Authors: Jennifer Crusie
He really is extraordinarily good-looking,
Except for his height and that jaw, he’s almost pretty. Those electric blue eyes and long dark lashes. Not businesslike. How can I make that work against him? If he was female, it’d work against him.
His eyes swept the room and caught hers. She was the only one not looking at him with fear or lust. She met his eyes coolly and stared back at him, calculating. He was the enemy.
He raised his eyebrows at her and moved his gaze on. Jane made a note. Emily looked at her pad. “He’s not stupid,” Jane had written, “but you can take him.”
Emily shook her head. Jane’s one weakness was overestimating her.
George leaned over to Emily. “What’s wrong with Jane? She looks funny.”
“PMS,” Emily whispered back, and George nodded solemnly.
Richard Parker looked up and frowned at them.
Emily raised her eyebrows at Parker.
He looked startled, and then his lips twitched.
Almost smiled there, didn’t we?
You’re not so tough. Maybe I
“I’ve asked you to meet with me today to discuss your past performance in budgeting your marketing campaigns,” Parker began. “It’s abysmal.”
Several of the executives tittered and then fell silent. A few colored and looked away. Emily yawned and checked her watch.
“Am I boring you, Ms. Tate?” Parker asked.
“Not at all.” Emily smiled back politely. “I’m sure you’ll make your point soon.”
George closed his eyes.
“The point, Ms. Tate,” Parker said without raising his voice, “is that you all regularly exceed your budgets, thereby cutting into the profits this company could be making. You alone went over your budget on the Paradise account by almost thirty percent. That’s a lot of money, Ms. Tate. You may have thought there was no price too great to pay for Paradise, but I don’t agree. You could have cost this company a fortune.”
Emily smiled at him again.
“I could have, but I didn’t, Mr. Parker,” Emily said. “I made four million dollars for this company by having the guts to go thirty percent over budget.”
“That doesn’t take guts, Ms. Tate. That just takes lack of control. That’s where I come in. I’m your control.” Parker’s eyes swept the room. “From now on all budgets go through me. So do all purchase orders, all payments. I’m the money pipeline. I’ll make sure you get the money you need for your projects. And I’ll make certain you stay within your budgets. Now, I’m sure you have questions about how this new procedure will operate, so let’s get started.”
He sat down and leaned back in his chair while the others began a process of hemming and hawing and assuring Parker that they appreciated his help and were anxious to work with him.
Jane wrote on her pad, “Don’t antagonize him.”
Emily fumed, although she kept her face a mask. No price too great to pay for Paradise.
Don’t get snide with me, buddy,
I didn’t get where I am today taking that from anybody.
And then she thought,
yes, I did. I’m modest, cooperative and polite, and I regularly back down. I back down in front of George, who is an idiot, all the time. Then Jane and I sneak around behind his back and get things done the way we want. What am I doing confronting this guy?
She watched him listening to Croswell from Research and Development. He was listening politely and nodding, and she wanted to throw something.
He patronized me,
He assumed he was right, and he didn’t listen, and he patronized me. He thinks I’m insignificant.
Boy, is he going to pay for that.
I don’t care how good-looking he is.
Without realizing it, she’d let her eyes narrow as she looked at him, so that when he gazed idly around while he listened to Croswell’s drivel, he saw her look of undiluted antagonism. His eyes widened slightly, and then he grinned at her as if he was seeing her for the first time, a real smile that accepted her challenge and recognized her as an equal, sharing the absurdity of the moment and of his own new-kid-on-the-block power play.
It was a killer smile.
Emily narrowed her eyes even more.
It’s going to take more than a smile, buddy boy. Hit me with another line like “no price too great for Paradise,” and I’ll wipe that smile off your face so fast you won’t know what hit you.
Jane nudged her and she looked down at the pad. It said, “Why is he smiling?”
Emily took the pad languidly and wrote, “Because he knows I’m angry, and he thinks it’s amusing.”
Jane took the pad back and wrote, “Then he’s not as smart as I thought.”
Emily nodded and turned her attention politely back to the group.
