sleep, either, what with having so recently broken off his two-year engagement with Beth, and the fact that his father was now threatening to take away half of his share of the company. The whole thing was almost enough to make Damon consider calling Beth to tell her he'd changed his mind; that he wanted to give their relationship a second try.
But even as the thought occurred to him, he dismissed it. He'd been with Beth for a long time; they'd known each other through their fathers and had a few mutual friends, but when he'd interned for Walker Wallace, Beth's father, they'd gotten a lot closer. At the time, Damon had really liked her. She was intelligent, gorgeous and fun not to mention the fact that she had a way of babying and pampering him that was endearing. Things with Beth were easy; they always had been. They both came from the same world, knew the same people and, for the most part, they knew what to expect from one another.
When they'd gotten engaged, she was in her first year of law school and Damon, having earned his MBA a year earlier than expected, partly because of an unspoken sense of competition with his cousin, Simon, was on his way back to his father's company to take up his position as protégé. He was twenty-three years old and family friends, acquaintances and various big names in the business media world had begun dropping hints about an impending marriage between the two. A union between Galaxy Airlines and the technology mogul, Moore Corporations would be huge news, yet expected and somehow natural.
So, naturally, Damon had popped what seemed to be the inevitable question and Beth, delighted in sweetly modest way, had given him the only answer that seemed possible: yes. The Parents, as Damon sometimes thought of Walker and Harold as a unit, were congratulatory, mostly toward each other, but both seemed duly satisfied with the arrangement.
Arrangement. Damon closed his eyes and smiled sardonically. It was such a clinical word, but that's what it had been. An arrangement for marriage that had, from the outset, been manipulated and orchestrated by two of the best business minds in America. Of course, he didn't blame his father—or Beth's—for what had turned out to be a colossal mistake on Damon's part, but he couldn't help but feel that by only showing Damon one path—that of marrying Beth, of uniting their two companies through marriage—he'd been duped out of other possibilities in his life.
When the news of the engagement had hit newspapers, his mother, Maggie, called him from her home in France where she'd lived ever since the divorce. "Darling, are you sure this is what you want? Marriage is a life-long commitment."
Damon had been flippant; dismissive. "Yeah, I know that, Mom. Beth and I are good for each other. I can't see myself with anyone else."
She was quiet for a moment. "Maybe you should be with other women before you jump into anything. I'm not telling you to be unfaithful, but you and Beth have been together for a long time. Maybe you both need to remind yourselves that there are other options."
"You want me to back out of this so I can sleep with other women? Just to get it out of my system?" Damon didn't say what he was thinking, which was that he wasn't like his father; he didn't have a wandering eye.
"No, of course I don't want you to sew your wild oats, or whatever the saying is. I just mean," she paused. "Do you love Beth?"
"What? Yes. Absolutely. Why would I be marrying her if I didn't love her?"
"I don't know, Damon. I needed to be sure that you're sure."
"Well, I am."
"Fine. Then...when's the wedding?" his mother asked, finally seeming ready to drop the question of his being ready for marriage.
"We haven't set a date yet. There's no rush."
For Damon, there really hadn't been a rush. Both he and Beth were busy with their respective lives, but as a year passed with an engagement and no wedding date, his fiancée became frustrated.
"You'd tell me if you didn't want to marry me, wouldn't you?" she asked him one night during dinner, a year into their engagement.
Shocked, Damon had put his fork down next to a nearly untouched filet mignon drizzled in port wine sauce. "Yes, I'd tell you," he said, then quickly added, "but it doesn't matter, because I do want to marry you. And I always will." He reached across the table to take her hand. "What's wrong, Beth?"
She shrugged, dropping her gaze to the bowl of pink-pale crab bisque in front of her. "Nothing I..." she caught his gaze. "You just don't seem very eager to set a date for the wedding. And anytime I bring it up, you either don't say anything or you change the subject."
"Sweetheart, you know I want to marry you. You know I do. Things at work are crazy right now—you know how my father can be..."
Beth nodded, mutely, slowly stirring her cooling soup, not meeting Damon's eyes.
"Sweetheart..." he began, not sure what to say to ease her mind. He knew what she wanted him to say: let's set a date. But for the life of him, he couldn't bring himself to utter the words. And, for the first time, that worried him.
"I'm tired," Beth said suddenly. "Do you mind if I go home?" Already gathering her coat and purse, she pushed out from the table.
Damon stood, too. "Just let me find the waiter and I'll take you home."
She shook her head. "No, it's fine. I'll take a taxi. I need some time to think."
