Chase – Earlier that Week, Monday
As a kid, I’d idolized my father. He’d been like Superman and God all in one. By the time I was twelve, I realized his only love was his business and my admiration of him waned. He sacrificed a good marriage and four sons to pursue his real passion: money and power.
While he’d been a terrible husband and father, he was an outstanding businessman. One that I’d come to respect and admire even if I didn’t care much for him as a father.
My father started with a tiny hotel in the SoHo district of New York City and today, Raven Industries was one of the largest privately owned hospitality conglomerates in the world. We had hotels and resorts, golf and tennis clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs all around the world. Each of us, me, my father and three brothers had our own place on the Forbes top 100 richest people in the United States.
My father was an asshole, but he was a fucking amazing businessman, who passed his knowledge and expertise on to his sons, and then let us go like chickens in a cockfight. The only thing that kept us from destroying each other was that we each had our own domain within the business. I managed the hotels and resorts, while Ash ran the nightclubs, using his tech know-how to produce holographic effects to wow customers. Kade, the baby of the family, and still a baby if you asked me, managed the restaurants. Hunter escaped the family for a time by enlisting in the Marines. There were many times I couldn’t help but wonder if he had the right idea by leaving the fold. That was until he came home and clearly, he wasn’t the same man as when he left. They say war is hell. One look at Hunter and I could see it was a hell that never left a man.
While Cam Raven, my father, may have been a terrible family man, I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed the fruits of his efforts, or that I didn’t get off on the challenge of business. I liked my life, and so, I could forgive him for being the worst father a boy could have.
But now he was standing in front of us saying that all he’d done to achieve a multi-billion-dollar empire was a mistake. That made no sense. Especially since he instilled in us from a young age that the business was the most important member of the family. He lived and breathed this business and raised us to live and breathe it too. So what the fuck was up with him?
I scanned the faces of my three younger brothers. Their surprised and suspicious expressions echo my own feelings. What’s the old man up to?
Hunter opened his mouth to speak, but my father cut him off.
“I know what you boys are thinking. It’s weak to admit to making a mistake, but when it comes to you boys, I have.” My father stood calmly at the head of the large boardroom table. I stared at him from the other end. His once dark hair was now silver. I had his sharp steel eyes, but today, his were determined instead of piercing.
“Losing your mother has changed me. Put things in perspective. I’d be a terrible father if I didn’t stop you from making the same mistakes I made,” he said.
“You are a terrible father,” Kade scoffed. While he was often rude and sarcastic, his comment was on the mark.
“I was young when I married your mother. I didn’t have the same aversion to women as you four boys seem to have—”
“I have no aversion to women. I have an aversion to marriage,” Kade said.
“Aversion to commitment then,” my father amended.
My brother Ash scowled at my father and I could only guess that it was related to the fact that he’d once been in love but had given her up, presumably because the company came first.
“My point is, we were young when we married and started having you boys. I thought we had all the time in the world to be together, so I focused on work, building a secure future for all of us.” He sat back and took a deep breath. “I got that, but now the woman I built all that for is gone.”
“You and mom haven’t had a relationship since long before she died,” I quipped. I wasn’t going to let him rewrite history. Sure, they lived in the same house and put on a good front in public, but there was no marriage at home behind closed doors. He hired people to care for her during her illness and didn’t make it home from a business trip in time to say goodbye when she finally passed.
“True. I regret that.”
“Bullshit,” Kade said under his breath.
“Now I realize that life is short. I built this business, and you boys have taken it beyond even my wildest dreams. I’m very proud of you for that. You don’t need me around anymore.”
My ears perked up at that last comment. As the oldest son, I was in line to succeed him as the company’s CEO.
“But therein lies the problem.” My father’s gaze moved from me, to Kade, to Ash, and then Hunter. “I did such a great job instilling in you that business is first, that you’ve lost sight of what’s important, just like I did. Only it’s worse for you boys. I only had me when I was growing the business, but there are four of you. I raised you to be your best, and compete for the top, even if that meant stepping on family. Your success right now, is only because I’m here and keeping your bitter rivalries from tearing this company apart.”
“That’s not true,” I said, as an unsettling feeling built in my stomach. What was he planning?
“It is true.” His piercing gray eyes pinned me down. “You know it is, Chase.”
I held his gaze, not letting him intimidate me, or make me feel bad for doing what I had to do ensure control of the company even if it meant undercutting my brothers.
“All of you are clamoring for your piece of the pie, trying to outdo and undercut each other.”
“We’re only doing what you raised us to do,” Kade said, with the same sense of annoyance I was feeling.
