If someone had told Levi Cade six months ago that he’d be running his father’s company, he would have laughed his ass off.
He wasn’t laughing anymore.
Levi rubbed the stubble on his chin as he listened to his lawyer drone on about Club Tahoe investors. And how many were backing out due to declining profit. Their biggest competitor, Blue Casino, was somehow stealing lucrative business away. Bastards.
The lawyer on Levi’s right glanced at Levi’s boots and his lip curled.
Levi internally sighed. If he was stuck running the luxury resort his father had managed from the grave to strong-arm him and his brothers into operating, he’d damn well dress the way he liked. Jeans, crew T-shirts, and mountain boots. The stuffy lawyers in their designer suits could go screw themselves. Especially when they were giving him crap updates on finances.
“Sir, after your father died, our investors turned elsewhere. The Korean conglomerate interested in Club Tahoe as their United States conference destination could give the resort the capital it needs to remain afloat. The board would be happy to entertain them during their stay and make sure Club Tahoe puts its best foot forward.”
Was that an air of desperation in the man’s tone? Did the lawyers want him behind the scenes because they didn’t think he could act the part?
He’d been a firefighter, before his dream job was torn from him by a five-pound block of cement that had landed in the wrong place. Or the right place, considering he was still standing. But he’d lost a little too much peripheral vision in one eye and the deed was done. It was either desk duty or quit altogether. He’d chosen to quit rather than live out his days as a desk jockey, watching others perform the job he loved. That he’d ended up behind a desk anyway was just plain bad luck.
Levi’s father died a few months after Levi had quit the fire department, and his father’s will stipulated that Levi take over as CEO of Club Tahoe, the family resort. Only one of his four younger brothers was suitable for the job, and he worked for the competition, Blue Casino. None of the others wanted to work here, let alone run the place.
Levi wasn’t the idle type. He’d needed to get out of the house after months of recovery. He just never thought he’d become a suit. Which technically he hadn’t, considering he’d refused thus far to wear the damned things.
He crossed his ankle over his knee, showing off his fine workman’s boots. The lawyers surrounding the small conference table in his father’s old office had higher degrees than Levi’s bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, but he wasn’t an idiot. “First of all,” he said, “it’s Levi, not sir. And second, no, I won’t need your help. We’re going in a different direction. No more relying on investors to keep things afloat. We can pull this off on our own, if we bring in more corporate business and keep the meeting rooms occupied.”
The lawyers, who made more in annual salary than Levi had made his entire five years as a fireman, glanced nervously at each other.
He hadn’t a clue what he was doing, other than going on instinct. And since his father had set this bullshit in motion, the lawyers—and whoever else wanted to be in charge—would have to deal with his decisions. The only question was if Levi could deal with the choices he made.
Twice now, he’d nearly lost everything. When he was young and his mother died, and months ago when his dream career was torn from him. Three times, if he considered the future he’d planned with his ex-girlfriend—before she’d betrayed him. He knew what it was like to almost lose it all, and he’d never forgive himself if he mucked up his father’s company and left his brothers without an inheritance.
The men shuffled their papers and stood to leave. “Yes, sir—ah, Levi,” the head lawyer said, and snapped his fingers at an assistant. The other man brought over a large folder. “Here is the company’s dossier. Shin Electronics is bringing a translator for their business retreat next week, but your new assistant—handpicked by your father, I might add—is also fluent in Korean.”
“She, sir—Levi. Ms. Wright has been shown the grounds and is currently training with Esther, your father’s old assistant.”
Levi dropped his boot to the ground. “Did you just say, Wright?” That name sent a chill down his spine. But there was no way his new assistant was his ex. Not even his father would be that cruel.
One of the lawyers, the one with dark red hair slicked to the side, gestured to a young woman entering on the other end of the room. “Per your father’s will, Ms. Wright will help you through the transition as CEO. He was aware of Esther’s retirement and had planned ahead.”
Esther had been more like a mother to Levi and his brothers after his own mother died when Levi was eight years old. He’d been old enough to know what he’d lost and that his father was never the same. Working long hours, never around, his father had checked out, and Esther had done her best to fill his mother’s place. But Esther had been his father’s assistant, not their mother. Levi filled the role of parent to his brothers more often than not.
He glanced at the girl across the room. Thank God, it wasn’t his ex. “You mean jailbait over there?” he said low. “My father chose her to help me run this place?”
The woman entering his office didn’t look anything like his ex-girlfriend. This Ms. Wright was tall and thin, with long, wavy blond hair, not brunette and curvy. And she looked like she could pass for seventeen if she weren’t wearing business clothes.
