Tempting the New Boss ONLY
a Sleeping with the Enemy novel by Angela Claire
Sometimes you have to break the rules…
He’s quirky, but irresistible.
Eccentric CEO Mason Talbot may be missing a few social skills, but when he meets his alluring new lawyer Camilla, he turns on the charm. Well, his kind of charm….
She’s a good girl…with a wild side.
An affair with the boss, a plane crash and getting stranded in the freezing wilds, makes Camilla’s first day on the job unforgettable. Now all she needs to do is survive the rest.
A new job, a new love…a new life. But while she’s tempting the boss, will she also be testing herself?
Title: Tempting the New Boss
Series: Sleeping with the Enemy, #3
Author: Angela Claire
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 249 pages
Release Date: October 2015
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
Sleeping with the Enemy series novels by author Angela Claire:
Book one: Tempting the CEO
Book two: Tempting the Corporate Spy
Book three: Tempting the New Boss
An Excerpt from:
Tempting the New Boss
by Angela Claire
Copyright © 2015 by Angela Claire. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
|“It’s polite to shake a new employee’s hand when it’s extended.” Mason Talbot’s administrative assistant interrupted his reading of the draft Annual Report.|
A woman stood next to Marcia. She was a little younger than him, late twenties maybe, and sported a wide, over-eager smile along with the usual polished exterior of a lawyer. Navy suit. First-day-of-work string of pearls. He took the young woman’s outstretched hand and obligingly shook it.
“Camilla Anderson. Nice to meet you, Mr. Talbot.”
“Yeah. You, too.” No magic sparks erupted between them. He didn’t touch her and know she would be his future. He didn’t think much of lawyers. At all. One way or the other. They were a necessary evil as far as he was concerned. He dropped her hand and turned to Marcia. “Can I have my report back now?”
He was trying to get through the legalese of the report and sign off on it by the time he left for his trip. Reading and rereading every sentence to get the general gist of it was slowing him down. He’d solved calculus equations that were less complex.
“No. You have to leave. You can read it on the plane.”
“I thought I had two hours?”
“We’re fitting a meeting in on the way. Greg Porter called and said it couldn’t wait. No prep needed. Just introductory.” She handed him his briefcase.
“What is it?”
“Project Ripper. It’s moving faster than they expected.”
“Oh, European component supply. Right. I care about that one.”
“Which is why I put it on your schedule. Now what about the dinner next month? I have to let them know.” She waved an invitation that she had been hounding him about for the last couple days.
“No. No way.”
“You don’t have to give a speech. Just say ‘thank you’ for the award and be on your way. You care about that one, too. You know you do. All the money you’ve spent on—”
“Forget it. Let’s go, uh…”
“Camilla. Her name is Camilla”
“Where’s what’s-his-name? The usual one?”
“Sam got tired of you shouting at him and forgetting his name. He said he didn’t go to Yale for that. He quit. Camilla here is his replacement.”
The new hire played with her pearls, a twist of the single strand around her index finger, and treated him to that wide smile again. Glossy cherry lips and teeth so white they put her jewels to shame. He had a sudden vision of tilting her heart-shaped chin up and running his tongue along the gloss, savoring the fruity taste of her. Unclasping the necklace to let it drop slowly into the satiny crevice between her breasts. Fishing it out with long strokes on her bare skin along the way.
Mason shrugged into his jacket, missing the armhole twice before he finally got it on, and looked away. Okay, that was weird. And not good. Where the hell had that come from? He had never looked at a suit—his term for one of the troop of business executives who kept his company humming—with that in mind, no matter how attractive she was. Suits were for advancing more important business agendas.
He strode out the door with the new lawyer behind him. “I hope you didn’t go to Yale,” he said over his shoulder.
“Well, that’s a little better.”
“Camilla, hang back a minute,” Marcia called out. “I’ve told the limousine to wait. You go on ahead downstairs, Mason.”
|Sam Shreeman had tried to talk Camilla out of taking his old job, but the salary Talbot, Inc. offered spoke louder. She’d done her research on Mason Talbot before she applied for the job as his corporate counsel, and everything she saw on the record was admirable. Degree from Caltech, Ph.D. at twenty-five, CEO of his own company one short year later, and a billionaire by thirty.|
“Forget the record,” Shreeman had advised, “the man is practically Asperger-Syndrome-worthy.”
