The Power of Love - Harper Bliss - E-Book

The Power of Love E-Book

Harper Bliss

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Beschreibung

THIS BOX SET INCLUDES THREE NOVELS FOR 50% OFF!


Three best-selling novels from the queen of lesbian age-gap romance!


If you believe that age is just a number, this box set is perfect binge-reading material for you.


This digital three-book bundle includes Next in Line For LoveA Swing at Love and Seasons of Love. All books have been Lesbian Romance best sellers and have garnered countless 5-star reviews.


Whether you like your age-gap romance extra sultry or prefer it clean and sweet, this box set has got you covered.


Here's what you will find inside:


Next in Line For Love - Can the road to the top take you on a path to love?


After a decade abroad, Ali returns home to Los Angeles to take over her family’s brewing business. But longtime COO Jill is in no mood to mentor Ali, who she sees as privileged and inexperienced. As they’re forced to work together, could they both find love in the last place they expected?


A Swing at Love - On the fairway of life, love comes when you least expect it
(Co-written with Harper's wife Caroline, aka Mrs Bliss)


Meeting at the golf club, fiftysomething divorcée Diane hasn’t had much luck with suitors, while Tamsin is reeling from a breakup with a younger woman. When their attraction takes them by surprise, will they have the courage to take a swing at love?


Seasons of Love - A successful solicitor, her business partner’s daughter, and their unexpected chance at love


In this passionate romance, Alice’s vacation heats up when she meets Joy, her law partner’s attractive daughter. But can her summer fling with a younger woman turn into a love that lasts? A steamy May-December romance!


Buy this great-value box set now and let yourself be swept away by the page-turning power of age-gap love!

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Contents

Special Offer from the Author

Next in Line for Love

1. Ali

2. Jill

3. Ali

4. Jill

5. Ali

6. Jill

7. Ali

8. Jill

9. Ali

10. Jill

11. Ali

12. Jill

13. Ali

14. Jill

15. Ali

16. Jill

17. Ali

18. Jill

19. Ali

20. Jill

21. Ali

22. Jill

23. Ali

24. Jill

25. Ali

26. Jill

27. Ali

28. Jill

29. Ali

30. Jill

31. Ali

32. Jill

33. Ali

34. Jill

35. Ali

36. Jill

37. Ali

38. Jill

39. Ali

40. Jill

A Swing at Love

Preface

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

A Word from the Authors

Seasons of Love

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Excerpt of If You Kiss Me Like That

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

A Note from Harper

Get Three Books FOR FREE

About the Author

Also by Harper Bliss

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Sign up for the no-spam newsletter and get FEW HEARTS SURVIVE, a Pink Bean Series novella, and two other books for free.

Details can be found at the end of this book.

Next in Line for Love

About the Book

Can the road to the top take you on a path to love?

After ten years abroad, Alexandra ‘Ali’ Lennox’s father asks her to move back to Los Angeles to head the family company, Lennox Breweries.

The company’s COO, Jill Gold, has dedicated twenty years of her life to Lennox Breweries and is not amused when she’s asked to mentor Ali, who she considers to be nothing more than a privileged trust-fund brat.

Even though they don’t see eye to eye, Ali and Jill will have to learn to trust each other for the sake of the company—and each other.

Can Jill change her mind about Ali’s smug entitlement? And will Ali be able to come to terms with the past hurt that drove her away from L.A. in the first place?

1

Ali

I always get a faint whiff of stale beer when I enter the Lennox Breweries offices, even though the actual brewing doesn’t happen in this building. I shake off the imagined scent and head toward the elevator bank. The lobby feels empty—too empty. What was I expecting? A welcoming committee? That would have been nice, actually.

I make my way to the top floor unescorted, briefly wondering if I got the date wrong. But how could I possibly have gotten it wrong? This is the day I start my journey to becoming Chief Executive Officer of one of the country’s oldest breweries.

When the elevator opens to the executive floor, I’m greeted by my brother Sebastian—the last person I want to see.

“Hey, Sis,” he says. The smile on his face is already annoying me. “Ready for the big league?” I know the question isn’t one born from genuine concern. Sebastian’s just here to taunt me. We’re both in our thirties, yet insulting each other is still what we do most of when we are together.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, taking his bait.

“I’m here for you, of course.” He brings a hand to my shoulder, making me believe, just for a split second, that he can be a nice guy if he really wants to be. “On your big day.” He flashes me a smile again—it’s only a fraction less annoying this time. “Someone has to make sure you don’t fuck up straight away.”

“I’m touched.” My voice drips with sarcasm. As we progress toward my father’s office suite, a few people look up; some even give me a nod or quick wave.

“You’d think the old man would be in an extraordinary mood today, what with his favorite daughter reporting for duty, but he’s just as cranky as ever,” Sebastian says. “Trust me. It’s good that I’m here.”

Our father, Jeffrey Lennox, is the kind of man who can strike the fear of God into you with a single, withering look. A man who has gotten used to taking exactly what he wants. And now I’m here to take over his biggest prize.

“If you say so.” We approach the glass box that makes up my father’s office. He’s standing by the window, gazing out over the Los Angeles skyline.

Sebastian looks at his watch. “I do have a meeting that can’t be pushed back—not even for your arrival, Ali.” He gives a curt, ridiculous bow. “You’re on your own.” So much for my brother being there for me on my big day.

You’d think it wasn’t my own father I’m about to greet, what with the way my heart is stomping in my chest. This is ridiculous. And all Sebastian has done is make me more nervous, which was probably his intention.

“Hey, Ali. Right on time.” A voice comes from behind me. “Shall we go in?”

“Jill.” I nod at the woman who has been Lennox Breweries’ Chief Operating Officer for as long as I can remember, although there must have been a time when it wasn’t her. My father makes the decisions, Jill Gold implements them.

Unlike the rest of the SoCal population, Jill’s not the sort of woman to greet you with a hug. She raps her knuckles against the glass door, opens it, and ushers me into my father’s office.

“Alexandra.” My father turns to me and opens his arms wide—as though I’ve just flown in from somewhere far away, instead of seeing him at the house two days ago. Maybe’s he’s putting on a show for Jill, but why would he? If not for Jill, then for me, perhaps? Where’s the crankiness Sebastian was talking about?

