Home > Finale : A North Security Novella (North Security #4.5)

Finale : A North Security Novella (North Security #4.5)
Author: Skye Warren


Chapter One




Most people know me as the heiress to the Bradley family hotels.

It’s both right and wrong. I’m my father’s first child. His oldest daughter. I stand to inherit most of the business, but I’ve also been running it since I turned twenty-three.

That’s the year we almost went bankrupt.

My father loves travel. He loves it enough to purchase every gorgeous, quirky boutique hotel he finds, regardless of whether it’s profitable. And my brother… well, my brother Robin loves being right. He loves it enough to fire every business analyst who disagrees with him.

Between the two of them, they ran the business into the red.

“We don’t need him,” my brother mutters. Him meaning Francisco Castille, the exiled Duke of Linares. A very rich man who we very much need.

“It’s a meeting,” I say, smoothing things over. That’s my job in the family. Smoothing things over and making the numbers add up so they turn black.

“I’m looking forward to shaking his hand,” my father says. “Those villas he built in Bali are sublime. The sheets. The views. And the food. If we could partner with him and get that chef into one of our hotels—”

My brother snorts. “He’s not going to give us his Michelin starred chef.”

Dad starts to argue. If I’m not careful he’ll trade away the entire hotel chain just to get that chef. I put up a hand to silence the argument. “We’ll keep an open mind, okay? We’ll present our proposal and see what he says.”

Castille is known for being a sharp businessman. He’s also a recluse, and if the rumors are to be believed, dangerous. After a long and successful run with the bank, the economy turned. No one wants to give money to a hotel right now. And we need money. After our loan request got rejected, we received a phone call from Castille’s people. How did he find out? No idea. My brother balked at the idea. My father was curious about it. I’m the one running the forecasts into the next six months, into the next year, and I know how badly we need this. Our receptionist, a woman named Molly who’s been working for the hotel since she started as a maid forty years ago, gives us a slight nod. It means he’s on his way up.

There’s only a single elevator that comes to the top floor.

“Too fucking eager,” my brother mutters.

We’re standing in a row, waiting to receive him. “We’re just being respectful,” I whisper.

“Castille would be fucking lucky to sign a deal with us.” That’s my brother. Always boastful.

“He’s royalty,” Dad says with a gentle laugh. He’s met kings and queens over his decades in the hospitality industry. An exiled Spanish duke does not faze him. It’s another day in the life of Harris Bradley. “You know how they love pomp and circumstance.”

A discreet ding heralds the glide of the elevator doors.

It’s worth its weight in gold, that elevator. The smoothest pneumatic elevator on the market.

Rose marble inside. Titanium doors open, revealing a man.

One man.

I expect an entourage. I expect a security detail. At the very least, a secretary. Instead he’s alone. Dark hair. Dark eyes. A strong jaw. That much I knew already from blurry photos from paparazzi. What they could not capture in stolen moments is the intensity that radiates from his gaze. He sweeps us with a look that seems to take everything in—my father’s bespoke suit, my brother’s brand name clothes. My plain black pantsuit.

His gaze lingers on me. I probably look very different from the blurry paparazzi photos of me during my party girl days. Or maybe I look so different he doesn’t even recognize me. With my blonde hair in a tight bun and glasses on my nose, I’ve been mistaken for the concierge service by more than one hotel resident. I’m always polite. Always deferent.

Now I raise my chin. “Mr. Castille,” I say. “A pleasure.”

The corner of his lips quirk. “Miss Bradley. The pleasure is mine.”

So he does recognize me. I watch as he greets my father in a congenial manner. Fake, obviously. And my brother, who does the handshake squeeze competition. Castille wins that round. He’s clearly comfortable commanding a room. And he’s done his homework.

That knowing gaze sweeps across the lobby. I can see the calculations in his eyes—from the onyx sofa made of volcanic rock to the champagne brass light installation. No expense was spared in the creation of our new corporate building.

That’s part of the reason we’re in this mess.

“Exquisite,” Castille says in a cultured tone. It sounds like a compliment. My father takes it that way, preening. This is pride and joy. Unfortunately I suspect that it’s not really a compliment. Beautiful? Yes. But no hotelier should favor the staff over the guests.

“We were surprised to get your call,” my brother says, his tone goading. I tense. “I suppose there’s only so far that new construction can get you in this business. Bradley Hotels has all the connections, all the infrastructure.”

Castille manages a benign smile. Can’t my brother see the powerful mind working behind that calm expression? I want to warn him, but we’re on the stage now. This is a performance, this meeting. Every word scripted. Every movement matters.

“Naturally we’re very proud of what we’ve built,” my father says.

“Come into the office,” I say, moving so they’ll have to follow me. We need to get this conversation out of the foyer. Even though it’s private here—we trust Molly implicitly after all this time—no deals are signed in a hallway. I glance back and find Castille’s gaze on my ass. Heat rises in my cheeks. He’s definitely not the first man who’s ever checked me out. After my party scene years I almost became immune to it, but I wasn’t expecting it here. Not with my father and brother a few steps behind him. Not with a billion-dollar deal on the table.

We settle around the table. My father sits in the center, directly across from Castille. They’re the main actors in this play. My brother and I sit on either side.

“About your proposal,” Castille says. “I read it. I reject it.”

My father laughs, unfazed, though I feel my brother stiffen on the other side of him. “Now, those are just starting terms. Brainstorming, if you will. I want to hear your ideas. Your work in Bali was incredible. If we can bring some of that talent into the Bradley umbrella—”

“Forget it,” my brother says, standing. “We’re the gorilla in the room. We could make a deal with anyone; we shouldn’t even be taking a meeting with this guy.”

This is going down the drain faster than I thought. “Let’s just listen to him.”

My brother gives me a derisive look. “Go back to your spreadsheets.”

“The spreadsheets in the proposal?” Castille raises a dark brow at me. “You made those? They were well done. I appreciate a good spreadsheet.”

There’s no reason the word spreadsheet should sound suggestive, but the way the word rolls off his tongue makes it sound explicit. It occurs to me that I’m the only one at the table with a padfolio. The contract is printed inside, along with other important numbers from our business. Things we’d have to discuss if talks got serious. Castille notices, too.

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