Being stuck in traffic in New York City during rush hour was a circle of hell Dante should have included in his poem. There was no doubt in my mind that if he were to be reincarnated right now and joined me in the back of the limo inching its way toward my apartment on the Upper East Side, he would have amended his historical work right there on the spot. No questions asked.
I brought my hands up to massage my temples, trying to ward off the headache I felt coming on. The cacophony of horns filtering into the car wasn’t helping matters much, but there was nothing to be done about that. Trying to tune it out, I turned my head to look at the raindrops pelting against my window.
As soon as the skies opened up, it was like every New Yorker forgot how to drive. All except for Taylor, my trusty driver. In the middle of the chaotic traffic jam, Taylor was resolute. He didn’t so much as blink, no matter how snarled-up the cars were around him.
The horns and chaos were getting to me, though. It had already been a long day. All I wanted was to be home, preferably in front of my TV watching the game with a cold one in my hand.
Taylor closed the small space that had opened up in front of us, then eased off the gas again. Christ, I could walk home faster than this.
Actually, that wasn’t a half bad idea. The rain wasn’t coming down that hard, and it was only a little water. It wouldn’t hurt me. It might even help to clear my head. We were only about a dozen or so blocks away from my building. If I kept my head down and walked fast, I would get home before Taylor reached the traffic light at the intersection ahead of us at the rate we were moving.
I was just about to tell him that I would hit the pavement from here when my phone rang, interrupting my reach for the door handle. The tiny device that allowed my parents to practically stalk me lit up from where it was slotted into the side pocket of the door.
The lower oh-shit handle fit my phone perfectly, with just enough room in front of it that I could see who was calling. No surprise there, my father’s scowling face dominated the screen.
To answer or not to answer, that is the question. As tempting as it was not to take his call, I knew that if I didn’t, I was just going to have to suffer through another one of Dad’s long-winded messages.
The man didn’t simply ask you to call him back; he said everything he wanted to say to you on the message and then still demanded you return his call—which meant I’d have to listen to it all twice.
Eventually giving in—if only to save time later—I slid my thumb across the bar at the bottom of the screen and pressed it to my ear. “Father.”
As was his way, he ignored my lackluster greeting and launched into a rambling to-do list for me.
“You should have come to see me before you left the office, Winston. We need to discuss our schedule for this weekend. We have a dinner party tonight with some of our fund managers and those venture capitalists that are in town from Hong Kong. You’re expected to show your face there, at the very least.”
He didn’t wait for me to respond. It didn’t matter to him what I said. He wasn’t asking me to go. He was only telling me where I had to be.
“Tomorrow night there’s the charity gala for the Save the Rhino Foundation. Don’t worry about finding a date. Your mother has already taken the liberty of inviting Cecelia Thompson to accompany you.”
At the mention of Cecelia’s name, I rolled my eyes. Of course Mother Dearest had taken the liberty of inviting the woman. She knew I would rather sit for two consecutive root canals before inviting Cecelia anywhere myself.
The old man still wasn’t done, however. “Next week, you have a slew of meetings scheduled so you’re going to want to rest up on Sunday night. No shenanigans.”
That wouldn’t be happening this weekend, but I didn’t bother telling him that. Dane, my best friend and usual partner in any and all “shenanigans,” was not only out of town at the moment, but he was also engaged.
It had been a depressingly long time since we’d gotten up to anything. Besides, whether Dane was around or not didn’t change the fact that I had no intention of spending my weekend with stuffy old geezers or the Barbie doll my parents were pushing on me.
“I’m not interested in the gala or the dinner party, Dad. I was planning on having a quiet weekend in, one that doesn’t require dressing up in a tuxedo every evening. I love the penguin suit as much as the next man, but I’m out for this weekend.”
My father’s deep laughter sounded over the line, a rare guffaw he only released when he was alone. It tugged at something deep inside my chest, a part of me that didn’t want to end up only laughing once or twice a month and only when I was alone.