Not liking the sound of that, Damon's brow knit. "Beth, are you sure you're okay? We should talk about this, at least. Let me take you home."
"Please, Damon," her voice was small, fragile. "I'll call you tomorrow."
He leaned in to kiss her and she, like always, tilted her mouth up to his. Her lips were cold; immobile. Damon's stomach knotted. "Goodnight. I love you," he heard her murmur, as if from a distance.
Smiling automatically into her small, heart-shaped face, Damon replied, without thinking, "I love you, too."
But he hadn't loved her. Not really; or at least, not nearly enough to bind himself to her for the rest of his life. He'd known it and apparently, she'd known it—even before he had. Every now and then, he'd hear his mother's voice in his head, questioning him, asking if he really loved Beth. If he really wanted to marry her. For a long time, he'd have mental arguments with his mother; set out to prove her wrong. Prove that he was committed to Beth and the life they were going to have together.
Eventually, though, his mother's voice was replaced with his own. Questioning. Second-guessing.
Twenty months into their engagement, he'd finally broken down and told Beth that he needed some time to think. He'd echoed her words but, unlike his reticent calm when she'd said them, Beth began to cry. "What does this mean? Is the engagement over?"
"I don't know," he said. Repeated himself. "I don't know." And he didn't.
Always the picture of decorum and understanding, something she'd learned from living with the multi-faceted moods of her fiery father, Beth had understood. She'd given him time and space to think. To breathe. To simply be.
At first, Damon had been certain the whole thing was a huge mistake. Who was better for him than Beth? They'd known each other practically their whole lives; and things between them were so easy and calm. He liked that she never challenged him or demanded too much from him the way his father did. All Harold Moore ever did was take, and in Beth, Damon found someone so astonishingly giving that it was a bit overwhelming at times.
A month into their agreed breather, though, Damon began to wake up a bit. He looked around his life and realized that he'd been missing out on a lot. He called up a few friends from college and finally took them up on the ski weekends they'd been trying to get him to join for years. Between trying to meet every demand his father made and spending the rest of his time with Beth, Damon barely had time to think, let alone have fun simply for the sake of it. Missing the carefree nature of his younger years—before Beth and his new role at Moore Corp.—he'd lost his head a bit. There was more and more time between his phone calls to Beth; he began making and breaking dates to see her; his work was piling up on his desk and his father, ever the hard task master, was breathing fire down his neck.
For the first time, though, Damon felt free. He spent a few days in Cancun. He went out with his friends; spent way too much money in Vegas during a long weekend; he was photographed club-hopping at all of the A-list nightclubs and suddenly, there was a whole new breed of women in his world. The women that Damon was used to were refined, collected, born into old money and had degrees from some of the top schools in the nation and abroad. The new Damon, though, spent long nights drinking $300-dollar-a-bottle champagne with a pair of twin Brazilian models whose names he couldn't keep straight.
Then, he developed an ongoing flirtation with a raven-haired up-and-coming singer named Janelle. It was with her and her entourage that he'd gone to Monte Carlo.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea. No, he corrected himself, even then it hadn't seemed like a good idea. But he'd gone anyway; partly because he'd wanted to, and partly because he knew he shouldn't. He was tired of only doing the smart thing, the right thing—otherwise known as what his father wanted him to do. For once, he was going to live by his own rules.
It was only supposed to be a simple, three-day vacation. Janelle and her crew were there to film a music video for her single, "Tired of Waiting." The song had blown up huge on the U.S. music charts and she was just starting to get her first real wave of paparazzi attention. When they landed in Monte Carlo, there was a tidal wave of flashbulb light and a jumble of voices calling out, "Smile for me, Janelle!", "When's the next song coming out?," or "Who's the guy you're with?"
It didn't take long for Damon to be identified. The news hit the headlines with lightning speed. The most poetic read: "Janelle, Rising Pop Star, Holds Court With Millionaire Heir." There was a photograph, too, one that made Damon cringe when he thought about it. He and Janelle had gone skinny-dipping on his last night there. Her hotel room faced a private beach, supposedly closed to paparazzi. They'd been drunk; Janelle was giddy with the news that her song had made it to number three on the charts. Damon, exhilarated by her bubbly, carefree enthusiasm, allowed himself to be led to the beach, stripped down and—well, the photographs didn't leave much to the imagination. The ones that made it past the censors were bad enough.
The next day, his flight was just landing back in the States when his cell phone rang. It was his father. Damon, still groggy and hungover, was in no mood to talk to anyone, but he answered anyway, wanting to get it over with.