Her Favorite Rival

Her Favorite Rival

4.2 10
by Sarah Mayberry

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A new meaning for office politics  

Audrey Mathews has worked hard to get here. Now she's up for a promotion and nothing will stand in her way—including Zach Black. He's hot, smart and the competition. When they're assigned to the same project, she's shocked at how much she actually likes about him…and how much she misjudged


A new meaning for office politics  

Audrey Mathews has worked hard to get here. Now she's up for a promotion and nothing will stand in her way—including Zach Black. He's hot, smart and the competition. When they're assigned to the same project, she's shocked at how much she actually likes about him…and how much she misjudged him. 

Before long Audrey is seriously falling for Zach—and indulging in an affair that's against company policy. And the stakes rise when it's clear only one of them can get ahead. So where do they draw the line between competition and love? Especially when she doesn't want to lose either the promotion or the guy….

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It was still dark when Audrey Mathews used her swipe card to enter Makers Hardware Cooperative's headquarters on the southern outskirts of Melbourne. Her new shoes pinched her feet as she made her way to her office, but she figured the pain was worth it. The new CEO, Henry Whitman, started today, and she wanted to look sleek and professional and sharp when she met him. She wanted him to take one look at her and know she was up for anything he might throw at her—including a promotion.

Hence her best suit and new shoes and sleek updo.

Her stomach did a slow roll as she remembered the profile on Whitman she'd read over the weekend. She was a big believer in being prepared, and she'd dug up a bunch of old Business Review Weekly articles on her new boss. To an article, they described him as ruthless, hard-nosed and utterly unsentimental; a man who habitually cut companies to the bone to produce results. One article had even reported that his employees referred to him as the Executioner.

Formidable stuff. But she figured if he was so focused on results, he would appreciate someone who was goaloriented and hardworking and ambitious.

And nervous. Don't forget nervous.

Because even though she was prepared to do her damnedest to prove herself—including waking up at the crack of dawn to make a positive first impression—if Whitman ran true to form, there were going to be a lot of retrenchments in the next weeks and months, and there was a chance she might be one of them. Which was why she'd updated her resume this weekend, too.

She might be an optimist, but she wasn't stupid.

She checked her watch. One of the articles she'd read claimed Henry Whitman started work at six-thirty every day, without fail. Which meant he should be arriving any second now.

She gathered an armful of papers and strode toward reception. No matter where he entered, Whitman had to pass through the foyer to get to the executive offices, and she planned on being very visible when he did so.

She felt more than a little foolish as she took up a position to the rear of the foyer. For all she knew, Henry Whitman might not even register her when he arrived. Or maybe he'd see right through her ploy and mark her down as a horrible little suck-up.

She glanced over her shoulder, wondering if she should give up on this crazy idea, go back to her desk and use her early start to put a dent in her workload instead of trying to manipulate events.

She wavered for a moment, but something inside wouldn't let her back away from her plan to be noticed. Probably it was the same something that kept her at her desk many nights when most of her colleagues had gone home. If she had to try to distill it down to its component parts, she guessed it would be one part making up for lost time and two parts sheer grit and determination to carve out a useful, productive niche for herself in the world.

She might not be a doctor or a lawyer, but she was damned good at what she did, and that counted for something. Well, it did with her, anyway.

The sound of the door from the underground parking garage opening and closing echoed up the corridor. Lifting her chin, Audrey tightened her grip on her papers and stepped briskly into the foyer, trying to look as though she was on her way somewhere vital and important and urgent.

She pulled up short when she caught sight of the tall, broad-shouldered man striding toward her.

Not Henry Whitman, but Zach Black, fellow buyer and all-around thorn in her side. Why was she not surprised he was here ready to grease up to the new head honcho? The man oozed ambition; it was a miracle he hadn't set up camp outside Whitman's office in order to get a jump on everyone else.

She ignored the little voice that pointed out she was here to do exactly the same thing and cocked an eyebrow. There was the smallest of hitches in Zach's stride as he saw her, then his mouth settled into the familiar, amused curve he always wore around her. As usual, he looked ridiculously, almost offensively handsome in a charcoal pinstriped suit, his pink-and-white checked shirt and pale gray tie managing to somehow straddle the fine line between professional and stylish.

"Mathews. You pulling an all-nighter or something?" he asked as he joined her. Funny. Not.

"You read the Business Review Weekly article, didn't you?" she guessed.

"Of course." His dark blue eyes scanned her body. "New shoes. Nice touch."

She fought the urge to squirm. So what if she'd put her best foot forward—literally—today of all days? It wasn't a crime to be keen to impress your new boss.

"You had your hair cut," she pointed out.

"It was due."

She arched an eyebrow again. Who was he kidding? Like her, he'd clearly come prepared to smooch maximum butt this morning.

"Is he here yet?" he asked, glancing over her shoulder in the direction of the CEO's office.