“Hi, Dad.” I walk toward him but not too close.

He keeps his arms spread, but it’s more a showy gesture than any actual desire to give me a proper hug.

“The day has finally come. You’ve come to take the crown,” he says.

“Hardly.” I can just about keep from rolling my eyes. “I still need to get my training wheels on.”

“Yes, well.” He heads behind his large desk. “You know what I mean.” He waves for Jill to come closer.

“It makes sense to take you under my wing, Ali,” Jill says. “I know everything that happens at this company. Stick with me for a while, and you’ll be ready in no time.”

“She’ll be your boss in no time,” my father says, his voice gruff.

Jill shrugs off his comment as though she won’t mind working for someone much younger than herself—as though she never considered herself for the part of CEO. But she’s not a Lennox. It was always going to be either me or Sebastian.

“The first thing we need to do,” Jill says, “is make you a viable proposition for the board.” She gives a quick shake of the head. “They’ll be expecting Sebastian.”

“That’s what you get when the board’s mostly made up of old men,” I say. If I’m going to be CEO, I shouldn’t mince my words.

“Very true,” Jill says before my father can make a comment.

“I haven’t exactly been sitting on my ass the past ten years,” I say. “You can order Lennox beer in more than a hundred countries around the world these days.”

While this is true—I’ve been working in the family business for a decade now—even I expected Sebastian to be the one to follow in Dad’s footsteps, despite him being an entitled, obnoxious douchebag.

But times have changed and suddenly share prices can plummet, even when the most logical successor is announced. When they present me as the next CEO instead of my brother, the share price should stay pretty steady. At least, that’s what my father told me when he gauged my interest in the position. It was a heart-warming way to sell me on the whole premise.

“Once we’ve got the board… on board,” Jill says, not a hint of a smile on her face, “we’ll take it from there. But that’s the first objective. We need to create the idea of stable leadership. Someone who won’t rock the boat, but is fresh at the same time.”

“No pressure.” I glance at Jill. Even though we’re in Southern California, she’s wearing a black turtleneck sweater.

“Don’t worry, Ali. I’ve got your back.” There’s something sincere—and therefore very unusual—about her, so I believe her when she says it, although I can’t completely shake off the skepticism I was raised with.

The least I can do is give her a warm smile in response.

A knock comes on the door. It’s Evelyn, my father’s personal assistant. “Dr. Barnes is here,” she says.

My father rolls his eyes and sinks into his leather chair.

“Just follow Jill around.” He as good as waves us out of the door.

Jill holds the door open for me. I’m at least five inches taller than her.

“I managed to convince him to have his blood pressure monitored twice a day. He doesn’t like it, as you can imagine,” she whispers, “but needs must.”

I follow her to her office. She points to the wall behind her desk. “We’ve set you up next door, close to all the action.”

“Thanks.” I glance around. Jill’s office is a smaller replica of my father’s. Perhaps mine will be exactly the same as well, but a little smaller still, to represent the current pecking order.

“How is he really doing? In the day-to-day?”

“He’s an old man.” Jill says it very matter-of-factly. It’s good to know she doesn’t mince her words either. “He should have stepped down years ago, but he’s more stubborn than he’s old, so…”

“Tell me about it,” I say as though I know all about it. I’ve only been back in L.A. a few weeks.

“I have some calls to make.” Jill looks at her watch. “But how about lunch together?”

“Oh, uh.” I slant my head. “I already have plans for lunch.”

“With Sebastian?” she inquires. “He can tag along.” She grins at me. “If he must.”

“Um, no. With my friend Madison. I didn’t think today was going to be, like, a whole thing.”

“A whole thing?” Jill creases her features into an expression I can only interpret as extreme disapproval. “Why do I get the impression you’re not taking this very seriously? You’re going to be CEO of Lennox Breweries, Ali. This ‘whole thing’ is going to take up a lot of your time, if not all of it. I hope you’re aware of that.”

“I’m well aware. It’s just that today’s the first day. I have the rest of my life to be serious about it.” I reach for my cellphone in the side pocket of my blazer. “But if it’s so important, I’ll have lunch with you instead.”

Jill’s phone starts ringing. She shoots me one last glance—is that some mild disdain I detect?—and turns to pick it up.

I slink out of her office, in search of my own. Maybe it’s good that we’ll have lunch, so I can manage Jill’s expectations of me. We already seem to have different ideas of what it means to become the big boss.

2

Jill

“I hope we didn’t get off on the wrong foot earlier.” I’m not sure why I’m being so nice to Ali—probably because she’s the boss’s daughter. And it’s my job to train her to become my next boss.

The sushi I ordered sits untouched between us on the conference table in my office.

“I’m the one who should apologize.” Ali doesn’t really sound as though she means it. For someone who has been out of the state—and out of the country—for so long, she sounds like a quintessential spoiled brat from Beverly Hills, irritating inflections in her voice included. “Tell me honestly, Jill. Am I nothing more than a figurehead here? Because that’s what I’ve been led to believe. Both by my brother and my father. They need me for the optics and that’s about it.” She glares at the food on the table, making no move to actually eat any of it. Maybe it’s not up to her standards.

I’ve been dealing with Jeffrey Lennox’s children since I started my career at Lennox Breweries—although I haven’t seen Ali in a very long time. I’ve often lamented that if Jeffrey wanted his children to succeed him, he should have raised them a little differently, but he was always too busy building his business to put much thought into his offspring.

“Lennox needs you. All of you,” I say, with feeling. “Not just your pretty face, Ali.” I want her to have a chance. She might have spent the past decade living the high life in various European and Asian cities, pretending to be export manager for the company, but if I have my way, Alexandra Lennox will become the next CEO of this company. I’d much rather have her at the helm than her brother, whose privilege has only been increased by the fact he was born male.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that.”

“Look.” I open a bottle of overpriced Fiji water. “We have a chance here to usher this company into a new era. The only reason we even have this opportunity is because your brother screwed up one time too many. Because he thinks he can get away with anything. Well, he can’t anymore. This is a golden opportunity for us, for you and me, Ali. We can run this company together, if we want.”