And this from the guy who was interviewing her for the job. Even if her predecessor’s unflattering portrait of Talbot wasn’t sour grapes, all she needed to do was manage to last one measly year. Then she could pay off her student loans and finally be free of the worst decision she’d ever made. Going to law school.
Uncomfortable with slurs involving developmental disorders, however, she had reminded Shreeman about the generous severance package he bragged he was getting “to keep his mouth shut”—otherwise known as a non-disparagement agreement—and he admitted, “You’re right. It was just a joke anyway. But man, Talbot is downright odd. Acts like he doesn’t know you’re in the room half the time and the other half he treats you like shit.”
Was that all? She was used to being treated like shit. She’d worked as an associate at a New York meat grinder, er, law firm, before they had the gall to repay her hundred-hour working weeks by laying her off to maintain profit margins.
Talbot’s matronly assistant gestured to the black leather sofa in the corner of the office, bigger than Camilla’s entire studio apartment, and placed what looked like an invitation on the coffee table, before taking a seat beside her.
A large woman with a shock of gray hair trailing down her back in a thick braid, Marcia White dressed in peasant skirts that spoke to comfort in her own body after five or so decades and referred to her boss like a recalcitrant child. Camilla was already a fan.
The assistant batted the invitation around on the coffee table with one finger, and Camilla couldn’t help but notice the gold embossed script against the white background. A thank you dinner for our generous sponsor. There was a yellow logo of a smiley face that seemed out of keeping with the otherwise elegant invitation. Camp for Kids it said.
“It’s so nice to meet Mr. Talbot finally,” Camilla offered.
“Yeah, Mason’s a doll,” Ms. White said. “But the thing is, he’s not so good with his, ah, social skills. I won’t get into his family, er, personal background. But let’s just say he’s a little awkward sometimes, with people I mean.”
Camilla didn’t even dare nod. Was this some kind of post-employment test?
“I have a little job for you, Camilla. Something to keep your eye on while you’re doing all that legal crap.”
“Of course. Is it something to do with that invitation?”
She looked down at the white square of cardboard and laughed, as if she’d forgotten she had it, then gave it a rest. “This? No, this is a cause Mason gives a load of money to and just refuses to let them thank him for it.”
Marcia scooted forward. “Now you’re a smart lawyer, Camilla, but there were about a hundred other smart lawyers applying for this job, and I didn’t want another Shreeman, nice as the poor kid was.”
“So when I saw your resume and did a little more fact checking on you, about your background and all, and then you came in, I could see right away you were what we needed around here.”
“And what was that?”
“Somebody to teach Mason some manners.”
It was about the last thing she expected the assistant to say. She laughed, starting to stand. “I’ll do my best.”
Marcia yanked her back down. “I’m not kidding. With that big family of yours, you got skills from the cradle Mason doesn’t know the first thing about. How to get along with people. How to, well, hide a little of yourself in a crowd. Blend in.”
On interview day, the assistant had asked a lot about Camilla’s big brood of an Irish Catholic family, eight kids in all. But of course everybody asked about that when they found out. Although it had been commonplace in her neighborhood back in Detroit, in New York it was as unusual as saying she’d been raised Amish. How did your mother remember all your names?
“That’s nice of you to say but—”
“And then with your PR training—”
“Not exactly training. It was more like a class or two in college.”
“—and your psychology degree—”
“Just a minor.”
“You have all the right tools to take somebody like Mason and make him, well, a little smoother when he deals with people. Like I said, sort of teach him some manners.”
“I don’t think I’d be very good at that.”
“You’ll do fine.”
“What I mean to say is I’m not comfortable with it. Correcting my boss or guiding him on anything non-legal, that is. I’d rather not.”
“It was in the job description. Footnote three. Check it out if you like.”
She mentally called up the vague reference to other duties as specified by etc. etc. It was always the fine print that got you. “No need. I concede the point.”
The assistant stood up. “Thanks so much, hon. I look forward to seeing how you do.”
Camilla smiled, recognizing an immovable force when she ran into one. “No problem. I’m on it.”
So in addition to the Uniform Commercial Code and Securities Acts, it looked like she needed to pick up an etiquette guide for this job.
|When she got back down to the limousine, apologizing profusely for the delay, the driver nodded, and Talbot, sitting across from her, barely acknowledged her presence, staring out the window at the rainy, snarled Manhattan traffic. The car pulled out, and she pretended to read her iPhone, as if she might have some important emails to scan when in fact her work email wasn’t even set up yet.|
Her new boss was a little quiet—actually completely silent—but after years of listening to blowhard superiors, in title if nothing else, and seven noisy siblings, quiet was a refreshing change. She decided against trying to start a conversation right off, since he seemed distracted. It gave her an opportunity to study him.
