Next in Line For Love will be out on 17 December 2019, but you can now get it in pre-sale, exclusively from my web shop here >>
As of 17 December it will only be available on Amazon.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
Next in Line For Love
© Harper Bliss
I always get a faint whiff of stale beer when I enter the Lennox Breweries offices, even though the actual brewing doesn’t happen in this building. I shake off the imagined scent and head toward the elevator bank. The lobby feels empty—too empty. What was I expecting? A welcoming committee? That would have been nice, actually.
I make my way to the top floor unescorted, briefly wondering if I got the date wrong. But how could I possibly have gotten it wrong? This is the day I start my journey to becoming Chief Executive Officer of one of the country’s oldest breweries.
When the elevator opens to the executive floor, I’m greeted by my brother Sebastian—the last person I want to see.
“Hey, Sis,” he says. The smile on his face is already annoying me. “Ready for the big league?” I know the question isn’t one born from genuine concern. Sebastian’s just here to taunt me. We’re both in our thirties, yet insulting each other is still what we do most of when we are together.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, taking his bait.
“I’m here for you, of course.” He brings a hand to my shoulder, making me believe, just for a split second, that he can be a nice guy if he really wants to be. “On your big day.” He flashes me a smile again—it’s only a fraction less annoying this time. “Someone has to make sure you don’t fuck up straight away.”
“I’m touched.” My voice drips with sarcasm. As we progress toward my father’s office suite, a few people look up; some even give me a nod or quick wave.
“You’d think the old man would be in an extraordinary mood today, what with his favorite daughter reporting for duty, but he’s just as cranky as ever,” Sebastian says. “Trust me. It’s good that I’m here.”
Our father, Jeffrey Lennox, is the kind of man who can strike the fear of God into you with a single, withering look. A man who has gotten used to taking exactly what he wants. And now I’m here to take over his biggest prize.
“If you say so.” We approach the glass box that makes up my father’s office. He’s standing by the window, gazing out over the Los Angeles skyline.
Sebastian looks at his watch. “I do have a meeting that can’t be pushed back—not even for your arrival, Ali.” He gives a curt, ridiculous bow. “You’re on your own.” So much for my brother being there for me on my big day.
You’d think it wasn’t my own father I’m about to greet, what with the way my heart is stomping in my chest. This is ridiculous. And all Sebastian has done is make me more nervous, which was probably his intention.
“Hey, Ali. Right on time.” A voice comes from behind me. “Shall we go in?”
“Jill.” I nod at the woman who has been Lennox Breweries’ Chief Operating Officer for as long as I can remember, although there must have been a time when it wasn’t her. My father makes the decisions, Jill Gold implements them.
Unlike the rest of the SoCal population, Jill’s not the sort of woman to greet you with a hug. She raps her knuckles against the glass door, opens it, and ushers me into my father’s office.
“Alexandra.” My father turns to me and opens his arms wide—as though I’ve just flown in from somewhere far away, instead of seeing him at the house two days ago. Maybe’s he’s putting on a show for Jill, but why would he? If not for Jill, then for me, perhaps? Where’s the crankiness Sebastian was talking about?
“Hi, Dad.” I walk toward him but not too close.
He keeps his arms spread, but it’s more a showy gesture than any actual desire to give me a proper hug.
“The day has finally come. You’ve come to take the crown,” he says.
“Hardly.” I can just about keep from rolling my eyes. “I still need to get my training wheels on.”
“Yes, well.” He heads behind his large desk. “You know what I mean.” He waves for Jill to come closer.
“It makes sense to take you under my wing, Ali,” Jill says. “I know everything that happens at this company. Stick with me for a while, and you’ll be ready in no time.”
“She’ll be your boss in no time,” my father says, his voice gruff.
Jill shrugs off his comment as though she won’t mind working for someone much younger than herself—as though she never considered herself for the part of CEO. But she’s not a Lennox. It was always going to be either me or Sebastian.
“The first thing we need to do,” Jill says, “is make you a viable proposition for the board.” She gives a quick shake of the head. “They’ll be expecting Sebastian.”
“That’s what you get when the board’s mostly made up of old men,” I say. If I’m going to be CEO, I shouldn’t mince my words.
“Very true,” Jill says before my father can make a comment.
“I haven’t exactly been sitting on my ass the past ten years,” I say. “You can order Lennox beer in more than a hundred countries around the world these days.”
