The Winner

***Peter***

“So, what the hell are we going to do about this crazy woman?”

My cousin Paul can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. Hell, most of the time. He’s been a thorn in my side my whole damned life. Of course, our grandfather might have something to do with that. He pitted us against one another from the very beginning. The old man believed in survival of the fittest almost as much as he did capitalism.

I guess I’m the winner. Though at moments like this, it doesn’t always feel that way. Grandfather gave me a controlling interest in the family textile company. Paul believes that I was his favorite because I’m named after the old man. But anyone who knew Peter Millner knew better than that. He entrusted this company to me because he knew I was the best man for the job.

And I’ve done it. I’ve taken his baby, a strong company, and made it stronger. And in the process, made billions. Not just for me, but for Paul and his little sister Mary, though being a ‘girl’ Grandfather’s will stipulated that her shares were non-voting. I control those as well as my own. Meaning what I say goes.

“Not a damned thing. People like that just want their fifteen minutes of fame or a big fat check. If you don’t give it to them, they disappear.”

Sometimes I sound just like the old man. And occasionally, that worries me. At least I don’t have kids or grandkids whose lives I’ll screw up. I’ll leave that shit to Paul and Mary. Undoubtedly one of them will pop a couple of sprogs as the old man called us. Let them deal with this shit when I’m gone. And hell yeah, it will be the ‘fittest’ for the job. But unlike our grandfather, I’m perfectly fine if that’s a ‘girl.’

The old man didn’t get many things wrong, but he sure as hell did with Mary. That woman might have run this company even better than me. She sure as hell does her own. She took the proceeds from her shares and, along with her two best friends, started a clothing company that’s one of our biggest clients. But only when we have the lowest price on the best quality product. I told you she’s one smart cookie.

Her brother, on the other hand, not so much. Ambition and greed with no common sense and a heavy hand. Paul shakes his head. He has as much gray hair as I do these days. Another reminder that one of us needs to get busy on those sprogs.

“This one isn’t that simple. She’s got money. Well, not her own. Her dead husband’s. But she’s one of those idealistic do-gooder types that think they can save the world.” My cousin pauses and frowns. “Maybe you’re right about the fat check, though. Legal says that’s she’s blowing through her old man’s money like it’s water. Perhaps she thinks she can get more out of us with this bullshit.”

I pull up the blog that has Paul so damned worried on my tablet. Most of it is about things that I’ve never even heard of – TEK and permaculture. There are quite a few tips on stretching a budget, also something I have no idea about. Then I run across the post that he’s talking about.

I scan it quickly. Legal is better suited to go over this shit and determine if it crosses the line into libel and slander. That’s what I pay them for. Grandfather taught me the value of building a solid team. One man can’t do everything.

But one thing I do know. The woman doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on with her claim. Her grandfather died over seventy years ago. Even if she exhumed the body and had tests done to show high levels of toxic chemicals in it, she can’t directly tie that to our factory. The body has been exposed to the environment for too long. Our legal team would pull that shit apart in seconds. As usual, Paul is making a mountain out of a molehill, as Grandfather said.

I’m just about to close the damned thing when I happen upon the About page. One thing jumps off the screen. Her. I haven’t felt this kind of attraction for a woman in…. Ever? I ignore Paul’s anxious pacing. It’s another of his irritating habits. And I focus on the screen. This time I actually read the damned thing.

I’ll give him one thing. He’s right about her being an idealistic do-gooder. Those are the hardest to deal with too. We’ve had more than our fair share of trouble from environmental and labor groups.

“Okay, I’ll look into it.” The words are out of my mouth before my brain can process them. That’s not like me. ‘Think before you speak, boy’ was another of my grandfather’s sage advice. Actually, it’s one lesson that my cousin never grasped. And perhaps why I’m sitting in this chair, and he’s to my right.

But this time, that is enough to calm him down. The rest of the meeting seems to drag. What’s the point? Do these department heads not realize that I read all their fucking reports? I don’t need a verbal recap of them. But maybe Paul does?

I keep glancing at my open tablet and her face. Almost sixty? No fucking way. At fifty, I don’t look half as good as this woman. Amanda. Amanda Joiner. I’ll goggle her as soon as this shit show is over.