"Not yet."

"Hmm." He frowned and checked his watch. "Maybe he's taking meetings off-site today."


"Talking to some of the key suppliers."

"Could be."

A lock of almost-black hair flopped over his forehead, lending his good looks a more approachable, boyish appeal. An illusion, of course. Zach was a shark in a suit. He'd been recruited to Makers six months ago, bringing with him a reputation as a wunderkind who'd gone to the right schools and rocketed his way up the corporate ladder at light speed. She'd recognized him as her only real competition for the next category manager's job that came up the moment she laid eyes on him, and time had done nothing to prove her instincts wrong.

Zach checked his watch again. "Might as well get some work done, I guess."

She watched as he walked away, her gaze gravitating to the firm muscles of his backside. She had a running bet with her friend Megan that he had his suits specially tailored to flatter his rear. That was the only explanation for how good his butt looked and why he was universally known as the Man With the Golden Ass among the women in the building.

Good thing she was more of a leg woman.

She returned to her own office, frustrated that her grand plan had gone astray—and that she wasn't the only one who'd had the genius idea of ambushing the new CEO.

Bloody Zach Black.

It took her a moment to get past the prickliness he always seemed to inspire in her to see the humor in the situation: the two of them getting up before sunrise to race into work to impress each other. If it was anyone else, she'd be laughing with them in the staff room over a cup of terrible instant coffee.

But it wasn't anyone else; it was Zach. It didn't help that he was three years younger than her with many years less experience in the industry, yet thanks to impressive academic qualifications and a short but stellar CV, had walked into a job on the same level and was probably getting paid more than her. She knew that was the way the world worked—that women, on average, earned 78 percent of what their male colleagues did in equivalent roles, and that the business community tended to value academic qualifications over working-your-way-up-the-ladder, hands-on experience—but it didn't make it any easier to swallow.

Nor did his fancy suits and sleek European car and general air of swanky-well-groomed-well-bredness. The way he spoke, the way he dressed, even the car he drove seemed designed to let the world know he was that little bit better than everyone else.

Even if it was true, she didn't need her face rubbed in it.

She also didn't need to sit at her desk brooding over him. A few hours from now, the office would be buzzing with people who all wanted a piece of her busy schedule. In the meantime, she had a full in-tray to work her way through. More than enough to keep her mind off her pesky colleague.

Zach tried to concentrate on the spreadsheet on his computer screen. He was developing a new store-brand power-tool range with one of Makers's big suppliers, and the information in front of him was important. Unfortunately, all he could think about was Audrey Mathews in her navy suit and new shoes.

She'd beaten him in. If he'd taken the time to think about it, he might have guessed she would do her homework on Whitman, that she'd note the man's six-thirty start time, and that she'd be here early to impress the man, the same as him. As a general rule, though, he tried not to think about Audrey too much. Not only because he preferred to run his own race. There was something disturbingly distracting about her shiny brown hair and warm golden-brown eyes. Then there was the way she looked in her neat little suits. He shook his head and refocused on his computer. There were too many offerings in the cordless battery range at the budget end of the market. It was crazy to waste shelf space on what was essentially the same product with some minor tweaks.

Maybe he was being paranoid, but he got the distinct impression that he wasn't Audrey's favorite person. Which was fine. He'd allocated himself two years at Makers to win a promotion to category manager. He didn't have time for distractions.

There were ten buyers in the merchandising department, but he'd worked out early on that Audrey was the only competition he needed to worry about. She was one of a handful of female executives, but she never played the gender card to get what she wanted. She was thorough, smart, calm in a crisis and determined. She also had a long history with the company and was well respected. In short, a serious contender for the next category manager opening.

Pity he was going to be the one who got it.

Registering that he was once again thinking about Audrey, he swung away from his computer. Coffee was clearly needed to jump-start his brain. He'd had to forgo his usual morning run to get in early, so caffeine would have to act as a substitute for fresh air and endorphins.

As luck would have it, he had to pass Audrey's office on the way to the small staff room situated between the marketing and merchandising departments. Her dark head was bent over her desk as she wrote something on a notepad. He wasn't sure he approved of her new hairstyle. It was too severe for her round face. Made her look like a repressed librarian or school principal.

Still, there was something to be said for repressed librarians. All that pent-up passion…

As if she'd sensed his errant thoughts, Audrey glanced up from her work. She was wearing a pair of dark-framed, rectangular reading glasses, and her gaze met his briefly over the top of the frames, accentuating the schoolmarmish vibe.

She wasn't schoolmarmish, though. He'd seen her at the office Christmas party, laughing and dancing and enjoying herself. She was fun, when she let her hair down. Fun and more than a little sexy.

Okay, definitely time for coffee.

