He’s the hot new guy in the small-town Wyoming office, a bachelor from L.A. with a trail of divorces behind him. But something about Blake Cobb has Sadie Felix setting her sites on him—even though he might just be her biggest competition in the race for a much-coveted promotion. Still, a little workplace rivalry will only make the tension between them more thrilling. At least, that’s what Sadie hopes, until she learns Blake’s already dating the boss’s daughter…
She’s an ambitious corporate climber with a face and a body that could stop a clock. Which is exactly why Blake steers clear of Sadie Felix—he’s been there, done that, with disastrous results. Besides, his new girlfriend is a dead ringer for his first love—the one who got away. But when an office scandal throws the boss's daughter in a new—and unflattering—light, Blake's forced to see what's been right in front of him all along…
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Running the Numbers
A Long Shot Romance Novel
By Roxanne Smith
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Roxanne Smith
All rights reserved.
Sadie Felix leaned against the solid oak filing cabinet in her office and waited for the fax to bleep-bloop its way over the wire. "The offices of Avery & Thorp are Daniel Boone meets caviar. What d'you think, Ken?"
Kennedy, Sadie's best friend and coworker, didn't glance up from attacking her nails with an emery board. Her heeled feet were propped on Sadie's desk. She shrugged.
Sadie drummed her fingers across the polished wood. "Spacious and modern, with rich dark wood, gleaming gold accents, marble fireplaces, and deer antler chandeliers. This place exudes all the grandeur and luxury of mountain wealth."
"Sure," Kennedy finally agreed. "Your point?"
"Only that using a fax machine here is a lot like standing at a state-of-the-art airport waiting for a horse-drawn wagon to roll in. I wish old people would learn to e-mail, already. I hate to say it, but you know it's the octogenarians out there keeping the fax machine alive."
From the corner of her eye, Sadie caught sight of Duncan Perry, her boss, striding past her office.
"Duncan!" She called out his name, knowing full well her knee-length pencil skirt wouldn't allow her to catch up before he hit the spiral staircase that would take him to his lofty upstairs office. At the same time, with her other hand, she swatted toward Kennedy, warning her.
Kennedy jerked in surprise, swiftly planted her feet back on the ground, and hid the nail file from view, all with the practiced ease of a veteran's habit.
Duncan walked past but returned shortly and dipped his head around the frame. He'd gone fully bald on the top of his head and wore what hair was left like a graying crown, with fierce pride. "Yes, Sadie?" He looked past her, at Kennedy sitting at Sadie's desk. "What're you doing in here?"
In her best prim tone, Kennedy supplied a believable alibi. "Sadie asked for advice handling an older client. You know how ornery octogenarians can be."
"Can I assume you're finished? You have plenty to do, getting Henry's office ready for Mr. Cobb."
Kennedy jumped up. The emery board mysteriously vanished from sight. "Yes, I'm going. Though, Sadie, you really should think about less restrictive garments." She gave Duncan a harassed look as she sashayed past. "She almost face-planted flagging you down."
Sadie smoothed her skirt, wrapped around her legs like a mummy's bindings. "It's true. I'd be more mobile on a pogo stick."
Duncan finally heaved in a sigh as Kennedy slipped out of the room. "If you called me in here to discuss your wardrobe malfunctions, I'm afraid you've mistaken my job title."
"Just a quick word," Sadie assured him with her best smile, which he usually saw right through. There were downsides to being pals with the boss.
His kind, light brown eyes were understanding but firm. "Is this about Kennedy? I've explained to her for the last time why I hired Blake Cobb, rather than promote her. She's done a great job as Henry's secretary, but Blake has experience I can't ignore."
"No, sir. My dog's not in that fight." Duncan might respect her opinion and expertise as a senior accountant, but not enough to score Kennedy a job she wasn't the best candidate for. Especially not a job like the audit director. "I did, however, want to get some information on Blake, since I'll be picking him up on my day off tomorrow." She enunciated a few choice words, letting Duncan know how she felt about being tasked with work on a requested personal day.