It’s one of my least favorite parts of the job. Weekly board meetings. Not that it’s an actual board. Grandfather was too much of a control freak to take Millner Textiles public. He didn’t want anyone telling him how to run his company.

No, the old man wanted it all kept in the family, dividing it three ways. Though he gave me thirty-four percent and voting rights to Mary’s thirty-three. Not that I don’t consult my cousin about her wishes. But generally speaking, we see eye-to-eye on things anyway. Paul on the other hand….

“I think that’s about it. Thank you all for coming. I’ll see you next week.” That’s far more polite than the ‘get the fuck out,’ I want to say. Grandfather groomed me well.

The department heads are smart enough to read between the lines. They understand what I really mean and file out of the conference with the same organized speed as a fire drill. But cousin Paul bless his little heart, as Gran says, just doesn’t get the message. At least he’s standing, though.

“I know that you aren’t taking this woman seriously, Peter. But I’ve already had to quash one local news story about it. This isn’t Granddad’s world anymore. Even unsubstantiated claims like hers can have a PR impact. I’m telling you, Amanda Joiner is trouble.”

Oh, Paul has that right. But not for the reason my cousin thinks. I glance at my tablet once more before standing. I hope my cousin doesn’t notice the tightness across the front of my suit pants. I don’t know whether to thank Paul for bringing this woman to my attention or throw him out the plate glass window rising twenty-two stories above downtown Atlanta. For now, I settle for placing my hand on his shoulder and steering him towards the open door of the conference room.

“I promise you, Paul, this matter has my full attention.” It’s not a lie either. I’m not sure if it’s that brilliant smile, the twinkle in those blue eyes, or her poignant words. But Amanda Joiner has one-hundred percent of my focus. Something that no other woman ever has. And something that probably is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

But it isn’t just my cock that’s causing the problem. It’s the heart that I would have sworn half an hour ago I did not have. Her impassioned words on that screen have wormed their way deep inside me.

Oh, I’ve dealt with these do-gooder types before. But most of them are bored, naïve, and guilty rich kids who don’t have a clue. Or older versions of myself eaten up with guilt and trying to ‘right their wrongs’ before they die. I almost hope that I’m wrong and that Amanda Joiner is just another of those types. I could handle that. Maybe I’d be a bit disappointed, but that’s safe. Far safer than the genuine emotions this woman has stirred in me. There’s only one way to find out….

“I’ll go to Spartanburg and talk to the woman myself. This weekend. Alright?”

Paul stops and turns. His eyes study me for a moment. Thankfully they focus only on my face. So he doesn’t notice the tent in my pants. “Okay, but for god’s sake, don’t give the woman too much money. She’ll just blow it all on her New Age mumbo jumbo like she is her poor dead husband’s. Why would a man like that give her such power? I guess she’s pretty enough. For a woman that age. But she’s got no business sense.”

My cousin’s words irritate me. Even more than usual. A woman that age? Of course, Paul dates women young enough to his daughter, if not his granddaughter. As for business sense? As Gran would say, that’s the pot calling the kettle black.

“I’ll handle it.” Perhaps the shove that I give my cousin out the door isn’t too gentle. The closing of the door certainly makes more noise than usual. But I’m pissed. Whether that is at Paul for being an ass, as usual. Or myself for…. For what? Falling head over heels for a woman I haven’t even met?

Oh, well, that’s an easy enough problem to solve. I press the intercom button, “Mesha, get Howard on the phone. Tell him wheels up in an hour. File a flight plan for Spartanburg.”

I pause and stare out that window at the Atlanta skyline. “Forget that. Tell Joe he’s working this weekend. Oh, and can you call Pacy’s? Have them send over a couple pairs of khakis in my size. Hell, a pair of jeans. Nothing too fancy. And a few shirts. Do they do t-shirts? Hell, I trust you. Something casual. Something that wears well, and I can get dirty.”

The stunned silence on the other end of the phone says it all. I think junior high was the last time I wore a pair of blue jeans. And fifth grade was definitely the last time I got my hands dirty. But something tells me this weekend is going to be unlike any other.

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