Read an Excerpt
"Thanks to Hypnotic and the backing of Graham International, Adams Cosmetics is back in the black!" Kayla Graham announced during a midweek board meeting in early March at the Adams Cosmetics corporate office in Atlanta. "The holiday sales numbers are in and the outlook is promising. We are beating our competition, Jax Cosmetics, in every division from cosmetics to skin care to fragrance."
"Was there ever any doubt?" Shane asked.
Kayla smiled at her brother's confidence. "Of course not, we" she pointed to the other family members present: her husband, Ethan Graham, and younger sister Courtney "know how talented you are."
Shane had graduated at the top of his class at the Fashion Institute of Technology with a bachelor of science degree in cosmetics and fragrance marketing. He'd then gone to perfumery school in Paris before apprenticing at the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse, France.
Kayla knew her brother was well trained to bring Adams Cosmetics into the twenty-first century, but he needed help. He'd already been spearheading developing new products for the past six years, but they couldn't continue to rely solely on him. Otherwise, he would burn out.
"Thank you," Shane replied. "Andrew Jackson must be spinning on those alligator heels of his."
Andrew Jackson owned Jax Cosmetics, their main competitor. Theirs was a bitter rivalry that spanned back to the days when their father, Byron, and mother, Elizabeth, went to college together. Their mother used to date Andrew, and when she chose Byron over Andrew, the feud began.
"We need to capitalize on the momentum Hypnotic is bringing," Ethan Graham said as he joined the conversation. He was happy to see that Adams Cosmetics was finally starting to break even. It would make his board of directors very happy, considering they hadn't been pleased when he'd decided to purchase Adams Cosmetics last year for his company, Graham International. He hadn't cared, though, because thanks to his acquisition, he'd fallen in love with Kayla and she was expecting their first child, a son, in a few months.
"I couldn't agree more," Shane returned. "I'm working on the next fragrance."
"How's it coming along?" Courtney inquired.
Shane rubbed his goatee thoughtfully. "It's coming." Truth be told, he was having a hard time coming up with just the right notes to finish the fragrance on top of all his other work.
"We don't mean to pressure you." Kayla could see the tense look on Shane's face. "But we're hot now."
"I'm well aware of that fact."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Courtney asked.
She wasn't good with chemistry, but she had a degree in marketing and finance.
"I have a solution," Ethan stated.
Kayla turned and looked at her husband. They'd discussed his solution at length over the past several days. She'd hoped that Shane would have better news about his progress, but since he didn't, they didn't have much choice but to proceed with Ethan's suggestion. Kayla held her breath and braced herself for the blowup she knew was about to come.
"Oh, yeah?" Shane swiveled around in his chair to face
Ethan. "What's that?"
"We bring in another head chemist."
Shane jumped to his feet. "What the hell did you just say?"
Ethan held up his hand. "Shane, listen. This would help to ease the load on your shoulders." He knew this decision would be met with hostility, much as his decision last year to remove Courtney as the Adams spokesmodel had. Hiring his ex-girlfriend, Noelle Warner, as her replacement had proved disastrous and had nearly destroyed his marriage and cost him his child. This time, he'd consulted Kayla, and she'd been in agreement that giving Shane some relief was in the best interest of the company.
"I don't need to ease my load," Shane replied harshly. "I had been running the cosmetics and fragrance lab for six years before Graham International ever came along."
"Shane, this is in no way a condemnation of your work," Kayla responded. "Everyone needs help every now and then."
"I don't need any help."
"Yet, you haven't come up with a new fragrance even though you've been working on it for several months," Ethan returned.
"In case you haven't noticed, I have created several new lipsticks, shadows and nail polishes for the cosmetics division in that same time." He didn't appreciate Ethan honing in on his territory. Just because he'd learned to get along with his brother-in-law did not mean he'd forgotten how Ethan had come to own half of Adams Cosmetics.
Ethan sighed. "Of course we've noticed what a great job you've done with cosmetics, but I also think giving you some help is needed. We all want to see Adams Cosmetics thrive and expand, and that can't happen if you're being stretched too thin."
Shane turned to his sister. "Are you in agreement with this?"
Kayla hated when Shane's hazel eyes pierced hers. Sometimes it was as if he could see right through her. She reached across the table and grasped Ethan's hand in hers. Last year, they had made a pact to run the company as equals and share in the decision making. "Yes, we are."
Shane rose and shrugged his shoulders. "Fine. I've been outvoted. Why is that always the case with you, Ethan?"
Ethan was about to speak, but Kayla touched his arm.
"Shane, please don't be angry with us."
"And may I ask whom you've chosen as my counterpart?"
"Shane, we would never choose someone without your input. You're the one who has to work with them on a day-to-day basis. It's your lab."
"How gracious of you," Shane replied sarcastically.
"But we do have a candidate in mind," Ethan added.
"Enough with the suspense," Courtney said with a sigh. She'd been silent for long enough. "Just spit it out."
* * *
Shane paced the laboratory floor. Of all the names he'd expected to hear, Gabrielle Burton was not one of them. She was an excellent chemist, but she was also his archrival. They'd gone to perfumery school together and no matter the forum, the five-foot-six brunette had always competed against him.
