|Publisher:||Intrigue Publishing LLC|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Every minute mattered and traffic on Market Street in Philadelphia crawled. Walking to the Crowne Plaza might be faster. It couldn't be any slower. Did the cabbie even have his foot on the accelerator? Macy Rollins considered climbing over the seat of the taxi, strangling the driver, and taking the steering wheel. She pushed forward to peek at the speedometer. He turned to face her, his brow raised, then returned his gaze to the snarl of cars in front of him.
"Can you drive faster, go around?" Macy pointed to the empty right-hand lane.
The driver stared straight ahead. "No ma'am."
"What if I told you I had an emergency?"
"No ma'am," he repeated.
"There's an extra twenty in it for you if you manage to catch all the green lights."
The driver locked eyes with her in the rearview mirror. Her stomach tightened around the knot that began forming earlier that morning. From the moment she got up, nothing had gone as planned.
"If I don't get my manager's signature on this contract ..." Macy reached into her wallet, pulled out a bill and held it high. "C'mon, mister I could lose my job."
"If I speed, I could get a ticket. Lose my license. That ain't worth twenty bucks." His clipped tone matched hers.
"If you don't get a ticket, you could be twenty dollars richer. Besides, driving through a yellow light is not against the law." She waved the crisp bill at him.
"Not worth the risk." The light turned yellow and he slowed to a stop.
Her horoscope suggested she border on the extreme today. There wasn't anything more extreme than rushing with a deadline clock ticking in her ear. She fell against the seat with a huff. The world conspired against her.
The meter in the cab ticked higher at every traffic light right along with her blood pressure. She could almost feel time pulsing through her veins.
A block away from the hotel the driver slowed again. Macy handed him the fare and jumped out with a curse. The heels she'd worn to match her dress made walking any kind of distances uncomfortable.
She ran toward the entrance of the hotel. With a little luck, and she was due for some, she just might get the contract signed and to Pipeline Delivery in time to reach the customer tomorrow. The promotion to VP that she wanted and needed was in sight, but that didn't mean she could coast into it. How many sleepless nights had she spent worrying about money, worrying about paying her bills, or worrying about helping pay for her brother's college tuition if the scholarship didn't come through?
She stopped just outside the ballroom and took a deep, hopefully calming breath. She needed to appear in control, even if a riot was happening on her insides. She hadn't thought about the high-priced lawyer named Dennison Malveaux, the man who'd represented her father, in a long, time. But Roxy, her boss mentioned his name this afternoon and all those memories resurfaced like debris churned up from the ocean floor. Now she was getting ready to walk into the same room with him.
Music blared. Dennison Malveaux's campaign reception was well under way. With any luck, she wouldn't even have to see him. If she did, she didn't need to speak to him. He wouldn't remember her anyway. She was only twelve with pigtails when he used every loophole available to make sure her father's divorce from her mother left them destitute. Dennison had uncovered every loophole available to help her father hide his modest investments.
She took another deep breath before stepping inside. One look at the expensive, glittering gowns and the carbon-copy tuxedos let her know this wasn't her crowd. The room was packed with the aristocracy of Philadelphia. It even smelled rich. Seafood and beef delicacies she probably had never heard of filled the air with mouthwatering goodness.
Her goal was to get in and out of the hotel before someone exposed her as an interloper. She pushed her way through the throng to find her manager, Roxy English. The goal was to get her signature and get out.
Everything that could have gone wrong in the office today, did. In spite of following her horoscope and wearing the lucky red dress, the day was a disaster. Why did the flu have to take her assistant down today? The replacement sent from the pool lost the contract file when her computer crashed. Roxy's disappointment was palpable the minute Macy showed up at her office door empty-handed. The promotion Roxy had promised wasn't a done deal yet. Nothing with Roxy was ever easy.
Macy slowed her gait. Her new shoes were cute but too tight. In less than an hour, she could be home and out of the corporate armor. The plan to sink into her favorite sweats, and comfy slippers, while preparing for the company audit had to be better than hobnobbing with this crowd.
She scanned the room in search of Roxy. She would be easy to spot with her signature blond hair resting at the center of her back. Macy pushed up on her toes to get a good look around the room. Roxy had two flaws: She loved to talk, which meant the courier would close if Macy let her slip into one of her monologues, and she possessed a nasty temper, and was known to explode without warning. Why Roxy wanted Macy to meet her here was a mystery. Roxy liked rubbing shoulders with the powerful branch of society, but this was not a place to conduct business. The atmosphere in the room was too high-brow for the casual business conversation. Tonight was about letting the affluent sniff your arrogant presence.
Everything Roxy did was calculated. Since she'd insisted Macy meet her here, she had a reason.