Philip—or was it Sam?—coughed into his hand. “Ms. Wright might have a problem with, ah, being referred to in that manner. She possesses a master’s degree from Harvard Business School and recently completed a one-year internship at a popular hotel in Korea. She’s the ideal candidate to assist you with the group you’re to entertain next week. If, that is, you still wish to forgo our assistance?” The man’s hopeful gaze gave away his eagerness.
Not eager—desperate. They really didn’t want Levi handling it.
He scanned the blonde from head to toe. She’d just finished talking to his other lawyer. Why the hell did he have so many lawyers? This guy’s name escaped Levi too. Wasn’t Levi’s fault they all looked alike in their identical suits and polished haircuts. Ms. Wright, on the other hand, had small, pretty features for a girl who had to be five foot ten in heels. Very pretty features. And young. “Listen…Philip?”
“There’s no way that girl’s old enough to serve alcohol, let alone be the assistant to a CEO of the finest resort in Lake Tahoe.” He’d been forced into the role—might as well throw around some weight. “Aren’t you people checking IDs before you hire?”
“Ms. Emily Wright is twenty-six, sir.”
Levi blinked. Twenty-six? He narrowed his eyes. “You remember the ages of all our employees?”
His lawyer flushed. “No, but as you said, she looks—ah, young. I assure you, she’s of age.”
Levi stared at the girl once more. On closer inspection, her legs were thin, but shapely, feet encased in heels that highlighted her calves on up to a very fine ass. “Jailbait,” he muttered.
“Sir, again, I don’t think—”
“Right.” Levi waved him off. “Don’t call her that. Fine. Set up a meeting with Ms. Wright in my office tomorrow.”
“But she’s here now, Mr. Cade. Don’t you wish to meet her?” His lawyer wasn’t calling him sir anymore, but he clearly struggled with calling him by his given name.
“Of course, Mr. Cade,” Samuel said, but he didn’t seem pleased.
Ms. Wright glanced over, and Levi swallowed. There was something about this girl that put him on edge. She wasn’t his ex, that was for damn sure, but his ex’s face popped into his head every time he heard the name, and that was irritating.
“Tomorrow will be fine.” Samuel gave a shooing gesture to the other lawyer and Levi’s new assistant.
A light frown marred her pretty face, but she walked out with the other suit.
“If you don’t mind me saying.” Samuel folded his hands in front of him. “Your father was an acute businessman, but there’s always room for fresh blood.” He smiled, and it appeared genuine. “Club Tahoe will blossom beneath the management of the Cade sons.” The last sentence was less sincere, ending on a slight wince.
Blossom? Interesting choice of words for a grown man.
Neither Levi nor his brothers were qualified for the positions they now held at Club Tahoe, but he’d be damned before he let this place fall to pieces or be run by someone other than a Cade. His father had built the resort, sacrificing everything for it, even the love of his family.
He glanced at his phone. “All that matters is that the customers are happy. And that my brothers and I don’t screw things up.” Speaking of which… “I’m off to an appointment. I’ll be unavailable for the next two hours.”
No need to tell Samuel that Levi had an appointment at the Fireside Lounge. The lawyers were so far up his ass they probably already knew his habits.
* * *
“We’re doing what?” Wes was the third-oldest Cade brother, behind Levi and Adam, born right in the middle of the five of them.
“Hosting Korean businessmen. Shin—something. Huge company that owns about two dozen others.” Levi took a deep swig of his ale. “You think you can take them out on the course?”
Wes threw up his hands, glaring. “Sure, why not. In between running the pro shop, managing the grounds, and batting off the hands of horny rich women slipping their numbers in my khakis during lessons. Jesus, Levi, you think you can talk to us before you make these sorts of plans? The pressure to pull this shit off falls on all of us.” Wes leaned back heavily in his chair, running a hand through his hair. He was the darkest of the five of them, with hair the color of their mother’s dark brown.
Levi stared at Wes. “Am I the CEO of this enterprise, or not?”
Wes glared. “Only because you’re the oldest. It sure as hell isn’t because you’re business-minded. Why Dad put you in charge instead of Adam is a mystery.”
Adam was the Cade son who’d actually pandered to the old man. Did whatever their father had asked of him. Until their father’s last request placed Adam at Blue Casino, the local competitor giving their club a run for its money. Not just a run; Blue Casino could very well put Club Tahoe out of business, if Levi and his brothers weren’t careful. But that didn’t mean Adam would help them out. The bastard.
Adam had had some sort of epiphany during his foray at Blue Casino while scouting out the competition. He’d decided to remain there, and for some reason, their father, who was the master of manipulation, hadn’t minded. Rumor was the old man had turned soft the last year of his life, when he’d learned he wouldn’t live much longer.
