His Royal Highness

As our food disappears from our plates, our discussion turns to the murder mystery podcast we’ve been following for the last few weeks. I got him addicted and now we both love playing armchair detective.

After dinner, he walks me to the elevator with a doggy bag filled with enough food to keep me fed for a week. Ava always does this, and I’ve learned not to fight it. I know when I get home, I’ll find that the bag is filled not only with leftovers from our meal tonight, but with other previously prepared food as well.

She just can’t help herself.

“Same time next week?” he asks, pressing the elevator button for me.

“Same time.” I nod.

The doors slide open and I take a step in before realizing there’s a man trying to exit. Cal’s guest must have finally arrived. For a split second, we do the awkward elevator tango. Left. Right. Left. How can two humans possibly be so in sync? We’ll be dancing around each other for all of eternity, I think, before he chuckles and gives me a wide berth, stepping around me. I step onto the elevator and turn back, eyes chancing a quick glance up at his face. I expect to see a board member or close confidant of Cal’s, someone who frequents his penthouse. Instead, I’m punched in the gut by the sight of a man I haven’t seen in eight years.

Our gazes catch and my knees give way. A second before I crumple, I catch myself against the elevator wall, just above the control panel.

He doesn’t speak.

I don’t either.

Has it been five seconds or five years since we first locked eyes?

His mouth opens. I know he’s about to say something, but before he can, I slam my hand on the Close door button, and for once the damn thing decides to work. Surely it’s the first time in recorded history. The elevator doors glide shut, blocking him from my view, and I slide down to the floor, lost for words, lost for air.

It’s been eight years and now he’s back.

Cal’s grandson.

My first crush.





Chapter Two





Derek





I’ve had a hell of a day. Delayed flight from London. Chatty seatmate. Traffic piled up on the highway. I could use a change of clothes, a warm meal, and a bed, though if I could only pick one, I’d take the bed. I’d planned to arrive this afternoon and get settled into my apartment at exec housing before dinner with Cal, but I had to come straight here from the airport instead. He told me it was urgent.

I blame sleep deprivation and a long travel day for my poor manners just now. I didn’t expect to walk off the elevator and nearly trip over another person. I was so concerned with keeping us both on our feet that I didn’t think to stop and look at her.

It wasn’t until she’d fully stepped onto the elevator that my fatigue-addled brain finally put two and two together.

Whitney.

My old friend.

All grown up…

“You’re late,” Cal says, his tone hard.

I glance over my shoulder and take in my grandfather, hands stuffed in his pants pockets, white beard longer than when I last saw him. He and I used to be the same height, but it seems old age has stolen an inch or two.

I drag a hand across my chin and nod. “Plane had mechanical issues. I only got in an hour ago.”

“I was hoping you would be here for dinner.”

The mention of a meal has my stomach grumbling so loudly Cal can’t miss it.

His reproachful eyes soften as he shakes his head. “C’mon, I’ll have Ava fix you a plate.”

He waits for me to catch up to him and we walk side by side to the dining room. He slings his arm around my shoulders—never one to shy away from showing affection. “It’s good to have you home.”

It’s good to be home.

I’ve been away for too long, longer than I originally intended.

London has been my home base for eight years. Cal wanted me to oversee the construction of our sister theme park, but now that it’s up and running, I belong back here, with him.

“How are you feeling?”

His arm leaves my shoulders. “If you think we’re going to spend the whole night talking about my health, you can just turn right back around and find somewhere else to eat.”

“I think it’s a fair question. You owe me a little information after the stunt you pulled.”

I don’t know whose idea it was to keep his health issues from me, but when I found out he’d been in the hospital a few months after the fact, I was more than a little pissed. I know Cal. I know he likes to downplay the severity of his health issues—especially when said issues could potentially take his focus away from his work—but had I known, I would have been on the first flight back to Georgia. I would have come home sooner.

He dips his head into the kitchen and asks Ava to fix me a plate. Then he turns and takes his place at the head of the table. “All I’m going to say is that I have a team of doctors chirping around me nonstop. A nurse comes up here every day to take my blood pressure and hound Ava about what my diet looks like. I have her lie, of course. There’s no one more loyal than Ava, but like I told Whitney, a man has to live. A little salt here, some wine there—it won’t kill me, and if it does, I’ll die a happy man.”

“I’m happy to hear you’re taking your health seriously.”

My dry tone makes him roll his eyes to the ceiling. “I tell you what, when you get to be my age, you tell me if life is worth living without a nice glass of wine at the end of the day.”

On cue, Ava walks in with two half-filled glasses of merlot and sets them down on the table. She’s an older woman with an attractive face and shy nature. More often than not, she wears floral dresses and a stained apron. I’ve always had a soft spot for her.

Cal thanks her and she smiles warmly in my direction. I round the table to embrace her. It’s been too long since I’ve seen her. I invite her to stay and eat with us, but she assures me she has too much to do.

Once she’s back in the kitchen, preparing my food, there’s a silent standoff between my grandfather and me as he lifts his glass to his mouth and takes a long sip. I know he has a point. It’s not my place to hound him. It sounds like there are enough people doing that already.

With a sigh, I pull back the chair beside him and take a seat. I sat in this spot for dinner nearly every night growing up. Nothing about the dining room has changed since I’ve been away. Glossy dark blue paneled walls. Artwork neatly arranged beneath brass library lights. The antique French dining table is still inlaid with scrolling vines in maple and walnut interrupted by the water marks I left as a kid that Cal never cared much about.

Ava returns a few minutes later with a spread worthy of a king, and I waste no time digging in.

I eat while Cal inquires about the London park. There’s not a single detail too small. He wants to know it all.

A few of the board members have tried unsuccessfully to seize control of the Knightley Company from Cal over the years, but their efforts are always in vain. The majority of our board and executive team know there is no way Cal will walk away from the Knightley Company as long as he lives. There is no retirement in his future. He built all of this. In the ’70s, Cal was running his family’s theme park in New York. It was small and they wanted to expand, but the surrounding land was too expensive to purchase. When his father passed away, Cal sold the park and headed down to Georgia, bringing every dime to his name with him. He wanted to build the largest theme park in the world, and to do that he needed a lot of cheap land. He took a big risk. This region was known for its low coastal grasslands and swamps, and even though there were deep pockets of pine forests, loggers were more interested in harvesting timber in north Georgia. The area was officially declared wasteland by the state. Cal jumped on the opportunity. He started to buy up property for $80 an acre through small private transactions, keeping suspicion and costs down. He’d amassed 18,000 acres before an enterprising journalist put the clues together and outed him in a local paper.

New York Businessman Set to Build Theme Park in the Marsh





He was the laughing stock of the state, but even still, land prices soared and the last 2,000 acres ultimately cost him the same amount as the first 18,000.

You could say Cal got the last laugh.

With an annual attendance of 60 million people, Fairytale Kingdom is not only the world’s most visited theme park, it’s also the most profitable.

We offer every amenity a guest could hope to find outside of the park itself: themed resorts, shopping centers, golf courses, private communities, and restaurants, all done through a careful balance of preservation and innovation. In 50 years, Cal has only developed a fourth of the land he originally purchased. The grasslands and forests still surround Fairytale Kingdom as a means of preserving the local ecology.

We’ve mimicked this practice in London as well, though on a smaller scale.

“I’ve enjoyed my time there, but I’m glad to be home. I’d like to take over as the Director of Operations for the U.S. park. I think it’s well past time.”

previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ..57 next