I hope I’ve read Ali correctly and that she dislikes her brother as much as I do. I’ve never seen any evidence to the contrary, but years abroad can change a person.

“And let Sebastian know he cannot run things behind the scenes?” Her face lights up.

“Exactly.”

“Maybe we can even push him out in the process,” Ali says. “Shouldn’t he be in jail or something, anyway?”

“He went to rehab.” Lennoxes don’t go to jail, I add in my head.

“Fat load of good that did him.” She wrinkles up her nose. “Pity there are no rehabilitation centers for first-class douchebags…”

“I take it there have been no grand reconciliations since you’ve returned?”

Ali’s very different from her brother. I can actually have a conversation with her where things are articulated instead of insinuated. I can get to know a few things through her.

“Sebastian wants to drink my blood.” Ali leans back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest. “He won’t come out and say it, but he absolutely loathes that Dad has chosen me over him. Even though it’s his own stupid fault.”

“It’s not something he’ll get over any time soon. You’ll need to watch your back.”

“I thought you had my back.” Ali draws her lips into a smile.

“I do.” I pluck a piece of salmon sashimi from the plate in front of me. “Do you have mine?” The slice of salmon hovers in front of my mouth as I wait for Ali to reply.

“Are we forging some kind of sisterly pact over sushi?”

“We can.” I chuckle to make light of it, but it’s exactly what I want. If I can get Ali accepted by the board, I can have virtual control of this company once Jeffrey steps down. Our first move, after Senior is out of the door, will be to get rid of Sebastian. All I need is Ali Lennox on my side.

“Okay.” Ali doesn’t dismiss the idea. “I’ve always liked you, Jill. You’ve obviously steered this company through some rough patches, but… I’m not as young and naive as I used to be. And I don’t really know you. So I guess your other very important and urgent job is to make me trust you.”

“Of course.” Perhaps I underestimated Ali a little. I had my guy do some research on her, because I haven’t seen much of her while she was gallivanting around the globe. From what I’ve heard, she likes to party just as much as her brother does, but the substances she uses are always legal, which already makes her a fair bit smarter than Sebastian. “Challenge accepted.” I have quite a few years on Ali, and a whole lot more experience in business in general, and this company specifically. Getting her to trust me shouldn’t be too hard—as long as I don’t make the mistake of underestimating her. She’s still a Lennox. After their mother died, Jeffrey might have allowed Alexandra and Sebastian to do anything they wanted while he escaped into work, but they were both born with Lennox smarts. It runs in their blood.

Ali nods at me sternly, as if I’m her subordinate already.

“Now tell me, how have you been, Ali?” It’s time to lighten the mood, and to get to know her all over again. The last time I saw Jeffrey’s daughter was at her twin sister’s funeral ten years ago.

“Singapore was a hoot,” she says. “I wouldn’t have minded staying longer. They just really get extravagance there. Having a shit ton of money is, like, so normal in some countries.”

She sounds a lot like Sebastian right now. They are siblings, after all. But I decide to focus on the other parts of her—and to unearth at least one positive trait I can work with.

“How are you?” she asks, much against my expectations. Sebastian never deigns to ask me how I am. No one on this floor does. “Are you married with a couple of brats?” She squints. “Don’t tell me you’re a grandma already. I won’t believe you.”

I chuckle. She couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a reason why nobody here asks me how I’m doing. I’ve taught everyone that it’s a pointless question. I don’t discuss my private life at work, mostly because I don’t have one.

“None of that. I’ve always been married to the job, which I know is a terrible cliché.”

Ali examines my face, then nods as though she has suddenly understood something about me. I’m not sure why my palms suddenly feel moist.

“Your dedication to my family’s brews is touching,” Ali says with a grin on her face. Then she finally picks up a pair of chopsticks and starts to eat.

3

Ali

“What are you drinking?” I ask Madison.

The party has clearly been going on for a while. Just as I was leaving, my father called me into his office to explain his ideas for the future of Lennox Breweries in great detail, making me late. As he droned on and on, the way he does much more these days than he used to, I thought about how I had been looking forward to this party all week and how I had promised Madison I’d be there early, and definitely before any other guests arrived.

“A non-alcoholic IPA,” she says. “It’s all the rage.” Madison doesn’t seem cross with me for being late. She’s her usual relaxed self.

“Can I see?” She gives me the bottle. “This isn’t a Lennox beer,” I quickly conclude.

“Lennox doesn’t do non-alcoholic IPAs. I’d be surprised if you produced any IPAs at all,” Madison says. “If you do, they probably taste like dishwater.”

“Excuse moi.” I glare at Madison. We’ve been poking fun at my family’s business all our lives, but now that I actually work there—although not much actual work has been done so far—it feels somehow inappropriate. “That’s my company you’re talking about.”

Madison shrugs. “Now you’re back in the motherland, are you still export manager? Can you actually perform your exporting tasks from the great city of Los Angeles? You know, without deserting your best friend for years? If yes, you could have come back to me sooner.”

Father as good as made me swear an oath to not tell anyone about the real reason for my return. So far, I’ve obeyed. It feels weird to not tell Madison, who I’ve always confided in, even when I lived thousands of miles away. “I think we’re trying to figure out a new role for me,” I say. It’s close enough to the truth so I don’t feel like I’m lying to my best friend. I ignore her remark about my physical absence from her life for the past ten years.

I take a sip from her alcohol-free beer. “Not bad.”

“Maybe you can be in charge of non-alcoholic beer. Start by introducing it,” Madison says.

“Maybe.” I don’t give the beer back. It has become market research as far as I’m concerned.

We’re sitting on the patio overlooking the pool. A few people have stripped down and jumped into the water.

“It feels like I’ve gone back in time about fifteen years.” I glance at Madison. “A pool party.”

“Why not? This is L.A. This is what we do.” She bumps her knee against mine. “It’s hardly been any fun without you, Lennox.”

Madison knows why I needed to get away when I did. I can hardly claim I came back a different person, but something inside me has changed. Calmed down, perhaps.

