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Unwrapping Mr. Wright
By Michele Dunaway
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJustin Wright was Scrooge.
Not that he looked anything like good old Ebenezer. He was too young and too good-looking for that. "Hot," some misguided temp had called him. But that didn't stop the modern-day tightwad from frowning, leaning over the conference table and saying to Lauren Brown, current object of his wrath, "You know, in all my time in this company, this has to be the dumbest way to spend money that I've ever heard."
Lauren twirled the red-and-white candy-cane pen between her fingers, but the motion did little to calm her or fill her with any of her usual boisterous Christmas spirit. It did, however, keep her from reaching across and strangling the annoying, self-centered Justin Wright. At this moment, the fact that he was her boss was irrelevant.
He tapped his fingers on the table, creating an annoying staccato. "You know, Lauren, the more I think about it, the more I have to disagree. That idea is a waste of money. My company's. We hired you for this?"
Justin Wright squared his chin stubbornly, but Lauren Brown glared right back at him. Her icy brown stare, though, like the rest of her, went totally unnoticed by the man who, unfortunately, looked too much like his gorgeous twin. Lauren tried thinning her lips in displeasure,but that, too, had little impact on her nemesis.
Once again she exhaled slowly in an attempt to rein in her temper. In the six months that she'd been working for Wright Solutions, nothing she'd proposed had been good enough for the high standards of the ultra-picky, master micromanager Justin Wright. She set down the pen down lest she use it as a dagger.
"As a matter of fact, you did hire me for this," she said in a sweet tone that still contained an edge of steel.
"You hired me for PR, and that's exactly what the office Christmas party is. That's why Jared, president of this company, assigned me the job of hosting it and that's why we're having it at a hotel, two weekends from now, on December 18."
The way Justin's lips turned down indicated he hadn't liked her noting that his elder brother was president. "But semiformal to formal? You've already got an open bar. What's wrong with nachos and beer after hours? That's worked ever since we started this company. Now we're wining and dining employees with filet mignon and champagne?"
She stared right into his eyes, trying to hold her own against the glittering green. "Yes, we are."
"Jared shouldn't have given you free rein."
She shrugged. "Then it's lucky for me that he did, isn't it? Nachos and beer out, filet mignon and champagne in." She left out the "deal with it," although from his scowl he'd heard her unspoken challenge. "As president, Jared left me in complete control as long as I don't overspend my budget, which I haven't. You don't need to worry during your interim stay while he's on his honeymoon."
Lauren grabbed her candy-cane pen and doodled a small red smiley face before scratching out the happy symbol. If only Jared were back! Unlike Justin, the eldest of the three Wright sons had a vision for the company. Too bad he'd extended his honeymoon by another four weeks. He and his new wife weren't returning to St. Louis until early in the new year.
Justin's only vision was girls in tight skirts and fish-net panty hose. Unfortunately, the playboy of the family had endless charm, and with the number of women Lauren had seen flocking around, she knew that he knew it. However, at twenty-eight, Lauren prided herself on the fact that she knew better. She'd known Justin for three years and she was proud that she remained singularly unimpressed and unaffected by anything he did or said.
"You did hear me, didn't you?"
She blinked and glanced over at him. See how unaffected she was? She hadn't even heard a word he'd been saying. Knowing Justin, though, she took a stab and gave him a classic PR answer. "I heard you," Lauren replied, "and I thank you for your opinion."
She tactfully omitted the word unwelcome, but as if sensing it anyway, Justin narrowed his eyes sharply. Lauren set the merry little pen down. "But as this is my area of expertise, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of everything." To avoid Justin's obvious displeasure, Lauren looked for support to Clint Seaver, her immediate boss and the vice president of Public Relations and Marketing. He had a silly grin on his face, as if watching Justin and Lauren spar was more exciting than the St. Louis Blues hockey games he loved.
"I was hired to make Wright Solutions a prominent player, with growth like that of Microsoft in the 1990s. To do this, Wright Solutions needs to do many things besides the Christmas party. Next year I plan to -"
"Whatever. As you said, Jared gave you control of the Christmas party. Just don't overspend your budget or you'll answer to me." Justin had cut her off as though the conversation had suddenly become irrelevant and now bored him. Lauren's jaw dropped at his boorishness, though she quickly recovered and closed her mouth. Never had the despicable Mr. Wright been this rude.
This time, though, he didn't look at her again or explain his actions. He glanced at his watch and turned his attention to Clint. "It's your budget for next year, Clint. If you think including the projects Lauren is about to tell me about - again - is the way to go, fine. Let her run with them. I'll expect a full report on my desk in two weeks regarding your plans for the new year. Before I go, are we still on for poker tonight?"
Clint grinned, the grin of someone secure about being in the inner circle, the grin of someone who had been friends with the three Wright brothers ever since high school. "Me miss a Friday- night poker bash? Never. We're definitely on. My place tonight."
"Super. I'll see you at seven." With that, Justin Wright stood and, without another word or glance in Lauren's direction, left the conference room.
Excerpted from Unwrapping Mr. Wright by Michele Dunaway Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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