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Maya Woodson slid her Toyota into her reserved parking space in Pharaoh Hotel's parking garage. She was swirling with a mixture of excitement and nausea. She'd felt it since waking up that morning in her Georgetown condo. The usually horrifying D.C. metro traffic only made it worse.
Today was it, she thought, as she grabbed her briefcase off of the backseat. Pharaoh Hotel Corporation was starting its road show, the most important part of going from privately owned status to a publicly traded company. Maya was scared to death, but so proud. She'd been itching to be a part of it from the beginning, but a public relations director wasn't of need-to-know importance until now. So she'd kept her distance, feeding off news that slipped out of the finance department or the senior management group. But now that public perception and buy-in was necessary, Maya was going to be in the mix, and she was rearing to go. She could only think of how proud her father would be of her if he were still here. Pharaoh was his baby.
Maya checked her watch. Nine fifteen. She had to hurry. There was so much to do before the big meeting at eleven.
When she saw him slam the door to his black Lexus, the first thing Maya noticed was how classically gorgeous he was. Well over six feet tall with a rich caramel-colored complexion, he had sharp features and a strong build. He had a hard jaw line and distinguished nose, and his perfectly tailored navy blue suit hinted at a very fit figure.
Before having the chance to take this attraction in, Mayarealized he was so busy tidying his tie and very expensive suit and checking his watch at the same time, he had no idea he was walking right into her.
"Hey!" she yelled to him, but it was too late.
He bumped into her only a second after he looked up. It was only a slight bump, but he was large, and Maya's 5'5", 125-lb. frame was pushed back. Her briefcase fell out of her hands to the floor. The impact jarred it open, a few files falling out.
His light eyes blinked as he reached for her. He hadn't even seen her. "Where did you come from?"
"Where did I come from?" Surprised at his response, Maya pulled away from his grip. It was too strong anyway. "Do you mean how dare I be in your way?"
He ignored her snide remark. There was too much on his mind. Too much to let this pretty young sister get to him right now.
He knelt down to help with her papers. "I didn't mean ..."
"No." Maya shooed his hands away, picking up the last file. "I've got it. I've got it."
He didn't have the time to argue with her. He ran his hands over naturally curly black hair. "Look, I'm just ... I mean I'm running late for a meeting."
Maya closed her briefcase and stood up to face him. His full lips were pressed together. He appeared annoyed at the necessity of acknowledging that he caused this. "Plan better."
He caught that, his head lifting back a little. Spicy little thing, and he could swear she looked familiar.
"Excuse me?" he asked, taking in a gander. She was a little thin for his taste, but shapely with a smooth and beautiful milk chocolate complexion. Her shoulder length, jet black hair was shiny and healthy, her large, dark eyes catching, and her nose like a rosebud with elegant, promising lips.
"Plan better," Maya repeated, not at all happy with his roving eyes, no matter how appealing they were. "The license plate on your car says New York. Our traffic is worse than yours, believe it or not. If you're going to do business here, plan to leave earlier. Nothing appears worse than being late for a meeting."
"Thanks for the advice," he answered. "I'd love to hear more of your business tips, but my meeting starts in fifteen minutes, so I'll be going."
Maya eyed him cynically as he walked away. "New Yorkers. Always in a rush."
She brushed him off. She had no time to concern herself with rude men, no matter how fine. She had a lot to do before her meeting, and she wasn't about to be late for that.
Alexandra Hampton, all of twenty-five, not looking a day over sixteen, sauntered lazily into Maya's office in the business corridors of the hotel. She sat comfortably in the royal blue chair, her eyes gazing around the sleekly designed office.
Maya Woodson had been director of public relations for Pharaoh Hotel Corporation for three years now. The small hotel chain, specializing in extended stays, was started by her father, Nick Woodson, and Jerome Newman, his former apprentice. Already successful in real estate, Nick foresaw the technology migration to the northern Virginia and D.C. metro area. With his protégé turned partner, Jerome, he started a hotel for businessmen and women who would be in the area for more than a week. Long-term contractors, consultants, business commuters and new hires needing a home until they found a permanent one made up their clientele.
