Read Sandra Hill Online

Authors: Love Me Tender

Sandra Hill (2 page)

“Because you’re so much better in the charm department. Because women, no matter how intelligent, no matter what age, still harbor this fantasy about Prince Charming coming down the pike on a white horse to carry them off into the sunset. Because the only horses I’m acquainted with are at the track,” Dick answered with a grin. “Besides, it probably won’t come to that. Maybe Ms. Sullivan will be reasonable.”

“A reasonable shark? Somehow I doubt it.”

Dick tucked his pager and cell phone into his briefcase as the limo approached the front of the building again.

P.T. slid on a Rolex watch and inserted one tiny gold loop earring—additional ostentatious props in their dog-and-pony show. On his neck, he squirted a minuscule amount of French cologne that cost an ungodly five hundred dollars an ounce. Then he wet his palms with water from a bottle of Perrier that Dick handed him and raked the fingers of both hands through his collar-length hair, pushing the long black strands back off his face in a style meant to evoke a casual cosmopolitan air—all window dressing to enhance the image of Ferrama, Inc. Thus far it had worked.

“Well?” he inquired finally.

After a quick assessment of P.T.’s appearance, Dick nodded his approval. It was a silent ritual they’d repeated too many times to count these past five years, ever since P.T. had converted his stepfather’s tacky Friedman’s Wholesale Shoe
Factory into the elegant Ferrama, Inc.

“Lookin’ good, my friend,” Dick commented with a playful poke in his arm.

Dick knew how much P.T. hated this playacting scam. Well, only three more weeks. Then he could buy out the interests of his greedy stepsisters and be free, free, free. No more prince baloney. No more nonstop business pressures. He would become P.T. Ferrama, regular guy.

“How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?” he asked, wanting to lighten the strain between them. He’d posed the same hackneyed riddle to Dick hundreds of times, often in situations far tighter than this. Hell, some men bonded by hugging; he and Dick bandied ridiculous jokes.

“How many can you afford?” Dick shot back, bobbing his eyebrows at him.

They exchanged smiles.

“None…if we go belly up.”

“Hey, where’s the kick-ass Norman Vincent Peale attitude that’s carried us this far?”

“I’m just tired, that’s all.” It was more than that, but this was not the time to open that can of worms.

Donning his dark sunglasses, P.T. waited for Jake to come around and open the door for him. He closed his eyes briefly, willing himself into the suave, debonair guise that should have become second nature to him by now. He’d reinvented himself so many times, he barely knew who he really was. Then, bracing himself for the
gauntlet of reporters and picketers, he gave Dick one last meaningful look. They both knew the drill.

“Well,
hombre
, let’s launch this boat and make some waves.” As much as his friend annoyed him, they were in this together, sink or swim. “Oh, and another thing…” P.T. added.

Dick’s lips twitched with amusement, anticipating what he was about to hear.

“Bring Ms. Sullivan up to my office,” he said. “Let’s show her how the big sharks play.”

 

Physical image was important, even in the business world. Therefore, Cynthia glanced quickly in the mirrored side of the elevator and adjusted the mid-thigh skirt of her Versace navy blue, pinstriped suit, making sure the white lace camisole beneath its open jacket was tucked into the waistband. On her jacket lapel was a platinum brooch from Tiffany’s in the form of a bull sitting on the chest of a downed bear—animal symbols of the two extremes of the stock market. The pin had been a gift from her firm’s senior partners five years ago when she’d grossed her first million in sales. Now she averaged ten million in production every year, easily.

She double-checked the lace camisole to make sure nothing unseemly was showing. Some women on Wall Street, which was still a predominantly male bastion, felt the need to hide their femininity. Cynthia worked hard to tone down her provocative curves and brassy color
ing, but still she delighted in flaunting her femininity in a subtle way.

As her dear old Irish grandma used to say, “There’s no need to fear the wind if your haystacks are tied down.” Well, Cynthia preferred to wrap her haystacks in designer clothes and the illusion of womanly softness, which hid her hard inner core.

Cynthia had learned long ago to rely on no one but herself. She had no husband or family or significant other to lean on when the going got rough. Only herself. And that was just fine.