He made a point of keeping his gaze dead ahead on the return journey and lost himself in his work once he was at his desk. Over the next two hours, the office slowly came to life as the rest of the staff trickled in. He looked up a couple of times as people called out greetings to him, but otherwise he was undisturbed, and he managed to finalize his notes to the supplier.

As nine drew closer, a familiar tension settled into the back of his neck. He waited until nine-thirty before picking up the phone. It was a Monday, after all, and he always checked in with Vera on Mondays.

"Hi, Zach," she said when she picked up.

"Vera. How are things? Did your daughter have her baby yet?"

"She's due next week. Although from the size of her I'm beginning to think she's having twins." Vera laughed, years of smoking giving the sound a husky roughness.

"This'll be your third grandchild, right?"

"You've got a sharp memory."

He did. For lots of things, good and bad.

"How's Mum doing?" he finally asked.

Might as well cut to the chase, since neither Vera nor he was under the illusion that he was calling to talk about the imminent arrival of her grandchild.

"All quiet on the western front at the moment. There might be a new boyfriend on the scene. It's hard to tell sometimes."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. A new boyfriend. Great. His mother had disastrous taste in men.

"But otherwise everything is good?"

"As far as I can tell."

"Thanks, Vera. I appreciate it." Next time he visited his mother, he'd drop by next door, too, and give Vera a box of the Scottish shortbreads she loved and some passes for the movies. She refused to take anything more from him, even though he'd done his best to convince her otherwise over the years.

"You look after yourself, sweetheart," she said warmly, then he was listening to the dial tone.

He couldn't stop his mind from racing ahead to what the future would almost inevitably hold if what Vera had said was true. None of it was good. If his mother had a new boyfriend and he ran true to type, there would be hospital visits in the near future. Police visits, too. Then the inevitable binge as his mother drowned her sorrows post-breakup.

Acid burned in his belly. He'd been looking out for his mother one way or another for more than twenty years, and the cycle of ups and downs was always the same. Neverending. Relentless. And it was always going to be that way, until the day she died.

Suddenly he felt infinitely weary. As though gravity had doubled, dragging him down. He stared at his desk blotter, lost in a world of worry.

The ping of an email arriving cut through his thoughts. His gaze shifted to the screen.

There was work to do—there was always work to do. Reaching for his keyboard, he pushed his troubles aside and concentrated on the matter at hand.

The new shoes had been a mistake. By the time midmorning rolled around, Audrey's feet were throbbing so much she wanted to sob with every step she took. Every time she was safely behind her desk she toed them off, which only made squeezing her now-swollen feet back into the shoes every time she needed to leave her office even more painful.

A lesson learned. Next time she bought new shoes, she would run a marathon in them before she so much as considered wearing them to work.

The "best" thing was that Henry Whitman still hadn't set foot in the building. The steam off the office street was that Zach's guess had been right—Henry had taken breakfast meetings with the company's top five suppliers. Which meant her early start and painful shoes had all been for nothing.


Meet the Author

Sarah Mayberry was born in Melbourne, Australia. Ever since she learned to read and write she has wanted to be an author. She studied professional writing and literature before embarking on various writing-related jobs, working as a magazine editor and in various story-related roles on Australia's longest running serial drama, Neighbours. She inherited a love of romances from both her grandmothers and fulfilled her fondest wish when she was accepted for publication.