That was twenty years ago, and the idea of a home away from home with the quality service of a hotel was just catching on. The only black-owned hotel of its kind, Pharaoh Hotel Corporation grew faster than anyone expected, expanding to other metropolitan areas. Then Nick was killed in a tragic car accident ten years ago, and Jerome Newman took over the reins himself. Maya had worshiped her father, and thought she and her mother would have fallen to pieces if Jerome hadn't been there for them. Almost ten years younger than Nick, he gave up any idea of a normal personal life and made Pharaoh famous while becoming a surrogate father for Maya.
Jerome had taken Maya under his wing. He'd wanted to groom her for senior management, preferably through the world of finance. But Maya wasn't interested in that. She was a creative soul, more interested in writing and special events than accounting and finance or sales. Although she knew more about the company than anyone short of Jerome, she moved into public relations and Jerome had let her spread her wings and take over. She played a major part in the success of the chain, leading public investors to want a piece of the private pie.
Maya was going over a first draft release, waiting for Alexandra to say something. It wasn't going to happen. The girl could sit there forever and just stare.
"What's up, Alex?" Maya leaned over the desk, her hands entwined in front of her.
Alexandra shrugged. "Just saying hey. You look nice today. More ..."
She had on her best black suit, tapered to fit her perfectly and end just above her knee. Corporate offices were on the first floor of the D.C. hotel. To fit in with the guests, the dress code was business casual, so an outfit such as this, with pumps no less, brought on attention.
"Yes, corporate." Alexandra nodded, her braids, which seemed to be in the thousands, each thinner than strings, moving with her head. "What's up? Job interview?"
"Like I would ever work anywhere but here." Maya laughed at the thought. She would devote the rest of her life to seeing the continued success of her daddy's dream. "You know my life is Pharaoh."
"That's your problem." Alexandra slid a pen over her right ear. "You're always here. You were supposed to hire a public relations manager to help out, but that was months ago."
"I have public relations contacts at every Pharaoh hotel. I'm doing fine."
"Still, you spend all your time here. You're twenty-eight and very single. Very, very single."
"Don't go there." Maya leaned back. The pictures on her desk told it all. Daddy, Mama, her best friend Alissa's daughters, Amani and Winnie. No man. "I'm still looking for a man like Daddy, Alex. Haven't found him yet. I've come close once or twice. You gotta give me points for trying. I'm not giving up. I'm just in a little drought."
"You can say that again."
"Alex, did you come in here to remind me of my manless state?"
She slowly crossed her legs. Alexandra did everything slowly. "No. That was for me. You know, misery loves company and all. What's up with your short temper?"
"I'm not upset," Maya said. She'd grown used to Alexandra's interference in her personal life, her nagging habits, her too short skirts and too much makeup. She was Jerome's niece and an okay secretary if one didn't need anything in too much of a hurry.
"Your hands are clenched in a fist, Maya. Chill out. I wasn't criticizing. I know you could have ten men if you wanted one."
Maya shook her head, leaning back in her chair. "I'm sorry. This isn't about you or men. It's about today. I'm nervous and excited. Anxious, all that."
"You and Uncle Jerome." Alexandra rolled her eyes. "IPO, IPO, IPO. I don't even know what IPO is an abbreviation for anymore."
Maya sighed. They'd gone over this several times. Alexandra had a selective memory. "Initial public offering. When a company goes public and ..."
"Wants to sell shares of stock, they do an IPO." Alexandra nodded. "I know what it means. More money for investments, acquisitions and stuff."
"Stuff?" Maya asked. "This is more than stuff. It's big time. Stockbrokers, analysts, big spenders, power people, NASDAQ."
"Whatever NASDAQ is." Alexandra looked bored. "All I know is Uncle Jerome says it's going to make a few people, including you and him, rich because you own both your parents' stake in the company."
"That's a plus." Maya wouldn't deny that. "But getting rich has never been the issue for me. Furthering what Daddy started is what this is all about."
"Back to you," Alexandra said. "If this is all about the investors, big spenders and all that, what are you doing in it? You're public relations, not NASDAQ."
"The road show is when the company goes to the investment community to shore up interest, ensuring a successful opening day and a great stock price." Maya felt her stomach swirling just thinking about it. "It involves Investor Relations, which is just financial public relations. My expertise is needed."
Alexandra frowned, seeming a little confused. "But Uncle Jerome hired that guy. That Tre ... Tragan ..."
"Trajan," Maya corrected. "Trajan Matthews, and I know."
"What in the world kind of name is that?"
