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"I want her."
James Richardson stared at his friend, amazed. "Are you sure?"
It was a silly question. Edmund Davis was always sure of what he wanted, and right now his vision was locked on a rather nondescript woman getting a drink from the water cooler.
He nodded and continued to stare at the female figure through James's large indoor office window. "Yes, I want her."
"Mary Reyland?" James asked, surprised. She wasn't the type of woman that usually caught any-one's attention, much less a man's interest. Definitely not a man like Edmund Davis, who had women slipping their phone numbers into his pockets whenever they had a chance. He could have his choice of womenwhy had Mary caught his eye? Not that there was anything wrong with her, James thought, trying to be kind. But there wasn't much right about her, either. She had a nice face, but there was nothing remarkable about it. She wasn't fashionably slim or pleasantly plump; her figure could be described as thick, just like the sensible shoes she wore, which looked like they'd been ordered from an orthopedic catalog that offered them in only brown or black. Mary always kept her hair pulled back in a tight bun, and in her ill-fitting gray suit, her brown skin looked slightly chalky instead of warm. She could easily blend in with the office wall panel. No, James couldn't imagine how Mary had caught Davis's attention.
James tried to adjust his view. He glanced around the office to see if there was some other woman Davis had been referring to, but he saw only a teenage delivery girl wearing a tight, low-cut white T-shirt with a large pizza logo on it. "You're talking about Mary Reyland?" James asked again, just to make sure. At that moment Mary took a sip of her drink, accidentally spilling a little on the front of her blouse. She attempted to brush it away, only making the wet stain spread. James shook his head. Davis had to be talking about someone else.
"Yes," Davis said. "I want her to supervise my project."
Davis's tone became impatient. "I mean my investment, The New Day Senior Living Community."
James stiffened as the reason for Davis's unexpected visit to his office became clear. His words burst forth in a rush. "I can't promise"
"Of course you can," Davis said with a quiet conviction that left no room for argument. He hadn't taken his gaze from Mary, and for a moment James felt sorry for her. She didn't stand a chance. If Davis wanted her, he would get her. "There are no problems. You can manage this. I want her." His steely grayish-brown eyes moved from Mary and pinned on James. "Make it happen."
"But I" James stammered.
Davis turned from the window and sat. Although he appeared more relaxed seated, James knew it was a ploy. Davis was a tall man who never used his height to intimidate others; he let his eyes do that. He could impale someone with just a glance. James felt as though his tie was slowly strangling him. He tugged on it. Davis could be a mean SOB when he wanted to. Especially when someone tried to stand in the way of something he wanted. James didn't want to be that individual, but he had to think of Mary. "But what?" Davis asked, his tone casual. James knew it was not.
"I don't think I can," he said in a great rush. When he saw Davis narrow his gaze, he quickly added, "But there are others who"
Davis shook his head. "No." He spoke the words calmly and coolly. So coolly James wanted to reach for the antacid pills he had in his top desk drawer.
James forced a smile, trying to lighten the mood. "Davis, be reasonable. Your project isn't that complicated, and there are some very talented people who can supervise it."
Davis didn't remove his gaze and his voice remained neutral. "I don't want anyone else."
James inwardly shivered despite the warm spring day. He glanced helplessly at the woman who had caught Davis's attention. She was now talking to two other women, both more attractive. "Why Mary?"
Davis merely blinked. He didn't reply; he knew James already knew the answer and he didn't waste time stating the obvious: Mary was a pushover. She wouldn't get in his way or in the way of the program managerGregory Trent. She was someone Davis could control. He liked to be in control. And James knew there was no way he could convince him to use someone else. Davis didn't change his mind easily.
"You owe me."
"Need I remind you about"
"No," James interrupted, not even wanting to hear her name. The last person he'd assigned to the senior community project had been a disaster. That particular individual, a stately, middle-aged woman, had been overzealous, making the two-year grant Trent had been awarded a personal nightmare. Because Davis had invested a considerable sum of money in the project, he kept a close eye on how things had been progressing and wasn't happy.
James dropped his shoulders, feeling the weight of his defeat. "I'll see what I can do."
Davis smiled. The expression didn't warm his eyes. "I thought so." He stood. "Gregory's schedule is free in two weeks. She can see him then." He opened the door and left.