Macy spotted Roxy engaged in conversation with a small group of people in the corner of the room. From the animated way Roxy moved her hands, she was dominating the conversation as usual. Macy sighed. She could almost hear her watch ticking off the seconds before the courier closed. The man listening to Roxy didn't seem to mind her prolonged story. His face was familiar. But Macy didn't know a soul in this room other than the people who worked at English International, and this thirty-something hunk didn't work there. If he did, every single woman, including herself, would have been standing outside his door with a file in hand, in dire need of his opinion.
The guy engaged with Roxy had dark, expressive eyes and lashes as thick as any woman's. He flashed a smile that lit up his face, and Macy froze. It was Avery Malveaux, the oldest son of Dennison. It wasn't the thick head of hair, or his tantalizing build that she recognized, but his warm eyes and wide smile.
Avery's picture stayed on the front page of the society section. He was one of Philly's most eligible bachelors. But not for long. Wasn't he engaged? Why was Roxy chatting him up?
Macy tightened her hold on her bag and pressed forward. She had one hour to get Roxy's signature and drop off the contract in time for it to arrive at the customer's location on Friday as promised. She greeted everyone in the group, and then directed her attention to Roxy. "I have the contract for you to sign." She had to force the words out because Avery stared at her, and it felt as though his gaze penetrated her soul.
"Ah, Macy, you're late," Roxy said. "I wondered how long it would take you to get here. You're cutting it close." She scowled before accepting the envelope. "Let me introduce you to Avery Malveaux. We've just completed negotiations with his law firm. Starting today, Avery's firm will be our outside legal counsel. He's going to help English International with our expansion efforts. His expertise in Europe and the Far East will come in handy. This fundraiser tonight is for Avery's father, who is running for reelection to City Council." Roxy grinned. "This is Macy Rollins, the Sales Manager at English International. Nobody knows our products, inventory, our account structure, or our business objectives better than she does."
Avery extended his hand to shake. Macy tried to swallow past the huge lump in her throat and accepted his firm grip.
Roxy continued. "The two of you will be working closely while Avery gets up to speed. I think it might be good as we get ready for our annual round of contract renewals, to let Avery see that side of the business. It will help him understand the business and get to know our current customer base."
Macy's lucky dress tightened on her like a tourniquet. How could today's horoscope have been so wrong? How could she work with anyone related to Dennison Malveaux? Why was Roxy's smile so enormous when the world was being shaken loose from its core?CHAPTER 2
Macy locked her knees in place. Falling in front of everyone wouldn't further her career or convince anyone she wasn't a flake. When she got home, there would be plenty of time to figure out how she was supposed to work alongside of a Malveaux, but for now, she needed to stand up straight, look him in the eye and act like a professional.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Malveaux, I look forward to working with you. We'll certainly keep you busy." Heat ran along her palm and wrist where his hand had touched hers.
"Thank you." His acknowledgment wasn't warm or welcoming. He probably had the same cold, calculating streak that his father possessed. And why not? They were both lawyers and had the same genes.
Avery clasped his hands in front of him. "Based on the information I read about this particular customer, shouldn't this contract be on the customer's desk tomorrow? It's late."
Macy's tongue refused to cooperate, lying flat in her mouth, like a balloon with no air. Useless. What had she done or who had she crossed to cause the stars to fall out of alignment? She was a good daughter who helped her mother as much as she could, a hard worker, putting in long hours even though most of the time Roxy didn't acknowledge her efforts and the best of friends to her roommate, who seldom remembered to buy her share of groceries.
She pushed aside her anger. Snapping at Avery Malveaux wouldn't do much to advance her career. "The administrative assistant just completed the changes. I contacted the company president today, and they are willing to accept the contract a day late." She kept her voice level.
Avery Malveaux was outside counsel. She wouldn't have to see him every day. Managing cordial would be easier if he spent more time at his offices than at the corporate headquarters. She could work alongside a rattlesnake as long as it didn't slitter into her path. The Malveaux family had robbed her family once, but she wouldn't let Avery jeopardize her pending promotion.
"I'm sure Macy will find a way to straighten this out." Roxy patted Macy's shoulder "Somehow, she manages to get the job done, every time. Don't you?"
"Yes, of course." Macy addressed Roxy alone. Avery's comments reinforced her determination to stay focused.
Roxy scribbled her signature on the contract and handed it back. "Besides if I hadn't demanded she come down here for your announcement, this would have been in the mail earlier."
Macy glanced at her watch. Every second the angst in her stomach inched higher. The contract felt like a grenade in her hand. The trickle of perspiration that dripped between her breasts was no surprise. She patted the envelope containing the contract, holding it tight to her chest. She eased back a step, to make a graceful exit and bumped into Celeste English, Roxy's sister.
"So sorry, Celeste."
As usual, Celeste wore a stunning emerald green couture dress, cut tastefully for the conservative crowd. She wore five-inch heels in the exact same color. Celeste had the fashion sense of a great designer but as much charm as a slug.