Maya shrugged. "Something about Roman emperors. At least that's what Jerome told me. I wasn't interested in an explanation of his name, just his credentials."
"I thought he was black." Alexandra shifted in her seat. "I thought that was the point. A black-owned Investor Relations firm for a black-owned company."
"TM Investor Relations is black-owned, and Mr. Matthews is black, but your uncle wasn't looking for a black-owned firm only. He was looking for the best firm. He seems to be satisfied with Mr. Matthews."
"Hide your true feelings, Ms. Bitter," Alexandra said. "I take it my uncle didn't ask your opinion of the emperor."
Maya smiled. "You know I wanted to be a part of that, but the NAACP banquet was coming up. The San Francisco promotion was hitting stride. We had that issue in Philadelphia."
"What do you think of him?"
"Matthews?" Maya frowned, fidgeting with her pen. "Never met him. I got a report from Jerome. He showed me some articles. Trajan Matthews has the inside on Wall Street, a history in investment banking, and a strong reputation. I'll be meeting him today. I'm sure I'll like him since Jerome seems to love him so much."
"Have you seen him?"
"Not yet. The photos weren't supported by my web browser when I visited TM's Web site. The articles Jerome gave me were faxed copies of copies. The pictures were unviewable."
"Uncle Jerome's secretary says he's steaming serious sexy hot. He's a little lighter than she generally likes her men, but ..."
"That's not important," Maya said. "He just better get the job done. We all better get the job done. Which reminds me. I have to contact the catering manager for the NAACP banquet. We'll have to finish this dynamic, stimulating conversation later."
With Alexandra gone, Maya went back to work. She found it weird that, with her hectic schedule and all that was on her mind, an image of the New Yorker with the Lexus flashed in her mind. She laughed at herself, creating a character from stereotypes. Obnoxious New Yorker with a foul mouth and bad manners. However, a paying guest was a paying guest, so as far as she was concerned, he was a king.
"Hello, young one."
Maya's smile was cheek to cheek as Elaine Cramer entered her office. The woman always brought her joy.
"Hey, Elaine." Maya quickly stood up and went to hug the seventy-year-old permanent resident of the hotel. She loved the nosy woman.
They sat on the sofa near the window. Maya knew she was running short on time, but she never refused Elaine. Elaine was a wealthy old widow whose three ungrateful children never called, except to ask for money. She had no close friends, only acquaintances, and all her other family was dead. When Maya's mother, Rose, died of breast cancer two years ago, Elaine became a surrogate mother of sorts. Maya knew she was all Elaine had.
"Now Elaine." Maya accepted the small plate covered with a paper towel. She lifted the towel. Brownies. "What did I tell you about baking for me?"
"I'm an old lady," she said, gently tapping Maya's arm. A caring gesture. "We have to bake for someone. It's an old lady rule. Who would I bake for if not you? My god-awful children?"
"What have they done now?" Maya felt for Elaine. Her children were a constant source of disappointment and regret.
Elaine sighed, shaking her head. She gently placed her peach-colored hands on the lap of her paisley dress. "They've got the kids into it now. My own grandchildren. Do you know Linda said I wasn't welcomed to Debra's junior high graduation ceremony? I mean the girl is almost as horrid as her mama, but she's one of only two grandkids I have."
"Why would she do that?"
"Guess." Elaine rolled her eyes.
"Of course," Maya said, nodding. "Money. What else?"
Elaine Cramer's husband of thirty-two years won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the company he worked for for thirty years. The company exposed him to radiation as a laborer in their Maryland plants. James Cramer died a month after receiving a check for three million dollars. The kids, who were already worthless, became worse. They wanted more than Elaine gave them, which was already more than their father indicated they should have in his hastily drawn up will. Never a call for just a hello. No invitations to visit over the holidays. Just requests for more money.
"Because I didn't send Linda five thousand dollars to pay for her trip to Hawaii, I can't see my grandchild graduate. Who needs five thousand for Hawaii? It's in the U.S., not Africa."
"I'm so sorry, Elaine." Maya placed the plate on the table next to them both and wrapped Elaine's hands in hers. "That was painful, but are you sure you can't go? Can you contact the school directly? Maybe one of Debra's friends graduating with her has an extra ticket she can give you."
"That's just it." Elaine looked away, her pink face drained. "I was thinking of that when Debra called yesterday. I thought ... I guess I'm still too hopeful."
