"Logan, you have all the compassion of a rabid dog," Preston Herrington stated, his weathered face showing his total disgust with the younger man lounging in the chair on the other side of the mahogany desk.
Logan Winchester Herrington, VI, stared impassively through slate-blue eyes at his uncle. The older man stood silhouetted against the fan-shaped window that framed the snowy skyline of Boston, his double fists on the desk top propping up his frail arms.
Both men had inherited the same whipcord-lean build from Logan Winchester Herrington, V, Logan's grandfather and Preston's father. Logan, however, was still the epitome of the Herrington male--six-foot, one-hundred-seventy pounds, with his aristocratic features tanned and finely lined from battling the sea for recreation over some thirty-six summers. Preston had looked much the same twenty years ago, before too much alcohol, too many cigarettes, and years of grueling living as a foreign correspondent took their toll. Until recently, the older man could have been dismissed as only mildly dissipated, but in the past two years it was clear his body was wasting away. A virus contracted in a small Argentine village had forced him to retire from field work and take over the helm of the Herrington Publishing Group, whose holdings stretched across the country. Despite his precarious health, Preston's gray eyes still mirrored the mental vitality that ruled the Herrington empire with an iron will, although his brown hair was liberally streaked with gray while Logan's was still golden brown.
"You've been watching Spencer Tracy movies again, haven't you?" Logan returned, arching his straight, dark brown brows in question, not bothering to sit up. He remained with his right ankle resting on his left knee and his elbows propped on the arms of his Windsor chair. Bracing his chin against his clasped fingers, he watched his uncle from beneath drowsy eyelids.
"That poor man's Kennedy drawl won't get you anywhere this time, my boy. Try to at least act like a human being with blood running through your veins instead of a preppy android." The sarcastic words seemed to drain the normally affable man of his last reserve of energy, and he lowered himself into the green leather chair behind him. He leaned his gray head back, dragging an unsteady hand through his thinning hair. "I held back when you laid into Hyde-White over his latest articles, and when you didn't have enough emotion in you to understand Libby Vaughn's problems during her separation. Today, however, you made me ashamed to call you a relative, much less my heir."
Logan still didn't move, although he'd had to suppress the urge to come to the older man's aid when he sat down. Preston never tolerated anyone drawing attention to his weakness, except his wife, Babs. "You're referring to Reinman's request for time off?"
"Yes, time off to spend at the hospital with his family," Preston answered in confirmation, his anger clear in the rigid lines of his face. "His son is having a kidney transplant. Anyone with the merest hint of feeling wouldn't have cared that the man was already over extended in time off. Some might even be willing to allow the man the time with pay."
"We have company policies, and as office manager I'm expected to see that we follow those policies," Logan replied without moderating his drawl. "You and grandfather created the policies; I simply act upon them."
"You enforce them with all the finesse of Captain Bligh, even your mother has more diplomacy," his uncle stated, closing his eyes for a moment. "That is why I have come to a decision that hasn't been easy. I met with Will Daniels yesterday."
"What does your personal lawyer have to do with publishing magazines?" For the first time Logan was curious. Preston had become overly sensitive since his illness had been diagnosed as viral hepatitis, which made Logan ignore the comment about his mother. Preston usually didn't mention his disdain for his younger brother's widow. The older man's mood swings worried both his wife and his nephew, although neither spoke of it.
"My lawyer came to draw up what is known as a living codicil," Preston continued, a smile that was almost a smirk curving his thin mouth.
"A living codicil? Surely, you're not going to actually threaten me with disinheritance in the hope that I'll curb my evil ways by use of a questionable legal device?"
"We both know that the old goat, my revered father, left his property tied up in a trust for his heirs, since he didn't think any of us would amount to a plug nickel, and he didn't want your mother to have a penny," his uncle replied, but his strange smile remained in place. "This is a stipulation that must be fulfilled for you to receive the full benefit of the Herrington holdings when I go. You are the last of the line, and I refuse to leave you in control with your present attitude toward life. At best, the doctor says I have five years now that I've been receiving proper medical attention for this bug. In that time, I intend to see you develop emotionally before you become a frozen, humorless replica of your mother with no hope for redemption. I blame myself since I should have returned home twenty years ago when your father died, and not waited until I was forced to by illness."
