A Brother's Honor

Chapter Eight

Jace arrived a few minutes early, so he sat near the restaurant’s window to enjoy the outside view. It was a beautiful summer day with a little breeze to offset the hot temperature. Traffic hadn’t been so bad coming from the office, and he had the opportunity to familiarize himself with the roads that hadn’t been there the last time he’d been in Charlottesville. It was progress that he appreciated, since they helped eliminate traffic buildup on the expressway, which was something he was used to in Los Angeles.

His thoughts shifted to the office he’d left. It surprised him that Freeman had suddenly decided that Jace, Caden and Dalton were the best thing for Granger Aeronautics and that he would be happy to work with the three any way he could. Jace shook his head. Did the man really have a choice?

On another note, someone had spread the rumor that the company was in financial straits, and employees were beginning to worry. Several who had worked for Granger for years, some before the day Jace was born, had cornered him in the hall and requested a private meeting. They had assured him he would have their loyalty the same way his grandfather had had through the years. He appreciated that. One even went so far as to warn him to keep an eye on Freeman.

Jace’s main concern was dealing with rumor control, since it was sending a panic wave through the company that the doors could be closing within a few months. Their biggest client was the federal government, and the last thing Granger Aeronautics needed was for the government to have a reason not to renew their contracts.

He took time to glance at the reports he’d reviewed right before leaving the office and noted they had not gotten as many jobs from the government as they had in the past, which was probably one of the main reasons for the decline in revenue. Over the coming weeks, he would have to roll up his sleeves and dive into every aspect of Granger Aeronautics to figure out why.

Jace rubbed the back of his neck, hoping he hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew. Over the years, his grandfather had kept him abreast of things going on in the company...although the old man had never told him about the recent turn of events in the company’s financial situation. But Jace was aware of their clients, the people depending on their products, and he wanted to make sure they were kept happy.

Granger Aeronautics had been one of the leading employers in Charlottesville for years. His great-grandfather, Sutton Granger, had been a Tuskegee Airman during the Second World War. At the end of the war, he and a fellow airman mechanic, Aaron Mann, had basically risked everything they had to form Granger-Mann Aerospace, located in Birmingham, Alabama.

Aaron Mann died unexpectedly in a boating accident, and since his family wanted no part of the company, Sutton bought them out and changed the name to Granger Aeronautics. A year later, the company moved to Charlottesville.

Jace knew the history; they all did. Their grandfather had drilled it into them and so had their father...although not quite as hard. He’d known it had been a disappointment to Richard when none of his grandsons had shown interest in continuing the legacy, but Jace figured their grandfather had known why, although he might not have agreed with it. It hadn’t come as any surprise to the old man that Jace, Caden and Dalton had wanted to move as far away from Charlottesville as possible. Their teen years after their father’s death hadn’t been easy, and the town had made it downright difficult at times. They had become known as the sons of a convicted killer.

Richard had planned to retire and leave things in his son’s capable hands before the murder happened. When Sheppard had been convicted, retirement had no longer been an option for Richard. He had worked tirelessly for the next fifteen years to keep the company afloat—for his grandsons, and for the return of his only son.

Jace, of all people, knew that his grandfather never gave up hope that one day the verdict would be overturned and Sheppard would walk out of prison a free man. When Sheppard had entered prison fifteen years ago, he had started positive programs for the inmates such as Toastmasters, Future Leaders of Tomorrow and the GED program. His efforts had been successful and were recognized by the media and even the governor.

Five years ago, upon the recommendation of the warden, the governor had approved Sheppard’s transfer to Delvers, a prison that housed less-serious offenders. For the past five years, Sheppard had worked closely with the warden as a trustee, initiating various projects to ensure that the less-serious offenders didn’t become serious offenders in the future.

Jace was not surprised. His father was a born leader who cared for others, which is why he knew that his father was not responsible for his mother’s death, not even as the crime of passion the prosecution had made it out to be.

“Jace Granger?”

He looked up into a very attractive face. The first thing he noticed was her eyes. They were oval-shaped and a deep, dark chocolate. Beautiful. And so were her other features. “Yes, I’m Jace Granger,” he said, standing.

She extended her hand to him. “I’m Shana Bradford.

* * *

Shana sipped her wine and recalled the stats Greta had provided on the man sitting across from her, Jace Granger. He was a thirty-one-year-old divorcé and attorney with a government agency in Los Angeles. He was highly respected and considered a hard worker. However, some thought he was limiting his abilities and questioned his lack of motivation. And something she found odd was that there was a million-dollar trust fund established by his great-grandfather that he’d become eligible to receive at twenty-five. Yet he hadn’t touched any of it. He lived a modest life, was a liberal and donated thousands each year to charity.

