Authors: Laura Trentham
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sports
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To Steve. For everything.
For my best friend Michelle for talking me off the ledge more than once.
For the best book club ever! Even though none them normally read romances, their excitement and support have meant the world. My plan to convert them all to romance readers one book at a time is in motion!
Richmond, Virginia, August
“I want Logan Wilde in the Atlanta restaurant as our lead chef as soon as humanly possible. I don’t care how, but make sure you bag him one way or another. Let’s face it, darling, you have a couple of weapons no one else at the table is in possession of.” Reginald Montgomery made vague hand motions before sliding a manila folder across the table.
Uncomfortable male laughter pinged around the conference table.
Jessica Montgomery wasn’t laughing. In fact, she had difficulty maintaining the cutting stare she’d perfected since moving into the executive tier of the family company. Her father leaned back in his plush leather office chair, while everyone else sat in straight-back wooden chairs like low-class serfs.
The challenge in his eyes bored a hole through her chest. To control the urge to throw the file in her father’s face and storm out, she imagined an anvil falling through the ceiling and landing on him in the manner of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Unfortunately for her, she felt like the unlucky, slightly pathetic coyote.
Silence stretched. Chairs filled with Montgomery Industries executives squeaked. She frantically searched for a witty retort. Her mouth opened, but nothing emerged. No doubt, the perfect comeback would pop into her head ten minutes from now. The take-no-prisoners shark behind Reginald Montgomery’s good-old-boy façade bared his teeth and swept his gaze around the table.
“Of course, Jessica knows I’m joking. My girl learned how to manipulate and negotiate from me.” He pointed in her direction. “You have two weeks to get the contract signed. Now, Potter, give me the rundown on our DC restaurant.”
A bead of sweat trickled out of Potter’s thinning hairline, and he brushed it away with the back of his hand. Montgomery’s lips twitched. He enjoyed making his employees squirm, his daughter included. She had a suspicion her father’s favorite hobby as a child was catching butterflies and pinning their wings to cardboard. He’d probably delighted in the insects’ struggles against his superiority. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the mark of a sociopath?
Normally any mention of Montgomery Industries financials had her sitting up and taking notes. After all, she needed to know the bottom line down to the decimal point if she was to earn the promotion to CFO. Potter’s voice droned between her father’s questions.
Vaguely listening to her father put Potter through his version of the Spanish Inquisition, she flipped open the portfolio on Logan Wilde. An article from a recent issue of
was on top. The grainy black-and-white picture showed a man in light pants and a dark button-down directing traffic in a spacious stainless steel kitchen. The frenetic energy of a typical restaurant kitchen came through in the picture, but she couldn’t tell much about the man except that he was trim, had short dark hair, and a clean-cut profile.
had deemed Logan Wilde an emerging talent in nouveau Southern cuisine. No culinary school was listed. An oversight, or was he self-taught? His restaurant, Adaline’s, was located in Falcon, Alabama, with a population of 10,000. How did such a small town support high-end dining?
The article went on to gush about his intense eyes and dedication to his grandmother’s memory. Seeing that the writer bequeathed him the title of sexiest restaurateur in America, Jessica checked the byline and wasn’t shocked to see a woman’s name. She rolled her eyes and snorted.
“Did you have something to add, Jessica?” her father asked.
She popped her head up to find everyone looking in her direction. Potter’s eyes begged her to put him out of his misery. She leaned over the table and stared at her father. “Actually, yes. Potter’s initial figures match up perfectly with the estimates we’ve received. You’re the one who insisted he reduce by twenty percent to satisfy investors, so it’s no surprise we’re over budget. And, it’s not
Someone to her right gasped. She didn’t turn to see who, but everyone between her and her father shrank back in their chairs, out of firing range.
“Meeting’s over,” he murmured.
Chairs scraped, papers rustled, conversations buzzed. Jessica gathered the folder and was half-standing when her father said, “Stay, Jessica.”
Feeling a little like a dog, she plopped back into her seat. If only she could play dead.
Avoiding her father’s glare, Jessica opened the portfolio and flipped the thin magazine page over, but the back featured a restaurant in Charleston. The next sheet detailed the financial offers her father had already made. As expected, the first one had been ridiculously low. The next one had been higher, but it was rejected over the phone. Montgomery’s final offer was substantial enough to have her eyebrows up, but it too had been rejected, this time in person.