When she was satisfied with her appearance, despite the ugly, thick-soled sandal she was forced to wear on one foot and the open-toed, Velcro, post-op bootlet on the other, she hobbled with as much panache as possible out of the elevator on her crutches.

Waiting for her was the man who’d identified himself as Enrique “Just-Call-Me-Dick” Alvarez. He’d extended an invitation to her on behalf of his employer, Prince Ferrama, the president of the shoe company from hell—the cause of all her current problems. Apparently his highness, the shoe toad, wished to meet with her privately to clear up the “little misunderstanding.”

Hah! She’d show him a “little misunderstanding.” More than one trader on the exchange had been burned by underestimating her intelligence. Her grandma had been right. A sharp lass
could
beat the devil at his game.

“Are you certain you wouldn’t like to lean on
my arm?” Alvarez purred. His words oozed politeness, but his spider-crafty eyes said, “Step into my parlor, Ms. Fly.”

As if!
Cynthia reminded herself of another of Grandma’s proverbs, “It’s for its own good that the cat purrs.”

She shook her head at Alvarez’s extended elbow. She really didn’t need crutches all the time, even though three of her toes had been broken a month ago and were still terribly sore. If she walked carefully, she could put her weight on the inner ball of her foot. But she wasn’t about to give the enemy that information to use against her.

And make no mistake, this Hispanic man in the ponytail and thousand-dollar Italian suit and flamboyant Bolgheri tie was her enemy.

A sly rogue is often in good dress
, she cautioned herself.

Alvarez was the full-time attorney as well as the puppet CEO of Ferrama, Inc., the company she intended to take to the cleaners for all her pain and suffering. The man behind the action was the president—the prince himself, she’d discovered through research—but for some reason he preferred to maintain a mysterious, aloof presence, giving the misleading impression that he wasn’t the driving force behind Ferrama, Inc.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t have legal counsel present?” she asked, blinking her eyelashes. She’d once negotiated a billion-dollar takeover with just such a ploy. Men could be such idiots.

They were approaching a suite of walnut-paneled offices where an efficient-looking middle-aged secretary in a jade silk shirtwaist peered up at them from her word processor. She waved them forward, announcing, “Prince Ferrama will be with you shortly.”

Oh, goody!
Cynthia wondered if she’d be expected to curtsy or something. Right. That would be a classic picture—her on crutches, bending, and her short skirt hiked up to her behind.

Cynthia repeated her question to Alvarez, “Perhaps I should call my attorney? I don’t understand all this legal mumbo-jumbo. My lawyer might want to be here, don’t you think?”

The secretary swept her with an are-you-for-real? once-over of disdain.

Alvarez snickered under his breath—the jerk!—and waited until they’d entered a large corner office—presumably the royal chamber—before answering. “No, an attorney won’t be necessary, Ms. Sullivan,” he assured her, flashing a dazzling smile, which reeked of utterly transparent skullduggery. Lucifer couldn’t have done it better.

God, she was going to enjoy bringing this egomaniac to his knees, along with his condescending, pretentious shoe company.

“It won’t be
that
kind of a meeting.”

Give me a break. What kind of meeting will it be? Wham, bam, screw-you-ma’am…betcha
that’s what kind of meeting he has in mind
. “Oh? Well, golly, I don’t know.”

“Trust me, my dear. I’m a lawyer.”

“Now there’s an oxymoron,” she mumbled.


Perdóneme?
” he inquired as he motioned her toward a wing-back leather chair in front of the desk. He sank down into the chair facing her and stretched out his legs, ankles crossed. “What did you say?”

His posture said relaxed, his eyes said coiled like a cobra. Cynthia warned herself not to underestimate the man.

“Oh, I was merely wondering if you were the Mr. Alvarez I spoke to on three occasions last week. Or was that Mr. Everest?” She plastered a silly grin of embarrassment on her face, as if she was the most scatterbrained woman on the face of the earth. “Dear me, I can’t remember.” With a sigh, she propped her crutches against the side of the chair and settled back.
Come on, you dumb flounder, you. I’ve fed you the line. Now take the bait
.

“Yes,” he said tentatively. “I believe I may have spoken with you.”

“I thought so, but I wasn’t sure. I’ve spoken to so many people in this firm the past few weeks, trying to arrange an amicable settlement. In fact”—she pulled out a small leather notebook from her side pocket and flipped it open—“in fact, I was shuffled around to seventeen different persons in your organization during the course of fifty-three calls. When they weren’t laughing
at me, they put me on perma-hold—”

“Perma-hold?”

