gaze darted to the tabloid vendor standing by her side. Despite the
numerous times her best friend, Izzy, made her and
her other best friend, Ali, visit the
book stand outside of the subway station in the past
two months, this was the first time
the vendor had spoken to Eva. Maybe because she
hadn’t been his ideal customer—
tabloid obsession was Izzy’s thing.
lucky guy.” The vendor smiled.
widened. Was it that evident she’d been thinking about Daniel? She
wasn’t sure how to respond to his remark. And to her
relief, the vendor reverted his
attention back to Izzy.
Neeson. The six foot two, blond, blue-eyed, investment banker she’d
recently met at a birthday party for a common
friend. Daniel seemed witty, charming and
confident. She liked confidence. It would be their
first date tonight. It would also be her
first date in more than a year, since saying goodbye
to her ex, Jake, the cheater.
she’d looked forward to meeting Daniel again, emotional scars from
her past relationship still haunted her heart. Her
palms turned clammy, she’d never felt
this nervous about a date before.
an alarm on her phone to leave from work on time; she’d laid out a little
black dress along with other accessories on her bed;
she’d also brushed up on her list of
things she liked to do so she’d have something to
talk about. Maybe she should rehearse
that list one more time? She ran through it
silently. And as she did, she realized the
general theme of the things she liked to do all
somehow concluded in loathing Jake.
running, as in away from Jake.
hanging out with her friends, as in to forget Jake.
cooking, as in to poison Jake.
cringed. How did her thoughts get so morbid? Moreover, where had her
insecurities around dating stemmed from? Had Jake’s
betrayal been entirely to blame or
was it also because she could never forgive her
father for cheating on her mother?
just came in, and it’s selling out fast.” The vendor’s voice brought her
back to the present.
that’s the one she wants, right Izzy?” Ali hurried Izzy with an impatient
this is the one I want,” Izzy said. Without letting her eyes wander off the
cover, she handed over a few bills and thanked the
believe you get paid to read this junk,” Eva said as they walked into their
Eva on that. Is this weekly ritual of yours really necessary to be a good
one’s not for work ladies, it’s for pleasure.” Izzy pointed to the magazine
smokes…he’s hot!” Ali ogled at the picture of a drop dead gorgeous man,
sun bathing on a beach. In the nude.
picture showed everything, from his unruly hair, to his strong chiseled jaw, to
the toned muscles in his arms; his broad chest
dusted with just the right amount of hair,
his six-pack abs and his long legs. And that line of
fuzz that tapered from his navel down
to his—blurry round circle?
Based on his looks, the guy was a model, or an actor, or maybe
even an athlete.
Izzy glared at her. “He’s the owner of Stanton Enterprises.”
That’s Clive Stanton? The Clive Stanton?”
Clive Stanton. They have an office here, top floor. And he owns this
building and the one next to it. How can you not
know Clive Stanton?”
know the name. We’ve worked with the Stantons for years. I met Clive’s
father once, but…” Eva glanced back to the magazine
cover. “I’ve never actually met
Clive.” She should look him up on the Internet
later. Because it was good to know all
about one’s clients. She had no other intention
he be in Time Magazine or Forbes and not some junky magazine?”
She had a
good point. Stanton Enterprises owned several businesses, from spas to
night clubs, restaurants to charities and much more.
It was unusual to see a man of his
standing making an appearance in a weekly gossip
that’s because he’s with Silvia. She’s the Sports Illustrated cover this
season.” Izzy referred to the beautiful woman lying
next to Clive in the picture. “He’s
been linked with several elite models in the past.
He’s quite the mix, you know,
billionaire, philanthropist, and playboy.”
trusted Izzy’s knowledge on these matters. As the editor of In Trend
magazine, Izzy always had all the dirt on the
Izzy said that word, playboy, churned Eva’s insides. She didn’t like
playboys just as much as she didn’t like cheaters.
And now, she didn’t like Clive. Yet,
she glanced back at the magazine cover, and imagined
herself next to him on the beach in
place of the super-hot blonde. She’d never get tired
of looking at this man. The sex would
be mind-blowing. No harm in fantasizing, right?
delicious?” Izzy sighed as the elevator doors opened.
stilled. And they stared.
was, the tabloid hottie, clothed in a dark gray suit, a crisp, white shirt
with the top few buttons undone, hair ruffled, and
looking straight at them from inside the
glanced at the magazine in Izzy’s hand and a slow, sexy grin appeared on his
handsome face. Eva grew weak in her knees.
at them one by one, first at Izzy, then at Ali and then his gaze met hers
and lingered. The unexpected attention from the man
she had only moments ago been
fantasizing about made her tense. A thrill of
attraction zinged all over her as his gaze
traveled her length. She almost forgot to breathe,
as the same way she almost forgot he
was a playboy. And she most definitely forgot
commanded her to get into the car, but the rest of her body stayed still.
