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Authors: Sherryl Woods

Destiny Unleashed

BOOK: Destiny Unleashed
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If she’d had any idea that reinventing herself would require so much self-doubt and soul-searching, Destiny Carlton might have left it for another day. Perhaps another lifetime.

“Am I crazy to even be thinking about this?” she asked her assistant, Miriam.

“Sit down,” Miriam ordered in one of her rare displays of impatience. She actually scowled until Destiny complied. “Bottom line, you know this company inside out, whether you’ve ever held an official job here or not. You’re on the board of directors, for goodness’ sake, and no one goes into those meetings more informed than you do. Am I right?”

“I try,” Destiny agreed. It was a point of honor to her that she do her homework if she was going to hold a seat on the board.

“And you’re uniquely suited to this particular job, isn’t that right?”

Destiny thought of the problems in the European division. Most of them had been caused by the persistent stealth attacks of one man in particular, William Harcourt, the man she’d once loved with all her heart, the man she’d walked away from more than twenty years ago when she’d come back to the States to take care of her suddenly orphaned nephews.

“I do know how William’s mind works,” she agreed. “And the fact that he’s become a threat to my family’s company—perhaps because of me—makes me highly motivated to put a stop to it.”

“Well, then, I don’t see how you have any choice. You have to do this,” Miriam concluded. “Not just for your own sake, but for the company.”

Yes, Destiny thought, that was exactly it. She simply had to convince her nephew Richard—the entire family, in fact—that she was up to the task.

Also available from MIRA Books and
SHERRYL WOODS

FLAMINGO DINER

ALONG CAME TROUBLE

ASK ANYONE

ABOUT THAT MAN

ANGEL MINE

AFTER TEX

THE BACKUP PLAN

Sherryl Woods
Destiny Unleashed
Destiny Unleashed
1

I
f she’d had any idea that reinventing herself would require so much self-doubt and soul-searching, Destiny Carlton might have left it for another day. Perhaps another lifetime.

Her agitated pacing slowed at last, and she turned to the woman who had been her personal secretary and confidante for nearly two decades.

“Am I crazy to even be thinking about this?” she asked Miriam Thomas. “Have I finally lost it completely? Give me your honest answer.”

Miriam’s lips quirked. She’d never been anything less than brutally honest. “You’re the most sane person I know,” she said loyally.

“But this,” Destiny said doubtfully, “this is huge. It’s not as if I want to get a little job in the corner card shop.”

“Hardly,” Miriam agreed wryly.

“I haven’t worked in years,” Destiny pointed out.

“Ha!”

“Okay, okay, I’ve run charity events and I’ve certainly kept my eye on all the decisions at Carlton Industries, but that’s not the same as actually being in business. It’s not the same as going in to my nephew and asking him to trust me to take over an entire division of the family company.”

“Isn’t that the point?” Miriam asked. “It
is
the family company and you’re a very important part of this family, the matriarch, in a manner of speaking.”

“True, but I turned my back on it years ago and left it to my brother. The only reason I gave up my art and my studio in the south of France was because of the plane crash that killed my brother and his wife. I couldn’t leave Richard, Mack and Ben all alone. They were mere boys at the time. They needed me. Now they’re grown men with wives of their own.”

“Thanks to you,” Miriam reminded her.

Destiny allowed herself a small smile. “Yes, all that meddling did work out rather well, if I do say so myself. There was no telling how long it would have taken them to get around to settling down if I hadn’t given fate a bit of a nudge.”

“So they owe you,” Miriam suggested. “If you want to try something totally new, if you want to reinvent yourself completely at this stage of your life, why shouldn’t you? And why shouldn’t they give you their blessing?”

“It’s not just their blessing I want,” Destiny said. “I’m asking to take over the European division. Richard has me tucked into this nice, predictable niche in his life. I’m the doting, slightly madcap aunt. He doesn’t see me as any kind of businesswoman. I’m partly to blame for that. I’ve never shown the slightest inclination to work for Carlton Industries before, at least not in any formal capacity.”

“Sit down,” Miriam ordered in one of her rare displays of impatience. She actually scowled until Destiny complied. “Bottom line, you know this company inside out, whether you’ve ever held an official job
here or not. You’re on the board of directors, for goodness’ sake, and no one goes into those meetings more informed than you do. Am I right?”

“I try,” Destiny agreed. It was a point of honor to her that she do her homework if she was going to hold a seat on the board.

