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Figlio di un allevatore di maiali.
Liam Crowe didn't speak Italian. The new owner of the American News Service network could barely order Italian food, and he was pretty sure his Executive Vice President of Community Outreach knew it.
Francesca Orr had muttered the words under her breath during today's emergency board meeting. He'd written down what she'd saidor at least a close enough approximation-in his notebook so he could look it up later. The words had fallen from her dark red lips in such a seductive way. Italian was a powerful language. You could order cheese and it would sound like a sincere declaration of love. Especially when spoken by the dark, exotic beauty who'd sat across the table from him.
And yet, he had the distinct impression that he wasn't going to like what she'd said to him.
He hadn't expected taking over the company from Graham Boyle to be a cakewalk. The former owner and several employees were in jail following a phone-hacking scandal that had targeted the president of the United States. The first item on the agenda for the board meeting had been to suspend ANS reporter Angelica Pierce for suspicion of misconduct. Hayden Black was continuing his congressional investigation into the role Angelica may have played in the affair. Right now, they had enough cause for the suspension. When Black completed his investigationand hopefully uncovered some hard evidenceLiam and his Board of Directors would determine what additional action to take.
He was walking into a corporate and political maelstrom, but that was the only reason he had been able to afford to buy controlling stock in the company in the first place. ANS was the crown jewel of broadcast media. The prize he'd always had his eye on. The backlash of the hacking scandal had brought the network and its owner, Graham Boyle, to their knees. Even with Graham behind bars and the network coming in last in the ratings for most time slots, Liam knew he couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy ANS.
So, they had a major scandal to overcome. A reputation to rebuild. Nothing in life was easy, and Liam liked a challenge. But he'd certainly hoped that the employees of ANS, and especially his own Board of Directors, would be supportive. From the night janitor to the CFO, jobs were on the line. Most of the people he spoke to were excited about him coming aboard and hopeful they could put the hacking scandal behind them to rebuild the network.
But not Francesca. It didn't make any sense. Sure, she had a rich and famous movie producer father to support her if she lost her position with ANS, but charity was her job. Surely she cared about the employees of the company as much as she cared about starving orphans and cancer patients.
It didn't seem like it, though. Francesca had sat at the conference room table in her formfitting flame-red suit and lit into him like she was the devil incarnate. Liam had been warned that she was a passionate and stubborn womanthat it wouldn't be personal if they bumped headsbut he wasn't prepared for this. The mere mention of streamlining the corporate budget to help absorb the losses had sent her on a tirade. But they simply couldn't throw millions at charitable causes when they were in such a tight financial position.
Suffice it to say, she disagreed.
With a sigh, Liam closed the lid on his briefcase and headed out of the executive conference room to find some lunch on his own. He'd planned to take some of the board members out, but everyone had scattered after the awkward meeting came to an end. He didn't blame them. Liam had managed to keep control of it, making sure they covered everything on the agenda, but it was a painful process.
Oddly enough, the only thing that had made it remotely tolerable for him was watching Francesca herself. In a room filled with older businesswomen and men in gray, black and navy suits, Francesca was the pop of color and life. Even when she wasn't speaking, his gaze kept straying back to her.
Her hair was ebony, flowing over her shoulders and curling down her back. Her almond-shaped eyes were dark brown with thick, black lashes. They were intriguing, even when narrowed at him in irritation. When she argued with him, color rushed to her face, giving her flawless tan skin a rosy undertone that seemed all the brighter for her fireengine red suit and lipstick.
Liam typically had a thing for fiery, exotic women. He'd had his share of blond-haired, blue-eyed debutantes in private school but when he'd gone off to college, he found he had a taste for women a little bit spicier. Francesca, if she hadn't been trying to ruin his day and potentially his year, would've been just the kind of woman he'd ask out. But complicating this scenario with a fling gone wrong was something he didn't need.
Right now, what he did need was a stiff drink and some red meat from his favorite restaurant. He was glad ANS's corporate headquarters were in New York. While he loved his place in D.C., he liked coming back to his hometown. The best restaurants in the world, luxury box seats for his favorite baseball team the vibe of Manhattan was just so different.
