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NOT BY CHANCEa novel
By KATHY HERMAN
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Kathy Herman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeave it to Beau to turn this into a competition!" Brandon Jones jumped up from the couch and stood leaning on the bookshelves in Kelsey Hartman's apartment, his hands in his pockets, his irritation turning to perspiration under his cashmere sweater.
Kelsey sank into the back of the leather couch. "He's just jealous. But it's not as though Beau Richards is the only one who wants to head up the South Atlantic Region. It's an enviable position."
"The job was offered to me, Kel. It's not as though I tried to ace him out."
"He'll get over it. Besides, you're the right choice for the job. You relate to people much better than he does." Kelsey got up and slid into Brandon's arms. "I'm so proud of you. I can hardly wait to tell Mother and Daddy that I'm marrying a regional vice president."
Regional vice president. Brandon imagined himself in a coat and tie, sitting around the boardroom table, sipping ice water and discussing the latest trends in women's fashions. "There's a lot to consider. The corporate office is a more structured environment than I'm used to."
"Just think what this could mean to our future. Once we're married, we could live nicely on your salary and bank mine. We'd have a healthy down payment for a housein no time. And I could stay home when we start having kids. It's an absolute blessing." Kelsey pushed back and looked up at him, her eyes probing. "What's wrong? You don't seem excited."
"It's a great opportunity, no question ... but it'll mean putting in more hours. And a lot of Saturdays. That doesn't leave much time for recreation."
"For heaven's sake, it won't kill us to cut out some backpacking and rock climbing. And we can always work out at the gym to stay in shape. We're talking about securing your future-our future. I can't believe you're worried about all that."
"Well, it's the outdoor stuff that keeps me sane."
"Gee, thanks a lot." Kelsey wiggled out of his arms and flung open the balcony doors, then went outside and stood with her back to him, her arms folded.
"Honey, come back here. You know what I mean."
Brandon walked up behind her and put his arms around her, his chin resting on her shoulder. "You're the love of my life. Without you, nothing else would matter to me."
"But it should. Why can't you be excited for yourself because you've been offered a well-deserved promotion?"
"I am. On one level."
"It'd be a huge adjustment spending my workday cooped up in an office, breathing recirculated air and connecting with nature from tinted windows overlooking downtown Raleigh."
"It's one of the best views in the city. And even if you have to work Saturdays, we'd have evenings together without the pressure of your having to leave town again."
"I know. But it's not like being on the road's been a hardship."
"I hate not seeing you five days in a row."
"We managed to fall in love, didn't we? From my perspective, the time we've spent together's been great."
"It has, but I would dread you being gone that much after we're married. This promotion would mean no more traveling. And you aren't that crazy about merchandising the stores anyway."
Brandon pulled her a little closer. "No, but it's allowed me freedom to set my own schedule. And there're things I look forward to on the road."
"Well, like taking secondary highways through small communities and eating at hometown cafés ... stopping at historical markers and scenic overlooks ... driving toward the sunrise when the sky's orangey pink. Sometimes I have to pull over and watch. There've been times on the road when I've actually felt closer to God than when I'm in church."
"Which is just as well since you've missed the past three Sundays." Kelsey turned around in his arms and held his gaze for longer than he was comfortable. "You wouldn't even consider this promotion if we weren't engaged, would you?"
"We are engaged, so it's a moot point."
"Not really. What affects you affects me. You're Mr. Enthusiastic at work, and everyone thinks you're a company man. Are you?"
Brandon kissed the top of her head. "What kind of question is that? I've invested seven years at Mavis and Stein."
"Why do you have a totally different attitude about your work when we're alone?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're completely dispassionate about it-almost indifferent."
Brandon arched his eyebrows. "You've never once heard me complain about the company. It's just that dealing in women's apparel isn't my idea of something significant."
"Being a regional VP would certainly be significant. And the salary and benefits would be amazing. You'd be great at it."
"Tell that to Beau the blowhard."
"The real reason he's upset is because you can take it or leave it when he wants it so badly."
"Everyone wants something badly. I can't help it if he's had his eye on this promotion. But if I turn it down, we all know I'll never go any higher with the company."
"But is that the only reason you'd consider it? What is it you want badly?"
"To make you happy," he heard himself say.
"Well, this promotion would certainly do that. But only if you're enthused about it."
Brandon looked over her shoulder at the Raleigh skyline. "I will be, Kel. I just have to adjust my thinking. It was never really a goal of mine to be cooped up in an office all day."
"That's the second time you've used the words cooped up. If you didn't expect to work in an office, why did you get a business degree?"
"I don't know. Dad said it would open doors, and I just wanted to get through college. I started working in the catalog department because I needed a job, but I never actually chose this career. I just sort of eased into it. I kept telling myself it would grow on me, but it really hasn't."
"Why didn't you tell me this before? How are we supposed to set a wedding date before we know how much money we'll-"
"Shhh." Brandon gently put his finger to her lips. "Don't worry. I'm going to accept the promotion. I just need to adjust my thinking."
"Can you do that?"
He pulled her closer and avoided those questioning hazel eyes. "Sure. I can do anything for us." A giant snowflake fell on his sleeve, and then another and another. He looked up into the January sky, which seconds later became a swirling mass of white. "Come on. We'd better go in."
Kelsey linked her arm in his, her head against his shoulder, and went back in the apartment. "Just think, before this time next year, we could be married and living in our own home."
Excerpted from NOT BY CHANCE by KATHY HERMAN Copyright © 2006 by Kathy Herman. Excerpted by permission.
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