Read Sandra Hill Online

Authors: Love Me Tender

Sandra Hill (6 page)

Naomi groaned inwardly, as she did every time she viewed the couple. Even a pair of Ferrama stiletto pumps didn’t do much for Ruth’s petite five-foot frame, encased in skin-tight leopard pants and a ruffled white, off-the-shoulder, Carmen Miranda-style blouse. The only thing missing was a pile of fruit on top of her head.

And the Graceland parody—the current love of Ruth’s life—wasn’t much taller…about five-foot five…even though he wore a pair of high-heeled blue suede boots, along with an aqua sequined jumpsuit. Between Ruth’s teased end-flip hairstyle, à la Ann-Margret, and Elmer’s poufy pompadour with its silly lock of hair over the forehead, à la The King, Naomi figured these two must use enough hairspray to put their own hole in the ozone layer.

Gawd!
All she wanted was to escape this zoo of a family. Three more weeks and her dreams were finally going to come true. No more P.T., with his Prince Charming act to the public and Prince Miserly act in private. No more forestalling her aspirations for the sake of the company. No more running into that slimeball, Enrique Alvarez, who was so sexy he practically made the epoxy in her glue gun melt just looking at him.

Every woman deserved a prince at least once in her life. Barring a prince, a castle would do, Naomi had decided long ago, when her mirror
told her she was never going to be anything more than plain. She didn’t care if everyone laughed. All she knew was that the first time she’d seen the rundown castle P.T. had purchased in the Catskills, she’d fallen in love. No one…not her domineering stepbrother, not a greedy female stockbroker
…no one
was going to interfere with her dream of renovating the castle, Naomi vowed.

“We’ve got to have a plan,” she told Ruth, who was busy humming “Treat Me Nice” while watching with adoration as Elmer practiced his hip swivel before the mirror. He kept complaining, “I just can’t get my hips and knees to work together.” That was an understatement. He looked as if he was having a fit.

Although she’d addressed Ruth when suggesting the need for a plan, it was Elmer who responded. “I already tol’ ya, Naomi darlin’, I don’t know no hit man from Vegas. I come from Tupelo. The most excitement we got there is watchin’ the cotton grow.”

“A hit man?” Ruth shivered. “Using a hit man would be so…so bloody.”

Naomi rolled her eyes. “Geez, Louise! I didn’t really mean we should wipe the woman out. But we have to find a way to get this Sullivan woman out of the public eye for three weeks.” She studied Elmer with sudden interest. “I don’t suppose you know how to drive a limo?”

He brightened. “Of course. Even
a fool such as I
can drive a limo. Dintja know I usta be a truck
driver? That was before my first gig on ‘The Milton Berle Show.’”

Elmer had delusions that he was Elvis reincarnated. Mostly, Naomi just humored him. Ruth believed anything he said.

“A truck? No limos?” Naomi sighed with regret. Well, that eliminated one option, crazy as it had been.

“Now don’t go gettin’
all shook up
, sweetheart. Truck, bus, limo…they’re all the same. Trust me.” He batted his eyes at her beseechingly, then crooned, “Let me be your limo driver,” to the tune of “Let me be your teddy bear.”

Ruth linked her arm with his and glanced at Naomi as if to say, “Isn’t he the greatest?”

These two are nuttier than a fruitcake, and I must be the biggest pecan of them all because I’m actually considering a scheme that involves the three of us. But what other choice do I have? Stand by and do nothing…take a chance that P.T. will let the woman ruin our company’s stock offering? Or take matters into my own hands?
“Well, this is the plan, then,” Naomi said, and quickly filled in her two would-be accomplices.

Elmer and Ruth nodded in agreement.

“It could work if we can keep the woman restrained till we get to the mountains,” Elmer concluded. “Yep, this plan is smellin’ sweet as a daisy.”

“More like a doozy,” Naomi muttered.

“Where can we get some rope in a hurry?” Elmer asked.

“Rope? I doubt there’s any rope in these offices.” They didn’t have much time, and Naomi was starting to panic. “Improvise…we’ve gotta improvise. What can we use instead of rope?”

Elmer tapped his fingertips against his chin, deep in thought—if that was possible. “How about those neckties that Dick keeps in his office closet?”

“Those are designer Bolgheri ties,” Ruth informed them. “They cost about two hundred dollars apiece.”

Elmer and Naomi gaped at Ruth.