Secretly, Sadie couldn't wait to meet Blake. Nina Walsh, Duncan's secretary and another of Sadie's long-time friends, had let a particularly juicy tidbit slip at lunch last week — her friendly balding boss was considering ditching Jackson Hole, with its harsh nine-month winter, for Salt Lake City, his wife's hometown. Which meant the chief accountant spot might soon be at Sadie's fingertips. It was one more step toward the end of the longest con of her life — becoming partner.
And the last thing she needed was more competition. If Duncan left the firm, the promotion to chief accountant would come down to her and Wes Black, the other senior accountant. He was also her nemesis and all-around least favorite person.
But what about this Blake Cobb guy?
Nina talked about his resume like it shined with the brilliance of an Olympic torch. He'd been partner at his firm in L.A. and was taking a major step down to come to work for Avery & Thorp as the firm's internal auditor.
If Nina had her facts straight.
Sadie wanted to get them from the source.
Duncan's mouth thinned in a thoughtful way, and his shoulders relaxed, a sure sign he'd stick around for a minute to chat. "Honestly, I can't believe we got so lucky. This guy, he's top of his field. A major player in Los Angeles. His firm held accounts for top-billed actors and city officials. Given our own list of clients, he's exactly what we need."
In the auditing department? Sadie chewed the inside of her lip. "Why isn't our new golden boy coming in further up the chain? I mean, obviously, auditing is critical, but it sounds like we're replacing a Pinto with a Corvette." She abruptly shut her mouth and cleared her throat. "No offense to Henry, of course. Henry's great."
Henry Rupert was ancient, hard of hearing, and had earned his retirement five years ago.
Duncan's knowing gaze lingered on her face, and a smile flirted with his lips. A consummate professional, he didn't let it have run of his mouth. "It's a little early for nicknames. As for golden boy's reasons for taking a step back in his career, I can assure you, they're personal. They're definitely not professional, and that's all we need to concern ourselves with." He smiled then, a fatherly gesture more than a show of mirth. "If that's all, I have a handful of messages to answer from yesterday."
Indeed, he had a stack of little pink notes in his hand. They used to be plain old pale yellow ones, but since Reba Garcia had taken over as receptionist, there'd been a few colorful changes around the office.
Duncan shuffled through them before a final glance up at Sadie. "Lunch?"
Sadie did some quick calculating. She'd milked Duncan for all he was worth — at least all she'd risk. She didn't want him to guess she was on a recon mission. "Actually, I think I might've made plans with Nina. Can you ask her to give me a buzz?"
He nodded absently, back to his messages. "You got it." Then he disappeared.
Since she was already at the door of her office, Sadie peeked out into the large main room they referred to as the bookkeeping parlor. It played host to the bookkeeping team and Kennedy, whose desk was clustered among the others in the center of the room in a complicated configuration designed to give each worker some semblance of privacy. The rear of the room held a fireplace made of dark maple, humbler by far than the grand marble monstrosity in the roomy client waiting area. Next to it, a wrought iron spiral staircase led to the upstairs offices and conference room.
Sadie waved at Kennedy, who waved back with a bored frown, and thanked her lucky stars for her private office. There were four of them, one at each corner of the bookkeeping parlor, sporting panes of frosted glass etched with aspen trees. The two offices across from Sadie's belonged to the firm's only junior accountant and the audit director. Next door to her, Wes Black's.
His last name suited him. He kept his gleaming black hair long enough to sweep to one side. His black eyes were unremarkable. While Sadie appreciated a man who understood the importance of grooming, Wes had a tendency to over-pluck his eyebrows. She could tell when he'd been at it recently, because they'd look penciled in for about a week, until they had time to grow in.
Women — Kennedy and Pearl Harris, the payroll clerk, in particular — found him terribly attractive. To Sadie, he was plain terrible. Unlike them, she had the benefit of experience to form a proper opinion.
She went back to the fax machine to retrieve the sheet from the paper tray and sat in her wheeled chair at the same time her interoffice call light lit up orange.
She snatched up the receiver and double-checked the line number on the digital display. "Hi, Nina. I'm hoping you learned something new about golden boy. Duncan won't tell me anything."
