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A Heart's Refuge
By Carolyne Aarsen
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBecky Ellison pressed her back against the outside door of Going West's office, balancing her muffin, coffee cup and a batch of folders. Don't panic. You're just a little bit late.
"Hey, hon. Welcome back. How was the holiday?" Trixie sang out as Becky entered the reception area.
Becky set everything on the waist-high divider separating the entrance from Trixie Langston's domain and blew her breath out in a gusty sigh. "Breakfast on the run my first day back. Orders from our new boss that I'm deciphering late last night after spending ten days with hormonal teenage girls at Bible camp." She grabbed her hair in a ponytail and twisted an elastic around it. "You fill in the blanks."
"And such a lovely hairdo to impress our new boss." Trixie frowned as her eyes flicked over Becky's plaid shirt and blue jeans. Trixie, as usual, was immaculately groomed. Artfully windblown hairstyle. Pale pink sweater and gray skirt. Makeup. Earrings. Becky had never sought to emulate Trixie's style, but once in a while she wondered if people would take her more seriously if she did. "If this is your good impression," Trixie continued, "I would hate to see the slob version."
"Mom's wash machine broke down. The sewer backed up while Dad and Dennis were out in the orchard. After cleaning up that mess, this was all I had left to wear." Becky anchored a few loose strands behind her ear and bit her lips to make them red. "Okay, enough primping. I'll get my messages after the meeting. By the way, how late am I?"
Trixie glanced at the clock in the foyer of the magazine office. "I'd love to say everyone else is running their usual fifteen minutes behind, but for once everyone is early. Except you."
Becky pulled a face at Trixie, stifling the dread that clutched her midsection. Rick Ethier. Here in Okotoks. What were the odds that he remembered who she was? Probably slim to none. She probably knew more about him than he did about her. She sucked in another breath. "My friend, wish me luck."
"Give him your best smile and you'll do fine," Trixie said, flashing her a thumbs-up.
The door of Nelson's office was shut and the only sound she heard was an unfamiliar deep voice. Rick, most likely. New publisher of the magazine her father started and Rick's grandfather, Colson Ethier, recently purchased.
Up until three weeks ago, office gossip was Nelson, the previous publisher, would stay on after the purchase. Then, just before she left on her so-called holiday - camp counselor to ten teenage girls - she was stunned to discover that Rick Ethier, Colson Ethier's grandson, would take over Nelson's job. Now she would be making an entrance, and a poor first impression, in front of the man who had shattered so many of her hopes and dreams.
She smoothed one hand over her still damp hair, drew in a slow breath, sent up a quick prayer and carefully opened the door. Flashing everyone an apologetic smile, she dropped into her usual chair beside Nelson's desk, uncomfortably close to her new boss. She dropped her papers on the corner of Nelson's desk and chanced a look at Rick Ethier standing beside her.
His face was all too familiar, though the grainy magazine picture indelibly imprinted on her mind didn't capture the reality of his good looks in person. Shaggy blond hair framed the kind of face that would make women of any age stop and take a second look. The hint of a dimple in his cheek balanced out the self-assured cockiness of his smile, and his eyes were so intensely blue it was as if they glimmered with an interior light. His clothing was a mixture of casual and stylish. He wore a soft cotton cream-colored shirt, a deep brown corduroy blazer and fitted blue jeans.
And as he glanced Becky's way, a frown.
Please don't let him state the obvious, she thought, carefully setting her coffee cup on the floor beside her.
Instead he glanced at his watch. Almost as bad.
"Sorry I'm late," she said with a quick smile as she reached over and shook his hand. "I'm Becky Ellison."
"Our editor," Rick said, returning her smile with a cool one of his own. "Glad you could make it." He held her gaze a moment, as if establishing his territory, then he turned to face the rest of the gathered staff of the magazine, dismissing her. "As you all now know, I'm Rick Ethier, grandson of Colson Ethier, the new owner of Going West. I'm sure you're wondering why my grandfather, whose holdings are fairly substantial, would bother himself with one small, regional magazine. Trust me, I'm as baffled."
A few titters greeted that comment, but Becky heard the faint cynicism in his remark. A trademark of his.
Rick Ethier was a travel writer for Colson Ethier's flagship magazine. Though he couldn't be more than thirty, his stories and articles usually held a shadow of world-weariness. As if he'd seen it all. Done it all.
And as Becky listened to him, one part of her mind easily resurrected other words of one particularly scathing article. "Sentimental claptrap" and "shamelessly manipulative." These less than flattering descriptions came from a monthly book review column Rick wrote for the same magazine. A column in which Rick wrote about the first book Becky had published. Her pride and joy. And thanks to that negative review, Becky hadn't been able to get a second contract with her publisher.
Focus on the now, Becky, she reminded herself, taking a long slow breath to ease away her irritable emotions. This was her new boss, and no matter what, she had to learn to get along with him. The past was past.
"I've done my research on this magazine," Rick was saying, "but for now, I want to go around the room and ask each of you what you see as the purpose of Going West. The vision, so to speak."
Feet shuffled, a few throats cleared as the staff glanced around the room at each other. Becky sat back in her chair, crossing her feet at the ankles, surprised at the momentary blankness in her own mind.
Going West was supposed to have a vision?
Nelson, the previous publisher and her father's partner, had set the tone and layout of the magazine from its inception. He had reviewed, accepted and or rejected freelance articles. Since Becky started working as editor, she had simply followed his lead, hoping she caught the idea of what he wanted for that particular issue.
Never had they sat down and reviewed - or even spoke of - any kind of long-term vision.
"Why don't we start with you, Becky, now that you've deigned to join us." Rick stood beside his presentation board, his arms crossed, his legs apart, his head tilted to one side.
Excerpted from A Heart's Refuge by Carolyne Aarsen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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