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Her Favorite Rival 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Rachel Book purchased for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book When I first read this book all it did was remind me of another recent book I had read. I so wanted it to be different. I’m happy to say it was different, just not in the way I expected it. Audrey was a firecracker, as in, she was willing to stop at nothing to get the job she wanted. She’d worked hard for years, often times being compared to her sister and was finally wanting her chance to prove her elite doctor mother wrong. Zach is trying to rise above his past. On the outside everything looks fine. He has money, success, and good looks–but there’s a secret he’s hiding that nobody knows and it has everything to do with his drug addicted mother and the poverty he grew up in. I LOVED Zach’s character, it was weird because the author almost had him weak when he was first introduced in the story and then as we got to know him he got stronger and stronger finally rising above the way he was early described as. I liked him but I wasn’t in love with him until later on in the story when he started competing against Aubrey. He was easily defined by his job in a way that was different than Aubrey, he lived for his job because his life with his mom was so stressful. Aubry on the other hand felt like she needed the job to not only prove herself to her co-workers but to prove herself to her parents. In the end both she and Zach are forced to work together. I like this. Because it means more sexual tension. And let me tell you there was some AMAZING sexual tension. It was awesome and I loved it. Zach and Aubrey’s attraction literally flew off the pages. I was ready to scream at them to finally get together and when they did I was thrilled! I expected the typical issue to happen, work found out or got in the way and they parted ways. So not what happened and honestly it had a fun little twist in the end. Hats off to the author, well done, I was smiling by the end and would recommend the story to my friends.
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The_Book_Queen More than 1 year ago
This was my second time trying Sarah Mayberry's work, and it will not be my last! Her Favorite Rival is a fun, sweet, and yes, sexy read; I was hooked by the story and characters, and especially by Mayberry's writing, from the start! Zack and Audrey were perfect for each other, but don't try telling that to them in the beginning. As co-workers trying to climb the same ladder of success, they are nothing but rivals. She thinks he is a spoiled trust-fund baby, but his true past shocks her....It's not until she sees who he really is that they start to talk. And, as with any good romance, soon talking leads to other, much more fun, activities... But the road to their HEA is not easy, which made the journey all the more interesting. I loved the interactions between these two; I've learned that Mayberry's romances are always full of delicious banter, which I adore. Also, Mayberry is talented at writing both steamy smex scenes and sigh-worthy sweet ones; needless to say she is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine! Her Favorite Rival is, simply put, a great book. I love how Mayberry writes Australia into her novels; it is not just a setting, but rather a character, and I can almost picture myself there with Audrey and Zack.... I definitely want to visit! If you want a story that will capture your heart, steam up your e-reader a few times, and bring many smiles to your face, Her Favorite Rival is the perfect fit! I cannot wait to read more of Mayberry's backlist, and I will be on the look-out for her next novel. 4 STARS! ~ * ~ * ~ For my full review, including favorite book quotes, please visit my blog, TBQ's Book Palace. I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. TheBookQueen
beckymmoe More than 1 year ago
Her Favorite Rival is the second book in the Matthew sisters series, after the novella Her Favorite Temptation. Rival stands just fine on its own, if you--like me--didn't even realize there was a story that came before it. I'll be reading Leah's story soon, though. Very soon. Audrey Matthews is a workaholic. She's never felt as if she's measured up to her family's expectations--she can never be as perfect as her younger sister Leah, the doctor. Instead, Audrey's worked her way up through her company tooth and nail, determined to get to the top regardless of the obstacles. Especially one particularly annoying obstacle, Zach Black. Zach is the company's golden boy, seemingly perfect in every way. Does he have to be gorgeous to boot? Audrey resents his expensive clothes, car, and insufferable smugness. Until she realizes that her preconceived notions are all wrong. Forced to work on a project together, Audrey and Zach become friends. Soon they both want more...but as rivals in a company undergoing major upheavals, can they possibly make it work without sacrificing their careers? I love Sarah Mayberry's characters. Somehow she always manages to make them seem so real--within the first few pages, I'm always rooting for them 100%. Her Favorite Rival is no exception. Both Audrey and Zach have some heavy-duty baggage--most of it stemming from their family relationships--and that, coupled with their single-minded devotion to their careers, makes a relationship between the two seem impossible. Except that their chemistry together makes not having a relationship inconceivable. Mayberry did a fantastic job bringing these two characters together. Even when all seemed lost, she made me believe in their path to an eventual HEA. There weren't any easy fixes, but she did manage to bring Audrey and Zach together at last in a realistic  and satisfying way. Her Favorite Rival easily made Mayberry's books into auto-buys for me. She hasn't disappointed me yet! I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. 
HarlequinJunkie_ More than 1 year ago
One of MY favorite story themes is when the hero and heroine start off all sandpapery and sparky with each other. This is most definitely the case here. The book starts when Audrey shows up to work early in order to impress her new boss. Before he makes an appearance, her co-worker Zach Black derails that plan. Zach is a couple years her junior, in age as well as experience, but his CV is stellar and he can charm the pants off anyone to whom he pitches. Audrey hates that he gives off the vibes of an easy life, money, and is simply full of smirk. Zach admires Audrey Matthews. He recognizes that she's his only equal in the office, and it doesn't hurt that she's cute and funny. When she assumes he's had a privileged upbringing, it smarts. He doesn't want it to bother him, but Zach has to put things right between them. After all, they have to work together on a big project, and it just won't do to have her resenting him the whole time. Neither of them expected to become friends while putting together the facts and figures that might get either one of them promoted, but that's exactly what happened. When flirty comment puts a stall to their conversation one day, neither of them know what to do with the sexual tension either - but it'd be wrong to act on it. They both agree on that. What is it they say about "The best laid plans..."? I absolutely LOVED these two books. I dig books in a series, but these could be stand-alone as well. The scenes between the two sisters in each book simply add to the backstory of the character featured. The events run roughly parallel in both stories, so you get to see a couple of events from two perspectives. What I enjoyed the most however, is that this book is just so... real. No over-inflated arguments, no unnecessary angst over miscommunication, and not even a lot of denial about the feelings between the two main characters. The stumbling blocks are things that I can easily imagine in a real-life setting, and handled adroitly with maturity between Zach and Audrey. I highly recommend both of these books. In fact, I don't think you could go wrong with any Sarah Mayberry book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
check it out a very nice read