Cary Bell woke with a start when an alarm went off in his head.
No, wait, it was just his cell ringing. And seeing as how he’d fallen asleep at his desk with his face resting on the phone, it felt like the ringing was coming from inside his skull. He fumbled for it. It was a FaceTime from Rose, his cousin Marcus’s fiancée. He sighed and accepted the video call, bracing himself for Hurricane Rosie.
“Happy New Year!” she shouted. Then she squinted at him. “Why do you have a dent in your forehead? Wait. I see a printer in the background. Are you still at work?”
He rubbed his head. “I fell asleep on top of my phone.” He didn’t answer her second question.
She furrowed her brow. “I was going to yell at you for not coming to meet us like you promised. But maybe I should yell at you to go home to bed, instead.”
“I meant to come.” He really had. He’d begged off dinner with his cousin and Rose and their friends, but had planned on meeting them before midnight at Edward’s, their regular watering hole. He’d been working flat-out the past couple of weeks nurturing his fledgling business, but even so, he hadn’t planned to stay past midnight because the turn of this particular year was symbolic, and he had wanted to mark it.
This was going to be the year he got out from under his uncle’s thumb, took his skills, and parlayed them into something new. Something his. Following the footsteps of his older cousin, Marcus, Cary was in the process of extracting the silver spoon from his mouth and getting on with life on his own terms. He was going to be successful, and this time it would be because he deserved it, not because he was a lucky kid who had everything handed to him.
It was going to be a great year.
If he could just get this dent out of his forehead.
Twenty minutes later, Cary was hoisting a Manhattan and clinking glasses with Marcus and Rose and their friends. Better late than never.
“I got you a client,” Marcus said, pulling him into a corner after everyone had exchanged New Year’s greetings.
“I have clients,” Cary said. It was true. He’d walked away from his job as manager of the investment firm his great grandfather had founded three generations ago, but he left with a handful of loyal clients who had followed him. He had a staff of two and a small, swish office in a corner of his cousin’s ad agency in Toronto’s prestigious Lakefront Centre. He wasn’t playing in the big leagues yet, but he had a nice pool of capital invested already, and his returns, so far, were stellar. The question was, could he keep it up? Could he truly start over and make something of himself without the Rosemann family name behind him? Could he succeed without the backing of his powerful uncle? He sure as hell hoped so.
But whether he succeeded or lost everything—he’d sold his house and poured all of his personal wealth into his funds—he was going to do it on his own. He was already letting Marcus give him free office space, and that was enough. He didn’t need his successful cousin handing him clients on a silver platter, too.
“You have clients, sure,” said Marcus, “but you don’t have Eleanor Southam.”
Cary fought back against the impulse to press Marcus for more information. Eleanor Southam was the heir to a mining magnate and was a local tastemaker who could probably bring others in with her. Southam would be a coup.
When he didn’t say anything, Marcus said, “Listen, I of all people support your decision to go out on your own, but no one does everything themselves. Success in business is about networking, leveraging connections. If you don’t realize that, you might as well give up now.”
“I’m not going to take a huge client because you just hand her to me,” Cary protested, as much as it pained him to do so. But he had to. If this all went belly-up and he lost everything, he needed to make sure he still had his pride to cushion his fall. Because nothing else was going to.
“We’re doing an ad campaign for her, and she was mentioning she was looking for some new investment avenues,” Marcus said. “So I’m not handing her to you. I just had a conversation with her. This is how rich people stay rich, Cary. They talk to each other.” He shook his head. “For an alleged financial genius, you can be kind of an idiot.”
Cary sighed. Maybe he was cutting off his nose to spite his face here. “Who is Southam with now?”
“Dominion’s private wealth management arm.”
Cary tried not to flinch, but every time he heard Dominion Bank referenced, it was like an invisible hand probing at a wound that never quite healed.
“So you wouldn’t be taking her from me,” Marcus went on. “You’d be taking her from Dominion—the Goliath to your David, if you like.”
No, I’d be taking her from Alex.
And he liked to think that he’d screwed over Alexander Evangelista enough for one lifetime.
But that was stupid. Alex was the CEO of Dominion Bank, Canada’s largest, oldest, and most prestigious. He wasn’t worried about individual clients on the private wealth side. There were probably half a dozen layers of management between Alex and Eleanor Southam. And in the two decades that had elapsed since Cary and Alex had gone to summer camp together, Alex had become one of the richest, most successful people in the country. There was no way he even remembered what Cary had done to him back then.
Except Cary knew that was a lie.
He thought back to all the times he’d seen Alex from afar at parties or industry events in recent years. They never spoke, but Cary felt the freeze. The disdain. Alex was known for being a cool customer, a smooth operator, but his attitude toward Cary was more than that.
The man was holding a grudge.
And Cary didn’t blame him.
Marcus handed him a business card. “I don’t know what your problem is, but here’s Southam’s info. Call her. You’d be an idiot not to.”
Marcus’s fiancée Rose bounded up dressed to the nines in a yellow sequined mini-dress. He tried to muster a smile. She would be expecting his usual bantering, pain-in-the-butt persona, which, unlike other members of his conservative family, Rose actually seemed to delight in. Everyone else was always telling him to grow up, but not Rose. Or maybe she was just as immature as he was.
“Who’s an idiot?” Rose asked, slipping her hand into Marcus’s.
“Cary,” said Marcus without hesitating. “He’s being stubborn for no reason.”
“I must have learned from the best, cuz,” Cary said, flashing a grin he hoped looked less hollow than it felt and trying to play his role. He turned to Rose. “You look stunning as always. You’d better be careful, or you’ll lure me over to the breeder team.” He pretended to shudder.
Rose, who normally would have gotten right into it with him, tilted her head. “Don’t be an idiot, Cary.”
“You don’t even know what this is about,” he argued, feeling petulant—feeling a little like the teenager he had been at Camp Blue Lake, in fact. Maybe his family was right, and he was immature. God knew, he certainly spent enough time reliving the summer he was fifteen years old.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Rose. “You’re not an idiot, so don’t act like one.”
Then she smiled her great big smile that practically lit up the room. Cary generally made a point of razzing Rose—she was so very razz-able. But he had no doubt that when she’d exploded into his cousin’s life last summer, Marcus had hit the jackpot.
So he mustered a smile—a genuine one this time as he kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll try not to.”
“Happy New Year, Cary,” she said. “It’s gonna be a great one for you. I can just tell.”