When I didn’t join in, Dad realized I was being serious. Unfortunately, the realization prompted one of his infamous lectures on responsibility and good business practices.
“You are next in line to run Price Holdings, Winston. A company doesn’t survive for four generations in the same family by having its next CEO spending the weekend relaxing in his pajamas. Now isn’t the time to get lazy, son. Your grandfather and his father before him didn’t build an empire by sitting at home relaxing. These events are important. If you don’t network, you’re going to be forgotten. These people expect to meet you. They expect to shake your hand and discuss business with you in person, not over some vague email thread or over one of those modern video conference nightmares. Go home, get dressed and meet us at the dinner in two hours.”
The rain was still coming down outside, long, sad tears rolling down the windows. When my father got into lecture mode, it was like he didn’t have to breathe between sentences. He was rambling, but I tuned him out. My headache had well and truly hit now, and his droning on and on in my ear was making it that much worse.
“Dad.” I spoke over him, knowing he wasn’t going to give me the chance to get a word in edgewise if I waited. “There’s a giant gorilla in the road. It’s started smashing cars. I have to go before the ape starts climbing the Chrysler Building.”
Pulling the phone away from my face as I finished the sentence, I hung up and shoved it into the pocket of my coat. My King Kong fantasy having spurred me into action, I leaned forward and tapped Taylor’s shoulder. “I’ll get out here. Thanks, Taylor.”
I ducked out before he could stop me, heading in the direction of my building as I popped my collar to protect my exposed neck against the ice-cold rain and general chill of fall in the air.
Lost in thought about how sad it was that I would really rather have faced the possible wrath of a twenty-five-foot-tall gorilla than to keep talking to my dad, the walk passed in a blur. Thankfully, the sidewalks were all but deserted as a result of the rain. I didn’t have to dodge too many people or worry about running into anyone I knew.
By the time I reached my building, my mood had deteriorated so much that I struggled to muster a smile for our ever-smiling doorman. “Hey, Frank. Good day?”
“Same as always, Mr. Price. Welcome home.”
I nodded, inhaling deeply as the warmth of the lobby enveloped me.
It didn’t look like the kind of place designed to be warm, but it was kept at an even sixty-eight degrees throughout fall and winter when the temperature dropped outside.
The building itself was pre-war, but it had been remodeled only a handful of years ago. The deep red plaster had been stripped off to reveal the original face brick, the plush old carpets had been replaced with hardwood flooring and the dim lighting swapped for bright spotlights.
All of the ancient furniture had been removed and glass, steel and leather now decorated the space.
My penthouse took up the whole top floor of the building, and I had to swipe my access card in front of a panel in the elevator in order for it to go up there.
I had a several-million-dollar view over Central Park, but not even the greenery of the park was enough to elevate my mood this afternoon. It was still gloomy out and getting worse, the weather itself seemingly commiserating with me.
My phone buzzed again as I turned away from the wall of windows in my living area. I fished it out of my pocket and sighed when I saw my father had called in reinforcements in the form of my mother.
Less eager to talk to her than I had been to speak to my father, I tossed my coat on the couch and then followed it down. It was too much effort to keep upright if I had to have a conversation with her.
Closing my eyes, I lay back and spread out on the cool black leather before answering the call. My mother didn’t greet me or wait for me to say anything before she, too, started giving me an earful.
“Winston, I’ve spoken with your father and I’m afraid I have to intervene. There are important connections to be made at tonight’s dinner party. Your attendance is vital and compulsory. It is simply not possible for you to stay in this weekend.”
Biting back another sigh, I screwed my eyes shut even tighter and let my mother continue to berate me. I didn’t have to listen to know what she was saying. It was always the same damn thing and there was no point in trying to interrupt her when she got like this. It didn’t matter how many times I’d heard it all before; she was going to make me sit through it again.
My parents weren’t exactly the ordinary garden-variety parental unit who showered their only child with love and attention. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure they saw a person when they looked at me. I was about ninety-eight percent sure they only saw an heir to the throne of what my father had accurately referred to as the “Price Empire.”
