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Mia waited until the waiter had poured the champagne into her friends' glasses before she raised her flute. "To us," she said, grinning at Lindsey and Shelby. "We did it."
"Yes, we did," Lindsey agreed, her mouth twisting wryly and her expression not looking quite as enthusiastic as Mia's or Shelby's. "We now owe more money than any three twenty-eight-year-old women should owe in their lifetimes."
Shelby laughed and downed her champagne.
"You're such a pessimist." Shaking her head, Mia elbowed her. "If we didn't think we could make a go of this, none of us would've signed on the dotted line, much less have quit our jobs."
"You did?" Lindsey's eyes widened. "Seriously? You've turned in your resignation already?"
"It's typed up and will be on my boss's desk tomorrow morning." Mia swallowed around the lump in her throat, the one that seemed to swell every time she thought about pulling out all of her savings and having no income until their new venture turned a profit. She glanced at Shelby. "What about you?"
"I was just waiting to sign the loan documents. I'll turn in mine on Monday as soon as I get back to Houston." Shelby snatched the pricey bottle of Cristal out of the ice bucket and refilled her glass. "We might as well enjoy this. After tonight, it's gonna be the cheap stuff for us until we make some dough."
Lindsey made a small whimpering sound, her blue eyes clouding. "Don't remind me."
Mia set down her flute, prepared to give the pep talk she'd been rehearsing for the past few weeks. Once she'd made up her mind that she wanted to leave her firm and take a chance on starting the new business, she'd leaned hard on Lindsey and Shelby, so to some degree she felt responsible for the other two taking the plunge with her. Plus she already lived in Manhattan. Her friends had to make the move, but they missed one another, and wanted to live in New York together.
"Oh, it won't be that bad," Shelby said, urging her to take another sip. "We'll eat and drink well when we go out on dates."
Mia cleared her throat. "About that "
Both women looked expectantly at her.
"Unlike the glory days of college, Manhattan isn't exactly teeming with eligible men."
"Well, neither is Chicago." Lindsey sighed. "I haven't had a real date in seven months." She lifted her brows accusingly at Shelby, who never seemed to lack company of the male persuasion. "Maybe we should've moved to Houston, Mia. If things got too bad, at least we could count on leftovers."
Shelby waved dismissively. "Oh, sweetie, you're delusional if you think I've had any better luck there."
Lindsey snorted. "Right."
Mia eyed her friend. "Really, Shelby?"
"Really," she answered defensively, and then shrugged. "I can't remember the last time I went out a second or third time with the same guy and those are the dates that count." She sniffed. "And no, it's not because I'm too picky."
"You have every reason to be damn picky. We all do," Mia said and meant it, even though she was in the middle of a particularly long dry spell. It was mainly her fault. All those ungodly hours spent in the office hadn't helped. And if she were totally honest with herself, she'd spent too much time hoping David would finally man up, ask her out, share one lousy dinner with her. Despite what she'd told Annabelle, despite what she'd told herself, she'd honestly thought he'd been attracted to her, at least in the beginning. Sadly, she'd clearly been fooling herself. No use thinking about him now.
"Amen." Lindsey downed a healthy sip. "Still would be nice to have an assortment to be picky over." She narrowed her eyes at Mia. "What ever happened to that guy you worked with? David, right?"
Mia nearly choked on her champagne. "There was never anything there."
"Yeah, I remember him," Shelby chimed in. "When you first started with the firm you thought he was hot."
"He is hot. Unfortunately, he's taken."
"Married?" Lindsey observed sympathetically. "To the job. His father and uncle founded the firm, and the guy still puts in more hours than anyone else."
Mia shook her head. "Anyway, there's a rule about fraternization. God knows David Pearson would rather be strung up by his thumbs than step one toe over the line."
Lindsey giggled a bit, which told Mia the bubbly was getting to her friend, then grabbed the champagne and topped up everyone's glasses. "This is what I don't get when we were in school there were all kinds of guys around. If we didn't have a date, it was because we didn't want to go out."
"I know, right?" Shelby frowned thoughtfully. "Even when we went out in groups, guys always outnumbered us. So what the hell happened to them? They can't all be married and living in the burbs."