At least not anything Nina hadn't already told her.
"Well," Nina drawled in her theatrical manner, "I just might. You tend to get quite an education speaking one-on-one with a man."
This was why Nina was her "long-time" friend. Not her best friend. Her flair for the dramatic was exhausting, but damn if she wasn't a useful ally. Sadie attempted to sit back and cross her legs before the tight fabric of her skirt reminded her of her restrictions. She settled for crossing her ankles. "What d'you got? You think he's after Duncan's job?"
"I don't know, but if he is, you can step right on down, honey. This guy has chops. You know he audited a senator last year? I can't fathom why else he'd take Henry's job unless it's to bide his time before he can snag Duncan's. Could be that's their end game. I get the sense Duncan knows more than he's saying on the matter."
Sadie pressed her lips together. Duncan probably had a good idea of how mouthy of a secretary he had. He'd be cautious of giving Nina fuel to feed the gossip mill.
Nina sighed disappointedly. "Obviously, asking would be a tricky thing."
Sadie grunted in frustration. "I wouldn't normally care. I have my five-year plan, and a promotion would put me a few years ahead of schedule. But something about Wes's face makes me want to take a mallet to it. I can't work for him." Plus, he'd adore the chance to rub it in for the rest of eternity. "If Blake's gunning for Duncan's job, I'd rather he get it than Wes."
"Oh, come on, now. Don't give up! You deserve the promotion, and not a single person in this office would say otherwise. Except Wes, but don't mind him." Nina had big, round cheeks framed by a halo of frizzy chestnut hair, and plump little lips perpetually puckered. Sadie imagined them pursed sympathetically. "I'm as unhappy as you are, you know. You think I want to take calls and run errands for Severus Snape?"
Sadie snorted. The nickname did Wes justice. "I'll do my best to make sure it doesn't happen, Nina. Now, back to Blake. Learn anything juicy during your conversation with him?"
"Did I? Who're you talking to, girl?" Nina tutted. "It may not be anything as profound as his personal reasons for moving to Jackson, but I picked up a few details it couldn't hurt to have. For starters, he had to fax over a copy of his driver's license for me to book his airline flight from Los Angeles. I'm not sure it matters, since he might be the competition, but you ought to prepare yourself. Blake Cobb is a looker, honey."
Sadie rubbed her forehead. Perfect. Another Wes strutting around the office.
As if reading her mind, Nina sniffed. "Not like Wes. You know how some of the girls downstairs are about him, though, Lord help me, I can't figure out why."
"Me, neither." Sadie had long since let Wes's personality overrule his physical appeal. Kennedy thought Wes was the hottest thing to hit Earth since the sun. It didn't say much, of course. Kennedy could develop a crush on a stock photo.
Nina rambled on. "This Blake fella has sandy blond hair cut nice and neat the way a professional man ought to wear it" — a not-so-subtle dig at Wes — "and the most striking eyes. The kind of hazel that really stands out, you know? Deep green mixed with gold. Real stunning. And that's just his DMV photo! Now him, I wouldn't mind running around for. If you take my meaning."
Sadie huffed. "Great. We haven't even met the guy, and you've turned traitor."
"Oh, come now. I'm one of your best friends." Nina slipped into grandma mode, which Sadie begrudgingly admitted she found oddly consoling. It was like a superpower women earned the minute they hit sixty. "I'm merely saying, he's not a bad runner-up."
If Nina thought Blake was good-looking, Kennedy would probably have fits over him and declare herself madly in love at first sight.
Sadie tapped her fingernails across her desk. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow if he's apt to sweep me off my feet."
"Not likely with your history, sweetie."
Ouch. Sadie couldn't deny she had a hell of a track record. Not necessarily her fault, though. The ski bum had managed to keep his drug problem well-hidden the three months they'd dated. And how was she supposed to know the trust-funder had faked his job as a chef, slaving over another woman instead of a hot stove? Before those two, there'd been the guy who'd lived in his van and the deli owner with the alcohol -monitoring anklet.