I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself or sulking; that wasn’t why I was in a bad mood. I knew damn well how fortunate I was and how lucky I was to have been born into this life.
My mood stemmed from something much more serious than the brooding of a spoiled child, and every conversation I’d had with my parents over the last few months had only served to bring it to the forefront of my mind once more.
The Prices had more money than they would have been able to spend in a hundred lifetimes.
They were many things, but immortal wasn’t one of them. We didn’t need more money. Yet, with more money than they or even any offspring I might eventually have could ever hope to spend, they insisted on doing nothing but furthering the family’s interests at every turn.
It all just seemed so artificial to me these days. It was always the same people, the same boring conversations about real estate, money, luxury vacations and all that jazz.
For all the power in any of those rooms with all that old money, I could never understand why none of them did anything that made a damn bit of difference to anyone other than themselves. They attended the charity galas and donated tons of money to the causes, sure, but that wasn’t so much to support it as it was to be seen at the galas. The money they threw at those causes meant nothing to them, was nothing.
I, on the other hand, had plans that just might actually make a difference, but I hadn’t been able to put them into action yet.
The mention of Cecelia’s name while Mom talked pulled me briefly from my thoughts, but it was only my mother reminding me I didn’t need to look for a date for tomorrow night, so I tuned out again.
Cecelia was a nice enough girl, but I had no interest in her.
She was beautiful, I had to give her that, but she did nothing for me. Long blond hair and bright blue eyes had earned her the Barbie doll nickname I secretly called her.
Cecelia was rich, used to navigating the world as I knew it, and our parents were eager to cement the business relations between our companies.
Naturally, all this meant that Cecelia and I were expected to get married. I nearly snorted out loud at the thought. There was no way that was happening, but my mother was persistent. “She’s perfect for you, Winston. This is important to us.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said, only to appease her. She would carry on all night otherwise.
“Mr. Adams will be at the gala tomorrow night.” My ears perked up at the mention of the well- known investor. “He’s interested in talking to you about acquiring that parcel of land you picked up on the waterfront and—”
“I have plans of my own to develop that land, Mom.” I hardly needed to remind her. We’d talked about it just earlier this week. Well, I had talked. She had pretended to listen and then dismissed my plans.
She tutted at the other end of the line and blew me off once again. “We would be better served letting someone experienced buy the land and develop it, Winston. You know that.”
Despite the fact that I should have expected nothing less from her, I still felt a pang of disappointment hit me in the stomach at her easy dismissal of my ability to develop the land myself.
Both of us knew I could do it and had done it before, but she was intently opposed to the plans I had for this particular piece of land. God forbid any of us actually develop something for the good of the community.
“I’ve gotta go, Mom.” I hung up suddenly before she could say anything, tossed my phone down on the rug between the couch and coffee table and let out a loud groan.
The disappointment in my gut morphed into something darker and hotter, fury burning through my veins at having been ignored. Once again, I wasn’t going to be given a chance to implement my own vision for a project.
“This is the last fucking straw,” I muttered before jumping up from the couch and walking back to the windows, dragging a hand through my hair.
There was no point in sticking around Manhattan and trying to steer the ship when my parents continued to undercut me. What am I even doing here?
Dane was off somewhere overseas, as were most of my other friends. We’d been very unimaginatively referred to as the “BBC” back in college. The Billionaire Boys Club.
While the reference to our worth, even individually, was correct, we had never really been boys and there was no club. Even so, I thought my friends were on to something by having scattered across the globe.
It was time for me to follow in their footsteps, to do something drastic. Something I wasn’t going to be able to do if I stayed in the city. Before I had any time to convince myself otherwise, I headed to my room and packed a tattered old duffel bag.
Once I was in the elevator, I pulled out my phone to call Taylor before deciding against it. I didn’t want anyone to know where I was going, so I was going to have to forgo catching a ride with my driver.
Instead, I hailed a cab when I got outside and dropped my duffel on the seat beside me.
“Airport please. Step on it.”