He'd be up here from time to time on business. Really, he wished it was all the time, but if he wanted to be in the thick of politics, which was ANS's focus, Washington was where he had to be. So he'd set up his main office in the D.C. newsroom, as Boyle had, keeping both his apartment in New York and the town house in Georgetown that he'd bought while he went to college there. It was the best of both worlds as far as he was concerned.
Liam went to his office before he left for lunch. He put his suitcase on the table and copied Francesca's words from his notebook onto a sticky note. He carried it with him, stopping at his assistant's desk on his way out.
"Jessica, it's finally over. Mrs. Banks will be bringing you the paperwork to process Ms. Pierce's suspension. Human Resources needs to get that handled right way. Now that that mess is behind me, I think I'm going to find some lunch." He handed her the note with the Italian phrase written on it. "Could you get this translated for me while I'm gone? It's Italian."
Jessica smiled and nodded as though it wasn't an unusual request. She'd apparently done this in the past as Graham Boyle's assistant. "I'll take care of it, sir. I have the website bookmarked." Glancing down at the yellow paper she shook her head. "I see Ms. Orr has given you a special welcome to the company. This is one I haven't seen before."
"Should I feel honored?"
"I don't know yet, sir. I'll tell you once I look it up." Liam chuckled, turning to leave, then stopping. "Out of curiosity," he asked, "what did she call Graham?"
"Her favorite was stronzo." "What's that mean?"
"It has several translations, none of which I'm really comfortable saying out loud." Instead, she wrote them on the back of the note he'd handed her.
"Wow," he said, reading as she wrote. "Certainly not a pet name, then. I'm going to have to deal with Ms. Orr before this gets out of control."
A blur of red blew past him and he looked up to see Francesca heading for the elevators in a rush. "Here's my chance."
"Good luck, sir," he heard Jessica call to him as he trotted to the bank of elevators.
One of the doors had just opened and he watched Francesca step inside and turn to face him. She could see him coming. Their eyes met for a moment and then she reached to the panel to hit the button. To close the doors faster.
He thrust his arm between the silver sliding panels and they reopened to allow him to join her. Francesca seemed less than pleased with the invasion. She eye-balled him for a moment under her dark lashes and then wrinkled her delicate nose as though he smelled of rotten fish. As the doors began to close again, she scooted into the far corner of the elevator even though they were alone in the car.
"We need to talk," Liam said as the car started moving down.
Francesca's eyes widened and her red lips tightened into a straight, hard line. "About what?" she asked innocently.
"About your attitude. I understand you're passionate about your work. But whether you like it or not, I'm in control of this company and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to save it from the mess that's been made of it. I'll not have you making a fool out of me in front of"
Liam's words were cut off as the elevator lurched to a stop and the lights went out, blanketing them in total darkness.
This couldn't really be happening. She was not trapped in a broken elevator with Liam Crowe. Stubborn and ridiculously handsome Liam Crowe. But she should've known something bad was going to happen. There had been thirteen people sitting at the table during the board meeting. That was an omen of bad luck.
Nervously, she clutched at the gold Italian horn pendant around her neck and muttered a silent plea for good fortune. "What just happened?" she asked, her voice sounding smaller than she'd like, considering the blackout had interrupted a tongue lashing from her new boss.
"I don't know." They stood in the dark for a moment before the emergency lighting system kicked on and bathed them in red light. Liam walked over to the control panel and pulled out the phone that connected to the engineering room. Without saying anything, he hung it back up. Next, he hit the emergency button, but nothing happened; the entire panel was dark and unresponsive.
"Well?" Francesca asked.
"I think the power has gone out. The emergency phone is dead." He pulled his cell phone out and eyed the screen. "Do you have service on your phone? I don't."
She fished in her purse and retrieved her phone, shaking her head as she looked at the screen. There were no bars or internet connectivity. She never got good service in elevators, anyway. "Nothing."
"Damn it," Liam swore, putting his phone away. "I can't believe this."
"So what do we do now?"
Liam flopped back against the wall with a dull thud. "We wait. If the power outage is widespread, there's nothing anyone can do."
"So we just sit here?"
"Do you have a better suggestion? You were full of them this morning."