While this is true—I’ve been working in the family business for a decade now—even I expected Sebastian to be the one to follow in Dad’s footsteps, despite him being an entitled, obnoxious douchebag.
But times have changed and suddenly share prices can plummet, even when the most logical successor is announced. When they present me as the next CEO instead of my brother, the share price should stay pretty steady. At least, that’s what my father told me when he gauged my interest in the position. It was a heart-warming way to sell me on the whole premise.
“Once we’ve got the board… on board,” Jill says, not a hint of a smile on her face, “we’ll take it from there. But that’s the first objective. We need to create the idea of stable leadership. Someone who won’t rock the boat, but is fresh at the same time.”
“No pressure.” I glance at Jill. Even though we’re in Southern California, she’s wearing a black turtleneck sweater.
“Don’t worry, Ali. I’ve got your back.” There’s something sincere—and therefore very unusual—about her, so I believe her when she says it, although I can’t completely shake off the skepticism I was raised with.
The least I can do is give her a warm smile in response.
A knock comes on the door. It’s Evelyn, my father’s personal assistant. “Dr. Barnes is here,” she says.
My father rolls his eyes and sinks into his leather chair.
“Just follow Jill around.” He as good as waves us out of the door.
Jill holds the door open for me. I’m at least five inches taller than her.
“I managed to convince him to have his blood pressure monitored twice a day. He doesn’t like it, as you can imagine,” she whispers, “but needs must.”
I follow her to her office. She points to the wall behind her desk. “We’ve set you up next door, close to all the action.”
“Thanks.” I glance around. Jill’s office is a smaller replica of my father’s. Perhaps mine will be exactly the same as well, but a little smaller still, to represent the current pecking order.
“How is he really doing? In the day-to-day?”
“He’s an old man.” Jill says it very matter-of-factly. It’s good to know she doesn’t mince her words either. “He should have stepped down years ago, but he’s more stubborn than he’s old, so…”
“Tell me about it,” I say as though I know all about it. I’ve only been back in L.A. a few weeks.
“I have some calls to make.” Jill looks at her watch. “But how about lunch together?”
“Oh, uh.” I slant my head. “I already have plans for lunch.”
“With Sebastian?” she inquires. “He can tag along.” She grins at me. “If he must.”
“Um, no. With my friend Madison. I didn’t think today was going to be, like, a whole thing.”
“A whole thing?” Jill creases her features into an expression I can only interpret as extreme disapproval. “Why do I get the impression you’re not taking this very seriously? You’re going to be CEO of Lennox Breweries, Ali. This ‘whole thing’ is going to take up a lot of your time, if not all of it. I hope you’re aware of that.”
“I’m well aware. It’s just that today’s the first day. I have the rest of my life to be serious about it.” I reach for my cellphone in the side pocket of my blazer. “But if it’s so important, I’ll have lunch with you instead.”
Jill’s phone starts ringing. She shoots me one last glance—is that some mild disdain I detect?—and turns to pick it up.
I slink out of her office, in search of my own. Maybe it’s good that we’ll have lunch, so I can manage Jill’s expectations of me. We already seem to have different ideas of what it means to become the big boss.
“I hope we didn’t get off on the wrong foot earlier.” I’m not sure why I’m being so nice to Ali—probably because she’s the boss’s daughter. And it’s my job to train her to become my next boss.
The sushi I ordered sits untouched between us on the conference table in my office.
“I’m the one who should apologize.” Ali doesn’t really sound as though she means it. For someone who has been out of the state—and out of the country—for so long, she sounds like a quintessential spoiled brat from Beverly Hills, irritating inflections in her voice included. “Tell me honestly, Jill. Am I nothing more than a figurehead here? Because that’s what I’ve been led to believe. Both by my brother and my father. They need me for the optics and that’s about it.” She glares at the food on the table, making no move to actually eat any of it. Maybe it’s not up to her standards.
I’ve been dealing with Jeffrey Lennox’s children since I started my career at Lennox Breweries—although I haven’t seen Ali in a very long time. I’ve often lamented that if Jeffrey wanted his children to succeed him, he should have raised them a little differently, but he was always too busy building his business to put much thought into his offspring.
“Lennox needs you. All of you,” I say, with feeling. “Not just your pretty face, Ali.” I want her to have a chance. She might have spent the past decade living the high life in various European and Asian cities, pretending to be export manager for the company, but if I have my way, Alexandra Lennox will become the next CEO of this company. I’d much rather have her at the helm than her brother, whose privilege has only been increased by the fact he was born male.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of that.”
