The Billionaire's Embrace Page 35

Sutton Industries occupied the top floors of a large skyscraper in the heart of the financial district. I had considered the idea of constructing a building exclusively for the company’s use, but discarded it as ostentatious and unnecessary. We had no use for an entire building, and I had little desire to be a landlord. Renting suited me well enough. Let someone else deal with it when the heating went on the fritz.

I strode into the lobby and took the elevator all the way to the top floor, where my office was located. There was a little room for ostentation in a CEO’s life, and I found that my expansive view of lower Manhattan and the Harbor satisfied my urge for world domination. As a life-long New Yorker, I shared the common belief that nothing of importance lay west of the Hudson, but I enjoyed being able to survey New Jersey and reassure myself that I had no need to ever go there.

As soon as the elevator doors slid open, my secretary descended on me like a wrathful harpy. “Mr. Sutton, your conference call is scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes—”

“Yes, I know,” I said, accepting the coffee mug that she handed to me and taking a scalding sip. “I’ve been very bad, and you’re tremendously disappointed in me. You still have breakfast for me, though, right?”

She pursed her mouth at me, but I could tell that she was amused. Nancy and I had reached an understanding: I would make her life extraordinarily difficult, and in return, I paid her a salary fit for a king. It suited both of us. “I shouldn’t feed you, but I will,” she said. “Egg and cheese biscuit, waiting on your desk.”

“My savior,” I said. “Bless you.” I headed toward my office, anticipating greasy food and a second round of painkillers. “Don’t let anyone in until at least noon, would you?”

She said something behind me, but I didn’t listen, already halfway through the door into my office. I closed the door behind me and leaned back against it, exhaling, allowing my eyes to close for just a moment. No more drunken escapades, I told myself sternly. The hangovers weren’t worth it, and severely limited my ability to be productive the next day. When I was younger, I could stay out all night drinking like a fish and feel fresh as a daisy the next morning, but age had taken its toll on me. Time and tide wait for no man.

I had enough time to cram the egg and cheese biscuit into my mouth before the conference call began, and the rest of the day passed in a steady blur of work: phone calls, papers to sign, executives to confer with, an unexpected crisis in the Nairobi office. Before I knew it, 6:00 had arrived, and Nancy was knocking on my door frame and saying, “I’m heading home, Mr. Sutton.”

I put down my pen and rubbed my eyes. “Is it that time already?”

“It’s that time,” she agreed. “You should get going, too. You know it makes the staff nervous when you’re here late.”

“Yes, they always think the company is collapsing,” I said. “All right. I’ll just finish this up and then I’ll leave.”

“Right,” she said, giving me a suspicious look, but I gazed back at her with such bland innocence on my face that she rolled her eyes and headed for the elevator.

She was right, though. It wasn’t good for me to spend so much time at the office. I forgot what the outside world looked like. Trees. Fresh air. Not that the air in Manhattan was ever particularly fresh, but it was a step above the dry, recycled wind that constantly gusted through the overhead vents in my office.

I stood and went to the window, looking down at night falling over the city, the lights across the water, the tankers slowly moving out toward the sea. I was a wealthy, powerful man living in the greatest city on earth. I had more money than I would ever be able to spend, and I was respected by my employees and my peers. The worst thing that had ever happened to me was my father’s death, and that came after I was a grown man and abundantly capable of processing my grief. I led, in short, a charmed life.

And yet I felt like my chest had been scooped clean. Like if I thumped on my breastbone, it would sound a hollow echo.

I didn’t want to think about it. I turned away from the window and put my coat on. It was Friday night; I didn’t want to go home and sit in my empty apartment.

I pulled out my phone and dialed Carolina’s number. There were worse things in life than having a good time.

Chapter 12

I spent the next week in a drunken blur. Carolina was more than happy to take me out clubbing every night, and I slept with more women than I had in the past year, two or three in a night. I didn’t learn any of their names. I didn’t ask. They were nothing to me: warm bodies. I would have felt guiltier about that had I been more than a warm body to them. We used each other, and everyone went home happy.

Or at least slightly less sad.

Not that I was sad. That would have been absurd. What did I have to be sad about? Fourth-quarter profits? Buying out a promising tech company from under Google’s nose? Everything in my life was going, as the saying went, swimmingly.

And yet I couldn’t shake that hollow, scooped-out feeling.

I woke up one morning with a killer hangover, and while I was emptying the contents of my stomach into my toilet, I realized that I didn’t remember anything that had happened. Arriving at the club with Carolina, yes, but after that, nothing. My memory was a blank, like some great hand had descended from the sky and erased the evening from existence.

It had to stop. I couldn’t afford to lose control in this way, and blacking out at night clubs was absolutely unacceptable. If I kept it up, I would have my mother leaving me threatening messages about impropriety and lawsuits.

I looked at myself in the mirror: my bloodshot eyes, my lined face, weary with excessive partying and a lack of sleep.

Regan was gone.

I hadn’t died yet.

And although I couldn’t predict the future, I didn’t anticipate dying for quite some time; and this was no way to live. I had a corporation to run, and self-indulgent paroxysms of alcohol and womanizing wouldn’t strengthen my position.

The next time Carolina called me, I would tell her no, and stick to it. I would focus on work, and stop catering to my empty heart. Worse things had happened. Life would go on.

It did. I worked at it. I got back into the habit of daily exercise: weights in the morning, and running five miles in the evening after work. I bought a juicer. I even tried meditating, and even though I found it excruciatingly dull at first, I stuck with it, determined to put in a solid month before I abandoned the idea as fruitless.

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