“How do you know that, sweet thing?” Elmer beamed at Ruth as if she’d just spelled
transubstantiation
in the grade-school spelling bee.

Gawd!

“Dick said the ties were the only thing left after his divorce settlement,” Ruth related, “but I think he was just ribbing me. In fact, I remember distinctly him telling me that alimony is the screwing a man gets for getting screwed.”

“Ruth!” Elmer exclaimed with shock.

Naomi smiled with wicked delight. “Perfect. Take about a dozen of them.”

Fortunately, Enrique and Jake were holed up in the conference room with some bankers, waiting for P.T.’s meeting to end. Another stroke of luck was finding the spare set of limo keys sitting on Jake’s desk.

A few minutes later, ties and keys in hand, they prepared to swing into action.

“Everyone ready?” Naomi asked from their
hiding place in the supply room next to the elevator.

At the last minute, Elmer turned to Ruth, a worried frown creasing his brow. “It’s gonna be a long trip, sugar. Did you pack enough fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?”

 

Now that P.T. had recovered from Cynthia’s deadlier-than-sex growl, he marveled at the nerve of the woman…thinking he would give her a foothold in his company.

“Twenty-five thousand shares of your stock and we’ll call it a done deal,” she said, repeating her ludicrous offer.

“Absolutely not! First of all, that would be worth two hundred thousand on the day of initial offering and possibly three or four times that amount within a week.”

“I know,” she said with a self-satisfied smirk.

Don’t smirk so fast, Ms. Sullivan. Over-confidence has killed more than one…shark
. “And secondly, it would be a clear violation of the SEC…insider trading.”

She let out a hoot of laughter. “Insider trading is known on the exchange as the Chinese Wall…the biggest joke on the street. There isn’t a broker alive who doesn’t engage in insider trading when he has a hot advance tip.”

“Regardless, I am
not
giving you stock in my company. Not even one share, let alone twenty-five thousand.”
The only piece of Ferrama you’re gonna get is a part of my body, babe
.

“You should learn to compromise. There’s an Irish motto you could learn from, you know: Money is like manure. It’s no good unless you spread it around.”

“I don’t give a flying fig what they do with shit in Ireland. In this country, we don’t throw good money away.”

“Well, then, I guess we’ve reached an impasse.” She pulled a business card from her purse and handed it to him. “You have twenty-four hours to reconsider my offer. Just remember, ebb tides don’t wait for the slow man.”

“Slow?”
I can be slow, honey. Real slow
.

“I know what you’re thinking.”

He grinned. “No, you do not, Cynthia.”

“Well, whatever,” she said huffily, her face turning a becoming shade of pink under his amused gaze. “Don’t think too long, Ferrama. Grandma always said, ‘You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.’”

“Plow?” He continued to grin.

“Twenty-four hours,” she said with a disapproving sniff. “After that, I let Marcia Connor loose on the courts.”

He schooled himself to show no reaction at the mention of Marcia Connor and handed her his business card. “Perhaps you’ll see the fairness of my generous offer once you’ve had a chance to weigh all the angles, including the length of time it takes to resolve a lawsuit. With the backlog in the civil courts right now, I’d pre
dict at least five years before we ever get to trial, wouldn’t you?”

She rolled her shoulders to indicate lack of concern, but he could tell by the slight flicker of her eyelashes that he’d hit a sore spot. He’d guarantee she needed the cash,
now
.

“And I promise you,” he elaborated in a silken drawl, “it would be a dirty fight. I hope you have a squeaky clean background,
my dear
.” He smiled sweetly at her.

Like a true shark, Cynthia didn’t back down a bit. Instead, she returned his sweet smile. “I should be offended by that sleazy threat, but I’m not. Needs must when the devil rides,
my dear
. I’d do likewise if I were in your…shoes.”

Just before she went out the door on her crutches
—Damn, how can a woman look so sexy on crutches?—
he thought of something else. “And consider one more thing, Ms. Sullivan. When our differences are resolved, I still have a question to ask you. And I would hate to have to wait five years to get my answer.”

She hesitated and glanced back at him over her shoulder. He could tell she didn’t want to ask, but she did. “What question?”

“What are we going to do
about us?

And P.T. was serious this time.

Sort of.

