Leaning back in my leather chair, I bring the heel of one foot over my opposite leg and turn to face the city. Despite my office being on the tenth floor of a high-rise, the view leaves a lot to be desired. Early morning mist struggles to rise through the multitude of London’s buildings, battling the mid-November sun.
I hold the ring up to the light and stare at it. Again. It’s a grotesque thing. A four-carat princess-cut diamond that’s too large for the delicate platinum band. I don’t like it. Never did. But Connie liked it, and she was as damn near perfect as a woman could be, so she got it. Connie was—is—the complete package for most men. Well-mannered, well-bred, always immaculate. She's five-ten with the figure of an A-lister and long golden-blond hair to match.
Now she’s gone, and I’m stuck with a fucking ugly ring and no fiancée to wear it. No wife.
“Earth to Clark Layton.”
Teddy. My partner in crime from Cambridge and my Chief Finance Officer.
I lean my head back against the chair and rotate to face him, dropping the ring into the top drawer of my desk. “Ever heard of knocking?”
“Why change the habit of a lifetime?” he says, striding across the open space of my office with a slight edge to his walk, like he wants to be a bad boy. He’s not. “You look like shit, by the way.”
Usually I would laugh. Teddy and I always banter together, but today I’m just not in the mood. “The weekend I had will do that,” I tell him.
Teddy shakes his head. He unfastens the one closed button of his blazer and sits down in a chair opposite mine. “No kidding.”
“Ted, do me a favour and don’t talk about it.”
He holds up two large brown palms. “You bet. I actually came to give you this.”
He slides a document across my desk. The annual accounts of Subsea Petroleum, one of Layton Oil’s main competitors. One of my main competitors. My body stiffens at the sight of SP’s CEO on the high-gloss cover. My fingers rest on top of the accounts, frozen into a claw.
Her brown eyes look back at me from under her blue hard hat. Her pink skin glows under the photographer’s light. I can almost smell her perfume, mixed with the fresh, hot smell of sex, as I remember how that skin feels against mine.
Dayna fucking Cross.
She’s become my most proximate competitor since I replaced my father as CEO eighteen months ago. Layton Oil is much bigger than SP, and SP has been through a rough few years, but Dayna is turning the company around. And we’re both headquartered here in London. She’s the bane of my goddamned screwed-up life for more than one reason.
“I read them when they were published on Friday,” I tell Teddy, pushing the accounts back towards him.
He nods lazily and runs a finger along his slightly plump chin. I should probably be a good friend and start dragging him to the gym with me, at least for his wife’s sake. Teddy and Yvette have been together for years, and I consider her a close friend, too.
With a heavy sigh, I sit back in my seat, my elbows on the armrests, the tips of my fingers forming a steeple in front of my chest. “What exactly is ‘aha’ supposed to mean, Ted?”
“Just that it’s a coincidence.”
I’m rattled and that pisses me off. I hide my irritation from Teddy, but I can feel myself losing control. I clench my fists, digging my nails into my palms. “If you’ve got something to say . . . ”
“I’m merely pointing out that you read Dayna’s annual accounts on Friday, and on Saturday your marriage was off.”
I stand abruptly and move to the window, my hands braced on my hips to stop myself doing what I really want to do—lashing out. “I read a competitor’s accounts. Neither the accounts nor Dayna Cross had anything to do with what happened on Saturday.” The words grate through my teeth and sound even shittier than I intend them to be.
“Alright, Clark, alright. I’m just messing with you. It’s too soon; I get it.”
It’s not Teddy’s fault I’m pissed off, but I don’t have an apology in me right now. The intercom on my desk vibrates and flashes amber: my PA’s line. I hit the receiver and his voice plays into the room.
“Mr Layton, I have Jay Hamilton on the line. Should I connect you?”
Christ, the last thing I need.
“Not now, Marcus. Tell him I’m in a meeting.”
“Should I tell him you’ll call back?”
Avoiding Teddy’s scrutinising stare, I breathe out so heavily my cheeks puff.
“I hate to state the obvious, but he’s one of your best mates, Clark. You’ll have to talk to him some time.”
I know. “We’ve got work to do.”
I move to the flat-screen TV on the wall and watch the changing commodity index. I’m staring at another day of crude oil at forty-two dollars a barrel. Eighteen months ago I’d have been looking at the exact same index showing at least one hundred and ten dollars a barrel.
“So much for OPEC stabilising prices,” Teddy says as he joins me in front of the screen, his hands in his pockets, back to his CFO persona. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is supposed to be the body responsible for unifying global petroleum policies and the efficient and economic supply of oil. Some job it’s doing right now.
I fold my arms across my chest, watching the digital graph move as companies trade, buying and selling oil.
“At least we’re in the same boat as the rest of the industry,” Teddy says.
I scoff. All except one. “Tell me, Ted, when profit is falling for almost every oil company in the world, how is Dayna Cross increasing year-on-year profit for SP?”
“She still imports a lot. Since the Persian Gulf explosion she’s had to buy in a lot of fuel. Imports are cheap. Then there’s the blending.” His voice is warm, as it always is when he’s talking about Dayna. She’s a competitor, and a dangerous one of late, but Teddy grew up with her and would likely step in front of a bullet for her. Knowing that makes me like him even more. And it makes it ten times more awkward that my history with Dayna is . . . chequered.
“She’s nailed it, Clark. She’s making blends of fuel that are ingenious, and they’re cheaper than what anyone else is putting out. Other companies are preying on her expertise and trying to get into bed with her.”
I snap my head to face him, snarling internally. He means business. I need to get a grip. It’s just the thought of Dayna with another man . . . well, it kills me.
“She’s got a damn good business model from where I’m standing, bud.” He continues as if I’m not boring holes in him, and I can tell he’s fighting a proud smile. I can’t blame him.
“She’s been playing poker while the rest of us were playing blackjack,” I tell him. “We were counting numbers and she was forming a hand.”
The woman is an absolute marvel. As much as I want to despise her as a competitor, even though my life would be a damn sight less complicated if she was never in it, I have nothing but admiration for the way she’s turned SP around. Dayna does nothing by halves and takes no prisoners. That I know from experience. But she’s got this other side, too. A side not many people get to see. She’s sweet, tender and funny. She could make me laugh like no one else. Like no one since.
Desperate to stay focussed on work, I tell Teddy, “We need more oil. A new site. A greater volume of sales. It’s the only way to stay alive in this climate.”
“I’m not convinced now is a good time to buy. Prices are still falling, and there are rumours that trade sanctions with Iran will be lifted. If they are lifted, oil prices . . . ” He whistles through his teeth and waves a hand through the air, demonstrating a crash and burn like he’s seen on Top Gun.
I raise one eyebrow at his shitty fighter jet then nod. “I hear you, but we have to think medium- to long-term, too. It’s no good sitting back now and finding we have no reserves in five years’ time. Oil companies are failing. There has to be something out there going cheap. If the price is right, I want it.” The unfortunate truth is the market is littered with zombies—the name economists and lawyers give to failing companies. I don’t want that for Layton Oil. I have something to prove.
Now it’s Teddy’s turn to nod. “Well, we could do with a big win on exports. Turkey or Japan. We could increase operations in Brazil.”
I pat him on the shoulder. “Let’s get shopping then.”
It’s the economy, not my leadership, that’s brought down Layton Oil’s profits since I’ve been in post as CEO. But regardless of the reason, the fact remains that my father reigned supreme, and the second he handed over his company to his son, profits started to fall. Something he’s keen to remind me of every time I see him. Something I intend to change.
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