She also knew about his father, Sheppard Granger, as well as his brothers, Caden and Dalton. Greta had been very thorough during the twenty minutes it had taken Shana to arrive at Vannon’s.

Now that her brain had rehashed Greta’s info, Shana streamed through her mind what she was seeing for herself. First of all, Jace Granger was a very handsome man. She would even throw in sexy to match the voice. He had a beautiful pair of light brown eyes and creamy, caramel-colored skin, black, close-cut hair that was nicely trimmed and a pair of full lips. She figured to get teeth that white and perfect, a lot of money had to have gone into his mouth as a child. And he had a dimple in his chin and a strong jawline. His eyebrows appeared perfectly arched with long lashes, the kind most women would kill for. He had big hands and the long fingers of a piano player. When he stood, she couldn’t help but admire the way he filled out his suit. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a pleasing smile. Altogether, she thought he was definitely a nice-looking, well-built package.

“So you think you can help Granger Aeronautics?” he asked, taking a sip of his wine, as well. She was intelligent enough to know that while she’d been sizing him up, he’d been doing the same with her. She had no problem with that. Thanks to her parents’ strong genes and facial bone structure, she knew she wasn’t bad to look at. She had honey-brown skin, dark brown eyes and a head of healthy hair that she liked wearing straight in long graceful curves to her shoulders. Her lips were full, and she was blessed with a dimple in one cheek.

Although she and Jace were doing a good job of downplaying the attraction, it was there. But she was well aware that attractions came and attractions went. It was no big deal to her unless it got in the way of business, and she didn’t intend to let that happen. She was too focused for that. Too much of a professional.

There was never a time when she couldn’t control her hormones when it came to a man—even Jonathan Hickman. He was the last man she’d been seriously involved with and that was a few years ago. Shana had thought she was in love with him...yet he claimed she was too in control, a damn robot without emotions and feelings. He’d been wrong. She had emotions and feelings. Maybe had he known that, he would not have hurt her the way he had.

Both she and her sister were blessed with high IQs, and Shana had been told by a lot of her college professors that hers was too high for her own good. She was a curious soul by nature, and when things were wrong, she always liked making them right. The story of her life.

“I know I can help,” she said, setting down her wineglass. “I’ve familiarized myself somewhat with your company.”

He raised one of those arched brows. “You have?”

“Yes.” He was probably wondering when she had had time to do that. “I have Greta, a very high-tech search engine in my car. I was able to listen to the stats on the drive over here.”

“Oh, I see.”

She wondered if he really did. She had not only researched his company, but had obtained information on him, too. She liked knowing who she was dealing with.

* * *

Jace thought Shana Bradford was hot. The dark brown business suit looked great on her, although he was sure it was meant to look conservative. Instead, it deepened the color of her eyes and made her complexion that much smoother looking. And the conservative look did nothing to hide what a gorgeous pair of legs she had. And she was wearing panty hose, something few women still did these days. In L.A., he was used to seeing bare-legged women all the time, even in business suits, and he appreciated the lack of hosiery on any nice pair of legs. But seeing Shana in panty hose had him rethinking that position. The ones on her legs were flesh tone, barely noticeable, silky. For some reason, they managed to extend her legs’ beauty to a level of sensuality that he found breathtaking.

The woman was also candid. Some might think a bit cocky, conceited and way too sure of herself, but he wasn’t one of them. She believed in her abilities and knew what she could do, and Jace couldn’t help admiring that trait in a woman. He’d done a Google search on her company. She had an MBA from Harvard, graduating at the top of her class, two years earlier than the norm. Since opening her business a few years ago, she had reinvented several corporations, and her success ratio was astounding.

And Shana Bradford was a very striking woman. Any man would take a second look at her any day of the week. The total package, a combination of professionalism and sexiness, was doing everything to rev up his libido. He drew in a deep breath, knowing that he shouldn’t be thinking of her in those terms. What he should be thinking about was that she was someone who could help him. Unfortunately, she was making that task pretty damn impossible while sitting across from him looking as scrumptious as the wine he was drinking and just as appetizing. He was certain he would get his mind back strictly on business, but right now, he wanted to analyze her as the desirable woman that she was. He liked her looks, and she smelled good. Whatever perfume she was wearing she could claim as hers. And he liked her voice. She was articulate and looked you right in the eyes when she spoke.

