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By Addison Fox, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Frances Karkosak
All rights reserved.
"We're the victims of a hostile takeover?" Keira crumpled the morning's newspaper before slamming it on the uncluttered surface of her desk. "And how did the Financial Journal find out about it before we did?"
"It's a game, Keira. Nathan Cooper is just trying to put us in a disadvantaged position," Camryn said. "Besides, his brother runs the Financial Journal. It's no real surprise the story broke there first."
"Well, we're not playing." Keira ran her fingers over the glass beads at her throat, worrying them between her thumb and forefinger before she realized the unconscious gesture for what it was and stopped. "And like that's fair to give the FJ an exclusive."
Her sister let out a small sigh before she assumed her best CFO voice: stern with an overlay of mothering sensitivity. "Come on, K. We've got a lot of cash on our books and we're not majority owners. You can't be all that surprised. We talked about this as a possibility, especially once Nathan filed his five percent stock purchase with the SEC last week."
Keira knew Camryn was right, knew that their hard work and industry-leading changes to the company would make them interesting to the business world, but a takeover? A crater opened in her stomach at the thought of losing all they'd worked for. It had brought the three of them even closer than they'd already been and had given them purpose after their mother's death.
"It's not even true. I mean, what kind of journalism is this?" Her voice dropped as she read aloud a passage — one of several that set her blood on fire, even as her stomach churned in another wave of panic. "'McBride Media's been in a tenuous position for years, the once-monolithic media company dealing with the increasing pressures of a tough economy and a declining advertiser base.'"
"It's not all that wrong. You know Dad made a lot of bad choices, K."
"It's not right, either," Keira muttered under her breath as she took in the photo of Nathan Cooper grinning back at her from the bottom of the page. She and her sisters had worked long and hard to bring her family's legacy back from the brink of disaster, and she was proud of the work.
"It makes us sound like a bunch of bumbling idiots who don't know how to run a business instead of who we are. A profitable enterprise that's on the leading edge of innovation and highly valued content creation. We've rebuilt every magazine in our portfolio to appeal to a modern woman's interests. Politics, philanthropy, culture. Heck, even our celebrity titles focus on responsibility versus frivolity."
Camryn offered up another small sigh. "Save the publisher speech for the media. I know who we are and I know how valuable we are. It's the whole reason Cooper's sniffing around in the first place."
Keira pulled her attention away from the article as the heavy sound of clicking heels sounded outside the door. "And that would be Sally."
Sally Hughes, McBride's chief counsel and her late mother's best friend, walked in. Her perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable Chanel suit, and designer heels couldn't hide her anger. "Slimy jerk went ahead and did it."
"Of course he did." Keira couldn't keep the small smile off her face, despite the impending threat to her business. Sally never failed to lighten her spirits, her fierce devotion to the McBride family a constant comfort. "Just like you said he would."
Sally dropped into a guest chair next to Camryn. "Nathan Cooper is a corporate raider and this isn't his first rodeo. He knows how to play the media, and he's been courting our major stock holders for the last month." She reached over and grabbed the article off Keira's desk. "And he's awfully easy on the eyes, which doesn't hurt his standing as the financial press's favorite son."
"Easy on the eyes and single," Camryn added helpfully.
Sally's voice was all business when she spoke again. "The latest scuttlebutt has it on good authority he's going to the Publishers Association Dinner tonight."
"Let me guess," Keira said. "He knows I'm the evening's hostess and has decided to toss his next bomb in person."
"If I were a betting woman, and you both know I'm far too practical for that," Camryn said, "I'd say you've guessed right."
Sally tossed the paper on her desk, and Keira looked once more at the man's photograph. She took in the sharp planes of his face and the piercing blue of his eyes, evident even in a black-and-white photograph. Ignoring the completely inappropriate rush of attraction, she focused on the task at hand. It was time to prepare her battle plan.
She'd worked too hard to save her family's legacy and make it something they were proud of again. There was no way a corporate pirate with a cocky smile was going to take it away from her.
* * *
Nathan Cooper stared at the file his assistant had prepared on McBride Media. He'd been through the financials repeatedly, as was his habit, but it was time to turn his attention toward the personal side as he prepared to make his move on the company. And long years of experience had proven one adage over and over: it was always personal.
With a few swift keystrokes on his laptop, he bypassed the financials and found the data he was looking for. McBride Media, established shortly after World War II by H. Thomas McBride, was built on a simple premise — give the American housewife magazines relevant to her life and she'd loyally buy them month after month, year after year. Of no small consequence was the fact that she'd also support the advertising base that flocked to her favorite magazines month after month, year after year. What the subsequent heirs of H. Thomas hadn't counted on was that the housewife of the fifties was a fleeting phenomenon. And instead of keeping up with the evolving woman, the publications had languished, full of tired old stories and an aging editorial staff that couldn't keep up with the times.
