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Anna Larkin came out of the underground station into the pouring rain. The gusting wind made using an umbrella impossible. She bent her head and began walking up Montgomery Street. Her cross trainers were getting wet, but better than soaking the high heels, which she carried in her tote bag. Her hair would be a mess, curls everywhere. But not to be helped, it was the least of her worries.
San Francisco was often rainy in late October and today was no exception.
She just wished it had been sunnyor at least dry. She was coming down with the flu. Walking in the rain would certainly do nothing to help. Bad things came in threes, she mused. First her sister's call this weekend to jubilantly share the news she was expecting a new baby. Anna had tried to rejoice with her sister, but without the chance of having a baby herself, each time she had to pretend it didn't matter it got harder.
Thenthe flu. She was usually healthy rarely even getting a cold during the winter. She so did not need this.
Now hurrying through the rain to get to work in order to meet the new man who was taking charge of the company today was about the last straw. All she wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep.
She reached the cavernous lobby of the high-rise building in short order. Entering, she shook as much of the water as she could from her raincoat and hair before getting on one of the express elevators. She hoped there was time to dry her hair before the meeting. The natural curls always dominated in damp weather.
She no sooner stepped off on her floor than her colleague, and friend, Teresa accosted her.
"You look terrible," she said, grabbing Anna's arm and hurrying her along to the ladies' room. Once safely inside, Anna peered at her reflection in the mirror. She looked worse than she felt, if that was possible. Pale with wet hanks of hair framing her face, she looked like she had the flu.
"Today's the day we finally meet the new boss, you're certain to make an impression," Teresa teased. "Hurry up. He's called for a meeting of department heads at nine."
"I feel sick as a dog," Anna said, slipping off her cross trainers. "I think it's the flu. I've been sick all weekend and wouldn't have come in today if the new CEO wasn't starting. Just when I need to make a good impression if I want that promotion."
"I thought Mr. Taylor said it was in the bag," said Teresa, holding the tote and reaching for Anna's high heels.
The rain had left her stockings wet, but they would dry soon enough. She took the offered heels, tossing her wet raincoat over one of the stall doors, letting it drip onto the tile floor. Better here than in her office.
Once she was standing in the shoes, she took her comb from her bag and began to pull it through her hair confining the unruly curls as best she could, anchoring them at her nape. This was not the way she normally wore it but a riot of damp curls was not going to win her any points with the new boss. What else could go wrong today?
Teresa checked her watch. "We have five minutes to get into the conference room," she said. "I'm not going to be late to the first meeting he's called."
Anna checked one more time in the mirror. She looked as professional as she could given the circumstances. She pinched her cheeks to get some color into her face, double-checked her lipstick and turned to her friend. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
Walking down the long hall she felt the suppressed excitement. Everyone on the floor knew Mr. Taylor was retiring. The Board of Directors had selected a new chief executive officerbut kept all information quiet lest the competition heard about it before they were ready with their announcement. Even the top level of management of Drysdale Electronics didn't know who would be the new CEO.
Rumors had abounded over the last few weeks that he would make a clean sweep of the current managers and directors and bring in his own people. Of course that kind of rumor went around every time a new man took charge. Sometimes it was even true.
In passing the employee's lounge, Anna dashed in to get a cup of coffee. She had not felt up to eating anything for breakfast so needed a jolt of caffeine to keep going. If at all possible, once the initial meeting was finished, she would go home and crawl back into bed. She was rarely sick and couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so wonky.
Entering the conference room a couple of moments later she immediately looked at the head of the room. Allen Taylor was talking with a man who had his back toward the gathering. The new CEO obviously. She couldn't tell much from that viewhe was tall, had dark hair with no gray in it and a wide set of shoulders. For a moment she thought there was something familiar about him. But no one even knew the name of the new man, the secrecy surrounding his appointment has been tightly capped.
He obviously wasn't as old as Mr. Taylor, not if that black hair was any indication.
Anna glanced around, recognizing all the senior management of the home office. Slipping into the seat next to Teresa, she sipped the warm coffee, wishing she was still in bed. How long was this going to take?
Glancing around at the others, she picked up on the tension in the room. She knew they all had questions and concerns.
After her conversation with Mr. Taylor last Friday, however, she wasn't as nervous as she might have been. He had assured her that her promotion was in the bag. By January she would be in her new position as director of the European marketplace, headquartered in Brussels. She could hardly wait.
Mr. Taylor stepped to the head of the long table as the man beside him turned to face the group. Anna stared at him with stunned, sickening surprise. For a moment heat swept through her and she couldn't tear her gaze away.
He did have broad shoulders; she remembered rubbing her hands over them, feeling the hot skin, the taut muscles. His lips appeared chiseled, but she remembered how they'd molded hers, bringing wild passion to a mere kiss. For three glorious weeks she and Tanner Forsythe had been constantly in each other's company. Two days after they made love, he had stopped calling, stopped returning her calls and dropped out of her life completely.
She swallowed hard. Oh. My. God. She had slept with the new head of Drysdale Electronics!
She felt as if she would throw up. She glanced over at Teresa who was looking at the head of the table with all attention. Nobody knew. She had kept their affair quiet last summer, not wanting to be teased about a whirlwind romance. Thank goodness for discretion. If she could just get through today, she'd make sure nobody ever knew. She had to get to him, make sure he didn't mention anything thinking people might have known about their dating.
