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Michael Langdon looked at the woman on the opposite side of his wide desk and felt as if he'd been struck on the head with a bat. Having previously experienced such a sensation, he felt it was an accurate description. But looking at her was far less painful.
She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He knew in that momentshe was going to change his life.
Then he shook off the ridiculous thoughts. Just as he'd shaken off the effects of actually being hit by the bat. Only, there was still a buzzing in his head and as he took notice of his body, he found himself shifting in his chair and wondering.
"I'm surprised you accepted my invitation," he said.
He watched as her right eyebrow arched, slightly framing a perfectly shaped cobalt-blue eye. The color was everything he'd heard about and read about. And it was more amazing than anything he'd seen on television. Cobalt-blue eyes combined with dark, long hair that had reddish highlights he suspected were real. Her skin looked as if it would feel silky to the touch and her lips were full enough to make a man think of the things men usually liked to think about when it came to a woman's mouth. Her chin was slightly pointed, a small flaw that prevented her from being a goddess yet at the same time made her that much more intriguing because it meant she was real and not mythical.
"Ben Tyler is a personal friend, as well as my employer. When he asked as my employer, I refused. When he asked as a friend, I had no choice."
Her voice was cool and clipped. Sophisticated and well balanced. Everything an Ivy League education should produce.
"How is Ben doing?"
She turned her head. "Not well."
Michael nodded. He'd known about the cancer, of course, but Ben was one of the toughest fighters he'd ever met. If anyone had a chance of beating it, it was Ben. He would be that one man in a million.
"I called him because I needed the best. Because what I'm about to do is very important. Not for me or my company but for the country. Maybe even the world."
She didn't smirk or look away. A woman like Madeleine Kane understood events that impacted the world.
Michael knew by her silence that he was being invited to make his pitch. It was like being granted permission to speak by the queen. He shifted in his chair again, then placed both elbows on the desk and clasped his hands together.
"I've created something. A car that I believe will revolutionize the industry. I need to convince people it's real and credible and not another Langdon prototype or an interesting anomaly."
"Why do you care what people think? You have an idea you should build it and sell it."
"I can't do it alone." He sighed. "I wish I could. I don't have the resources the bigger companies do. I don't want this to be a highend car that only a few can afford. I want to make it available to the masses. For that I need a partner. To get one of those, I need to rebuild my image. It's time to lose the old race-car persona and focus on who I am as an inventor and industry leader."
Madeleine crossed her legs slowly. He couldn't help but let his gaze follow the length of her panty-hose-clad leg to the simple black three-inch pump.
Her ankle was a work of art.
"Did you hear me?"
Michael lifted his gaze.
"I said what you're asking for won't be easy. Your reputation has been very firmly established in the American media as a playboy. Someone who builds fast cars and dates."
"I was going to say well-known actresses. I would never speculate on a woman's sexual proclivities because she happens to be pretty."
No, Michael thought. You wouldn't.
"You're known for your flair and style," she continued. "Not for your substance, Mr. Langdon. I'm sorry to be so blunt."
"No, please. It's why I brought you here. I need you to fix me. I need you to help me show my substance to the worldotherwise when I talk about this design to the media they won't listen. I need them to listen. My competitors, other industry leaders, and I suspect maybe even the government, will all want to know the potential of what I have to offer."
"You're talking about an electric car. It's not the first of its kind. You're going to have to give me more than that if you want to convince me."
"More than that? It's not enough that I'm willing to pay you?"
Again the eyebrow rose nearly into the center of her forehead. How did she do that and why did it make him feel half his size?
"I don't need money, Mr. Langdon. The work I do currently for Ben pays my bills sufficiently. You're asking me to remake you. To create a new story for you. Something I haven't done in a long time, but the last time I did do it, that man became president. If you want to convince me to take you on, I'm going to have to believe in what you're doing. More importantly, I'm going to have to believe in you."
Yes, he thought. He wanted that. He wanted this woman to believe in him, although for the life of him he couldn't figure out why that was important.
"Okay, first of all, I'm not talking about just an electric car. My design will not only be affordable but will have a much higher sustained energy output, and can be built with the factories we have now. I'm talking about a fully integrated computer that can make real-time driving decisions. I'm talking about no more accidents." He paused for a breath, feeling the excitement he always did when he started talking about his baby.
"I'm talking about a car that can drive itself. And I can do it cheaper than anyone else. Which means bringing a product to the masses within the next two to five years. Other companies trying to accomplish the same thing are projecting seven to ten years. I'm talking about the future, only making that future happen today."
He waited while she considered him for a time. "You are certainly very passionate about this, Mr. Langdon."
"I'm very passionate about a great many things, Ms.
She didn't like that. He could see it right away in her face. He hadn't intended the sexual innuendo, but it was there, and instantly her body reacted by tightening subtly.
"My project and helping the environment"
"Partying, women, scandals."
He wasn't going to defend nor explain his behavior. "Look, are you going to take the job or not?"
"We still have more to discuss. First, what do you envision I will do for you?"
Impatiently Michael leaned back in his chair. It had been a while since he'd been in a position other than complete and total power. Finding himself on the other side of the coin was surprisingly uncomfortable. Yet he needed this woman, so she controlled the shots.