Yep, she had a talent for attracting real losers. They were always good-looking, smooth as a glass surface, and hiding drastic, unmanageable flaws. Despite her embarrassing relationship rap sheet, she still believed she'd meet a man one day who wouldn't be anything more or less than what he advertised. She'd at least wait to hit forty before she gave up hope entirely.
She pursed her lips. "Given my history — thanks for that, by the way — if I do like him, we can pretty much take it on faith he's got skeletons doing a jig in a closet somewhere."
"Oh, hon." More sympathy. "It's not you, you know. It's where we are. The gender ratio is all out of whack. There are a dozen men for every female. You attract them like flies with your Snow White appeal."
Sadie despised the nickname. Her short black bob ended at her jawline. She kept it perpetually tucked behind her ears so the ends flipped out like little raven wings on the side of her head. She didn't particularly care for that, but the ear-tucking habit wasn't going anywhere, and she didn't have time to wrestle with long hair.
"Besides," Nina continued, "I have to admit. Blake sounded awfully formal on the phone. He's probably a boob. Not your type. In fact, we ought to do Amanda a favor and send her to the airport. They'd probably hit it off."
Amanda Avery was the daughter of Iris, the Avery half of Avery & Thorp. The boss's daughter. She was the head of the bookkeeping team and the most boring, sedate, mundane, unruffled human being Sadie had ever met in her life, the woman's wacky wardrobe notwithstanding.
Sadie slumped in her chair. "Just what we need — another humdrum accountant to make us all look bad."
* * *
Blake scanned the sidewalk for his name on a sign or someone waving from one of the three vehicles parked curbside. A topless Jeep, a red Ford pickup, and a minivan were his options so far. In his mind's eye, he was waiting for a newer model black sedan with tinted windows to pull up — a vehicle suited to a well-to-do accountant in one of the country's wealthiest counties.
The Jackson airport defied his expectations. The sidewalk out front for loading and picking up passengers was no larger than an L.A. bus stop, and the parking lot for the whole airport hardly competed with a Kmart's. Small and a little rundown, it had one major redeeming quality — the mighty, massive Tetons rising up in the distance, jagged peaks thrusting into thin wispy clouds as if they were too intimidated to hold their fluffy shape in such grand company.
Blake peered at the imposing summit of the Grand Teton — ten thousand feet in the air, a swift four thousand foot rise from the valley — and shook his head slightly in awe. Pictures hadn't prepared him for seeing the stunning, commanding mountains in real life, up close. In hollows between the razor sharp pinnacles sat white masses. Snow. In early September. Supposedly, a glacier lived up there somewhere, but he'd have to see it to believe it.
He swallowed and gave Seth his full attention. Difficult, between fumbling with his rolling suitcase, his cell phone, and the impossible view of the mountains. He turned his back on them, eyes toward the loading zone. "Look, bud, I think your mom will understand if you decide to go to Purdue in the spring."
Of course Quinn would mind, but she wouldn't tell Seth that.
Seth sighed wearily into the phone. "I know she will, but — Maddie, no! Sorry, Dad, she's trying to take the phone."
Blake grinned to himself as his eighteen-year-old son explained to his two-year-old half sister why she couldn't play with his pone right now.
Quinn's child with her new husband, Jack Decker, little Maddie had plowed into her terrible twos with gleeful impishness. A charming troublemaker, she'd give a winsome smile while putting JELL-O in your loafers, which made getting angry an impossibility. Annoyed, at times. Exasperated, definitely. Mostly amused.
She had her uncle Blake, and just about everyone else in the family, wrapped around her tiny, sticky fingers. "Sounds like Maddie's keeping you on your toes."
"Yeah, well, you were here two weeks ago when she learned to walk." Seth's wry tone held a hint of amusement. "Since then, she's discovered her range has expanded. She grabs everything. Last night, she went for Jack's glass of wine, and it spilled inside his guitar. I thought he would freak out, but he laughed and said his guitar would probably only play Irish pub songs from now on."
Excerpted from Running the Numbers by Roxanne Smith. Copyright © 2016 Roxanne Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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