No More Mr. Nice - By Renee Roszel Page 0,1

Starship Enterprise.

Scowling, he groused, “Very funny, as always. Give it to me.”

Extending an arm decorated with Native American jewelry, Debbie offered sympathetically, “Hope it’s good news, Mr. Brand.”

“It’s not,” he muttered. “It’s a long-overdue bill.” He got up from the modular seat where he’d been crouched before a monitor displaying raw data. Seizing the letter, he warned, “Even if the place burns down around me, Debbie, no more interruptions this afternoon.”

As Debbie hurried out, he tossed the letter onto his desk and grabbed up a printout that was lying across the corner of his work station. Scanning it, he searched for mistakes. After a minute, he realized his mind had drifted away. The letter was bothering him. Why now? Roxbury had waited fifteen years, and now, when Lucas had more at stake than he’d ever had before, now, Roxbury decided to collect on the debt.

He stalked to the desk and sank into his leather chair, grabbing the letter and ripping it open. Inside was a single sheet of expensive, gilt-edged stationery. On it, in scrawled handwriting, was a message, short and to the point: “Lucas, my boy, I need a favor.”

Lucas slammed the paper down. “Blast it to Hades.” Even though he’d known, someday, it would come, this was the worst possible timing. Yet no matter how bad the timing, it was a debt that had to be paid. He’d promised to honor The Summons when it came. Apparently, today was that day.

Swiveling around, he jabbed the intercom button. “Debbie, get me Roxbury Enterprises. Norman V. Roxbury—”

“Yes, sir.” Debbie sounded surprised. “I know about him. Isn’t he that philanthropist they call Mr. Niceguy?”

Lucas inhaled, attempting to regain his calm. “That’s the one.”

A few minutes later, he’d been informed by his secretary that Mr. Roxbury was at the Oklahoma City General Hospital, in the Roxbury Suite. Disconcerted that Roxbury was ill, but knowing that The Summons meant he had to make an immediate appearance, hospital or no, Lucas left, with Debbie staring after him, her chocolate brown eyes wide with astonishment.

If he hadn’t been in such a foul mood, he might have found her reaction amusing. Debbie Windwalker had worked for him for five years. She’d repeatedly expressed concern over his obsessiveness and the fact that mentally he never left work. In all those years, she’d never seen him bolt from the office with a mumbled excuse, leaving no phone number at which he could be reached. It was as out of character for him as it would be for the president of the United States to cheerfully, and for no apparent reason, surrender the Oval Office to the opposing political party.

As Lucas headed toward the hospital in his chauffeur-driven limo, he wrestled long and hard with his conscience. True, he owed Mr. Roxbury a favor, and he planned to repay that favor in full, but Lucas’s software company had to come up with an economical Virtual Reality program before his six hungry competitors did.

To make the strain worse, Takahashi was putting the screws to him, having notified him this morning that he was moving up the deadline. Hearing the bad news, Lucas’s board of directors was screaming for results.

The pressure was intense, almost physically painful. But Lucas was used to business stress. It was the only kind of pain he allowed himself—pain that would ultimately bring him megaprofits for his efforts. Surely Norman Roxbury would understand his need to delay repaying the favor—whatever it was—for a short time.

Lucas made a tough decision. He’d be gracious, but firm. He would be happy to do Mr. Roxbury any favor he asked. But not now. After the New Year, possibly. That way, he’d have this deal behind him, and he could make a little time to indulge the old man’s whims.

Pushing aside nagging guilt, he took the elevator to the hospital’s top floor, dubbed The Roxbury Suite—an opulent apartment filled with expensive antiques. Its window-walls offered a panoramic view of the Oklahoma City skyline. The bronzes and russets of the late-autumn countryside beckoned from a distance. So the leaves are finally turning, Lucas mused. He hadn’t even noticed.

Apparently his foul mood was etched on his features, since the head nurse was staring up at him with wide-eyed alarm.

“I’m Lucas Brand. Here to see Norman Roxbury,” he said, feeling bitter irritation over every second he had to spend away from his work.

The woman nodded, her expression easing slightly as she led him through the living area into a huge bedroom. Rich, warm colors and