She worried her lower lip with her teeth, hoping the
pain would shake her awake. Could
he possibly know what she had been thinking right
then? His lips curled into an alluring
smile. Evidently he did. She swallowed hard, but
managed to smile back.
A harsh wake-up-call came from one of the many others waiting to get
past them and into the elevator.
shoved the magazine into her leather tote as they hurried in. Eva turned her
back to Clive as soon as possible, but as the crowd
shuffled in, she had no choice except
to move toward him. She took a step backward, then
another…and by the time the car
was full, she stood pressed close to him. His breath
fanned her hair and he smelled of
something fresh and divinely male.
Eva a sideways glance. Her expression was one of contained amusement,
and brought Eva back to the hilarity of the moment.
After what felt like eternity, the
doors opened and Eva, Izzy, and Ali rushed out. And
as soon as the doors closed they
burst out into laughter.
God. What were the chances of that happening?” Izzy pressed her hand
to her chest, clearly flustered by the unlikely
And Eva, he was totally checking you out,” Ali said.
was,” Izzy chimed in.
shiver zipped up Eva’s spine as she was still energized from Clive’s
silent attention. But remembering Izzy’s opinion of
him raised an immediate red flag she
wouldn’t ignore. Moreover, this had been the first
time she’d seen him in the two months
she’d worked in the building. A fluke. She doubted
she would see him again anytime
interested?” Izzy looked shocked. “Do you know how many women want
him to look at them the way he did at you?”
And how many women has he already looked at, the way he did at me?”
that,” Izzy said.
not interested. But, for the record, he is…wow.” They giggled.
moment of composure they said their goodbyes, and they each walked to
their respective offices.
“Morning, Tina,” Eva greeted.
Avery, good morning,” Eva’s secretary greeted back, her voice chirpy and
upbeat. The young woman followed her into Eva’s
messages for me yet?” Eva shed her coat, hung it on the rack, and walked to
Mr. Avery stopped by. He wants to see you as soon as possible.”
been two months since Eva had taken over her late-father’s business. If not
forced by his will, never in a million years would
she have agreed to be the sole owner of
S. F. Designs. After all, she was trained to be a
Chef, not a CEO, and had no experience
leading a company. None especially in leading one of
the top Interior Design firms in the
graduating from culinary school, Eva had spent several years committed to
grueling hours of work as she climbed up the chef
ladder. And then finally, about a year
ago, she’d been made the Executive Chef at a starred
restaurant— a title she had worked
hard to achieve and that made her, and her father
too, quite proud. She’d been so close to
making her long-aspired dream a reality. A vision to
own a restaurant, one that would
gain critical acclaim by delighting with food set
precisely in place, like artwork.
she was at S. F. Designs, following a path she had never wanted to
pursue, in a field in which she had no experience,
shelving her creativity for a future day
that may or may not come her way. Why? Because of
that last, unforgettable
conversation she’d had with her father.
after his death had those few moments she’d spent with him come to mean
so much to her. The ambience of the coffee shop, the
aroma, what her father had worn
that day, his every gesture, every grimace, every
word…all now ingrained in her mind
you down in my will as the next owner of the company.”
laughed. He didn’t. Was he serious? “You’re not kidding.”
will train you in no time.”
laughed again. This had to be a joke. “Why? Are you going somewhere?”
you’re willing to take over then?”
willing, nor ready, nor even remotely capable of working in any
other business that isn’t in the food-industry. I’m
a chef, Dad. I want to own a restaurant
some day. That’s what I want to do. Not run an
interior design firm.”
it because I was a bad father? Because I was never around?”
c’mon. This is emotional blackmail.”
Did you not choose a career path completely different from mine because
you imagine that means you won’t have to live the
life I’ve lived? Yes, I was consumed
by work. But I did it all for you, damn it. For your
brother. For your mother.“
that. We know that. You’re wonderful, you always were.”
don’t refuse this, Evie. You’re perfect for this role. No one else can lead
this company like you can. In only a matter of
months you’ll be as good, maybe even
better at this job than I ever was. This company
needs a fighter, this company needs you.”
shook her head, “I’m sorry…I-I can’t…I just can’t. Why won’t you let
Uncle Dave take over?”
excellent, no doubt. But he’s not you, he can never be what you can to this
explanation and insistence made no sense to her then; it made no sense to her
now. Whatever the reason behind him choosing her to
lead the company after him, she
might never know. But she loved her father and
missed him terribly. S. F. Designs had
been a huge part of his life and was all that was
left of him. She couldn’t forgo his last
wishes, she couldn’t let him down.