Business casual didn’t begin to describe Talbot’s style. Student casual was more like it. Homeless casual may have even been closer to the truth. The jacket he’d shrugged into on his way out of the office was of a muddy color that had once been tweed but was worn down to a smooth sheen, ill-fitting at that, and his shirt was a simple T-shirt with a slogan on it that she couldn’t quite read. The jeans and tennis shoes completing his outfit were beaten up enough to look chic, but she doubted that was on purpose. He clearly didn’t care what he looked like.
Interesting, then, that the rest of him actually looked quite yummy. Sure, she’d been working nonstop since she passed the bar and hadn’t shared her bed in almost as long as that, but she still recognized attractive when she saw it.
With his overlong curly black hair, dark blue eyes, and inky lashes, Talbot had a distinctly Byronic thing going on, with none of the eccentric or tyrannical undertones her predecessor had hinted at.
Even now, she couldn’t help but notice his long fingers, nails short and blunt, as he rested them against his full lower lip, or the way his chin was slightly squared, making his angular face more than just planes and hollows. His legs, which took up most of the space between the two sides of the limo, were crossed as he leaned toward the window, completely still. What was going on in his head? She thought about his assistant’s surprising last-minute addition to her work responsibilities. He didn’t look the slightest bit ill at ease or awkward.
But most people didn’t sit in absolute silence with a new employee. Small talk might be a nice way to ease into the gentle tutoring that she supposed she should be flattered Marcia wanted her to undertake. So she said, “Horrible weather we’re having, isn’t it? And it’s not even April showers, right? What do October showers bring I wonder. Halloween?”
No slight turn of his head in her direction. No hum. And above all no talk, small or otherwise. It was as if he hadn’t heard, glued to the sight of the bleary city streets, blaring honks punctuated by jarring starts and stops, not just for the limousine, but all the cars around them. An occasional biker veered in and out of traffic for variety, risking his life in the name of whatever package he was delivering.
“I don’t know how they do that,” she tried again, leaving the statement ambiguous so as to prompt the obvious response. Who? Or even You mean bikers?
But again there was nothing. Thinking of her little brother, Joey, who was hard of hearing, among his other issues, she wondered if maybe that was part of Talbot’s problem. Was it possible he had some hearing loss and was hiding it behind his aloof exterior?
“I said I don’t know how they do it. Bikers.” Spoken as loudly as she would to Joey if he wasn’t facing her.
That did the trick. He turned sharply toward her. “Is there some reason why you’re shouting at me?”
“Oh, sorry.” She forced a laugh. “I thought maybe you hadn’t heard me. Just making conversation.”
His phone buzzed with a text, and he glanced at it, then at her. “I thought you were my lawyer.”
“Hmmm.” He pocketed his phone. “Marcia says it’s going to be part of your job to make me more amenable to people and help me with my social skills.”
Her mouth dropped open.
“Of which she says I don’t have any.”
She was starting to think maybe the assistant didn’t, either.
One corner of his mouth turned up, a dimple making him look boyish. “Good luck with that,” he murmured.
The limousine stopped, and the driver came around to the curb to get their door. An open umbrella was clutched in his hand, but Talbot walked right by it, long strides in the rain toward the Time-Life Building just beyond the slippery sidewalk.
Camilla clasped her computer bag, accepting the umbrella from the driver with a smile of thanks and, taking care not to slip on her four-inch heels, rushed after Talbot who was already in the grips of the revolving door. He was rustling around in his pockets a few feet from the lobby desk when she caught up to him.
“Forgot your ID?”
He nodded. “Left it at the office. This damn checking in.”
“Let me try something. Can I have your phone?” She tapped out a quick text to Marcia, and a moment later had what she had asked for. She brought the phone to the front desk, slipping her own ID out from the wallet in her computer bag.
The guard, weary from a million self-important folks trying to bully him day in and day out, faced her stonily. “ID please.”
She smiled and held out her own as well as the screen of Talbot’s phone for the text with the shot, front and back, of his ID that Marcia had sent at her request. The guard took both. “Stand in front of the camera please.”