“Any other questions?” Parker surveyed the table before turning to Emily. “Ms. Tate, you’ve been very quiet. Do you have any questions?”
“No, I’ve found out all I need to know,” she said calmly.
“Good. Do you have time to meet with me now?”
“Now?” Emily raised her eyebrows. “I have a lunch meeting. I could possibly meet with you at two.”
“Let me check my appointments,” he said. “I’ll have my secretary call yours.” He looked at Jane for the first time and stopped.
What is she doing? Emily thought, not daring to look. She’s probably blacked out a couple of teeth and is now grinning maniacally at him.
“Fine.” Emily stood so that she blocked Jane. “Anything else?”
He stayed seated, watching her. “No. There’s nothing else.”
“Thank you,” Emily said, and left with Jane clumping in her wake.
When the door closed behind them, Jane stopped clumping and took off her glasses. “That was dumb,” she said flatly. “We get nothing by antagonizing him. What’s wrong with you?”
“He’s arrogant,” Emily said, punching the elevator button.
“Everybody in that room’s arrogant,” Jane said. “The only difference is that he has reason to be.”
“What? You’ve fallen for that ‘hello, I’m God’ presentation he just did?”
“He’s right,” Jane said. “We were over budget. We could have done the campaign for less. He could help you here.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“Ours,” Jane said. “First, last and always. I’m just not sure he’s not on our side, too.”
They got on the elevator, and Jane handed the glasses back to Emily. “He likes you.”
“He likes you. I saw his eyes. Which are incredible, by the way. He likes watching you. He thought you were cute.”
“Cute!” Emily exploded. “Cute!”
“Make it work for you,” Jane said.
“The hell I will. I’ll give him cute.” Emily stormed off the elevator and down the hall to her office, slamming the door behind her. A minute later, Jane came in with her coat.
“Your lunch meeting is here,” she said. “You promised me Chinese.”
* * *
new campaign for less, anyway,” Jane said later over potstickers and sizzling rice soup. “The new stuff’s not as expensive as Paradise. Your profit margin’s lower.”
“Not necessarily.” Emily spooned the hot soup carefully into her mouth. “We’ll sell more—to the younger woman who uses perfume more frequently. We’ll be fine.
I’m not forced to under budget.”
“Give him a chance,” Jane said. “There’s no point in firing the first shot.”
“I haven’t,” Emily said. “I’ve just made it clear that I’ll return fire.”
Jane gave up for the time being. “Garlic chicken?”
“Not if I’m meeting with Attila the Budget Hun this afternoon. Did Karen call?”
“Yep. Two o’clock. His office.”
“Of course.” Emily sighed. “I’d prefer neutral ground. From now on let’s make it the conference room. On our floor, not his.”
“I’ll try,” Jane said. “Prawns?”
“Yes,” Emily said. “I’m in the mood to crunch little backbones.”
“Then we’ll go shopping,” Jane said. “I found this incredible pink lace bra and bikini—” She stopped and looked past Emily.
It was the Hun with George in tow. George
bring him here, Emily thought. Showing the new boss the best place to eat. I’ll bet he offers to pick up his dry cleaning later. She looked up and smiled tightly. “Mr. Parker. How nice to see you.”
“George assures me this is an excellent place to have a lunch meeting.” He looked at Jane.
“It is.” Emily turned her back and began spooning soup again.
Jane grinned at him. “Lovely meeting you again.”
“Oh, yes. You’re Ms. Tate’s secretary. Mrs. Frobish, isn’t it? I didn’t recognize you at first.”
“Well, that’s the lot of the secretary,” Jane said cheerfully. “Unrecognized, unrewarded, underpaid...”
“Hardly underpaid,” Parker said. “Your salary is part of the budget, you know. It’s very generous.”
“Actually,” Emily said, staring straight ahead, “she is underpaid. And I shall fight tooth and nail to stop any attempt to reduce her salary or to curtail her future raises.” She raised her eyes to Parker’s,
and the steel in her voice was also in her eyes.
“I have no intention of interfering with Mrs. Frobish’s salary,” Parker said, calmly. “A good secretary is worth her weight in gold.”
