Dad has been sitting calmly in his massive leather chair behind his staid desk in his staid office, wearing his custom-fit suit and boring his eyes into my skin.
Meanwhile, I’m digging a trench in the plush carpet, only to momentarily slap my palms over the tabletop for the millionth time, stare at the documents, shake my head, and go back to pacing again.
“Water?” Adam asks from one of the guest chairs. “You really need to sit down, Zav.”
I glare at him, but he smiles.
“Sit down, Zavyar.” Dad finally leans forward in his chair, breaking his vow of silence. “Let’s talk about this like adults.”
“It’s the twenty-first century, Dad.” I fall into a chair next to Adam’s, trying desperately to not yell at either of the two men. “Literally no one does this anymore.”
“Well, I just did.” Dad’s calm is unbreachable. “And I mean every word. Read the contract carefully before you sign.” He slips his fountain pen across the polished mahogany to me.
I catch the pen before it falls off the edge. “I’m not doing this.”
“Then you leave me no choice,” he says, leaning back.
“Fine.” I stare at him. “Disinherit me. But I’m not marrying my way into getting what’s rightfully mine.”
“Nothing is rightfully anyone’s, Zavyar. You have to earn it.”
“I worked very hard to be where I am today.” Heat is steadily crawling up my neck. “I never wanted to join the family business, but I did just to make you happy.
“Worked my ass off to get every single promotion I got. Just like everybody else. I’ve single-handedly brought trillions in profits.”
“It’s never single-handedly, Zavyar. It’s teamwork.”
“Your biggest accounts for the past three years are all because of me.”
“The biggest scandals the family has ever had to face in its history are also because of you. Not to mention the one we successfully quashed yesterday.
“I shudder to think of the consequences if it ever got out.”
“That’s not fair.”
“The woman was lying, Dad. The baby was never his.” Adam clears his throat and tries to put in a good word for me.
We both know it won’t work.
“I’m very careful. I’ve always been very careful,” I try to reason, forcing my temper to cool down. “I’m not even currently dating anyone. What more do you want?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
“It’s a perfectly good dying wish to have.”
“You’re not dying. You’re killing me.”
Adam tries to intervene. “If I may—”
“No, hold on.” I lift a finger to shut him up and shift in my chair to a more aggressive stance.
“If you are dying—and I love you, Dad; I wish for you to live to be a thousand—but really, when you eventually do go, all this would be ours, Adi’s and mine. So what’s with this contract?”
“I want you to settle down, and looking at your lifestyle, I don’t see you leaning toward it anytime soon. Hence the forced alliance.”
“Okay, fine.” I lift up my palms in a conciliatory gesture and sit back. “Give me one year. I promise I’ll find a girl and marry her, settle down, have children, the whole shebang.”
“Shebang.” Dad raises an eyebrow.
“I don’t want just any girl.”
“A nice girl.”
“That’s a pretty nice promise, Zav.” Adam attempts to help smooth my way back into the old man’s good graces. “Don’t you think so, Father?”
“No, I don’t, Adam. This isn’t you we’re talking about.”
He pins us both with a glare. “With his track record and history of the kind of ladies he likes to fraternize with, I’m not sure we’ll agree with his choice.”
“You can’t be that anal, Dad.” I can’t help frowning.
“I have the perfect girl for you.” He smiles.
I groan and get up, my head starting to pound with jagged irritation. “No, I can’t.”
“Then say farewell to all this luxury and money. Sign it all away and you can be free to do whatever you want with your life.
“Although I must warn you, most of the women you hang out with won’t even glance your way when you’re poor.”
“You’re a mean old man.”
Before Dad can put me in my place for this insolence, Adam leans forward in his chair and engages him.
“Who is this girl?” he asks. “Someone we know?”
“Oh, Zavyar lucked out with this one.” Suddenly Dad’s eyes are sparkling as if he’s about to narrate an adventurous tale of how he obtained the world’s greatest treasure.
“When Saladin agreed to the entire prospect of giving his second daughter in marriage to—”
“You can’t be serious. Saladin Faramin?” I’m appalled. “His second daughter? Serena ~Faramin~?”
“She’s quite the catch,” Adam says.
“Yeah, if you’re fishing for ice.”
She’s a bombshell, but without a pulse apparently. Brimming with propriety and her “please” and “thank you” and “nice to meet you” till here.
Raised to obey and be agreeable, her beauty is totally wasted on me.
“She’s a very beautiful and accomplished young woman, Zavyar,” Dad admonishes me. “And this isn’t just about your marriage to her. This alliance with the Faramins will help us in all sorts of ways.”
“Oh, nice.” My lips curl in a vicious smile. “You’re going to use me to make up for whatever To-Let did. He messed up and I get to pay for it?”
“That was nothing. We can recover from that business loss without the wedding, son. And don’t call your cousin that.”
Swiveling his chair, he looks at Adam and then back at me. “Why do you boys call him that?”
“Because that’s what he is,” I laugh, slamming my hand on the desk. “He’s a fucking billboard for insider trading and all things nefarious. He knows jack shit about banking or anything decent.”
“Watch your mouth, Zavyar.” Dad points a finger at me. “Alijah knows more about decency and Velshi family values than you do.”
“He is a scammer, Dad,” Adam says. “He knows nothing about finance—or earning an honest living, for that matter. You really need to cut him off.”
“That’s a discussion for another time.” Dad waves Adam off. “Right now, we’re discussing Zavyar’s future and how I don’t cut him off.”
I groan, letting my head fall to the back of my chair.
“I really want this for you, son.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’ll disinherit you.” He shrugs.
“Just like that.”
“And if I do?”
“I’ll give you your share, everything that you believe to be rightfully yours the day you say your vows.”
That’s crazy. We’re talking billions in shares and bonds and property here. All mine if I just do this one thing for him.
“Is marrying Serena the only condition?” I eye him suspiciously.
I’ve read the contract. Thrice. It has no hidden fine print or stipulations other than marrying her to claim my inheritance, not even a clause to tell me I can’t cheat on her. Just saying.
But you never know. Shrewd businessmen like my father always have a few cards up their sleeves, so I need to be sure. I know he wouldn’t lie to me if I ask.
“That’s all I want, son.” He rests his shoulders against the cushioned back of his chair. “All I want is for you to settle down.”
“Can I think about it?”
He nods, and although, with the way he’s laid out the contract, there isn’t much to think about, I feel a bit relieved. It means he doesn’t want my signatures right now. And delay is good.
Delay means I can come up with a plan to stall this. I may not have to freeze in the arctic tundra that is the Faramin princess after all.
“By the way, your mother and I invited your soon-to-be in-laws to the farmhouse this weekend.” Dad smiles broadly, already sure of his victory. “I expect you to be there, Zavyar.”
Just perfect. Be there to entertain Miss Serena Faramin. As if one could entertain an ice cube.
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