He snapped her picture and handed both the phone and ID back along with one entrance badge. “You can go ahead, Miss Anderson, but the other guy, who may or may not be Mr. Talbot, better go on back home and get himself some ID. A picture of something ’aint that something.”
Behind her, Mason observed, “That’s a pretty arbitrary distinction that’s eroding with the advance of technology. Consider Apple-Pay, for example, which is essentially a picture of cash, not the cash itself.”
If looks could kill, it wouldn’t matter that the guard wasn’t actually armed. Or she hoped he wasn’t.
“This man is just doing his job,” she said in a reproving tone.
The guard’s nod in response to her sentiment was a step in the right direction. A line formed behind them.
“It’s my first day,” she confided as she returned her ID to her wallet, laughing in what she hoped would be construed as nerves, well, actually, really were nerves. “And this is my new boss.” She leaned a little forward to the guard and added in a lower voice, “I’m sorry about this. We’ll just have to go back to the office and get his ID. He probably thinks I should have reminded him about it. You know how that is. Anyway, it’s just we have a flight after this and—”
She glanced back at the line and moved to the side, pulling Talbot with her, the solid muscle beneath the damp tweed slightly disconcerting. “But we’re holding things up.”
A man in a Burberry overcoat, five thousand dollar briefcase in hand, slapped his ID on the marble counter with an impatient huff. “I’m late for a meeting.”
The guard eyed him before turning back to Camilla. “Let me see that phone again.”
She complied and he took his time about it, staring at the screen, then at Talbot, the line getting longer and the raincoat guy’s face getting redder.
“I guess this’ll do.”
One photo of the screen and one of Talbot and they had another entrance badge.
She grinned at the guard. “I appreciate it.”
“This really your first day or you just say that to get me to help you?”
She laughed. “I would have if I had to. But no, it really is my first day.”
The guard smiled. “Good luck then.”
When they boarded the crowded elevator, everyone shaking off like wet dogs, her unorthodox boss didn’t push a button and Camilla asked, “What floor is the meeting on?”
“I have no idea.”
The elevator ascended.
“You’ve never been to your outside counsel’s?”
“I’ve been here a hundred times. I don’t pay attention.”
They stopped at sixteen to let a woman off. At seventeen somebody else.
“I’ll call Marcia,” he said.
Camilla shook her head, resolving to get a copy of the itinerary herself from now on. “I might have the firm name in my case.” She started to fumble with the latch as the elevator moved up.
“Starts with a B,” he offered. “Bingham. Bangum. Something like that.”
A guy whose elbow was unintentionally crowding her asked, “Bannum Strauss?”
Her boss nodded. “That’s it.”
“You’re in luck. You haven’t missed it. Top floor.”
The helpful guy pushed the button for them and got off to Camilla’s thanks a few floors later. For the last leg of the ascent, even though the car stopped periodically at certain floors before getting to theirs for some reason, Camilla was alone with her boss.
“Speaking of social skills,” she said, as gently as she could, “one of them is to say thanks.”
“Not to me. To the guard.”
“Why? Wasn’t that his job?”
“But he went out of his way to help us when you didn’t have the right ID.”
“Not until you smiled at him and acted all—” He stopped, as if he’d just made the connection.
“Nice? See, that’s the point. That poor guy has people complaining all day about what he has to do, and 9/11 was not his fault.”
“Someone said 9/11 was his fault?”
“No, I mean the security. Never mind. Just, you know what they say?”
“A little honey, right?”
He gave her a blank look, his gaze dipping to her neck. Was there something on her collar? She glanced down to discover fingers twirling her pearls. “Nervous habit,” she said and dropped her hand to her side.
They both looked at the elevator door as they felt the car settling.
“And the good Samaritan who gave us the right floor. Wasn’t he being nice? He deserved a thank-you, too, right?”
She felt ridiculous, like a kindergarten teacher.
“He was looking down your blouse.”
“He was not!”
“Yes, he was. He was about my height. You were below us. I could tell.”
So she guessed he noticed more things than he let on.
The door opened to the floor they wanted, and he put his hand on her back to usher her out of the elevator, a politesse she wouldn’t have expected along with a jolt at the physical contact, like when she put her hand on his arm before.
The elevator closed behind them to the massive glass doors of Bannum Strauss.
When they entered the spacious two-story lobby of the law firm, a sleek brunette behind the reception desk spread her raspberry red lips in a welcoming smile. “So nice to see you again, Mr. Talbot. I’ll let Greg know you’re here.”