“And you’re uniquely suited to this particular job, isn’t that right?”

Destiny thought of the problems in the European division. Most of them had been caused by the persistent stealth attacks of one man in particular, William Harcourt, the man she’d once loved with all her heart, the man she’d walked away from more than twenty years ago when she’d come back to the States to take care of her suddenly orphaned nephews.

“I do know how William’s mind works,” she agreed. “And the fact that he’s become a threat to my family’s company—perhaps because of me—makes me highly motivated to put a stop to it.”

“Well, then, I don’t see how you have any choice. You have to do this,” Miriam concluded. “Not just for your own sake, but for the company.”

“What if I botch it up?” Destiny asked, unable to shake her own self-doubts.

Miriam gave her a scathing look. “Don’t be ridiculous. You won’t.” She grinned. “For one thing, you’ll have me right there beside you.”

Destiny stared at her. “You’d go to London with me?”

“I certainly wouldn’t let you set off alone,” Miriam said emphatically. “Besides, with Darryl dead and Dwayne in college, my life is as much of an empty
nest as yours. It will be good for both of us to dive into something new and exciting.”

Yes, Destiny thought, that was exactly it. She needed a challenge. Ever since the marriage of her youngest nephew, she’d been essentially at loose ends. If she wanted to go back to her house in France, she could. If she wanted to spend her time painting, she could do that, too. If she merely wanted to travel, that option was open as well.

But all these years of running a household, of overseeing her nephews’ education, of taking a more active role on the Carlton Industries board of directors had given her a jaundiced view of idleness.

She wanted to be productive. She’d made the transition from eccentric artist to instant mother rather successfully. Now she wanted to reinvent herself yet again. There was someone inside her still to be discovered. She had a lot left to prove, not to her nephews, but to herself. Leading a wildly madcap lifestyle in her twenties or even at thirty had been one thing. It was quite another to consider going back to it in her fifties.

It wasn’t too late to find an entirely new direction that suited her, she assured herself. At fifty-three, she was still vibrant, intelligent and capable. In fact, in no small measure thanks to her success in getting her nephews settled, she felt ready to tackle anything.

For months now this idea had been brewing in the back of her mind. She’d tossed out an occasional hint, just to see if Richard would jump at the bait, but he didn’t seem to be taking her seriously. It was time he did. After all, he was the one who’d indirectly planted the idea in her head.

It was all tied up with William Harcourt, who had turned out to have an astonishing head for running his own family’s business. In recent years he had made it his apparent mission in life to go after every European contract previously held by Carlton Industries. He’d won some, lost more, but there was no mistaking his use of inside information—her own pillow-talk revelations, damn him—to make her family’s company pay dearly for every deal it made. Until very recently his actions had been more annoyance than threat, but lately his tactics had grown bolder and more damaging. It was time to put a stop to it.

Destiny had made a lot of impulsive decisions in her life, but she didn’t intend for this plan for her future to be one of them. She’d given the matter of William Harcourt targeting Carlton Industries a lot of thought and finally concluded that she was the only one who could make him rue the day he’d decided to betray her and go after her family. Revenge would be so much more challenging—so much more
fun
—than going back to claim an idle life that no longer held any meaning.

She simply had to convince Richard—the entire family, in fact—that she was up to the task.

“You honestly believe I can do this?” she asked Miriam one last time.

“Without question,” Miriam said confidently.

Destiny nodded. “Then it’s time I get Richard on board with the idea. He is the CEO, after all. I don’t suppose you have any idea how I’m going to accomplish that, do you?”

“Pull rank,” Miriam suggested, the glint in her eye suggesting she wasn’t entirely joking.

“I think finesse is probably a better approach,” Destiny scolded mildly, then grinned. “I’ll save pulling rank as a last resort.”

 

“You want to do what?” Richard’s head snapped up from the stack of papers on his desk. He studied his aunt as if she’d announced she intended to take up skydiving, though come to think of it that was something Destiny was entirely likely to do if boredom set in. This announcement was far more unexpected.

“Don’t glower at me like that,” she scolded. “It’s not as if I haven’t grown up around this company. I know its inner workings almost as well as you do. It was my grandfather who started it, after all, and my father who turned it into a worldwide conglomerate. I’ve held a seat on the board for years now, and believe me, I do not let the reports sit on my desk gathering dust. I may be the only person on the board besides you who actually reads them.”

