Forever Wicked: Collar and Bell
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Copyright ©2013 Zenobia Renquist
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"Fuck!" Eric picked up a throw pillow and chucked it across the room as hard as he could. It hit the far wall and then plopped to the floor, causing no damage. Eric felt like that pillow -- decorative and superfluous.
He was the middle child of three boys. Richmond Miller, his father and the head of an apparel company worth billions, wanted to leave the presidency to the most capable son. To prove that capability, his father charged his sons to oversee smaller divisions of the company, make those divisions lucrative, and then sell them. The son who, after seven years, brought in the most money from his sale would win the presidency.
To keep his sons from competing directly and possibly interfering with each other, Richmond had told them to pick different aspects of the company. Daniel, the eldest, had gotten first pick and taken men's athletic shoes. Thanks to his basketball player endorsements, the company couldn't keep the products on the shelf. Jonas, the youngest, had followed Daniel and taken men's athletic wear. Jonas shared athletes with his brother and sometimes commercial spots.
And then there was Eric. He'd been stuck with women's apparel. He remained convinced his father was sabotaging him, since no one in his family thought he had the ability to run a company. Athletic apparel was easy. It had even turned into a fashion statement over the years. Women's fashion changed so much from one moment to the next that keeping ahead of the curve and making money seemed impossible.
Eric didn't know the first thing about women's fashion. He hardly paid attention to his own clothing choices. He bought whichever suit the clerks suggested for his medium, gym-trained build. If the occasion called for casual, he wore jeans or khakis and a single-colored cotton polo shirt. Easy.
He sighed again and shoved his hand through his short-cut black hair. It had been long once, almost to mid-back. His father had insisted he cut it so Eric would present a more businesslike appearance.
That hadn't been the end of the suggestions. And by suggestions, he meant orders. Richmond hadn't sugarcoated his words. He wanted Eric to act more like him, the way Eric's brothers did. Trying to emulate his father had given Eric an ulcer before his doctor ordered him to stop.
That was Eric. Good at taking orders. His brothers always told him he would make a great vice president, someone in the background who took care of the little things while someone else handled the big decisions. He didn't think they were wrong, though he would never admit it aloud.
He startled when a sleek black cat hopped on his lap. Simone. He'd taken her in seven months ago when he found her cold and starving in one of his warehouses. He'd never had a pet before, and some whim made him decide to make her the first.
Pets were supposed to be soothing and help relieve stress. Or so Eric had read. Simone was a great stress reliever, but he wasn't in the mood today. He scooped his hand under her belly and gave her a toss. "Not now."
The cat glared at him from where she landed. Her tail sliced the air as it switched back and forth.
"I had a bad day. All right? Sales are shitty. The employees aren't happy so customer service is being affected. The seven year deadline is almost over, and my father is probably going to stick me with this sinking ship just to teach me a lesson. How am I supposed to impress Heather's father when I'm two steps away from poverty?"
Heather was the girl Eric had liked since high school. Unfortunately, his brothers liked her too. She'd been stringing all three along since they met, never committing to one over the others. She also happened to be the daughter of the president of the company with which Richmond wanted to merge. A marriage would grease the wheels of that merger, so Richmond had encouraged his boys to pursue Heather. The brothers had come to the agreement that whoever won the seven-year trial would also win Heather. The other two brothers would back off.
Eric no longer wanted Heather. Life had introduced him to a woman more suited to him that he loved beyond distraction. He did still want Heather's company, but that dream was going down with the ship that was his failing company.
Simone continued glaring at him.
He yelled, "What?"
With a soft growl, Simone left the room.
"Shit." Eric got up and chased after her, following her to the bedroom. "Simone. Simone, wait. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you. Simone?" He looked around the room but didn't see her. Going to his knees, he looked under the bed.
When he sat back, he startled at the sight of the woman standing on the other side of the bed from him. "Simone?"
Her emerald green eyes flashed with her anger. She had her fists planted against her wide hips with her legs spread apart in a classic pissed-off stance.
Eric knew he'd screwed up when he yelled at her but he couldn't bring himself to be that worried about it since Simone was naked. She'd shifted from cat to human, and clothes didn't come with the shift.