“Look.” I open a bottle of overpriced Fiji water. “We have a chance here to usher this company into a new era. The only reason we even have this opportunity is because your brother screwed up one time too many. Because he thinks he can get away with anything. Well, he can’t anymore. This is a golden opportunity for us, for you and me, Ali. We can run this company together, if we want.”
I hope I’ve read Ali correctly and that she dislikes her brother as much as I do. I’ve never seen any evidence to the contrary, but years abroad can change a person.
“And let Sebastian know he cannot run things behind the scenes?” Her face lights up.
“Maybe we can even push him out in the process,” Ali says. “Shouldn’t he be in jail or something, anyway?”
“He went to rehab.” Lennoxes don’t go to jail, I add in my head.
“Fat load of good that did him.” She wrinkles up her nose. “Pity there are no rehabilitation centers for first-class douchebags…”
“I take it there have been no grand reconciliations since you’ve returned?”
Ali’s very different from her brother. I can actually have a conversation with her where things are articulated instead of insinuated. I can get to know a few things through her.
“Sebastian wants to drink my blood.” Ali leans back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest. “He won’t come out and say it, but he absolutely loathes that Dad has chosen me over him. Even though it’s his own stupid fault.”
“It’s not something he’ll get over any time soon. You’ll need to watch your back.”
“I thought you had my back.” Ali draws her lips into a smile.
“I do.” I pluck a piece of salmon sashimi from the plate in front of me. “Do you have mine?” The slice of salmon hovers in front of my mouth as I wait for Ali to reply.
“Are we forging some kind of sisterly pact over sushi?”
“We can.” I chuckle to make light of it, but it’s exactly what I want. If I can get Ali accepted by the board, I can have virtual control of this company once Jeffrey steps down. Our first move, after Senior is out of the door, will be to get rid of Sebastian. All I need is Ali Lennox on my side.
“Okay.” Ali doesn’t dismiss the idea. “I’ve always liked you, Jill. You’ve obviously steered this company through some rough patches, but… I’m not as young and naive as I used to be. And I don’t really know you. So I guess your other very important and urgent job is to make me trust you.”
“Of course.” Perhaps I underestimated Ali a little. I had my guy do some research on her, because I haven’t seen much of her while she was gallivanting around the globe. From what I’ve heard, she likes to party just as much as her brother does, but the substances she uses are always legal, which already makes her a fair bit smarter than Sebastian. “Challenge accepted.” I have quite a few years on Ali, and a whole lot more experience in business in general, and this company specifically. Getting her to trust me shouldn’t be too hard—as long as I don’t make the mistake of underestimating her. She’s still a Lennox. After their mother died, Jeffrey might have allowed Alexandra and Sebastian to do anything they wanted while he escaped into work, but they were both born with Lennox smarts. It runs in their blood.
Ali nods at me sternly, as if I’m her subordinate already.
“Now tell me, how have you been, Ali?” It’s time to lighten the mood, and to get to know her all over again. The last time I saw Jeffrey’s daughter was at her twin sister’s funeral ten years ago.
“Singapore was a hoot,” she says. “I wouldn’t have minded staying longer. They just really get extravagance there. Having a shit ton of money is, like, so normal in some countries.”
She sounds a lot like Sebastian right now. They are siblings, after all. But I decide to focus on the other parts of her—and to unearth at least one positive trait I can work with.
“How are you?” she asks, much against my expectations. Sebastian never deigns to ask me how I am. No one on this floor does. “Are you married with a couple of brats?” She squints. “Don’t tell me you’re a grandma already. I won’t believe you.”
I chuckle. She couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a reason why nobody here asks me how I’m doing. I’ve taught everyone that it’s a pointless question. I don’t discuss my private life at work, mostly because I don’t have one.
“None of that. I’ve always been married to the job, which I know is a terrible cliché.”
Ali examines my face, then nods as though she has suddenly understood something about me. I’m not sure why my palms suddenly feel moist.
“Your dedication to my family’s brews is touching,” Ali says with a grin on her face. Then she finally picks up a pair of chopsticks and starts to eat.
<< End of preview >>
Next in Line For Love will be available from Amazon on 17 December 2019.
You can now get it on pre-sale from my web shop >>