A topless woman jumps into the pool, catching my full attention. When she emerges, her wet hair slicked back, I squint to get a better look at her face. “Is that Angel Ashby?”

“It is,” Madison says, and follows up with a chuckle. “You’ll never guess who she’s dating.”

“Wait…” I turn to Madison and study her face. “Not you, right?”

Madison shakes her head. “Do you really think that if I was dating Angel Ashby you wouldn’t know about it?”

“I’ve been away. You might be keeping things from me.” I smile at her. “Who?”

“Wendy Nichols.”

“Our Wendy Nichols?”

“It’s allowed these days. At least for B-list actresses. A-list is still quite frowned upon.”

“Wow.” I take another sip from the alcohol-free beer. It might be all the rage, but I could do with something stronger.

“Look at you all caught up in the gay glitz of Hollywood.” I wink at Madison. She recently had a part in Everything Right Now, a critically acclaimed but niche Netflix show about a bunch of jaded West Hollywood queers. When I watched it, I joked she was basically playing herself.

“I am the queen of gay glitz, darling,” she says.

“Oh, really?”

“Well, you were gone so what was I going to do?”

“Take my throne.” I glance at her again. “You’re very welcome to it.”

“So I sit here every weekend, surveying my queendom. It’s quite nice.” She looks at the people frolicking in her pool.

“You know everyone here, don’t you?” I follow Madison’s gaze. My eyes are automatically drawn to Angel Ashby. Growing up in L.A. hasn’t made me totally immune to Hollywood star power.

“Of course I do. No strangers in my pool.”

“She’s hot.” I know I can say whatever I want in front of Madison.

“Hands off, though. She’s with Wendy.”

“What do you take me for?”

“I take you for exactly what you are, Alexandra Lennox. A woman who always gets what she wants.” I feel Madison’s stare on me. “You haven’t always considered other people’s feelings, Ali. I’ve seen you put the moves on women who were not available plenty of times before.”

“Only because they made themselves available to me,” I joke. Although Madison’s right. Before I left L.A.—and quite a few years after—I wouldn’t have had any qualms hitting on someone like Angel Ashby, even if I knew she was with someone else.

“Obnoxiousness alert,” Madison says.

“I was just kidding.” I give her a look.

“Do you have a preferred type these days?” she asks. “Butch? Boi? High femme? Low femme? All or any of those?”

“Christ.” I turn toward her again. “We do love a good old label in the US of A. I have found that overseas, people are much less boxed in.”

“You know, even when you’re trying to say something profound, and maybe even potentially correct, you still manage to sound so fucking entitled.” Madison chuckles.

“It’s part of my charm, Mads.” I say it with confidence, but, lately, I have begun to question my privilege somewhat.

“You haven’t answered my question,” Madison insists.

I gaze around the garden—scanning for prey, as we used to call it. “I quite fancy myself some of that.” I discreetly point at a woman reclining in a lounger on the other side of the pool. She has legs for days and is wearing only a skimpy bikini. Her skin glistens from a recent stint in the pool. “Who is she?”

“A girl I know,” Madison says enigmatically.

“Oh. Does that mean hands-off?” I look her in the eye.

“Nah. It’s over.”

“You were with her?”

Madison nods. “Just for a little while.”

“You stayed friends, obviously.”

“Sort of. I didn’t really think she’d come tonight and… flaunt her wares like that.”

I giggle at how she puts it. “You’re not over her? What’s her name?”

“Bethany,” Madison says wistfully.

“Is there anything I can do to make Bethany like you again?” I bring my face close to hers. “Do you want me to kiss you to make her jealous and realize what she’s missing out on?”

“We’re not in our crazy twenties anymore.” Madison pulls away from me.

“What does that even mean?”

“It means that I don’t play games like that anymore. Either someone likes me, or they don’t. And if they don’t, I’m mature enough to deal with it in an adult way.”

“What you’re really trying to say,” I look into Madison’s eyes again, “is that you’ve gone off kissing me.”

She scrunches up her lips. “You were gone a long time. We both had some growing up to do.”

“I guess.” Nodding, I look over the garden again, at all the women I can’t have—well, at least two of them. If I’m being completely honest, it gnaws at me a little. But I try to resist the impulse of, as Madison just put it, taking exactly what I want. I’m trying to actively resist my family’s sense of entitlement, which, try as I might to ignore it, is part of the fabric of my being.

4

Jill

“How’s the boss’s daughter working out?” Linda asks.

She’s worked at Lennox as long as I have, and lost her reverence for the people in charge a long time ago. She’s also the only one in my department I trust with all my confidential documents.

“The jury’s still very much out on that.” Ali’s only been back a week.

“She’s late.” Linda taps her watch ostentatiously.

“Only an hour.” I know better than to get upset about one of the Lennoxes being late. Although, even in his eighties, Jeffrey’s often at the office before I arrive.

“What’s the old man thinking, putting someone like that in charge?”

“Ali has potential.” I have to believe this. “It’s my job to bring that out.” I allow myself a small sigh. “You can’t really blame her for being who she is. She’s never had to take responsibility for anything in her life. She and her brother basically grew up without any formal parenting so…”

“It’s a tough job you’ve got,” Linda says. “Trying to transform a trust fund brat into someone capable of running this company.”

“You and me both.” I smile widely at Linda.

“Leave me out of it, please. I’m very happy working for you, as long as I don’t have to deal with the top brass directly. It’s not my scene, you know that.”

“Ah, and I was going to have her follow you around today.”

“It’s bad enough that Sebastian walks into my office as though he owns the place at least once a day…”

“Well, technically, he does.”

Linda sighs as well now. “Don’t you wish for universal basic income sometimes?”

I roll my eyes. “That would barely cover the monthly bill for my parking space.”

“You get off on it,” Linda says. “It’s the only way I can explain you.”

“Explain me?” I start pacing. Ali’s blatant lateness is beginning to annoy me despite what I said to Linda. “Since when do I need to be explained?”

“You’re quite a normal woman, Jill. You shouldn’t really fit in with the Lennoxes so well, yet you do. It’s always been a bit disconcerting.”