"You're an optimist, honey." Maya respected that quality, but knew it only made her more vulnerable. "What did Debra say?"
Elaine's eyes welled up with tears. "She told me she'd never speak to me again if I didn't give her mama the money."
"Oh Elaine." Maya felt her pain. Her own family had been so close, although their time together was too short. She couldn't imagine such betrayal.
"She went the whole route. Sobbing, sniffling, all of it. Said since Jim left them two years ago, they were broke. Don't know how that could be 'cause he never worked a steady job for more than a month when he was with them."
"You know her mother put her up to this, Elaine. She's only thirteen."
Elaine nodded unconvincingly. "I don't care anymore. I'm through with all of them. That's what I came to talk to you about."
Alexandra slipped in the room. "Hey, Ms. Anticipation. It's eleven. Do you know where your senior management team is?"
Maya jumped up from the sofa in a panic.
"Oh dear," Elaine said. "I've left you late for a meeting again."
Maya ran to her desk, grabbing her papers and files. "I have to go, Elaine. We'll talk later."
She smiled at the woman, feeling guilty as she saw her somber expression. Her heart was broken and that should mean more than a meeting. But this wasn't an ordinary meeting.
"I wish you didn't have to go," Elaine said. "I have such good news for you."
"I'm so sorry, Elaine. It'll have to be later. I am eager to hear the news."
Elaine nodded, standing slowly with Maya's help. "I understand. You'll come by later?"
Maya led Elaine out of her office. "I'll stop by before my dinner with Jerome."
"Now where is he?" Elaine frowned, confused. "I've been looking for him all morning. I've left messages for him telling him that the front desk is messing up with the mail again. I want to lodge a complaint."
"Later, Elaine." Maya kissed the older woman's cheek before darting down the corridors to the meeting room on the fifth floor.
It was only five after when she reached the door, but Maya still cursed herself. As she walked into the conference room, all eyes turned to her.
Jerome Newman stood up and headed for her immediately. There was an urgency in his step. At forty-five, Jerome Newman looked relatively well for his age. Fit with the exception of a belly, his dark brown skin and gray temples were distinguished.
"Where were you?" he whispered in her ear as he led her to the seat next to him. "Is everything okay?"
"Sorry." Maya felt comfort at his touch. She knew him so well, she could tell he was concerned, not angry. "I'm sorry I was late."
He smiled at her, all care and forgiveness in his eyes. "Don't worry. We're the client, remember?"
Jerome faced the group at the long table, head held high. "To get back to work here, I think of couple of you have yet to meet our business partner in the investor relations effort of this venture, Trajan Matthews. He's at the end of the table."
Trajan had gotten over the initial shock, recalling his earlier sense of familiarity. He stood and smiled kindly, focusing on Maya's tightened lips. He saw her swallow hard, and he smiled wider.
The New Yorker! Maya took a split second to compose herself. She nodded a curt hello with a forced smile. As he stood up and walked toward her, Maya felt her anxiety grow. She did her best to hide it as she slowly stood up to greet him.
"Ms. Woodson." Trajan took her hand, shaking it vigorously. Her hand was silky soft, her eyes were tempting without effort. "I've been looking forward to meeting you especially, after hearing so many great things of your father. It's nice to finally do so ... formally I mean."
Maya felt his grip was way too strong for her taste and quickly pulled her hand away. "Mr. Matthews, we're all happy to do business with you."
He stepped closer, planning to be gentle. However, he wasn't going to let her get away scot-free.
"You would be proud of me," he whispered in his strong voice "I took your advice. I was early for this meeting. Nothing worse was what you said, right?"
Maya felt her veins heat up with embarrassment and resentment, but she kept the smile on her face. "Good for you, Mr. Matthews."
Maya returned to her seat as he returned to his. She looked at Jerome, who winked at her with a proud smile. She'd never questioned Jerome's judgment before. She'd give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
"Now that we have the introduction out of the way," Jerome said, "let's get back to business"
Maya felt Trajan's eyes bearing into her, but she refused to look at him. She was certain he thought she was a hypocrite or incompetent, but she shouldn't care. As Jerome said, she was the client. With the exception of Trajan and Cynthia Hodges, the representative from the financial firm underwriting the public offering, everyone at the table knew she was excellent at what she did, and very capable.