Nathan's gaze caught on one of several photos his assistant had included in the file. The caption read: Mayson, Camryn, and Keira McBride, the sisterhood running McBride Media, at the Museum of Natural History's annual fund-raising event.
"Ah, yes," he murmured to himself as he took in the smiling sisters posing arm in arm. "The Three Musketeers."
While H. Thomas's son had experienced little success turning the company's fortunes around — and was likely responsible for its demise — his granddaughters had done their best over the last eight years to chart a new course with the company. In the end, it was their ingenuity that had drawn his interest in the company and his belief that there was a fair profit to be made off the aging giant once his company, Maverick Capital, took it apart.
Flipping past the photograph, Nathan searched for the article he'd remembered looking at a few weeks ago. An in-depth piece from one of the business magazines filled his screen, and with it a photo of the oldest McBride sister, Keira. As the corporate publisher and the CEO of McBride Media, she had spearheaded the company's recovery, culminating in her biggest triumph the year before — the launch of a new magazine, three new websites, and a mobile platform that was garnering rave reviews.
Keira McBride caught his attention again. He took in the dark sable-brown hair that framed her face and spilled over her slender business suit–clad shoulders. The look was fresh and feminine while still maintaining a definite air of authority.
And sexy as hell, Nathan thought with no small measure of interest.
He was surprised to find himself still thinking about Keira McBride a half hour later as he worked his way through e-mail, his limo moving determinedly uptown toward his apartment. His driver crawled through the traffic-filled streets, a series of horns blaring outside the car with a mix of indignation and a good old-fashioned dose of New York impatience.
A card-carrying Wharton MBA graduate and group publisher of all of McBride Media's titles, Keira was blasting her way through the advertising community on a blend of smarts, charm, and an incredible amount of business savvy. She'd grown the business each and every year since taking the helm six years prior and had actually tripled the business the last two years running.
Nathan's cell rang through the blare of horns and he barked out a greeting, oddly irritated to have his musings on the very beautiful subject of Keira interrupted.
"You've got some hell of a nerve, Cooper."
Damn it. He should have checked the caller ID.
"What can I do for you, Holt?"
"You can start by telling me why I had to read about your latest news instead of hearing it straight from you. And second, why the hell am I out scouting and securing property in the middle of the Nevada desert if all the action's back in New York?"
Nathan held in the creeping guilt as his best friend rode his ass. The man had a point, which Nathan didn't concede often. "Look. The timing was right and I had to move on it. One of those things."
"You're just lucky I religiously read the Financial Journal. The questions started rolling into my office about three minutes after that story hit this morning."
"You're good at rolling with the punches, buddy. I've no doubt your Armani suit's still squeaky clean and well-pressed."
"It always is. Look, I'm not calling to discuss my wardrobe. I closed on the property shortly after lunch. There isn't a better spot undeveloped on the lower end of the Strip."
"They give you the tax incentives we wanted?"
"Each and every one." Satisfaction hummed in Nathan's veins as he imagined the hotel/casino/conference facility they were going to build on that piece of property. "So tell me why you're sounding like a whiny school boy who didn't get dessert?"
His friend sighed and Nathan couldn't stop the small smile. "Seriously, Nate. Why are you messing with McBride? You've got a way bigger fish to fry and it's currently sitting in the middle of the Nevada desert."
Why was he messing with McBride Media?
An answer teased him from the furthest reaches of his consciousness, but he ruthlessly ignored it. Revenge was not only a poor motive; it suggested your opponent had a part of your heart you were desperately trying to get back. Since he'd long ago acknowledged he didn't have a heart, revenge just didn't play.
With brisk efficiency, Nathan brushed off Holt's comments. "I'm a man of many interests, and I know how to keep them all straight. This is a deal well worth moving on and the time is now."
"It's going to catch up to you sooner or later, buddy — this constant battle to conquer the world."
"It hasn't caught up to you yet." Suddenly impatient, Nathan shifted gears. "Gotta go. I'm headed to a dinner tonight and I need to get ready."
"Far be it from me to stand in your way. The man about town's got to get out there and keep spreading the news of his impending takeover target."
"And since said target is the dinner's emcee, it'll be even sweeter."
Holt let out a low whistle. "You really do have ice in your veins, Nathan Cooper."
He didn't offer any response to the obvious compliment. "Call me once legal reviews the deal."
As he flipped off his phone, an image of Keira McBride flickered through Nathan's mind.