While she was dialing, Talbot wandered off to the floor-to-ceiling windows, hands behind his back. She didn’t follow.
The receptionist crooked a finger at her, and Camilla went closer.
“You work for him?” she asked.
“As of today I do.”
The brunette gave a furtive look his way. “I think he is so hot.”
Camilla laughed. “Uh, okay.”
“Come on, you have to admit it.”
“I just work for him.”
“Lucky you. One glance from those deep blue eyes and I was, like, whoa. The way he sort of looks right through you. I pray for Greg to schedule a meeting. Does he have a girlfriend?”
“Sorry. No idea. I just met him for the first time today. But, hey, give it a shot.”
“As if. I’ve flirted as outrageously as I can, but he ignores me.”
“Yeah, it seems like he’s got a lot on his mind.”
“I could really help him with his wardrobe sense.”
“Who couldn’t?” Camilla said, and they laughed, both looking over to where Talbot was shaking hands with a plump balding man who had descended on the circular central stairway in the lobby.
The two men met her at the desk, and Greg Porter introduced himself to Camilla, then led them to a conference room, saying he would let everyone else know Mr. Talbot was there.
Camilla looked around and took a seat at a walnut table that would not look out of place in the UN headquarters where they actually might need fifty places at a table.
Talbot paced around the room, ending up in front of the picture window, gazing down at the tiny building blocks of Manhattan through sheets of water and tapping his fingers against the glass in rhythm to the rain. He tackled the coffee on the sidebar next, pouring a cup with such a rattle he finally set it down, leaving it there, and resumed his stance at the window. She glanced at the half-filled cup, more liquid on the saucer than inside the rim. Had his hands been shaking? He had them in his pockets now, so she couldn’t tell.
She hadn’t noticed any of this restless energy in the limo, where he’d been all still and Spock-like. He almost looked nervous, though that would be ridiculous. As a CEO, he must be the veteran of dozens of these kinds of meetings.
“I wonder why we’re in such a huge room,” she mused. “I doubt there’ll be more than ten people here.”
“Not if I’m supposed to be here. It’ll be a huge crew.”
|Jesus, he hated these dog and pony shows, as Marcia called them in the early days. He wished he could just send an email to the deal team, saying what he would pay and when he wanted to close and that would be the end of it from his perspective. But he’d been told time and time again that wasn’t how it was done. Instead, he had to sit in on the first meeting, feeling as claustrophobic as ever by all the glad-handing, and let his lawyers posture for him and his bankers pretend they were giving him the deal of the century on the financing. There was a march to it all, and he felt distinctly out of step.|
Had, ever since the very first meeting, years ago, when the company was no more than an idea on paper and a line of credit he had a slim chance of paying off without additional backers. Then, he and Marcia had cobbled together some half-ass presentations, no graphics even, and showed up in a room about as big as this, with an audience who had only given him an hour because his old professor from Caltech consulted on Wall Street and had rounded them up as a favor. In exchange he promised the prof a quarter of one percent of the company, which had eventually enabled the guy to buy a sprawling ranch in Northern California, though he hadn’t known it would at the time. Nobody believed in the idea except him and maybe Marcia.
Now he had a virtual army devoted to the cause, all of them wanting a piece of it. Mason glanced at his new lawyer, Camilla. Marcia was always trying to give him tricks to remember people’s names, and for the most part he ignored them. The name came to him if it was important enough, and if it wasn’t, well, enough said. But he suspected he wasn’t forgetting this young woman’s name. For one thing, she seemed very capable. Getting him through security without an ID, for example. If he’d been with Shreeman, he would have been yelling at Shreeman, who in turn would have been yelling at the guard and, in sum, they’d be a half hour late to the meeting because they had to go back to the office for some ID.
Which reminded him, he should have Marcia send a messenger with his driver’s license out to the plane.
About to instruct Camilla, the thought went right out of his head as she smiled at him. She had been so, er, nice to the guard. Marcia was right. He probably could learn from her. She smiled an awful lot. It seemed to be her de facto facial expression. And when the odd fellow in the elevator had looked down her blouse, he was disturbed to find himself in sync with it. The swell of her breasts were just visible over the cream silk. And then the fucking pearls.
He could think of someplace else to put those. Draped over her bare breasts. Between her thighs.
