Shattered by the CEO(8)

By: Emilie Rose

“C’mon, Rand. You and Tara disappeared on the same day.”

Tara’s gasp drew Rand’s attention to the door. Her wide-eyed expression indicated she’d overheard. She searched his face as if seeking confirmation of Mitch’s statement.

So she hadn’t been lying. About that. She really hadn’t known he’d left KCL.

“I—I have the first-aid kit. Let me see your cut,” Tara said when he neither confirmed nor denied Mitch’s statement. Her heels tapped out a brisk beat as she crossed the marble floor. She set a small plastic box on the desk, opened it and extracted the necessary items, then held out her hand.

Rand cursed himself for being a fool. Why had he thought he could walk back in here and have things be the same—specifically his formerly close relationship with his brother? He regretted that casualty more than any other, but he’d sowed those bitter seeds with his silence, and now he’d have to harvest the crop of resentment.

He laid the back of his hand in Tara’s palm and discovered that some things hadn’t changed. Even knowing she was a liar didn’t stop that same old zing from ripping through his veins. Her familiar sultry, spicy fragrance filled his lungs as she bent over her task. He welcomed the distracting sting of disinfectant as she gently cleaned the nick.

“Should I have the staff prepare your old suite of rooms at the house?” Mitch asked.

Rand’s living arrangements were only going to add fuel to the rumors. Was that Tara’s plan? Did she think she could use gossip to force him into a commitment? If so, she’d be disappointed.

Rand met Tara’s gaze then his brother’s. “I have a place lined up. Besides, you already have company.”

Mitch’s part of the will required him to play daddy to a child from one of their father’s affairs, a one-year-old half brother Rand hadn’t known existed until Richards handed out inheritance assignments. The boy and his guardian had moved into Kincaid Manor. Rand had yet to meet the kid. But in his opinion, the boy was better off not having Everett Kincaid in his life.

Tara quickly and efficiently bandaged Rand’s finger, then released his hand and packed away her first-aid supplies without mentioning their cohabitation. If she planned to use it as leverage, then why hadn’t she informed Mitch?

“Human resources has the first candidate for the director of shared services position downstairs. Which one of you is conducting the final interviews?” she asked.

“Show him or her to the conference room,” Rand directed and looked at Mitch. “Meet me there in five. You know Nadia’s current duties better than I do, and you’ll be better able to gauge which applicant can handle them. But I’m sitting in. The COO should join us, too.”

“There is no chief operating officer. Dad eliminated the position when you left.”

Rand banked the information to deal with later. No doubt that action had launched its own series of rumors. “Then we’ll handle the interviews together. As a team.”

Mitch remained motionless for a full ten seconds, his gaze direct and hard. Rand held his brother’s challenging stare and once again cursed his father for putting Rand in what should have been Mitch’s job. As chief financial officer, his brother was the logical choice if the COO position had been eliminated—even if Rand had been raised to be CEO of KCL and had the experience of the top job with the competition. Mitch nodded and left Rand’s office. Tara turned to follow him.

“Tara.” She paused then looked at Rand. He lifted his hand to indicate the bandage. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” She bit her lip and shifted on her sandaled feet. “Did you leave because of me?”

The pain in her voice slipped between his ribs quicker than his pen knife had pricked his finger. He hardened himself to the wounded shadows in her eyes.

She was a damned good actress. Too bad her talent was wasted on him.

“You were merely the straw that broke this camel’s back. You and my father deserved each other.”

She flinched. “But I—”

“What, Tara?” he barked when she didn’t continue.

Her chin and gaze fell. “Nothing.”

“Good. Because the subject of the past is closed. Clear?”

Her shoulders snapped straight. “Yes, sir. Anything else?”

Rand scanned his father’s—and now his—domain. He’d always hated this office. With its architectural glass-and-chrome desk, the bare, cold marble floors and the glass walls overlooking Biscayne Bay, the room looked more like a trophy case than a workspace. An empty trophy case. He eyed his father’s metal mesh ergonomic chair with disgust. The old man’s motto—“a real executive never looks like he’s working”—rang in Rand’s ears.

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