sighed, set her bag on her desk, and walked over to find out why Uncle Dave
wanted to see her so urgently.
she greeted her uncle as she walked into his attractive corner office. Uncle
Dave sat behind a large, mahogany desk. The silver
in his hair shined in the morning sun
that gleamed through the huge windows. A familiar
expression of affection lit up his face,
but quickly reverted back to contagious worry. Her
stomach tightened. “Is everything
sure.” He handed her a paper marked with the Stanton Enterprises logo.
scanned through the document, rushing to find the words that might explain
…We cherish our unwavering
partnership…blah, blah, blah…we regret to inform
that we are terminating our contract with S. F Designs… Thank you for your
why?” Confused, she looked at her uncle.
brought her gaze back to the paper she held in her now shaky hand. Her
father had launched S. F. Designs the same year she
was born. Through the years, the
company had progressed from a meager garage start-up
into a high-end corporation. She
thought back to the day the company set up shop on
this thirty-seventh floor. She’d only
been five years old then; cars and people had looked
like moving toys from the windows
of her father’s office.
years later, her dad had met Clive’s father, then owner of Stanton
Enterprises. Sharing similar stories of struggles in
the initial years of their businesses,
they took an immediate liking to each other. Their
companies had been in partnership
father had a contract to design all of Stanton’s spas. The tone of the contract
was informal, allowing each company the freedom to
terminate at any time without any
legally binding implications.
Enterprises had benefitted hugely from this partnership. Their Spa
interiors, designed by her father’s firm, provided
unparalleled tranquility and privacy, and
had become hot spots for celebrities.
partnership had positively propelled her father’s firm into the public eye.
Within a year of designing their first spa, his team
had been featured in several magazines
for their superior and innovative renderings. Soon
his was the number one firm in the
state for designing luxurious living.
imagined this streak of good luck would go on forever. Although there had
been recent rumors of aggressive changes to
Stanton’s business strategy, that they would
end their partnership with S. F. Designs had never
crossed her mind.
even nine in the morning. How could things have gone so wrong
Enterprises was the fifth company pushing to sever ties with them this
month. Her firm had committed to providing services
to Stanton and only a few other
firms for the rest of this year. Unless they were
able to find another viable customer,
losing this contract would plummet her firm’s
projected yearly profits.
called Tina on the intercom and asked to set up an immediate meeting with
Bryan Austin, the Director of Design at Stanton.
impression of Bryan Austin had been that of a man who was trying too
hard. He was a tall, athletic man with dark hair,
each and every strand painstakingly set to
perfection. He was relatively young-looking for a
corporate executive, and could almost
second as an owner of a swanky night club. With that
came a moody attitude, his face
mostly expressionless and a pre-meditated response
of rejection toward any offerings her
firm made to Stanton.
one occasion last week, when Eva’s team had suggested Stanton should
switch to environmentally friendly options while
staying along the lines of their signature
the proposal from her team; to her, any concept that benefitted the
planet had a nice ring to it. The thought that her
firm could be a part of a green world
made her feel at peace, as if she were in an organic
garden, picking fragrant herbs for her
next entrée invention.
surprise, at first Bryan was on board with the idea. However, his
enthusiasm seemed to have waned within the last two
days. His team had returned with a
we’re sticking to tried and tested methods for now response. Eva had
questioned Bryan, but he’d responded with minimal
substance and candor, leaving her
baffled about this matter more than before. Worry about your own company, Miss Avery.
the worrying about Stanton to me.
stared at the notice she held, she began to suspect he had known about the
contract termination all along. Whatever the reasoning
behind his decision to send them
the termination letter, convincing him to reverse
his decision would be quite a feat.
Burdened by a heavy, sinking feeling, she slumped
down into the empty chair across
from her uncle.
ensued for several long moments as Eva contemplated the repercussions
this change would bring upon her firm. And then she
heard a slight knock on the door. It
Avery, the earliest the Stanton team can meet is at two o’clock tomorrow.”
sighed. And so it begins, the countdown toward impending war. She took one
last look at the letter in her hand. She had a day
and a half to prepare for the brunt of the
discussions that would follow when she met with
Stanton. And she’d be ready. Bring it
About the Author
Camellia Hart, a techie turned author of romance, lives in San Francisco with her husband, the love of her life. Other than writing her next romance novel, her hobbies include traveling, lazing on a beach with a good read, watching movies with happy endings while gorging on endless buckets of popcorn, red wine, and champagne truffles.