He didn't like it and part of him wanted to escort her contained and cool self to the door. However, the idea of watching her leave didn't sit well with him, either. Which was ridiculous. Of course she had to leave.
"I guess you would do what you do best. Rebuild my image, create a persona the media will respond to, send the message to the world about who I am and what I'm about. Give me direction on how I go about interacting with the public and the media. Isn't that what you did for him?"
Michael shouldn't have added the emphasis on the last word. It had been a jab at her for making him feel weaker than he was. She was already reaching for the briefcase she'd set down next to her chair.
"Sorry," he said before she could stand. "I don't play games. Not in business. You're one of the most talented political handlers in the world. That's why I want you. To remake my image. To get me electedif not by the people then by my peers, the people who judge me."
"I was a political handler. Now I write position papers for political action committees that contract with the Tyler Group. You don't need a thesis from me. You need someone who would work closely with you to reshape your image. That means event planning, cultivating certain media contacts and any number of other tasks."
"Yes," he agreed. "That can't be you?"
She looked around his office. He knew she saw money in the furniture, in the artwork. Detroit wasn't necessarily a city known for elegance and riches, but it was his homealways had been, even when he lived overseas. When he'd decided to start his own company there wasn't even a question about doing so here, but that didn't mean he was coming back to the Detroit he knew as a kid. His new Detroit was filled with all the things his money could buy.
"You said it wasn't about the money, but I'll pay anything Ben demands," he said. But she already knew that money was not an issue.
No response. It agitated him.
"I'll do everything you say," he offered. "Within reason, of course."
Still he could see her mulling it over in that big brain of hers.
"Not for nothing, but I would think you get sick of writing papers all day. Don't you want to get back to doing what you love? You're a kingmaker, for crying out loud. Not a research-policy wonk."
That played. Her eyes lit up. "can you give me until tomorrow to consider your offer?"
This time she was asking his permission. This he preferred. "Of course. Can I ask what your reservations are?"
"I think I was very truthful with you just now."
"You're a man who spends his life in the spotlight. You have been since you won your first Formula One race. The spotlight is not something I'm comfortable with. If I accept your offerand that is a decidedly big 'if'you have to understand that all my guidance and direction will be behind the scenes."
"I don't care about what happened with you and him," he offered.
"I don't discuss what happened. Ever. I'm simply giving you my working parameters."
"But you'll stay here. In Detroit. With me."
She seemed to consider that deeply, as if she just realized what her commitment would mean. "Yes. But the only people who would know about my involvement are myself, Ben and anyone you consider essential. I draw these lines not only for my protection but for yours.
Your image might not be helped if people knew I was working with you."
"For me," he corrected. "You would be working for me. I want to make sure you understand that. I'll do whatever you say that makes sense. But I'm not some puppet blindly taking orders."
She tilted her head slightly to the right as if scrutinizing him. As though she was Dr. Frankenstein and was coldly, clinically wondering if he had any potential as a monster.
"I'll call you first thing in the morning."
"I look forward to it." He stood and stretched out his hand. She accepted it as she stood. Her grasp was firm and strong and brief.
Too brief. He didn't know if it was him, or whether letting go so fast was something she'd trained herself to do. He only knew he missed her touch when it was gone.
"Goodbye, Mr. Langdon."
"See you soon, Ms. Kane."
His choice of words was deliberate and they weren't lost on her. She gave him a brief smile, straightened her suit jacket and walked out his office door.
He was right. He didn't like the feeling of seeing her leave. But he had confidence she would be back. He wasn't wrong in his description of her. She was a kingmaker and he was a man who would be kingat least in this arena.
Sitting, he turned to the flat screen on his office wall and pulled up the specs of his electric car. It moved and rotated, showing him each side. It was a thing of beauty.
It was revolutionary. It was going to change the driving experience for the millions of people who would buy it.
But right now it wasn't capturing his attention half so much as the woman who'd just left his office.
Madeleine opened the door to her hotel room and felt a sense of relief when the door closed behind her. She was staying in one of the best hotels in downtown Detroit, not too far from Michael Langdon's offices. The room was like any other she'd spent her life in so many years ago. Two beds, a desk, an uncomfortable chair, with meaningless, boring art covering the walls.
The sentimental side of her said it was good to be in familiar surroundings again.
It felt good to kick off her shoes and take off her suit jacket. It had been a long time since she'd actually had to meet with a client and needed the barrier of formal business attire. In her opinion, nothing said "back off" like a woman in a buttoned up, dark colored business suit.
Checking her watch she could see it was just after six. Ben would hopefully still be up. She extracted her tablet from her briefcase. Calling his number, she hit the button to interface. If Ben was up, which was likely given the time, he would either be sitting at his desk or would have his tablet with him in bed.
"Why do you insist on calling me like this?"
His voice was gruff, but still as strong as it was when she'd left. She'd caught him in his office.
"I like to see your shiny bald head. It makes me smile."
"I think you're afraid when I die Anna is going to simply record my voice and run the business on her own and you'll never know she's got me buried in the backyard."
"Hardee, har." Anna's voice came from off the view of the computer's camera. "Death humor. I love it."
It was comforting to know Anna would never leave Ben's side. She was either the most dedicated assistant in all the world, or his very best friend. Sometimes it was hard to tell.