I need some time to process Linda’s perception of me. “You’re basically saying I’m too average to mingle with the one percent?”

“Clearly not.” Linda flashes me a big mischievous grin. There’s some stumbling in the hallway and then Ali barges into my office.

Linda quickly slips out, giving me a meaningful look as she does.

“Sorry I’m late,” Ali says. “Bit of a rough weekend.” She pushes her shades higher up her nose. “Madison threw a party on Friday evening and it never really ended.” She slumps onto the cracked-leather sofa at the far end of my office.

“Are you hungover?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it hungover. In fact—” She slaps her palms onto the top of the coffee table. “Did you know that alcohol-free beer is all the rage these days? It’s, like, everywhere, Jill.”

I suppress a sigh. “It doesn’t look like you partook of much of it.”

“Well, no, of course I didn’t. It gets tiresome after a while and you know how much I adore an expertly mixed cocktail, but—” It’s as though Ali only now realizes she’s at work. “Anyway, how was your weekend, Jill?” she asks.

“That’s none of your business.” I stand behind my desk, wishing I was in possession of a more towering presence. I need to find some sort of authority to wield over Ali if this is going to work. I can’t let her walk all over me—and turn up hungover on a Monday morning.

“Ouch.” Ali slings one long leg over the other. Her hair is pulled into a high ponytail. She’s wearing a tailor-made light blue pants-suit that shouldn’t really look good on anyone, but it does on her. For all the time I’ve been around rich people, I’ve never been able to fathom the secret to them looking so good all the time, as though it takes no effort at all.

“Your father and Sebastian are at the brewery today so at least you haven’t incurred their wrath.” I sink into my chair. I might as well. When I was first told that Ali would be transferring to head office, I was excited at the opportunity I saw ahead of me. Now, it feels more like I’m babysitting a thirty-something child who’s refusing to grow up. But I always knew it would be a challenge—and I’m always up for one of those.

“But I do seem to have incurred the wrath of Jill Gold.” Ali slants her head. “How about I take you to brunch to make up for it?”

“How about, instead of playing truant at ten o’clock on a Monday morning, we put some rules in place. Otherwise, I don’t really see how this is going to work out.”

“Ah, Jill, you’re such a spoilsport. The male Lennoxes are out of the house. I’m the only Lennox left. Let’s do something fun. Something female and fun.”

Next, she’ll propose we take a spa day. I shake my head.

“I’m having a party at my new house this weekend. You should swing by. If we’re going to work together in all the ways you propose, we should get to know each other better.”

“I don’t think so, Ali.”

“My dad invites you to his house all the time. Why won’t you come to mine? Is it because I don’t live in Beverly Hills?”

“I’ll think about it, but… believe it or not, some people actually have a job to do. That includes you now.”

“Hey.” She lowers her shades and glares at me from over the rim. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done my job for today. Hell, for this week. Alcohol-free beer! Let’s rake in the cash.”

I can no longer hold back my sigh. “It’s already in development. We’ll be launching it soon. What do you think we do here all day long?”

She hides behind her sunglasses again. “Shit. Who came up with that idea? Please don’t tell me it was Sebastian?”

“We have an actual market research department.” An idea takes root. “We have many departments in this company.”

“Duh,” is all she says.

“How about I arrange for you to spend a few weeks at each one?”

“What? Like work experience?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

Ali shakes her head. “Nah. I don’t think I’ll be a huge fan of that.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think. I think it’s important for you to experience first-hand how each department works.”

“Does my father think it’s important?”

“He will if I tell him that it is.”

She deflates a little. “Let’s make a deal,” she says. “I’ll do my tour of all the departments without complaining, to you or my father, if you come to my party next weekend.”

This is what my life has consisted of since I started work at Lennox Breweries: endless negotiations with people like Ali.

“Fine,” I say, having no actual intention of going to her house. In my job, I can always come up with a last-minute excuse to get out of something. In fact, over the years, it has become my specialty. “I’ll come. But for now, it looks like the market research department really needs you.”

5

Ali

I’m not sure how I’ve found myself in my brother’s apartment, but here I am. It’s large and starkly decorated with lots of white and black—no room for any grays, it would appear.

“There’s a helipad on the roof,” he says.

“Of course there is.”

“You could have moved into this building.” He drops a few ice cubes into a cut-glass tumbler. “I bought the floor below as well.”

“As much as I would have adored living underneath you, it wasn’t to be.”

Sebastian hands me a glass of Scotch on the rocks. Either he has forgotten I don’t drink Scotch or he’s messing with me. I don’t react and just put the glass on the table.

“Your loss.” He sips from his drink and then leans back into the white leather sofa.

We sit in silence for a few minutes. I glance at him from the corner of my eye. Sebastian is two years younger than me and sometimes, if I look at him from the right angle, I can still see a shadow of the little Sebastian I remember.

“Why did you invite me here?” I ask when I can no longer bear the silence.

“You’re my sister. You lived abroad for ten years. Maybe I feel we should spend some time together.” He doesn’t look at me when he speaks.

“In contemplative silence?”

“You can speak if you want to.” He reaches inside his blazer and produces a small translucent bag with white powder inside.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You’re not going to do your drugs in front of me, Seb. Fuck that. I won’t have it.”

“What? Now you’re not even drinking anymore?” He eyes my untouched glass of Scotch. “You’ve come back having fully processed all the Lennox traumas and you don’t need an easy escape anymore? Because you’re going to be CEO and that makes you better than me?”

“What are you even talking about?”

Sebastian throws the little bag onto the table. I’m no expert, but it looks like coke. How very nineties.

“You left. You just fucked off, Ali. To someplace where you didn’t have to deal with my or Dad’s grief.”

He’s going straight for the jugular. I have to give him kudos for that.

“It was my right to leave. I had my own grief to deal with.”

“Maybe, but you could have come back once in a while. Leah dying aged Dad beyond his years.”

“Beyond his years? He’s eighty-three. He’s old. He was old when she died and he’s ten years older now. That’s how it goes.”

“It’s all fucked, anyway. It doesn’t matter.” He eyes the baggie of coke.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t stay. Leah and I…” I stop explaining myself. Seb knows. He’s my brother, he should know. Then again, there appear to be plenty of things I don’t know about him. Like my leaving fucking him up as well. Next he’ll tell me I’m responsible for his coke habit.