He snapped his attention back to the window, trying to keep his mind off that kind of thing and on the deal at hand. Unfortunately, it didn’t make him any more comfortable. It was silly really. There was no good reason to feel so ill at ease, so jittery that he couldn’t pour a cup of coffee. He just needed to get through one more meeting.
But all it took was the memory of his first presentation, with one very memorable participant, to make his palms sweat at the prospect of sitting at a conference table. She who shall not be named. As one of his initial investors, she’d insisted on attending, poring over a pad of paper she had brought along, scribbling notes as if to correct him later on. He was probably the only wanna-be entrepreneur on Wall Street who was forced to bring his mother to his financing pitch.
When the presentation was over and the group still streaming out, she approached the podium and said as loudly as she could, “Well, that was a fiasco. Back to the drawing board I guess.”
He had never enjoyed anything so much as writing her a check the next week out of the proceeds from the 100 percent investor participation after the meeting. Nothing had tasted as sweet as buying that woman the hell out of his company.
Even now, about to sit down to a meeting, he always had in the back of his mind the fear that his disapproving mother was going to show up.
|The conference room door opened, and enough people to fill the UN-sized table flooded in. A crew, just as her boss had said. And every one of them, mostly middle-aged white men in suits, crowded in on Talbot in front of the window to introduce themselves. He was lost in a sea of handshakes and a flurry of business cards.|
Camilla watched the fawning for a minute, but then on impulse rose from her seat and threaded her way through the gray suits. Half a dozen men leaned into her boss, all of them talking over each other with an intensity she heard before she got there. It almost looked like a football huddle, except wasn’t the quarterback supposed to be giving the orders? Talbot stood stock-still, gaze fixed on a point just over the heads of the other men, alternated with looking at his feet.
“Mr. Talbot.” Her voice was loud enough to cut through the chatter. She didn’t know about social skills, but being in a large family had certainly taught her to project, as she’d proved in the limousine.
He raised his gaze, and though his eyes were hooded, she read relief in them. She gestured back to the table. “We’re pressed for time. We should get started.”
After holding one arm out, she shepherded her boss to his seat, putting herself between him and Porter, who talked in low tones to the man at his right.
Once everyone sat down, Porter assumed control of the meeting. “For the benefit of most of you here, and so you’ll know who you’re talking to on the next all-hands conference call, let’s go around and introduce ourselves. I’m Greg Porter, Senior Partner at Bannum Strauss in Mergers and Acquisitions, and I’m the primary outside counsel for Talbot, Inc.”
He went on to list the last five deals he’d done with Talbot, Inc. in some detail. When the lawyer finally finished and signaled they would go along the table counter-clockwise, she said, “I’m Camilla Anderson, inside counsel for Talbot, Inc.”
She hoped with the one sentence to set the tone for brevity.
Everyone turned to Talbot, who was reading a few of the business cards he had been handed. There was an awkward silence. “Mr. Talbot,” she said quietly. She could feel fifty pairs of eyes focusing on him.
One of the younger men in an expensive suit on the opposite side of the table broke into a tight, closed lip smile and whispered something into the ear of the clone next to him, who suppressed a chuckle.
“Oh, sorry.” He scrunched his eyes, consulted the ceiling, fluorescent lights far above them, as if trying to remember. “Mason Talbot,” he said, and then he was back to the business cards, stacking them in tidy piles.
The man to the left of him did not carry on. In fact, everybody still zeroed in on the CEO, fascinated by the oddity of one of the rare species not taking the floor in a burst of exuberant confidence, all of them waiting to see what he would do next.
Remembering the spilled coffee on the saucer, Camilla jumped into the void. “You know,” she joked, “the guy who’ll be paying most of your bills?”
Polite laughter as she caught the eye of the man to the left of Talbot and prompted, “And you are?”
She didn’t notice the rest of the names and bios so much as Talbot next to her reading those cards and scribbling on the back of each one, doodles when she looked closer, constantly adjusting and readjusting his position in his chair, jiggling his foot. Occasionally, he consulted the ceiling again.
A half hour later, as they were discussing the timetable, Talbot offered his first comment, to no one in particular, his eyes still on the cards. “This is wrong. I said I want to be done in a month. Not three.”
Rustling of papers along the table and she took a quick look at the schedule for the deal on the handout they’d all been given. The timing did appear to be about a month too fat, if not more. “What is this long span in the middle for?” she asked the other participants. “It just says diligence. Why would it take four weeks to go through a data room?”
Porter responded to her in low tones. “We need to inspect the factories overseas. Standard procedure. What firm did you say you trained at?”