"You have a point." Mia sipped slowly, worried that the alcohol was getting to her, too. Usually she wasn't such a lightweight, but she hadn't eaten anything all day. "Even during spring break, I swear, there were two guys to every girl."
"I'm the accountant," Lindsey said. "I'd say more like three to one."
"Junior year. Fort Lauderdale." Shelby slumped back in her chair, her expression one of total bliss. "Oh, my God."
"Are you kidding?" Mia stared at her in disbelief. "Come on. Senior year, Waikiki Beach, hands down winner."
Shelby's sigh said it all.
Lindsey smiled broadly. "Yep."
Along with the other two, Mia lapsed into silence, enjoying the heady memories of that magical week. She sipped her champagne as a notion popped into her head.
"Hey, guys," she said, her pulse picking up speed as the thoughts tumbled. "I have an idea."
"Oh, no." The ever cautious Lindsey glanced dramatically at Shelby. "I don't know if I can take another one."
"No, this is good." Mia grinned. "There's no law that says spring break is just for college kids."
"Okay." Shelby drew out the word.
Lindsey just frowned.
"We're going to be working our asses off until we get Anything Goes off the ground, right? If we want to take a vacation, this is the time. Probably the last time for years. Who knows, maybe we'll even get laid." Mia saw the interest mount in Shelby's face.
Not Lindsey. Her frown deepened. "Hawaii?"
"Why not?" Mia noticed the empty champagne bottle and signaled the waiter.
"Because it's too expensive, for one thing. Are you forgetting we've just signed our lives away?"
"I don't know." Mia sighed, not quite willing to give up the idea. "Maybe we can go on the cheap, pick up one of those last-minute deals. And none of us has officially put in our resignations. I'd be willing to work another two weeks at the firm if it meant enough money for Hawaii."
"It wouldn't hurt to see what's available," Shelby said.
"I suppose not." Lindsey set down her glass, not looking at all convinced. In fact, she stared at Mia as if she were a traitor. "But we'd have to set a budget first. A firm budget."
Mia nodded in agreement. The whole thing was ridiculous, and even if they did stay at their current jobs a bit longer, a Hawaiian vacation was pretty extravagant for three women who were about to give up their incomes and live on hope and dreams until they got their feet planted again. It shocked her that she'd even thought of it, let alone was actually considering such a crazy thing. She was normally far more sensible, for God's sake.
But damn it, she'd worked hard for the past six years, first in law school and then at Pearson and Stern. She deserved the break, and right now, with the cold March air whipping around outside, Hawaii sounded like a slice of heaven.
"You know what would be really cool?" Shelby's eyes lit up as she leaned forward. "Remember those three guys we met at that party on our last day on Waikiki beach?"
"Uh, yeah," Mia said. "Smokin' hot."
Lindsey stiffened. "What about them?"
"What if we could get them to meet us?" Grinning, Shelby darted a mischievous look between them. "In Hawaii."
"How would we do that? We don't even know their last names." Mia snorted. "Not to mention they're probably married or in prison."
Shelby gave Mia a look, then ignored her completely. "We know what university they went to, so we use Facebook."
"Huh." Mia thought for a moment. "We could send a message to the alumni group. It couldn't hurt."
"But they'll have to have signed up as alumni to get the message." Lindsey didn't seem thrilled.
Shelby shrugged. "Lots of people do. I have, haven't you?"
Mia shook her head. "Look, they answer, they don't, so what? It's Waikiki. We're bound to meet some gorgeous surfers who'll be ready to party," she said, warming to the idea.
"I like it." Shelby dug in her purse and produced a pen. "Anybody have a piece of paper or a dry napkin?"
Mia pulled her day planner out of her leather tote and tore off a used page. "Here."
"Oh, my God, they still have those things around. Why don't you use your BlackBerry?" Shelby found a clean spot on the table and started writing.
"I do both," Mia said, and glanced at Lindsey, who understood about being careful. She did not look happy.
"Okay, how about something like this " Shelby squinted as if she were having trouble reading her own writing, which was awful. No one could ever read it but her. "Here we go'Remember spring break? Mia, Lindsey and Shelby will be at the Seabreeze Hotel during the week of whatever. Come if you dare. You know who you are.'"