Jessica’s snigger was mean-spirited and satisfying. Her father must have been livid. The conference room door swung shut, leaving them alone. A small amount of glee she couldn’t suppress lilted her words. “He rejected you.”
“No. He rejected my offer. You’re going to head to Alabama to sweeten the deal.”
“You seriously expect me to … what? Flirt and coo while I slide him the contract? He’ll be so distracted by my
”—she shot the word with sarcasm—“that he won’t know what he’s signing? Please.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself.”
Her chest expanded with a deep breath, her lips curled into a small smile. Was this actual approval?
“You aren’t the beauty queen your sister is, but when you fix yourself up, you’re not bad.”
The pseudo-compliment gouged the wound in her heart a fraction deeper. She hated that her father still had such power over her. Her foot tapped with suppressed energy. “He doesn’t want the job. Find someone who does. It won’t be difficult with the kind of money you’re offering.”
“Not an option. I need
She tried to catch her father’s eyes, but he kept his gaze down, picking lint off the sleeve of his jacket. “Need,” not “want.” A faint alarm sounded in her head, but she didn’t have time to pinpoint why. Her father went on the offensive.
“I don’t appreciate you calling into question my decisions during meetings, Jessica.”
“Well, I don’t appreciate you making jokes at my expense. How am I to gain respect when you belittle me?”
“You need to toughen up, girl. This is a hard business run by men. If you can’t take a little joke, maybe you’re not cut out for the boardroom. Maybe you belong in a smaller kitchen.” His eyebrows rose along with the corners of his mouth. He’d thrown out the bait he knew she couldn’t resist.
“We aren’t living in the fifties, old man. There are women CEOs and world leaders … what are you going to do if our next president is a woman? Tell her to bring you some coffee?”
“For a start. If you want to sit on Montgomery’s board as CFO, you have to prove you’re the best person for the job. I sure as shit won’t have anyone accusing me of nepotism.”
“No, just harassment. Of your own daughter, I might add. If I manage to get Logan Wilde to accept this job, everyone will assume I slept with him. And for goodness sake, quit calling me ‘girl’ at work. You are such a—”
A slew of epitaphs rolled through her head. Maybe he’d respect her more if she let them fly. But while her father had taught her how to make deals and negotiate, her mother had insisted she be schooled in the vanishing art of being a lady, which included refraining from vulgarities.
“—pig,” she finished weakly.
A banked anger flared in her father’s cheeks. He’d only been toying with her like a trapped butterfly. Now that he decided to rip her wings off, his dark-gray eyes went from hot coal to hard slate. “Let me put this another way. Get Logan Wilde to accept my offer or the CFO job is off the table for the foreseeable future.”
“That’s not fair!” The whine of her voice tossed her back into the trials of her childhood. The high heel of her shoe tapped against the wooden leg of her chair, and she slumped forward. Darn it, how did things degenerate?
The calm voice of her therapist tried to insert itself into the tornado of her resentment.
Deep breaths; let logic rule, not emotions; stay in control.
The words swirled and retreated out of reach.
“Life isn’t fair, it’s work,
The only way you’re moving up in my company is if you make deals. So get to making one. Nearest airport is Birmingham. I expect a report by the end of the week. Or sooner.”
Jessica’s mouth opened to offer an argument, or maybe an insult. She wasn’t sure what she’d been ready to say. Her father stalked out the door, leaving her sitting in the conference room alone.
It didn’t matter that she was twenty-nine, a 4.0 graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and the youngest executive at Montgomery Industries, childish tears sprang to her eyes. She didn’t know if she was madder at her father or at her own lack of gumption. Maybe he was right. Maybe she didn’t deserve to be CFO. Maybe she wasn’t tough enough.
Muffled laughter came from the hallway. Two men from the meeting walked by with Styrofoam cups of coffee. Both glanced in her direction. Were they laughing at her?
She flipped back to the magazine article, keeping her eyes down. A few blinks cleared her vision, and with several deep, practiced breaths, a calm, icy control descended, smothering her out-of-control emotions.
Logan Wilde had obviously charmed the pants off the writer—maybe literally—which hinted at a smarmy businessman interested in publicity, yet he’d turned her father’s generous offer down. Reginald Montgomery was both intimidating and persuasive, often at the same time. A potent combination. How was she to succeed where her father had failed?
Yet, if she did succeed, the dream job he continuously dangled just out of reach would be hers. Her pride urged her to march into her father’s office and tell him to shove it where the sun don’t shine, but her logical side applied the salve.