Pretty Broken Dreams

By: Jeana E. Mann

Chapter 1

Vanessa - Today

THE CAB STOPS in front of Seaforth Towers. After so many years abroad, Laurel Falls feels more foreign than France. I stand on the sidewalk and stare up at the twin spires. They project into the clear blue sky, dwarfing all the other skyscrapers in the city, a testament to my father’s influence. Following his fall from power, I’ve been given the reins to his empire. The way life changes when we least expect it never fails to amaze me.

I take the elevator to the top floor. A line of desks flank the approach to my door. Tension charges the atmosphere. Heads snap to watch me pass. I nod, offering greetings to each of the employees. Because I’m so new, I still don’t know their names but vow to learn them before the end of the week. My assistants, Ivan and Elena, scurry to my side.

“Good morning, Ms. Seaforth,” they say in unison.

“Good morning.” A thrill flutters in my stomach. I’ve waited all my life for this opportunity, a chance to prove I’m more than the rich guy’s daughter or the diplomat’s ex-wife. Ivan extends a steaming cup of espresso roast, my favorite, with a dollop of whipped cream on top. “You don’t have to fetch coffee. I’m perfectly capable of getting it.”

“It’s my pleasure, Ms. Seaforth,” he says. His somber expression lightens. He’s a trim thirty-something with soft brown eyes and slender, sensitive hands.

“How’s your wife? And the baby?” I ask.

“They’re doing well, thank you.” His eyebrows lift the smallest amount. I have a feeling my father never asked about the welfare of his employees. He certainly never asked about mine. “The doctor says they can come home tomorrow.”

“Babies are such a blessing. Did you take tomorrow off? You should.”

“No, I didn’t want to miss work. My mother-in-law is going to pick them up.”

“Nonsense. You need to be there. A new baby only comes home from the hospital once.” This talk of kids causes my heart to squeeze. My children are half a world away with their father. I miss them more than I ever imagined. They spend the school year with me, summers with my ex-husband Giles and his new twenty-two year old wife. I blink away the sting of tears and force a smile.

“Company policy doesn’t cover personal leave unless you’ve been on the job for a year. I’ve only been here for eleven months.” He shakes his head then glances at Elena, like he can’t believe his ears.

“I’m sure we can work something out.” Before I turn to my office, I stop and speak to Elena. “Would you get with the head of HR and set an appointment for us to meet? I’d like to review the policies.” Knowing my father, he’d washed his hands of personnel relations, but I intend to remedy any oversights. A happy employee is a loyal employee.

“Certainly.” She taps a note into her tablet.

“Can I just say again how excited we are to work for you?” The enthusiasm in Ivan’s voice breaks a bit of the ice surrounding us. “Before you came along, the atmosphere was unbearable. You’ve lightened the mood considerably.”

“Thank you. I’m pleased to be here.” Which is the understatement of the year. I still can’t believe it. I feel like an imposter, posing as the head of America’s largest conglomerate. Any moment, I expect security to burst through the doors and usher me out.

Elena remains expressionless, taking my briefcase and coat. She’s slender, her brown hair in a sleek chignon, her clothing on the cutting edge of fashion. An air of calm capability swirls around her, soothing my nerves. “Your brother is waiting in your office.”

“Ugh.” I can’t resist rolling my eyes.

Ivan clears his throat to hold back a chuckle.

Sure enough, Sam sits behind my desk, his back to the door, staring through the wall of windows onto the cityscape. When I close the door, he swivels to face me. He looks comfortable there, dressed in a sharp gray suit and electric blue tie, as he should. My father intended for Sam to assume his place, not his oldest daughter. A wave of inadequacy knots my stomach. I chase it away and straighten my shoulders.

He rocks back in the chair. “It’s seven-thirty. Half the day is gone already. You’re going to have to up your game if you want to play with the big boys.”

“Don’t you ever sleep?” I ask.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” The tone of his voice is confident, commanding. When Sam speaks, everyone—including me—listens.

“Dad would be so proud.” A portrait of Maxwell hangs on the wall to my left. Sam’s resemblance to our father rattles my fragile composure. The same square jaw, blazing green eyes, and air of control. Sunlight sparks in his blond hair. Aside from the disparity in ages, they could be twins instead of father and son. By contrast, I look more like my mother; dark blond, busty, classic features.