“Yeah, that’s the tactic known as receptionist’s revenge, when they put you on hold so long you eventually hang up. The unspoken message in all this stonewalling was, ‘Take a hike, lady.’” She nailed him with a level look now—the pretense of gullible dingbat dropped. “Does that about sum it up, Mr. Alvarez?”

“Ouch,” he said with a grimace. “Have I just been subjected to a shark attack, Ms. Sullivan?”

“You bet your wing tips.” Cynthia kept her face deliberately bland, not revealing her surprise that he was aware of her reputation. Heck, the guy probably knew the size of her mortgage, her education history, where she bought her Tampax.

Unruffled at being zapped, Alvarez grinned at her, obviously relishing the battle to come. “You’re going to be difficult, aren’t you?”

“In spades.”

He removed his wire-rimmed spectacles and studied her. A weaker-willed woman would have shriveled under such scrutiny, but she met his gaze and matched him with a lift of her chin.

“Bottom line, Ms. Sullivan. How much?”

“One million. And if your boss keeps me waiting much longer, the ante goes up to two million.”

He laughed.

She shrugged.

“Twenty thousand if you sign the release papers right now.”

Now this was interesting. She hadn’t expected Ferrama to be willing to negotiate at all. Oh, twenty thousand was chump change to a corporation of its size and deep pockets, but most companies would rather spend the money in court than set a precedent for what they considered frivolous lawsuits. Not that her claim was frivolous. Not by a Big Board longshot.

“Deep six that, mister. Twenty thousand would barely cover my mortgage payments while I’m out of work.” She started to rise from her seat. “We aren’t even in the same ballpark, Mr. Alvarez. Remember, shut fists catch no hawks.”

“Hawks, sharks…what is this? A zoo?”

Cynthia glared at him. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

He raised a halting hand. “Thirty thousand.”

She tilted her head, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Fifty, and that’s our final offer.”

Okay, I smell a fish here. No way would this company offer me fifty thou unless there’s trouble in paradise
. Cynthia’s intuition told her that she’d landed in the midst of opportunity. “What’s the difference between a lawyer and a vulture, Mr. Alvarez?”


Mierda!
Another lawyer joke!” he murmured enigmatically, throwing up his arms in mock surrender.

“The wing tips are easily removed from one of them,” she answered.

“Are you trying to say you don’t like my shoes?” He waggled a two-tone wing tip of buttery soft leather at her that probably cost five hundred dollars.

“No, I’m trying to warn you. Never con a con man…or con woman, in my case. I make my living in the financial world, where bluff-and-call is the name of the game.”

“I’m listening,” he prodded.

“You thought I was faking. Big mistake.” She gave him a self-satisfied smile, meant to irritate. “Some people think sharks never attack attorneys,” she added, deciding to hit him with another lawyer joke. “Professional courtesy, dontcha know? But as you can see, that’s just an old wives’ tale.”

“Ha, ha, ha. What’s your point?”

“I probably would have accepted a fifty-thousand settlement three weeks ago…before your company made me mad. But now—”

“Now?”

“Now the shark is gonna gobble up you shoe guppies.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Ms. Sullivan,” he said silkily, not at all intimidated.

“Oh?”

“There’s more than one shark in the ocean. Keep that in mind before you hum the theme song to
Jaws
.”

They were interrupted by a commotion out
side the office. Two men could be seen through the open door, speaking animatedly as they came down the hallway toward the secretary’s desk. The tall one with a suit jacket draped foppishly over his shoulders—presumably the prince—was saying something to a guy in a chauffeur’s uniform. It sounded like, “What the hell does the Pythagorean Theorem have to do with the arch of a stiletto high-heeled shoe?”

“Everything,” answered the squeaky-voiced chauffeur whose curly hair resembled an orangey-red Chia Pet. Although he was probably twenty-five or so, he had the voice and appearance of a freckle-faced adolescent. Pulling a calculator from his breast pocket as they walked, he punched in some numbers and chortled, “See. The angle of the incline has to be reciprocal to the force of the impact on the ball of the feet or the shoe will pinch.”

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