"What, pray tell, is going to bring about my salvation? Forty hours of Disney movies? Enforced reading of morality tales?" He could stoop to the ridiculous if Preston was going to be melodramatic. Illness had made the older man change his attitudes a great deal, though he'd never approved of his sister-in-law's preoccupation with social standing and rigid adherence to "proper behavior." Usually Preston was delivering a running monologue on his misspent youth, or on his regret at not marrying his precious Babs until six years ago, Logan remembered with fondness.
"Three months in Arkansas."
The room became very still as the words echoed off the walnut paneling. Steel-gray eyes bored into the startled blue gaze of the younger man. The office staff would have been amazed if they could see "Logan Legree"--as they called him--sitting bolt upright, his mouth hanging open. Enid Macomb Herrington, Logan's mother, would have been appalled as well. Only Preston knew that the younger man was capable of any expression other than boredom.
"Arkansas?" Logan finally managed, losing the exaggerated New England accent that Preston hated.
"Yes, it's a state in the South, between Missouri and Louisiana," his uncle informed him politely, leaning forward to rest his arms on his desk. His eyes were bright with barely contained emotion.
Logan eyed him suspiciously and carefully sat forward himself, propping his forearms on his thighs. "There's more, isn't there? What am I going to be doing in Arkansas?"
"You're going back to reporting again, but not that highbrow tripe you did for Art Forum, or that lofty commentary for Political Scene." Preston paused, tightly lacing his fingers together as if to keep from rubbing his palms in glee. "If I'm right, I think you might even get dirty and learn there are sports besides polo, sailing, squash, and rowing."
Logan knew he was gaping again. Writing and sports meant only one thing to the Herrington group--car racing. Racing that wasn't Formula One or even contained to a track. This meant SCCA pro rallies, and crazy men who drove on dirt roads; one step above demolition derbies as far as he was concerned. But why Arkansas, a state where he wasn't sure they spoke recognizable English? The Rally Driver was a national publication.
"You're going to Arkansas for human interest stories, and because that's where your guardian lives," Preston answered the younger man's silent question, adding mind reading to his talents.
"Guardian?" Logan shot up out of his chair as he yelled the word in a roar that anyone who had ever worked for his grandfather would have recognized immediately. "You're insane. This virus has affected your mind."
"You haven't only become a man without emotions, Logan, you have also become what a hapless politician called the press at one time--an effete snob," returned his tormentor, showing no signs of madness, or even anger. "You'll be under the guidance of T.L. Planchet to learn some humility and hopefully get back some feelings that I know you had at one time. There is life beyond Boston, my boy."
"And if I refuse?" Logan leaned over the desk in much the same manner Preston had just minutes before. The low snarl would have intimidated others, but not a Herrington--both men knew it.
"If you refuse, the Herrington trust will be in Babs's care when I die. You'll have a moderate allowance, no position in the Herrington group, and the total assets will go to charity eventually."
"So, if I want to be part of the Herrington group's future, I exile myself to some godforsaken spot and play out your Victorian morality lesson?" Logan didn't bother to hide his distaste at the prospect. Three months in a cultural wasteland--no symphony, no ballet, no theater--with people who listened to music that extolled the virtue of loving their trucks.
"Yes, and you had better be more humble Oliver Twist than spoiled Little Lord Fauntleroy, or the second part of the codicil goes into effect," Preston explained, now grinning from ear to ear with a smile that would have put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
Logan swore again and kicked the finely crafted mahogany desk that had been in the Herrington family for over two centuries. His angular face was flushed in anger, and his hands doubled into tight fists. Staring at his uncle's face, he was half-tempted to strike the man that he loved above anyone else in the world, unaware that he was showing the first honest emotion Preston had seen from him in two years.