“I know, and that was wrong. I should have taught you to work together instead of fighting to reach the top. I’d hoped that by having you compete, you’d work harder, be smarter and more innovative, which you have been. But it also has driven a wedge between you. Your mother always hated that.”
“What’s going on here, dad?” Hunter asked, also with irritation.
“I’m planning to retire, but I can’t leave the company to you boys without risking your tearing it apart.”
That unsettling feeling turned into oh shit. What the hell was he going to do?
“So, what’s your grand plan now?” Kade asked derisively. “Who will get the company if you’re not keeping it in the family?”
“Oh, family will get the company, just not you boys.”
“Instead, your children will inherit the company,” my father said.
“Perhaps you’ve had your head stuck up your ass too long to notice that none of us have children,” I pointed out. “None of us are married, and as you said earlier, none of us have any prospects for getting married.”
“I think he’s gone mad. We should have him tested for dementia or maybe simply committed,” Kade said with his usual edge.
I ignore his comment. “Seriously, how can our families inherit the business if we don’t have them?”
“The only reason you don’t have families is because you’re too focused on working and outdoing each other.”
“Again,” Kade piped in. “That’s because you wanted us to be like that.”
“And now I want you to change.” My father leaned forward, resting his hands on the table. “I know this seems out of character, but I’m telling you, you don’t want to get to be my age and have a life full of regrets.”
I scoffed. “Your age. You’re not even sixty.”
“I’ve got fewer years ahead of me than behind me. Except for money what do I have? I have a wife who grew to resent and hate me by the time she died, and four sons who despise each other and me.”
That wasn’t completely true. While my brothers and I wouldn’t be described as close, we didn’t hate each other. Still, we did compete, often ruthlessly.
“I’ll die alone and I don’t like that prospect. So, my gift to you is helping you change while you still can.”
“I don’t want to change,” I said. I had nothing against marriage for most people, but it wasn’t for me. I liked women when I had an itch, but other than that, I was all about business, just like dad wanted. Or at least, how he had wanted it.
“You’re something else,” Ash said bitterly to my father.
“I know. But here’s the deal: until you settle down, you won’t inherit any part of my business. Your inheritances are now in a trust until you find a wife and have a child. No family, no business.”
“What if we can’t have kids?” Hunter said.
“Did the war kill your swimmers?” Kade asked.
Asshole, I thought.
Hunter shrugged. I supposed fighting in Iraq made Kade’s stupid quips seem, well, stupid.
“There’s always adoption,” my father said, clearly having thought this through.
“It won’t hold up in court,” Ash muttered.
My father shrugged. “You can waste your time and money in court, or you can consider that maybe I’m doing something that will improve your lives.” He stood and buttoned his coat. “I regret where we are today in our relationship. This is my chance to make it right.” He walked out the door.
In the corner, my father’s assistant, Alexandra stood. It was amazing how she could blend into the background like she wasn’t there.
“You know, you might pay attention to what he’s saying he wants for you. Maybe if you gave his plan a try, you might not end up being complete assholes.” She gave us a sarcastic smile and then followed my father out of the room.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Alex curse before,” Kade said, watching the door close behind her.
“She must swear all the time working for him,” Ash said.
I sat back, feeling a bit overwhelmed. I ran my fingers through my hair and tried to come up with a solution. “Ash, call Jacobs and find out if this plan can be legally enforced,” I said, referring to one of our on-retainer lawyers.
“It might be a conflict of interest since he represents Dad as well,” Ash responded.
“Let’s call a doctor instead.” Kade rose and went to the table where Alex had set up coffee and pastries. He poured a cup of coffee and drank, although I suspected he wished for something stronger. “Dad is completely fucked in the head. Maybe we can arrange a lobotomy.”
Hunter scowled. “Be serious for once, Kade.”
“I don’t take advice from jarheads.”
“Stop being a fucking asshole, Kade!” I snapped. We didn’t get along, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t stand up for my brothers, even against another one. Hunter served his country, and he had the emotional scars to prove it.
“Maybe you should take advice from jarheads, Kade,” Hunter said, his voice low but lethal. “Your life could depend on it.”
“What does that mean?” Kade strode to Hunter.
“Jesus, Kade, sit your ass down.” I looked at my brothers. “We need to focus here.”
“Who died and made you God?” Ash said.
“Mom, did,” Kade said sitting in his chair. “Chase was always her favorite.”
“Oh please, spoiled younger brother,” Ash responded.
I sat back as the chaos of barbs and taunts ensued. Maybe my father was right. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to work together to keep the company thriving after he died. We couldn’t even have a civil conversation. How would we run a multi-billion-dollar empire?