With startling clarity, he recalled the oval shape of her face, set off by high cheekbones, and the rich shade of her eyes. Dark and sensual, they captivated and intrigued. They were the eyes of a temptress with a gaze that could make a man forget himself.
As his driver came around to open his door, Nathan brusquely pushed aside thoughts of Keira McBride.
He wasn't a man who forgot himself.
* * *
"Did you get a load of Trip Kennelworth? I swear, that man should have been neutered about two decades ago."
Keira couldn't stop the smile as Mayson shot a ferocious glare across the large hotel ballroom rapidly filling up with people. "You know he's always had a fondness for you, Mayse."
"Fondness?" Her sister snorted as a dark blush crept up her neck. "Fondness is offering to get you a drink. It is not groping your ass while standing next to you at the bar and leering down your cocktail dress."
Keira held up a hand. "Touché. Besides, it's all my fault. I wanted to come early to avoid the press gauntlet. Had we come late, Trip would have already been three sheets in and leering down at whatever adoring bimbette he'd picked up for the evening."
"You know I never mind grabbing a drink in the bar and catching up with my sister. It's when we get here to grab a drink and she hides out in the ladies' lounge that I mind."
"I was not hiding." Keira let out an indignant sniff. "I was closing a rather sizeable deal with some folks on the west coast. Their car client just got the deal of the century."
"I doubt that. You make everyone think they've won the negotiation, but I've seen your profit margins. You're not fooling me."
"I sell with a smile."
"And a spine of steel." Mayson glanced around the ballroom. "Speaking of that steel rod in your back, are you ready for your emcee duties?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"You'll do great. Besides, I've yet to see an audience that doesn't fall instantly in love with you. You're a natural-born charmer."
Keira resisted a snort of her own at the description. While she'd never run from public speaking, she wasn't nearly as comfortable as her sisters always assumed. While she did usually enjoy it — the rush of a crowd and the shared energy — tonight she felt like she was preparing for battle.
Round one of a very public battle.
Sally and Camryn chose that moment to come up to them, hands full with a round of champagne. "Is he here yet?" Sally asked as she did a full twirl in her sequined red cocktail dress, the move a barely veiled ploy to observe the room.
Keira shook her head. "I haven't seen him."
"Is he as good-looking as his photograph?" Mayson reached for one of the glasses as her gaze hovered just over Sally's left shoulder.
"I wouldn't know." Keira took her own glass. "And why is that all anyone can talk about? He is interested in taking over our company. Put your hormones on hold."
"I'm not dead, K." Mayson waved a hand in surrender. "But fine, your point's noted. What I want to know is how you haven't run into him. I thought you knew every business leader in New York who bought, sold, or advertised in media."
Now that she was questioned about it, Keira realized her path hadn't ever crossed with Nathan Cooper's. "No, actually, I haven't met him. It is a bit odd, now that you mention it."
Mayson's gaze resettled firmly on their small quartet. "Why is he interested in buying a media company if he's not involved in the industry?"
"He's a corporate raider. That's what they do. He doesn't need to have a reason. Besides, his father is the owner of MediaCorp," Keira said. "It's in his blood."
"Nathan's illegitimate blood," Sally said.
Keira wasn't sure why the description chafed, but a raw feeling settled at the base of her neck. "West Harrison is still his father, blood or not."
Sally waved a hand, but her broad smile dimmed. "I didn't mean it that way, dear. Rumor has it, Nathan had a chance at one of the MediaCorp divisions years and years ago and he basically tossed it in his father's face. Wasn't going to play second fiddle to his older brother."
"Who is no doubt the legitimate heir," Camryn said.
"But of course." Sally's tone dropped as her gaze drifted toward the broader ballroom. "It's all very Machiavellian the way West Harrison has run his empire. Even his children haven't been spared."
"I don't know." Keira shrugged before she could stop herself. "It feels sort of sad. And very, very cold."
"Oh, don't shed a tear for me, Ms. McBride."
Keira whirled in the direction of a husky, deep voice, the butterflies in her stomach taking wing. Nathan stood a few feet away, clad head-to-toe in a custom-fitted tuxedo. Heat swept through her body even as she felt goose bumps stirring on her flesh. His tuxedo covered a very impressive set of shoulders and a wide chest before tapering down to a trim waist. Long legs had him standing about six foot two, by Keira's estimation, and all that height was topped off by a shock of black hair that curled deliciously at the nape of his neck. He might be dressed in a three-thousand-dollar tuxedo, but she couldn't stop her assessment. He even looked like a pirate.
Excerpted from Tempting Acquisitions by Addison Fox, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2013 Frances Karkosak. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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