They called him The Beast.
Tessa Campbell thought the name was highly appropriate as she waited in the private reception area outside of Drake Vidal’s office at the corporate headquarters of Vidal Labs and Technology, located in the heart of downtown Chicago on a cold, windy Monday morning. The meeting had been set for ten o’clock, and she had arrived fifteen minutes early to ensure she was on time. It hadn’t mattered, though, since she’d been kept waiting for over an hour.
If given the choice, she never would’ve come. Would never have put herself in the position of being anywhere near Drake Vidal, but it couldn’t be helped. She’d made a promise to her father, and she would see it through, no matter the cost.
From the research she had done on the reclusive man, Drake Vidal was a brilliant inventor of medical equipment, but he was also known as a corporate shark and pretty much an all-round ruthless bastard. She had found almost nothing about his private life when she had done her search for him on the Web, except for several pictures of him taken with a bevy of beauties on his arm. Not that he’d posed for those photos.
Vidal was elusive, which made the media revere him as the mysterious millionaire of Chicago’s elite society. His obvious disdain for publicity did nothing to lessen people’s interest, but somehow, he’d been able to keep anyone from prying into his private life. Still, speculation about him ran rampant, but he didn’t seem to mind the bad press about himself as long as the news about his company remained positive.
Tessa liked to do extensive research when it came to her business. Details were key in her profession as an event planner who owned her own company with a partner she considered her best friend. Elegantly Yours had started out as a dream, but hard work and dedication had made it a reality. For some, throwing parties for a living seemed frivolous, but Tessa thought it was the perfect job. Whether it be weddings, anniversaries or a random holiday party, people entrusted her company with the important events of their lives and depended on them to make those days special. That was why it was important to know details about the people she was dealing with.
But Drake Vidal was an unknown variable...and that made him dangerous.
The room where Tessa waited had stark, white walls, black furniture and a gray, granite floor. On the walls hung black and white photographs with touches of red accents in plain black frames. The only other color came from the blood red roses that stood out of a crystal vase on a large pedestal in the center of the room. For some, the space would have been streamlined and ultra-modern, but for Tessa, it just showed a lack of emotional depth—and to be honest—she found it sort of depressing.
Unlike other high-rises in the downtown area, the Vidal building was not one that welcomed those who didn’t belong there. From the moment she walked in, she’d felt like an outsider intruding in a foreign world where only the elite fit in.
Even dressed in one of her best suits, Tessa knew she didn’t belong. She had chosen a black suit she’d gotten on super sale and paired it with her favorite emerald, silk blouse she wore to give herself an extra boost of courage. She’d tried to hide her exhaustion under a thin layer of makeup, but knew she looked as weary as she felt. To save herself time, she’d pulled her long brown hair back with a clip, but the light flurries outside made wisps of hair escape to frame her face, making her look less professional than she would have liked.
Tessa’s wool coat had been taken from her when she had arrived on the top floor by a young woman who had been sent to lead her back to the private reception area. After the assistant hung Tessa’s coat up in a small, hidden closet, she sat down at a desk adjacent to a formidable looking older woman who guarded the gates to Vidal’s office. The woman introduced herself as Mrs. Potts, Vidal’s personal secretary. Her silver hair was pulled back in an elegant chignon, and her suit looked like something that could be worn to have tea with the royal family. She was intimidating, but her smile had been kind when she’d told Tessa that Mr. Vidal was running a few minutes behind and to take a seat in the lounge.
Tessa refused the offer of refreshments as she placed her black bag on the floor near her chair, and silently hoped the man inside the office would give her the chance to explain the situation. As she sat there, she noted the way the employees’ voices lowered reverently when they spoke to the admin that guarded the entrance to Vidal’s office. There was a hint of fear in their tones when they spoke of him, and hearing it just made Tessa’s anxiety increase.
But if he thought making her wait would make her give up and leave, he’d thought wrong.
She was startled when Mrs. Potts called out, “Ms. Campbell, Mr. Vidal will see you now.”
“Thank you.” Taking a steadying breath, Tessa picked up her bag. Mrs. Potts nodded to her before leading the way to Vidal's office door. She softly rapped twice on the closed door, then pushed it open for Tessa to enter.
And there he was.
Drake Vidal was a man who commanded attention without saying a word.