Please don't let him say anything, she prayed, wishing she could slink down in her chair, slip beneath the table and hide forever. She had to find a moment to speak to him alone. Assure him no one knewand no one need ever know.
They'd met when he'd begun coming to the gym where she worked out several times a week. Dressed in running shorts and a T-shirt, he looked fabulous. She'd been instantly drawn to him the first time he'd showed up. Before her session had ended, he'd asked her out for coffee. From then on they'd found time to meet during the week and on the weekends.
She tried to remember all the details of their dates. But her head throbbed and she felt slightly ill again. She so did not need this.
What would this do to a future working relationship? He couldn't fire her outright, could he? She wished she had had some prior inkling of Tanner Forsythe taking on the helm of Drysdale Electronic. What was she going to do?
Mr. Taylor nodded at the group and began to speak, "As you all know, I've talked about retiring for a long time. Mrs. Taylor has finally convinced me to act, not dream. Many of you know the Board met two weeks ago to finalized negotiations with my successor. I spoke with some of you individually last Friday in an attempt to make a smooth transition between my leaving and the assumption of power by our new CEO. I'd like to introduce Tanner Forsythe. He takes over with the full and enthusiastic endorsement of the Board of Directors. He has an impressive background with electronic firms in taking troubled companies and turning them around to make them more profitable than ever. A copy of his impressive résumé is in the packet Ellie will give each of you on the way out. The Board of Directors and I do hope you all will be able to guide Drysdale Electronics to new heights under Tanner's guidance. I expect each of you to give him your full cooperation and support."
Mr. Taylor waited for the polite applause to die down, then nodded to the man on his right. "How about each of you introduce yourself, give the department or division you head up and say anything else you think Tanner may need to know for now. He'll be meeting with each of you individually before the week is out."
Mr. Taylor checked his watch. "However, let's keep it brief, I have a lot to review with him myself before I take off for the Bahamas."
There was some good-natured teasing for a moment. Then Hank Brownson began the introductions with the explanation he ran the accounting department. One by one each person around the table introduced himself or herself and gave a brief description of their area of responsibilities. Teresa's turn came fast. Anna felt sick. She was next. She heard Teresa explain she was the head of Human Resources, then the silence that followed.
Anna looked at Mr. Taylor rather than into the dark familiar eyes of Tanner Forsythe.
"My name is Anna Larkin. I'm the under-director for European operations." She could say nothing further. For one awful moment she wondered if Tanner would rescind the promotion promised and refuse to let her move to the Brussels office.
She had been working toward that particular position for more than ten years. For the last five she'd studied French assiduously. Recently all her vacations had been in Europe to familiarize herself with the different countries, and to practice her language skills. She had devoted fifteen years of her life to becoming the best international marketing employee Drysdale Electronics ever had.
For one heart-stopping moment she wondered if it all had been in vain.
So if bad things came in threes, was this the end? Maybe she'd make a miraculous recovery within the next ten minutes. The news from her sister wouldn't hurt so, and Tanner would send her to Europe with a bonus in her pocket.
And pigs would fly.
As Neil Patterson introduced himself, Anna leaned back in her chair. She had no illusions that life would change in an instant. Her only hope was that she could make it home before collapsing. Looking at the bright side of things, if she were home, he couldn't fire her, could he?
Once introductions were complete, Tanner gave a short speech. Upbeat and direct, he challenged everyone to rise to the new level of expectations. It motivated without casting any aspersions on Mr. Taylor and his stint at the helm. Anna was impressed.
She'd been impressed beforein the summer. They'd spent endless evenings walking around San Francisco after working out together at the gym, enjoying the city when the crowds were gone, and when the weather was at its best. Talking about everything under the sun, or so she thought, he had never mentioned his exact job. And she had only said she was in marketing. She was not defined by her job.
In fact, she'd only talked about it in great detail right before he stopped contacting her.
The penny dropped. He'd known he was being sought for this position and had stopped dating a future employee.
She wished he'd finished things before they'd gone to bed together. Not only for the awkwardness of finding they had to work together, but for the glorious event itself, which would never be repeated. She had begun to fall a little in love with Tanner, even knowing it could lead nowhere. But she'd never found making love to be so exciting, so enthralling as the night they'd spent together.
She kept her gaze on her notepad, her mind drifting to that night, try as she might to focus on his words to the group. She'd wondered if she'd somehow been lackingbeyond the obvious of course. Now at least she had a more logical reason for his lack of follow up.
Tanner Forsythe moved his gaze around the room studying the features of each of the men and women who now reported to him as they introduced themselves. He knew Anna would be in this group. That had been the sole reason he had stopped seeing her. But when his gaze locked in on her, when he heard her voice, he was surprised by a shock of awareness. They dated for several weeks. Once he learned that she worked for Drysdale Electronics, he had stopped seeing her immediately. Preliminary negotiations for his new position had already begunand he did not date fellow employees. Especially when they would soon be reporting to him.
Should he have suspected she worked for Drysdale when he met her at the gym? As part of the compensation package he got membership. He'd gone to see if he liked the facility. It was two blocks from the office, crowded after work each day. He should have pushed more at the time to find out where she worked, but he'd been more interested in Anna herself than her employer.
He was not into long-term relationships as a rule. He'd learned his lesson well from Cindy. He wasn't going to get suckered into anything like marriage again. But he and Anna had meshed in many areas. She made no demands, nor had he. They'd been two people who had a lot in common, and had ended up for one terrific night in bed.