James watched him go, then returned his gaze to Mary. Poor Mary. She wasn't going to like this. Today she was supposed to receive a promotion. In her new position she wouldn't be overseeing any projects. But James didn't want to get on Davis's bad side. He was a powerful man with key contacts and could make James's life miserable if he wanted to.
Perhaps Mary wouldn't be too disappointed, James thought, trying to justify his actions. She didn't appear to be that ambitious, and she was good at what she did. Besides, she might be flattered that someone had specifically requested her. She could always get promoted next year. James shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling somewhat better. He lifted the phone and dialed his secretary. "Tell Mary I want to see her."
"Edmund Davis," James repeated.
Mary looked at him blankly. This conversation was all wrong. All day, she'd been imagining what was supposed to happen. And this wasn't it. She'd imagined that James would ask her into his office and say, "Mary you've been a wonderful employee and that's why I'm giving you the program director's position." Instead, he was talking about some project dealing with the elderly, the man who ran it and the primary investor who wanted her to work on it. After many years and numerous hints, the program director position should be hers. That's what they were supposed to be discussing.
Five years. She'd been passed over for five years. Five long years of exemplary work, but James wasn't talking about that. There was no mention of her excellent record, her devotion, or her years of service. Mary's heart fell. She should have known better the moment she'd stepped into the office and James had started smiling at her. He always delivered bad news with a smile, and he was very good at delivering it. She was certain he'd gotten his job because he did that so well. He had a handsome baby face that one couldn't reproach and a nice, soothing voice. But for once in her life Mary felt like slapping him across the face with her handbag. Instead, she wrapped her hands around the strap until her palms burned.
"He wants you to work on this project," James continued in a voice that was supposed to lessen her disappointment. It didn't. "And I think it will be a great opportunity for you."
James hesitated. Obviously he wasn't prepared for that question. That surprised her. He was usually very prepared. He cleared his throat, then tugged on the cuffs of his jacket as though his sleeves were suddenly shrinking. "Because" he tugged some more "because you'll be able to use all your skills. Davis has a very exciting project."
Mary lifted an eyebrow. "I thought you said he's invested in a nursing home."
James wagged his finger. "A senior community."
"And that's supposed to be exciting?"
"He's on the cutting edge of a revolutionary concept. No longer will seniors be shuttled away to die. The community he's created is like a new world."
"I don't believe this," Mary muttered, shaking her head.
But James didn't hear her or didn't care to hear any more of her complaints and continued to talk about what a wonderful opportunity it would be for her career. Mary blocked him out. The words didn't matter. It was just more of the same. Another reason why she would stay in the same position, in the same office, doing the same thing. Another reason why someone else would get a job that should have been hers. And every time James passed her over he talked to her as though he were doing her a favor. And every time, she wanted to tell him where he and his favor could go but never did.
Mary thought of the bottle of champagne she'd bought. It sat chilling in her refrigerator at home. She had planned to celebrate. She'd been certain this was going to be her year. Her year to finally have an office with a view and more administrative power. She'd have money to fix her car and could afford to pay for special services for her elderly friend, Mrs. McQueeth. One of the services she'd hoped to get started right away was to have food delivered to her friend and someone to check on her once, or possibly twice, a week. But this wasn't her year. Instead she was going to supervise yet another community-based project. To make matters worse, this one catered to seniors rich enough to spend their golden years in a swanky community with lots of luxurious amenities and frivolous services.
She blinked. James's concerned face came into focus. "Yes?"
"You'll meet with Mr. Gregory Trent in two weeks. His schedule is booked until then."
"Did Mr. Davis say why he chose me specifically?"
"He's heard good things about you and wanted the best to work with Mr. Trent."
"He said that?"
Not only was James spineless, he was a terrible liar. He had a telling habit of rubbing his thumb and forefinger together when he liedhe could have caused a fire from the friction he was generating now. "I see," she said.
He smiled. "I'm so glad we had this chat. He's an important person."
"That you wouldn't want to make unhappy," she mumbled.
"And I'm glad you'll be on this project to make us both look good."
She stared at him, for the first time realizing how much she disliked him, then forced a smile that mirrored his. "That's my job." And at this rate it doesn't look like that will ever change.