Because it’s all I can think of to do, I reach for the glass of Scotch and pretend to take a sip. The mere scent of it is enough to make me queasy.

“Now you’re back, and all Dad can see is you,” he says.

“He asked me to return.”

“So? That doesn’t mean you had to come. Why did you?”

“Because… It was time.”

“It’s really bad timing for me.” He empties his glass and pulls a face as the liquor slides down his throat. “If I’d had another year, a few months even, to get my act together…”

“Dad doesn’t have another year. He should take it easy. He looks frail.”

“He’s Jeffrey fucking Lennox.” Sebastian shakes his head. “I always thought he’d live forever.”

“Maybe the next generation of Lennoxes will.”

“Look.” He sits up. “I’m throwing my cards on the table. I know Dad wants to appoint you as his successor because…” He nods at the coke. “Well, you know why. For some reason, I have to be squeaky clean if I want to be the face of LB and I had the bad luck of getting caught. Anyway, it’s what he wants. For now. And that’s fine. We can give him that. I can give him that, if it makes him feel better. But it’s not how I want things for the long term… So, I have to ask. What do you want for the long term?” He stares straight into my eyes.

“The way I understand things, in the long term, I’m going to be CEO of Lennox Breweries.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of the length of that term,” Sebastian says. He gets up and pours himself another drink. “Do you want a beer? I have a fridge full of Lennox lager that will never be drunk by anyone.”

“How very kind of you.” I go to the kitchen—a clinically stark, white affair also—and grab myself a beer. It gives me some time to think about Sebastian’s comment. I will have to tell Jill about this, but for now, I need to make a quick decision on my own. “I know you want to run the company as well as be the face of it, but you’re going to have to step back for a bit. It’s the way things are. That being said…” I take a sip from my beer. “Nothing is set in stone. You’re my brother. We can work together.” I quash the memory of the conversation with Jill—the one where I said I’d like him to go.

Sebastian nods. He seems to have forgotten about the coke on his coffee table. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

A silence falls again. My thoughts drift to Leah, and I wonder if Sebastian’s thinking of her as well. Is she still his first thought in the morning, before he opens his eyes, before he’s fully awake to the reality of our lives without her—forever?

When we were kids, after Leah and I graduated from finding our cute little brother super adorable, our favorite pastime was to gang up on him. Sebastian had no recourse against his pair of older sisters.

“Are you seeing anyone?” I ask. There are no signs of any regular female presence in my brother’s apartment.

“Yeah. Sure,” he says absent-mindedly, as though I’ve just asked him if he wants to order some food.

“Tell me about her.”

He looks at me and, for a split second, I spot the forlorn look in his eyes, the same one he used to get when Leah and I went too far with him when we were kids. His gaze turns hard again. “There’s nothing to tell. She’s just… It’s nothing serious. I don’t seem to attract a lot of serious girls.”

Same here, I want to say, but it has never really bothered me. And it’s not something I want to bond over with my brother.

“Dad was fifty years old when I was born,” Sebastian says. “I figure I have some time to start a family.”

“He hasn’t put pressure on you to produce some Lennox grandkids?”

Sebastian shakes his head. “Grandkids don’t really seem to interest him that much.”

“Figures,” I say. “He never had much time for his own children when they were growing up, either.”

“Harsh.” Sebastian briefly arches his eyebrows.

“Do you want to grab some dinner or something?” I ask.

He shakes his head again, looking more dejected than I’ve seen him in a while. “I have a date,” he says.

“I’ll get going then.” I don’t finish my beer. I used to pretend Lennox beer was the best in the world, but there’s no need for such pretense here. Sebastian just stocks it in his fridge for show.

6

Jill

“He’s not going to go down easy, if that’s what you were expecting,” Ali says.

I’m surprised she’s relaying her conversation with Sebastian in such detail. I’m also very pleased with how she’s confiding in me.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all.” I give Ali a thorough once-over. The overly colorful floral pattern of her blouse is making my eyes hurt, but at least she doesn’t look hungover today. Her large brown eyes are on full display.

“I was thinking,” Ali says. “Although I love your idea of me spending time in this company’s various departments, I shouldn’t neglect my time with you, Jill. After all, you can teach me the most.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t be neglected.” Sometimes, when I look at Ali, I wonder what her sister would have looked like at this age. For fraternal twins, they always looked very alike.

“I was also thinking…” Sounds as though Ali has been thinking non-stop. It makes a nice change. “Not to sound overly morbid, but, you know, Dad’s not in the best shape… what if something happens to him, say, next week. What happens then?”

“If you’ve already been announced as his successor, then you’ll take over as CEO.”

Ali scoffs. “But how would that even be possible? I don’t… you know, have enough… information.”

As she is now, in the grip of doubt, her Lennox obnoxiousness toned down, I can even summon some compassion for her. “I’ll be here. I have all the information you need.”

She nods and as she does the look in her eyes goes from hesitant to confident again. “What’s on your schedule today?”

“Why?” I’m already not liking the sound of that—Ali’s tone is too provocative.

“I think it’s time for an exercise in trust. You know, me learning to trust Jill Gold.” She paints on a big smile. It’s broad and mellow, yet I still can’t tell whether it’s genuine.

“That’s going to have to wait until after work. I’m far too busy today.”

Ali squints and holds my gaze. “I do wonder how many times per day you avail of the ‘I’m busy’ excuse just because it’s convenient.”

“I am really busy, Ali.” And you following me around, asking questions like this, isn’t reducing said busyness, I think. Perhaps I should be able to say it out loud, but Ali is still the boss’s daughter.

“Fine. Tonight then?”

“Tonight what?” On a good day, I don’t leave the office before eight. On a regular day, I’m here until ten. On bad days, which are frequent, I often see the clock turn to midnight.

“I’m not sure yet, but I’ll think of something. Shall we say seven?”

“Can you be a bit less vague?” I hear footsteps outside the door. Linda is probably waiting to update me on the latest.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t yet. All I can say is that it will be a trust-building activity.” She waggles her eyebrows. “Shall we meet in the lobby?”