Francesca ignored his pointed words, crossed her arms defensively and turned away from him. She eyed the escape hatch in the ceiling. They could try to crawl out through there, but how high were they? They had started on the fifty-second floor and hadn't gone very far when the elevator stopped. They might be in between floors. Or the power could come back on while they were in the elevator shaft and they might get hurt. It probably was a better idea to sit it out.
The power would come back on at any moment. Hopefully.
"It's better to wait," she agreed reluctantly.
"I didn't think it was possible for us to agree on anything after the board meeting and that fit you threw."
Francesca turned on her heel to face him. "I did not throw a fit. I just wasn't docile enough to sit back like the others and let you make bad choices for the company. They're too scared to rock the boat."
"They're scared that the company can't bounce back from the scandal. And they didn't say anything because they know I'm right. We have to be fiscally responsible if we're going to"
"Fiscally responsible? What about socially responsible? ANS has sponsored the Youth in Crisis charity gala for the past seven years. We can't just decide not to do it this year. It's only two weeks away. They count on that money to provide programs for at-risk teens. Those activities keep kids off the streets and involved in sports and create educational opportunities they wouldn't get without our money."
Liam frowned at her. She could see the firm set of his jaw even bathed in the dim red light. "You think I don't care about disadvantaged children?"
Francesca shrugged. "I don't know you well enough to say."
"Well, I do care," he snapped. "I personally attended the ball for the past two years and wrote a big fat check at both of them. But that's not the point. The point is we need to cut back on expenses to keep the company afloat until we can rebuild our image."
"No. You've got it backward," she insisted. "You need the charity events to rebuild your image so the company can stay afloat. What looks better in the midst of scandal than a company doing good deeds? It says to the public that some bad people did some bad things here, but the rest of us are committed to making things right. The advertisers will come flocking back."
Liam watched her for a moment, and she imagined the wheels turning in his head as he thought through her logic. "Your argument would've been a lot more effective if you hadn't shrieked and called me names in Italian."
Francesca frowned. She hadn't meant to lose her cool, but she couldn't help it. She had her mother's quick Italian tongue and her father's short fuse. It made for an explosive combination. "I have a bit of a temper," she said. "I get it from my father."
Anyone who had worked on the set of a Victor Orr film knew what could happen when things weren't going right. The large Irishman had a head of thick, black hair and a temper just as dark. He'd blow at a moment's notice and nothing short of her mother's soothing hand could calm him down. Francesca was just the same.
"Does he curse in Italian, too?"
"No, he doesn't speak a word of it and my mother likes it that way. My mother grew up in Sicily and met my father there when he was shooting a film. My mother's Italian heritage was always very important to her, so when I got older I spent summers there with my nonna."
"My maternal grandmother. I picked up a lot of Italian while I was there, including some key phrases I probably shouldn't know. I realized as a teenager that I could curse in Italian and my father wouldn't know what I was saying because he's Irish. From there it became a bad habit of mine. I'm sorry I yelled," she added. "I just care too much. I always have."
Francesca might take after her mother in most things, but her father had made his mark, as well. Victor Orr had come from poor beginnings and raised his two daughters not only to be grateful for what they had, but also to give to the less fortunate. All through high school, Francesca had volunteered at a soup kitchen on Saturdays. She'd organized charity canned food collections and blood drives at school. After college, her father helped her get an entry level job at ANS, where he was the largest minority stockholder. It hadn't taken long for her to work her way up to the head of community outreach. And she'd been good at it. Graham had never had room to complain about her doing anything less than a stellar job.
But it always came down to money. When things got tight, her budget was always the first to get cut. Why not eliminate some of the cushy corporate perks? Maybe slash the travel budget and force people to hold more teleconferences? Or cut back on the half gallon of hair gel the head anchor used each night for the evening news broadcast?
"I don't want to hack up your department," Liam said. "What you do is important for ANS and for the community. But I need a little give and take here. Everyone needs to tighten their belts. Not just you. But I need you to play along, too. It's hard enough to come into the leadership position of a company that's doing well, much less one like ANS. I'm going to do everything I can to get this network back on top, but I need everyone's support."