“Forgive me. I know this is shocking. I’m not good with conversational niceties.”
“No kidding?” I murmured. “Seriously, Preston, is this some kind of joke?”
“No. I don’t joke about things as important as this.”
He gently massaged my knee and my dizzy brain began swimming for a whole other reason. Damn the man. Damn his hands. Damn his voice. Damn his bluntness that made me want to keel over and damn that sexy gleam in his eyes and perfect smile. Damn it all.
“If you’re okay to continue, I’ll explain.”
I nodded instantly. “An explanation would be wonderful.”
He gave a curt nod then moved to sit behind his desk again.
Mr. Blackwell put a single printed piece of paper in front of me and a pen. “This is a non-disclosure agreement. Whatever we talk about in here stays in here. Any conversation we have will remain private and confidential.”
I looked up at the attorney. Again, a mask of seriousness. I took his pen in my hand, trying not to shake. I read over the agreement. Standard non-disclosure. Apparently whatever we were about to talk about was defcon-super-secret-freak-Megan-out kind of info.
I signed and Mr. Blackman took the paper. He nodded to Preston.
“Okay, here’s the situation,” Preston began. “I hold forty-nine percent of Strauss holdings worldwide.”
I nodded. I had heard the typical stories when I started working here, but most of them were about John Strauss Senior. Little was mentioned about his two sons, mostly because they seemed to work behind the scenes and no one had ever really met them.
“My brother, Charlie, holds forty-eight percent.” Preston’s eyes went hard when he spoke of his brother. There was obviously no love lost there. “And my father owns the remaining three percent.”
“Okay,” I said in understanding.
“My father is retiring. Though he will sit on the board, he is set to give his three percent stake to either my brother or myself.”
Ah, now it made sense. That three percent if given to Charlie would put him at fifty-one percent and the majority over Preston. I had dealt with my fair share of contracts and legal issues in real estate and property management—not to mention several college courses on business and finance.
“I see you’ve mentally worked through the math.”
“Yes, but I still don’t see what this has to do with you getting married.”
“I have built this hotel into an empire. My brother has merely inherited what he has. My father is aware of this and up until I spoke to him last week, was prepared to give me the three percent. Now, he’s leaning toward giving it to Charlie.”
“Because he has a legacy,” Preston snarled the last word.
It was the first time I saw the angry side start to seep out. There was apparently a lot going on with this family that I didn’t know and probably didn’t want to. Growing up with Kate as a best friend, I had a firsthand look at her family. Whether they were mentally ill or just plain mean, I learned that appearances can be deceiving.
“Charlie and his wife just had their first child.”
“I see.” My brain was processing a mile a minute, but at least things were starting to make some sense. Trying to keep things straight, I replayed Preston’s words. So Preston wanted the majority of the holdings, but John Charles Senior wanted a Strauss heir, which Preston’s brother had, but Preston didn’t. “So you want to…”
Boom! My blood pressure spiked when the piece slipped into place.
“Are you saying that you want to have a baby? With me!?”
“No.” He sounded more disgusted by the idea than I did, which sort of hurt and was a completely stupid emotion. I barely knew the man. But this situation was proving to exceed anything I ever expected.
“I just want to marry you. We will show everyone that we are a happy, stable couple and that will be enough for presumption that we will have a family.”
“But we won’t.”
“No.” He glanced at Mr. Blackwell, then his gaze was back on me. “I’m asking for three years, Megan. Everything will operate as a standard engagement. Then a wedding, and yes,” his eyes bore into mine, “consummation of the marriage.”
Embarrassment snared through my bones like a freshly hit drum. I looked at Mr. Blackwell, who didn’t seem to care in the slightest.
“If you say yes, there will be a prenuptial agreement. During the time of our engagement and marriage, you will be provided for and have a weekly allowance as well as an escrow account of five million dollars that will fund at the end of three years. Then you will take your money and we part amicably.”
That shock I had finally pushed down? Rose times ten.
“I…I don’t think I can…this is…” I started toying with the hem of my skirt.
“Lars, can you excuse us for a moment?” Preston said.
The attorney quietly left and shut the door behind him.
“Look at me, Megan.” My eyes snapped to his like a magnet to metal. “I know this must be a lot to take in, but I’m running out of time. I need you to help me with this and you,” he opened the file in front of him, “could benefit from my help as well.”
My stomach roiled and my skin felt damp and chilly.
He looked through the papers. “You worked for Tim St. Roy at his real estate firm in Chicago.”
What exactly did he have on me? Preston continued, like listing the facts of my life was no big deal.
“St. Roy was imprisoned a few months ago for investment fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. And it looks like,” he flipped more pages, “your parents were two of the unlucky victims of his scheme.”
A scheme I unknowingly helped him with. I pushed my parents to invest. Thought it would be good for them. They put up their house and sank their retirement into something that I had facilitated, only to lose it all. We were barely able to make the house payments after the second mortgage was taken out on it.
We were sinking. And it was my fault.
“Based on your bank records, it looks like you wire every spare cent you make back to your parents.”
I frowned so hard I felt it on the back of my head. “How did you—this is an invasion of privacy.”
“When you applied for employment here you consented to a background check.”
“Yeah, but this is—”
“Thorough research,” he cut in.