“Ali, I’m really busy today. Seven is just not doable.”

“How about…” She walks toward me. “You make it work? It’s important that we trust each other, wouldn’t you agree?”

I’ll have to return to the office for another late-night shift after whatever Ali will plan for us, but it’s not as if I have to cancel any exciting non-work activities for it.

“Fine. I’ll be there.”

“I look forward to it.” Ali cocks her head. “Am I still in market research today?” She fills her cheeks with air. “Market research is turning out to be excruciatingly boring.”

“You are. Now go. I’m sure someone there is waiting for you.” I make a mental note to check in with Jim, the head of the department, to see how Ali’s doing.

“See ya.” She gives me a quick wave goodbye.

“We’re having dinner?” I ask. It sounds like a silly question because she’s just handed her car keys to the valet of a restaurant called Matriciana’s.

“It’s not what it looks like.” She nods her head in the direction of the door.

I follow her inside. It looks like a restaurant to me, and not even a very posh one. Not one I had expected Ali Lennox to frequent. Instead of asking for a table, she escorts me to the hallway that branches off the main room, and then down a flight of purple-painted wooden stairs.

When we are in the basement, she knocks on a closed door. I hope she’s not taking me to a high-stakes poker game—I’m severely out of practice.

The door swings open and a man with his hair tied into a shiny bun on top of his head gives her a quick once-over.

“The password’s Ali Lennox,” she says, shooting man-bun a smile.

“Come on in.” The man opens the door wide and ushers us in. He takes us to a booth with leather benches that’s tucked into a snug alcove.

“It’s a speakeasy,” Ali says. “It’s all the rage. Like alcohol-free beer, although there’s no shortage of alcohol here.” She wrinkles her nose. “I bet they serve virgin cocktails here as well. Whatever tickles your fancy, Jill.”

“A speakeasy.” I glance around, although my view is half obstructed, which is probably the intention. The space is roomy but with low ceilings. As far as I can see, there are only five other booths like ours. “What’s with the password?”

“You normally get it from some social media account, but me being me, I can usually just say my name to get in. It opens many a door.” She says it as though it’s the most normal thing in the world. To her, it probably is. Doors have always opened for Ali without her having to make any effort.

“You brought me to a cocktail bar?” I peer at her over the frame of my glasses.

“You do still like a tipple?”

Oh yes, I do. I nod. “It’s just not what I had expected.”

“Let’s order and then I’ll tell you more of what I have in mind.” She beckons the server over with the slightest nod of her head. “What do you like in your mixed alcoholic beverages, Jill?”

“Something strong.” I have a feeling I’m going to need it. “Bourbon.”

“It’ll be the best bourbon-based cocktail you’ve ever had.”

Ali places our order, then fixes her gaze on me. “I hope you weren’t expecting one of those weird trust-building exercises where we fall backward into each other’s arms. I think it’s too soon for that, actually. Also, I’m not sure you could catch me.”

“I can assure you that I could.” She has me on edge already. None of the staff at Lennox Breweries who are Ali’s age have her almost-grotesque confidence. They don’t even come close.

“Maybe we can try that later, then.” She grins at me. “Full disclosure, I googled trust-building activities and the first thing that I found was that we should tell each other a secret. That’s why I brought you here. Wouldn’t you say the vibe is very conducive to the sharing of secrets?”

For someone interning in the market research department, Ali’s research skills haven’t reached great depths just yet. What I am impressed with is the unwavering straightforwardness with which she addresses me. She’s nothing like the skinny pile of sadness that left L.A. after Leah died—a blow as hard for Ali as the car crash that killed Leah. Somehow, she pulled herself up by the bootstraps and remade herself, without her twin.

“Secrets,” I say. “Okay.” I can tell Ali plenty of things she will consider to be a secret, but will have zero repercussions on either of our lives if she knows them.

“First, we drink, of course.” She glances around. The server is just coming over with our drinks. If he hadn’t been on his way, I suspect Ali might have made a condescending snapping noise with her fingers to hurry things along.

She waits until the server has deposited our drinks on the table, informed us my cocktail is called a ’Divided Sky’ and has left. Ali lifts her glass and tips it toward mine. “To the future of LB. May it be in female hands.” She casts a glance at my hands, as though to make a point as to whose she’s referring to—alongside hers, of course. Currently, I don’t hold any future in them, only a very enticing-looking cocktail. It has the thinnest slice of burnt orange carefully placed over the rim of the glass.

“To your return.” I smile at Ali. For all the years I’ve worked alongside her brother, he has never invited me for an after-work drink.

“It’s good to be back.” She shrugs. “You can’t run away forever.”

I’m taken aback by her sudden candor. But if we’ll be exchanging secrets soon, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me.

We sip from our drinks. Mine is indeed exquisite. It’s dangerous because I can barely taste the alcohol even though any bourbon-based cocktail I’ve had has always left me a little giddy.

“Sebastian’s stint in rehab hasn’t worked,” she half-whispers. “I don’t know if him going there was purely for PR reasons or whether Dad expected it to actually have an effect.”

“Mainly PR,” I say, noticing how jaded that sounds. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time with this family. “I mean, it would have been great if it had worked, but I imagine Sebastian isn’t feeling too great at the moment with the way things are going.”

“He threw a bag of coke on the table last night. As though it were a packet of mints. He didn’t offer any to me, nor did he use it in front of me, but for some reason, it was important to him that I see he had it.” She knits her brows together. “I can’t really read him on that front. He wasn’t an addict when I left.”

“Sebastian’s biggest problem is that he thinks he can do whatever he likes. Until your father sets him straight. Then he’ll be good, or pretend to be good, for a while, until it spirals out of control again.”

“If that’s the case…” She pouts her lips. “Instead of trying to fuck him over, shouldn’t we be helping him? I don’t much care to have another sibling die on me.”

Again, Ali’s candidness stuns me into momentary silence.

“We will help him. Of course, we will. But we can’t have him leading the company, not in the state he’s in.”

“He basically said I was a coward for leaving him and Dad to deal with Leah’s death without me.” She gives that one-shouldered shrug again.