"Macy, what are you doing here? I didn't know you were invited." Celeste tilted her head and looked down her nose at Macy even though they were the same height.
"I'm just here to get Roxy's signature," Macy said. "Now that I have it, I'll be on my way."
"Too bad you didn't have time to change into something more appropriate."
"I don't have time to discuss my attire. I'd better be going." Macy took another step.
Roxy grabbed Macy by the arm. "Before you leave, I need you to represent English on Saturday night."
Macy saw her weekend slipping away even before Roxy finished the sentence. Her plans of curling up on the sofa and reading a book vanished as the smile on Roxy's face widened. Whenever Roxy wanted more than the standard fifty-hour week, she slipped into her ultra-nice persona and her inflection became syrupy sweet.
"Avery has another venture he just launched. A new nightclub opening Saturday night, which is also the corporate sponsorship night. I need you to attend because I can't make it. We want to support his venture, especially since he's working with us now. Who knows, with all the other businesses there, you may be able to snag a new client or two."
Avery directed his attention to Roxy. "I'm a silent partner. It's a financial venture for me." The features on his face softened for the first time since she'd arrived. "I'm sure Macy has more interesting things she'd rather be doing on a Saturday evening."
"Nonsense, it's the least we can do. I'm sure Macy won't mind. Will you, dear?" Roxy spoke up before Macy could reply.
Like hell. But she needed this job and the promotion that Roxy dangled in front of her like a golden ring that she jerked away whenever Macy got too close. "I'd be happy to." She produced a smile as fake as the tone of Roxy's voice.
Avery pulled his wallet from his pocket and handed Macy a card with the club's name, Ambience, embossed in large gold letters. He flipped the card over, showing her the address on the opposite side before placing it in her outstretched hand. His touch lingered a little longer than required, but she didn't bristle.
"I'll be there." She met his eyes. He seemed poised to say something more, but she excused herself from the group before giving him the opportunity.
Halfway across the room, she looked back at the gathering. Celeste had slipped her hand into Avery's, but his gaze remained on her.CHAPTER 3
Avery watched Macy weave her way across the room, taking everyone's attention with her. In the warm lights of the ballroom her brown skin glowed like a bronzed statue waxed to perfection. Her ruffled mini-dress hugged her behind, and her strappy sandals accentuated her shapely legs. He wasn't the only man ogling her as she made her exit.
He'd rattled her. But his comments were all about business, she shouldn't have taken them personal.
"Well, isn't Macy flying out of here like the place was on fire?" Celeste's sultry voice sounded like a cat purring. "Why do I get the impression that she's always trying so hard, always sucking up to you, Roxy? There is something about that girl that I don't like."
"Macy seems a little distracted lately," Roxy said. "That's not like her. She's usually so focused."
Celeste turned to him. "Roxy always says the nicest things about Macy. Even when they aren't warranted."
"That's not true. I treat everyone who reports to me the same. And, I have the same expectation of each of them," said Roxy.
"Sometimes, I think you like her better than you like your own sister." Celeste pouted just enough to look seductive. "If you want, I can talk to her tomorrow and see if I can figure out what's going on."
"Good idea, Celeste. Let me know if there is something I need to be concerned about with Macy." Roxy turned her attention to Avery. "As you may have read in the literature I gave you about the company, we've started our Dragon negotiations. During these negotiations, we will renegotiate over half of our customer contracts. It's onerous on the staff, but we find it's a proficient way to evaluate our offering all at once. Macy knows our customer base better than anyone. I want you to spend some time with her, to get a better understanding of what kinds of customers are attracted to our products. That knowledge will be beneficial as you work on expanding our market share."
Avery nodded. "Don't worry. I'm on it." Working with Macy could pose a challenge. There was something in her eyes that spoke to him. Something in the way her curls framed her face and came to rest on her shoulders, like silk that made him want to touch her hair.
"I can be helpful too." Celeste reached for his hand and held on to it. "Even though I don't handle anything as glamorous as the customer portfolio, I have all the systems knowledge. We rely heavily on our customer portals, so you'll need to understand them."
He pulled his hand from Celeste's. She was like a vine, locking him down, threatening to overtake and choke him. Roxy and his parents wanted him to find something appealing about Celeste, but it wasn't happening.
He sipped his wine. "I'll set up some time on your calendar, Celeste." He offered an excuse and made his way through the crowd, hoping it wasn't too late to spot Macy one more time.
Celeste caught up to him and slipped her hand back into his. He groaned loud enough for her to hear. "What can I do for you, Celeste?"
"Roxy is always talking about customers. She has very little interest in the Information Technology side of the business. My domain. But without my staff, the business would be crippled."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In Pursuit of Perfection"
Copyright © 2013 Jacki Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
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