Alec Sullivan hated surprises.
When he turned thirty, his sister, Suzanne, threw him a surprise birthday party. He’d had a hell of a day at the office dealing with a new aviation engine company that had promised him the best and had delivered anything but. Finding fifty people in his apartment expecting smiles and laughter and small talk over birthday cake was the very last thing he’d wanted. Five years later, Suzanne was still apologizing for that night, even though they both knew she’d just been trying to make him happy.
Alec would do anything for his sister and his brothers, Harry and Drake. He’d been taking care of the three of them since he was five and their mother had taken her own life, leaving his father as wrecked as a man could be—and unable to be a father anymore.
Which was where Gordon Whitley had come into the picture. He’d been Alec’s boss out of business school and then Alec’s business partner. They’d built S&W Aviation together.
And Gordon had been the father figure Alec never had.
Yesterday, Alec had found Gordon on the floor by his desk. Alec had dropped to Gordon’s side, pleading with his friend to wake up, yelling for his executive assistant to call 911. But he’d been too late. The heart attack had been massive, all Gordon’s years of joking that he should drink less and exercise more suddenly coming to an end in the middle of the workday.
Gordon’s eyes had opened for only a moment, his lips forming one word: “Cordelia.”
And then he was gone.
The blow of losing Gordon was bad enough. Twenty-four hours later, Alec still felt cold, and his gut hadn’t stopped churning. But as Alec worked to process what Gordon’s trust attorney had just told him, he felt as though he’d been hit by a second blow.
A blow so big he was still having trouble believing what he’d just been told was true.
“Gordon had a daughter.” Alec’s lawyer, Ezra, and Gordon’s lawyer, Caleb, remained silent while Alec processed the shocking information aloud. “She’s twenty-five, lives in Yorktown…and apart from the 1934 Packard convertible he wants me to have, he’s willed her all of his worldly possessions. Including his half of our company.”
Gordon Whitley was the kind of guy you expected to live forever. But Alec had always assumed that if something did happen to his friend and partner, he’d end up with Gordon’s share of the company. At the very least, that extra one percent that meant no one could tell him what to do with S&W Aviation.
“Has she been informed of her inheritance yet?” Alec asked.
“I’ve spoken with her briefly on the phone, but will be meeting with her directly after leaving your office,” Caleb replied.
Had she and Gordon been close? Had this windfall—making her a seriously rich woman who now owned half of the most successful private aviation company in the world—been one she’d known would come one day?
Or would she be as surprised as Alec by this news?
Alec had trusted Gordon implicitly. He’d believed there were no secrets between them. How could there be when they’d worked side by side every day for nearly twenty years?
Cordelia Langley was one hell of a secret.
He bit back a curse as he rubbed his chest, where everything felt tight. He was in perfect health, but it still hurt like the devil to lose his closest friend. A friend who had kept something huge from him.
“Set up a meeting with her here,” he told Caleb. “Tomorrow. She and I need to talk.”
Alec had known about Cordelia for only five minutes, but he’d already begun to put together a plan. His brain had always worked like that, even back when he was five and his father had told him that his mother was gone. Alec had immediately started making plans for how he was going to take care of Harry, Suzanne, and Drake. Because he’d known his father couldn’t do it. And now that his siblings were fully grown and totally capable adults, Alec still watched over them. He always would.
After Gordon’s attorney had gone, Alec turned to his lawyer. “I’ll have the details of my buyout plan to you before I turn in tonight, so that you can draft it in ironclad legal terms.”
Ezra didn’t seem surprised by Alec’s intention to buy Cordelia out of the company. It was, after all, the only part of this that made any sense.
“I’m sorry, Alec. Sorry we lost him.” Ezra looked morose as he pushed out of his seat, gathered his files, and headed for the elevator. “Gordon was a good man.”
Closing the door, Alec was tempted to pour himself a glass of the Irish whiskey that he and Gordon had often shared at the end of a long day, whether to celebrate a big win or commiserate a rare loss. No business loss had ever stung this badly, though. Or made Alec feel so empty inside.
But Alec’s phone was ringing—a royal from a small country in Europe was waiting for a tour of S&W’s best jets.
His silent toast in honor of the best friend he’d ever had would have to wait.
* * *
The following day, as Cordelia stared up at the shiny office building in Scarsdale, New York, one of the wealthiest cities in America, her heart was pounding out an uneven rhythm inside her chest.
Half of this building was hers now, as was half of the massive list of private planes that Gordon Whitley’s trust attorney had given her. Along with a staggering list of customers that included some of the wealthiest, most-well-known people on the planet. Actors and actresses she’d watched at the movies. Billionaire tech founders. Even royalty.
Cordelia had spent the past twenty-four hours trying to come to grips with this shocking information. But she was still having trouble with it.
A lot of trouble.
Of course she’d wondered who her birth parents were. What adopted kid didn’t? Her mom and dad were great—warm, loving, completely supportive of her in every way. They’d never pushed her into situations that made her uncomfortable. They had always understood that she was happier with plants—she’d planted her own vegetable garden when she was five, her first rose garden a year later—than she was with big groups of people. Or ever would have been inside an office.
Her group of friends was small and loyal. Her life running an organic vegetable and flower garden center in a sleepy suburban town was a good one. She was right where she wanted to be—working in the sun and the rain with soil and seeds all day. Then settling down at night with a cup of tea in her small, cute cottage at the back of her property.
The lawyer beside her cleared his throat. “Ms. Langley, are you ready to go inside now?”
She nearly snorted aloud. Ready? She was anything but ready for any of this.
Because for all that she’d wondered about her birth father, she’d never imagined he’d owned something this massive, this impressive.
Once she was old enough to understand, her parents had told her everything they knew. Her birth mother had passed away having her, and her birth father had put her up for adoption immediately. He’d chosen her parents personally, though they’d never met him. Her birth father had opted to remain anonymous, rather than put his name on file to be opened when she came of age, leaving only a short letter for her parents.
Please give my daughter everything I can’t.
I’m trusting you both with her life, with her happiness.
Her parents had given her the letter when she graduated from college with a degree in botany, the same day they’d surprised her with the greatest graduation gift in the world—one acre of land to grow her future on. It was a major extravagance for two schoolteachers and she’d vowed never to let them down—to do whatever it took to live up to the promise they saw in her.
Three years later, she had a small, thriving nursery business…and now, shockingly, a billion-dollar stake in a private aviation company. Courtesy of the man who had given her up the day she was born.
Cordelia wanted nothing more than to be in her garden now—the private one in front of her cottage, where she’d planted alyssum for the butterflies, dahlias for the hummingbirds, and cosmos for the bees. But all the wishing in the world wouldn’t change the facts.
Gordon Whitley was her birth father…and he’d given her the keys to his kingdom.
She understood that most people would call this the lottery win of the century. But Cordelia knew without a shadow of doubt that this life—fancy airplanes and celebrity clients and more money than she could wrap her head around—wasn’t for her.
Today, she was here for only one reason. To sell her share of the company to Gordon Whitley’s business partner. She’d take a small amount of her unexpected inheritance to make her parents’ lives better, give the rest to charity, then return to her normal, quiet life among the blooms and the birds. As if none of this had ever happened. As if it hadn’t turned out that her birth father had been less than thirty minutes away all along, but had never reached out, never tried to contact her, never tried to get to know her, even as an adult.
Working hard to push away the sting in her chest, she took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and lifted her chin. “I’m ready.”