Two parents dying prematurely—that was some shit-poor luck. But Levi and his brothers would survive like they always did. In any case, Adam was off the list of sons their father could prevail upon postmortem to run Club Tahoe.
“You know Adam’s not an option,” Levi said. “He’s been promoted at Blue Casino and his fiancée works there. We’re the ones who didn’t have jack going on.”
“Speak for yourself,” Wes muttered. “I haven’t given up on the tour.”
No, Wes never acknowledged his rotten streak in golf. It started at the end of college, when he was in his prime, and had persisted. Wes had become an assistant pro at Club Tahoe a couple of years back. After their father’s death, he started running the club as the head pro and gave lessons. He was probably the most qualified out of the four of them for the positions they held, all things considered. But Wes never stopped reminding his brothers that it was only a matter of time before he began his real career as a tour pro.
Levi stretched out his legs. “In any case, Dad knew which one of his sons had the charisma, the magnetism, the strength to lead—”
“Are you two finished?” Bran said, then swigged the last of his beer and flagged a waitress. She immediately turned and headed their way with a brilliant smile on her face.
Bran was the second youngest, and though he looked like his brothers—broad shoulders, Cade height—he had dark blond hair he kept longer than the rest of them, with GQ good looks and bright blue eyes that hit the ladies like an arrow.
Bran didn’t have to work to gain female attention, and wasn’t that a damn waste? Nine times out of ten he had no clue when a woman was interested in him. He was quiet—except around Levi and the rest of his brothers—and more of a homebody than a playboy.
“I’m just getting warmed up.” Levi smirked, but it wasn’t true. He was nowhere near prepared to run Club Tahoe, but he’d do it because he was the head of the family now.
Bran shoved a new pint at him. “Drink your beer and put a lid on it. I’ve had a crappy day in the restaurant, and I can’t take you and Wes arguing anymore.”
Wes twirled his lucky ball marker, frowning.
A muscle near Levi’s eye twitched. Damn this job. “What’s going on in the restaurants now?”
Bran rubbed his forehead. “What isn’t going on? Wine orders not showing up. Employees stealing from the till. Waitresses fighting—”
“With each other?” This comment, said excitedly, came from Hunter, the youngest of the five Cades. And the one brother Levi didn’t get along with. At all.
Hunt walked up and took a seat at the table. “Maybe I should handle the restaurants and referee said waitresses. Anyone ever consider a sideshow?” Hunt held up his hands as though framing a billboard. “Ladies of Lake Tahoe: Mud, Lingerie, and Hot Wings. Catchy, right?”
Levi glared at him. “Who invited you?”
Hunt rolled his eyes. “I see you’re in a great mood today. Before you know it, you’ll be just like Dad.”
No one wanted to be like their father. It was why they’d all run from anything having to do with Club Tahoe. Until now. “Fuck you.”
“Jesus Christ, can I finish what I was saying?” Bran exhaled heavily, his bright blue eyes flashing. “Levi, we have too much on our plates for you and Hunt to keep up the feud. And Hunt, I just got finished telling Levi and Wes to chill out. Don’t you stir the pot.” Bran took a long swig of the new beer the waitress set in front of him.
“He’s right,” Levi said. “We have to make sure next week goes off without a hitch. We’ve got businessmen with a lot of money coming into town to check out the place.” He cringed. “Put on your best clothes and be on your best behavior.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bran said.
True. Levi wasn’t known for his charming demeanor, though he could charm if he wanted. “Dammit, I’ll even put on a monkey suit. And if I will”—he pointed at each of them—“you all had better. We have to wine and dine these people and convince them that Club Tahoe is the best they’ll find.”
Levi thought of Ms. Wright, his new assistant, and how her Korean language skills might give them a leg up. “Any of you know Dad hired a woman named Emily Wright?” Levi shivered. “I almost ran out of the room, just hearing the name.”
Hunt choked. “Emily Wright?”
Levi’s shoulders tensed. “Yeah, so?”
“Levi, man, how well did you know your ex-girlfriend?” Hunt asked.
Levi ran his tongue across the top of his teeth, mouth shut tightly. “Not well enough,” he growled, barely able to tolerate Hunt’s presence these last four years.
Hunt had the dignity to look ashamed, but only for a split second. “I’ve apologized a million times for that. When are you going to forgive me?”
“You slept with my girlfriend. Who says I have to forgive you?”
Hunt stretched his neck and stood. “I see coming here today was a bad idea. I’ll be in the boathouse if anyone needs me. Oh, and Levi?” He shot him a hard look. “Emily Wright is Lisa Wright’s half-sister. You know, Lisa, the girl you claimed to love? If you’d loved her so much, maybe you should have taken the time to get to know her. Or at least remember she had a sister.”