"Not bad, but we'll have to be more specific." Mia did a quick mental calculation. 'Remember Spring Break 2004.'"
"Right." Shelby scribbled in the correction. "Lindsey, what do you think?"
She shoved a hand through her blond hair and exhaled a shaky breath. It was dim in the bar, but Mia could see she was blushing. "I think you'll have to change Lindsey to Jill."
Shelby blinked. "You didn't give him your real name?"
With a guilty smile, Lindsey shook her head. Mia and Shelby exchanged glances, and burst out laughing.
David Pearson passed Mia's empty office on his way to the conference room where he'd been summoned by his father and uncle.
He still couldn't believe she was gone. The day she'd handed him her letter of resignation had been a shock. Now, two weeks and three days later, he still couldn't come to grips with Mia no longer being with the firm. That she wouldn't be stepping off the elevator each morning, early, before anyone but himself had arrived at the office, her green eyes still sleepy, her shoulder-length dark hair still down and damp. By eight, she'd have drunk three cups of coffeeno cream, a little sugarand pulled her now dry hair back into a tidy French twist. He'd known her routine and habits almost as well as he knew his own.
"Good morning, Mr. Pearson."
He looked blankly at the receptionist. Only then did he realize he'd stopped and had been staring at the plant Mia had left behind that was sitting near her office door. He silently cleared his throat. "Good morning, Laura."
Smiling, the pretty young blonde continued toward the break room with a mug in her hand. "Laura."
"Yes?" she said, turning back to him.
"Will Mia be picking up this plant?"
She blinked. "I don't know. I don't think so."
"Well, something has to be done with it," he said more gruffly than he intended. He never got involved in such petty matters. Even more annoying was the unexpected hope that he'd see her again. "Either have it sent to her or if she doesn't want it, let someone take it."
"Mia's going to Hawaii. I'll keep it watered for now."
"Hawaii?" His chest tightened. "She's moving?"
"I bet she wishes." Laura grinned. "According to Lily, she'll be gone for a week."
"When is she leaving?"
The curiosity gleaming in the young woman's eyes brought him to his senses.
"Never mind." He shifted the file folders he'd been holding and started again toward the conference room. "Just do something with the plant."
"In a couple of days," Laura called after him. "She's leaving in a couple of days I think."
David didn't respond, but kept walking. What the hell was wrong with him? It was none of his business what Mia did. She'd quit. Thanked him for the opportunity to have been part of the firm, told him she would be pursuing other endeavors, and that was it. He hadn't tried to talk her into staying. She was a damn good attorney, and he should have. But mostly he'd been too stunned.
The conference-room door was closed, and he knocked briefly before letting himself in. At one end of the long polished mahogany table sat his father, his uncle Harrison and Peter, one of the equity partners. Odd enough that his father would be in the office instead of on the golf course on a Friday, but all three men looked grim.
"Good morning, gentlemen."
"David." Peter nodded.
"Have a seat, David" was all his father said.
His uncle poured some water from a carafe on the table and pushed the glass toward David. "You'll want to add a shot of Scotch to that in a minute."
"What's going on?" As he slowly lowered himself into one of the sleek leather chairs, he looked from one bleak face to the next.
"We've lost the Decker account," his father said, his complexion unnaturally pale.
David felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. Thurston Decker was their second biggest client.
"That's not all," his uncle added, his features pinched. "It looks as if Cromwell may jump ship, as well."
Bewildered, David looked to Peter, who was staring at his clenched hands. "I don't understand." David shook his head. "They've both been with us for two generations without a single complaint. We've done an excellent job for them."
"They don't dispute that." His father removed his glasses and carefully began cleaning the lenses. "They're citing the economy."
"That's bull." Harrison angrily ran a hand through his graying hair. "It's Thurston's grandkids who're responsible. Those greedy little bastards. They're edging the old man out of the company and making a bunch of jackass changes."
"No point in getting steamed," David's father said wearily. He rarely got angry or displayed much emotion. David was much like him in that way. "We need to focus on bringing them back around."
"I doubt that's a possibility," Peter opined. He was a quiet, studious man, who'd joined Pearson and Stern a year before David, and arguably knew more about what was going on in the firm than either of the two senior partners.