“We all deal with a tragedy like that differently,” I say. “For what it’s worth, your father doesn’t think you’re a coward.”

“Let’s get to the order of business.” She sits up straighter, ignoring the direction our conversation has taken. “I’ve had a few more hours to think about this, so I’ll go first.”

“Sure.” Despite having had no time to prepare, I already know the secret I’m going to tell Ali. I try to guess what she’s going to say, or if she can surprise me at all, only to realize, with a shock, that I’m quite excited about this whole thing she has set up.

“When I was a kid… maybe eight or nine—Mom had been dead for a few years—I used to sneak out of the house at night and go looking for her. Spoiler alert: I never found her.” She gazes into her half-empty cocktail glass.

If I was taken aback by her frankness earlier, I’m currently floored by her vulnerability on display.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Ali.”

“At least I had Leah. Until I didn’t.”

I’m beginning to see that Ali hasn’t brought me here to pry some secret out of me. I’m here, in this dark, underground bar, to see her pain. She’s trusting me for some reason. Or her pain is still so big that she can’t keep it inside, despite her image, built-up while abroad, of being forthwith and carefree.

This is a situation I don’t know how to deal with. Give me a difficult contract negotiation any day of the week. Heck, put me on the losing end of a killer deal over this. Now, I just sit across from Ali wishing I could take away only a fraction of the loss she has come back to face.

“You two were inseparable,” I manage to mumble.

“To tell you the truth, she got on my nerves a lot as well. She was always… there, you know. Like she couldn’t do anything without me.”

And vice versa. When Leah died, so unexpectedly and way too early at twenty-five, it must have felt like a limb was ripped from Ali’s body, leaving nothing but painful emptiness in the space it used to occupy.

“Ali.” I find myself half-whispering as well, as though these things can’t possibly be said with a full voice. “It must have been so hard, but if only you could see yourself now.”

“Do go on…” She has pulled one side of her mouth into a grin.

“Your presence is…” I speak slowly so I can choose my words. “Very imposing. You’re elegant and smart and well-spoken. You look as though you’re doing really well.”

“Thanks,” she says, as though I just complimented her on a piece of jewelry. She downs the rest of her cocktail. “Shall we get another?”

“Sure.” I can’t say no now, not after Ali has let me in like that. A small part of me can’t help but wonder if she’s playing me in some way. Vile as it may sound, in my job, I need to be vigilant about these things. For all I know, she and Sebastian could have had a reconciliatory night and forged their own plans to oust me. But would Ali really use her grief like that?

The fact is that I don’t know. This is not the same girl who left at the age of twenty-five. No person is the same ten years later, and especially not someone who lost their twin sister in a completely senseless road accident.

She does that thing again where she beckons over someone to wait on her without me noticing, like she has a secret, invisible language going on with the staff. The server doesn’t even come over to take our order. The mixologist just goes to work pouring liquor.

“Okay,” Ali says. “I feel like we’ve veered off course a bit. It wasn’t my intention to be so, um, open about things with you. I don’t know why I did that. Maybe because I feel like I’ve known you forever. I don’t know. How long have you worked for my dad? Twenty-five years?”

I chuckle. “No. I’m not that old.”

“How old are you?”

“Just turned fifty-three.”

“Oh,” she says. “Five-three, the opposite of my three-five.”

“I’ve been with Lennox twenty-one years, but I haven’t always worked so closely with your father.”

“Yet, I seem to remember you always being there.”

“That’s probably because I was there from the time you started showing interest.”

She shrugs again, indicating she doesn’t much care to delve deeper into my history at Lennox.

“Anyway.” She looks me straight in the eye. “Would you say that I’ve earned the right to ask you a direct question?”

I’m saved by man-bun bringing over our freshly mixed drinks, but then he’s gone, and I have to admit that, yes, she has earned that right.

“Shoot,” I say, and hold up my drink.

“Are you a lesbian?” Ali’s voice is smooth and bright, not a hint of hesitation lurking in her tone.

“That’s hardly a secret.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Well, yes. I’m a lesbian. Always have been.”

“You say it so casually, yet it’s not talked about at Lennox.”

“Why would it be? It’s my personal life. Therefore, it’s private.”

“Has my father ordered you in some way, direct or not, to never mention it?”

“What?” Not even Jeffrey would stoop that low. “No. It’s just not something that I shout from the rooftops.”

“It seems more than that. It almost feels like you want to keep it very much hidden.” She tilts her head. “What’s the big deal? I’m a lesbian. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sebastian had slept with his fair share of men. No one of my generation really cares about those boundaries anymore.”

“So?” I’m not entirely sure what I’m being interrogated about.

“I just—I don’t know. I don’t get your stance on the whole thing.”

“I don’t get what you’re asking me, Ali. Yes, I’m a lesbian. There’s nothing further to say.”

“I must have known that about you before I left, yet it only occurred to me the other day when you were pouting because I was late. It just came back to me, in a flash. And it just seemed so… undisclosed.”

“It’s not a secret. I don’t know what more I can say.”

“You’re not one of those self-loathing lesbians, are you? You know, because of your generation or something like that?”

“My generation?” I shake my head.

“Do you have a partner? A wife you keep hidden in your Hollywood mansion?”

“Firstly, I don’t live in Hollywood. Secondly, I’m single.”

Ali regards me in silence. “There’s so much I don’t know about you, Jill.” She narrows her eyes. “Have I offended you?”

“Was it your intention to offend me?”

“No. Absolutely not. I just wanted to know.”

“Now you do.” I return Ali’s gaze, still unsure of what this is. Maybe she wants to know about her father’s reaction to it, but I told him years ago, as a quick and simple aside one late night, and we never discussed it again. It’s not the sort of relationship we have. And I’ve never had much to discuss. As far as I’m aware, Jeffrey never made a big deal out of anyone’s sexuality, aside from the occasional joke in poor taste. I’m guessing that even Jeffrey knows when to count his lucky stars when it comes to what is left of his family.

“Now I do.” Ali pulls her lips into a full-blown smile, as though the sole purpose of her evening has been fulfilled.