 

Cynthia pressed the button, then leaned her shoulders against the back wall of the elevator. Closing her eyes with exhaustion, she waited for
the doors to slide shut and the descent to begin. She knew from her earlier ascent that it was a slow elevator, running directly to the underground parking garage, unlike the other express elevator that went only to the first floor. She’d driven today, rather than take a taxi, because she’d had so many picket signs to carry.

It had been a stressful day and her corn was throbbing with a vengeance. She looked forward to a long soak in the deep, old-fashioned, claw-footed tub that had been one of the original fixtures in her hundred-and-fourteen-year-old apartment. Dreamily, she planned her evening. A little Opium bath oil, a glass of chilled Chenin Blanc, the soundtrack from
Riverdance
on the CD player, followed by some microwaved leftovers…Peking fried rice and lobster egg rolls. Yummm.

After that, she’d call her lawyer.

Then again, maybe she’d follow her instincts and wait till tomorrow to see if the prince came through, as she expected he might…at least with a counteroffer.

“Wait a minute!” a feminine voice shouted.

Cynthia’s eyes flew open as a tall, thirty-something woman in paint-spattered denim coveralls put a hand on the elevator door to prevent its closing. Martha Stewart had worn a similar outfit on “Good Morning America” last week when she’d been installing her own toilet. Maybe it was the latest fashion. After all, good ol’ Martha was considered the czar of good taste.

If “Martha” made her grin, the two characters who entered the elevator next made Cynthia’s mouth drop open with astonishment.

A short man in an aqua sequin-studded jumpsuit—complete with extra-wide belt and high, stand-up collar and mini cape—gave her a crooked smile as he edged to one side of her. “Thank ya verra much, ma’am, for holdin’ the door,” he drawled in a deep Southern twang he’d probably picked up in Nashville.

Cynthia remembered belatedly to close her mouth.

He had to be approaching forty and must be an Elvis impersonator. What had he been doing on the sixteenth floor, which housed only Ferrama offices? She looked down at his high-heeled blue suede boots, studded with rhinestones.
Maybe Ferrama is going into boot-wear now. No, those boots are too garish for the ritzy Ferrama lines
.

On the other hand, “gaudy chic” might actually be a successful ploy…the kind of on-the-edge type gamble an avant-garde business like Ferrama would try
.

Hmmm. A stock settlement is sounding better and better
.

Then her attention was drawn to the simpering woman on her other side. She was about the same age as Cynthia—thirty—or a few years older, but there the resemblance ended. Wearing skintight, leopard print pants and a ruffled, off-the-shoulder blouse that had gone out of
style about thirty years ago, she teetered on a pair of stiletto high heels. The only thing keeping her in balance was the massive teased hairdo straight out of
Grease
. The woman was a living flashback to the fifties. And the eye makeup! Lordy, she’d better hope she didn’t run into a horny raccoon.

Cynthia wished her grandma was still alive. She’d get a kick out of hearing about this incongruous trio. With Grandma’s age-old perspective on life, she would probably have said something profound, like, “Aye and begorrah, but there never was a slipper but there was an old stocking to match it.”

“I hope you’re going to be cooperative, Ms. Sullivan.” The coolly menacing words came from the lady in the workman’s duds.

“Huh? How do you know my name? And what do you mean by
cooperative?
Are you referring to my picketing earlier…” Her words trailed off as “Martha” reached into her tool belt and pulled out a small handgun.

In the meantime, a pinging sound indicated that the elevator was slowing down at the tenth floor to pick up a passenger. Quick as his rock ’n’ roll legs could carry him, Elmer opened the emergency panel and hit the bypass button. Immediately, the pinging stopped. The elevator didn’t stop at the tenth floor.

It all happened so fast that for a moment Cynthia was stunned.

“Is this a robbery?” she asked, staring the
whole time at the pistol, which was aimed at the ceiling…for now, anyway.

“Of course not,” the Ann-Margret lookalike twittered. “It’s a kidnapping.”

“Oh, that’s better.”

“Don’t you be worryin’ none, darlin’,” the Elvis wannabe added, patting her arm. “Consider this a little vacation.”

“How little?”

“Three weeks,” the blue-collar Barbie piped in.

“Three weeks! I can’t go away for three weeks. I’ve got work to do.”

“We know what kind of work you have to do. Picketing. Lawsuits. Bad publicity. All intended to bring down Ferrama, Inc. Well, we’re about to put a speed bump on your highway of destruction, Ms. Sullivan.” The words coming from the woman in denim were shaky with anger, but the hand that held the upraised weapon remained steady.

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