“Good idea,” Jane said. “I’ll take that as a basis for my next raise. Let’s have two orders of prawns now that I have a reason to gain weight.”
Emily thought about stabbing Parker with her fork but decided it would be too overt. Subtlety is the key here, she thought.
“I’ll see you at two, Ms. Tate,” Parker said, and moved on to the table the waiter was patiently holding for him, George toddling along in his wake.
“I thought you were going to stab him with your fork,” Jane said. “Bad move, careerwise, although as your friend I would have been touched.”
“I’ve got to stop hating him.” Emily stabbed an egg roll instead. “I’ve got to work with this overbearing, egotistical control freak.”
“See?” Jane said. “Already you’re speaking of him with warmth.”
* * *
made of hot-pink lace embroidered with silver thread, and Jane bought it. The bra was just two large pink lace roses stitched into demi-cups, held in place with tiny pink satin ribbons, and the bikini was a strip of the same roses and ribbons. It was silly and luxurious and sexy and fun.
“Ben is going to love this,” Jane said. “Why don’t you get some and try it on Richard?”
“Parker,” Jane said patiently.
“He’d never go for it.” Emily looked at the price tag. “It’s not cost-effective. There are small countries that don’t spend this much for defense.”
“Defense is not what I have in mind.” Jane looked at herself in the mirror. “I’m planning on surrendering almost immediately and being invaded shortly thereafter.”
Emily sighed. “Sounds like fun.”
Jane pounced. “You buy some, too.”
“Why? There’s no one interested in invading.”
“Wrong. Croswell down in R & D still speaks of you with passion.”
“Croswell was a mistake.” Emily picked up a pink-and-silver lace bra and looked at it longingly. “If he tries to invade, I’m defending.”
“Then go back to plan A. Richard.”
Emily looked at the pink-and-silver lace and thought of Richard Parker.
If he’d just keep his mouth shut,
I could stand it. In fact, I’d be very interested. That long lovely body. Those crazy blue eyes. That classic, chiseled, supple mouth.
That mouth. The one that kept opening and accepting his expensively shod foot. “No price too great to pay for Paradise.”
“Not even if he was unconscious.” Emily put the underwear back. “Let’s go. I have a meeting at two.”
* * *
preliminary ideas,” Richard the Hun said. “You’re not being cost-effective.”
“Already?” Emily tried to stay calm. “I’ve barely started.”
“Rubies.” He tossed a folder across the table to her.
“Look, we marketed Paradise with diamonds. Very classy stone. But this new stuff is for a younger hotter market. So rubies. Still classy, but hotter.”
“Fine.” He shrugged. “Use paste.”
“This is for photographs.” Emily folded her hands calmly and clenched them until her knuckles went white. “We’re not studding the bottles with them.”
“Can you rent them?”
“Loose stones? I don’t know.” Emily tried to consider it, but she was against it. “We might be able to buy and resell. I don’t know much about gemstones.”
“Well, I know a little, and what you’re suggesting would tie up half your budget.”
“Gems are a good investment.” Emily deliberately unclenched her hands. “We wouldn’t lose money.”
He shook his head. “We’re not in the gem-investment business. Rent them.”
Emily shook her head. “We might need the same stones back again for later pictures. We couldn’t be sure we’d get them. Plus, we often use them in special displays at openings and benefits. We did this with Paradise, and it was very successful.”
He leaned back in his desk chair and looked at her steadily.
“Are you really serious about this, or is this just something you’re going to fight me on?”
Hasn’t he been listening to me?
Do I sound like I’m playing games?
“I’m serious. And I never fight just for the sake of fighting.”
“That was a business lunch today?”
“Jane knows more about this company than you or I do.” Emily clenched her hands again. “When you’ve been here a little longer, you’ll know that. I consult with her often, and I value her opinions highly. So, yes, that really was a business lunch.”
“Pink lace underwear?” He smiled at her dryly.
He would overhear that comment, she thought. Emily smiled back sweetly. “I told her you wouldn’t think it was cost-effective.”