The pictures Tessa had seen online were nothing compared to seeing him in person. He had striking features, with a hard, chiseled jaw, dark hair, and penetrating, laser blue eyes. His face looked like it had been carved from stone by a master artisan. Drake was devastatingly handsome in his dark-gray suit with a stark, white dress shirt. To some, the absence of a tie would make him seem more approachable, but Tessa thought it made the power he exuded even more pronounced.
Standing behind his massive desk, Drake Vidal looked like a man who ruled his world with an iron fist. The quiet intensity of his gaze reminded her of a beast, ready to strike at the first sign of weakness, and it made his nickname seem highly appropriate. Saying that he was intimidating was an understatement, but Tessa was on a mission, and she was determined to see it through.
“Ms. Campbell. Have a seat.”
His voice was deep and rough as he gave the command. She heard the sound of the door closing behind her, and Tessa had to order herself to move forward when all she wanted was to turn around and run for safety. The sound of her heels clicking on the granite floor sounded overloud as she crossed the expanse of the large office.
She noticed he waited until she was settled in one of the plush chairs facing his desk before he sat back down, surveying her like some king from his throne. She set her bag down so it was propped against side of the chair, then gripped her shaking hands together in her lap, hoping to mask the telltale sign of her nervousness.
If he asks me to tell him about myself, I’m out of here.
Tessa fought back a wave of nervous laughter as she struggled with how uncomfortable the situation was. It was now or never. “Mr. Vidal, I know this was a highly unusual request, but I would like to thank you for seeing me.”
Drake Vidal took his time studying the dark-haired beauty that sat across from him. He knew she was nervous. Most people were when they met with him, but he was impressed she met his gaze head-on without looking away as most usually did.
He had deliberately made her wait.
At first, he’d been annoyed when he discovered she had come instead of her father, but he found himself intrigued enough to take the meeting. He’d looked over the file on Tessa Campbell his faithful admin had compiled for him while she waited in his private reception area. There wasn’t much in the file, but he had enough to know who she was and what she did.
It impressed him even more the way she bore his silent scrutiny without fidgeting as she patiently waited. He’d deliberately kept his office dark so he was partially cast in shadows, but he could see her clearly in the light streaming in from the windows. She had a stunning face, with delicate features, flawless skin and pretty hazel eyes that were wary as she gazed at him. When coupled with the dark hair that framed her face, she looked younger than the twenty-six years he knew she was.
Still, Drake wouldn’t let a pretty face sway his decision over what must be done.
Patrick Campbell was one of the most talented biomedical engineers Drake had, but there were consequences for violating the strict confidentiality clause in the contracts all Vidal employees had to sign when they started working at the company. It pained Drake to lose such a brilliant mind, but he couldn’t allow for the breach of the contract terms to go unpunished. He touched the folder containing the severance papers that had been prepared for the meeting, but having Patrick’s daughter show up changed his plans. Pushing the folder aside, Drake leaned back in his chair.
“Why are you here, Ms. Campbell?”
Drake wanted to sigh as she flinched at his curt question. He had little tact and barely took the time to deal with formal niceties, but he hadn’t meant to sound so abrupt. Basically, his people skills sucked, and he knew it. He was well aware of his reputation and what most people thought of him. It had taken courage for her to come, and he didn’t want to make this harder than it already was. He tried to soften his expression as he waited for her to speak, but could see it did little good to put her at ease.
Tessa’s throat felt dry as a desert, and she swallowed, trying to regain her composure. “I know it was presumptuous of me to come here when you ordered—I mean, when you asked my father to be here today. I needed to meet with you to tell you the article that was posted yesterday about your company’s new product wasn’t his fault. Well, it was, but it wasn’t.”
“That clears it up,” Drake said dryly. “Patrick has worked for me for years and knows the consequences of his actions. He violated the confidentiality clause when he spoke to that reporter about the project he’s been working on.”
“He didn’t know that man was a reporter, I swear he didn’t. I know what he did was wrong, but he’s dedicated his life to the work he does for you. It’s the number one priority in his life, and he would never willingly jeopardized that.”
“But he did,” Drake said with conviction. “Ms. Campbell—”
“Please, call me Tessa.”
“Fine. Tessa, even if the prototype for the new scanner is complete, it will be launched under my directive at the time of my choosing, not of my employee’s and certainly not the media’s.”
