Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 43

The loss of breath slammed into her. Abbi’s hand on her back jumped off from the startle. Luke tried to reach out to her, but all she could do was back away from his touch. She had never wanted and hated something more in her life.

He was trying to take her dad’s company away from her? The only man she’d ever opened her heart for. Thirty-seconds ago she would have taken a leap of faith into marriage with him if he would have made the offer. And now?

Grace shook her head, almost imperceptibly, as she tried to clear the thoughts flooding her mind.

Then it hit her. As quickly as the sadness had come, it had turned to anger. The realization steadied her rather than shook.

Their meeting each other wasn’t by chance, was it? Was it possible this whole charade of running into her was an attempt to make her swoon at his feet? Less in search of boundless love, and more a bottom line. Hoping for a better price on her prized possession.

How convenient it would have been for him to have the current acting President and CEO standing behind him, supporting them in their efforts. She would never have believed he’d be capable of such deceit. Not on her life.

Grace looked him in the eye, and the room turned to ice. His face shifted to concern at her sudden, unemotional front. The hurt on his face wasn’t far behind, but she wasn’t willing to fall for the same act twice. He could take his false care and concern and shove it nicely up his ass.

It was her turn to step forward and hold out a hand to him, “Luke, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Grace, we’ve met.”

Luke’s hand didn’t shake hers, it grabbed and held on tight, trying not to lose her to the stony look on her face, but it didn’t work. Grace tried to tug her hand away without causing too big of a scene.

Grace calmly offered for the men to take their places at the table so they could get started, although her heart thudded in her chest. Everybody did as they were told as they eyed the two of them. Nobody was willing to speak a word about Luke’s obvious concern and Grace’s frosty greeting.

Initial numbers – only the ones Wallace had requested – were read, agreed upon, and disagreed upon. Reports were compared, and processes were defined. Grace directed all of her questions and answers to Aaron. She didn’t feel the need to include the other three at this point. It wasn’t their fight yet. Yesterday, or even thirty minutes earlier, she would have involved them fully. She would have needed them. Persuaded them. They would have been pivotal in reviewing their proposal. A proposal they would all profit from. Everybody would get a piece of the successful pie.

Now, she didn’t want them to have a tiny sliver.

Grace slid the friendly acquisition proposal under the rest of her papers. She was ready and willing to follow the advice Luke had given her when she’d foolishly asked his opinion. Fight. She was going to knock Wallace, and all of them, dead.

“We’ll get ready for our first break here in a couple minutes,” she said evenly. “As you can see, we are a very efficient and successful company. What you’re offering has to make sense from a business perspective. For our customers, and especially to the people sitting outside these doors. Thomas and Jane has an unbeatable reputation – and for a good reason.”

Aaron smiled, a generous smile from what she could tell, and responded, “Ms. Thomas – Grace, if I may – if we thought we knew what we were getting into before, your presentation has only impressed us further.” He paused to recognize the other heads nodding in agreement. “I should confirm this is exactly the type of company we love and are willing to invest in with equal interest.”

“Then I do agree with you, but I have to apologize for my honesty.” Grace said, standing over the room, “Mr. Wallace, we aren’t just another company with a good bottom line. Respectfully, it will not be an easy task convincing me that any amount of money is worth this company and these people.” Grace looked around the table and paused when she finally looked Luke in the eye. “If I’m not satisfied with your proposal, the takeover you’re planning will become hostile. And we’ll fight it.”

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