“Where are the factories? The moon?” she whispered back.
Turning the pages of the handout, she said, louder, “No really. All kidding aside, where are the operations? It doesn’t say.”
Another gray suit down the table answered. “Eastern Europe mostly. But we’re also hitting some investor meetings while we’re over there. Western Europe primarily for those. Paris, Rome, London. Maybe Prague.”
In other words, a boondoggle on Talbot’s dime while he waited for his deal to close.
There was some uncomfortable shifting along the table as she left a long pause that indicated she knew it.
“I think we can whittle those four weeks down to one,” she said with a smile. “Don’t you?”
Talbot’s phone rang, and after listening for a minute, he leaned over to whisper to her, his breath tickling her ear as she fought down the slight twinge of pleasure from the simple gesture. “We have to get out of here. Weather. Can you make the excuses?”
She nodded and he was out the door.
It took her another five minutes to make her exit, but when she got back to the limousine and climbed in, Talbot wasn’t there. “Oh? Where is he?” she asked the driver.
“Didn’t he leave with you?”
“No problem, miss. He must have turned the wrong way when he exited the building. He does that a lot. I’ll look for him.”
It was pouring outside, and Talbot didn’t have an umbrella. About to hand the driver the one he’d given her, she said instead, “No, I’ll go. I’m already damp. You stay here.”
Umbrella hoisted to cover as much of her first-day best suit as possible, she walked back to the entrance and then rounded a corner of the building, catching sight of him half a block away, crouched down, his back to her. Hurrying along, wondering if he dropped something, she realized he was having a conversation—completely oblivious to the rain, forearms perched on his knees—with a homeless man sitting under a cardboard construction. Her billionaire boss who couldn’t be bothered with an umbrella was drenched, and the man in the weathered army green jacket and scraggly beard was completely dry in his makeshift shelter. It must be cold for the poor man sitting on the wet ground, though. She wanted to give a donation, but then remembered she’d left her wallet in the car. Was that what Talbot was doing? She didn’t see a container for money. Not even the usual sign. Army Vet or Will work for food.
The homeless situation in New York was so sad. She knew there were problems all over the nation, she and her sisters had always volunteered in soup kitchens in Detroit, but nowhere was the issue more visible than in the Big Apple, where people with more money than they knew what to do with stepped over others who didn’t have any. Case in point with her new boss. Only he wasn’t stepping over this man. He was talking to him.
“Mr. Talbot,” she said when she reached him, trying to hold the umbrella over them both as he felt around inside his jacket, then in his outside pocket for something.
“Oh, here you go. Wait.” He pulled back the business card he had just extracted to read it and then handed it to the guy. “No, it’s mine. I have so many cards in there I wanted to make sure I wasn’t giving you the number of a banker.”
“That wouldn’t do me no good,” the man joked.
“They don’t do anybody any good, Frank. No, that’s my assistant’s number, just call her and she’ll set it up.” He patted the top of the shelter, and thankfully it didn’t come down on the man’s head.
“Ingenious.” Talbot stood, losing the protection of the umbrella, and turned to her. “Oh, there you are. I couldn’t find the limousine.”
“It’s this way.” She tried to keep on umbrella duty, holding it high enough for both of them, but he walked ahead, his long gait too fast for her.
He didn’t say a word after they climbed into the limousine, the view out his window once again apparently impossible to miss.
As the limo pulled out into traffic with a jerk, she laid off the small talk. They could download about the meeting another time. Midtown traffic hadn’t geared up to its climactic gargantuan fuck-up as yet, and the limousine had to run up on the curb of the expressway only once or twice to jump a slower vehicle. A smooth ride comparatively speaking. It was only twelve miles to Teterboro, the private airport where a corporate jet awaited.
In the muted light of the drizzle all around them, Talbot’s face appeared paler than it had in the fluorescents, making his hair seem even darker, like a gypsy’s with all its wild curls. If he looked at her, she felt sure his eyes would be an even deeper blue, contrasts all around. Like him to begin with.
“What were you doing with the homeless man?”
“Just admiring the construction of his shelter. It was three-plied. Very sturdy.”
“He didn’t pick a very good place to squat, though. Outside the Time-Life Building. The police will probably move him along. Can’t have the tourists tripping over homeless folks. It’s so sad.”
He said nothing.
“Why did you give him your card?”
“I want him to work for me.”
“Uh…really? Doing what?”