Once near the end of the term, they'd competed to see who created the best fragrance. Their peers had to vote on their favorite scent. Shane and Gabrielle had tied for first place, but Gabrielle had insisted on a recount as she was sure she'd win, because her fragrance was better, she'd taunted. She'd been wrong. A recount had discovered one missing vote, giving Shane the win. What surprised him the most was that she'd merely shook his hand and told him she'd beat him the next time.
She'd been an annoyance, to say the least, and had rubbed Shane the wrong way from day one. If he said the sky was blue, she would say it was green, if only to be obstinate. Shane highly doubted Gabrielle Burton would accept having to answer to him in the lab. He'd heard she'd stayed in Paris to work for L'Oreal, but that wouldn't stop her from going after this position.
This was definitely going to be interesting.
"Gabby, are you sure you want to leave Paris?" Mariah asked as she watched her dear friend and roommate pack her suitcases that evening. They'd met ten years ago when Gabrielle was lost on the Paris subway. With some free time on her hands, Mariah had graciously agreed to show her the way. Born and raised in South Africa, Mariah had been a struggling model back then, but now was one of the most sought-after models. With Mariah always on the road, it hadn't made sense for her to pay for her own place, and so they'd moved in together. A decade later, they were still the best of friends.
"Yes, I think it's finally time I go back to the States," Gabrielle said, exiting her closet with several handfuls of clothes. "I can't run from my past forever."
Ten years ago, she had come to Paris for perfumery school and had never gone back to the United States. She had never faced down the fact that she'd lost her brother, Seth, in a tragic drowning accident when she was fifteen. She'd insisted on accompanying Seth on a boating trip with his friends. Then the weather turned treacherous when they were on their way back to shore, and Gabrielle had fallen overboard. Seth had jumped in to save her. And he had; he just hadn't been able to save himself.
Their family had never recovered from the loss. Although they'd never said it, Gabrielle knew her parents blamed her for losing their only son, and having her around only seemed to add to her parents' grief. So as soon as she could, Gabrielle had hightailed it out of Atlanta, come to Paris and stayed.
She'd graduated top of her class in perfumery school and had been immediately hired by L'Oreal. Although she was an excellent chemist, she'd recently been overlooked for a promotion. Gabrielle supposed she didn't have the look or pizzazz they wanted in their top-chemist position, and so she'd begun to realize it was time for a change. She hoped that a new opportunity with Adams Cosmetics would give her the creative boost she needed.
Of course, the position meant she would have to work closely with Shane Adams, and that caused Gabrielle to take a deep, calming breath. The knowledge that she would be going to work for her father's employer's direct competition was not lost on her. Not many people knew that her father, James Burton, had started out as an assistant at Jax Cosmetics. He had moved up the ranks and was now an executive. When she was younger, he used to sneak her and Seth into the labs at night, and it was there that she developed her interest in chemistry.
And the fact that she and Shane had been like oil and water in perfumery school made the position even more of a challenge. But despite their rivalry and her personal conflict, Gabrielle was sure they could overcome their differences. They were both professionals, after all.
"Okay, so you're interviewing, but why are you packing?" Mariah asked. "You haven't even been offered the position."
"That's irrelevant, because I will be."
"You're that sure of yourself?"
Gabrielle spun on her heels to face her friend. "Of course I am. My credentials are above reproach. I have a degree in chemistry and went to the top perfumery school. Shane Adams will have to acknowledge that." Ethan Graham had called and informed her that, although she was on the short list, it was ultimately Shane's decision whether he would hire her or not.
"The Shane Adams?" Mariah smiled knowingly. "Your rival in perfumery school?" Mariah remembered Gabrielle mentioning the sexy Atlanta bachelor.
"Yes." Gabrielle turned back around to continue packing.
"Who just so happens to be handsome as sin," Mariah replied.
"Shane?" Gabrielle's voice rose despite herself. "Handsome? I hadn't noticed." She attempted to fold her blouse into a perfect square, but found it hard to do so. She hated for things to be out of order. Some would say she had a slight case of OCD.
"Oh, really?" Mariah picked up a nearby fashion magazine and flipped through several pages. She stopped when she found a picture of Shane and his sister Kayla celebrating the launch of their new fragrance, Hypnotic. She rose from the chair and came to Gabrielle's side, placing the magazine in her line of sight. "Don't tell me you hadn't noticed how devastatingly handsome this man is. Because if you do, I'll know you're lying. I mean, what woman could resist that curly hair or those arresting hazel eyes?"
"I could and I have." Gabrielle pushed the magazine aside and stood up straight. "Shane was known to be a player in school, but I was much too interested in my studies to pay him any mind."
"So you competed with him instead to get his attention?"
Color flushed in Gabrielle's face. "No no, that wasn't how it was."
Mariah's brow rose. "No?"
"No," Gabrielle stated more adamantly. "I refused to be one of Shane's little playthings that he could toss aside when he was done." Though Gabrielle had to admit there was some small part of her that had wondered what it would be like to be with a man that fine.
But the Shane Adamses of the world would never look at her. She didn't play up to their male fantasies and dress to show off her figure or cake her face with makeup. Gabrielle recognized it was ironic that she'd ended up in the fragrance and cosmetics industry, given her affinity for not wearing any.
"If you say so," Mariah said with a laugh. "I just can't imagine not wanting to try that man on for size."
Gabrielle took the blouse she'd been trying to fold and hit Mariah. "You're incorrigible."
"And you love me for it."
"I do." Gabrielle smiled. "And I will miss you dearly. Promise me you will come visit?"
"Cross my heart."