“Before the waiter delivers our food, I would like you to tell me why you want to hire me,” she said, interrupting his thoughts.

His lips quirked into a smile. “I thought you knew what was going on at Granger.”

She quirked her lips right back at him. “I know enough, but I want to hear your version.”

“All right.” He began talking, and she took it all in, every detail, specific or otherwise. He spoke smoothly, elegantly and with confidence, even when she doubted he was truly feeling it. He told her she was recommended by their company’s attorney, who was also a longtime family friend. He went into details about the buying up of additional shares and the stockholders’ meeting that was held that morning. He went over his agreement with Freeman—the two of them would work together to ensure the success of the company.

He ended by saying, “Well, that about covers it.”

She studied his gaze for a moment, thinking he wasn’t a man someone could read easily and, for a woman, not at all. She sipped her wine and then said, “Mr. Granger, you called me to help bring your company around. I’m capable of doing that. However, you will have to be straight with me on all levels. You did not tell me everything.”

She saw his eyes darken, shadowed with irritation at her accusation. “And just what is it that I haven’t told you, Ms. Bradford?”

“Why three men who once swore never to work for Granger Aeronautics are suddenly doing so. I understand about your grandfather’s death and all that, but the three of you could have easily let Titus Freeman run things...after all, he was vice president. You were satisfied with your job at that government agency in Los Angeles, your brother Caden is a professional musician with quite a following and your younger brother Dalton is pretty much known on the European circuit as quite the ladies’ man. A number of women have nicknamed him ‘Cocoa Puff.’ And probably what most people don’t know is that he’s a billionaire, not from taking advantage of any of his older lovers, but from investments. So my question to you is, why are the three of you here?

Jace didn’t say anything for a moment, wondering how much to tell her. Then after looking in her eyes, observing that you-better-not-bullshit-me look, he decided to come clean. “It was a deathbed promise. My grandfather asked the three of us to take over the running of Granger Aeronautics. And it’s a promise I intend to keep.”

She could admire that, but still...why would his grandfather ask the three of them to do that? Richard Granger knew they had lives they were more or less content with. Why would he ask them to give up their livelihood for a company they’d walked away from years ago?

Evidently, she had a confused look in her eyes, because he said, “I don’t know why he asked that of us, considering everything. But we knew our grandfather. We don’t think it was last-minute manipulation. I honestly believe he thought we could do a better job than Freeman. Why he felt that way, I’m not sure. Granddad loved Granger Aeronautics. He wouldn’t turn the running of it over to us unless he felt we could do it.”

She took a sip of her wine and then asked, “For how long?”

“Excuse me?”

“How long will you stay at Granger? Just until I get it out of the red? I understand you didn’t resign from your company in California, but took a leave of absence.”

Jace frowned, wondering how in the hell she knew that. She wouldn’t have been able to find that out in twenty minutes. But from the self-confident look in her eyes, he had a feeling she had. She must have some damn good contacts.

He took a sip of his drink, because at the moment he couldn’t answer her. All he knew was that he was staying put, but he had a feeling his saying that would not be good enough for her. “Just what do you expect of me, Ms. Bradford?”

“Maybe you ought to be asking yourself what those employees of Granger Aeronautics expect of you, Mr. Granger. I would think they’d want someone who plans to do right by them and not leave them out in the cold. They worked hard for your grandfather, and most were loyal. They expect a leader who would remember that.”

And he had remembered that. He knew then what his answer to her question would be. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m staying.”

At that moment, the waiter interrupted by bringing out their food.

* * *

Over lunch, Shana asked Jace several questions that she felt he answered truthfully. He even told her about the other promise they’d made regarding her father. She definitely felt he had a lot on his plate but was confident he knew how to handle his business.

He asked her more questions, specifically how she would go about evaluating the company if she accepted the job. She made sure he knew she hadn’t decided whether she would work for him or not before she went into explaining her company’s in-depth evaluation process. Although, in the end, he didn’t have to implement all her recommendations, but the success ratio would increase if he did so. She could almost guarantee it.

She appreciated that he was honest enough to admit that in some areas he felt like a fish out of water, but over the years his grandfather had kept him abreast of some things, so he was familiar with the day-to-day operations.

“If you take the job, I think having you work on the premises would be a plus,” he said, pushing his plate away.

She glanced over at him. “I’m surprised you would want your employees to know the company is in a dire enough situation that I had to be called in.”