“But you’ve never shown the slightest interest in working for Carlton Industries,” Richard said, totally perplexed. “When your father tried to groom you for a position here, you ran away to France. When you came back after my father died, you left it to his executive vice president to run things until I was old enough to take over.”

“Because, just like you, your father lived and breathed this company. I simply let him have it because it was the sensible, fair thing to do. I had more interesting things to pursue. And when I came back, I had far more important responsibilities—you and your brothers. The company was running smoothly
and you were already being groomed to take over. There was no need for my interference or involvement.”

“Okay, I can accept all that,” he said, still perplexed. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve changed,” she said simply. “Now I want to run the European division. If you agree to this, Richard, I can promise you won’t regret it.”

“But why?” Richard persisted.

“Because it’s there,” she snapped impatiently. “Don’t be dense, Richard. I want to do it because now that you and your brothers are married, I need something to do. I want to find out what I’m really made of.”

He was still bewildered. His aunt’s days were jam-packed with things to do. “When was the last time your calendar wasn’t crammed with foundation meetings, fund-raisers, luncheons and social engagements?”

Destiny waved them off as if they were of no consequence. “There was a time when that lifestyle suited me. Now it doesn’t. I need a real purpose. I want to make a contribution to this family. I think I have something unique to offer Carlton Industries. All those years coaxing dollars out of tightwads for various charities ought to be good for something.”

“Hold it right there,” Richard said, regarding her with exasperation. “Don’t you think you made an incredible contribution by coming back here to take over when Mom and Dad died? You gave the three of us a home and stability. You brought fun and adventure into our lives. Rosalind Russell in that old
Auntie Mame
movie you showed us had nothing on you. You
saw that we became decent, well-educated men. Hell, you even meddled until we were married to women you approved of. There’s a whole new generation of Carltons coming along, thanks to you.”

“Exactly my point,” Destiny responded. “You’re all settled. You have your own families. You don’t need me anymore.”

“We’ll always need you,” Richard protested, indignant that she could think otherwise. “Have we not shown you that?”

“You need me as the doting great-aunt who spoils your children rotten, nothing more. I can’t be content with that. I want more.”

He decided to try another tack to dissuade her from this insane idea. “What about your house in France? I always thought you’d want to go back there someday to live, get back to your painting and your gardens. You always talk about that time in your life as if it were magical. Now’s your chance. Go for a few months. Open your studio and paint again.”

“All that’s in the past,” she said blithely, as if she hadn’t talked incessantly about doing that very thing at some distant point in the future. “You can’t recapture something that was lost. In fact, I’m thinking of selling the house.”

Shocked by the blasé announcement, he stared at her. “Now I know there’s something wrong. What aren’t you telling me? You always swore you would never sell that house, that you wanted to know it was there for your old age.”

She shrugged. “Times change. I was young and impetuous back then. While you boys were growing up, so was I. I have new dreams now.”

Richard regarded her skeptically. “And one of those dreams is to run our European division?”

“Yes,” she declared flatly, her gaze unblinking.

Truthfully, he didn’t doubt for a second that she could do it. Destiny was an amazing woman. She had a huge and generous heart, an astounding zest for life, and a mind that could grasp the details of a business merger even more quickly than his.

In her fifties, she was still a beautiful woman, trim and lithe with a cloud of soft brown hair framing a face that time had treated kindly. Her generous mouth was usually curved in a brilliant smile and laugh lines fanned out from eyes that sparkled.

There was no shortage of available men to fill her evenings, and yet she kept most of them at arm’s length. His wife said it was because Destiny still longed for the love of her life, whoever the hell that was, the man she’d left behind when she’d come home to take charge of her nephews. Maybe that was true, though Richard didn’t like thinking that she’d sacrificed someone so irreplaceable that she’d spent the last twenty years yearning for him. It would be even worse if that man turned out to be William Harcourt, as he once suspected. Harcourt was the very man who’d become the bane of Richard’s existence by mucking about in every deal Carlton Industries tried to make in Europe.

He pushed all of that from his mind and tried to view this request from Destiny’s perspective. In all these years she had never asked for anything for herself. She’d thrown herself into sudden and unexpected motherhood with complete abandon, mastering it with her own unorthodox style. After all she’d done for him
and his brothers, if she wanted this one thing from him now, how could he deny her?

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