“Not sure yet. But building something like that, in the rain, no resources.” He shrugged. “There are all different kinds of intelligences.”
It was a sentiment everybody in her family had expressed, many times, and firmly believed. Not something she heard elsewhere, though, especially in this city where they worshiped at alters of elite degrees and bursting bank balances.
Talbot took out his phone and tapped on it, undoubtedly a text to Marcia about the man who would be calling her.
“His name was Frank,” she offered, and he glanced up, smiling.
A warm sensation formed in the pit of her stomach.
When he put his phone away, he said, “I hate those big meetings, by the way. But they tell me my attendance is mandatory.”
“It’s a lot of posturing,” she agreed. “They talk to hear themselves, while everybody’s meter was running.”
“So, Marcia says you’re going to teach me some manners,” he reminded her. “Actually, she sold it to me more like coping skills. In any case, you can start there because I feel as uncomfortable as hell in those types of situations, everybody trying to get at me. Makes me want to reach for the hand sanitizer.”
“And I never have anything to say while they all look at me sort of accusingly for it. I don’t give a shit, but…”
She wondered if that was true, her fingers automatically straying to her pearls. His eyes followed the motion. Maybe she’d sit on her hands.
“Well, we could try something, if you want. It worked in all my PR classes.” And in her psychology class with certain phobias, though she declined to mention it. “You pretend I’m a stranger at a meeting, just like in there.”
“You are a stranger. Pretty much.”
“Right. But let’s say I know you, by reputation of course.”
She rolled her eyes, but one corner of his mouth came up, the dimple she’d noticed before making even the hint of his smile very attractive.
“Didn’t you ever act out plays or anything when you were a kid with your siblings?”
“I don’t have any siblings. That I know of.”
“Oh.” She’d walked right into that one. “Well, with friends then? Even if it wasn’t actually a play, but more like cops and robbers or army sergeant and cadets?”
She and her sisters had played the military one. As the game was age-correlated, however, she was always relegated to cadet, being at the bottom of the brood. Such was life.
The dimple disappeared. “I didn’t have many friends.”
She coughed. “Well, that’s a difficult time. Childhood, I mean. Or it can be.”
She thought of the graceful old Tudor, three stories in all, where she had been raised, with faded hardwood floors and carpets beaten down under generations of little feet. Dogs that got bigger and more numerous each year, and cats that had litters before anybody even knew they hadn’t been spayed, the kittens as tiny as mice when you perched them on your palm. Pure chaos. And tremendous fun.
She had loved her childhood, but not everybody was lucky enough to have warm enveloping protection all mixed in with rowdy camaraderie, and of course love.
“The important thing, Mr. Talbot, is you’ve made a success of yourself and of course you have friends now.”
He opened his mouth and she forged on, determined he not correct her. “So let’s role-play. I’ll be that person trying to shake your hand and talk to you, and you think of something you want to say. No rush. No pressure. And next time you’re in that situation, you won’t feel at a loss. Let’s try it.”
She extended her hand, and though he looked doubtful, he took it, the blue eyes concentrating on her face, first only her eyes, but then he seemed to take a trip along the whole expanse, the cheeks, the hair, the chin. She suddenly wished she had worn more makeup, not the quick swipe of mascara and blush and the dab of glossy lipstick probably gone by now.
Unlike the brief handshake they had shared at his office, the prolonged clasp of his large, long-fingered hand over hers felt intimate. His breath seemed to come a little quicker. She knew hers did.
Seated opposite each other in the limo, they both leaned forward until they were only inches apart. She swallowed, remembering what it was she was supposed to be doing. “Ah, okay.” She pasted a brighter smile on her glossless lips. “So, Mr. Talbot, I’m so honored to meet you. I’ve read all about your company and I think—um, let’s make her—”
“The person I’m pretending to be. Let’s make her an investment banker because they are the absolute, bar none, pushiest. So I’ve read about your company, and I think you’re doing a fantastic job, but I know my firm could add fifty-whatever basis points to your stock and lower your debt cost a hundred-million basis points.”
She pursed her lips at the exaggeration.
“Now, take your time, just think about it. I’m shaking your hand, pressing you for future business, whatever, and you say…”
She waited, and with the hand that wasn’t shaking hers, he touched her strand of pearls, just one finger. So gently she almost thought she imagined it.
Then he said, “You have beautiful blue eyes.”
Damned if that wasn’t just what she was thinking!