He shrugged. “They know anyway, and I have an idea how they found out.”

Shana considered his words and said, “I know Freeman would be the logical culprit, but I’ve discovered the logical one is not always the guilty party. You would be surprised what’s tucked away in closets that I usually expose. People you thought you could trust can prove otherwise. I would suggest you watch your back, not just with Freeman but with others. Some might think you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and try to take advantage.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

The waiter came to remove their plates. Wineglasses were replaced with coffee cups, and they continued talking. She was being evasive about whether she would take on Granger Aeronautics, and with good reason. She had just come off a big, lengthy assignment and had looked forward to taking a month off to do practically nothing. She had considered accompanying Jules on one of her easier assignments, just to have girl time with her sister, since both of them were usually busy. If Shana took on this job, she would be back to working from sunup to sundown. Her weekends would be filled with endless time spent at her computer. Besides Joyce, she had two other assistants, but like her, they were looking for a break between cases. They would still get theirs, she would see to it. They needed it. That meant she would have to work even harder.

And then there was the issue with her father. She might need to spend time with him as well if he was thinking about remarrying and the likely candidate was a woman he’d only gotten to know in the grocery store. She could understand any man wanting female companionship at any age, but getting married was a whole different topic. She couldn’t wait to discuss it with Jules.

She noticed there was a lull in the conversation and she glanced across the table to see Jace staring at her. She didn’t have to ask him why. He was still checking her out. She understood it was a man thing, but he was working overtime. Too bad it was an interest that wouldn’t go anywhere.

She sipped her coffee and for the moment appreciated the quiet time that allowed her to think. And the one thing she couldn’t help but admit was that she liked him. She liked that he had loved his grandfather so much that he was willing to make sacrifices. Finding his way around Granger Aeronautics wouldn’t be easy, and like she’d told him, he would be a target. It took no time at all to tell that he was highly intelligent and had those same leadership qualities he’d praised his father and grandfather for having. For some reason, she wanted him to succeed, and she knew there was a possibility he would do the latter without her company’s help.

“I’ve decided to handle your case, Mr. Granger.”

He held her gaze for a moment and then said, “I appreciate that. For a moment there, I was thinking that you wouldn’t.”

She’d figured as much from the surprised look in his eyes. “I considered walking away but only because you hadn’t completely leveled with me at first. Now you have. You made a promise, and what I admire and respect is that it’s a promise you intend to keep. Your job as an attorney didn’t motivate you. You did it, and you did it well, but there was no challenge. You need a challenge, Mr. Granger. One that you know will pay off not only for your employees but for your grandfather and father, as well. You will be dedicated. Turning your company around won’t be easy, but you intend to make it work. And you’ll succeed because you’re willing to make changes, even sacrifices, to reach your goal. And most important, you have waylaid my fears that you’re not in it for the short-term. I believe you’re in it for the long haul.”

She paused a moment and then added, “However, I’m not sure about your brothers. I intend to speak with them soon, because even though you’re your own man, you’re also their brother, and the oldest. And you want them to want this as much as you do. Call it a brother’s honor, but you want their support. You want it, even though you don’t necessarily need it. You’re going to do whatever you feel needs to be done anyway. But I admire that you care for their feelings, and I can understand that. I have a younger sister, and I can see putting her well-being and interest before my own.”

Jace didn’t say anything for a moment as he sipped his coffee. She was right. He was in it for the long haul. He hadn’t accepted that until now. He wasn’t sure about his brothers, but he could safely say he was in. And he wanted his brothers in with him, but would understand if down the line they wanted out. They had their own interests and careers. It was an individual thing. Working in a corporation wasn’t for everybody.

“You want to know what I think?” she asked.

He glanced over at her, met the darkness of her eyes, felt the stirring in the pit of his gut and willed it away. “Yes, I want to know what you think.”

“Granger Aeronautics has always been your legacy. But I think that today you’ve realized it’s your destiny.”

He didn’t say anything because he was thinking about how long he hadn’t wanted to claim his legacy and how adamantly he’d been against it. Yet here he was, ready to jump in with both feet and not look back.

“Now that we’ve gotten all of that taken care of, I do have a request, although my common sense dictates otherwise, Mr. Granger.”

“Before you say anything, I think since we’ll be working together it would be appropriate for you to call me Jace if you don’t mind my calling you Shana.” At her nod, he then asked, “So what request do you have?”

She smiled over at him. “That I order dessert. I have a weakness for chocolate.”