“I understand. That man took advantage of my dad. I’m not trying to excuse what he did, but this is a bad time of year for my father...for us.” Tessa had no intention of getting personal when she’d walked in the door, but the words just came spilling out. “Five years ago, my mother was killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s day. The anniversary of when we buried her was a few days ago and my father went to that bar to try and forget. He didn’t know that man sitting next to him was a reporter, and my father certainly didn’t think he would print anything that was said.”
“I’m sorry for the loss your mother, Tessa.”
“Thank you.” Tessa saw Drake’s sharp blue eyes soften with sympathy and kept going, pushing hard. “My father values his position with your company. He knew when he read the article that he was the one who had leaked the information. He emailed you immediately to tell you. He didn’t try to hide it or cover it up. He knows he shouldn’t have spoken to anyone about it, but he didn’t do it deliberately. I can guess when you asked to meet with him this morning that you were going to let him go, but I’m asking you to please reconsider. Mr. Vidal—”
She tried to smile, but feared the trembling of her lips made it look more like a grimace. “Drake—”
“Why didn’t your father come to the meeting, Tessa? Why send you here to plead for his job if it means so much to him?”
Tess tried to fight back the tears that filled her eyes, but she knew he could see them and hated herself for the telltale sign of weakness. “He would have, but he had a heart attack last night after...”
“After he got my message,” Drake finished for her when she took a moment to regain her composure. “Christ, I’m sorry for that.”
“It’s not your fault. None of this is, and I’m the one who is sorry about everything. They want to keep him in the hospital for a few days under observation or else he would have come. Mr. Vidal—Drake, I know my father screwed up, and I want to make it right.”
He looked skeptical. “And how exactly would you do that? The leak to the media about our new medical scanner gives my competitors an opportunity to move up their timetables to try and match our launch. It also sets a dangerous precedence on how these matters are dealt with within my corporation. I sympathize with what your father has been through, but you can’t go back in time and undo what’s been done.”
“No, but we can use this as an opportunity.” Tessa scooted to the edge of her seat and leaned forward. The time had come for her pitch. “I read the article after my father told me what happened, and there really wasn’t much information in it besides anticipation to see what good your new scanner would do. We can use that. I can help you. If you fire my father, it makes the article something negative, but why not use it for something positive instead?”
“What I propose is for us to throw an event we can use to highlight the release of your new product. It would be an elaborate, highly public affair, and we could ask the guests to donate to a charity of your choice. Since your new imaging system helps detect cancer earlier, we could pick something that has to do with cancer research or something that helps families dealing with the illness. This way, your company will get the goodwill associated with the donation, and it’ll make any of your competitors look foolish if they tried to undercut your launch. It would also help your own reputation since, honestly, you could use it.”
Drake’s eyebrow rose at that. “Really?”
Tessa flushed with embarrassment as she realized what she’d said, but she didn’t back down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you, but from everything I’ve read about you, I really think you could benefit from some good PR.”
Drake couldn’t help but be amused at the casual way she had insulted him, but he refused to let it show. She was without artifice, and he found it refreshing. People were always telling him what they thought he wanted to hear, and it was rare for someone to speak so honestly to him. “So, you think throwing a party is the answer to my problems?”
“Not exactly, but it’s a starting point.” She reached down to grab her bag and set it on her lap. “I’ll waive my fee to put everything together for you, and try to make this as easy as possible, with minimal work on your part. I’ve brought a binder of basic concepts for you to look over. I can leave it with you since I can see you’re tired, and I don’t want to take up anymore of your time.”
He rubbed at the dark stubble on his chin and cheeks absently. “So, now I look tired, and I need help with my image? I don’t know if my ego can take anymore of your assessment of me.”
Her shoulders sagged under a new heaping of guilt. Tessa let out a groan and closed her eyes. She needed to shut up before he had her escorted out of his office and banned from the building. Or worse. “I’m going to leave now.”
Drake looked down at the clock on his computer screen and made an impulsive decision. He stood. “You’re right, I am tired. I was in the lab working all night.”
She watched as he strode across the room to the coat rack in the corner by the doorway. He put on his long, black coat, then stalked over to open the door to his office.
“What? Wait...you’re leaving?”
He looked at her with that penetrating gaze of his and simply said, “Come.”